War on Wheels

War on Wheels
Book cover

COD Donnington - Derek Gambie

My name is Derek Gambie and I was born at 13 Manse Road, Hadley on 23/07/42.  Earlier, my parents had moved from Fairford in Gloucestershire in around 1938 with daughter Beryl, (no longer with us) to 49 Horton Lane, Horton.  Three doors away at number 52 lived Jim Griffiths and his wife Sarah who was known as Lal and was my mother’s sister and had a Christian name of Adelaide and their maiden name was Preen.

Father was Amos Albert Gambie and he was a Cockney orphan.  He was a carpenter and worked for a building firm down Trench (Half way between Hadley and Donnington) named John France and Co, I think.  They had a contract with the MOD to build a lot of the sheds at the rapidly expanding depot and when my sister was born in Horton on 2/04/40 he was described as a carpenter and joiner and was indeed building sheds at the depot..  In January ’42 they moved to the Manse Road address but by that time the building work had finished so he had joined the MOD police who guarded the perimeter of the depot and Police Constable was his job on my birth certificate.  I think he would have been liable for conscription but did not have very good eyesight and had a slight problem with his left elbow which he had broken as a child, so not called up.  Endlessly he would tell us that he was only 5’ 7 7/8” tall when the minimum limit was 5’ 8” so he stood on his toes and the lady measuring him winked and said. ’Five foot eight.’

The only name he ever mentioned of others at the depot was Mr Skillington who worked in the office next to the main gate and they became friends and Mr S used to come and stay with us after he had retired and moved back to his home in Leicester.
Prior to the war I know that uncle Jim drove a lorry, ran a Post Office and a bakery.  It is also known that he was a bit of a lad and robbed his own post office and spent time in prison.  No idea what he did during the war but suspect he had some connection with the depot as after the war he was a civilian driver for them.  He remained in that job until the early 60s when he tipped over his army lorry in the Brecon Beacons and rolled down the hillside.  The army sergeant in the passenger seat was badly wounded and Jim was taken to Wrexham Hospital.  He would remain there for over a year and then died.
You may or may not know is that loads of vehicles and equipment was distributed around the country lanes around the hamlet of Acton Burnell for months at a time and there was an airstrip at Atcham occupied by the Yanks during the war but the runways were packed solid with mainly British field guns after the war and they were still there into the late fifties.  All came from Donnington Depot.

My father had orders to escort a few lorry loads of obsolete radio equipment to Donnington Wood to be dumped down a disused coal mine shaft.  He carried out the order to the letter but it did not mention anything about the wooden crates they were in so he salvage all of these and took them round to our home in Manse Road and then used them to build a third bedroom in the loft.
I have no memory of going short of any food during or after the war and my mother often said she had an agreement with the milk lady as we had four pints a day so she must have offered something in exchange, probably tea and sugar as the daughter of the local farmer would have no need for Spam or Corned Beef.  From the bits and pieces I have gleaned from a few of my older friends back in the UK my opinion is that fiddling was rife and for example, the daughter of the coalman admitted that her dad had army pattern tyres on his lorry.

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