MUSN'T FORGET MY SMALL KIT Pt3

By Kevin HutchinsonArmourer


Masirah.

Home Base: Masirah.

On arrival at the said island on board a RAF Transport Command Britannia after a pleasant stopover at Akrotiri, Cyprus, I was met at the door by a rush of hot air as if from an oven. My immediate fear was that I might not endure the full nine months of this. At the shed which passed for the Arrivals Lounge, I was met by members of the armoury staff, notably by the current boss Chf Tech Bill Hancock. He made me welcome, showed me my quarters and then I was given a whirlwind tour of what was to be my empire. After a meal, shower and change of clothing, I met Bill and a number of others in the mess bar and had a few drinks. It soon became evident that as a drinker, Bill was in a far superior league to me. Nonetheless, I did my best, knowing that I had all weekend to recover.

The armoury, the centre of my new occupation, was almost at the far end of the camp just before the main camp road penetrated the “donkey fence.” The road then petered out into the barren and rocky hinterland which was the main characteristic of the island. The staff at that moment were the aforesaid Bill Hancock, two other Chf Techs: Jim Clelland (locally famous because he had sited an air-to-ground firing range – known for years afterwards as Clelland Range) and Brian Bamforth, and Sgt Tony Jaques who had been at Leconfield with me. This organisation was top heavy in the extreme, and I remember wondering how any work got done. I was to learn that fortunately, Bill Hancock had a very strong personality and thus was able to run the show very effectively. In any case, the two other Chiefs and Tony Jaques were almost finished their tours and would be away within a few weeks. Likewise for Bill Hancock, as soon as he had settled me in and handed over the reins.

Bill Hancock was about seven years older than me, and had vast experience. He was a very clubbable person who was likely to be found on the ruling committee of any organisation to which he belonged. One of his activities on the island was running programmes on the Masirah Radio, which was in fact a Tannoy system rigged up throughout the domestic area of the camp, and devoted to entertainment for the troops. Bill was on first-name terms with many of the leading lights of the BBC World Service, and was instrumental in organising the odd visit by such people as Jack Dabbs, who so far as the listening public was concerned, was the BBC World Service. Inevitably, Bill was a welcome visitor to the Diplomatic Wireless Service (DWS) – the body who ran the World Service transmitters at the north end of the island – which organisation was to all intents and purposes out of bounds to other members of the RAF fraternity.

Image shows "The Jebel" - not all the island was so rugged.

Shortly after I arrived, the remainder of my armoury staff were also posted in. First of them was Cpl John Jarvill. In his late twenties, he was mature in outlook – one could almost certainly say “of the old school” - and I was very fortunate in having him work with me. He had an air of competence which was fully justified. Hailing from Brigg, Lincolnshire, his absorbing hobby was full sized railways, and was a member of the North Norfolk Railway. On arrival he immediately joined the staff of the “Masirah State Railway”, and within a couple of months became the General Manager, in which job he instituted many improvements. His name is prominent in the history of the railway “The RAF Masirah Railway” by W J L Corser. Next to arrive was JT Phil Mann, then SAC Chris Austin. These were both young fellows on their first overseas tour and were enthusiastic and competent.

Also on the armoury staff were two Arabs from the Wali Camp, a village less than a mile from the RAF camp. Nominally labourers, they were handy in moving ammunition boxes and general cleaning, but little else. The elder of the two, Hamid, was a senior man in the village and, I was told, was the undertaker. When I first saw the Wali Camp I was appalled. Ramshackle was not the word. The main building materials were oil drums and tarpaulin, and the height of a “house” was about four feet. I guessed there would be about three hundred Arabs on the whole of the island, and all their homes were of the same architectural style. The British sense of humour seemed to be totally lost on the Arabs, although they had a pleasant enough demeanour, especially the young ones. One had to be careful not to upset their dignity. When I was in Hamid’s good books, he would say ’You; Number One!’ When by omission or act I had earned his displeasure, my rating went to ‘You; One Thousand!’ The impression I gained of their motivation for working for the British was mainly prestige, not money. In fact they had little need for money. To a great extent I felt that Hamid was the manager and I was the coolie. When there was no work for him to do, he would squat outside the armoury doors in the sunshine. From time to time a fellow villager passing by would stop and, after exchanging greetings, would soon be buried in conversation with Hamid. Eventually, Hamid would excuse himself and come into the armoury while his friend waited outside. Hamid would then ask if I would mind looking at his friend’s rifle which had developed some fault or other.

Invariably I would agree as I couldn’t resist examining old firearms. Hamid would then arrange for a time when the weapon could be brought in. As all Arab males seemed to be incomplete without some sort of firearm, there could be no doubt that Hamid must be held to be a very important man indeed to have the services of his personal armourer. The transaction of such services was strictly between Hamid and the customer. I gained no financial reward from such activities, it was sufficient on these occasions to be ‘Number One’ and have the pleasure and privilege of handling guns of such variety and antiquity. An American book “Small Arms of the World” by W H B Smith, which I was wise enough to bring with me, helped enormously in these matters.

“W H B Smith” was of considerable help when the senior engineering officer, Sqn Ldr Nichol, called in one day with a rather decrepit rifle and asked me to identify it. I had sufficient knowledge at the time to say with some certainty that it was French. The shape of the French trigger was quite unique. Beyond that I could offer no immediate help, but promised to try. After an hour with W H B Smith I was no wiser, so I started to read the book from the beginning. Eventually I found the solution, but more by finding what the gun wasn’t than for what it was. During history lessons at school I learned that the Franco-Prussian War was won for the Prussians by the Dreyse Needle Gun. .This was the first major use of the self-contained cartridge. The French, of course, wished to keep up with the new technology, so they produced their own cartridge-firing rifle, the Chassepot. Later they modified a relatively small number of these rifles to fit the more modern metallic centre-fire cartridge. This modification was known as the Gras Conversion, and the rifles were altered in 1873 or 1874 by the arsenals at Chatellerault and Sainte Etienne. This must be the weapon, I thought. And I was right. When I removed the wooden furniture from the rifle, the metal parts beneath were in almost perfect condition, and the receiver was stamped “Ste Etienne – Mle 1873”. What I had thought was a piece of junk was in fact a pretty rare item, and probably worth quite a sum.

One armoury storeroom contained some equipment that required a controlled environment, so air conditioning was installed for it. There was no such luxury in the armoury office or workshop lest it be thought that the staff were unfairly pampered. The main by-product of the air-conditioning equipment was a constant trickle of distilled water which initially ran to waste in the sand outside the building. Some bright chap had the idea of making a small pond to collect this water, which with a suitable shade, could be used to cool cans of squash and Coca-Cola for consumption during the day. Very soon one of the Arabs noticed this, and it wasn’t too long before the occasional Arab woman would turn up with a goatskin container. It was plain that the women were held in some esteem because on her approach Hamid would spring to his feet and would address her in what I took to be respectful tones. She would then fill her goatskin at the pond, hoist it on to her shoulder and then, carrying the thirty-pound load, would return the two miles to the Wali Camp. Hamid would resume his reverie outside the building. Armourers from a Phantom detachment used the pond for a while to cool a few cans of beer. This offended one of the Arab ladies and I was ordered through the station commander that the pond was no longer to be used as a fridge. As I mentioned earlier, the armoury was at the far end of the camp, so I carried on with my wicked ways.

One of the traditions which Bill Hancock had instituted was a Sunday evening gathering of all the (RAF) armoury staff in the all ranks bar. I enjoyed continuing the tradition. These sessions included a few drinks and talk. Rank was ignored, and it was certainly a good way to get to know one another and find out the gripes. During the course of the evening we could observe the arrival of the scheduled Hercules service from Akrotiri – it parked facing the bar about a hundred yards away. When the engines were switched off, the propellers would continue turning for several seconds. Invariably, bets would be placed on which of the propellers would continue turning the longest - four armourers, four propellers. Ideal. A parallel operation would almost certainly be performed by the aircrew: before takeoff, one of them would mark a chalk cross on one of the tyres, and bets would be taken on the position of the cross when the aircraft finally stopped at the destination; simple pleasures for simple minds.

The inside of the bar was festooned with hanging signs, beautifully painted, depicting the titles of Western movies and musicals, but subtly modified to reflect an RAF/Masirah slant. Examples ranged from the brilliant “Paint your Land Rover” and “Annie get your SLR” to the dubious “True **it”.

In general, while I was there, the food was good. Given the circumstances in which the cooks worked it was excellent, and we certainly gave them due praise. A couple of months after I arrived, a new Sg°t chef arrived to take over the bakery, Tony Dwyer by name. His name deserves to live for evermore because of the impact he made on our lives. The quality of the bread improved from good to heavenly, and the consumption in the messes must have increased at least twofold. I learned from him that he was not especially trained for bread-making when he was earmarked for posting to the island, just a common or garden chef. However, he was sent on a short course of bread-making to the army’s school of catering. Being a perfectionist, he spent most of his embarkation leave visiting commercial bakeries such as Wonderloaf and Mother’s Pride to glean hints and tips from those oft-maligned enterprises. His enthusiasm must have impressed them because they undertook to act as quality assurance specialists for his work. In the event that he was dissatisfied with a batch, he could send a loaf back to the UK, whereupon the bakery would assess it and make suggestions for improvement.

I well remember on one occasion, a lunchtime, I found the bread to be indescribably good and vowed to buy Tony a pint forthwith. When I entered the bar I saw that I was not alone. He was in the centre of a mob of cheering diners and was obviously supremely happy. He stated that he knew the batch was going to be good several hours ago and his explanation goes some way to showing the difficulties in cooking in such an extreme climate. Most people know that a batch of dough needs to be “proved”. Usually in the UK this is done by placing the covered container in a warm place for half an hour or so until the volume doubles. In my childhood this was usually in front of an open fire. Tony explained that the ideal temperature for proving bread was 79˚F. In Masirah the ambient temperature usually exceeded 100°F. What he had to do to compensate was to measure out the amount of water he was going to use in the mix, take its temperature, then shovel in a corresponding quantity of ice cubes, stir until the ice was melted and immediately make the dough. Once the dough was mixed it was too late to make any further correction. On that particular day the temperature of the dough was tested to be exactly 79˚F. News of the quality of Tony’s bread inevitably spread far and wide, and before long a light aircraft would arrive each day to collect orders for the British Embassy and HQ SOAF (Sultan of Oman’s Air Force) at Muscat.

One day, Tony confided in me that he had just caused himself a problem. On pay-day one of his Arab helpers had approached him and asked if Tony would look after his pay for him for a while. Understanding that it probably meant hanging on to his pay-packet for a few hours until the Arab went home, he agreed, whereupon the Arab turned away to carry on with his work. By cease-work time the chap had not returned to him so Tony thought that he had changed his mind or forgotten. The next morning the Arab turned up carrying a large cardboard box. Inside were the man’s pay packets for the previous several years. As far as could be seen, they were unopened. I advised Tony to see the liaison officer, who looked after the Brit/Arab interface. It could have developed into a problem but I heard nothing more of it.

As with all RAF stations, the NAAFI had a significant presence; as well as Airmen’s and Cpls’ bars, they ran a shop selling such things as writing paper and envelopes, electrical equipment such as tape cassette players, radios, etc. and presents to take home. Many of these latter were very expensive in the UK, such as genuine Mikimoto cultured pearl jewellery and Swiss watches. Needless to say, these were UK tax free, and most airmen, having little else to spend their money on, availed themselves of this facility in a big way. Those Arabs privileged to work for the RAF were in a similar position, and many of the young ones bought cassette players (battery operated) and (usually) one pre-recorded cassette. It was not unusual that when the young man got fed up with the music on the cassette, he threw it away – including the player! In competition with NAAFI was the locals’ shop run by the firm of Khimji Ramdas. Khimji’s was Arabia’s Tesco, branches throughout the region. Situated about a mile off camp, in a solitary shack made of breeze-block with an earth floor and corrugated iron roof, the local Khimji’s sold everything to fulfil the Arab’s needs, from Ghee (clarified butter for cooking) through lengths of cloth to petrol for the young rake’s moped. ‘If you don’t see it, ask and I’ll get it on the next dhow.’ Inside the door was a tall fridge kept full of tinned orange juice, Coke and lemonade. It was usual for customers entering the shop to help themselves to a tin to refresh themselves while examining the wares, settling up before leaving. I remember seeing a Rolex catalogue inside a glass case, opened out to show a much bejewelled special Oyster and priced at £2500. Alongside was a visually identical watch priced at £17.50. A close examination showed that the Rolex 5-pointed coronet insignia was replaced by the head of a trident. Instead of the name ROLEX there was RICOH. It was a bit too gaudy for me. I bought a Seiko Bell-matic for £11.00

Close to the northern tip of the island was situated the Diplomatic Wireless Service (DWS) site. The purpose of the enterprise was to operate wireless transmitters to broadcast output of the BBC World Service to Pakistan and other nearby countries. The site was totally self-contained, having its own accommodation, transport, power supplies and catering. In general, the site was out of bounds to RAF personnel, which was just as well as on the two occasions when I was invited to visit, I found the occupants living in comparative luxury. I was astonished to learn that the radiated output from the aerials was 750 KWs during the day, and one and a half megawatts at night. This is serious power, being the equivalent of two thousand horsepower being radiated into the ether. No wonder that the RAF’s Tannoy system would often broadcast World Service programmes without being switched on.

