National Serviceman remembers his First Posting
R. A. F. TOPCLIFFE 1959
Topcliffe, an operational airfield, was a school for Aircrew Navigators, and a very small and compact unit after my experiences at training camps so far. There were proper brick buildings and a much more relaxed and civilised atmosphere than at training camp. There were just eight of us to a barrack room and only weekly inspections, not daily inspections, and we paid cleaning ladies to come and do the bulling for us!
The Section which I had been posted to had less than a dozen people in it including a jovial Sergeant who had just been posted from Swanton Morley near my hometown in Norfolk. We looked after the Control Tower equipment and an ancient radar in a trailer on the airfield. I spent many a cold early morning out there, making mugs of tea for the Controller with filthy mugs, never washed in years. Our main duty seemed to be to start up the huge Lister generator first thing in the morning, cranking it with the cylinders all open and flicking a lever to close them. If it didn’t start, you tried again. If that didn’t work your were completely puffed and stuffed! The radar being valve operated also had a long warm-up sequence and all sorts of tweaks had to be made until the controller was satisfied. After that it seemed to work pretty reliably and was used all day to talk pilots down. We sat back and daydreamed, occasionally taking a trip out to the instrument landing system at the end of the runway, or paying a visit to the control tower to fix some radio fault there.
There was a general panic one day when the AOC’s annual inspection was announced, and a great deal of activity burying surplus equipment and boxes of rifle rounds across the other side of the airfield. One wonders why and if it is still there.
The aircrew always seemed to arrange exercises to Gibraltar or Malta over weekends, so our shift pattern had to include weekends when they did. When they didn’t most of us disappeared off station and went home and the station was deserted.
Sometimes we used to venture into Thirsk or Ripon, but we were always confronted by Teddy Boys and tended to do our socialising in the N.A.A.F.I.
We would have dances on the station and bus in young ladies.
We had an ENSA concert one weekend, but only two of us turned up. Most people had gone home. The disgruntled entertainers gave us one song and some terrible jokes that fell quite flat on us, then offered us a couple of bottles of beer each and gave up.
It was on Guard Duty at Topcliffe that I landed up on a real charge. I was the senior airman on duty that night. I had the rank of Junior Technician which had one stripe and was the equivalent of an army Lance Corporal. Anyway, about midnight the camp patrols all came in to report to me and take a rest on the mattresses in the Guardroom cell. Someone slammed the door and we couldn’t open it without a key. I sat there all night and in the morning when the Duty Officer turned up and called us all out to parade and to raise the flag, I sheepishly told him we needed a key first. I was immediately put on a charge. Later that morning in my best uniform I was marched at the double before the Station CO and my charge read out. He could not stop himself from smiling and clearly saw the comic side of it. He let me off with a fairly mild reprimand.
I was at Topcliffe nearly a year and obtained my Maths ‘A’ level whilst there. There was a very helpful Education Officer and he also tried to help me with ‘A’ level Chemistry. He got some equipment from Cranwell and had a small chemistry Lab set up just for me. I also attended City & Guilds classes in Electronics at Ripon .
Posted to Germany
One day I got a surprise when my CO told me word had come I was “For the boat”, and my Sergeant explained that meant I was to be posted abroad. There was no hint where and I wondered “Why me?”
I had to go to the army hospital at Catterick for a medical and a chest x-ray and in a few weeks was given three weeks leave and told to report to Liverpool Street station in London . On arrival there I sought out the RTO office that all main stations had and reported to the NCO’s there. The first thing they did was to make me stand to attention and scrutinised me from about 12 inches up and down. There followed some criticism about my scruffiness and a few shouted threats, then they checked my written orders and gave me instructions to be at a certain platform at a certain time.
There was quite a crowd of us. Eventually after being moved from platform to platform several times, we were allowed on a long train already very crowded with service families, and we set off on a slow journey to Harwich. It was only now that I discovered we were headed for Germany, but that’s another story.
I can only say of Topcliffe that it was the Tops! Happy days.