Douglas Campion MBE 1922-2007 - War Memories
My name is William Douglas Campion. I was born in Nottingham in March 1922. I can go back as far as three years of age, mainly because I was taken ill with glandular tuberculosis. This left me very weak and probably put me back two or three years in my development. We lived in a semi-detached house in the Sherwood district very comfortably. My father was the manager of a medical hosiery factory about two miles away on Northgate. He used to work until about five o`clock in the afternoon on Saturdays. In the winter when it was dark I used to walk to meet him at the age of six and it was perfectly safe to do so. It was a fascinating area and one of the shops we often called at was the greengrocer`s, Mr Tom`s, for a Colwick cheese. There was an engine running on town gas at my father`s factory. It supplied power to all the hosiery machines in the factory. The exhaust used to make a strange chunking noise as though gasping for air and it would make the grating bounce. I used to stand on it and go up and down with the grating. The clerks sat at high desks with their pens scratching away in the accounting ledgers. It was very Dickensian. I was fascinated by my father`s crystal set and so with Oveltine tins and bits of wood I tried to make one. It didn`t work but this was the sort of thing that intrigued me. Aeroplanes fascinated me too. They were very basic and used to come over from Hucknall Aerodrome. The R101 airship used to fly over Nottingham and I loved it. It looked beautiful and made a lovely noise. I felt that if I ran really fast I could keep up with it. It was a tragedy when it crashed on its maiden flight from Cardington to India. Nearly all the airship experts of this country were killed which put paid to the British airship development. I was seven when my father died and this was very hard to take. He had guided me and my older brother in various interests.
My mother continued to encourage me in my scientific pastimes. My schooling suffered I`m afraid from my other interests. I attended Mundella School in Nottingham where the teachers wore proper suits with collars and ties, gowns and mortar-boards. They looked very smart and there was no mistaking who were the masters. Nowadays you can`t tell who are the masters and who are the boys. I was taken on a visit to Whipsnade Zoo but I was more interested in the gliders nearby at Dunstable where there was the first gliding centre. These gliders were terribly basic because the things that were flying were just like orange boxes with a couple of wings stuck onto them. There was little stream-lining or refinement but I thought they were splendid. Eventually after making many aircraft models I got on to filling balloons with town gas. By this time I had some friends with me who were similarly minded. We would set these balloons off with a tiny note attached. We did get answers back from Suffolk and Northumberland I remember. But it didn`t satisfy me because I wanted to get them to the Continent. However knowing nothing about weather and air currents, I did not succeed. For a long time I and three or four other lads used to try to get an engine to go on paraffin. We used the shed at the back of the house. The engine was a new approach and never worked but we nearly burned the shed down more than once. We moved to a new house by the side of the LNER railway line from Edinburgh to Nottingham. It ran through a very deep cutting. This was, of course, a boy`s delight and we soon built another shed half-way down the cutting which ended in a sheer drop. One of my pals was very interested in locomotives; he knew all the designers and all the types and everything. He used to collect the numbers as well. His father said to him, `Jack, you are wasting your time. You`re doing no good at all. You must get down to some work`.
