John H. Fenton served as a Code & Cypher Sergeant with No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in Normandy and then with No. 83 Group Control Centre in Belgium, Holland and Germany. At the end of April 1945, having passed an earlier selection interview, he was posted with immediate effect to the RAF Officers’ Training School, Cosford.
“Next day, one of our trucks took me to Celle airfield. A constant stream of transport aircraft were landing and taking off. The first of our ex-prisoners-of-war patiently queued, awaiting their repatriation to England. I flew in a Dakota – my first flight – to what is now Gatwick airport. On arriving in England, I was granted 48 hours’ leave before reporting to Cosford.”
John, who was 21 years old, had to take down his Sergeant’s stripes and wear the broad white band of an Officer Cadet round his cap. The six week course would last until 14th June 1945.
In his memoirs, John quotes from a letter he wrote to his parents:
Tues 8 May. VE Day
“I am wondering how you are spending VE Day. It’s good to know that the war in Europe is over at last…..I’m sorry I’m not in Germany at the moment. I landed in Normandy D Day and it seems a pity that I should have returned (to England) about ten days before the end.
…..If I had been anywhere else but here I’d have been celebrating today in the manner it deserved. This place is the exception though. We celebrated victory this morning by getting soaked to the skin. We started work as usual at 7.45 am but at 9 am attended a special victory parade on the square, at which the CO made a speech and there was a short service. It was obvious before it all started that it was going to pour down with rain – we could hear the thunder. However, they went on with the parade and, sure enough, we stood through thunder and lightning and a terrific downpour. We were very near to mutiny. We were, for once, as keen on a parade and service as anyone, but it would have been a simple matter to postpone it for an hour or two until the storm passed.
We finished at 10 am for the day but, being Officer Cadets, are not allowed to celebrate with the ‘common herd’. So, this afternoon we’ll write up notes, maybe go to the camp cinema this evening, and go to bed early tonight ready for another hard day’s work tomorrow. I know one thing. Pass or fail, I’ll have my own VE Day when I finish this course.
(I understated in my letter what a miserable anti-climax VE Day was for me. It caught me in a complete No Man’s Land. I was neither at home nor abroad. Having left one group of pals, I’d had no opportunity yet to form new friendships. I was neither airman nor officer; just a Cadet confined to camp to avoid mischief, being processed for service against the Japanese in the Far East. That day my thoughts were very much back in Germany.)
And my friends in Germany had not forgotten me. A few days later, I received the following letter.”
1326408 Sgt Norman
83 Group Control Centre,
Royal Air Force,
British Liberation Army
Tues 8 May ’45
I was very pleased to receive your letter yesterday and glad to know you had some time at home – but sorry to hear your feet haven’t touched the deck in Cosford yet – not a moment to yourself – different here – very slack now it’s over!! We celebrated it the night of the 4th when Jerry packed in on this sector – what a night in the Mess. I don’t remember half of it and woke up next morning on the floor of the tent – Johnny Day put me to bed and I must have fallen out in the night.
When the news was announced, AA guns started firing and a pilot was above doing victory rolls, Verey Lights were going up all over the show and the lads were firing off rifles and stens – there was a row about that next day – it was quite a night.
Next day, Bill Hales went up to the submarine pens at Hamburg and 600 naval personnel surrendered to him with 5 subs!!!!
We are all together again with the exception of Mr. White who was sent off to Denmark – lucky man – and the question is “What now?” I’m hoping to be out in a few months – also Jock – seems too good to be true.
We have a couple of radios in the section and are, at this moment, waiting for Churchill’s speech at 1500 – can’t see us staying here long now. You are lucky to be in England today – we would all give our gratuities to be there today – but in the meantime are managing to ‘rough it’ with cushions, eggs, whisky and a Deutcher washer woman – and very little work!
Mr. Sharp did not have the chance to get ‘orged’ with the blonde you mentioned.
Enclosed you will find a souvenir which I know you will appreciate – the ‘gen’ as we received it on the 7th.
DRO’s just come in and say there will be a giant bonfire tonight, lit by the Group Captain – and community singing and a rum punch for all ranks.
Guess that’s all for the moment, Johnny – keep in touch – and, in the meantime, we all send our very best wishes for your success.
Enclosed with the letter was a teleprint of the 83 Group signal sent on 7th May to inform personnel of the German surrender. The teleprint was signed by Les Norman, Bernard “Taffy” Morgan* and three other of John’s ex-colleagues present at the time. It was, and is, a much-appreciated souvenir.
*Bernard Morgan and his copy of this signal featured in a Daily Mail article in January of this year
John Fenton received his Commission in the Administrative and Special Duties (Code and Cypher) branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and flew out to the Far East in August 1945.