Navigator

 


In preparation for the honour of speaking today about Mike, I have had many inputs to help me..... and perhaps the one that sums up Mike's impact upon so many of us was the comment that went as follows, "You know, you have to feel a little sorry for Saint Peter, because, when Mike gets there to interview him, he'll have to be on his toes !"

Mike has had such a full life that it is impossible to do him justice in a few minutes. So I will restrict myself to his working life to illustrate what made him special and how much we owe to his example and to his achievements.

Aircraftsman Slade joined the RAF on the 12th of March 1940 to be an instrument maker, training at Cranwell and Halton as an apprentice. Graduating in March 1942, he soon after volunteered for detachment to Gibraltar. Here, one of Mike's traits - determination - soon became apparent. He told me of the difficulty he had getting his practical trade testing done to qualify as a Leading Aircraftsman; the tests required him to get airborne several times to work on the equipment and prove his competence - all this at a time when in Gibraltar they were massing for the invasion of North Africa. Nevertheless, he persuaded Wellington crews and others to take him aloft and he passed his LAC Board ! Mind you, he returned to the UK and was promptly sent to Canada without his LAC badge because the paperwork failed to keep up with him !

Some may not know was that Mike did aircrew training. Displaying another of his traits - initiative - he applied to the Headquarters in Winnipeg for such training and, naturally, came top of the initial course. However, officialdom then caught up with him and he was dragged off the course, because instrument makers were far too valuable to be diverted into flying duties, and he was sent back to his trade.

Mike returned to the UK on Christmas eve 54 years ago and spent the rest of the war and early post war years working on instruments and the link trainer before taking a posting to Germany to a base Repair and Salvage Depot. I believe it was there that he took up his lasting interest in clock and watch repair. He was very competent at this and, like everything he ever did, he never accepted anything less than perfection in his work.

In June 1951 Mike was commissioned into the Equipment Branch and had a variety of supply duties appointments at Innsworth, Northwood, Malta, Hartlebury and Amport House - then the Headquarters of Maintenance Command. He moved with the Headquarters to Andover followed by Kidbrook for Movements training. Then followed his first Movements appointment - to Nicosia and then Akrotiri in Cyprus. It was to be in the Movements world that he would leave an indelible mark.

In Cyprus Mike was promoted to Squadron Leader and, a year later, returned to the UK to the kind of job that was to become his other Air Force forte, in a planning appointment at the Ministry of Defence. More planning work followed later in Germany, Upavon and Wilton. We met again at Upavon when he handed his Married Quarter over to me, number 4 Hastings Close, and he made it memorable by insisting that we celebrate the occasion with the officials doing the handover by all of us drinking a glass of sherry together - proper sherry glasses of course - and a very bemused Barrack Warden to boot !

Mike was, as most of us know, a very keen and good sportsman. He played hockey for several counties, the Combined Services, the RAF team and many of the RAF Commands and representative cricket for the RAF, British Army of the Rhine and RAF Commands. He captained and ran many teams over the years and countless people, myself included, remember his support and encouragement when we played with him.

In between his planning jobs, Mike took Command of the Mobile Air Movements Squadron (MAMS) whose small teams still travel the world to load and unload transport aircraft in peace, crisis and war. When Mike arrived in October 1969, this fairly new Squadron faced many problems. Mike set himself the highest standards, and acted as an inspiration to all. He set in train the provision of all the essentials that enabled the lads to do their job efficiently and he raised the reputation of the Squadron to great heights. He also introduced fitness training and they certainly played as hard as they worked - with inevitable consequences. It was, however, Mike's maxim that, whilst he would verbally bounce miscreants off his office wall, no outsider was permitted to do so.

