Title INTERVIEW WITH CYRIL SMITH Description
I was in the second intake at Hemel Hempstead Grammar School. I lived in South Hill Road at the time. I passed the scholarship from Bury Mill End School. There were 15 scholarship places for the whole Hemel Hempstead area each year and the other pupils paid to go to the school. I didn?t see much of a gap between the scholarship pupils and the others. I was very happy there. Discipline was strict but I was a good boy! I loved the sports facilities and played cricket and football. I was the captain of Salisbury House. My duties were mainly in the sports field and I occasionally read the lesson from the Bible at morning assembly. I would choose the teams and help organise sports day. My favourite subjects were maths and science. I got the maths prize for my year. The quality of teaching was first class.
I left school at 16 in May 1937 and joined the Post Office. The first thing I did when war broke out in 1939 was join the Home Guard that was formed in Hemel Hempstead. We didn?t do a lot! We used to have weekly meetings and go out there and march up and down a lot. We did some firing practice. We weren?t well equipped but did get guns eventually. It was very much like ?Dads Army.?
I put my name forward to join the RAF and started my training in 1941. I was 19 and they were generally calling people up at 20. My father was a little concerned, having suffered in the First World War. I volunteered to be a pilot in the RAF. America was not in the war at that time but they had volunteered to train pilots and I was one of those called over to Georgia for flying training. Our (UK) facilities for training were hard- pressed and couldn?t cope with the numbers who had to be trained to replace those who?d been killed. It seemed a good idea to have them trained in a safe place. Because they were still on a peacetime basis they set much higher standards than the RAF had and that was a bone of contention. It was a bit of a disaster. Out of a class of 90 they failed 50 odd for various reasons. I was one of them because I got airsick when spinning which was something the RAF trainees didn?t do. I always intended to be a bomber pilot not a fighter (so would have been unlikely to have been involved in spinning anyway). I was very disappointed. I was sent back via Canada to the UK and trained as a radar mechanic which I then was throughout the war.
Radar was quite new in those days and it was a question of looking after equipment, mending it and setting it up for the radar stations in the UK. Radar operators used to man the machines all day long and mechanics were there if things went wrong, which they did. There was a fair bit of mechanical training and I was mostly in East Anglia which was where most of the stations were. The radar job was interesting but I would much rather have been flying planes. However, I know I was safer and I?m sure my parents were very relieved. You had no choice anyway. You had to do what they told you!
They were short of people overseas and the Burma war was one of the outstanding centres so I got sent to India and then on to Burma where I remained until after the war finished. I was discharged in 1946. It was easy to work there in some ways because the local Indian staff tended to do all the manual jobs and it was much the same in Burma. So in some ways we were quite privileged.
We didn?t see a lot of real action because the radar stations tended to be back a bit, not right on the front line. We didn?t know the intimate details of what was going on (on the front line) but we were aware of the horrors that some of our colleagues were going through, especially the army. We were very aware of the Burma railway and the way POWs were being treated. I thought the Japanese were dreadful at that time. I knew someone at school, Bob Bowers, who was a Prisoner of War in Japanese hands. He told a story of POWs being lined up and executed. The executioners were getting along the road towards him and then they suddenly stopped and he survived. But I didn?t have any direct contact with the Japanese.
I stood the heat fairly well. It wasn?t much of a problem. I didn?t really enjoy my time there but I was aware that certain people in the family and around me were having a much worse time than I was. I was in the Far East for 3 years. That was the length of an overseas tour. We didn?t have any leave during that time and letters from home were terribly important.
When I came back (to the UK) I went back in the Post Office with the intention of making the Civil Service my career. I was very lucky and got quite a lot of promotion and I finished up as Head of Personnel of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea.
Interview: Lynda Abbott
Keywords Hemel Hempstead Grammar School; RAF; radar; USA; Burma; Japanese; POW Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place Georgia USA, UK, Burma Year 1939-1945 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 206
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