Learning to fight.
We didn't consume our bottles of beer until late on the journey to Pembrey. We had changed trains at Bristol and had to change again at Llanelli. By this time the
bottles were an embarrassment because the whole of Wales was 'dry' on Sundays.
For uniformed Officers to be seen with beer was not acceptable. At Llanelli station,
while we were waiting for a local train to Burry Port where RAF transport would
meet us, we got chatting to a Welsh postman who was waiting in his van for mails to
arrive. One of us offered him a beer and he asked if we each had bottles, which we
had. He opened the back of his GPO
van and bundled us in. We drank up. When we
had finished and he unlocked the doors there were some raised eyebrows from
bystanders watching as we all piled out into the station concourse. The kindly
postman disposed of the empties for us.
RAF Pembrey had been closed down since the war. Not long before we arrived it had been re-opened as No.233 Operational Conversion Unit. The aircraft were
, with some T11s
. The purpose of the course was to teach us aerial tactics
and the use of armaments. The Station CO
was Group Captain Beresford.
On arrival we joined some of the ex Kirton-in-Lindsey students who had been posted to Canada, the USA, and Rhodesia for pilot training and who were now
joining the same course. Those who had been trained in Canada and the USA had
picked up American accents and terminology. On the first day of the course they
were told that aircraft weren't 'ships' and, in no uncertain manner, that they were
expected to use the Queen's English henceforth. These same people soon found
difficulty navigating in the UK because there was too much ground detail for them
when compared with the vast open spaces over which they had been flying. They
had been used to almost continuous blue skies, so the weather over the UK was to
cause them trouble too.
Our accommodation was sub-standard. The buildings were wooden huts and
only just habitable. We had individual rooms but there was a tendency for the roofs
to leak in rainy weather. I, for one, had to leave my mackintosh over my bed to
keep it dry, rather than to wear it in wet weather. There were communal latrine
blocks in a very poor state. Not all the wash-basins had taps or plugs and many of
the toilet seats were loose or needed repair. We also seemed to be living among
personnel of ill-defined rank who dwelt in scruffy caravans. There was a shortage of
water and bathing was forbidden. There were no showers that I can remember so
we had to have strip-down washes in those windowless latrines or swim in the sea
to keep clean. Food in the Mess was poor and often amounted to mince as a main
course, and Sunday lunches, if we were lucky, were nothing more than Scotch eggs.
Discipline was lax, as befitted the run-down ambience of the place. The end of the
course couldn't come soon enough for any of us. We weren't sorry it was to be of
just less than 8 weeks duration.
The hangars were as shabby as the crew rooms; the training class-rooms were little better, but at least they didn't leak.
My first flight, on July 16th, was dual in a T11
and Lt. Rouse, RN, was my instructor. He showed me the area, the airfield features, gunnery ranges, and danger
areas. There were two artillery ranges to keep clear of, one by Pendine sands, and
the other at Watchet on the Somerset coast of the Bristol Channel.
We started ground school. Our instructors explained aerial tactics, gunnery, tail chases, the types and purposes of battle formations
(as opposed to close formation),