Just A "Brat"
A Snapshot of My Life in the Royal Air Force.
I became a "Brat" when I went to Royal Air Force Halton, No.1 School of Technical Training on the fifteenth of September nineteen fifty nine. Really the story started long before, was it destiny?
It was all mum's fault! She took me across the fields at Little Burstead in Essex, in my pram, to view a Me 110 wing leaning against a tree. The aircraft was shot down on the third of September nineteen forty and as I was born in June. I guess the visit must have been much later, but it is still impressed on my mind, the vision of a wing bearing the German cross. Over the five years of war other memories became engraved, low level raiders, in a pair, were they Fw-190's? High level, four engine bombers, smoke stained wings with stopped engines, in daylight so probably B-17's. On the local bus, gum chewing Yanks and other men with POW on the backs of their big coats. Large guns on the local common, Home Guard patrolling the local orchard. Sleeping under a steel shelter in the bedroom, visit to a local field with dad to see the still smoking engine of a V-2 rocket. From the back of the horse and cart on the way to Billericay, seeing and hearing a "doodle bug" splutter by. All of a sudden the war was over and my "Mickey Mouse" gas mask was returned and life slowed down.
Not in any chronological order several other events over the post war years must have made an impression. The Brabazon flew over the village; Hunters from North Weald practised their aerobatics, were they the "Black Knights"? At some point I was given a Keil Kraft aircraft kit for a glider and so began the interest in model aircraft that progressed through the rubber band to a Mills .75 diesel engine powered Tiger Moth, not forgetting of course the Jetex Javelin and homebuilt rockets.
To get me out of the way I was sent off to join the Sea Scouts, which really did not work! Salvation came along with joining the Air Training Corps. Drill with .303 Lee Enfield's was not really my cup of tea but I did enjoy summer camp. My first flight was in an Avro Lincoln Serial No. RF569, duly noted on the back of a sick bag. No I did not use it, even after two hours of continuation training sat on the bench by the flight engineer. I was most disappointed at not being able to go on night bombing practice because I was not considered old enough at fifteen. The Lincoln's were being replaced with the English Electric Canberra's at Upwood; I had got my flight in just in time. What a let down the following year was, twenty minutes in an Avro Anson at RAF Woodvale.
"ATC Camp at RAF Upwood."
No. 1 School of Technical Training Royal Air Force Halton.
Now at the grand old age of sixteen I had sat my GCE's at the Chelmsford Technical School and had decided to take up an apprenticeship in the Royal Air Force. I fancied being an engine fitter but they did their best to dissuade me and become a rigger or an armourer. I held out, engines or nothing, my fate was sealed! So began the longest three years of my life at the No. 1 School of Technical Training, Royal Air Force Halton, as a member of the 84th Entry.
Time has dimmed many of the bad memories. Up early to make a bed pack and dash for what masqueraded as a breakfast and then swilling your "irons" around in tank full of evil smelling greasy water to get them clean! Compulsory sports on a Wednesday afternoon, church parade on a Sunday. What no lie in! I must admit after trying horse riding with "Hooker" and being frightened stupid on some grey mare, with the wind up its rear, galloping across the airfield, me hanging on for dear life not knowing how to stop the damn thing, I gave up. The alternative was skiving off over the "Pimple" with Jennings until it was teatime, much more enjoyable, but not during wintertime.
"What a haircut!"
Terry Hooker and I look to the future!
Horror of horrors, we were back at school again, some good some bad. The intricacies of calculus were taught in maths and whilst the riggers learnt the theory of flight the Engine Fitters got into thermodynamics. Now you were talking, single cylinder engines to check out the octane rating of fuels using iso octane and normal heptane. On another engines we checked out the Indicated Mean Effective Pressure in a cylinder, on a V-6 or was it a V-8 we measured the Indicated Horse Power and Brake Horse Power using a Froude Dynamometer. Heady stuff but it got better when we moved onto the Rover Gas Turbine and dealt with gas flow and nozzle velocities. In the Mechanics Laboratory we used Izod and Brinell testers to learn about the properties of materials. Then it was back to that damned drill square for more discipline. On the workshop front we slowly progressed through the intricacies of the Gipsy Major, Armstrong Siddley Cheetah to the mighty Merlin and Bristol Hercules 100 with their associated systems and propellers. Gas turbines took us through the Rolls Royce Nene to the Avon 100 with a brief brush with the Sapphire.
"Cell Block 3."
Occasionally we were let out of prison, sorry I meant camp. During term time we had the odd thirty-six hour pass with a forty-eight thrown in. A mad dash to Wendover railway station, in uniform of course, then we made our stately way by steam train to Baker Street station. Underground to Liverpool Street and then another train to Billericay and home.
"Rushen, Hooker, Miles ready for Flight."
Now the final hurdle, airfield phase and final exams. Throughout our time at Halton we looked forward to the final airfield phase, it meant two things, we were Senior Entry and we got to wear the coveted "Trog Mac". It was worn with pride, we had survived the three years. Now we were playing with "live" aeroplanes that could bite. Engine runs in the Beaufighter cockpit classroom, marshalling aircraft etc. As gluttons for punishment several of us had taken more GCE's and also the City and Guilds in Aeronautical Engineering Practice. Now the big test, Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering and the exam to become Junior Technicians to be able to wear the coveted upside down stripe. At the same time we had to choose our postings. I seem to recollect mine were, RAF Debden, RAF North Weald and RAF Bassingbourn. I was still a homeboy wanting to get back to my civilian mates.
