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Goodbyes said and off yet again, left St Eval with snow and ice on the ground, a roaring coal fire well behind me now and back on the train heading for Paddington Station, a journey I had completed several times now. Underground journey to Wendover station and walk of about  2 miles to RAF Halton. This unit was built either side of a main road, the north camp where all the domestic accommodation was, and the south camp where all the workshops and Technical Area was, I think you have probably guessed by now that marching was involved each day from one site to the other and back again. I was billeted in a 12 man room for now, great set of lads whom I was to spend the next        12 months with. Not quite so strict as basic training, but still the early morning parade where we were inspected for clean dress, no designer stubble either, and shoes that had to sparkle. Three ranks, open order march, close order march, flight will move to the left in threes, by the left quick march down the hill. Here we would tag on to the back of the apprentice boys flights who were always led by a pipe band, and off we went to school.

Halton had its own Military Hospital. Mortuary as well, Department of Tropical Medicine and many more I have since forgotten, so if I cut my finger, or needed haemorrhoids removing, this was definitely the place to be.  As it turned out, I did in later years have the need to get admitted to the Princess Mary's Hospital here, for a knee operation, but that's for later. Enquiries at General Office regarding married quarters was hit or miss whether I would get one or not, but was placed on the list meantime.

This course was extremely time consuming for me, midnight oil and all that stuff, where others seemed to sail through the exams easily, but had to keep my head down and ensure I would pass the course. The pub down the road a bit was called the Rose & Crown, a real homely pub, in that it was my second home for just short of six months, while waiting on a quarter. My school education served me well here, even mastered the old slide rule eventually, and even now in 2009, the thing is in a drawer somewhere, didn't have the nerve to chuck it, and it does come out as a curiosity now and then. Wednesday afternoon each week we had sports, me and several others had wanted to play badminton, but as this unit was also host to Malaysian students, it was impossible to get on the courts, so we alternated between tennis and cross country running, the latter was the best bet as we got to run a set route and when finished were allowed to go back to our billets. Tennis was very competitive, so much so we actually signed out the racquets and played on snow covered hard courts on several occasions.

It was once again time to move on to greater things, my wife and family would stay on here in St Eval married quarters, while I trotted off to RAF Halton. Once at Halton, I was informed that once I had completed the course, I would be posted from St Mawgan to a yet unknown RAF Unit. So I set about applying for a married quarter here at Halton.  The criteria for priority on married quarter allocation was still, how many kids, how many years service, which give you a certain amount of points, a bit like a league table I guess. But this points table system has one big flaw, there are in fact 2 league tables, a fixed list and an un-fixed list, the fixed list holds 12 names the un-fixed is limitless, so in essence if you get on the fixed list, you are guaranteed a quarter. If you are on the un-fixed list, someone just posted in after you can with their higher points score, make you drop down the list. Now it does not take a rocket scientist to work out the distinct disadvantages and frustrations with this system, does it?

Six months down the line, progress was being made, a few of our course HEFE1/73 fell behind, failed an exam or two and had to back course joining another crew a month behind us, this was a shame, but at least they got another chance to continue. For my part, it had been a struggle so far, but no failures. Good news was that I had actually been allocated a married quarter on base, with only two or three weeks before the deadline of six months I had to serve on the unit was up. A few of my contemporaries had already moved on base with their families and I was glad to be in the same situation. So to the march in at 80 Tedder Road, RAF Halton this house must have been the worst one I have ever lived in, basically sound and clean, but fitted carpets was not on the agenda, the hallway was concrete flooring (painted gloss black) with a strip carpet down the middle. Had the choice to turn this down, but that would have meant no family joining me, so not really an option. My mother-in-law decided that she would go down to Cornwall, help my wife pack all our worldly goods, collect the wife and kids and bring them back to Halton, just as well as I could not have had time off even if I wanted to, without being back coursed, so was grateful for that. There goes my coal fired warm quarter in Cornwall, and with that my wife actually had to do the march out from there too 

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80 Tedder Road,  RAF Halton, Wendover, Buckinghamshire

