I was working at Batty Fahey’s drapery shop in Bridge Street, Gort, Co. Galway, selling mostly men’s clothing with Rodger and Mick. Batty was married to Ann, my father’s aunt. Two of Batty’s daughters joined the nuns and the only son Patrick became a doctor.
It was general knowledge, I would inherit the shop. Rodger and Mick had their sights set to capture it, so they made my life hell. They did not miss a trick: cleaning the shop, running around, getting the coffees, newspapers etc., I was the gofer, today you would call it mobbing. My customers were the ones they did not want. They were 20 years older then me. I pictured myself not doing anything with my life.
Gort, with a population of 1800, was a typical market-place for the surrounding farmers. Every Saturday was Market-Day, selling eggs, vegetables etc., once a month Fair for cattle, pigs, sheep, and market every three month for horses.
Usually a person had two suits, one for working and one for Sunday, one pair of boots and one pair of shoes. Depending on prices the farmers got for their products, we in turn were dependent on them. I was living at home with our parents and my weekly wage was easy to spend.
My idol was Vincent O’Loughlin, a red hair neighbour. He was a Rear-Gunner in Lancaster in the Royal Air Force. His home was 200 yards from ours. He told exciting stories, shooting down German fighters. Little did I know that a Rear- Gunner never survived more then 20 trips without being killed. Whatever happened to Vincent? He was reported missing and his mother Sarah told me later: unless he was confirmed dead, she would get no compensation. She was my Godmother, she also got my kiss at Holy Communion, so she would go to heaven.
I wrote away for n application, filled it out and a few weeks later got called to Northern Ireland, the famous place called Longcesh – Lisburn – Belfast. Later it was used to house the I.R.A. detainees.
It was a fair day in Gort and Miko Dooley seen me off in the train. My biggest disappointment was that I had to leave my bicycle behind: three speeds, dynamo lights, light-weight, light wheels, a semi-racer, which was the main source of travel in Ireland.
To stay overnight I paid two shillings for a hotel in Dublin, # 2 Amienstreet. Next morning I took a train from Westland Row to Belfast. I applied for car-mechanic, thinking that was my best chance, after serving five years, to get a job in a garage. Too many Irishmen did the three-month-course, deserted from the Royal Air Force and got a job in a garage in Ireland.
It took a week: first a medical check, blood-test, Ex-ray, standing in line in my birthday-suit, nothing was left to the imagination. The British gruelled us about history, political views. I had to disfigure some of my answers. Then came the complete outfitting from top to bottom: boots, socks, underwear, uniform, overcoat, knife, fork and spoon with a tin saucepan. A housewife for those that don’t know to repair cloth: needle, thread, buttons etc. and a wash-kit. Everything packed into a kit-bag, which had a hasp-lock.
I looked in the mirror. My first thoughts: my father would shoot me for being a turn-coat.
He spent his life fighting the British.
We were put on a ship to Scotland and in a train to Wimslow for six weeks for square bashing, drilling, shooting, exercise, boxing, running. Out of 90 guys I was 2nd in a 6-mile cross-country race. I was beaten by an Irish man. Next stop was Upper-Hayford to become a parachute jumper. Half way through the course the war was over and I was ordered back to the recruiting center and was interviewed again. This time they offered an airframe and mechanic training. While waiting to get on the course, I was attached to the Station Commander’s units. He had his own aircraft: Miles Master “3”. I was nothing more then an assistant for the technician in charge.
The Group Captain would do his weekly joy-ride. He asked me if I would like to ride in the rear seat. He said: “Go lad and get a parachute”. He speed down the run-away, pulled the plane up and went back over the run-away upside down. He threw the aircraft around the sky, loops, spins, dives, he gave it the works.
Number one: I didn’t get sick
Number two: yes, I was scared.
Back on the ground he asked me if I wanted to be a pilot. He would sign my application, but that meant signing up for 12 years. The Officer explained I would learn about hydraulics and electrics.
Just before Christmas 1946 a notice was put up that a Dakota Douglas DC3, which was usually used for parachute-jumping, would be flown to Aldershot Airport, outside Belfast. So I got a lift. A few more Southern Irish were also with me. We got a bus to the Main Station and just managed to catch the train to Dublin and then the train to Galway. Jack, my brother, and Paddy McNevin picked me up in Athenry by car.
