FLYING MEMORIES 10
I was more than delighted when my commission was promulgated mainly because of the eating arrangements when under canvas. Warrant Officers and Sergeants had their own Bar and Messing area, but the cleaning of all utensils was shared by all non commissioned ranks, and under canvas we were responsible for our own eating utensils. 50 gallon empty oil drums were cut in half long-ways and filled with hot water, everyone was supposed to scrape their plate clean before immersing in the hot water, but as you can imagine not everyone did, and it wasn't very long before the water in the oil drum looked as if it still had a load of oil in it. There were no detergents to break down the grease so your plate came out most times dirtier than when it went in, reminded me of when we were kids putting various coloured oil paints in water, which floated, mixing to make attractive patterns, then placing table tennis balls or other objects that would float in the water, which when removed from the water were covered with streaks of coloured paint. I believe soda was put in the water of these oil drums in order to soften the water and help kill the grease, but my recollection is that it had little if any effect, your plate etc needed a good clean with grass, or paper if available, as no wiping up cloths were provided. In the Officers Mess all washing up was done by mess staff, no doubt in equally vile water, but what the eye doesn't see the heart won't grieve about.
I continued operational flying until the end of October 44 when I was posted back to England as Tour Expired. A Tour of Ops was considered to be 40 trips way back in June/July, but with the heavy losses incurred it was increased to 60, mainly because there was a shortage of trained Typhoon pilots, and volunteers from Spitfire squadrons to fill the gaps were not forthcoming. I ended up completing something over 100 shows, and was not sorry at that time to be sent home on rest. Four days before going on rest, I had the pleasure and honour to fly our C.O. Paul Ezanno back to Redhill, in the Airfield's AUSTER, he also sent on rest. Our new C.O was a chap who had joined the squadron a week or so earlier, however I was more than grateful to receive my marching orders shortly after the departure of Paul. Instead of being flown back home I was routed via Antwerp, where I was billeted in one of the Forts for three days, with all my kit, plus parachute and dinghy. Antwerp at this time was on the wrong end of numerous flying bomb attacks, so it was safer to remain in the Fort than go wandering about Antwerp.
These Buzz Bombs seemed to be arriving every 5 or 6 minutes day and night. Time came for me and about 30 others to board transport for the journey to I believe Ostend, where we boarded a smallish vessel which was to transport us back to Blighty. I remained on deck all the way home to England seated on my parachute and dinghy, like the boy scouts, be prepared should the worst happen. On arrival on English soil I was presented with a travel warrant for Stroud, Nr Gloucester with a posting to 3 TEU Aston Down. On arrival at Stroud, transport was waiting to take myself and I believe 3 others, the three or four miles to the aerodrome situated in the beautiful Cotswolds. 3 TEU (Tactical Exercise Unit). Aston Down was an advanced Operational Training Unit for both Typhoons and also the improved version of the Tiffy, the TEMPEST. The station was also one of the main Maintenance Depots for servicing and repairing damaged Typhoons and Tempests from operational squadrons, so up to the minute reports about friends and squadron news was obtained from pilots collecting or delivering squadron aircraft. Having reported to the station adjutant, I dumped my clobber in my sleeping quarters, to be sent off on 14 days leave, and then to return to Aston Down towards the end of November.
I arrived back at Aston Down on Len's 250 BSA motor- bike, which he had given me permission to use when in the UK. I found that my roommate was a fellow called Bruce Gilbert, of whom I knew from the time his and my squadrons were stationed at Hurn, just prior to D -Day.
Bruce came from Southampton where his father owned bookshops in both Southampton and Winchester. Bruce and I were to become close friends to remain together until I was demobilized in January 1946. Being the only person with twin engine experience other than the flight commander, I was detailed to ferry various people here and there in the station Oxford for the first few days, which I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly as the others were just hanging around the dispersal most of the day twiddling their thumbs.
As we were now to be Instructors, the Top Brass decided that we should be sent on a Flying Instructors course and thus obtain a certificate, confirming that we were competent to carry out these duties.
Bruce, myself and half a dozen others were posted to 3 FIS Lulsgate Bottom, (which is now Bristol Airport) where we remained for the whole of December and January, flying the same aircraft I had learnt to fly, when in the US, namely the Harvard. We had to do quite a lot of precision flying together with considerable blind flying practice.
The Low Flying area was from approximately Long Ashton to Clevedon, and many happy hours were spent seeing how low we could get, frightening the locals out of their skins, also pretending that the odd traffic as enemy transport. The course was supposed to have lasted only four weeks, but due to the position of Lulsgate Bottom, which was susceptible to fog, or low cloud, it lasted at least twice the allotted time. We had many parties and were made most welcome by Mine Host of "The Star" near Congresbury. It was at Lulsgate that both Bruce and I received notice that we had been awarded the DFC, when an almighty party developed, which resulted in both of us being marched in front of the station C.O., torn off a strip, made to pay for the cleaning and retuning of the piano, which we had felt deserved a drink or two on such an occasion.
