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 3

27 Air School, Bloemspruit South Africa,

B Squadron, Service Unit, R.A.F.

     I didn't spend long back at Taunton before the call came again to report for over seas posting, I'd had the special leave so on the train to Blackpool this time.

     The Leaving of Liverpool " ring any bells " a film about children forcefully taken from England during and shortly after the war, the parents and children never told if the others were alive and the children taken to Church run HOMES in Australia and treated as slave labour, in fact in many cases the children built the homes ( as in collective enclaves) As I said a very different life style, we were all led to believe that they (as in any one in authority even self proclaimed ) knew best and slavishly carried out their instructions to the letter. Children were abused, physically, mentally and sexually, both boys and girls, how did it happen, only because authority was not questioned until recently and only now is the truth coming out of those children's tragic lives.

    Bearing all that in mind you may not be surprised to read that I like my peers did as I was told without question.

    The journey out to South Africa started from the joys of Blackpool, a holiday resort in the north of England, no work, billeted in houses normally used to accommodate the vast numbers of "visitors" from the industrial towns of the north during their summer holidays. The local "landladies" welcomed us with open arms, we were a source of income to them, not that they opened too wide the food cupboards, but many daughters opened their hearts and arms to us, we were all young healthy and free. Had my first go on ice skates at the local rink and after a few falls soon mastered it and really enjoyed it. Soon became time to board ship S.S. Mooltan 10,000 tons of sheer misery at Liverpool and head out into the Atlantic that was waiting for us with all the dirty weather it could find. April 1941, could well have been April fools day for all I know.

     By buses we arrived at grey Liverpool to stand for hours on a grey dockside in front of a grey wall that stretched to the sky and disappeared into the grey distance, only relieved by a black hole in it's side through which countless airmen staggered carrying all their worldly goods contained in two kitbags and a small case. One of the kitbags contained our normal selection of issue clothing, the other, two complete outfits one of tropical shorts shirts etc, the other cold weather clothes suitable for Russia!! We had no idea where we were headed and it was hoped neither did the enemy! The kitbag not required was taken off us well into the voyage, the Russian one I am now very happy to say!!

     The Mooltan 10,000 tons of aging ship, massive to us but now would only be classed as a small ship 100,000 tons seems to be the average, 250,000 tons on the large size!!

     Our turn came at last and through the hole we trooped to find ourselves in a black cavern, directed through doors that were about a foot off the floor so that dragging kitbags jammed and brought forth words of complaint not heard very frequently in church. Now completely lost and descending even deeper into the bowels of this black tank we were at last told that is where you stay until told to move and that heap there contain hammocks and those hooks there are where you swing them and those tables and benches are where you eat and some can sleep on them and the heads are there and don't move!!

     So we sat and surrounded with our bags wondered what we had done to deserve this, after all we had volunteered for overseas posting, but this?

     A few thought to see what was through the next doorway but only more of the same lots of airmen sat sitting waiting to be told what to do. Ah a sergeant has arrived, 'you and you come with me', not me but a couple near who left their kit and followed as detailed, who returned some time later with urns of tea, a scramble to find our own kitbag and delve into it's contents to find our 'mugs airmen' hopefully still in one piece.

     These two had been delegated as our mess orderlies and would fetch our food at the times arranged, well at least we should be fed and the tea was hot strong and sweet, by this time it was getting late in the day not that we had any idea whether the sun was shining or it was raining, the urns were returned and the message came back to sling your hammocks and get in.

     I was just about 18 from memory and certainly the youngest in our "room", places on the benches and tables had already been taken by those in the know. The Mooltan was a slow old converted cargo ship. As such the accommodations were happenstance and crowded. The only hammock hook left was over the stairwell and passage way. This is where I had to sling my hammock, which was over the stair case leading to the lower toilets. I slung my hammock and endeavoured to climb in and found myself on the floor the opposite side, I had tied it too tight and had no head room so that as I climbed in I pushed myself out again, instructions from those near who were well bedded down soon got things "ship shape" and I crawled in to assume the shape of a banana, not at all comfortable and desperately aware that a trip to the heads should have been made before becoming cocooned like this.

