1st July 2010
A little while ago, I wrote about the memories of British naval officer, preserved at the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive, who commanded a flotilla of minesweepers off the North-West coast of Germany after the war.
Another, very different interview in the same archive, was with an RAF aircraftman and instrument repairer, who spent his time in Germany after the war playing a jazz band, while waiting to be demobilised and allowed to return to Britain.
He was born in April 1925 and so was just 20 years old at the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. He had left school in 1939 and before being called up in 1943 worked in a silk stocking factory and then as a stockbroker’s clerk. He joined the RAF, landed with the troops in Normandy in July 1944 and moved up with them through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany. By chance, he found a piano that was still playable and applied to the local Welfare Officer for a posting that would let him play some music. In September 1945 he was transferred to a position as a clerk at the Welfare Unit at the Headquarters of British Air Forces of Occupation at Bückeburg, where he joined a jazz band as a drummer and then the station band as the pianist.
They were just waiting their time for demobilisation, he said, but it was a lovely way to do this. Asked by the interviewer how he got on with German civilians he replied he didn’t have much to do with them as he was too busy playing in the band. He had a ‘sainted life’ and could do more or less what he liked. ‘It was just one big ball actually while we were there’ he said.
After a few months, the bands started to break up as some members were demobilised and went home. He joined another group which toured various bases in the British zone. He was invited to Hamburg to do some radio broadcasts and played in a radio show in Paris, in which Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward also performed.
In September 1946 he was posted to RAF Hamburg. His ‘jolly 12 months’ came to an end and he had to carry out ‘general duties’ in the officers’ mess. He was then attached to RAF police on guard room duties. He used to practice playing the piano, but there were no bands there any more as ‘all the musicians had gone home’.
By early 1947, he was getting very bored and in March that year he was finally demobilised. Back in Britain he worked for a time as a professional musician before settling down to a more permanent and stable job as a clerical officer with the Post Office, dealing with telephone customer accounts.
Imperial War Museum Sound Archive
Accession no. 23187