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Civilian Sparks in Wartime RAF

by ruthpeplow

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mr Ward
Location of story: 
RAF Peplow
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 January 2004

I worked as a civilian electrician at Eaton upon Tern's RAF Peplow, renamed HMS Godwit, after the Fleet Air Arm took over in 1945. I was a member of a gang of electricians looking after the runway lights. We were mostly on call 24 four hours a day, 7 days a week and were responsible for changing the runway lights whilst crews were away flying, when the aircraft came into land you had an optical illusion that they were coming straight at you till at the last moment they turned away, it was not a nice feeling. Another hair-raising job was climbing on top of the hangars to replace the red lamps, the roof used to creak and give as you walked across.

All around the airfield there was overhead wiring to feed lights guiding the aircraft onto the runways. Once after a storm some wires dropped onto a barbed wire fence and didn't blow the fuses so unfortunately electrocuted some cows.

Horsa and Hamlicar gliders were used for training, they landed full of troops who then attacked the firing range which was held by the RAF regiment. One day we were amused to see the battle interrupted mid way for tea and cakes ! I can only remember one accident with the gliders. When landing they came in steeply then levelled off to break the speed but this one came in with a long glide hitting the ground hard breaking the wheels off. This turned the glider up into the air and it came back down, and being wood, it crumpled up. It was full of men but luckily no-one was really hurt. The break-down men chopped it up with axes, loaded it onto a 'Queen Mary' (a lorry used for transporting aircraft without their wings on) and took it to the dump at the far end of the airfield. I seem to remember a Wellington crashing in that area and also a Whiley bomber which after being repaired was taken up for a trial flight but when it landed the undercarraige collapsed.

One day we were in the Operations block putting up 10 fluorescent lights onto a solid concrete ceiling, no joke with only hand tools, when they had a mock gas attack. We had not been warned about this and did not have our gas masks with us, it was a kind of tear gas and was a horrible experience. It could be very dangerous too when the gliders were flying, the planes that towed them up released the gliders then were supposed to drop the tow ropes in a designated area but a lot strayed.

We did not realise at the time that these glider men were training for D-Day. The Battle of Britain pilots used to come to Peplow for a rest from operational duty and were used to train the pilots. They certainly liked to enjoy themselves at weekends !

My mate George Gregory married a local girl and they moved in as squatters in the old sergeants mess for a time before moving to Wales. George and myself helped a Naval Officer build a short wheeled base lorry and trailer caravan so he could go home to Australia by land, I never heard if he succeeded.

I also worked on the airfield at Ollerton when it was being built, they had a hard time draining it. They used a big traction engine each side of the airfield with a large drum underneath and towed a mole drainer about the field. This had a large blade with a round piece of steel at the end which cut through the soil, then the water was drained into large manholes and piped away. At Childs Ercall there was a picture house and near the church there were some Nissen huts which were used to house Lithuanian refugees. The WRENs were billetted in Hinstock Hall.

We used to know where the bombers were going each night but were not allowed to talk about it. Some came back with holes in them which were 'repaired' by having material stuck over them and painted with what was called 'dope' which then went stiff. To simulate crashing into the sea one of the hangars had a Wellington up on blocks and the aircrews practiced getting out onto the floor (which represented the sea) and then into a dinghy within a time limit. The rear gunner had a difficult time getting out and you would hear the instructor saying 'sorry you didn't make it, you are sunk, try again' ! There was also a bombing tutor building, it was great, we had a few goes on it but we never hit anything. It was all done by film and when you pressed to release your imaginary bomb it registered on the film.

The Fleet Air Arm marked out one runway to represent an aircraft carrier and a man with two bats brought the aircraft in as if they were out at sea. Quite a few would have ended up in the sea, one plane did crash and the pilot was killed. The WRENs used to repair the radios then take them up in airspeed Oxfords to test them. One day we were in the control tower when an Oxford burst a tyre as it took off, as control talked to the pilot you could hear the WREN crying in the background. The pilot managed to land by tilting the plane to one side and as the punctured wheel touched the ground the plane swung round a bit, but everything was OK.

The first Lockheed Lightening we saw landed at Eaton, it did seem fast compared to other planes but we were not allowed to go near it. During the RAF time an American B15 landed being unable to get back to his base. It was parked in the middle of the airfield and then we found out why, it still had a load of bombs on board ! a special team came and made them safe. There was some amusement that all the American crew went to the Officers Mess not like our own lads who, when they landed, had to go to their respective messes.

There was a mobile unit at the end of the main runway which sent a signal up the centre of the runway, this guided the pilots in to land. At the other end of the runway there was an angle box on the ground with a green glass and a red glass with a little fan in it. This fan passed in front of the light to make it look as if it was flashing on and off. It could be seen from some distance and if the pilot could see the red part he was too low. It was a very modern system in those days.

Now on a lighter note - I can remember an air display, the highlight of which was a Tiger Moth which was parked on the side of the runway. An old lady went over to it, over the tannoy a voice told her to keep away but she ignored this and boarded the plane. After two attempts she took off and flew round rather precariously then made a horrible landing. The RAF Police then went over to have words with her, 'She' then undressed, it was one of the test pilots in drag !

The Navy had an area by the main office with flag poles, called the Quarter Deck I think, here they used to splice the mainbrace - rum issue - I tasted it, strong stuff indeed !

I think that is all for now, as you see I will never be any good at writing a book but I hope there is a bit of information of some use and interest.

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