Celtic Illumination, part 125, Uncle Jesse, Jed and me
Eastern Radar was located at RAF Watton in Norfolk. My first impression of Watton was that it was very similar to Shawbury. The station was located outside the small rural village of Watton. Mature trees and lots of solid red bricked buildings. Unlike Valley it was very quiet, Watton was a disused airfield. The only operational thing there was Eastern Radar and a small support network. At one time it had been a large operational unit so many of the facilities were still used. For example our parent unit was RAF Honnington, which was the UK base for the Buccaneer aircraft. 809 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, flew Buccaneers and used Honington as their home base while operating from the Ark Royal. Subsequently many of the Navy families were living in married quarters at Watton.
So from a work point of view there was a handful of support staff, clerks, cooks and a copper, but on the domestic side there was quite a large contingent. My accommodation was brilliant. We lived in the old sergeant’s mess, Watton Lodge, so all the facilities were under one roof. We all had our own single room, which were quite decently proportioned, with the mess and the bar downstairs. It was quite pleasant having a bar in your living room.
I had been given a room and had settled in, for my first evening I went to the bar to meet some of the chaps. The first person I met was Jed Eddyvene. Jed was quite a character and as we settled in for a bit of a session I was quite amazed that the barmaid refused to serve us. The barmaid was an elderly lady. She had brought a soft armchair in behind the bar and would sit there eating chocolate bars and reading Mills and Boon novels. She would only allow you to have two pints of beer after which she refused to serve you. She was not the most popular person at Watton and I do remember that quite a few complaints were made and she eventually was moved to a more suitable position.
Jed and I became good friends and found that we had similar interests. Basically we liked home brewing so we discovered that Watton Lodge, where we lived, had a cellar. Jed and I set up a home brew system in the cellar and were quite pleased with ourselves as it was our little secret. We were only brewing wine and beer but I was intent on building a still to produce some poteen. People would always wonder how Jed and I would be stretched out in the television room, rotten drunk, when it was obvious that the bar hadn’t been open for hours. You can take a good ol boy out of Warrenpoint but you can’t take Warrenpoint out of a good ol boy.
Jed wasn’t a complete waste of space he did have other interests which he tried to get me to become involved in. Jed was a decent glider pilot and encouraged me to go flying with him. I remember my first glider flight. The immediate rush of power as we were winched up then released. It was so quiet. Jed talked me though every move that he made, however I was very uncomfortable as I had no control. I could sense myself looking for a throttle and when we banked, I found myself wanting to climb up the wing, as there was such a sensation of falling.
After a few flights I did begin to enjoy it, it was so relaxing just to float about in silence, but the lack of control and power didn’t do it for me, so luckily for the world of gliding I never engaged fully with the sport.
As for the work side of things, it was very much the same as Valley except worse. At Valley I found myself being drawn towards the night flying shed where I could hide away from the bull shit. There were not many hiding places at Eastern. On my arrival interview I stated that I wanted to apply for sergeant aircrew, which didn’t go down too well with the senior failed fast jet pilot. Hadn’t been there five minutes and I already wanted to leave. I was told that as he didn’t really know me I should give it a few months and prove myself to him, show that I had what it takes to become aircrew. The fact that I had already, successfully, been through the officer and aircrew selection, made no difference to him. He would have to write a report on me and recommend me, he wanted to be accurate.
At Eastern was the most embarrassing position one could ever dream, off, well there were two actually, the first would be operating the height finder device. If a shaved monkey could answer a telephone and write things down then a dead, shaved, monkey could operate a height finder. I was humiliated beyond belief. The position was so boring that the operator would normally fall asleep. And don’t forget this was air traffic, you had to endure training on the height finder.
I found all of the positions quite boring, every day was the same, however rubberneckers will disagree with me, they will say that when fifty F1-11’s would launch from Bentwaters and Woodbridge, that this was an exciting time. Others would say this never happened because the F1-11’s were at Lakenheath Bentwaters and Woodbridge had A10’s. Shows how interested I was. The other boring and humiliating duty was to man the gate.
The main entrance gate had a manually operated barrier. Alongside it was a little glass topped hut. We had to operate the barrier and allow vehicles to either enter or leave the unit. This caused a great deal of discussion over saluting. If an officer presented himself before you in civilian clothes did you salute him? Were you saluting the person or the rank? I think that because such a discussion existed, it shows that we had absolutely no respect for most of the failed fast jet pilots. I of course would have been the best turned out airman at the unit, presenting the most military of salutes to each and every one of our great leaders.
I realised that if my still was discovered that I might get into a little trouble so perhaps I was lucky that it was found. The sergeant in charge of the Lodge decided to undertake the investigation himself. I think he was a great fan of Starsky and Hutch. Luckily for me his trade was ‘steward’ so he would, most probably, need help finding his elbow, never mind a highly organised gang of moonshiners.
One day I was enjoying a very leisurely lunch. I had the afternoon free and was wondering what to do. Other chaps left the dining table till there was just myself and a fellow called Rick Stocks. “Fancy coming in to town?” asked Rick. “Sure,” I said. We agreed to meet in the foyer in half an hour and walk in to Watton town. I got changed, came down to the foyer in my civvies and found Rick waiting for me. “What have you got to do in Watton?” I asked, as we began our walk to the village. “I’ve got to put my fountain pen in for servicing,” said Rick, as a matter of fact, and I immediately knew that I had found a friend for life.