Through The Laurels, An RAF Story – Ch. 4

Hot Rat, Going Postal

No.88 Squadron Goes To War

In 1961 the Squadron went to war. General Kassim/Qassim the ruler of Iraq decided Kuwait was theirs, they may have been right, but Britain had a defence agreement with the Sheikdom, and so British Troops were ordered to the Emirate.

At the time I was on leave at my married quarter, and on the evening concerned I was having a beer with my Wife’s uncle who was out on a visit. I saw this car come down a one-way street the wrong way, I thought, “Hello a stranger”. The stranger was a navigator of the Squadron, and he was looking for me. His instructions were that all leave was cancelled, and all were assembling in the Squadron area. I went to the hanger and was told that we were going to the aid of the Emirate of Kuwait. And that entailed changing the role of the Canberra from bomber to ground attack. (This meant changing the bomb bay doors to gun-bay doors, and fitting gun-packs). We were told that the other two B(1)8 squadrons, 3 & 16, were converting some of their aircraft to assist us.

Changing the doors required us to lie on our backs, and hold the doors on the flats of our feet whilst the riggers struggled with the “pip” pins. The guns were fitted in the packs, the packs were then crutched up into position, and the ammo tanks were loaded. A load of blokes off the unit were belting up twenty millimeter ammunition under supervision, so it was a station exercise to get eight Canberra’s combat ready. The guns were harmonized and the engines were set to accept any jet kerosene.

We were jabbed, given KD clothing, (Khaki Drill), and paid as a precaution, if we were not going. We awaited the shiny fleet to arrive. No Air Support came, instead a Silver City Airways, with three trolley dollies, complete with funny hats, heavily made up and a fixed toothy smile. They couldn’t frown, as their faces would have cracked. The Captain welcomed us aboard bound for Brindisi, at the heel of Italy.

The aeroplane flew nose up all the way, and we managed to get over the Alps and land safely in Italy. It took three hours to get a tanker and get re-fuelled. We were off again. At the marshaling point he tested his engines for magneto drop, lowered his flaps for take off, when liquid was seen pouring from the trailing edge. I called the bird over and told her. She said, “It was rainwater, this aeroplane always does that”. The temperature was one hundred plus outside, and the aeroplane had heat soaked for three hours!! When that was explained to her she went up the front to tell the Captain. Down the aisle came the Flight Engineer, a dead ringer for Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses, complete with a daylight flashlight. He dropped the emergency ladder and checked the liquid. Yes, it was octane. He came back aboard and asked if we had tools. “Yes we have” – “Can you fix it?” – “I should think so”. I got out with Nobby Clarke, who was my boss, and between us we fixed the leak. It was a coupling that had come loose. We wire locked it tight and the Captain restarted the port engines. We checked for leaks, all was satisfactory and we got back aboard and off to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.

It was dark when we got to Akrotiri. Movement’s personnel had been directing all people to go to the Education Section. They issued us a safari bed, a pillow and a blanket. Off to bed. For those who know Akrotiri, the Education Section is on the high ground above the main camp. They had been directing people there all day so the overflow was down the hill out on the bondoo, (scrubland). All night long you were woken up to ask who you were. Our Tanker Drivers were not 88 Squadron back in Germany. When asked, “Are you 88?”, they said, “No, we are Mechanical Transport”, (MT). They were told to get up and go over to Air Movements.

The next morning we went and serviced the Canberra’s, & when we looked for the Tanker Drivers they were missing. They searched high and low and they were finally found lost in Aden!! We never saw them again. Some of the aircraft departed to Sharjah, and we ensured all was good with the remainder. That night we brought our beds down to the airstrip and slept under the wings of our aeroplanes, cooler with the induced airflow under the wing. Also we hoped that the thousand pound bomb would not fall off.  The threat from the Iraqi’s towards Kuwait diminished, and we resorted back to practice air-firing at Larnaca. Our shooting was so good we damaged two aeroplanes with ricochets; one spent round dropping on the navigator’s table.

