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- Royal Air Force
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- 20 June 2004
Bomber Command was a world apart from the Fleet Air Arm. Discipline was much stricter for a start! No wandering down to the 'drome with your oppo to start work - everybody marched - everywhere! Officers and N.C.Os did not seem quite so friendly!
185(B) Squadron was a no-nonsense professional fighting unit and, along with her sister squadron 106((B), proved this fact in the fateful years to come! Both squadrons were equipped with Fairey 'Battles', low wing monoplanes of monocoque construction, powered by Rolls Royce 'Merlin' engines. Originally designed as fast low level bombers, they were built like tanks and their 'all-up' weight was just too much for their early 'Merlins. To young Jock there was something disquieting about the serious mien of the Officers and N.C.Os - almost as if they knew something ominous?
Despite the grim atmosphere at work, 185 Squadron certainly knew how to relax when the opportunity presented itself. As this was 'peace time', Officers and 'Other Ranks' seldom, if ever, mixed socially. (War would change all that!) Jock and his oppos' most favoured hostelries were the 'Blue Posts' in Stockton or the 'Highland Lad' in Norton. It took several trips to those pubs before Jock realised there was more than alcoholic beverages 'on sale' in such establishments. In any event and A.C.2's salary precluded the sampling of such 'delights'! It was with 185 Squadron that Jock decided to apply for training as Air Gunner. The attractions were considerable!
Firstly, an extra Threepence Per Day after successfully completing the course. Secondly, plenty of opportunity to go flying and last, but by no means least, plenty of good reasons to be 'Excused Fatigues'!
After quite a lot of flying during Air Gunnery practice - including a few 'near things', Jock was advised he would have to wait for his chance to win his 'Flying Bullet?' A major aircrew expansion programme had been launched and Flying Training Schools were being set up all over the country. Accordingly, he was once more on his way - this time to No.13 Flying Training School, R.A.F. Drem, Scotland. Once again, Drem was completely different from the accepted idea of 'squadron life'. Almost the complete station complement were 'old sweats' (which Jock now considered himself to be!)
For the first week or two, complete chaos reigned supreme. Old comrades from far flung squadrons were reunited and fully engrossed in swapping tales of derring do! Also, "Whatever happened to -----?" queries were abundant - "Dinger Bell?" "Oh, he copped it in a 'Wildebeest' of 42 Squadron, somewhere on the North-West Frontier - no survivors." "'Ee were a good lad were old Dinger." - "Paddy Kelly from Dublin?" "He deserted last year but was picked up by the S.Ps and is now a guest of His Majesty at the 'Glass House' in Aldershot!" - "Jock Murgatroyd?" "Borrowed old Jackie Noakes 'Osprey', made a perfect landing - on one wheel and a wing-tip! Got 156 days for it and eventually a pilot's course!" And so on and so on.
However, after the initial reunions were over, this particular bunch of 'old sweats' packed a helluva punch of experience. Between them they knew every nut, bolt and split pin on 'Cheetahs'; 'Kestrels'; 'Pegasus'; 'Merlins' - you name it. 'Oxfords'; 'Ansons'; 'Masters'; 'Wellingtons'; 'Furies'; 'Gladiators' - the Riggers and Airframe Fitters had wet-nursed them all!
Once again, Jock had landed lucky in his posting. Did he have a friend in 'Records-Ruislip?" or - was the 'Marshal of all the World's Air Forces' smiling on him?
Weekend passes - to Dundee - were once more the order of the day, now made all the more pleasant with the frequency of Gracie's company. It was during this spell at Drem that Jock struck up a deep and lasting friendship with a certain Aircraftsman 2nd Class - Anthony Terence Collins!
Terry was the most whimsical, maddest, wildest, kindest erk that Jock ever had the good fortune to meet. At a later date, capricious Fate decided to throw Terry, Jock and Arthur together, with alarming consequences! (Such a trio merit their own legend - suffice to say the only force to break them up was the 'Ultimate' one).
At Drem such a mixed bag of airmen made for good fun with plenty of incidents to swap stories about. Drem was a Flying Training School, therefore, incidents abounded - 'heavy landings', 'ground collisions' and full-blooded 'Prangs!' Jock's sojourn at Drem was short and sweet and apart from the occasional 'Beer Patrol' into North Berwick, only two incidents can honestly merit 'milestone' status.
Firstly, having been re-classified as 'Aircraftsman First Class' earlier in his career, Jock was now commanded to attend the Central Trade Test Board at West Drayton for examination as to suitability for re-classification as - Leading Aircraftsman! This was a career step of major importance and called for concentrated study, plus - 'specialist training' in the barrack room by hardened veterans of previous Trade Tests! - e.g. L.A.C.s Bert Reith, Bill Meikle and A.C.2 Collins (Yes, the same one!) fired questions from all angles every minute of the day! - "Explain the difference between Angle of Attack and Angle of Incidence?" "What is Decalage?" "Where would you find a Stern Post?" "Give a practical test for Duralumin" etc etc.
Deportment was of paramount importance! So Jock was compelled to walk up and down the billet with three or four books balanced precariously on top of his head, whilst answering questions coming rapid fire from all directions. The inquisitors nodding approval or jeering, according to their whim.
The upshot of all this purgatory? Jock passed in Trade Test with flying colours - The world was now his oyster! An extra sixpence per day! An Airscrew Badge on each arm! Look out, Air Marshal Lord Portal, Jock's on his way! The second episode sharply redressed the balance of Jock's good fortune?
