A group of us owned motorbikes, allowing easy access to the local towns and weekends would see us at football matches at Darlington or Middlesborough and motorbike scrambles at Ripon or Thirsk. We visited Harrogate and Newcastle and discovered The Dales. It was a five hour run home to Oxford (this was before the days of Motorways), so I always doubted the word of Tony Bishop- who had the unusual civilian occupation of 'Organ Erector'- that it was but six hours to Bournemouth, although his Triumph was faster than my Norton. My bike was the cause of the only stain on my airforce career: yes, a parking offence. One weekend the area where we kept our machines had to be cleared to provide parking space for the Officers' Ball, but some of us naughtily secreted our bikes within an angle of our H Block, and did not remove them a mile away as directed. The eagle-eyed Station Warrant Officer did not miss this transgression, and somewhat to my amusement, I was placed on a formal charge and wheeled in as a prisoner between two escorts to receive judgement. This was 'Admonished, but the machine to be removed from the confines of the camp for three months'. Thereafter for nominal cost my beloved Norton Dominator enjoyed barn accommodation at the farm just outside the main gate.
A new colleague, Wilf Rhodes was a bluff Bradfordian J/T who was ten years older than the rest of us as he had already had one career as an artificer in the Royal Navy. He could not abide line-shooters and those who aired their knowledge in order to be 'one-up'. He had an infallible way of deflating them. First he would lead the offender on by feigning interest in what they had to say: next he would add encouraging comments and little coos of amazement. He would then deliver his penultimate compliment with an admiring " Ooh! Aren't you gen!" and then finally followed this with a superbly timed and devastating "Ooh! Aren't you a gen c**t!". But Wilf although always down to earth, was not the coarse character that this anecdote would suggest: he enjoyed classical music and took the Daily Telegraph, and he introduced me to the joys of solving the cryptic crossword, which he regularly managed to complete.
During this time I had found that I could sleep on any surface provided that my head was comfortable, so the tool bag I carried dutifully to the night shift was stuffed with a small pillow. But one night when all the officers had departed, we made beds out of the armchairs in their restroom. We were so comfortable that we overslept until awakened by the noisy arrival of the morning shift. We frantically escaped through windows and the kitchen serving hatch. However, the novel arrangement of the chairs gave the game away and we soon found ourselves paraded to receive the wrath of the GCI Section's CO. Eventually came the words "And as for you tech chaps, you're too damn casual". He didn't realise how similar this was to the Terry Thomas immortal line (delivered in a comedy film depicting similar circumstances), "You're an absolute shower". To punish our smirks and to improve our smartness, we were obliged to march up and down for a time whilst suffering further abuse from a sergeant. Our Warrant Officer, forever a humane and pragmatic man, saved us from an excess of this unaccustomed activity by bursting out of the building requiring an urgent return to our duties otherwise lack of GCI facilities would be the cause of a delayed flying schedule.
Another on-site amusing incident occured when, during a spell of extremely hot weather, some of us felt the urge to spend our afternoon NAAFI break sunbathing in the very tall grass and shrubbery behind the building. We were totally hidden from view, or so we thought, and consequently had removed our shirts. In that state one becomes very aware of the sun on one's serge covered legs, so a few had also removed trousers. I recall that one hero may even have been completely starkers, but as this is not a work of fiction, I must not state that as a fact. In the balmy enjoyment of the blissful rays on our bodies we had somehow forgotten the unceasing activity in the air, and that the highly observant fliers could talk directly to our GCI controllers. All too soon, alerted by an angry bellow, we were frantically tiger-crawling away in our state of very improper dress in all directions, to avoid our disconcerted flight-sergeant, who was crashing about in the undergrowth in an attempt to locate the reported perverts. Unbelieveably none was caught, and indeed it was very fortunate for us that the Station Commander was not aloft that particular morning, for he had somewhat of a penchant to scream about the sky in his own little Vampire.
Pay Parades were supposed to be formal affairs, but the one held weekly at the GCI section often ended in farce, when after a late call, Wilf or myself arrived breathless from the Type 7. Our Wellingtons were hurriedly kicked off at the front door, but still clad in denim overalls and with flapping sea-boot stockings we would waddle penguin-like up to the paying officer's desk, and extend one hand for the money. With the other, we took the greatest care to deliver the most impeccable of salutes.
On two occasions I was able to fly home for the weekend though this resulted in having to make a very tedious rail journey back. This fast way home was made possible by the Valetta squadron thoughtfully scheduling 'training flights' early on Friday afternoons: one plane went northwards and another went down to Benson or Bovingdon and then across to Colerne, near Bristol. Seats could not be sold but 'a donation' to Squadron Funds was required. The two pounds gave good value but I often wondered how 'The Fund' was spent: certainly not on aviation spirit.
Whilst I was at Leeming the latest mark of the Javelin was introduced. When the first one arrived the Station Commander decided that he should have the first flight. We were treated to an incredible display of aerobatics directly above the camp and this included several vertical climbs as he tested the newly introduced re-heat feature. No one could fail to be impressed and the Group Captain's standing in the eyes of the lower ranks was restored. He had recently dropped in our respect when he had grumbled at Christmas, chastising all and sundry because nobody had stood to attention as he passed by on an illuminated float, dressed as a Ho-Ho-Hoing Santa Claus.
Pubs were in short supply around Leeming: it was either the dreary NAAFI bar or the Green Dragon at Exelby, a village four miles distant by road. It was much nearer if a U shaped route was taken around the southern end of the runway to the A1 road. On the way back in the dark, the route could be made shorter still by crossing the runway. This was forbidden of course when night flying was in progress. However, young men being what they are, especially when aided by alcohol, it was frequently done. The trick was to scan the sky carefully for the tiny red lights of kites in the circuit and, when clear, run like mad. Sometimes mistakes were made, excessive beer blurring the senses, and the lights would be missed, particularly those of planes low on their final approach. If the pilot was late with his landing lights the tardy sprinter was liable to be suddenly illuminated whilst still on the concrete, and his next problem would be how to avoid the SPs who would surely have been summoned via the Control Tower by the shaken pilot.
Once, a well lubricated group of us were returning this way, but not unlawfully, as it was foggy and there was no flying in progress. We crossed the peri-track which was parallel with the A1 road and then the strip of grass to reach the edge of the runway. We realised then that the visibility had deteriorated to only a few yards but Wilf was undaunted and urged us on. His scheme was for us to manage to stagger in a straight line by stringing out and each taking a hazy sight on those in front. With Wilf leading, this was done for about ten minutes but we not only failed to reach the expected grass, we did not even encounter the white line marking the centre of the runway. The only course of action was to keep stumbling on, and after about another twenty minutes on the concrete our redoubtable leader brought us out of the murk near the hangars, not too far from our billet. We had been about seventy degrees off-course but Wilf always insisted that he had chosen the most direct way home.
The weeks passed by and one day to my great relief I was notified that I was off the Preliminary Warning Rosta (for service abroad). I had suffered one false alarm, being jabbed for and receiving embarkation leave for Christmas Island, but it was never explained to me why the actual order to go was never issued. The relief was short lived. The very next day I was dragged from my bed after the night shift, to clear the camp in a rush and catch an afternoon train to the Innsworth kitting out centre near Gloucester. With me on the train I had four companions, three radar operators, and the friendly but now very disgruntled sergeant Kim Stanbrook. He was married, with a small baby, and the short notice had given him no time to make arrangements for the welfare of his family.
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Text & Picture © 2005 D.C.Adams