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The Service Years (part 09)

by johntojock

Contributed by 
johntojock
Location of story: 
Britain
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2763939
Contributed on: 
20 June 2004

The first day's work at Edzell was pretty tough, especially after that nightmare rail journey, twenty four hours before. However, after a 'cuppa char and a wad', Jock managed to scribble a note to Gracie with the good news that he was now only 40 miles from home?
It seemed that every time Jock was posted, it was to a different Command. From original Training Command, to the Fleet Air Arm, to Bomber Command, to Flying Training. The longest spell being with Coastal Command. But now, after a sojourn with Transport Command, the future looked rosy with Maintenance Command - AND back in Scotland! Each of those postings required a completely different attitude of mind, due to the different requirements of each Command, from the ability to concentrate on academic technical studies, to dashing around refuelling and servicing aircraft in the shortest possible time. Repairing damaged aeroplanes, whether due to flying accidents or enemy action, called for a more thorough application of skills to ensure no dissatisfied customers! RAF Edzell was in the latter class, but an even higher degree of application, coupled with a full knowledge of Maintenance Procedures, was demanded. All in all, Jock found great job satisfaction in this extremely challenging business. It was one of Jock's best postings in his RAF career to date.
The countryside was beautiful, the village was idyllic - and all three pubs passed muster - 'Jock's Luck' was at its peak here! He was permitted to 'Live Out' of camp and promptly sent for Gracie and young Master Iain. A bedsit was obtained in High Street, Edzell village, thus ensuring a much needed break for them both. More good fortune was to follow, Jock was promoted to Sergeant and automatically a member of the 'Sergeants' Mess'.
Just to maintain the balance, an event of dubious fortune occurred - a contingent of WAAFs was posted to 'Main Site', Jock's 'patch'! Later a very tragic (and to Jock, personally, very traumatic) accident was to bring 'Jock's Luck' into its proper perspective.
In the meantime, things were going pretty good!
In common with most Technical Senior NCOs, Jock had had no previous experience of dealing with the 'Fair Sex' in Service life. However, the experience was far from unpleasant. The girls were mostly Flight Riggers or Flight Mechanics, and completely dedicated. Out on the drome in all weathers, including snowstorms and howling gales, they matched their male counterparts blow for blow. As far as Jock was concerned, this particular bunch of WAAFs nailed the lie of 'Service Groundsheets'! They worked hard, enjoyed their leisure and were certainly ambassadors of the 'Women's Cause'.
The 'tragic accident' mentioned above was indelibly marked in Jock's mind - even to this day. 'BD 686' was a twin-engined Armstrong Whitworth 'Whitley' night bomber. A high-wing monoplane with two Armstrong-Siddley 'Tiger' radial engines. The 'Whitley' design was virtually obsolete before World War II began. With large, deep chord mainplanes, she had a massive 'lift' area, also a very large tailplane and elevators. The two 'Tiger' engines just did not have the 'oomph' to excuse anything but the most judicious flying skills.
'BD 686' had lain in the hangar for six to seven months awaiting various spares necessary to complete all the mandatory modifications. The last modification involved work on the tail unit, including dismantling and re-assembling the elevators with their Trimming Tabs (a device to assist the pilot in operating the massive elevators). Jock had detailed two of his best Riggers for this task - L.A.C. 'Paddy' Peoples and L.A.C.W. Agnes Lothian. Both were excellent technicians and completely dedicated.
Eventually, the day arrived when 'BD 686' was wheeled out ready for 'Air Test'. She was topped up with high-octane fuel and the engines started and ground tested under the eagle eyes of Fitter 2E Corporal Hewitt. As soon as the Form 1800 was cleared by the signatures of all who worked on her, the Test Pilot, Ft/Lt. Lennie, was advised and duly appeared to take her up.
"She all O.K., Sergeant?" queried Fl/Lt. Lennie.
"Yes, Sir, all buttoned up and signed up." replied Jock.
"How many coming aboard?" asked Mr Lennie.
"Total of six, Sir, including us."
"Good Sergeant, let's get cracking."
Flight Lieutenant Lennie made himself comfortable in his bucket seat and started engines. Jock was seated in the co-pilot's seat and, in the middle of securing his 'Sutton Harness' when he felt a tap on his shoulder It was the armourer L.A.C. Reffell. "You promised me the next flight, Sarge!" Jock looked at the pilot for his agreement, received the O.K. and yielded his seat to the young armourer. Jock then joined Corporal Hewitt on the apron, ordered 'Chocks Away' and watched BD 686 taxy towards the far end of the runway.
Turning to go back into the hangar, Jock suddenly heard the anxious voice of Corporal Hewitt, "Sarge! Sarge! Something's wrong, she's not going to make it!" Jock wheeled round to see the 'Whitley' desperately clutching at the sky to try and get properly airborne. Jock waited that one long second to see if she would assume that flying position, so peculiar to 'Whitleys' - nose down, tail high (even in normal flying position). It was not to be.

