Through The Laurels, An RAF Story – Ch. 7

To rescue Bootsy, then Pensacola


I was detailed to fly with Squadron Leader Robert Wood in **XM603 on a CBLR, (Cyprus Bombing Lone Ranger), plus to bring back the Station Commander of Waddington, Group Captain Griffith. He was stuck there and could not get an indulgence flight back. I was always of the understanding that you had to prove to the RAF you had an alternative means of returning. Perhaps that was not applicable to Group Captains.

When we got to RAF Akrotiri we were told that the Group Captain had got a flight and we could get on with our CBLR. It was at this time the Vulcans from RAF Cottesmore had gone to Bomber Wing, and we were using their temporary dispersal at the west end of the airfield. | had prepared the aeroplane for flight and was waiting for the crew to arrive. Up came an engineering officer accompanied by a civilian. They did not ask but just went to get into my aeroplane. | put my arm across the door then recognised who the officer was. It was the bod from RAF Upwood in1957, who said I was not yet fit for promotion. | asked him politely what he was doing. He stared hard at me, but never gave any indication of recognising me. He said this is Mr. So and So from Hawker Siddley, and we want to see in this Vulcan. I said this Vulcan is not Akrotiri’s, we are from Waddington, and you are not going in there. He then pulled rank and said, “| order you to let us in.” | said, “OK but the civilian is NOT going in.” I was over-ruled and he went into the aeroplane. This now invalidated all my aircraft checks. With that the crew arrived and asked if the aeroplane already. I said, “No, my checks have to be done again”. Captain Robert Wood said “Why?” I pointed to the interlopers. The Captain came unglued!! He ordered them out gave Johnson a 24-carat bollocking. | nipped up into the cockpit saw all was OK and got out.

Captain Wood then asked me how long before we can go. I said it is ready to go, and thank you for getting me even with that twat. I then told him about Upwood and the idiot Engineering Officer, whose hat was always kept up by his ears. I knew if I waited long enough I would get even with that idiot Johnson. It would have been more satisfying to give him a slap, but then I would be a double-loser.

Whilst they were airborne I arranged the sherry and the fruit, and got a sack of new pota-

toes and broad beans ready for our departure to Waddington. Now, in Captain Wood’s crew there was an AEO, (Air Electronics Operator), Ginger Knight, who played the bagpipes. He was reputed to have played the pipes at the highest altitude. Ginger and | was organising the share out of the fruit; we had the Group Captain’s flying kit including his boots. We knew him behind his back as BOOTSY because of his large feet. The fruit was in sand bags. And we emptied one sandbag, of sand, into one of his boots. Ginger Knight and I were tickled with this, and the rest of the crew wondered why we were laughing.

We landed at Waddington and the Customs Officer, Colin Clark, was out to meet us. We declared what we had, plus the fruit and vegetables. When he saw we had new spuds, he said, “You will have to destroy them, but not until after Sunday lunch. And do not bring them in again!”, as he wandered off with a bag for himself.

**(XM603 is now on display at the Avro Heritage Centre, Cheshire).

May, 1969

| did another trip to Malta in April, with Flt Lt Leckonby, where nothing of note happened. Returned to Waddington on the dispersal I was met by Roy Heaton to tell me I had won the draw, along with Tom Banks, to go on a goodwill visit to Pensacola Florida, to take part in their Navy Day. We were to leave on May 8th with Flt Lt Mick Hibberd in **XM609 – Roy Thomas’s Vulcan. “Sick-O-Nine” he called it. Great!

We were going to be routed through Goose Bay, then on to NAS Saufley Field in Florida. We prepared to go on the visit which entailed going to Innsworth and getting fitted with special KD for a VIP visit. Tom and | went to the local market in Lincoln and they were selling nice shirts of an overseas colour which was much better than the issue shirts. Along with Tom we packed a tail parachute, which was necessary as the Saufley Field  runway was quite short. Came the day and we were away. Our wives were not that enthusiastic mind you. We arrived at Goose Bay. To meet us were Jim weeks and Steve McNeely, from Wittering who were doing their end of Victor Crew Chiefing tour of the Goose.

It was also the time of the air race across the Atlantic, London to New York, and the Tanker Fleet were out from RAF Marham to support the competitors. | met “Wings” Wallace from my RAF Gaydon days. He was Crew Chief on a Victor BK1 tanker. The Mess that night was jumping, and we had quite a lot to drink. Lucky for us Crew Chief Steve McNeely strapped us in comfortably, and saw us off, ready to show The Flag.