The family settled in well at Halton, change of school for my daughter and my wife found herself a part time job doing evenings, packing Askeys wafers and cones, paid good money too. Living in married quarters had its advantages, as we married guys were allowed to walk down to work without joining in the morning parades, unfortunately this was to be the cause of me being put on restrictions (jankers) for failing to attend a haircut parade along with all the others, seemingly we failed to read station routine orders, these were only available back up in the barrack block and we were oblivious to any of this. Funnily enough it was a week before AOC's parade and there were lots of jobs needing doing, like painting the grass green, coal black and other menial tasks. My punishment was 3 days, working in the cookhouse, doing sod all, but make tea and eat during the few hours, then of course appearing at the guardroom in full best uniform at 22.00hrs for inspection by the orderly officer, a doddle all in all, but the one and only time I was charged in my 22 years.

Nothing much in the excitement stakes followed, just hard work and progress even to the extreme in some cases, AND, NAND, NOT, NOR, OR do the expressions mean anything to you? Logic was the name of the game, a new concept brought about by the transistor and microchip. Electrical Theory crammed into the grey matter, to be used only for examination purposes and not out in the real world later.

Before my family moved down here, there was a couple of days out that stick in the memory. a Sunday trip to a Cider House, expedition style and across country walk/climb got us there, unfortunately the return journey was somewhat different, we lost a few of our troop on the way back, probably hitched a lift I think. Another time we were invited to an evening booze up at an American base nearby, Upper Hayford. This was arranged by one of our course members who knew someone there. We arrived by car, stopped at the gates of the camp and asked where we were heading. "SNCO's Mess" pretty good considering we were SAC's, but this was accepted and we arrived and were treated to a night I will remember. Were not allowed to buy any drink, the yanks insisted in picking up the tab, the music at the time was Motown and seemed to blend in with the copious amounts of Bourbon being drunk. Hard work played the biggest part in my year at Halton and it all paid off when I passed all my final exams and became an Air Fitter Electrical and promotion to the much coveted rank of Junior Technician.

All that was left was to find out where my next posting would be, hopefully an operational unit operating fast jets, something to get excited about and build on my experiences, and newly learnt skills. Alas another setback and my dreams and expectations thwarted, PMC in their wisdom allocated me a slot on 8 Squadron Shackletons (AEW) at RAF Lossiemouth, oh joy!.  No time to think about things, arrange to march out of married quarter, leaving all the hard work to my wife as I had an appointment to keep at Lossiemouth. My wife and kids moving back to her mothers in Dundee till we secured a married quarter at RAF Lossiemouth.

1974

Off I go, on a cold and freezing February morning leaving on foot complete with RAF holdall, dressed for the weather in Parka and warm gloves, rail warrant in pocket and duly arrived Wendover rail station. Eventually navigated my way round London and caught the train at Kings Cross, heading for Aberdeen, a long journey and one which I did quite a few times in the next few years. Headed out from Aberdeen station, having managed to sample a few real pints of Scottish ale, how I had missed a decent pint since my venture into England, it felt like I was back home. Elgin and my arrival, what a difference in weather from Halton, sun was out and all the spring bulbs blooming, all this after a few hundred miles of travel.

Luckily the bus station was close to where I had de-trained and the last leg of my journey was complete, dropped off outside RAF Lossiemouth. First stop the Guardroom to report my arrival and collect my blue chit and directions to where I was billeted, Fulmar Block, Cabin No!!!

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Found the cabin (6 man room) but only 4 occupants (all 8 Squadron lads) including your truly, seemed very comfortable too. I was to do my arrival procedure next day, but first bedding store and collected my bedding, that will do for now, bed made up, kit stowed neatly and time for  a recce of my surroundings. Living accommodation, messes and NAAFI were all contained in this one complex, no need to wander around from place to place, very smart.

Eventually the other room inhabitants arrived back from work and introductions were made, a good bunch of blokes they were too. Got lots of info from the lads, locations mainly and with that was taken down the Mess for dinner, good grub and a huge dining hall, filled with what seemed happy people, loads of banter going on between RAF and Matelots, Lossiemouth still clinging on to its Fleet Air Arm personnel who operated Gannets from the base, although a few of them had transferred to Shackletons prior to them being demobbed, a great mix I thought.

