"Dear Mum" Chapter 16
Back to UK. RAF St. Mawgan.
After my triumphal return from the Far East and several weeks of leave, during which I discovered that very few people were even aware that I had been away and even fewer, at all interested. I went down to my village Ex-Servicemen’s Club and although I was told that I did not have to become a member, as I was an “honorary” one, they were completely un-rivetted by the stories that I tried to tell. To such an extent that I decided that I would not volunteer any further information about my overseas tour, about which I had been trying to tell everyone.
I also wrote to Karola and arranged to go to Germany. She lived in Augsburg, not far from Munich. We arranged a date and I left on a ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and then by train to Munich. I met a chap on the ferry who was very interesting and we got talking at the bar and I missed the train. I explained this to a porter at the station and said that people would be waiting for me at the station in Augsburg. He took pity on me, I don’t know why and said that there was a local train going at that moment, which actually overtook the main line one and so I could get back onto it. I found this a bit hard to believe, but he agreed to come with me and it was a true as his word.
When I got to Munich I went to the ticket office and asked in fractured German, which was all I had. “ Harben sie ein Zug to Augsberg?” The guy behind the glass said “are you English, old chap?” I was glad.
Finally I got to Augsburg and found that the Family Leenen, lived in a very nice bungalow in the very nicest part of town. Mother looked like a model and I thought that her and her daughter were sisters. There was an older brother called Detlef and Father looked exactly like the rich industrialist that he was. Karola showed me her bedroom and told me I would be sleeping there. My heart leapt, but then she said she was going to take another spare one.
At dinner the first evening, everyone spoke English and Spaghetti was served. Real Spaghetti! The only Spaghetti I had ever had before was the Heinz stuff that came in little tins. I couldn’t for the life of me see how I was going to eat this as it kept falling off my spoon. I could feel myself becoming hot under the collar. Finally they took pity on me and showed me how it was done. Herr Leenen said I could use the car, but I had to admit that I only had a Motor bike licence as yet. (It was a huge Mercedes and I was very sorry about that.)
I got out all my slides of Singapore and Gan and although they were very interested I could see that we were from different worlds. They were rich. The holiday went very well. Every day they organised a trip to somewhere or other and we went to the Octoberfest in Munich, where I was amazed to see so many people drinking so much out of such large glasses. I had no trouble at all holding my own in the drinking company. That was the one thing that I found I could do better than anyone I met there. I had hollow legs and a resistance to all the effects of alcohol.
Our relationship was very friendly, but I could see that this was not the time that I would lose my long endured virginity. I finally left, with a lot of mixed feelings. So this is how the other half lived. It was a world that I had never experience before. For some time afterwards we exchanged letters, but the intervals got longer and the letters finally petered out.
9th. October 1962 201 Squadron, RAF St. Mawgan Newquay Cornwall.
Dear Mum, I arrived at about 9.00. pm last night. I had a puncture, after all, but luckily it went down just in front of a garage that was open for repairs.
With all the hard-earned POSB money that was supposed to change my life, I purchased a second hand Triumph Speedtwin motor bike. This was to stand me in good stead for the rest of my Air Force career. When I got to St. Mawgan I found that for a very small sum, I could rent a lockup garage on Camp. This I did and spent long and happy hours tinkering with my Triumph. There were inevitably several others with big motor bikes and I was able to procure a 650 cc. engine that had been heavily modified with quick lift cams and high compression pistons etc. (The previous owner had crashed it!) I upped the size of the engine sprocket to change the gear ratios and found myself with a very hairy machine that would do about 120 mph in 3rd. gear. It did about the same in top and this was really only of use as an overdrive, however, it was very satisfying to overtake things at well over 100 mph and then change up another gear.
The problem with all the extra brake horsepower was that I used to get through primary chains in only a few weeks. The acceleration was such that I could leave a black tyre mark on the road for some 20 yards. I also fitted a full size Avon Fairing, which protected me from the elements on my long drive back to Suffolk at weekends, (when I went). It also helped in keeping the front wheel on the ground.
I am sorry to say that I was a bit stupid, during this time of my life and I found that if I leaned the bike over as far as I could when I went round corners, the fairing would catch on the road and everyone would turn round and look. There was another guy from Singapore on the Squadron called Romeo Brown. He had another big Triumph. One day we were coming back together from 201 Squadron to the main camp and the people in the Control Tower were so concerned that such fast moving vehicles should be circumnavigating the Peri track, when they should be on the main runway that they sent out a RAF Police Landrover to intercept us at the first place where we slowed down so as to be interceptable. As usual we got off with a warning, but it did mark the beginning of a period when I attracted much more than the amount of attention that was previously though to be warranted by my rather quiet disposition.
In the first 6 months at St. Mawgan I had 5 accidents. None involved anyone else and were all the result of going too fast for the road conditions. I usually ended up going through a hedge or skidding into ditches or grass verges. I suppose most people go through a phase like that. I thought that I was immortal or invincible and it took a fairly serious accident to make me think that perhaps I was not.
On a Friday afternoon I used to put my hold-all on the tank in front of me lean down on it so as to get my head just below the slipstream coming over the fairing and let it rip. I could do the Cornwall to Suffolk run in under 4 hours. Across country. On the way back one night, when I was having a particularly good run, 10 miles past a little village that I had come through so fast, that I had been in and out of the speed restriction before I even knew there was one, I was overtaken by a police car. The young driver had probably enjoyed the chase, as when he found out that I was an Airman, going half way across England after a weekend, he let me off with a caution. I very nearly came to grief coming across Bodmin moor one night. I had a heavy case on the luggage rack behind me and the headlight was shining about 5 degrees up into the sky. I had to drive on dipped beam and so did not see the herd of cows all across the road, until I was about a hundred yards from them. I only stopped a few feet from one particularly fat and surprised animal, which would have been as upset as me, had I hit her.
The first “real” accident was, with a friend on the back, going to. - Yes, going, to a Pub. There was a nice long straight and then the road went over a peak and suddenly dropped away to the right. As I came over the brow of the hill, I saw that this was not the sort of thing to which I was used in Suffolk, also that there was no way that we were going to be able to make the right hander. I laid the bike down to the right and slid for about 40 yards, until we hit the verge and the bike flipped over and sent my friend, - taking seven league leaps, into some bushes, - a bit prickly but relatively soft. I flew over the top and was quickly arrested in flight by my head coming into contact with a 4 inch wooden post, carrying a red reflector, (warning people not to hit it,) which luckily broke off at ground level.
I was fortunate to be wearing my crash helmet, as this was indeed a crash. The concussion rendered me unconscious for a while and the force of the blow, which was taken by the crash helmet, however, pushed one of my left front teeth through my lip. I did not find this out for some time, by which time I had been taken off to hospital, where the only things I could remember were of being on Gan. It was a very strange feeling. It is the only lapse of memory, - except for birthdays and wedding anniversaries, which are usually self induced, that I have experienced. A lot of people tried to explain where I was, but it was a completely lost cause. Happily the bike was not badly damaged and my memory came back slowly that night.
The accident that made me sit back and think seriously about my newly obvious mortality was in my friend’s car. However, more of that later.