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You Are To Carry On, Good Luck Z-Zebra

CHAPTER 1  

Letters from America - First Impressions

Charles Harrison was born on 12 June 1921 at 16 Agnew Road, Honor Oak Park, London SE23 the first child of Charles Harrison and May Ellen Harrison nee Ebdy. Inevitably known as Charlie to his friends and family he had two younger sisters, May Ellen (known as Sis) born 1922, and Florence Minnie (known as Flo or Florry) born 1924. 

                                                     

               Sis, Charlie and Flo with Mum and Dad c1930                                                                              Flo, Charlie and Sis c1930

Charlie attended Stillness Road School from the 1926 until 1936. Leaving school aged 15, he went to work for Molins Machine Company Limited of Deptford, manufacturers of cigarette making machines and packaging machines. He was initially employed in the workshop but very soon transferred to the Technical Drawing Department whilst also studying one day a week at a London County Council College for which he received a grant from the LCC. Sitting his final exams on Thursday 19 May 1938 he achieved passes in Maths, English and Technical Drawing (with credit).

Charlie played cricket and loved cycling and drawing and became engaged to a local girl named Doris. 

                             

                                                                                        Charlie and Doris somewhere in Kent  1941

With the outbreak of war Molins turned their production over to the manufacture of armaments and thus being essential to the war effort Charlie could have at least deferred his call up, but chose instead to do the exact opposite and  volunteered for RAF service in the autumn of 1941. 

Charlie was soon 1389929 L.A.C Harrison C. and the following extracts from his Air Force diary continue his story.

Thursday 1 January 1942 - No. 4 E.F.T.S (Elementary Flying School) Brough (East Riding of Yorkshire)

No flying, rotten weather, everyone on tenterhooks and full of rumours regarding leave. Sergeant relieved tension in evening by saying it was ok.

Fri 2 Jan - No flying, rotten weather, after a great deal of red tape we eventually left on leave at about 6pm

Sat 3 Jan - Arrived home at 5.30 in the morning, all in. Saw Doris during the afternoon, very enjoyable.

Sat 10 Jan - Left Euston for Manchester arrived at 4 o'clock (Heaton Park), billeted with Mrs Simpson, very satisfactory.

Sun 11 Jan - Usual daily routine of a dispersal. Officers and N.C.O's the best ever.

Thurs 15 Jan - Long weekend suggested but our hopes were soon downed.

Fri 16 Jan - We are flighted for embarkation. Are told that leave has been granted from (A/D ?) Sat.

Sat 17 Jan - Left Manchester for home at 14.15 hrs arrived home 18.30 hrs. Grand to be home again.

Sun 18 Jan - Left at 00.30 hrs Monday morning for Manchester. Was rather downhearted at not being able to see Doris.

Thurs 22 Jan - Left Manchester 10.00 hrs for Gourock (Scotland) arrived 10.00 hrs Friday morning. (snowing when we left, raining when we arrived) embarked on a small packet to H.M.S. Ansonia which lay at anchor in the Firth of Clyde, it is a heavily armed passenger boat of about 15000 tons, is one of the Cunard boats and sister ship to Athenia.

Sat 24 Jan - Day spent in idle contemplation and watching shipping while ship is being loaded with stores. (Calm)

Sun 25 Jan - Left at 00.30 hrs this morning, very rough in the Irish Sea, nearly everyone violently sick. I managed to stick it out. Ship rolled continuously causing absolute confusion below decks. Gosh! What a mess

Mon 26 Jan - Sea a lot calmer at beginning of day, but the rough weather returned with the late afternoon.

Tues 27 Jan - The sailors consider this voyage to be the worst that the ship has ever done. Maximum speed for whole day averaged 3 knots. Every evening when the decks are clear I spend an hour thinking of Doris. Miss her more than anything as I do Mum, Dad, Sis and Flo.

Weds 28 Jan - Destroyer drops depth charges, hope they drove off sub. Sea still rough, decks continually swept by sea. Very hectic in the mess these days. Food won't stay put.

Thurs 29 Jan - At last the sea has calmed, enabling us to speed up to about 14 knots, weather still warm.

Fri 30 Jan - Sea still calm, wind still dropping. Everyone agrees food is pretty good on board ship, still maintaining good speed.

Sat 31 Jan - Wind still dropping. O.K. but is a help to U. Boats. Not a mighty lot to do but lounge. Spend a deal of time thinking of Doris

Sun 1 Feb - Weather still holding. Another quiet day.

Mon 2 Feb - Excitement, intense hope to arrive at Halifax tomorrow. Still waiting for additional escort. Hope the cables will reach England O.K.

Tues 3 Feb - Sea like a mill pond

His diary entries come to an end here but Charlie wrote home regularly and at length about his time in the U.S.A. In his letters the love that he had for his family is plain to see, especially his dear 'Mum'. His letters all begin 'Dear Mum, Dad, Sis and Flo' and in closing he never fails to send his love to 'Grandma, Auntie Flo and Uncle Stan'. 

                                 

                                          Charlie's beloved family in 1941 (Back row left to right: Charlie, Sis, Uncle Stan, Dad and Flo

                                                             Front: Grandma Ebdy (died 1941), and Mum. Far right:  Grandma Harrison. 


The enthusiasm he had for flying is more than evident throughout his letters: his writings constantly betray the love, excitement and elation that he felt each and every time he left the ground. He writes in one of his letters, 'There can be no doubt about it, to pass this course it is almost necessary to be a born pilot'. Perhaps he was.  


