31 December 2002

RAF Compton Bassett 2

OldEric says :-) The nearest town to Compton Bassett camp was the small town of Calne barely 2 miles distant and easy walking. I like many others used to go here often during leisure hours for a change of scenery. The camp used to dominate our lives both in work and leisure. I used to find on camp you could never have any privacy, certainly not with a hut full of thirty individuals. There was the NAAFI to visit for a cup of tea or a meal or the Salvation Army for a standing cup of tea. Neither of these activities I found never fully fulfilled my leisure needs, even if I went with a mate and certainly you felt like a spare part if you visited on your own, usually sitting lonely at a NAAFI table. There was the Amateur Radio club but this was usually busy and I wasn't really into group activities in a big way.

On Saturdays I found the right activity to fulfil my needs, a combination of fresh scenery, a dose of privacy, relaxation and then a chat with some mates. I would catch the bus into nearby Chippenham, a larger town than Calne and arrive there by 10 am. The next three hours or so would be spent browsing the shops and shopping until 2pm. Then I would go to the movies, there were a number of movie theatres to chose from and at least one would be showing a top class movie. Movies were big in those days and popular, a double feature show would last up to three hours with the news and maybe a short cartoon, then a minor movie and then the main attraction. I always bought a large block of Toblerone chocolate, you know the one, it was a long triangular block of Swiss milk chocolate with tiny bits of nut and solidified pieces of honey. I would consume the first half quickly and the second half slowly and the bar would last most of the show.

The movie show would finish around 5pm and I would then stroll down to the NAAFI Club, a large establishment with a restaurant on the second floor. I would have a couple of beers, usually Wm. Younger's Double Century Ale and then I would go and have a meal. This invariably would be a mixed grill with two eggs and extra onions. By this time a mate or two may have shown up and we would then go into the bar and yarn. If no mates had showed up I would catch the bus back to Calne and go to a popular pub.... I forgot its name and usually found my mate Paddy and sometimes one of the Sergeant instructors I was friendly with. The pubs closed at 10pm in those days and we would catch the bus back to the camp road junction and there would have a cup of coffee at a large cafe and a bite to eat just up our side road to camp.

It was then a short stroll up the road to the camp gates and back to our billets and I felt rejuvenated with my day out and the thought that tomorrow was Sunday.

The billet was very quiet most weekends. Many of the trainees would go home for the weekend; most of the trainees in our billet came from the southern half of the country so weekend leave was regularly taken. I went home sometimes but the cost and time of the long haul up to Milnthorpe in what is now Cumbria limited my trips home. Maybe it was for the better that I didn't go home too often as I used to notice some of my hut mates used to look quite morose and unsettled on Monday mornings, especially Leadbeater who went home often.

The big exodus on Friday nights was quite something to behold. Special buses were chartered and would be lined up going to towns and cities all over the country each one dropping of airmen on their route. When I went home, the trip I seem to remember took about six hours. The same trip today from nearby Swindon to Kendal is about four hours, if I remember correctly when talking to my eldest son Ian who in 2002 lives in Cricklade near Swindon. There were no motorways in those days and not many town and city bypasses. There were dual carriageways in the busy areas but these I remember were speed limited by the deliberate inclusion of round-abouts.

I liked the quietness of the camp during the weekends and the absence of constantly moving bodies through the billet and the ablution blocks. After a few weekends I began to recognise the regular weekenders. One I met was Paddy from another hut and we became firm friends during our stay at Compton Bassett. Paddy was a ruddy-faced Irishman and with his outgoing nature seemed to know everyone. We often went down into Calne especially Friday nights, a popular night with both airmen and the locals. Paddy liked the odd beer as I did and we would wander from pub to pub. One particular pub was well known for its Scrumpy, that is cider better known as rough cider. It was usually consumed mixed with Guinness in equal proportions. The rough cider was very strong and drinking too much of it had the unusual effect of when you went outside into the fresh air, you felt you were walking on air. Or at least that is how I felt.

All in all I enjoyed my time at Compton Bassett with many pleasant memories and I came to like this part of the country very much. I enjoyed the electronics course I was on, I enjoyed my leisure time and I made some good mates.

Next episode I will tell you what I didn't like.


OldEric says :-) Well we did go to Kuaotuna this morning as we planned and we did have a large special ice cream and we ate it on the store raised veranda sitting on a long form with a solid wooden back. This is a great place for people watching and other activity of the gas station refuelling cars and boats. We must have sat for forty minutes or more watching all the activity of the influx of summer holiday people.

Kuaotunu is a very small place with a store, garage and a little wooden memorial hall with a few houses up the road. It also has a motor camp still further up the road in this quiet backwater by the Pacific Ocean north of Whitianga. But in summer the whole place hums from the inflow of people on vacation plus passing tourist traffic.

