As an apprentice toolmaker, Thomas Cumberlidge was considered a far too valuable commodity to have his life put at risk in the regular army.
Not that he didn’t try to join up.
Thomas, now 77, remembers the day he offered to fight for his country.
”I got a bit of a ticking off,” he chuckled. ”The recruiting officer said I was far more useful in the factory and told me to get back to work straight away.”
Work for Thomas was at the Standard Aero Engine plant at Fletchampstead Highway, Coventry, where the then 17-year-old was employed.
That’s where he met his future wife, Ivy. She had been drafted in to help the war effort by being put in charge of a lathe turning pistons for Spitfires.
Thomas joined the Standard’s own Home Guard platoon and he reckons the outfit was pretty professional in its approach.
”Contrary to popular opinion, we were an efficient fighting force and would have given the German paratroopers a run for their money if they had landed,” he said.
”We used to train with the army at Stoneleigh Deer Park, on the firing range with automatic rifles and sten guns.
”We did it after a full day’s work and at weekends. I suppose it was tiring but you seemed to take it all in your stride then. I was a young man.” As part of his Home Guard commitment he had to carry out guard duty at the Standard plant two or three times a week. On one occasion, he recalls, the unit took part in an exercise defending the factory against ‘attack’ from Polish soldiers.
On the night of the November 1940 blitz, Thomas remembers attempting to walk home to Holbrooks from the city centre.
”As I reached the Foleshill Road the bombing got worse and I was shepherded down the underground shelter underneath O’Brien’s cycle shop.
”After about five hours the raid subsided and I was able to make my way home. As I turned into Holbrook Lane, there was an almighty bang and I found out later that a bomb had landed on the Brookville Cinema in Jackson Road.
”I still have vivid memories of those dark days. The spirit of Coventry people was tremendous and enabled us to have the freedom we enjoy today.”