Despite the fact that I had decided to leave the air force I still had to perform my duties. I began to dump my secondary duties and I have to admit that it was nice to have a bit of time to myself. One secondary duty I kept was trade training. I know; the fellow who loved air traffic so much he had to be tricked into passing out of basic trade training was now an instructor. I had been teaching the young airmen and preparing them for their promotion exams. I liked them all and wanted them to succeed so I wanted to see it through. Before I took over it had been quite formal, where they had to attend certain sessions, at a specific time, on certain days during the week. This wasn’t very fair on the shift workers, so I encouraged them to come to me at a time that suited them. It seemed to work and the guys were making good progress.
I went away on some leave for a fortnight but when I came back found that my deputy had reverted back to the old system and was making the guys attend specific sessions at a time that suited him. He was also being a bit of an arse and wouldn’t meet up with me to bring me up to date with what the guys were doing, so that I could take over again. It soon became clear that he wanted to take over as trade training coordinator as a secondary duty. Had he come to me and explained himself, I might have given him the position, as long as I could have continued mentoring the guys in my own way. I managed to get a hold of him one day and we had words in my office. It was one of those conversations where voices are raised, expletives exchanged and the problem usually gets sorted out in a brief affair behind the bike sheds. And by affair I don’t mean soft lights, red wine and lots of roses.
Unfortunately the exchange was overheard by Dickie Dive Bomb. Dickie Dive Bomb was an ancient Squadron Leader, the sort of fellow who would often be told that when he joined the air force Pontius was still a trainee pilot. Dickie was a lovely old fellow and came in explaining that he couldn’t help but overhear what had happened. He then told me that if I was serious, I had accused the other fellow of only being interested in himself and not the airmen he was supposed to be teaching, Dickie told me that I should put my concerns in a memo to O C Operations. The pair of us got together and constructed a memo which I went upstairs and dropped in O C Operations correspondence tray.
This was the sort of memo where you withdrew to a safe distance, took cover and put your fingers in your ears. Before long Dickie Dive Bomb came to me and said that I was wanted in O C Operations office and that he was to accompany me. We went in and my deputy was there with the SATCO. We faced each other and O C Operations explained that he had read the memo and was aware of the situation. He then went on to explain that my deputy felt I had damaged his professional reputation and if I did not apologise, there and then, he would initiate disciplinary action against me. He was an air traffic arse so I knew he wouldn’t have been capable of dreaming that up himself, I could sense the SATCO’s hand in the affair.
I stood my ground and as with the SIB refused to speak. Before the situation could turn into farce, O C Operations asked Dickie Dive Bomb and myself to leave. We did and when we were far enough away from the office Dickie clapped his hands around my shoulders stating that he was so proud of me for having the bottle to face them off. Full control of trade training came back to me and I reverted to having the guys come in as an when it suited them and I was seriously pleased when they all passed, which could have been a little bit tricky for me if they hadn’t. Another use for the flight planning section was to host station briefings. Usually this would be for visiting squadrons of air cadets but at least once a week a large group, of an average thirty people, would come in and be given a station briefing. This would be a slide show accompanied by a talk explaining the history and function of the base.
My job was to set the whole affair up and one of the Squadron Leaders from operations would actually give the briefing. One day I was at the rear of the room waiting for everyone to sit down when Dickie Dive Bomb came wandering over. I asked if he was giving the brief and he said ‘Yes’ so I relaxed a little as I now knew everything was in place. That’s when Dickie turns around and says, “You know what? I think I’ll give it a miss this week. Why don’t you give the station brief?” With which he wandered off. I had no choice but to take to the stage and give the brief. I was quite surprised that I was able to waffle my way through it and even field most of the questions I was asked afterwards. As the crowd emptied out of the briefing room Dickie came back down and informed me that I had done such a good job that I could do the station briefing from then on.
I didn’t mind, it wasn’t that difficult. I also had to set up the briefing room in station headquarters for the Station Commander who would brief visiting dignitaries. Unfortunately I would have to report to the Station Warrant Officer and get the keys for the briefing room in station headquarters which would result in me being told to smarten myself up and get a haircut on every visit. We had been given a new operations building, purpose built, but the exercises and bull shit continued. If we were on exercise then the Station Commander would run station operations during the day. At night time O C Operations would take over and as the deputy in charge of operations I would assist him. Being a Wing Commander at about midnight he would usually slide off to a dark corner and get his head down and I would be left in charge, running the station.
I was often tempted to hit the main hooter and launch the wing, but I don’t think I would ever have been forgiven for that. Not only did I control both phantom squadrons but all the ground defences as well, it was like a huge interactive board game, but better. I do remember one night it was very quiet and the whole of the United Kingdom air defence network was on exercise. We recently had a computer installed in operations. This was quite a big thing if you think that this was about the same time as Alan Sugar’s Commodore 64 was becoming popular. Most of the airmen had been trained up on the computer but I hadn’t a clue how to use it so I wandered over.
I asked the fellow operating the computer if he would explain it to me and show me how it worked, but he apologised and asked if I could come back later as he was quite busy. I would never have to actually use the computer but I felt that I should know how it worked and what it did, at least. I couldn’t see how he was busy as nothing was flying so I asked what he was doing. He explained that he was playing dungeons and dragons against someone in Scotland. I may have been leaving the air force but it was nice to see that the tradition that state of the art equipment, resulting from the investment of millions upon millions of Great British English Sterling pounds every year, would continue to be treated with the utmost respect and be used exactly as intended.
Barry, the new chairman, and myself quickly became friends. He was an animal of the highest order and he was the only person I had ever met who had been through a court martial. In fact he had been through three. Barry told me that he was once stationed at Saint Athens in South Welsh Wales. He liked his beer did Barry, and dabbled in the world of darts. An Irish darts team, from the Republic of Ireland, were passing through, on their way back to Ireland, when Barry came across them. They were not on the Saint Athan base they were in the local town. Barry enjoyed their company so much he joined in with them and ended up in the Republic. It took him two weeks to sober up and realise that he was absent without leave, in the Republic of Ireland.
He got back and was faced with a court martial. Barry then let me into a secret. Normally when you were charged, you went through the usual process of marching in and listening, to make sure that the correct details were read out. At the end of the disciplinary proceedings the presiding officer would say, “Do you wish to accept my punishment, or do you wish to elect for a trial by a district court martial?” First of all there is no need to ask how I know those lines so well, but having heard them so often, it’s hard trying to forget them. I think most people in the forces were afraid of a court martial, no one actually knew what they were; well, everyone knew they were pretty serious and that afterwards you usually ended up in Colchester military prison, polishing the inside of dustbins, after you had emptied them and washed them.
Every time the station routine orders came out the first thing you would check is postings to see if you were off somewhere nice, or if any of your friends were. Next you would read the list of court martials for that month, most of which would have been connected in with drunk driving, and you would of course want to see if you knew anyone on the list. So at the end of the standard ‘charge’ disciplinary proceedings when you were asked if you would accept the presiding officers punishment or go for a court martial most people would immediately accept whatever punishment was coming their way. Barry explained to me that this was wrong, it was all a game. What you had to do was ask for the court martial. You may think that the accused would be the person most against proceedings moving into court martial territory but in fact it would be the presiding officer who would not want the court martial.