We had company on our long wooden form.... Jimmy the cat. Jimmy's favourite site is the long form and Jimmy was stretched out his full length and did not bat an eyelid as two strangers came to sit either side of him. In fact he stretched out further with the pleasure of a stroke and a tickle of his ears. Now Jimmy belongs to the storeowners’ family and he has a claim to fame. Jimmy loves to go with the storeowners’ children when they go swimming in the nearby creek estuary and Jimmy loves to swim too. Who ever heard of a swimming cat?
New Years Eve at Whitianga

OldEric says :-) Today as I finish my breakfast on G &Ps patio it is going to be a wall to wall blue day. Everything is still and a big anticyclone sits stationary over NZ. Gill went to join Paul and the girls yesterday camping further up the peninsula along with Lisa and two more boys. Lisa's four wheeled drive bulged. Just Pat me and Tahlia left. Tahlia has got a holiday job in a large new shoppiing complex and has been working every day and sometimes half the night stocking the place. One day she was working until 2am. Last night we went to bed at 10pm and still no Tahlia. Its 8.10am I must go and wake her, she starts at 9am. Tahlia just told me she got home at midnight. I asked if she was tired and she told me not really!

Geoff and Anna with Bob visit late today in the camper and will stay overnight before going on to Hotwater beach if the tide is right and then back to Waiuku. Geoff is working through the holidays.

There is a newly house built on the empty section next to G & P, the owner is away and the house is loaned to friends. They have a full on boy of four. I wonder what will happen when a full on Bob arrives?

Our holiday here is going well and the weather is good but it has been a little windy until now. A Cyclone sits up in the Pacific near New Caledonia, I hope it doesn't move this way.

As I write this on the laptop, I find the laptop good for travelling and writing on the fly and I can pick up my Emails.Got your photos ok Ian if you read this. The Xmas party one was a beauty. Hope you have a nice New Year and give our love to Vicky.

Pat went shopping to the supermarket this morning for supplies for tonights BBQ. The supermarket is open soon after 6am up here. Hope everyone is hungary we seem to have loads of leftovers. We are going up to Kuatunu this morning for a drive and one of the famous super ice creams at the local store and a sit on the beach and watch the world of summer holidays go bye here in sunny NZ.

Happy New Year everyone!

30 December 2002

RAF Compton Bassett 1 Overview

OldEric says :-) I was sent to Compton Bassett near Calne in Wiltshire for my trade training as a Ground Wireless Fitter - Communications. The course was for an intensive thirty-six weeks. Like my arrival at Bridgnorth I again have no recollection of my arrival at Compton Bassett until I was in my assigned billet.

Soon after my new arrival paperwork had been completed I had a pleasant surprise. I was called to report to the Administration Office where I was informed that orders had come through to promote me to the dizzy heights of SAC...Senior Aircraftsman, three ranks up from the lowly rank of AC2.... Aircraftsman 2nd Class. Better still the promotion was backdated to my first day of entry.... I didn't remember this until I was reading my RAF papers recently. My pay was backdated too, also extra trade allowances were back-dated to day one. My SAC's pay plus trade allowances almost doubled the pay of my course mates still with the rank of AC2.

The reason for my promotion was due to my Merchant Navy Radio Officer's qualifications courses following closely the Royal Navy Handbook in Radio Telegraphy and Telephony in the basic theory stages and the qualifications were recognized in the armed services. In our hut of thirty men I was elevated to in-charge of the hut and I had the first bed by the door. Here as at Bridgnorth huts, kit and ourselves were inspected but only once per week now, not daily as at Bridgnorth and now it was my head on the block if the hut was not up to scratch. . We still had to make our beds daily as per the regulations and although not inspected daily the huts were subject to random inspections. The weekly inspections were reasonable, we still had to lay out our kit for inspection and place it on our beds to the set pattern and the floors had to be buffed to a high shine, no dust on ledges and windows to shine and we had to be smart and tidy in our selves at all times.

Some of the weekly inspection chores were by rote basis such as buffing the passageway floor between the two rows of beds, cleaning the stoves and other multi user areas. We had one bad apple in the barrel that used physiological warfare against authority and his share of the chores. He was clever at disruption; he had a clever mind and was the bane of every ones life. We suffered him for thirty-six weeks rather than warfare especially inspection days.

The rest of our course mates were mature and with an attitude of get on with it. All were two year National Servicemen in their early to mid twenties and were ex university graduates, electrical/engineering apprentices or cadets with a few in the office professions thrown in. They were all a good bunch except our rotten apple.