For example, there was a SNCO put on a charge after an accident between his Landrover and another car. Because the offence was so serious, Mike was forced to refer it to the Station Commander for judgement. Nevertheless, Mike was present, standing behind the Station Commander as the charges and evidence were read out. The SNCO then said (undoubtedly coached by Mike) that he was guilty but that "the accident was caused by an error of judgement." Mike whispered in the CO's ear who, with a puzzled look on his face, adjourned the hearing for a few minutes. Mike then pointed out to the Station Commander that an obscure note in the Manual of Air Force Law stated that if an error of judgement was the case then the person was to be found not guilty. Accordingly, the Station Commander recalled the SNCO and told him his verdict - he was let off and certain higher authorities had apoplexy when they heard... but too late

Mike was universally admired and respected by the Squadron although he could be a stern taskmaster. Yet he obtained the co-operation of all because he was patently working in their interests. He had great moral courage. Indeed, many of us believe that his fierce fighting of bureaucracy and his willingness to take on anyone in authority cost him the higher rank that he deserved to reach in his career. Be that as it may, he always had a droll sense of humour to sustain him, and it took some folk a while to appreciate it... Like the airman who decided to ignore the normal convention of making requests through the chain of command, and approached Mike direct asking for compassionate leave as his wife was due to give birth in the near future. "I'm placing you on immediate standby for deployment world-wide" was Mike's swift response. A very chastened lad left the office and it took him a while to realise that whilst he was on such a standby, nobody else could send him away from Abingdon and his home !

Having left an enormous reputation behind him at Abingdon, which was officially recognised by the well deserved award of a MBE, Mike moved on to complete his regular service in the planning appointments I mentioned earlier. During this time he battled against very serious illness with the support of Marion who has devotedly sustained him throughout their 48 years of marriage, many house moves, and in bringing up their 6 daughters. Leaving the RAF in July 1979, he was promptly taken back as a Reservist and returned to Amport House, now the RAF Chaplains School, as their General Administrator for the next 8 years. I believe it was there that he adopted gardening as another hobby - as always with full vigour. When I saw his home garden a few months ago, I instantly recognised his touch - he must be the only man who could arrange for his garden to conform so that order and beauty last all the year round ! When he left Amport on his second retirement, it was in style, as a helicopter whisked him away from the lawns and delivered him to nearby Old Sarum airfield.

Of course, that is not the end of the story. In May 1991 he was elected District Councillor for his own St Marks ward. He was quickly involved in a range of activities and became a member of the Economic Development and the Amenities and Tourism Committees with a major interest in sports and leisure - especially for young people. He was also Vice-Chairman of the Management Committee and even found the time to represent the Salisbury and the Kennet District Councils on the National Association of District Councils. His energy and enthusiasm continued unabated. I have been told that, and I quote: "Mike did more in 3 1/2 years than many Councillors achieve in a lifetime". Mike would have liked that. Never content, always trying to improve, breaking new ground and leaving nothing to chance have been the hallmarks of Mike's careers. He would have been delighted by the approval of a Sports Council grant, which came in the day after he left us, which will fund a Sports and Leisure Officer - but as quietly pleased too that the smaller tasks he set in train are still coming to fruition - for example the re-siting of street TV boxes and connectors in a more discrete way within his own ward. His wish that contributions be made to set up the "Mike Slade Sport Scholarship" will mean that his work in the Salisbury District will continue and it is very fitting that the young sports hopefuls will benefit from his determination to do something especially for them.

There is one more of Mike's inspired legacies that should be recognised today as many of us here owe him directly for it. He was Chairman of the UKMAMS Association and he was instrumental in its formation. In the constitution of the Association, which he wrote, it says that the objects of the Association are to "foster mutual friendship, esprit de corps and comradeship" and to provide relief to those "in conditions of need, hardship or distress." Those words sum up his philosophy of life. They are Mike.

And that is how I suggest that we should remember him. In all matters great and small, he put everything into them and he left behind him such a dynamic and active legacy that the results of his work will be seen long after he has moved on. I have tried to adopt, albeit very imperfectly, the advice and the example I have had from Mike over the years. These words that I prepared for today would never have passed his eagle eye without constructive correction. However, I hope he knows that I have done my best!

Bob Dixon
Dauntsey, Wiltshire
21 December 1994

 

Salisbury, Wiltshire, 21 December 1994

This was the semi-military funeral arranged for Mike Slade, former OC UKMAMS.
All the pall-bearers were UKMAMS Association Council Members, which included
Colin Allen, Chas Cormack, Mark Brierley and Ian Berry. Bob Dixon gave the eulogy
and other squadron members lined the route