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RAF life after being down the mine

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posted on 2024-06-05, 17:32 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Karen wanted first of all to talk about her father, (Thomas Daniel Casson) who went down the mines after he left school. He was from the High Howden/ Walls End area, near Newcastle. He was having a shower after finishing his shift down the pit when he heard the first sirens. He was keen to get involved, but was only 16 and kept getting knocked back when applying for various roles. He became a local defence volunteer ('Dad's Army') part of the 'look, duck and vanish brigade' (LDV) as his mother termed it. As soon as he could, he signed up for the RAF and was trained as a ground gunner near Marsden. He was then sent by troop ship to Africa and had great memories of being on the deck at night, seeing all the stars, and the whoosh and dip of the waves, being away in a completely different environment to the one he had known. He remembered the ship being met at Durban by a little old lady dressed in all her finery, waving a Union Jack and singing Gracie Fields songs. He had fun, going to various bars and swimming in a pool and nearly drowning, because he couldn't swim.

He didn't mention seeing direct action, but mainly guarded planes in the North African desert, guarding a bomber called 'Lady Be Good' which went off course in bad weather and was lost, due to its poor navigation system. He went to Giza in Egypt and Budapest. When the war ended he was relocated and was briefly involved in the clear up at Belsen where he met a survivor, a young school teacher whose feet were bound in silk, because they were so fragile after bad treatment. He was also involved in the clean up at Nuremberg . He got interested in collecting various souvenirs such as a Luftwaffe helmet (previously owned by a Robert Scmidt) for his son, born in 1945, cutlery sets and various Nazi daggers (these had to be tipped out into the sea). Karen joked that the cutlery, stamped with a swastika, just went into the general cutlery drawer at home and you would see her mum stirring the tea with a Nazi spoon. At the time there were complete sets but now at antique fairs you see single cutlery items. Karen also told a funny story about her brother selling the Luftwaffe helmet and later buying another, only to discover it was the same one he had sold.

Karen then talked about her mother (Florence ('Florrie') Agnes Ratcliffe) who was in domestic service in Sunderland and South Shields. She and her sister worked at the Hydro Hospital in Hexham looking after the staff. One time she was running a bath and flooded the place (1944). When she went back home there was bombing and a wooden beam came through the roof into the bedroom. She lost some friends. She met Karen's father at South Shields train station where she had gone with her mother and sister to give refreshments to the troops. Her mum invited some of the troops home for tea, Florrie singled out Thomas, and that was how they met.


Item list and details

1. Identity card Florence Casson 2. Identity card front 3. Medical card from Karen's aunt, Mary Elizabeth Ratcliffe 4. Snippet of poem treasured by her parents

Person the story/items relate to

Florence Agnes Ratcliffe (mother) Thomas Daniel Casson (father)

Person who shared the story/items

Karen Casson

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Contributor's parents

Type of submission

Shared at Kirklands Community Centre, West Yorkshire on 4 November 2023. Organised by Menston Heritage Group/Menston Parish Council.

Record ID

119161 | KIR001-2