Celtic Illumination, part 247, Right name, wrong face.
The moment Wattisham was put on alert, a mini was despatched to the community at Shotley Gate, although sometimes it was pre-positioned at Shotley, if someone remembered. Once the driver got to Shotley, or to the mini, they would hang a huge speaker out of the passenger window and drive around married quarters with a world war two air raid siren howling up and down through its haunting scale. One of the best alarm clocks I have ever had. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who hung back or made up some excuse for not responding to ‘the hooter.’ Most people would telephone their section to find out what state of readiness we were at and where they were required to report to. I would say that every single person in the air force had some sort of scam going, but the moment ‘the hooter’ went, we all reacted as we were expected to. And that will probably apply to most members of most armed forces, for when ’the hooter’ went, you never knew if it was the real thing or not.
This time I telephoned operations and was told that the unit was already on a very advanced stage of readiness. I was to get my cabbage gear on and my NBC suit. I was still wearing my American Marine combat kit, which really wound the Rock Apes up, but as I always explained to them, what could I do with legs like mine? It was late evening and the exodus from Shotley began. There was a bus stationed at Shotley and a nominated driver so you would see chaps standing at corners waiting for the bus, but you would normally stop and pick two or three up, before joining the whacky races and hammering off toward Wattisham. It was dark and it was raining. There was a slight chill in the air. I threw my car onto a pavement in married quarters at Wattisham and jogged off toward the main gate. I wasn’t that keen, but you never knew who was watching.
The Station Warrant Officer was in charge, it was dark, so it was highly unlikely that he would be in ‘get your hair cut or ears lowered’ mode. We had lined up, in single file, which allowed the guard to bring forward and process one person at a time. The entrance to camp was on a slight incline and there was a healthy stream of water coming down the road. The guy before me was called forward and I stepped up to the line. Despite the guard going through their standard procedure with the guy in front, I could hear the guard inside the guard hut talking on the telephone. He was repeating the information while writing it down, a very difficult and extreme task as you well know, especially under battle conditions. Someone, with the same rank and surname as me had been reported as stealing a minibus and some weapons.
You could see the smile erupt across the Station Warrant Officers face. He wasn’t a mean or nasty man, in fact we got on quite well, however, with a queue of twenty plus people behind me, he could not be seen to be flexible or favourable. He stepped forward, well; forgive me, Station Warrant Officers don’t ‘step forward’, he wasn’t going to invite me to dance a version of The Gay Gordons, he marched himself forward, pointed his gun at me, a lovely little sterling machine gun, and screamed at me to get on my face. I looked at the ground in front of me and the stream of water, I then looked at the Station Warrant Officer. He could move his weapon to one side, which would indicate and allow me to step to that side, and then get down on the ground or he could scream at me again.
As I lay there, spread-eagled and face down, in what is probably known as a mini flash flood, I could feel the rain water soak into my clothes and knew that I was going to be quite uncomfortable for some time. In case I was a diversionary tactic, the queue behind me were called forward in double quick time and processed, which took about ten, wet, cold, frustrating minutes. Now with me on my own, on the road, the Station Warrant Officer brought his guard forward so that I could be searched. With the search complete I was brought to my feet and once again heard the guard, in the guard hut, read back the facts that the fellow, with the same rank and surname as myself, had been found with the minibus and it was all one big mistake. So I am now quite reluctant to go on any further, not because I had thrown all my toys out of the pram, but because I knew what lay ahead of me. Because air traffic was a part of operations Joe Pearson was the main control martial supervising entry to the section.
I knew that the idiot would want to know who I thought I was turning up to work in such a state, and I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with such an arse. Although, as I made my way towards operations, I remembered the idiot Joe Pearson and his single minded passion for the Nijmegen marches. All his little gang of marchers wore combat clothing, so if I could find it in my heart to be nice to him, I might be able to borrow some dry uniform from him. I reported to operations and began to go through the entrance procedure because the operations building was pressurised, I had to go through a guarded air lock. The idiocy started with the first person I met. Look at the state of you. Who do you think you are turning up to work like that? I bit my lip and went through the procedure till I came to Joe Pearson, idiot extraordinaire.
There was no way I could humble myself before him so I spoke to him on a man to idiot basis. “Joe, any chance you could lend me some dry combat clothes, please.” I know, it was an effort to say please. I could see a, lot of my guys milling bout. They had heard I had been arrested at the main gate and were probably pleased that their leader was maintaining the low standards I had constantly set for myself. “No,” said Joe. “You’re wearing USMC Marine combats and I don’t want to end up stuck with them.” I went through to flight planning, into my office, locked the door and stripped off, draping my kit over the radiators so that it might dry. This was another version of the clipboard sleight of hand system. Go in to your office and lock the door, as long as there were no internal windows you were fine. No one would know if you were in or out. If anyone tried the door or knocked you just didn’t answer.
I actually waited until my whole kit was dry before putting it all back on and went in to operations. By now word had spread about what had happened to me at the main gate so most people naturally assume this is the reason I am late, and why should I say anything different. If I remember correctly that exercise ended very quickly. Basically command had instructed Wattisham to bring seventy five percent of its aircraft to full battle readiness, and for some strange bit of luck it only took about twenty four hours. I went home, looking forward to a nice warm bath, some clean clothes and an idiot free zone. It was the Sunday evening, about four days later. I was sitting at home and the telephone rang. Your immediate thoughts is that ‘here we go again’ especially when I recognised the voice as one of the air traffic guys from Wattisham. It was Karl, who had been one of my guys when I was in air traffic. He explained that he had heard what Joe Pearson had done to me, or not done to me, as the case may be. Karl had taken it upon himself to go to the lockers where Joe Pearson kept all his marching combat kit and filled the locks with superglue. I know, I should have told him off but you know, all I could do was smile.