Celtic Illumination, part 180, Dear diary.
The only drawback in living at Erkelenz was the duty room. One flat had been given over to the community and was used for the wives and children mainly. The smallest bedroom was the duty room. It had a single bed, table, chair and telephone. We took it in turns to man the room. Everyone had to cover this duty for twenty four hours. If it was a working day then you went there after your shift, but at the weekend you were in there for the full twenty four hours. You could nip out occasionally and grab something to eat. There was a huge diary where you had to sign on and off duty; you also had to report any incident.
The purpose of the duty was in case Wildenrath was put on alert or exercise. The duty person would have to go around and inform everyone and get them off to camp. The rota was compiled by the CAO, the civilian admin office. As the name suggests these guys were civilians, but worked for the SWO and were so useless they all could have become successful air traffic controllers. I took over the duty one day and began to read the diary to see what had been happening. One of our squadron guys had written that he was about to leave for a weekend away when someone from the CAO pitched up at his flat to inform him that he was to man the duty room.
He wrote that in his opinion the CAO had as much coordination as a cat on a hot tin roof and were as much use as a one legged man in an arse kicking competition. Another entry I remember was from a fellow who said he had gone home to grab some lunch and Princess Diana’s wedding was on the telly. His wife said that she would like to be in her shoes. This chap wrote that he replied that he would like to be in her knickers. When you took over the duty you had to unlock the telephone, call Wildenrath and say, “This is Erkelenz with a communications check.” They would acknowledge and call you back with a similar statement. This would now be recorded in the diary as ‘Communications checks carried out, all serviceable,’ along with the time of the call.
That day I had been messing about with my direct boss Tony Bown. Tony was a navigator. We had been on exercise and he had been sitting in the back of a phantom in a HAS for hours and was bored. He fired up his HF radio and contacted North Luffenham in the UK and asked them to patch him through the telephone system to operations on 92 squadron. For this sort of procedure all you had to remember was to say ‘over’ after you had finished talking as the fellow or lumpy jumper, in North Luffenham would flick the switch so the other person could talk. By using lots of falcon codes no one would ever know what we were talking about.
I thought that to write communications check for using a telephone was a bit of an overstatement so had a whizz of an idea. I started with the lowest duty rank on Wildenrath and wrote that I had contacted the duty airman and that the communications check was carried out satisfactorily. I then, one minute later, said I had contacted the orderly Corporal. One minute after that, the orderly Sergeant then the orderly officer and so on. I worked my way through the system right up to the Queen herself. I hoped it might raise a smile for those who followed me and would read the diary.
It was a Friday afternoon at about a quarter to five in the evening. The telephone rang and I answered it. It was the SWO’s pet Sergeant, who informed me that I was to report to the SWO first thing on Monday morning in my best uniform. I wasn’t aware of it but this was a standard ploy to worry the crap out of people who would spend all weekend wondering what they were in trouble for. Accordingly on the Monday morning I pitched up outside the SWO’s office. There was a line of us, about eight or nine but only three others from the squadron so we couldn’t think of anything that connected us all, if indeed we were connected at all.
I was marched in first and knew, from the atmosphere, that I was in for one hell of a beasting. I was brought to attention about two feet in front of the SWO’s desk. He sat behind it as stiff as a ramrod. His pet Sergeant paced around, glaring at me, while the SWO pointed at the open diary on his desk. The SWO couldn’t believe that I had actually contacted all these people. I informed him that I hadn’t, that it was intended to be funny. I now got the standard “Funny! I’ll give you funny my lad.” As far as the SWO was concerned I had insulted all these fine people and would now be taken to each of them and would apologise. While I was doing this he would consider whether or not he would have my posting cancelled and send me back to the UK because I wasn’t the sort of fellow he wanted on his station.
An airman was wheeled in and I was told to apologise to him. I did. Then a Corporal. This was way off the stupidity scale and I wondered if we would actually get to Buckingham palace. For some reason I was reminded of the ‘Old Sam’ monologue from Stanley Holloway from years hence.
The orderly sergeant worked in SHQ as a pen pusher so I was to be taken to SHQ where I could apologise to him then we would go to the family’s office where I could apologise to the family’s officer, who had been the orderly officer. When I say I was taken what actually happened was that I was taken out to the road and the pair of them marched me to SHQ, which was a good mile away, if not more. Most of Wildenrath were arriving for work and when they saw me marching down the road being screamed at by the SWO and his pet Sergeant they quickly changed direction.
The screaming continued in SHQ which perhaps was just being used as an excuse to remind people they were in the military. The poor old Sergeant probably didn’t know what I was apologising for but played along as he didn’t want to get engulfed with the military whirlwind that was going on in front of him. I was then taken over to the family’s office where I was brought to attention outside. The pet Sergeant circled me roaring and shouting for all he was worth, while the SWO went inside to arrange things. I was marched in and was a little disappointed when the family’s officer joined in with the beasting and threatened to take my flat away from me.
I was well used to beastings but this one was going on for far too long. Outside again the SWO and his Sergeant were trying to work out who the next person I should apologise to should be when I saw a little green mini approach. It was the boss, J R. He got out and came toward us. The SWO marched himself off and saluted the boss. The pet Sergeant came close and growled in my right ear. People often say that SWO’s are God but that morning things did not go the SWO’s way. J R told me to get in the mini, which I did. The SWO did not look happy and instructed his pet Sergeant that they had finished with me and would now return to the guard room where they would deal with the others.
J R drove away and asked me what had happened. I explained the situation. He was smiling but asked if any other of the squadron chaps were standing outside the SWO’s office. I told him that a couple of his troops were there. Once back on the squadron J R told me to send the aircrew driver over to get his guys and told me that he would telephone the SWO and explain things to him. Some months later I was at Erkelenz and had been washing my car. The SWO and his pet Sergeant were wandering about and came over to me asking if there was a bin close by. I pointed out a row of bins and thought no more about it but once they left the area I went over to the bins as I thought I recognised what they had dumped. It was the diary they had thrown away, despite all the regulations for keeping official documents, no matter what was written in them, for certain amount of time in case of any inquiry or the like. I was sorely tempted to recover the diary and hand it on to the police but decided against it, I couldn’t guarantee that J R would be there every time my ass needed saving.