Prior to this detachment we had been to Akrotiri before, for three weeks, and we were desirous to get home. My wife was expecting again, and we had a break-in at our home and a sum of money stolen. We knew who had done it but the police could not prove it. Later he was caught stealing from the NAAFI at Joint HQ. He was reduced to the ranks and given detention. That did not get our money back.

Then we were detached to Geilenkirchen while the runway was resurfaced at Wildenrath. “Geiliers”, the real German name Teverener, was 30 Km from home and a fleet of cars went there everyday. We knew all the short cuts, and we could get away if there was little to do. The QRA was still mounted at base, so that had to be covered. We usually changed the aeroplane weekly as with the weapon, and in the revetment work was difficult. This entailed moving one aircraft out, unloading the weapon and backing the replacement aircraft in onto a rail which was between the two nose wheels, this would ensure should the alert go the aeroplane would come out straight, and not hit the walls. The revetments had been built with little or no foresight and were narrow at the neck.

One day I was called to the QRA to investigate a fuel leak onto the weapon. The USAF crew were servicing the weapon, and I was laying across the bomb. The fault was the relief valves for the wing drop tanks needed reseating a five-minute job. Suddenly the fin in the ventral “SAFE” position was retracting into the dorsal position so arming the bomb to “LIVE”. I came out of there without touching the sides! They saw me running so everyone started to run. We ran a couple of hundred yards then realised what was the bloody use of running. If that was going to detonate we’d be vapour! We sheepishly wandered back. The aircrew, the US personnel, the US Air Police and the RAF Police had all run away!  A brave lot we were!!

The good thing about being on 88 Squadron with the Americans, is we had PX and Commissary privileges. We would go to Wiesbaden along with Staff Sergeant Charlie Boyd and get a cupboard full. It was a quarter of the NAAFI prices, when the NAAFI heard they complained but the Air Force said — tough.

The Wife’s confinement was coming to an end; I applied for an extension to my tour and was granted a further six months. We settled down to wait for the birth. In February 1962 the Mrs. presented me with a son. I was beside myself with joy. I called RAF Hospital Wegberg who gave me the wonderful news. In the afternoon the proud Father went to visit. When I got there they said she has just gone into labour, bloody hell twins!! It was not to be. The girl who told me the news of my son’s birth had got the names mixed up. The Mrs was still in the labour ward, I had told everyone at the Squadron it was boy and here was the Mrs still in labour. A boy was delivered, (me, Hot Rat), safely and the Mrs was fighting fit so all was well.

A funny thing happened to our Armourer Sergeant. He had arranged for his Mother and Father to come out and stay with his family. He told his father that ‘Wilderness’ was near Monchengladbach; his Father had Munchen stuck firmly in his mind. They arrived at Ostend and enquired for the train to Munchen. The Deutcher Bahn Officer on the rail station pointed to the Rhinelander Express non-stop to Munchen (Munich).

They were told by their son that it was only 150 miles from the Ostend to Wildenrath. The journey took eight hours, and they thought that their son had told them wrong. They enquired for a taxi to Wildenrath and got a blank look. They were then taken to the Thomas Cook representative who soon realised what had happened. The German Railways were very good and they put them back on the train to Monchengladbach.

Meanwhile the son was going berserk as to what has happened to his folks. In the early morning he was woken by the RAF Police to say there are two drunken pensioners at Mochengladbach railway station. He went to get them. What had transpired that an early arrival at the Monchengladbach station, they decided to get something to eat in the buffet. They asked for Bacon & Eggs—bitte. “Bacon & Eggs!!” (Louder). They sent for the Manager, he listened to what they wanted and realised they were from Scotland. “You Scottish?” “Yes we are from Scotland”. “Ah Zo!”, he knew what they wanted. Johnny Walker. And what a state the Armourer Sgt. found them in!

After my six-month extension, it was time to return to the UK.

