WW2 Veteran Shares Story of Time in the RAF’s Navy
Ninety-eight-year-old North London born Charles Meacock, a resident at the organisation’s supported home in Bromley, kindly shared his story with us about his time saving lives at sea, a little-known service provided by the RAF during WW2.
“Not many people know that the RAF also had a Navy, known as the Marine Craft, it provided two services, air sea rescue craft and crews and marine craft and staff to assist with the flying boats, manned by RAF personnel.
“I volunteered for the marine craft at the outbreak of the war. I was placed on the reserve list and finally called up in 1941, when I was sent to Gorlston, Great Yarmouth and classified as a motorboat crewman where I learned the ropes. I joined the crew of High Speed Launch (HSL) 130, as I had a lot of boating experience from my time on the Thames with the Boy Scouts.
“I spent time too in Lyme Regis, which was where I met my wife, Hilda. Not interested in bars, I went into a canteen, but it was empty, so I knocked on the counter, a girl came out and immediately she shot an arrow in my heart, which is still there today. It was love at first sight.
“After serving a year at English and Scottish bases, I was sent overseas to Alexandria in Egypt, but it wasn’t long before we were sent to Mersah Matruh aboard the HSL 2520, an American craft referred to as a ‘Miami’, where we spent three months rescuing aircrew before being posted to Tobruk. Eventually, we were recalled to Alexandria.
“Next, we were sent to Paphos, which was lovely after the deserted sands of the dessert, there were people and grass! But we didn’t get to enjoy it for long as there was a war going on in the Dodecanese Islands, we occupied these but not for long as Hitler sent his finest Parachute troops in, urging us to leave the islands, they were far better equipped and armed than our lads.
“Still aboard the HSL 2520, our operation in Turkey involved going into the small bay to pick up our soldiers and take them to the Royal Navy Destroyer, moored in Bodrum’s harbour. There were a number of similar operations under the direction of the Royal Navy, until dismissed by them.
“We ultimately returned to Alexandria, where I was sent on a Coxswains course, I came out top and should have received my Corporal’s tapes during the passing out parade, but I was told there were, ‘none in the stores’, So that left me as a Leading Aircraftsman, though I was addressed as Coxswain.
“I was then sent to Mombasa and told by the Corporate Officer that there was a Miami in Kilindini Harbour which I was to get ready for service. There were delays in the launch but after four months it was ready to go. Shortly after, I was posted to HSL 2649, where I took charge of the craft for the next year. I took her from Aden to the Brother Islands near the Red Sea and back on a survey trip for the Royal Navy.
“I finally got my Corporal’s Tape in Ras al Hadd, in the Gulf of Oman as a Christmas present, about a year after I passed top of my course. By now, I had completed over three years’ service and it was my turn to go home. I was returned to Aden and flown home, before being posted to Scotland where I carried out Coxswain’s duties and from where I was demobilised.
“Not many people know that the RAF had its own Navy, designed specifically for rescuing anyone in distress on land, or at sea. All waters that were flown over by our aircraft, or those of our allies, were covered, it is thought that around 14,000 lives were saved.
“I never smoked or drank, so when I was travelling, I took lots of photos. I still have several albums of all my photos of the beautiful places I visited. I suppose being a seaman must run in the family, as my grandfather did so and now my grandson is ferrying boats in the Caribbean.”