In the Second World War many children saw their fathers leave home and not come back for many years while other families waved goodbye to their sons as they were sent off to fight.
In some unusual cases both father and son answered the call to arms and left these shores for battlefields around the world. This was the case with the Campion family of Wednesbury. Don Campion, now 92 and living in Walsall, recalls how he and his father, Albert, both served king and country in the war, Don in the RAF and Albert in the army.
They both served overseas but, in a stroke of good fortune, they were able to meet and spend an afternoon together some 2,250 miles from their Black Country home.
The Bugle interviewed Don at his home and he told the story of how he and his father joined the armed services and how they came to meet up in Palestine ...
“Dad was called up in the first war, for the last six months, and he did his training but before he could be sent to the front he was demobbed. He was always interested in the army, so he joined the territorials in about 1934, 1935.
“In the 1938 crisis he was called up, he was in the Warwicks in Birmingham. It looked as if a war was going to happen, everyone was panicking, this, that and the other, and Dad was there with his gasmask and God knows what else, but it all died down and there was no war.
“But at any rate, me being 18, I thought, I don’t fancy no army. I’d got a bit of a humdrum job and I’d got all the papers on the Air Force. I suddenly made my mind up, so I said to Dad, I think I’m going to join up. They were expanding the Air Force then, 1938. He never stood in the way, he said, if you want to, it’ll make a man of you, do so.
“I joined, so when the war broke out in 1939, I was already in about 10 months when it started, and Dad was called up again.
“Dad for a couple of years did all around Coventry and Rugby on searchlight battalions, he was in charge of one of the units, and I was stationed up in Scotland, up to 1942. I used to see him on leave when I came home, because he was local.
“In 1942 I was sent on embarkation leave and I found Dad at King Edward’s School in Moseley Road in Birmingham. He told me he had the opportunity, because Dad was around 44, to transfer to the RASC and the NAAFI. He said, ‘I’ve got to do a course for 12 months on army messing, navy messing, air force messing, and then I can be in charge of a depot.’ So he did that and in the meantime I was overseas in North Africa.
“As soon as he’d finished his training he put in for overseas himself. He went out at his old rank, sergeant, in the RASC and in his letters he mentioned Haifa a lot and Palestine.
“In 1944 I was in Malta and there was a flap on when they thought Turkey was going to come into the war, and they transferred us a bit smartish over to Alex on aircraft carriers, a very quick run, and they shoved us as fast as they could right up to Syria and Aleppo.
“On the way I found myself at a transit camp about 20 miles outside Haifa but had no chance of finding Dad. But it all fell through, regarding this Turkey business, so after about a month we were transferred back, back to Alex again and we ended up at this same transit camp, but I’d got a little bit more time. So I went to the chappie in charge and explained it, I said that my father often mentioned Haifa, but I only had an army postcode. I asked if he thought there could be a chance I could have a nose round. He said, ‘take one of the jeeps and I’ll give you 24 hours, we’ll carry on to Alex and you catch us up’.
“I was in Haifa about half past seven and the first thing I did was find the army post office. I said, I’m looking for a Sergeant A.A. Campion, RASC. They said, we’ve got quite a few RASC units around Haifa but they do pick the mail up themselves. I asked if they could give me one or two RASC depots for a start, which they did, about two or three. I found out where they were but had no luck at all.
“I was getting a bit fed up and now it was about 1 o’clock, and I’d been trying for about four or five hours. I called in at another place and it was the same story but I was told there was a small place in a children’s school by the sports ground as you come into Haifa on the main road. I thought, it’s on my way out in any case. So I found it after about half an hour, no trouble to find, this school with an RASC flag outside and I drove in.
“It was like an ordinary school you get round here. I went through a playground, there were school buildings at the back and a balcony. I drove across the playground and saw one or two army chaps walking around and I drove right up to this wall and there was one chappie reading the paper and I thought, I’ll ask him. I went beep-beep, he put the paper down – it was Father. You couldn’t make it up. I can see his face now, he couldn’t get over it.
“He went and got the rest of the day off and we spent the time in Haifa, pottering about and that. I told him I’d got to catch my lot up, a couple of hundred miles. We said cheerio and he gave me a box of goodies and off I went. Eventually, I caught the convoy up and back to Alex.
“A month after that I had a letter from him, and he’d been transferred to Baghdad, where he spent the rest of his time. In the meantime I was sent to Greece.
“He was demobbed a little bit quicker than me, because you were demobbed on length of service and age; Dad was about group 11 while I was group 28 – I’d done the time but had my age against me. I think Dad came home in August 1945 and I was demobbed Christmas Day 1945.”
Don worked in transport in the RAF and had the task of allocating jobs to the various drivers in his section. He recalls that at the end of the war many ex-air crew were assigned to him as they were no longer flying missions.
Don said, “They were great lads, the air crew, no side on them at all. I had sergeants and WOs working for me, all on first name terms. They didn’t want anything more to do with flying, they’d finished with it, but they loved getting in the jeeps and skidding around. If there was a flying job, they didn’t want to know, but any driving jobs they loved doing them.” Don remembers some unusual incidents involving local black marketeers. In one incident five tyres from a Wellington bomber went missing: “We had no idea how they had got in,” said Don, “or how they had taken the tyres away. No one had seen a thing. We couldn’t think what they wanted them for but we later found out the locals were soling shoes with the rubber.” Don says he had several fortuitous encounters with friends during the war, meeting up with pals from his training days and even meeting one old Wednesbury schoolmate, and later bumping in to his pal’s Maltese girlfriend.
Don recalls, “I was very lucky, and I had a happy time in the Air Force.”