Veteran Stories:
Roy Edgell

Army

  • Sergeant Roy Edgell in Essex, England while at his sister's wedding in 1945.

    Roy Edgell
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"She was carrying an unlit cigarette in a long holder and on her back was attached a notice which read: 'not before breakfast, please.'"

Transcript

It was an invasion scare. We were sent down to the slit trenches on the [southern English] coast just below the cliffs where our barracks were. Fortunately, the invasion never came or I wouldn’t be here now. But one Sunday morning, we saw 27 very large airplanes heading in our direction from where Germany was. At that time, the only [anti-aircraft] gun we had was spread out on the ground, all taken apart for cleaning, so we frantically tried to get this gun together, but we never made it; and we just had to watch them go over and drop their bombs. Fortunately, they were a bit out of line with us and we saw all the bombs come down, and demolish our barracks up at the top of the cliffs. And then from there, because no more barracks, I guess, I was posted to The Wiltshire Regiment [(Duke of Edinburgh’s)] and the Wiltshires were known as the "moonrakers" and from there, I applied for a job as electrician fire control and found myself on a basic radio course in Greenock, up on the clyde of Scotland. Did three months there and then did my radar course in North Barrack on the Firth of Forth, which is the east coast of Scotland. At the end of that course, I was kept on as an instructor and stayed there for two years. Then I applied for overseas service and was sent to Nottingham [England] to go overseas, but the draft was cancelled because all the previous drafts were getting wiped out. I found myself in Dover, servicing the radar on the seven anti-aircraft gun sites around Dover. From there, one morning, an American anti-aircraft battery came in and set up beside us; and I was told to go and learn their radar, which I did. And then we got their radar on lease-lend [lend-lease: American program supplying war material to Allied nations] and I found myself installing them throughout southeast England. And I was there until finally the flying [V]-1s, the flying bombs [German V-1: Vergeltungswaffe-1], all air raids of the flying bombs finished and I was posted to a small workshop up in Suffolk where I met my future wife. Then we was demobbed [demobilized] eventually. When I was doing my basic radio course in Greenock, I was fire watching in the, on fire watching duty in the school, the James Watt Memorial School, which is sort of in the town of Greenock. And one afternoon, one of the masters there said, we’re going to be raided tonight, the bead’s on us. Well, we indeed were. They pretty, they did a pretty good job of destroying the town all around us. So that stands out as quite a vivid memory. I was working on fire control radar, radar that controlled the fire of the [QF] 3.7 [inch] anti-aircraft guns. Well, at the beginning of the war, really, it was pretty useless. It may have been a deterrent to the pilots up there, but in terms of shooting planes down, it just didn’t work. But by the end of the war, it was deadly. And that was largely because of the invention of the proximity fuse. The proximity fuse was like a miniature radar set in every shell and it sent out a pulse, and as soon as it got a reflection back from that pulse, it exploded. And that just made all the difference. Before that, every shell that was fired to determine the range, there had to be a fuse set in it. So you slammed the shell into a fuse setter, set the fuse and then you put it into the gun, and fired it. And the net result was that you hardly hit anything. But the proximity fuse just made all the difference. Two afternoons running, I saw fifteen flying bombs come in over the coast, no, approaching the coast and not one reached the coast because they were all shot down before they got to the coast. Which was entirely different to, you know, only a month earlier. It was Christmas night, 1944, just after 11:30 pm. At that time, the air raids on Britain has ceased and I had been posted to a small workshop up in Suffolk. And on that Christmas day, night, our workshop had a dance. Now, the dance was deemed a failure because not far away was a very large U.S.A. bomber base and a girl would have to be either super patriotic or a bit not too swift to go to a dance in a small British workshop if she could go to a dance at a big U.S.A. bomber base. As a result, we did not have many women at our dance. But I wasn’t at the dance because I was orderly sergeant on that day; and I had to be over in the guardhouse. Well, just after 11:30, orderly officer came in and said, "the dance is getting out of hand, you’d better go over there and get the women out." Well, when I got there, there was only two women left in the place. There was a blonde and a brunette and they were both WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] and they had taken refuge up on the stage behind the band. Also, fortunately for me, as I walked in the back door, the troublemakers walked out the front door, so all I had to do was escort these two girls out and see them back to their base on their push-bikes. They were operators at a big CH [Chain Home] radar station up the road. Well, I thought that was the end of it, but about two days later, when driving out to a gun site, I had to go through the small country town of Halesworth. A few miles before Halesworth, who should be walking along the road with her thumb but the blonde. So I gave her a ride into Halesworth and just before we got there, she said, "on New Year’s Eve we have a fancy dress dance at the station, will you come?" So on New Year’s Eve, I turned my stripes upside down and tried to make myself look like an American; and turned up at the dance to find the blonde dressed in a long black silk-flowered dressing gown. She was carrying an unlit cigarette in a long holder and on her back was attached a notice which read: "not before breakfast, please." So that’s how I met my wife.
Follow us