"Present Arms! - Passout September 1959."
"Brand New J/T's - Flynn & Slater."
Royal Air Force Bassingbourn.
Results came out, I had passed both the Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering and the Junior Technician board as an Engine Fitter, and I was posted to No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit at Royal Air Force Bassingbourn. The big plus was that my exam marks were good enough to make me eligible for accelerated promotion to Corporal Technician. Bassingbourn was in Bomber Command and was equipped with three marks of English Electric Canberra, B-2's, PR-3's and T-4's. I would get to work on them all as I was posted to the Aircraft Servicing Flight carrying out Minor and Major servicing. As the new boy on the block everything was new and strange and the learning started all over again. A year was spent changing engines, gearboxes, hydraulic pumps, cartridge starters and the worst job of all the fuel pumps in the bomb bay. With the bomb bay partly closed, difficult access, fuel running down your arms it was no fun. To take a break a friend and I used to get flights with the station taxi, Anson VL306, delivering spares and crews around UK. A breed of men soon to disappear from the RAF, an NCO pilot, piloted the aircraft.
Not far away from Bassingbourn was Royal Air Force Duxford which had been the base during WWII for the 78th Fighter Group. Post war it returned to RAF command and in 1949 a concrete runway was laid and it became the home for No. 64 Squadron operating Gloster Javelins and No. 65 Squadron operating Hawker Hunters. Also operating at weekends was the gliding club which I joined but never went solo.
Deliverance from the work in the hangar was at hand, I had just been promoted and somebody wanted to move from Technical Control, I was the replacement. It was different, no dirty hands, working with girls and the last of the National Servicemen. The Aircraft Serving Form was the Form 700, I had to update them when an aircraft came in for inspection, issue new ones when the old were full plus all the other paperwork tasks associated with servicing Canberra's. I had just about got used to all the different forms when I was placed on the Preliminary Warning Roster, PWR for short, which was notification for an overseas posting. Three choices were required; mine were Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Within a short time I was notified I was off to RAF Seletar in Singapore. So it was goodbye to the good times in Cambridge, Hang Chows Chinese restaurant food of chow mien was to be exchanged for something more like the real thing.
Her Majesty's Troopship "Nevasa".
The day after Boxing Day 1961 saw me on a train bound for RAF Innsworth, in uniform complete with greatcoat, side pack and kit bag. The huts at Innsworth were freezing, the sheets on the beds were damp and the pot bellied stove would not light. After several attempts we got the coke going and retired to the NAAFI for a pint or two. On return the stove was glowing red-hot, it's a wonder the hut didn't burn down. Old mates from Halton were on the draft; "Ginge" Scott and Chris Hanfrey were going to Seletar whilst "Humpf" Webster was heading for Eastliegh in Kenya. Others were not so lucky having been posted to Aden. After being kitted out with KD (khaki drill) shorts of regulation length, which was below the knees, it was time for another train, this time to Southampton.
"Ginge Scott & Chris Hanfrey."
Awaiting us was Her Majesty's Troopship 'Nevasa'. My berth was on 'E' deck, below the waterline. Kit bags were taken to the hold and bed was a three-tier bunk, I got the middle one. Within next to no time we had cast off, waving to a few hardy souls who had come to say goodbye. Steaming down Southampton water we were on deck shivering in our greatcoats.
We were destined to spend twenty-two days steaming East.
"Ginge Scott on deck."
Ahead lay the Bay of Biscay but it was really tame, the only bit of rough weather was as we rounded Cape Finistere. The ship was fitted with automatic stabilisers so even the rough sea was no drama. We settled down into sea borne life, physical training on the upper deck, a mug of tea and a wedge of currant cake for afternoon tea and Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore" introducing the evening musical requests programme. Forty years on and the tune still brings back the memories. Before we knew it we had arrived at Gibraltar where I went ashore and called on "Big Ginger" Dyson who was working on Shackletons in the Aircraft Servicing Flight. We had been mates at Bassingbourn.
"Nevasa at Gibraltar."
Back at sea again it was through the Suez Canal with a stop at Port Said where the bumboats swarmed around selling trinkets to the troops.
"Wickendon looking for a bargain!"
"The 84th contingent ready for downtown Aden!"
The next port of call was Aden where lots of the guys disembarked, the lucky ones to go to RAF Eastliegh in Kenya, the unlucky ones staying in Aden.
Once we set sail there was a lot more room and we moved up a deck and the scuttles could be fitted to the portholes. Even though we had the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on board, things were a lot easier.
Halfway to Singapore we passed the troopship bringing the lads home after their tour in the “Far”, as the Far East was now named by us. It was the 'Dorsetshire' I believe.
The “dhobi walla” did a roaring trade in taking up our shorts to a more fashionable length just above the knee. Little did we realise we would send them off to the tailor again when we arrived in Singapore, to have them taken up to the risky thigh length.
As well as shooting at balloons over the stern of the ship we had lectures on photography, astro navigation and life in the Far East. Not soon enough the trip was over as we steamed into the Malacca Straits down into the Singapore roads. Now the story really began.
Singapore, Royal Air Force Seletar and No. 34 Squadron.
