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W/O Tim Nelson B.E.M. RAF career & WW2 experiences

by Geoffrey Ellis

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
Geoffrey Ellis
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Tim Nelson B.E.M.
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Royal Air Force
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03 December 2005

I joined up in the RAF 10 June 1935, I was sworn in at West Drayton and I did my ‘square-bashing’ just off West Drayton actually. After that I got posted to Manston on an air-frame course, then I got posted all over place from there, like High Erkell near The Wrekin, and down at St Eval and places like that, and then I got posted to Nassau in the West Indies, which was a lovely posting.

I was there for two years during the end of the war. I had my own ocean-going sloop and rum at sixpence a bottle, what more could wish for? Beautiful fishing, crystal clear waters, swimming and fishing. Got worried there once, I dived off the side of the boat because I was hot and the boat got a drift on, and I had a heck of a job to catch it up. Then I came back home, I got home Christmas eve actually. Which year? 45? Yes, and then I got posted out to Germany, near the Dutch border, Geilenkirchen. And then I was on Canberra BI-8s there, we did DABs bombing and then we did interdicta as well which we slapped the old four guns underneath. We got posted out North Africa, at Idris, training LABs bombing and that. That was lovely up there — the Arabs were flaking out with the heat and I enjoyed it.

Before I went to America I was seconded to Australian Sunderlands No. 10 squadron. I nearly changed over to the Australian Air Force there — cor, I wish I had have done — I could have done, but I didn’t do it, like an idiot. We got bombed out there in the end, and we’d just beached one full of petrol for to do a servicing on it, and they came over and gave it a heck of a raid that night, and they hit the hangar, and that was the end of that lot. We used to do guards on the flying boats, out in the Sound, as well, and one night there I was doing a guard and we had a raid. An incendiary came down, went in the wing, right up against the petrol tank, but they were what-named all round for bullets so they couldn’t leak if they got hit by a bullet. I dived overboard, but it didn’t go up — then I got sent back to St Eval, to my old squadron.

When I was at Plymouth, I had my wife down there and we were living in a hiring up on the Sound. We got bombed out of there. I went down to Devonport, we got bombed out of there and I got buried for a night there. Got out in the morning, yeah, that was quite exciting. Then from there I got posted to the West Indies, and then the other what I told you before happened then.

Came back from Germany and I got posted to Malaya, training the Burmese to fly helicopters. We had Allouette 3s and we went over to Borneo because they had trouble over there with the insurgents, and we were right on the tip of Borneo.
Came back from there and I got posted to Burma, and I was up at Mingaladon and we were training the Burmese Air Force flying ordinary aircraft. We had one old Spitfire there. Chunky King who was the C.O. of 1 squadron, he buggered the prop up by tilting it too far forwards so we had to cut some off the end of the prop and trim that up. It flew all right afterwards — no bother! No, we’d got old Lockheed Hudsons we were training them on. Anyway, we were in the Mess at Mingaladon and the Burmese had 20-pounders on the runway at Mingaladon and the insurgents were in Insane Gaol and we were getting 20-pouders going over our Mess.

I had a friend down there in Rangoon at Victoria Lake and he lent us a big old Ford V-8 station wagon that we could use to come down and do a bit of fishing and everything like that. Oh, that’s right, I got posted to Changi down at Singapore, and my son was in the Air Force at the time, and I got him transferred to Singapore with me. He was there for about eighteen months I think. I went down to stay with him in Singapore; he had a hiring in Singapore.

Then the Suez trouble started and we got posted out there and we were on Allouette 3s. We were in a unit called Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit, and we went out there. We trained in the Channel for flying on-board and taught the navy to do it, believe it or not, and then we went on to Suez and we stayed out there for about five weeks at what’s the name of the where we landed? We stayed in the Army Inn flying the paratroopers in and bringing the wounded back on board and then we went over and landed the other side of Port Said on the salt flats. And it didn’t do the choppers any good because the choppers we had had magnesium skins and the salt affected it and so they had to get rid of those and we sent them over to Cyprus. Do you know, I can never think of that chopper’s name — they had wooden blades. We kept the other helicopters because they were all right. The only where they had magnesium was on the tail rotor box and that wasn’t too bad because that was thick stuff… Electron, not magnesium, electron the skin was.

Anyway, we came back home, I got my B.E.M. for that because what happened was, the engineering officer who come out with us went sick with a busted ulcer and they sent him back home so I was left as engineering officer there. Then we came back home I think I got posted out to Germany again, on BI-8s again. I like the shape of the Canberra. I think it’s a beautiful-looking job. We had a lot of trouble with the tail-planes when we were doing LABs when they had to get out of the way of when they dropped the bomb. The skin on the tail-planes used to split from the rivets so we had a lot of trouble with those. Didn’t do them any good.

Anyway I came back home from there again after I’d done my tour, and then I came back to helicopters again on Short Tactical Development Unit. We had five helicopters there… Sycamores! and they were wooden blades and when you put them in the hangar in the winter, if you happened to get a get a blade under one of the heaters, when you took it out in the morning, and started it up, you got a whumper. And a whumper is when you get one blade not tracking with the others because it’s got warm; so you have to wait till it cools down, and then you do a tracking.

When you do a tracking you go out with a big long pole with a flag on the top that sticks out, and you run the engine at low revs, and you mark the end of the blades with red, blue and yellow chalk, and then you turn the flag into the end of the blades when it’s running, just touch it and you get the marks of the red, yellow and blue. They should all be together, but you find one like that, and the other two together — so they had to re-track that one. You had to pull it down so’s you got it in line with the others. A blooming game that was!

Anyway, I got posted back out to Geilenkirchen. And from Geilenkirchen I got posted to Norfolk where they write the schedules and everything. We were writing schedules on helicopters and that browned me right off! I applied to get back on the squadron and they said no, you’ve only got so-much longer to do, you’re going to do it here. And then it came in about decreasing the Air Force, and I stuck in for it straight away, and I got it. I got out. It would have driven me round the bend if I’d have stayed there. I remember we wrote a schedule on the Puma. Was it the Puma or the one before that? The one before that I think. We did everything there. We printed it and did the lot there. We took it over to the printers. The printers were halfway through printing it and the RAF headquarters came back and said we want this done in a different format. It was halfway through printing, we’d written it all up — they wanted it in a different format!

While we were on that job we used to have to go out to Germany to write the Army helicopter schedules. If they’d had any trouble we had to re-write them so we had to put in the schedule they’d got to do this and got to do that. So we had trips out there occasionally. Anyway, I came out the RAF then. What rank were you? I got to Warrant Officer actually. I’d done thirty-five years — from 1935 to 1970. I enjoyed it. So were you in this country for most of the war? No, no, fifty-fifty I suppose, but they didn’t send me anywhere where it was dangerous.
Funny thing, it wasn’t my fault, three times I was posted overseas. The first time they sent me away too late to catch the draft. That was their fault. The second time, they cancelled the draft, and then the third time I got posted to America — to the West Indies. That was lovely out there, beautiful it was. We were sending aircraft — Baltimores, Dekotas, Venturas — anyway, we were sending those over. During the end of the period when I finished I was on Baltimores and when I finished I sent a thousand and twenty-four Baltimores through. I got onto Libs as an engineer and we were flying from Montreal to Miami, from Miami to Nassau, Nassau to Trinidad, Trinidad to Berlin, Berlin to Natal, Natal to Ascension, and Ascension to Accra, picking up the crews and taking the aircraft out there, and they were flying them up over to Timbuktu and over to North Africa. We were bringing those crews back.

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