Later after Jack had been in the RAF, he tried teaching. But it didn`t suit him so he decided to pack it in. That very night, MacWhirter, the publisher of the Guinness Book of Records, phoned to ask if he would write a book on railways. He was sent on visits to Russia, Canada and New Zealand to get data. His book has been updated every year since it was published. It was now 1937 and there was no doubt that you could hear the tramp of marching feet. There were signs that trouble was brewing somewhere. They were launching at night the aircraft from 504(A) Squadron at Hucknall, bi-planes, Hawker Harts or Furies, to help train the Army searchlight crews. They would practise trying to catch the planes in the searchlights` beams. The pilots would practise their evasion techniques. It was during this time that I got a chance to go down a coal-mine with a friend, John Marshall, author of the `Book of British Railways`. By sitting next to a mine engineer at the cricket matches at Trent Bridge, John`s father managed to get us an invitation to go down Annesley coal mine. It was a very deep mine and absolutely astounding. I could not imagine how anyone could go down there every day to work. We had to walk about a mile and a half to the work-face. We were 1200 feet down, and when the cutting machinery stopped you could hear the pit-props creaking. The miners were used to it, but I thought it was quite a worrying sound. Afterwards we went down other mines and in one of them we found some carbon sticks about the diameter of a candle and about 8 inches long. We realised that was all we needed for an arc lamp. So we made one. We got this enormous reflector from a scrap yard and by putting the arc through the centre hole of this reflector we got a fantastic light. The only trouble was that we had to control how much electricity went through it, otherwise you `blew` the fuses!. You had to step down the current which we did by taking two jam jars and putting a bit of copper into each side of the jam jars and a connection for all the copper bits in the jam jars to the circuit. When you switched it on it was difficult to strike the arc because there was hardly any current coming through because the water was nearly pure but a bit of salt in the water in each jar turned it into a solution which would take current. The more salt you put in, the bigger the current for the arc. Then you could strike the arc and get a magnificent show.
When these Hawker aircraft were coming over at night, we had this thing slung out of the window on a ramp. We used to try to pick up the aircraft in the beam. However it made a noise that went back through the mains and affected local radios. Crystal sets and battery sets were out by now, and many radios ran off the mains electricity. People would be listening to the `wireless` (as the radio was called in those days) and this `thing` would make a terrible noise which blotted out the programmes. The Police were informed it appeared. My mother was walking home from her mother`s one night and she could see our light, it was like a laser pencil, and she heard one policeman say,` There it is!` She hurried home as fast as she could and told us to shut everything down, which we did hastily. Another thing was that the water regulating the electricity got very hot. The jam-jars stood on a newspaper on a beautifully polished sewing-machine cover. When I lifted the jars off one night the heat had melted the French polish and the newspaper was permanently bonded to it; a ghastly sight which may still be seen in some attic or boxroom! Then I went in for explosives, largely through my brother who was a stout supporter of our experiments. We bought two elements from the chemists - which you could do in those days - and mixed them carefully. A small bit would be placed in the centre of a piece of silver paper, screwed up and placed on a hard stone. By hitting it with a hammer you got a terrific bang. We then went on to make what was really a little bomb. We got a tube and wedged a bolt into one end by hitting it with a big hammer. The rest of the tube was filled with this explosive mixture with a shaft going down with a guide and a plunger. The thing went off if you hit the end of this rod. Stupidly we buried thing in a soft sandstone bank and with only a sheet of iron for our protection, we proceeded to throw stones hoping to hit this plunger, not realising that if it exploded the plunger and everything else would come our way. Anyway, we didn`t hit it so we found an iron and concrete cover in the ground and I fetched the bomb from the bank and banged it hard down on the iron cover. It went off with such a bang and whatever flew out of it missed me by inches. The noise brought all the people out of the houses for up to a quarter of a mile away . A big smoke ring was going up into the sky. That was the end of making bombs.
