CHAPTER 1 – NAIVETY
“The bints round ‘ere look as if they don’t know whot it’s for!”
The bus was taking us to RAF Cardington, home of the bygone military dalliance with airships; huge hangars are a memorial to those days. In 1951, the station had the lessor role of being the attestation centre for new RAF recruits. Here we were to swear allegiance to His Majesty King George VI and put our mark that meant we were ‘signed up’ and subject to military law – there was no turning back now. I was relieved to see that the competition that made the rude remark was herded into a different group to me
CHAPTER 2 – GRANDAD PERCY
Percy de Rippe Berry – there is a story attached to the de Rippe – was born in 1870 of farming stock, which is not a distinguishing feature of those years – the vast majority of Englishmen of that time worked on the land. He was to exchange the tyranny of an agricultural life for the no less restrictive one of the Army. He joined the East Surrey Regiment at the age of 18 and was promptly posted to India – for eight years! Yes, eight unbroken years! This completed his engagement and he returned home and was demobilized. He must have found life very strange and it is perhaps natural that he should fall back on his upbringing and take up gardening work…
CHAPTER 3 – MORE OF THE EARLY YEARS
…The poet Philip Larkin wrote:
I can endorse this! As my small child’s lack of inhibitions were being shed, the full awkwardness and shyness of impending adolescence were taking over. This is nothing unusual for a child but I was also being ‘fucked up’ by my father who, perhaps unwittingly, did everything to undermine my confidence…
CHAPTER 4 – THE ATC CADET
…The attainment of 14 years of age saw me in the 4th Form and entry into an organisation that was to determine my adult life. For all these secondary school years to date I had been longing to be old enough to join the Air Training Corps. We had a School Flight and the CO was Mr. King, a chemistry teacher. It was amazing that there was appeal. We wore horrible high-necked hairy blue uniforms. It meant staying on after school, not normally a voluntary activity. A large amount of our programme was drill where we were in the charge of older boys, elevated to the rank of corporal, sergeant and flight sergeant who had seen too many military movies and pictured themselves as Sergeant Hardcase or whatever. Take a bunch of adolescent lads and many of them, almost literally, cannot tell their left feet from their right – so drill always developed into something of a farce with the NCO i/c only marginally retaining control…
CHAPTER 5 – THE CHURCH
…St. Thomas’s was ‘High’ Church of England and was not short of ceremony and colour, which stood out in the bleak environment of the district of Keyham, Portsmouth. Ceremony meant that there were a number of ‘server’ roles with a hierarchy. The lowest starting point was the small boy who held the ‘boat’ containing the incense. Promotion and physical growth meant moving on to become an acolyte and carrying a candle – then the cross-bearing crucifer. But the job everyone wanted was thurifer. He operated the cencer; within this holed silver pot on chains was burnt the incense on glowing charcoal. There were so many appealing things about all of this: firstly there was the pyromania aspect. The compressed charcoal tablets had to be heated to glowing red on an electric grill. To keep it in this state in the thurifer, and to distribute the smoke of the incense, required draught. This led to a second appeal – theatrical. A line was drawn to actually swinging the thurifer over and around ones head but almost anything else was within limits – also attempts to expand those boundaries could be explored in front of an audience…
CHAPTER 6 – FLYING SCHOLARSHIP
…Plymouth had only a small grass airfield, on the edge of the Moors, that was just used for club flying. It was here I was to be taught to fly. Things were pretty primitive, although they were normal for those years. The aircraft used was a yellow Tiger Moth, a two-seats-in-tandem training aircraft where, rather oddly, the instructor sat in the front. It was a biplane with open cockpits – real white silk scarf in the slipstream stuff; but at the age of 17 I was not sufficiently self-possessed to match that image.
CHAPTER 7 – ♫ HE’S LEAVING HOME ♫ – ♪ ‘BYE-BYE.’♪
…At home, my future career had obviously been a topic of discussion. I have mentioned that Father’s determination was that I should enter the Civil Service. I was equally as determined, as much as I could be in my cowed state induced by those years of paternal oppression, that I should join the Royal Air Force. As I had demonstrated with my ATC activities, and in particular the flying, that I might have some potential as one of the ‘Boys in Blue’, it was reluctantly agreed that I should have a go at being accepted at Royal Air Force College, Cranwell.
