INSIGHTS ON IVOR
Part Twenty Two
The UK received quite a shock in 1951 when it was announced that two Foreign Office diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had been under surveillance by the Intelligence Services as suspected spies got wind of it and fled to Soviet Russia. Meeting at Cambridge University some years earlier, along with Kim Philby, they were all deeply involved in espionage, holding very left wing views of western democracy and passing secrets to the Russians.
By this time in my life I had passed my exams at Compton Basset and as a fully trained Teleprinter Operator (TPO) was posted to HQ Coastal Command at RAF Northwood, Middlesex. Naturally I was pleased but at the same time sorry to leave some of the other trainees. One particular fellow I remember was a chap named Jim Kelly. The reason for this was that when our postings came through he was posted to RAF Jurby which is in the Isle Of Man. This raised a laugh because there is an old song which starts with the words ‘Has anybody here seen Kelly, K-E-Double LY’ and ends with ‘Kelly from the Isle of Man’. Obviously someone in the postings office had a sense of humour when seeing Jim’s surname. For me RAF Northwood was a blessing, being near Greenford I could easily pop home on my days off. I remember the day those of us from Compton Basset arrived at Northwood and being confronted by a young fresh faced Officer who enquired ‘where are you chaps from’? Upon hearing that we were Teleprinter Operators (T.P.O’s) from Compton Basset his face lit up and in a burst of unrestrained pleasure exclaimed ‘Oh, T.P.O’s from Compton Basset, Oh, jolly good show chaps’. You can imagine for days afterwards we ‘chaps’ were going around enquiring of each other ‘Where are you chaps from? and the enthusiastic reply which followed, each time uttered with more enthusiasm and additions like ‘Wizard Prang’ or ‘Chocks away’ sometimes added for good measure.
Our Signals office was based underground on the camp and due to us working shift hours we were billeted in a separate building situated in a field a mile down the road from the camp. This enabled us to come off a night shift and get some sleep away from the hustle and bustle of life on the camp. .
Our special billet had beds, a coal fuelled boiler in the middle of the room, a kitchen with some basic cooking facilities and bathroom. There was a regular bus service from Watford which transported us to and from the camp. Being away from the camp in a field allowed us plenty of freedom for a kick around with a football. We had a radio in our billet and I remember we all crowded around the set one glorious night, July 10th 1951, to be precise, and listened to the commentary of a boxing match when British fighter Randolph Turpin shook the world by beating the ‘invincible!’ American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the greatest boxers of all time, over ten pulsating rounds and became the World Middleweight Champion. Unfortunately Turpin’s triumph didn’t last long because in the return fight, held in New York later that year, Robinson got his revenge and regained his title.
My time spent at Northwood was the best part of my National Service. Although I came from a fairly large family, three brothers and a sister, plus spending much of my teenage days mixing with other boys in the Boys Brigade the experience of meeting and mixing with new people, men and women, with completely different backgrounds and accents was for me a wonderful learning curve. I loved to hear the different accents. It mattered not to me whether the speaker was from any of the regions of England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland (or even Kelly from the Isle of Man!) I was fascinated, so much so that over the years, I have tried, with some success at times, to imitate some of these different accents. My two biggest successes came when someone said my attempt at a Scottish accent was ‘more Scottish than Angus Mactavish’ (not his real name but I won’t divulge his real identity). On another occasion, I had to telephone a Senior Officer to give him an important message. My call was answered by his Irish wife who informed me he was out. As she couldn’t quite understand my normal accent I asked her if she might understand me better if I attempted to read the message in an Irish accent. She replied ‘Oh, yes please sir, that would be lovely’ So, bravely or foolishly, off I went in my best Irish brogue without once saying ‘Begorrah, a’tall, a’tall’ Anyway she said she understood it all and would pass it on to her husband Seamus. I never did find out if Seamus understood it or even got the message a’tall a’tall.
---End of Part Twenty Two—