1952 to 1954
Royal Air Force Station Padgate, Lancashire. Technical Training Command, basic recruit training and reception centre.
8th August 1952. My two years national service started on this day, Due to my long experience in the Air Cadets I reported with no apprehension to Royal Air Force Station Padgate, the No 1-reception centre for national service men. It was situated alongside the railway line just one stop before Warrington on the local line from Chassen Road station. This short railway journey of some ten miles was just the first of many thousands of railway miles I travailed over the next two years, taking me to Inverness in the north of Scotland, Penzance in the south west, Kingston-upon-Hull in the east of England, and Pembroke in south west of Wales. First action on arrival was to visit the bedding store to collect, five blankets two sheets one pillow and pillow case. Next to be allocated a bed in a wooden hut containing about twenty-four iron bedsteads in two rows each complete with mattress, small cupboard, and wardrobe. The highly polished floor was of plain brown Linoleum; at one end a single room occupied by a corporal drill instructor on the staff of the unit. The wooden huts were situated in groups of four or five plus a brick and concrete ablutions building no internal tiles just plain concrete walls and floor with wooden duck boards containing a line of wash basins with a small shaving mirror over each. A drying room with electric iron, separate toilets, bathrooms, and shower cubicles, no heating but always bags of hot water. These were known as domestic sites, were situated on three sides of a large concrete area or drill square, on the fourth side stood an open front building like a small aircraft hanger but called a drill shed, mainly used for assembly and squad drill during inclement weather. The new recruit (or sprog, or the official rank, Aircraftman 2nd Class) was issued not only with a uniform but every item of clothing and equipment needed, we were further supplied with a large sheet of brown paper and string and instructed to parcel all our personal clothes which were promptly taken away and posted to our home address. The only personal belongings left in my possession was a fountain pen, a wristwatch and a toothbrush. Everything needed was issued over the next two or three days including, a best uniform consisting of a belted jacket with brass buttons and trousers, a working uniform with battle blouse and trousers, a great coat, a rain cape which opened out into a ground sheet, a long sleeved woollen pullover, two berets, shirts with separate collars, ties, underclothes, one pair of A.P. (Army Pattern) black leather boots, one pair of black leather shoes, P.T. shorts and gym shoes, woollen socks, woollen gloves, towels, two pairs of striped pyjamas, a little cloth roll called a housewife containing buttons needles cotton and darning wool. Also a button and shoe cleaning kit and a knife, fork, and spoon (always referred to as irons), and a pint mug. An identity card with a personal number 3137894 which had to be memorised and also applied to all the issued kit, even the eating irons, for which engineers number stamps we made available, finally a large kit bag. R.A.F. Padgate was a wartime built temporary station consisting in the main of wooden huts, in addition to the reception unit some basic training also took place, no airfield and not an aeroplane in sight! Over the next two or three days came a number of interviews and written tests to establish what trade I was to be trained for in the next two years. Some of the trades available for national servicemen were: – flight mechanic engines, flight mechanic airframes, armourer, instrument mechanic, Clarke general duties, Clarke accounts, medical orderly, cook, or drill instructor. I had made clear my enthusiasm for aircrew training in any capacity but had been warned that very few places were available. A.T.C training had guaranteed that my national service would be in the R.A.F. but no more. A very thorough medical was followed by three or four inoculations all on the same day. About one hundred of us were paraded in three lines in a large hut, shirts off hands on hips, a doctor and medical orderly went down the line, “about turn”, back down the line applying a needle to the second arm. On about the fifth day at the morning parade a list of names of those who would go forward for possible aircrew selection was read out. We were to be escorted by a corporal and travel by train to the Aircrew Selection Unit at R.A.F. Hornchurch, Hertfordshire, for three days of selection and aptitude tests, to establish if suitable for aircrew and if so, for which category.
Royal Air Force Station Hornchurch, Hertfordshire.
A very limited number of national service candidates were required for training as, pilots, navigators, signallers, flight engineers, and air gunners. Over the next two or three days more medical tests, specialised eyesight and hearing, physical dexterity, observation and memory. Some were like arcade and shooting gallery games others were logic or strategy, aircraft recognition, mechanism puzzles, intelligence and general knowledge tests. An interview by a selection board and then back to Padgate to await the result.
RAF Padgate, Lancashire.
The time was taken up by a little elementary foot drill instruction, kit inspections and fatigues – the RAF’s name for cleaning the toilets and washing greasy cooking utensils in the airman’s mess. We had some spare time in the evenings, Saturday afternoons, and all day Sundays but were not allowed to leave the confines of the station, which fortunately did boast a NAAFI (National Army and Air Force Institutes) club and a cinema. All RAF stations had a cinema operated by the RAF Cinema Corporation and all called The Astra. I will always associate RAF Padgate with the Frankie Laine recording of ‘Do Not Forsake Me’ the theme music from the film ‘High Noon’ staring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly who later gave up her acting career to marry and become princess Grace Rainier of Monaco. The NAAFI ran a club and mobile canteen, the club usually consisted of a shop, cafeteria, lounge, and game’s room, the mobile canteen would tour the station at morning and afternoon tea brakes. One other amenity available on all RAF stations was a barber’s shop; the RAF was very keen on clean shaves and short hair.
It was not long before the results of the aircrew selection process came through, the names were announced on the morning parade, and I was absolutely elated to be on the list for training as a Flight Engineer, my rank was now changed to cadet flight engineer. The next day along with all those selected for flying training I was posted to the Aircrew Transit Unit at RAF Cranwell, which was simply a holding unit until vacancies on various training courses became available. This unit was in the same district but in no way connected with the RAF Collage. Over the next two weeks, postings were announced on the morning parade, Cadet pilots and navigators to RAF Digby on the Isle of Man, Signallers to RAF Swanton Morley in Norfolk, Flight Engineers and Air Gunners to RAF West Kirby on the Wirral peninsula in Cheshire, (now part of Merseyside). All aircrew in the RAF were treated with high esteem and on completing basic flying training were promoted, Pilots and Navigators were commissioned in the rank of pilot officer, signallers, air gunners and flight engineers were promoted to sergeant.
Author centre row 3rd from left
Royal Air Force Station West Kirby. Wirral Peninsular, Cheshire. Technical Training Command, recruit basic training station.
At the beginning of September, eight weeks recruit training commenced at R.A.F. West Kirby on the Wirral peninsular in Cheshire, a war time type basic training camp consisting of wooden huts and brick and concrete ancillary buildings, no airfield, no aeroplanes. We travelled as usual by train, to Liverpool Central, descended to the Merseyrail underground, where the train carried us via St James Street adjacent to the Pier Head and Liver Building, under the Mersey estuary to Birkenhead calling at Hamilton Square, Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead North, up to the surface and on to Bidston, Leasow, Morton, Meols, Manor Road, Hoylake terminating at West Kirby. We left the train at Meols station where RAF lorries were waiting to take us to our new station which was situated on high ground some 2 or 3 miles inland. The first job on arrival was as usual to visit the bedding store to collect, blankets, sheets, pillow case and then report to drill instructor Corporal Parry of Hut D18, No.3 Flight, and ‘B’ Squadron. This was to be the beginning of the most physically active time of my life, we were on the go from morning until night, starting at 06.30 hrs, get up wash and shave, strip bed down to the mattress, fold and lay out blankets, sheets and pyjamas. Fall in complete with knife, fork, spoon and pint mug outside our hut, which was number D18, so we became and trained as D18, march to the airman’s mess for breakfast. The airman’s mess was a cafeteria type dining room with wooden top folding tables scrubbed spotlessly clean. Simple British food was provided, a typical days menu was – breakfast 07.00 to 07.30 hrs porridge or corn flakes, bacon and egg, – dinner 12.00 to 13.00 hrs, meat two vegetables and pudding, – high tea 17.30 to 18.00 hrs – beans on toast, bread butter and jam, or a somewhat soap like cheddar cheese and dog type biscuits – supper 09.00 to 09.30 hrs warmed up leftovers, very few takers. With all meals a large urn of tea was always available, it was rumoured among national servicemen that it was laced with bromide in order to reduce the sex drive! Back at our hut Cpl. Parry who occupied the single room had pinned up a list of room jobs allocated to each of the twenty-four members of the flight in addition to our responsibility for your own bed space, my job was to keep the porch clean. All our kit had to be laid out for inspection every day including two new items, a .303 Short Lee Enfield rifle and a pair of brown overalls, also the whole place had to be immaculate everywhere, dusted and polished to perfection. The day was divided into one hour periods the first at 08.00 hrs was usually Squad Drill, other subjects included were PT (Physical Training), Road Work (jogging), GST (Ground Service Training), the .303 Rifle (stripping cleaning and firing), and Education.
Squad Drill – A more demanding activity than is generally realised, requiring considerable concentration and movement co-ordination, much more than just instant blind obedience to a sudden command. In the advanced stages of continuity drill it was necessary to carry out 30 or 40 movements in sequence and in time with the other members of the squad, starting from a single command.
PT – This was held in the usual type of Gymnasium with standard equipment.
Road Work – Today this would be referred to as jogging down the surrounding country lanes, the RAF version was the whole flight all in step wearing AP boots, PE shorts and vests, accompanied by a corporal instructor on a bicycle. At first we would all be fighting for breath after only 5 or 10 minutes and falling by the wayside with stitches. By the eighth week of training we were physically very fit and looked forward to road work chatting to one another as we jogged along.
Ground Service Training – All RAF personal were required to undertake training in the ground defence of airfields. This involved charging round the Army commando type assault course, digging slit trenches, fixing bayonets and charging sandbags, also unarmed combat.
On one occasion we were supplied with service gas masks and marched to a large concrete hut, once inside with gas masks on a corporal activated a tear gas canister, we ran round until out of breath, were then ordered to remove our masks. After three or four minutes the doors were opened and we all came tumbling out to collapse on the grass eyes streaming and gasping for breath. Apparently the object of the exercise was to give us confidence in our gas mask and prove that they really worked.
The .303 Rifle, stripping, cleaning, care and maintenance, safety and live firing on the 25 yard range. Great importance was placed on safety when firing live ammunition, rounds were counted out as issued, and counted off as the empty cartridges were returned, on leaving the range individuals were required declare that no live ammunition was being removed. The golden rule was don’t point a gun at anybody unless you intend to shoot them.
Education – This turned out to be largely, health and hygiene, avoiding getting girls pregnant, and the horrors of venereal disease.