It was great to be home. If I was truthful: I was homesick, but then: a tough Irish-man would never admit that!
After six month of learning metals, fabrics, splicing, welding etc. I was posted to Lyneham, number One Transport Command. I was assigned to Repair and Inspection (R+I), working on Hastings and Avro Yorks, we had three aircraft 101, 102, 103 used by Churchill, Mountbatten, Montgomery. That was a pleasure, as they were nice and clean, but we also had to service the ones used in the Berlin Airlift, which were filthy, usually carrying coal.
A job was put up on the notice-board to work on a new department: “Progress Planning”. One rule: never volunteer for anything! Paddys didn’t rate very high with the English, but I thought what the hell, I will try.
I got the job. My boss was a Flight Lieutenant, Day. He was a real gentleman. I got on with him very well. The major job was not to have technicians standing around nor having six guys in the cockpit at the same time. I quickly understood the problem and lost no time in sorting out the bottle-necks. It was unique having an officer asking me for my opinion. We cut the down-time and the man-hours. To do a simple job you required an electrician, a rigger and a fitter in those days. The Flight Lieutenant Day signed my request for a bicycle. I also got a side job to look after a games-room to iron the billiard tables, tip the quos, sweep the floor, clean the windows etc. and was paid £1 a week extra.
Typical Air Force: having guys breaking the rules and being confined to camp. So I requested those Janker guys to help me. That little scam went on for nearly four years.
Before I left Ireland I was crazy for hurling. (During my last match in Gort, I scored six goals and got my name in the newspaper.) That stopped abruptly in the Air Force. The Sergeant in charge of the hockey, a Dublin-man, Sergeant McGovern, asked if I hurled. Yes, of course! I also had my hurling-stick. He explained that one of the hockey-players could not play. He convinced me, I would manage o.k. During the two hours bus-ride he tried to teach me the rules of hockey. Anyway the game starts and I hit the ball into the next field. I was playing left wing, being left-handed. I could balance the ball on the hockey-stick. I flicked the ball into the penalty-area. Our Center Forward, a Warrant Officer, missed a 100 % chance. He came over, clapped me in the back and on my next pass he scored. That day we won 4 goals to 2. I scored one and made two passes that resulted in scores.
From that day I played for the team for four years.
I must admit I wasted a lot of time enjoying life and didn’t learn very much. There were plenty of opportunities to learn languages, home-study to better the education, but I took the easy way: I done nothing.
Nine weeks holidays a year, three return-tickets to Gort, train, ship, train and bus – all free. My brother made sure, he had plenty of jobs lined up around the farm. I got to have a good relationship with Dad. I would shave and cut his hair, go to Gort with him. His favourite pub was John Spellman’s. He would sit in a bar-stool and tell stories.
Weekends we went to big cities: London, Glasgow, etc., staying at Y.M.C.A. for two Shillings a night. With the Air Force uniform you got a discount on everything, not to mention hick-hiking or thumbing a lift.
After the war everybody was patriotic, hardly a car passed without picking you up, especially swanky old women in big cars.
In the summer I would visit farmers saving hay etc. and got a shilling an hour. Big money in those days, kept us fit and I could send Mum a little more.
Swindon was 10 miles from Lyneham airport. We would take a bus, drink a few pints of Black & Tans (Guinness & Draft), go to the Irish Club, which usually played Irish music and gave us a chance to meet to opposite sex. Missing the last bus only meant a 10 mile walk.
I was promoted to Corporal. My five years of Service was coming to an end, due to the British Government added the King’s Year. There was a lack of volunteers. I was offered to become a Sergeant. I was comparing salaries in the building-trade. I used to pal around with Tom and Joe Leach from Lydan. They told me that willing workers could always earn a living by mixing cement and sand.
But it was not to be, instead I went to a pub for a drink, turn the next page and read about Aviation Traders and later about the Berlin Airlift.
If I was a writing-man I am sure 5 ¾ years working for the King of England deserves a few more pages.