I realised that I had been very lucky. We decided to go back to the balloons. The trouble with using town gas was that the pressure was very low and would not fill the balloons as we wanted. We tried all sorts of things. I remember using a good length of gas-filled bicycle inner tube and attempting to force the gas out of it using a rolling pin on the ironing-board. We filled the house instead doing this. How lucky we were! We then found that a football bladder was ideal. Being segmented, the very low gas pressure would inflate the bladder to a soft spherical shape. Hand pressure or sitting on the bladder forced the gas through a non-return valve and into a balloon. We would fill nine or ten balloons but did not attach a note this time. A piece of string dipped into a salt-petre solution makes an excellent fuse. We then attached one end of the string to the balloon with a bit of silver paper containing some of the explosive mixture and a match head. We would get these balloons ready and about seven o`clock at night when it was nice and dark on a winter`s evening, we would light the end of the string and get it smouldering and let it go. After about five minutes there would be a big flame in the sky, then another one and so on. It was spectacular. Letters appeared in the Nottingham Evening News asking what are these things? Believe me, we did have fun. Then I saw an advert in the Daily Express one day which offered a glider model kit. I think it was 3 shillings and 9 pence. The materials contained in the kit were of excellent quality and it made a glider of about 3 feet six inches wing-span. I made this really strong glider which I took into the field at the back of the house where it flew so well it is a wonder that I didn`t lose it. It certainly whetted my appetite for gliders and gliding. I took the exam for the Royal Air Force Apprentice Scheme which if I remember rightly was held in the High School. On the 6th of September 1938, I boarded a train from the Victoria Station to Wendover near Aylesbury. The Technical Training School was on the big Rothschild estates at Halton. The mansion was the Officers` Mess and the housing for the young trainees - about two or two and a half thousand - were barrack blocks on the opposite side of the road.
I found it very difficult to have to sleep with eighteen or twenty in this barrack room in these iron beds with rock-hard mattresses. Also a great deal of rough horse-play went on as these beds would collapse if the pins were withdrawn. The games played on the newcomers were quite cruel really to the extent that the friend I had come with (and who had been so very keen to join) gave up. On the 7th of September we were issued with our kit and I was sitting cleaning the brass buttons on my jacket for the first time with the old button stick and Brasso and with all my civvies packed up and ready to be sent home. My friend suddenly appeared before me and said that he didn`t like it and he was going home. Off he went! I never found out what happened to him. The clothing we were issued with was very substantial; it would wear forever without wearing out. The material from which the underwear was made was very rough, so much so that before long everybody was aware of some horrible soreness in the delicate parts of the body. It turned out to be an infection called tinea. We had to report to the doctor and were treated with some sort of thick ointment that looked like soft soap. A long table was prepared in the open air with about forty tiny lint pads lined up. We had to drop our trousers and underpants and rub the affected part with one of these pads. It was agony! But after a bit it eased off and after five days the ointment didn`t hurt any more and then you knew that you were healed. Each morning we marched to and from the workshops led by a pipe band. There were many Scots with us, all excellent pipers and none of them over seventeen. We went down the hill to work and back up again marching to this wonderful beat. The light engineering training was about the best you could get in Britain. I was going to be an air-frame fitter. We practised on wooden aircraft and also on sea-planes which meant that sometimes you had to climb inside the floats through a very small hatch if they required attention. Well, I was about six foot then and I had a job to get out. There was one individual who got stuck inside a float one day. They pushed his clothes off him and greased his back and he still couldn`t shift. In the end they had to cut the float in half to get him out.
The NAAFI van would come twice a day selling all the goodies that a boy shouldn`t eat. One of these goodies was a cake called Nelson. I can only describe it as a strange sort of reddish-brown , very wet cake dough with a crisp and crunchy outside with currants and raisins stuck on it. The inside was still almost raw! It was about three inches square and half an inch thick and it cost a penny. Believe me, if you ever ate it before you went swimming you would never be seen again. You would sink without trace. But it was very popular. Only a few months ago, I saw it in Morrison`s! Before long, I moved to Cosford, in Shropshire, which had only just been opened with new workshops and everything. The huts were heated by hot water or steam from a central heating plant. Although the huts were insulated it could be freezing cold in the winter. We would go down to the few galvanised wash basins and try to get a lather up in cold water. You soon got used to it. Now it was time to get to grips with the training. I could use the tools quite well, but not like a friend I made there who was a plumber`s apprentice and boy could he use a hammer! We were issued with a tool box and learned how to use them all properly. We practised sawing metal sheets and blocks and filing and how to use a cold chisel. You could tell if anyone was on the part of the course involving a two-pound hammer by the bandages round their thumbs! I was amazed to discover how malleable is metal. We could chisel blocks of metal into different shapes. It was amazing. The day war was declared I was in the hut and a terrific cheer went up. I didn`t cheer because although everyone started talking that old stuff about how it would all be over by Christmas, I thought that we were in for something dreadful. The course length was then reduced by cutting out most sports afternoons and doing extra work to try to make up lost time. We did miss out on many things but we did cover making our own tools in the blacksmith`s shop, splicing ropes and riveting amongst many other things. In June 1940 I passed out as Aircraftsman First Class. I was sent with several others to Wattisham in Suffolk where they had two Blenheim Squadrons. One of these was the first to fly out and drop bombs on North Germany on the day war was declared. It was there that I saw my first accident when a returning aircraft didn`t make it and crashed. We had to go out first thing in the morning and start picking up the bits, which was an awful experience upon which I have no desire to say more. Then I was sent to Nacton, near Ipswich and put in charge of two or three brand new reserve aircraft making certain they were ready at any time. We were not far from the East Coast and soon we started to get attacked by German aircraft. They used to come at the hut we were billeted in. The power of their machine guns and the rotten brickwork of our billet meant that the bullets came straight through the walls.
