b. 1923 | Royal Air Force | Swansea/Broad Haven
William Roland Thomas, better known as Roly, was born in Mumbles, Swansea on the 16th
of March 1923. He was the eldest of four boys. He attended school in the area and, at the
age of 16, had a job selling ice cream to visitors and locals alike from a bicycle.
William’s story has been passed down through the generations and has been collated here
by his granddaughter Karen Smith, from a number of albums containing both photographs
and memorabilia from his time serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
William was better known as Roly, the name which is used throughout this account, and had
a keen interest in photography. This shows through in the many wonderful photos which he
took during his service, all of which have been painstakingly catalogued, labelled and placed
into photograph albums by his loving wife, Joan.
Royal Air Force
In 1942, aged 19, Roly enlisted into the Royal Air Force in the role of aircraft mechanic, and
was posted to Blackpool for both basic training and trade training.
Blackpool was chosen as a suitable area for a training wing of the RAF due to the amount of
accommodation that was available for billeting personnel in the form of bed and breakfasts,
guest houses and hotels. Training was split between three main camps: RAF Squires Gate,
RAF Weeton and RAF Kirkham. RAF Weeton was home to No. 8 School of Technical Training
and ran courses for flight mechanics and riggers from May 1940 to September 1965. Squires
Gate was home to No. 5 School of Technical Training for air mechanics and basic training for
over 769,000 personnel during the Second World War period.
It is likely that Roly did both his basic training and trade training at RAF Squires Gate. After
completing trade training, Roly was posted to Southeast England and billeted in the Grand
Hotel in Eastbourne from January to February 1943. The hotel was used to accommodate
personnel serving in the coastal command airfields nearby. Sussex was home to 14 airfields
including Eastbourne, Rustington, Tangmere and Shoreham.
On the 13th of February 1943, Roly was granted a 48 hour leave pass to travel to Swansea
and marry his sweetheart, Joan Sutherland.
In April 1943, Roly was posted to an airbase somewhere in Norwich, to one of the many
fighter or bomber commands in that area. By May 1994, he had been reassigned, this time
to an airbase near Birmingham. As with many postings during World War Two, personnel
were frequently moved to stations across the UK where the need was greatest.
Roly was deployed to Belgium around the time of the Battle of Arnhem, in late 1945. During
his stay in Belgium, he was billeted with a Belgian family and when his daughter was born in
December 1945, he named her Andree after the daughter of the family he was staying with.
On the 3rd of October 1945, Roly was posted to India. He sailed from Liverpool on the San
Marie, arriving in Bombay (now Mumbai) on the 22nd of October 1945, the journey taking
him via Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.
From Bombay, Roly’s journey took him across India by train to the RAF base at Dhubalia in
West Bengal. In December 1945, he travelled by train to Peshawar, Pakistan and on to the
Khyber barracks, a journey that took over a week.
Roly spent Christmas at the Khyber barracks and saved a menu from Christmas Day which
shows that they enjoyed a three-course meal with cigarettes, matches and coffee to follow!
Roly was demobbed in 1947 and returned from India to Mumbles, where he worked as a
projectionist at the Mumbles Cinema.
In 1948, the family moved to Tenby where he worked for his father-in-law, David Alexander
Sutherland, as a butcher in the family shop, on the corner of George Street and Upper Frog
When David retired from the butchers’ shop in 1966, the four-generation family, including
Karen who was 2 years old at the time, moved to Aviemore in Scotland, where they ran the
Craigellachie Guest House as a family business, along with a caravan site and rental chalets.
In 1970, the family moved back to Pembrokeshire and bought Hasguard Cross Caravan Park
which they ran until the late 1980s, when Joan and Roly retired to Broad Haven. They lived
there until their deaths in March 2012, when they passed away within 5 days of each other,
both aged 88.