Hi Don. I’ve just finished a more leisurely stroll through your outstanding website and feel compelled to respond in some way. I’ll tell you about the attachment in a moment First let me say I’m glad you found my earlier email worth using . I see you went to Leeming at the end of 1957 so there was a two year gap during which the Javelins arrived and your Type 7 gear and new section buildings rose from the ashes of our more primitive set-up which is shown on the previous page. I would say you got the positioning just about right - that’s where we were - almost the most northerly bit. My O.S. Sheet 99 circa 1972 shows a building at SE (Sugar Easy as it was) 299 898 and that’s near enough where we were. Our Section strength was around 50 in two Watches so that we did alternating night-flying turns - isn’t it remarkable how soon we learned to sleep through those screaming roaring jets that flew through to the small hours? And just to bring back a few memories of our leisure time I've enclosed this shot of the teeming metropolis of Northallerton.
Harking back to square-bashing for a moment, your mention of Duraglit at West Kirby made me shudder - at Padgate we were ordered to use (buy) Brasso and Kiwi only and absolutely nothing else must appear on the kit inspection blanket or the lot would be catapulted into the air (again). A further commercial opening came with the issue of the irons so vital for the pressing of the ill fitting uniforms. The RAF issued one iron per hut which was totally inadequate for 20 anxious recruits to get those razor sharp creases ready for next morning so the DI of each hut said that if everyone chipped in (something like a shilling or so each) he would kindly go all the way to Warrington and buy us a Morphy Richards steam iron, for which there would be a draw at the end. This was done with every intake and the little Morphy Richards steam iron dealer in Warrington (if he existed) must have been highly delighted with the regular trade. The smashing of mugs was irresistible to our DIs. They enjoyed the kit inspection bit where they grabbed the end of the blanket and whipped the whole layout into the air sending us to buy more mugs so they could do it again. We were told to grind our hat badges down on Brasso-soaked blanket pieces until the fine details were rubbed off which did at least make them much easier to polish and after square-bashing we were allowed to buy bright anodized buttons, making the sticks - buttons for the cleaning of - redundant.
A couple of different characters at Padgate:- On one hand was a laconic laid-back bloke called Brian Freestone who was less green than the rest of us. He was a successful motorcycle racer with winner’s laurels photos to prove it and rode Manx Nortons in the IOM TT. He was more worldly-wise than the rest of us and was quite unfazed by the bellowing, the abuse and the bullying as he did just enough to keep them off his back while the rest of us ran round like headless chickens as he sailed through virtually unscathed. For example during billet duties when it was his turn to scrape and sterilise the two long wooden benches in the middle of the hut he and his helper carried them outside then spent the night in the NAAFI while we were anxiously trying to get through our tasks to try to avoid the worst of the venom to come. They brought the frost covered benches back in exactly as they were because of course they were spotlessly pristine, nobody ever sat on them or even touched them and for the first time we saw a chink of light - our tormentors could be side-stepped. When we came to that vitally important 48 we were really put through the mill. First they would say that the crack of 100 steel heelplates striking the ground simultaneously was too ragged - “You’re like kittens on a carpet!”, or there was dust on the water in the fire buckets so the 48 would be cancelled only for it to be back on again as the marching had improved slightly and so the on/off mental torture went on much to the chagrin of everyone - except Brian that is. He told us repeatedly that it was all a sham and that the weekend was all laid on. Leave passes were already made out for that weekend, tickets had been bought on camp and that to just turn the whole thing on and off wasn’t practical. He was right of course - it was just an evil ploy and it was indeed all laid on. Nothing earth-shattering here, it’s just that Brian was the first clear thinker and an inspiration in those early dark days - he always knew what to do. At the other end of the spectrum was a big broad-shouldered soft-hearted lad from Leeds called Bob Caygill who worried and fretted his way through the whole ordeal. He worried about whether his kit would pass muster, about whether his marching was up to standard, about whether he had done his billet duties and floor space right, about whether there would be a letter from his girl, about whether the 48 would be back on. He fretted endlessly about his girl in Leeds and worried most about being made Deputy Senior Man - a position for which he was quite unsuited - because this post brought him all sorts of extra bellowing and invective from the venomous little DI at the front of our hut. Our incumbent was a vicious little Scot called Clements who was the senior, ie most aggressive of our five DIs and seemed to delight in terrorising big worrier Bob. I might mention that this Corporal Clements had the gall to challenge the whole flight one day offering to meet any dissenter behind one of the huts, but no-one was foolish enough to fall for it - which he knew of course.