For each subject we were required to don a different outfit, Squad Drill – the working blue uniform, PT – gym shoes shorts and vest, Road Work – AP boots shorts and vest, GST – brown overalls, The .303 Rifle – brown overalls, Education – the working blue uniform. Saturday morning parade and passing out rehearsals – the best blue uniform. This required constant rushing about to change outfits between subjects gave rise to the drill instructors tongue in cheek command: – “When I say dismiss I want to see a cloud of dust and when the dust clears I want to see you back here in PT kit“. By the time we had our evening meal, cleaned the hut and our equipment, and polished our boots it was about 20.30 hrs we fell into bed exhausted. A laundry service was provided for 12 items per week, which was quite adequate, as most chaps preferred to wash small and personal items themselves; the toilet and washing block included ironing and drying room.
Relief came at the weekends, Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday we had off and after the first three weeks we were allowed out of camp but had to be back by midnight. The village hall at Meols held a dance every Saturday evening, which was very popular with the RAF from West Kirby; there was therefore unfortunately always a shortage of girls. This was before the days of discos and HiFi equipment, the music was live and provided by a small dance band playing the popular tunes of the day, the one which always reminds me of this time is ‘Sugerbush’, the popular recorded version was by Eve Boswell. I did however manage to make friends with a girl Connie Wyatt who invited me to her home for tea on several Saturdays. Her home was situated in a nearby village called Greasby. She also came to stay with us in Flixton for two or three days during my weeks leave when I had completed my Basic Training. We did exchange addresses and corresponded once or twice but never managed to see each other again.
On two or three Sundays I was able to take the train from Meols station to Liverpool Pier Head, change to a tram which ran out to the new suburban development at Croxteth where my aunty Bessie, uncle Alf and cousin Maurice had recently moved. The first part of the journey was slow as the tram clanged its way through Mersey square and busy city streets, further out the lines became segregated from the road, and then the ride became smooth and fast. My folks would drive over from Flixton and we would all spend the day together visiting various places of interest in the local area. On one occasion we travelled the length of the Liverpool Overhead Railway which was shortly to be closed down and demolished. The line ran for 6 1/2 miles along the Mersey estuary offering superb views of the then vast Liverpool Docklands. The railway was used mainly by dockworkers the names of many stations reflecting the dock served. From north to south, Seaforth Sands, Alexandra, Brocklebank, Canada, Huskisson, Nelson, Clarence, Princes, Pier Head, James Street, Custom House, Wapping, Brunswick, Toxteth, Herculaneum, and Dingle. The first stretch of line was opened on 6th March 1893; it was the first elevated electric railway in the world. It also had the distinction of being the first railway in Great Britain to adopt an automatic signalling system, its electrically operated semaphore signals being replaced in 1921 by Westinghouse colour lights which were again the first such installation in the country. At its peak the overhead was carrying an annual 14 million passengers. It was built at a time when the Liverpool docks were dealing with so much cargo that transport in and around the dock area became almost impossible. Buses, carts, horse drawn carriages and dockland trains were cluttering up the roads to such an extent that it became clear that an overhead railway was the only answer to alleviate the congestion.
My interest in transport must have been kindled at this time; the place had an amazing verity of transport systems. Within a few minutes’ walk of the pier head one could board, a tram, a motor bus, an underground train, an overhead train, a mainline train, any of three ferry boat services across the Mersey to Wallasey, Birkenhead, or New Brighten. In addition packet boats to Ireland and the Isle of Man also trans-Atlantic passenger liners from the nearby docks.
On successful completion of the eight weeks training, a passing out parade was held at which friends or relations could be invited. I was now probably physically fitter than I ever had been or would be again. Next we received home leave with orders to report back to the Air Crew Transit Unit at RAF Cranwell, in one week’s time. Our total entitlement to leave amounted to four weeks per annum; we also received four free railway travel warrants.
It is worth pointing out that the armed forces were at this time nothing like the highly professional outfits they are today, full of mad keen volunteers. The vast majority were conscripted national service young men who did their training kept a low profile completed their two years and returned home. The TV comedy programmes more accurately depicted life in the forces in the national service days than the serious ones.
RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire. Royal Air Force Collage, Basic Signals School, Aircrew Transit Unit,
At the transit unit we learned that only fourteen flight engineers were being trained per month, 12 by Coastal Command at RAF Kinloss way up in the north of Scotland and two by Transport Command at RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire. No air engineers were under training for Bomber Command, the Lancaster squadrons were re-equipping with Canberras, which required a crew of just one pilot and one navigator. Coastal Command were operating, Shackletons mark I and II, Lancasters, Sunderland flying boats, and the newly received on loan from the USA Lockheed Neptunes. Transport Command Mainly the Hanley Page Hastings and Avro York. While waiting for our posting to a flight engineers training unit we were given some morse code signalling practice. My posting come through along with twelve other chaps it was to be coastal command.
RAF Kinloss, Morayshire Scotland. Coastal Command.
Two Shackleton squadrons, Operation Conversion Units for Shackletons and Neptunes and the Basic Air Engineers School.
Author front row last on right
20th November – Myself and eleven other cadet flight engineers received a posting to form course No.13 (21st November to 20th February) at The Coastal Command Basic Flight Engineers School, 236 Operational Conversion Unit R.A.F. Kinloss, Morayshire, Scotland. The twelve of us were to live and work together for the next six months some to become close friends. Due to the complicated nature and length of Coastal Command operations and the large crew required. This was normally two pilots, two navigators, three signallers and two flight engineers; this left little room for specialised air gunners and so the engineers and signallers were required in addition to qualify as air gunners. The M.T. (Mechanical Transport) section provided the usual canvas covered Bedford lorry equipped with wooden seats; this took us to Sleaford station and a local train to Grantham. A huge locomotive steamed into the station pulling a long train of coaches, sleeping cars, a restaurant car, and a dozen or more corridor coaches with separate compartments each containing just eight seats. We were to travel on the stretch of line over which the famous ‘Mallard’ had set a world speed record for steam locomotives of 126 miles per hour. ‘Mallard’ loco No 4468 had been designed Sir Nigel Gresley and the record stands to this day. Our train named ‘The Aberdonian’ was to take us on the main leg of our 450 mile journey to the north of Scotland; we piled into a couple of empty compartments booked for RAF personal. The train pulled out of the station soon accelerating to maximum speed across the flat Lincolnshire landscape, next stop was Doncaster. We continued our journey north calling at York, Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick and then over the border and on to Edinburgh. By then it was quite dark, it was hard to believe we still had 150 miles to go. Having looked forward to crossing over the mighty Forth Bridge it was very disappointing to do so in pitch black darkness. Designed by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker and opened on 22nd January 1890, the Forth Railway Bridge was the largest cantilever bridge in the world. The sheer scale of the structure alone is impressive, 51,000 tons of steel, with three cantilever towers the main tubes of which were 12 ft diameter rising to a height of 360ft each connected by a lattice girder section giving a span of 1,710ft between towers. Built by a workforce of 4,500 of whom 56 were killed during construction. It was taking a team of 29 maintenance painters three years and 10,000 gals. of paint to repaint and then start all over again. Next we passed across Fife and on over another impressive piece of railway engineering, the second Tay Bridge. Opened on 20th June 1887, designed by W H Barlow and his son C Barlow, construction is wrought iron lattice girder, total length 3.570 yds. with 85 spans and a height of 77 ft. It replaced the first bridge that collapsed into the river during a great storm on the night of the Sunday 28th December 1879.
Shortly after crossing the Tay we ran into Dundee and then on to the granite city Aberdeen, a quick early breakfast on the station then we boarded a train bound for Inverness. We passed through Inverurie, over Kennethmount and down through Elgin and onto Forres the nearest station to RAF Kinloss. There was a light covering of snow on the ground, it was very cold but the sun shone from a clear blue sky, three white painted Avro Shackletons were droning round in the circuit. We were collected by RAF transport, the usual three ton Bedford lorry with canvas cover and wooden benches. The driver came round the back and dropped the tailgate, we clambered in with all our kit and twenty minutes later were booking in at the RAF Kinloss guardroom. The station was of the wartime dispersed temporary hut type not very convenient or comfortable, it did however have an excellent brand new purpose built N.A.F.I. After tucking in to our first meal in the airman’s mess, we made our way to our new accommodation which was in a somewhat overcrowded wooden hut containing two tier bunk beds; there were thirty-six cadet flight engineers at the school at any one time, three courses of twelve at four week intervals. After the strict discipline of the recruit training course, we appreciated the more relaxed atmosphere, no drill, marching about, or kits inspections, also we could now ware civilian clothes when off duty. During the first week short flurries of snow continued and it was very cold, the course photograph was taken outdoors, we in our greatcoats. I still have that photograph; it is signed on the reverse side by all members of the course. Colin Faulkner the comedian of the course soon invented a comical name for everybody bracketed in the following list, which also includes their hometown. Arthur Hall (Arfur) Nottingham, William Archibald (Orror) Dundee, Ian Forsyth (ey!) Levin, Colin Faulkner (Idle, this one by common consent) Smethick, David King (Cyrano) St Annes. Reginald Knowles (Long Streak) Colchester, George Campbell (How) Inverness, Roy Porton (Favourite Subject) Ruislip, Michael Young (Skiver) North London, Jack Lane (Eagle) Blackheath, Malcolm Wilson (Big Will) Newcastle.
At night in addition to the five issued blankets we would pile greatcoats etc on the bed in an effort to stay warm through the night. Against regulations which stated that coke stoves must not be fuelled after 20.00hrs, the cast iron coke stoves at each end of the hut were stoked to the top each night and for a little while would glow red hot. I soon made friends with one Jock Campbell and won the toss for the top bunk, Jock came from Inverness even further to the north.
The school consisted of three huts divided into four, consisting of classrooms, an Orderly Room, a Staff Room, and the CO’s Office. The course was almost all theoretical and lasted twelve weeks, the subjects covered were: – The Theory of Flight, Engineers Tools, Aero Engines, Electrical Systems, Hydraulic Systems, Carburettors, The Rolls Royce Griffin 67, Airframes, The Avro Shackleton Marks I and II and Neptune Mark I. Undercarriages, and Aircraft Instruments. It was very hard work, lectures all day revision in the evenings and a progress examination every Friday afternoon. A most unpopular duty was fire lighting, this entailed getting up at 06.00 hrs and lighting the classroom and office fires, we performed this duty in pairs on a roster throughout the course.
Before obtaining some air experience flying with the Operational Conversion Unit we were issued with our flying clothing, this included :- gloves leather and silk, grey gabardine flying overall, brown suede sheepskin lined calf length flying boots, long woollen socks, thick woollen high neck sweater, flying helmet including, goggles, earphones, oxygen mask and microphone, and a flying logbook for flight engineers.