     Sleep came but was soon interrupted by the rustling noise as hammocks swayed and rubbed together, we were on the move but this soon stopped and dawn found us moored in mid river, we had been allowed on deck soon after stowing our hammocks and being fed, strict instructions being issued that not too many on one side as the ship could capsize!! A sea of men everywhere, no small piece of deck was vacant, and only the grey Mersey, grey sky, and crowds of grey clad men were in view.

     There we stayed all day and other ships moored near, we were fed during the day and tried to wash with the salt water soap we were issued with, it didn't foam and certainly did not remove dirt, in fact it left a grey sort of coating on the hands which was difficult to remove, seems that life from now on was going to contain lots of grey!!

     And so to "bed" or do you say and so to hammock? only to be woken up feeling very sick and scrambled out of the hammock to find most others were doing the same and a rush to get on deck for some fresh air which may stop that horrible feeling. It was dawn a very grey dawn, and directly behind us was a very large grey ship, completely without modesty showing us her ( it's ?) grey bottom as it lunged up and down, we likewise were playing silly buggers and this motion was no doubt the cause of our distress, in the distance could be seen other ships, some had things like broom sticks pointing about them and we presumed that they were there to protect us, I like many other now wished that we could be torpedoed and sunk, the only relief in sight for that awful sinking feeling!

           That night, all the hammocks swung together as the ship rocked in the heavy seas and the rush by some people during the night to get to the "bogs" before they spewed up often ended just below me, perhaps it is no wonder that I spent as much time as I was allowed on deck away from the stench, but always got herded down when it got dark, the atlantic was not a very pleasant place to be at that time apart from the gale that seemed to rage more each day, we were only too aware that U Boats would enjoy sinking a troop ship and the chances of being saved in that stormy water was about nil! It was cold and smelly in my hammock as we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean.

     The days passed and gradually we were able to take a small sip of tea a tiny crumb of bread without heaving it up straight away, as we and the other ships headed into the grey Atlantic, the clever ones amongst us saying that we were headed for America, others convinced we were going into the Med, and an even more knowledgeable bunch with a compass sure we were going south. The sea was empty but for our escort. Our convoy, being one with important cargo, a troop ship, was doubtless given a course away from the shorter more populated routes.  We saw no planes escorting us or other ships other than our own convoy and escort. Some bits and bobs were sighted in the sea, just a few empty crates probably slung over board by any ship friend or foe going that way. Nothing else.

     Funny things that stick in the memory after all these years, apart from the agony of sea-sickness which passed after about a week, was and still is the smell and taste of the bread loaves we were all given each day as part of our food ration. I had now recovered from sea sickness and was able to eat my share of the food on offer, what we were served up I have no recollection apart from the small loaf of bread we were issued with each morning which had to do us for the rest of the day. Eat it when you like but you wont get any more until the next morning. It was the most enjoyable bread I have ever tasted, of course I had teeth then and was very hungry, as all young people are, but after so many years I can almost taste it in my memory!!

     The grey days passed and the grey ships with guns, one of which was a battleship, left us as we entered Freetown, not the town you understand but the estuary leading to it. We called into Freetown after three weeks of utter misery. Freetown is on the west African coast, so it did look as if we might end up somewhere hot but where no one knew. Apart from one poor sod, one of our airmen though not from our mess, who had not stopped bringing up just bile for the last three weeks, no one from the troops got on shore. The lad who was taken ashore with seasickness that had lasted since leaving UK, was in a very bad way with dehydration.

     We moored away from the town itself and have no memory of other ships near us but guess they were there. We did not get ashore, not that it looked very inviting, mud huts and mud was all we could see moored out in the channel. After one day on a ship that actually stayed in one place horizontally we set sail again for parts unknown.

     I developed a raging tooth ache and reported sick, the ships doctor showed me his equipment for treating tooth aches, it consisted of an armchair and a few rusty looking plier type instruments, said he hadn't pulled out any teeth and which one hurt, showed him and tapped on the wrong one and told me to come back in the morning if it still bothered me, funny thing the pain went away and only returned very many years later when all that was left was a hollow shell which crumbled to pieces when the dentist gripped it!!

