Larger than life Bill’s war memoirs

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William (Billy) Stones lived in Leeds, he decided to join the RAF before war broke out in 1939. By enlisting early he said he could choose which service to join. He believed another war was almost a certainty and advised his brothers to join up rather than wait until war broke out, which time he said there may be no choice as to what service you joined.

His brother Milson had also joined the RAF earlier, however his brother George decided to wait and see what happened. Unfortunately as we all know now, war was declared in 1939 and as a result Uncle George was conscripted, not into the RAF, which he preferred, but the Army, which later meant fighting and living in atrocious freezing conditions in France. Dad said that the RAF lads lived in relative luxury compared to the lads who were in the Army.

Daughter Sandra Bellenie said: “My Dad was a Beeston lad and a real character with a lovely sense of humour which often had us wiping tears of laughter from our eyes. He left such a big gap in our lives when he passed away in 1996, aged 79 and I thought it would be a lovely tribute to him and also my mum, Alice, whom he met and married in Hull during the Second World War, if even a small part of his story was told.

The photographs show my Dad in the RAF mess hall, on the right of the photo, leaning back and looking dapper with his dark hair a small gap between his teeth. The other photo was taken on Mum and Dads wedding day in 1941.”

She went on: “Dad didn’t dwell too much on the bad things that happened during the war, I think it held some painful memories when he lost friends and comrades and he didn’t like to talk about this aspect of it. He said his claim to fame was that he helped to carry the ‘Damn Busters’ bouncing bomb ready to be loaded onto the plane. One of his jobs was as a driver and he proudly told us how he chauffeured Lord Montgomery around on a few occasions.

“He was stationed for a while in RAF Uxbridge, where he was warned about the very strict drill Sergeant there who was a ‘right so and so’ (followed by a few expletives) called Milson Stones - who just happened to be my Dad’s brother - and who never let Dad get away with anything.

“He told us that when driving around Southern England, especially in rural areas, many signposts had been removed - apparently to confuse ‘the enemy’ in case they invaded England. This was fine for the locals who knew their way around but Dad said he was met with suspicion and silence when he stopped to ask the way, as even though he was in uniform, to Southern folk he had such a strange accent they probably thought he was a spy.

“While stationed in Hull he met and married my Mum (she said he looked like a young David Attenborough) and I was born in 1943. Dad was often away as part of his RAF duties and Mum and I lived in Hull with Mums family.

“Unfortunately Hull suffered horrendous bombing raids night after night and my maternal Grandma (who I never knew) died in 1941 as a result of a bombing on the house. Mum also remembered waking up one night, covered in soot and when she looked up at the ceiling she could see the night sky and the stars, as the roof had been blown off!

“Luckily no-one was injured, just shook up and Mum and her sister traipsed through the streets clad in just their sooty pyjamas, carrying a cage containing their black (once yellow) canary who had also miraculously survived, to the club where my Mum worked, to ask for clothes and shelter.

“Our home was partly destroyed on more than one occasion, while we were in the air raid shelters and after the third time, when the family had lost almost everything, Dad insisted that we moved to Leeds to live with his mum in her pub in South Leeds. Although Mum hated leaving all her relatives she knew it was the safest option. Finally the war ended and VE Day was celebrated all over the country.

“I have photos of the big party at my Grandma’s pub (The Highfield Hotel). The piano was taken outside and everyone was singing and flag waving. Mum told me although it was a time of celebration, it was also a sad time when you remembered friends and relations who had been killed during the war. She also said when husbands were finally demobbed and returned home some young wives found it hard to adjust to having a man around the house and it was like getting to know each other all over again. After the war Mum and Dad settled in Leeds and raised a family, although she was often homesick and really missed living in Hull.”

Leeds nostalgia: September 1985: Harrogate stages war games