"THE YEARS BEFORE HALTON (1941 - 1955)."

By Alan Lowther.Armourer.


My earliest memories go back to late 1941 when my father was at home on leave after a period of hospitalisation due to being wounded in some theatre of the Second World War. We lived in Easington village on the north east coast, south of Sunderland and north of Hartlepool. Despite the country location we didn't totally escape the bombing of Hartlepool and Sunderland although the ones that fell close to us were as a result of them being jettisoned due to RAF fighter activity. My father's parents lived about 100 yards down the road and I used to spend a lot of time there with my uncle Alf (youngest of a family of seven and 18 months older than me). He joined the RAF as a Boy Entrant (Engines) and finished his career at Cranwell as an instructor; he decided to leave when he was recommended for a second tour. We spent a lot of our time roaming the local fields. I can remember the chickens, pigs and the Anderson shelter out in the back garden although I can't remember ever spending any nights in there. In the middle of 1942 my mother sold our house and we moved to Sherburn village (about five miles east of Durham City) to live with her mother due to my father having been killed in an action in North Africa (Knightsbridge, May 1942). Life carried on much the same for us as we had other family in the village so I spent a lot of time with my mother's brother's children. Most of this time was spent on two farms or looking after the eight Shire horses at the Co-op dairy (in those days virtually everything was delivered behind a horse and cart). Looking after the horses involved mucking out, feeding, rubbing down and putting them out in the field at the end of the day. I still marvel at the memory of me walking eight enormous horses (four in each hand) down to the field every evening when I was only five years old. I used to have to stand on the field fence to release the ropes from the bridles and, luckily, they were all very gentle and well behaved. Perhaps it was a case of not biting the hand that feeds you.

Come September 1943 and it was time to start school. My first few days weren't brilliant. My mother and grandmother had taught me to read, write and do simple arithmetic and, for some reason, the form teacher objected to this and made me stand in the corner all day for the first couple of days. Treatment after that wasn't much better except that I didn't have to stand in the corner, he just wouldn't let me answer any questions. Naturally enough I told my mother and a couple of weeks later I was moved to Western Hill School in Durham City. That was a five mile bus ride each way every day on my own (who would do that these days?!). The daily school run went well and I looked forward to the holidays which meant working on the farms, haymaking, cutting the corn and collecting it to store in stacks in the farmyard, taking the cows to the field and returning them in the late afternoon to be milked. We also looked after the new-born calves and the chickens as well as the Co-op dairy horses and any other jobs that were relevant to the two farms.

In late 1947 my mother bought a house in Durham City so we moved from Sherburn Village into the city, virtually under the railway viaduct. Just a short walk to school plus all the entertainment that the city had to offer, cinemas, ice rink, river, boats, swimming baths etc. I did paper rounds every day, including Sundays, worked at the boatyard in the summer and eventually saved up enough to buy a pair of ice hockey skates. After that I spent most of my free time in the ice rink and, eventually, started playing ice hockey. Two of the senior boys at school, Dave Lammin and Bobby Green, both played for Durham Wasps, and for England, so they both had quite an influence on me. The best I managed was to be selected for the Durham Hornets, the reserves in effect.

A couple of years later and we moved again, this time to Merryoaks on the outskirts of the city right on the A1 opposite Durham golf course, about a mile along the road from a well-known pub/hotel called the 'Cock O' the North' and just about 3 miles from school, which wasn't a problem as I went on my bike. I quit my paper rounds and did caddying on the golf course, where I could earn 15/- a round on a Saturday or Sunday morning. There were also a couple of farms close by where I helped out with the animals and potato picking, haymaking etc. My stepfather was running his own business so I spent a lot of time up in Weardale with him doing his deliveries where he taught me to drive (14 years old). At the time we had a Vauxhall 14 that I only ever drove round the block.

Another couple of years and in 1953, at the age of 15, my parents decide to move to York. I wasn't too happy about it as I only had a couple of years left at school and the GCE exams. Anyway, off we went and we initially lived in Acomb. I had trouble with schools as they all wanted me to do Latin and German, which I had never done before, so I refused to go. Eventually I went to York Technical College where I did the subjects of my choosing. I joined the Whixley Squadron of the ATC and attended every week. One of our regular visitors was the CO of 92 Sqn from Linton-on-Ouse who taught us all about the things relevant to flying; at that time they were flying Canadair built Sabres. We also got day trips to Linton where Meteor NF11s and 14s were also based.

I was offered an apprenticeship at Saunders-Roe at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, courtesy of the Chief Engineer whose daughter and I were very good friends. I may have mentioned before that I had been round the factory where they were building the Princess flying boat, the SRA1 fighter and eventually the SR53 fighter/interceptor. I had also been around Osborne House where they built the full scale Princess mock-up and also did some of the tank-testing after the DH Comet crashes of the early fifties. So an offer of an apprenticeship was worth serious consideration. I also saw the SRA1 and the Princess flying out of Southampton Water along with the many Sunderlands and Sandringhams that were moored there.

Back to the ATC and I had a chat with our CO, Fg Off Walker, and the 92 Sqn CO about options within the RAF and they recommended that I take the entrance exam for RAF Halton. This I did, along with Rob Luesley, at the ATC HQ in Whixley and we both passed. So it was that on Sept. 5th 1955 that I began my training as an Armourer (not my first choice, which was Engines, but the officer on the interview obviously wasn't impressed when I rattled on about the Otto-cycle when he had asked me what it was). Still, it all worked out in the end, as they say.