Fleet Air Arm memories 1939-1946: Tales of the Brummagem Bastard by N. H. Mills and R. S. Pyne will finally be released as a paperback in January 2017! [ISBN 9781520247670]. It has been available in ebook format (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007LQAY5W) but getting it into print has been a work in progress for several years as pressures on time/work commitments/switching to full time hours meant I had less time to spend getting the formatting right (blasted footnotes!) Unlike the electronic version, the paperback will be illustrated, with three photographs from the extensive archive. Although I would have liked to include many more, this would have forced production costs up to an unrealistic cover price.
The book details my grandfather’s service in the Fleet Air Arm on the Arctic, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific convoys. This is the war at sea as viewed by a Hostilities Only, and very cynical, sailor. Nicknamed the Brummagem Bastard, he was a fanatical Ockers (Ludo) player. The memoirs include the 1942 Pedestal Convoy, Operation Torch – attached to the naval battalion with the first army in North Africa (1943); the Sicily and mainland Italy campaign (1944) and dealing with Kamikaze attacks (May, 1945).
Norman Harry Mills ended the war as a Chief Petty Officer; one of the last servicemen demobbed after trooping duty on HMS Formidable in 1946. He resumed his apprenticeship at Fort Dunlop, Birmingham and was one of the oldest apprentices there. He became an engineer, trade unionist and Communist (but that is another story). After retirement (1979-80), he moved to Tywyn and began work on his memoirs. The vast archive of nearly 1000 photographs, diary entries, card files and hand written notes remains a tribute to how committed he was to getting his story told. He was a senior member in the Tywyn branch of the British Legion, attending Remembrance Day parades and regular reunions of the Formidable Association. He maintained a varied correspondence with ex-shipmates; extracts of some of his letters are included in the book. What he saw on the Arctic Convoys haunted him for the rest of his life. This was the one thing he never spoke of in detail and we knew not to ask.
He was decorated on the 19th of October, 1987, by Alexey Nikoforov of the Russian Embassy in London at the Nautical Services Club, Birmingham for participation in the Arctic Convoys to Murmansk. In 1992, Malta struck a 50th Anniversary medal to commemorate the Pedestal Convoy (August 1942). My grandparents travelled to the island so that he could receive the award from the Maltese president, Dr Cenzu Tabone. On the 25th September, 2002, Granddad was made an Honorary Citizen of Valletta, Malta, but failing health made it impossible to attend the ceremony.
I grew up with my grandfather’s war stories, although some of the bloodier or more risqué ones had to wait until I was older. There were many of those and some of the naval slang is not fit to print! This was a far less politically correct age.