Biography of Reg Miles

Ex Apprentice No 1 S.of T.T., R.A.F., Halton 39th Entry 34 - 67 M.U.s  - 27 A/S Bloemspruit South Africa - Lympe Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 242- 246 - 511 Squadrons Transport Command Lyneham, RAF

Chapter 1

Ex Apprentice No 1 S.of T.T., R.A.F.

     The summer job had ended and there was a few months to go before I would leave for Halton, must get a job Mum said, so I got a job as a paper boy with Smith's Book Shop in Westgate, delivering the morning papers to all the grand houses in the area and woe betide you if you got the houses wrong, no scandal sheets there all Times Telegraph, Financial Review, and sometimes the Daily Express but certainly no Mirror. A friend worked for the same place and we both rode the Smith's bikes, very distinctive they were, painted dark red with a large panel under the cross bar with the company logo on it and either side of the back wheel large canvas bags to hold the newspapers. Riding towards home together one day we came across a coal ship high and dry on the Nayland rocks , which jutted out into the harbour entrance, the skipper had missed the turn and when the tide went out there he was stuck, the crew were busy shovelling the coal over the side onto the rocks so that the ship could get off on the next tide. Too much of a temptation for two young boys, onto the rocks we went with the bikes and filled up the bags at the back with coal and home to the thanks of a family with a little more fuel for the winter. How the mighty are fallen, as we turned up for work the next morning at the crack of dawn, we were greeted by the manager with the words 'you two are sacked here are your wages now clear off', when we asked why we were shown the front page of just about every newspaper with pictures of us and our Smith's bikes filling the bags with coal, and head office in London were not at all pleased, silly buggers very cheap advertising for them, so ended my last job before entering The Royal Air Force.

     On January 24th 1939 I arrived at Wendover Railway Station in Buckingham on a special train from Paddington with about one thousand other new boys, we were all shapes and sizes, colours and aged between fifteen and eighteen. Halton at that time was the Apprentice Training Establishment for The Royal Air Force in the various aviation trades which included Engine Fitter, Airframe Fitter and other trades that were just starting to be developed. Prior to this most work on aeroplanes was done by the same people., but aircraft were becoming more complicated and needed specialists for just about every part, guns, radio, electric's and so on. RAF Halton still is a training station for the engine, airframe, and all other bits and pieces of the aircraft. The bits all have different names now. When I joined in January 1939 there were four wings each one had about 1000 boys in it under training, the course was three years , two entries each year , entry by competitive written examination of many subjects including, Math, English, and a number of science subjects which at my age when I took the exam at 14 made me struggle a bit but I got in! Massive workshops an airfield and each wing was self-contained with proper three storey brick buildings housing the sleeping accomodation, each wing also had its own parade ground, gymnasium, cookhouse band and all other facilities, different coloured hat bands were worn by each wing.  

    Apprentices were known as Brats and when you had passed out from Halton after a three year course you were an Ex Brat and a very close bondship with others who had been through Halton existed. Now March 15 1998!!  I seem to have been very busy with all sorts of projects and still have some in the pipe line either incomplete or not even started yet but will endeavour to type a little more to keep this going.The first thing that happened to all us new boys was a medical to see if we were fit enough for service in the R.A.F. The first complete check up for most of us, told me I had flat feet, said I did a lot of cross country running perhaps that was the cause!! Strange to say it was recently found that people with high arches were not able to stand the stress of marching and battle fatigue, flat was better. Next was fitting for a uniform, no I did not take size nine boots that Mum had said I would grow into but eight and a half and that still left room for thick socks.