We took to lying outside on the grass, it was safer. One morning the sirens sounded and we all rushed outside and a Dornier came swooping about as low as ten feet above the chimney pots. He was going like a bat out of hell and behind him came a Hurricane with its guns blazing. He got him, we saw the smoke going up in the distance. Another time three or four aircraft dropped a new type of bomb on Ipswich and the surrounding countryside, nick-named the butterfly bomb. It was in a canister and there were a couple of flaps that used to open when it came out of the aircraft. They were probably tipped out of sacks and the flaps would turn as it fell unscrewing a threaded rod which would cause it to be armed ready to explode. On soft ground it would not explode but lie waiting for someone to come along and give it a kick and it would explode. I went to see my then girl-friend one night at her home and we were all gathered round playing cards when there was an almighty explosion. A group had gathered round looking at one of these bombs and one of them declared that he knew exactly what to do and he had turned this little knob. The injuries to him and his friends were just dreadful. I went out to help but gave up when the ambulance came. By that time I was covered in blood. Another time a lad picked one up and took it into his factory and put it in a vice and was drilling it open. Of course it went off, killing him and injuring others. In August 1940, my brother who was a pilot went missing. He was flying a Whitley, the slowest plane ever built. I never found out exactly what happened but I know it came down in the Channel. All the crew was lost and his body was found on a French beach, and he was buried in France. My mother had a border living with her, a curate, and when on the morning of August the 16th he asked her why she was in such a bad state. She told him that Norman had been killed. The next day she got the telegram, but the curate could never understand how she knew the day before. In February 1941, I was posted When I tried to find out where, I was told `not far` so I presumed that meant the Middle East. I boarded, with about another thousand men, a converted Belgian freighter of 8-10,000 tons, in Liverpool docks. It was the most miserable day with a heavy sea mist and very cold and the freighter was as cold as the iron it was built of. We were all crowded on board. I was in the small mess deck almost in the bows, only the anchor stowage was in front of us. All the decks had been cleared and filled with tables and forms for people to sit on. Our ladder ran abeam which meant that when the ship rolled the ladder became either almost vertical or almost horizontal.
