Tony Robins RAF career 1950-1952
As a National Service Flight Engineer on Lincolns
Aged 18 on the 28th July 1950 and was called up for National Service in September; went to Exeter for my medical, passed A1. Said my preference was the RAF; having been a member of the ATC and the OTC at school. We were asked if anyone wanted to volunteer for aircrew. Only a couple of us put our hands up and were given an extra form to fill in.
Nov.20th reported to RAF Padgate and arrived via Warrington with a load of other lads all a bit bewildered. We were given our kit, two uniforms, best (best?) blue, working blue, two shirts blue, three detachable collars (reversible), pullover, socks, gloves, great coat with hook fasteners on the collar, one RAF blue beret with RAF brass (King) badge, pair of black shoes and boots, sewing kit (house wife) brass button polishing stick, large webbing back pack, small pack, and 2 side packs, belts and gaiters. Brass to be polished, boots polished, webbing blancoed. Why is Blanco blue? Hair cut (only had one at home the day before), photo, 1250 I.D card and our service number 3130569; a number that no serviceman can ever forget. We marked our all our kit with our number, all our civilian clothes were sent home the next day. We had a meal, polished the billet floor, a wooden hut with 20 iron beds with no sheets then went to bed 10 PM.
Two days later joined the rest of the airmen that had volunteered for aircrew and we were sent to Hornchurch in Essex for another more intensive medical, colour blindness and assessment. This involved testing our coordination, keeping a white spot in the centre of a screen at the same time if a bell went, push a button with the right foot and if a buzzer went push a button with our left hand. A large peg board was placed in front of us; red tops white bottoms, they had to be turned over in a very short time, one lad dropped most on the floor. Also to read a set of dials and figures etc very quickly and write them down. Many failed these tests. I was told I could be a flight engineer, strange only having been a grocer’s assistant (in my father’s shop) and absolutely no engineering experience but I did have seven school certs.
Back to Padgate for a couple of days, then off to Driffield in Yorkshire to get our flying gear, helmet, flying boots, 3 pairs of gloves,(silk, chamois and leather gauntlets) long johns, thermal vest, flying overalls, but still with all our webbing. We were there for about two weeks then went home for Christmas leave, 12 o’clock on a Friday, got a taxi with 3 other lads through the snow to York, train to Kings Cross, found my way across London to Waterloo station. The next train to Yeovil was the paper train at 3.00am. The stopping train via Eastleigh and every station to Yeovil Town dropping off papers and milk. Arriving Saturday morning at 6am, walked a mile home with all my webbing on, one kit bag on my back pack behind my neck the other one in my arms, we had to travel in uniform and webbing in those days, got home about 7 o’clock after travelling for 19 hours. Dad just said, ‘Hallo son.’ Mum big hugs and kisses, our dog, Sandy going mad round and round in circles.
After leave had to report to RAF St. Athan in South Wales on the 1st Jan. 1951. For No 11 National Service Aircrew course at No 4 School of Technical Training. Left Yeovil on the 6pm train to Bristol. Change for Cardiff, train to Barry change for St. Athan. Woken up at 7 o’clock by a Welsh voice saying, ‘Boyo, do you want St. Athan?’ I looked up into a big black face, a bit of a shock as he was the first black man I’d seen in my life. Fell out onto the platform in a heap of kit, loose webbing etc right at the feet of a Red Cap, (Military Police). ‘Get yourself smartened up, airman. Garry (transport lorry) for the camp over there.’ Then he marched away. Following some other RAF blokes and got on a 5cwt lorry and a ride to the camp then breakfast. It was amazing that train tickets arrive, transport, billets, bed and food was arranged the whole time I was in the RAF. Someone did a good job somewhere.
Our home for the next 4 months was a wooden hut with 20 beds, cold water for washing but at least with an inside toilet and we had sheets. Heating was two cast-iron stoves and an allowance of two buckets of coke, it glowed red hot for two hours then it was cold. Even with all our kit on the bed it was a cold. It was a hard winter with frost and snow, we were told not to eat yellow snow. Met the rest of the lads, all very nice and we got on well. A mixed bunch all from different backgrounds and parts of the country all about the same age 18 to 21, ex apprentices, university student, newsagents son, butchers son, public school boy and one had a father who was a Judge and in the House Lords. Only one smoked most drank very little. Made a mistake when saying. ‘I say chaps, shall we go the NAAFI?’ They all looked at me and said. ‘What?’ It was then I started copying their accents. Coming back from weekend leave and bringing some jam, a bottle of Camp coffee and Nestles condensed milk from my father’s shop. The height of our excitement was to bring bread from the mess (dining hall) stuffed in our tunics, this was forbidden and toast it on the fire and have coffee and toast in the billet (hut).
There was a greasy spoon ‘Joe’s Cafe’ in St Athan village, (every camp had a ‘Joe’s Cafe not far from the main gate). It was very good, ham egg and chips, it even had a brand new espresso coffee machine, one of the first in the UK. It hissed, steamed and bubbled. Someone in the hut had a radio and we all listened to the Jack Jackson radio show on Saturday night, Ema Sumac singing the ‘Sun Bird’. Eve Boswell singing ‘Sugar Bush’ and ‘Whim away’. ‘Hey round the corner behind the bush looking for Henry Lee.’ ‘I want to say hello, I want to see you smile.’ The Singapore Chinese song, ‘San pan I love you.’ ‘Poor little Robin.’ ‘When the red, red robin comes bobbing along.’ And the National Service anthem, Jo Stafford singing. ‘See the Pyramids along the Nile, see the Jungle when it’s wet with rain and fly the ocean in a silver plane’. They were words that meant a lot to many of us.