We had 4 days leave for Christmas; I was pleased to accept a seat on a coach charted for the return journey to Leeds via Glasgow, Carlisle, Preston and Manchester, organised by two officers from one of the Shackleton squadrons.
New years eve we toured the pubs of Inverness and the local town of Forres lots of dancing and drinking in the streets but too damn cold for me.
14th January. At last I got airborne, my first flight as a full time airman, these flights were only intended as air experience so we were restricted to observing the aircraft crew in action. Three of us reported to the aircraft captain looking very sprog like in our brand new flying kit. The Aircraft was Avro Shackleton Mark I WB 855 on a live firing gunnery exercise over the North Sea. It was very noisy with lots of vibration, being described by the aircrew as 20,000 rivets flying in close formation; crew fatigue was a problem on long flights. Further flights were undertaken on the same afternoon and on the 6th and 17th February, all in Shackleton Mark I’s We were advised that the new Shackleton Mark II was a much more aircrew friendly aircraft with some soundproofing and more facilities for crew comfort, unfortunately it was not possible to arrange a trip in the new aircraft.
We manage to fit in one or two visits to Inverness, but spend most of our spare time on the station studying or at the Astra cinema or in the N.A.A.F.I. One Saturday afternoon Colin Faulkner and I went to Highland League football club Elgin City who were to play Third Lanark in the Scottish Cup. I remember it being a very competitive game it was however almost inevitable that Third Lanark would run out winners. Another visit to Elgin was to the swimming baths for a practical lesson in Dinghy Drill. This entailed floating around in old uniforms and life jackets, and clambering in and out of dinghies. The simulated night-time exercises were very scary. It required the donning of a pair of black goggles, which totally excluded any vision, and then stepping off the high diving board. Poor Dave King was the only one who could not bring himself to make the jump, suffering some very rough criticism from the instructors.
As the end of the course approached the swatting got more frantic, on the Monday Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week final examinations were held. We received the results on Thursday morning, it was almost unique, and all twelve had passed! clearance procedure started right away. On Friday afternoon we paraded at the school and were presented with our Fight Engineers Brevet and Sergeant’s stripes by the station Wing Commander Flying. After the presentation we received fourteen days leave and our posting to The Central Gunnery School at RAF Leconfield near Beverley in Yorkshire, but first a party which had been arranged at an Inverness hotel for Friday evening. Next home for a weeks leave after which I set off as always by train, to RAF Leconfield via Manchester, across the Pennines through Standedge Tunnel, to Huddersfield, Leeds, and Hull, changing to a local train to Beverley. As a sergeant it was the SWO’s (Station Warrant Officer) office I first reported to and then on to sign in at the sergeant’s mess where I was delighted to find myself allocated a twin room sharing, with Jock Campbell. The station was one of the expansion period built in the nineteen thirties, permanent brick buildings with central heating and integral bathrooms, showers and toilets. At this stage of our service we began to appreciate how lucky we were to reach the rank of sergeant so quickly. It normally took the ground trades years to reach the rank of sergeant. Trained aircrew were held in high esteem sergeant being the lowest rank to be held by trained aircrew. The sergeant’s mess was somewhat like living in a small hotel within the discipline of the RAF station. Typically the mess contained a Lounge come reading room with a small library, Games Room, Television Room, Bar Room, Dining Room, Single and Twin Bedrooms some of which were often situated in an annex, outside usually one or two tennis courts. Promotion also included a big increase in pay from approximately £2.00 to £7.00 per week, at home my pay as a junior draughtsman with AEI had been roughly £5.00 per week. Pay in the RAF was in addition to free accommodation, food, clothing and laundry.
Author front row 2nd from left
All twelve of the same chaps from Kinloss formed Course No 62 running from 18th March to 20th May at The Central Gunnery School. The first half of the course was spent in the classroom learning, theory of free gunnery, sighting and aiming relative to two moving objects, description, principles and setting up of the gyro gun sight. The construction working and operation of Fraser Nash, Bolton and Paul, and Bristol powered gun turrets, also in the armoury stripping and assembling of the 0.303 Browning, the 0.5 Browning, and the 20mm Hisparno guns. Theory of gunnery control and tactics employed by the bomber when evading an attack by enemy fighters. As before at Kinloss we were subject to an interim examination every Friday afternoon on the week’s work.
29th April. City finish 20th in division one, a very disappointing season.
We found time at weekends to visit Kingston-upon-Hull the nearest city; it boasted a number of cinemas, two theatres and a second division football team. Hull City Football Club was one of, if not the first in Britain to install floodlights, entertaining some of the top continental teams of the time. This was long before the current European Champions League and Cup Winners Cup competitions; we manage to fit in two evening games during our stay at Leconfield. At home I had on a number of occasions been introduced to an ex RAF friend of Mac’s called Jef. who lived in Hull. It was arraigned for Jef. and I to meet, this resulted in my spending a weekend at his home. A great opportunity to see the city with a personal guide all day and a pub-crawl in the evening. On another occasion Jef. came as my guest for a Saturday evening in the Sergeant’s mess bar, this was quite acceptable provided the guest was signed in and out by a resident sergeant. Licensing hours were apparently not applicable in the bar, when I naively asked the closing time the reply was’ when the last head sinks below the level of the bar counter’. Jef had one too many and having missed the last bus home spent the night in Jock Campbell’s bed, fortunately Jock had gone home for the weekend. Cheekily on Sunday morning we took Jef. in the mess for breakfast and later sneaked him out past the guardroom through the main gate and onto a bus home. I think we would both have been in very serious trouble had we been found out. Close by was Beverley a pleasant market town, the bus service entered via a low gothic arch, in order to negotiate this the double-deckers had a special shaped domed roof. A few miles down the road in the Beverley direction is a large nineteen thirties type pub called The Dixon Arms, a good quality concert with an excellent resident compare was well supported by the local airman and airwoman. This became our regular Thursday night out.
The second half of the course was practical gunnery from the rear and mid upper turrets also control from the astrodome of the Avro Lincoln mark 2. The fighters attached to the school for making dummy attacks were De Havilland Vampires and Gloster Meteors. My Flying Log Book records the morning of 14th April 1953 as the date on which I first took to the air in the Lincoln B mark 2, we reported to the school flight office each morning where we were briefed for the days flying. The flight office was situated on the edge of the airfield and housed the crew room, locker room for our flying clothing, parachute and harness, and cine film processing and assessment section. Over the next three weeks we flew nineteen times on various gunnery exercises, on two occasions three times on the same day, some serious flying at last! But first we had to familiarise ourselves with the Lincoln turrets. The rear turret was entered from the fuselage through a pair of small doors. Once inside these were closed and locked, if these were opened when the turret was turned to the limit on either beam one could roll over backwards into space! It was powered by hydraulic pressure supplied from an engine driven pump, movement was controlled by a simple vertical stick, left and right movement for rotation of the turret forward and backward movement raising and lowering the twin 0.5 inch Browning machineguns. The stick was held in one hand, the firing button positioned on top being operated by the thumb. The turret was not easy to control, jerky in operation, and vibrated alarmingly when turned onto either beam. A pair of foot pedals controlled the opening and closing of the six diamond circle on the giro gun sight. The sight automatically made allowances for movement, deflection, and gravity drop. It projected a spot of light surrounded by a circle of six diamonds on a glass screen through which the target could be tracked and ranged. Tracking was accomplished by maintaining the spot on the centre of the target, ranging by keeping the circle of diamonds on the wing span of the attacking fighter. On recognising the fighter attacking it was necessary to set the wingspan by means of a knob and dial on top of the sight. The rear turret position afforded a wonderful view astern and below, the whole of the aircraft being behind ones back and out of sight. The instructors were amused to point out that the whole turret was held onto the fuselage by only five high tensile steel bolts.
The mid upper was an all electrically powered turret designed and manufactured by the Bristol Aircraft Company and represented the final development of the aircraft power operated gun turret. It was entered from below by climbing onto a bicycle type seat with foot rests. Control was by a yoke type control column with a built in firing button on the right hand side, and one on the left for rapid movement. Turn to the left or right for turret rotation, tilt forward or back for raising or lowering the two 20mm Hisparno cannons. As with the rear turret the view all round and above excellent however the control and operation much more smooth and responsive.
For the flying exercises the course members were divided into groups of three, two groups took to the air at the same time. For safety at take off the six students and one gunnery instructor sat on the floor of the aircraft facing the rear with their backs to the wing main spar which passed through the fuselage. Once reaching safety height the first group took up their positions, one in the rear turret, one in the mid upper, one in the astrodome, this being the bomber defence control position. It was wonderful after leaving the ground on a dark drizzly day and after being buffeted about in climbing through thick cloud to break out into clear blue sky and bright sunshine. The cloud now below looking like a solid snow covered landscape. The astrodome in the Lincoln was situated behind the pilot and flight engineer. By standing on a small platform and griping two handles set just below shoulder height, the head and shoulders reached into a clear plastic dome affording magnificent all round vision. You certainly needed those handles when you had an enthusiastic pilot when it came to taking evasive action. The object of defence control was to give a running commentary of attacks by hostile fighters, giving the angle and range relative to the bomber. Also to advise the pilot when and what effective evasive action should be taken. Some were quite exciting, one of the best being the right or left hand corkscrew. A left hand corkscrew being a diving turn to the left followed by a climbing turn to the right followed by a diving turn to the left and so on.
There were three types of flying exercises, Cine, live firing air to sea, and live firing air to air. On the cine exercise we each collected a personal 16mm film cassette which was clipped into the gun sight camera. The standard giro reflector gun sight was designed and fitted with a 16mm cassette camera filming through the sight at five frames per second. It was controlled by the guns trigger mechanism and formed a complete record of the exercise and was returned to the assessment section who produced an aiming and ranging accuracy chart for each student flight. The live firing air to sea was simply a matter of flying out over an area of Bridlington Bay, dropping a smoke float, then flying in a tight circle and giving short bursts from the two turrets. This was very good practice, the smoke float was not as easy to hit as one might think. Live firing air to air involved a rendezvous in strictly controlled air space with a target tug. This aircraft towed a target drogue on a long length of cable, firing live rounds at this was great fun for us gunners but a little nerve racking for the pilot of the tug.