Disembarking took forever but I was soon bound for RAF Seletar in a coach, whilst everybody else dispersed around the island to find out their fate. We were soon deflated on our arrival at the transit barrack block, it was a public holiday and a few were lazing around, “You won’t like it here, it's awful”. Some start, it sounded like two years transportation. A few beers in the Malcolm Club that night helped us settle in.
Little did I know that over thirty years later I was to find out my father had passed through Singapore and Hongkong in a troopship on his way to China in the 1920's, he never did mention it?
As soon as the holiday was over we drew bedding and were allocated our permanent billets. I was on the top floor of one of the two barrack blocks on West Camp. This was on the other side of the runway from the main camp and No. 389 and 390 Maintenance Units. We had our own airmen's mess, NAAFI and cinema, but that was it. Billeted on West Camp were the guys that worked in the Aircraft Servicing Flight and in the other block were those from No. 34 Squadron, equipped with Beverley's, and No. 209 Squadron equipped with single and twin Pioneer's.
First day into work we had a choice of where to work. "Ginge" Scott and I had been posted to the Aircraft Servicing Flight and there were two jobs up for grabs, one with the inspection team on Beverley’s and the other in the engine bay. I chose the inspection job as I had been off aircraft at Bassingbourn. The lads on the team were great, mainly Corporal's, many of them coming to the end of their tour after having been on the Beverly Flight of No. 48 Squadron at Changi.
Work was three minutes away, so it was easy to fall out of bed, grab a mug of tea from the mess and get to work on time. It was interesting learning about this monster of an aeroplane where you could actually crawl inside the wing to get behind the engines and then crawl and drag yourself out to the wing tip.
"Inspecting the Beast"
C/T Beddows, "Dusty" Rhodes, Ralph Middlebrook, Ivor John 83rd, self.
For the first few months in Singapore I did very little, saved a few dollars out of my pay, the princely sum of S$150 a fortnight, exchange rate at that time was S$8.40 to the £1. It was amazing what you could do on less than ten ponds a week. A taxi from the City to Seletar, a distance of seventeen miles could be bargained down to the equivalent of about 30p in today's money. Food was cheap; satay was ten cents a stick, most nights I ate down town.
As a diversion from work we had the usual parades and also we had an exercise guarding the local radio station for a few days. Apart from that life wasn't to bad.
"Ginge playing at Soldiers."
I made friends with “Paddy” Walker and “Jock” Cameron. Jock worked on the single and twin Pioneers of 209 Sqdn., Paddy, ex 83rd Entry, worked with me in 2nd Line. Most weekends we ended up in the "Brit Club" for a few beers then it was off to Albert Street and "Fatty's" or Bedok Corner for something to eat.
"Paddy, Jock & self at the Brittania Club."
Evening time during the week I used to wander down to the village, Jalan Kayu, just outside the camp gates. There were quite a few shops and makan (food) stalls there, also the Seletar Bar which did the best Nasi Goreng (fried rice) I have ever tasted. Forty years on and I have only just perfected how to cook rice for fried rice. I don't think I will last long enough to get the other ingredients right. Local food figured a lot, as the stuff they served up in the airmen's mess was awful. The egg curry was just about edible but I cannot remember any other favourites. No fresh milk to drown the weevils in your Weetabix, I think it must have been the dried variety. We dreamed about fresh English milk for the whole time in Singapore but when we eventually got back home and had a pint it seemed a bit of an anti climax.
After a few months I decided to take a holiday to the Sandycroft leave centre in Penang. This involved a twenty-four hour journey by train, non-sleeper. Not long after departure from Singapore Paddy collapsed in the toilet after drinking too much Tiger, we couldn’t get him out so it was Kuala Lumpur next stop. Penang was brilliant, beach, curry, Tiger, Anchor, and a cup of tea in bed in the morning. What more could one want for? All to soon it was over, back on the train to Singapore and servicing Beverley's.
Wanderlust had set in, the Borneo confrontation had started, India was at loggerheads with Pakistan and 34 Squadron Beverly's were going everywhere and cousin Mary was visiting Hong Kong, not necessarily in that order! I hitched a lift in a Bev. to "Honkers" and met up with Mary and was introduced to the relatives over a very big Chinese breakfast followed in the evening by a very big dinner.
"The Peak", Hong Kong.
No. 34 Squadron.
"Continuation Training Viewed from the Block."
All to soon I was back at Seletar to be told that my application for an exchange posting to No. 34 Squadron had been granted and that in a week I was off to Katmandhu in Nepal with the Squadron Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Bennett. There I was in the blink of an eye in the Oberoi Grand in Calcutta followed by flying at seventeen thousand feet in a Bev., that was just about to fall out of the sky, so that we could have a view of Mount Everest. "Don't move stay on oxygen." Were we going to do anything else! Back through Calcutta, this time staying at the Great Eastern Hotel, then via the Adaman Islands, we were soon back at base. Hardly a chance to do my "dhobi" and I was off again, the joys of squadron life which I really learnt about in the coming years.
The Squadron had a permanent detachment on the island of Labuan, just off the Borneo coast. One Beverley was based there to supply the troops in Borneo with all their jungle needs.
Life became a bit more hectic. Whilst still airborne in the Labuan circuit, for my first detachment, we heard that the resident 'Bev.' had just suffered an engine failure, what a good start.
Engine Change at Labuan.