After dinner it was time to find the local drinking hole and wash away the 23hours of travel just done previously. Hello, they had a ten pin bowling alley just outside the block and also a bar, that would do me nicely and had my fill, tiredness was catching me up, so off back to my bunk, set my alarm, looked out my uniform ready for the morning and the drag of arriving on the unit. Quick shower and my head hit the pillow and sweet dreams.

It was all too soon,  time to get up and shower etc., change into best blue and start my arrivals procedure. Found out that 8 Squadron dispersal was at the other side of the airport from the accommodation block, transport being provided to get us there. Lots of kites lined up on the flight line I noticed, the UK’s early warning system in all their glory. Found the second line hangar and after enquiring where the leckie offices were, found myself seated in front of my new boss, Mick Spence a Sgt with lots of Shack experience, also met the lads and we all had a chat, explaining what our role was, mainly second line, Primary, Primary Star and deeper servicing, with a first line requirement when needed. I felt that this could be a good start to my career, get the basics under my belt and then move on to jets as soon as I could.

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Settled in well on 8 and before I had time to catch my breath, was told to get down to clothing stores and be measured for my KD (Khaki Denim) tropical uniform, the squadron was heading out to Malta for a NATO exercise and I was one of the chosen ones. Quite a surprise to be going abroad, my first venture in the RAF and thoroughly enjoying the prospect. Soon we were off to RAF Luqa aboard a Hercules aircraft, the Shacks would follow soon after. All the lads were KD’d up and looking forward to some sun and hot weather, after the cold at Lossiemouth, we were not disappointed and the landing was smooth with the back ramp lowered, the heat and the smell of Malta was awesome, something I’ll never forget.

First task, unload all the ground equipment from the Herc before the arrival of the Shacks, think there were only two on their way. We did have a briefing on landing to beware of the sun and heat, cover up and you won’t get sunburnt, well this warning was ignored by yours truly and two lovely blisters one on each shoulder by the end of the day. Had to have a shower to remove my shirt as it would have removed half my skin otherwise. Took a few days before the damage was bearable, as it would have meant being charged, if a visit to the Medical centre was made. You live and learn as they say.

Accommodation was basic here, twelve man rooms and bunk beds, me being allocated top bunk on this occasion. Off to the NAAFI bar to sample the delights, Hop Leaf and Cisk beer, the favoured short was Brandy Sours, sold in double measure, very refreshing and so cheap it was so easy to over indulge. On such an occasion I retired to my bed, fell asleep and almost as soon as I had got my head down was being shaken awake by a corporal and was informed that I was on an early morning starter crew, silly bugger had left a note for me earlier, yes, under my pillow, however I managed to get myself ready and was taken by transport to the flight line, the sun still not making itself visible, the good thing was that the heat was still apparent.

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Spent a fair amount of time on the roof of our block, coolest place to be

I was to be aircraft marshaller and was handed a pair of table tennis bats, Day-Glo red for the use of. I stood there on the pan for what seemed like ages, watching the galley venting smoke from the bacon frying crew, all right for some. It was time now, taxi lamps flashed, an indication that they were ready to roll, did my bit, got the kite on a straight track, listening to the groans from the tyres and brakes as it rolled past, 6 million rivets in close formation, and then with a flourish, pointed my bats to indicate to the jockeys that you are on your own now, and that was my duty done this detachment as far as starter crews went. Off to early breakfast at the mess. Steamy hot inside the mess by now, but really enjoyed my full English after being wakened at such an early time.

                              

Shift times were pretty good, allowing us to go sightseeing in Valetta and other places during our stay. Beaches were lovely and the wine very cheap, made for a very interesting time during our stay, just outside camp there was a café where we ate before hitting the town, steak egg and chips 2/- then off to the village first to get tanked up before the clubs down the Gut (Strait Street) in Valetta, entertainment was superb and so was keeping out of any conflicts with the Navy, their shore patrols were something else, smack on the head with a truncheon and ask questions after.

