In Defence Of The Realm 1954 to 1959
John V. Diamond
From Locking, I was posted to RAF Duxford, again CPN4 equipment. This time there were WAAF on camp which made it all a little more interesting. “Let me show you my precision approach radar?” However, I don’t recall any takers and anyway only radar personnel were permitted on our side of the runway! (As an aside, forty-eight years later I met at the Brooklands Museum an airframe fitter who was at Duxford on the ‘office’ side of the runway!!)
The rest caravan was cleaned out from time to time, one time I found some poker dice in a yellow box and have them to this day.
The only memory I have of flying at Duxford, was a jet that had a faulty undercarriage and did a wheels up landing on the grass in front of the tower. The fire service had laid down some white foam and followed the plane from the runway. My memory tells me there was a lot more ‘operational standby’ at Duxford, due perhaps to the closeness of USAF Bomber Command stations otherwise it was just like West Malling.
RAF Duxford is where I bought my first car a 1936 Austin 7 Ruby Saloon for £40. I only had my learner’s licence a few weeks when I had a posting to RAF Strubby (now a 2003 cornfield), the operational satellite station of RAF Flying College Manby.
RAF Strubby was about five miles to Manby and only 3 miles to Mablethorpe at the ‘beach’.
The living quarters were all Nissen huts, the NAAFI Sergeants and Corporals quarters too. Here I had a room to myself and in that grand manner ‘did stinketh in the pit!’ especially when it was winter with snow and ice everywhere. I had an electric heater which had a copper reflector and a central heating element. It was superb.
The equipment was MPN-11A. It could run on mains or from the diesel generator on the back of a 10-ton truck. The radar and truck were never uncoupled as the truck was also the prime mover if we had to change runways. The airfield power varied from time to time so the diesel would become the primary power source. It would take two men to turn the motor over by hand and to get enough speed to knock out the CRCVs and fire the motor! The rest room was a caravan coupled to a mobile workshop truck.
Strubby was always the poor neighbour but the ‘fun and games’ were perhaps better for it!
Wednesday was sports afternoon, football, cricket, and tennis whatever. One sport was archery. The archers were shooting into the targets facing the runway; one airman archer was bet that he couldn’t hit the Anson aircraft that was doing circuits and bumps. The aim was so true (lucky?) that the arrow stuck in the rudder control. This caused some amusement over the air waves with stories of ‘some Robin Hood’. The rocks outside the guardroom received another coat of white paint through all of this! Remember the saying, “If it stands still paint it, if it moves salute it!”
Radar was required because there was a lot of flying training especially navigational exercises.
Aircraft would take off at dusk, about 9.30pm and then return about midnight or two in the morning! The two squadrons there flew Meteors and Canberra bombers, but to see the Lancasters taking off was spectacular, the whole ground shook with the sheer power of the engines, if only I had a camera then!!
Sea fog was the big problem and the equipment was well past its prime. One night we were told to be on air and await some bigwig flying back from Cranwell. The fog was thick about 2 - 3 yards max. The pilot was advised of the situation, but insisted on landing. Just as the plane was about to touch down, the HT power pack dropped out and picture disappeared, fly around said the operator, bigwig not impressed! The next time he lands OK, but where is he? We can hear the engines getting closer then a mighty crash and silence. The bigwig had turned off the runway and had gone between the ground signals hut and the tower, hitting the bike rack. Now many airmen used to have an issue push bike but never maintained them. The next morning when the fog had lifted, there was the plane ‘decorated’ with many pushbikes, which were replaced – quietly and discreetly!
When we were on standby at weekends, and if the sea fog rolled in, it got very eerie. We all used to think the place was haunted! One weekend LAC ‘R’ goes out to start the equipment. In five minutes, he is back in the restroom a total gibbering mess, saying that there was someone out there watching him. I went out but could hear nothing, just absolute stillness, so I send him out again. He’s back again claiming ‘they’ are trying to get into the PAR antenna bays. After I had calmed him down we go out, and very close, but unseen, in the fog is this noise ‘shuffle …shuffle…shuffle’. We go round and around the equipment and in the eerie light we see this ‘bloody' great pig! shuffle…shuffle. It had got out from a farm on the other side of the runway through the 3 strands of barbed wire perimeter fence. It shot through like a Bondi tram towards the runway. We advised the tower ‘there is a pig on the runway’. Now reader you will appreciate that a bike rack is one problem, but, knocking off the local farmer’s prized porker would be a media event all over Lincolnshire, if not the global village today! Think of the headlines in the ‘Mablethorpe Gazette’ or ‘The Manby Times’ – “RAF Strubby rides high on the hog!” Or, “Porker makes pig’s ear of flyers!” Perhaps, “Lancaster bomber brings home the bacon - already sliced” . “Radar Crew hams it up for farmer!” Worse still – “Flying Pig makes emergency landing using precision approach radar – trots back to sty!”
