Forties and After
Autobiographical Note
Ecclesiastical History
Funny old World
Forties and After
Woodall-Duckam 1943
Love and Marriage
Glasgow 1950s
Football etc.
Comments on Pictures




I left school - King Edward's at Stourbridge - in September 1940 at the age of 17 to take a course in Chemical Engineering within the Mining Dept. of Birmingham University. It had been intended that I should stay at school for yet another year in the Sixth and aim at a State Scholarship at Cambridge. The coming of the war, however, changed everyone's life, and with the thought that it was prudent to 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may', I accepted an Exhibition at Birmingham which enabled me to live at home - twelve miles away.

Before starting at University there was an interval of some weeks. In late July the school had organised a camp near Evesham, the idea being that we should assist with the plum harvest which was particularly prolific that year. Plums that year were selling at 2d a pound in Evesham market, and most of the farms let you pick as many as you could carry for a shilling or so. We camped on the banks of the Avon near the village of Charlton. This was not a good idea as even in very hot weather water meadows throw up a damp mist both morning and evening.

My partner was G.R. (Dicky) Higgins. The farmer fed us at a nominal cost and allowed us a small amount for each skip that we had picked. Had we worked assiduously, there should have been a surplus of cash to take home. As Dickie and I had by then officially left school, we were keen to show our independence of school discipline, so were inclined to spend the odd afternoon in or on the river, and some evenings amid the fleshpots, such as they were, of Evesham. This meant that at the final reckoning, Dickie and I were the only ones to show a debit balance.

Unfortunately this expedition became one of several events which led to my resentment of my parents' strict religiosity. Transport to the camp from the school had been arranged on a Sunday morning. Parents decree was that 'going to Church' took absolute priority. Miraculously I was excused evening service, so was able to leave by bicycle after Sunday dinner. On the way, just before the Hoobrook viaduct south of Kidderminster, I failed to mount the rise between the road and a cycle track and came a cropper, sustaining some minor injuries. I managed to find a chemist's shop open for 'Sunday duty' at Droitwich and get patched up.

This delay turned out to be an advantage as both Dickie Higgins and I then had bikes at the camp and were able to use them to our benefit. The reason for his having one I cannot remember.

Nevertheless I resented the embarrassment of having to explain my 'non-conformity' - in two senses of the term - to the master organising the trip. The camp lasted for two weeks, so I was there on the following Sunday also. Parents would not have known, of course, had I not gone to church, but I dreaded the question, "Where did you go on Sunday?" and being unable to lie sufficiently well to get away with it. I therefore cycled to Worcester and back on that Sunday morning- no small distance - to attend Angel Street Congregational Church - for that reason alone.

Immediately following the plum-picking camp, the family had arranged a short holiday at Broadway, not far from Evesham. The war had made the usual sea-side holiday impossible. Mr. & Mrs. Freeman, who held some office at Broadway Congregational Church, and owned a bungalow on the south side, of the Evesham Road, had invited them to stay, and had arranged for Paul and I to 'put up' with a Mrs Pope who lived in a detached house opposite. We 'broke camp' fairly early on the Saturday morning, and the family were not expected to arrive at Broadway station until late afternoon.

I therefore had the whole day before me. I remember dozing off on Broadway village green, and then deciding to cycle to Cheltenham and back via Winchcombe and Cleeve Hill. I later met the family off the train, when we embarked on a week's holiday which mostly consisted of tramping round the district. I am afraid that this was one of the holidays which demonstrated that when you are seventeen years of age, a 'holiday' in the country with parents and a twelve-year-old brother is something of a penance rather than a joy.

Memories of that week include acquaintance with Morris's grocery store at Broadway Cross. The main window display was a faded cardboard advertisement for 'Pearce-Duff's Creamy Custard', the window floor being suitably decorated with an assortment of dead blue-bottles. As Mr. Morris was a pillar of the Congregational Church this seemed to be acceptable. At some other time, we acquired a kitten from the Morris's, which Mother unimaginatively christened 'Morris Broadway'. Neither the name nor the kitten seemed to last very long. Father had an aversion to animals.

