empty. Dickie Duke
had landed with his wheels up, probably having forgotten to lower them. He had vacated the scene quickly and was somewhere out there in the darkness. We were about to check the cockpit when his warning came loud and clear from fifty yards away. 'Come away,' he shouted. 'It's burning!'
Life on the squadron
at Jever was easy going but never dull. The lack of female company didn't seem to bother us at all, and we didn't fraternise with the local girls. Perhaps we might have done so if we had been able to speak the language. I did buy a book, 'Teach Yourself German', but in 2½ years out there I never got past the first couple of pages. The detachments to Sylt were a different matter - they had WRAFS there.
Sometime during 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh visited the squadron
while on a tour of British forces in Germany. After a lightning tour of the administration facilities, he arrived ahead of his scheduled time at the squadron
where all of our Vampires were lined up on parade but we pilots were lounging around in the crewroom. There followed an undignified scramble out to the aircraft as he arrived at the squadron
dispersal to begin his inspection of aircraft and pilots. As mentioned before, we each had our own aircraft in those days and we stood proudly before it to await his handshake and informal chat. Of what he said to me, I have no recollection, and I have washed my right hand many times since then.
I bought my first camera in the local town, Jever - a Voightlander for £10. I didn't declare it when I got back to England where it cost £60. It was a quality camera in those days and I kept it for a good few years before passing it on to Stephen who still has it at the time of writing, March 2003.
Christmas 1953 saw me home on leave, and back in Germany in January '54 I attended a three-day ground course on the North American Sabre (F86E)
with which the squadron
was shortly to re-equip. A much better fighter than the Vampire, the Sabre
was capable of exceeding the speed of sound in a dive and had acquitted itself well in the Korean War. There was no two-seat version, so on my first flight on 17 January I was on my own. What a revelation that was. With a climbing speed of 400 knots and super sensitive, electro-hydraulic controls it was a delight to fly. Compared with the Vampire, the performance was electrifying and I remember particularly the rapid rate of roll. The aileron controls were so sensitive that a slight tremor on the hand on the stick, which we all had for the first few takeoffs, resulted in a noticeable wing waggle to an outside observer. After a total of six hours flying in seven sorties it was back to the Vampire to await delivery of our new aircraft. We had meantime moved south to a new airfield at Bruggen near the Dutch border.
The powers that be thought the brand new, bright concrete runway was far too conspicuous, and an enemy would find it easily from the air. Of course, that fact helped us to locate the field on returning from a flight, but it was decided to paint the runway to camouflage it. That was fine until it rained. The surface became very slippery and aircraft were over-running the runway. One day I joined the circuit after a particularly heavy cloudburst had soaked the runway and two sabres
had skidded off. I was told to divert to Weelde in Belgium where I was made most welcome by the pilots there. As usual in the summer, the only item of clothing I wore under my flying suit was my underpants. When it became necessary for me to stay the night, I was loaned suitable clothing for a foray into the local town.
The only driving experience I had at that time (1954) was on motorcycles. So, when on 09 March, 1954, I flew the Sabre
through the sound barrier for the first time - in a dive from 40,000 feet to 25,000 feet, I could not legally drive a car. It was in Germany that I first attempted to drive a four-wheeled vehicle. Wednesday afternoon