Our course work followed the same pattern as any educational establishment, we moved from lecture room to lecture room, to practical workshop to laboratory all in different buildings, but with one exception. We marched in columns of three between buildings. At the finish of a class session the students would mill around outside, form into columns of three and I as of senior rank marched them from the side and rear to the next venue. Now there was trouble, I would shout "Attention!... By the right, quick march." Everyone would move off on the right foot and I would often move off on my left if I weren’t careful. That is if you remember my problems on the parade ground at Bridgnorth.

Turning corners was a bigger problem. Now and then I would forget my left from my right and at a junction give the order to turn left and immediately countermand the order with go right, used to often end up with a disaster and hilarity. I got better after thirty-six weeks or was it everyone got used to me?

On this high-pressure thirty-six week course all were bright only one or two floundered, many spent hours studying and only one didn't pick up his books at all after hours. His name was Leadbeater and he came from Lancashire, his only real interest was his girlfriend and every free weekend he would catch the specially laid on bus transport back to Lancashire. He was besotted with her. He was an ex university graduate and bright and we all expected him to pass but to our surprise at the end of the course he came out top by a wide margin. I think he must have had a photographic memory; he certainly hadn't had any electronics training before.

I, with my electronic training found the course relatively easy except for one or two specialized areas and I didn't do too much study after hours. At the end of the course I came in at the lower top half. I envied Leadbeaters brain.

29 December 2002

Whitanga thoughts

OldEric says :-) 29th Dec 2002. Sunday. Whitianga. Went for an early morning walk 6.30am. First visit since we visited last Easter. A lot of changes since our last visit, big and small. Extentions here, extentions there. The 'Old Whitianga' seems to be disappearing slowly under a sea of concrete. As I strolled along and passing Sleeman's Park I thought it all seemed to have started after the Marina was built.

A shame I thought, Whitianga is loosing its character. Who said "what price progress"? Even the Wharf has had a railing put round the sitting ledge area and isolating our sitting spot. Ah, well.

24 December 2002

A Smelly Xmas Experience

OldEric says :-( On Sunday while cleaning up the rear of house section I noticed the sink drain was full and about to overflow, in fact traces of overflow were present. I left a message on the plumber's answering machine. He came the following morning, Monday and after three hours digging and breaking open the pipe in three places found two problems. One of the pipes had settled and partly collapsed and futher down the line at a junction tree roots had got in the pipe.

He got everything flowing again of which we were so glad two days prior to Xmas and he will be back Jan.15th or so to continue.

The concrete of the old dismantled aviaries has got to be taken up and about 25 or feet of new pipe has to be laid also two inspection manholes fitted and a new junction where the bathroom and toilet pipe joins in.

You never know where the next problem will come from. I spent this morning cleaning up the smelly overflow from the plumber's breaks in the pipes and putting plastic over the holes in the pipes to stop debris entering and reduce the smell.

A good shower and I felt much better.
RAF Bridgnorth The Billet 1

OldEric says :-) Our billet or hut contained 30 men, 15 beds down either side, two coal burning stoves and a tall bedside locker for each man. Most of my room mates like me were twenty plus with a small sprinkling of eighteen year olds.

All males during this era of the 1950s and early 1960s were subject to National Service at the age of eighteen years . Those doing trade training or full time study such as University could be deferred their National Service until their studies were completed. It would appear looking back now that the younger eighteen year old recruits were kept together and the older recruits together as far as practicable with some overlap.

We were required to keep our billet spotless, the floor a mirror shine, ourselves better than tidy and our hair cut short back and sides. In fact one of the first acts after our arrival was a group visit to the barber. Each evening seemed to be spent keeping our uniforms spotless and knife edge creases in our trousers. The biggest job was our boots, these were the focal point of any inspection. A spot or a smear was not just frowned upon, it was a crime of huge dimensions. Spit and polish was the order of the day. The toe caps of the boots were the most important. When the boots were new the toe caps of the boots were patterned with little bumps and indentations and the ideal was for these to be ironed out to a smooth mirror-like finish. Many ways and witches brews were used to achieve this ideal. The most common way was a heavy layer of boot polish on the toe caps and smoothed out with the back of a hot spoon. The hot spoon helped to smooth out the bumps on the toe caps and fill the indentations with polish. Many hours was spent over days trying to get the ultimate shine.

The drill Corporal inspected our billet each morning. Blankets and sheets had to be removed and the top cover placed over the mattress and tucked in, the blankets and sheets folded to set dimensions and placed below the pillow in a neat pile. When inspected not a wrinkle had to be seen on the top cover, the pillows or the folded blankets, everything had to be perfectly square with the tucked in corners of the top cover neat and even. The punishment for failure was do it again, for repeat offenders it may be a tipped up bed and fatigue duty after hours. The offending bed had to be redone and inspected before breakfast.

