Leading Aircraftman 1313663 Raymond Napier (1921-1987)
My Father Raymond Napier was born on 4th April 1921. He was the youngest of seven siblings - May, Doris, Fred, William, Henry and Gladys. His mother Rose died when he was aged four years and for a time his oldest sister May took over her Mum's role but in 1929 May was to marry and therefore alternative arrangements had to be made so when Ray was seven, in 1928 he went to live with childless 'Auntie Frances and Uncle Bert' Davis - Frances was a sister of May's new husband. He had no contact with his own father while he was growing up but when he was on a bus one day sometime after 1946 he recognised his Dad and they spoke. After that, they kept in regular contact until his father died in late 1949.
WORLD WAR II
When the war started in 1939, Dad was 18. He join the RAF on 8th January 1941 and became an Armourer; Leading Aircraftman 1313663. The RAF service record describes him on entry as 5' 4", Chest 33", Hair 'DBn', Eyes 'Ble', Complexion 'Fsh'. He had aspirations to become a pilot but regardless of qualifications, that was not to be; a few months later on 10th April, the service record states 'medically unfit for Air Crew' - a perforated eardrum probably saved his life! The record shows that the person to be notified of casualties was Mr S H Davis (i.e. Uncle Bert) but the next of kin was recorded as Mr F H Napier, "Address unknown" (In fact, his father had continued to live in the same locality and had married again in 1930).
By 1942, after more than two years of war, Germany had pressed outwards on land to command more resources and control of Europe enabled Germany to more or less deny use of the Mediterranean to Britain. So the journey to Egypt was a long one: south over the Atlantic Ocean around The Cape of Good Hope and then a stop at Durban before continuing north over the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to reach Suez and Egypt.
Off to the Middle East
On 7th January 1942 Dad was off to the Middle East to join 104 Squadron and according to a certificate signed by the 'High Clerk' and 'Neptunus Rex' himself, he crossed the equator for the first time in Longitude 100 56' West at 15.30 hours on 31st January 1942 on the troop ship Viceroy of India.
Hospital in Egypt
On 5th May 1942, Dad was admitted to the 13th General Hospital in Kabrit and was not discharged until 15th July. I discovered recently from a good friend of his, that he was suffering from a bad attack of dysentery. His friend Ron, recalled that he was so weak and thin that when he returned from hospital, it was painful for him to lie on the floor in the building where they were stationed. So Ron found a tent and made a hammock for him from the material. Unfortunately, their sergeant took a dim view of this "destruction of Government property" and Ron was 'put on Jankers' for 14 days. This picture of Ray was taken in Cairo a couple of months later in September 1942 - clearly he had recovered by then.
Dad spoke little over the years about his war service and the pictures he took using a box camera which he took with him were almost forgotten with time. Here are some of the pictures of the time he served in in North Africa.
Ray Napier supporting a 500lb bomb, Kabrit Egypt 1942
Dad on a BMW at El Daba Airfield 1942
Dad driving a Tractor, Kabrit 1942
It is interesting to note that he was frequently required to drive various vehicles including the tractor above. However, he did not pass his driving test back in the U.K. until about 1956 when he bought his first car, a 1939 Morris 8 (reg. FXW 580).
On 12th December 1942 Dad found himself in Malta, stationed at Luqa Airfield. Here are some of the pictures from his album.
Valletta: A Merchant Ship under attack in the Grand Harbour
69th Squadron Armoury Section Malta 1943
Valletta: The Royal Opera House before destruction. Puzzle: this is an original photo in his collection but Dad's service record indicates that he was in Kabrit, Egypt in April 1942
Valletta: The Royal Opera House bombed: April 7th 1942
When Italy joined WW2 hostilities on 11th June 1940, she attacked British protectorate of Malta on the same day. The Royal Malta Artillery lost six of its anti-aircraft gunners and the island's defences consisted of just four Gloster Gladiator fighter planes. One of these planes was soon lost and the other three named 'Faith', 'Hope' and 'Charity' were left to face some two hundred Italian planes based in Sicily. Hurricane fighters were brought in to replace the Gladiators but although the Italians were pushed back, the Luftwaffe moved into Sicily and Malta suffered terribly because of its strategic position. The most intense period of bombing suffered by the Maltese people occurred between December 1941 and May 1942 when over 10,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the islands. About 35,000 houses were destroyed as were numerous public buildings like the Royal Opera House and about 1500 civilians were killed. Extensive use was made of rock cut shelters, old railway tunnels and catacombs otherwise the casualty numbers would have been even higher but there was an acute shortage of food. By the summer of 1942 the islands were close to starvation and military supplies were critically low. The situation was alleviated and moral was boosted when three merchant ships limped into the Grand Harbour at Valletta on August 13th followed by the badly damage Ohio on the 15th carrying vital fuel oil.
While all this was going on Leading Aircraftman Ray Napier was busy in North Africa beating Rommel (with a little help from his friend Ron and Field Marshal Montgomery). The British victory at El Alamein in October 1942 was decisive and hostilities over Malta were much reduced. But the way in which the island had suffered was clear to Dad when he arrived in December 1942, this was underlined by the limited provisions available, and one story he would tell more than once was that of the surviving Gloster Gladiator 'Faith' which was set up in St George's Square (see below) in Valletta as a symbol of the strength and resistance of the civilians and servicemen and women who acquitted themselves so well during the siege. When I visited Malta recently, about 57 years after I first heard the story, I was somewhat disappointed to find the restored fuselage taking pride of place in a museum room, but without its wings.
Sunderland at Kalafrana, Malta - Seaplane station
On 1st December 1943, Dad was back in hospital again with "the screaming hab dabs" (gastroenteritis) - he was admitted to the 90th General hospital at Mtarfa in Malta but he was discharged five days later on the 6th December in time for Christmas .... unfortunately all that could be found for Christmas dinner was a few slices of spam!
The service record of Leading Aircraftman 1313663 Raymond Napier makes no mention of Italy but he was there, as his picture album demonstrates:
Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background
Billet in a Tobacco Factory in Solerno
69th Squadron Armoury Section Italy 1944
Among his papers I found a map that Dad had copied in the 1980's on which he had marked the location on his billet in Italy and the airport of Montecorvino where he was based.
On 23 April 1944 he was back in the UK at the Operational Training Unit at Morton in the Marsh and on 23 March 1945 he arrived at Graveley airbase in Cambridgeshire
35 Squadron PFF Armament Section at Graveley
On 19th April 1945, Dad was in Hospital (Ely) for a third time during his war service, this time due to injury. There had been an unfortunate accident involving practice bomb. His hand was badly injured and he had to have the forefinger of his left hand amputated, he also required skin grafts on one of his legs. Had he not suffered this accident, I believe he would have gone to mainland Europe. He was discharged from hospital on 8th June 1945 and finally 'demobbed' on 18 December 1945.
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