There lots of ex war time Lancaster in the fields next to the camp, all cocooned. I used to wander over there and climb all over them.
We were Cadet Engineers with a laurel wreath badge on our arm; no one seemed to know what rank we were and we got away with a lot. One day Casey, son of the judge called out the guards and inspected them. Every week we had a kit inspection, everything laid out on the beds. We were told we had to have a complete shaving kit; razor, brush and soap which we had to buy, but being young sparks we all had electric razors and objected to this, but were told we had to have them. Casey phoned his father, questions were asked in Parliament and an article appeared in the Daily Mirror. Next we were told we no longer had to have a razor kit. Casey was called up in front of the C.O and told to behave himself or else.
I brought my bike from home and spent my spare time cycling around South Wales, Cowbridge, and Bridgend and especially to the beach at Llantwit Major.
Everyone was marched down from the huts to the dining hall and to the flights in large columns, there were 5,000 airmen at St. Athan East Camp alone, it was then the biggest RAF Camp. We had a very intense Flight Engineers course on the Lincoln Bomber Mark 2. We had three flights in a Lincoln, 1st. Flight 5hrs, then 2nd, 30mins to St Eval then at 23.00hrs over 8 hours flight at night to Germany and back. 3rd. 5.50hrs to Heligoland. All very cold, noisy, and uncomfortable. One of the lads, Briggs? said he didn’t like flying and left the course, he wanted to join the mountain rescue. The Lincoln has been designed with lots of bits sticking out especially to catch and snag your harness, uniform, your head, arms, knees and shoulders.
We still did no Square Bashing but once a week we had an hour of drill by a short corporal Drill Instructor, who was a booted, belted, gaitered, swagger stick tyrant. Who shouted in a very loud high pitched voice. ‘Hef it ‘ef it ‘bout turn, ‘ef it, ‘alt. You jumped up ‘orrible Cadets.’ I think he meant. ‘left, right, left, right, about turn, left, right, halt.’ We had the impression he didn’t like us, but then we were Cadet Engineers, a very new and unknown rank and we were only in for 2 years. He had probably been in ten years and still only a corporal. One lad called Savage? He had a permanent grin on his face, part of his features which he couldn’t do anything about. The DI shouted. ‘What are you grinning at?’ ‘I’m not corporal.’ ‘Yes you are, run around the square with your rifle above you head.’ When he came back he still had that fixed grin. ‘Run around again.’ After third time the DI gave up.
We had to learn everything there was about a Lincoln all the weights, pressures, engines, Mr. Winstanley was our instructor. We were taught the theory of aerodynamics, weight, drag, lift, power and flight etc, even though we would never need it. Everyone passed the course as temporary Flight Engineers and went our separate ways on the 25th June 1951, some to Lancasters on Coastal Command or on Hastings Transport command, but most to Bomber Command. After leave I reported to RAF Hemswell to wait for an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) course. There for a month had a couple of flights on a Lincoln then 6th July posted to Scampton on 230 OCU.
There we had to crew up, a strange procedure done as it was during the second world war, all the aircrew, pilots, Navs, gunners, signallers and engineers milling around mixing up saying do you want a gunner or an engineer, or would you like to join our crew? Eventually everyone seemed to have a crew. I learned later that one of the pilots I nearly joined was killed with all crew. I think he was called Ginger Green? The Pilot that chose me was Pilot Officer Dowling, top of his course at Cranwell he was about 19 years old, the navigator the same, P.O .Chalky White, they were both very young and new (green). He probably chose me because I was the only one that looked younger than him. Rear gunner aged 18 like me, signaller and second navigator a Pole who was later killed on a Canberra; they were older, ex war time aircrew. It was a very intense course; I was made a Sergeant (Kings Regs 5th July) and given a flight engineer’s brevet, Sergeant’s stripes and full pay. I had been in less than 8 months still only 18 years old. I think this was faster than in the war? I was age 19 on 28th July at Scampton. Were given a Flight Engineers tool kit as they had during the war. A large canvas bag like plumbers have (we were called airborne plumbers) it contained lots of tools, a large stillson wrench, ideal for self defence, the only time I ever used one of the tools was when the front chute became jammed up with window or chaff and cleared it with a large screwdriver which went out of the chute somewhere over the North Sea. I checked the papers for the next few days to see if any fishing boat had been sunk by a large missile from space or a whale had been mysteriously killed.
The lad in the next bed to me was Jewish I think he was called Moses; he was killed with all the crew one night when they flew into the ground approaching the runway. He had a better mattress than me so I had his. The next day some of us went out to see the wreck, only the rear turret was not burnt, naive as we were we did not know how the strawberry jam got on the guns. At Scampton there was a grand-slam 22,000lb bomb from the war on display and the grave of guy Gibson’s dog. I don’t know if they are still there
1st Nov 1951 we were posted to Binbrook on 617 Squadron (Dam Busters) Bomber Command on a front line squadron it was less than a year from joining on the 20st Nov. 1950. Our young pilot thought he would try +21 boost for takeoff, normally it was 12lb and through the throttle gate +18, if you pull a small lever (called a tit) it gave you 21lbs boost, this was not recommended but he said we would try it. Half way down the runway looking out of my side window and there was black and brown smoke pouring from number 2 engine. I shouted into the intercom. ‘Fire in number two, Skipper!’ ‘Feather two!’ Was the urgent reply. Going through the drill very fast and pressing the engine fire extinguishers button as we had been trained having spent many hours in the flying pig (an old Lincoln fuselage up on a stand six feet in the air in a hanger for training).