CHAPTER 8 – OFF WE GO INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER
…I have done some foolish things in my life; high on the list is low flying in the Vale of Evesham. It was our low flying area and we were sent there, solo, to low fly – but not as low as I went. On one occasion, with the adrenaline still pumping, it was time to return to base. From my last low level pass, I turned in the direction of Moreton-in-Marsh. Now the name, ‘The Vale of Evesham’, indicates that when you leave, there are some hills to climb. Up I went. About two thirds the way, I realised that the rate at which the ground was rising was exceeding the rate at which I was climbing – the throttle was hard forward. In an effort to increase the rate of climb, the cheeks of my ass were squeezed hard together. With this contribution, the Harvard did make it over the top – just! A very subdued student landed back at RAF Morton-in-Marsh…
CHAPTER 9 – FAST JETS
…Flying an aircraft fitted with an ejector seat meant being introduced to a curious training device which would have looked more at home in a fairground. The ejector seat trainer was towed from one establishment to another to give pilots periodic training. On arrival, the horizontal gantry would be raised to the near vertical and at its base would be the ejector seat. Into this Bloggs would be strapped, body braced, with a handle at the back of the top of his head, he would pull a blind over his face; for an ejection for real this would do something to preserve, from the slipstream, his handsome fighter pilot features for the subsequent impression of the females in his life.
CHAPTER 10 – FIGHTER PILOT
…Once a year we attended an Armament Practice Camp – a month devoted to firing located in Northumberland, where there were bigger range facilities. Happily the ‘camp’ was a name only, and we were safely tucked away at nights in the comfort of the officer’s mess at RAF Aklington. There would be the odd foray to sample the Northumberland social scene. It seemed a good idea one Saturday evening, to visit a local dance. There were several stories to be told later. One of my compatriots reported the remark of his dancing partner, “Cor, I ‘aint ‘alf sweatin’!”
The ‘camp’ enabled us to try our hands at firing at higher altitudes – the firings ‘at home’ were limited to 2000 feet by the size of the ranges off the East Coast. There was an element of competition at these Armament Practice Camps as an annual trophy was awarded to the squadron producing the highest scores.
Our boss decided that we should prepare ourselves for operating at these higher altitudes and, for some weeks beforehand, a banner was towed to the great height and we did simulated attacks on it – squeezing the trigger merely operating the gun sight camera. The results would be analysed and advice given.
Towing the banner for live firing exercises was somewhat of a thankless task, but perhaps the thought of all those bullets flying behind you made the time pass quickly. But the really tiresome job was towing for those high level sorties. One of my compatriots was so engaged. As he droned along over East Anglia, he saw ahead an enormous cumulonimbus cloud developing. He thought that it would LOOK good on his gun sight film – so he squeezed the trigger. Go back some lines to remind yourself that, with a tug aircraft, the trigger releases the banner! This is quite a substantial piece of kit to be hurtling earthwards and it can be assumed that there wasn't an East Anglian located at the impact point as we heard nothing of the incident…
CHAPTER 11 – ‘DO YOU, DAVID, TAKE…’
…On the wedding day, Mother, Father, brother John (my Best Man) and myself awaited the wedding car to take John and I to the church. Father was ‘champing at the bit’ – he was now a driver with his own car, an Austin A30, which was quite a natty little car in its day. He was set to drive Mum and himself to the church when the Groom and Best Man were on our way. The minutes ticked by; Father’s agitation increased. “It’s no good, something’s gone wrong - get in the back.”
Jumping forward to post-ceremony, the first few moments alone with my new bride, in the wedding car driving to the reception, were occupied with the driver giving me a “bollocking” for being impatient and not waiting to be picked up.
“I was there in good time – and you’d gone!”…
CHAPTER 12 – QUALIFIED FLYING INSTRUCTOR
…One day there was a call to the Flight from Air Traffic Control. My presence was required in the tower – Sinjackly was on a solo flight and had become lost. ATC were having difficulty getting him to obey instructions that would get him back to base. These were the days of air driven gyro flight instruments. Amongst these was the ‘direction indicator’ and the pilot had to set it to agree with the magnetic compass for the information it was giving to be meaningful. Also, gyro instruments topple when doing aerobatics. Sinjackly had done his aeros, no doubt with more brute force than finesse, and now set course for base, without resetting his direction indicator (DI).
“Hullavington, this eese tree zuro – I see land!”
Sinjackly made for it and Allah was smiling on him; there was an airfield close to the coast. He landed at Rhoose, near Barry Island, South Wales. As he turned off the runway the engine stopped – he had run out of fuel!…
CHAPTER 13 – MORE INSTRUCTING
...The Guard of Honour had been formed up, with Flight Lieutenant W in front, to pay respects to the Air Officer Commanding. He arrived by air, the aircraft stopping in the precise place, right on time. The Air Marshal descended the steps. The Guard Commander started putting his men through the usual routine, “Guard of Honour, Slope Arms.”
“Guard of Honour, Present Arms.”
His sword went to the salute. Then he made a fateful mistake!
