Through The Laurels, An RAF Story – Ch. 5

Mexico & Jamaica

At 139 Jamaica Squadron we enjoyed two great detachments. The Squadron was going on a Goodwill visit to Mexico City, as guests of the Mexican Air Force.

We were going via Goose Bay Labrador, Offutt AFB, Nebraska and on to Mexico City. The weather took a turn for the worse and we were to go via the Azores and Bermuda. RAF Wittering was sheet of ice when we left. At Larges Field in the Azores, flowers were in bloom. We bedded the aeroplanes down for the night and went to the NCO club. Here we had a huge meal, went to the commissary and stocked up on duty free fags and booze. Back to the bar…all night!  In the morning we asked where to go to our accommodation. We were told to get in this culvert, follow it, and we will come out by our accommodation. They observed several walking heads at ground level, they could not see our lower half’s. It was a quick change into blue, and to see off the Victors to Kinley AFB in Bermuda.

When we landed in the Britannia we had to help the engineers and the loadmasters turn the aeroplane round for the next leg to Mexico City. That done we were waiting for the transport to take us over to where the Victors were parked. The “turd” man came round to drain the Britannia. This Bermudan was laughing at us and not taking any notice how the draining was going. The effluent had kept the canvas hose rigid and the residual waste was draining away when the wind got up and blew the hose around the neck of the “drainer”. His facial expression soon changed as the hose attempted to strangle him!

The next day we flew on to Mexico City without incident. We were accommodated in the Hotel Casa Gonzales, which became “Speedy’s” Joint. The next day we were to fly the head of the Mexican Air Force, the British Ambassador and other “worthies”, that is if we could get the bloody Artouste to start. Some brain at base had made an adjustment to the Air Bleed Valve, (ABV), to make it work at altitude, as Mexico City is a high altitude airport. When came the time to start engines the Artouste would not bleed any air to start the main engines. Quick as flash we lowered the AAPP, and put the setting back as it was prior to the brains that thought they knew better. The main engines started without issue. The second aircraft we used an Air Start Trolley, at 250 pesos a go unbeknown to the Engineering Officer. We signaled the Captain to hit engine start, and ran the ground-start up to max. (Prior to a retrofit, the two starboard engines had to be started individually as no cross feed existed on the starboard side). When the starboard engines were going we would accelerate one engine to 90% and start the port engines. (Later modifications allowed you to shunt air anywhere around the start system).

The day was an open day, and even Speedy’s hotel staff were invited to view the aeroplane. Later on that day the hotel manager started asking very pointed questions about what he had seen. Questions that were of a spying nature. We told him a load of crap, which I hope he reported to his “bosses”. His hotel was adjacent to the British Embassy, and all the overflow were accommodated in Speedy’s Joint. I often wondered how much he gleaned by unsuspecting diplomats. We reported the matter on return to Wittering, and learned later that Speedy was off the approved lists.

I met a couple living in Mexico who were very nice. On my departure a package was delivered to the Britannia for me, it was a silver sombrero engraved to commemorate our visit. It was later stolen in the UK when we moved out to the Middle East in 1974.

The trip home was a nightmare via the Bahamas to Goose Bay. The Goose was snowed in, but we got in. The Victors suffered as the o-rings in the hydraulics froze and allowed oil to leak out. We took them into the hangar to heat up and that cured the leaks, the snow was blood red with the spilled oil.

Again we helped the Britannia crew to service and load the aeroplane, this ensured we ate very well. Some officers travelling with us just brought their kit to the steps and left it. We had to struggle up the frost-covered steps. The Loadmaster and the Captain said to us how they thought little of our officers. We said we think, “Fuck all of them”. They were not our officers. Ours were the good guys. One officer was nicknamed the Muchacha General and it stuck with him for the rest of the time on the Squadron. We got airborne and were diverted to RAF Valley in Wales.  Wittering was out. We got airborne again and flew to Lyneham. By train to Wittering via Paddington. Finally home to the Wife and children.

