Celtic Illumination, part 134, Hev Yew Gotta Loight Boy?
Eastern radar was at RAF Watton. Watton was in Norfolk and as you all know, or at least do now, Norfolk is part of East Anglia. One image I suppose that might spring to mind when thinking of East Anglia would be The Hay Wain by John Constable. For me myself when I think of East Anglia I think of Americans because the place is heaving with them. Very strange when you would approach someone and expect to be greeted with an accent similar to the singing postman performing “Hev Yew Gotta Loight Boy?” and instead someone would say something like, “Have a nice day ya’ll.”
I first met American forces in North Welsh Wales. They provided a pararescue service. This was not a half-cocked rescue service, far from it. The USAF pararescue were quite similar to the RAF’s mountain rescue, except they were not as mad. They responded to any American military personnel in difficulty and would always be in a race with us to get to the casualty. They used huge Jolly Green Giants, the CH-3E helicopters, and would parachute from them to get to the personnel needing assistance. It was a huge effort and we greatly admired them, but one thing they didn’t have was local knowledge and that often slowed them up. By the way, for the rubberneckers out there, a pair of CH-3E’s were the first helicopter’s to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, a journey which took just under thirty one hours and saw them refuel in mid-air, nine times.
For us, if we rescued anyone, we were grateful if they bought us a few beers but the pararescue guys expected any military personnel they rescued to get a tattoo of a green foot on their buttocks. In a way I’m glad that wasn’t widely known through our lot, for I would hate to think what we would have asked people to get tattooed on their arse.
The second time I met the Americans was again at Valley. It was a Saturday evening and a F1-11 was in trouble. He was coming in for an emergency landing. It was a wonderful sight. Night time was drawing in and the lights from the houses and buildings in Holyhead sparkled, like bright diamonds on a dark cloth. The F1-11 had an engine fire and when we managed to spot him visually it was an amazing sight. There must have been a one hundred foot stream of flame behind the aircraft and I remember thinking, as it came in on a direct line for our runway, that if he was carrying any bombs, or heavy munitions, Holyhead might not exist for very much longer if this all went wrong. The aircraft landed safely and the fire brigade were all over it.
At first light, the following morning, a Hercules transport aircraft arrived and a new engine for the F1-11 was produced. The engine was replaced and the new one tested out. Now I don’t know who was to blame but if you’ve ever seen an F1-11 up close, you will know that this is quite a substantial aircraft. This fellow needed to give the new engine a full test before attempting to fly it, so he gradually brought the power up and engaged reheat; you know when you see the two barrels of flames flushing out of the rear of an aircraft.
The area it was parked in was not a specialised area, however the team had managed to satisfactorily test the new engine and announced that the aircraft could fly, the only problem now was what to do with the huge hole in the taxiway that the F1-11’s new engine had gouged out. By mid-afternoon, on the Sunday, the Americans had gone and I was impressed. Now in East Anglia I found myself surrounded by them. It was only when I saw the map. That map, the one that shows all the military bases in the UK, even the ones that aren’t there, that I realised I was looking at airstrip one.
Well done to those of you who know what I am talking about. Airstrip one is the name of the Oceanian province in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Suddenly it all made sense, not the Americans but Orwell’s message. The missions flown from these USAF bases are far too numerous to mention and cover a great deal of the globe. It didn’t mean that much to most of the fellows at Eastern who really only had two interests in the USAF. One was to get flights in the refuelling tankers, that operated from Mildenhall, and the other was rugby. Despite the fact that the USAF were always very welcoming and hosted fantastic parties we never were attracted to, or targeted, American service women. They were no different to your standard English lady and there was no reason why we should not pursue these young ladies but we didn’t.
One fellow did and amazed us all with his clever plan. He bought himself out of the RAF. He then married an American service woman and took American citizenship. Next he became a local American serviceman and performed the exact same job as we did except he was now getting paid three times as much as we were, as he was considered to be in an overseas posting. Crazy world.
As for the rugby and the Americans, like their pararescue efforts, I have to say I admired their determination. The Americans seem to believe that American football is the one and only true sport in the world. Every time we would take to the field I was slightly embarrassed, as they would go through a warm up procedure designed, it felt like, to intimidate us. I could never believe the growling and snarling that would come at us and just waited for the first scrum where many of the poor American service men, despite their size, would crumple and die.
We never went in for pre match pep talks or the like, although I do remember one time at Watton, Tim Lort decided to psych us up before a match and we wrecked the metal lockers in the changing rooms . Of course the Americans were not natural at rugby and we had such stars as John Hughes, Chidge, Jon Hampson and Tim Lort ,to name but a few, so hats off to the Americans. We loved going into their clubs afterwards because they piled the drink high and sold it cheaply.
It was at Mildenhall where we arrived to play a game of rugby. It was too cold or too wet to play. The pitch would have been ruined so we all retreated to the bar for some drinks. Believe it or not this was quite a common thing. I once went to Cambridge to play against an army side and was quite surprised when the regimental sergeant major strolled onto the pitch and told the referee to stop the game, it was raining. We were taken off the field and allowed to wait in the lee of a hanger until the rain had ceased. Then we were allowed to go back on to the pitch. How daft was that?
As you know, when you put enough drink down the throat of a rugby player they start to sing and this day was no different to any other. Tim took to the stage and began to sing. Unfortunately some of the ditties contained very racist remarks. I shall not repeat them, for I know what it’s like to read defamatory remarks about one’s race, even in jest. Tim wasn’t, nor isn’t, a racist, we just didn’t think and the resulting punch up would have been perfect if Burt Reynolds had turned up and joined in.
Of course rugby wasn’t the be all and end all of our lives. Beer was. Our natural enemies were the cricketers and the soccer team. Cricket was boring but soccer was mind numbingly ridiculous and we believed it really was a girl’s game. However the football club was having its annual dance and I decided that it was time to find myself a girlfriend. Catherine and I had drifted apart, we still wrote to each other but it was too much of an effort to hold a relationship together over such distances. I was still seeing the young lady from Warrington, in fact there was talk of an engagement however, in my defence, a ring was never produced.
Most fellows will preen themselves before attending a function and I was no different. Some chaps like to leave a good few shirt buttons undone to show off a mat of hair signifying, in their minds, the inner animal. Some wear tight clothing, some drench themselves in aftershave. I on the other hand knew that my best features were my legs. It’s no easy task having the loveliest legs in Ireland but for this function I decided to maximise their appeal. I rolled up my trousers legs to the knees. I then began to worry that the effect of two bare legs might be far too much for the average girl to be exposed to so I pulled on one wellington boot.
I kid you not; this is how I attended the annual football function. You may think that I probably spent the evening in a corner hugging a beer when in fact the moment I walked into the function, the prettiest woman in the room, if not the world, decided that I was to be hers, not just for the evening, but for life.