First of all it would show that he hadn’t handled the charge properly and secondly he would have to now get all the senior officers on camp to attend. Important people wasting important hours, we can’t be having that now can we? So Barry warned me that if I ever faced disciplinary action again, to ask for the court martial and the whole process would crumble around me. It was interesting and deliciously dangerous, who knew if I would ever get to try it out? There was no way I would ever be in trouble again. I, along with my career, was on the way up, in fact one day reading orders I noticed that the guy in charge of Flight Planning had been posted. I immediately volunteered to take over the Flight Planning department. It would mean that I could finally get away from air traffic and Joe Pearson.
I was accepted for Flight Planning which was quite an important position. First of all you ran the Flight Planning department, no problem. My second duty was being the deputy in charge of station operations, but I now had to prepare the Station Commanders brief every morning at seven o clock. I always knew that the best place to get noticed was sitting next to the big boys and I certainly was doing that now. There were one or two idiots in station operations. O C Operations was fresh in his post and was a nice fellow; the Squadron Leader was an honorary good ol boy. He was only interested in shooting things and had converted a rough area of scrub land, on the edge of the airfield, and was breeding pheasants which he, along with O C Operations would slaughter when the birds were ready.
So as you can imagine the focus of station operations was on the breeding of pheasants rather than those noisy aircraft things. One of the operations officers was a great fellow and the other was an arse, a navigator who couldn’t fly. One day we came in and he was bubbling with enthusiasm. “Look! Look!” He would squeal at anyone who came into operations. “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!” “A shotgun?” “Oh no, she bought me a left handed shotgun.” The gun would then be taken out of its leather cover and displayed to all and sundry before being put back in. Strange how his lifelong passion for shooting things was only now coming to the fore. The Wing Commander came in and was walking across the operations floor. “Sir! Sir!” says the air operations arse. “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!”
The Wing Commander had a beautifully dry sense of humour so he looked at the gun and said. “Oh how nice, she bought you a shotgun cover.” The arse heard me laugh and the look he gave me could have taken down a charging rhino at fifty paces, but the Wing Commander, as they say, had left the building. From that moment on the air operations arse was after me and would go out of his way trying to make life difficult for me, always trying to show me that he was so important and posh. It was one morning, after a long night in the Families Club, that I came in to Flight Planning about forty minutes late for work. He was waiting for me, bouncing about the place, whining that he had to sit in with the Station Commanders briefing that morning and it wasn’t good enough.
Now; you know what it’s like when you’ve got a hangover and a total arse rabbiting on at you. Yes; that’s right, you tend to react, so I didn’t over react, I simply turned around and told him to shut up and feck away off. I wish I had remembered Steve Underhill’s wonderful saying which is, ‘Why don’t you feck off, and when you get there, why don’t you feck off again!” The arse of an operations officer ran away which I thought was standard practise for him. But he returned demanding that I give him my identity card so that he could make sure the details he entered on my charge sheet were correct. At this point I was more concerned with my hangover and couldn’t have cared less what he was doing.
Rumour control now took over and people were wondering what the outcome of the charge would be, for it was quite rare for someone in my position to be charged, normally I would be the person issuing the charge. The day that the charge was to be heard came about. The Wing Commander was away on leave so the Squadron Leader would be chairing the proceedings. There was no need for the usual briefing before the charge, but Joe Pearson felt that he should go through it anyway. I think he was enjoying himself. In we marched and once again, when we lined up in front of the Squadron Leader, I checked to my left and to my right, working out which one of my escorts I would punch first, if things started going wrong.
I didn’t even listen for any mistakes as the Squadron Leader ran through the details. It was all very perfunctory until he came to the end of proceedings. “Do you wish to accept my punishment or do you wish to elect for a trial by district court martial?” I was standing to attention so couldn’t cross my fingers but I hoped to high heaven that Barry had been telling me the truth. “I want a court martial,” I said. Joe Pearson looked as if fifty thousand volts had gone through his head. “Clear the court room,” said the Squadron Leader, who then pointed to a chair and indicted that I should sit down. Once we were alone he apologised for having to take me through such a pantomime, but I really shouldn’t go around telling officers to feck away off. I explained that I was very tired and normally wouldn’t act like I had done
“Tell you what,” said the Squadron Leader. “We’ll bring everyone back in. I’ll ask you again, and if you say ‘I accept your punishment,’ I’ll admonish you. How’s about that?” Everyone was called back in and we took up our positions. The Squadron Leader asked and I took his admonishment, which of course is no more than a very light slap on the wrist. The first thing I had to do was get to a telephone and ring Barry. I couldn’t believe his advice had worked. If only I had known at the beginning of my career, what I now knew, but how many times have people said that?
It was wonderful to be told that I had been accepted for aircrew training. What made it even better was to be given the date I was to start training at RAF Finningley. It was only a matter of ten weeks away. As with most things in my life there was just one small obstacle in the way, my weight. My weight had to be sent to Biggen Hill within twenty four hours of me being told that I had been accepted. The clock was ticking and my mind was in overdrive. I didn’t know what my weight was. Since completing the assessment at Biggen I hadn’t really bothered with with my weight and my stint in Denmark along with the promotion celebrations and leaving celebrations in Germany, there was a good chance I may have put on a pound or six.
I got back into my car and sat thinking. They would be waiting for me to arrive at air traffic control as would the senior Medical Officer. I’m now back to feeling like the Blues Brothers again in that scene where they get into the car and Elwood says, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” It was twelve miles to Ipswich, I had sufficient fuel to get there and back, mid-morning and my vision was perfect. Despite the fact that so many people were waiting for me I drove away from Wattisham. I was heading for a chemist in Ipswich and then home, I was, as they say, a man with a plan.
Yes I would present myself to the SMO to get weighed, but before I would do that I would make sure that I was the correct weight. I had been told about an extreme weight loss method that was used quite often by jockeys. I had been told it by a nurse, so I knew it was straight up factual medical advice. There is a licensed medicine known as Aquaban. It comes in tablet form and is used to combat pre-menstrual water retention. I had to buy a packet of them and a bar of laxative chocolate. I arrived home with my goodies and informed Irene that we would be on the move soon, as long as I could pass the weight test. My fears were correct and I was about eight pounds over the upper limit allowed for aircrew.
I took all twenty six Aquaban tablets and ate the bar of laxative chocolate. I then went upstairs and stayed very close to the bathroom. As you may imagine my body reacted as you may expect and I began to visit the bathroom every thirty minutes until the following morning. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep. I had nothing to eat or drink and I was severely dehydrated. But I was happy. I had lost fifteen pounds in weight. I could hardly stand and had half killed myself, but at least my weight was good. I got my uniform on and made my way back to camp. I went in to the medical centre and reported to reception. The SMO almost immediately came out and called me to his office. He was very perfunctory in his approach.
“Get on the scales,” he said, which I did. He recorded my weight, which was within the acceptable parameters. When I asked if he would inform the chief clerk or whether I should he said neither. He wasn’t happy with the way I looked and was considering whether he should have me report again in another couple of days just to make sure. I remember saying to him that this was my career we were talking about and he reminded me that he was simply doing his job. That’s all I needed, a jobsworth medic. He told me that I could leave and he would discuss the matter with the chief clerk and that I would be informed of their decision, as and when, they had made one.