The final examinations soon came round, written; covering the theory, practical; covering stripping and assembly of the Browning and Hisparno, and the practical air firing assessment having, shot a total of 65ft of film and 1100 rounds of ammunition. Once again it was good news that all twelve of us had passed and were now qualified RAF. air gunners. The usual course party followed this time at the Dixon Arms, the twelve then parted for home and a few days leave. The eight weeks at Leconfield had been most enjoyable and great fun. I had orders to report to RAF Topcliffe on attachment to 203 Squadron, awaiting further training.
RAF Topcliffe, Yorkshire. Coastal Command, Two Neptune squadrons.
9th June. Set off from Chassen Road station for another destination travailing via Manchester Central, cross to Manchester London Road Station (now renamed Piccadilly Station). In those days before they were restricted to the pubs and side streets prostitutes offered their services all over the city centre. A favourite area for the working girls was Piccadilly Gardens, along one side was a wide pavement and statues of famous royalty and politicians, Very chuffed with myself carrying my weekend bag, wearing my best uniform with brand new sergeant’s stripes and flight engineers badge as I crossed Piccadilly Gardens one of the girls stepped in front of me saying “carry your bag as well for an extra tanner (6 old pennies) sarge”. Laughing I think I somewhat pathetically replied something like “sorry but I have train to catch”. I remember a cartoon in the Manchester Evening News which depicted the statue of Queen Victoria with a number of the girls standing round the base, passing by was a women holding the hand of a little small child. The child is saying “are those the queen’s ladies in waiting mummy”.
From Manchester London Road Station through the Pennines to Leeds, change for a train that meandered through the Yorkshire dales to Topcliffe Station via Harrogate, Knaresbough and Ripon. The viaduct through Knaresbough is particularly spectacular carrying the railway over the very picturesque river Nidd valley. The RAF Station turned out to be another nineteen thirty’s expansion type, this time I was accommodated in the sergeant’s mess annex sharing a room with Dave King, Collin Faulkner, and Arthur Hall. Dave and Collin were very keen Bridge players and soon roped in Arthur and me; card sessions often going on long into the night. A regular dance was organised in the sergeant’s mess, buses were provided for girls invited from local employers and hospitals etc ensuring plenty of partners. The pop tune that brings to mind those dances was ‘Answer Me’ by singing star of the time David Whitfield. A not so well known musical film of the time ‘Rainbow Round My Shoulder’ (1952) staring Frankie Lane, Billy Daniels, and Charlotte Austin, also reminds me of my time at RAF Topcliffe. At one of the Sergeant’s Mess dances I danced with a very attractive girl who nearly squeezed the life out of me on the dance floor (I did not object); we spent the rest of the evening together. When the time came to go home I walked Joan to the coach arraigned to take the girls home to Harrogate. We agreed to meet again; she was an operator on the Harrogate telephone exchange. Automatic dialling only covered your local area, calls further afield had to made via the operator who had to make the connection on a manual exchange. Telephone calls were very expensive, however she gave me a number to ring through which I could be connected to the Harrogate exchange, and then if she was on duty to her plug board. We could then between the calls she handled chat as long as we wanted without cost. (We never did meet again because a week later I was posted to the other side of the country).
There were two new squadrons of Neptunes on the station 203 squadron and 36 squadron. A total of fifty American Lockheed P2V5 Neptunes were on loan in order to quickly build up the strength of RAF Coastal Command, in order to meet a NATO commitment. In the long term these were to be permanently replaced by the Shackleton mark 2, which were slowly coming off the production line at Avro’s Woodford Cheshire factory. The Neptune was a large aircraft for one with only two engines, the fuselage was somewhat cramped for the number of crew accommodated. The engines, two mighty Wright Cyclone 18 cylinder air-cooled radials at 3500HP each, probably the most powerful aircraft piston engines ever produced. Being attached to 203 squadron we were simply reporting to the Flight Engineer Leader each morning. Hanging around the crew room drinking coffee and playing board games with the aircrew whom were occasionally free from other duties. Just two air experience flights were arraigned during this period. The first on 24th July was for 4hrs in squadron aircraft ‘J’ on a Farnborough trainer exercise. I took the opportunity to try out the front turret, which was of the American ball type. It was ball shaped, about 4ft in diameter, and was entered through the front fuselage below the two pilots seats. It was a most claustrophobic experience. Having wriggled into the seat and placed the feet on foot pedals, which were at eye level the knees, were next to the ears. It was then time to zip yourself in, we were advised that it was necessary to use your mask and breathe oxygen when live firing due to the cordite fumes building up inside the turret. I was to fly again in the same aircraft on the 28th July this time for just 2hrs 20m. again on a Farnborough trainer exercise.
Our posting came through we were to report to the School of Maritime Reconnaissance on the 14th August for just four weeks ground training covering all aspects of maritime reconnaissance.
RAF St Mawgan, Cornwall.
Once again we board a train, this time heading for the extreme southwest tip of Britain. The journey’s first part took us to Derby; change trains and continue via Birmingham, Worcester, Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Newton Abbot, and Plymouth. And then on again across from Devon into Cornwall over the river Timor on the famous Royal Albert Bridge. The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and is an arch and suspension type in cast and wrought iron, 734 yds. long 100ft high, opened on 4th May 1859, the last of Brunel’s designs to be completed in his lifetime. On reaching Par station we change, to a local train crossing over to the north coast and Newquay; the nearest railhead to our destination. R.A.F. St Morgan was wartime built, consisting of temporary dispersed buildings. Dave King, Arthur Hall and I share a four bed Maycreat hut on a hillside a short walk from the sergeant’s mess and the School of Maritime Reconnaissance.
The wide ranging subjects covered by the lectures were: – Sea Power and the Role of Coastal Command: – strategy, tactics, passive, offensive and the value of convoys. Reconnaissance: – responsibilities and work of Costal Command, trade protection, attacks on enemy trade, fleet reconnaissance and protection, strategic photographic reconnaissance, meteorological reconnaissance, air sea rescue. Radar:- basic theory, display, the A.S.V. (Air Sea Visual) Sonics:- audible sound as applied to the detection of a submerged submarine, The Sonar Buoy, which is dropped in a pattern over a large area of sea. Each of the buoys being fitted with a hydrophone and radio transmitter which broadcasts the sound produced by a submarine’s propeller. The signal can be picked by the aircraft’s receiver and the submarine’s position plotted. Submarines: – types, construction, equipment, performance organisation. Ship Recognition:- British, French, U.S.A., Russian, Merchant ships, types and characteristics, coasters, freighters, cargo liners, cargo-passenger liners, passenger liners, short sea packets, and tankers, warships, types and characteristics, battleships, aircraft carriers, cursers, destroyers, frigates, We were tested on ship recognition by the instructor who had a piece of equipment like a miniature theatre with a conveyer belt stage. Small scale waterline models were slowly sailed across the stage. Weapons: – depth charges, practice bombs, Pyrotechnics: – navigation aids, emergency and distress signals, illumination flares, marine markers. Airmanship: – emergency drills, ditching and dinghy drill, parachutes, emergency packs and first aid, fire drills. Survival: – jungle, desert, and arctic.
After the high pressure of the intensive training on the Recruit, Air Engineer, and Air Gunner courses, the four weeks at St Mawgan was a pleasant relief. Lectures were from Monday to Friday and were completed for the day at 16.00 hrs. The weather was superb, after the final lecture we quickly changed into civies, grabbed our swimming trunks and towels, and headed for Watergate bay. This was reached by a short cut round the airfield and across the fields. A small cafe on the beach hired out surf boards; the three of us made good use of this service during our stay and soon became quite proficient. After our swim, a short bus ride into Newquay for a meal, a pub, and a dance at the Blue Lagoon which had an outstanding view of the bay. I cannot hear the tune ’Blue Tango’ without seeing a picture of the Blue Lagoon as it was in 1953 not the modern blue glass building of today. Newquay was a lovely small town perched on the cliff top overlooking a small harbour and three little bays. It was not the highly commercialised place it is today. I remember the film showing at the little cinema backing on to the harbour was musical ‘Call Me Madam’, staring: – Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, George Sanders, and Vera Ellen. Arthur, who was married, went home to Nottingham at weekends whenever he could make it. Dave and I took advantage of the weekends off to visit Plymouth staying overnight at the Y.M.C.A. hostel. Although we were not members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, their hostels did provided bed and breakfast for servicemen at a nominal charge. The town centre was interesting in that it was one of the first to be completely redesigned and rebuilt, after having been heavily bombed during the war. A similar weekend was spent at Penzance when I also made my first visit to Lands End.
The end of our course came all too soon with a ship recognition test and some practical sonic plotting. Home again with orders to report back to RAF Topcliffe on the 25th September, this time to 36 Squadron. This was disappointing; I was hoping to be posted to an Operational Conversion Unit which would lead to my joining an operational squadron and some real flying. Of the three Coastal Command aircraft operating at this time i.e. Neptune, Shackleton, and the Sunderland Flying Boat, the Neptune would be my last preference. Another long train journey out of the West Country via Bristol, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Doncaster, Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon and Topcliffe.
RAF Topcliffe, Yorkshire.
Dave King, Arthur Hall and I remained together reporting to the Engineer Leader at 36 Squadron who turned out to be Flt Sgt Dinty Moor. Dinty had been one of our instructors at Kinloss and knowing that all three of us were draughtsmen before joining the R.A.F. We were set up with makeshift drawing boards tee squares etc in a little office attached to the crew room. The next few weeks were spent producing large-scale wall charts of the Neptune hydraulic and electrical systems copied from the appropriate official manuals.
Early in October all personnel were briefed for a major station defence exercise, we were to be involved in a mock attack on Britain by other NATO army, navy, and air force units. The object was to test out our defence systems.
Special arraignments were to be implemented
- A green alert – stand by. An amber alert – report to sections. A red alert – attack imminent.
- There would be no leave during the period of the Exercise.
- All aircrew were to be allocated to an aircraft. Should an attack on the station be considered imminent then all aircraft were to takeoff and proceed to a safe area (in our case RAF Kinloss), we heard on the grapevine that there was insufficient accommodation therefore hotels in Inverness were to be used. This sounded pretty good to us.
- Firearms and blanks were to be issued.
- All ground crew were divided into sections defending particular areas.
- The officer’s, sergeants, and airman’s messes, the NAFFI club and the Astra cinema were all closed.
- Catering was to be centralised and supplied to sections from mobile units.
