Celtic Illumination, part 195, Rambling on.
One day I heard about a group of people living at Erkelenz that might have been of interest to me. They called themselves the Erkelenz Ramblers. I thought it might be nice to join a group that would be out walking in and exploring the local countryside so I made some enquiries. The leader of the Erkelenz Ramblers was Sean Turner, an engineer from 19 squadron, and a big rugby man. I contacted Sean and explained that I wanted to join his ramblers. He invited me along on their next excursion. I should have known better, even though the group had its own tee shirts and seemed well organised; their rambles consisted of no more than a pub crawl around Erkelenz.
A little trick we used, not just in Erkelenz, but all over Germany was to use a five pence coin instead of a deutschemark. A deutschemark would have been worth twenty five pence so for a ratio of five to one you certainly got a bargain especially when using the telephone. I did my usual trick and one Sunday evening having used the local public telephone had returned to our flat to discover I must have left my diary in the telephone kiosk. Not only were all my telephone numbers and personal details in there but so were the combination codes for the doors and safes on the squadron. I legged it back down to the telephone kiosk to discover that my diary was gone.
Unlike the incident in Cyprus I wasn’t that worried, my real problem would be getting into work the following morning. I would be one of the first people arriving on the squadron. I would have to collect the main keys from the guardroom which would get me into the main corridor of the admin area of the squadron. Every door would be locked. At the end of the admin area was a large steel door that also acted as an air seal. Beside it on the wall was a small key safe with a combination lock. I would have to open the safe, take the key out and open the door, then replace the key and secure the safe. I would do this again at the next steel door, then open the safe and take the main key bunch out.
It was always very quiet as I would go through the process of opening up the squadron. I was always very aware of the tales people told about the ghosts that lurked about and as I had met one or two in Ireland I was prepared to meet a couple more most mornings as I opened up or in the evenings when I would secure the building. One fellow crashed the SENGO’s minivan one evening on his way back to the squadron from the domestic site. He claimed that a ghost had jumped out in front of him causing him to swerve and crash the vehicle. Many people believed him. I never met any of the ghosts that were supposed to hang around the squadron but always felt that I was being watched.
The job was fantastic and really involved. There was just so much to do you were constantly busy. One day J R came in and set his bone dome down. He pointed at me and said “Come with me.” We went into the briefing room and up to the large map on the wall. This is where sorties would be planned and briefed. My job was to mark any event happening in our area that would or could affect our aircraft. J R pointed at one marker and asked me what is was. I cross checked the reference and explained that it was a parachute jump. J R clipped me around the back of the neck and pointed out the fact that I had placed the marker in the wrong square. It was sixty miles out.
J R said he wasn’t impressed leading a six ship of phantoms when he looked up to see a few hundred pairs of boots coming down on top of them. It was the first mistake I am aware that I ever made and I never made another mistake in my life, I can assure you of that. But I wasn’t the only person who might make a mistake. One evening a phantom was coming home. The guys had gone to visit an American air base in Germany. The main reason for doing this would be to visit the PX store where everything was much cheaper than we could get, especially for electronic equipment and cameras. As the crew came in they dropped the hook and took the RHAG. Unfortunately some problem occurred and the phantom had to get airborne again.
With full power selected and re-heat engaged the aircraft lifted off and ripped the RHAG cable out of its sockets. It was quite a sight watching the phantom circle the airfield as the afterburners had heated up the cable which was strung out behind the aircraft like a red and orange ribbon. On landing, the aircraft was quickly approached by the rescue and fire trucks that thankfully were not needed. Everyone commented on how brave the crew were by not ejecting and for staying with the aircraft and bringing it in safely. But not everyone knew that the reason they hadn’t ejected was because the navigator had a brand new, top of the range, amplifier on his knees which he had just bought in the PX.
All in all there was a great bunch of people on the squadron. We got a new Corporal in the admin office working with John Zamo. They had a half door which kept people out but allowed you to communicate with the guys inside. You could lean against the half door and have a good chin wag. I was wandering along one day when my direct boss Tony was leaning on the door chatting away. I pulled up alongside him and joined in with the craic. The Corporal announced that he was typing my annual assessment. The banter started and I think it was the Corporal who said to Tony that if he wanted to help me get back to aircrew I should really be given nines, a special recommendation for promotion.
In the world of air traffic this was such a secretive process, probably because most of them hadn’t a clue. Tony then asks what he has given me and the Corporal says eights. “Well then give him nines,” said Tony. It was quite exciting to think that I was actually being given a special recommendation for promotion but part of me didn’t want it because you would have to live up it, you could never allow yourself to go back down again. “And give Biggen Hill a call, see what’s holding them up,“ says Tony. John and myself decided to go for a beer after work to celebrate my good fortune. We had one or two beers in a local pub and then I drove him home. John invited me in to meet his wife as they had just been allocated a married quarter.
She was a lovely girl and was actually a sort of legend in the air force. Not the actual woman herself but her status, for John had actually gone and married the station commanders daughter, from his previous unit. We had a laugh and as I was leaving the door to the flat opposite opened. I, as you may imagine, was quite pleased with myself, not only had I got the special recommendation for promotion but the squadron were now going to start pushing Biggen Hill with my aircrew application. I smiled at the woman standing in the doorway of the flat opposite Johns and was about to walk away when she said. ”You don’t recognise me, do you?”
I didn’t and I told her so. John and his wife are now out of their flat and shaking hands with their new neighbours. “Avril Gough,” she said reaching out her hand to me. The name still meant nothing to me and I didn’t recognise her husband either. “Sergeant Gough,” she said giving me a hint. I still hadn’t a clue who she was and hoped that I wasn’t insulting her by not recognising her. “Police,” she said, obviously giving me another clue. I assumed that with her saying police we hadn’t been romantically involved, which could either be a good or bad thing for if she was a copper and knew me then I must have met her in some official capacity. “Swanton Morley,“ she said, and then, as they say, the proverbial penny dropped. She was the arresting officer when Peter Browne and I stole all the kickers from the WRAF block at Swanton Morley. As I left I could hear her explain to John and his wife how we had met and I knew that it would not be long before my past would be bandied about the squadron, however, knowing that lot, rather than look down on me they would probably give me a fecking medal.