Working Lives

Electrician (1942-1987)

Location: Norfolk, Algiers

Roy served an apprenticeship as an electrician with A.Pank & Son Ltd, St Giles Street, Norwich. Later he worked in Algiers servicing vehicles.

In the early part of April 1942 I did fire watching duty on the roof of Garlands, London Street, Norwich. During the first German raids Orford Place, the Haymarket and other parts of Norwich were severely bombed.

Later in April 1942 I was called to His Majesty’s service where I joined the REME, I did my basic training at Hinckley in Leicestershire, then on to Northampton Technical College, then to Mticham Road barracks in London.

After London I went to the Lucas factory in Birmingham to learn about car electrical and battery repairs.After this training I went on a 14 day trip onboard a free French ship in convoy to Algiers, arriving April 1943. I then went on to a camp at Fonduck about 30 miles from Algiers. One Saturday I went on a liberty truck to Algiers, had a photograph taken in a shop, then wandered around the casbar, returning later to collect the photo, missing the return liberty truck, so I hitch hiked along the coast road, being picked up by an RAF petrol tanker, it was then getting dark so the driver suggested I stayed the night at his camp which I did. I continued walking the next morning when I arrived back at Fonduck there seemed to be a lot of activity so I asked what was going on, I was told we are on the move to the railway station.

If I had been any later getting back to camp I would have missed a 3 day train journey east to Tunisia where we ended up at a mobile workshop on the edge of the Sahara, where we had to repair 600 vehicles to get as many working as possible.After a few days we had a sit down strike and told the sergeant major that we would not do any more work until the major who was in charge was replaced, that afternoon he left.

His replacement was a Major Barr who was completely different, he asked for volunteers to work evenings, the response was very good and within a few weeks we had 300 vehicles fit for further service. We then moved to base workshops at Bone on the North Africa coast. I and two other mechanics were sent on detachment to 21st tank brigade who were preparing to go to Italy, we had to make sure that their vehicles were in good working order, we then travelled back to Bone.Soon after, two mechanics, a staff sergeant and I were put on a ship for Italy, we landed at Naples, stayed at a transit camp for a few days, then we were sent to a mobile workshop about 15 miles south of Monte Casino, where at night we could see the gun flashes of the bombardment of the Casino monastery.

After a few days I was involved with a fire in a Churchill tank, it was 21st May 1944, I was taken to a casualty station at Caserta with first, second and third degree burns, I was given penicillin injections every 3 hours for 2 days then every 4 hours for a further 4 days. I was then sent to the 65th general hospital in Naples, where I had seven operations for skin graphs, which proved successful.In October 1944 I came back to England on a hospital ship, it only took 3 days landing at Liverpool. I was then transported to a hospital in Leeds, then to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, after a few days I was sent to a Red Cross nursing home at Felthorpe where Lady Beryl Mayhew (Nee Colman) was commandant.

In January 1945 I was sent to a convalescence depot at Kempston near Bedford, there was snow on the ground and the only heating in the Nissan hut was a single tortoise stove, one morning on parade a man collapsed and died because of the cold. After this convalescence period I was sent to a REME workshop near Norwich, then on to workshops at Colchester. After a few weeks a posting came for me to go to Germany, but the man in charge of the electricians knew that if I went he would have to work on the Valentine tanks we were overhauling so he got the posting cancelled.

I then became an instructor in elementary maths, AC & DC electrical theory, also handicrafts at the education and vocational training centre, when the sergeant in charge was demobbed I applied for the job and was made up to acting paid sergeant, a post which I held until I was demobbed in November 1946, but due to leave I was entitled to I did not return to civilian employment until February 1947.

This was a very bad winter, snow laid on the ground from December 1946 until March 1947.While at work as an electrician, the refrigeration engineer retired, I was asked if I would like the job, which I accepted, I was then sent to Metropolitan Refrigeration in London to learn the trade, after 3 months I came back to Norwich. We then took on the agency of York Refrigeration an American company who had been in England since 1922. Eventually we had 120 farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk with bulk milk tanks, which required refrigeration to cool the milk, we also had two Sainsbury stores we looked after and several M&S stores in East Anglia.

I eventually retired in January 1987 after working for 51 years. I am still enjoying my retirement.

Roy talking to WISEArchive in November 2006 in Norwich.

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