Through The Laurels, An RAF Story – Ch. 10

RAF Akrotiri, Bomber Wing. April 1972

Within ten days of arriving in Cyprus I was detailed for a Ranger to Masirah in **XH562, with Flt Lt Julian Flood as Captain. A three nights, four days visit.

After returning my wife developed an allergic rash. What caused it we did not know. The worst attack happened on the weekend after moving house from Limassol to Akrotiri. I went to the Medical Centre to be confronted by a notice in the window saying, “Cuts and grazes Mothers to treat, things of a more pressing nature call back after five”. I read this and became unglued! I rang the doorbell and a scruffy corporal ambled out. Shirt out, no tie and wearing “flip-flops”. He then had the temerity to point to the notice! I pulled rank ordered him to open the door, which he did. I bollocked him and told him to get out of the room and return properly dressed. On his return he told me the duty MO, (Medical Officer), was down at the sailing club and he was unable to contact him. He said I can give your wife some cream. This I refused. I took my wife to Limmasol to the Families Medical Centre, which was always open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I explained to the Duty MO, Wing Cmdr. Hall, that I had just moved to Akrotiri. He treated my Wife and right away the allergic effects started fading. He stabilised her and spoke to me about why I didn’t go to the duty doctor at Akrotiri. I told him the doctor at Akrotiri was unavailable because he was out sailing. He lost it! He suggested that I make out a report, and it would meet his report on the Station Commander’s desk first thing Monday morning!

Monday came I called in and asked the CO Servicing how I went about it. Sir Percy, as we called him, was an expert on matters legal. He mapped out what I had to write. I wrote it and submitted it through the channels. The CO of Bomber Wing then called me in to have a chat about it. He said, “’I’ll see the Senior Medical Officer in the Mess at lunchtime and sort the matter out”. I said, “Thank you Sir, but my wife’s medical condition is not a matter for you to discuss in the Officers Mess!!” It was his turn to become unglued, & he accused me of being a left-winger. Hahaha!  Anyway, he could not stop the redress going forward. It ended up on the Station Commander desk. I was called forward to see Air Commodore Craig, (later MRAF Lord Craig of Radley). He had flown my Vulcan bomber a couple of times and knew me. The upshot was I won the day. From then on the MO on duty had to be in contact with the Medical Centre at all times and sleep there if necessary….& not on a fucking jolly…sailing!  So ended the RAF Medics v HR Snr. And HR Snr had won!

Now it was my turn to get even with the CO of Bomber Wing. He was posted on “repat” back to the UK. He left some “white goods” to be brought back to the UK by “Vulcan Removals”. I was the Crew Chief on the aeroplane going back to Waddington, **XM570. He was sent a signal that his gear was on this aeroplane. I then removed all of his stuff out of the pannier, and used the space to bring what I needed to Waddington, which was nothing but fruit and booze for my friends. He was waiting on “F” dispersal when we arrived at Waddington and asked the Captain about his stuff. The Captain, Bill McGillevery, asked me where it was. I said, “ I don’t know Sir. I only packed a small pannier, as that was all we needed or wanted to bring back to Waddington”. Then it dawned on the CO what had happened. And he stormed off fuming. His stuff was in the pannier yard back at Akrotiri for weeks, courtesy of a pal I had in ‘Movements’. Hee hee. **(XH562. Perished Catterick Fire School, 1984. XM570. Scrapped 1990).

Hot Rat, Going Postal

In August I came back to the UK again to deliver Vulcan **XH570, into 32 MU, (Maintenance Unit), at RAF St. Athan, and pick up my very own Vulcan, **XJ781. The Crew who came to fetch it flew XH570 down from Waddington. I had gone by road. XH570 was seen in by me, and when I was plugged in, “Crew Chief on the wire”. A friendly voice replied, “Hello HR Snr”. It was Tony Semark, from “Moonflower”, Butterworth, 1969. He was now on the OCU, (Operational Conversion Unit), instructing. I had flown with Tony four times in XM652. I had a spare demijohn of sherry I was glad to give to him as a welcoming present. He was a good man to work for. A proper Gentleman.

On start up XJ781 suffered high hydraulic oil pressure issues. The Maintenance Unit fiddled about with it but couldn’t get it properly sorted. Captain Semark elected to fly it back to Waddington, with wheels down, and get it rectified there. There they lowered the hydraulic pressure and it was all aboard to Akrotiri with Flt Lt Ward at the wheel. We arrived overhead Akrotiri and we let our wives know we were home by increasing the engine noise as we flew low level over the camp.

**(XH570. Scrapped 1972).

Author: At this point I think it’s relevant to write an account of something very special that happened to my brother & I which my Dad must have forgotten about.

It was one sunny morning and my brother & I were getting ready to go to school just down the hill from the house. Dad came into the kitchen and said we were not going to school that day, he was taking just the two of us to Tunnel Beach, Episkopi, about 15 miles away. Yay!! Swimming and fishing on a school day! “You won’t need swimming trunks or fishing rods”, says Dad. Boo! Anyway, glad to be skiving school we jumped in the car and off we went. We arrived in Episkopi and made the snaking decent down to Happy Valley. My Dad had to show his 1250, (RAF identity card), to the MP to be allowed through the tunnel in the cliff and on to the beach. Strange. This never happened before, as the beach was a public one.