The first night we were introduced to hammocks and we found that it was essential for everyone to climb into their hammocks at the same time as if you were too slow you`d have a job as you would find yours wedged between the others. We were like a tin of sardines. Off we went across the Irish Sea as far as Belfast where we formed the convoy which coded VSOW- H10 P. It was printed on our kitbags in big letters. We sailed north as far as Cape Wrath and then West. We had destroyers dashing around like greyhounds to protect us from U-boat attack. Having sailed well across the Atlantic we ran into a violent storm in which it was almost impossible to stand up. The ship rolled and pitched and before long men began to get sea-sick. We were confined below and dolly tubs were brought in to hold the vomit for those too ill to reach the latrines. Much of the food got spilt as it was carried down the ladders, sometimes we were bombarded by sausages. They started serving tapioca to those who could still eat but it was served in dolly tubs! The suffering and the smell was appalling. Those of us who stayed fit went up onto the deck to get away from it. A vessel adjacent to us rolled so badly that another 2 degrees would have seen her take water on board and possibly capsize. When we turned south, we were about 250 miles off Newfoundland. When we sailed into Freetown, Sierra Leone, we were not allowed to go ashore because of the mosquitoes. In spite of the heat and the humidity, we were we not allowed to sleep on deck either. We had been sleeping on deck since the weather improved using one blanket which never went back but stayed with us and never got washed! We were transferred to the Royal Mail Steamer Scythia and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope and up into Port Suez having enjoyed a stop-over at Durban where we were feted and fed. It was in Durban that I had my first avocado pear and I have enjoyed them ever since. The whole journey took about 12 weeks. From Port Suez we were taken by train to an RAF unit on the Great Bitter Lake. We slept outside on the sand and one morning I saw a great long centipede crawl down into the bed of one of my friends, I called out to him and I`d never seen anyone move so fast. These centipedes were quite dangerous being poisonous as are most things in North Africa. We learnt about lots of things that we could suffer from while we were here waiting for our postings, and in particular what was known as `Gyppy tummy`, a virulent form of diarrhea which struck everyone.
I went to RAF Kabrit to work on a bomber unit which had Wellingtons, the old wooden aircraft having been flown back to England. The Wellingtons were excellent aircraft but we had trouble because of the lack of spares. Most of the men already at this base came from the tough industrial north of England. They were rough and hard and liked their beer and had a large repertoire of bawdy songs, some of which I heard later on the radio in England but with different words. Actually their versions were extremely clever. The Goons, later on, came out with all sorts of things from these songs which those in the know recognised. Kabrit was a comfortable place; the men had been there for a long time and knew how to exist in that climate and in those conditions. There was only one snag, and that was the universal presence of bed-bugs. They were everywhere, even high-class hotels. Our beds were made out of palm wood which made ideal places for whole colonies of bed-bugs. Once a year the hut was shut up and smoke bombs put in. This would last for four or five days during which the bed-bugs could be seen crawling out of the huts. Afterwards they all crawled back in again. When enemy planes came over they used night flares which lit up the sky brilliantly before they dropped their bombs. In 1942, just when the barrage started for the Battle of Alamein, I was ordered to go on detachment to a little place called El Dhaba with two of our Blenheims to join a unit called Special Wellington Flight. It was engaged on work connected with an Air Ministry Experimental Unit. It turned out to be `early` RADAR. What needed doing was to calibrate how far out aircraft were when they showed up on the screen. Aircraft went out a certain distance and at a certain height and sent messages back so that marks could be made on the screen showing these distances and heights. So what we did was to follow on behind the Army calibrating as the radar stations were built. We were nine men and a flying officer, an engineer, who was posted to us to provide authority. From El Dhabi we moved to Benghazi. I drove the truck and we had the spares - which often had to be cadged to keep us going, even to the extent of diverting a chap`s attention away whilst pinching one! We were bombed at Benghazi whilst cooking our DIY supper on a primus stove in our roofless accommodation. (By the way if ever you wanted some eggs you only had to stop by the roadside for ten minutes and an Egyptian wallah would appear with eggs which he would exchange for cigarettes. Cigarettes were the `legal` tender). When the siren went that night I was the last one out and I saw this shape outlined against the star-lit sky at about three hundred feet. It dropped a bomb which hit our truck setting it on fire. We lost all our spares. I remember sending a signal to base which was about nine hundred miles away and this resulted in a new truck and some fuel. The desert is alive with strange creepy beings many of which are very venomous. There were the scorpion, centipede and tarantula which were quite common. Also there was a little deadly snake called the asp. Asps used to lurk under aircraft wheel chocks.