     Sailing away from Freetown the weather became much sunnier and it was now quite evident that south was the way we were going, the sea became less grey, but cannot remember the other ships, perhaps they no longer were showing their bottoms, flying fishes flew from our path dolphins rode our wash, and life became just about perfect, apart from the fact that the 10 schillings (about a dollar) I had boarded with was long gone ( no pay until we arrived where ever we were going). I smoked a pipe but would smoke cigarettes as well and the only ones on offer free from my "room"mates were Springbok, a very strong South African fag oval in section and only given to me because those that had bought them felt sick after a few puffs. It is one of the other things that I remember after all these years, the horrible smell of the Springbok cigarettes, which was all I had to smoke the six weeks we were aboard. Perhaps in retrospect a good time to give up smoking you might say, but in those days they were issued free to some units and certainly the Salvo's and other friends of the forces gave them out to all service men. The opiate of the masses it would appear!!

     We got into smoother waters and the sun shone and most of the Navy escort left us, and there really is a sort of magic about the sea when you are far from land, suppose most of us got a good rest and were well fed for six weeks and enjoyed the days just relaxing in the sun, watching the flying fish, dolphins and strange patches of seaweed, and of course we all had to be "welcomed" by King Neptune.

     One thing about a troop ship there is no such thing as privacy, we slept close to one another, ate our food touching elbows, and washed and showered in sea water which does not get any dirt off only ingrains it further into the skin, even using the special soap that was provided. Toilets had to be increased and the solution on this ship was to construct on the top deck a trough about 30ft or 9 meters long and fix along this some 20 or so squares of wood with holes in, water was pumped in from the sea one end and ran over board out of the other, a very friendly loo indeed, the rocking of the ship was a worry some times when your next door neighbour's evacuation born on a tidal wave came visiting!! To enliven an activity that was already fraught with some peril, people with a distorted sense of humour nailed a stub of candle to a piece of wood, lit the candle and then set it on its journey down stream to warm the posteriors and other appendages of the poor captive sufferers!!

     We travelled south but then to confuse all and sundry we started to go north and with our very limited knowledge of where things were on the earth's surface we were again lost, after six weeks of a war time sea cruise we entered the Port of Durban and once more were on dry land which to our consternation would not keep still and behaved much like the Mooltan had in Liverpool.

     Perhaps it is not to be unexpected that most if not all were glad to get off the Mooltan after six weeks when she docked in Durban on the east coast of South Africa. The group I was with were taken from the ship to the rail and we began the last part of our journey to our final destination which was Bloemspruit R.A.F Pilot training station near Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, where we were to keep the 104 Miles Master aircraft flying day and night. A much better job than I had been doing since leaving Halton.

     The railway journey from Durban to Bloemfontein lasted one whole day but can’t say I remember anything at all about it, on arrival at 27 Air School about ten miles outside the city which is the capital of the Orange Free State we were shown to our barracks, decent brick buildings, single storey, with stable type split doors and the usual basic beds and lockers, but heaven after the ship.Food was so strange at first, lots of fruit most of which we had never seen or heard of and many different dishes made from maize, one like porridge called "mealie meal" served at breakfast I thought wasn’t too bad but soon learnt that the natives ate it so South African whites wouldn’t, beneath their dignity. We had a lot to learn about the South African white way of life, to see the native workers on the flight line covered in oil and grease as they did the dirty jobs and then watch them fishing in the bins where we emptied the left overs from our plates, made us recent arrivals very angry, but we were told not to interfere, we were guests in the country and our ways were not the right way to treat these "savages". If we offered them the "butts " left from our cigarettes they had to hold out both hands in case they had a knife in the other and would stab us, it did seem and still does to me that the white population went in fear of their lives and in many cases rightly so because they did treat the natives in a terrible way and at last the right thing has been done but the Dutch Boer has a lot to answer for. These Boers had an organisation based in the Orange Free State ( think they now call it The Free State ) that went about blowing up power lines and post offices and was very pro German know the name but my spelling of it will be far from correct (Osiver Brantvag) told you it was all wrong!! I made a number of friends while stationed at Bloemfontein, the Florie family for one, they picked me up at the bus stop when I had missed it one night and gave me a lift back to camp, he was an accountant and she was after a bit of ‘rough’ not 18 and dim as a Toch H lamp didn’t recognise the invitations handed out every time I stayed over night, frilly things always had been left on my bed by mistake, "I’ll just put them away, do you like them?" was only one of the things and her husband I’m sure thought I was giving her one, would have done if I hadn’t been so thick!! One night at their house they were having the usual meeting of the tennis club, very few blokes but lots of pretty young girls, suggested that they might like me to do some toast on the open fire for all of them, funny thing it wasn’t some thing they had ever done, so there I sat toasting slice after slice and spreading each with lots of butter, calls for more coming all the time, the family cat came to see what I was doing and I just spoke to it calling it "Pussy", a deathly hush descended over the room and then a few stifled giggles and one of the chaps wanted to tell me some thing outside, pussy was the local name for that part of a girls body that men seem to want to get into so no more calling cats pussy.