The pilot throttle back to 12 boost but we were swinging like mad to starboard heading for some trees, I pulled the undercarriage up and we just missed the trees, the fire went out, not nice! ‘NFD.’ The skipper said. ‘Chutes on open the front hatch,’ that was my job. I clipped my parachute on and went to open the front hatch, but we were on a windowing exercise and had 45 boxes of window, tin foil (chaff) stacked up. which I had to launch out of the front chute all over the north sea during our trip (which we also used for a pee), but the boxes were everywhere blocking the hatch and our escape, so opening one box I tried to tip the contents out of the door, but the bits of foil just billowed back into the cockpit and heard rude words from the pilot so I just pushed the boxes out of the door with my foot. Panic over, we flew around to get rid of the fuel as we were overloaded for landing and dropped our one 25lb practice bomb over Wainfleet range in the Wash and landed. The boss was not happy that our pilot had used emergency power and busted an engine, the head gasket had lifted off, and the ground crew weren’t happy with me for covering the engine nacelle with foam, no words of. ‘Good to see you still alive or a good job, well done,’ but at least we were alive. The next day the local police returned a box of window badly damaged and held together with masking tape and a label marked ‘do not drop’ I understand it had hit some telegraph lines.
One morning it was still dark and after a long flight coming to land we could see the sodium runway lights quite plain but as we crossed the thresh-hold to the runway at over 100mp we hit a fog bank, a complete white-out and couldn’t see a thing, we hit the runway very heavily with the undercarriage oleo legs nearly going through the wings, the aircraft bounced up about 20 feet in the air, the skipper shouted. ‘Overshoot.’ I banged the throttles right forward and we shot out of the mist, wheels up, flaps in and going around again. The pilot called the control tower for information, they suggested we divert to RAF Valley in north Wales, this about an hour & a half away. All of us were very tired and the skipper suggested we have another go. We were all knackered and said we would sooner crash than go to Valley. Seven hours at night with four merlins engines belting in our ears, vibration and on neat oxygen the whole time we were burnt out. We went around again. As we came in the Skipper said. ‘Engineer, when I say cut, cut everything right back and hold it there and be prepared to turn everything off.’ We hit the runway heavily again but eventually bounced to a stop. I think it’s called a controlled crash landing. (NFD).
Next day we did an Air sea and rescue search over the North Sea for a downed America Sabre jet, only found some bits of flotsam, and directed the life-boat to it. Coming back we crossed the coast at about 100 feet right over a school, all the children were in the playground waving to us. Then 617 converted to Canberras in Jan. 1952, there was no need for a Fight Engineer. So I was an odd bod for a while, in the Operations room as operations controller, on my own at night and weekends. Went on King George V1 funeral, a week at Uxbridge, very nice they must have the best Sergeants mess in the UK.
We went dancing a great deal in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, visited the cinema a lot. I went to a pub with my mates (oppos) they asked what I wanted to drink. As I didn’t drink at the time I said ‘I’ll have a port & lemon or a sherry, please,’ that’s what mother gave me at home at Christmas. They weren’t impressed and bought me a bottle of McEwan’s Nut Brown Ale; it wasn’t too bad and eventually got to like it and as they say ‘the rest is history.’
One of the most terrifying experiences was fighter affiliation, which involved a Meteor or a Vampire making a simulated fighter attack, the rear gunner calling out. ‘Fighter starboard beams, corkscrew starboard, go!’ The pilot the pushed the control column hard forward and right then left and up, in a violent twist all over the sky, throwing everything all over the place. We also did some air to sea firing the gunners shooting at a target in the sea with the .5 rear gun and the 20m cannon mid-upper, this was later taken out. One thing I didn’t like was practicing stalling; this involved flying slower and slower at 10,000ft until the aircraft shuddered and fell out of the sky at about 70 knots. Your bum came off the seat and your stomach reached your mouth. Then dive and increase power to recover, not nice. The Lincoln wheel brakes were airbags that pressed the brake shoes against the drums but they perished quite regularly and often failed on landing. We landed once with no brakes and as we were slowing down the rear gunner jumped out and tried putting his parachute under the rear wheel but it just bounced over. At the end of the runway the skipper opened the outer starboard engine and we slid around and went sideways across the grass and just stopped by the boundary fence. Another crew landed with no brakes and the rear gunner tied his parachute to the guns in the rear turret and threw it out of the clear vision panel, it just ripped the turret off; lucky he was not in it. Another crew was heading towards the flights and a line of aircraft and the brakes failed, the pilot pulled up the undercarriage lever but the aircraft just very slowly sank to the ground and still hit three Lincolns that were lined up there. On the wings of a Lincoln there was a small gap were the joints were, this was covered by a strip of material fixed on with red oxide paint and covered with camouflage like the rest of the wing. The Squadron was asked to provide aircraft for a film crew to take shots of some Lancasters for the film, ‘Appointment in London’, with Dirk Bogard and Dinah Sheridan. During the trip one of the pieces of fabric pealed back off the wing and was flapping red and silver in the wind, the engineer said. ‘It looks like a fire in the wing skipper.’ Whether he thought it was or just making a comment I don’t know, but war time aircrew were very sharp, and with that the rear gunner turned his turret. Bailed out and the mid-upper gunner dived through the legs of a cameraman filming out of the side door much to his surprise. They both landed safely and returned to camp with their parachutes under their arms quite unconcerned.
