LIFE can bring some strange coincidences as I discovered yet again after I wrote about our Heroes Return trip to Berlin and Dresden. It brought a response from John Steven in Torquay and after we had swapped memories it was clear that out paths have crossed several times – but we have never met.
John is 88, just a touch older than me and as we chatted it was remarkable how close we have been to each other on several occasions in different parts of the world.
First at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk where I was a Lancaster rear gunner from early 1944 to the early Autumn. John had arrived a few months earlier and was a turner in the base workshops.
We were on the same base during those critical months leading up to D-Day and beyond and were able to swap memories of the personalities there, some of whom became quite famous.
Several of them were decorated by King George who arrived one day accompanied by Queen Elizabeth and the two quite young princesses.
I have a photograph of our future Queen laughing and joking with some of the more confident airmen, surrounded by a large crowd. Just visible in the back row is yours truly.
We also had visits from various celebrities including film stars. Wonderful concerts of song and dance by well known performers and no doubt John and I were in the same audience at some of them.
The second coincidence came after I had finished my first tour of operations and, after a spell as a gunnery instructor, joined a second, very experienced crew with a Squadron Leader pilot, as part of Tiger Force.
As the war in Europe was ending several squadrons were brought together ready to fly out to Okinawa and bomb Japan.
I was in 576 Squadron based at Fiskerton, just outside Lincoln. At exactly the same time John was at Woodhall Spa, just down the road, with other ground crew, also recruited to fly out to Okinawa.
Then, of course, came the Atom Bomb and suddenly the war was over. I have to confess I was not disappointed. I doubt if our luck would have held out again.
John recalls that he flew in a Lancaster on a memorable trip after VE Day when ground crew were taken to Germany to see the destruction that had been caused. He was in the bomb aimer's position, at the very front, when the bomber flew low over the Mohne Dam, giving him a bird's eye view.
So was that the end of these coincidences ? Not a bit of it. We both, very separately, ended up in the Far East.
By checking dates and memories, we discovered we were in Bombay at the same time when the Indian Navy mutinied and the city was in a state of turmoil.
John had spent his 21st birthday on the troopship Georgic where he remembers watching the film 'Princess and the Pirate' with Bob Hope in fine form. Whereas I was on my way to Singapore aboard a rusty old tramp ship with rats scuttling about at night in the roof space above our mosquito nets.
Then our paths diverted. I stayed in Singapore at RAF Seletar for a couple of years until my demob came up, while John went out to Japan as part of the Commonwealth Occupation Force. He was stationed 10 miles from Hiroshima and saw the full horror of the Atom Bomb explosion that brought a sudden end to the war.
He saw some strange contrasts. On one side of their billet complete devastation with tram lines lifted high in the air. Not far away three buildings, including a bank and a police station, completely untouched. Shortly after he arrived there was an early morning earthquake. It set the building he was sleeping in shaking violently but without damage since it had been constructed to withstand such a tremor.
John was in Japan for 14 months and then settled in Torquay where he worked for the Electricity Board before taking early retirement. A talented photographer he taught the subject at Technical College and joined the car service taking patients to and from hospital.
He looks back with pleasure on his war service. "It gave me the chance to see a lot of the world at the government's expense," he says.
In this crazy world of acronyms, in which everything is reduced to initials, you write at your peril. Get a single letter in the wrong place and you are in deep trouble. As I discovered after writing about the little Jack Russell dog that rules the roost at the garden machinery depot at Pridamsleigh, just off the road to Ashburton.
A slip of both mind and finger produced a small but important error. It should of course have read AGM Garden Machinery not the one, with a different initial, that I quoted. So near and yet so far.
I gather Jack is barking mad, so I promise to take him a biscuit next time we call.