Our day started at 6am. We would be washed, dressed, beds made and ready for inspection by 7am. Then breakfast after room inspection and on parade at 8am and then dress inspection. A missed shave on a icy January morning or dull brass buttons then names would be taken and a wait all day to learn our punishment.

Each week we had a major kit, hut and personal inspection by the wing officer together with his minions. Each piece of kit had to be placed on our made up bed in a predefined place and order and perfectly in line. Lockers to be tidy and subject to critical inspection. We too were subject to inspection. Any major criticism of kit, bed or self would be followed by "take that mans name". Fatigues....jankers would follow. The hut had to shine, the floor a mirror, no trace of dust anywhere, even the top edges of doors were checked. Criticism of the hut, the whole hut suffered. Too much criticism of hut and men and the drill Corporal was in trouble. Then we suffered the Corporal's wrath. You gritted your teeth, got on with it and did what had to be done. You couldn't win. Fortunately our hut learnt fast, we had no bad eggs among us, we all pitched in.

For eight weeks we followed this regime and I think we slowly turned into a tidy, cohesive body of men. The initial few weeks…. was it two or four?, we were not allowed any weekend leave or I think for that matter leave the camp.

For recreation there must have been a NAAFI at the Bridgnorth camp but for the life of me my mind remains a blank. What I do remember is the Salvation Army watering hole for a comforting cup of hot milky tea and a bite to eat. Many airmen were drawn to the Sallies and I think most ex-airmen remain with a soft spot for the Sallies. I always, even now when the Sallies have their national appeal give willingly and more than I would usually give to other appeals remembering those Sallies of long ago who gave willingly of their time to those young men when feeling down or dispirited and often far from home. A simple cup of tea and a smile went a long way especially for the younger recruits.

A funny story included in the next episode.

22 December 2002

RAF Bridgnorth Basic Training

OldEric says :-). After a week or so in Cardington I was transferred to Bridgnorth for basic training or better known by the name of square bashing. We were transferred by train, but I have no recollection of leaving Cardington or arriving at Bridgnorth. My first recollection was the billet I was assigned to. Neither can I remember at this stage any names of my roommates although I can picture them in my mind.

What did we do during our basic training? Well we learnt to march in step, up the parade ground, down the parade ground. We learnt to wheel left, wheel right as a body, we learnt to slow march as in a funeral march. Then came parading with a rifle, slope arms, present arms, it went on and on, day by day it seemed until we were turned into a smart body of men. I wasn't very good at drill and I would be growled sometimes, not as bad as some fortunately. The ogre in charge of us on the parade ground was the drill Corporal. I was left handed and left footed and at the order "by the right quick march" I would want to hit my stride on the wrong foot. I also had another small problem I've had to pause for an instant to distinguish my left from my right and at the order "left turn" or "right wheel" I would sometimes turn the wrong way. I slowly improved.

We were also taken to the firing range were we learnt to use the Rifle, Bren gun and I think the Sten gun we also learnt to strip these weapons down, clean and service them. I was used to guns and had been using guns since I was 13 years old. I was a good shot too.

During our training we had to learn to be conversant with the use of gas masks. This was a frightening experience first time. A special windowless purpose built building was used for this exercise. We donned on a gasmask and we were herded into the building, a canister of gas was lit and at a given signal we had to take off our gasmasks. As the gas wafted around us we started to cough and splutter and our eyes ran. At another signal we had to put our gasmasks on and after a minute or two we then exited the building by a door at the far end.

In between these activities we fitted in lectures, PT and a run or two and in the evenings our time was taken up by "Bull", a story in its self.

A change to all this was a three day two nights living rough in the woods and learning bush (woods) skills. No tents just our capes. Three capes joined together by their press studs made a good roof and two capes as ground sheets was sufficient to house five men. With bracken on the ground for a little comfort and we slept in our uniforms with our boots on for warmth. It was winter, February 1956. Meals were cooked on an open fire in a pan as big as two buckets and was stew consisting of tins and tins of bully beef, potatoes, onions and carrots. We at last got to eat using our shiny unused mess tins and did we hoe into that stew.

I enjoyed our bush craft probably because I had done most of it before in the Scouts and our camping expeditions during my Ullswater years. One day during undergrowth clearing I sneaked away and spent two hours exploring the woods and I enjoyed it as I had enjoyed my early years exploring the fells. When I returned I hadn't been missed.

I think it was that night three or four of us sneaked away down the road in a show of independence, enquired at the first house of the nearest village and had a couple of pints at the local pub and then returned unseen. Our bush craft served us well.