Turner Field, Albany, Georgia U.S.A. 27 February 1942

Dear Mum, Dad, Sis and Flo

We travelled from Monkton to St. John's and there picked up a train which was to carry us to Detroit on the U.S.A border and what a wonderful journey that was. The distance was roughly a thousand miles through ice, snow and pine trees with most wonderful views the whole time - steep tree covered valleys, beautiful wooded hills - the gigantic length of Lake Ontario and the beauty of the tiny white churches which we passed from time to time all helped to make the journey one that I shall never forget. Naturally Mum, it would be impossible for me to describe everything that I saw in this letter but I am hoping to bring some photos with me relating my whole stay.

On arrival at Detroit we boarded another train, this time to travel due south for Albany. Before I forget Mum I must tell you that at Detroit I saw my first sky scraper and although it was quite some distance away the height to me seemed enormous. After pulling out of Detroit we had our first American meal, it was served by coloured waiters and would have made the 'Monico'* look up, I won't say more about it than that Mum but you can take it from me it was grand. Later on in the evening I thought of you all at home wondering what you were doing while I was sitting in the dining car with Jim drinking "highballs" and smoking cigars and in general having a damn fine time.

*The Monico was a renowned, high class restaurant in Shaftsbury Avenue, London. 

When we awoke the following morning Mum, we were well down in Kentucky and here the weather was certainly getting warmer and by the afternoon it was quite uncomfortable. We asked one of the waiters if it was very hot in Albany at this time of year; he told us that it was, but this year a cold spell had set in making it quite chilly. However, even though the weather is not so hot as usual we find that it suits us perfectly, goodness knows what it must be like at the height of summer. 

Turner Field is one of the American training aerodromes but we do no flying here; our job is to get accustomed to the American methods and weather before being sent to another aerodrome to commence flying.

I dare say Mum that you are fed up with hearing me speak about food but I can't possibly finish this letter without paying tribute to the American food for it is perfect in every way besides being plentiful. I should think the coloured waiters get browned off with serving R.A.F. cadets as the amount of food we get through is a wonder to even ourselves.

At the moment Mum I have not had the chance to meet many American people but the little I have seen of them convinces me that they are a grand lot and I'm sure that I shall get on very well with them.

Another thing that pleases all of us Mum is the price of cigarettes and tobacco on the camp. The best cigarettes are roughly seven pence for twenty and tobacco is almost half that price per ounce, I'm sure it must make Dad's mouth water.

Well Mum I have only given you a very rough outline of my reactions in America so far but I am quite sure that even though home is best I am going to enjoy my training under U.S. Army conditions very much.

Hoping that you are all still well and that all is going smoothly at home. Fondest love to you all, Charlie

P.S. Please give my love to Grandma, Auntie Flo and Uncle Stan.

14 March 1942 Turner Field

The weather is getting hotter; my face and shoulders are already brick red and although I find it a painful process I get into the sun as much as possible so as to grow used to it. (I hope)

This Wednesday twenty five of us were invited to a party given by the teachers of a girls high school about twenty miles away and I was one of the lucky ones (you know what I am where parties are concerned). We arrived at the school and were at once taken over by about fifty girls, I had quite a shock especially as I expected to be greeted by a party of elderly school teachers. At the end of three hours I think we must have tried every folk dance that you could name, goodness knows what you would have thought to see me as well as the other fellows doing our best to look at ease while we hopped and stepped through the "Grand March" After the prancing was completed I did my best to slide away and cool off but hadn't been walking the grounds for long before a young teacher caught me and proceeded to question me on everything concerning England and I pride myself on the fact that I gave her quite a colourful picture of us during wartime. Anyway she seemed quite impressed and wondered if I'd care to take her class on the subject if I had an hour or so to spare. Of course Mum when I tell you that the age of the class ranges from seventeen and up you can imagine that I wasn't too keen on the idea but I have since decided to try it as soon as I find the time. I don't quite know whether to pity the girls or myself. As I have found out that many people in the southern states have very hazy ideas about England I feel I may be doing a little good. 

Well Mum hoping that you are still all in the very best of health, will say cheerio now until next week. Fondest love to you all, Charlie. 

PS I forgot to say Mum that we had quite a good time at the party and feel I must say once again that the American people make us feel right at home.

22. March 1942 Turner Field. 

Another week gone and we are now nearing the end of our time at "Turner Field". Next week-end we leave for our "Primary Flying Training School" the name of which we do not yet know but we are all pleased that at last we can commence flying again. Last week we moved from our billets and are now under canvas, however the tents have wooden walls and are only canvas covered so we are quite comfortable. 

One evening last week we went turtle shooting with two American soldiers and I had grand fun. The soldiers say they make very fine food but I must say I didn't quite fancy them. 

Besides turtles Mum we also have a large selection of snakes, all of them able to cause death from a little bite and as we are not keen on being bitten we leave them strictly alone. Some little time back one of the fellows walked on one but had the great luck of being able to kill it before it was able to reach him. After making sure it was dead he slung it over his shoulder and walked back to camp where he neatly coiled it up and put it on some poor bloke's bed. As it was quite dark at the time the fellow didn't see it until he was almost in bed and then to his great discomfort he sat on it. I'll leave you to imagine the result Mum. By the way, the length of it was six feet. 

Thank you so very much for your cable Mum I have just received it together with one from Doris. I leave you to guess how much they cheered me up. I noticed that they arrived early in Feb. so they have had quite a run around.

Hoping that you are still all quite well and that the 'Home Guard' and 'Holdrons'* are still going strong.

* Holdrons - a large department store in Peckham, London where Charlie's two sisters Sis and Flo worked.

Photographs courtesy Mrs Florence Morgan

                                                                                  Contents                                                                 Chapter 2

RW 04.10.2015

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