One day Mrs. Freeman, a well-burnished, 'Joan Hunter-Dunn' type, organised a 'hike' to Snowshill. Rucksacks were organised, thermos's were filled, sticks brought out of the broom cupboard and boots dubbined. We were rather puzzled by all this as we were quite used to walking twice the planned distance with just a sandwich in our pockets, twopence for a bottle of Tizer, and our every-day clothes supplemented only by a 'mac'.

In later years, of course, the apparent need for the 'right gear' in which to do almost anything became paramount.

On my return home, Ian Hope and I decided to get a job during the rest of the vacation. The Labour Exchange sent us to the R.A.F. Maintenance Unit at Hartlebury and we were appointed 'T.C.C's' - Temporary Civilian Clerks. I never had such a soul-killing job. From Hartlebury there went out to operational bases everything from lavatory brushes to spares for Lancaster bombers. An invoice for each transaction was made out in triplicate. The top sheet, printed in red and the second, in blue, went out with the order. We retained the third, printed in black. The latter were filed in numerical order.

On receipt of the goods, they were signed-for and the blue sheet sent back to us. A whole pile of these was placed on my desk at frequent intervals. My contribution to the war effort was to take each returned 'blue', match it with its corresponding 'black', pin them together and put them in a tray marked 'Out'. Yes, that's all - from 8.a.m. to 6.p.m. with half an hour for lunch ! Periodically someone would take them out of this tray, but where they went to we neither knew nor cared.

The 'Office Manager' was a character named 'Tassell' who chain-smoked with a fag perpetually between his nicotine-stained lips, and who seemed to do little else. Some time during the day we would have a visit from the Squadron-Leader, the main purpose of which seemed to be to have an altercation with Tassell about the supply of some things called 'Beaverettes'. I never did find out what they were.

One way of snatching a brief respite from the boredom of this work was to choose a slack period when Tassell was out of the office, pick up a sheaf of papers and go for a brisk walk round the site. The brisk pace, the sheaf of papers and a military bearing gave one the freedom of the M.U. I was never challenged.

It was with a certain relief that after a couple of weeks at this I was forced to give up through illness. It was diagnosed as 'pylitis', brought on by camping in a damp water-meadow. I was ordered to stay in bed and drink gallons of barley water. Frankly I have reason to doubt the veracity of this diagnosis, and it caused difficulty on several occasions for years thereafter as Insurance Companies do not like a history of kidney complaints. Anyway, the recommended treatment was less boring than had been the R.A.F. One could at least do some reading and absorb a little T.L.C.

I recovered in time to present myself to the Mining Dept. of Birmingham University at the beginning of term and to one Dr. Stacey G. Ward, thus embarking on a course entitled 'Coal Utilisation' which was in fact Chemical Engineering with special reference to coal, which then had a potential, not only as an indigenous fuel in itself, but also as a source of petrochemicals, urgently needed for war purposes. 'Coal to Oil' was a major research project then in hand in the Department. It is ironical that much of my later work in industry was concerned with the transition of gas making plant from coal to oil.

With my arrival at Birmingham it became apparent that the prime object of my further education, however, would be to train for a military career. If I happened, incidentally, to pick up an academic degree, then so much the better. Like most other undergraduates, I immediately enrolled in the Senior Training Corps, which then was at battalion strength with officers and N.C.O. instructors from the Regular Army and specifically designed to prepare us for Sandhurst or one of its several war-time equivalents.

I had joined the training corps in some defiance of my parents who, during the 30's had strong pacifist ideas. This was probably due to my father's experiences as a soldier in France and in Egypt. He had been saved from the humiliation then accorded to the conscientious objector by his joining the R.A.M.C. in which he later became a sergeant. Pacifism in principle, and on the global scale did not, however, outlaw physical punishment for the family. My early years were accompanied by fear of my father's hands which became associated with pain.

At the time of my joining the Training Corps, war had been waging for some twelve months and there was not much parents could do about it. I rather suspect that they considered grudgingly that if I had to be killed, I should preferably suffer that fate as an Officer rather than a conscript. At my interview with the C.O. I was asked why I had not been in my school cadet corps. I told him of my parents' pacifism. He asked me why, then, did I wish to 'join up' now. It was with some glee that I said that my parents' opinions now carried far less weight than heretofore. I like to think that his face registered : "Shows initiative!" At least it seemed to please him.