Hot Rat, Going Postal

Wittering, Collyweston.
Jamaica Squadron

Hot Rat, Going Postal

I returned to the UK in March ’62. I had to get a temporary job, as the stupid people in pay accounts had once again screwed up my pay. They had under-taxed me so they said. The result was, coming home with virtually no money and three weeks leave. So my financial situation forced me to get temporary job. The first place I enquired was to prove a great bonus for me, the Managing Director was ex-RAF, and he regularly had RAF personnel coming to earn a little extra. So I worked at Henly’s, the Austin people, for three weeks mainly on the A55 trade-in after one year. This was a nice, simple car and was well appointed. Another benefit was that my Opal Kapitan was extremely well serviced in the lunchtimes, and a few extras were fitted. The Foreman and mechanics were good people and I used to visit them when I came to see my parents.

The day came when I had to present myself at RAF Wittering. In those days it was in the Soke of Peterborough, in Northamptonshire, not as now in Cambridgeshire. (I thought we got over those impositions foisted on us by the pricks in Whitehall). I digress. On reaching the Guardroom the first person I saw was Ben Foyle, a good SNCO of the RAF Police, who did “acres” for road safety in Germany. Ben directed me to No: 139 (J) Squadron’s new hangar, and to Sergeant Jock Robb the Admin NCO. He introduced me to dear Bill Landry, the Warrant Officer for servicing second line. The Engine Trade Manager was John (Tommy) Lawton who I got into many scrapes with.

139 Squadron had two brand new Victor B Mk. 2’s, which were gleaming anti-radiation white. I fell in love right away and vowed I would know everything about this aeroplane in time. No: 139 (J) Squadron had been gifted a squadron of Blenheims during WW2 and Winston Churchill gave 139 Squadron the title of the Jamaica Squadron, and stated as long as there is a Royal Air Force there will be a 139 Squadron to perpetuate the fact the people of Jamaica came to our aid in time of war.

The Squadron disbanded in 1968 and the promise was never kept. This is typical of most of the senior Whitehall bods who run the RAF. Service and civilian, the senior officers are politicians in blue, they feather their own histories in as much they perpetuate the history and longevity of the Squadron they were involved with, and maybe with not so distinguished history as other squadrons. There are not many squadrons with “Pennant” numbers above one hundred. Two come to mind, 101 Squadron and 617 Squadron. I can understand the keeping of 101 pennant but 617? They came into being nearly 4 years after the second world war had started, did a couple of minor raids, which history now shows was just a propaganda exercise, and was not worth the loss of all those brave young men. (Poor “Nigger” will be turning in his grave!).

(To be honest, I think there may be a touch of sour-grapes there from my Dad. 617 Sqdn, (Dam Busters), were stationed at RAF Scampton, the other side of Lincoln, from RAF Waddington, where my Dad was later stationed in 1968. There was a fierce rivalry between the two stations, with 617 thinking they were the dog’s nads! HR).

Hot Rat, Going Postal

Now we had a first rate aeroplane, and since then I doubt that much has changed since 1962. It had the latest Rolls Royce Conway Rco.11. This was the By-Pass engine, really a Rolls. The majority of the Squadron had come from overseas, and the spirit was great. The aircraft were brand new to the RAF and we were learning all the time. We were in for a load of manufacturers training at Rolls, Bristol & Handley Page. I was asked to go to Bristol, which was great as the Mrs was living with my mother, at Filton, a walk away from the Engine School.

The course was the Artouste, an air-bleed turbine used for main engine starting and ground power. An amazing little engine for it size. This made the aircraft independent when away from base or without a ground power unit. There was also an engine start unit, (an Artouste without the AC Generator), they called this the Palouste. From there onwards any start trolley was called a Palouste even if it was an auto-diesel.

Now the Palouste had the facility of hand cranking, it was an inertia type of start. Once going the winder could not stop, as wet-start would be the outcome, with frightening results. The Navy had them in an airborne pod, and one was carried if the Squadron got dispersed. They had this type on the course at Filton. I was the youngest so I had to wind the Palouste to start. At light-off RPM you were flagging. You had to keep going, and after the start you’d be too knackered to start the main engines. It was designed to run up to idling speed, and accelerate to max RPM by a remote lead operated from the start panel in the aeroplane. If you were not paying attention when the thing ran up max RPM it would frighten you fartless!!

