By Les Bratt – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner RAF
Splasher Six Volume 35, Spring 2004, No.1
Cindy Goodman, Editor
More Memories From Splasher Six.
By Les Bratt – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner RAF
Volume 35, Spring 2004, No. 1
As part of my training to be a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, I was posted to the Head Quarters Bomber Command base at High Wycombe for a few months.
This was a very busy, Top Secret and mostly underground. Officers from various countries were everywhere, wearing unknown uniforms, confusing rank identification. To prevent any problems, all saluting was banned. I believe this was the only RAF base where this situation occurred.
In the Autumn of 1943 I was posted to the Frenze Hall, Splasher Six beacon site. This was a complete change in every way to the type of service I had been used to. Arriving by train at Diss station, I was picked up by a small wagon and took me to where I was billeted with Mrs. Bellington at Mount Pleasant in Diss. I was informed that all the airmen at Frenze Hall were scattered around Diss and Scole in similar homes as there was no RAF airfield nearby.
The following morning the Sergeant in charge at the Frenze Hall took be to the transmitting station at Frenze Hall. The transmitters were of various types including the R.C.A and G.E.C. models. These were fixed inside single decked buses and huts in a field near to the Hall. The sets were very noisy when operating and due to the power, a field of electricity was involved inside the buses. During the damp weather conditions when entering the buses by the sliding doors, the person involved would receive quite a nasty shock by earthing the R.F. power.
At night everywhere was completely blacked out and it was difficult to get around. I believe about twenty-five airmen including a Sergeant were on the site and worked on a shift system. Frenze Hall was part of a line of transmitting stations along the east coast. Each one had a coded number to identify it’s position out in Morse code followed by a long note. This enabled the operator to in the returning aircraft to tune the radio receiver to the signal and was guided back to the home base.
Constant checks were made during the transmissions. The German transmitters often picked up British signals and beamed them back on another wave length, which could cause confusion. Upon realizing the situation, the signals at Frenze Hall were quickly mutilated to warn the bomber crews of the danger. I believe the British transmitters did a similar activity to confuse the German aircraft whilst bombing this country. The signals from Frenze Hall were very powerful and at time while sitting in the billet at Mount Pleasant, the electric fire illuminated with a pulse in time to the Splasher Six beacon call sign.
We often had complaints from people living near Frenze Hall that the signals blotted out the radio programs at times. It was a joke at the time that someone had contacted Thorpe Abbotts to ask if the mission to Europe could be planned not to coincide with popular radio shows!
Although the airmen at Frenze Hall were all fully qualified wireless operators, I was never called upon to send or receive any Morse code messages. Sometimes during the bad weather, no flying took place so the signals were not required. During these times the shifts were very boring as the social side was short of equipment. A battered old Billiards table was used often and many fortunes were won and lost.
By mutual agreement, shifts were changed to enable the operators to fix longer periods off duty, mostly at weekends. I had the unfortunate experience of being home in Stoke-On-Trent without an official weekend leave pass. When the invasion of Europe took place on D-Day. I quickly hitch hike the 200 miles from Stoke to Diss expecting the place to be really busy and perhaps be put on a charge. However, I was informed that nothing unusual happened.
Early one morning I was cycling to Frenze Hall and I counted around 370 bombers orbiting very high taking up battle positions. I wondered which group of aircraft would be bombing using the beam I would be transmitting. It made me feel that in some little way I was helping them. We were issued with a Sten machine gun while at the site to defend ourselves with should an airborne invasion by German paratroopers take place. However, we were never instructed how to use them and never had any ammo issued! The Sergeant I/C at the site owned a .22 rifle and quite a lot of shooting was done at the Pheasants that returned in the evening through the field we were in,
The RAF issued us with a cycle to get us to the site and back to the billet. They had to be guarded carefully as lots of cycles were taken by the airmen from Thorpe Abbotts to get back from Diss to the airfield. After a night out or a dance at the local Corn Hall, the men were not able to walk all the way so the cycles were borrowed without permission, ridden to the camp and then parked neatly in a pile by a large hedge. The cycles were collected the following morning by the owners.
The RAF operators formed a cricket team and we were invited to several placed for friendly games. One came was versus the Secondary School in Diss, in which we won, and I had the dubious honor of bowling out almost all of the young school boys. I also took part in two games against the RAF airmen at Pulham St. Mary. During these games their fast bowler succeeded in causing the ball to rear up and strike my face and I needed to visit the hospital. I believe there was an American PX hut in the town of Eye but I’m not certain of its position. It was for recreational purposes and the RAF were invited to use its facilities.
Diss was always busy in the evenings and the pubs were full of Americans and men for the British 8th Army who were station nearby. They had returned to England from North Africa, waiting to start the second front invasion of Europe. On several occasion trouble would break out between the Forces due to drinking too much, and a bit of jealousy with regard to the young ladies in town. The RAF airmen from Frenze Hall were rather left out of things at dances because the young ladies preferred to talk about distant exciting places such as, Italy, North Africa, or Arizona and New York, etc.
The general people in Diss and Scole were very kind and friendly to us and we all were invited to quite a number of homes. The cinema in Diss was a very popular venue and several amusing incidents took place when some the American films showed places known by the men from Thorpe Abbotts. My friend and I were invited to the airfield several times and also taken for a meal in the Sergeants Mess. We sampled food there that was never seen for quite sometime in RAF camps. It was quite a sobering experience when the airmen pointed out to us group photographs of crew that had not returned to base just days ago.
I always admitted the light leather jackets issued to the bomber crews, and a particular crew member said he could get one for me. However, when I visited the airfield two days later I was informed that he also did not return from a mission. I know now that he became a POW and returned later after the war to his home in New Jersey. For a brief period I was sent to the Splasher site at Mundesley and I stayed with the local Post Office lady with the other operators that were there before me. We were not allowed on to the beaches as they were all heavily mined to prevent enemy troops landing.
I never really settled there and I was pleased when I returned to Diss again.