The local bobby rode a motorbike and liked to catch the ‘unlicensed’ drivers, even in those days he would hide behind the hedges to achieve his ‘targets’! The local driving school was able to cash in on the situation and learners like me were offered a 2-hour driving lesson in Skegness, 30 mins there, an hour round town and 30 minutes back in a little Austin A40!
I passed my test which was just as well as I had been driving the truck whenever the order “change runways” was given. We would, preferably, disconnect the communications plug and drive off the hard standing along the concrete path to the taxi way, turn right until the runway traffic lights. When the green light was given, we would turn right in a wide arc across the runway threshold and drive up the extreme right hand side of the runway at about 15 mph. As we got to the other hard standing, we would drive in a wide arc onto the hard standing. LAC ‘R’ would check that the radar truck was on a white line, which lined up the runway. Overshooting and reversing with a combined weight of about 25 ton did bad things to the valves etc!
True story. One day we were told to change ends. I drove up to the runway lights awaiting the green verey light from ATC, I was driving slowly on the runway, remember there is no communication now. LAC ‘R’ in the passenger seat lets out a great yell. In the passenger wing mirror just like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, overtaking us at a fast rate of knots was this Meteor night fighter. Apparently, the trainee was told not to land but did so anyway! Oops a daisy! I question his eyesight as the truck was painted red and white squares!
Whenever the equipment had been off the air for sometime, or, a runway change had occurred, we had to thoroughly test not only the equipment calibration, but also the radio channels. One time I let LAC ‘R’ do the checks telling him quite distinctly NOT to use 121.5 the emergency channel. I happened to be in the mobile workshop listening to him on the open line going through the tests. When he says “Strubby tower, from GCA, LAC ‘R’ testing 121.5 frequency, 1..2..3..4..5..6 etc. Five minutes later, I received a phone call, which reminded me of Toby Foxlee when he would say, ‘lower your undercarriage and check your three green balls’.
Socially the sergeants’ mess would invite the corporals along for schooner races. The sergeants always won I found it difficult to believe people could drink that fast and remain sober!! Otherwise, we went into Mablethorpe to the local pub. Or, Saturday night dances at Butlins holiday camp at Ingoldmells north of Skegness. This was good because the girls would only be there for two weeks and then others would turn up. During autumn and winter, the drive back to camp was dangerous as dykes surrounded many of the roads and driving into them was a ‘wealth and health hazard’. If this was not enough the ‘turkey patrols’ were plentiful. These police patrols were looking for gangs that would raid turkey farms and steal the produce! Even in my Austin 7 Saloon, I was stopped and searched many times!
A new officer i/c signals came to Strubby, we got off to a bad start when a snap inspection found my Austin 7 engine in the mobile workshop, in pieces! What’s this, well Sir we are learning to change rings and piston big ends on this motor in case we ever have to do it on the diesel generator! 2 out of 10 for trying!!
However, I did even the score! He advises me one day that the equipment truck is to be repainted orange and white stripes. I queried his order with, isn’t that for fixed equipment and we are mobile? Do as I say. So we did, he also kept a watching brief and told me to paint the antenna bay fronts that were fibreglass. I talked him out of it but he was adamant about the stripes! Three months later a radar maintenance group turn up with a refurbished radar truck painted red and white squares. I was asked why had I painted stripes, I explained, whilst the signals officer checked his appendage etc! Perhaps that was the reason I didn’t become an officer. Luckily, for me it was very close to 14th July 1959 my discharge date, or perhaps my liberation from the Bastille!
One month later, I joined The British Tabulating Machine Company that made Hollerith machines and became an electronic engineer, so started my career in data processing, computers, systems analysis and consulting. My five years set me up quite well as I learnt to be independent, turn my hand to anything and use (purloin) items to achieve the result.
I have lived in the ‘colonies’ for 37 years (2005) and live in re-tyre-ment in Brisbane, Queensland.
I am known as a POM – which is an admission that indeed I was/am Potential Officer Material after all.
John V. Diamond 4154470 RAF
October 2005 ©
Constructed by Dick Barrett