Our routine was a bit boring activity interspersed by Micks, (Mickey Finns), and TacEvals, (Tactical Evaluations). All these exercises were generation war operations. On Micks we generated the aircraft, and loaded a live missile. The missile was then removed and the aeroplanes were then scrambled airborne.


Every Christmas we received rum and cigars from the Daily Gleaner of Jamaica. We also got a load of fruit, which we delivered, to the children’s home in Stamford. The rum punch we drank. So it was to the seat or the centre of the Jamaican rum industry. We left the day of the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley, and we were at Gander, Newfoundland, when they went into extra time. We left Gander, and during this leg the Captain announced we had won the World Cup and he waggled the wings. We arrived at Palisadoes, Jamaica and we were bussed to Up Park Camp, (modelled on Aldershot complete with the “Glass House” for transgressors). It was now the home of the Jamaican Defence Force. We settled in then went over to the Mess. There we met the Regimental Sergeant Major, seconded from the Coldstream Guards, “Louis” Jordan. And what a man was Louis. One day they painted, in big red letters, “Jordan the Oppressor”. He had them all on parade, kept them there in the baking sun until the culprits owned up. He then made them clean it off with husks of the coconut—after getting some down off a tree.

Next day after breakfast we were sitting on the veranda of the mess along with Lou Jordan when his clerk came by on a bicycle. He bellowed to him. He fell off his bike, and straight to attention. He ordered him to collect his mail, put Mrs Jordan’s on the back seat of his car. And if there’s none for me, “Put yourself inside”, (in the cells). With a brilliant white toothy grin off went the clerk to get the mail. Lou was a showman, but a tough disciplinarian. The Jamaican officers did not like him, but the troops secretly admired him, as he was good to his men under him. (He reminded me of Richard Attenborough, as the RSM in Guns At Batasi).

During this visit we were guest of the Prime Minister Donald Sangster to a Rum Punch at the Government house. They had a steel band playing soft Jamaican music and with the Rum Punch I was very “heady”. I met a gentleman who invited some friends & I out on his yacht. It was a beautifully appointed forty-footer. We went fishing off Lime Key. There we met the Welsh Ladies fencing team, when they saw the boat we were on they jumped ship and joined us. We told them we would come and support them, we mustn’t have a done a lot of good as they were knocked out the first round.

We attended the Games opening by the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Charles, later we attended a reception at the British Embassy where we met the Royal Party. Here we met David Coleman and gave him stick on his commentaries of the World Cup back home. On the first day of the games our Victors trailed smoke in the Jamaican National Colours over the Stadium, which received a huge applause from the crowds. On our last night there I was taken to the Blue Mountain Inn restaurant. It was originally the Coffee Plantation House of the brand Blue Mountain. It cost an arm and a leg in there to eat and drink. I wasn’t paying, thank god.

We left next day for the UK via Gander, here we stocked up with duty free goods, had a meal and left for Wittering. After Jamaica Wittering seemed so flat and dead. Back to routine.

One thing did happen around the corner in old Collyweston. We were working our Sunday, which came round bi weekly, watching the other Flight ground run a Victor. When we heard an almighty loud bang! The engine had ingested a metal securing pin from off the engine blanks, which had come adrift. We had just taken off all of our blanks. The other flight had obviously not. (We did a treble check anyway just to make sure!!). The guts of the engine were spread out behind the aircraft for hundreds of yards. Probably find some bits of blades even today.

During this period the two flights, A & C, were combined and I became the Engine Trade Manager for the Operating Flights. I knew this aeroplane inside out; the Rolls Royce representative would sometimes ask me what to do. He would request on occasion to accompany him to Wyton, to 543 Squadron, when they had problems.