Dad parked the car, and plonked us on the bonnet facing the sea. There were very few other people there. He asked if we could see what looked like a big raft a few hundred yards off the beach. Yep. We sat there far about 20 minutes, bored stiff. All of a sudden there was this rumbling noise and a Vulcan appeared and proceeded to drop a stick of live 21 x 1,000lb-ers on or about the raft. What a noise! I’ve heard nothing like it since. It seemed to go on forever. Big plumes of water and lots of noise. Fantastic!

Thinking the show was over, Dad told us to wait a few minutes. Then all of a sudden a brace of screeching Lightning’s appeared from over the cliff behind us and started to strafe the bejeezis out of the target raft with cannon fire. They banked away and returned from the same direction as before and fired rockets at the target. A truly memorable experience. Real Boy’s Own stuff.

I’ve talked to several RAF people over the years, and they told me that what my brother & I witnessed that day was a very rare event, even for people who spend an entire career in the RAF. 

Tunnel Beach, west of Episkopi, Cyprus

(The eagle-eyed amongst you will see that there are only 20 bombs visible. The photographer missed the first bomb to be released. I can find no other photo that shows a full 21-bomb stick).

December, 1972

My next detail was a weekend up to Malta with Flt Lt Dave Smith and Jacko Jackson, in **XL446. A low-level sortie over Sicily then recover to RAF Luqa, Malta.  Dave Smith who had previously been flying Canberra PR, (Photo Recon), aeroplanes in Malta new the terrain of Sicily very well. One can say better than most. We were engaged on a TFR exercise, (Terrain Following Radar). Jacko doing the TFR guiding, and Dave keeping a visual lookout. I was standing on the ladder between the two pilots, a front-row seat. We cruised down this valley and up on the hill above our heads was a village. There was a lady hanging out her “dhobi” on the roof of her house, I could virtually see up her dress. She was “gob smacked”, and stared vacantly at the Vulcan as it sailed by, her mouth full of clothes pegs. Further along the valley the road came down one side and crossed over a bridge. Down towards the bridge came a truck and trailer, I could clearly read FIAT in chrome lettering on the front of the truck, the driver was also equally gob-smacked as we almost lost some paint from the underside of the aeroplane as we “skimmed” the bridge in front of the truck driver. Super!

We cruised out of the valley onto a flat plain and out to the coast. Dave said there is a beach club just around the headland; let’s have a giggle. We sneaked around the headland as quiet as possible at about 100ft. We pulled up level with the beach club whereupon Dave gave the punters the shock of their lives! He stood the Vulcan on its end and gave the engines full take off power! I had to grip the ladder so I didn’t fall off, as we were almost vertical. The AEO was looking at the effects through the rear view periscope at the fat “I-ties” shitting lockers, and scarpering in all directions off the beach. The noise of those four Olympus’ spooling up to “full-chat” must have been deafening down there. Great fun!

We landed at Luqa, and met Gerry Hannifin who was an Air Traffic Controller. I knew him very well from my days at RAF Wittering. He said come to the Mess tomorrow evening with him and his wife. I thought that was good as I expected a quiet weekend. I met Gerry and his Wife and some of their friends. Amongst their friends there was a lady unaccompanied. I danced with her most of the evening. She had never heard Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Carbuncle[sic]. From then I called her Silver Girl, and I was smitten. (My marriage at the time was not happy, but for the sake of the children. I couldn’t and wouldn’t EVER leave them!). She was going through a separation and was moving to Lincolnshire. We were always there weekly to Waddington, so | said I would see her there. It came quicker than I thought I did see her from then on to the time I left the Air force. I thought I would live with her but my kids came first.

**(XL446. Scrapped 1982).

May 1973

XJ781 continued to be dogged by high hydraulic oil pressure issues. We changed two of the engine driven pumps to try and rectify the issue. Then disaster struck whilst the aeroplane was on exercise in Shiraz, Iran. It suffered undercarriage trouble. Only one main wheel came down plus the nose wheel. The Captain made a textbook approach with loss of electrical power to the PFCU’s. The wing dropped and the aeroplane, my aeroplane, veered off the runway and went down a gully. It was a write-off. I wrote off all the things I wanted to keep from the service, including a china teapot. The Warrant Officer from the Maintenance Unit, Johnny Brown, brought me back a souvenir from the wreckage. The sixth-seat “pee tube” engraved, “Up your kilt HR Snr. Shiraz, 1973”, which I still have to this day. The Shah got the rest.

Hot Rat, Going Postal
XJ781 crash. Shiraz, Iran, 23 May 1973
Photographer unknown

The cause was not really known. My thoughts were the continual high-pressure issues had caused the nose undercarriage jack to split. This caused the loss of hydraulic pressure and when the emergency nitrogen was used it escaped through the split. I was not asked to offer my opinion, and I never volunteered it. I let the “so called Officer experts” investigate. They should have asked the Crew Chief. It buggers me to think that a commission automatically put one’s knowledge over a non-commissioned person….I do not think so.

TBC…..(My Swansong from the RAF).

© Hot Rat 2020

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