19 December 2002


OldEric says :-) Well its Thursday again. Last Thursday we went down to Te Kuiti where Pat had a meeting to do with Church policy. I went too but I was not allowed in the meeting so I sat in the car and read a Geoffrey Archer book for two hours. On the way back we called in at Otorohanga to have a look at our old houses we lived in in the 1960s. One house was on an edge of town development high up with lovely views and we were very suprised to find that the development had gone backwards. Many of the houses appeared now to be rentals and badly maintained. Even the small Motel had been turned into apartments.
Our second house near the Domain had fared better and was well maintained. The open Domain was now part covered with trees and the neighbourhood looked different. Otorohanga is still a nice place. The mainstreet shopkeepers still leave their hanging flower baskets hanging outside overnight.

18 December 2002

OldEric says :-) I bought a laptop on Sunday, a Toshiba Satellite 1000. It was an end of line item and marked down. Will take it with me when we go on our next trip.

14 December 2002

RAF Cardington # 2. A humorous story
OldEric says :-) During the kitting out exercise we each selected and tried on jackets, trousers and boots until we got our right size. The other items, we selected from containers as we moved along in a line and stuffed them into our issued kit bags. Somehow I missed the containers at the end containing the cutlery. After the last of stragglers in the line completed their picking of the items we were told to sit down on some forms roughly arranged in a semi circle and a container was brought around and we were told to put our irons.... knife, folk and spoon into the container for stamping of our service number. I thought it doesn't matter about my missing irons they will find the boxes a set of irons short and throw a set in.

The store men went away with the boxes of irons and we waited for them to be stamped. Eventually the boxes of irons returned and the number of each set of irons was called out. We each went up and collected our set of irons corresponding to our issued service number. After the distribution of the irons the corporal shouted "everyone got their irons" and a little voice from over the way said "no". "You haven’t got any irons? And the voice said "no". The corporal said something to the other store man and he went out the back and out came a tubby man with sergeants' strips. He looked black and he was bristling. " who didn't hand in their irons" he yelled? No body moved. I sat tight. He yelled and yelled again. Issuing all kinds of threats finishing with "no one leaves the building".
A hundred men sat tight, all knowing it would be a brave man to stand up and admit guilt, and I wasn't brave. Not with this raging bull of a man. I suppose a long five minutes passed and the sergeant said something to the corporal who went out the back and in two minutes returned with a stamped set of irons. The owner of the stamped set came forward, collected his irons and the sergeant suddenly was gone.

Our first taste of the apparently uncontrolled bellowing and braying we were to experience over the coming weeks, all part of the breaking down disciplining process.

I think we were all riveted to the loud bristling man, as a bird is to the beady eye of a snake. I also think we all wondered why the hell didn’t the corporal just go out and pick up a set of irons, stamp them and bring them back? Why the pantomime? But a sloppy mistake was made by the unknown me and we were all given a lesson we would not to forget in a hurry. At least that is my theory, what is yours? It happened in 1955 and now in 2002 seems humorous.

13 December 2002

RAF Cardington # 1
OldEric says :-) I was finally ordered to report to RAF Cardington near Bedford on the 16th November 1955. I was almost 22 years old. I arrived at my destination and I was herded along with many other recruits into the camp. RAF Cardington was one of the main RAF recruitment centres and it was here I became an AC2.... Aircraftsman 2nd Class, the lowest form of life in the RAF we were told.

The first day after arriving we were taken to a large store where we were "kitted out". We were provided with everything we would require during our service. Uniform, best blue and peaked cap, working blue and beret, webbing belt, heavy warm great coat, woollen gloves a water-proof cape and a big pair of heavy black boots. Shirts, underwear, socks and other incidentals, three of each, I believe. Knife, fork, and spoon with our service number stamped on the handles..... these to be guarded with your life, if you lost them you didn't eat, and a mess tin. Incidentals covered everything from shoe brushes to a darning kit. All these to be fitted into a supplied kitbag and backpack.

In part 2 I will tell you a funny story about the cutlery.

After kitting out we were given a searching medical examination and I think most of us passed. We also were interviewed about our chosen fields in the RAF and our suitability scrutinised. I must have been the only one from our hut to chose a wireless career and I was sent on my own to an office for my interview. I reported to the designated office and I was told to wait outside and I would be called. Waiting also was a tall lanky fellow and I asked him if he was hoping to be selected for the same as I. He said no, he was waiting while they figured out what he could do. He said his civilian occupation was in Time and Motion study and they didn't seem to know just what that entailed. I had never heard of time and motion study either and he explained to me what his job entailed. I think that is why it stuck in my mind all these years. Later in the early 60s I had first hand encounter with time and motion study, in 1955 this was a relatively new concept and as far as I can gather it was first used in 1950.