A Victor came in with a reported fault. The fault was reported as an oil-pressure fault. We changed the pressure transmitter and declared it serviceable after I did a ground run. The next day it flew again and the same problem occurred. I had the gauge changed, ground run was A-OK. It was on the flight programme next day and the same thing happened. I went home that night and my mind was working overtime. For some reason I thought of a situation where the fuel cooled heat exchanger was working in reverse. I went to work the next day and ran the offending engine. I selected the fuel filter, (de-icing), off, and asked the outside man to feel that the overboard vent was not passing hot air. It wasn’t, the actuator was working. This now required the engine to be dropped down, & remove some ducting. We found the carbon gate of the valve holed. Problem solved. It had come to me whilst sleeping. Odd, but there you go.

I was now warned that I might be selected for Crew Chief training. I was medically examined at RAF Hospital, Ely, and given aircrew category of A1G1Z1. I could fly anywhere in the world! I went to Aero Medical Centre at North Luffenham for decompression tests. I passed and waited. I was selected for Victor Aircraft Servicing Chief. The course got cancelled, but we were going to be trained as Vulcan Crew Chiefs instead. From knowing the Victor, I would now have to learn the Vulcan. Not only engine trade, but airframe, electrical, instruments and a grounding in radio and radar. We were taken off the unit and open for misemployment while we waited for the course to start. I was selected to operate in the station MT section – The Motor Pool just like in Sgt Bilko. There were three of us, Pete Pettit and Bob Clayton. Bob was an electronics bod, who built a comms system for the ‘Motor Pool’ in cardboard boxes, it worked very well. Bob was waiting to go on a commissioning board. We waited for our courses to start and we enjoyed the break and the freedom of the ‘Motor Pool’ by Brian Tiller, the MTO. Then we were posted to RAF St. Athan in Wales. (Look you).

A Vulcan Crew Chief

I cleared Wittering knowing I would not be stationed there anymore. I had been very happy. We had another little boy there; we would miss our married quarters. We had had it from new, and 6 years is a long time, you are bound to put down roots. The garden was a picture with flowers and I kept the lawns in good shape. With a heavy heart I said my goodbyes and left for St Athan for the first part along with Pete Pettit who I have been with since coming to Wittering. We were in our Number One dress and went by train to Cardiff via London. At Paddington loads of airmen, just joined, were obviously going to St Athan for training, with us being on the train sort of dampened their enthusiasm. On arrival at camp we were directed to the Sergeants Mess, and our accommodations were the old Officers Married Quarters, we had spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a huge bed. The Mess was brand new and warm. We met the others who were to make up the Engine people who were on the airframe course. We also met the six “riggers” who were on the engine course, and we would meet up as a class on the next phase at RAF Newton, the College of Knowledge. (Now forty-five years later it’s an industrial estate).

The airframe phase was not too bad and we were soon through it. Going home to Wittering made the time go quickly. It was in December John Wrycraft took Pete and me by car to Newton, we wanted to get our rooms in the Sergeants Mess as to make it easier when we arrived on the following Wednesday. Newton was about 30 miles from Wittering up the Al to Grantham and across towards Nottingham on the A52.

On arrival back at Wittering we went up to see the MTO Brian Tiller to exercise our freedom of the Yard and get a lift home. It was nice to be home for seven days leave with the Wife and children.

The leave over it was school time. The place was like an approved school, you marched everywhere, or they attempted to make us. Smoking was only permitted a quarter of an hour a session up to ten o’clock. Break was taken in the school and lunch back at the Mess. One day we were stopped by a Staff SNCO and told to march not walk like Warrant Officers. We politely told him to ”Fuck off. And you do not have to talk like a prick because you are one”. With that he hurried off to tell his boss about the rude trainees who mentioned he was a “phallic symbol”. The outcome was nothing. They left us alone after that.

The schools were hard but interesting. One Instructor who was a Squadron Leader came out with us to Nottingham. “Dutch” Holland was one good teacher and a pleasure to be with, I can still remember what he taught us. On one phase he drew a line on the board, “Gentlemen”, he said, “ A strand of copper wire”. He then went on through Ohms Law and at the end of the day we were on radio circuits. He said, “That’s enough for today”. Looking around the class he said to one of us “You look bewildered Chief” “ Do you want to go back?” “Yes sir to the bit about the copper wire”. He threw the chalk in the air and said, “See you tomorrow”.

