Celtic Illumination, part 153, The Playboy of the Western World
As you can imagine there were many squadrons in the air force. With hindsight, it is now possible to understand why the double top secret cabal, organising my life so that I would end up as the leading Master Candle Maker in the world, the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland would send me to 92 Squadron. 92 Squadron are the most famous squadron in the Royal Air Force. Many people might think of 633 Squadron, or 617 Squadron, The Dam Busters. 633 Squadron never existed and the Dam Busters are famous because of the movie about their daring raid. Statistically, 92 Squadron have the highest number of ‘kills’ throughout the whole air force.
Not only were they fiercest fighters, they were the party animals of the whole air force. During the Second World War, 92 were based at Biggen Hill, where I was trying to get back to for aircrew selection. A couple of them had powerful high speed, motor cars and as rationing was in force, they used the aircraft fuel to power their motors. They had a ‘friend’ at Innsworth who made sure that as many personnel as possible, posted on to 92, had some musical ability so that the squadron could provide their own dance band.
During the day they were responsible for providing air cover for London and therefore saw the most action. In the evening they raced into London and partied hard. The police could never catch them as their cars were too powerful but eventually tracked them down to Biggen Hill. They tried to interview the men but ended up drunk as Lords and divulging the police plan to catch them. In fact the squadron was so notorious, command sent a psychologist to evaluate the men. At the end of his evaluation he determined that the squadron did party hard, but it had no effect on their fighting abilities.
The squadron members became known as ‘The Playboys’ and I can assure you when I arrived on 92 Squadron nothing had changed. The squadron badge showed a cobra entwined around some maple leaves. The term ‘Playboy’ wasn’t used so much in my day; we were known as The Cobra’s, although we would refer to the cobra as ‘Hissing Sid’. An air force crest is as important as an army regiments colours. We were lucky that our motto, Aut Pugna Aut Morere, meaning ‘Either fight or die,’ was a nice subtle phrase. In fact the most well know motto in the forces may have been the SAS’s ‘Who dares wins,’ but I think ours was a bit more to the point. Our sister squadron at Wildenrath was 19 Squadron, The Cod Squad. Their motto was, Possunt quia posse videntu, They can because they think they can. Which would you prefer?
Like ‘The Playboys’ we brought key figures onto the squadron. These people would have been invited as honorary members. Many people would apply to come on the squadron but not everyone made it. I’m not sure why the RC padre was adopted by the squadron. He was a laugh and a half. In fact he ordered a Scot, Donald Mac Donald, and myself to attend his rooms in the mess so that we could watch a video about the pope. As he was an honorary member we had to attend. It’s the first time I had ever drank Glava. I remember the priest raising his glass and toasting the squadron, “The best liqueur in the world for the best squadron.”
I can’t remember much about getting home that evening. Another honorary member was Squadron Leader Graham Van Ray. Graham was a dentist; in fact he was the senior dentist on camp and the best dentist I had ever come across. I could now see how certain individuals were chosen as it was fantastic getting priority service from such a brilliant man. Another fellow who was an honorary member was Squadron Leader George Lee. George was a Dublin man. In fact George was regarded as one of the best pilots in the air force, if not the best.
He was a ‘hairy arse,’ which means that he came up through the ranks. He began life as a mechanic and then moved on to aircrew. One of his achievements was to become the world champion glider pilot, on three consecutive occasions. He was also the fellow who took Prince Charles up for his first glider flight, it would seem that Charles likes to have Irishmen around when he’s flying, just saying.
For a wee Irish fellow like myself to meet and chat with someone like George was such an honour. Not only was I proud to meet him and work with him but can you imagine the boost he gave to one’s confidence. In the world of air traffic control, among all the failed fast jet pilots, I was a Paddy. A thick little Irishman, who constantly had to prove myself and listen to Irish jokes. Now here I was on the most famous squadron in the air force, with perhaps the best pilot in the air force, a fellow Paddy who told me that he had been though exactly the same as I had and that I should never give up.
In fact I began to notice that there was an absence of Irish jokes and references to me being Irish. The aircrew on the squadron were split into two flights A and B flights. The guy in charge of A flight, and deputy squadron commander was a Belfast man, Squadron Leader Ron Shimmons. The senior engineering officer was a Dublin man and with George Lee on board I don’t think there was anyone stupid enough to start aiming Irish jokes at me.
The job was fantastic and hugely important. To ease me into the position I had been told to work in the evenings. One evening a mechanic came in. It was Chris Baily the fellow who had punched me in the rugby club. The ops room was managed by two people the authorising officer and the ops guy, me. Chris went to the auth. “Is it okay if I take this fellow outside and show him around one of the birds?” he asked. The auth nodded and I followed Chris outside. The moment we left the building he stopped and reached out his hand while apologising.
I had forgotten about the incident and gladly accepted his hand. Each aircraft had its own hangar. A hardened aircraft shelter, or HAS. All the aircraft shelters and the operations building were bomb proofed and people often remarked that they could withstand a direct hit from a one thousand pound bomb. That’s not the sort of thing a fellow with my vivid imagination wants to hear. Chris took me into an aircraft shelter where a phantom was being repaired. I noticed one fellow standing up on the tail, dancing.
Seems that they would tune the aircraft radio into a popular radio station and provide themselves with some entertainment as they worked. I was told to get up and in to the aircraft. Now I was shown all the major controls and weapon systems. The various dials and gauges were explained to me and I was shown the missiles and guns. Now things were really falling in to place and I could begin to understand what the aircrew were talking about. Which is more, they joked, that they could say for me.
As it is possible to listen to almost any radio frequency we had our own codes which only we knew about. These were the ‘Falcon Codes’. A leftover from the Vietnam War, when the American pilots wanted to report back to base with a certain amount of secrecy and clarity. The code would be written by the squadron using them so no one else, outside the squadron, would know the meaning of the codes. Google Falcon Codes if you want a laugh. One person would say Falcon, so you knew to use the code and then they would state a number, when you would refer to your list, to understand what they were saying. We had our own management frequency so that we could speak to each of our aircraft from the operations desk.
The radio would crackle. “Cobra, Mike Lima seven two.” “Seven two go ahead.!” The message, or information, would then be passed and answered or acknowledged. But to finish the aircrew would normally say “Falcon two six nine.” People all over the station, in air traffic, on our sister squadron, in fact anyone listening would be kicking themselves, wondering what ‘Falcon two six nine’ meant. Quite simple really, it meant, what’s the use of having a radio if you can’t speak fecking English?”