     Once all into our uniforms we paraded in sections for the swearing in for which we received an extra shilling (the Kings shilling) Most of us suffered with those boots made from leather so they said, more like sheets of armour plate, toes and ankle bones were rubbed sore after the first few hours, the corporal in charge of our section told us to fill the boots with water, pee was best, and stand them by our beds over night , empty them out and put them on straight away they would never hurt again, he was right but most mothers would have had a fit to see their little darlings squelching about in wet feet all day. I was allocated to four wing and told I would be trained as a Fitter 2E which meant I would become an aero engine fitter, others became Fitters 2A airframe, and others would become instrument, radio, and armament specialists. There were also boys who had joined the Royal Navy and would be trained in the same trades for the Fleet Air Arm, they were known as artificers, tiffys to the rest of us. Our uniform was the same as the regular service with proper trousers instead of a kind of jodhpurs with puttees that were wound around the lower leg, these were still worn by "Boy Entrants" who were trained in similar trades elsewhere but would end up as mechanics after a much shorter course, I think they were boys who were keen to get into the R.A.F but had not been able to pass the entry examination for apprentices.To distinguish four wing from the other three we had a bright orange- yellow hat band not too sure what the others were, seem to remember red and also black and red squares, we also had on our arm a brass badge that was a wheel with crossed propeller blades inside , and wore small rank badges the same as the adult services if promoted. All of the boys in the new entry were taken in groups to the airfield and given a short flight in a De Haviland Tiger Moth, gave us some idea how big Halton was and in most cases the first taste of airsickness, never had any trouble with this problem when I was flying as crew, but even a short flight at times as a passenger made me hang on to my seat and swallow heavily!! I joined the cross country team of four wing, and competed in many events during my period at Halton, won medals for this event and passed them on to Gillian for safe keeping.I was promoted to leading apprentice and made responsible for one of the rooms which held about thirty boys, one of them called Shaw I will never forget, a good looking boy but had a way of life completely strange to me and I suspect to most of the boys of my age.

     This first came to light one night when he returned from a weekend pass with a suit case full of cigarettes, where they came from we didn't ask but we all got some free samples my share being double. He then told me he had a flat in London and a girl friend he kept there and paid for, how this was possible on three shillings a week I just could not understand, but it all came out later on. Because I was responsible for seeing that everyone in my room was present at " lights out" each night and weekend passes were only allowed very rare, Johny Shaw asked me to sign him in nearly every weekend so he could go to London, didn't worry me to do this, hadn't asked to be a leading apprentice, was just given the job and I was never short of a packet of "fags". One night late Johny turned up with another suit case, after climbing through a hole in the fence near our room, instead of cigarettes it contained woman's clothing that he had picked up on the train from London, because it was there! Told him in no uncertain manner that if he didn't do something about returning it to the owner it was the last time I covered for him. He packed up the case and took it out of the room and I expected he would leave it close to the guard room so that it would be found early in the morning and sent on it's way to a very worried female. That was not Johny's way, when I took a detail of boys out at the crack of dawn to make sure there was no rubbish about the place, every post, lamp standard, sign board and railing was draped with all of the contents of the case, we found the case and quickly packed the items back in and I took it to the guard room and stated that it had been found some way away from our room, it was opened by the police and an address found inside and was I presumed sent on to it's owner, but I was very mad at Johny Shaw and never covered for him again, didn't stop him from going out when he wanted to. Some months later he was found to have been forging instructors signatures on chits to book out micrometer and vernier gauges from the stores and was no doubt selling these in London and perhaps committing other crimes we knew nothing of , he was discharged from the R.A.F and as the second world war started soon after probably had a prosperous war and even ended up rich and famous, may be knighted for his efforts , while the rest of us fought and died! I have recently been contacted as a result of this webpage by Peter Long, another one of our fellows who knew Johnny.  He did become very rich eventually, Rolls Royce, Two 'Planes of his own etc.!

     R.A.F Halton was at one time a country residence owned by the Rothchild family whether they gave it to the R.A.F I don't know but the "house" was used for the officer's mess and the stables were allocated to the apprentices for a "hobby shop". The stables were a magnificent set of buildings with curved brick walls and big enough to house a dozen families in great comfort. Many of the boys at Halton came from very wealthy families, some sons of aircraft manufacturers because it was recognised that an apprenticeship at Halton was the finest training anywhere in the world in Aircraft engineering. One father had given his son a new Ford car, he was probably in his last year of the three year course, we all helped him to take it completely to pieces and each part was reassembled with great care so that every part was a perfect fit, ran like a sewing machine the quietest Ford I have ever known.

