Last year, we had a note from the MicroDandy's school, saying that they were doing a project about what Britain was like after the Second World War... Rationing, National Service, stuff like that. His first thought was to talk to his Grandfather about his experiences, what with him being alive at the time and everything - But because he is almost clinically lazy, the task of listening to his Grandfather's stories fell to me.
So one night, I trudged around to his house, notepad in hand, and asked; 'Dad, what did you do in (the years just after) the War? - The stories he told had to be quite heavily edited for their intended young audience, but I'll tell you pretty much what he told me.
(Note: Yes, this is my Pigeon Exploding Father, just so as you know what to expect.)
Our story starts in 1947 when he was conscripted into National Service (Which we should definitely still have in my opinion), and sent for eight weeks training at RAF Innsworth in Gloucester.
It was here that he learned to shoot;
'We were all on the range one afternoon, taking pot shots at these targets with Browning 9mils, bloody horrible things they were, used to grab the skin between your thumb and first finger when the hammer came down, really heavy trigger too... Rubbish... Anyway, there was this clot who comes onto the range with a Sten Gun, waving it about, coming the big I Am. Fired a couple of shots down the range and it jammed, no lubrication you see, you had to keep 'em clean, and he obviously hadn't been. So he took the magazine out, banged it against his boot, stuck it back in and pulled the slide back, which is something you don't normally have to do, I think this might have confused him. He fired a couple more rounds holding the barrel, not the magazine like they tell you to and, it got hot, so he moved his hand back and his fingers got caught in the ejector mechanism - took the ends of his fingers clean off, started running about the place screaming and crying and p*ssing blood everywhere. We couldn't stop laughing long enough to help him.'
He learned to throw grenades;
'Grenadier training was a waste of bloody time, we spent days throwing de-activated Mills bombs into pits then covering our heads and counting to seven, just to make sure we could throw 'em forty feet so as not to blow ourselves up. I wouldn't have trusted half the blokes there to throw a teabag in the bin, nevermind chuck something that could blow their bloody heads off!'
How to use a parachute;
'I didn't get to jump off any of those fancy towers that you see in the documentaries. My parachute training consisted of sitting on a bench in the back of an open truck with fifteen other blokes, driving at forty miles an hour across a bumpy field with a great bloody ape of a Sergeant kicking us all off the back at ten yard intervals. You learned how to land properly pretty bloody quickly!'
And hand-to-hand combat;
'We shared the base with a load of bloody Rock Apes (Note: this is a derogatory term for members of the Royal Air Force Regiment, although this term wasn't in use at the time, my father never misses an opportunity to be offensive to people he considers inferior as new insults become available.) who did the guarding duties, general rule was, if you wanted to join the RAF they asked you three questions - Can you breathe through your nose? Can you spell your own name? Do you know who your Father was? - If you answered yes, you got into the RAF, if you said no, you got put in The Regiment. I said this to one on the main gate one night as we were coming back to barracks, he didn't take kindly to it, I got some lumps that night...'
After this training was complete, he got transferred to Flensburg in Northern Germany, promoted to Sergeant, and joined Transport Command as a Radio Operator. He spent the next few years flying all over the world. Cyprus, Hong Kong, Iraq, Libya, Malta and Malaysia were all popular destinations for him and his crew.
He also did a number of 36 hour shifts during the Berlin Airlift (Of which there is ample information on t'Internet, so I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of it here.) And tells many similar stories about flying cargos of coal and food and mail into Berlin, refuelling then turning around and flying back to base, but these two stick in my mind.
'We were coming in to land behind this Dakota (an American transport aircraft), we were packed in about 200 yards behind him and still about 500 feet up. We'd just cleared the fence at Tempelhof airport when he lost control and dropped onto the deck, We'd already commited to landing and the pilot was just about to grab a handful of throttle and yank the stick back when a couple of bulldozers appeared from the side of the runway and pushed the wreckage out of the way, we just cleared it - I needed to requisition a new pair of trousers when we got back to base that afternoon.'
'We'd just landed and taxied over to the hard-standing where the groundcrew were going to unload us when this Penguin (an officer with no flying experience) waddles over with a clipboard and says "Right lads, need you to stay on board while they juice you, you're taking fragile cargo back so try not to shake it about too much." Then this truck backs up right to the cargo doors, some sheets go up and we feel the plane shaking about. We get the all clear and take off back home. When we landed, all these ambulances turned up and all these kids got out of the back of the plane and were whisked away. Turns out we were transporting German evacuees.'
And as you can imagine, he had a fair old repertoire of things going wrong.
'We had a heavy landing with this York at RAF Uetersen, so heavy in fact that one of the tyres blew and we swerved off the runway and into the weeds, never had an entire aircrew simultaneously s*it themselves before, it smelled like the Elsan (Chemical toilet) had exploded!'
'There was this CO at one of the airbases we were visiting who was keeping his hours up (If you wanted to still call yourself aircrew, you had to do a certain amount of flying time every year.) when we needed to get something signed, he was just doing laps of the airfield, about 200 feet up in an Oxford, or maybe an Anson. So we got a cuppa and went and sat outside NAAFI to wait for him to finish. He was coming in to land when he got hit with a crosswind, our pilot had commented on it as we came in the previous day, but it caught his plane and flipped it on its side. The tip of one of hit wings just clipped the ground and he cartwheeled across the runway and bust into flames, poor bugger never stood a chance...'
But his favourite story, about his favourite plane, which he never tired of telling, and never tired of embellishing as old soldiers often do, was this one.
'Towards the end of my time, the RAF had done a deal with the Post Office. The P.O. were taking surplus Mosquito fighter-bombers, painting them red, and using them to carry mail. Our crew got the job of flying loads of them from Germany back to the UK, then cadging a lift back and doing it all over again. All this flying over The Channel got very boring after a while, and to make it more exciting the pilot would see how low he could fly, or how fast, or see how long he could fly on a knife edge (with the plane tipped at 90 degrees to the surface of the water) or any combination of the three. There was this one time when the navigator spotted a fishing boat on the horizon right in front of us, so the pilot dropped us down to the deck and throttled up to about 300Mph, at the last moment, we popped up, flipped onto a knife edge and flew in between the derricks on the deck. Then we buggered off sharpish, hoping they were too busy s*itting themselves and hadn't seen our squadron markings.'
Just thought I'd let you know about some of the wonderful things that people have type into Google and managed to find the Blog this month:
How much does Les Invalides weigh? - I presume they meant 'L'Hotel National des Invalides' Which is a set of museums in Paris, why anyone would want to know how much they weigh is beyond me I'm afraid
Post a comment on Vital Organs Blog - Nope, no idea...
And the ever popular Swing away Merrill - This is now the all-time most popular search, with seven incidents.
OK team, that's it for today, maybe there'll be more Steampunk in the mix tomorrow