There was a story that an RAF Policeman checking the boundary fence, stopped his Land Rover to investigate something, then on driving off discovered that he had a puncture in one of the tyres. After changing the wheel he dropped the faulty item in at the MT section. There they discovered that he had parked on a piece of discarded wire which was exactly the right length to pick up the transmitted signal, and it was hot enough to burn through the tyre. This story may have been apocryphal, but I can assure the reader that I never once opened a box of electric detonators during my time on the island. Whenever there was demolition to be done I used the match and safety fuze method. Later, the name of the organisation was changed from DWS to the more logical BERS: British Eastern Relay Station.

While (tinned) beer was usually plentiful in the messes, wine was less so. However, the men of Air Traffic Control had a thing going with the Akrotiri Hercules crews, and demi-johns of the wine of one’s choice could be ordered for delivery within the week. Discounts applied when the demi-john was returned. Most personnel availed themselves of this service. One young Welshman became rather fond of a balm called Kokkinelli. In Cyprus, this was usually used as an accompaniment to food such as Mézé or Kebab, but our lad was content to drink it for its own sake. Unfortunately (for him) this had a bad side effect. Simply, the man went mad until sobriety returned. He smashed the place up and had superhuman strength. It took about six men to subdue him, being careful to avoid any weapon he was able to get hold of. The first time it happened, his friends kept it quiet. Most of the damage was caused to his own property: he wrecked a hi-fi set he had bought only two days before. The second time it required the MO to settle him down with a jab. The third time it was into sick quarters tied to a bed. His Kokkinelli was taken away and Air Traffic Control was told to accept no more orders from him. After that he behaved like a normal human, but until the end of his tour he was always referred to as The Kokkinelli Kid.

Shortly after I arrived, word came from an airman in Air Movements that some sort of explosive item had been found on the shore at the other end of the island. After asking the usual questions, I stated that I would visit there that afternoon. ‘Leave it to me,’ said the airman, ‘I’ll look after everything.’ I was glad that he did because his preparation was much more elaborate than mine would have been. For one thing, he set up what one could only describe as a safari. Two vehicles, a Bedford RL 3-tonner and a Land Rover, so packed with hangers-on I thought that there would be no room for me. There were sufficient people to deal with any eventuality, and there was enough food and especially water to last a week. I saw the sense of this when we were on our way. Although the journey was a mere thirty-five miles, the terrain to my mind might have been on the far side of the moon; and as dry! A breakdown of a lone vehicle down there could well have been fatal. One incident en-route, however, caused much merriment: about twenty miles down the island we passed a man whom we recognised as a member of the Army signals unit. He was out for an afternoon’s walk and all he had was a small bag and a water bottle. He waved to us and declined our offer of a lift.

When we arrived at the site of the unknown object, I saw that the report had been correct. It was in fact a marine pyrotechnic which I disposed of by blowing up. The next hour or so was passed in an extempore barbecue which my hosts had thoughtfully brought, while I gazed wondrously at the wreck of a large tanker, the World Jury, which had ran aground some years previously (I love ships). On our journey back to base, we stopped at an Arab village where we were immediately surrounded by women and children. The women were as usual dressed from head-to-ankle in black, with black facemasks which appeared to be made of silk-covered board. The children, however, wore no masks, but were festooned in silver jewellery. They looked beautiful and were extremely well behaved. We gave away what water we had remaining. This apparently was a regular occurrence, and was satisfying to both parties.

Now and again we were honoured by visits by Comet 4C s of 216 Sqn. 216 at the time had only five aircraft, all on VIP duties. The Comet 4C was supreme for this task, as it was one of the most beautiful and well-appointed aircraft ever built. Some members of the crews of these aircraft were WRAF quartermasters (later called loadmasters). While I was sitting in the Sgts’ Mess one evening shortly after I arrived, I saw a WRAF Sgt walk in accompanied by two male colleagues. She sat down at a table while one of the men bought her a drink and took it to where she was sitting. He then returned to stand at the bar with his oppo, leaving her to sit alone. Not one of the regular members approached her. I was at first puzzled - after all, she was very attractive - surely someone would attempt to “chat her up”. But no, she stayed alone. After a while I began to become outraged. This was no way to treat a guest, especially a lady! I went across and talked to her, and she seemed glad of my company. At about half-past ten, her colleagues came across, explained that they had an early start in the morning, and escorted her to her billet. That was that, I thought.

As soon as they had left, Tony Jaques came across to me and said that what I had done was the worst thing I could have done, and that I had alienated myself from the rest of the Mess. It transpired that after the previous visit by this young lady, the Mess had agreed to “send her to Coventry,” and that I had wrecked the whole endeavour.

What had happened on her previous visit was this: Towards the end of a sociable evening in the Mess, the young WRAF Sgt, known to all for good reason as “Busty-Dusty”, commented that it was such a dark night that she would have difficulty in finding her hut, and asked for someone to escort her there. Such was the eagerness of several of the members to carry out this duty that they actually fought for the privilege. Much blood was spilt, and the station medical centre had to go onto three shifts to repair the injuries. Several men had to be sent back to the UK encased in plaster. In the height of the melée, Dusty vanished; but not to go to her hut. Instead she had decided to pay a visit to the all-ranks bar (I say all-ranks but it was such a lowly place that officers wouldn’t dream of going there!). There she had caused a sensation. After a couple of drinks, she announced that was going for a swim in the open-air pool. She didn’t go, of course. But most of the regular clientele of the bar did. The pool was soon deep in struggling half-drunk airmen. At least three of them had to be revived by the Holger Nielsen method.

In the cold light of day, the Station Commander surveyed the scene. Half-empty workplaces, sick quarters full to overflowing, and two important leisure centres out of commission due to a surfeit of broken furniture.

And the cause of it all was standing demurely outside station headquarters with the rest of the crew, waiting for a coach to take her to her aircraft.

The saga was not yet over. A passing airman, who had been an innocent witness to part of the previous evening’s mayhem, chided Dusty for her behaviour. One of her gallant colleagues (who had gone to bed early and had thus missed the entertainment) took offence at this apparent insult and flattened the poor airman, who joined his pals in the medical centre.

One of my first tasks on taking over the reins was to write procedures for various EOD - (Bomb Disposal) related incidents which may occur in the vicinity of the island or airfield. These ranged from mishaps in the bomb dump, “hang-ups” on bomber aircraft to a civilian aircraft in flight with a suspected bomb on board. Having completed these procedures, I distributed copies to all concerned and then carried on with my day-to-day work hoping that, EOD-wise, I would have a peaceful tour. Fat chance! A couple of weeks later, one evening I heard a Tannoy message which was obviously important. “The following personnel are to report to Air Movements at 0600 hours tomorrow morning with sufficient kit to last a week.....” There followed a list of about thirty airmen. My name was not among them so I mentally switched off.

Shortly after I arrived at work the following morning there was a Tannoy message: ‘A passenger aircraft is approaching the airfield with a suspected bomb on board. It will be landing in approximately twenty minutes. It is planned to stop the aircraft at the end of the sand runway; no-one is to approach or come closer than 200 yards from the aircraft. Chf Tech Hutchinson is to telephone Air Traffic Control immediately.’

My carefully crafted plan swung into action. John Jarvill, Phil Mann, Chris Austin and I threw some equipment into our Land Rover and hastened to the aircraft. Of course the aircraft was not some civilian Boeing or Lockheed; it was one of our own detached 46 Sqn Andovers. By the time we arrived, all passengers and crew had evacuated the aircraft and were milling around some distance away. RAF Police were trying to marshal the passengers into some semblance of order, but the passengers had been well briefed on their roles. ‘Right, you lot,’ quoth the RAFP FS, ‘Form up in threes over there!’ ‘Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?’ said one erk, whom we all recognised. ‘I’ll have you know I’m the Bulgarian ambassador to Dubai, don’t you dare talk to me like that, I’ll have words with your superior!’ ‘Simmons,' shouted the beetroot-faced FS, ‘Get over there or I’ll personally put you on a charge!’ ‘Your Excellency,’ said one of the others, ‘The infidel has just insulted you. Do you want me to sort him out?’ It went downhill from there. However, that was a police problem, not mine.

My problem started when I asked for one of the crew to act as an Andover expert to prevent me from causing damage during the search. They refused to enter the aircraft again while it was in such a hazardous state. This, of course, was what could be expected to happen in a real incident, so the search was carried out by two of us armourers. By this time the luggage had been removed from the aircraft and taken some distance away. John Jarvill and Chris Austin looked after that part in an exemplary fashion. The co-operation of the passengers was assured in this instance by threats that “otherwise” their bags would be blown up! As usual in exercises, reality was stretched beyond breaking point. After we had found not one but two bombs, the crew started jeering: ‘You missed one, you missed one!’ ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘How long are you prepared to tolerate losing the use of your aircraft? I can only spend a month looking for it.”’ The exercise finished at that point and we all retired to the bar for the post-exercise conference. Needless to say no action was taken against young Simmons and the FS was spared his ‘sorting out’. The exercise was deemed to be very useful and only a few minor adjustments were required to the procedure.

During World War Two a narrow gauge “Decauville” railway had been developed, mainly to transport fuel and supplies from the jetty to various dumps dispersed around the vicinity of the airfield. The railway had been installed by the USAAF who had a significant presence from 1942 until the end of the war. The railway had then been maintained by the British until more elaborate fuel transfer and storage facilities had been built, the American locomotives and rolling stock being gradually replaced by British. After the Petroleum Supply Depot (PSD) had been built, the railway gradually withered until a group of railway-minded individuals took it on as a hobby. Track was relaid to link the Water Sports Club with the camp, and passenger services were instituted every afternoon. The passengers were carried in the open air on hard wooden seats on the flat cars. Travel on the railway was cheap as the Fares List proclaimed: “First Class – Free, Second Class – Freer. All proceeds to PSI.” (On RAF stations, PSI is the station welfare fund.) The Railway became known as the Masirah State Railway (MSR), and was, for many years, the only railway in Arabia since Lawrence of that ilk caused such havoc in the early 20th Century.

Image shows John Jarvill driving the train to the Water Sports Club – PSD and a BERS aerial evident.

John Jarvill worked his way up from trainee locoman to General Manager in the space of a couple of months (turnover was rapid when the tour length of airmen was only nine months), and a fine job he did too. On a number of occasions I did jobs for him. If I may be permitted to brag, I taught him to re-rail a de-railed loco using jacks, as was explained to me by an uncle who had worked for most of his life as a platelayer. I spent most of Christmas Day 1972 digging out the remains of two Plymouth locos which had been dumped many years before. Unfortunately they were beyond the resources of the MSR to repair. Incidentally, one of the British locomotives, called Yimkin (arabic for “perhaps”- a term equivalent to the Spanish mañana) is now to be seen at the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway.

Image of RH37051 (a Ruston mine locomotive) at rest. Named "Julie" after a Julie Rogers visit in 1970.

As common sense and experience dictated, the bomb dump was situated at a safe distance from all other facilities on the camp, was surrounded by an imposing security fence and was visited often at irregular intervals by security staff. The dump contained the usual variety of pyrotechnics for air traffic control and air-sea rescue. It also had demolition explosives, and it had bombs. It had several hundred 1000lb bombs (For the technically minded, they were Mark 11, 11* and 12 high explosive medium capacity bombs) with their associated Mk 107 tail units, various types of pistols and detonators, and a special building for preparing the bombs for flight. Special fuzes were stored elsewhere on the station. All this stuff required looking after, and that was a major activity of the armament staff, all four of us. The storage conditions were marginal. For example, the maximum storage temperature for the bombs was, I recall, 105°F. The shade temperature generally approached this value, and would readily exceed it in direct sunlight. Consequently the rows of bombs, which were all in open storage, had to be protected with canvas or corrugated-aluminium awnings.

