Corporal Arthur Augustus Stokes, Service Number NZ412560
Arthur Stokes was working as a clerk in 1941 when he enlisted, age 39, at Harewood, Christchurch, New Zealand, on 10th April. He was confirmed as Aircraftsman 2nd Class in the trade of R/Mech (Radio Mechanic). He was a married man: he and Gladys had a son, Barton Leonard Stokes, born in 1931. Even so, on 6th May 1941, Arthur was posted to RNZAF Wigram on the outskirts of Christchurch for training and following this, embarked on 12th September for movement to England where he arrived on 31st October.
On arrival he was placed on the Strength of No. 3 PRC (Personnel Reception Centre). Eventually, on 12th December, he was posted to No.2 Radio School (No.2 RS), Yatesbury, Wiltshire. After training at No.2 RS for some weeks, he was re-mustered to the trade of Radio Mechanic (G)(1) and promoted to Aircraftman 1st Class. He left Yatesbury on 20th March 1942, and was posted to No.78 Wing, part of the Chain Home Radar System – believed to be somewhere in Devon.
Two months later on 21st May, he re-mustered as an RDF (Radio Direction Finding) Mechanic – the first indication on his Records that he was to be involved in Radar. Later that year, on 1st August, he was re-classified (i.e. promoted) to the rank of Leading Aircraftman. Just 3 months later he was further promoted to Temporary Corporal. On 24th April 1943, while still at No.78 Wing, he was re-mustered to the trade of RDF/M Group. On 2nd September, he was re-mustered once more to Radar/Mech (G)(1), again whilst serving with No.78 Wing.
Prior to leaving No.78 Group, he was shown as also having served at Marks Castle as a R/Mech and also as NCO1/c RAF Swansea Bay but no further information on these postings is known.
On 3rd May 1944, he was posted away from No.78 Wing to GCI 15082 which his Service Record stated was located at RAF White Waltham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. On the last day of May 1944 he was given a TABT inoculation (typhoid, paratyphoid A&B and tetanus) and was issued with a F1250R, an RAF Identity Card.
Corporal Stokes’ posting to GCI 15082 at White Waltham at this very late stage meant that he probably had no time to integrate into the Unit which had formed in mid-1943. Nor would he have taken part in the ‘wet-shod’ landing practices for Landing Craft, or endured the Combined Operations training undertaken by the majority of the team.
From this date on, his Service Record makes no mention of his whereabouts but it can be taken as read that he was serving with GCI 15082 and the information relating to that Mobile Ground Controlled Interception Radar Unit as described elsewhere on this website will apply equally to Corporal Stokes.
From information supplied by his family, it is clear that he travelled with GCI 15082 to Paris on 24th August 1944, as he describes finding German literature – namely 6 ‘pin up’ leaflets – in a dugout on Longchamps Racecourse in the early hours of 26th August 1944. According to the detail on the back page, they were printed in Paris for sale to German soldiers during the Occupation. This bears out the assertion made by others in the same Unit that they were among the first Allied troops to enter Paris as liberators.
Corporal Stokes returned from Utah Beach to Southampton, England, at the end of September 1944 with other personnel from three of the four Mobile Radar Units when their loan to the Americans came to an end. From RAF Ibsley in Hampshire, which was the final destination of GCI 15082, as it was for No.21 Base Defence Sector (21BDS), he was posted to No.12 (NZ)PDRC on 26th October. At this point, 21BDS was still in being but the officers had begun to receive postings away to other Units. The establishment of 21BDS was cancelled on 10th November 1944.
Arthur Stokes was eventually repatriated to New Zealand on 10th February 1945. No reason was shown for his repatriation even though the War was still not over in Europe, but it seems likely to have been on medical grounds, as the following detail suggests.
In New Zealand, on 11th August 1945, he was sent to the RNZAF Central Non-Effective Pool as a result of a Medical Board which had been carried out three days earlier. He was discharged in New Zealand on medical grounds aged 43½, having served for a total of 4 years 162 days, of which 3 years 151 days were overseas service in the United Kingdom and France.
Very little information has come to light about any medical conditions which affected former Forces personnel as a result of their front-line experiences.
It may therefore be of interest to report on Corporal Stokes’ health after D-Day. It has always been thought that 21BDS personnel benefitted from receiving American rations while supporting the US troops but these may not have continued throughout the four months that 21BDS served in Normandy. It is highly likely that the men who landed (and survived) on Omaha Beach on 6th June 1944 suffered mental health issues as a result of what they endured but they chose not to speak of their experiences.
When he returned to his homeland, Corporal Stokes’ RNZAF medical reports showed he was suffering from a painful neck, shoulder and arms. This was diagnosed as nerve damage which the military doctors agreed was probably caused by his diet in Normandy when all he had was tinned food and very little fresh fruit or vegetables. This gave rise to a severe vitamin B deficiency. The doctors also cited his living under canvas for 4 months in France as a contributory factor.
He received a period of convalescence in a New Zealand hospital for treatment for his medical conditions, but he more than likely had long-term post traumatic stress issues as well.
After military discharge in 1945, Arthur took work as a baker in his brother’s business in Christchurch on South Island, while his wife and son continued to live in Wellington, North Island. Gladys died a few years later and son Bart began a musical career in England. Later Arthur moved to Australia. In December 1974, when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin, Arthur travelled to Darwin to help in rescue operations; he felt this was his calling.
His family and friends believed Arthur had never been quite the same after his World War 2 experiences. He died living alone in Townsville, on the north-eastern coast of Queensland, Australia, in 1978 aged 76.