A lot of flights were cross-country training at 10,000ft cruising at 145 knots, or 20,000ft using radar and radio aids like Eureka, Rebecca Babs, Gee sets and landing on Ground Control Approach, circuit and bumps. The engineers job was to help the pilot at all times, pre-flight check of the aircraft, then starting the engines one at a time, number 2, 3, 1 then 4. This was done with hand signals to the ground crew even chocks away. We had to do a mag check before takeoff, each engine had two magnetos which were switched off one at a time and checking the drop in revs, if it was more than a certain amount the flight would be cancelled, but it never was. The engineer went though the check list on take-off and landing, handling the throttles and rev levers, lowering the undercarriage and flaps, keeping an eye on the dials and looking outside to the starboard when taxiing and in the air also keep a log of all the pressures, temperatures, fuel and synchronise the engine RPM, this was done by listening to the inboards and getting the hum right then the outboards right from the strobe of the props until all engines were running at the same speed if the sound went up and down it is very annoying.
During WW2 the Germans flew over Britain with engines unsynchronised because it is harder to judge the direction from the ground. Also on landing to fill the 700 A/C manual snag report, the ground crew got very upset if you put in what they thought was a minor fault that could ground the aircraft.
There was no TV then so we went cinema and dancing a lot in the local towns, there were no bars in the dance-halls then so we had a few before but there was no admittance after 10pm and not if we had too much to drink. They closed at mid-night even Saturdays and the last bus or lorry went back to camp at 12.15 so if you walked a girl home you had to make it back to camp under our own steam. It was the proper thing in those days to walk a girl home but when you got to the end of the street she would say, ‘Good night,’ and shoot off up the road and indoors very often with her father or big brother behind the door. One of the favourite dance-halls was the Co-op, every town had one and some of the best bands played there, Edmundo Ross, Billy Cotton, Sid Lawrence, Ambrose, Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth with Millicent Martin, Joe Loss, Stan Kenton, even Victor Sylvester with his, one two three, one two three. Sunday nights we all played cards, pontoon, poker, Monopoly and Chess, which the Poles were very good at, one could play blind-fold and win also play against six at a time. In January 1952 it snowed very heavily in Lincolnshire and we all spent a lot of time clearing the runways but we still managed to get some flying in. I went to Lincoln with my best mate Joe Bland on the bus one Saturday. We had to change at Market Rasen; we got off the bus and had to wait for 15 minutes for the next which came in empty. We got on and the bus filled up with ladies going shopping in the city leaving a couple standing. Being a gentleman I stood up and nudged Joe to do the same and the two ladies sat down. The driver gets on looks around and said. ‘No standing you two off.’ We had to wait another quarter of an hour for another one. My mate was not too happy with me being a gentleman and said so in uncertain terms.
18th March 1952 I was posted to Waddington on 100 Squadron. Spare Flight Engineer for a month so I flew with a couple of Polish pilots, Flight Sergeant Joe Nowocin and F/Sgt Bill Gierszal although he may have been a Czech and the squadron Commanding Officer. Sqd. Leader Ron Jell. DFC. AFC. Ex wartime pilot, it was very daunting. Some flew with Wing Commander ‘Willie’ Tait of the Tirpitz fame they said he was extremely daunting. Waddington or ‘Wado’ was a great station with its own aircrew sergeant’s mess, whenever you entered you had to go though the bar which never seemed to close, not a good idea.
The Polish pilots were crazy; they had been through the war but now had no home or family and could not go back to Poland and weren’t bothered if they died. One had a row with his navigator, something like. ‘You stupid Pole I said turn port not starboard.’ ‘You vant port you have port!’ He turned the aircraft sharp to the left and onto its back; it fell 5,000ft before he could pull it out of the dive with the help of the engineer as this aircraft had dual controls. On landing it was found that a lot of rivets in the wings had popped out but he got away with it and after a few pints in the sergeant’s mess all was forgiven. Another Polish pilot thought he would feather all four engines at once at 10,000ft, but when the engineer tried to restart number two, the one with all the auxiliaries on it would not start as the batteries were flat, they also dropped 5,000ft before prop wind-milled and started then the rest were fired up. But they were very experienced flyers, one Polish pilot coming back from a long flight to Gibraltar when all the electrics and compasses went wrong, (the Lincolns were old clapped out aircraft) said. ‘I don’t like it; the sun is on my shoulder it should be on my back. I turn around.’ They were flying west over the Atlantic and turned back to land at Bordeaux much to the annoyance of the French. The pilot was going to be court martialled as the authorities said it was impossible for everything to go wrong at the same time but on the next flight it happened again to another crew. The problem was the aircraft were old and on the ground things worked well but once in the air with all the vibration the equipment stopped working. I then crewed up with Flying Officer Des Delaney, an ex Holton electrical apprentice, as my pilot on the 19th May.
We went to Shallufa in the Canal Zone Egypt, on Operation Sun Ray 28th May 1952. Flew over Paris at 10,000ft saw the Eiffel tower, across France to Corsica, Sardinia, Malta then to Libya, Idris, Castle Benito, where we spent the night, next day on to Egypt. We were given a Smith & Weston 38 and 5 rounds of ammunition, the film High Noon had just been released and we walked around the camp like cowboys with our guns slung down by our knees singing. ‘Do not forsake me oh my darling.’ We were also given a ‘Goolie chit’. This was a piece of paper that if we came down in the desert and were found by the Arabs or a genuine Bedouin they would be given a reward if they returned us to the British authorities whole, i.e. with all his parts intact including the dangly bits, so it was called ‘Goolie chit’.
