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The Tent Saga and Other Memories

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mr K. O. Wells
Location of story: 
Wiltshire, Egypt and Essex
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 September 2005

This story has been added to the site by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk on behalf of Mr K. O. Wells. The author has given his permission and fully understands the site's terms and conditions

The Tent Saga

Around the time of D-Day I was posted to R.A.F. Netheravon in Wiltshire, and upon arriving we found that the billet hut was still occupied by other Servicemen who were due to move on elsewhere. For some reason (I don’t know what) they were held back for a couple of days. So, there was no place to go. However, we were directed to a pile of Bell Tents which needed to be erected and who got the job? We did.

Well, that being so, we set to on the first one which was to be our billet. After a few false starts we got it up and then had to collect our beds and install them. The next thing to do was sort out who was going where and where to stack our kit (there was quite a lot of kit).

Having got ourselves sorted, we were then ordered to put up the other three, as there were more ‘Erk’s’ who were posted here within the next day or two. So we set to it again with a will. Sure enough, as day light was turning to night we got them up in record time, thus we could now relax and fall into our beds, well pleased with our efforts.

In the middle of the night there was an almighty rain storm which woke us up. We suddenly realised that the guy ropes must be slackened off, so some of us rushed out having first got some sort of rainwear. We braved the elements, got our ropes done and went back to bed. When dawn came we got up to a beautiful sunny day when someone shouted ‘Look at the other tents!’ or words to that effect. Oh boy, they were flat on the ground. The guy ropes had held, but the centre pole had gone right through the top cone. We had three useless tents. Needless to say we all got a ‘rocket’ from some N.C.O. whom I can’t remember, but that was the last we heard of it because the hut had become available a couple of days later. This meant that those three other tents were not required after all. In the end we all had quite a laugh about it and as you can see I have never forgotten it.

During the whole episode there were some words I did not know were in the English Language. When we saw what had happened to those other tents the next morning, there were even more words which would be quite unprintable in any story. Due to the passage of time (sixty years) some of the facts of this story may have become blurred, but the essence is there as near as can be expected. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

A Short’s Story

This is a short story which concerns ‘shorts’, as worn by troops in the Middle East. In 1946 I was posted to an R.A.F. station in Egypt. The incident I refer to happened to one of the fitters working on a Dakota Aircraft. The first I knew about it was when I could hear shouts of anguish. When I turned around to where the shout was coming from, there hanging his head out of one of the cockpit windows was this chap (an airframe fitter) with the cockpit full of what looked like fog, but was in fact a fire extinguisher discharge. It seemed that for reasons best known to the chap himself, he had set it off and the jet of contents was blowing right up his shorts leg. He was crying out because he was being refrigerated, or at least parts of his lower regions were.

Of course, everyone just stood there laughing fit to burst. Nothing could be done to help him until the extinguisher had finished, by which time it was too late anyway. He got back to ground non the worse, but he was not very well pleased with us as you can imagine. But, to us it was amusing. We calmed down eventually and normal relations were soon to re-cement with the unfortunate fitter who casts doubts to our parentage-if you know what I mean.

Prelude to Victory

This story begins about two weeks or so before Operation Varsity, which was the ultimate operation to bring about the ending of WW2. I was stationed at an airfield in Essex and there was a lot of preparations going on with Horsa Gliders doing trial landings en-mass. On one of these landings these gliders were landing in close formation, which left little room for mistakes. Some gliders were left with the choice of landing with crashing into the one in front or ‘leap-frogging’ over it. This gave those of us watching breathtaking moments. One glider did this very well, only to land with the main wheels in a slit trench which tore it off. It then landed perched on top of a large tree stump. Only the pilot was on board. When I got to the site he was calmly collecting his maps off the floor, non the worse off.

When the dust had settled (so to speak) I noticed that one of the undercarriage legs had burst open and exposed the sponge rubber filling which was there to take the force of the landing. It was noticed that this would make good bath sponges. Needless to say quite a lot of us ‘Erks’ equipped ourselves with this sponge.

Some two weeks or so later all these gliders were formed up and down one side of the main runway with a like number of Halifax Four Engined Ex-Bombers, which were to tow these gliders off on the day of Operation Varsity. This was a day I will remember forever as when they took off we all wondered how many would service the battle. This was a very sobering thought, but at the same time it was awesome to watch and was completed with only one hiccup, when a tug Halifax had an engine fault and had to abort. Out of necessity there was a spare tug to take its place. It was fortunate that the engine fault was seen before it had started the take off run.

The outcome of this operation is now history as it was the final operation and did bring about the end of WW2, but at what coast in human lives cannot be told. We could only hope at that moment that those who gave their lives did so in the hope that it was ‘worth it’.

May the lord our God grant them the peace they so richly deserved. We who were left back here on the airfield should, and indeed would do so well to remember their passing.

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