Our accommodation, office and stores were a couple of tents alongside the aircraft servicing pan, discipline was at a minimum, and so was the dress. For the first detachment of three months I wore nothing more than a pair of P.T. shorts and 'flip flops'. Dhobi consisted of washing the shorts in a bucket of 'green', our slang for the Avgas that powered the 'Bev.' Night time entertainment was a walk into town for a Chinese meal washed down with a few bottles of "Tiger" or "Anchor" beer. Any time off during the day was invariably spent at Membedai beach swimming and just messing about. There was also the chance to take a trip on one of the supply drops to the troops in the jungle or to move them around between the various permanent bases such as Anduki, Kuching and Jesselton. Even back at base one could get called out to Borneo. One such memory was to discuss the intricacies of the propeller control unit at two o'clock in the morning with the Engineering Officer whilst I was still laying in bed. Up and off to Changi, issued with cotton wool for the ears, no ear defenders then, on board a Bristol Freighter to Kuching for a rapid P.C.U. change. Airborne in the now fixed 'Bev.' at 1905 hrs. for an arrival back at Tengah in Singapore two hours and fifty minutes later.
The following month leave beckoned again, Fred Neagle from No. 209 Squadron and I managed to get a servicing crew slot on a Hastings, TG337, which was going around India and Africa. In six days the flight time was about forty-eight hours and that included a day off in Mombassa! The route was: - Changi, Calcutta, Karachi, Masirah, Khormaksar, Entebbe, Mombassa, Gan and back to Changi. The highlight was being greeted, "Bwana", at the hotel in Mombassa. The signaller on board I was to meet up with in very different circumstances many years later. Jack Brown became a pilot in the RAF, and then on to civilian aircraft and in his spare time a pilot with the Fighter Collection. Enough of that, its thirty years on!
Life back in Singapore continued apace with most nights spent down town, first of all a meal at the Stella D’Or in Orchard Road, then a late movie. Weekends usually started with the Britannia Club, the afternoon and evening was spent at Telok Paku leave centre lazing around and eating one of their gorgeous prawn curries. Ten years later on my second posting to Singapore prawn curries were still a favourite but this time taken at Tengah golf club and the Sergeants Mess.
More trips were made around the Far East taking in Malaya, defects to fix in Borneo and Brunei, Vietnam on the way to Hong Kong, an exercise at Korat in Thailand with the Americans. It was really a South East Asia Treaty Organisation exercise but the girls that had been shipped in from Bangkok called it the "SEATO Games", the vintage brew they served had been brewed the month before and burnt with a blue flame. It was called Mekon.
"Vietnam with 104."
Christmas 1963 saw me in Hong Kong changing dynafocal mounts with one of the lads from second line, “Dusty” Rhodes, nobody else wanted to go! The Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company had run into trouble with the job and needed a hand. I had flown up in an Argosy, which had developed a hydraulic leak when we landed at Saigon, so we had to night stop.
Because of a good write up for doing the work in Hong Kong I was nominated for a trip to Australia and New Zealand. The route took us through Butterworth, Cocos Island in the Keeling Islands, Pearce , Edinburgh Field, Richmond to Ohakea. On arrival at Ohakea surprise, surprise, Ken Butcher a Kiwi from the 83rd Entry at Halton, who was Orderly Corporal, met me. Once the air show at Ohakea was over we took off for a visit to Wigram making an unscheduled stop at Rotorua on the way to see the sulphur pools and geysers. Of course when it came time to go No. 3 would not start. We off loaded our passengers and did a windmill start, only just managing to stop at the end of the strip. All went well after that and the route back home took us to Whenuapai, but instead of Edinburgh Field it was the gold field town of Kalgoorlie. Refuelling was done from 45-gallon drums of AVGAS and the cans of water methanol were hauled up from the freight bay on the end of a lump of lashing tape, some stop. At each stop the APU kept overheating, we pulled it apart in the air only to find when we got back to base the nut holding the cooling fan on had come adrift, obvious really.
Korea, Japan and China.
"Mount Fujiama from Comet 4."
Now it was time for another great adventure with Fred Neagle. How about going to Japan? Seemed a good idea at the time, which turned out easier than we thought. We asked for a seat on an aircraft going to Hong Kong so we could make our way to Japan. Lo and behold, Sir Hector Mc Gregor, possibly an Air Marshall, was on a farewell tour of the Far East and we were offered a seat on his Comet 4. Bags packed we made our way to Changi and away we went. During the trip to “Honkers” we found out the aircraft was going on to Korea and Japan. Wow, that was for us! On landing we made a quick trip by taxi to get a visa for Japan. That done it was on to Haneda near Tokyo. Just before landing we caught sight of Mount Fujiama, as it turned out the only glimpse we would get.
On arrival at Kimpo Korea, we skipped the usual immigration procedures along with the VIP’s; this was to be regretted later. Memories of quaint clothes, beautiful girls, cheap Yank accommodation, embroidered badges “Korea - To Hell & Back” etc, and the city of Seoul. Because of the good time we were having we elected to make our own way home, so the Comet left without us. Bad move!