I was eventually called for my interview. Yes they said my Radio Officers qualifications were more than adequate to be selected for a 36 week Ground Wireless Fitters course but for one small problem. Did I have my General Certificate of Education....GCE with me? It must be sighted, the rules required it, and of course I didn't.Would I be willing to sit 3 mandatory GCE papers of 3 hours each starting tomorrow? I said yes, they were English, Maths and Physics. The maths and physics papers I found easy, they were way below the standard required for my electronic qualifications. The English paper had a choice of three subjects and the one I chose was a descriptive essay and I wrote it on Sydney Harbour in Australia which I had visited three times. The marking of the papers was very quick and on the 3rd day I was given the results. The small problem was solved.

During this time I had almost been away from my room mates for three days and they told me I was lucky I had missed a lot of fatigues. I did manage to catch fatigues on two other days, one day was helping to peel a big mound of potatoes and the other, I still have it in my minds eye was the cookhouse. I got the worst of all jobs in the tin room washing the big greasy rectangular cooking and serving tins. I donned on a rubberised apron and gloves and dunked the tins in a large sink of hotter than hot water in a large sink with about half an inch of fat and scum floating on the top. The idea was to remove as much fat and grease as possible and then rinse the tins in another sink of slightly cleaner hot water. Then when passably clean put on a rack to dry. We by this time had been at Cardington almost a week.

After a week we were shipped out to a basic training camp and I was sent to RAF Bridgnorth to the west of Wolverhampton. I didn’t see any of my room mates again during my service and unfortunately cannot remember or picture any of them.

10 December 2002

RAF. Thoughts of National Service addition

OldEric says :-) Before I applied to do my RAF National Service I was visiting our family doctor, Dr Byrne, in Milnthorpe a caustic Irishman but a very good doctor. I got along with him fine and he enquired what I intended to do now that I had left the Merchant Navy. So I told him my story.

In his direct manner he asked if I really wanted to do my National Service and before I could answer he followed up with "I could get you out if you want". I hesitated then I thanked him and told him no, I wanted the RAF practical experience to further my career.

What I didn't ask was how was he able to get me an exemption from my National Service. I've been intrigued how ever since.

9 December 2002

Food for thought

OldEric says ;-( H'mm Air New Zealand had another mishap with one of their planes reported today, the 4th one lately. Dropped the bits out of one of the engines. A passenger on Australian TV9 news said he saw a series of bits flying past his window. A TV picture showed a large expanse of engine cowling missing.

The plane turned back to Australia on one engine and the passengers were told to get into crash landing mode......just in case. Scary. Yes, the plane did landed safely.

Pat said what happens if our 747-400 drops an engine half way across the Pacific? And I said well they have 3 others to fly with and Air NZ says a 747-400 can fly on one engine. They can, can't they??

8 December 2002

RAF. Thoughts of National Service

OldEric says:- When I resigned from the Merchant Navy in June 1956 I was employed by Siemens Bros. as a Radio Officer and 22 years old. It was a conscious decision, the reason will be told in an earlier episode of my life. I knew I would have to do my two years National Service. To be exempt I would have to serve in the Merchant Navy until I was a minimum of 26 years old. On completion of National Service I would be 24 years old.

I had quite a bit of accumulated paid leave, six weeks I think so I thought I would enjoy the break. After awhile I became bored, my friends worked during the week and I didn't have much to occupy me. The weekdays dragged waiting for the weekend activities. I spoke of this to one or two friends who were at University and they suggested I try a temporary job at the bottling plant of Youngers Breweries in Beezon Rd in Kendal where they worked during the summer breaks until I was called for National Service. Youngers needed summer staff so I easily got employment with them.

I enjoyed this temporary job working alongside friends and I kept putting off informing the authorities that I was eligible for my National Service. September came along and I thought I must do something, if I didn't they would catch up with me sooner or later. I sent in the required form and I duly had a letter back informing me they would let me know in due course. September became October and my friends went back to their studies at University and I continued on at the Brewery. I learnt to stack crates of bottles and the trick of throwing the crates well above my head and how to stop full barrels of beer rolled down a steep ramp and into the cellars. If you missed it was a broken leg. The labelling machines were the prize jobs and I only got on to them occasionally. My friends gone the job became mind numbing, how could these men work at this job year in year out, some of the old ones from when they left school? Some told me they wished they had had an education to do something else. They too found the job mind numbing. I felt glad I had my qualifications and multiple choices of career paths in front of me.

October came and I thought the authorities had forgotten me until a letter arrived near the end of the month informing me to report to RAF Cardington on 16th November. I gave in my notice at the Brewery and had a few days off to clear up my affairs before catching the train. I was on the move again and curious to see what was ahead of me.