     There were even sons of Indian Princes, in fact it seemed as if every nation was represented there, many of the boys when they had finished their apprenticeship were "bought out" by their parents and returned to their own country or in some cases the firm that their parents owned in Britain, can't remember the cost but did hear at the time it would have bought a row of houses in any town in England!The railway station we all arrived at was Wendover and the nearest large one was Alyesbury, ( famous for ducks!) county seat for Buckinghamshire. Halton was set just below a ridge of hills and covered many square miles of country, the workshops were massive, covering all trades that operated in the Royal Air Force, an airfield with a grass runway complete with hangers and numerous aircraft that were used for hands on work and proper lecture halls where we were brought up to date on current affairs, and scientific laboratories with the latest equipment used in the testing of materials. The idea was to give not only complete technical training but a good all round knowledge much like a private college, apart from training in military matters and of course plenty of sporting activities.We were paid 5 shillings a week, four of which was saved for us, to be given when we went on leave, breakages which were deducted for individual items broken or worn out before a replacement was normally issued, boys can be hard on clothes!We were issued with a complete kit of clothes which included just about every thing required, but out of our weekly shilling we had to purchase things like metal and boot polish, once a week we had kit and barrack inspections when everything had to be spit and polish and all kit in good order, when the war started in September 1939 things changed very rapidly, our three year course was cut down to just over two by stopping all holidays and we worked from dawn to dusk on our training, the subjects did not get shortened just longer days and no holidays or week ends, and we had to do anti invasion patrols and ride around the hills on our bicycles in the evenings to check for land mines that may have been dropped to blow the place up. At this time my father and mother had rented a house at High Wycombe which was not too far away from Halton, Dad was in charge of all military and naval buildings and repairs caused by shelling and bombing in Dover, so Mum lived at High Wycombe and Dad came up when ever he could, he had an old car and special petrol rations because of his work. I managed to get a weekend pass and went to get my bicycle from where it had been requisitioned for use in land mine patrols, the sergeant in charge said I couldn't have mine but let me have a grotty old service bike, think he was using it himself as it was new and my pride and joy, set out to visit Mum and Dad and coming round a corner met a flock of sheep all over the road, no where to go so crashed into the bank and bent the frame so that I could only steer one way, took me ages to get to High Wycombe and could not get anyone to mend it so Dad put it on the roof of his car and took me back to camp, left Halton soon after and took my bike with me.

     The entry ages for Halton were 15 to 18, and we signed on for 12 years of service from the age of 18. As I was almost the minimum age, I was 15 in November 1938 and joined in January 1939 , I would have been 18 when I finished the apprenticeship, but due to the war and cutting out holidays etc, I was only 17, I therefore was still classed as a boy when I left Halton and was not informed what rank I had passed my final examinations, so when I arrived at my first operational posting was paid the princely sum of ten shillings a week (about one dollar a week), yet was the only qualified member of the gang and had to tell men much older than myself sometimes the right way to do things.

Click Here to go to Chapter 2, Chapter 2, Ex Apprentice, 34 - 67 M.U.s, R.A.F.

----- Reg Miles

       eimeo@bigpond.com

Or Jump to

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6

LINKS

Biography of Phyllis Miles (formerly Phyllis Dike), LACW, WAAF

Collected Poetry of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF

Miss Phyllis Miles nee Dike, Photo, LACW, WAAF

Group Photo, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire

420 Squadron Badge, Photo, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe Yorkshire, RCAF

Barrington-Kennett Trophy Winners, 1939/40, Photo, Reg Miles, RAF Halton, RAF

FIDO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF

Flight Engineer Reg Miles, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 432 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF

Flight Log 1664 HCU page one, page two, 432 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 420 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1332 H.C.U. Page 1, Certificates of Competency242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, 246 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, 511 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF

Halifax, E Easy and Crew, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF

Mail Plane, RAF Joke, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF

Missing in Action Telegram, Reg Miles, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire

PLUTO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF

Queen Mary, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF

Salvaging a Bristol Beaufort, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF

Tholthorpe Control Tower, from Jim Tease, Pilot, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF

Wedding Photo, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Bomber Command/ 511 Transport Command, RAF

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