Through The Laurels, An RAF Story – Ch. 3

Hot Rat, Going Postal
The first Canberra B.2 prototype, VX165
JohnnyOneSpeed / Public domain

Shakespeare and the V-Bombers

When the old 542 Squadron disbanded, the manning people at Bomber Command allowed us to go to a station of our choosing. This was to say you had a rough time over the years, always on the move. I put in to go to RAF Gaydon, I liked the sound of the name, and it was heading for the West Country. Gaydon was south of Warwick, north of Banbury. The airfield was set in lovely countryside. The end of the main runway was in the direction of Stratford upon Avon. Lovely English villages surrounded the airfield with quaint names like Lighthorne & Kineton, it was also yards from the Roman Road the Fosse Way.  Kineton was unique; it was the Central Ammunition Dump of the British Army. If that went up we would all go with it!

Gaydon was a wartime unit; it had been a satellite for Wellsbourne and was used in the Arneham build up. The A41 road passes the main gate and there are old wartime hangars across this road. The main roads of the camp were the old wartime runways they were very wide. The accommodations were concrete huts joined by the ablutions. This enabled one to walk in the dry to the hangars. The hangars were the latest type to b built. They were heated!! It was pleasure to work in heated comfort without the encumbrances of cold weather clothing. Office sections were either concrete huts or aluminium sheds. Except for the high tech sections and the new east to west runway, it seemed to have a temporary air about the place. I arrived after a roundabout journey across country. I left Peterborough in the morning, and got to Gaydon at evening mealtime. The food as you would expect was “crap”. The accommodations were likewise. Why did I choose Gaydon? I was put on the Canberra servicing Second Line.  We were also responsible for two cloth bombers, (Anson’s VIP fit). The Canberra was the T4 and used on the OCU, (Operational Conversion Unit).

I was taken round to meet the team, Bender Barratt, Fred Bodilly, Wings Wallace, the two NCOs, Sam Sadler & Taff Thomas. Although we were assigned to the Canberra we were used for all jobs. With Taff Thomas we sorted out the Aircraft Servicing Flight’s stores, itemised everything giving its location. We were also the V-Bomber Crash Removal Party. We had a simulator constructed of steel in the shape of a V-Bomber, with V-bombers wheels, and it had the same weight. We would take it on the grass let it sink and then along with sliding jack and heavy steel plate get the “Leviathan” out of the mud. It worked very well with the simulator and a demonstration was organised for all Bomber Command interested parties.

We had greased and painted the blue monster, and our pride and joy was towed into the mud. Down into the soft earth it went. We leapt on it as the Wing Commander Tech gave a commentary. We had it out in a flash, much to our and there’s amazement!! And we received the applause of the watchers. My Boss was Warrant Officer Granham, and he was beaming and took me aside to say thank you for a job well done. From that day onwards Hot Rat Snr could do no wrong. The Flight Commander i/c ASF, was “AIf”’ Button who was very well known in V-Bomber circles, as was his boss, were very pleased that all went well.

Then we had a T4 Canberra that could not lower its nose wheel, it made a textbook landing by transfer, or using the fuel from one and two tanks. With all the weight at the rear, he done a “greaser” and we rushed out on our Davy Brown tractor. With a crane and a nylon sling around the front fuselage, Sam Sadler removed two “BA” screws to gain access to the door shoot bolts. The doors opened, the nose wheel came down under it’s own weight. I was up on the sloping wing and we had a tanker alongside, and we refueled the front tanks, and the crane followed it down holding the weight. Undercarriage locks were put in and we tugged the Canberra into the hanger. (It was SOP to blow the navigators hatch on this emergency landing, to assist escape in the event of fire. That had to be replaced by the riggers as we looked on).

Looking busy the next day, during a high-powered visit, I gabbed a flashlight and was pretending to be inspecting the jet pipe on the starboard engine. I noticed some bright marks on the rear turbine wheel. I put a No Power sign on the ground-plug adaptor and crawled up the jet pipe. I did not want any electrician pressing the relight button when I was up the “pipe”. I found bits of blade, the navigators hatch bolts; some had gone through the engine. I did the same for the port engine and found that to be ok. I then went the Boss and called him over to show him what I found. Prior to this I was in good shape with the bosses. Now I was in extra good shape, and given a high assessment to counteract that prick of an officer at Upwood.

