FRIENDS REUNITED

By Russ RussellArmourer

Brian's moving report on Eric Stone's funeral in Journal No. 56, Aug 2018, reminded me of the fellow mourners that I met for the first time in many years from my early days at Chivenor. Amongst them was Ken Thomas, a direct entry airman; as I remember he was one of the Cpls on No 11 BST (Bofors Servicing Team) at Akrotiri when we first met in 1959/60. We later served together at Chivenor till around 1963 which was the last time we saw each other.

We were housed in the general engineering complex of 103 MU at Akrotiri which consisted of a carpentry shop, a fabric shop, an assembly shop, a machine shop, a welding shop and our armoury on the end, all arranged around three sides of an open quadrangle. Our flight commander was Flt Lt Dusty Miller BEM, an ex-ranker who was not especially enamoured of having a bunch of armourers of a higher trade group foisted upon him. Our storeman was an Egyptian, Mr Aziz BEM, and that didn't go down too well either! Aziz had built a really attractive garden, complete with buried boxes to support the wooden posts that had ropes threaded through them to form the boundary. The whole thing contained a spectacular show of zinnias (beautiful flowers which seemed to thrive on the sand) which he lovingly tended every day.

I was tasked with producing mod kits for the earthing arrangements on the twenty-four L40/70 guns of 3 L AA Wing RAF Regiment. We owned a Taskers trailer which was a mobile field workshop that had been salvaged from RAF Abu Sueir after the Suez job; I used its lathe to make steel back-plates and threaded studs, brass conical nuts and also the brass butterfly wings. The welding shop then had to braze the bits together and fit an anchor chain and washer.

Our workforce consisted of a group of JTs - Pete Storrow, Bert Hall, Brian Spencer, Phil Jarman and myself plus our electrician Cpl Tech Bob Lucas - all of us 81st; a handful for Jack Wilkinson our FS! (Ginge Stebbings and Jack Squires worked in the tech wing armoury just down the road.)

Ken Thomas was in charge of a party of us one day and was holding the eye of the very heavy tow-bar guiding a four and a half ton gun, with the rest of us behind pushing it, up the slope towards the welding bay where the electric arc leads could reach the chassis of the gun to weld the assembled earthing stud in place. The gun was normally towed behind a Bedford RL 3-tonner with the five-man Regiment crew in the back. We reached the appointed place and Ken gave the order "brakes"; this involved taking two brake levers, stowed on the A frame which supported the gun barrel when travelling on the road, and fitting them to the ratcheted brakes on the two rear wheels. At this point somebody noted that it was time for our tea break so we all went indoors but sadly Ken was on the other side of the huge armour plate of the turntable and thus hadn't heard or seen us leave.

The welder finished his job and Ken gave the order "brakes" but nothing happened, again he ordered "brakes"; on hearing this the welder, who had seen us do it many times before, released both the catches of the brakes. As the gun began to pick up speed down the slope Ken shouted "brakes", a louder "brakes", then a very much louder "BRAKES" . . . !

If it had gone straight across the tech wing road, across the bondu and down the one hundred and fifty yards of steep slope, the gun would have ended up on what is today the Akrotiri Air Terminal pan where the Voyager operates from. Fortunately he was able to swing the gun on to the edge of the quadrangle but, when it finally came to rest, it had totally destroyed Aziz's garden, posts, ropes and flowers, in a cloud of dust just as Dusty Miller poked his head out of the doorway!

I am only sad that I did not remember this event until after Ken and I had left the funeral but I would have enjoyed reminding him of it.