It was a long hot Summer in 1962. We were all interested in the tennis at Wimbledon. We would spend the afternoons, when on nightshift, watching the games on a friend’s TV in their house. The Squadron started to work up to maximum strength and we moved from the hangar to jet-pan dispersal. As the number of aeroplanes we got increased we moved again to E dispersal on the borders of Collyweston.

We were a happy squadron. As the engine team, we were pretty good at our jobs. The Boss was one Squadron Leader Barry Phillips, who could not say no to the aircrew. The consequence was that the nightshift worked a 12-hour shift. We would bust our guts getting an aeroplane ready for the day-flying programme, working all through the night only to find that it was not required, and was then on scheduled servicing. This made morale drop, all down to one person.

We all went to Handley-Page Aircraft or “Fred’s Shed” at Radlett, we lived at Longfield House at Hatfield, near the Comet Public House. We ate our meals in the De Havilland canteen. To get there we went through a hole in the fence. The lady on duty was Bog Irish, and if you looked at her sideways she would knife you. The house was Officers and SNCO Mess. We had to use the back door for a cup of tea.

Even the Fleet Air Arm people could not use the big house. RAF only. That was a disgrace. The food in De Havilland canteen was leftovers from lunch. The food at Fred’s was crap! We were in for a rough fortnight. Luckily Wittering was just up the Al. We could get away at 3 and be home by 4:30. When we were at Bristol Siddley Engines we were treated as Lords! We were the customers. We ate in the Senior Staff Restaurant and went on a tour of the plant in our lunchtime. One day we were invited to see the start of the Pegasus lift engine, destined for the Harrier. Doctor Hooker was there as he was the Technical Director and was on the throttle. He slammed the throttle wide open the engine took off as smooth as silk, so confident was Dr. Hooker regarding his baby.

From Bristol I went up the A38 to Derby. I was given the address of my accommodation in Littleover, adjacent to the Rolls- Royce School. I will never forget the lady who owned the house. I think she graduated in Blackpool, or she was the role model for the “Land Lady”, not big boobs more twin set and pearls but an attitude problem. I arrived with Frank Hill, a Corporal on 100 Squadron, our neighbour at Wittering. Frank was a star who had a fund of stories of his experiences overseas. At least there was one thing that would make our visit to Derby pleasant. On our arrival we were greeted by Madame, she showed us into our room, wicker chairs no cushions; we had to live and eat in this pokey place. When she realized we were not commissioned she told us that normally Group Captains stayed there. Which was complete bullshit unless they had different furniture, Commissioned or Non- Commissioned. She was a careers advisor to boot. She said to Frank you will have a different outlook on life when you are commissioned. Bollocks! We went out that night on the understanding we would not be out late or drinking. We went for a Chinese and ate as much as we could it would be a long 10 days.

The School, as one would think of RR, was the tops. I remember Lester Stiff, an ex-Navy Chief ably assisted by two others. One was an ex-Chief the other I’m not sure. But he had a habit of rolling his eyes upwards and exposing just the whites, this happened when he was explaining the interaction of the engine fuel system. He would mention the kinetic-knife, (half ball valve), and that was the signal to retract. After a time we had come to expect it. Later when anyone mentioned the Range Temperature Control Unit (RTCU), the “eyes” would appear in my minds eye. He was a great teacher though.

The course was the saving grace of our trip to Derby. Our “hostess” would make us put the gas fire out at eight thirty and expect the lights out by 10:30. It got so bad we both complained to the Engine School about her. The School took her of the list. On the second day of our course she asked us for the money up front for our accommodations, smiling she said, “I know what airmen are”. Her old man was a lap-dog, frightened to say anything. I sincerely hope we screwed her business. Awful woman. Come the final exam, and the mandatory ashtrays we were wished a pleasant career on their product.