The green alert came one Friday afternoon; our turn soon came to report to the armoury where all aircrew were issued with a 0.28 Enfield revolver. Some of the aircrew chaps behaved as though they had been given a part in a new film western, much to the dismay of the Station Warrant Officer. We found it very difficult to take the whole thing seriously, and looked forward to our weekend jolly in Inverness. It was Saturday morning before the amber alert was called, I reported to the squadron and found the aircraft and crew to which I was attached. A makeshift midday dinner was served from the back of a lorry after which it was not long before the red alert sounded. We had our flying kit to hand and overnight bags packed. On arriving at the aircraft we were devastated to find it declared unserviceable. (MY first piece of bad luck since joining the RAF). Worse was to follow, back at the squadron I was ordered to return my 0.28 pistol for a 0.303 rifle to the armoury and report to the officer in charge of ground defence. My instructions were now to take charge of five airmen who were manning a slit trench on the far side of the airfield. At least I had missed out on the actual digging of the b——- thing. In the early evening some basic food described as supper arrived. Then followed a long, cold, miserable, night when absolutely nothing happened. My thoughts were full of images of the lucky aircrew who had flown up to Kinloss and would now be installed in comfortable Inverness hotels. Shortly after dawn the grub wagon arrived with bacon sandwiches and gallons of tea, this helped cheer us up a little. Around 10.00hrs all hell let loose, thunder flashes, automatic fire, and smoke bombs went off over on the far side of the airfield. Nothing was within sight but that didn’t stop the chaps in my trench letting off their blanks in the direction of the smoke. After the hours of boredom it was a great relief, so I just joined in the firing. Shortly after running out of ammunition we received the order to stand down, thank goodness it was all over. Back to the sergeant’s mess for a hot shower, lunch, and an afternoon kip. Luxury!
The regular dances in the mess continued to be very popular, the hit tune of the day being ‘Secret Love’ by Doris Day.
Orders came through for me and Michael Young to report to The Flying Boat Training Squadron at R.A.F. Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, on 29th November. This was very exciting news we were to attend the Operational Conversion Course for Sunderland Flying Boats. I said goodbye to Arthur and Dave and so we set off on yet another long railway journey down almost to the tip of South Wales. The usual local train to Leeds where we boarded an express for Cardiff via Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham, Gloucester and Newport. At Cardiff we change to a Pembroke Coast train and travel through Bridgend, Swansea, Carmarthen, Whitland, and Tenby to Pembroke Dock.
RAF Pembroke Dock.
RAF Pembroke Dock was like no other RAF station I had come across before or since, the site was first developed by the Admiralty and opened as a Royal Dockyard in 1815. Over the next 75 years the Yard developed eventually employing over 2,000 men and building many famous ships for the Royal Navy. After the 1st world war it was slowly run down and in 1922 placed on a care and maintenance basis. On the 31st March 1930 it was transferred from the Admiralty to the Air Ministry, the next decade during the RAF expansion period saw it developed as a major flying boat station. It was surrounded by a 14ft stone wall on the landward side, which gave it the appearance of a prison. My stay however, at Pembroke Dock turned out to be a unique experience and a happy and exiting period of my service. The main gates were of wrought iron set in the stone wall in place of the more usual boom, hawthorn hedge and barbed wire. The main road ran straight ahead all the way down to the old Dry-dock. To the left was the original dockyard manager’s house, this had been converted into the sergeant’s mess. The area to the left of the main road included the Station Headquarters, Mechanical Transport Section; Airman’s Accommodation, Parade Ground, Sick Quarters, and various administrative buildings. To the right built into the wall was the guard room; next came two more large houses converted to senior NCO’s accommodation, next set back from the road a modern expansion period officer’s mess. At the end of the road came the old dockyard chapel which now doubled as the station church and the Astra cinema. To the right of the main road were two large aircraft hangers, between which came a large concrete area or hard standing beyond this, the slipway and beaching winch. Attached to the hangers were smaller, technical, engineering buildings, and stores. Down along the shore line was situated the Marine Craft Unit, Pier, 201 Squadron and 210 Squadron Headquarters, Flying Boat Training Squadron Headquarters, the Control Tower was built in the roof of one of the hangers
I shared a room with Tony Donithorne another national service flight engineer, but from course no.14 at Kinloss. Tony was a motor mechanic from London and once we settled in, he returned from home after our first long weekend, much to my surprise, in his own car. The Sunderland flying boat was the longest serving front line aircraft in the RAF having first seen service with 210 Squadron in June 1938. It was the military development of the famous Empire Flying Boat which first flew on 3rd July 1936. A total of 749 were produced and in addition to the RAF were operated by, the Royal Australian Air force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the South African Air Force, and the French Aeronavale. The first crews to enter the Sunderland were struck by the vast interior space. After their experiences in the cramped wet uncomfortable cockpits of former biplane flying boats the Sunderland represented shear luxury. The overall dimensions of the mark 5; – wing span 112’, length 85’, height 32’. By 1953 the days of the flying boat in the RAF were numbered. Pembroke Dock was the last flying boat station in the U.K. with the two squadrons operating just five boats each and the training squadron three. A small number were operated by the RAF out at Seletar, Singapore, and also the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the South African Air Force, and the French Aeronavale.
The training of crews had previously taken place on 236 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Calshot in Southampton Water, Hampshire.
We joined No 1 course Flying Boat Training Squadron at Pembroke Dock.
The boats spent most of their working life in the air or on the water and were only winched up the slipway (known as beaching) for major servicing. The slipway lead to a large hard standing situated between the two large aircraft hangers. The time was spent in the main hangers where major servicing was carried out. The flight engineers were attached to the Maintenance Wing four weeks before the remainder of the aircrew arrived for the start of the course. This was to introduce us to the personnel and provide some practical experience in flying boat maintenance. The first two weeks we worked in the main hangers with the airframe mechanics. My first job was to assist in removing and repairing one of the huge ‘Gouge’ type wing flaps. It had been damaged in a heavy landing during bad weather. Further time was spent on general airframe inspection and carrying out as required various repairs. Flying control systems and linkages were also inspected and adjusted. The second two weeks were spent with the engine mechanics where engines were part striped down and inspected for wear and tear. On one occasion we worked through the night in order to complete a cylinder change. After a given number of hours engines were removed completely and returned to the manufactures. These being completely stripped down, overhauled, worn parts replaced, re-assembled and returned to the RAF for continued use. Some time was also spent working in the technical library.
Home for Christmas, I decided to take the Mid Wales route very slow but through the most beautiful gentle mountain scenery. Travailing via Tenby and Whitland to Carmarthen, and then all the way across the centre of Wales, passing through LLandovery, Llandrindod, Ludlow, Craven Arms, Shrewsbury, Whitchurch to Crewe, change for a train through to Manchester.
1954 The Flying Boat Training Squadron
Author top row 5th from left
In the new year the other aircrew members arrived and so the course proper got started. The Operational Conversion Course members were twenty in number and trained as two complete crews. Crew ’A’ and ’B’ each consisting of, two pilots, two navigators, three flight engineers, and three signallers. I was a member of crew ’B’, the only names I remember are Mike Young and the two pilots Pilot Officers Renshaw and Banks. The other crew members were a flight engineer from course 14 at Kinloss and the three signallers: – one was a warrant officer and the other two were sergeants, also the two navigators both flying officers.
The Flying Boat Training Squadron was commanded by a squadron leader, assisted by flying instructors two of each, pilots, navigators, signallers, and flight engineers. Also a ground crew servicing flight for daily and between flight inspections and minor repairs. All the day to day work being carried out on the water. The mechanics carried their tools on long pieces string hung round the neck; any lost over the side had to be paid for. The three training squadron boats had squadron identification letters DK, DL, DM, and registration numbers RN266, NJ180, RN304.
Additional clothing was issued, a thick polo neck pullover and a waterproof donkey jacket, the engineers also received a tool kit, log cover, log sheets and weight and balance sheets. Also an invaluable booklet of a type issued for all RAF aircraft: – ‘Pilots and Flight Engineers Notes for the Sunderland V. Next came the allocation of a locker in the crew room for flying kit, parachutes and personal aircrew equipment. The course was fundamentally practical therefore instruction mostly took place on board the boats either on the water or in the air. The first session was ‘Familiarisation with the Sunderland mark 5, Crew Stations, and Equipment’.
We assembled down at the pier head. Here the Marine Craft Unit had a glass fronted office from where on demand a motor boat service was provided to the flying boats moored out in the haven. The Marine Craft Unit operated: – a landing area Control Launch, fireboats, refuelling barges, rescue launches and seaplane tenders. The launch took us out to one of the three training squadron flying boats. Entry was normally via the front hatch into the bow compartment. To the usual service aircraft smell of aluminium, petrol, oil, and cellulose paint, was added fresh sea air and seaweed, also the gentle lapping sound of water under the hull. Forward was the front turret, this was mounted on rails about 800cm above the deck. Entry was by ducking down and climbing on to a bicycle saddle. It contained two 0.303 Browning machine guns. The rail mounting was to enable the turret to be wound back creating an open area from which mooring could be conducted. A double bollard for use when mooring could be swung upward and locked in position. The bow compartment also contained a hand operated winch complete with anchor and chain, stowed equipment included a boat hook, an anchor, a short rope slip, a short ladder and stowed bridle. Four fixed forward firing 0.303 Browning machine guns were also situated two on each side of the hull; these were triggered from a button on the first pilots control column. Turning towards the rear, on the left was the flush toilet compartment (an unheard of luxury in a military aircraft). In the centre was a staircase leading up to the flight deck between the two pilots. On the right a bulkhead door leading to the wardroom with central folding table and bunk type seats down each side. A second bulkhead door lead to the galley, fitted with a Primus stove cooking range, sink and drinking water containers. On each side a square hatch was situated below which the port and starboard drogues were stowed. In the centre a ladder lead up to the flight between the flight engineer’s and the signaller’s station. Continuing towards the stern through another bulkhead we entered the bomb room, this being situated immediately below the wings. The bomb racks were mounted on trolleys, which ran on rails from the roof through doors high in the side of the hull and out under the wings. When the bombs had been dropped the trolleys could be run back inboard and the racks reloaded. This system must have been unique to the Sunderland. Beyond the bomb room were a couple of rest bunks, then down from above, the stern ladder leading down to the rear end of the flight deck. Overhead the blanked off mounting for a mid upper turret which could be quickly fitted should this be required. From here on a long walkway lead down to the rear turret. This was very similar to the Lincoln but containing four 0.303 Browning guns in place of the two 0.5 in the Lincoln. Returning forward up the stern ladder we arrived on the upper deck at the port and starboard 0.5 gun hatches. In order to move further forward it was necessary to climb over the wing main spar and scramble through a small square hatch (nick named by the aircrews as the oven door). Immediately to the right was the flight engineer’s station, to the left the batteries and electrical control box and fuse board. Next, to the right came the ’Air to Sea’ radar tent followed by the two navigators desks, On the opposite side the signaller’s station, overhead the astrodome and up front the two pilots seats between which were the stairs back down to the bow compartment. The astrodome clamps were released, the dome lowered, we were then able to climb up through the hole and out on to the top of the flying boat, It was possible to walk with care down to the tail or out to the wing tips. The top leading edge section of the wing on each side of all four engines could be raised and swing over through 180 degrees to form working platforms from which the engines could be checked and serviced. Another similar section at the starboard wing root gave access to the auxiliary power unit (A.P.U.). Under hinged skin caps were the refuelling points of the five separate fuel tanks positioned in each wing. This completed our practical introduction to the flying boat; an Aldus lamp clipped just below the astrodome was used to signal to the pier head for a launch to take us back ashore.