We took off with RE148, 7th June 6.10 am Exercise ‘Show Off’ flying the flag over Egypt for 1.10 hrs. We were doing some formation flying in three Vic’s of three and our aircraft got caught in the slip-stream of the one in front and nearly fell out of the sky, talk about sweat. At 12.20 pm we were in the swimming pool when we were called to the operations room for immediate take off on Air Sea Rescue to look for Air Vice Marshal Atcherley lost in the Mediterranean going to Cyprus in a Vampire, we flew for 6 ½ hours looking for him. The search was called creeping line ahead, this involved flying one mile turning then flying ten miles turning, one mile then flying ten miles and so on at about a height of a 1,000ft, the whole squadron lined across about ten miles. After an hour I could see loads of arms in the water waving to me. We hadn’t eaten since day before, some greasy cheese sandwiches smelling of paraffin and some cold tea was put in the air craft, the skipper declined his share but I ate mine and his as I was very hungry, they tasted quite good. The next day 8th 10.45 ASR again 5.15 hours in RE979, over the mountains of Lebanon. He was never found. Our crew went to Cyprus for a break, (R&R) a lovely island, a very nice drunken rest, still remember the ‘Roxy Night Club and the Belly Dancer called Angela. When King Farouk abdicated in July 1952 we were on high alert. At a briefing we were told that next morning we were to fly over Cairo airport at 500ft and drop leaflets telling Egyptian Air force to stay on the ground, lucky it was cancelled as our Government in their wisdom had sold then Vampires and we would have been shot out of the sky. I said to my mate Jonny. ‘I don’t like this, we could be killed.’ ‘Yea, mum wont like that’, was the reply.
All the Aircrew had to help bomb-up our own planes, I was holding the tailfin of a 500lb bomb to guide it into the bomb-bay when the hook slipped and it fell between my legs, it bounced one way and me the other, sweat again, said to the armourers. ‘What the hell happened?’ The armourers just replied. ‘The hook slipped.’ Not even sorry are you all right. (NFD.)
We did a lot of flying, bombing the desert, H2S cross country, H2S was an airborne radar set that gave a fuzzy picture or map of the ground on a small screen in front of one of the navigators it was not very clear and often went wrong. Blind bombing on H2S, high and medium level, 20,000 feet and 10,000ft. Astro navigation at night at 20,000ft using a special sextant on a star shot, usually the North Star, using a set of logs and a chronometer. This would give a fix within 10 miles, not bad when you are lost. This was used by the Vulcan crews in the south Atlantic during the Falkland war. I was Aged 20 on the 28th July (in Egypt). We went to Cyprus to collect an aircraft RE340 that had gone unserviceable there; it had been fixed or bodged up so that we could fly it to Shallufa then to the UK to be scrapped. On the 8th Aug. we all cleaned our aircraft to go home, washing the wings in the boiling hot sun then it was cancelled, more duff gen, or wrong information.
On another flight 12th Aug. Took off 19.10pm to drop target indicator (T.I.s) on the range at night, this meant flying at very low level about 100ft over the desert in the dark and trying to hit the target with couple of red T.I.s, for aircraft higher up to aim at, very hard and dangerous. Week later we cleaned RE340 again then flew home on 15th Aug 1952, flew 5.25 hrs. Again via Libya, a few of us went into Tripoli in a lorry for a night out and a meal, we had a steak, great, paid the bill with all the money we had between us, got a taxi back to camp. The driver wanted some money we didn’t understand, we gave him some English money and he complained, we shrugged our shoulders and walked though the main gate into camp, tough. On the 16th Aug. Flew 7.55hrs to Waddington. As RE340 was on its last legs I kept an eye on the engines and as we approached England the oil pressures were dropping on all engines and number three engine went right down to red and I thought about closing it when we reached Waddo.
Home at last thank goodness 5 months of flies, sand, the smell especially the open latrines, large open buckets with a screen around, I nearly started smoking then, the heat was terrible and the natives a pain with their, ‘See effendi.’ The food was lousy and mostly smelt of paraffin as it was cooked on large paraffin stoves, because we weren’t allowed local food it was mostly tinned meat, tinned peas and Cyprus onions we all had gypy gut. I went to the medical officer as I had very bad diarrhoea; he asked how far I was from the Elson (on board toilet)? I said 50 feet, he replied. ‘Carry on flying.’ So when I flew I didn’t eat or drink for 2 hours before, even Tiffin (tea & cake) went straight through me.
While we were there in the middle of August the temperature reached 128f in the shade, it was too hot walk after midday, burnt my arm on the window ledge of the aircraft when I put my hand out to signal to the ground crew.
Every member of the Squadron with a girlfriend at home had a ‘Dear John’; one was engaged and was going to commit suicide but we all told him no woman was worth it. ‘Let’s all get drunk instead’. We drank a lot of rough local Stella beer, John Collins and whisky sours. Went swimming in the bitter lakes and the Gulf of Suez, there was a pool on camp, I taught my mate Johnny to swim. We didn’t do any sight-seeing in Egypt as we were confined to the Canal Zone and only went to the WOs & Joes club at Fayid and the local native market. We spent most of our time at Shallufa flying, playing cards, getting drunk, lying on our hot stinking pits (beds) and putting rude words to ordinary songs. But we were better off than the RAF Regiment lads (rock apes). One hot morning they formed up on the main square, packs on, rifles, and boots. ‘Company, attention, shoulder arms, left turn. March, left, right, left, right.’ The main gate opened and off they went marching slowly into the hot desert. A few days later we heard. ‘Left, right, left, right, left, right.’ The main gate opened and in they marched onto the parade ground. ‘Halt, right turn, order arms, company dismiss.’ As they left I asked one. ‘Where have you been?’ ‘In the desert.’ ‘What was it like?’ I enquired. ‘Hot.’ ‘What did you see?’ ‘Flies.’ And off he went to his billet, quiet chaps the rock apes they don’t say a lot.