     Another person I got to know was Nabiha Masoud ( think that’s how to spell it) she and her large family were all from Lebanon and would you believe classed as coloured, which is only one degree above black and not to be mixed with, the Florie family would have nothing to do with her even though she had her own ladies hairdressing business and good at it, tried to get me not to see her or her family, but apart from "Dad" the rest of her folks were very nice to me and always had a place at their table for me, Dad thought things were serious so didn’t want her getting involved with a Pom, we were in fact just good friends and perhaps I saw her just to say "up you" to the white population.There is a town called Margate down the coast from Durban and I did write to the Mayor who invited me to visit the town and be their guest, but never took up the offer. Dac Dacre was an ex Halton "Brat" like I was and we got on very well together, we arranged to take a leave together and as we could get a free railway pass decided to go to a place called Muizenburg this is a seaside holiday town on the shores of False Bay, we had booked into a YMCA hostel and spent our leave there but the train journey lasted all of two days and did get a bit boring after a while, miles and miles of very little followed but some more, had a look at Cape Town and little did we realise that not too many months would pass before we again found ourselves in the area, in fact in a transit camp between Muizenburg and Cape Town waiting to board ship back to England and flying over Germany as crews of bombers. My mother’s father had a brother who had moved to South Africa many years before and I managed to find them in a small town called Krugersdorp near Johannesburg, they invited me to stay with them on one of my leaves so I took the offer up and spent two weeks with them. Very interesting for me as my uncle had a building firm and I went about to see how things were done, one of the sons was an inspector of mines and arranged for me to go down a gold mine and also see all the processes of getting gold from the ore.

     There are two reefs bearing gold in that area, called north and south, can’t remember which is which but one is very wide and is made up of very white quartz pebbles around which can be seen the glitter of gold flecks, the other reef is quite narrow and in places only inches wide but is very dark even black in colour and the gold can be seen quite easily as small nuggets. Both of these reefs go down into the ground at an angle so that new shafts are sunk to reach the reefs as they get deeper in the earth and further away from the original shaft, each new shaft being much deeper before it reaches the gold bearing ore.The very large heaps of brilliant white dust from the treatment plants can be seen for miles around Joh/burg and when the wind blows cause painful eyes and noses.