Initially we were equipped with 'First World War' uniforms - cheese cutter cap, tunics with brass buttons, breeches and puttees, the latter probably the most uncomfortable of nether garments ever made. We were also issued with various ammunition pouches, black boots, greatcoats and service respirators. Like most army equipment, there were two sizes of everything - too big and too small. Fortunately my greatcoat was a reasonable fit, and we were allowed when off duty to wear our own brown boots and brown gloves. These earned us the occasional mistaken salute from regular army personnel.

It was a curious situation. Officially we were 'Officer Cadets', getting the deference due to potential officers, but receiving the withering scorn due to cadets.

One of our early P.S.I's. was a sergeant of the Coldstream Guards. Once he addressed me with, "Where the ******* hell do you think you're putting your ****** great feet Mister Green - Sir?" The "Sir" was heavily loaded, but I'm rather proud of that event.

With patriotic zeal and the threat of pending invasion, I 'rose in the ranks', something to my own surprise. After an early 'stripe', I was allowed to skip the Corporal rank, became a sergeant in command of a Platoon, and in 1943 became a Cadet Warrant Officer. One of the proudest moments of my life was when ordered to organise and command the Passing-Out Parade for my year.

Among our 'P.S.I's (Permanent Staff Instructors) were Sergeants Alder and MacGonagall. The former was wont to try and show his affinity with undergraduates by telling rude stories in the middle of his lectures. As most of us knew stories which were not only ruder, but more subtle than his, the laughter was more derisory than genuine. I don't think he ever realised this. There was the one about the monkey sliding down the icicle........

MacGonagall was a short Irishman who distinguished himself one day on the field where we were learning 'Judging Distance'. He planted a surveying pole in the ground, and then sent one of the squad to pace out 120 paces and then plant another pole. On the return of the pole planter he addressed us: "Now both of those poles are the same distance apart !" Quite a good example of a truism !

In order that we should be 'on the strength' and thereby qualify for grants, regular Instructors and rations, the War Office decided that as well as being an Officers' Senior Training Battalion, we should also become the 28th. Bn. Royal Warwickshire Home Guard. This was nothing like Captain Mainwaring's mob.

Our old uniforms were then replaced by 'Caps F.S.', serge battledress, and web gaiters. We operated in two capacities, that of Officer Cadets and that of Home Guard personnel. This meant changing cap badges from 'O.T.C'. to 'Royal Warwicks' according to which role we were in at any one time..

One of our official tasks was to prove various weapons as they were introduced, We were among the first to get 'Sten' guns and the P.I.A.T (Projector.Infantry.Anti-Tank). After about a year we had to give up our beloved S.M.L.E. rifles to try out an import from America known as the P.30. This used rimless cartridges and circular back-sight. It's barrel stuck out about 6" from the wooden stock, making it look like the sort of thing the Yankees used to slaughter the rightful inhabitants of their god-forsaken country. It was not popular, and not all that accurate. With our rifles, we had to change from the long L-E bayonet to a short spike. We were told that this was because the new type would kill just as well, but would come out more easily, "giving you more time for the next one". A happy thought!

We had plenty of practice with the Bren Gun. Teaching recruits 'naming of parts' of this weapon had an unexpected hazard as someone had, naÔvely or deliberately, named one important item the 'body locking pin'. Strict discipline had to be relaxed at this point.

We were also equipped with 2" mortars and "Mills No. 36. H.E. Grenades". At various times I had to lecture on and demonstrate these delights. In view of my latter career, I find it strange that my first 'public' lectures were on weapons of destruction. The fact that on targets was often painted a swastika or a cartoon of A. Hitler relieved any conscience we may have had.


I fully expected to move to further training and be commissioned. Having, however picked up a degree in Chemical Engineering, the Government aborted my military career, thinking that I would be better employed producing, inter-alia, engine fuel, raw-materials for explosives, fertilisers and aspirin tablets.

There was in this edict both disappointment and relief; disappointment in that as I had performed rather better in my Army exams than in my academic work, (How we managed to do both, I cannot now imagine!) I was not to be allowed to pursue a career for which I had been prepared; relief that I was rather less likely to be blown up or shot.

Had I been commissioned in the Army, the timing was such that I would almost certainly been on the D-Day landings and have been shot. That might have saved many people a good deal of trouble, but that is another matter!


© The Estate of William John Green, 2004