Bill Aitkenhead

Photo:Photograph of Bill Aitkenhead taken in 2012.

Photograph of Bill Aitkenhead taken in 2012.

Bill Aitkenhead

Photo:Photograph of the Seaborne Observers from 38 Group ROC being de-briefed on their return from Operation Overlord. Bill Aitkenhead stands at the back.

Photograph of the Seaborne Observers from 38 Group ROC being de-briefed on their return from Operation Overlord. Bill Aitkenhead stands at the back.

Bill Aitkenhead

'Everybody knew'

Bill Aitkenhead talks about the anticipation of an invasion of France and joining an American ship.

A cultural shock

Bill Aitkenhead talks about cultural differences serving on an American ship.

Post war Germany

Bill Aitkenhead remembers service in post war Germany.

Training

Bill Aitkenhead answers the question whether the military training he received prepared him for what he later experienced during the war.

Recollections of aircraft recognition and service on a liberty ship.

The RAF

Bill was born in February 1926 in a small village named Larys on the West coast of Scotland. Being only thirteen when war broke Bill was living in Aberdeen with his parents and brother where he stayed until he left for the military. At school Bill had had ambitions to be in the RAF air crew as this was seen to be a glamorous post and was a common ambition among his school friends.

The Royal Observer Corps

Bill volunteered for the RAF at seventeen after passing a strenuous test but was not sure when he was to be called up so joined the Royal Observer Corps as he had 20/20 vision and a keen interest in aircraft and aircraft identification. The ROC was a semi-civil organisation at manned posts throughout the country to track aircraft.

Bill's chance came in 1943 as the allies in Sicily had shot down a number of their own planes due to bad aircraft recognition so had called volunteers to spot enemy or allied aircraft. This had been Bill's greatest interest so he was happy to help, he then did a masters test of aircraft recognition gaining 90% and therefore achieving spitfire badges on his uniform.

Service on a liberty ship

Bill was then based in Bournemouth until D-Day when he was posted on an American 'liberty ship'. As the only Englishman on the ship it was a culture shock for Bill who had his stereotypes of Americans built from Hollywood films. Although he didn't have a bad word to say about them remarking that they were 'top class troops'.

Bill recalled the rows of ships in the sea at Barry Docks near Cardiff on the day he set off - describing it as a 'magnificent sight'. He travelled backwards and forwards on this ship between Plymouth and Omaha beach carrying supplies and soldiers for two months. He enjoyed his time on the ship as the US were not subject to the same severe rationing that the English were so luxuries were relatively rife.

The Glider Pilot Regiment

Within six weeks of his return Bill was called up but the RAF had too many troops and the army were desperate for troops in North West Europe. This was a big blow for Bill although he did end up flying a lot as he joined the Glider Pilot Regiment.

Whilst in the army Bill was headed for Wismar in the Baltic and was walking in a field when they came under mortar fire and a bomb landed very close to Bill leaving him covered in soil and unable to hear. He continued on adrenalin collapsing two hours later and being taken to a first aid post where he found his eardrum had been shattered - it was here that he entered into a coma for three days. Bill awoke in Maidstone hospital after he had been medically evacuated by air.

Life in Germany

Bill stayed in the army after the war as the pay was good and he had enjoyed his time. He, like many other British soldiers, found a wife whilst in Germany where they stayed together until Bill left the army in 1963.

 

Downloads

'Everybody knew'
'Everybody knew' (76k)
Transcript of audio clip with Bill Aitkenhead.

A cultural shock
A cultural shock (76k)
Transcript of audio clip with Bill Aitkenhead.

Post war Germany
Post war Germany (72k)
Transcript of audio clip with Bill Aitkenhead

Training
Training (73k)
Transcript of audio clip with Bill Aitkenhead.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 07/06/2012.

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