Stories

My ( Very small ) part in the Cold War

By 21st March 2009No Comments

September 1962; the “Cold War” was at its height. A Young Airman, 21 years old, arrives at the Gates of R.A.F. Scampton. Fresh out of Trade Training as an Air Traffic Operations Clerk, and about to take his first steps into a Real “Operational Station”.

Was he nervous? Certainly! Did he have that, unique, “New Boy” feeling? Sure thing! After all, Scampton was Home to 3 Squadrons of Vulcan Bombers, Nos. 27, 83 and 617 (The Immortal Dambusters)

The first obstacle was the dreaded Guardroom; terse directions given to Station H.Q. close by. Much “plodding” later, and after signing in at several points, he found himself in “Ward Block” trying to pack his kit away, make his bed and meet his New Colleagues.

Thus, for me, began nearly three years’ Membership of a very happy, very large, (almost) all male Family. Shortly after my arrival, the Cuban Missile Crisis was upon us. Each man, I’m sure, was fully aware that we could be In Action for real, and that our Bomber Crews could be sent to War. The day the Soviet Ships turned back, and Kruschev retreated, the sigh of relief from the entire Population of the Camp blew all the clouds away.

The relations between all Ranks was, for the most part, in complete harmony. Whilst, of course, the proper courtesies were kept, this in no way prevented Friendships being formed. There was no sense of “Them and Us” between the Aircrew and Ground Crew and Support Staff. We were “A Team” in every sense of the phrase; all were made to feel that their part mattered, that they, and what they did was valued.

For instance; each morning on return to my Billet after a Night Shift, the first Mission of the Day would roar into the sky behind me. “I did something for them”, I often thought. “Agh! M’Boys!” was the favourite Greeting of the Senior Air Traffic Controller (SATCO) each morning. So, one day, tasked with completing the days’ Mission Call Signs, I used the letters of the Phrase – much to the amusement of the ATC Staff!

Night Duty, in the Operations Room, was, for the most part, a time to relax – but not entirely! A “Beeping Box” operating “24/7” could – and often did! – blare out Voice Warnings on either Practice or General Alerts. The former were for just a Select Few, but the “form” was to Broadcast the Alert to the whole station. The General Alerts caused a major “flap” as all Personnel were ordered to their Duty Station at once.
One night, a very late arrival trundled into our Room much the worse for wear. Barely an hour after, a General Alert sounded! Poor Denis, groaning in agony, was, somehow, roused, dressed and sobered up – with an Andrews Liver Salts dose down his throat!

Detachments were great fun, and for me this meant one trip to Burtonwood in Lancashire and three (I think) to Lossiemouth in Scotland. This was a Royal Naval Air Station, where we “Went ashore” to go off Camp. These gave us chance to show our paces to the Sailors!

Formal Parades meant many extra hours of “Spit & Polish”, and “Bull Nights” preparing our Uniforms and Kit. There was an Annual Air Officer Commanding’s Visit, when the Group Commander, and Retinue, toured the Camp and cast his beady eye over all and sundry, both on and off Parade! However, one Formal Visit I did avoid (because I was on Late Holiday Grant!) was that of H .M. the Queen, when she came to present new Colours to No 83 Squadron.

One quiet afternoon in the Ops Room, an Officer came in to say that he had booked the “Station Taxi”, an Anson, for a Trip to keep up his “hours on type”. There were no other Missions expected, so I asked if I could go with him. The result? A jaunt over the County as far as Skegness. On the return leg, he gave me the Controls – to do some Map reading! Straight and level for 5 glorious Minutes.

My Colleagues, in the Operations and Air Traffic Group were the “Baby-Sitting Pool” for many of the Officers – one Squadron Commander often dropping in, unannounced, into our Barrack Room to ask: “Anyone free tonight? Another paid me from his Bridge winnings, and another gave me lifts back to the Billet on his Vespa.

One special Friend asked me to be his Best Man, the Wedding being at Boston “Stump”. At the Reception, I enjoyed myself so much that the Bride & Groom missed their train! For my own Wedding, he gladly accepted my Plea, but with a proviso. By that time, his Wife was very much pregnant so he advised a Reserve to be ready. A School Friend was most relieved not to be “In Action” on the Day, for he had no Speech ready!

So, almost 40 years later, what did I learn from my time at Scampton and throughout my Service life? Quite simply that wearing the Queen’s Uniform is the ideal route to Maturity, Reliability and Team Spirit in Regular “National Service”.

John Burrows,
(N4271791, Senior Aircraftman, Trade Group 9, R.A.F.)
Stationed at Scampton, September 1962 to May 1965.

John Burrows

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