I went straight to air traffic control and gulped down as much water as I could. The admin Sergeant was wittering on about how I should have reported the previous day and that the chief clerk wanted to see me. I didn’t bother telling him that I had already seen the chief clerk but said that I should go and see the chief clerk as it wasn’t the done thing to keep such an important fellow waiting. Instead I went to one of the squadrons and asked to see Squadron Leader Tony Couch. Tony had been great fun in Germany and on promotion had been sent to Wattisham. He had been flying and I went in to flying clothing to have a chat with him as he changed back in to his uniform.
It was a bit of a tricky one and Tony was no fool, this was a fighter pilot, not an air trafficker. “I need your advice,” I said, before explaining that the SMO, a Squadron Leader. Like Tony, was holding back my chance of aircrew training. Tony nodded and suggested that I go away, keep the weight off and stay out of trouble. I had done all that I could do, it was quite tricky to play the old boy network especially when you were not a member. I went back to air traffic and reported to the admin sergeant. I could see that he was a typical air trafficker. He was an idiot and wanted to know why the chief clerk had wanted me. I took great pleasure in informing him that I had been accepted for aircrew training and would be leaving in nine or ten weeks. I didn’t mention that there was a slight glitch at the moment.
The admin sergeant began complaining that his work rosters would now be out of sync and it was all my fault and he would have to tell the head air trafficker. I think he had mistaken me for someone who actually gave a shit. I went off to have coffee and began to meet some of the air traffickers. The fellow who I had met in the families club came in and it was obvious that he wasn’t exactly the most popular fellow in the place. He began to lecture me, saying that the committee had considered whether or not to allow me back in to the club and if I promised to behave myself, and didn’t swear, I would be allowed to return.
I had more important matters to think about and unfortunately this cretin got my swearing speech. “I’ll tell you what swear words are,” I began, which got the attention of most people present. “Swear words are words like poverty, loneliness, cancer, hunger.” You could see that my inference was going straight over his head. He was an air trafficker and incapable of constructive thought, but I continued talking at him, if only for the benefit of the others in the room. I was called back in to the admin Sergeant who had been trying to figure out what to do with me for the next ten weeks and because he was an air trafficker he had decided that I should continue doing what he had originally planned for me, in other words he was incapable of changing his plan.
I continued to go through my arrival procedure arriving at all the important departments on camp. I took my time and felt so alone. The days seemed to take forever to move past until the Monday of the following week when I was told to report to the SMO. I went to the medical centre and waited to be summoned. Every side of my brain was rattling away with plots and plans of what to do if he refused to categorise me as aircrew fit. I was called in to his office and asked to sit down. He was a young Squadron Leader and smiled at me before picking up a bunch of memos. “You’ve got a lot of friends, haven’t you?” he said, before beginning to rattle off the list of names who had written to him. The first name was a Wing Commander, Tony Couch had contacted the guys on 92 squadron, they had all sent a memo to the SMO requesting that he tell Biggen I was okay. “I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter,” he said. “I’m declaring you as aircrew fit.”
It was quite obvious that the GST course had been cobbled together in the hope that what seemed to be half a dozen good ideas, if brought together, would form one huge big great idea. The language they used gave an indication of where they had gathered their good ideas from. We were to be processed through the course in groups of six known as ‘syndicates’, the same groupings used at Biggen Hill. In the old days when you were promoted you were given a slip of paper and sent to clothing stores where you were issued with your new rank. Now, you had to attend and successfully pass GST. The GST course was supposed to teach you about leadership and man management. Of course being the armed forces there was only one way to learn about man management and leadership and that was by marching.
It was quite similar to what was happening in civvie street, complete bullshit dressed up as professionalism, but there was one significant difference which did surprise me. In the old days you could wing your way through a course and then argue about your conduct or ability at the end, what they did at Hereford was to give each syndicate a Sergeant who monitored each activity and continually spoke into a dictaphone. This was a problem as every slight mistake you might make would be recorded, and as the notes from the dictaphone were typed up at the end of each day, they would be a hard and fixed record at the end of the course which would not allow much discussion.
There were the usual introductory methods where we each had to stand up and give a five minute presentation about some subject of our choice. I can’t remember what mine was about, probably something safe, unlike one fellow who spoke about free-fall donkey embalming. I understand they tightened it up so that you now have to give a talk on how your trade fits in to the delivery of air power. We were informed about the timetable for the course. There would be two practical leadership blocks. For each block we would each lead one exercise. For the first leadership block we would each be given a practical exercise; however we were supposed to learn from each exercise and therefore the standard would be expected to rise after each exercise. After the first block of exercises we would be graded, so the strongest leader would lead the first exercise in the second block, leaving the weakest leader to lead the final exercise.
We would also have various lectures covering all sorts of service related subjects. One I remember was where we had to sit and watch a video about a fight in a bar. We then had to fill out the appropriate forms for disciplinary action to be taken against the perpetrators. One lecture was to instruct us how to search someone. The course was housed in long wooden huts. Each hut had two entrance doors, on one side of the building, with one at the front and one at the rear. We were all seated, in neat little rows, by syndicate, watching an instructor at the front. “Today we are going to learn the proper way to search someone,” he said.
Next thing you know is that the rear door of the hut burst open and someone ran in firing a machine gun. Naturally we all ducked down. By the time we were brave enough to look up we saw some people exit the hut by the front door, leaving some poor sod leaning against the blackboard at the front of the room with his jumper up and over his head and his trousers down around his ankles. A small group had run in, disorientated us with the machine gun fire, they raced through the classroom, grabbing the unlucky sod, who sat next to the isle on the front row, and threw him against the black board. Jumper up, trousers down, job done, and left.
“That’s how you search someone,” said the instructor, and from that point on we all had eyes in the back of our heads. I suppose we were being taught some interesting things like how to search a car for bombs, but I could never see myself use such training. We were on our way to a training area for our first practical leadership exercise when we were stopped and told to pick up a telegraph pole. We then had to hold it above our heads and march, in double time, along the road. All I could think of was that the instructor had watched far too many American war films. I don’t know what six people marching along a road holding a telegraph pole above their heads has to do with man management.
When we got to the exercise area a volunteer was asked for and I jumped at the chance. As this was the first exercise in the first leadership block I should be allowed to get away with murder, the remainder of my syndicate were still holding back. We were standing in the middle of a field and the instructor pointed at a pile of wood and some rope. “This area will be flooded in thirty minutes time, to a depth of three feet. You have got thirty minutes to build a platform that will hold you, your syndicate, your kit and you weapons three feet off the ground. It felt very like the exercises we had to go through in the hangar at Biggen Hill but there was no real formality to it as there had been at Biggen.
I can’t remember how we got on with my exercise and the only other one I remember was when we had to build a platform that would hold an observer ten feet above the ground using three telegraph poles and a piece of rope. They seemed to love their telegraph poles. We still had to march everywhere and I was told that they loved our syndicate as we would always be singing, so even in the dark they knew where we were. You’ve probably seen military flavoured movies where marching bodies chant out ditties and songs. The one we liked was the ‘knock knock’ song. If I was in charge I would shout ‘Knock Knock,’ my syndicate would reply, ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Lenda,’ I would cry, ‘Lenda who?’ was the response and then we would all join in shouting, ‘Lendus a fiver and we can have a gang bang, oh yes we will, because a gang bang gives me such a thrill, when I was younger and in my prime I used to gang bang all the time.’ Now you would move on to another name and continue as before.
