We have been sharing some of the stories from the postcard tribute, but this week’s post is something a bit different, one of our own stories. For us, this started a couple of years ago; we were clearing out Russell’s Grandma’s loft when we found a black bin bag full of old photographs and other bits and pieces. Amongst the ‘other bits and pieces’ was a diary written by Alby Meech, Russell’s great-uncle. The diary was from 1942 when Alby was training to be a Gunner in the RAF, it was written in such small handwriting that we needed a magnifying glass to see all the words, but it gave an amazing insight into the life of a young man 70 years ago. The main topics that Alby included were women, dances, music, 1942 , beer, football, asking his mum if he could borrow money till the end of the week, and generally having fun. Ring any bells?
This is his story….
Albert William George Meech was born in October 1920, the elder son of Susan (nee Macdonald) and Albert Meech of Mottingham, southeast London. Alby had two younger siblings, Mary (born 1923) and Roy (Russell’s Granddad, born 1927). Alby was a bright kid; he did well at school and had a promising future ahead of him. After the outbreak of War in 1939, Alby joined the Royal Air Force and began training as a Gunner.
We pick up his story in January 1942; he was stationed at RAF Honington and spent New Year’s Day dreaming about his girlfriend, Vera. Vera was in the ATS and in the days before social media they were only able to contact each other by writing letters. Vera was a lady who liked presents, mainly chocolate and sweets (in short supply in 1942), maybe that’s why Alby borrowed money off his mum. Anyway, while Alby was falling head over heels in love, Vera had her own agenda, she only wrote to him occasionally, usually when she wanted something, and by mid March she was seeing someone else. Over the next few weeks, the diary is a catalogue of dances, drinking and dates – very little about his training or job, but he did seem to be good at blagging half days off to visit Margaret/Muriel/Joyce/Freda/Dorothy/Stella – the list appears to be endless. And he still kept in touch with Vera. At the end of April, Vera was in hospital with suspected pneumonia; she did not make a good recovery and spent the next few months in the hospital with Alby visiting when he could. For much of the summer, Alby was living under canvas, with a route march every day and frequent assault courses to complete, but by the end of August he was back at Honnington just as the USAF arrived at the base. He doesn’t mention too much about the training but he seems to have passed all the tests and medicals. By mid September it had been confirmed that Vera was suffering from tuberculosis, which caused septicemia; she died later that month. She was 20 years old. In October, Alby was posted to South Wales where the training in aircraft began. Again, he passed all the exams (even when he had a hangover) and increased his flying hours. The planes he trained in were Armstrong Whitleys – they were quite slow and only used as night bombers, and were withdrawn from service at the end of 1942. His time in South Wales seems to have been mainly taken up with dances, drinking and girls. In December he passed his final exams and was re-located briefly to RAF Hixon and then transferred to RAF Binbrook in Licolnshire. It was probably at Hixon that he met his future wife, Rose Beresford, as we know she worked in the RAF photo section here in May 1943. Alby was now flying in Lancaster bombers with No. 460 Squadron, a multinational squadron and part of the Royal Australian Air Force.
On 22nd May 1943, Alby and Rose were married at St Andrew’s Church in Mottingham; they only had a couple of days together before going back on duty. Alby had taken two days absent-without-leave to get married, this resulted in a major telling-off and two days’ pay being stopped when he got back to base. Rose’s parents were not at the wedding – it appears that her mother did not approve of either Alby or the marriage.
On the night of 29th May, Alby and the rest of his crew were on a raid over the Ruhr Valley in Germany; of 292 aircraft sent out that night only seven did not make it back; Alby’s was one of those lost over northern Germany. https://poppies.hrp.org.uk
Alby was 22 years old and had been married just one week. He is buried in the British Military Cemetery, Reichswald Forest, near Kleve in northern Germany. http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ww2_cemeteries/reichswald_forest_war_cem.htm
Rose kept in touch with the family for many years. She remarried in the late 1940’s and settled in Newport, South Wales with husband Robert and daughter Linda Rose.
There were two entries towards the end of the diary that caught our attention: at the end of October, Alby was lectured on the security dangers of keeping a diary by the Intelligence Officer, and the very last entry was a note to himself, perhaps a New Year’s resolution “Lay off the beer in the New Year” – how many times have we heard that one!
So Alby, this post is going out in the week of your 94th birthday; we are saddened that we never got to meet you, but we do feel that we know you very well and that perhaps a part of you lived on in your great-nephew Russell.
And because of a random find in a black bin bag, of a diary you were never supposed to write, you also will now LIVE FOREVER.