The powers-that-be in the Ministry of Defence decided that the present political situation in the Middle East did not warrant so many bombs to be cooking at Masirah, so gave orders that the number be reduced. This was to be carried out in three ways. From time to time Hercules aircraft passed through rigged in what was known as the DAC (Dangerous Air Cargo) Role. They carried additional fire extinguishers, two toilets instead of one and other oddments beyond my ken. Usually when they were heading north, they were empty. We were to take advantage of this, and on each of these aircraft we were to load twenty-four pre-palletised bombs and tail units. In a similar manner, whenever a Vulcan passed through on the way to Akrotiri, it was to be loaded with fourteen bombs. Normally, a Vulcan carries twenty-one bombs, but on the “Island Ranger” fit the rear of the bomb bay was usually occupied by a long-range fuel tank.

If these had been the only methods, however, it would have taken years to reduce the stocks to the required numbers. MoD decided therefore, that a concentrated programme of demolition was to be undertaken, and an EOD team would be sent out from the UK to do it. First of all, a suitable area for a demolition range had to be found somewhere down the island, and a firing shelter constructed. There was no problem finding a suitable area in the midst of all that waste, and I plotted a site which fulfilled all the requirements of “The Book”. Sufficient sandbags, timber and canvas were available to make a firing shelter, and over the period of one day, a party of me, two of my armourers and half a dozen Arab labourers worked to construct it.

Some weeks later, the team arrived, consisting of my old boss from Leconfield, Flt Lt Denis Kempson, FS Sandy Russell BEM from Luqa (ex-71MU BD Flight) and Chf Tech John Whitley with four JTs from the EOD flight at Leconfield. They settled in over the weekend.

One aspect of the exercise worried me greatly. John Whitley considered it to be a matter of honour to be the last to leave the bar. Having seen Bill Hancock in action too, I considered it would be wise to warn the Mess staff to place advance orders for beer or there would be none for the rest of us. As I expected, on the first evening Bill walked over to John and uttered the magic words: ‘What’ll you have, John?’ I went to bed relatively early, but was woken in the early hours by the sounds of Bill half-carrying John into the room. That episode cured John of his sense of invincibility.

The EOD team commenced work early on Monday morning. Bill Hancock had previously arranged a swop of our Bedford RL three-tonners for BERS’s more modern Bedford as it had a hydraulic tail lift, which would be a boon in handling the bombs. Headquarters Near East Air Force had suggested blowing up the bombs in batches of ten. Being more cautious, I decided that the team should start with one only, and increase the dose if and when conditions warranted it. Although Denis Kempson and Sandy Russell each outranked me it was “my” island so my opinion carried some weight. Fortunately they agreed. The most blown up at any one time was two.

Image shows John Jarvill (right) and one of the EOD men readying some of the bombs.

The first couple of bangs showed up a couple of problems with policing the area so it was decided to move the range a couple of miles nearer the camp. This brought advantages but there were also disadvantages which were to manifest themselves later. Demolition work was halted and the firing shelter moved to its new position by the EOD team. This was unfortunate as by the following morning it had disappeared! Now the terrain is pretty featureless so some time was wasted in fruitless hunting in the neighbourhood before it was accepted that the shelter had been pinched overnight. This was especially hurtful as the original shelter had stood intact for weeks. ‘Why should this be so?’ someone asked. The most likely reason was that the Arabs had assisted in erecting the original shelter and therefore had some “ownership” of it. Once it was moved by others, different rules applied. There was nothing else for it but to gather new materials and a team of locals. The new shelter then remained intact until the finish of the programme when the materials were shared out between those who had helped erect it.

Once the programme was restarted, a rhythm quickly built up. The Bedford was loaded with eight bombs at the bomb dump and driven to the range. Two bombs were dropped at each of three sites with two “spare”. The lorry then sped off for another load while the team prepared the bombs for detonation. The cordon of the danger area was protected by sentries in radio contact. Before any detonation could go ahead, positive confirmation had to be obtained from each sentry. The detonation was by the electric method despite the proximity of those BERS transmitters. By this means, some fifty to sixty bombs could be got rid of in the day. One minor problem which manifested itself was the atmospheric inversion which existed every morning until the sun burnt through. In these conditions, people working on the camp would be first alerted to the explosion by the shockwave reaching them through the ground. A few seconds later a colossal bang would be funnelled through the camp, shaking the buildings, sundry smaller bangs then being heard as the echoes from buildings reflected about the camp. I received many complaints from RAF men that these bangs were shaking the bedbugs out of the joints in the Twynhams huts; the bugs being then ready for a meal. As the day warmed up the noise became almost benign.

Image shows loading the bombs onto the BERS Bedford – Author at right (with shirt on!).

After a few hundred bombs had been dealt with the Wali called a halt to it all. He called a conference with the Station Commander and produced a large bomb fragment, saying it had landed in one of the Arab villages. There was no denying its provenance as it bore the bomb’s identifying “kidney plate”. The game was over and the team packed up and went back to Blighty.

Too soon, it seemed. A couple of days afterwards I was called to view something suspicious which had been discovered about fifty yards from one of the demolition pits. There was no hiding the fact that it was a bomb that had exploded “low order” and had been pitched out of the pit. About half of the Torpex contents was strewn about close by. Because the report had come to me indirectly, I had to explain the situation, after which I got rid of the explosive by the simple expedient of setting fire to it (Most high explosives will burn readily without detonating). Sometime afterwards, Denis Kempson grumbled to me that that bomb had stopped him from getting an MBE. He had wanted an MBE so much for his “memsahib”. I note that he received an MBE later on.

Loading the Vulcans was regarded as a job for specialists, so when it was known that an “Island Ranger” was due, a loading team would be sent down from Cyprus to do the job. This was not popular with the team members as they regarded Masirah as being a slum. Preparation of the bombs and their fitting to the seven-store carriers would be done by John Jarvill, Phil and Chris. On one occasion, we had three Vulcans in at once. The loading team got to work early in the morning and loaded up the aircraft, but then one of the Vulcans became unserviceable. Minor repairs only were permitted on a loaded aircraft, but the main problem was that an aircraft could only remain loaded for twenty-four hours at a stretch, and then had to be unloaded to give the undercarriage a rest. The team were itching to get away but I would not allow that to happen until I was confident that the twenty-four hour rule would not be broken. Two of the aircraft got away OK. At last the broken aircraft became serviceable, and the crew announced that they would depart early the following morning. I waved goodbye to the loading team.

About nine o’clock the following morning I glanced out of the window and was dismayed to see the Vulcan still parked, with no sign of activity around it. I phoned Air Traffic Control, to be told that the crew were still in the mess and would be leaving ‘about lunchtime’. I frantically reminded ATC that the temperature was rising by the minute (a higher temperature needs a longer take-off distance). If they didn’t get off soon they would have insufficient runway length to get off. They made it with about a hundred yards to spare.

One outfit which seemed out of place on the camp was an army detachment known as 670 Signals Troop. As expected, they had a number of aerial masts inside their compound. But the fact that the compound itself was surrounded by more barbed wire than I had ever seen before, and their Land Rovers had substantial roll-over hoops and machine-gun pintles fitted caused me to wonder that perhaps these chaps were more than they made themselves out to be. This feeling was reinforced when some of their number turned up to use the 25-yard rifle range carrying American AR15/M16 “Armalites” instead of the standard L1A1 self-loading rifle (SLR). I asked one of them why they preferred to use M16s and the reply was that they were better for close-quarter fighting. However, I was disgusted when during the course of the shoot one of these soldiers called at the armoury to have a stoppage cleared; an empty case was jammed in the chamber. I cleared the problem, but a few minutes later there was another, then several more during the day. I pointed out to them that the weapons they were using were the original M16s which were horribly prone to stoppages. In the Vietnam War these weapons were usually discarded by the US troops as soon as a captured Russian AK47 came to hand. The Americans instituted a major modification programme to cure the shortcomings, and the M16A1 resulted from it. The weapons I was asked to deal with were the earlier, unmodified ones. My high opinion of the SAS (for that is what they were) was somewhat dampened by this episode.

Every year on RAF stations there is an inspection by the Air Officer Commanding. On Masirah, in 1973, the inspection was due to be carried out by the AOC of Near East Air Force, which had its headquarters in Cyprus. The incumbent to the post was Air Mshl Sir Kenneth (“Bing”) Cross. This chap was quite famous because in the early part of World War Two his squadron of Gladiators (he was CO) became the first group of RAF landplanes to set down on an aircraft carrier. The operation was unrehearsed because they were fleeing for their lives when the Germans invaded Norway with far superior machines. Shortly thereafter, HMS Glorious (and the Gladiators) was sunk by the battleship Scharnhorst, and Sqn Ldr Cross was one of the few survivors.

As with all AOC’s inspections, there is an itinerary published. As the day grew nearer, I became agitated that no-one had sent me an itinerary. I queried this with my boss, Flt Lt Jamieson. His reply was somewhat offhand, I thought. ‘Oh, I didn’t think it was worth sending you one. You’re not on it.’ Nonetheless, I requested an itinerary, and noted that Air Movements, the nearest building which was on the itinerary, was due to be inspected at 1130. Air Movements was about 300 yards from the armoury. Because Sod’s Law had so far had a very large influence on my life, I was prepared for the unexpected. And so it occurred. Shortly before 1130 I began furtively peeking along the road, and sure enough, when the retinue climbed into their vehicles, the convoy set off in my direction. I was patting the dust off my uniform and flicking imaginary fluff from the top of the door when the phone rang in the office. Damn! Just what I don’t need. It was Jamieson screaming 'He’s coming your way, He’s coming your way. Oh, s**t!' I didn’t hear the rest. And so I made the acquaintance of one of the stars of WWII.

A couple of miles down the south-eastern side of the island, was a beach which on a particular week of the year would bear witness to a remarkable event. Hundreds of Loggerhead turtles would come ashore at night to lay their eggs. Their concentration on this activity was so focussed that they paid no attention whatsoever to the audience of servicemen who observed these performances using flashlights. After the eggs were laid and covered with sand, the turtles would make their way back out to sea. Eventually, several weeks later, as if to some signal, the eggs would hatch out, the little ones would emerge from the sand and head for the sea. They had a hard time, as many types of predator would attempt to make meals of them. Help was at hand, however. The soft, sentimental servicemen would be waiting also, to try and even the odds by stuffing their shirts with the little fellows, then rushing down to beyond the shoreline to tip them out into the sea and safety. As with the attitude which Northern fishermen have for seals, so also with Arab fishermen for turtles. There is no doubt whose side the RAF men were on. We understood that the turtles’ normal area of operation was well out of range of the dhows of the Omani fishermen. In any case the near seas were teeming with all kinds of fish, so there was plenty for all.

As well as the large number of bombs held in the explosives storage areas, there were, naturally enough, a variety of fuzes, pistols and detonators to go with them. Among these components was a large number of VT or proximity fuzes. These were of two types, one type being almost obsolete, the other being relatively new. The stocks of both were, by the time I arrived, beyond their use-by dates. I sent a signal to HQ Near East Air Force at Cyprus, alerting them to this fact (they should have already known). Eventually I received instructions that they were to be given to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, for which an aircraft would arrive to collect them. I was puzzled because the newer type was still classified, and I sent a further signal requesting clarification, mentioning that there were two types involved. By return I received a snotty signal telling me to get on with it! I did, and within a week a SOAF Skyvan came to collect the fuzes. About a week later I received a telephone call from Cyprus (nothing in writing!) asking me to try to recover the later type of fuze, but to be discreet about it. Oh dear. Despite all my efforts I was assured by my SOAF contacts that they would not be coming back. I was later to find out why.

One evening about a week after the fuzes had left, I had a visit in my room by Sqn Ldr Nichol. He instructed me to prepare immediately for a short-notice trip to the mainland with a small team and a demolition pack-up. Despite my asking him to be more specific, he would not elaborate on the size or nature of the task, or how long the job was likely to take. Naturally, I decided to take John Jarvill with me, and together we got some equipment together. After two days waiting we were told to stand down. The Sqn Ldr remained tight-lipped as to the cause of the crisis.

Because of problems in handling tankers delivering fuel to the Petroleum Supply Depot (PSD), the Ministry decided to install a new deep water terminal with an underwater pipeline. This was quite an elaborate engineering challenge because the pipeline had to be recessed below the seabed to prevent damage. The rock of the seabed was the extremely hard basalt, so dredging was out of the question. It was decided to use explosives to blast a trench. For this purpose, the primary contractor, Mothercat (a Lebanese firm traditionally used at Masirah) called in a middle-east branch of a French firm called Cocean Muzaini. Conventional explosives would have been inefficient for the job, so a remarkable new liquid explosive was used. It was an American invention which I had never heard of before. It was a “binary” explosive in that it had two components each of which was classified as non-explosive (it could be carried on passenger aeroplanes) but when mixed was quite potent. It was so new that the President of the company (The Explo Corporation), a young man of about 25, came to supervise the programme.