If I ever had to march the whole course, my own syndicate members would try to get the whole body shouting but one or two people would complain that we would get into trouble so I was never able to get the whole course going, that would have been fun. It was a good laugh and took our minds of what we were actually doing. They even taught us battlefield signals and commands and gave us detailed training on how to maintain and operate light machine guns. I was tempted to tell them that I had been fully trained in the light machine gun by Slim on 92, but decided against it, as knowing what end the bullets came out might not have been seen as being very professional.
I’m not a great one for the waiting and hanging around in Germany hoping for news from Biggen Hill was killing me, so I was pleased to hear that I was off on detachment again. For a change this time we were not heading south for some sunshine we were heading north, right to the most northerly tip of Denmark, to Alborg. We were going up to play with the Danish F 16’s. This would mean lots of meat balls, pickled herring and Akvavit. The first bit of information that flew around the squadron was that a bottle of whiskey that we could buy for five pounds, tax free, in Germany, would cost thirty five pounds in Denmark. We were only sending a small detachment up which would be led by Squadron Leader Keith Mac Burney.
There were quite a few meetings where we discussed what operations we would want to complete while up there. This allowed the engineers to decide what equipment and personnel to bring and allowed me to order in specific maps and charts. But there was more. Keith and myself were called in to an office where a fellow in air force uniform briefed us. Although he wore an air force uniform he didn’t seem to be in the same air force as we were. As Keith and myself would have access to the safes, on our host squadron, we were asked to find out certain information that might be there. I was being sent on a spying mission, exciting stuff.
I was a little disappointed that I would not be given an Austin Martin or a fountain pen that could turn in to a surface to air missile. But then at the same time I was glad they didn’t give me a cyanide pill. Keith and myself were the only two people who knew about the mission and we would occasionally joke about it. It was certainly stimulating and became even more so when Keith told me that Alborg was the home of the Danish Special Forces. You will understand that even now I cannot divulge what we had to do and if this blog stops being broadcast you can safely assume that some men will have been around to remind me about the official secrets act that I signed.
The day before we were to travel to Denmark one of my fillings fell out. I immediately reported to the dental section to see if our dentist could repair my tooth. I was given a temporary filling and told that the tooth would be properly repaired on my return. You can imagine how impressed I was the following day as on take-off the temporary filling fell out. We arrived in Denmark and were pleased to all be handed a beer before our security briefing. It was a standard security and familiarisation brief although at one point the briefing officer pointed to an area marked on the map of the airfield. He explained that there were three hundred and fifty American USMC Recon Marines camped there and we were to stay well clear.
I was sharing a room with a Welsh store man, I think there were about thirty five of us there and by the first evening we had already established a block bar. There was a party in full swing. It was quite a session and some of the Danes had come over to welcome us. It was about midnight when I wandered off to the toilets to relieve myself. It was just one huge bathroom with urinals, toilets, sinks and showers. I was surprised to see my roommate, Taffy, having a shower. “Oh man!” he gasped above the sound of the water. “This shower is beautiful, it’s really, really, warm.” As I was about to leave the bathroom I went over to stand beside Taffy who was still proclaiming that this had to be the best shower he had ever enjoyed.
Taffy had been slamming beers and schnapps down his throat all evening in the block bar so was very, very, drunk indeed. “Taffy?” I asked, as he allowed the full force of the water to splash across his face. “Don’t you think you should have taken your uniform off first?” “Oh bloody Hell man,” he sighed noticing that he was fully clothed. “I wondered why it was so warm.” I promise you for our first morning in Denmark every one of us, including the Danes, nursed serious hangovers. That evening we went to the Danish mess and met our first American. We had been getting into the swing of things for a couple of hours when a couple of American pilots came in. They were still wearing their flying suits so it was quite obvious who and what they were. We encouraged them to join in with us and as one of them said “I’ve met you Brits before, I know what you are like.” We sort of knew which one to focus on.
Americans love to be the world champion of anything and everything so they were impressed when we told them that we had the world’s wrist stepping champion with us. They were very interested in how this was achieved and no doubt wanted to challenge the world champion. Basically someone has their wrists tied together, initially with about twelve inches between them. You then step through your arms and back out again. For a young fit man this would be no problem so our American demands that we allow him to challenge our world champion. A suitable length of rope was found and the competition began. Our chap went first, to show the American how it was done.
The American steps through and declares that this is easy. The distance between the wrists is now reduced and the person has to step through again. Our chap does this easily, as does the American. Now the wrists are tied tightly together and this makes the exercise a little more difficult. Our guy completes the task and with a little bit of a struggle the American steps through so that his hands are now firmly tied behind his back. The look on his face was hilarious when a brush shaft was produced and slipped between his back and his arms. We hoisted him up and balanced him between two large bins so that he was suspended in mid-air. He was a good sport and took it in the way it was intended.
Not every daft game went according to plan. A few more Americans had joined us and a new game was developed. How or why it came about I have no idea but basically we were diving through an open window. The bottom of the window was about waist height. With a short run, you had to duck down and then propel yourself through the open window without touching any of the sides. As drink had been taken people were slamming in to everything and I have to admit it was quite a laugh. That is until one of our fellows dived through the window perfectly. Unfortunately he was not able to execute a forward roll to complete the manoeuvre.
Instead he went head first through a metal grating and smashed his lower jaw to pieces. He was in quite a mess and we had to fight the Americans off as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. They were all dismantling pens and opening knifes offering to give our chap a tracheostomy. The medics patched our guy back together again and we didn’t attempt that particular game again while at Alborg. Keith and I had been given access to the safes and were trying to be very casual in our approach to them. And of course as we were 92 Squadron and had been warned to stay away from the Americans, we had challenged them to a games night in the mess.
Normally any claim or factual declaration, made on this Blog, is backed up with hard scientific fact and I think we now have happened upon an incident which will go a long way toward proving a statement I have made time and time again. I have often said that there were only two positions in the air force, fast jet pilot and failed fast jet pilot. Rank was only one way of gauging how embarrassed you were at your failure. A private or a TAG couldn’t care less, but a Wing Commander, without wings on his chest, would be the epitome of jealousy. Here I was stood standing in the reception area of OASC at Biggen Hill between a fast jet pilot, Air Commodore D L F Thornton and a failed fast jet pilot, Wing Commander, I couldn’t care less what his Christian name is, Brown.
Thornton shook my hand and greeted me like a long lost friend. How are you, where have you been, what have you been up to? These questions were asked with real enthusiasm and interest. He was smiling. Thornton had been the Station Commander at Valley when I had been on Mountain Rescue. He was the guy Chippy Prince and myself had met at a Mountain Rescue party and got absolutely steamboats with. He knew all his Mountain Rescue guys. He also knew I was the fellow who often cleaned the white lines outside the guardroom at Valley, on my knees, with a toothbrush, with a disciplinary Sergeant screaming at me. Yet I think he knew that I was one of the good ol boys, there was no hidden agenda, what you see is what you get.