Coloured Television

We arrived overhead Saufley Field, a basic flying training Naval Air Station, outside Pensacola. The Captain called local control if he could do a “roller”, (US termed Touch and Go). The tower said we will clear the circuit and could we hold off till the TV companies get their gear ready. That to the Captain was an invitation to give a display! We went out over the bayou and he came in low and fast, proper tree-top low level, up to a steep climb with throttles maxed, and a perfect roll off the top. I was standing up talking to the AEO and looking out his porthole. I saw palm trees growing downwards! It was carried out with so much skill I never moved, even when virtually inverted. | sat down and old Tom Banks was grey, he needed to be sick. I made him bags out of paper, which he filled. Tom had been drinking tomato juice on the way to Pensacola and he looked like he was hemorrhaging! | put the bags of Toms vomit onto the floor as the Captain moved the aeroplane around the skies. The Captain’s new cap fell out of its bag and landed on the floor, yes right into Tom’s spew. Bugger! We landed and taxied into the parking ramp. | opened the door and got out to check the parking was safe. I looked round and saw a load of TV cameras focusing onto me. I called the Captain to get out to come and meet the media. He was looking for his new cap, which he put on to meet America. Unbeknown to the Skipper his hat was adorned with Tom’s sick. He was merrily speaking to the media and giving a detail on the Vulcan. The transport arrived just as the “taps” were sounded and Old Glory was lowered to the National Anthem. We got into the transport and the Captain looked to us and said, “I think that went very well.” Meaning his interview. He then removed his service cap and saw all the “tomato juice” over the peak. He went ballistic! We were trying to hide our laughter, and then some wag said, “Maybe they were filming in Black and White.” The Skipper was not amused.

Our arrival coincided with a Solo Party, and we were invited. They were cutting peoples ties off at the knots, we were now tieless. When the beer had gone the pupil pilots went off to bed and we went off downtown. The Tiki Bar on the beach at Pensacola was jumping. The Sheriff came in checking ID’s. You had to be twenty-one in that town to have a beer, but only 18 to go and die in Viet Nam!!

Our Navigator, (Radar), was not twenty-one and was told to leave. I was driving so | had little or nothing to drink, when a guy came up to me and said, “Are you in English, are you with that Vulcan that arrived today?” I nodded. He was English, come with me. I told him I was the driver and could not let my mates down. So he took the lot of us to a club where one would not think they were in the US of A. I have seen some things in my time but this beat the band. Women or girls in cages sliding down poles, doing all sort of cavorting along the bar. It was like the happenings of Malta’s Gut. We got back to the BOQ at dawn, and lay on our beds until we had to see to the aeroplane. We fitted a new brake chute, stowed the old one, topped up the oils and left it ready for the static park the day after. That evening there was a reception for us at an adjacent airfield. We had to be at the receiving line at 7! The Captain never turned up; he was with the liaison team. We were introduced to the Admiral responsible for the carrier USS Lexington, and the several airfields around the area.

Tom and | not being commissioned tried to keep out of the way of all The Brass. We stayed at the bar. People were coming over and introducing themselves. One all-American boy, six foot tall, blond pilot came over to us along with his very beautiful wife, and said “Hi, I’m Fred Bender and this my wife Lynita.” She was so beautiful!! Tom and I were “gobsmacked”. They moved away and some others came up, including a US Marine pilot with his German born wife. I spoke to her in German and she was pleased that I knew Germany. It was announced that dinner was going to be served and would we all please find places. I was then grabbed by Lynita to sit with them. She put me beside her.  There were quite a lot of speeches and lots of Champagne. Then Lynita decided to read my palm. After reading it she never let go and held my hand under the tablecloth. It was very uncomfortable. Fred Bender was soon boozed. The Marine pilot told me not to worry Fred will soon be under.

Fred went to the bathroom and was gone a long time. His wife was concerned where he was. I found Fred in the bathroom and he had been sick all over his white Mess jacket. Fred said to tell Lynita he was going home. I went and told her Fred was going home. She said she would stay. I told her Fred was ill and she should see to him. I said | will see you tomorrow at the air day. She said OK I’ll see you in the morning. We extracted ourselves and went back to our accommodations.

The big day was here. A fantastic air show! The Blue Angels, with Phantoms, was a crowd puller. Bags of smoke, and plenty of noise! Fantastic! I was standing by XM609 when a beauty in a sailor suit came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. The Captain looking at me wondering, what the bloody hell!  It was Lynita, and she looked a million dollars with her red, white and blue suit. She was beautiful. Fred, hungover, wanted to stay still and watch the show. Lynita wanted to walk around and to have an RAF person to take her arm. I was “chuffed” to have a girl like that on my arm and we got loads of admiring looks.

We wandered back to Fred and he was quite happy watching the show. They then insisted I go with them to their home and Fred would cook out. Fred went to a supermarket got the steaks and while he was there Lynita came over to me to kiss her, she was lovely. At the end of the evening I said a begrudging goodbye to her, and Fred dropped me off at the BOQ, and we said our goodbyes. I often, even now, think of her after forty years. She had the beautiful looks of an artist’s model.