4 December 2002

Cyprus # 8. Goodbye

OldEric says :-) One day I suddenly realized the magic day was not too far away and I would soon be saying goodbye to Cyprus. I had my Ham transmitter and this would have to be sent sea freight. Phoning the shipping agents down in Famagusta put me in the picture. I dug out the wooden collapsed packing case and fitted the transmitter in and nailed up the case. How I got the packing case to the docks I cannot remember now but if I had had a hassle I'm sure I would have remembered. Anyway later after I returned the UK the packing case arrived and the transmitter when tested worked perfectly.

Early November came and the magic day arrived. I must have said goodbye to all the friends I had made over the fourteen months I had spent in Cyprus and I was transported to Nicosia. I never saw my relief for my post, no doubt the workshop Sergeant had to leave his workshop chair and carry out the daily maintenance duties until my replacement arrived.

On arriving in Nicosia we were herded together from all over the island. There were quite a number of us of all ranks. There was no others from my unit. We were each called and given our discharge papers or transfer papers and a small box. To my surprise the box contained the General Service Medal ( GSM ) with the Cyprus clasp. Many years later and married I used to tell our two boys when they were small made up tales of the medal and how we saw the whites of the enemies eyes whilst fended off the enemy. I don't think they believed me, or maybe just a little.

I'm very hazy of my return to the UK except that we were given a travel warrant for the journey home. Before discharge a feeling of elation was felt. In a period 72 hours this cog had been removed from a well oiled machine, a new cog slipped in and the old cog discarded. My joy of arriving home soon evaporated and I remember a feeling of dejection. Or was it rejection? I missed my friends, my room-mates. I missed my job and Famagusta. I missed Cyprus. For quite a while I felt like a loose end waving in the breeze.

After a while I put this feeling behind me. I am, I think, a forward looking person and forward to me is the name of the game. But that is another story.

Even now I still remember Cyprus with much pleasure. I wish I could visit once more just for look, just as I wish for other things. Would it be the same? A fear in the back of my mind says not. There was a program on British TV quite a few years ago and shown in NZ which I used to watch. It was based on a British expatriate, a bar and the local police inspector. The name escapes me. That brought back happy memories. But it will be just another wish, other things take precedence in our life as I will soon retire now I'm afraid.

What did I do?

I was a Ground Wireless Fitter and my discharge papers says quote :-

Trade in civil life :- Radio Officer.

Description of Duties :- Undertakes major repairs, modifications and reconditioning; diagnoses and rectifies faults; installs and rewires complete installations; checks the daily performance of equipment and adjusts to maintain efficient operation; calibrates D/F stations; and phases aerial systems.

Remarks :- A most reliable and competent airman who has been a marked asset to this unit.

To achieve this I had to do a full time course at Compton Bassett in Wiltshire, England lasting 33 weeks excluding leave. I will write of my training and tales in later episodes. I was in Cyprus from October 1956 to November 1997 and stationed at Ayios Nikolaos.
Cyprus # 7. Post Holiday
OldEric says :-) Well, back in Cyprus and the holiday was over. A holiday I enjoyed. The workshop Sergeant said he was pleased to see me back. It was he who had to do my duties in CCS. I took over my little Empire again and my freedom to roam and the Sergeant returned to his comfortable chair in the workshop.

During my wanderings I would sometimes pass two young sergeants, usually together. I have them in my minds eye even today. Someone told me they were only nineteen, and Sergeants! They were from the Cipher section. Neither looked their age and they always seemed to be very aware of themselves. Probably most people stared at this out of place duo. Looking back now it must have been most embarrassing for them. The younger looking one of the two was fair skinned, rosy cheeks and didn't shave much and looked nearer sixteen. The other, of sallow complexion was not quite as obvious but because of his age still looked out of place.

Our mess hall was very new and modern. The food as a whole was palatable, only two items stick in my mind. One item when in season, was water melon and the other was tinned bacon swimming in grease and liquid. The bacon used to fall to pieces, even the fat part and rind. I used to carefully cut the fat and rind away, I've never liked the fat content in meat.

On Saturdays I would, when down in Famagusta call at a particular cafe.... I no longer remember the name.... and order steak, egg, salad and chips. The salad was always crisp and fresh and the steak was always large and tender. The cafe proprietor would open his cold store door, pull out a huge hunk of beef, get his ever sharp knife and cut the steak off. He would look in askance, a silent ok?, and I would nod. He was a perfectionist, he took delight in the presentation of the meal and basked in your satisfaction.
Stomach full, I would then usually go and have a beer in the nearby beer garden and wait for Windy to turn up, or if he was on duty or somewhere more interesting or important, some other friendly faces would come along. We would go to the outdoor movie theatre if the film caught our fancy, or on to one or two or more bars and whisky sours. Sometimes both.