The chocks had ropes to pull them clear when an aircraft was due to move. Oil, sand and the hot sun soon rotted the ropes and chaps had to pull the chocks away by hand. Although often at risk few suffered bites and stings. Many more contracted malaria and I was one of them. At one place there were some fig trees and the figs were ripe and delicious. As I was feeling around for figs amongst the leaves one day, I saw an enormous chameleon waiting for flies to come along. Some men took chameleons into their tents to keep the flies down but the unfortunate creatures did not survive very long. I was out once with one of our fitters and he picked up an object which I recognised as a butterfly bomb. I warned him to stop swinging it about and to put it down and said how dangerous it was as I had met them at Ipswich. I went off to phone for bomb dispersal. On inspecting it, the bomb disposal officer told us that it was very near exploding. I was given the detonator of this bomb but I can`t find it just now. It went off with a terrific bang, I do believe that I saved both our lives that day. In 1943, a terrific dust storm over-ran the oasis of Kufra which is about 500 miles south of Cairo. Three aircraft took off on a local navigation exercise before the storm struck. One of them developed engine trouble and had to land. The other two set off for base but only one made it. A huge search was set up. The first aircraft was discovered about two days later but none of the crew survived because of dehydration and the effects of sand. We sent an aircraft down there to help. The search went on during the dust storm and after wards when it had cleared but the other aircraft was not found. I heard what happened to it years later in about 1964. Then we set off for our last stopping place which was Tripoli and we were there for about a month. By this time the Axis powers had been pushed out of North Africa and it was time for me to move on elsewhere. I was a little sad to say goodbye to Africa. I had seen the pyramids and other wonderful sights but not as many as I would have liked. Anyway, on February 4 1944 we boarded the Duchess of Devonshire. By now there was little danger from U-boats and we reached the north-west tip of Ireland in about 9 days. A terrific wind was blowing and the ship was listing at about 15 degrees. At the height of this gale, somebody put on a record, the Fingal`s Cave Overture. It was amazing. Everybody was stunned to silence as the music competed with the noise of the wind in the rigging and the surge of the sea. When I reached home, I thought that everything had shrunk - things looked so small! I was posted to 204MU ( maintenance unit) which was based at Newmarket. We had two main jobs to do. One was to set up our equipment at a huge runway, 3 miles long and wide enough to allow a Spitfire to land across it, at an airfield near Ipswich. It was a crash-landing strip. When an aircraft was in trouble and came into land, we had to have all our gear ready to pull the plane off the runway as quickly as possible and perhaps dismantle it for easier handling. I never slept well there as our hut was close to the runway. Another job was to clear the countryside of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex of all the crash sites which had been littering up the area. They were a mixed bag - British, American and German. We never knew what we might find, armaments or bombs. The engines like the Merlin were so sleek they might be anything up to 12 feet down and they took some getting out.
