Celtic Illumination, part 177, Memories are made of this.
There was some sort of glitch in the tax evasion scheme we lived under in Germany that allowed a double tax saving should you buy furniture in Holland. I could never understand the scheme, which may have been an urban myth, I’m not sure. At the time a new twist on the standard three piece suite was developing. This was the three, two, one, set up. A three seater couch, a two seater and a single chair, rather than the standard three seater couch and two chairs. This new European design of course was not just a massive threat to every living room in England but to the very class system itself.
Even today, you can Google yourself in to Debrett’s guide http://www.debretts.com/etiquette/british-behaviour/t-to-z/u-and-non-u.aspx you will see that you can have a sofa, but never a settee, which of course will go in the drawing, or sitting, room but never the lounge or front room. I mean it’s daft enough to go on to suggest that you should never go to the toilet, but you can go to the loo, or the lavatory, where you could use your spectacles to view your image in the looking glass, not your glasses to look at yourself in the mirror. I suppose you think it strange that a King, such as myself would be laughing at such ridiculous rules, but it’s the people who believe this hogwash and make and follow these guidelines that are ridiculous. And if you think you are clever and want to put me, a King, on the spot, I suppose you want to know if I sit on a settee, or a sofa, or even a couch. Well; I can tell you in all honesty that the King of Ireland sits on his arse.
So, vent over, I could never understand how saving money on fifteen hundred pounds that I had never intended to spend, quite similar to the new car scheme, would benefit me. You were supposed to go to a hypermarket in Venlo, Holland, and buy your three two one, where you saved the Dutch tax, as you were exporting the item to Germany, and then you didn’t pay the German import duty because you were British Forces. Whether it was all too difficult for me or whether I wasn’t really interested, I’m not sure, perhaps a bit of both but when our upstairs neighbour invited us up for a drink to see his new three two one combo we nipped up to have a gander.
My first impression was that it was huge, well; in comparison to the size of the room it was in. For you couldn’t really move about in the room, especially as they had bought a large tiled top coffee table. I was my usual cantankerous self and when I heard that the fellow had spent three hundred pounds on the coffee table I laughed at him and explained that I thought the whole scheme was a rip off. In fact I had seen a set of sturdy coffee table legs for sale in my local supermarket and assured this fellow that I could build a similar coffee table for twenty quid. He accepted my proposal and guaranteed that he would come and watch me make the table.
I bought the legs and asked Irene to choose the tiles, I would get the wood from the squadron stores. I was learning that as long as I kept a decent supply of maps flowing into stores then those guys would get me almost anything that I wanted, that was available, through the system. It didn’t take long for my piece of plywood, cut to size, to turn up. I collected it from the store room and brought it into ops where I laid it against a wall. We were sending a couple of aircraft off to join with a large formation led by The Cod Squad. A television crew from the Man Alive programme were on Wildenrath getting footage for a programme they were making about the cold war.
The guys were laughing and joking as they approached the ops desk to brief the auth on their mission and sign for their aircraft. Because we were supporting 19 Squadron there was much banter about how we would probably have to show them up and fly the mission for them. One of the crews, Dick Mott and Ian Johnson were larking about when Ian noticed the plywood I had got for my coffee table. He asked me if I could get him two, eight by four, sheets of plywood so that he could build a model train set-up for his boys. I assured him that it would not be a problem and would have the wood waiting for him on his return.
Within twenty minutes I had the two full sheets of plywood leaning against the wall of the ops room, as requested. There were six aircraft involved in the mission. The cameramen had removed the drogue parachute that was used to assist with braking on landing, and positioned a camera in the space so that they had a rear facing camera in the lead aircraft. They were satisfied with the footage they had got with various formations and low flying shots and so four of the aircraft returned to base. As you can imagine we were constantly kept informed of the mission and the occasional Falcon Code would have been slipped in.
The aircraft with the camera was now to fly straight and level and of course low, our guys would follow along and perform various manoeuvres. The main shot they wanted was a partial complete roll and then to pull away, so rather than a complete three hundred and sixty degree role they were to perform a two seventy roll and then pull away. This was all done at low level where the phantom was regarded as being somewhat nose heavy. Life continued as normal in the ops room until we were called on our management frequency. With contact established the message came through that our aircraft had gone in and there was no spiders.
I looked at the auth and asked “Spiders?” He held his right hand out, holding it like a claw, with his fingers pointing downwards. “No spiders,” he said. “No parachutes.” Within seconds the wing commander was in the ops room and told me to secure the building. I closed all the airlock doors and bolted them. The only person I was to allow in was the station commander. It was a very tense time as the camera aircraft circled the area reporting the position of the crash. I found the situation very surreal for hadn’t I only been speaking, face to face, to the guys an hour ago and I had been joking with them on the radio perhaps ten minutes before. The station commander arrived and I could see how badly it was affecting them. Not only had they lost colleagues and friends but now they had to go and see their families and inform them of the loss.
The aircraft was XV418 and the enquiry, which was helped with the film of the incident, stated that from initiating the role to impact was eight seconds. However getting to the point of no return, from where they tried to recover the aircraft, would have been four or five seconds. So from realising that they were about to crash to the actual impact would have been somewhere in the region of three seconds. The feeling among most of the aircrew was that they wouldn’t have suffered much. I remember one pilot saying to me that if you were to get smacked in the face with two tons of metal at three hundred miles per hour you wouldn’t know a lot about it and it would all be over very quickly indeed.
It was a horrible time and although two things most squadron guys would have hated would have been wearing our best uniforms and going to church the whole squadron turned out for the funerals. The day after the crash the boss took every aircraft out and flew past the crash site as a mark of honour and for quite some time the squadron was subdued. Life continued. I returned the two sheets of plywood to stores and couldn’t help but think of the poor wee children. Irene was about to give birth to our first child and it sort of rammed home the fact that perhaps my gung-ho days might be over and the risk taking might have to take a bit of a back seat.
Talking of seats and coffee tables I eventually asked the fellow down from upstairs and did build my coffee table in front of him. The only tools I had were, in fact the two items any experienced engineer in the air force will tell you can get any job done, a GFH and a GFS, a great fecking hammer and a great fecking screwdriver. And as for wood glue, ha! I used Araldite, which as you all know is a high performance, heavy duty, durable epoxy adhesive but most importantly it was free, if you got it through squadron stores. It didn’t take me long to make the coffee table which I can assure you, compared well to the shop bought version. Believe it or not, if I look to my right as I type, this very moment, the table legs I used that day are still here beside me. They hold a dolls house now and a lot of memories.