Arthur’s Tale – Part II

Because an airfield is so big we all had bicycles to get from place to place quickly.  One day i was riding around the perimeter track in the dark to go to work on late duty and a voice out of the dark screamed at me to stop.  It turned out to be a runway safety officer, who proceeded to give me a good ticking off for passing a perimeter stop light.  He took my name and number and gave me a warning that if I ever did it again I would be charged.

Have you missed out on the previous post?

I did not know that the small red light at the side of the perimeter track was a stop light, but it appears that when aircraft are due to land on the runway, the perimeter track on the runway approach is closed until after aircraft have landed, and this little red light signalled that the approach was closed.  No-one had bothered to tell me, but ignorance is no alibi in the service.

One day I was detailed to go to Lincoln with a convoy of three lorries to go to a factory to collect new biscuit mattresses, then on to another factory to collect barrack room furniture, and then on to collect blankets.  When we had finished loading there was no room for all of us to travel in the cabs so two of us had to travel on top of the loaded lorries.  When we got back we had to offload, quite a long day but I really enjoyed the day out.  

What always puzzled me was that if there was to be a raid all personnel were confined to camp so that they could not talk about it.  But the fact that we were confined to camp meant that locals knew that a raid was taking place.  The prevalent wind was eastern so that the east facing runway 2-4 was most often used for takeoff and landing and that runway took aircraft over our billets so that we would hear the aircraft taking off in the evening and coming back often at dawn.  We all got into the habit of counting the aircraft out and then counting them back in, and we would know how many aircraft had been lost on any raid.

We would often go to work in the morning and as we cycled around the perimeter track see quite a number of aircraft in various stages of damage.  Holes in the fuselage, propellers damaged, undercarriage damaged or shot away, some aircraft tipped up on their nose, or pancaked flat on the runway.  Very often aircraft would be landed on the grass verge to avoid damage to the runway.  Then we would go to work, and by the time the day was finished all or almost all the aircraft would be repaired and lined up at dispersal points ready for takeoff, a credit to the mechanics, fitters, electricians and airforce workers and armourers.  All we had to do was supply the spare parts and re order to replace supplies.

As we cycled back to billets for tea we would see the aircraft looking as good as new being bombed up ready for that night’s raid.

The worst night was when an aircraft had had a fire on board, and aircrew were burned.  To see them lifted from the aircraft on their return badly burned, screaming in agony and being taken into the station hospital for treatment,

On the nights that we were allowed out we would go down to the local pub and drink the health of any aircrew who had died or who had not returned.  They were referred to as having gone for a Burton.  A burton was a strong beer.  Nobody took death seriously, it did not pay to do so.  It happened so frequently among aircrew that if anyone took it too seriously they would not be able to carry on working.  It did not pay to think too much, it made life easier if we did not.

On one occasion when we were on stand down we had a mock attack, and we had to defend the airfield against a land attack by the army, apparently training to learn lessons in case of an invasion by German forces.

At about this time I was told that I was to be transferred to Eastbourne to undergo training to be a storekeeper.  I went via London and called in at home before proceeding to the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne.  I thought that going to a hotel would be a new experience after being in digs, but the hotel had been stripped of all its furniture and carpets, and consisted of a series of empty rooms.  Some had been equipped as classrooms, some as offices, and the rest had four single beds to a room as billets for us to sleep in,  we had our meals in the dining rooms but dished up by air force chefs.  We had to wear slippers only in the hotel to avoid damaging the bare floors.

We were split up into classes of 20, and spent the first day learning the strict code of discipline imposed in classroom procedure, and were nominated for duty teams on the roof, aircraft spotting.  Being on the coast we were subject to German fighter planes swooping in at sea level, dropping bombs and machine gunning the street, before flying out again at sea level in sneak attacks.  With our knowledge of aircraft recognition we were able to warn our personnel to take cover and signal the authorities although the army Bofors guns on the beach would react at the same time.


On one occasion a German bomber did bomb the local Woolworth stores during daylight killing many and trapping others.  We were asked to send fifty volunteers in the evening to help dig out the bodies, but when we arrived the rescue squads told us that they had the situation under control and our services were not required.

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