There was a NAAFI shop on the camp and one day I bought a tin of South African slice peaches. England was still on rationing and I hadn’t had those for ten years. I opened it went to take some out with my fingers and immediately everything was covered with flies, I blew the critters off and ate a marvellous juicy slice of peach. I offered some to my mate Johnny, he took one look at the flies went green shook his head and walked away, no stomach that boy. They say that right in the middle of the desert not a lot lives but if you open some food thousands of flies are there like a shot.
I did a couple of stints as orderly sergeant, going along the tables of the airmen’s (erks) mess. ‘Any complaints, any complaints?’ ‘Yes Sarge, this food is rubbish!’ ‘Orderly Officer, complaint here sir.’ Another one was. ‘This man threatens to stab me!’ ‘Orderly Officer, complaint here sir.’ Always delegate. One night I was guard orderly, the lads were alright they took it in turns to do the rounds and get their head down in-between, I had to go round with them, stay awake, check them in and out and drink tea all night which gave me guts ache. Alsatian guard dogs roamed around all night off the lead but with their Cypriot dog handlers, one night a local native climbed under the wire fence, they often sneaked in to steal things unfortunately the dogs killed him before handlers could get there. Two years before a search-light went missing when the Metrological boys were on guard,
After the long flight home, I can’t remember much about it mostly over cloud we arrived home to rain, tired, most of us were still ill from the diarrhoea, underweight and in spite of the suntan sallow skinned. We were met by custom officers in a large hangar. They made us empty all our kit out onto trestle tables for inspection; they were a pain in the arse, charged for everything they could, even a pair of nylons for my mum, the bastards. Lucky I left my East German camera and gold-plated watch on the plane. Had a couple of nights drinking in Lincoln then home for two weeks leave.
Back to Waddo did an Air Sea Rescue standby at Aldergrove 7 days. We were taking a senior officer to Ireland, so he sat in my seat and I sat in the rear turret. As we crossed Blackpool at 1,000 ft. I aimed the guns at the tower, as we were fully armed I had only to press the button and the top would be gone! 22rd Sep. flew to Hemswell at 15.00, 15 minutes then, took off 02.20 23rd, flew 6 hrs ‘Mainbrace’ marker, we landed 08.20am, knackered! We fell out of the aircraft like wet rags. On the 26th. Flew 5hrs ASR again looking for a lost fishing trawler. We were flying at sea level 50ft in mist and cloud which I again thought was a bit dangerous, the boat was not found. 29th flew 4hrs ex ‘Backchat’. In Sep flew 24hrs mostly at night. Big exercises in Nov. 1952. Bulls eye, Ardent 8 ½ hrs. Then 4hrs, Backchat, Big Shot, Pinplot,4.25 hrs, Barn owl, Main Brace. Some flights at 29,000 ft over the North Sea (unpressurised) windowing (chaff).
I think we were training to bomb Russia? Outside air temperature was minus 48f, we were very cold and ice formed on our chests from our breath. I was so cold that the next night we were due to do the same exercise. I put my pyjamas on under my uniform two jumpers plus my flying overalls three pairs of gloves. I waddled out to the aircraft with my parachute and toolkit sweating like mad sat in my seat and went to start number two engine but it wouldn’t fire up so the flight was cancelled, so waddled back to the flights still sweating and no flying breakfast, a bit pissed off to say the least. One of the biggest thrills was a two or more squadron take off for a big exercise with perhaps fifteen or more Lincolns taxing around the perimeter track then lining up one at a time for takeoff as quick as possible and flying away into the evening sky. Sqd.Ldr Leo De Vigne took a Lincoln to 42,000ft. He was later Westland test pilot.
We did a lot of night bombing on the range at Larkhill on Salisbury plain at 10,000ft. At mid-night all the signallers fired a white Very pistol flare and all over the sky were dozens of white flashes from aircraft we hadn’t seen all night, quite amazing. And at Wainfleet range, the target was a large sodium lit star in a circle. About 6 miles to the west was a brand new roundabout also all lit up with a circle of sodium lights one of the first in the UK. And yes someone dropped a 10lb flash bomb right in the middle of the roundabout. The local council weren’t happy and the crew were never identified.
During October I flew over 50hrs. 19hrs at night. No 57 Squadron transferred onto Washingtons, American B29s Super Fortresses, part of a lease-lend agreement with the Americans, a lovely aircraft, pressurised, throat mikes, lots of big guns, and we were envious. One night a Washington flew into the Welsh mountains on its way to RAF Valley, killing all the crew including one of my best mates, Taff Reeks who had just married a lovely YMCA tea and wad van girl.
One of the best sights in the world is to see the towers of Lincoln Cathedral rising out of the early morning mist after a long night flight, left for Waddo, right for Scampton, one crew on GCA (ground control approach) were told to look ahead and land on visual. They saw the runway lights, landed taxied around to the flights and were asked what they were doing there. They were at Waddington 5 miles south of Lincoln and should have landed at Scampton 5 miles north of the city but they are on the same meridian and it was night-time.
We did some practice bombing on Heligoland a large wartime fortified German island in the North Sea then empty and deserted dropping a full load of twenty eight 500 pounders. It was a fantastic sight to see the bombs falling away and exploding and the aircraft lifting about twenty feet in the air. I met a German on holiday many years later who complained about this. I didn’t let on we did it.
