Radar Training at Rugby
By this time Betts and I were fed up with HMS Drake . Life in this vast barracks wasn't very pleasant, and not like the Navy I had in my dreams, plenty of sailors - yes; but fire watching etc. - no. Anyway, there came a silver lining. Petty Officer Rowe, a good friend, said he would help, and nearly got me drafted to HMS Fiji , a Tribal Class Destroyer. Newly built in Devonport, she got sunk by torpedoes a little later, another lucky escape!
He told us of a course for ratings with electrical knowledge to be trained in R.D.F. (Radio Direction Finding), which was new and became the best weapon of all - radar, when the secrets unfolded later. The big attraction about these courses was their location colleges; one was at Rugby only 35 miles from home! So with a bit of help from P.O.Rowe (who we found out got reprimanded after), we left HMS Drake , Devonport, in a lorry one sunny afternoon. Never have I been so glad to say goodbye to a place, Rugby here we come! Ending one period of life in the Royal Navy.
We were met at Rugby station by another lorry that dropped us off in twos at private houses (billets). Betts and I were dropped in Windsor Street, to be looked after by Mr and Mrs Smith. They were not very well off and lived in a 3 bedroomed terrace house. He was a railway worker, with two young children. Mrs Smith a very kindly woman about 45, and told us to leave our kit bags and 'sausages' (hammocks) roped up as per regulations, in the narrow hall. Betts and I regarded it as heaven compared with Naval barracks. Rugby too was a very nice town with friendly people, and Mr Smith made us welcome at the L.M.S. Railway Club. As I recall no bombing, and of course no watch keeping, but there was homework and studying from our 9 to 5 work in the excellent Technical College.
Life became more comfortable and the friendly Mrs Smith fed us well, plus of course Rugby was only a hitch hike from our homes, although outside the 25 mile travel limit. The first part of the course was all electrics, which I had already done at Aston Tech. before the war started, so I used to go to the pub in the evenings with the instructors, who were very clever radio men and worked for Marconi and Pye (the firms who made the sets). They often had concerts in the pub, and one evening Nat Gonella, the famous trumpeter, came and nearly blew my ear drums out.
Betts and I successfully hitch-hiked from the Dunton Cross roads from Rugby to Birmingham, since you could always get a lift in a uniform. One week Doris, and Winnie Betts, came to Rugby because we were in a parade of Army, Navy and R.A.F. personnel marching with bands through the town in an effort to raise money for 'Wings for Britain Week'. You would have thought just won the war!
Each Saturday morning we all had to do a 4 mile cross country run. This was definitely not my cup of tea, but it had to be done. Everyone was checked, and afterwards we did our hitch to Brum. Normally it was easy, but one Saturday afternoon in heavy snow there weren't many vehicles about. Eventually one stopped and offered us a lift, which was a large uncompleted new lorry on test. It just had a long bench seat for the driver and us two in our oilskin coats, with no cover from the snow. But he said he was going through Castle Bromwich we jumped aboard. Fortunately he dropped me 100 yards from home, but when I got down my oilskins were solid with snow and I looked like a snowman! But I was very relieved to get home in the warm. This resulted me having a terrible cold. In fact there was no way I was going back to Rugby on Monday, and Doris got the local Doctor to me, and I was told to stay in bed for a week.
The next Monday I turned up at the College with a Doctor's note not knowing what to expect. Cheek! I wasn't supposed to be out of Rugby. A flabbergasted Lieutenant in charge warned me that if I didn't pass the exam on Friday I would be sent back to barracks! What a deterrent, he added that he didn't care a brass farthing. But I passed the exam and had another escape from a fate worse than death.
The next week I took a chance and went on the train to Lytham St Annes by Blackpool where Doris and my Sister, Tony, were on a week's holiday. We enjoyed the (then) banned play 'Forever Amber' which featured Robert Newton who had been with us at Devonport, a very generous guy.
It had to come, we all passed our tests at Rugby Technical College and said our goodbyes to the Smith family, who had been so good to us (I regret to this day that I never got in touch with them) but of course so many things have happened since then.