First of all, cylindrical metal cans having the same shape as brandy bottles (with recessed bottoms) and of about five gallons capacity, were filled. Then rubber stoppers through which loops of Primacord were placed, were inserted in the necks. Divers then placed the cylinders in a row on the bed of the sea, the primacord pigtails were joined, the button was pressed, Hey Presto, a colossal bang, and the basalt in the vicinity of the cylinders was reduced to rubble. Long metal tubes of the mixture were then laid along the trench, and a further bang caused the trench to be cleared of the rubble. In the meantime the pipeline was being assembled on shore, on a long gantry. The individual lengths of tube were joined by welding and then coated with a protective sheath. Rollers on the gantry enabled the pipeline to be pushed easily out to sea, the buoyancy of the empty pipeline being sufficient to float it into position above the trench when controlled flooding allowed it to be guided precisely into place. One setback occurred when the shockwave from the first detonation shattered the porcelain balls upon which the BERS aerial masts were mounted. Subsequent blasts were preceded by an operation to jack up the masts slightly.

The good relationship between the RAF, Mothercat and Cocean Muzaini was marred somewhat because of Cocean’s behaviour after the work had finished. An Arab had complained about some detritus which had been washed ashore, and asked whether it would be harmful if eaten by his camels. After suspicions were aroused by our Admin Officer, I was asked to examine the substance, which I greatly suspected to be conventional blasting explosive. The Cocean representative insisted that it was simply an inert stemming used to backfill blasting holes. This was confirmed by the Mothercat Clerk of the Works. I was not convinced, so decided that notwithstanding these assurances I, with my staff and a posse of volunteers, would search the shoreline and gather up this stuff, of which there was about a hundredweight. While I was having a breather, I overheard the Clerk of the Works talking to the Cocean engineer. They spoke in French, obviously believing I couldn’t understand. ‘Vous êtes sûr que ce n’est pas explosif?’ asked the C of W. ‘Bien sûr que c’est explosif, mais nous ne devons pas leur dire.’ was the reply. I rounded on them, telling them what a shower of rascals they were, and they retired red-faced. I took the explosive a mile or so down the island, where it made a satisfying bang. Had they been more honest I would have gladly disposed of the stuff for them. As it was, I already had several hundred metres of detonating cord and a load of detonators that I had stored in the bomb dump for them. Probably they had not declared the blasting explosive because of the perceived RAF’s caution towards it.

Late one night I was awoken to a call from Air Movements to investigate some peculiar air cargo. This was a hessian-wrapped package which had been discovered on a UK-bound Hercules which had landed from Singapore. Air Movements had removed the package because it had not been listed on the cargo manifest. I examined it and determined that the contents were firearms of some description, so with Air Movements’ permission I removed the package to the armoury. There I determined that what I had was three M60 machine guns and two M79 40mm grenade launchers (all of American design). This was pretty important stuff because the IRA had recently got hold of a solitary M60, and the news was sufficient to be discussed in the House of Commons. The package bore no identification. I put the weapons to bed and turned in for the night. The following morning I visited Air Movements and asked if there was any further news. They had no idea what I was talking about. There had been a shift change in the interim, and the night shift had not thought the incident had been important enough to record in the diary. I reported my findings and instituted an inquiry, but Air Movements both at Masirah and Singapore could shed no light on the provenance of the five weapons. About five weeks later I learned that they had been lost by the Australian Army, who could offer no explanation as to why they had turned up on a Hercules. I often thought what I might have done with those weapons. After all, there was a period when I was the only person that knew of their existence. Incidentally, I thought that the M60 was inferior to our own GPMG (which was of Belgian design).

One of the first animals I saw on the island was a rather rotund gazelle. She seemed to believe she owned the place and to some extent she did. Her name was “Sheila” and she was the camp pet. No one owned her. She came and went as she pleased and was quite often to be seen in the Sgts’ mess (where her favourite tit-bit was the air-mail edition of the Daily Telegraph) or curled up on a carpet in any of a number of offices or dormitory rooms about the camp. She had a daughter who had the same self-confidence. “Min” was a terrier who had been brought down from Sharjah (a RAF station in the Gulf) by their football team, and left with us because Sharjah was shortly to close due to one of Harold Wilson’s economy drives. “Min” was totally at home with us and had no favourites. Truly, all three animals were “daughters of the regiment”.

A few years prior to my arrival, a wealthy Omani had presented the station with two horses. They formed the nucleus of the station Equitation Society. This was truly a misnomer because the membership was occupied grooming, feeding and mucking-out the animals, but not riding them. Although one was in good condition, the other had weak ankles, so consequently the horses were exercised regularly by taking them for walks in the same way as one would exercise a pair of dogs. I suppose that could be classed as equitation. One evening, one of the leading lights of the society approached me with a strange request. For some weeks, one of the horses had been suffering from what had been identified as “sand colic”, which was some sort of blockage in the intestinal tract caused by sand in the diet. An Army vet in Cyprus had been consulted, and an examination carried out by telephone. The vet metaphorically shook his head, and recommended that the horse be destroyed. A committee on the Society decided that if there was no improvement by the morning, then it would be done. I was shocked to learn that, as armourer, I had been chosen to be the one to shoot it. I realised that they were serious about this, and if the situation was as bad as it seemed, then it was in the best interests of the horse that it should be destroyed. These truths did not improve my feelings. I signed out a rifle and some ammunition and spent a fretful night waiting for a knock on the door. Later, while I was having a melancholy breakfast, I saw my visitor of the night before making a bee-line for me and I steeled myself for the task which lay ahead. The fact that he was smiling broadly made my mood worse. “Well, when do you want me to do it?” I said. “There’s no need,” he replied. “The horse is going to be OK.” I was mightily relieved, but at the same time puzzled at the apparent miracle. It turned out that when the chap had left me the previous evening, he learned that one of the local Arabs had been looking for him. The Arab had heard of the problem, and knew of a cure which, it seemed, was beyond the knowledge of the specialist in Cyprus. He recommended a good strong dose of mess “lemonade”. This stuff was simply a mixture of water and a flavoured powder consisting mainly of bicarbonate of soda. As a child I knew it as “sherbet”. The elixir was duly mixed and administered, and in a remarkably short time the obstruction was dramatically cleared. What collateral damage there was to the assembled bystanders was not disclosed. From my point of view it wasn’t just the horse that was relieved.

One thing puzzled me about this: the Arabs on the island did not have any horses, and how did he know about the magical properties of sherbet?

Incidentally, we also used the same mixture to remove hard carbon deposits from the insides of brass cartridge cases when we wanted them for souvenirs.

Other denizens of the island were the expected camels and goats and a few donkeys. There were also the more exotic creatures such as scorpions and chameleons although the latter had been imported by the troops as pets - with the additional benefits of their use as flycatchers. The most feared beast, almost to the point of terror, was the camel spider. These creatures looked more like beetles than spiders. Flesh-coloured, up to four inches long with hairy legs and four reddish-black mandibles which could chew in both the vertical and horizontal planes. I can personally attest that their bite could sever a plastic cup. They were fearless (and with good reason because they were almost indestructible). Rumour had it that they would inject a local anaesthetic into the victim (camel or human) so that it could then have a meal undisturbed.

It was the tradition in the Sgts’ Mess at Masirah that every month, SNCOs who were tour-expired during the following month, became guests of honour at the ceremony of Ma-salaam (farewell). The honoured few were each permitted to invite two officers to the occasion, which was just a formal drinks and buffet party. As it happened, there were only two of us due to leave in June, meaning a very sparse group of four officers, so the Mess ruling committee decided to invite all the officers en-masse, which of course wrecked the spirit of the occasion. We both protested, but were over-ruled. I did consider not attending, but decided that I would be the only one disadvantaged by such action. I remember little of the event.

About six weeks before my tour-expired date (which was 9 June 73) I received notification of my replacement, Chf Tech Jim Lockerbie. This is always a milestone in anyone’s tour. I wrote to him describing the place, and offered tips on what to bring in the way of clothing and suchlike. Jim replied, detailing his itinerary, and the fact that he was yet to start his bomb disposal course, a pre-requisite for the tour. This worried me enormously as my (our) post was classified as “key” which meant that I couldn’t leave before he arrived. Not only that but courtesy demanded that I should give him an adequate hand-over period. I called in at the Admin Office and casually asked what were the odds of a man overstaying his tour? ‘No chance at all, your place on the aircraft is booked.’ I contemplated offering bets on it. The admin office presented me with my going-home paperwork, complete with a curious note, an extract from Queen’s Regulations. This was to be presented to the Air Movements Officer at RAF Akrotiri in the (all too likely) event that I would be off-loaded (“bumped” in modern parlance) to give my seat to an officer’s wife on an important mission to do some shopping in London.

Needless to say, by the time I had handed over to Jim, I was six weeks over my tour. Instead of a comfortable ride home on a Britannia or VC10, I had to hitch a lift on anything that was passing.

What did pass was a beautiful, noisy, maid-of-all-work Hercules, and not direct to Akrotiri either. It flew to Salalah, there to pick up the same Royal Engineers who had courageously erected the Hedgehog up in the jebel (Please see the article on Salalah). They were now on their way back to Chatham. In appearance they were the scruffiest, most malodorous bunch of soldiers I had ever seen, but I considered myself honoured to be amongst them. Their WO informed me that on their arrival at Chatham, their clothes would be taken away and burnt. Also on the flight were two SAS men who had been recalled to the UK. They simply unrolled their sleeping bags on the floor, climbed in and fell asleep for the duration of the journey. None of us was “bumped” at Akrotiri.

Melksham.

Home Base: Sylt.

I came all the way from Sylt, down to the Hook of Holland, across the North Sea to Harwich, then by rail to Melksham, all to sit my promotion board for the rank of Senior Tech. The board took a few days. The main event for me was when the examiner asked me to specify the subject of my STQ (Specialist Technical Qualification). For the STQ the candidate had to demonstrate an especially deep knowledge of a particular task. For me there could be no doubt: the bay servicing of the Mk 5 Belt Feed Mechanism.

The examiner took me to a servicing bay. Nearby was a pile of Mk 5s in various stages of disassembly. 'I want you to make me one that works', he said. So I set to. It nearly broke my heart. This stuff must have come out of a scrapyard it was in such a bad state. Luckily there was a small quantity of new spare parts about, some of which I needed. But they were all wrapped in greaseproof paper and there was much thick grease to get off before I could use them. This I managed to do, despite there being no cleaning materials about and with me dressed in my “best blue”.

Eventually I finished assembling it, and carried out the tests to the satisfaction of the examiner. His words to me were 'Well, if you can get one of those to work you must know your stuff.'

I passed the board, much to the regret of the FS in charge of the Armoury back at Sylt, who apparently had placed bets that I would fail. Thanks Chief.

Middleton St George.

Home Base: Middleton St George (92 Squadron)

I was posted to Middleton from Germany in 1961, to join 92 Sqn. The squadron had been nominated as the host for the RAF’s official aerobatic team, which became known as the Blue Diamonds. Overtime and weekend working became the norm, but the morale on the squadron was sky-high. With few exceptions the blokes were co-operative and friendly, and the level of skills was high. Needless to say, there were very many detachments and these are described in the appropriate places. One of my first jobs on a Hawker Hunter was to lean the ejection seat forwards to allow access for a radio fitter to some black boxes behind the seat. After disconnecting all the appropriate bits (so I thought), I leant the seat forward, and heard a strange noise. I had failed to unclip the tele-mic connection from the seat, and the wires had been ripped from their terminals on the bulkhead. Oh, Dear! Now I had wondered why a fellow was waiting patiently at the foot of the cockpit ladder. He now quietly suggested that he could help, while waving a replacement tele-mic lead in front of me! “Never mind,” he said, “every armourer does it once! You won’t forget next time, will you?” After fifty-six years I have not forgotten!

Mount Olympus.

Home Base: HQSTC.

Mount Olympus is the highest point on the island of Cyprus, and the RAF had celebrated the fact by placing a radar station on it. On my visit to Cyprus in 1979 to do the pre-AOC’s inspection, I had to visit the place to make sure that the storage for defence weapons and their ammunition was maintained in good order. The most notable thing about this place was not the view, as it seemed to be encased in cloud, but the presence of a different cloud – of large flying insects; they landed on me and crawled all over me. They must have been friendly because they didn’t harm me.

Newton.

Home Base: Leconfield (60 MU BD Flight).

I had two visits to Newton. The first was with a team to do the bomb disposal clearance of an overgrown wartime explosives storage area. The reason was that the Police Dog Training School was shortly to move from Debden, in Essex, to Newton. It was planned to put the kennels at the southern edge of the airfield with the exercise area in a field a short distance further south. Unfortunately, between the two areas lay that bomb dump. The planners wanted to lay a road through, and who better to do the clearance of the shrubbery than 60MU BD Flight. The photo shows the work at an advanced stage.

No items of an explosive nature were found.

The second visit was as a student on a Supervision of Quality course.

Nicosia.

