A CIVILIAN GOES TO WAR, (AND RETURNS UNSCATHED)
Cpl. Arthur George Pike 14260370
As the dark winter
of 1942 wore on, the arrival of my call-up papers might have made it
even darker, but there was the sense that something had to be done.
I had languished in the sixth form for four years because I had arrived there too young, and was now in the first year at the University of the Southwest of England, preparing for an exam in French in the summer of '42. I went before a special board which allowed me to defer my service by six months to enable me to take the exam as planned. As it happened, this was an ideal arrangement as it cleared my subsidiary subject out of the way when I came back four years later to carry on with my geography degree work; I was allowed a Class B release which allowed me to step from the army straight into the UCSW without a break - perfect timing!
My tastes of war included hearing my father talk of his air raid duties up a ladder fishing incendiary bombs out of roof guttering. It was a mystery why Budleigh Salterton should have been targeted, but there was murmuring of possible top secret laboratories in private houses, and perhapes the German pilots were unwilling to go back to base with their bombs. I had stood on the beach while a Polish Spitfire pilot had chased a German plane out to sea, and watched it sink into the Channel. The pilot climbed out onto the wing, and appeared to be giving me a Nazi salute; not much else he could do, I suppose. I had been in the first bombing of Exeter, when the Germans failed to identify their target properly and most of their stuff fell in fields. They came back nine days later, and did it properly, even hitting the precious cathedral. I wasn't on firefighting duty that night. Otherwise, it was a question of hearing such items about the war as the government thought fit to publish.
The conditions of my deferment were that I should take on duties like firewatching, and join the Home Guard - this service was available in the UCSW Army Training Corps. I was at the camp when my call-up papers came through, and I did not finish the course.
On August 20th, I was off on the 0756 train to join the army. Someone in authority had supposed I would join the air force, but one of my fears was of flying; at a very advanced age I untangled the reason for my fears, and felt a lot better for it.
changed trains at Exmouth, Exeter Central, Okehampton and Wadebridge, and bundled out at Bodmin and across the road into the barracks, only 40 minutes late. They were quite happy to welcome others as late as 9 p.m - they were de-reserved policemen from the Birmingham area.
During the journey, i was joined at Crediton and Yeoford by two other young chaps who also survived the War. There was a certain amount of comfort in knowing them in advance, but the best slice of luck was finding a fellow student with us whose home was in Bodmin, and I was invited to tea. He was officer material and went on to distinction in the Sicily landings (Durham L.I.)
Cpl. William Ernest Pike 6400751