Celtic Illumination, part 194, And on the third day.
Christmas was a really great time to be in Germany, apart from the traffic fines. I wish I had been there as a child as they really seemed to throw themselves into the spirit of it all. I can remember going to watch a carnival procession in the centre of Erkelenz and was wondering why people were throwing handfuls of sweets at me. It was a wee while before I realised they were giving them away as part of their tradition. They did go some way toward attaining the image on the standard Christmas card. It was such a magical time of the year, even for the grownups.
We had various groups and services at Wildenrath that provided all sorts of amenities. There was even a caravan park down in the Black Forest region that was for hire at very reasonable rates. A large gang from the squadron descended on the caravan park one winter weekend. I remember the tradition was to build a bar, at the end of your caravan, outside, with snow. The wine, schnapps and beer would then be set in to the bar and people would mill about moving from one caravan to another chatting and getting drunker by the minute.
We had our own tradition on the squadron for Christmas. We still would have to have battle flight sitting at the end of the runway, two fully armed phantoms, one from each squadron with their engines ticking over ready to scramble. Airborne in less than five minutes, at the border within twenty minutes.
On Christmas day those of us married and not working would go onto camp and into the single accommodation where we would grab a couple of the lads and take them back to our house for lunch. It didn’t matter if you knew them or not as long as they were on the squadron they would be welcome. One Christmas we had a couple of single lads at our house and in the early evening were informed that there would be an informal squadron party at one of the flats. We went over and joined in with the madness.
I do remember that on entering the flat the guy who lived there approached me and asked what I would like to drink. I said that I didn’t mind what he gave me to drink. This was quite a dangerous thing to do and say. Drinks cabinets were full of strange and exciting drinks that may have been given or bought, probably for their novelty value. This is how I ended up pouring tequila into my windscreen washers; someone had brought a bottle to our house. As no one in their right mind would normally drink the stuff I felt that I had found a good use for it rather than pour it down the sink. This time I ended up with a pint of pernod and blackcurrant. Rather than risk the ridicule of the others in the party I accepted the pint and began to drink it.
I was told that not only did I finish the pint of pernod and black but that I was given a second and although I didn’t finish the second pint, I had a good stab at it. I understand a small group brought me back to my flat where I was laid out in the living room and they sat around drinking. The following morning, I shall; not say on waking but on regaining consciousness I went to the bathroom and sat myself down on the toilet. I was feeling really, really, rough but a sudden terror began to descend on me. I think it was my feet I noticed first. Thankfully they were still at the ends of my legs but each had a single wound, right on the centre of the foot.
I looked at the back of my hands and each hand had a wound, like the feet. Stigmata. I knew I was Jesus Christ. Apart from the fact that I had just had a birthday I actually did believe that I had stigmata. For those heathens among you, stigmata is a term used, normally by Roman Catholics, to describe body marks in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. Thankfully this was way before I found out that I was King of Ireland, I don’t think I could have coped with being both. Irene had a good laugh as I explained that she was now the wife of Jesus and should act accordingly. What had happened was that the guys who had brought me back to my flat thought I was play acting, that I really wasn’t unconscious.
They had pushed lit cigarettes into my hands and feet to see if I would react. I would have thought if I hadn’t reacted to the first cigarette burn it was highly improbable that I would react to the second. However it was nice to see the fellows being so thorough in their efforts. I promised myself that I would get each one of them back. I think the Russians were trying to get their own back too for the incident in Cyprus where we smashed up one of their bogus trawlers. The phantoms were never happier flying at low level, but the weather in Germany was not brilliant and the guys usually ended up at medium level in cloud, so they flew a lot of the time by instruments, known as IFR. IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules as opposed to VFR, Visual Flight Rules.
Battle flight had been scrambled and the guys were thundering toward the border. There was always a lot of discussion about what would happen if they really did attack. There were even multinational conferences for various air forces where they would discuss and debate various theories. It was expected that we would be severely outnumbered and one line of thought was to get everything airborne, once the enemy were in range, fire everything at them and then land and re-arm and get up again. There would be far too many of them to engage in dogfighting. This would be repeated as often as possible. Graham Clarke, a pilot and weapons instructor, suggested this at one conference and was immediately asked to leave.
When you look at what was expected to happen it wasn’t really that bad of an idea. Officially it was thought that if world war three did start the Russians would be at the ports on the coast within forty eight hours, such was the size and standard of their forces. Needless to say we would all have been a memory. So every time a bird was launched, for real, many people had a clock ticking away in their heads. This time our battle flight was launched and he headed for the border, despite the fact that it was a fine day, weather wise, the navigator, Dave Gledhill, was still fiddling about with the instruments in the rear of the aircraft. Many phantom pilots had been Lightening pilots before transferring type and they found it strange to have another body in the aircraft.
They reached the border and began to patrol but the airwaves were blocked with loud rock music so they couldn’t communicate with the ground controllers and their instruments began to direct them into the East. Dave says that had the weather been the standard grey mist they often flew in, there was a good chance they would have followed their instruments and gone through the border. Luckily as it was a good day they could identify land marks beneath them along the border and were able to stay away. According to Dave this was a real attempt to get them to cross the border and fire up a diplomatic incident, luckily for us our guys were switched on and double checked everything. Unfortunately I too would double check everything from then on, everything being my hands and feet. I don’t want to go through that again.