I moved my caravan up to Lighthorne it was a glorious summer of ’59. Work was good, the Mrs. was happy; all was good in the world. Her father visited, and was a hit with all my friends. He had never grown up. The farmer who owned the land my caravan was on had a huge chestnut mare. I was offered to ride it but declined, the Mrs.’ father jumped at it and rode off up the field. I thought if he could do it so can I. I went one better, and visited my pal at his house up on Gaydon camp, by horse. I was tall in the saddle, Gaydon was a great place. And then all too soon I was on the boat PWR’s for Germany! I sold my caravan for a profit so I lived rent-free for a good while. We said our goodbyes to Gaydon. We travelled to Leamington Spa station together. The Mrs. was on one platform I was on another, it made parting prolonged. I cannot remember who left first, but it was a wrench for both of us. I was travelling through London to Harwich, to get a troopship to the Hook of Holland.

The Army runs Harwich so there is a lot of shouting and disorganisation. If the little ships had gone to Dunkirk under the control of the Army, the poor Pongos would still be on the beach waiting!

It’s strange, the Army thinks shouting gets things done—silly lot. At Harwich there was a dining hall, as no food was served on the boat. The food was double diabolical, a lot of people were sick prior to the boat even leaving the dock! We finally embarked, found our beds and went up on the deck. Over the ships address they announced all troops clear the deck as the ship is sailing. We went below. The ship HMT Vienna was moving out to the open sea as dusk was falling. We were allowed on deck and then in minuets the ship’s address announced as it was now darkness all troops clear the deck. Jesus wept! This did not apply to SNCO’s, Officers or Families. We were not allowed on deck during darkness, this proved quite nasty as the gangway onto the outside deck was around a large hatch and the lower deck was open to the stairway, people were being sick onto those unfortunates in bed below. Inside an hour, once we were into the lower end of the North Sea, a wash of vomit covered the lower deck area.

The toilet facilities one could only imagine. The whole journey was a nightmare. Harwich to the Hook Of Holland

The arrival at the Hook of Holland was comical, and was typical of the British Army chaos. Tannoy messages being drown out by Tannoy messages. The trains were coded by colours; we were on the Blue Train. Breakfast was to be taken on the train. A Belgian steward came round taking orders for wines and beer. At that time of the day? Good-o! We finally got some food at 10:30 and back to our compartments we were the last to eat. First lunch was called at 11:30 guess who was first? We were!! The journey across the Netherlands was very interesting, the condition of the train was first class with a footrest that extended for comfort, and we went through Utrecht and other Dutch towns.

We crossed the German Border and pulled into Dalheim, the station nearest the Joint HQ & 2nd TAF at Rhinedalen. At Dalheim we were bussed to Wildenrath, and there we were sent to where they wanted us. This operation was not very quick or smooth, and I was tired of travelling.

Nord Rhein-Westfalen. Wildenrath. A Wedding and Four Funerals

The organising the despatch of people was time consuming, and some going on to other places were to be accommodated overnight. The crowd lessened and I was virtually the last airman to be seen. They could not find me in their lists, so this Sergeant asks me where I wanted to go; I said “Anywhere near the Dutch border”. He said, “Wildenrath, its about one kilometer from here”. I asked him about the aeroplanes there and he said Canberra Bombers and PR. I said, “Bombers? Yes!” and he posted me to 88 Squadron.

(I had never worked on this model of Canberra; B(I)8, with four twenty mm cannons in the bomb bay).

Next morning I appeared at 88 Squadron. During my arrival procedure the admin Sergeant Spike O’Toole welcomed me and called Fg. Officer Reineck, (he was the Ground Crew sort of Flight Commander). Colin Reineck asked a few questions on the aeroplane. From his questions I knew that I knew more than he did. He walked me down to Chiefy Nicholls who was a blustering Flight Sergeant. He in turn handed me over to Senior Technician Buck Taylor. Buck was ex-Canberra Squadron in the UK, so we got on good. (Author: Buck Taylor was the first person I can remember meeting when Dad was posted to Akrotiri in 1971).

Buck said to me “You need a haircut.” This surprised me as I thought my hair was fairly short. “I’ll take you to the barbers.” Bloody hell, where and what have I come to? Buck had a distinctive Ford Taunus 12M, we got into his car and we went out the gate to Arnolds Bar in Wildenrath Village. After my liquid haircut he organised a driving course for me. I was to go to the vehicle park, find a Magirus that would start, and learn to drive it. That I did, and as Buck was a MT, (Mechanical Transport), examiner he took me for a camp area license test. So the first complete day I joined 88 Squadron, I had a beer with my new boss and got a driving license to boot. Buck got a fellow Engine man, Ron, to take me round to complete my arrival and move into the Squadron Barrack Block. There were two new blocks both allocated to the flying squadrons, Nos.17 and 88.