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Grand Harbour, Valetta

Our 10 day detachment was soon over and we had met a lot of friends from other squadrons along the way, a banjo playing lad with 100 squadron did his part in keeping us entertained. My first overseas trip never to be forgotten and thoroughly enjoyed.

My family moved up to Lossiemouth when I was allocated a quarter and enjoyed the short stay of just over two years, the kids loved the beaches which we walked nearly every weekend. The rest of my tour with 8 Squadron was uneventful and I had picked up lots of tips and experiences along the way. I had submitted a general application for service overseas, my choices being Hong Kong, Malta and Germany, as it transpired I was destined for RAF Laarbruch in Germany, to work on Buccaneers, so a few courses were fitted in, firstly RAF Honington where aircraft type was learned, then off to RAF Wittering to learn how to service and work with “instant sunshine” bombs, which the Buccaneer was armed with when required, well it was the Cold War.

Fully trained up and ready to go, jets at last, although still not fast jets, but  jets all the same. Once again I was on my way, and as before, having to leave my family to arrange a married quarter march out, becoming a habit now.

1976

Left RAF Lossiemouth and the family once more, caught a train from Elgin to Aberdeen then south to Kings Cross in London, a tube journey to the RAF Movements transit camp for an overnight stay. Early morning start next day and on to a coach which took a group of us to Luton Airport for the flight to RAF Wildenrath, Germany, this was the central airport for all RAF personnel arriving in Germany. I had struck up a few acquaintances with the lads who like myself were heading to Laarbruch, so the company was much appreciated on my new adventure. The airline that the RAF used for this shuttle service was Britannia Airways, nothing luxurious but at least an all round improvement to the Hercules, in fact every other flight I ever took was better than the Hercules. Guess what the priority would be on arrival in Germany, darn, you guessed, married quarters. My wife being granted the customary 60 days before having to vacate our Lossiemouth quarter

Touch down at RAF Wildenrath followed by all the Laarbruch bound troops boarding an RAF coach for the 1 hour or so journey to base. It was quite exciting seeing the differences out here, driving on the right hand side of the road, all the European road signs, and everywhere we passed seemed to be very clean and tidy, no takeaway discards to be seen. Some interesting villages we passed through and hard to take in all the new sites. It helped that the weather at the end of May here was the start of the hottest summer for many years. We finally arrived at Laarbruch and made our way to the guardroom to sign in and get directions to our accommodation, we had been allocated a barrack block aptly named the "Swamp" seeing as it had been built on reclaimed swamp land after the second world war, this block was a long way from the guardroom, another lad "Nobby" and myself set out to track down this block by foot, and a passing Land Rover with RAF Police aboard, obviously saw us struggling in the heat, so stopped and offered us a lift, just as well, the half mile trek would have had us break a sweat

The Swamp

The “Swamp” our barrack block

This was to be my home for 3 months or more, sharing with other mainly single airmen, although there were several others married like myself, waiting on a married quarter. Nobby and myself were billeted in the same 12 man room, although only normally 8 beds filled each room. This would do nicely thank you. Time to look around and get the lie of the land as it were. A nice bunch of lads and they filled us in on the latest station do's and don'ts, places to go and general stuff that we needed to know. Music was played in the room, very often as it transpired, the top Hi-Fi's affordable over here, due mainly to the extra money we were paid LOA (Local Oversees Allowance), unfortunately one guy was very keen on playing Leonard Cohen stuff, and very often got all sorts thrown at him for doing so.

Lots of things to ponder, how to arrange money transfers to the UK for my family, what was the married quarter situation like, what would I be working on etc. First things first though, unpack my suitcase and holdall, Get my bed made up, as being an airman of lowly rank meant we had to collect all our bed linen from clothing stores each time we arrived as single airmen at a unit.