The next day the classroom lectures started the first subject being:-
Tides and Currents, Channels, Sea States and the Beaufort Scale, Port and Starboard Hand Buoys, Marker Buoys, Seaway Rules, Ropes Slips and Knots.
Other subjects were:-
Taxiing (referred to in nautical terms as steaming), Mooring buoys, Mooring Procedures, Refuelling, Movement at Night, Launching and Beaching Procedures, Swinging the Lead (measuring water depth by means of a lead line and rope), and Anchoring.
The navigators were responsible for the 0.500 Browning guns at the 0.500 hatches, the bomb room and loading of the bomb racks. Manning the nose and tail turrets, loading and arming, the 0.303 Browning guns, ammunition belts was down to the Engineers and Signallers. Defensive Tactics, Pyrotechnics, The Vary Pistol.
Two crew members when appropriate designated to collect supplies (food, drinking water etc.) from the catering section, and to see that the crew kit (cups, plates, cutlery etc) are stored on board.
Flight Engineers normally first on board, ground flight switch to flight, start up the APU, carry out pre flight checks, the flight engineers were required on board half an hour before takeoff, complete the weight and balance chart, this had to be counter signed by the captain before takeoff, complete page one of the flight engineers flight log.
The Flight Engineers Station.
In the classroom a mock-up of the control panel was used to demonstrate the various controls and instruments. The flight engineers airborne responsibilities included, monitoring and maintaining a log of the performance of the engines and the management of the aircraft systems. There were ten fuel tanks, five in each wing, also a small tank to supply the APU. Through a system of pipes and control cocks it was possible to feed all four engines from any one of the ten tanks. The station contained the following instruments and controls :- Oil dilution selector switches (4) and push button, Fuel contents gauges (10), Fuel gauge switch, Fuel pressure warning lights (4), Fuel pressure warning light switch, Engine cylinder temperature gauges (4), Oil temperature gauge switch, Oil temperature gauges (4), Oil pressure gauges (4), Propeller de-icing motor indicator lights (2) Propeller de-icing flow control rheostats (2), Vacuum pump selector cocks (2), Fuel system control cocks (12), Carburettor air intake heat controls (2), Carburettor de-ice selector cocks and hand pumps (2), APU re-fuelling pump and cock, Panel light dimmer switch. The mock-up proved to be very popular with students for use practising management of the fuel system and emergency procedures.
Before we could take the flying boat into the air there was much to learn. And so the first two or three on board exercises were concerned with preparation for flight and water handling. For our first hands on experience, student crew ‘B’ were ferried out to flying boat D-M (RM304). Entry was normally through the front hatch which was just above the water line making it possible to step straight from the launch on to the lower deck. The engineer’s first job was to set the ground/flight switch from ground to flight this being positioned just above the hatch on the right hand side. All electrical power from the batteries to the engines and systems passed through this switch. Next we move through the ward room, up the galley ladder on to the flight deck and out through the open astrodome hatch on to the top of the flying boat. The leading edge wing root platform was swung open to reveal the A.P.U., this drove a dynamo which boosted the batteries until the main engine generators would take over. It could also be connected to a pump for pumping out the bilges etc. Starting was by hand (something like a lawn mower engine) or electrically from a push button at the engineers station. We could now work through our pre flight check list. When all the crew had completed their checklists we took up our positions for engine starting and slipping the mooring buoy. At this point we needed to don our flying helmets with built in microphone and ear phones, a jack plug on a long lead could be plugged into intercom sockets at all crew stations and numerous points throughout the airframe. Two crew members were required at the bow position, one in the galley, one engineer at the engineer’s station, one crew member at the astrodome, and the captain and co- pilot on the bridge at the flying controls. In the bow compartment the nose turret was wound back. The bollard swung up and locked in place and the short slip placed over the bollard. The anchor chain wound in using the hand winch until the nylon grommet was visible above the water and could be secured by the short slip which was wound round the bollard in a figure of eight. The stowed bridle and anchor chain was then unshackled from the nylon pendant and stowed, the fixed bridle being secured to its stowage eye. This was accomplished through a small opening window just above the water line. The boat was then only secured to the buoy by the short slip which was easily release when required. In the galley compartment the port and starboard hatches were opened, below which in open top boxes were stowed the drogues. These had to be launched occasionally to assist in manoeuvring on the water in tight spaces. The engines were numbered one to four, one being the port outer and four being the starboard outer. At the astrodome (the lookout’s position) was situated the engine starting control panel consisting of :- Booster coil switches (4), fuel booster pump master switch, fuel booster pump pushbuttons (2), induction priming pumps (2), induction priming selector cocks (2), fuel pressure warning lights (4),fuel pressure warning light switch. Preparations at the engineer’s station had to be completed, Gills open, Louvers closed. Switches; – oil dilution off, fuel gauges on, fuel pressure warning lights on, oil temperature gauges on, propeller de-icers off, carburettor air intakes set to cold, main fuel tanks selected.
Captain sounds one long blast on klaxon.
“Captain to crew standby to start engines”.
“Bows to captain on short slip flaps down and even”.
“Lookout to captain in position ready for starting, clear astern”.
“Galley to captain standing by drogues”.
“Engineer to captain ready for starting”.
“Captain to lookout master cocks on, prime one’.
“Look out to captain priming one”.
“Captain to lookout contact one”.
“Engineer to captain oil pressure one”.
The procedure was repeated for engine number four. At this stage the engineer was required to report the steady rise in oil and cylinder temperatures. The engine throttles could not be advanced until the required oil and cylinder temperature was reached. The second pilot then called the control tower over the radio for permission to slip mooring. We were in flying boat ‘D-M’ No RN304 our call sign was therefore Dog Mike.
Captain on the RT “Pembroke Tower this is Dog Mike, permission to slip buoy and clear moorings”.
Pembroke Tower” Dog Mike this is Pembroke Tower, you are clear to sip buoy and clear moorings, call launch for takeoff’
Whenever the flying boats were operating the control tower would be manned. The Marine Craft Section would provide a landing area control launch, a fireboat, and a refuelling barge standing by. Over the radio the control tower was referred to as ‘Pembroke Tower’ and the landing area control launch as ‘Pembroke Marine.
“Captain to crew standby to slip mooring”’.
“‘Bows to captain standing by”.
“Lookout to captain clear all round”.
“Engineer to captain temperatures and pressures normal for slipping”
Captain sounds‘s’ on the klaxon.
“Captain to bows slip moorings”.
“Bows to captain buoy moving astern”.
The APU was now shut down the wing platform closed and engines 2 and 3 started. In the bow compartment the bollard was secured, window closed, turret wound forward and locked. The pilots were then able to practice manoeuvring on the water. Including approaching the buoy and mooring up, much more difficult than slipping the buoy.
Captain sounds ‘M‘ on the klaxon.
The two crew in the bow compartment would wind back the turret and swing the bollard into place. The stowed ladder was passed up through the opening in front of the turret and fixed in place to the port side of the hull close to the bow. One crew member placed the looped end of the short slip over the bollard and climbed down the ladder with the plain end of the slip in the left hand, holding on with the right hand.
“Bows to captain ready for mooring”
. “Galley to captain standing by drogues”.
We then approached the buoy as slowly as possible from downwind; several attempts were needed before we got it right. When reaching the buoy the crewman on the ladder past the slip through the spreader to the crewman in the bow who quickly made a couple of turns round the bollard. The pendant’s nylon grommet was then placed over the bollard.
‘Bows to captain buoy secure’
‘Engineer to captain temperatures normal for cutting’
‘Captain to engineer cutting engines’
The procedure followed in the bow to secure the buoy was the reverse of the preparation to slip moorings previously described.
Monday 18th January. Following an afternoon of mooring and general manoeuvring practice at 15.45 hrs. we took to the air for the first time. It was a wonderful experience we were able to relax and enjoy it to the full because on this occasion it was a demonstration by the instructors. We took off from our base at Pembroke Dock flying just above the water to Angle Bay several miles along the haven. This bay although still in the haven was free of other shipping and also designated our night flying zone. After a short stay we returned to base by flying just above the water as before.
The following Monday we made a similar hop to angle bay for some anchor and lead swinging (depth sounding using a line and lead weight). This proved to be the commencement of some serious flying training.
The next day after a pre-flight briefing at which a call sign ‘Dog Mike’ was allocated. A supply of food collected, this enabled us to spend the whole day on board without returning to shore. We carried out the pre-flight checks, starting up the outboard engines, slipping the moorings, starting up the inboard engines; we taxied out into the haven, students at the controls instructors close at hand. At this stage the engineer was required to keep the captain informed on changes in temperatures and pressures. Whilst taxiing, the engineer carried out the fuel flow check.
‘Captain to engineer, stand by for vital actions’,
‘Engineer to captain, temperatures and pressures normal for run up’.
After carrying out various performance checks with the engines at full power we were ready to take off. On land based aircraft these checks would have been carried out at the end of the runway, stationery with brakes on. No brakes on a flying boat, it was a most spectacular sight to see the huge wake and spray left behind as the four Pratt and Whitny twin wasp engines were opened up to full power.
‘Pembroke marine this is Dog Mike, clear for takeoff’.
‘Dog Mike this is Pembroke Marine, you are clear to take-off’.
‘Captain to crew; stand by for take-off’.
‘Engineer to captain, gills open, main tanks selected, temperatures and pressures normal for takeoff’.
‘Galley to captain all secure below’.
Captain sounds ‘T’ on the klaxon.
‘Lookout to captain, clear above and astern standing by booster pumps’.