Ron took me to Moenchen Gladbach, the biggest town in the area. It was a typical busy town; I bought a few things and some post cards to send home. The Mrs. and the two girls had gone to my mother’s at Filton.

The next excursion was to Wassenberg to the Wassenberger Hof, a hotel in the town with the rooms turned into flats. I secured a flat and on the Monday I would set in motion the Mrs. and the children’s travel to Wildenrath.

Ron Taylor, the boy who took me to the local towns, was getting married to a German girl, Renata. Ron was fluent in German. He asked me if I would come to the wedding, which was scheduled in a couple of weeks, at a village up on the East German Border. There were two cars going and Ron secured me a place with Brian Topham an Airframe Corporal. Brian’s car was new Opal Rekord, with Dick Hughes as co-driver. The day came and we set off. It was new venture for me to see East Germany.

The first stop was at Beilefeld at the Windmill, a YMCA Forces Canteen on the autobahn, the only place outside of a forces establishment where you could get Egg, Beans and Chips with a cuppa and bread and butter. Then on again past Hanover to Brunswick, (Braunschweig), and right down the border fence. We were lost. Suddenly there was a banging on the window and a person speaking in German, it was Ron. He thought we were Germans lost, and heading for the Russian Zone. We had passed his future MiL’s house. It was the nearest house to the border. And that’s how “Mutti” earned her D- marks.

Mutti’s house was full of people who were East German refugees. The house was very big and all available space had a bed in it. The loft was boarded over, and upwards of forty people were sleeping there. The German Government paid her to hold these people until they could administered and found homes. We were staying down the road in a farmhouse, and thirteen were in two small rooms. After a sleepless night we got up to go round Mutti’s for breakfast, and put our decent gear on. We passed a café on the way to “Mutti’s and went to go in, “Nein Nein ve are closed”. We said “Driezeen beer bitte”, today we are early”. We stayed until two o’clock, when the groom found us.

Herr Café Meister gave us all a glass ashtray with the stag’s head logo “Jaegermeister” (huntsman). I still have it today forty-four years later. We trooped down the road got dressed in the attic where all the refugees were laying around; the beer precluded any modesty to the delights of the Fraus/Fraulines.

We lined up outside and each had girl on our arms, and Ron had given us sweets to throw out to the “kinder”. We were in a fine mood and the jollity was infectious and all the German girls were giggling. We got to the Lutheran Church and the couples split left and right, we were Ron’s party. The pews were all joined together and were rickety. With a skin full we were not steady on our pins, so when one moved, all one side of the Church moved. The Hymnbooks were all printed in Gothic German and we valiantly tried to sing. Those in the front realised what was happening to the old pews started to move to the organ music, so we all moved together.

The service over we all marched out and joined up with a bridesmaid, I did not know if I had the same one as I walked in with. We got to the Mutti home for the feast. Soup was served, and I am very “faddy” about soup and declined. Old Bass, (?? No, me neither),

sitting next to me, held up a spoonful, and a little leg of a frog was hanging over the side.

Renata’s Father was the blacksmith built like a brick shithouse. He be- friended Dick Hughes and me. He kept picking us up; both Dick and I are 6 feet tall, so one could see the size of the man. He liked his ale and the plonk; we were good at that too. There was I remember a “refugee” enthralled by a Phillips tape recorder that Mutti had in her lounge. This mesmerised him, as he had never seen such a thing over the border. His wife was fat German frau, who was enjoying herself with the groom’s mates, and she gave us all a good look at her ‘Black Forest‘, and did not care who was watching. All she minded who was touching. I reckon at the end of the evening she had had us all, as hubby played with the tape recorder. I gave her nine out of ten for technical merit, the presentation well, “I’ll give it five”. I often wondered if any offspring had come along, then who it would it look like.

The owner of the house we stayed in there was a girl named Ruth, pronounced Root, a young widow who was also a kind of desperate. I told Dick Hughes and he disappeared only to return with cobwebs in his hair!! I said, “You have had Ruth in the shed you dirty little bugger!” “I have not been near the shed”, he replied. “Bullshit, you have the cobwebs in your hair”.

Dick and I decided we would do the washing up for Mutti. She came in the kitchen whilst we were doing it then fled, as Dick & I were throwing the crockery into the hot water. Nothing was broken and we soon had the kitchen sparkling. There was a door leading off the kitchen and being nosey we decided to have a “shuft”. The room contained a bed and a chair, and an old gentleman was sitting in the chair. It was Papa, Mutti’s father. We gave him a drink from our bottle and he showed us his uniform from WWI complete with “picklhobe”. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I tried it on, and Papa dressed in my RAF Uniform. He was the only RAF Junior Technician with a big white walrus moustache. Me? I was a Gerfrieter in the Kaisers Imperial Army!