Home Base: (1) Leconfield (92 Squadron), (2) HQSTC.

In connection with my first visit, please see the article on Mehrabad.

My second visit was part of a pre-AOC’s inspection of Cyprus. At the time, the airfield at Nicosia was under the care of the United Nations, and was the base for 18 Squadron, (helicopters) whose staff wore UN berets.

North Coates.

Home Base: HQSTC.

The previous major function of North Coates had been as a Bloodhound guided missile base. As the Mk 2 Bloodhounds were due to be returned from Germany, some bases were needed for them, and our office was naturally tasked with helping to find suitable ones.

I was greatly amused to see the sign advising that the capacity of the static water tank in the old bomb dump had recently been converted from thousands of gallons to litres as was the practice in those days – but to the exact number of litres! I wondered for a moment how they managed to switch off the tap at the precise moment.

Ørland.

Home Base: Leconfield (92 Squadron).

This was a refuelling stop on the way back home from Bodø. We stayed for a few hours and were amused to see that the hardy Norwegians were stripped to the waist enjoying the sunshine, despite the temperature being close to freezing.

Otterburn.

Home Base: Leconfield (60MU BD Flight/No. 1 EOD Unit).

I went there many times. Whenever ground attack aircraft, usually Harriers and Jaguars were using the range, the Army insisted that there had to be a bomb disposal presence. They also insisted that all RAF unexploded ordnance had to be dealt with before we left. It was evident that the Army were under a different set of rules as our main activity was disposing of unexploded artillery and tank shells that we found while walking around the site. The part of the range which we normally used was nine miles from the camp entrance.

Pisa.

Home Base: Leconfield (92 Squadron).

A refuelling stop on the way back home from Cyprus.

Porton Down.

Home Base: Graseby’s.

I visited Porton a few times acting as assistant to Jeff Thomson when he was doing performance tests on BL755 bomblet fuzing systems. There were several interesting aspects to this. We used a vacuum gun to propel the prepared bomblets to impact against a great wall which had been erected many decades ago. The wall was about 100 feet wide, about 30 feet high and about 30 feet thick. The vacuum gun had a bore of about a foot and a length of about 20 feet, into which an expanded polythene sabot containing the bomblet was placed. Both ends of the tube were sealed with Mylar film. The tube was then vacuumed down to 2 Torr then, at the appropriate time a solenoid operated blade-holder would cut the rear seal and the sabot with bomblet then would be propelled by the incoming air very rapidly towards the wall about a hundred yards away. The light sabot would be discarded immediately it left the tube. The bomblet would arm itself on the journey and the detonator would function on impact. For this trial, the warhead would be filled with a plastic material rather than explosive.

For these events we stayed at the hotel at nearby High Post. In earlier times the hotel had been the Air Traffic Control building for a research airfield operated by Supermarine of Spitfire fame. The engineering buildings were now being used by Schermuly, famous for their pyrotechnic products.

Primrose Lake.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

Please see the article for Cold Lake.

Rolston.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

I received a call at Leconfield one day, from the local police. Apparently, a group of Army cadets had found some ammunition at the range at Rolston, on the coast just south of Hornsea, and would we deal with it? We had just received a new boss, Flt Lt Peter Dunkley, so I invited him along.

On arrival at the range, I was surprised to see that a folding table had been erected in the shed nearest the entrance, and was surrounded by a crowd of army cadets and their instructors. On a blanket on the table was arranged a row of about thirty shell cases and projectiles. I knew immediately that the objects were from fighter or ground attack aircraft, and most probably had been found by the cadets on the nearby Cowden air-to-ground range.

I thanked the chief instructor for bringing the stuff to our attention, and said that we would remove them back to base for disposal. ‘Hang on a minute’, he said, ‘What are these things?’ So I explained what each of the articles was and what type of aircraft and gun would have fired it. Peter then spoiled things by saying ‘Hey, that’s good; how do you know all that?’ This from a supposed bomb disposal expert! And there’s a story.

When Peter had finished his engineering officer training, there was no post immediately available for him, so he was sent as a “supernumerary” officer to the Joint Service Bomb Disposal School at Lodge Hill Camp. He tolerated this for a few months then asked for a more suitable posting. It was auspicious that at just that time his “desk officer” had just received notification that the officer in charge of No. 1 EOD Unit was due to leave shortly. ‘Where are you working now?’ she said. ‘The bomb disposal school.’ says Peter. ‘Oh, great!’ says the young lady, ‘Would you like to take over the EOD Unit?’ ‘Yes please.’ Thus Peter, who had not had any experience of bomb disposal, was put in charge of the flight. To be fair, he was immediately put through a bomb disposal course, and so he became the very first RAF BD flight commander who had no previous armament experience (up to that point most officers i/c units had previously spent years as armament senior NCOs).

Incidentally, the senior instructor at Rolston had been trying to catch me out: he had been a wartime bomb disposal officer and was a holder of the George Medal. His present employment was with ICI at their Nobel factory at Ardeer, Ayrshire, working on detonator development. We had an interesting conversation and I learned much from him.

Salalah.

Home Base: Masirah.

The RAF operated from an airfield on the Oman mainland close to the town of Salalah, from which the airfield took its name. Salalah is situated on the coast about half way between Masirah and Aden. It lies in the province of Dhofar, on a plain extending about ten miles from the coast to the mountainous Jebel. For about five years prior to 1972 Dhofar was beset by a rebellion which was aided and abetted by China and the communist South Yemen with which Dhofar shared a border. The Jebel was owned by the rebels, who would make forays on to the plain at night to lay mines, and would also occasionally lob shells into the airfield. The British Army had a base within the enclave of the airfield, and the major unit which operated from the base was the British Army Training Team (BATT). This name was a subterfuge. The members of BATT were SAS and some support staff. They kept up a presence in the Jebel and created mayhem among “the Adoo” (enemy). Also involved, albeit in a small way, were Iranian forces. The Shah’s intention was to be a power in the region, and by assisting the Sultan of Oman in his struggle he was making the first steps in this direction. The defence of the airfield was the responsibility of the RAF Regiment (known throughout the Royal Air Force as the Rockapes or Rocks because of their first deployment to Gibraltar) with assistance from the Omani Artillery.

I had seen one of the Rockape field squadrons arrive at Masirah on their way through to Salalah and was much impressed. Usually, aircraft passengers are a pliable lot. Like sheep, they follow each other on and off the aeroplane and across the tarmac, and are generally willing to be ordered about by anyone in a uniform. Not these troops. They brought their own Land Rovers with them and as soon as the ramps of their aircraft came down, they were away, leaving the bewildered Movements people in their wake. The troops knew exactly what they wanted, and where to go to get it. They could easily have taken over the camp. What made it especially pleasing to me was that these very professional soldiers wore RAF blue berets.

The main function of Salalah airfield was as a base for a squadron of BAC Strikemasters whose business was to attack the Adoo using high explosive 500lb bombs, SURA rockets, and adapted GPMG machine guns. The Strikemasters were flown by contract and seconded RAF pilots, and the servicing was carried out by Airwork Services Ltd, a British company noted for this sort of activity.

At that state of the war, the RAF Regiment field squadron could be said to be operating a form of defence in depth. They had recently moved out from the airfield into three protected bases (Hedgehogs) out on the plain. The protection was simply a large number of forty gallon drums (known as “burmails”) filled with sand and stacked to give the required thickness and height. Within the hedgehogs an impressive collection of weaponry and sensors was assembled. The Regiment themselves had 81mm and two-inch mortars, and heavy barrelled M2 0.5 inch Browning machine guns. As “guests”, the Omani Artillery brought three 25-pounder guns and a 5.5 inch howitzer to the party. Of course there were also the usual defensive weapons like L1A1 self-loading rifles (SLRs), FN general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), Sterling sub-machine guns (SMGs) and Browning 9mm pistols. I found their sensors interesting. Because of the Adoo’s habit of coming down from the mountains at night to plant mines, the Artillery had invested in a ZB298 (If my memory serves me correctly) but more generally known as Zebedee, which is a very sensitive radar. It was said that a good operator could not only tell a human from a camel, but also a man from a woman. The locals had been warned off the plain at night so the Regiment and Artillery had free rein. It had long been a puzzle to me how the artillery could aim their guns at night when there was no visible target. The explanation came to me at Salalah: Within the site there was a long pole carrying a hooded lamp. Each gun (including the mortars) had a special sight. The Artillery command post knew the location of the target (for example the Adoo group laying the mines), they knew the location and ballistic characteristics of each weapon, and they knew the location of the lamp. Using triangulation they were able to give a set of co-ordinates to each gun. The gunners would set the dials on their sights, manoeuvre their guns until the lamp was in the centre of the crosshairs, and wait for the signal to fire. In the artillery world there is an interesting process called “T.O.T.” – Time on Target. When using T.O.T., such as in this scenario, the command post worked out the exact time of flight of the projectiles from each of the guns to the target. They then instructed each gun to fire at a precise instant; the different times for each gun was calculated so that all the projectiles would arrive at the target simultaneously. Frightening to contemplate, but the recipient usually had no time to contemplate.

Also situated at the Hedgehogs was Cymbeline. This was a mortar locating radar. As previously mentioned, the Adoo would often hurl the odd 120mm mortar bomb into the airfield. With Cymbeline in operation, the bomb would be tracked for a very small part of its curved trajectory and a computer would automatically predict its eventual point of impact, which would allow a brief warning to be given to the intended recipients. Just as importantly, the computer would also determine the precise spot from which the bomb was fired. Needless to say, the response would be almost immediate, and the hard-pressed Adoo would only have time to fire one further round before having to clear off with their mortar else suffer the consequences.

With the bringing into use of Cymbeline, the Adoo realised that their mortars were a wasting asset, so they brought up their RCLs (Recoil-less Rifles). These were also of about 120mm calibre, but unlike the mortars the trajectory of the shell was almost flat. This brought a great disadvantage in that the gun had to be in line-of-sight from the target. However, Cymbeline was baffled by these new devices. The RCLs soon became a problem.

Not to be dismayed (The Artillery were seldom dismayed) A Royal Artillery survey team were summoned from Germany, and they sited and installed a system which had its origins before the Second World War. A series of microphones (about eight or nine) were put down out on the plain. These were connected to a pen and paper recording device in the command post, and to a switch operated by a squaddie out on the plain. The loud report of an RCL or mortar firing would be picked up by the microphones at different intervals depending on the distance from the weapon, the operators would then calculate the position of the weapon with a high degree of accuracy and within a very short time the Adoo would themselves come under fire.

Life at Salalah, was if anything, harsher than at Masirah. First, there was the war of course, which hardly affected Masirah. Also there were the living conditions. The best accommodation the RAF or Army could expect was a brick shed with an earth floor, but more usually was a tent. (The Airwork people, being civilians, had much better billets, of course) Another thing was the climate, especially in June and July. This was the time of the monsoon and the temperatures were most uncomfortable. Whereas the Far Eastern monsoons are usually characterised by severe storms, at Salalah it was high humidity (including fog at times) accompanied by temperatures of 110˚F. Wet shaving in such conditions was purgatory and my cheeks and neck soon resembled (very painful) raw liver. Nonetheless, morale was superb. Food was good, co-operation was the norm, and the situation was improved by the understanding that the underlying shift pattern was twelve hours on, twelve hours off. One compensation was that, unlike Masirah, the incumbents were allowed to take a couple of weeks’ leave during their tour. And that’s why I found myself doing two stints down at Salalah. Masirah had parenting responsibilities for Salalah, so when the armament Sergeant there took leave, a replacement had to be provided from Masirah. As the job was full of the unexpected, I took over and left John Jarvill in charge back at Masirah in the full confidence that he could handle it. Besides, he had a railway to run.

The armoury had a few surprises for me. As well as the usual collection of defence weapons, I found myself looking after the Regiment’s mortars and also their M2 Browning heavy machine guns. I was astonished to learn that the medics in the Mobile Field Hospital had also been issued with personal weapons. This apparently, was permitted under the Geneva Conventions for “the protection of patients in their care”. Notwithstanding this, all their weapons were held in the armoury. I noted that many of the airmen walked around carrying Russian-designed AK47s or their predecessors, the SKS. These were usually of Chinese manufacture. These weapons were, of course, ex-Adoo, captured by the SAS and given away freely to whomsoever wanted one. A recently arrived SAS commander had decreed that RAF bods, however, were no longer to be given ex-Adoo arms, except in gratitude for some noble deed or favour. When there were complaints about this restriction, the commander told them that if they wanted an AK47, they could do the same as the SAS did: take one off an Adoo! One airman in Air Movements trumped the lot, however. Hung on the wall above his desk was a “Jimpy” - General Purpose Machine Gun! He refused to tell me where he’d got it from, and as it wasn’t missing from the armoury I didn’t press the matter. In general, my view was that if the Adoo climbed over the wire, it was better that firearms were in the hands of the troops rather than being locked up in the armoury. I gave them my full co-operation for spares and repairs, in the traditional manner of RAF Salalah.

