1 - Sweet Memories

Harry Chambers
Observer with 229 and 465 Squadron, 26 SFU*

It was well into 1940 when, against my parents’ wishes, I decided to join up and to do my bit. I tried to join the RAF, then the Royal Engineers even, in desperation, the Guards. All to no avail, everywhere I went it was the same answer ‘Sorry you are reserved occupation’. Then at last, due to the shortage of pilots and the Battle of Britain, which made the ‘powers that be’ reverse their strict ban, it was announced that men of reserved occupation could join up for aircrew.

I lost no time in getting to the recruitment office, and in due course, after two days at Uxbridge where I passed the tests with flying colours, I was despatched to Blackpool for my initial baptism into the RAF for training as an Observer.

We were billeted out at one of the many bed and breakfast establishments, no doubt to the delight and lucrative enhancement for the fearsome Blackpool landlady. Every morning before 8 a.m. we marched along the road, proud and resplendent in our new uniforms, to join the assembly with hundreds of other ‘Rookies’ at the Tower Ballroom.

At that time in the morning the pavements were full of people, civilians hurrying off to work. It was a lovely fresh morning of late September. The traffic was very busy on the road, the bustle and clanging of trams all added to the enjoyment of our new-found occupation. There were four of us this morning and as we proceeded leisurely on our way our vision was drawn to a sylph-like figure of the opposite sex, a young lady speeding towards us on the other side of the road.

She was running like the wind obviously late for her daily duties, and as we watched this vision of loveliness to our young eyes, she turned and sped diagonally across the road towards us, dodging through the cars and trams with skill and dexterity which must have derived from constant practice. We watched as she approached and as our paths met she jumped with the spring of a fawn on to the pavement in front of us.

These were the days when femininity was supreme dressed with raiment of silk and lace, not only garments of outer wear but those that were nearer the flesh, as it were. The garment in mind of silk and lace, and spoken only with bated breath, was called in common parlance ‘French Knickers’.

The damsel’s leap, though performed with the grace of a ballet dancer, was sufficient strain on the elastic suspension of the item just mentioned to cause it to fall under the influence of gravity, down to the pavement and round the young lady’s beautiful slim ankles. This sudden obstruction to the forward progress of her feet caused her lovely body to continue on until met with an irresistible force, the nearest of which was myself.

This lovely maiden wreathed in such subtle scent and feminine softness pitched so unceremoniously into my arms, froze me with terror. I was rendered immobile, unable to move, the whole world stood still.

A colleague beside me stepped forward and said ‘Can I help you Miss?’ The vision in no way traumatised as I was replied ‘No thank you’ as she swiftly bent down, stepped out of the offending article and was stuffing it into her handbag as almost without a pause, continued her lightning pace along the pavement away from us and out of sight forever.

The whole incident was over in the blink of an eyelid, a brief second of time, but to me it seemed an age, a suspension of life, and as I gradually regained my composure the terror turned into acute embarrassment as a whole street of grinning faces were turned in my direction. It was not my fault! I was not to blame but the finger of derision and amusement was turned in my direction. It took some time to live down the embarrassment of that moment. My fate perhaps to take the mortification from that young lady’s shoulders.

Oh sweet memories. Could one only be transported back through a half century of time with present day views and modern attitudes to moral conformity. Could an old man’s memories be changed from the embarrassment of yesteryear to perhaps a friendship of pleasure and realms of delight?

Links and Notes

* We are not certain of the units on which Harry served and are still investigating.
The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Initial Training Wing, Blackpool http://www.wartimememories.co.uk/airfields/blackpool-training.html

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page last updated 3 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010