West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections


Warrant Officer J. A. Green
(Air Gunner / Air Despatcher)


I was born in 1924 in Pontefract, home of Pontefract Cakes and Liquorice Allsorts, as the third son of a pawnbroker. On leaving the local Kings School at the age of fourteen at my insistence to work with my father, I experienced almost a year of pre-war business, which included selling items such as pocket watches at 1/9d (now 9p) and alarm clocks at 2s/5d (now 12p).

I then in 1942, went to Leeds recruiting office hoping to be one of the ‘Brylcreem Boys’ and on to Padgate for three days of medical examinations and various tests. I always remember the first meal served there was meat pie in a dish, then two slices of bread on top with a wedge of butter (or was it margarine?) The next server poured on a scoop of gravy over the lot, leaving a soggy mess with a greasy liquid round. I certainly learned the hard way to watch the system of serving!

Accepted for PNB (Pilot/Navigator/Bomb Aimer) training and reporting at Lords Cricket Ground in May 1943, I and others were told that being short of educational qualifications as fourteen-year-old school leavers, we were to go to a Pre Air Crew Training College at Barking. But first we had the usual six weeks of square-bashing, air raids and the usual jabs and tortures. Wartime London was certainly eye-opening to this boy from the North.

Six months in civilian billets at Barking (one chap was at the home of Vera Lynn) we had one Officer and a Corporal to keep us up to RAF standards of drill and orders. Civilian instructors taught us extra history, science, English and maths. The time passed easily with no guard duties, fire pickets etc. but some of us could see the war ending before we had chance to become another Douglas Bader or Guy Gibson.

Back at St. Johns Wood, we heard that air gunners were needed and after applying one morning, we were rushed off to Eastchurch by that afternoon. On parade next morning I saw flights of aircrew with all badges of rank missing from their sleeves. These chaps had sadly been classed LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre) owing to operational stress, extreme nerves etc., and with hindsight, I think we were at Eastchurch to witness and possibly be intimidated by the treatment, with endless fatigues, drill and duties to these unfortunates.

Leaving Eastchurch after a traumatic seven days, it was back to Yorkshire for ITW at Bridlington during the bracing months of December and January. Billeted in hotels without heat and hot water, we were jollied along by the usual Corporals and our gigantic Scottish Flight Sergeant who could shout orders in a foreign tongue from 06.00 hours through to midnight. We had lots of clay pigeon shooting, Morse, drill and jolly country runs and so the time passed, to go on leave, but the usual FFI (Free From Infection) medical showed that I had measles (German no less). My time at Bridlington ended with seven days in the RAF Hospital near Sewerby Hall, as the only patient, and attended by eight pretty nurses, two sisters and a doctor. My bed was placed in a large bay window overlooking the gardens and sea, with requests of what would you like for dinner and other meals? A good time but not a word to my wife please.

After a few days home (the pawnshop was still alive) my train ticket read Bridgnorth for more gunnery and training but not so much drill. This was followed by Air Gunnery School at Morpeth and at last flying in the mighty Anson.

Our flight was out over the North Sea to shoot at a drogue being towed by another plane and I recall seeing tracers coming up from some fishing boats out from Alnwick. Our rounds were dropping near the boats and in Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army’s words "They don’t like it up ‘em." Here at Morpeth we RAF boys did more than our fair share of guard duties, as our fellow students were mainly Polish and Free French who did not have sufficient English for guarding: they were pretty fluent at all other times. Nevertheless the Air Gunner brevet and three stripes were sewn on and it was home for fourteen days to show them off. What a struggle the extra bag of flying kit was!

Detailed to Blackpool and in civilian billets once again, we awaited posting overseas. It was another round of jabs including yellow fever which we heard was rife in West Africa, but never mind lad!

A packed train now to Glasgow on May 5th 1944 to see in the Clyde a convoy including the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, but not for me. It was an old P&O line the Malaga. Sailing on D-Day, we took a long detour out into the Atlantic and then to Gibraltar, the Med, Red Sea and to Bombay in 37 days. A Cooks Tour with not the best conditions and not West Africa, but never mind lad.

India was another world and RAF life was easier, smellier and hotter. Shortly it was to Poona and to the hills and jungles for fourteen days at the Jungle Preservation School, with the other ten members of the Liberator crew whom I had joined in Bombay. Amongst other things I learned that saying "I am English airman" in Burmese was "Choke Go Ingalake Pyat Tha Pyitday" or something similar. As if they wouldn’t know!

It rained every day (this was monsoon time) and most of us had dysentery with Heinz variety (57) visits to the primitive loo. The Doc cured us with an enormous spoon of castor oil, followed six hours later by the same spoon of a chalky cement.

Leaving the hills, the gunners arrived in Bhopal for more shooting and handling .5 Browning guns in addition to the .303. A highlight here was a weekend at the palace of Maharajah of Bhopal who was an Air Vice Marshal in the Indian Airforce. This was the life – good food, servants, cinema and hot showers etc.

To join our crew and begin flying together we travelled by train across India to Kolar near Bangalore. Naturally as a pawnbroker’s son I was the ball gunner and settled in with the crew as the only English type. The others were Australian, Canadian, South African, New Zealander and a Swiss Flight Engineer. The flying was hairy at times, as the monsoon was still on, and the Liberators were past their sell-by-date and some crews didn’t make it.

Our time at Kolar was enlightened one morning by being given the afternoon off, but being told to report to the medical room. Here we had a bubonic plague jab, as the nearby village was infected. I had an arm like a balloon and throbbing – but never mind lad.

After the course some of us had fourteen days in Octacamund, a hill station in Southern India which was the first home of snooker in about 1880 – very much like the Lake District but warmer!. There were bikes to hire, strawberries and cream to eat and hot baths. Leaving Kolar, we took a ten day train trip North to Jessore in Bengal (now Bangalore). On arrival the ball gunners were told to attend the office of Wing Commander (later Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis) Hodges, the CO of 357 (Special Duty) Squadron. Here we learned that the ball turrets of the Liberators had been amputated (ouch) as an exit for agents etc. Consequently ball gunners were not required but a new flight of C47 Dakotas were being formed and each required a despatcher, but no guns. So a despatcher it was to be and this involved a short course at Jessore, ending with a parachute jump which looks good in my log book in red ink as a personal descent and signed by Major Thornton who was the main officer-in-charge of Forces 136 agents and accompanied us to make his 200th plus jump.

This course nicely covered Christmas 1944 in the heat of India and my joining PO Wally Kindred’s crew newly arrived from Canada as the fourth member. After various training trips around India and Ceylon, we started operations on the 24th January 1945 with 300 hours to achieve for a tour. These involved mainly night-time trips, often with one agent being dropped into Burma and French Indo-China, about which our flight Commander, Squadron Leader T.P. O’Brien has written three books including ‘The Moonlight War’.

J.A. Green



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