The 'lads' were getting a bit fed up with all this work overload. Had they not lost their statutory Wednesday half-day off? Also, the usual Sunday Church Parade (scrounge) had been drastically reduced - in favour of Work! (Seditious rumours maintained all of this was contrary to King's Rules and Regulations!) There was only one plan of action!
A deputation of airmen would approach the C.O. and lodge their complaint. Of course, this would be no disorderly mutinous rabble, No Sir! They would march up to H.Q. in 'Squadron Order' with an L.A.C. in charge. But which L.A.C.? You guessed it! Our newest L.A.C. - Jock Campbell was unanimously elected!
On arrival at the C.O's office, Jock duly 'Dressed Ranks', stood the men 'Properly At Ease' and marched smartly towards the front door - only to be met by the biggest, ugliest, most sadistic looking Flight Sergeant in the Royal Air Force! "Well laddie, what do you want? Straighten your tie! Pull your shoulders back! Do you think you are on some kind of half-holiday?" (that struck right home!) "Speak up laddie, speak up!"
"Yes, Flight Sergeant, we have come to request permission to see the C.O." squeaked young Jock.
"The C.O.? The C.O.?" he roared, as if he were querying some sheep on the other side of the Cheviots. "You mean Squadron Leader Carr? Eh? Eh? Speak up laddie, speak up!" "And what do you mean WE?" Jock permitted himself a discreet right incline - "Stand still when I'm talking to you - you scruffy little man!" (Things were not going too well). The Chiefy's cruel insult paled into insignificance when Jock slowly realised - he was alone. Completely alone and single-handed in front of this raving megalomaniac!
Apparently, the mere mention of Squadron Leader 'Batchy' Carr reduced these veterans of the far flung Empire into wisps of dust and pollen! Only the tall grasses around the aerodrome perimeter were visible! Jock had never felt so vulnerable in all his life!
"Come into my office laddie," said the now almost benign Chiefy, " and let me further your R.A.F. education." A few idols toppled an other lesson learned!
May 1939 and, once more, it was 'Goodbye' to the 'Bills' and 'Knockers' and, sadly, to the ubiquitous Terry Collins! Lucky Jock was, once again, on his way, this time to 224 Squadron, R.A..F. Leuchars - 12 miles from Dundee and Home, with only the old River Tay between him and the only two ladies in his life, Ma and Gracie!
On reporting to the Guardroom, Jock was directed to 224 Barrack Block to unload his kit and further report to the Squadron Orderly Room, out on the actual aerodrome. The route passed by No. 1 Armoured Training School where Jock was suddenly alerted to excited screams of "Johnny! Johnny!" It was L.A.C. Arthur Lyall, Jock's old civvy street buddy and R.A.F. oppo! Needless to say, that evening was spent in the Station NAAFI reminiscing over pints of beer - and pondering over whether the 'Big Show' was far away or not?
224 Squadron was in the process of converting from Avro 'Ansons' to the more modern and sophisticated Lockheed 'Hudsons', along with her sister Squadron - 233, both units being stationed at Leuchars at that time. The 'Hudson' belied its 'Flying Pig' appearance and abundantly proved that during its subsequent Active Service with Coastal Command. Her two Wright 'Cyclone' engines gave her a fair turn of speed for her bulk, and crew comfort was obviously high in the designers' minds as witnessed by the upholstered cabin and built-in toilet! (left over from her original passenger concept?) To the official R.A.F. mind such luxury was unheard of - airmen were never supposed to die in comfort!
Unfortunately, the 'Hudson' had a dorsal gun turret just for'rd of her huge tail unit and - sticking out like a sore thumb - just asking to be shot off! (an extremely worrying feature for the occupant!) With only one other gun fixed for'rd she was pathetically under-armed. Nevertheless, both Squadrons later did yeoman service, patrolling the North Sea, harrying enemy shipping along the Norwegian coast as far as their fuel capacity permitted. However, such sombre thoughts were far from Jock's mind at that particular point in time!
1939 was a brilliant summer, of which both Jock and Arthur took full advantage - over to Dundee at every opportunity, whether weekend passes were available or not! One such weekend, in July of that year, embraced the 'Grand Official Opening' of Dundee's latest dance hall. The 'Empress Ballroom' was launched as 'Dundee's Latest and Best' - and this in a city of over twenty dance halls already!
The Official Opening certainly lived up to its advertising claims, with no less than three full dance bands, including 'Jack Jackson's' and 'Alan Holmes' orchestras. A splendid evening was had by all, and Johnny and Gracie wandered home 'in the wee sma' 'oors o' the mornin''. That was to be the last dance Johnny was to attend for the next six years - where everyone wore 'civvies'.
Towards the end of August that year, disturbing little incidents became obvious to even the most casual observer at R.A.F. Leuchars. Why were the Squadron Armourers appearing more often with belts of real live ammunition around their shoulders? The average erk never bothered to query this change in frequency - after all, armourers like everyone else, did what they were told! Why were the riggers going about painting odd little green squares of 'Gas Detector Paint' on the 'Hudson's' mainplanes?
Someone in the know reckoned that two of the 'Hudsons' had, the day before, flown over placed called Borkum and Sylt. "Where the hell is that?" "Oh, they are a couple of islands off the Kiel Canal!"
Anyway, all will be revealed in a couple of days time - September 3rd, 1939 - when 'Old Nev' would broadcast to the Nation.
"............accordingly, I have to inform you, no such undertaking has been received, consequently, this country is now at war with Germany. May God bless you all. God Save the King!"
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