After all the sightseeing and nightlife it was time to move on. We couldn’t! The Yanks did not want to know us on the C-130 outfit, so we ended up with the Air Attaché in the US Embassy, who passed us to the Brigadier i/c the British Liaison Team to the United Nations. He did not want two scabby “brylcreem boys” messing up his social whirl in Seoul, so we got a bollicking, the first of many over the next few months. What the hell, he got us onto a C-54 going to Tachikawa out of Osan. As ever the Yanks there did not want to help so we made our way to Tokyo and Yokohama and after trying the docks for a boat ride, with no success, we made our way to Kobe. By now money was running short. I had in my pocket a mix of currencies from Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, but could not change it anywhere. Try as we might we could not get a passage to Hong Kong with the money we had left, Fred was worse off than I. A local women missionary tried to help, no luck but she did say she would pray for us. It must have worked as after a couple of visits to the British Consul the Embassy in Tokyo authorised one first class ticket which we changed to two second class on the ship, "MV Helios", sailing from Kobe via Shanghai to Hong Kong.
So, two British servicemen going into communist China. We were sure RAF Seletar would like that story! The Consul told us it was not a problem, as we would not be going ashore. Little did he know! When we anchored in the river opposite the famous “Bund”, often mentioned by dad with the rider, “You won’t get there son!” we found out we were hanging around for five days.
"The Bund Shanghai from the Helios, Day and Night."
The local tour operator offered trips to the local commune and the people's hospital, but we declined the offer and made out own way around the city and to the seamen's club. Finally a berth and cargo were ready; we loaded using the ships derricks. The scurrying blue clad people did everything manually; only the basin haircut gave the women away. Soon we set sail again, the Chinese food cooked by the crew was great. and the weather remained calm.
Hong Kong soon came over the horizon and before we knew it we were begging Movements for a flight back to Singapore. Lady luck evaded us again as the next Brittania aircraft was not due for a few days.
Well Seletar welcomed us, ten days late back off leave! The wheels ground slowly. We were charged with being absent without leave whilst on active service; the Borneo business was still going on. The flight commander remanded us to the Squadron Commander, (W/C Green who now runs the Spitfire Society) he in turn remanded us to the Station Commander. The long and the short of it was that we had got off our butt ends and done something with our leave, however we had to lose ten days pay.
Not long after I was saying goodbye to a bevy of Chinese girls at Paya Lebar airport as I boarded a British Eagle Brittania for the flight back to UK, leave and a posting to RAF Colerne in Wiltshire.
After being away for two and a half years I expected everything to have changed, not a bit of it. My civvie friend David Martin was now working on the Isles of Scilly as a hotel porter at the Atlantic Hotel. I visited, kipping on the floor, great fun taking his canoe out to Samson a couple of times. Great freedom, open spaces, fresh air, thoroughly enjoyed it.
United Kingdom, Royal Air Force Colerne - No. 36 Squadron.
On arrival at RAF Colerne I was posted to No. 36 Squadron, which was on the far side of the airfield, operating Handley Page Hastings. My promotion had not come through so had to remain a corporal for a few weeks. Work on the Hastings aircraft was much the same as the Beverley so no real strain.
I had hardly got settled in when I was summoned to Station Headquarters to be interviewed by a Flying Officer from the 4th Police District. Somebody had taken exception to the fact that I had been to China. The storm passed over and then trips started to come up, the destinations not so warm this time. Detachments to El Adem in Libya, then some good ones to Gander in Newfoundland via Iceland, Bermuda, Jamaica, Nassau and back via the Azores. In all I had six trips around the Caribbean, some short some long, some with one aircraft, others as a detachment. Experiences were many with lots of fun. Accommodation was always good even on the American bases in the Azores. Staying in the Princess Hotel, Bermuda, was an experience for a young lad with the introduction to frog's legs and snails, Bacardi and Coke and five star rooms. By this time my promotion had come through and I was put in charge of many of the detachments, why, nobody else wanted to go, can you believe it!
One Christmas was spent in Nairobi. Initially started by being based in Aden at RAF Khormaksar but got volunteered for an engine change at the Kenyan Air Force base at Eastleigh. Once the change was done it was decided I should stay to see the transit aircraft through. Great fun was had
Trips came up to Norway where I met up with “Ginge” Scott, who was now on Hawker Hunters.
Self in Norway with Hastings.
After three years, rumours spread of the arrival of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Just about the time the Hastings was phased out there were a couple of accidents, one fatal to TG576, when forty-eight guys were killed. The other occurred at West Raynham where I was in charge of a detachment. The last aircraft to land on the Friday evening, WD491 of 24 Squadron, suffered a split wheel rim that made it depart the runway and end up on its nose. We hoped for high winds blowing it down overnight but no such luck. The next morning saw us equipped with two cranes, a tractor and some old mattresses hauling the tail wheel back to terra firma. We need not have bothered to be so careful, the aircraft was written off.
"The end of the line for 491".
Shortly after I departed to Thorney Island for a C-130 course even though I had never seen one. No sooner had the course ended I was back at Colerne helping to form No. 48 Squadron which after formation was going to be based at RAF Changi in Singapore. My luck was out I was not to join them; I was being posted to the newly opened RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Farewell to Colerne but not to Bath as I was not immediately eligible for a quarter, so kept the hiring in Bath.
Royal Air Force Fairford.
At first we had no aircraft so I volunteered to go back to Colerne to get instruction on ground running, going home at night of course. Eventually the day arrived when four aircraft were gathered together and flew in formation to Fairford with me on board one of them. No longer were we posted to Squadrons but formed a Line Servicing Squadron to work on two Squadrons of aircraft.