One other thing that happened. BOAC were also there on the course, when the interaction of the military engine was to be discussed they were not allowed in the room.  They were not happy. From the other responses they gave to the instruction I did not have much faith in BOAC.

Later this came to light when 139 (Jamaica) Squadron were in Jamaica for the Commonwealth Games. BWIA, a subsidiary of BOAC, were servicing the VC10’s coming from Lima via Jamaica to London. The Chief Engineer told us there was an aircraft coming in with a CSDU (Constant Speed Drive Unit. Generator Drive) problem, did we know what to do, has he did not know. We told him we would have a look, only under “HIS” supervision. It took us 10 minuets to find the problem and cure it. The Captain authorised a payment of £100 to the three of us. Under the circumstances this was very helpful, as in the second week we were getting short of beer-tokens.

Fully trained on the aeroplane we settled down to a routine of generation exercise detachments. We had at that time three Warrant Officers Bill Landry, Master Technician Johnny Grabourne and dear old Warrant Officer Stan Tonks.

We got detached to Wyton on exercise, and Stan Tonks was the Warrant in charge of the servicing. We were in the Sergeants Mess and Stan was in good form. (Stan had been stationed at Wyton, a pilot of a Blenheim, and was shot down in May 1940 and became a POW. At Wyton Stan had a Austin Chummy, and when he was shot down his wife tried unsuccessfully to get the car back from the station). That night in the Mess he said to me “Come on my boy we are going to the Guardroom”. On arrival he asked the policeman on duty had if they found his car. “When did you lose it sir?” “May 10th 1940” said Stan, the both of us trying not to giggle. But the copper, as quick as you like, without looking up from the book he was writing in, said, “That book is in the Sergeants office, we will contact you tomorrow. Write the car’s details here.” Handing Stan a pencil and paper. The next day a police Landrover came over to the dispersal we were operating from, with “The Book”.

“WO Tonks?”


“Your car has been impounded since 1942, as there is a £5 outstanding, accumulated parking fine. We will release the vehicle upon payment of the fine”. Stan’s face dropped. It was a picture. The other copper in the Landrover couldn’t contain himself, and the ruse was up. The joke had backfired on Stan, and a good chuckle was had by all. The copper said the car had been written off by A N Other, in 1941, on the Ramsey Road. The person who “borrowed” the car was killed later in the week on an operation over Germany. Stan was one great Warrant Officer it was our pleasure to serve with him.

Hot Rat, Going Postal

We got a new CO, Wing Commander JG Beddoes, the only one in the Airforce List he said. On the day he was taking over the Squadron we were inspecting a brand new Victor B2 R, a Blue Steel carrier, We were removing the AAPP Artouste to check if an inspection and modification had been incorporated, when the engine hit the floor!! We were both charged. The Crew Chief did not want to be involved. The Person In Charge of the job was wheeled in and remanded by the Station Commander. He got a severe reprimand, and fined £50. I went in and answered all the charges, admonished & sent out. Put my hat on and was then bollocked in a very professional manner, by the Adjutant, reducing me nearly to tears. Whilst I was in his office he told me he had my promotion in his in tray, he asked me if I deserved it and I said “Yes, I have worked very hard for this Squadron and spent many hours on the aircraft” He told me to go and get a cup of tea then come back in. When I went back in he told to go over the clothing stores and get my third stripe sewn on. He was after that a great CO, and if his aeroplane was not ready due to Engine Systems, he would come up to the Squadron and ask me personally how long will it be. On every detachment overseas the Wing Co always put my name down. The moral of this story is: Get to know your CO as soon as possible…anyway you can!

Years later I met the Adjutant at the charge, I remarked that he gave me a good bollocking. This officer told me he had it already written down. I thought he was using his pen as a metronome; in fact he was tapping the “script” as he said it. He had used it numerous times. It was a cracker of a bollocking anyway…

Featured image: Victor landing near Yeovilton, 1984; note airbrakes extended. Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2]

To Be Continued…(Mexico & Jamaica).

© Hot Rat 2020

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