Brown on the other hand would now remind me of the cartoon character Cartman, from South Park. A failed fast jet pilot, who would say, “Respect my authoritah!” Brown didn’t understand that respect was earned, not given, and that worked both ways, as Thornton was now showing. I have to admit I knew the line ‘Respect my authoritah’, but I have never watched the cartoon and had to Google it to find out the name of the character and the show. I am pleased with my comparison of Brown and Cartman for Google tells me Cartman is aggressive, prejudiced, emotionally unstable and a person who exhibits psychopathic and extremely manipulative behaviour. Sounds like Brown to me.
I have to say that it was delicious watching Brown’s face as Thornton and myself had a small chat. Thornton then went away joking that if I needed any help, which he was sure I wouldn’t, to just pop along to his office. Brown was waiting for an explanation and I didn’t give him one. He shook my hand and wished me luck, but when he said “ I really don’t want to see you again,” I knew he was serious, he didn’t want to see me in room ‘F’ and he didn’t want to see me ever again in the world of the air force. It was something I thought I could live with, although I knew if I was given a chitty and told to go to room ‘F’ I would go through the front doors and leave under my own steam, I wouldn’t give Brown the pleasure of seeing me fail. It was only as I sat down I noticed thirty prospective candidates watching me and I suspected that most of them hated me. If I was a friend of the Air Commodore then I wasn’t the one who was going to fail, for there was thirty one of us sat sitting there. One had to go, or God forbid seven of us.
One guy was called away and the thirty of us remaining, breathed a little easier, but we were still we not guaranteed success. The Squadron Leader who had interviewed me came in along with another Squadron Leader, they both carried clipboards, this was serious. My Squadron Leader addressed the group and explained that he was about to read out a list of names and those people were to come outside. My name was one of the six and the physical act of leaving the building scared me. He gathered us together outside on the steps of the building and spoke to us as a group. “Gentlemen,” he began. I looked around to see who he was talking to, then realised it was me. “It is my duty and my pleasure to inform you that you have passed the first part of the selection process. If you would follow me we will kit you out for the second part.”
We were taken away and issued with overalls and coloured bibs with reference numbers. The second part of the selection process consisted of practical group tests in the hanger, individual problem solving tasks and group discussion and problem solving. With our kit issued the Squadron Leader again addressed us warning that we were about to undergo what would be the most physically and mentally demanding couple of days of our lives. For some reason the fear of failure was now gone. During the first part of the selection process there were so many points where you could fail and people did, approximately seventy so far. We were advised to go and have lunch, the fun would start later.
We were taken in to the hangar, a full sized aircraft hangar that had been split into tennis court sized areas. Along the edges were ‘hides’. These were small cubicles where the syndicate would rest. We would each lead one practical exercise and each exercise would be different. One person would be called out from the hide and would present themselves to the Squadron Leader who had now been joined by the Wing Commander. They would show you your exercise and then explain what had to be done. You, as the leader were allowed three or four minutes to measure distances, see if various bits of equipment would fit and generally work out your method of completing the exercise.
Once you were ready, within the allotted time of course, you stood at the midway point and called your syndicate out from the hide. They would line up along the start point and you would first of all explain the problem. Now you would give your approach on how to solve and complete the exercise and then ask for any comments or suggestions. This too was governed by a time limit and before you knew it you were into your exercise. One I remember was quite simple really. We had to carry a bag of delicate scientific instruments from one end of the course to the other. The first thing you realised is that the bag of delicate scientific instruments is actually a kit bag full of wet sand.
The next slight problem is that we had to carry the bag of delicate scientific instruments while all six of us were standing on a plank of wood. I am sure most of you are already thinking ‘That’s easy, I could do that.’ Well; I haven’t finished yet. The plank of wood is sitting on half a dozen wooden rollers. We can move the plank forward by all shifting our weight in one direction and all at the same time. But the last person has to pick up the vacant rollers and pass them forward so that the lead person can feed them back under the plank. Oh any by the way the plank has to go under various hurdles. I’m sure that most of the people at Biggen Hill were quite clever but it surprised me that no one had come up with the idea of putting these exercises on video and adding a bit of Benny Hill music. They could have made a fortune.
My exercise was to cross a river. I had a selection of short planks that could fit between stepping stones. I was allowed to see which would fit what before I called the remainder of my syndicate out. I don’t think my syndicate completed the task, but not many of them were completed. One of the most famous exercises was the swing, where the whole team had to swing across a chasm, with the bag of delicate scientific instruments. There was a lot of laughter and nervous energy. At one point I realised I was soaking wet with sweat. We were all straggled out along the course, time was about to expire and the person leading the exercise decided that he would accomplish the mission by getting the bag of delicate scientific instruments across the finish line. It took some effort, but he launched the bag which crossed the finish line within the allocated time limit but sadly without any of us connected to it.
It is normally during times of great stress, when people are under enormous pressure, that certain individuals will have an ‘eureka’ moment. I, as you will remember, was being interviewed by a Squadron Leader and a Wing Commander at the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Biggen Hill, OASC. I was under so much stress and pressure that I had my very own ‘eureka’ moment. You are probably aware of just how lucky you are being a member of the Illuminati as you are constantly being given information that destroys most things you have been brought up to believe, such as the fact that pillows cause what is normally know as hangovers, not alcohol. Well; stand by for another revelation.
I know that the two officers were probably sitting there saying to themselves that this fellow, me, was absolutely perfect for the air force and that they should probably just make me a Wing Commander and give me my very own Spitfire there and then. Of course as a fully paid up member of the good ol boys I could only have a Spitfire with a go faster stripe, a sixteen foot long whiplash aerial and an eight track in the cockpit. They probably thought I looked super cool and relaxed but what they were not aware of is that world war three, four and five were raging away inside my head.
You’ve probably heard various scientists and eminent professors’ blether on about how the brain has two sides, well; they’re wrong. And I shall now prove it. They say that every person has a left brain and a right brain. The two different sides of the brain control two different types of thinking. The left brain is the “logical” side while the right brain is the “creative” side. Perhaps if they had said every ‘normal’ person has a left brain and a right brain, there may have been an ounce of truth in their statement. Logical thought is supposed to come from the left brain while creative thought comes from the right brain and whichever side you favour, determines the type of person you are.
Well; I was sat sitting there being interviewed and the right hand side of my brain was very pleased with itself, as it had heard me answer certain questions in a most creative way. My left hand side however was quite upset that I couldn’t even answer the simplest question such as what do the letters NATO stand for. Unfortunately an argument started and the two sides of my brain were kicking lumps out of each other. So; if both the left hand side of my brain and the right hand side were engaged in, what we could call, cranium to cranium combat, who was answering the questions, for I was still talking while all this was going on in my head? Ergo, that’s Latin by the way which roughly translated means to prove, in a conclusive and scientific way, just how correct I am, there has to be a third side to the brain, there may be a fourth, I am not sure. So; if we have left and right, why not add front and back to the categories? And please let’s not have any comments along the lines of me talking through my back side.