Despite their love for the Brownings, the Rockapes were sorely tested by them. The guns were not listed in any RAF stores catalogue (I believe these ones were stolen from three of the Army’s armoured cars that had been mined), consequently no spares were available through the normal stores sources. Stoppages were rife and I was determined to do what I could in the face of bitter complaints from the Rockapes. In fact, the guns were beyond the help of any spares, as the bodies and barrels were worn beyond limits. It was tempting to tell the Rockapes that the weapons were finished and leave it at that. Instead, I decided to lean heavily on the goodwill and good sense of the airforce. After 18 years’ service I was still naïve enough to believe it might work. So I concocted a signal (telegram) to HQ Near East Air Force at Cyprus, setting out the facts and explaining in the most compelling of terms that the Rockapes had to have their Brownings or the war would most surely be lost. In the meantime Sgt Wildman (the regular armourer before he went on leave) and I did what we could with the worn-out ones. We managed to get some measure of reliability out of them by the simple remedy of squeezing the two sides of the body together in a vice. This took up the wear in the body and breech-block which permitted the things to fire with some certainty. It was a temporary cure but there was nothing at all we could do with the barrels.

I struck gold at HQ NEAF in the person of Sqn Ldr Ted Costick who was one, or perhaps the only, armament officer there. He was sufficiently interested in my plea that he flew down to Salalah to see for himself. Having seen the situation there he obtained a number of brand-new guns and instituted a hot-line for the procurement of spares. I was elated. So were the Rockapes. A couple of years later Ted Costick was to be awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for some heroic bomb disposal work when the Turkish Air Force attacked Cyprus. One of the tasks involved the making safe and recovery of an unexploded 750 pound bomb lying across two twin beds on the sixth floor of the Venus Beach Hotel in Famagusta. The fuzing of this bomb was particularly dangerous, being of the “cocked striker” variety. Obviously, a good man in a crisis. I was to come across him later in my career.

During my second term at Salalah, the decision was made to move up into a higher gear against the Adoo, and I was privileged to witness it. Part of the preparations involved shipping out about 50 Royal Engineer craftsmen from Chatham. These men were young, fit and enthusiastic, and with a variety of skills. At first light one morning I awoke to the clatter of helicopter rotors. About six Iranian Hueys were heading towards the Jebel with underslung loads. As the morning progressed, it became evident that the Engineers were building another Hedgehog on top of the Jebel. This activity did not go unnoticed by the Adoo, and very soon they came under fire. However, one of the first arrivals at the site had been a Forward Air Controller (FAC) team who were successful in spotting the sources of the annoyance and directing Strikemasters to deal with it. Nonetheless, it was a hazardous enterprise and it had to continue night and day until the Hedgehog was assembled, manned and capable of looking after itself. This was the beginning of the end for the Adoo, and from then on there was only one direction they could go – backwards.

The Sgts’ Mess at Salalah was a haven for tired souls. The food was excellent, the company inspiring and the bar relaxing. The bar itself was about six feet thick of solid stone with a thick wooden top. It was explained to me that it was designed that way so that in the event of incoming Adoo shells, there was no need to make for cover, one only had to squat on the floor, and continue with one’s drink. One evening, I was sat close to the bar, and overheard a Royal Artillery Sgt conversing with a very young civilian meteorological observer. The met man was an auxiliary member of the mess as befitted his status. The Sgt was explaining the need for the met man to be very circumspect in his behaviour towards the “proper” members. “Proper” membership of the Sgts’ mess was a privilege which was earned only by the passage of many, many years’ service, the Sgt reminded him. It was unusual in the extreme for someone as young as he to be allowed access. I found myself nodding in agreement, and noticed that the young man was suitably impressed. ‘How many years have you been in the Army, Jim?’ asked the lad at last. The sergeant lifted his eyes and stared into the far distance. ‘Four f***ing years!’ he answered, bitterly. At that time I had been in the RAF for eighteen years and still considered myself something of a sprog. The Sgt was an excellent chap, however, and was an instructor seconded to the Omani Artillery. Later, he showed me over one of their 25-pounders and a 5.5 inch howitzer situated close to the mess. When they were doing one of their shoots at the Jebel he allowed me to fire the 25 pounder - and he allowed me to keep the brass case as a souvenir. Whether the shell hit anyone I’ve no idea. It was certainly the only time I have ever fired at an enemy.

I was fortunate in meeting an old buddy from the Leconfield days. Bob Barter was now an armourer with Airwork, and he gave me the lowdown on that side of the business. They were well looked after with a well-appointed mess and even better food than the forces’ mess. I had one or two sociable evenings with them, one notable event was my first acquaintance with pistachio nuts; these had been brought in by the Iranians. Down at the flight-line, Bob showed me round the Strikemasters and I was intrigued by their use of non-British munitions. Spanish bombs with American fuzes, and Swiss rockets. To allow me a closer look at the hardware, he ushered me into the flight-line explosives store. There, I was appalled to find that explosives regulations (the RAF’s regulations, I must add) bore little resemblance to the conditions applying in the store. Incompatible explosives were stored in close proximity with each other, and it was obvious that the room was used as a crewroom, too, to the extent that an electric kettle was plugged in on one of the shelves. While we were in there a man entered for some refreshment. While smoking a pipe! I have to admit that the pipe was equipped with a perforated metal cap, so I suppose that made it all right.

When I asked Bob what he thought of his situation, he replied that it was okay, but not as good as his previous job: his last employer allowed him to be accompanied by his wife. It turned out that his previous employer was the Republic of Yemen, which was the “other side” in the war we were now engaged in. However, he was having an interesting life.

One day while I was working in the armoury, probably on one of the “point fives”, the doorbell rang. It was an Airwork armourer. This time it was a chap who had come specifically from up-country to sort out a problem with the Strikemasters’ GPMG firing mechanism, and craved some assistance. I offered him what help I could, and when he started talking about his home base (Midway) I recalled that my errant VT fuzes from Masirah had been taken there. I mentioned the problem I was having with getting them back. ‘You will never get them back.’ he declared. He then explained that there had been a disaster in the explosives storage area. A couple of tons of sweaty gelignite had gone up. Apart from the fact that the military usually keep at arm’s length from gelignite, sweaty or otherwise, it should not have resulted in a disaster. However, it appeared that, either by bad design or bad administration, the explosion had propagated throughout the entire site, wiping-out everything of value, including my fuzes. This also explained my mysterious “stand-by” and its subsequent cancellation. There simply had been nothing left for a bomb disposal man to dispose of. I was later to hear that the man responsible for planning the site had been somewhat deficient in the specialist knowledge required.

Because of the situation at Salalah, the MoD had decreed that there should be a military hospital in the vicinity. The hospital was a suite of marquees equipped with all mod cons, including operating theatres and recovery wards, all equipped with air conditioning. The people who worked the hospital were a collection of surgeons, doctors, anaesthetists and nurses co-opted from the various UK military hospitals of the Navy, Army and Air Force, the whole assembly being known as a Field Surgical Team (FST). A helicopter pad was located within the area. In essence, it was just like M*A*S*H of TV fame. Patients were from all sources, including captured Adoo. One medic confided in me that it was often depressing when dealing with the Adoo: when one was captured he was mended before being interrogated by the Omani people. Part of the interrogation was to impress on him that he had received the best medical attention from the “goodies” whereas he would most surely have been left to die by his Adoo comrades. He was then invited to change sides and work for the Sultan. Many did. Those that did not were (so it was said) taken out and shot. It was frustrating for the medics to know that after trying all they knew to save a man’s life and get him back on his feet, it was (for some of the patients) all in vain.

I mentioned earlier that many of the RAF men possessed SKSs or AK47s. One corollary to this was usually a request made by the proud owner a couple of weeks before he was due to go back to the UK. This was to de-activate the weapon so that it was legal to be brought through customs. In my view, it is impossible to de-activate a weapon permanently if a competent armourer is on hand. Accordingly, I would give the owner the necessary warning and if he still wanted me to go ahead, I would disable the firing pin and drill a series of holes in the chamber and barrel under the woodwork so that a cursory inspection would detect no anomaly. I would then fill in a certificate listing my actions, the gun details, and finally my signature and name, and the date of the certificate. One particular weapon I remember was a Chinese-made AK47 complete with folding bayonet which I doctored for the SWO (who was a Sgt). I told him that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of getting it back into the UK, but his attitude was so what? A man can only try. I met him a couple of years later at a darts match at Finningley, when he told me I had been wrong, and that the weapon was at that moment hanging above his fireplace. A couple of months after that (back at Leconfield) I was asked to go to the station guardroom where a couple of civilian gentlemen wished to talk to me. They were, in fact, members of the RAF’s Special Investigations Branch. They understood that when I was at Masirah/Salalah I was “in the habit” of doctoring weapons in the manner just described, and wished to know precisely how many and for whom, etc. Apparently, some AK47s had been discovered in the hands of the IRA. I corrected them about my odd habits, and explained that I could hardly be expected to remember all the details. I did, however, tell them about the SWO’s AK47 (the two policemen exchanged meaningful glances at that one) and one or two other memorable ones (including one for a medic!). I pointed out that there was such a thing as an Armoury Safe Custody Register in every armoury, and that the appropriate details for all weapons going back to longbows and pikes would be recorded there. They thanked me and left, and I heard no more of it.

Shortly before I arrived at Salalah, the Sgt armourer attached to the Rockapes had been awarded a gallantry medal. There had been a bit of a set-to with the Adoo, and the Rockapes were firing their mortars like there was no tomorrow. Normally, mortar-men operate as a team, with one of their number feeding the rounds into the muzzle of the weapon at the appropriate interval. Somehow, the feeder lost the rhythm and offered a round to the muzzle just as the previous one was coming out. Luckily, neither round exploded or the whole team would most certainly have been killed. Nonetheless, the supplementary propellant charges on the ingoing round were ignited, and the feeder was quite badly injured. The remainder of the team were in a state of shock. The armourer, without hesitation, dealt with the damaged ammunition, despite severe personal danger, and the fact that he had had no formal training in bomb disposal.

A few days after my arrival, there was another incident, but much less serious. A team was firing a GPMG in sustained fire mode, when a stoppage occurred. The firer ejected the round from the chamber, and continued firing. Some five or six seconds after this, there was an explosion and the firer was peppered in the arms and chest by fragments of brass. Luckily his eyes weren’t damaged. The bits of brass were removed by the Field Surgical Team. My assessment of the accident was that the ejected round had “cooked off” in the large pile of hot, empty cases which had accumulated under the weapon. The ambient temperature was also contributory, being significantly over 100 degrees. I filled in an accident report and sent it off. Some months later, back in the UK, I read the Army’s consolidated list of accidents and incidents for the year, and was disgusted to see that they had put it down to the round “cooking-off” in the gun’s breech. They had ignored my assessment and had come up with a nonsensical reason.

An interesting creature was to be found at Salalah. This was pointed out to me when I queried the presence of a number of small conical depressions in the sand. These, it became evident, were the homes of the Ant Lions. This fellow (I never saw one) lay just beneath the bottom of one of these cones and waited for the arrival of an ant. The ant would be merrily striding along when it would topple into the cone. As the ant scrabbled to climb out again, the ant lion would detect the commotion and throw sand up the slope of the cone, causing a minor avalanche. Down would go the ant, and with minimum exertion the ant lion would have its lunch.

Scatsta.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

While working at Sumburgh (q.v.), the local police told me that a quantity of small arms ammunition had been found at Scatsta. The airfield there had been the landing ground for the wartime flying-boat base of Sullom Voe, towards the north end of the main island. The police took me up there and we made quite a visit of it. The ammunition presented no problem. At the time there was tremendous activity in Shetland as preparations were being made for the reception of North Sea Oil. Sullom Voe was being developed as the port from which the processed oil would be sent elsewhere. Despite the power of the police, it was deemed unwise for us to explore the place, but they did show me the ends of three large pipelines just lying on the sand at Firths Voe, waiting to be connected to the processing plant which was still under construction. Firths Voe was a very small inlet on the eastern side of the promontory. The other ends of the pipes were a hundred miles or so out to sea.

Scorton.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

Just to the east of the old airfield at Scorton, some pheasant breeders had been doing some digging and had discovered a stack of wartime practice bombs a couple of feet below the surface. On this occasion, unusually, there were four of us, three Chf Techs and the boss, Flt Lt Denis Kempson. Denis was driving the Austin 1800. We dealt with the bombs and got them out of the way, then the four of us went back to Leconfield. Now Denis had a characteristic that resulted in him driving faster and faster on any journey, which usually caused passengers a lot of anxiety.