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RAF Laarbruch NAAFI

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Snoopy’s Laarbruch

Another alternative was to go down to  Goch, not so far away either, where there were a small contingent of married quarters based. Goch was a nice little town and had probably the best disco/bar that I had been in, music at that time, ABBA, played nonstop. One occasion we dropped in there sticks in my mind, I used to smoke a pipe back then, and was asked by a young German lass. could she have a try, this followed by several others having a go at my tobacco, but made for a nice night of conversation of a sort, although only having been out here a month or so, ordering beer in German was essential learning. Of course all these night outs stopped when my family joined me later. There was a group of us Scaley's (married lads) who tended to hang about together, having a lot more in common, it was easier to gang together. Dennis, Ginge to name a few, Dennis had a car he had driven over in from UK, so we got around a bit. Eventually we all managed to get  married quarters, Dennis a private hiring in Udem, a village nearby, Ginge at Weeze married quarters Magdaburger Strasse, and me in Weeze, 9 Franz Hitze Strasse quarters (I believe they may have since been demolished), a community of mostly RAF personnel but also a few Dutch and German tenants. A very happy community it was too.

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9/2 Franz Hitze Strasse, Weeze

My place of work was in ASF (Aircraft Servicing Flight) primarily working on Buccaneers of 15 and 16 Squadrons, but also Jaguars of 2 Squadron which had just started arriving from RAF Lossiemouth, occasionally also a twin seat Hawker Hunter from station flight, (the Buccaneer trainer). The hangar we worked in was rumoured to be the biggest hangar structure known to have formerly belonged to the Luftwaffe or possibly used as a submarine pen during the second world war,  dismantled from its former base and rebuilt here at Laarbruch, but suffice to say it was massive and held a large number of aircraft. We had our own crew rooms where all the servicing manuals and drawings were held too. Work was carried out Monday to Friday where Friday afternoon started with a clean of the floor, about 12 guys in a line with massive brooms working from one end to the other, took about half an hour to get the job done, then we all retired to our respective crew rooms and prepared for the weekend with a few crates of beer and a game of cards, well organised it was. Our job was second line aircraft servicing, a deeper servicing level to that on individual squadrons known as first line servicing which was basic and just enough to get the aircraft airborne.

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ASF Hangar my place of work 76-79

The work was enjoyable with each aircraft on completion of servicing being ground run on the pan just outside the hangar, this had a blast wall built to protect the trees directly behind. Quite spectacular to watch engine runs here, testing out the wing fold and a multitude of other stuff. As I pointed out earlier, this is what I had joined the RAF to do, a sense of purpose if you like, seeing the end product flying had a high degree of job satisfaction and achievement. So on to family matters and the news that allocation of a married quarter was imminent, weeks away in fact. Back at Lossiemouth things were not as expected, my wife had been getting mail from the families office frequently, reminding her that the 60 days entitlement to stay in the quarter had expired and that she had to move out. Not good when I am elsewhere across the North Sea, but eventually after talking to the Families Officer in Germany, explaining that we had nowhere to move my family to, she agreed and contacted Lossiemouth explaining it would only be a month or so, and they would have a place here for us, and told them to stop the warning mail being sent out. Problem solved, but a worry for my wife while this was going on.

One of the first things I had to do on posting to Germany was to create a bank account with the local bank on base, the Sparkasse bank, my salary was automatically paid in to this account. It appeared that every facility we required was based on the unit, two schools for primary and secondary education, so that was easy enough for my kids when they arrived later. However the married bloke contingent managed to do a bit of sightseeing before the families moved over here, sussing out the best places to visit and what was of interest, here is a photo of myself on one such occasion, visiting a German town, name long forgotten but lots to see, even from a bar prospective.

The pipe still in use then, but fell out of favour on my return to UK in 1979, mainly due to tobacco prices back home compared to buying it in Germany by the half kilo for next to nothing. Most items out here were extremely good prices and we took advantage in our three year stay. Everything from Hi-Fi's to Camera's, too good to resist. especially with the extra overseas allowance we got.  Notice too that I still had dark hair, now nearer white, a good reminder of what has changed after the years that this was taken, hard to believe it was that long ago, tempus fugit and all that.