We rolled up to the local café, it was smokey and dark. I went in first and you could hear the silence. I just stared at the drinkers. In followed Papa and a gasp went round the place, then the pfennig dropped and pandemonium broke out. We were both having a drink when Mutti came in and “hoiked” us both out by our ear-‘oles to the clapping of the punters.

Things started to drift into nothingness as we became boozed. I remember Papa wanting to adopt Dick and I because we could drink. I ended up with the refugees in the attic and came to wanting the loo. So I found a fanlight and peed out the window. Getting back into bed the Big Frau caught hold of me again, I was useless at that point…. thank the Lord. The journey back to Wildenrath was rough. I was so hung-over I was sick in Hanover, the Ruhr and in the Rhein, and was still rough. It took a week to get over Ron’s wedding. When he came back he was full of what we got up to. I was dreading something bad would come out. Luckily all was OK on the border, and a Fat Frau was walking around smiling.

Then disaster struck 88 Squadron. One of our Canberra’s WT335 crashed in a small town of Hochneukirch. It was the local HQ of the German — British Friendship Society, and the Station Commander, Group Captain Lyne, promoted this Society. So when they were holding their village fete, (kermis), a Canberra was detailed to over fly and give a small demonstration. This he did in a big way! His wing tip hit the ground and he spread WT335 across a hundred acres.  ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 154987

I was detailed off and I was lying on my bed, the Duty Engineer grabbed me to go to the scene. A field of desolation greeted us. The year 1959 in Germany was very hot and the field where they crashed was a dust bowl. The bodies of the crew were removed to Wegberg by Army helicopter. The wreckage was being examined by officers they found some tools in an issue tool bag.

There were people coming to the field all night from the town, they were upset that a tragic accident had occurred when everyone was having a happy time. We were back at Wildenrath the next day when it was announced that all technical people from all the units were to assemble in a hanger to be addressed by the Station Commander. He accused us of causing the loss of life by leaving tools in the aeroplane. (The tools were a non-service screwdriver, a fan of Magneto spanners and a bicycle front light!!).

This was not on! The navigator being an ex-electrician carried these tools, and no self-respecting tradesman would use them. The bike light, that was dangerous to use as it could cause explosions. We went back to 88 and the Flight Sergeant went to see the Squadron CO Wing Commander, Syd Dunmore. The WingCo did the rest and the Groupie had to eat crow. This air crash had a nasty sting in its tail with regards to the Navigator, Clive Deekin.

His parents were not wealthy, and the Squadron would arrange passage and accommodations for them. Two aircrew went to Ostend to meet them off the boat, and on the way back the car was sideswiped by a truck and trailer, resulting in the death of Clive’s parents. We buried them all in the same cemetery. A depressed Squadron came back to Wildenrath. Syd Dumore brought booze into the hangers, and we were locked in. The next day they were all a memory. Clive’s mother’s brother, Gerry Reaney, is an honorary member of 88 Squadron, and is a very proud man to belong to a band such

as ours.

Hot Rat, Going Postal
WT335, landing at RAF Akrotiri., pre-1959. (Property of Hot Rat Snr)

Then they changed the role of the Squadron. We became a nuclear strike Squadron, using the American weapon “Bluff Shape”. This would be used in the LABS role, (Low Altitude Bombing System). This was a low level approach, a pull up, release the bomb and flip over onto the Canberra’s back, and in theory you are on your way back. The weapon was pushed out by a pneumatic ram. The weapon had a fin in the ventral position, when released it would retract to the vertical position and arm the weapon.

The security was very tight. We had USAF Air Police and RAF Police assigned to the Squadron. We were a joint USAF/RAF QRA, (Quick Reaction Alert). We had a regular crew who slept in the hanger, and were armed with .38 revolvers. The bullets were in a heavy polythene envelope, and if needed it would take 10 minutes to open and load. We had RAF bicycles, painted red, for QRA use.

On the weekends we would service our bikes and polish them till they gleamed. We would then ride the bikes doing Red Arrows like moves, (the Arrows were not yet formed. Maybe we gave them the idea with our red bikes). Looking back on those times we were more productive than that circus which costs the taxpayers a fortune, that’s where I would make a saving in the defence cost. (Not my thoughts, Ed).

To be continued…..(No.88 Squadron Goes To War).

© Hot Rat 2020

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