After a main exercise there was aircraft all around you in the dawn, they had been unseen all night and we only occasionally felt a slight turbulence and occasionally saw their navigation lights, they didn’t flash in those day but just looked like stars. We were often lost and I remember one night over Holland on a moonlit night with the map over the pilots and my knees, with the navigator looking over our shoulders trying to make out which river or island was which. This was in 1952, what must it have been like for the aircrew during the war? One of the most frightening experiences was to be in cumulus nimbus clouds which rose from 1,000ft to 20,000ft or more with the turbulence in the middle that could throw an aircraft all over the place dropping or rising 500ft. The wings of a Lincoln were designed to flex but to see the wingtips moving up and down 6 to 8 feet was to say the least disconcerting. The other odd experience was ice would build up on the propellers and break off in big lumps and hit the side of fuselage just by me with a loud bang. During 1952 we did some practice bombing on Hamburg, Frankfurt and Antwerp using H2S radar. We did a complete bombing run on the target and took photos of the result to be judged on our return.
On one flight there was a big hole in the front floor in front of the pilot where a camera should have been, the skipper said. ‘Engineer for f---- sake do something about that draught!’ We did tend to swear a bit when under pressure. I put my log folder over the hole but the suction was so strong it was dragged out with all my papers containing the engine settings and fuel log etc so I put my parachute over the hole instead; this did the trick, thinking if I need it he will have to put with the draft. The Lincoln was always a star on open days as the Battle of Britain flight Lancaster is now, with the sound of the four merlins, it was even better with a squadron fly past. One of the spectacular events at air day was to come in from a height at 250 knots, about 300 mph, and feather (cut) three engines and fly on number 2 engine down the runway at 230 knots ten feet off the ground with the wheels up then very quickly restart the engines at 150 knots before the aircraft lost anymore speed at the end of the runway. Even better was to fly slowly down the runway at about 400ft with the Territorial Army anti-aircraft guns firing blanks with loads of smoke. The signaller firing white Very pistol puffs just above the aircraft, the rear gunner lit a can of oily rags on a bit of wire sending black smoke from the rear turret and the engineer then cut one engine and the pilot would dive the plane over the hill at the end of the runway. This event had to be cancelled as the crowd were screaming. ‘It’s been hit!’ and some women fainted, it was very realistic.
On the 29th Oct I flew for the Engineer air test and check in the pilot’s seat with Flight Lieutenant Bailey, passed instrument flying test with congratulations and good luck for the future. He said I would remember this when I was behind the counter in my father’s shop when I leave the RAF and I still do. I often sat in the pilot’s seat and flew the aircraft to give the skipper a break and to gain experience but I never took off or landed as some engineers were allowed to do. The flight engineer was basically the second pilot and could take over if the pilot was ill or injured, fly straight and level while the crew bailed out. How he was supposed to get out was never explained.
The last flight of my National Service was in RF148 with F/O Des Delany for one hour on the 4th Nov. I had flown over 330 hours and in 39 different Lincolns and served on 7 stations in two years, not including Padgate, Uxbridge, Aldergrove and Hornchurch.
I probably did more hours on the Link trainer on the ground than in the air as I really enjoyed it, also clay pigeon shooting and on the range with a .303 rifle I qualified as a marksman and won £40 once in a competition. A lot of civilians especially women don’t understand gallows or trench humour which all servicemen are prone to, things like. ‘Roll on death, demob’s to slow, or I don’t care if I do die. And say to a mate. ‘If you don’t come back tonight can I have you egg in the morning?’ One of the perks of aircrew was the flying breakfast after a long flight, eggs, bacon, beans etc. When someone was killed he just went for the big chop or had gone for a Burton (Burton beer). It was part of our banter then.
On my last Commanding Officer’s parade Group Captain Alan Groom looked at me and my scruffy two year old best blue with oil spots and said. ‘Get a new uniform!’ ‘I replied. ‘I’m out next Wednesday, Sir.’ He gave me cold look and moved on. I was demobbed Wed. 20th Nov. 1952. I was having such a good time I didn’t leave the Station till the Friday, I was stopped at the Main Gate by the usual stroppy Snowdrop (RAF Military Policeman) and had to show him my pass. ‘You should have left Wednesday!’ he said. I replied. ‘They haven’t kept me in for two extra days have they, where do I complain?’ The white capped corporal gave me a cold stare from below his exaggerated peaked cap and walked away and I went on my merry way.
I enjoyed my National Service and had a good time, in spite of nearly being killed a couple of times. We were paid £6 a week as sergeants plus a £1 flying pay and all found, food, accommodation also free travel passes, when a civilian was lucky to get £5. I met some great guys; I am still in contact with a couple, Pete Tout from Devon, Johnny Julier from Dagenham and Mike Cawsey. We saw a lot of places and have a lot of memories especially some of the WAAFs, lovely girls driving us to the aircraft in 5cwt Lorries for takeoff and in the parachute section and had lots of laughs in the station NAAFI club.
I still remember WAAF Dusty Miller, in the parachute section, I think she married Vinnie Vincent from Dorset, and WAAF Chris James in the medical section;
I was very friendly with her and used to see her in ambulance shed which was always kept warm. The favourite watering hole was the NAAFI club in Lincoln, being in the middle of many RAF camps and there always someone there you knew. I went to find the club in 2009 when I went to Waddington air day but couldn’t find it. The air day was fantastic and very nostalgic, the first time back since I was demobbed. We called in the pub by the main gate and said to the young barman. ‘The last time I was in here I was thrown out for being drunk
(Not true but sounded good).’ ‘When was that, sir?’ He asked. ‘I said in 1952.’ He replied. ‘It’s OK you’re allowed back in now.’