As with most service units, accidents happen. On the 24th March 1969 our shift was summoned to recover the crew from the first fatal crash of a C-130. XV180 had crashed on take off from Fairford, on board was an old mate from Colerne days, Pete Medhurst.
Travel was again on the agenda, whether just as servicing crew or to fix “snags” down route. Travel was quicker even though not quieter. Memorable trips were to: -
Canada - met my civvie pal David Martin now living in Toronto and took a quick visit to Niagra Falls.
Ascension Island - engine and prop change, the navigator had so much beer the night before he had to be brought on board by stretcher.
Singapore - Exercise Bersatu Padu. I was based at Changi to take care of any snags that came up. No snags, then off we went to the Sgts. Mess or down town.
Round the World - via amongst others, Hawaii, Guam, Wake.
Nairobi - where the camp doctor who had come along for the ride had his face slashed down town after messing with prostitutes.
South Africa and Mauritius, via Sal and Gan.
Bermuda - for a propeller change.
It was not all work when on shift. Whilst on nights it was often possible to get some fishing in at the gravel pits adjacent to the airfield. The good times were not to last; I drew the short straw for an unaccompanied tour to RAF Sharjah in the Middle East, No.78 Squadron. First of all it was two courses, one on the Gnome, the other on the Wessex. A Record's Quarter was found at the old airfield at Duxford for the family, then off I went.
Royal Air Force Sharjah - No. 78 Squadron.
It started in a reasonable way as I was posted to Second Line Servicing under a Warrant Officer who was a real nice guy. I had my own bunk, which I soon settled into. I joined the sailing club, which used Dubai Creek, to learn to sail. It was great to get away from camp and racing on Wednesdays and Sundays was great fun. I was put with a couple of others on a boat by the name of “Loo-Loo”. Work took a down turn when I was posted to First Line but sailing kept me sane.
"Sailing Club Dubai Creek."
The world of the Royal Air Force was getting smaller and smaller, some good postings and some not so good closed. Sharjah got the axe and that meant I came home a month early. A final goat curry down at Sharjah souk and then on board the VC-10 for home.
Royal Air Force Brize Norton.
Posted to Brize Norton at the end of 1971. Work was boring, on VC10 and Belfast Line Servicing Squadron with a whole load of other Chief Technicians. My job was Line Servicing Chief, a grand title but it meant being on board the aircraft two hours before take-off to ensure the lemons were on board for the Captain's tea. That really did sum the job up. Time drifted by, the only good thing was the shift system, six days on, six days off. Home was in Carterton village, bought my first house for the princely sum of £7,350-00, seemed like a huge debt then.
Life at work started to brighten up with engine changes (nobody else wanted to go) in Cyprus, Washington USA and another in Singapore. A trip to Bugis Street with my gang, all "moonies", could have ended in disaster. One of them went off with a transvestite and didn't return. Luckily he was there the next morning for the aircraft back to base.
I then got notice of posting, nothing to do with Bugis Street I don't think.
Royal Air Force Coltishall - No. 22 Squadron.
I got sent back to choppers, Whirlwinds on Search and Rescue with 22 Squadron at Coltishall. What a pain, twenty-four hours on, twenty-four off. Lot of bad feeling on the flight, not much to do so feelings festered. As soon as I had notice of posting at Brize I tried to volunteer for overseas, told I had to wait until I got to my new unit. As soon as I arrived I volunteered but told I was not wanted. But then out of the blue one of the Master Signallers came in from the aircrew side and told me to get down to stores and get my KD. Whoopee, it was to Singapore, only bad news was it was to choppers again with 103 Squadron. There was a plus though as I would be running the Early Failure Detection Centre (E.F.D.C.) for the Gnome engine. Detached to Odiham for the course, then it was off to Brize Norton to get the moonrocket!
Singapore - Royal Air Force Support Unit Tengah.
March 1975 and escape to the land of sun and good food. I guess we were there about six weeks living in Chip Bee before getting a married quarter at Hunter Hill on the base at what was now the RAF Support Unit Tengah. Really great, access to the restaurant at the golf club, wonderful prawn curries, and work was a cycle ride away and was fine. I took over from George Vanterpool who I had known at RAF Bassingbourn. As well as E.F.D.C. I was in charge of the rotor blade, wheel and transmission bay. That didn’t last long as the British were withdrawing from the Far East and one of the first to go was No. 103 Squadron. I got a short stay of execution as I was chosen as replacement for a guy on the Visiting Aircraft Servicing Flight who was sent back home. It was shift work, but good shift work. Nothing doing then you went home, very often start at four, home by five. If it was later then it was stop by at the Sgts. Mess for a local meal and a few beers with the other N.C.O.'s, one of whom was Tom Baldwin from the 84th Entry. Local food was also served at a stall at work.
It was not all work and no play; we took a holiday in Penang, travelled by overnight coach, stayed in the Australian leave centre. The beach by the Rasa Sayang was a favourite where we could get a fish curry lunch and fresh limejuice, both served in a plastic bag. A few years on I was to return and eat my fish curry as a guest at the "Rasa".
India - Madras to Delhi.