Bob survived Padgate and we met up again soon after at Yatesbury where the main concerns were getting through the course, getting home on the next 48 and getting a decent (close to home) posting. A local coach firm, Sodbury Queen ran us home in all directions, me to Liverpool and Bob to Leeds and his girl on the 48. The attractions of Calne were soon used up - once you’ve seen Harris’s bacon and sausage factory you’ve just about done it but there was of course the notorious scrumpy to experience - the warnings were well founded! At the successful completion of the course, there was relief, handshakes all round and a good opportunity for us to get a grip on the over-excited WAAFs. I’m sure you will remember the anxieties felt about the all-important posting lottery. At Yatesbury we had one joker after another rushing into the billet with a piece of paper in his hand shouting “Hey lads, Sarge has just given me our postings!” and he would then send everyone wherever he felt like just to enjoy the delight or despair of his gullible victims. When Sarge himself finally appeared with the gen postings, I had drawn Patrington, which I was informed by the railway buffs, who always knew about these things, was a good draw as I could get the Trans-Pennine express home - Hull-Lime St. in 4 hours. But there was a cruel irony for worrier Bob. At King’s Cross I bade farewell to a very sad Bob and went for my train to Hull while Bob’s train took him up right the East Coast Main Line where it passed within 20 miles of Leeds and his girl then kept going and going till it was almost off the map as it took him beyond Aberdeen all the way to Buchan - 350 miles from Leeds and his girl. The RAF could be very cruel.
I think that was quite an achievement getting a Junior 60 to Leeming in one piece, or rather two. Have you seen the incredible advances in aeromodelling since the free flight and control line efforts of the time? First came those unforgettable pulse jets and now we see huge multi-engined Vulcans and Comets etc. powered by amazing miniature turbines.- really puts my old E.D. diesel powered stuff in the bin.
You were one of the Chosen Few at Leeming - you actually had a motorbike on camp.I would have given anything for a bike, not only for getting home but just because I desperately wanted one. Coincidentally I too had a Cyclemaster but mine was the grey high-performance model - bored out to a full 32cc for perhaps 2mph more. So it was my carefully preserved clothing allowance that became the deposit on my first bike; a ratty little old James 197cc but life revolved round it until I moved on to the BSAs and Triumphs (the best of which was the 1969 Bonnie - they finally got it right). By 1977 I had moved over to the first of half a dozen of Mr. Kawasaki’s fliers and my present (and last) one is a 750 Zephyr. But I really envied all of you who had bikes on camp. If I’ve remembered right your Dommie would have had a Featherbed frame giving you the best handling bike on the road, though some owners discarded Hopwood’s rather lumpy engine and replaced it with one of Edward Turner’s more desirable Bonneville motors. Tritons are still rated today but I must say classic bike prices are a bit crazy - £10k for a Goldie?! On the other hand, yes you can still buy new Royal Enfield Bullets - made in India - at a much more modest £2000. Enfield was probably the least popular of the big manufacturers so it’s ironic that it should be their Bullet line that has survived while everything else perished
Another perk that you enjoyed was not being at the mercy of British Railways (they didn’t show much) when it came to getting home. It was a slow process for impatient excited Servicemen dawdling home on very atmospheric steam trains - their passing is much lamented nowadays but the later faster diesels would have been very welcome to those of us who just wanted to get home. Three out of every four trains on the ECML flashed straight through Northallerton’s small station so on long weekends local coach operator old George Abbott’s old coaches ran us down to the oasis of York on Friday afternoon. York was a Godsend for all Servicemen - a huge Victorian steam cathedral in the middle of nowhere with trains to everywhere. Your best train to Oxford would have been the 10.23am from York arriving at 3.30 but you still had to get to York first and afternoon journeys with changes would have taken much longer so your Dommie was a very valuable asset. Coming back was a more sombre affair and even slower. We set off back late on Sunday night, usually on cold slow mail trains which trundled on through the night until they finally disgorged their hundreds of sleepless, bleary-eyed Servicemen somewhere in Yorkshire in the small hours of Monday morning. I used to get to Hull at 4.30am and have to wait two hours for the first bus to Patrington.
Leeming was a lot better. A Sunday-only Forces Special left Exchange at 10.50pm, burrowed through the Pennines smartly to reach York at 1.30am where Abbott was waiting to meet us and other incoming trains through the small hours, so we were back on camp by 2.30am, by which time you lucky motorcyclists would be safely tucked up in bed, fast asleep. No wonder you Chosen Few were so envied!