On this occasion all went well until we got to York. Needless to say it was rush hour and the traffic on the road into York was almost stationary. Good old Denis pulled over to the right and drove in what I considered to be an insane speed up the wrong side of the road. To my astonishment there was nothing coming the other way. By this time the traffic on our side of the road had stopped totally. Miraculously, he continued past countless road junctions without incident, including a blind left hand curve on to Bishopgate Street, still no opposing traffic. Then as we breasted the old Skeldergate Bridge we saw the cause of the situation: A huge Scammell tractor hauling an immense concrete beam was coming from the left, and was about to negotiate the roundabout to use the exit we were on. There was a battalion of policemen in attendance. It was evident that the plan was for the tractor to go to the left of the roundabout and the bogie, about 80 feet behind, would go to the right, with the beam itself going above the roundabout centre. Denis sized this up immediately then, without slackening speed, drove the wrong way round the roundabout, exiting right. We were away, leaving several policemen open-mouthed in our wake. Johnny Whitley asked what Denis would have said if the police had stopped us. Denis replied that he would have told them that he needed to get back to base quickly so as not to miss Hector’s House (a kid’s programme) on TV!

Incidentally, on another occasion, Denis was stopped by the police on the A5111 Derby by-pass on his way back from Fauld (site of a massive wartime explosion). ‘Have you any idea what speed you were doing, Sir?’ ‘No idea at all,’ said Denis, and showed the bobbies the contents of the boot, which included a 250lb high-explosive bomb. ‘I need to get back to base quickly.” Instead of booking him, they gave him an escort!

Sola.

Home Base: Leconfield (92 Squadron).

I spent some days here with the Blue Diamonds. We got to explore the nearby town of Stavanger, and to experience Norwegian Air Force cuisine, which I recall was mainly cold fish. Definitely not my idea of cuisine.

For the first time I saw a Lockheed Hercules C130, a Model “A”, and was very impressed with it. It took off at a very steep angle without any discernible change in engine note. My impressions were borne out as the Herc is still in service some fifty-five years later, though now it is the Model “H”. A magnificent aircraft.

St Athan.

Home Base: Leconfield (60MU BD Flight).

This place, in Wales of course, was also known as “1st Taff”, to distinguish it from “2nd TAF” which became RAF Germany.

It was the habit of Support Command to send their people there to do a Ground Defence Course lasting a couple of weeks. The course included instruction on fire-fighting, guarding techniques and finished off with a classroom exercise on nuclear war aspects including behaviour of alpha and beta particles and gamma rays, protection measures, and the development of radioactivity as a result of nuclear explosions. During one phase we were progressively given radioactivity readings, and had to use these values to find (using calculators) the resulting variations of the risk. We were all hard at work with our pencils and calculators when the instructor put another value on the board. We duly included this in our sums and, after a few seconds we all, open-mouthed, simultaneously looked up at the instructor. ‘OK’, he said, ‘That’s the end of the course.’ Our calculations showed us that we were all doomed.

St Mawgan.

Home Base: HQSTC.

My visit here was for a preliminary take-over board for a new explosives storage area in connection with a Forward Operating Base for the USAF to use if the cold war turned hot. This ESA had been planned in our office, mainly by Flt Lt John Reed, but he couldn’t attend on this occasion. The members of the board met in the normal ESA office, where we set out the plans, etc., then were taken by coach to the FOB ESA which was some distance away. I was at once impressed by the quality of the work which had been undertaken by Wimpey’s. The materials, specified by PSA, were, as usual, top quality. However, on seeing three of the buildings, my heart sank. These buildings, because of their function, were asymmetric and I could see that they had been built back-to-front compared to what we wanted. I didn’t comment immediately because there was a possibility that our instructions may have been imprecise, in which case we would have been at fault. I needed to see the site plan. When we returned to the ESA office I looked at the plans for those buildings and was relieved to see that they bore the compass rose, which meant that our instructions had been comprehensive and there was no ambiguity. We were free of blame and PSA bore the embarrassment.

That was an expensive mistake on PSA’s part: the two roads serving the buildings were of different widths (to keep the costs down), but now the narrower road had to be widened and a new junction constructed to accommodate the articulated vehicles which were to deliver the munitions to the buildings.

Strubby.

Home Base: Lindholme.

When I was visiting Theddlethorpe (q.v.) on one occasion, a message was passed to me requesting my presence at Strubby where some contractors had excavated some explosive-related objects at the side of a taxiway. At the time, Strubby was under “care and maintenance” and therefore had no technical RAF presence. Although I was not yet bomb-disposal trained I could confirm that the stuff was explosive. I advised them not to disturb anything, and I would seek some assistance. On my return to Lindholme soon afterwards, I telephoned the Group Armament Officer at Bawtry, one Sqn Ldr MacBean. I advised him of the problem at Strubby. To my amazement, he ordered me not to do anything about it. I protested that the contractors were waiting for some advice, but he forbade me to do anything. Now it may be that he sorted the problem out himself, but the way he spoke I took it to mean that he would do nothing. I have felt annoyed about that ever since.

Sumburgh.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

The development of North Sea Oil affected Shetland greatly, and led to the old wartime airfield of Sumburgh being transformed. One of the major changes was to extend the main runway, and it is now true to say that one end of it is in the Atlantic and the other is in the North Sea. While all this was going on, the contractors while doing excavation, discovered a number of buried practice bombs. These had not just been dumped in a hole, but a trench had been dug and the bombs laid neatly in a stack. There were about a hundred of them.

As with most practice bombs, the nose portion was made of cast iron and the tail section was of sheet steel fabricated to the correct shape and containing a chemical such as titanium tetrachloride to give a dense cloud of white smoke when initiated on impact. The initiation was by means of a vicious device called a No. 28 detonator burster, which was located in a metal tube up the middle of the tail unit.

I had no worries about the chemical because all of the tail units were rusted through, or had been perforated before burial. But the centre tubes were still intact and there were no ready means of determining if the det-bursters were present. In normal circumstances, the tail units were secured to the noses after the det-bursters had been inserted during the fuzing process. With these bombs there was no likelihood of me separating the parts due to the corrosion which had taken place. I was, however, able to borrow a pipe cutter from a garage and use it to expose the insides of the tubes and verify if any detonator was present. Thankfully, there were none.

Next, to get rid of the bombs. I had a good relationship with the contractors, and they were happy to amalgamate the bombs with the concrete they were preparing for the lower foundations of the runway. So there should be no more problems from that source for the next couple of hundred years.

Incidentally, while I was doing this job, the police acted as my transport agency. And very good hosts they were, too. They took me to places that I would otherwise have missed, such as Scalloway, home port of the wartime Shetland Bus, and Scatsta (q.v.) and Firths Voe. They also took me to and from my digs in Lerwick every day. The landlady there was a fearsome widow called Claire Sutherland, and she and her husband had been notable characters in the community. In the evenings she would recite to me poetry that her husband had written. With her Shetland accent the experience was most enjoyable. To me, the poetry was exquisite and in later years, after Claire too had died, I inquired whether any of it had been preserved. To my disappointment it appears that it wasn’t.

Sutton-on-Hull.

Home Base: Leconfield (60MU BD Flight).

Sutton-on Hull was a wartime RAF base which was mainly a balloon centre and training unit, which has now been totally overwhelmed by the housing estate of Bransholme, reputed to be the largest housing estate in Britain, lying on the outskirts of the city of Kingston-upon-Hull, or plain Hull if you prefer. The only clues as to its previous occupation are that some of its streets are named after RAF bases elsewhere.

For the first incident after the completion of my bomb-disposal course, I was taken by my boss, Flt Lt Ron Mudge, to this wasteland. Some contractors digging a trench across the old base, no doubt starting the transition of the base into the housing estate, uncovered a cache of buried 30lb incendiary bombs. While we were working, a couple of journalists from the Hull Daily Mail approached us. I told my boss what they were about, but he refused to talk to them, saying that in his experience, journalists were a bunch of liars.

I thought that this was an outrageous slander, so I addressed them myself, and told them all they needed to know in the greatest detail, stressing that the bombs were empty of all incendiary material and were totally safe. When the next edition of the Hull Daily Mail came out, sure enough there was a piece about the event. And it was a pack of lies. So far as the reporter was concerned, the population of Hull had spent a quarter of a century sitting on a time-bomb!

A little while later I was called to a terrace in Hull where apparently a hand-grenade had been thrown over a wall into a back yard, and had failed to go off. When I got there, the police had gone. I was advised by a neighbour that they had taken the grenade to the police station. Arriving at the police station, I found that the grenade, a No. 38, had been placed on top of the sand in a fire bucket, situated just outside the main window of a large office (!) The grenade was fairly new, and bore markings indicating that it was live. The safety pin had been removed, the lever had gone but the firing pin had not descended. Unfortunately, there was no way another safety pin could be engaged because one of the two brackets had been broken off, presumably when the grenade had hit the concrete of the back-yard. It was possible that the firing pin was being held by the broken edge of the bracket, but more likely there was another reason. Finding out was not one of my priorities.

I was able to get some plaster of Paris from a nearby chemist and pour the mix over the grenade (gently). After a while, I asked the police if they could take me to an open area where I could blow the thing up. I had hoped that somewhere near could be found. After putting the bucket and grenade into the back of the Land Rover, surrounded by sandbags, the police took us through the streets, horns blaring, about two miles up to the old airbase. I thought that was the most dangerous part of the whole affair. Lesson: when talking to the Police, be specific, and don’t assume they’ll do what you want them to do.

Swinderby.

Home Base: Leconfield (No. 1 EOD Unit).

I had a couple of visits to Swinderby. The first I would rather forget. Just to the south of the airfield had been something of an explosives storage area, and some people doing quarrying had unearthed a stack of inert practice bomb noses. A few of us went down there and took with us a two-wheeled trailer to bring the bomb bits back to Leconfield. I fell into an age-old trap: There’s just a few more, they said, so we loaded them on. Pretty soon there were far too many bombs for the capacity of the trailer, and in less than a hundred yards on the main road, the trailer took control, with the Land Rover swaying side-to-side; almost, but not quite, to the point of being overturned. I had to take them back, and make two journeys instead of one. That taught me a valuable lesson.

The second visit was much more interesting: I took a team down to do a bomb disposal clearance job on an area between the peri-track and the main road. While this was not of any great complexity, other happenings about the place gave interest. One evening, after a longish visit to the NAAFI, the blokes got back to their billet and found that they had been burgled, with a fair amount of stuff missing. The RAF Police sergeant was summoned and within about five minutes had identified the culprit as one of the team! Amazing. The lad was duly charged and tried, and did some time in the Army glasshouse at Colchester. To my surprise, when he had finished his sentence, he was allowed to come back to us. Fortunately, the guys took him back without complaint – or violence.

Each day, as we went to work, we had to pass by a strange process which puzzled us, until it was explained. In essence it was a new way of producing turf. First of all, contractors unrolled a considerable length of nylon mesh about eight feet wide in two parallel lines along one of the lazy runways, then, using a road-laying machine (Barber-Greene Olding), they laid a three-inch thick layer of compost on top of the mesh. A seed drill was then pulled between the two lines, sowing grass seed on the compost. End of stage one. For the next couple of weeks a fellow turned up twice a day, and, using a tractor and liquid fertiliser spreader, would water the plot. When the grass was ready, they came with lorries, rolled the stuff up and took it away! I thought it was a brilliant use of an old runway, but I never saw such a process again.

While we were working at Swinderby, we received a call to go to what had been a decoy airfield at Bassingham Fen, a couple of miles to the east. A Royal Engineers team were doing a bomb-disposal clearance task there, which I thought was a bit of a cheek, and they had found some bombs which they did not recognise. We arrived and gave them the necessary advice. Something which intrigued us was the presence of a number of Ukrainian “displaced persons” operating the 4C mine detectors. We knew that a fair number of Ukrainians were so employed by the Engineers, but it was the first time we had seen them in action. At that time the Cold War was still going on, and the Ukrainian ex-World War Two soldiers were persona-non-grata to the USSR, so it would be most unwise to send them home. In a remarkable humane act by our Army, these Ukrainians were employed and housed by the Royal Engineer bomb-disposal units. The RE NCOs were keen to point out that the Ukrainians’ long experience of operating and setting-up the 4C mine detectors enabled them to pick-up signals from buried bombs at a far greater depth than we thought possible.

Theddlethorpe.

Home Base: Lindholme.

One of my duties while I was at Lindholme (q.v.)was to supply demolition explosives as required to Theddlethorpe Range on the coast. A WO was established there to carry out any demolitions that were needed. A small brick cupboard was licensed to hold the explosives. I evolved a system whereby every month, the WO would tell me what he wanted, then I would deliver it to him and get him to sign a Magazine Loan Book for the quantity taken on charge. There were two MLBs in use, one with me and one with him, swapped on each occasion that I made a delivery. When I got back to base I wrote off the stuff he had used. Or should I say the stuff he said he had used.

