Celtic Illumination, part 207, Back to Blighty
You may think it strange that I would consider the fact that I was to be promoted as bad news. Well; basically it meant that I was off the squadron. I wouldn’t find out where I was going until I got back to Germany, but going I was and the clock had started ticking. Suddenly the offer of going to America and becoming president was quite appealing although I think the wife and child would be a wee bit hacked off if I left them in Germany. My worst nightmare is that I would be returned to the world of air traffic control. If I could get to a unit with a mountain rescue team there would be a good chance I could escape. There wasn’t much hope of going to another squadron so all I could do was wait to see what would happen.
It is quite a strange time once you have been told that you are posted because from that very second you know everything is different. You feel sort of removed from the squadron. It’s like you are now an observer. We flew back to Germany and I impressed most of the chaps in the rear of the Fat Albert by eating raw herring which made most of them baulk. I quite enjoyed them. In Germany I went straight to the squadron to get my orders and discovered that I was to go to Wattisham in Suffolk. There were two phantom squadrons there but I was going to air traffic control. Definitely not impressed, but what can you do. I suppose we are back to the old saying. You shouldn’t have joined up if you can’t take a joke!
I was also informed that I would have to attend a special course, GST, General Service Training at Hereford. These courses had only started and I would be on the third one. The courses were intended to instruct you and familiarise you with your new rank and role. It would last two weeks and we were also informed that this was not an attendance course. You had to pass the course to get your promotion. One explanation was that the air force was modernising and actually interested in its people. This course was only one step towards creating a more professional workforce.
Another explanation came from the Falklands war. I always imagine the three top military fellows sitting around a map of the world, like a board game. The head of the army states what regiments he will send to the Falklands. The head of the navy would state what ships and marines he will send. The air force offers up its squadrons and the army refused, saying that the air force guys were not professional enough. These new courses were the air forces response to make us more military. There was no information available about the courses and people who had been on one were few and far between I would just have to turn up and see what happened.
Luckily many of the engineers on the squadron had been to Wattisham. Dave Magee had just come from Wattisham and he told me that I should apply for a married quarter at a place called Shotley Gate, a small village outside Ipswich. The process now becomes something of a juggling act. I have to arrange to hand over my married quarter in Erkelenz, and then I have to apply for a new married quarter in England. It would be nice to have these two dates as close together as possible but everything depends on the availably of married quarters in England. Next I have to move everything from one quarter to the other. These were the days before computers and e –mails so all applications went by snail mail. You could choose whether you wanted to move your possessions yourself or you could get a removals company in to do it for you. I chose to move myself.
I was informed that I had been given a married quarter at Shotley Gate and was able to arrange the move. The plan went something along the lines of, pick up a van on the Monday morning, and then spend all day Monday packing our belongings into it. Complete the official march out and hand over of our married quarter in Erkelenz on the Tuesday morning, drive to Zeebrugge and catch the Tuesday night boat to England. Arrive at Shotley Gate on Wednesday morning and take over, march in to, a new married quarter on the Wednesday morning. Empty the van and make sure the wife and child are safe and able to look after themselves before catching the Wednesday night boat back. Get back to Wildenrath on the Thursday morning and return the van spend the remainder of the day clearing camp and jump in the car to catch the boat back to England on Thursday night arriving at the new house on Friday morning.
Everything was going to plan. It was amazing that everything fitted in to the van almost perfectly. The handover of the quarter went without a hitch and we drove away from Erkelenz which had been a lovely place to live. We had planned everything and had made sure that duty free wine and whisky was well hidden deep among our possessions. We called in to camp to buy some more duty free goods. As I walked away from the van something hit my arm and I discovered that there was a pin prick sized hole in the radiator. It was five o clock in the evening so everywhere was closing. Luckily I managed to get some additive in a local garage that seemed to fix the leak but it was a most nerve wracking drive hoping that van wouldn’t break down en route.
Thankfully we made it and marched in to our new quarter in Shotley Gate. It was a regular end of terrace house with a lovely view over the River Orwell. Again everything seemed to go to plan and I was able to drive away to catch the evening boat knowing that Irene and the boy were safe and well. Back at Wildenrath I returned the van, explaining that I was completely hacked off that the radiator had been leaking. The van was owned by two Rock Apes who rented it out as a little money earner. I needed a receipt from them for accounts and didn’t complain when they included the deposit I had had to leave in along with the actual cost of renting the vehicle. This would give me an extra two hundred pounds so I decided to play dumb, well; they started it.
Accounts didn’t even question the sum and just handed over the cash to me. At last something was going in my favour. I went to the squadron for the last time and collected my paperwork I went into the crew room to grab a coffee before trundling around every department on camp with my clearance form when Dave Magee came in. He took my clearance form and began signing for various departments. The card was passed around the crew room and within ten minutes every department had a signature. Dave told me that this is how most engineers cleared most camps so I handed in the completed paperwork at headquarters and was surprised that it was accepted so readily. I drove away from Wildenrath and the squadron hoping and praying that the world of air traffic control would not be as bad as I feared it would be.