Perhaps this is not the place to discuss serious scientific topics so I’ll write a proper paper and submit it to Warrenpoint University after tea. After forty five minutes the interview was over and I was led away from the interview room. I was punched drunk; I really was stunned, caught in the proverbial headlights of, ‘What the feck just happened there?’ I returned to the reception area and sat myself down. Everything was grey; I was unsure how I had performed. There was a mixture of wishing I had said certain things differently, of being pleased with some things I had said and of total disbelief at how fecking stupid I had been in other cases.
They had to shout twice when they called me for my medical. I was measured and prodded and pulled and poked and weighed. My eyesight was checked, they were very thorough and before I knew it I was sat outside waiting. There was one number prominent in most people’s heads and that was if you were successful, with the first part of the selection process, you would be invited to stay and undergo the second part. This would be approached in groups of six or as they called them ‘syndicates’. I didn’t concern myself with how they could be so number specific with their results, but could see that they had a target to meet and some people would, or could, be very close to the success or failure line, if they only selected in multiples of six.
I was told that the president of the medical board wanted to see me and I hoped that I wasn’t going to be one of the borderline casualties. I went in to find an old duffer in a charcoal grey, pin striped, suit. I sat down before him. “We would prefer people to be spot on with their weight,” he began, only glancing at me. The old alarm bells were ringing away, on every one of the sides of my brain, as he wouldn’t establish nor maintain eye contact with me. “You are at the upper end of the weight range we would be willing to accept for aircrew training so I am a bit concerned about you. I mean do you think you would be able to lose half a stone before your aircrew training would begin?”
“You haven’t even looked at my file, have you?” I said, wondering which side of my brain had come up with that. It was a logical statement and it was also quite creative, as he would now have to look in my file. There was also an Irish flavour to it, as in a challenge, looks like I was talking out of my back side again. The president of the medical board opened my personnel file that sat in front of him on his desk. He drew his finger down the first page, closed the file and signed my form. “As far as I am concerned,” he said. “You are air crew fit, you have passed the medical.” I wandered back to the reception area. I knew I had passed the medical. I was still at Biggen Hill, so there was a good chance I had passed the tests and a decent chance I had passed the interview, but you could never tell.
The reception area was a large room. In one corner high on a wall was a television that had been playing a continuous loop of air force promotional adverts, a bit like preaching to the converted if you ask me. The television was now showing some cricket match. The chairs were arranged in an oblong or square formation. I knew that everyone in the room, every candidate, was counting how many people were in the room and dividing that number by six. I stood behind a line of chairs and let my mind unwind. There was just so much going on in my head I didn’t notice a fellow come in behind me and walk up to stand beside me.
“What’s the score on the cricket?” he asked, and I turned to see the person I detested most in the world. It was Wing Commander Brown from Watton. One of the useless air traffickers who had messed me about, the one who had eventually passed Andy Swetman for aircrew, the one who had told Tim Lort he wouldn’t promote him to Corporal, never mind allow him to be assessed for aircrew. This was the rugby referee who would warn me, and me alone, before rugby matches, that he would officiate at, that he was watching me. We both looked at each other and understood exactly what we thought of each other. “What are you doing here?” he asked, then added, while holding out his hand. “Sorry that’s a stupid question.” He went on to explain that he was in room ‘F’. That’s ‘F’ for failure.
Anyone who failed, at whatever point during the assessment, was sent to room ‘F’ where this Wing Commander Brown would inform them that they had failed and what bus they should catch. The perfect man for such a horrible job. We both faced toward the television set standing in silence, we had nothing to say to each other. We heard the double entrance doors behind us swing shut and we both turned to see who had entered. All I saw was a pair of shoulders with so much rank I froze. I turned back while the person who had entered came and stood on the other side of me. It was the guy in charge of OASC Biggen Hill, Air Commodore D L F Thornton. God himself was standing next to me.
The Air Commodore leaned forward and said to Wing Commander Brown, while nodding toward the television. “What’s the score?” “Sorry sir, I don’t know,” said Brown. “I’ve just come in.” “Oh,” said the Air Commodore, adding. “Well, there’s no point in asking Paddy, he hates cricket.”
It seemed a bit daft that I would drive to Liverpool and five days later return to Germany so that I could prepare myself to fly back to the UK. But I suppose the moment you declare yourself to be an international criminal these things happen. Or as they often say, ‘You shouldn’t have joined up if you can’t take a joke.’ With the family back in Germany I began my final preparations for Biggen Hill. There wasn’t much more I could do apart from keep the physical training up as most people, like myself, believed the old adage about a fit body producing a fit mind. I had allowed the air force to arrange my trip to Biggen which I regretted. It was nice to be looked after and to be ferried from one point to another. It was just that there were so many bloody points.
I think I flew in to Luton, and then was driven to Hendon in London. That was on the Friday. On the Saturday I escaped and went over to Brixton and relaxed with Mervyn and Willie. It was good to catch up with the guys and we did enjoy a couple of beers although Mervyn wanted me to try out his new favourite cocktail which was a mixture of crème de menthe and vodka. There was an unwritten rule in the air force that the night before an exam you would not study but get completely legless. I for one was not going to break with tradition, although I wasn’t really starting until the Monday. On the Sunday I dragged myself back across London from Brixton to Hendon, collected my kit and made my way to Biggen Hill, which involved a succession of buses, trains, tubes and taxis.
I was shown to a six man room and settled in. There was a briefing pack so I quickly familiarised myself with the important places such as the bar and the mess. By early evening the room was fully occupied, in fact the whole block was fully occupied. A small number of us were already serving in the forces but most were civilians. Despite the fact that I had already been through the selection process before, and successfully I may add, I was still quite nervous. I suppose when you are seventeen you don’t have the weight of the world on your shoulders. That evening I went for a wander knowing that this was the actual heart of the air force. From the spitfire guys and the battle of Britain even to 92 squadron itself, Biggen Hill was certainly an iconic place.
I later learned that there are a couple of books about the selection process that describe the process in detail and suggest certain approaches that may encourage success. I just kept my mind open and presented myself first thing on the Monday morning along with perhaps one hundred other hopefuls. First of all we were registered and then poured in to various classrooms. I do remember that they fed us exam after exam. They were all multi choice tests but what they would do is say there are fifty questions and you have seven minutes to complete them. So before you open the paper you are calculating just how long you have for each question. Well; I was.
So, you think right, I’ve got eight point four seconds per question. There is a huge clock on the front wall on which they have stuck a large dayglo orange pointer. They adjust the pointer and then tell you to start. When the minute hand and the pointer line up with each other your time is up. Of course half your time is now spent watching the clock and thinking, okay I’ve completed ten questions, in seventy seconds, so I’ve got three hundred and fifty seconds left for forty questions which gives me eight point seven five seconds per question. By the next calculation you attempt to make you begin to confuse yourself. I know that we were expecting test papers on mathematics, physics and English but one on languages came and one on geography. The guys in charge told us to complete them anyway.
Lunch time was upon us in the blink of an eye and most of us were quite silent as we tried to drag our minds back across the papers we had completed and wonder how we had got on. After lunch we again were in classrooms and I found one of these tests quite funny. Three was a screen at the front of the room. On it was four columns, displaying icons like a fruit machine. Across the centre was a thick black line. Each column moved from top to bottom. At the top were four boxes, one above each column and each box displayed an icon, which changed. We each had a large metal box, connected to a computer they told us, with four switches in a line. These were heavy industrial switches.