Course completed, we returned to Aston Down with our Log Books endorsed that we had passed and were now qualified instructors on single engine aircraft, only to find that we were all transferred to the satellite drome for Aston Down at a place called Chedworth. Chedworth consisted of a couple of runways with various wooden huts scattered around the perimeter, with the sleeping quarters more wooden huts, hidden in a beautiful wood which was part of Birdlip, a well known beauty spot. Life at Chedworth was perfect, with plenty of flying, parties every night and excellent company.
Our job was to try and give the people just learning to fly Typhoons confidence in the aircraft, but also what sort of operations they could expect in the future Shortly after our arrival at Chedworth, the recently appointed station commander decided that we would have a dining-in night, and all commissioned staff had to attend. He also decreed that the only alcohol to be consumed would be Pimms No 1. I for one was a beer drinker, and when confronted with this so innocuous looking drink, drank it down as if it were beer. After about five of these tumbler full drinks of fizzy lemonade, as they appeared to me, I was thoroughly enjoying the evening and singing my head off with all the others. Time came to retire and I understand from accounts being told the following morning, that as soon as I stepped out of the Mess into the very cold night air I went out like a light, and had to carried back to my billet, where I slept soundly with at least six bicycles piled on top of me. On another occasion the C.O.flying decided to take four or five of us into Cheltenham for an evenings merry-making in his hard top Ryley Tourer. This car had wire- spoke wheels held on by a large Hub Caps. On the return journey back to camp Len was hugging the Cats Eyes, because the headlights being masked gave very little light, when we met a Jaguar sports car also hugging the Cats Eyes from the opposite direction, this car also had large Hub Caps on the wheels which connected with ours causing us to roll over and slide down a lane on the roof.
No one was hurt, our only worry was to dump the bottles of booze we had in the car to continue the party back at camp, before the Police arrived. The Jaguar had only a Hub Cap damaged and the driver was only too pleased to give us a lift back to camp when Len said he would not be claiming on his insurance. No one would have been any the wiser if the mobile crane driver Len sent the next day to retrieve the Ryley, had not brought down the telephone wires between London and Cheltenham when getting the car back on its four wheels. Cost us a few bob to repair the wires.
It was while I was stationed at Aston Down / Chedworth that my Father prevented me being court- martial mainly for low flying. I was instructed to air test a Typhoon, so I decided to nip down to Bristol, where I would beat up my parents shop at Sea Mills, this I did, finishing up with upward rolls after which I went low flying out over the Severn into Wales, and then return to Aston Down from the middle of Wales. Less than an hour had passed before I was back beating up the shop again, but this time in a twin engine Airspeed Oxford, where I could clearly see my Mother waving to me.
Dad who was at that time a controller in the Royal Observer Corps, was on duty when all this was happening, when a request arrived on his desk for the base of either a Typhoon or an Airspeed Oxford reported for low flying in the Sea Mills area. Dad realizing that it could easily have been me replied to the enquiry that if they did not know the difference between a Typhoon and an Oxford the Royal Observer Corps was unable to help them.
My next posting was to a place called Millfield in Northumberland, another OTU with both Typhoons and Tempests, this time under the command of Teddy Donaldson, one of the brothers who flew the famous Gladiator Aircraft called Faith, Hope & Charity in the heroic defence of Malta. Donaldson was not any taller than me, and prior to my leaving the RAF he obtained the World Speed Record in a Gloucester Meteor, after which he lead all Typhoons and Tempests stationed at Millfield in a close formation flight over the city of Edinburgh with him leading in this shiny Meteor.
After a couple of passes over the City he set course for Millfield, and proceeded to open the throttles on the Meteor to leave all the Typhoons and Tempests as if stopped in mid-air.
My Flight Commander at Millfield was a fellow called Doug Maxwell, who being a fellow member of Bruce Gilbert's 197 squadron plus that we three had become good drinking pals, allowed me to fly most of the Typhoons or Tempests requiring major servicing down to Aston Down, where I would grab a lift to Bristol for a few hours, praying that the weather would close in and I would not be able to fly back to Millfield for a few more hours. One day a senior flying examiner from the Central Flying Instructors School arrived at Millfield. I was one of eight detailed to make ourselves available for a check on our teaching and flying capabilities. My turn arrived when I had to take this Wing Commander up in a Master II for a 45 minute test. He just asked me to execute various manoeuvres giving the appropriate patter at the same time. After what seemed like only five minutes he requested I return to base where I executed the smoothest landing I had ever done. The test had lasted just over an hour, when I was awarded an Above Average Flying category plus retaining my B category Instructor certificate. The only one out of the eight to so do, Teddy Donaldson was most complimentary.
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