The date and time was 25th January 10.00hrs, we climbed away from Pembroke Dock setting course over Candy Island for five and a half hours of flying training. Also some cooking practice in the very basic galley using the somewhat temperamental Primus Stove. There was very little in the way of convenience food in 1954. A typical food issue for say an eight-hour flight would consist of: – potatoes and fresh vegetables, steaks or liver or pork chops, bacon, eggs, bread and butter, tea, sugar, apples or oranges Beechnut chewing gum, Roundtres fruit pastilles. After one hour flying it was the flight engineers job to check that the aircraft was free of fumes. The captain could then declare the aircraft cleared for smoking. The Sunderland Flying Boat was the only aircraft in the RAF in which smoking was permitted; the designers had even provided a special type of ashtray at each crew station. The primus stoves could be lit and any member of the crew who fancied cooking was welcome to have a go. We flue every day that week and twice on Saturday and again almost every day for the next two weeks. Some of the more exciting exercises were: – Recovery from the stall, engine failure on takeoff, flying on three, two, and even one engine. On returning to base the control tower was called up on the radio.
‘Pembroke Tower this is Dog Mike, my position is five miles south west, request permission to join circuit and landing instructions’
‘Dog Mike this is Pembroke Tower, you are clear to join circuit, QNH 1010, wind westerly 12 knots, tide ebbing, mooring buoy nine, call launch downwind’.
Once on the circuit downwind leg the launch was called.
‘Pembroke Launch this is Dog Mike down wind, clear to land’.
‘Dog Mike this is Pembroke Launch, you are clear to land’.
Safely on the water we called the tower to confirm that we were down, taxied to buoy nine, moored up, refuelled, and returned to shore having finished work for the day.
Tony and I spent most Saturday nights in nearby Tenby a lovely little walled seaside resort, with neat little hotels situated on the cliff top. A narrow winding road led down to the small harbour, where an RAF marine craft rescue launch was maintained. Leaving the mess after lunch we would drive through the Pembrokeshire countryside visiting places of interest. Pembrokeshire was often called the little England beyond Wales; it was blessed with numerous little market towns. On market days the pubs were open all day (in those days strict restrictions on opening hours were enforced). After a walk round Tenby and a meal it was into our favourite pub the Coach and Horses. A lovely old coaching inn with low beams and on cold winter nights a roaring fire. Later, round the corner into the local dance hall for a little fraternisation with the local talent. Over the weeks that followed completion of our training course Tony and I visited most of the local places of interest, whenever possible on market days. These included Pembroke and the castle, St Govan’s Head, Saundersfoot, Pendine Sands, Narberth, Whitland, Haverford West, and over the ancient car ferry from Pembroke Dock’s Hobbs Point to Nayland, and on to Milford Haven and Fishguard. The car ferry was an old flat topped steam boat. It could carry five vehicles which when loading had to be manoeuvred around in order to keep the boat on an even keel.
Although converted from an old house, the sergeant’s mess was very pleasant and the food reasonably good. There was a tennis court along side, a games room with snooker and table tennis, a small lounge with a radiogram and small library, a television room, a dining room, and a bar.
One day in early February we had just slipped the mooring and were taxing out into the Haven to practice some circuits and landings. A very excited lookout shouted over the intercom that a Sunderland was approaching from astern at 30ft with smoke pouring out of the port wing. It turned out to be Flg/Off Jones attempting to land downwind with a well established engine fire. When it touched down far too fast, the port side wing dipped and the wing float was torn off, the flying boat spun round, and very slowly rolled over and sank giving the crew just enough time to escape through the top hatch and jump into the freezing water. One of the navigators and me were ordered to the front hatch where we were able to pull on board a very cold and wet but grateful survivor. Two others were taken on board through the rear hatch; another Sunderland and the control launch rescued the rest of the survivors. On arriving back at the training squadron we were relieved to learn that all the crew were safe and free from serious injury.
It was a tough time of year to be doing our flying training, on several mornings the boats were covered in ice and snow. It was therefore necessary to brush of the loose snow and apply de-icing fluid before the pre-flight checks could be started. Very difficult slippery conditions and nothing much to hang on to. On returning to the buoy after up to a nine hour exercise we had to refuel the boat before securing and returning to the shore. This could amount to some twelve hours or more on the go.
Towards the end of February our flying programme began to slip behind due to poor serviceability. The evening of 25th February saw us clamber on board ‘Y’ RN217 borrowed from 210 Squadron for our first night flying exercise. On the water at night the navigation lights had to conform to the rules of the sea, on the short aerial mast to the rear of the astrodome was a clear white light. This was referred to as the steaming light, it had to be on whenever the boat was underway but extinguished on takeoff as soon as we cleared the water. After slipping the mooring and shutting down the APU the lookout sat on top of the boat with feet dangling through the astro-hatch. Using the Aldus lamp on main beam his job was to pick out ahead the starboard and port hand buoys as we proceeded up the haven to Angle Bay. This took about twenty minutes; the control launch had switched on the lights of the night landing buoys and was safely moored close by. Takeoff was simply a matter of running along the line of buoys. When it came to night landing it was dangerous to try and judge height over water. The procedure was to line up, descend to fifty feet on the altimeter and then fly straight and level at a given rate of decent allowing the boat to settle onto the water then cut the power.
On Wednesday morning 3rd March one of our instructors came onto the classroom interrupting the briefing to advise that A-B MJ 267 of 201 squadron had crashed on takeoff in the Haven, and that flying for the rest was cancelled Later in the day we learned sadly that seven of the crew had lost their lives in the accident. The Flight Engineer Flt/Sgt Evans three times dived into the sinking flying boat and personally pulled out two survivors. Known to all in the sergeant’s mess as Darky Evans he was later awarded the George Medal. That evening I rang home to let my very relieved folks know I was OK. The accident had been reported on the early evening news.
In our crew the navigators, engineers and signallers were getting on really well and making good progress. However a personality conflict had developed between the two pilots which were holding back the whole crew. The younger of the two, Pilot Officer Renshaw a Cranwell trained officer with a permanent commission was very popular with the rest of the crew. Pilot Officer Baker was a more experienced pilot, a recently promoted NCO with a somewhat arrogant attitude. His attitude affected crew harmony, this connected with the shortage of serviceable aircraft lead to a change in the training programme. By the beginning of March all three FBTS boats were unserviceable. Therefore it was decided that crew B should take ten days leave in order to allow crew A to continue the course using the borrowed flying boat from 210 squadron.
On returning to the FBTS at Pembroke Dock we were surprised but pleased to learn that Pilot Officer Baker had been exchanged with Flying Officer Banks from crew ‘A’. From this point on good progress was made through the basic night flying training exercises. Next came the most interesting of the flying training, operational exercises: – Navigation, Bombing, Gunnery, Night Bombing, Night Navigation, Fighter Affiliation, and Base Familiarisation.
The gunnery was similar to that we practiced at RAF Leconfield on the Lincoln Bomber.
The main difference being that the Sunderland’s guns had to be mounted in the turrets by the aircrew after takeoff and removed before landing. In the case of the rear turret four 0.303 Browning machine guns had to be man handled down the rear fuselage and individually mounted. The ammunition belts pulled through the feed system to each individual gun. The guns got ready for firing, cocked and the fire and safe button set to safe. The front was an easier proposition; there was more room in the bow compartment and only two guns. The navigators were required to load the bomb racks from crates on the floor of the bomb room; standard 25 pound Bakelite practice bombs were normally used. Our bombing and gunnery practice was carried out off the Dorset coast between Bridport in the west and Weymouth and Portland Bill in the east. Gunnery targets were set up on Chisel Bank, a two or three mile long bank of shingle just off Chisel Beach. The bombing targets were on rafts anchored just off the coast, except when being towed by a launch for moving target practice. The whole area at that time was owned by the ministry of defence. Within the area the land sea and air was closed to the public.
Base familiarisation was simply flying round the UK, calling at the locations where mooring and landing facilities were maintained. Practicing one or two circuits and landings then proceeding on to the next. Those I remember were at :- Calshot, Southampton Water – Mountbattern, Plymouth – Castle Archdale, Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland – Wig Bay, Dumfries, Scotland – and Felixstowe, Essex.
Near the end of March we were able to fly as a solo crew i.e. without any accompanying instructors. On an early attempt at a night landing the pilots thought that the flying boat had settled on the water and pulled back the throttles cutting the engine power. In fact we had bounced back into the air, cutting the power caused a stall, the nose dropped and the boat crashed back down into the water. This must have created a huge splash, the control launch was convinced we had crashed and called on the radio to offer assistance. However a careful inspection by the engineers established that no permanent damaged had been sustained.
1st April. We took off at 06.00hrs and flew out into the Bay of Biscay to join in a Fleet Exercise. The Royal Navy were operating a simulated convoy; at the centre was an aircraft carrier to which we reported. We were directed to carry out protection patrols using our air sea radar to look out for hostile submarines. Staying overhead cooperating with the navy for some seven hours before returning home to Pembroke Dock.
7th April. Our last operation on the FBTS training course was a night navigation and bombing exercise lasting eight hours and twenty minutes.
We had all been assessed for our practical performance by our instructors all that remained was to complete the written examinations. The results were pinned on the notice two days later and the assessments pasted in our flying log books. Now for a little relaxation and a few days leave after which I was to report a Flt/Lt Kitchen the Engineer Leader on 201 Squadron.
19th April to 5th August, 201 Flying Boat Squadron, R.A.F. Pembroke Dock. The Engineer Leader welcomed me to the squadron, explaining what a privilege it was to be joining Coastal Command’s senior squadron. I was to be attached to Flt/Lt Gunton’s crew who that evening was to carry out a fifteen hour endurance flight. Mel Gunton turned out to be a very friendly New Zealander on an exchange posting between the Royal Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The crew were great and very helpful to me being very much the new boy. We took off at 19.30hrs in the evening flying through the night and the following morning landing at 10.00hrs. In addition to the New Zealander crew captain we had an American 1st Lieutenant crew captain also on an exchange posting. Two days later I joined Flg/Off Halliday and crew with who I was to remain for the rest my full time service. Our flying boat was ‘A-D’ VB 889 which was the very last to be built and first flew on 8th November 1945 My first flight was a 10hr navigation exercise taking off at 10.00hrs on 23rd April, not a bad start 25hrs flying in my first three days on the squadron. After this hectic start life settled down to a more pleasant pace, it was great not to be studding in the evenings and facing examinations and assessments. It took two or three days to settle in and to learn the rules of the game of ‘Uckers’, (one had to be able to play this game before being accepted as a fully fledged squadron member). The game was a beefed up version of the children’s board game ’Sorry’, but played at high speed and usually for a small stake. The squadron commanding officer was Sqd/Ldr McCready a very popular officer who ran an efficient and happy squadron. The squadron consisted of a small flight of ground trades for between flight and daily servicing. Each aircrew type had a senior chap with his own office called a Leader. 201 squadron therefore had a navigation leader, a signals leader, and an engineer leader. The senior pilot was known as the flight commander and acted as assistant to the C.O. One other officer held the job of squadron adjutant (the approximate civilian equivalent would be a company secretary). The squadron building included, The CO’s office, with an outer office for the flight commander, offices for the leaders, and a small workshop for the servicing flight, a technical library, and a locker each for flying clothing parachutes act. In addition a crew room for the aircrew to relax in when not flying.