“Guard of Honour, Order Arms.”
For those of less mature years, denied the joy of arms drill with the .303 Enfield rifle, some explanation is required. A guard started with their rifles at the ‘Order’, that is with the butt resting on the ground and held against their right legs. The next command was ‘Slope Arms’ when the rifle was moved to the left shoulder. The final part of the ceremony was the ‘Present Arms’ when, with much banging and a little foot juggle, the men ‘presented’ their rifles before them, a symbolic ‘giving’. Having held this position for a few seconds , the process was reversed… ‘Slope Arms’… ‘Order Arms”. Those were the positions and that was the essential order!
Return now to our doomed Flight Lieutenant. He, in a position of some disadvantage; i.e. facing forward, his back to the men, had given the command ‘Order Arms’ when the Guard was at the ‘Present’! The ‘rules’ as outlined above, do not allow for this! Consider the plight of his men.
Some remembered a basic tenet from their training days: if you are given a wrong order then you ‘stand fast’. Therefore these, possessed of good memory, stayed at the ‘Present’. Others, perhaps of a more pragmatic nature, thought, ‘Well, what he really means is Slope Arms’, and duly went to that position. The remainder, possibly with lesser imagination, thought that as ‘Order Arms’ had been given, they would go to that position, which they did in a variety of ways!
Picture the scene now as the Guard Commander, oblivious of the chaos he has created, marches smartly forward, gives his sword salute and proudly shouts the traditional invitation, “No. 2 Flying Training School Guard of Honour ready for your inspection, SIR!”
The response from the AOC was a little less conventional, “When you get that bloody lot sorted out, I’ll inspect them!”
This caused the Flight Lieutenant to ‘lose his cool’, as with sword in hand , he looks back over his shoulder and mutters, “Christ!”
But he has been told to sort it out, and returns to face his men. After a pause, during which the contortions on his face revealed the torture in his mind, he issued this unique order, “When I say Go, those at the Slope stand fast, those at the Present and at the Order go to the Slope.”
A rather nervous successor was appointed the next day…
CHAPTER 14 – AN AIR STAFF OFFICER
CHAPTER 15 – RULE BRITANNIA!
…One morning, amongst all the other files and pieces of paper arriving on my desk, I found a ‘Posting Notice’. It is strange, on reflection, that I wasn’t summoned to the presence of someone in the hierarchy to be told the news – perhaps they felt a bit sick about it! Translated, the message was that I was posted to RAF Lyneham to fly, initially as a co-pilot, the Britannia, the role of which was worldwide transport operations. Eat your heart out Eddie Lawson!
“Cor! You lucky bugger!”
What was it all to mean? We were left in no doubt by some who had been aquainted with the transport world.
“He’ll be living out of a suitcase most of the time Val, you’ll only see him now and again.”
But it was our lot and we moved towards it…
CHAPTER 16 – THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER
…I now settled into the real routine – Libya, Nicosia, Malta, Bahrain, Gan Island, Singapore – page after page in my log book lists the associated airfields. It did seem that no sooner was I back from one trip than it was time to start another- those words from Manby rang in my ears, “He’ll be living out of a suitcase.” It meant lovely ‘honeymoons’ albeit that some of them were quite short!
CHAPTER 17 – TRAVELS CONTINUE
...Australia did not normally feature in the lives of us lesser mortals, but there was an exercise involving the Army, so lots of slipping and night flying were involved – not the métier of ‘The Country Club’ It was quite an arduous ten days – and that is all that it took to get from Lyneham to Adelaide via Perth and back to base. From Gan to Perth took ten hours and was very marginal on fuel, given our full load of passengers. In fact the Perth airfield was a military base to the north and my abiding memory of it was the pitch blackness of the night with just the ‘side of the runway’ lights (no fancy lead-in illumination for the Royal Australian Air Force) and not a glimmer from the surrounding countryside.
CHAPTER 18 – OIL ON TROUBLED WATERS
The only change to that original pattern was that the East African launch point became Nairobi – another sign of political tension? The change came towards the end of our stint – we flew back home on 12th January – not a Christmas tree in sight!…
CHAPTER 19 – ANOTHER GROUND JOB
…A couple of months later there was a nasty shock for the Berry household. A feature of Service life in those years was the ‘unaccompanied tour’. Many overseas bases were not equipped for accommodating families – or perhaps it was undesirable, for military reasons, for them to be present. The island of Gan had been mentioned a couple of times. It was manned by the unaccompanied for logistic reasons. Labuan, an island off the northwest coast of Borneo, was ‘men only’ for strategic reasons – it was ‘Confrontation’ time in the Far East. Out of the blue, with barely two years captain time completed, I was posted to the latter for the standard period of one year.
