Tom King's Reminiscences

Life at work and in the RAF

By Tom King

Photo:Tom King

Tom King

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive


When I reached the age of 14, I started working. First of all I got a job at the Southdown Bus Company in Victoria Road, Portslade, working in the depot, dismantling and assembling engine parts... pistons, cylinder heads, grinding valves. I worked there for four years until I was called up to the RAF at eighteen. That broke my apprenticeship, unfortunately.


With the RAF I went up north... this was 1946, and the war was finished by then. Then I was sent to Sudbury, to a square bashing and assault course place. It wasn't very pleasant... you had to do this assault course wearing and carrying all your kit and so on. I remember we had to jump off an eleven foot high wall, I was ok, but one bloke fell down on his knees and smashed them both poor man.

RAF memories in the Isle of Man

From there I went to the Isle of Man, to Jerby Airport... they had this initiation ceremony, where buckets of cold water were chucked all over you!

There were moments... one night I missed the bus back to the base due to dallying with a lady friend, and I had to walk back...right round the whole island, all twenty-five miles of it. Someone directed me through this chicken run in a field... "Your camp's over there," he said. I did it! Crept into bed one hour before reveille. I was really tired... then before I knew it I had to jump to it quick!

The Manx were funny, I thought. They still had horse-drawn buses in Douglas. It's a pretty island though; there were steamers everywhere in the sea in those days. To get to the place you had a crossing by steamer and most people were really sick. I was OK though. I think it was only once I was ill, and that was when we'd gone on shore.

RAF Memories in Berlin

Then I was posted to Germany, to Berlin. I remember travelling through Holland to get there, and being struck by the flat land, and so many ships... all that water everywhere.

Even though the war was finished, you can't stop men fighting each other. The green berets used to fight one another all the time! Our barracks out there were fine. We all had rooms, and women to 'do' for us. I remember we had a nice middle-aged lady with spectacles.

I worked on maintenance, and filling planes with petrol, and charging batteries for the two stroke engines that plugged in under the fuselage... we did that when the pilots were in the cockpit.

We also had one or two very old planes...People used to come in from Brussels in Mosquitos and Dakotas, and Wellington Bombers. The Mosquitos were extraordinarily light. Made of balsa wood and plywood, mostly. There was one occasion the pilot couldn't brake ... he was taking off, swerved and the whole plane just broke in half!
I went up in a Dakota once, with a test pilot. A nice, steady plane. One rotary engine stalled. We had no parachutes. Luckily, the pilot managed to get the plane down safely on one engine, but that was a dodgy few moments!

The highest I ever went was 19000 feet, it was above the clouds and it was lovely.

Berlin Life - An Accident

One evening we went out. I didn't drink much; I had one or two and was just merry. We were on the Berlin road... a road that is really wide, with traffic thundering up and down. There was a grass verge at the side with tram rails buried in the grass. I wasn't looking where I was going, walking along on the verge, whistling and looking up. I turned, and right behind me was a tram.

I saw the driver's face, I was that close. It knocked me down then went right over me. There was a duckboard at the end of the tram that would have really chewed me up if it had hit me. He stopped, thankfully. An American jeep came along and they pulled me out between the wheels of the tram, and I collapsed then. I'd had damaged my spine. L1 and L2 were compressed and damaged. The Americans took me to hospital, where I was for five months.

Recovery and Moving On

There was no special treatment in those days. I was just laid on pillows. I was nineteen. When it started to heal, a lady doctor gave me strengthening exercises for the back, arching and that sort of thing.

When I came out, I was transferred to a convalescent home on the Baltic coast. It was snowing, and very cold! One of the first things they did was say, "Right, into your shorts and vest, you've got to run round the streets..."

I was passed out A1, but I was left with some side effects of that accident, mentally.
I was demobbed in 1948, from RAF Tangmere, where I was working on the jets... but I wasn't really settled in my mind.

Back Home and Back to Work

I came home to Portslade, and lived in Farway Crescent. I needed to sort myself out and get work. I got a letter from the Southdown Bus Company, where I'd worked before being called up. He wanted to know would I go back and finish my apprenticeship. But I wasn't interested. I did work for Hoover, doing metal polishing. Then, down to the bottom of South Street where there was a small factory, working on deep sea diving stuff, engines for special boats and so on. They brought up engines from the sea bed, and we had to clean them up and refurbish them. I didn't last long there... about six months I suppose.

Then I went to somewhere on the other side of the Goldstone, doing chrome production. Radiators. It was a dirty job, that one. I wore aprons and goggles. It was horrible. Then to the leather factory, handing up the skins on a figure eight machine that stretched them out.  The lad that worked next to me lost his finger in that machine. That didn't cheer me up much.

Finally, years later, I went to Abex Dennison, working on hydraulic pumps and valves for mines, gearboxes and so on. That was based in Burgess Hill. In winter, I used to get the coach up there from Bentham Way, and often the other side of the hills was all snowy. It was a hell of a job to get over Ditchling Beacon sometimes. Sometimes we were diverted... we always carried shovels, just in case.

All in a days work, story

One day we were in an old coach going up a Snaky hill near Devil's Dyke. We were going really slowly up that hill, and suddenly the coach stalled and there was a noise and the whole engine just fell out onto the road. We had to walk home. In the end they put newer coaches on for the journey to and from work.

This page was added by Helen Rowsell on 06/12/2007.

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