The system fell apart when the Aeronautical Inspection Services (AIS) inspector turned up from Chilmark for the annual inspection and looked in the Theddlethorpe cupboard. It immediately became evident that the place was a mess. The WO hadn’t checked in months what explosives he had been using, and the magazine loan books were a pack of lies. It turned out that the WO was demob-happy and also was partial to a bit of lotion from time to time. The AIS man tried to blame me; I suppose I could have checked, but if you can’t trust a WO to do his job what hope is there?

Turnhouse.

Home Base: HQSTC.

Just a simple pre-AOC’s inspection made interesting, first of all, by terminating a kidney stone event. The previous week-end had been a painful one as the stone made its way out of my kidney into my bladder, and now, in the Sergeants’ Mess toilet, it tinkled into the urinal. I recovered it and was horrified. No wonder it hurt; it was large, crystalline and multi-coloured with many, many sharp-pointed spikes.

I was pleased to see that Ferranti’s factory, where the gyro gunsights had been made, was still there and operating.

Upper Heyford.

Home Base: HQSTC.

During my time at High Wycombe (q.v.) the office staff paid a visit to the USAF station at Upper Heyford, where they were building some hardened explosives storehouses (known to us as igloos). Probably these were the first igloos to be built in Britain. We learned something of the techniques of building them and using them. It was very valuable knowledge. We noticed, and made comment on the good quality of the work we had seen. The Clerk of the Works was very pleased to be so commended, and explained that one of his aims was for concrete facings to be as smooth as could be achieved. To this end, the shuttering used to support the concrete was, at his insistence, faced with plywood with the edges aligned. Those buildings put other concrete buildings, as seen in many towns, to shame.

Upwood.

Home Base: Leconfield (60MU BD Flight).

he first of my two visits to Upwood was for the Senior Trade Management Course. This was probably the most valuable course I’ve had in my life. From the Air Force’s point of view, it was supposed to help me in my work. From my point of view it has helped me in my life. The purpose was to teach techniques for increasing the efficiency in managing resources, processes, and people.

As was normal, all the students had to stand up, one at a time, and identify themselves by rank, name and present job. One of our number, also a chief technician armourer, told us that he was employed on “AU duties”. I was puzzled, but said nothing, as did the rest of the students. At the end, the instructor, to our relief, asked what AU duties entailed. The chief informed us that he had been earmarked for Skybolt, an American guided missile, but when that programme had been cancelled, he and his colleagues were posted willy-nilly to various stations until proper jobs could be allocated to them. ‘Until then’, he said, ‘If anyone had some gash job that needed doing, they would say Hey, You!’

One of the subjects that the instructors spent a lot of time on was Critical Path Analysis, which interested me greatly; it helped with the first two aims of the course. On the second Friday afternoon, the instructor said ‘Now on Sunday morning . . . ’ I could hear the intakes of breath from those who thought that their weekend was about to be spoiled. ‘I want you to keep your eye on your wives or mothers as they are making lunch, and pay particular attention to the order in which they make it. Women are naturals at Critical Path Analysis. How else can they manage to cook meat and several vegetables, each of which needs a different length of time to cook, and put it on the table at the right time, all cooked to perfection and all at the right temperature. They make an art of it.’

Man-management was the one of the main subjects, and I learned that a supervisor or manager should first of all be a servant to his or her staff. A boss’s job primarily is to make sure the workers have the proper tools, resources, workspace, training and, above all, the motivation to do the work properly. Instruction was given on each of these. This part of the course was very valuable to me. In later life it also became something of a burden. How many times did I work under so-called managers whom I wouldn’t have employed as corporals? And I have to say that the best boss I worked for in all my career was a woman. Oh, the shame of it!

A whole day was taken up with an exercise to simulate the work of an MT (Mechanical Transport) Controller. A pair of students was to act as one controller, allocating transport to organisations and individuals as both routine (e.g. aircraft refuelling tankers) and individual requests were made. These requests were presented on forms by the instructors at odd intervals during the day. There was no time for idling and our brains were in a whirl. At the end of the exercise, one of the teams was left with only a Coles Crane with which to take the chaplain to the railway station! I have to say that the instructional staff planned the exercise to be as difficult as possible. By the end of the day we were all totally exhausted. Normally, an MT controller was a corporal. At Leconfield, my home base, it was a young lady corporal. A very sobering lesson.

My second visit was to help with some bomb disposal clearance of the bomb dump, which had been developed some years earlier as an offshoot of the explosives MU at Chilmark, and was now being shut down.

Waddington.

Home Base: HQSTC.

This was a simple visit to resolve issues about explosives storage licensing.

Waterbeach.

Home Base: Leconfield (92 Squadron).

A Blue Diamonds aerobatic display. One novel feature of the visit was that Waterbeach was the only station to my knowledge to have a Cpls’ Mess.

One evening a bunch of us went very late (we had been kept busy with our aircraft) to The Brewery Tap, a pub just outside the gate. Because we were late I foolishly tried to consume my usual quota of beer before closing time. I should have known that one of my colleagues, a smooth-talking airman from Ashington, would charm the landlord into staying open late.

Wattisham.

Home Base: Leconfield (92 Squadron).

Please see the article on Ahlhorn.

Watton.

Home Base: Honington.

I was called out from Honington to deal with a suspect IED which had been discovered at the base of a transmitter aerial near to the Griston Site. My call-out was supplementary to a similar call to the bomb-disposal squadron at Wittering, which was much further away, and therefore expected to take much longer to respond. The IED was a false alarm; it had been laid by the officer in charge of an Air Training Corps squadron as part of an exercise, and he had failed to remove it afterwards.

His forgetfulness did have some benefit, though, as the Norfolk Police had planned a major exercise on the airfield that morning. So instead of having to fake an event, they were handed an unexpected one to contend with, and which they thought was real. Also, my old mate Slim Coleman turned up from Wittering with a Ford Transit and “Wheelbarrow” (see the High Wycombe article) and gave a demonstration of its effectiveness to all of us. Thank you, Flt Lt John Reed. Altogether a very enjoyable morning.

Welford.

Home Base: Graseby’s.

Due to the closure of 11MU at RAF Chilmark, the facilities that Jeff Thomson formerly used had been moved to the USAF base at Welford. On a couple of occasions I helped him to do proofing tests on BL755 bomblets. It could have been very frustrating because, as the rules were framed, (by the British, I hasten to add) and had we applied them, it would have been impossible for us to carry out the tests, despite the fact that the building had been set up precisely for this purpose.

West Freugh.

Home Base: Leconfield (60MU BD Flight/No. 1 EOD Unit).

The purpose of this place was a bombing range serving the research establishment at Farnborough. It was convenient for the purpose because it had an airfield with hangars, offices and all the other infrastructure one would expect, and had a hard target, soft target and a very large water target, Luce Bay.

I visited many times, all for the purpose of clearing up after drops of BL755 cluster bombs, and together with my stint at Cold Lake/Primrose Lake (q.v.), during the time I was on bomb disposal I dealt with (as i/c task) more BL755s than all other BD people put together.

On one of my visits, the German Air Force was to make the first drop of a BL755 from an F104G Starfighter. As was usual, official spectators and ourselves gathered on a nearby grassy dune to observe the spectacle. Along came the F104, low and fast, and off came the bomb. After a couple of seconds it became obvious that it had “gone ballistic”, which means that the top and bottom fairings had not detached and the 147 bomblets were not going to deploy. The bomb hit the ground intact and immediately burst apart, with whole and broken bomblets and other detritus flying about. My heart sank as I realised that this complicated the clean-up process enormously. Chief Tech. Johnny Whitley, on the other hand, whooped and cheered and waved his arms about. What’s so funny about that? asked an Air Cdre, swinging round to face Johnny. ‘Oh”, said Johnny, ‘I have heard that usually it’s the Starfighter that hits the ground!’ In fact the German Air Force had lost a great number of Starfighters, leading to its nickname of “The Widowmaker”. The German Defence Minister had to resign because of those widows’ campaigning because of his refusal to fit the aircraft with British ejection seats.

First BL755 Live Drop at West Freugh: Left to Right (standing): Sgt Herrington, Chf Tech Barber, Sqn Ldr Blake, Chf Tech Hutchinson, Cpl Munton. At front: Chf Tech Whitley, Flt Sgt Blake.

On one occasion, after a drop, I was setting out the electrical cables to do the demolition of UXBs. At the edge of the soft target was a sandbagged area with a flagpole. There were many other, seemingly abandoned cables about, so I made sure that mine was the only one tied temporarily to the flagpole. To test the cable, one normally used a “dynamo, exploder, condenser”, known in mining circles as a “Beethoven”, at the control point and a “fuzehead, low tension” at the other. I sent one of the team off to the flagpole with the dynamo with strict instructions to identify the correct cable and not to connect up until I gave the signal that I had connected the fuzehead. Shortly after he arrived at the flagpole there was a large explosion a couple of hundred yards away in the vicinity of the hard target. There was panic and confusion for some time as the range safety people thought we had boobed in a big way. At last it was confirmed that a squadron leader, nothing to do with us, had been doing his own trial, had not notified the range people, and had set off his own explosion. Naughty! I believe that what he was doing ultimately led to the design of one of the JP233 sub-munitions.

One notable aspect of the programme was the presence of an ambulance and a nurse who had been flown up from Farnborough for the task. Fortunately, they were not needed during the time I was on the BD flight. She did have some work to do some time later, however, but unfortunately without a satisfactory result.

West Raynham.

Home base: HQSTC.

West Raynham had been a Bloodhound Mk 1 base some years earlier, and I was part of a small team examining the base to determine if Bloodhound Mk 2s, due to be returned from RAF Germany, could be installed here.

Wildenrath.

Home Base: Honington.

Please see the article on Brüggen.

Wittering.

Home Base: Leconfield, HQSTC, Machrihanish.

I had several visits to Wittering. The first was supposed to be for me to examine the base to determine if it was suitable for accepting the transfer of No. 1 EOD Flight (the new name for 60MU Bomb Disposal Flight). Later I was told that the decision had already been made, and that my report had to be translated to see what the EOD Flight had to do to make itself ready to be moved! By the time the move took place I had left the flight.

The next time, I visited the three bomb dumps: Collyweston, Rogue Sale and Vigo Wood, for a pre-AOC’s inspection.

The next time, I had to clear up some difficulty the armament squadron were having with the Harriers. For emergency operation of the flaps and undercarriage, compressed air was used, and this was released from a cylinder by an explosive squib with an electrical initiator. Unlike most electrically-operated gas bottles (which had a built-in connector) these required the connectors to be soldered into place. Oh, dear! Heat and explosives, eh? The rules forbade anything above a certain temperature to be within an explosives laboratory, so really, the armourers were forbidden to do the soldering using any of the service electrical soldering irons. What in fact they did do was to fire-up a MOX alumina-thermic soldering iron (something having its origin way back in medieval times) in the armoury, then carry it across the road to the lab, then hope to complete the job before the iron cooled. In truth this was a more dangerous method and the staff knew it. I was able to convince the Ministry of Defence (Air) to permit the use of an electrical soldering iron for this one purpose, but to do so a special, locking, plug and socket had to be fitted in the laboratory.

Later, I visited the station, twice, to undergo two courses on special weapons.

Woodhall Spa.

Home Base: HQSTC

In preparation for the return of Bloodhound Mk 2 missiles from Germany, Woodhall Spa was one of the stations examined for its suitability as an operational site. Mk 1 missiles had been sited there some years previously.

Woodvale.

Home Base: (1) Halton, (2) Leconfield (60MU BD Flight).

As with many RAF apprentice entries, the 81st spent a couple of weeks at Woodvale on summer camp. Living under canvas with dubious ablutions facilities, we did day and night battle exercises, long distance marches and range work. The weather was unbelievably hot and sunny, and I got sunburn in a bad way. Because it was an offence to be sunburnt, I kept quiet about it and bore the suffering.

On the second occasion I was called from a job at Chorlton-cum-Hardy (53.4347 -2.2631) to meet my boss, Flt Lt Denis Kempson at Woodvale where an excavator driver had disturbed some buried AW Bombs. These were a sort of factory-made self-igniting Molotov Cocktail, made for the Home Guard. The ones that the worker disturbed did self-ignite, and gave him the shock of his life.

Denis and I uncovered the rest, and despite my reservations, moved them into an old air-raid shelter where we shattered the necks with detonating cord, causing them to burn violently. Unfortunately, the white phosphorus produced dense clouds of white smoke, which drifted across the nearby main A565 road. Fortunately there were no accidents and the police did not come a’calling.