A permanent curfew was in force, I think it was 10.30pm. Occasionally we would overstay the curfew time and the RAF Military Police major would stick his head round the bar door and point the way out with his thumb. Now and then if we were only two or three he would offer us a lift back to camp. He was a big, broad blond man in his late thirties or early forties and when he spoke he would have a small smile on his face. Some thought the smile friendly and others thought of more sinister implications. He almost always travelled alone. He was unmarried and lived in the camp, some pundits opined he was on the lookout for young fresh faced airmen with dark thoughts on his mind. I think it was probably an urban myth, more like he didn't want the hassle of paper work on a Sunday morning if we were picked up by the Army MPs. Who knows?

Life went on comfortably smooth, Summer ran into an Autumn of warm days and chilly nights. One day I began to realize December was starting to appear on the horizon.

More to come.

3 December 2002

OldEric says:- Going to be hot again today. Temp. running 25-26C. Humid

2 December 2002

Cyprus # 6. A Holiday

OldEric says :-) I'm not sure how this holiday came about, even after long thought my memory is still a little hazy. But the following is as I remember. A notice was promulgated that forces personnel could apply for leave to be taken in Lebanon under forces direction and interested personnel could apply. The cost would be nominal only and we would be flown by RAF transport. I applied. How the selection process occurred, I don't remember .... names in a hat probably. Anyway I was selected.

Our party of about ten Army and RAF personnel flew from Nicosia to Beirut airport. We were the guinea pig party and a young army officer was sent along to prepare a report on the success or failure of the holiday exercise. On arriving at Beirut we were whisked up to the cool of the mountains to an area called Bois de Boulogne and to stay at a hotel there, I do not remember the name of the hotel and to make it more difficult to find out by a memory jog, the accommodation was in an annex to the hotel.

Down in Beirut the temperature was hot but up here the air was cool. There was no terrorism as such in Lebanon in 1957 although Palestinian refugees did exist. Up here in the hills ancient history was all around and even at my young age the sense of the stillness of time impressed me greatly. Just below the annex was a valley with its steep sides terraced, a remnant of biblical times. A pathway led down to the bottom and ruins of an old monastery existed. The sides of the opposite wall of the valley were terraced also, as was most of the country up here in the hills.

One morning there was a bus provided to take us to the ruins of Baalbek, a trip I missed. My stomach was a little delicate for the long journey, the result of a trip down to Beirut and a little celebrating the previous evening. In those days Baalbek was a name only to me, I did not realise what I was to miss. Later in the day I went for a stroll down a pathway from the annex and met a young Lebanese and we talked for some time. He was studying at the American University of Beirut and his subject was Electronics so we had something in common. I occasionally think of this short chance encounter and sometimes I wonder how his life unfolded over time.

I think we made two or three trips down to Beirut. The first trip down we enquired of some young men, a suitable place to eat, they were American University of Beirut students also and they directed us to a suitable place where many students ate. We ordered kebabs and they smelt delicious, the only trouble was trying to eat them. The meat was like chewing rubber and I found the only way to consume the pieces was to try and tear the pieces into smaller pieces and swallow.

On our second trip down to Beirut by taxi, the driver took a wrong turn in the city and we landed in the middle of a Palestinian area and our taxi driver came to a dead stop in the middle of the road realizing his mistake. The taxi was surrounded by people waving fists and banging on the sides of the vehicle and trying to get into the taxi. The taxi driver froze. I remember grabbing him the neck and shoulder and shouting "get into reverse and drive", the exact words. The other three had locked the doors and the taxi shot backwards and when we were clear we looked each other with a look of relief. The taxi driver was the most relieved of all, I think.

In our hotel annex were prosperous, mainly Syrian families who came down to into Lebanon to escape the summer heat. Here we were introduced to the Middle Eastern habit of the appreciation of a good meal, a series of good loud burps. We were also introduced to the Hookah water pipe at first hand. After dinner the Middle Eastern families wives and children retired and the water pipe was brought in and light it was then passed around from one to another. We sat at separate tables from the Syrians but close, and our education of the world was extended a little further.

I think we all enjoyed our holiday, we even had been to the Casino and watched the tables. Too expensive for us poor servicemen. We returned to Cyprus and we all went our separate ways.

Were there further holidays for servicemen in Lebanon? I don’t know.

1 December 2002

Going to be a hot day again. Temperature forecast 23-24C. Summer has arrived at long last. The Gazebo is up and the outdoor furniture is in place and we spend most of out time outdoors except when am pounding the keyboard.
Will a laptop show up ok in outside light?? The prices put me off and the screen size. I like my 19 inch monitor acreage.