I had a wonderful team. Another thing we did was to dismantle planes and re-assemble them in town centres, market places or recreation grounds. We put a Lancaster at Tolworth, near Surbiton, and a Spitfire in Northampton market place. We took part of a Beaufighter to the Denham film studios.from South Wales. The driver set off early in the morning to avoid the traffic as the nose of the aircraft hung over the side of the 60-foot trailer. He should have arrived at Denham before dark but he got held up by a diversion. Having no safety lights he asked permission to park until the next morning but was instructed by the Wing Commander to drive on and he hadn`t gone far when a pantechnicon hit him. There was a Board of Inquiry and I had to appear before the C.O. and I argued my case. I was technically in charge I was told, but in view of the circumstances I was only given a reprimand. I was told it would not affect my career chances. Then I was posted to Germany and here I found a gliding club. I progressed very quickly and soon learned to fly a glider and it was a most splendid experience. The instructor was a German and he was very good. This was at a base called Fassburg where we had Tempest aircraft. We had to go down to Klagenfurt in Austria with the whole Wing to keep the peace over a dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia. Marshall Tito had annexed a piece of territory. We went by train and I enjoyed riding on the deck admiring the splendid scenery and also being able to ride on the footplate. I flew sail-planes of which I have a model. I was at Fassburg about 2 years and then I moved down to Enkirchen where we operated a more modern aircraft, the Vampire. While I was there, I went with another NCO ( and his camera) to the Tyrol where the Gross Glockner is the highest Austrian mountain. We carried all our food and we reached the Gross Glockner glacier just as it was getting dusk. We managed to find an auberge room with two beds but no mattresses though we had a couple of blankets thrown at us in exchange for a couple of cigarettes each. The Frau promised to cook our breakfast. We had been in bed a couple of hours when there came a lot of banging next door. A party of Austrian climbers had arrived. They just dropped on the floor to go to sleep. In the morning we were up early and in our packs we had porridge oats, tinned bacon, bread, tea. tinned milk etc etc. We gave all to the Frau with instructions to cook it and when the climbers came down they were invited to share the meal. The food soon disappeared and we were happy to join the Austrian boys on the climb of the Gross Glockner glacier. When we got to the other side, the fellow who was carrying the coils of rope said that they were going to take us to the summit and we would stay there overnight in the hut. But we couldn`t do it because we had to be back at base the next day. It was very disappointing but a wonderful experience all the same.
Posted back to England, I was very pleased that I had been selected for training as a Gliding Instructor at the week-ends, voluntarily and with no extra pay. I taught the ATC boys at 49 Gliding School at Newton, Notts. It was a good way of getting flying hours in your log book. I would cycle out from my home in Nottingham. I took part in two national contests, flying for the ATC in Derbyshire and I was also a member of the ground crew supporting the 1950 Gliding Olympics in Sweden. I saw some remarkable things there from the `professionals`. By this time I was at Scampton, going to Newton at the week-ends for the gliding. We were working on Lincoln aircraft, the one introduced after the Lancaster. I had been a sergeant for quite some time. There was the choice of going in for a management course or a technical course and I chose the latter. I also decided to sit the Civil Service Commissioners` exam. About this time, I passed a Trade Test and was promoted to Chief Technician. There was only one step remaining for advancement on the technical ladder. Round about this time, I met Margaret, the one destined to be my wife. She had to share me with gliding. Eventually, Scampton changed from Lincolns to the Canberras. They were the most beautiful aircraft and very advanced. I joined one of the Canberra Squadrons and had the opportunity to fly in one as they had dual controls in a trainer. Later I moved with the Squadron to Upwood near Huntingdon. When the Suez crisis broke we were sent to sort things out with regard to our interests in Egypt. The Canberra was one of the forerunners of high-altitude flying and I flew out in a trainer, stopping at Malta for lunch. Now there was no canvas cover for the hood which was perspex and the temperature in the cockpit could go up to something like 120o. I had `warm weather` clothing on and overalls, a flying helmet and a `bone dome` ( a hard hat), parachute harness, oxygen supply, intercom and everything else. I was just like one big drop of sweat. We set off into a climb and in 15-20 minutes we were at 35000 feet. Frost began to form on the metal in the structure and it was bitterly cold. I had the joy of flying the plane on the way to Cyprus. While I was there, the CO told me that I should apply for a commission. I was doubtful as two of my colleagues, both excellent men, had tried and both had failed at the first fence. I got back, and I applied.