The huge wings gave a convulsive shudder and BD 686 stalled into the pine woods between the River Esk and Edzell village with a sickening explosion! There were no survivors.

Sergeant Woods, Jock's opposite number, immediately impounded the Form 1800 (the one previously signed by all the ground crew) and handed it over to Squadron Leader Ling, the Chief Engineering Officer.
Twenty four hours later Jock was informed he was confined to the Sergeants' Mess until a Court of Inquiry was convened, or the Commanding Officer authorised 'Release Without Prejudice' - whichever was the sooner. The 'Release' came within five days after the crash - in time for Jock to take charge of his Flight for Flight Lieutenant Lennie's Military Funeral.
In due course, the Court of Inquiry sat and lasted for three days. Everyone involved in any work at all on the BD 686 was required to make a statement and sign as to its validity. Two weeks later, Jock was ordered to the Station Adjutant's Office, told to 'Stand At Ease' then offered a chair by the 'Adj.' Fl/Lt. Beaton.
"Well, Sergeant, no doubt you will be glad to see this whole affair come to an end. I'm happy to tell you it's all over and you are now free to resume normal duties."
"Thank you, Sir." said Jock, with ill-concealed relief. "But, what was the final outcome, as far as I am concerned?"
Fl/Lt. Beaton smiled as he replied, "The official statement ends - .......'accordingly, the case is discontinued - in the face of the evidence'!" "Off the record, Sergeant, your version of events before and up to the accident, was supported by all the other independent statements. You have been exonerated and your Service Documents remain clean. Dismiss, Sergeant, and congratulations!"
Gracie and young Iain had returned to Dundee the day after the accident, so that night it was first bus home for Jock, even if it meant an early rise for the first bus back!
Despite all the trauma, Edzell had been a good posting. Challenging work, good comradeship and only minimal enemy activity.
Some said it was all pre-arranged, others felt it was purely coincidental, but the leading 'players' in the 'BD 686 Affair' were all posted to various units in a remarkably short space of time. L.A.C. 'Paddy' Peoples and L.A.C.W. Agnes Lothian stayed on at Edzell and, Jock heard later, married each other. (Nice people and ideally suited to each other, thought Jock on hearing the news). Last on the list was Jock himself, posted to RAF Henlow, Beds. Probably as an instructor thought Jock! There was, however, a curious instruction on the Travel Warrant - 'Report to the R.T.O. at Dundee West Railway Station before proceeding to final destination.'

As instructed, Jock presented himself to the R.T.O. (Railway Transport Officer) to be informed - 'Your destination is no longer Henlow. You are to be attached to No. 305 F.T.U.' "Not another bloody Flying Training School!" Jock thought to himself. The R.T.O. continued - "This is actually a unit of the SOVIET AIR FORCE!" (Had 'Jock's Luck' finally collapsed?)
"Do you know where Errol is, Sergeant?" (Can't be I've misheard him?)
"Would you care to repeat that, Sir?"
"Certainly, E.R.R.O.L." the R.T.O. spelled it out!
'Jock's Luck' had certainly not deserted him - Errol was scarcely twelve miles form his home in Dundee!
For the first four weeks, Dundee may as well have been in the Arctic Circle! 305 FTU was a Top Security Unit and 'Other Ranks' were not allowed off camp. However, eventually, certain restrictions were lifted and Jock was, once again, permitted to 'Live Out' off camp. There were only a handful of RAF personnel attached to the Soviet Unit - a Flight Sergeant, Fitter Engineer an Admin. Sergeant - 'Tubby' Boot, a Wireless/Radio Servicing - Sergeant Jim Bagley and Jock's opposite number - Sergeant 'Sweeney Todd' Slaughter. These Senior NCOs were ably supported by a mixed bag of Fitters and Riggers, plus two civilian technicians from an aircraft firm known as 'Cunliffe-Owen'. This complement of airmen was officered by - Ft/Lt. Currie (later Sqd/Ldr.) and a brace of Flying Officers, both of whom were first class pilots.