When an icon passed through the thick black line, that matched the icon in the box above the column, you pressed the corresponding key on your box. So try to imagine fifty guys sitting watching this huge fruit machine display, all waiting for a matching pair to appear, when somebody clicks their switch. Forty nine guys now wonder what they have missed. Someone else clicks and complete mayhem then erupts as you sit there wondering what on earth is going on. It was funny to think about it later on but at the time it was seriously frustrating.
After lunch most of us would have gone back to our room and we may have noticed that one of the beds was empty. On the Monday evening it was quite obvious that more beds were unoccupied. Whether or not this was another method of putting us under pressure I’m not sure, but if it was it certainly worked, for you were more than aware that at any moment you could fail and be sent back to your unit. We didn’t actually see people leaving, just the spaces they left behind. On the Monday evening my head was a complete mess and I just collapsed on my bed. The following day was the interview and I don’t think anyone was looking forward to those.
We all gathered in the large foyer and some began to go for medicals while others were being interviewed. Two people would interview you, a Wing Commander and a Squadron Leader. A Squadron Leader came into the reception area and called my name. I went over to him and we left the area. He stopped outside an office and pointed at a podium, telling me to place my educational certificates before him. If they were not in order I would be on my way. Thankfully he accepted my certificates and we went in to the interview room. I learned later that even the way they had set the room out was planned. They had plenty of room but I was sort of jammed in, again, psychologically putting me under pressure.
They introduced themselves and explained that one would ask a question while the other would take notes and they would take alternate turns. Off we went. At one point I heard myself answer a question and was actually wondering where the answer had come from. It really was strange. They had asked me to imagine that I was flying along and saw a submarine pulling away from a dock. I had fired a missile at the submarine and I had destroyed it. Two hundred people had died as a result, how did I feel? I said that I would probably feel positive, although was really thinking of the line from Alice’s Restaurant, where he sings, “I wanna see blood, guts and gore with veins in my teeth, I wanna kill!”
The next fellow then says, “Right, their air defence has managed to hit you with a missile. You’ve banged out and are floating down on your parachute. You can see three or four hundred people coming towards your landing zone armed with pick axes and shovels, the relatives of the sailor’s you have just killed. From the other side, the local militia are racing toward your landing zone armed to the teeth and they are not happy because you have just killed two hundred of their friends. You have one pistol and twenty rounds of ammunition. What are you going to do?”
That’s when I heard myself say. “I would hope that the training I would have received for such a situation would see me through.” I know I spent the next few moments wondering where that answer had come from. Then one of them asked, ‘Do you know what NATO is?’ ‘Of course,” I laughed, adding. “I’m in it.” “So what do the letters NATO stand for?” Next to the question asking what your name was, this had to be the easiest question ever. That’s when my brain froze.
Sorry about this but I’m going to have to go off topic for a few moments. The Celtic Illumination Blog has received another award, ‘The Versatile Blogger’ award. The more alert of you Illuminati will, or might, say “Ah, well done, award number three,” and you would be correct, except it is number four, as I never bothered to mention number three, ‘The Liebster Award.’ So before you all go looking for a length of rope and a suitable tree, please hear me out. To have someone comment or nominate you for an award, or even present you with an award, is a great honour. It means that they have read the Blog and have liked it enough to place a marker on it, and I really do thank you for that. And what is a Blog if it doesn’t have readers?
Unfortunately there is an established etiquette that goes along with getting an award for your Blog. Firstly I have to display the badge on my page, which I don’t really know how to do, which is why I was keeping quiet about number three, but I realised I would be letting my readers, you, the Illuminati, down. I am supposed to put a back link in to the Blog that recommended me, something I am not really sure how to do, but will try. The request from the latest award, The versatile Blogger, from DESTROY ALL FANBOYS, http://fanboydestroy.com/ (I hope that is the correct way to put a link in) was to display the award on my Blog, not sure how to, but will try. Announce your nomination and thank the Blogger, done. Present 15 deserving Bloggers with the award. Might have a slight problem with the links but will try. Link your nominees in the post and let them know of their nomination with a comment, I think I’ve covered this with my problem with links. The final request is that I post seven interesting things about myself. Only seven?
A quick glance at the file where I keep my Blog archive, shows that to date I have produced two hundred and thirty thousand words, equivalent to approximately eight hundred and fifty pages, if it were a book, and all about me, me, me. Is it not interesting enough that I am the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, the high Chief of The Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland? Is it not interesting enough that I am an international criminal, have the loveliest legs in Ireland and once thought I was Jesus? Is it not interesting enough for me to say that by being born with six fingers on my left hand was not a disfigurement but a mark of God? So this little side track is to thank all those who have taken the time to select me for awards, to explain that I really do appreciate them and do want to respond correctly to them but am technically, a little behind the drag curve, shall we say. My attempts to change the look of the Blog so that I can show these award badges might result in a few hiccups, so please bear with me. Otherwise as we can now officially acknowledge and celebrate award number four, let’s have a party.
And believe it or not it was party time in Cyprus. (Hope you liked what I did there.) It was time for the detachment squadron party which was to be held at the sailing club. There were three coach loads of us who descended on the sailing club. The first two coach loads had arrived and the guys were trying to consume all the free food before the aircrew came. It really was a lovely setting and a very warm night. John Zammo and myself were stood standing at the bar, as you do, when we heard a coach pull up behind the bar. We informed the others that the aircrew had arrived and there was a certain hush that descended on the atmosphere. It didn’t dampen the mood, we were just curious as to how they would present themselves.
We could hear the odd cackle and laugh coming from them but no one had appeared around the corner and we were wondering what was going on when we heard someone shouting. It was military flavoured shouting and was someone bringing men to attention. We all listened with great interest and were rewarded by seeing J R march all the aircrew around the side of the bar and onto the beach. As they passed the bar, Squadron Leader Keith Mac Burney, broke ranks and ran over to John and myself, where he slapped his wallet on the bar counter, in front of us, and as he left to return to the marching column of men, shouted. “Get me a brandy sour and get yourselves a drink too.”
John and I didn’t need much persuading and delved in to his wallet, but kept watching J R and the aircrew wondering what on earth they were up to. J R marched the guys right into the sea, up to about waist height, ordered them to about turn and brought them out of the water. It was quite a giggle and as Keith Mac Burney dripped and squelched his way up to the bar and his waiting brandy sour, he informed us that most of the aircrew knew that they would have been thrown into the sea at some time during the evening, so they thought they might as well get it over with and enjoy the evening, free from worry.
It was a cracker of an evening. John and I stole, sorry, borrowed, one of the buses and went for a spin around Akrotiri. It was great fun; I was driving and John was operating the lights. Well; when I say he was operating the lights, he was flicking all the switches trying to get the headlights to work but he couldn’t, so we settled for the inside lights of the bus. At the end of the evening it was so warm that the guys decided that they would not sit inside the coaches as the air conditioning was non-existent so they all sat on top of the coaches. The only person worried was the driver. The first stop was the air crew accommodation and John and myself were invited to stay for a small sherry. Well; Keith Mac Burney said. “Oi! Get your arse of the bus and come and have a drink with us.” Which I think correctly followed all the required etiquette and procedure.
