My Service At MH (1959/60)

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Story and photo kindly contributed by Ray Blake

Members of Signals Section, RAF Martlesham Heath 1960 • Back Row (L to R): SAC Brian Dollemore, SAC Ray Blake, SAC ‘Robbo’ Robinson, LAC Unknown, LAC ‘Curly’ White • Front Row (L to R): SAC Barry Moggs, LAC Roger Cable, SAC Pete Allen • Photo taken in Barrack Block A

I served at Martlesham as a TPO [telecommunications operator] from April 1959 until October 1960.

At that time the Station was home to HQ 11 GP, the Battle of Britain Flight, 612 Volunteer Gliding Squadron and was also home to the Fighter Command reserve motor vehicle pool. During the Summer of 1960 the Station played host to Birmingham University Air Squadron for 4 – 5 months and a Territorial Army summer camp for two weeks; two weeks that will live in the memories of those of us who were present for the deterioration of the messing standards for the period in question.

As a posting Martlesham was a doddle. ‘Bull’ [formalities] was virtually non existent,
apart from bull night once a week and AOC’s once a year. The Station Commander during my time was a Squadron Leader whose name I cannot recall – a true officer and gentleman. The Senior Warrant Officer was WO Green, who was firm but fair and a demon footballer in the Station Headquarters seven-a-side team.

Being in Signals I was a shift worker and as a consequence rarely got clobbered for Guard or Fire Picket duties. The one downside however, was the fact that the Comcen operated 24/7, so consequently on a three watch system we did work every third weekend. My trade as a TPO was at that time almost entirely manned by National Servicemen. By 1960 National Service was being phased out and the Airforce was having difficulties in recruiting. Consequently our trade was undermanned and to ease the situation it was decided, after analysing our daily signals traffic flow, that our night shift should become a sleeping watch. This entailed the duty Watch Keeper from 11pm to 8am being allowed to go to bed in his billet and displaying above his bed a sign indicating the incumbent below was the “Duty TPO” and could be wakened and summoned to attend the Comcen in the event of any urgent event signals wise. Or, as our dry witted Signals Officer put it – “a call out in the middle of the night will be one of two things, either an incoming signal re. a Purple Airway (a royal flight) on the morrow, or the outbreak of World War 3. Fortunately we saw many of the former but never the latter!

From a personal point of view life as an Airman at Martlesham was relatively civilised, as long as you appeared for duty at the allotted place and time, did your work and did not complain, at the end of each working day your time was your own to do and go where and when you pleased. Of particular interest and popularity with the Signals Section was the public house whose name I can’t recall at Waldringfield [The Maybush] and of course the Red Lion just off the Station on the A12. If I remember correctly, the walls of the Red Lion were adorned with Original Giles Cartoons. Are they still?

At this period of its existence Martlesham was no longer a front-line airfield and as a consequence not a lot of flying took place on a daily basis, just test flights a couple of times a week for the Spitfires and the Hurricanes of the BBF and the odd flight or two of the Station Comm Flight Ansons; a pair of ancient, but immaculate T21s.The highlight of each month’s flying would be the Group Station Commanders Conference which would result in a line up of Meteor F8s, T7s, NF11s and on one occasion a gleaming all black Avro Lincoln of Signals Command. On another occasion the WRAF contingent at nearby Bawdsey Radar were due to be visited by the Duchess of Gloucester who transited via Martlesham and she arrived in the Fairey Rotodyne.

Another notable event was the demise of a newly refurbished Spitfire at the hands of an ex Battle of Britain Pilot, who was training to fly the aircraft in the then annual September 15th Flypast over London. The Pilot in question had completed the obligatory one week’s flying of the BBF Chipmunk and took the Spitfire up for the first time, his first couple of circuits were quite uneventful, but as he gradually got the feel of the Aircraft he started to throw it about as was the norm for Pilots flying a Spit for the first time in a few years, After about 25 minutes he did a couple of circuits and finally turned in to land, and to the horror of all of us watching we could see that he had not lowered the undercarriage at this point we observed a frantic figure rushing out onto the balcony of the Tower and firing off a red flare. Alas too late; with a mighty crash the Spit p!onked down and sped along the runway in a great shower of sparks and smoke and shedding bits and pieces of newly refurbished Aircraft in profusion. Needless to say the Pilot (a serving Group Captain) did not get to fly the Spitfire again.

Another incident I recall happened one Sunday afternoon. I was the weekend duty TPO and having nothing to do I had wandered across the road from the Signals Office to the Fire Station. I was having a cup of tea with the duty Fireman when a Snowdrop [RAF police officer] rushed in from the Guardroom next door, to inform us that a Glider with an ATC Cadet on solo had crash landed in a tree at the foot of the garden of a house on the A12 adjacent to the airfield. The Fireman looked at the the Snowdrop and asked “and”, to which he replied “get your Fire Engine round there pronto and you (pointing at me) can go with him”. Having been ordered by a Corporal, we two SACs climbed into the Fire Tender and sped off of the airfield and with bell clanging charged about half a mile down the A12, where we could clearly see the aforementioned glider sitting about 50 foot in the air atop of a huge tree. On arrival the Fireman looked at me and and said “A lot of use we are going to be. This is a crash foam tender. It doesn’t even have a step ladder, let alone a turntable escape ladder.” At that point the penny dropped and I then understood his initial “and”. After a short conversation with the Householder we prevailed upon him to phone the Ipswich Fire Brigade, who duly obliged and turned up in an appliance with a nice long ladder and rescued the very tearful young Cadet.

Overall life as a young airman had its moments, some bordering on the tragic and others pure farce, but for me Martlesham was a great posting and holds a large number of very happy memories.