CHAPTER 20 – BACK TO BRITANNIAS
The Movements staff, who will be attending to the load, push a set of steps to the rear door of the aircraft. Tradition dictates that they do not mount these yet. They wait for the Air Quartermaster to open the door, from inside the aircraft, and descend the steps to hand over the necessary paperwork and brief the Movements Officer on the requirements.
With the engines stopped, aircraft exterior lights extinguished, the steps in position, the scene is calmer now - though the grinding of the ground power unit does not allow complete peace.
The Movers wait for the door to open .. it stays shut. They wait patiently. Minutes tick by .. something is clearly wrong. The officer leads the way up the steps, and the door is opened from the outside. The Movements team step into the aircraft .. no Air Quartermaster .. the passenger/freight cabin is deserted.
"He must be on the flight deck," volunteers the officer.
He moves up the cabin, past the lashed down freight and opens the flight deck door. No one .. all five crew seats are empty. There is a double click to his right .. he looks down .. it is the electrical panel and he sees two switches rotating, unaided, from the 'Flight' position to 'Ground'.
It is the 'Marie Celeste' revisited - the aircraft has flown to Akrotiri so many times that, on this occasion, it has got there all by itself!
The Movements officer rushes down the cabin and the steps and grabs the radio telephone in his Land Rover. He struggles to control his voice as he calls his superior, the Senior Air Movements Officer.
"6543 - just landed - taxied in - but there's no-one on board!!!
"Well, there wouldn't be - the crew are up here in the Transit Lounge bar having their wind-down beers..."
CHAPTER 21 – A LITTLE DIFFICULTY
The engines looked good, brakes off and the aircraft started its trundle down the runway. Trundle is an apt word, for the Britannia was always particularly slow to accelerate in these tropical conditions. It was not unusual, therefore, for the level of anxiety on the flight deck to rise as the runway length was gradually being eaten up. It was unusual, indeed unheard of, for events to progress as they did.
The captain began to express doubts about the aircraft being able to get airborne in the amount of runway remaining. The pitch of his voice rose as his doubt increased and that uncertainty reached a point for him to decide to abandon the take-off. What had happened was a first because never before had a Britannia captain had sufficient doubt of his calculated take-off performance to take this dramatic step…
CHAPTER 22 – VERY MATURE STUDENT
…Your Majesty, I would very much appreciate being able to rejoin your Royal Air Force. I have missed the way of life enormously and would love to be back.
Your humble servant…
CHAPTER 23 – BACK IN!
...I find myself a little short of amusing incidents during this Hercules tour; perhaps this is a psychological block An occasion that I do recall was when the squadron was due to be presented with a trophy. The ‘big boys’ had done well with their parachuting accuracy and the like and the Air Officer Commanding was going to present the trophy. A parade rehearsal was called for and this would be led by the CO, Wing Commander NH. He was a likeable man, perhaps a little older than his ‘whiz kid’ fellow Wing Commanders; this showed with his demeanour being, shall I say ‘straight laced’.
With that consumed, accompanied by social chat, we boarded the CO’s car and proceeded to the hangar. The Station Commander ushered me to the small rostrum and the parade gave the ‘General Salute’. Wing Commander NH marched towards me, halted and smartly saluted;
“No. 70 Squadron ready for your inspection, Sir.”
I return the salute and replied, “Thank you Norman.”
My Squadron Commander's face is a picture illustrating inward torment. Should he stop the charade and give this Flight Lieutenant a ‘bollocking’ for addressing his Wing Commander by his first name … in front of the Station Commander … or would it be best to carry on. He decided on the latter course!
Nice chap, Norman…
CHAPTER 24 – BRITANNIA MAGIC – ONCE MORE!
HUPRA stands for Hung Up Parachutist Rescue Assembly. It was seen that it might be possible for a parachutist to exit the aircraft and when the point was reached for the ripcord to be pulled by the taut static line, it would not pull out and he would be dangling on the end of the line – ‘hung up’! The HUPRA would be brought into action. This was another parachute with fittings that would allow it to be looped through the shackles on the aircraft end of the static lines which ran along a substantial fore and aft cable.
“When all is set, take the shears and cut the cable.”
On the trials, with a ‘no panic’ anticipated situation, it took a superhuman, pumped up effort, by a very fit Test Team member, to sever the cable. I can picture that parachutist being trailed through the air for a very long time whilst some, less than muscular, Air Loadmaster nibbled away at the half inch thick cable…
CHAPTER 25 – THOSE THAT CAN, DO – THOSE THAT CAN’T, TEACH
...Such were the advances in ‘Man Management’ that my posting was discussed with me.