1977-78

Back to Lossiemouth now, time to get all the chattels packed into boxes and crates, ready for shipping to Germany, quite a big job at the time, but duly collected by the RAF for transit to Germany. Everyone was excited about the move, a new adventure in a new country for at least the next few years, maybe we could afford to buy a new car, it seemed that most folks posted out here, bought new, a great prospect and a means to get around a bit of Europe, although I was not a qualified driver yet, and as it turned out, did not pass my car test till 1982, however my wife had passed her driving test many years back, and was the sole driver when we all came to live in Germany. I was now back at work at Laarbruch, having to leave my family for a few weeks, on their own and my wife to deal with the married quarter march out. So goodbye to Lossiemouth on to Germany and a few years of excitement.

 

Work wise, things were busy, exercises were many but everyone was in the same boat and got on with the job in hand. Everyone or the vast majority of folks bought a new car to be able to enjoy visiting many places in Germany and Holland and we were no different, buying a Chrysler Avenger 1300cc in metallic blue, our very first car. My mate Dennis already with a new car, drove us both through to Rotterdam to collect our new vehicle from Europort and after a short time we were following Dennis back home to Laarbruch, my wife never having driven on the wrong side of the road before. Safely back home and in the next week or so, my wife had to pass a BFG (British Forces Germany) car test which she did first go, so now we were all set to explore outside the Station gates. We followed our flat mate and his wife in buying a large 6 berth frame tent and ventured far and wide. Cochem on the Rhine was a good place to go, the free wine tasting went down a treat and saw us visit often. Occasionally we would load the car with all the gear and visit a nice camp site just inside the Dutch border, they had everything that you could need, and the kids were free to explore and play till they were tired out.

I think it was in 78 that both camping families decided to take a holiday in Spain, driving down there and camping at the Nautica Almata camp site, on the Costa Brava. First stop on arrival was the supermarket, stock up on cheap booze for the evening cooling off suppers. The next day we were introduced to the “Mistral” not a nice experience at all, temperature plummeted. Storm force winds and accompanied by rain, was not good for tents staked into sandy soil. I had wondered when looking back, why folks had dug their ground sheets in and had bricks securing the tent ground flaps.

 

Our tent had survived without damage, unfortunately my mates identical tent had a frame snap off. A trip down to the local village, a local garage owner welded it together for him for a few pesetas, this was the next day, so for one night we all 8 of us shared our 6 berth tent. Good fun really, all in the camping spirit of things. We only saw the kids for breakfast and mealtimes, they were swimming and playing on the beach mostly. The rest of the holiday was fine, we found a local transport café for evening meals, and after a few days we actually got paper table cloths to eat off. Squid and Chips mainly, but a bargain at the prices they charged.

The family tent where we spent a lovely two weeks holiday. Lovely and bronzed we headed back home to Germany, keeping in convoy most of the way back but got separated somewhere in France, eventually meeting up at  a garage somewhere near home. A mobile phone would have been a godsend on this occasion, but we were still not in the technological era we are in today. Shortly after returning home and on a night shift at Laarbruch, I got a phone call from the RAF Police, telling me we had a burglary take place in our flat in Weeze, so off home to find out what had happened. Everyone was OK and being cared for by my neighbour, seemingly the burglar had got in through the veranda door, which had been left slightly ajar to air the house as it had just been repainted by the landlord that day. My wife had been awakened to greet the guy, before screaming for help., he had legged it back out the veranda door along with about 200 marks which was for the family shopping. I heard a few weeks later that the commotion had wakened a few neighbours who had chased the burglar, but he got away.

To cut a long story short, my wife was not happy to stay in the flat after that experience, I had been put on permanent days for a while, till we were allocated a married quarter on base, a solution that had to be done. We missed all the gang from our Weeze flat, and had to settle in to being tied to base. This had its drawbacks as well, mainly not being able to escape the siren alerts for station exercises, but also some upsides, no need to travel to the NAAFI, it was on the doorstep now, and of course easy access to the many clubs.  I used to meet up with my wife some lunchtimes at the Corporals Club and enjoy a beer and something to eat before returning to work.

Laarbruch Married Quarters

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