A Jersey veteran still on track

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Alan Cresswell, who is 90 years old, will wear his poppy with pride, although he retains a modest sense of perspective about his time in the RAF, putting his bravery and survival down to ‘frankly – luck’. He also remembers well, and with some amusement, how hard he had to fight to join the RAF in the first place.

He was brought up in the Island from the age of two. He lived with his parents at Samarès, his father Colin running a business at the Weighbridge – Biddle and Cresswell – and his mother, working as a teacher at Grouville School. He has happy memories of the Island, short trips on his boat, games of golf at Grouville as well as of his school days.

He attended Victoria College, where his contemporaries included Sid Guy and Peter Crill, who later became Bailiff of Jersey, before he left in 1938 to join the UK Civil Service.

It was while he was working in Southampton for the Custom and Excise Department that war was declared and the National Service Act introduced. He expected to be conscripted like all other young men of his age, but came upon a stumbling block when he gave as his permanent address that of his parents in Jersey, because his job at the time made it more convenient for him to live at the local YMCA.

‘There was then a lengthy conference of the staff, and when they came back, they said: “We have decided that as a resident of the Channel Islands, you are not a UK citizen, and are therefore not liable to the National Service Act. So, please go away, and only come back in two years’ time, if you have not been home in the meantime!”,’ he recalled.

So, he continued at his permanent job in the UK, but then the Channel Islands were occupied and his parents escaped on the last flight out, arriving in England with just one suitcase between them. Although they did recover some possessions later, they never returned to the Island.

It was because of this, and the fact that his father had himself served in the First World War in the Royal Flying Corps, (later the RAF), suffering serious injuries from which he recovered but which affected him for the rest of his life, that Mr Creswell made a second attempt to join up.

‘I was so angry at what they had suffered that I made a formal application to the UK Civil Service for “Permission to Volunteer”. After three weeks this was granted, and I was able to volunteer for the RAF.

He first flew the twin-engined Whitley bomber on anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic, from St Eval in Cornwall, going out on ten-hour patrols in mid-winter at low attitude and with no aids other than a compass and airspeed indicator.

However, in over 80 hours of flying during three months in which 90 aircraft, each with a crew of five, were lost, he and his crew were unharmed.

He then went onto Bomber Command, having as his Squadron Commander Group-Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, and flying the four-engined Halifax bomber, with a crew of seven. Losses were again very heavy, and although on one occasion, under attack, he had a fire on board, he managed to get away, put out the fire and return home. One of the crew was badly burned, however, and was taken to hospital but not seen again.

It was at the end of this tour that he got married to Mary, whom he had met on an RAF base. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, promoted, became an instructor and later an accident Investigator.

Mr Cresswell was promoted again – to Flight Lieutenant – and awarded the Air Force Cross, but at the end of the war he decided to leave the RAF and go back into the Civil Service.

He and his wife (88), who have now celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, had two sons, but, sadly, the elder, Peter, died at the age of 30. Their younger son Tony (57) is married to Linda, and the couple have two children: Phoebe and Oliver.

Mr Cresswell and his wife lived for over 30 years in Ilminster, a small town half-way between Yeovil and Taunton, before he retired from the Civil Service at the age of 61. He continued to work for a few more years as a Bailiff collecting debts and helping small businesses with tax returns, before he retired completely at the age of 65.

‘But I did continue to play at being a railwayman on the local West Somerset Railway, a steam railway operated by amateurs, running from Taunton to Minehead,’ he said. ‘I had a full Great Western Railway uniform, and acted as the stationmaster at Bishop’s Lydeard, just north of Taunton. I must have been doing something right, as I was even occasionally given tips – all into the charity box, of course!’

About five years ago, the couple moved to be closer to their family in Bourne, Lincolnshire, and have settled happily, making many friends.

He is a member of the Royal British Legion, supporting their events and appeals. And, of course, he still keeps up with Island news which he does so through the Jersey Evening Post, which is sent to him by his cousin Jean Bonhomme, who lives in St Helier.

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