Went to RAF Shawbury near Shrewsbury in Shropshire two weeks for ‘Z’ training July 1953, I did two flights as F/Engineer on the long range navigation school, one flight on the 28th took off at 5.30 pm for an hour and a half, landed went into the Sergeants mess about 7 o’clock for a drink, someone said. ‘You look fed up Robbie.’ I said. ‘I’m 21 today.’ Within a short while I had a few drinks lined up.
I met my old crew with my future wife Audrey when they came to Merrifield for an air show in June 1953. We had a few drinks together!
The reason keen bright young lads like us were fast tracked as aircrew; in the late 40s & early 50s was the Cold War, Korea, troubles in Kenya, Malaya, Aden and Suez. Most of the WW2 aircrew had been demobbed and many had gone home to the Dominions leaving the RAF with loads of wartime aircraft. But very few aircrew especially F/Eng. During the war a lot of pilots were trained especially in USA and Canada there were more pilots than were needed and they became flight engineers/second pilots then after 1945 went back to being pilots. So F/E, A/Gs & signallers were needed to fill the short term gap before the new jet bombers came into service. These aircraft would need those air crewmen. Canberras in to service in 1951, 101Sqd, then 617. Valiants in 1955, 138Sqd, and Vulcans in 1957, 83Sqd.
When I was in the RAF half of the aircrew engineers, air gunners & signallers were National Service. We didn’t get on with the signallers, W.O.P. as they were always talking amongst themselves in mores code even on the buses, tap-tap and the rest of us couldn’t understand it. We were sergeant aircrew on a front line bomber squadron in less than 12 months ready to go to war. I saw an article latter that we would be asked to bomb Moscow with a nuclear bomb in a Lincoln, fly south and bail out.
The top brass said at the time the bomb was more important than the crews. Not a lot changes, as then, before and now front line troops are expendable and many National Servicemen died during their service. On the 12th March 1953 a Lincoln flying from Hamburg to Berlin at 10,000ft strayed close to the edge of the Berlin corridor and was shot down by 2 Russian Mig 15s, the crew of 6 plus 1 passenger were killed.
Some of the aircrew names from the past. Sergeants Joe Bland, Vinny Vincent, Jack Edwards, Penfold, Solly Solomon, Mather, Johnny Julier, Pete Tout, Biggs, George Hill, Cyril Heaton, Cook, Smythe, Cox, Grubby Magee, Brownie Brown, Archie Parker a Scotsman (he was one of the few to have transport an old clapped out motorbike,) Officers Blanco White, Joe the Wad Waddington, Wing Commander ‘Tirpitz’ Tait, a very senior veteran from 617Sqd. P.O. Dowling, F.O. Des. Delaney. Smythe went on to be an Air Electronics Officer on jets. He was always next to me in a queue and the many clerks had difficulty getting his name right, so I use to say. ‘Smith with a Y for an I and an E on the end’. It is strange that you meet so many people and many you never saw again.
My hobby now is reading and writing short stories and I also give talks on the History of Steam Powered Flight. I am a life member of the RAFA. & a member of the Aircrew Association. I visited RAF Cosford Museum in 1999 where there is one of the few Lincolns still inexistence, they say it’s haunted.
Flying is 80% boring, 10% interesting, 9% exciting, and 1% pure terror with a dash of fear.
P.S. NFD, nearly f-ing died.
All national service men were asked to sign on to be a regular. I was asked but said what happens. The officer said. ‘You are demobbed and then sign on as a regular.’ I asked. ‘What happens to the sergeants stripes and the F/Engineers brevet?’ ‘You’ll soon get those back,’ he replied. ‘Definite?’ I asked. ‘Well we’ll see.’ ‘In that case I’m out.’ Post war national service ended 31st Dec. 1960.
I apologise for any errors or mistakes in my reminiscences and but it was 58 years ago.
We went to Egypt in 2005 just to see the Pyramids and Sphinx, as I didn’t see then in 1952. Still a fly bitten smelly dirty place.
THE AVRO LINCOLN
AVRO LINCOLN B2. 532 were built in the U.K. for 23 squadrons in Bomber Command
1945 TO 1956. 18 for the Argentine Air force. 1 built in Canada.
73 were built in Australia for the R.A.A.F. The long nose version.
The Lincoln had Rolls-Royce Merlin 68B engines made by Packard in the U.S.A.
It was the RAF front line bomber for 11 years! 1945-56. Then to V.Bombers with the Valiant in Jan. 1955 with 138 Sqd. And the Vulcan on 83Sqd. May 1957. Max bomb load 14,000-20,000lb. Normal ceiling 20,000ft Max 29,000ft. Sqd. Ldr. Leo De Vigne. (Later Westlands test pilot.) Had been flown to 42,000ft, Unpressurized. Max. Range 4,000 Miles with 4,000lb load. Cruising speed 145 Knots. Max 350mph (never tried it, bits would fall off). Stalling speed 70 knots
It served in the Canal Zone, Kenya, Malay, Aden, a front line on Bomber Command for 11 years 1945 to 1956; the Lancaster only served in bomber command from 1943 to 1945.
In 1951 some squadrons were converted to RAF Washingtons B29 Super Fortress, to 15. 44 & 57 Sqds. Also in 1951some to Canberras, first 101Sqd, next 617 in 1952, and then 138 Sqd to Valiants 1955, & 83 Sqd to Vulcans 1957.
Comparing the Lancaster, Lincoln, Canberra and the B29 Super Fortress.