Returning to civilian life

Maurice Blythe was born in 1922 and became an IEE member joining as a graduate in 1952 then moving up to Associate Member in 1957, Member in 1966 and Fellow in 1973. His participation in the Institution did not end there as he became the Chairman of the East Midlands Centre in 1978.

This story is concerned with his life before his Institution activities as we learn that he left his position as a mining engineer (possibly at Blisthorpe Colliery) to become a Corporal in the Royal Air Force.

During the war Maurice was stationed in the Middle East, Malta and N.W Africa. In total he spent 35 months and 16 days overseas, with his total length of service covering 1st January 1941 to 31st December 1945. He was released from service on 21st January 1946 after having risen to the rank of Sergeant.

During his service we learn from a letter home to his wife, dated 9 January 1943, that a telegram had been previously sent to her informing her of Maurice’s injury and this second letter was to give her further detail that he “sustained slight injuries as a result of an enemy air raid on Souk-el-Aika” on 22nd November 1942. He was discharged from hospital 3rd January 1943.

Correspondence from the RAF Record Office to Maurice Blythe’s wife with an update on his injuries, January 1943 [IET Archive NAEST 192/1/1/1]

During his time overseas a letter home to his wife affords a glimpse of what life was like off-duty. The letter, dated 15th January 1944, from Signals Wing RAF BNAF (British North African Forces) opens warmly with “My Darling Tiny” and reports that whilst hanging around with nothing definite to do he had been going to the pictures. He saw Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier and ‘So proudly we hail’. He later mentions that he wasn’t too popular with his team mates due to his poor performance in the football league. Unfortunately they had been toppled from the League leaders having a 5-2 lead in a game but due to three mistakes he had made they conceded three goals and lost the game.

Correspondence from Maurice Blythe whilst based in North Africa to his wife, January 1944 [IET Archive]

The majority of the records in this collection focus on Maurice’s release from the RAF and his return home.

Returning to work

A letter from previous employer G.M. Tordoff to Maurice dated 27th July 1945 affectionately refers to his ‘boys’ returning to the shop after the war. He felt Maurice was reluctant to return but told him to ‘fear not’ because Maurice had done his duty and as his employer he would put a variety of jobs at his disposal so that Maurice could quickly regain his practical experience. The empathy felt by one who had experienced the a upheavals faced when returning to civilian life after going to go war can be seen when Mr Tordoff writes,  

“I can fully understand your feelings, I went through it after the last war in rather a nasty way…”

The letter has a fatherly, concerned tone from one who recognised the difficulties faced by those returning after trauma and kindly offers his assistance and a friendly ear should Maurice need to talk.  

Correspondence from Maurice’s employer G. M. Tordoff regarding returning to civilian life, July 1945 [IET Archive]

being discharged from the forces

In addition to this letter about returning home Maurice’s Service and Release Book gives many details as to the conditions of demobilisation and how one was expected to behave after life in service.

Although they were released from active duty they were not discharged as they were still liable to recall until the Emergency had been declared ended. Maurice was officially released on 21st January 1946. After their release they were not to wear their uniform unless on special authorised occasions but had to keep it in a good condition in case of recall. Maurice was a Class B candidate meaning that he was released at the request of the Ministry of Labour and National Service to be directed to their reconstruction employment by the Ministry. In Maurice’s case he was released to take up employment at Bilsthorpe Colliery, Nottingham, as a mining electrician. To aid post-war recovery technically trained employees were hastened back to employment.

His character, as noted on his certificate of service, was ‘very good’ with the following statement,

“ A good Sn MCO keen and efficient. Trustworthy of a position of responsibility. Recommended to return to his civilian occupation of mining electrician.”

Some of Maurice Blythe’s RAF release documentation, 1945 [IET Archive]

Another record that gives an insight in to how servicemen prepared for their return to civilian life is a self-help guide and map to the Personnel Dispersal Centre at RAF Cardington. It was anticipated that their stay at this station would not be long as the process of release and drawing of civilian clothing was a speedy one. If they arrived in the afternoon or late evening then an overnight stay was required. In this instance there were leisure facilities provided to pass the time such as a Sergeant’s Mess, a station cinema that showed weekly evening performances and two on Sundays, lunchtime musical concerts and station dances every weekday evening which were open to all ranks.

Part of Maurice Blythe’s release documentation providing a glimpse into life at a RAF dispersal centre [IET Archive NAEST 192/1/2/5}

Before release they were to be interviewed by a RAF Advice Officer “so if you have any service problem, any difficulty regarding civilian life, or anything you want to get off your chest – this is the opportunity.”

A reminder was made about the importance of wearing their uniform correctly during release leave and the mixing of uniform and civilian clothing was strictly prohibited,

“The Royal Air Force has won the admiration of all by its behaviour and deeds in war, and you will not wish by any act of yours to diminish this respect in peace.”

The accompanying map showed the route they were to take starting with their arrival by bus then to a waiting room, followed by a medical, accounts, records and advice. They then went on the ‘Journey to Civvy Suit’ to the civilian clothing store where they would collect their ‘demob suit’ (short for demobilisation suit, a set of civilian clothes given to servicemen upon their release from the British Armed Forces) before picking up their cigarettes and sweets and leaving on the bus out.

Map of the RAF dispersal centre [IET Archive]