My request to serve abroad was granted: 2nd Tactical Air Force Germany. Not as far afield as I'd hoped but at least I'd be on foreign soil and that would be a first for me, so no complaints. I had now been promoted to leading aircraftsman, or LAC. I now had a twin-blade propeller insignia sewn on each arm of my uniform; oh what giddy heights I've reached in less than a year!
I still had no idea as to my final destination in Germany. I would be among a shipload of service personnel moving to the continent bound for various destinations. I had a spot of leave prior to making my journey across the North Sea and decided to spend a day in Hereford to see Joan. It was a sweet reunion and I wished it had been longer. We both swore to write regularly and book a phone call as and when possible. In 1954 you had to arrange phone calls to the UK some time in advance; none of this picking up a phone and dialling a number! We spent our last two hours together in fond embrace, ending with the usual tearful "goodbyes" on the railway platform.
Spent the next couple of days at home in Thornton Heath and said cheerio to my parents and my four younger brothers, one of whom had intentions of joining the Queen's Own Regiment as a boy entrant.
Next was the train journey to Harwich where I would join the troopship and cross to the Hook of Holland. This was my first experience of being on board a large ship, crammed to the gunnels with military personnel. Fortunately it was a short journey and we would be in Holland by about 6 a.m. next morning. However, the sleeping arrangements were almost impossible. Bunks and hammocks were uncomfortable, the noise from the engines was deafening, the smell of oily fumes and bodily odours of this crowded accommodation was rather nauseous. I wasn't seasick but I was almost suffocating it seemed. Managed to drop off to sleep now and then but kept waking up and wondering where the heck I was!
Disembarked early next morning; don't recall having any breakfast but doubt if I would have been very keen to eat it anyway. The next leg of the journey for me was by train, across the Dutch/German borders to a transit camp, somewhere in Germany. This was an old castle, or "Schloss" and we would spend just one night here. It was quite a decent place and we had good midday and evening meals in the dining hall. In the evening I wandered into a large room where there was an extensive bar, manned by German personnel. It was crowded with RAF men, and a few WAAFs, all enjoying the beer and spirits. It was my first taste of a German brew and I was warned it was about twice the strength of British beer. It was! I had a couple of large glasses, very frothy tops, and decided to turn in and get some proper sleep.
Next morning, after a good breakfast, I was told I would be going to a brand new RAF hospital near Munchen Gladbach: RAF Hospital Wegberg. Again, this was a great surprise and I was quite pleased.
By train to Munchen Gladbach and then a smaller train from Munchen Gladbach to Wegberg railway station. My first impressions of this small station was one of much delight. It was spick and span and there was a café on the platform which was more like a pub! In fact, "cafés" in Germany were all like pubs - but with a different feel and atmosphere from an English pub. I quite enjoyed the "cafés" in Germany!
I was accompanied by two other RAF chaps on our way to Wegberg and we all went into the railway station café for a swift glass of beer. We asked one of the customers in the bar if he knew where the hospital was, expecting him to understand our question. He looked a bit blank until one of my fellow travellers said "krankenhaus" bitte ... "Ach zo, krankenhaus ... Ya!" The bartender came over and fortunately spoke pretty good English. He said the hospital was about two miles away and we couldn't miss it. I asked if there was any transport to it. "Nein" was the terse reply, but there was a local taxi if we wished to hire it. We did, although a two mile walk would not have bothered me, but then again we all had heavy kitbags to lug along and we could split the fare three ways. So we took the taxi and arrived at the hospital gates in a few minutes.
I had a good feeling about this place. Everything looked brand new, clean and fresh. It was in a beautiful country setting too. I knew I was going to enjoy this posting and I was not wrong!