A fire was lit outside their accommodation and we all sat around drinking brandy. It was one of those sessions where you just simple pass out or fall asleep. All I knew was that I had woke up in my own bed with a right sore head. This wasn’t the sort of injury you can get from improper use of a pillow and can be incorrectly known as a hangover. This was more along the lines of a physical issue and I wondered just how much my pillow actually hated me. I knew I would have to complete much more detailed research into pillow abuse.
It was the Monday morning when it was all explained to me by Colin Malcolm. Colin had been the orderly officer the night of the squadron party and had been stone cold sober throughout the evening. He explained what had happened and I was slightly embarrassed as he couldn’t stop himself from laughing as he explained what had gone on. I had passed out. Standard squadron operating procedure for consuming too much brandy. Keith Mac Burney had decided that he would ensure that John, who hadn’t passed out but who was trying to crawl in to the embers of the bonfire to keep warm. Keith decided that he would ensure that John and myself would be escorted safely back to our accommodation. He asked Colin Malcolm to bring the minibus around and he then organised the remaining aircrew to help get John and I into the back of the vehicle.
I was lifted, by four fighter pilots, one on each hand and one on each leg and under the supervision of Keith Mac Burney was taken over to the rear of the minibus. Keith decided that by employing a swinging motion they could sort of chuck me into the rear of the vehicle. Keith was coordinating and suggested that on the count of three, maximum effort would be employed, and I would sail into the rear of the waiting vehicle. The first attempt failed, as did the second and the third. By this point in the recounting of the story, Colin Malcolm looks as if he is about to wet himself with laughter and Keith Mac Burney is just as interested in the story as I am. Colin continues to explain that he had to step in and help. The reason the guys couldn’t get me into the rear of the vehicle was because they hadn’t opened the fecking doors, and every time Keith Mac Burney shouted “Three!” they swung me forward and my head slammed in to the closed rear doors of the minibus.
It was a standard grey day in Germany, winter was still holding on but spring beckoned. The days seemed lighter. John Zammo was on his usual mail run around the squadron and on passing through operations mentioned that J R wanted to see me. I left whatever I was doing and made my way up to J R‘s office. Normally, he would tell me what he wanted but this time he invited me in, asked me to close the door and then to take a seat. Something out of the ordinary was happening. J R had a signal in front of him and he was smiling. “Biggen Hill have accepted you for selection, we’ve just got to wait for a date.” Well; I can tell you my spirits were flying higher than any phantom ever could.
J R then made sure that I knew what I was in for. He explained the importance of being on the ball as far as current affairs were concerned and emphasised the importance of physical fitness. From that moment on every member of the aircrew made a point of conversing with me, asking me questions about current affairs and explaining the role of the air force. It was a lovely time, even J R took time to chat to me about his role, the role of the squadron, even the future of the air force. I was quite surprised one evening when the station commander came over for some night flying that he mentioned that he had noticed I had been accepted and wished me luck.
I had a very simple plan which was to complete training as sergeant aircrew air electronics. This was a relatively new branch in the air force so the upper echelons were still quite fluid. Prove myself and after a couple of years take a commission and aim for the top. As long as I had the correct attitude and worked hard it was very achievable. There was one slight problem standing in my way which of course was Biggen Hill. I had to pass the selection process. This was no morning of tests and some half arsed interview; this was a week-long selection process from which most other personnel selection processes in the UK had stemmed from.
There was of course the elephant in room, which was me. My weight would never stay still and I suppose I was to become a yo-yo dieter for the rest of my life. I began training in earnest because although I had a plan for my career, I suppose I secretly wanted to prove all those air traffickers, who had messed me about for years, I wanted to prove them wrong. However now I felt a new force coming in to play, for I felt obliged to J R and his aircrew. They had so readily given me their support and encouragement I felt that I had to pass Biggen Hill to validate their backing.
We all knew that Biggen Hill could ask for me at any time they pleased so I was to be ready at a moment’s notice to get back to the UK. So to add a little bit of pressure to the equation the squadron left for Cyprus. I had been placed on the advance party and on the rear party, again, so I was facing six weeks in the sun. It was strange that many of us found the little things so important. On arrival I discovered that there was no running water on our dispersal. My main worry was how would J R get his morning coffee? J R drank coffee so strong the spoon, as they say, could have stood up in it. Added to that the man constantly sucked on a foul smelling pipe and I don’ t think he could have faced the day without his nicotine and caffeine hit first thing.
When the birds arrived I drove out on to the pan and collected their G suits and bone domes, how there happened to be a crate of ice cold beers in the truck as well I will never know but the guys enjoyed it. Operations had been set up, the engineers put the birds to bed and the aircrew settled in to their accommodation. The next morning J R arrived to work and came in to operations. “Any chance of a coffee?” he asked, I was about to leave ops and get him his coffee when one of the navigators chirped, “There’s no water Boss, and it won’t be back on for a week.” I had made sure that I had secreted away a gallon of fresh water so that J R could have his morning hit.
It was quite funny when I came back in to operations with his coffee, the navigator didn’t really know where to put himself and J R just smiled a knowing smile. But then he took my seat behind the ops desk and passed me the keys to his car. I was to go back to my accommodation, collect my training kit and return to the squadron. I wasn’t aware but there were certain established jogging routes in Cyprus and J R had selected one for me. I was to continue opening the squadron in the morning, however, J R would come in and I would, having given him his coffee, change into my training kit and complete an eight mile jog. Oh, and by the way, he was timing me, so he wanted to see an improvement over the coming days.
I felt a bit strange leaving the squadron but in a very short space of time I was away from the dispersal and on my own. Just me, my breathing, my heartbeat, and the sunshine. I would say that the first third of the route was uphill, across the domestic site, through married quarters and onto the cliff tops. The cliff tops curved around and dropped away, so the following third was a gentle descent to the harbour and then the final third would have been uphill again, but not as severe as the first third. I promise you it was perfect. Once past the married quarters and on top of the cliffs I would take off my shirt and just enjoy the sunshine.
Initially I was concerned as snakes would be slithering about in front of me. My pounding along would have them skitter across my path and it was quite disconcerting, especially for an Irishman, where was Saint Patrick when you needed him? I couldn’t really enjoy the view for the first couple of days as I was more concerned with the snakes but after a while I got used to them and I suppose they got used to me. My efforts had been quite successful as my uniform was hanging off me. A couple of the guys, Brian Henwood and Jim Smith wanted to put wire coat hangers in the cuffs of my shorts as they were so big they were comical. It really would have made me look like one of Spike Milligan’s characters or someone from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, but then Brian Henwood, a Squadron Leader fighter pilot, was the fellow who would skip across the ops room singing. “I’m walking backwards for Christmas across the Irish sea.”
Nothing fitted me and clothing stores would not exchange my kit for something smaller. I had to pull it all together and hold my trousers up with a belt. Someone had the great idea of stapling my shorts to my shirt, which was grand as long as you didn’t sit down. Of course being in Cyprus helped greatly not just the great weather but the diet which was heavy on the salad, so no one minded if I rewarded myself with the occasional brandy sour and the odd bout of squadron madness.