We had practical training and home-brewed beer making classes. Then Friday we had home brew tasting. Our instructor Mr. Rawlings was the home brew man. We were on Transformer Rectifier Units, (TRU); a complicated piece of gear, the circuit diagram covered an A3 sheet. On the examination we were asked what would be the effect of an open circuit on wire A112. This was without the diagram in front of us. I put down it would not work and I get a new one. Mr. Rawlings, when he read my paper, told me I would not pass if I answered like that. When he saw all the other papers he realised it was stupid question. We never got anymore daft questions. We played practical jokes on him one day. He would set a demonstration in the lab, and then we went off on a break to see the demonstration after. We nipped in and removed a fuse from the circuit. He scratched his head trying to fault-find. He went to get the circuit diagram, whereupon we would put the fuse back in. On his return he would go through the total circuit and “Geronimo!” it would work. This puzzled him even more. We never did tell him we had removed the fuse.

The Instrumentation phase was a bit of a shambles. Once we got through this though we were at the aircraft phase. Although we did have five-a-side football matches 3 times a week, we played the PT staff for an hour, which was a good work out. Newton was a good place, nice people, but the course was not really that helpful for the Crew Chief on his own, at a desert outpost.

No 231 OCU Finningley

RAF Finningley is in South Yorkshire just north of Number 1 Group HQ Bomber Command. A lovely permanent station, well laid out and with lovely gardens. Here was the Conversion Unit for the Vulcan including the Ground School. (OCU. Operational Conversion Unit). The course was split into the four main trades. Airframes, Engines, Electrics and Instrumentation. It was a very good course with Instructors who knew their subjects, and were good people as well. Later I served at Akrotiri with them and proof of their knowledge and capability was demonstrated daily. Come the day for postings, six to each of the two Vulcan Stations, we had one each already there. So ten names went in the hat. I drew my choice, Waddington, I have had enough of the Blue Steel and Waddington was the right side of Lincoln.

We were sent back to our original units to clear. We were to take 10 days leave. I saw the Flight Sergeant in the Orderly Room; I told him I wanted my leave for when I moved into my new home. He was authorised to detach me for fourteen days, when then my posting would become due.

I drove to Waddington. It was like coming home as I had spent a long time in Lincolnshire and knew the county very well. I reported to P3 on arrival and met Flight Sergeant Ernie Steer, who became a friend and a very useful person to know.

He told me all the aircraft were at RAF Coningsby as Waddo’s runways were being resurfaced. I went to the Families Officer to see where I was on the Married Quarters lists. Here I discovered that I was not on the lists. An MoD order stated Crew Chiefs could be placed on the unit’s lists whilst in the latter days of their course. I had applied, and the Family’s people had not done so. I insisted to be put on back dated; they said I could not do that. I said “Put me on the frozen lists”. They acquiesced and I was getting a house at Birchwood, on the old airfield at RAF Skellingthorpe. I was entitled to a four-bedroom house but it would not be ready for a few weeks. I then carried out my arrival procedure and called into the Operations Block and met Arthur Malvanna, a Warrant Officer of the old school. Arthur called up Master Technician Richard Patnell, who was Warrant i/c of Crew Chiefs. Richard told me to go to Vulcan Servicing Flight as the liaison man. I kicked my heels here for a few days, chewed the fat with other Crew Chiefs. On the Wednesday Richard called me to say “Bugger off home for a long weekend, I’ll get the time back later.”

Hot Rat, Going Postal
Crew Chiefs. RAF Newton, 1968
(Hot Rat Snr back row. Sqdn Leader Dutch Holland, circled)

To be continued…. (Vulcan B MK2 XH557).

© Hot Rat 2020

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