"And all of a sudden, the heavens opened up with a thousand guns, which were firing just a few miles from where we were."
My name is Tom Edwards. I served in the RAF and my task was anti-aircraft gunner. First of all on Lewis guns and subsequently on bofor guns, 40 millimetres, as the war progressed. I was 13 when the war broke out and in common with thousands of other children, my family was persuaded that I be evacuated from Liverpool because that was obviously a target area. And they took us from Liverpool to a place called Weaverham, about 40 or 50 miles away in Cheshire, which although it was in the countryside, we were adjacent to one of the biggest chemical factories in the country. So it really wasn't a very good place to be away from enemy aircraft.
I returned to Liverpool in the year 1939. And it wasn't until 1940 that the war heated up for us. In 1940 we began to get constant air raids. On one occasion, I remember when the city of Liverpool was attacked with a heavy air raid. One night, I was out at a movie and went from there to an air raid shelter and when I left the air raid shelter about one o'clock in the morning, across the street from the shelter, a Liverpool art gallery was on fire and the museum was on fire. And I went over and I remember holding the hose while the firemen had a break for a meal and so on. And I thought I was contributing a great deal to the war effort.
Now I was now 14. So I went down to the Naval Recruiting Office and tried to enlist and when they asked me how old I was, I gave my age as 17 and the individual said, "Well, you come back in a year's time. You're too young yet." So, the next year I didn't go back to that individual, I thought he might remember me. And I went to the Air Force recruiting office and I enlisted as a wireless operator /air gunner. I told them I was 18 and I managed to get by without producing a birth certificate and I went down for a test to Cardington in Buckinghamshire. I was 15 and the test they gave me was based upon what a 16-year-old was taught in school and I failed the education test. And the recruiter said, "Why don't you stay in the Air Force as a ground gunner, work on your mathematics and the other material that you failed on and then you'll be able to go and transfer into aircrew." So I said, fine I'd do that. And I was sent to South Wales and I served there as a ground gunner with a twin Lewis gun which would defend the airfield from low flying aircraft. In December of 1941, they came around asking for people to volunteer for overseas and I put my name forward. And early in 1942 I got on a ship and sailed away.
I'm told that this was the last convoy scheduled for Singapore, which fortunately for me, fell while we were en route. So instead of going to Singapore and being taken prisoner by the Japanese, I was taken to Durban, South Africa and we got on another ship which took us to Egypt. And from there, I joined a unit that was serving in the area of Tobruk in a place called Gambit. No sooner had I been there a month or so, when the Germans broke through and pushed us back in a retreat to El Alamein.
I remember it was a beautiful clear night. The moon was so bright you could almost read a newspaper. And all of a sudden, the heavens opened up with a thousand guns, which were firing just a few miles from where we were. And after ten days of fighting, the Eighth Army broke through. And we pushed the Germans back to a headlong retreat. We went through without too much opposition until we got to Egypt and Libya. And at a place called Nefelia in Libya, we were digging a gun pit to place our guns in and some of my colleagues struck an S-mine which is a small anti-personnel mine, the size of a good sized jam jar and when you strike this thing, it jumps up about three feet in the air, then it explodes and it fires ball bearings in all directions. And nine of my comrades were struck by this thing and three of them died immediately and the other six were very, very badly wounded. And that was a bit of a shake up.