Monday, 21 November 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 8.

England, at last!

It was another grey morning when we finally docked into Southampton. The Captain had done well; crossing in just four days and ten hours, not far short of its own record. Some Americans on board told us this happened with every crossing. The Captain would cruise to America at a slower pace, so as to conserve fuel, then burn what he had saved on a fast return to England.

Coming ashore, nothing seemed to have changed. There were just a few railway people on the quayside. We were instructed not to enter buildings as the customs men were there and would go through our bags. We were then directed to where the trains were waiting. Before long we were on our way to RAF Cosford, near Wolverhampton, and were informed by RAF personnel that if all went smoothly we would be on our way home that night. It was a great feeling knowing that our long journey was almost over. I longed to reach home after an absence of almost four and a half years.

Cosford was well organised and was ready for our arrival. We were passed through the various departments as quickly as possible. We each saw a doctor who gave us yet another check over and asked us a few questions about our health. Then a kit check and on to another department to receive our travel warrants and timetables. Lastly, we lined up at the pay desk to receive a sum of money; part of our back pay. I can’t recall exactly how much, but it didn’t really matter, we were home. The station personnel told us that if we wanted to know the whereabouts of any RAF pals we had left behind, they would willingly try to trace them. I left the names and numbers of two pals that I would very much like to trace.

One Final Walk and Home

A telegram was sent to each of our homes telling our parents of our expected arrival times. We said our goodbyes and away we went. So much had happened, so many experiences that really there was little to say. It was late at night by the time I arrived at my destination. My father was waiting on the platform to greet me as I climbed down from the train. There were no taxis available, so we walked home. I didn’t mind as I wanted the opportunity to familiarise myself with my new surroundings.

Half an hour or so later, as we approached our home, I could see a large banner across the front of the house with the words ‘Welcome Home Frank’. Once indoors, I found all my relatives had assembled to welcome me home. My Mother said she knew I didn’t like any fuss but had to put out the flags because all the parents were doing the same when their sons came home and she didn’t want them to think that she didn’t care about her son. She promised that they would be taken down in the morning. Questions were being thrown at me from all directions for the next three hours. Then everyone finally dispersed, after I had promised to visit them all over the next few weeks.

Trying to Adjust to Normal Life Again

I realised the very next day that it was going to be very difficult to get back to my old lifestyle. I felt very much alone. My friends, who had been my constant companions before I joined up, had all married and moved away. The first few days I spent taking long walks, assuring myself that everything would soon be fine and I would be able to settle down once again to leading the normal happy and contented life I once knew. Although I felt lonely, I actually needed to be alone while I tried to sort out my feelings.

I was due back at RAF Cosford in January after eight weeks leave so I was looking forward to meeting up with some of my old RAF pals. In the meantime, I decided to write to Bill’s mother. I mentioned early in this story that my mate Bill had died in Hakodate. I first met him in the hut when we were posted overseas; he and I left our friends behind and were given a cabin together, so we chummed up. We hadn’t much in common other than that we were both keen on motorbikes.

I wrote to Bill’s mum offering to pay a visit. I received a reply from Bill’s sister saying her mother had no wish to see me; she couldn’t understand why I had survived and her son hadn’t. Bill’s ashes, which I had kept and handed in on my release, had been safely delivered. His sister invited me to visit her at her home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, as she needed to know the full details of his death. I did my best to explain.

After the visit, I decided to get away from home for a time and make the promised visits to all my uncles and aunts. My cousins, of course, were still in the forces. One of my first visits was to the parents of my best pal. He had intended volunteering for service with me, but his parents wouldn’t let him. Nine months after I joined up I spent a weekend with him on leave; telling him that I had volunteered for overseas service. He was now living in Oxfordshire, with a wife and child and still serving in the RAF. During my conversation with his parents they mentioned another family who were still awaiting news of their son. I told them that he had died in Java in 1942 but they shouldn’t mention this to anyone; I wanted them to hear the news officially in the proper manner.

I was invited to a dinner at the Conservative Club laid on for ex-P.O.W.’s like myself. The dinner was fine until I discovered I was the only Japanese P.O.W.; all the others were from Germany and Italy. They had lots of funny and amusing stories to tell of incidents that took place while they were in captivity. I’m afraid I could not recall one incident that was in the least bit funny or amusing, so I felt a bit of an odd one out.

My mother mentioned a young workmate who I vaguely remembered from the early days. We had both worked for a large building and decorating firm specialising in hotels and public houses. I was decorating apprentice and he, Henry, was a plumber’s apprentice. He left when he was eighteen, because of the poor wages, and went to work in a factory. He was a big strong lad and when called up joined the Royal Marines. Landing in France on D-Day, he was hit in the head and neck by shrapnel from a mortar shell. He was now a church caretaking living in a one-bedroom cottage close to the church with his wife and child. Henry’s mother had asked for me to see him, hoping it might help him in some way. When I did visit him I fond it quite an ordeal; he looked normal but there the resemblance ended. He had great difficulty when trying to speak and when he did managed to say anything he sounded like a backward child. He memory was impaired and I could see by his face the struggle he was having in trying to remember who I was. I found this very distressing but stayed with him all afternoon, hoping to see some improvement. Regrettably, it just didn’t happen.

Young Lady in the Office

I was kicking my heels by now, willing my eight weeks leave to end. I realised there were not too many people my age around; they were mostly under eighteen or over forty-five. I thought I might pay my old firm a visit to see if any of my old workmates were still around. I went to the office and spoke to the young lady who told me some of the chaps were decorating a dance hall in a hotel nearby. I went round there and, on entering the dance hall, received a very warm welcome. I enjoyed a cup of tea and a long chat with my ex-workmates, which left me feeling happy and relaxed. I asked who the young lady was in the office and whether she had a boyfriend? I was told “No!” They told me she was eighteen years old and at the moment she wasn’t interested in boyfriends. After a couple of dates they always seemed to make a nuisance of themselves, which I could well understand. I thought she was gorgeous and I found out her name was Lena. My mates went on to say that they had told her not to bother with the chaps because I was on my way home and was the one for her. As I took my leave from them I was asked when I would be returning to work. I wasn’t too sure about that!

Before making for home, I decided to pop back to the office to ask Lena out. To my delight, she accepted. Three months later, on our way to a former P.O.W.’s wedding, we changed trains in London and found ourselves passing a jeweller. I asked he “Shall we get engaged?” and she replied “Yes!” So, we popped in and I bought her a ring. We were married in the Parish Church six months later when Lena was nineteen. I had celebrated my 26th birthday the day before. It was, I must say, much to the disapproval of our respective parents. My mother felt that she had lost her son for the second time and Lena’s mother thought she was far too young, but grudgingly gave her consent after a bit of coaxing, we are still happy and contented after 65 years of marriage, so it could not have been a bad decision.

When my leave was up I returned to Cosford and found the information I had asked about my two pals was waiting for me. Once had been to North Africa and Italy in charge of an airfield fire appliance and had survived the war, we met up later. The other who said he would wait for what he had volunteered for, reached his ambition and became a Spitfire pilot. Taking his first operational flight on an offensive sweep over France at the time when the German FW 190’s ruled the skies, he had been shot down and killed. I felt terribly sad at the news. He was such a lovely chap who, before joining up had worked at Liberty’s store in London. I remember that he had taken me along there to meet some staff when I spent a weekend leave at his home.

I have a lot to be thankful for, I survived the war and here, the Memoirs of my war experiences end.

Next: Return to Japan – 2006

1 comment:

  1. Poignant details of your repatriation experience. But I love the story of your meeting Selina!