Celtic Illumination, part 199, the Olympic games.
You may think it strange that I was trying to deceive the air force and was being supported in this deception by my boss. The air force operated on two levels. The first level was the professional, black and white, level where people reacted to facts and figures, there was no personality involved. This would occur when you were dealing with people, outside your squadron or unit. When dealing with your own people you would always be flexible, or as people might say, give someone the benefit of the doubt. We knew that the SMO would react to the facts and figures. If I were one single pound over the recommended weight, then my chances of going to Biggen Hill would be scuppered. All we were doing was stalling for time, so that when I actually presented myself, I could be sure that I was the perfect weight.
J R and Tony knew not just the physical effort I had put in to all the training but they had invested in me as well, with time and effort. They were also aware of the useless air traffickers who had prevaricated every time I had applied for aircrew. All I had to do was stay off the radar for my remaining ten days in Cyprus. Luckily this was way before the days of computer recorded access points. We would have to sign with our name, rank and number for meals and for transport and for most other amenities too. There was an easy way around that slight problem. Luckily, most systems are, or were, flawed. You would be handed a clipboard with a signature sheet and asked to fill out your details. You were never asked for your identity card so that the details you entered could be checked to be true.
To submit false details would eventually be flagged up and that really is your only problem as you don’t know how often the details would be checked, if at all. So all you had to do was copy the details of the second person on the list. With your own handwriting being different, your entry would not stand out, and assuming that the second person on the list, who had entered their details which you were now copying, was telling the truth, then no alarm bells would ring. We were used to having false names on detachment but these were usually comical and not intended to deceive anyone. It was much easier when the majority of the squadron left to return to Germany. There were only a handful of us left in Cyprus. Unfortunately among this handful were the characters Dave Magee, Jimmy Orr, John Roe and Taff Howells.
These four would have to be the maddest and baddest characters in the whole of the air force. The detachment had seen some particularly extreme incidents which did have their humorous side. One squadron session got so out of hand that the police actually sent dog units in to the mess to try and calm things down. Thankfully with the majority of the guys away this group of nutters were quite well behaved. I thought I would be pleased to climb in to the rear of a Hercules to return to Germany, but when I realised who I was with, I wondered if we would actually make it back. Normal people might get worried if they were travelling in an aircraft and warning claxons honked and lights begin to flash. I simply followed procedure and strapped myself in for a possible crash landing.
Magee and the gang were smiling, so I wasn’t worried at all as the crew of the Fat Albert went through their drill. Apart from their technical knowledge, which I had to admire in a strange sort of way, their timing was spot on too as we were now diverting in to Athens. I had always wanted to go to Greece ever since as a child in Belfast we would be invited in to the neighbour’s house to watch a slide show of her latest travel adventure. I wondered if the birthplace of civilisation would be ready for this crowd of reprobates. We landed safely and unbelievably were told that we would have to wait till the following day for a spare part. Somehow or other I expected the technical problem might just fix itself the following morning, my main concern was to make it through the night unscathed.
We were allocated rooms in a small hotel and then instructed to meet at a restaurant where a meal would be provided for us. After this the evening descended in to mayhem. There was an awful lot of wine and Ouzo, plates getting smashed and laughter. I felt it a shame that such an opportunity to explore Athens was lost to me, but with that crowd I should have expected no less. The behaviour was rambunctious to say the least and the funniest event of the evening was Taff Howells trying to secure the services of a Greek lady of the night with his Barclaycard. Whether he was serious or not we will never know for he wasn’t successful in his pursuit. He did manage to buy a load of booze which like a magnet had us all in one large hotel room.
We were right on the harbour front and as it was a warm night the windows were wide open. Someone pointed out the luxurious yacht that was moored directly opposite the hotel and then another person wondered if they could throw an ashtray and have it land on the deck of the yacht. As you know we were a competitive lot so, when we ran out of ashtrays basically anything else that wasn’t nailed down was launched from the hotel windows toward the yacht. The following morning we climbed on the coach to return to the aircraft. The Fat Albert crew were already on the coach and asked about the debris that littered the road and yacht. We explained that they had held one hell of a party on the yacht the previous evening and we poor little lambs couldn’t get much sleep because of the noise. This is why we all looked so dishevelled.
As sure as night follows day, the aircraft healed itself and we were soon airborne again and heading for home. I hoped that we would make it this time but the troops were partied out and we were soon shivering in the cooler air of Germany. It was late evening when we landed. We were all tired and looking forward to getting in to our cars and heading to our respective homes. The following day I would be driving to Liverpool to collect Irene and the boy child. I hoped I would be driving to Liverpool the following day, for as we entered the terminal, I spotted some military police watching us. We kept our distance from them, as you do, as we waited for our bags to come in.
Having collected our kit we began to leave the terminal but two coppers came over to me. Once they had established that I was the person they were after they asked me to follow them to an office. I promise you, my mind was in overdrive trying to figure out what I had done wrong this time, or was being accused of doing wrong. One copper began dialling a number on a telephone, waited, then introduced himself and said “We’ve got him for you sir.” He handed the telephone to me and I said “Hello?” as you do. When I heard the voice say “Hello mate,” I relaxed a little, for it was my immediate boss Tony. “I see you managed to remain undetected then,” he said, and I laughed. “Listen,” he said. “I know you’re off to the UK tomorrow to get your family, so I wanted to tell you the news before you left.” “What news?” I asked. “I wouldn’t unpack my bags if I were you mate,“ says Tony. “You’re off to Biggen Hill in a fortnight.”