There was no night flying on Wednesday so the afternoon and evening were windows of opportunity. We sometimes went to Lawson’s Transport Café at Londonderry for a good stomach lining for the evening’s session at the Green Dragon, though this lining often got detached due to the very unwise mixing of drinks that know-all teenagers indulge in. Crossing the main runway to lurch back was handy enough but I had two other very useful little exits at the Northern end that I used covertly. On these Wednesday afternoons, my mate Dave Coulson and I, often cycled to somewhere like the White Bear in Bedale after a token game of tennis (it was supposed to be sports afternoon) but I found this better way out, on foot. We just drifted into the scrubland behind the Section, then carefully avoiding the Elsan discharging area, melted into the bushes and got down to the adjacent Swale tributary where we hacked our way through the undergrowth to follow it to where it went under the road and we climbed up on to the A1. We were out! And within 100yards we were in the Black Ox Monastery. This was a weird place; it wasn’t really a pub, just someone’s house being used as one. The floors were big stone slabs; a few taciturn locals plotted away quietly in the gloomy back kitchen and we unexpected strangers were silently ushered by a monk in slippers, to a sort of front parlour which was full of its original old furniture; table, chairs, sideboard etc. We even speculated that the slabs under our chairs could be hinged to plunge us into the cellar to become Black Ox pies - it really was that sort of place!. It’s just a house again now but it served its purpose - it was a handy watering hole for when we felt like living dangerously.
My other little exit was the really useful one. There was a path that led to an unmanned gate and came out alongside the Willow Tree on the A1, just opposite Leeming Café and coach station that used to be there. I was seeing a village girl at the time so this was ideal for me. In the dark I just walked round the peri track and out into the village without having to bother about all that booking in and out stuff at the distant guardroom and it did produce a couple of memorable moments. For the first one, it was your experience of facing down a Vulcan bomber that rang a bell. One night coming back from my village tryst via the Willow Tree back door during night flying, I came to the end of the main runway. The pairs of NF11s were taking off from the South ie towards me and as I stood on the grass at the end of the runway I decided to stand my ground as the next pair took off and passed overhead, to see what it felt like. I saw the two sets of red and green lights getting nearer but not much higher and most of the noise was still behind them so I stood there resolutely as they reached me But suddenly they looked much lower than the 50ft they were probably at and the noise was so overwhelming that I cracked and dropped to the grass fast. Then I jumped up and looked up the fiery exhausts as four big paraffin blowlamps thundered up into the night sounding as though they had split the sky. Admittedly nothing like Vulcan power, but four Rolls Royce Derwents on full noise and seemingly within touching distance was both memorable and very disorientating!
The second incident was a bit more traumatic. One night I got too complacent and was casually strolling back round the peri track (in civvies), when a jeep came rushing round and I thumbed a lift. A snarled “Get in” was followed by a fast dash to the guardroom were I was identified as a harmless inmate to the keen disappointment of the RAF Regiment types who thought they had got an intruder in the current IRA scare.
Next morning the SWO was licking his lips as he went through the charge sheet - breaking out of camp, breaking into camp, absent without leave and he tried to trick me about not carrying my 1250 but no-one had asked for it so he failed. With less than two weeks to go I got demob happy and fatally failed to resist the urge to answer this tyrant back, which got insolence to the SWO added to the list. Next day a remarkable admin blunder by the SWO’s deadly Corporal meant that our Section CO heard the charges without the benefit of a record of a few earlier (minor) misdemeanors and thought it would be a shame to spoil a good clean record right at the end of my service so he just did a reprimand. I heard that the SWO was furious and our CO admitted quietly that he had boobed. I thankfully agreed and didn’t gloat of course but it felt great to have beaten the SWO.
So my Leeming time which had been truly memorable didn’t end as traumatically as it might have done and I too felt very sad when I got the train from Northallerton for the last time. Strange how after crossing off all those days on calendars, the last one wasn’t a bit like I expected. It’s just the way things worked out for some of us - Leeming was my Ventnor because everything fell into place and the campaign to make the most of things and get something out of it was a success, though I’ve lost contact with the good mates I had there. I often ride up there to watch the Tornados but the Squadrons are moving to Coningsby and sharing the Typhoons with just Leuchars so there’s no place for Leeming in our air defence.Finally, just for the record, here's a picture of myself (back right) and some of the lads at Seaton.
I really must stop rambling on now - I see it’s time for my cocoa and afternoon nap. Thanks again for the memories Don; I’ve enjoyed reading them as much as you enjoyed writing them and I’m still chuckling over the donkey’s head! Cheers. Nil carborundum…………. Colin.