Came the morning of our departure, we refuelled the aeroplane and routed to the Goose. We rectified some problems and we were ready for the next day’s flight to Waddington. I would be glad to get home after a fabulous visit.  Tom and I were awakened by the Warrant i/c Goose to say we had to go to Offutt AFB, Nebraska give our aeroplane, XM609, to a crew going to March AFB, California. Their Vulcan, XM603, had an engine problem that needed the engine changed. We got airborne bound for Offutt and landed there at lunchtime. We were briefed by the CO of the detachment; he also paid us our allowances in US Dollars. The CO, Squadron Leader Alexander, also told us that a reception was being held for visiting crews in the “O” Club and we were all invited. He looked at Tom and I and said, “That includes you two I suppose. But at eight you will depart from the Officers Club”. I said, “Personally, I do not want to go. Sir.” He turned to me and siad, “You are to go!”. I shut up, but determined not to attend. My Captain, Mike Hibberd, told me outside of the offices to attend, and we’ll go somewhere after.

A Vulcan from Scampton, complete with a Blue Steel training round, was coming for the display, with the Wing Commander of 617 Squadron as Captain. We all met up in the “O” Club and we were telling them how we were feted at Pensacola. The Scampton crew were pissed off with the crap organisation. The CO of the Scampton detachment was seen to be sticking his finger into the chest of Squadron Leader Alexander, which pleased me no end.

A USAAF B-52 crew was here at the display also. They “teamed up” with our Bomber crews and the USAAF Colonel wanted to go to our Club/Mess where a dance was being held. The three crews, plus an F-4 Phantom pilot, climbed aboard a bus and was directed to the NCO’s Club where we took over the fleapit where the sunken dance floor and stage were situated. We decided we would hold a “Grimmy” contest, and all put five dollars in the hat. The winner, who in the opinion of the majority, had the ugliest partner. In the event of a draw, the person seen to kiss his partner was to be judged the winner. My “lady” was an American war bride from WW1. I ensured I was seen to kiss her and was judged the winner. She then came over to our table and said, “Now you have won Honey, you could at least buy me a drink!” She must have been a winner’s partner before.

The next day was a free day so Tom, myself and the Scampton Crew Chief Roy Locke went into Omaha. At the gate of Offutt AFB there was a shelter named, Give a Buddy a Ride. We waited there and soon we got a ride into Omaha along with this couple who were very friendly, and assured us that they will come over to the Vulcan the next day, (Sunday), and say hi. We did a bit of shopping and went for a beer. Suddenly the music started in this bar and a Go-Go dancer was up on the bar dancing. The tune was Aquarius by 5th Dimension.  I thought great, and it’s only eleven am.

We then decided we would go back to Offutt AFB and got a taxi. The guy would not believe we were British. He told us the base was once called Fort Crook and changed to Offutt in memory of the first US airman killed near Paris in the 1914-18 war.

The next day was Armed Forces Day. We met so many nice people Service and Civilian. The couple who gave us a lift came over and we were all chatting when their little boy wanted the bathroom, he wanted a pee. His Mom said, “It is a pity we are not in your country as you can do it in the street”. “Yes you can but if I get caught I will be dealt with severely”, b-boom!

Later in the day two “ladies” came up to us and enquired if this aeroplane was from Waddington, and was So and So with it. I said, “No they weren’t”. They then enquired if I knew them. I told them I did, and would tell them you were asking for them. Whilst I was talking to them Roy Locke had taken my picture and would “blackmail” me with it . It was totally innocent but the Wife would not think that. The rotten sod. “If you still got it Roy, I would like to have it”!

Hot Rat, Going Postal

XM609 came back from March AFB and was turned round, and we got airborne for Goose once more. Then things started to go wrong. The IFF went unserviceable, so the Air Traffic Control brought us down to low level, as we could not be identified on the radar screens. The Captain was suffering with the onset of a bad throat and could hardly talk. The Co-pilot, John Huggins, was going to do the landing. On arrival at Goose Bay there was a “white out”, and we were diverted to Gander. With the low-level flight from Offutt, and the trip now to Gander fuel became a worry. The Navigators fuel gauges were showing zero when we came over the fence and onto the runway. The Captain shut down the two inboard engines and taxied to the ramp. There Tom and I refuelled the aeroplane after we had kissed Newfoundland. The tanker driver remarked on how much fuel we were taking. We stayed the night at Gander town. Next day breakfast at the airfield, and we were on our way home to Waddington. On arrival we were told that the trip was classed as a Special and not our Western Ranger. We said Bollocks! It was not our doing that we were

told to go back to Offutt AFB. It got changed to our Western Ranger.

**(XM609 was sold as scrap in 1981).

Less than a month later I was going to Butterworth in Malaysia. The Captain was Tony Semark, the Vulcan was XM652.

To Be Continued….(Moonflower to Butterworth).

© Hot Rat 2020

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