Celtic Illumination, part 232, Camping it up.
One day Tom McCann and myself were in the runway caravan. We were just chatting and having a coffee, I mentioned how good my guys were, not just at their jobs but acting as a team. Wattisham was a military emergency diversionary airfield, a MEDA, this meant that the airfield would stay open every hour of the day and every day of the year. We had to be ready to accept any aircraft at any time of the day or night. So as you may imagine if I was on duty on a Saturday and had been in the families club bar, till two or three in the morning, there was a good chance I was not going to get out of my bed at six in the morning. One of my guys would automatically take over running the shift. He would make up some excuse, maybe that I had a flat tyre or was in SHQ on an errand, but he would cover for me until I got in.
They were all like that, even the one who went to prison, I couldn’t save them all. And in a similar fashion I would help them out or stick up for them. One day Leon came to me and the poor fellow as almost in tears. Leon was a hard working fellow who didn’t drink or smoke. He wanted to buy himself a red BMW motorcar, which he did. He was very proud of his car and so he should have been. Unfortunately every time he came across the RAF Police they would stop him and search his car, for drugs. This had happened time and time again but Leon was used to this racist behaviour, probably topped with a good dose of jealousy. This time however they had found a pair of aircrew gloves in his car. Leon wasn’t aircrew, so he was to be charged with theft, which was a very loose attempt at them validating their racist behaviour.
I promised Leon that I would go and see the police, and I did. I was furious and stormed right into the police section. They had a large house near the main gate on camp that served at their headquarters. I demanded to see whoever was in charge and was shown in to see a Flight Sergeant. I don’t know how I was able to do it but the Flight Sergeant agreed that the whole incident seemed to have racist undertones, there would be no need for me to get the Station Commander involved and he would make sure that the charges were dropped. Leon was pleased and of course I now became his hero, but I certainly promised myself that at every available opportunity in the future I was going to drop as many policemen in it as I could. So as Tom and I chatted about our guys I came up with the idea that I should reward them in some way. Tom felt that his guys needed a little boost as well, so we decided to take them on an expedition.
We decided to take an expedition to the Peak District over a long weekend. We could get all the equipment we needed from the station gymnasium, food rations from Vic, maps from flight planning and vehicles from MT Flight. This of course would bring me more smartie points for promotion. I got permission from OC Operations to take a dozen or so guys on expedition and began the serious task of finding a pub with a camp site. Two minivan loads of us set off on a Friday and headed for the Peak District. I do remember that we stopped at RAF Wittering en route to say hello to Peter Browne. It was an old habit from Ireland that if you were in a different town or area of the country you could never pass friend or a relative’s house without saying hello.
I had managed to find a camp site with a pub close by and so I erected the tent for Tom and myself pretty sharpish. I’ll never forget Alistair, one of my guys, stood standing in the middle of this field, well, camp site. It was dark, it was raining and he looked like a lost puppy. He asked me if I would help him to put up his tent. I had my mountain rescue head, on which made Alistair a trialist. I told him that he should put it up himself; it was the only way to learn. Although I have to admit that I did give in and put his tent up for him after he offered to cook all my meals for me over the weekend. Interestingly enough I was still carrying out my detailed scientific research into pillows and the following morning found that even the improper use of a pillow, in a tent, could cause a sore head or, as they were more commonly and mistakenly known, a hangover.
Alistair was true to his word and cooked me a mighty fine breakfast the following morning. I had planned a route for two teams across some pretty wild and vacant countryside. Usual simple military exercise one vehicle drives to point A and the other vehicle to point B. One team moves from point A to point B then drive back to base camp the other team, well; you get the picture. Leon was acting as my navigator and was doing well till we came to a fork in the path. I knew that we should go left but Leon insisted that we keep going straight ahead. I still had my mountain rescue head on and knew that in a situation like this you should let the fellow make mistake after mistake and then, when they have dug themselves in nice and deep, you take over and show them where they have gone wrong, rather than correct every mistake as they make them. They had to learn and not be mothered.
I certainly had to keep my eye on things as Leon took us, as they say, right in to the middle of nowhere. Only when he realised that he was hopelessly lost did I step in and point out exactly where he had gone wrong. I hope my tactics worked and I hope he learned from that incident. It was a very enjoyable day out in the middle of nowhere. I then showed the guys how an expert navigator operates and made a bee line for the nearest building, which just happened to be a pub. We had radios with us so as my team settled in for a few scoops I contacted Tom and gave him the coordinates of the pub we were in, asking him to collect us once he had found the minibus.
What I had forgotten about was the pain we would have the following day from using muscles that had lain dormant for some time. Some of the guys wanted to go and visit some Blue John mines, so we broke camp and sent one minibus off to the Blue John mines while the other minibus, full of cripples, made for a local hotel. I do remember that Tom and I were sitting at the bar and were faced with a huge selection of beer, some of which I had never heard of. They even had a thing called real ale, which I had not encountered before. We got chatting with the landlord who began to allow us to taste this real ale stuff. I was quite taken with the real ale it really was lovely. I explained to the landlord that I ran a club and he took me down to his cellar and showed me how to set up and maintain a cellar for real ale.
Tom, myself and the landlord remained in the cellar tasting and sampling the whole range of real ales. Needless to say we were poured on to the minibus and slept all the way from the Peak District to Ipswich, which I have to say is the only way to travel in a minibus full or farting, belching, rogues. It was a good break and a good bonding exercise. I managed to bring everyone back alive and no one had been arrested so it was a definite plus on the smartie point side of things. I was certain that I needed to get some real ale for the families club but I would have to create a temperature controlled cellar. It would give me something to think about and thinking about things was what I was good at. Some time later Tom and myself were back in the runway caravan chatting and having coffee, again. We agreed that the expedition had been fun so we needed something else to do.
Tom then suggested that we attend a football competition. He explained that in Germany there was an annual football competition between all the air traffic units. If we could wangle an invite we could get the air force to pay for everything and we could enjoy a long weekend in Germany. I was immediately on the telephone to air traffic in Bruggen. I was lucky enough to speak to the fellow who was organising the competition that year, so I explained that if he would send us an invite we would bring a team over. I was quite surprised when he said that the competition was only for those stationed in Germany. We were not in Germany, so couldn’t come, good bye. ‘At least you tried,’ said Tom, as I explained to him what had been said on the telephone. But I wasn’t having any of it. “I’ll tell you this and I’ll tell you no more,” I said. “I’ll have my own football competition and won’t invite them.” Which you have to admit, is quite a strange thing to say for someone who had no interest whatsoever in football.