The Soviet half of the set-up was really cosmopolitan! Starting with their Commanding Officer - Lieutenant Colonel Korotkov, then - Chief Pilot Polasukhyun. The Engineering Officer was Lieutenant Klemanov, a tall blonde gentleman with a smattering of English. Then followed three real 'odd-balls' -
F/Lt. Shank (RAF) English - Interpreter?
F/Lt. Taudy (RAF) Czechoslovak - Interpreter
Section Officer Kudryavtsev - Interpreter?? This lady was, allegedly, part Scottish, part Russian?? After this came an assortment of Soviet pilots ranging from Muscovites to Mongolians. These pilots were posted back to their units on completion of training and a fresh lot brought in.
( Note - There was a certain Colonel Kudryav known to be a KGB agent, operating in the U,S,A, after the WW ll ? )
The scheme was intended to teach pilots to handle a fairly new and secret fast twin-engined, day bomber - the 'Albemarle'. This aircraft was manufactured by a company known as A.W. Hawkesley in Hucclecote, Glos. The name of the company was a contraction of 'Hawker-Siddeley' and 'Armstrong-Whitworth'. The concept being to produce an aeroplane entirely from U.K. materials, therefore, not depending on imports. The scheme was not successful for several reasons. Firstly, the aircraft did not live up to its expectations. It was too slow for a 'Fast Low-Level Day Bomber'. It was not easy to maintain/service. On completion of training, the Soviet crews took the aircraft they had trained on back to Moscow, supposedly to bolster the Soviet Air Force's pathetic bomber capacity. The route back to Moscow, with the minimum risk of enemy fighter attack, was due North from Scotland to the most northerly point in Norway, thence directly South East into Moscow. On top of all this, the Soviet aircrews were not up to the same basic standard as their RAF counterparts.
Somehow, despite the tight security, information/rumours filtered down to Jock and his comrades, to the effect that, on arrival, the 'Albemarles' were stripped of the Engines and Instruments and the airframes burnt! How much truth was in that was debatable - but Jock could see some sense in it! After some time the 'Albemarles' were replaced by De Havilland 'Mosquitoes' - a completely different story!
The 'Mosquito' was the best all-round aircraft of its day and the Soviets knew it.
The 'Albemarle' was relegated to the role of Glider 'Tug' and participated in the 'D-Day Landings' and the airborne attack on Arnhem, with little improvement in its performance!
All in all, the RAF and their Soviet comrades got along very well together. Jock and Capt. Polasukhyn had several test flights together, also Lt. Klemanov and Jock struck up a good rapport.
A new phrase began infiltrating into the Serviceman's vocabulary about this period - 'Second Front'? Sounded ominous!
Sure enough - "All 305 Senior NCOs report to the Station Orderly Room!"
Jock, in common with Sergeants Boot, Slaughter and Bagley, was subjected to a 100% medical check by the Station M.O.
"O.K., Sergeant, ingrowing toenails to be corrected, a few fillings from the dentist and you'll be 'Fighting Fit' for the 'Second Front' before the end of the month!"
The M.O. must have been a prophet as well as a doctor. By the end of the month Jock was on his way to No. 1 Air Casualty Clearing Station, RAF St. Mawgan, Cornwall - could have been a lot worse!
By this time, 'Second Front' was on everybody's lips from Joe Stalin down to the newest A.C.2 in the RAF. Accordingly, it didn't take much to grasp the full implications of '.......Casualty Clearing' embodied in the title of Jock's latest posting!
The Allied High Command were convinced that a 'Second Front' would incur tremendous loss of life and limb by the invading forces, therefore, it was of paramount importance that Casualty Evacuation Operations functioned with nothing less than 100% efficiency.
The blend of RAF personnel at St. Mawgan confirmed High Command's philosophy - a high percentage of 'Regulars' interlaced with 'Hostilities Only' men of three or four years Active Service, indicated the emphasis placed on the strategy.
In addition to RAF types from 'Servicing Commandos' there were Army boys from 'Combined Ops' and even a few 'odd bods' from 'Intelligence'. Once again, Jock renewed old acquaintances, some from as far back as the old 'square-bashing' days at Uxbridge in 1937.
Precisely what specialised function Jock and his new found oppos were supposed to perform was never revealed - apart from the ground crews inbred creed of 'Keep 'em Flying'.
The station itself was brand new with a 'Domestic End' of camp in pristine condition. The Sergeants' Mess was small but adequate with reasonable food - under the circumstances. There was even a small bar with drinkable beer, plenty of gin and the occasional bottle of Scotch.
After the usual melee of getting such a motley crew sorted out and assigned specific duties, Jock found himself in charge of 'Blue Site' on the far side of the drome and towering above the tiny hamlet of St. Mawgan-in-Pyder which nestled in the valley below.
'Blue Site' had been well prepared with four 'Hard Standings' immediately adjacent to the perimeter track and each capable of accommodating six large aircraft. Ground crews started accumulating and, in a remarkably short space of time, 'Blue Site' reached full strength, complete with three Corporals.

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