F/O Anthony Hallett DFC, RAFVR
In 1940, I enrolled in The Air Defence Corps 179 City of Bristol Squadron commanded by F/Lt Clarke, an ex Royal Flying Corps Pilot, this squadron was changed to 37F Squadron Air Training Corps early in 1941 as the RAF decided to use it as an incentive to get youngsters interested in flying. My joining number was 11, with a fellow called David Evans number 10. David Evans, who went to FAIRFIELD GRAMMAR school, and I, would cycle out to FILTON aerodrome most Sundays to help replenish the ammunition belts for the Lewis Guns in 501 City of Bristol Squadron aircraft, but mainly just to watch the flying and dream of one day doing the same. 501 Squadron were flying Gloucester Gladiators then and to see the pilots side slipping them in over the boundary hedges was a sight never to be forgotten. David Evans was later to become Air Marshall Sir David Evans. I have not set eyes on him since those wonderful days, even though we both became Typhoon Pilots.
My brother Peter joined the Territorial Army early in 1939, and was employed by the Post Office, he thus became a member of The Royal Corps of Signals. He was called to the colours at the outbreak of War, went with the British Expeditionary Forces to France and was extremely lucky to return when Germany overran Europe. He was later to be posted to India where he remained for the rest of the war, attaining the rank of Major. He rejoined the Territorial Army after the War attaining the rank of Lt Colonel and was awarded the OBE for his services. Both Len and myself wished to be part of the RAF, hopefully as Pilots, but anything as long as we were flying. We both volunteered for aircrew and were accepted for Pilot training. I was enrolled in March 1941 but I think Len was enrolled before that, he being in a reserved occupation, as a draughtsman, could not get release from his firm until he had obtained his indentures. I on the other hand, went up to Oxford for three days, to take all the medical examinations, written tests and receive the King’s shilling, after which I was sent home to await further orders. I was sent out of the chief medical officers room to grow 1/2inch. Came back in on tiptoe and passed with flying colours.
A one- way Rail Warrant together with orders to report to RAF Abbey Wood London arrived sometime in June 1941, for my official induction into the RAF. Together with many others, I was kitted out with my uniform, given another medical, vaccinated, pumped full of different inoculations and finally informed by the F/Sgt in charge, that we were all the lowest form of animal life. After about 10 days of square bashing, P T. and lectures on hygiene we were split up into parties of about 30 and sent to various I.T.W.s (Initial Training Wings). Mine was at Torquay where we were billeted in commandeered Hotels.
We now started learning the basics of flight, navigation, aircraft recognition, weather forecasting plus endless drill and P.T. This went on for 8 - 10 weeks with weekly exams, which if not passed after the third week, one could be taken off the Air Crew training course, to be sent to serve as a mess attendant or something equally as boring. Having passed all the tests required i.e. Morse Code, Theory of Flight, Map Reading, Plotting Courses and various other subjects, we were all sent home on our first leave to await our next posting.
Mine was to a transit camp at Wilmslow, where I thought I would then be sent onto Basic Flying School somewhere in this country.
It turned out that a whole crowd of us were going to Greenock on the Clyde to embark for training abroad. Great excitement! But where? Rumour had it that it could either be Canada or S. Africa, it was to be Canada for our contingent. I with several hundred others one September day boarded a ship called the Highland Monarch set sail for Canada. We joined up with several other ships that were to make up our convoy to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We slept in hammocks in the ships hold, and were instructed to be ready to abandon ship at very short notice, this meant wearing ones clothes 24 hours per day.
Washing and shaving was a very short and makeshift affair, the Heads, as the washrooms are called, were only intended for use by a handful of men, so you can imagine the chaos with hundreds of chaps wanting to all be in there at the same time. You just didn't bother to queue eventually, but went when it looked as if you would stand a chance in the next ten minutes or so. Food for the journey seemed to be either Spam, Corned Beef or Bread and Jam. This was collected from the Galley, at each meal by two or three people detailed from a roster for each mess table. The mess tables became someone’s bunk for the night, and everyone became very damp by morning due to condensation dripping from the metal structure of the hold, so much so, that bedding had to be taken up on deck, weather permitting, in order that it could be dried out for the next night. Numerous Lifeboat Drills were carried out and you either had to carry or wear your issued Kapok life jacket at all times. This all seemed very exciting for an eighteen year old who had never travelled further than Ilfracombe, but after a couple of days sailing during which the ships in the convoy got into an orderly formation, I became very disenchanted with the sea. The weather turned sour and many people became sea sick, which made me at first feel queasy but later on downright ill. I was not sick at anytime, but felt so wretched that I would not have cared if the bottom of the ship had opened up. These conditions continued for two or three days, during which I volunteered to do Lookout duties in order to remain in the fresh air, and get away from the awful stench below decks. After several false alarms about Submarines we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia early in October. The trip up the St. Lawrence was breath- taking, the colours in the trees and the numerous white houses and churches were just like fairyland. I recall we were given about 10 dollars and a blanket before we entrained for Toronto. Leaving Halifax in the dark the town looked as if it was ablaze from incendiaries, but even though we had plenty of room and comfort on the train, I found it difficult to settle due to the noise of bells and sirens, plus the jerky way the train restarted every time it had to stop.
Food on the train was out of this world, cereal, flap- jacks with Maple syrup, bacon and eggs (sunny side up), toast and marmalade with a choice of honey or jam if preferred, followed with gallons of coffee or tea together with as much sugar and butter as you required, all this served by mostly coloured railway staff, and that was only breakfast.
At Toronto we were split up into drafts going south into the USA and those being posted to flying schools somewhere in Canada, I was lucky to be in the USA draft. America as yet not being involved in the war meant that all RAF Trainee aircrew had to be issued with passports, visas together with a complete civilian suit.
We exchanged our Canadian dollars for American ones, collected our light grey single-breasted suits, and looking like a bunch of flashy commercial travellers boarded the train for Montgomery in ALABAMA USA.