Young aircraftsman helped in occupied Germany

He had just turned 18 when he found himself as a British aircraftsman

Senior Aircraftsman Eric Hornsey (right) poses with two friends during basic training.

He had just turned 18 when he found himself as a British aircraftsman, heading over to Germany with the occupation force after the Second World War had ended.

Eric Hornsey spent three years in the military, from 1955 to 1958. “At that time there was a two-year national service. Everyone over 18 had to do it.”

It was either a two-year conscription service or a three-year regular service with benefits. Hornsey enlisted when he was 17 and a half. “Another six months and they would have put me conscription. So I beat them to the punch and joined up before.”

“I was in the air force. We were the ground defense for the airfield,” said Hornsey. He used 40mm anti-aircraft guns that could fire 240 rounds per minute.

As part of their practice, Hornsey and other boys would travel to Kiel, Germany twice a year and shoot the guns at drogues, which were pulled behind planes as targets.

For a short time Hornsey served a border guard with the British Air Force in Russia. “We guarded the border between the Russian sector and the British sector.”

Two and a half years were spent with the Wildenrath Airfield in Germany. “We were mobile so we could defend any airfield.”

The boys would dig holes for the anti-aircraft guns, move them from place to place, camouflage them and pretend to go to war, said Hornsey with a laugh.

While Hornsey enjoyed his time in the military he didn’t enjoy every job he had to do. Digging holes for the guns while it rained and the ground turned into muddy soup was one such occasion.

He also didn’t like the parades hosted for dignitaries. Hornsey and the other boys practiced drills for weeks on end, sometimes in the pouring rain, to show a dignitary who may or may not even look at them.

Once a week one of the boys, with a loaded machine gun, accompanied a courier to the Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. There a briefcase with unknown containments was loaded onto a plane. “That wasn’t a fun job. You never knew what you were going to run into,” said Hornsey.

During Britain’s occupation of Germany, anti-aircraft guns and other machinery were shipped back to Britain. Anything that wasn’t functioning 100 per cent was burned and or buried.

Hornsey recalls tents with missing zippers being burned in holes in the ground. That was another task he didn’t like; digging the burn pits.

However, despite some unpleasantries Hornsey believes the military taught him a lot. “I think the military gives you a different perspective on life because you’re not your own boss. You learn to be responsible and take care of the job you were paid to do.”

Hornsey’s respect for the military was transferred to his son, David Hornsey, who was a part of it for 20 years.

David, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion like his father, served in Bosnia, Croatia and Afghanistan.

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