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Noel John READ


Born 25 December 1925, Beacon Hill, Hindhead, Surrey


Former R.A.F. aircrew and Army Air Corps pilot


I was thirteen years old when World War II was declared and was fired up the following year by the exploits of the RAF fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. Some of the dog-fights took place over our area and we thrilled, as did the whole of Britain, to the deeds of “The Few”. I resolved that flying with the RAF was what I wanted to do. So at the tender age of 17¼ I volunteered for RAF aircrew, was accepted, and placed on what was then known as “deferred service”. In the meantime I continued my job as a junior Bank Clerk with the National Bank of New Zealand, which had been evacuated from 8 Moorgate, London, to Hindhead.


Call-up came in July 1944 and I reported to the Aircrew Reception Centre (ACRC) at St. John’s Wood, London. At the time, Germany’s V1, the “flying bomb”, was landing with alarming explosive results in many London districts and throughout the Home Counties. We experienced at least one close shave when a ‘buzz-bomb’ landed across the road in nearby Regent’s park. In the evenings we hopped in the Tube and went down to the Nuffield Centre, near Picadilly.


After a fortnight at ACRC the RAF decided to ship all personnel down to Torquay and away from the risks posed by the V1s. We traveled by special chartered train and marched from Torquay Railway Station to our various billets which comprised a host of requisitioned hotels. Life was good for an 18-year old in the late summer and autumn of 1944 at the “English Riviera” as Torquay is sometimes called. It was there that we learned that aircrew training was being wound down somewhat and that only a select few would go on to EFTS. I was not one of the few. So, what to do to realise my dreams of pilot training? I had heard of the Army Air Corps (AAC) and decided that outfit could be an avenue to pursue. So I applied for transfer to the Army and this was soon effected. After a transfer stay at RAF Netheravon the Army greeted me with open arms and stentorian voices at Fulford Barracks, York. The relative comforts of RAF life were behind me now and it was wire-latticed bunks, straw-filled palliases, barrack rooms, blanco, spit and boot polish, metal polish, rifle drill, and marching at 180 paces per minute with NCOs of the Rifle Brigade and King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC).


We were at PTC (Primary Training Centre) at Fulford for six or so weeks and I was among several who opted to join the Parachute Regiment, my reasoning being that the Paras were an elite part of the airborne forces, pleading a case to be taken into the AAC. My letter to the General, whose name I have forgotten, was never acknowledged but curiously, after 12 weeks training with the Parachute Regiment at Parkhurst Barracks, Isle of Wight, I was being held back whilst the rest of the platoon and company went off to do their jumps at Ringway, near Manchester. In the meantime I loafed for a week or two before being posted to Fargo Camp, Amesbury, Wiltshire, home base of the AAC and Glider Pilot Regiment. After further fitness training, rifle drill, schemes on Salisbury Plain, etc., the great day came – we were off to 21 EFTS, RAF Booker for pilot training, albeit not in Air Force blue but khaki.


Exciting times. Flying instruction on Tiger Moths, ground subjects – navigation, meteorology, principles of flight etc., easy discipline, and visits to the pleasant town of Marlow-on-Thames. We trained under RAF instructors up to first-solo, cross-country dual, cross-country solo, night flying, night flying solo, and so on. After qualifying and passing out we were posted off to RAF Gaydon, near Leamington Spa, to Glider Training School (GTS) all as fully fledged corporals. At Gaydon it was more flying training, now in Airspeed Hotspurs towed by Miles Masters, and further cross-countries in Tiger Moths. The course ended after about twelve weeks with our graduation, wings parade, and promotion to Sergeant. So, in early December 1945 it was off to 21 HGCU (Heavy Glider Conversion Unit) based at RAF Brize Norton, later transferred to Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, a former Bomber Command base. The flying training at HGCU was in Airspeed Horsa gliders towed by Albermarles. Horsas could carry twenty-eight fully-armed infantrymen when on operations which, the war having ended months previously, I was never called upon to take part in. The eight-week course included lots of cross-country flying over Lincolnshire and adjacent counties and the North Sea. At the course conclusion we were promoted to Staff Sergeant first pilots having been teamed up earlier with our second pilots who were, in the main, Sergeants. It sometimes created an interesting situation when a Commissioned Officer second pilot was teamed with a Staff Sergeant first pilot who was, while flying, in charge of the aircraft and the situation.


Then followed postings to various RAF stations to undertake ferrying, flying equipment and gear around the country. It was great having the rank of Staff Sergeant at age twenty, and the flying pay made us a bunch of well paid youngsters.


Now, of course, the AAC is equipped with Lynx and Black Hawk helicopters. The Glider Pilot Regiment has long been disbanded. It was, I understand, the most short-lived regiment in the British Army and was unique in that all its personnel were Sergeants, Staff Sergeants, Squadron Sergeant Majors, or RSMs, and Commissioned Officers. Unique, and a wonderful mob of blokes – pilots who were trained infantrymen and who gave a very good account of themselves in Sicily, on D-Day, at Arnhem, in the crossing of the Rhine, and other airborne operations.


I’m not sorry that I was born too late to be part of those operations; rather do I congratulate myself on that fact. They were slaughter-houses in most instances, and those who came through were lucky indeed. I’m sure that had I been born eighteen months earlier I would have become part of a Bomber Command crew and possibly perished over Germany, as did three of my close schoolmates. Such are the fortunes of war and peace. But it’s wonderful to be among you at almost eighty years, and have great memories.



I migrated to Australia in November 1954, landing in January 1955. I worked on a Northern Territory cattle station, then as an electrical appliance salesman, a male registered nurse, and finally a journalist. An Australian girl, Gwendalyn June, accepted my proposal and we were married in Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1962, had two sons and two daughters, and now have two lovely granddaughters.