Now an Officer of Air rank, Air Marshall Walker, was the commander of No. 1 Bomber Group at Bawtry. We used to have an AOC`s inspection every year when all was spring-cleaned and polished up. We used to say if it moves - salute it, if it doesn`t move - move it, and if its too heavy to move - paint it. When he last came to Scampton, I was running the workshop there and everywhere I had connections with I had to stand to attention to be spoken to, which meant that he kept seeing me. `Oh its not you again`, he would say. So when the application went through, I was called to Bawtry to have an interview with Air Marshall Gus Walker who had lost an arm during the war rescuing a crew from a burning aircraft. One of the bombs had gone off and had blown off his right arm. The thing that bothered him was the loss of his right glove which was brand new. It was a successful interview that was followed by the initial course at Uxbridge which I passed. Then I went to the Isle of Man for further training and I passed that as well. This was in October 1958. As Pilot Officer, my first posting was to Northolt looking after VIP aircraft and visitors. During this time, Margaret and I were at dinner and Gus Walker came in. He came over and greeted me with congratulations. I felt very honoured. He was a great man. When I was at Northolt, the Engineering Officer in charge was a Squadron Leader by the name of George Bates and one day I was called to his office. `Congratulations,` he said. `You have been promoted to Flying Officer`. `Thankyou, sir,` I replied. Flying Officer meant that I still got a single stripe on my arm but it was thicker. The next morning, I was called to see George Bates again. `Congratulations,` he said.` You have been promoted to Flight Lieutenant`. It was incredible, I couldn`t believe it. I now had considerably more authority. Whilst at Northolt I married Margaret and we moved into a comfortable flat in Watford. In 1961, I was posted to HQ Transport Command where I was responsible for the Technical Establishment over Transport Units. Every time extra men were needed for a job, I would first engage with the finance people in London and try to get their backing. RAF Upavon was very bleak and in 1963 we had one of the worst winters for years with snow up to the bedroom windows. I achieved one of my ambitions at this time and that was to take a parachute jump. I, and others, went down toAbingdon for half a day`s training. We were loaded into an Argosy, a twin-engined aircraft, and were taken out over the sea at Mountbatten, off the coast of Cornwall. We were dropped in sticks of three, with three Air-Sea Rescue Launches below.
I was number 1 of stick number 4. I remember the instructor saying, `When you see the green light you go, and try to hit the boom - which was about 6 feet away- as you go`. So out I went and, you know, it was the most uncanny experience. As I hit the slip-stream I was turned abruptly facing rearwards. It was just like going down a fast vertical slide, lovely and smooth. Then there was a gentle braking and I looked up and there was this wonderful canopy like a gigantic chrysanthemum. I got quite a pendulum swing going which I managed to control by pulling on the straps. As I came down in the sea the boats were there and I was hauled aboard, given a big glass of rum and wrapped in a towel. Then I sat on the deck and watched the other idiots come down. With the rest of them I was taken ashore. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. I did find out what happened to that lost aircraft in Egypt after many years. In about 1964 a Flight Lieutenant told us about a navigational exercise by truck that he went on to Kufra Oasis. They came across the lost aircraft and inside were the skeletons of the crew, all shot. It appears that, realising that they were going to die a very painful death, the captain shot the members of his crew and then himself. A very sad story. During the rest of my service, I was back in Germany and also in Cyprus. One memorable event during my service occurred shortly after Margaret and I had returned from Germany. I had been posted to Halton where I had started my apprentice training all those years before. It was a late Autumn evening in 1968, and a ring of the door-bell heralded a call by the Wing Commander Admin. To the astonishment of both Margaret and myself, he announced, ` We have been informed that you have been awarded the MBE for service in Germany. The medal will be presented by Her Majesty the Queen at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 9th of March next year. Congratulations!` At last my Service career came to an end and it was time to retire. I was in the Air Force 39 years and 6 months exactly, and ended up as a Squadron Leader. I was 20 years in the ranks, and I loved every minute of it because I was content! I served almost 20 years commissioned. As a commissioned officer I liked to take off my jacket and don overalls to show the men how to tackle the most difficult and unusual jobs. It was never frowned upon. I had a splendid life in the Royal Air Force because I was so interested in the mechanics of it all and felt the everlasting attraction of machinery, especially in motion.