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"Dear Mum" Chapter 5

Hut Z49, RAF Yatesbury, 18th. Nov. 1959.

Dear Mum, Yesterday evening I had to change billets, note the new number.  I moved into this billet early yesterday evening and was one of the first to do so and the boys who were in here last left several things behind that they did not want. I shall list them.

1. car battery,  1. pair of shoes, brown suede, polished black, (they fit a treat and are very comfortable.   1. 45 rpm record, in good condition. 1. Pair of goggles.  Lots of their old books partly used.   3. Motorcycling magazines.  1. wire suede brush.  2. odd cuff links. 1. wooden box. I. gym vest as new. 1. plastic mug, as new. Not bad, hey?


We had the odd parade and Guard Duty, of course, but mainly we learned, - first of all basic electronics and then, all the Airborne Radar equipment that was fitted to a Mk 1 Shackleton of Coastal Command, for this was an Air Radar Fitter (FN) course.   The Primary Radar was ASV 13  (Air to Surface Vessel Mk. 13.)   This had been developed during the war and was used in a different form, (as H2S) in the Normandy Landings.   It was not exactly state of the art, in fact a lot of the skills involved in the repair of this equipment would have been easier to find in a plumber’s workshop.  It had wonderful devices all connected together by heavy straight lengths of wire.  In the Transmitter / Receiver unit there was a Triggertron which drove the Magnetron, there was also a Klystron in there somewhere.  In use, the Triggertron lit up like a mercury arc lamp and there were fearsome voltages all over the place.  Our Instructor taught us never to work on anything with both hands. One should always be firmly in the pocket.  This simple thing and the way it was drummed into us at every opportunity has probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  If he saw anyone with both hands showing, one of the hands would receive a sharp blow with his ruler.  It certainly grabbed your attention.  We did not forget it either.


RAF Yatesbury, 4-12-59.

Dear Mum, The course is really getting interesting now. We are doing the stuff now, that we stopped at, at school, all waveforms and oscilloscopes. Super!


We learned about Schmidt Triggers, Multivibrators, Relaxation and Phase Shift Oscillators, etc. etc. - all done with valves of course.  Esoteric discussions would go on for hours as to how this or that circuit actually worked.    We learned how to solder and had all our early efforts rejected, until we could make the most perfect soldered joint known to man, and make it consistently.   Perfectly trimmed insulation, exactly routed wires. I could do it in my sleep.  It has surprised many technicians since then when I have told them to move over and let me do it.  No wonder Ex-servicemen were in such demand.


It was a balance of theory and practice that served us very well.  We learned to file and we were not allowed to move on until we had produced a block of steel, which, measured by a micrometer was perfectly square and dimensioned in every direction.  The Instructors introduced faults designed to make us think and which were impossible to find unless we really knew what was going on.  I remember one fault, which was on a tag strip of soldered wires and although I knew precisely where the fault was, I could not for the life of me see how it had been introduced.  There was a signal at one point but not at another and yet I could SEE the soldered connection between them was perfect.   I don’t know how they managed it but it was the most perfect “dry” joint I have ever seen.  It must have been done accidentally and preserved for fooling students. 


I used to leave Yatesbury on a Friday afternoon and hitchhike back home for the weekend, getting back sometime during the Sunday Night.  As there were a lot of Servicemen hitch-hiking at that time and I was always in uniform, I did not have too much trouble in getting lifts.  One Friday I had 7 different lifts.  I had a series of cars up to London and then, the back of a coal lorry, round the North Circular and finally got dumped along the A12 Woodbridge bypass about 3.00. am.  As it was so cold I sheltered in a Phone box while waiting for the next vehicle.  It turned out to be a Police car and they were a bit suspicious as to what I was doing lurking in a phone box, but finally agreed to run me the last 15 miles.   On the way back a Flight Leftenant in civvies who was going to Melksham and who dropped me outside Yatesbury Guardroom about midnight, picked me up only a few yards from home. That was the best lift I ever had in my life.  When I got my Motorbike, the trip was a lot more predictable.  I used to go across country.  I bought an AJS 18S.500cc single - which was a good, fast, reliable, machine, but in the winter it was really cold as it had no fairing.  I got home one night and I could not get off it, as I was so cold.  I had to sit there with my thumb on the horn button till everyone, including my Mum came out to see what all the noise was about.  Another night the clutch cable broke.  There was hardly any traffic anywhere, which was just as well, as at each red traffic light, I had to circle in the road until it went green. I got changing gear without using the clutch down to a fine art by the time I got back.


It was at this time that my mother introduced me to the Au Pair of a lady she knew.  She was German and a blond. Her name was Karola Leenen, from Augsburg, near Munich.  She did not know anyone else of her age in England and was very pleased to have someone to teach her English.  I was very glad to take her out and we spent a lot of the weekends down the beach and she really looked a treat on the back of my big motorbike, with her blond hair streaming behind in the wind. She was a year older than me and much more mature, but as I was available and quite presentable myself, it suited both of us to knock around together.  I kissed her a few times, but we did not progress beyond that.  Nevertheless it was a friendship that lasted for quite a few years and I used to write and receive letters to and from her all the time, after I had left Yatesbury.


They say that there is no such thing as a platonic friendship, between sexes, but even though I would have been very happy had it blossomed, that was about what it was.


Yatesbury 10-8-60.  Dear Mum,

Unofficially I have passed the course. We have now got to wait for the official results and our postings. I was third with 68% overall. Top was 69.  Last night we all trooped across the fields to a pub and got very gay. They had a Juke Box and we had a terrific sing-song and staggered back to the billet about midnight.  I’ve got a bit of a headache this morning and we are awaiting our postings.


We have been an exceptional class as two thirds passed the finals first attempt. Those who didn’t have to stay here for extra training, but that is only six, I think and usually that is about the number that passes.


I am a J/T now.  (Junior Technician)  Pay about six pounds ten I expect, we heard this morning.  We also heard where we are going.  Mine is Bally - Blinking - Kelly in Northern Ireland


As with everything, it came to an end and we all received our postings.  We also were promoted to Junior Technician.  We went straight from AC2 to J/T.  This was an advanced course, remember.   It also meant a pay rise.   My posting was to 210 Squadron in RAF Ballykelly in Northern Ireland.  I had to sell my motorbike for which, I had hardly started paying and I lost money on that.  It was not the most attractive place that I could imagine being sent to, either.  There was not much I could do about it, however, so I went off via the Liverpool and Belfast ferry and reported to my first Operational Station.

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