A friend came to stay; she had travelled overland from London to Delhi by bus, some adventure. The seed was sown and we settled on travelling from Singapore to Delhi and flying from there to London. A lass from the badminton club heard of our plans and asked to join in. Glynis was a nurse and married to one of the camp doctors. A route was made; rucksacks and sleeping bags were purchased down town. Glynis's husband stuck needles in unmentionable places to protect us from every known disease in India, and some more. A friend had purchased our air tickets in UK and they arrived half an hour before we were due to depart, what a relief. With the tickets and money safely in our body belts we headed for Singapore docks and the "MV Chidambaram" our home for the next five days.
Several friends came on board to see us off on our journey to Madras and India. We had splashed out and taken two first class cabins, Neil and Kirsty in with Glynis. A great move on our part, the food and service was excellent, lots of good curries. Some difference to my troopship travels and the voyage from Japan to Hong Kong. What adventures lay ahead on our seven-week trip through the sub continent!
We disembarked at Madras into a strange world. I had been to India on my first trip to the Far East but had been cocooned from reality by the RAF, now we were on our own. Into the city and found accommodation, then our first Indian breakfast, which I believe, was idlis. We would soon get used to that along with vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali. A thali was a metal tray with small compartments, which were filled with sauces, rice, chapattis, etc. A bit watery but good all the same. It took a few days to organise our train journeys so we had sight seeing tours to Tirakalikundrum and the beach at Mahabalipuram then after seeing the sights of Madras we set off by train for Metapalayam which was the terminus for the Niligiri Express to Ootacamund or “Ooty” for short. Some years before I had watched “Whickers World”, on black and white television, when he visited this hill station where a large number of ex-pats lived. It appealed to me and I vowed I would visit if I ever got the chance. Some years after our return the Niligiri Express also featured on television in “Great Railway Journeys of the World”. Why? You have to do it to understand, a rack and pinion railway, which climbs seven thousand feet in five hours. We started off in sweltering tropical heat wearing “T” shirts and by the time we arrived at Ooty we were wearing everything we possessed. The sights and sounds of the climb were fantastic. The clatter of wheels on rail, the haunting whistle of the engine and the sound of gasping steam echoed off the mountain side which was covered in mist. At every water stop the passengers would make a dash for the stalls selling chai (tea) in unglazed clay pots and samosa’s and dosa’s. When you finished your chai the pot went out of the window to rejoin Mother Nature again. After arrival and a bit of a hunt we found somewhere to stay, then to eat. Even here there was a Chinese restaurant.
"Nilagiri Express to Ootacamund."
After a day of wandering in the hills and a cold nights sleep we caught the five a.m. bus to Mysore. Frost was on the ground, the driver's windscreen was ice covered and all that kept the icy blast out was some leather covers in place of windows. The ride down was hair raising, the memory still lingers after almost thirty years. Into Mysore we took a couple of days rest to catch up on dhobi and organise the next train ride. The following days and weeks were a kaleidoscope of sounds, smells and sights, enough to deaden the senses, a tale really much longer than can be told here. Suffice to say onward from Mysore we travelled by train to Goa where we stayed in a beach hut. An overnight ferry, we slept on the deck, took us to Bombay. It was then into the dryer part of India, Rajastan, where we visited Udaipor, Jaipur and Johdpur. At one point we caught the "Up" train instead of the "Down", or was it vice a versa, even though we were trying to go East. Anyway by mistake we ended up in Agra so took the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal. Onward we went to Benares the holy city on the Ganges now named Varanasi and from there to Patna. This stop was so we could get an aircraft to Kathmandu. A walk in the foothills of the Himalayas and an overnight stop to see the sun rise over Everest, back to our favourite eating house, "The Hungry Eye", where even the meat pie had an added extra to get you higher than Everest! Back to Patna for the train to Delhi where our seven week adventure came to an end when we boarded a Boeing 707 for the flight home.
Royal Air Force Abingdon and Repair and Salvage Flight.
On arrival back in UK I was posted to RAF Bicester but only for a few days as they were in the process of moving to RAF Abingdon. The Warrant Officer in Pay Accounts nearly had apoplexy when I submitted a travel claim for the trip through India. As usual obstacles were put in the way but I had done my homework and had`all the right bits of paper, he paid up.
Settled in quickly and got on with travelling around UK moving aircraft, scrapping them and also picking up the ones involved in accidents. A Hunter spread itself across two or three fields when it took a bird strike taking off from RAF Brawdy in South Wales. That detachment was not as bad as the winter days of 1976 spent chopping up a Victor K2, XL513 of 55 Squadron, which had aborted its takeoff and run off the end of the runway at RAF Marham. There were two teams of us taking the wings off with a Husquvarna saw out in the open on a bleak very cold airfield. One bad one was a Canberra PR 9 XH137 of 39 Squadron, which spun into a housing estate at Hartford, Huntingdon, on approach to RAF Wyton; the crew were killed as were some children living in one of the houses. The best jobs were those where we all stayed in civilian accommodation. Many a happy night was spent in Cirencester when doing a spares recovery from the test bed VC10, fitted with the RB211, at Kemble. Old haunts were revisited at Bath when removing a two seat Lightning from the Museum store at RAF Colerne to Kemble.
"Kemble Fire Dump."
Spares recoveries on Victors were carried out at RAF Manston and the other end of the world at RAF Catterick. Also part of the task was to support RAF Recruiting by erecting various aircraft around the country, a cushy number. I can only remember one overseas trip and that was at the very end of my time. A Hunter had raised its undercarriage to prevent it going off the end of the runway and into the sea at Gibraltar. We had to dismantle the aircraft and fit it in a special rotating jig so that it would fit in a Hercules. Relax time was spent sailing in the harbour.