     The mine I went down was very deep indeed and the lift travelled at such speed that one felt slightly air-borne as it descended the earth.The area at the bottom was huge and the passage ways leading off very large and well lit, as we moved away towards the mine face things got steadily hotter until we reached a place where a native was working a jack-hammer in a steeply sloping crack removing the small but very rich ore piece by piece, all jack- hammers also have a water pipe connected to prevent that miners curse of silicosis, so we had a very wet large black man working hard in a very narrow and hot space, he still was able to give me a big white toothy grin, but what he said I do not know, the noise of the hammer was terrible! After an hour or so of this we returned to the surface, glad of the fresh air and my shirt at least a chance to dry off from the high humidity underground.The first part we visited was the Stamp house, the noise here was unbelievable, row upon row of steel hammers pounding the ore as it slid beneath them washed down by streams of water, sheets of corduroy were used to catch any free gold after the stamps, these sheets were taken out periodically and burn to get the gold, the slurry then passed over copper sheets with mercury on them which also collected gold, not sure how or in which order this happened, it is a long time ago!!The slurry then entered very large tanks open at the top in which cyanide was dissolved in water( cyanide is a very deadly poison) the gold was dissolved by this mixture, this fluid was then pumped to a centrifuge where any remaining rock particles were extracted, the fluid which now looked like clean drinking water, but was far from it, was pumped again and ended up in mile long sheds which were full of troughs that contained hundreds of separate boxes filled with zinc shavings, as the liquid passed through the zinc the gold stuck to the zinc, and the next process melted the zinc shavings in a furnace which was then poured into an inverted cone shaped mold, on cooling the cone was turned upside down, banged and out fell a very large cone of zinc with a small gold top, these gold knobs were cut off by hacksaw and tossed in one corner, when enough had been made, were themselves melted and poured into newspaper lined ingot moulds, lots of these bars of gold were stacked against the wall and I was invited to help myself if I could carry one away, tried but it flattened me to the floor and had to be lifted off me by the ever grinning black workers. The zinc was re-rolled into sheets and in one corner was being turned again into shavings on a very old lathe by the still grinning workers.

      So far it would seem that all I did was visit and enjoy but this was a pilot training ‘drome, flying went on 24 hours a day and our days were spent servicing the 104 Miles Master ‘planes on the daily inspections. The Masters was made of wood and plywood, much like the Mosquito of later and much greater fame. The Miles Master was an advanced training aircraft that trained pilots in fast single engine 'plane management before they became operational on Hurricanes or Spitfires. Mark 1 Masters were fitted with Rolls Royce Kestrel engines ( fore runner of the Merlin) some of these were even equipped as fighters with four Browning guns during the panic of 1940, Mark 2 Masters were fitted with Bristol Mercury Radial engines and Mark 3 Masters had Pratt and Whitney Junior Twin Wasps.

Servicing Miles Master Trainers at 27 Air School

Link to More Photos

      With the many hours they were flown each day, some very hard landings and the general wear and tear of pupil pilot use they were becoming very hard to keep airworthy, even had one do a forced landing at a place called Dewetsdorp which ended up on it’s back. As I had spent some time in England salvaging Miles Masters I was in the gang that went to collect it, still have some photos of the job.

Miles Master Recovery

Link to More Photos

     The salvage crew was led by Sergeant "Jock" Brown and was made up of members of the flight servicing crews at 27 A/S. A Queen Mary low loader was not available nor was a crane which made the task more difficult, sheer legs being used to lift, turn and load the 'plane. As far as I know the pilot did not die but would have needed to "duck" a lot from the amount of cockpit damage. As bad as the airplane was, great care was taken to salvage the 'plane without further doing further damage. This took a great deal of work, including some careful maneuvering over a narrow bridge on the way back.

     104 American Harvards were flown in and my mate Dac and myself were given the job of checking these and making them airworthy for use, they had been shipped to Durban as deck cargo, and although sealed before loading, some had had their canopies opened by the ship’s crew, salt water had entered and caused much damage, not only to things that could be seen but many radios had been ruined and props had been turned so that ports had opened, we found many that had damaged pistons on the con rods due to salt water no wonder the delivery pilots had complained that some were gutless and rattled a lot. I joined the Camp Concert Party and band, played the fool on the camp and Bloemfontein stage and played the trumpet very badly at camp dances, practiced like mad but still caused the lead trumpeter to shake his head in disgust.

      Notices were on the boards for aircrew volunteers, Dac and I were a bit fed up with our treatment regarding promotion, we did the work and others got the credit, funny it’s still the same fifty years later!! We put our names in and after various interviews were sent to Cape Town to await shipment back to England.

Click Here to go to Chapter 4, Lympe Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF 

----- Reg Miles

       eimeo@bigpond.com

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

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

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