The flying programme for the following week was posted each Saturday morning on the crew room notice board. This specified in complete detail, the crew, boat, type of exercise; take off time, duration, briefing (usually in the station operations room), and rations (to be collected from the airman’s mess). Almost all flying was considered to be continuation training, the target time being ninety hours per month. It was quite surprising just how rough the sea had to be before flying had to be called off. Mooring could be fairly exciting when acting as bow man in a choppy sea.
The good news for May was that the squadron was to detach to Malta for four weeks to take part in a NATO exercise in the Mediterranean. The bad news was that I would not be going; only a minimum crew number could be accommodated. I offered to swap with a married engineer in another crew who did not want to go, but to no avail. All six boats were to take part so those of us who were not going were left kicking our heels.
With all six squadron boats away in Malta I did not get my arse off the deck
(fly in RAF slang) for the whole of March. All commissioned officer aircrew had various ground responsibilities in addition to their flying duties. Not so the NCOs who were only responsible for their aircrew duties so we had lots of spare time. We were required to be at the squadron during normal working hours Monday to Friday 08.30hrs to 17.00hs with 13.00 to 14.00 for lunch and 08.30 to 12.00 Saturday morning. The only exception was that of Orderly Sergeant which duty lasted twenty-four hours. Every sergeant on the station was required to take his turn, so it didn’t come round very often. It was during this period that some time was spent learning the squadron board game ‘Uckers’. Apparently you were not accepted to be a fully-fledged member until you were proficient. Also good use was made of the mess library, reading the C S Forester’s, Horatio Hornblower novels, some Dennis Wheatley, and Nevil Shute. One of the signallers was mad keen on and introduced me to the P G Woodhouse, Geeves and Wooster stories. The very popular hit tune of the day was Oh Mein Papa, the Eddie Calvert trumpet version. This was constantly played on the mess radiogram until someone got so fed up with it they nailed the record over the bar.
With the return of the squadron from Malta my crew went on ten days leave. However I flew in our boat ’A-D’ piloted by Flg/Off ‘Shorty’ Bartrum on the 1st June. A short but interesting afternoon flight to the flying boat base at Mountbatten to collect marine craft spare parts. Mountbatten was inside the break water in Plymouth harbour, it required some very smart manoeuvring, the only time we used the drogues other than when training. There was some possibility of a future trip to the Mediterranean. As the only member of the crew who had not been inoculated against yellow fever, it was arraigned for me to travel to RAF St Athan near Bridgend. Apparently this was the nearest RAF Station where the yellow fever inoculation was available.
With the return of my crew we settled down to some serious flying. On the Tuesday 15th June we took off from Pembroke Dock at 08.30 flying to Gibraltar in an uneventful 9hr 15min. We quickly located the transit billet, showered and changed into civie’s. Two of the younger signallers in our crew had been to Gibraltar on a number of occasions offered to take me on a tour of the tapas bars. They were single and always looking for a good time, we became firm friends.
First we stocked up with cigarettes and Spanish wine, the tax being much lower than in the UK. I remember nothing after entering the fifth or sixth bar. On waking up with a splitting headache in an otherwise empty transit billet, I looked at my watch it was 09.10. It slowly dawned on me that we were due to take off for home at 09.30. Never before or since have I dressed so quickly, followed by a sprint all the way down to the jetty. Fortunately a launch was waiting, leaping in and shouting to the coxswain “get me out to ’A – D’ as quickly as you can”. We arrived just
as the bow hatch was about to be closed and the outboard engines started. Our captain was not at all pleased and made it quite clear that he would not have waited, the rest of the crew found it all highly amusing. We took off on time and set course for Pembroke Dock. Spider Webb a hairy old Flt/Sgt engineer who had seen service throughout the war was busy stowing the cigarettes and other goodies by removing and screwing back various panels. As we approached the UK we were advised that Due to the presence of dense fog Pembroke Dock was closed. Diversion was arraigned to Calshot in Southampton Water were we alighted at 18.00. Next day Thursday 17th June, Pembroke Dock was not clear until mid day. Out on the water we were treated to a close up view of two of the world’s greatest transatlantic liners. Fortunately my camera was to hand as first The Queen Mary and soon after the United States steamed past. Taking off from Calshot at 14.30, it was only a couple of hours flight to Pembroke Dock. Once moored up and refuelled, two customs officials were ferried out to the boat. After checking our luggage and inspecting the very limited allowance of items declared we were clear to go ashore and the customs men went home. The next day we simply went back out to the boat and removed our goodies from behind the panels.
On Wednesday 23rd we took off at 10.00hrs to represent the squadron in the Coastal Command Aird Whyte trophy competition. This was organised in collaboration with a Royal Navy submarine. The aircraft flew to a set area at a set height, the submarine surfaced, and the aircraft attacks with Bakelite practice bombs recording the accuracy with a downward facing camera. The competition was open to all coastal command squadrons, I never did find how well we performed or what position we came. After the competition we carried on flying to complete a 10h 35min navigation exercise.
There was some very noisy but good-humoured grumbling in the crew room when the flying programme detailed Flg/Off Halliday’s crew and ‘A – D’ to Gibraltar again! This time it was an overnight flight. Taking off at 21.45hrs on Saturday the 26th we landed in Gibraltar’s
outer harbour at 06.25hrs on Sunday morning. We were not due to leave until 12.00 Hrs Monday, so there was plenty of time for exploring and shopping. Two of the signallers Fred and Norman had become my good friends; the three of us set off to climb to the Rock’s summit. Up there was a splendid view across the straights to Morocco. It was also the home of the famous Barberry apes, Europe’s only native ape. According to legend ’if the apes ever leave the Rock so will the British’. Next, a visit to the shopping area to stock up with cigarettes, wines, spirits and other low tax goodies. In the evening we went for a meal and then on to various tapas bars, this time I took good care what and how many drinks I consumed. Later we found ourselves invited to a wedding reception, dancing till the small hours in a delightful little plaza. Next morning was very hot so I was up early and decided to go for a swim. Down at the harbour ‘A-D’ was moored not too far out and the bow hatch was open. Swimming out and climbing up through the astro hatch on to the wing there was our second pilot Flg/Off Johnny Bull stretched out sunbathing. He was a jovial and friendly type very popular with the rest of the crew. John spent some time talking about making a career for myself in the RAF and staying on at the end of my two years national service. I was all ready giving this possibility careful consideration. Diving in from the wing and swimming back to the quay, I pulled myself out in front of a large notice ’NO SWIMMING IN THE HARBOUR AREA’. We took off at 11.45 hrs for Pembroke Dock with a VIP passenger, a Group Captain travelling to London on compassionate leave due to a family bereavement.
Arraignments were made to call at RAF Mountbatten (Plymouth) in order to give the Group Captain a shorter train journey into London. Continuing our flight back to Pembroke Dock we arrived at 21.45hrs.
29th June – Prime Minister Winston Churchill flew out to the USA to confer with President Eisenhower in Washington. We were “Duty Crew” from 12.00 hrs, ’A-D’ was prepared for instant takeoff and we were required to spend the night on immediate standby in the station operations room. The ‘Uckers’ board was given a bashing that night.
So ended a very hectic month we had been airborne on six occasions for a total of over 50hrs within a period of only 13 days
July turned out to be very different,
only a little flying but lots of interesting events and activities. For some
time I had been attempting to avoid my annual one weeks Ground Defence
Training. Orders were received to report to the RAF regiment section who were
responsible the training. The first day was spent on the range firing the 0.303
Short Lee Enfield rifle and the 0.303 Bren machine gun. Over the next two days
out in some nearby open fields a practical demonstration of camouflage and
field craft was produced by the Regiment chaps. Day four in the classroom, the
NCOs were required to prepare a lecture on the stripping cleaning assembly
operation of a firearm. The lecture to be given on the fifth and last day. I
was given an instruction manual and a three inch Mortar and left to get on with
it. On Tuesday 6th July we took ’A-D’ to Mountbatten and back again for marine
craft spare parts.
Navy’s USS Currituck, a seaplane tender complete with its Marlin twin engine flying boats. Ships of the United States Navy were dry; the mess bar was given a serious bashing on guest nights during their two weeks visit. It also lead to a reduction in our flying, as did Pembroke Dock’s next visitor, BBC Television. Two or three days were spent rehearsing displays covering the work of the station including a formation flypast, marine craft, fire boats and inflatable dinghies. Unfortunately ‘A-D’ and my crew were not included .The transmission went out live, and in the evening the BBC having brought with them some popular entertainers of the day put on a variety show in the station cinema.
A popular training exercise when not flying was clay pigeon shooting. This was considered to be good gunnery practice. It was carried out from a Martello tower situated between the RAF station and the small, little used, Pembroke Dock harbour.
Monday 19th At short notice we are ordered to carry out an air test on ‘A-A‘. This was always required following major servicing or when previously the boat had been declared unserviceable and the faults having been corrected. After one and a half hours flying carrying out a standard series of tests our captain give the flying boat a clean bill of health.
I didn’t go home for the August bank holiday because my demobilisation was due on 8th. The mess was very quiet, it was pleasant to just relax and visit Tenby and our favourite pub ‘The Coach and Horses‘. My mind was made up to leave the RAF on completion of national service; it had not been an easy decision. I had been very happy in the Royal Air Force particularly on 201 Squadron at Pembroke Dock, but it was time to move on. The flying boats were coming to the end of their service life and being replaced by the Avro Shackleton. After the flying boat experience anything else would be less exciting also on the RAFs new aircraft designs the flight engineers were being replaced by computers. I was however placed on the class H aircrew reserve for a further four years with a possible fourteen days full time training in each of the four years. I suppose all good things come to an end; however a number of positions as flight test engineers with various aircraft manufactures were being advertised which I would try for.