It was a great job but I do not think we were very popular with Station Warrant Officers and Orderly Officer's when we questioned the state of the accomadation where they expected our men to stay.
One day in Station Routine Orders came a request for a Chief Technician Engine Fitter to volunteer for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. I had always been interested in historic aviation. Over the years I had researched the Luftwaffe losses over the U.K.during the war. I had spent hours with my friends from the Essex Aviation Group searching the fields and hills for crashed military aircraft. Because of my interest I had also been tasked with the recovery of a wartime Hurricane which had crashed in a peat bog close to RAF Spadeadam in Scotland. The task was to recover and identify the pilot, which we did.
On the Cheviot we found a Warwick Gun Turret buried by a Salvage Team.
I had to give The Memorial Flight a try. In went my application even though I only had eighteen months of service to do and the prospects of employment in Lincolnshire in the aeroplane game were pretty remote. A Chipmunk flew in carrying the C.O., Squadron Leader Ken Jones and the engineering officer. I had an interview and got the job, partly due to the fact that I had the experience on piston engines and also had experience away from base a lot with a team of guys. It didn’t go down well with the boss at the Salvage and Transportation Flight as they had plans for me.
Royal Air Force Coningsby - Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
"Groundcrew at BBMF."
Arrival at RAF Coningsby was strange; there was nobody on the Flight. The CO had changed, the engineering officer had been posted and all the guys were out with the aircraft. Best see what is going on. The Hurricane was "sick" at Northolt, the pilot had selected the undercarriage up instead of the flaps, one busted propeller, damaged flaps and radiator. It would be some time before it would be fixed and flying again.
"Bex, Switzerland with Spitfire"
"With Tuck, Page, Bader and Galland."
The detachment to Switzerland for an airshow was fantastic, a flight over the Alps in a Devon with the Spitfire flying alongside. Meeting up with notable wartime pilots. However as we were about to leave the Spitfire, on take-off collided with a Harvard. It was some years before she was to fly again.
"Collision at Bex, Switzerland."
The next seven years was spent fixing bent Spitfire's, Hurricane's and a Lancaster. Halton training came to the fore as I tried to remember what I had learnt stripping down the Rolls Royce Merlin at workshops. The funding for the Flight was virtually non-existant so it really was make do on every front, but it was fun.
"Mosquito Flight, Coningsby to Hawarden!"
One day I had a call asking if I knew of anybody who could overhaul a Merlin. I volunteered and ended up in Italy at a Rolls Royce overhaul shop near Milan. So started a friendship, which continues to this day. Franco Actis, an Italian, had bought a Spitfire Mk. VIII,MT719,which had been recovered from India. He had employed an English freelance engineer, Paul Mercer, to restore the aircraft. Over the next few years Paul and I would consume copious amounts of Italian red wine and put away many a good pizza and buckets of pasta. Many a time I would take some of the guys from BBMF to help out. “Kick” Houltby, Les Perrin, “Gerbs”, Tony King and Dave Payne. Also on the holiday trips were civvie friends, Roy Duffy from my time at RAF Colerne and Keith Hiscock, a boyhood friend. All were looked after well by Franco, with “Papa” Actis’s red wine and the deadly grappa always on tap. Family holidays were spent on the shores of Lago Maggiore, thank goodness for the generous forty days leave allowance from the RAF. The day finally came when Paul Day came out from BBMF to test fly I-SPIT. A nervous time for all of us especially when the throttle closed as Paul took his hand off to select the gear up. The missing spring was replaced and all was well on the next flight even though I hid myself away in the toilet unable to watch the take off. Funny, for all the first flights in the ensuing years I never had the same frightened feeling.
"MT719 Landing After First Flight."
P.V.R. and Civvie Street.
In the end the politics of the flight and the station got to me and I decided enough was enough, and I applied for Premature Voluntary Release. The system had the last word, I was made to serve the full eighteen months required even though I was prepared to go earlier. My last flight in the RAF was in the Avro Lancaster to Blackpool and back on the 14th August 1983. My first flight in an RAF aircraft had been in August 1955, twenty-eight years earlier, that time in an Avro Lincoln.
For my resettlement course I took the CAA aircraft engineers licence, a month long course at Southall College of Technology, living in the Sgts. Mess at Northolt. I usually took lunch in a local Indian restaurant in the High Street and straight after tea at the Mess it was back to the books, “genning” until nine most nights. As soon as I finished there, whilst awaiting results, I got an indulgence flight on an RAF VC-10 to Dulles, Washington in America, then an internal flight to Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas. I studied at the Acme College for my American 'A' and 'P' aircraft mechanics licence and lodged at a motel in “downtown” Fort Worth. Study was easy and I had plenty of free time so visited Breckenridge in Texas for an air show and also went to the Champlin Fighter Museum in Mesa Arizona, as I had some parts for them. After three weeks I returned to UK with my A&P licence. The CAA wheels ground along a bit slower so it would be a few months before I took the oral.
So with a gratuity in one hand and no job I was a civilian. I might have left the Royal Air Force but I had not left aircraft but that is another story. From boy to man in the RAF I had many good and some bad times but I would not have changed a thing because that is what makes the tapestry of life.