Occasional sorties were made to what we called 'bare-arse beach', where signs warned that removal of all clothing was required before entry. On our first visit, we were reluctant to do this and kept on our bathing trunks, but after the disapproving stares of the nude bathers we quickly removed them. There was no embarrassment on our part since we could see we had better looking bodies than the nudists who ranged in age from a few months to ninety and were all shapes and sizes. There was a photograph of a dozen of us taken there, but we were not naked - we wore our ties - and no, I don't have a copy!
Throughout the RAF, Wednesday afternoon was devoted to 'sport'. I was 112's
Sports officer, though I don't remember organising much of it. There seemed to be an inborn reluctance of any of the pilots to partake, but it had to be seen to be done. The odd football match went down well, the cross-countries around the airfield not so well, most participants making a gentle stroll of it. The most popular pastime I thought of was to tow a sheet of corrugated iron behind the squadron Landrover. Five or six pilots would sit on the sheet and endeavour to be the last to be thrown off. On one squadron detachment to Fredrichaven, a French air force base in Southern Germany I arranged a football match - 150 members of 112 Squadron
versus the 4,000 or so Frenchmen on the base. They advertised the match in the local town as France versus England. I think we lost, and that was the last time I wore football boots in anger.
We were surprised to find that the French air force had a bar in their crew room and were served red wine with their meals whether they were due to fly or not. We entered into the spirit of things but, after some ropey formation flying one afternoon, the Squadron CO
decreed we must lay off the wine and make do with water.
In January 1953 I was sent on a three week course at RAF Cosford near Wolverhampton, ostensibly to improve my performance as 112 Squadron
Sports Officer. I couldn't have learned much, since I remember nothing of it other than I was able to get home at weekends. While I was away the squadron
was detached to RAF Butzweilerhof in North Rhine Westphalia to operate from PSP
(Pierced steel plate) laid on grass.
112 Sqn Vampire FB.5 taking off on Pierced Steel Planking laid on grass as an experiment at RAF Butzweilerhof - Jan53.
En route, there was some confusion regarding navigation and a National Service pilot, whose name I forget, baled out of his Vampire after running out of fuel, leaving my first logbook in the aircraft. [Click to see story of WA114
]. The remains of the logbook were recovered from the wreckage and presented to me when I joined the squadron
at Butzweilerhof. It was a sorry sight, badly scorched and a grievous loss since it contained details of all my flying to that date. Fortunately, the portion recording my total flying hours was still readable.
When carrying out short landings on the PSP
, where the brakes were used more than normal, my Vampire's brakes failed on my fourth landing and I ran off the end of the runway on to the grass. It was some surprise to me how the Vampire just rolled and rolled until slowed to a stop on the grass. There was no damage and I flew the same aeroplane the next day after the brakes were repaired.
It was while at Jever I came very close to a nasty accident that would certainly have put paid to my career and possibly cost me my life. The Vampire was a difficult aircraft in which to perform a decent slow roll at any altitude, but there was talk that an American pilot, on an exchange posting in charge of a British Vampire squadron, used to carry out such a manoeuvre at low level immediately after take off. One day, when we were going off on individual sorties, 'Dickie' Duke
and I agreed to attempt a similar manoeuvre. It was a bit of a dare really and a stupid thing to do, but when you're young you think you are indestructible. I taxied out first with no intention of doing anything at all dangerous but nevertheless opened up the engine to full power