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"Dear Mum" Chapter 7

Months passed. It was a busy time and there was a lot to do.  It was before the time of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.  I did not realise that there were two communities there until I was at a dance at Limavady Town Hall one night and I asked a cute, young, blond girl if she would dance.  She asked me if I was an Orangeman or a Fenian.  I said I wasn’t sure and if I didn’t know, did it matter?  Her name was Moira McCall and I went out with her for a bit. The subject was not raised again, so I thought that it couldn’t matter much.   The first time I went to Limavady Town Hall, I went to the Pub first and asked someone there where the dance was.  The Pub was Henry’s Mk 1, I think, as there were two Henry's.  Mk 1 and Mk 2.   I went along about 9.00. o’clock. I paid my money and went upstairs, because that was where all the music was coming from.  I went in and found the band was in fine form, but apart from them, there were only two men in water boots there.  I thought there must be some mistake, so I went back to the Pub.  No one, I was told, ever went to the Dance before the Pubs closed.  This seemed to be a reasonable sort of arrangement, so I waited to be kicked out, and with the rest of the congregation, went to the Dance.   There were hundreds of women. The odds were about three to one man.  Superb.


Just outside the Camp in Ballykelly village was the Drop-in-Well Inn.  I read that this place was bombed in later years.   If we just wanted to go out for a quick drink this is where we went.   One Friday night I fancied a drink but did not want to go out by myself, so I popped my head into the next block and saw a bloke there, who I hadn’t had much to do with before. He was an Engine Fitter and was always covered in oil.  I suggested a drink and he jumped at it.   He suggested I try Irish Whiskey with Drambui Chasers.  I was pretty inexperienced in drinking at this time and my normal drink was either cider, which I had got to like in the West Country, or Makinson's Stout. I thought it would be a good idea to try something else.  No sooner had he finished the first than he ordered another for both of us and so it continued.  He was a drinker. In fact he was a Real Drinker.   So as not to lose face, I kept up with him as long as I could, but I lost track of what was going on and what happened next is a blur.  I regained some sort of consciousness the next day, but only for the time it took to be violently sick and re-collapse on my bed, where I remained for the rest of the weekend.   The taste of the mixture that was regurgitated over that weekend remained with me forever.   I have never liked Whiskey since then.  I truly thought that I was going to die and I looked forward to it.


I went home several times from Ballykelly. It was quite a trip. I tried other routes, besides the Belfast, Liverpool one. The shortest was Larne to Stranraer.  It was a long railway journey for me as from Suffolk, I had to go all the way to Liverpool St. then across to Euston and get on the train for Carlisle and on to Stranraer.  It was a long trip and one night I was trying to sleep, when the outside door opened and two young girls burst into the compartment.  They had just been to a dance and were slightly “squiffy” as my Mum would have said.  They were absolutely delightful and because there were two of them and I was on my own, started to flirt outrageously with me.  I of course lapped it up and was very disappointed when they got to their station, which was only a few miles up the line.  One of them gave me her Cashmere scarf.  It smelt delicious and I sniffed it all the way to Ballykelly.   It was not every time that something like this happened.  Most of the time it was extremely boring.   I had my worst ever crossing on this particular route. 


There was a Gale or a Hurricane or Typhoon on at the time.  Everyone on the ship was seasick.  I stood on the deck wedged up against the railings and watched the mountainous seas.  One moment we were high up above it all and seconds later the huge waves were towering over us.  From time to time there were Squadron flights available and because of the long sea passage, these were always very popular.


210 Squadron Ballykelly. 8-11-60. Dear Mum,

I thought I would write and tell you the news.  I am on P.W.R.  That is, Preliminary Warning Role, (or Roster, I’m not sure), which is the first stage of being posted overseas.  I will have to have inoculations against everything under the sun. I have a little booklet telling me about all the places that I am at all likely to go, from Germany to Australia.  It would be funny if I got posted to Germany at the same time Karola goes back. One chap has been on PWR for 11 months so it is not necessarily soon that I go!


Just before Christmas that year the Squadron was not on duty and so was more or less shutting down for a few days.  But one of the Shacks was going to England, - Northolt I think, for something or other.  As we were all lining up with our bags to get on. There was the un-mistakable noise of escaping gas.  The Airframe Fitter had a look and came back and informed everyone that the emergency air was leaking.  This is a backup system for working the undercarriage, etc. in the event of a total hydraulic failure.  It is carried in high-pressure cylinders, which are checked before each flight but very rarely used.   There were a lot of long faces as the alternative was a long sea crossing and we had all got plans.    Finally the Captain came out and was told about the leak.   He went and had a look and came back.   “ I can’t hear any leak, can you, lads ? “    After this, no one would admit to hearing anything and we all scrambled aboard.   About two hours later we were in Merry England for our Merry Christmas.


Gibraltar was a regular detachment.  It was fairly popular because of the change of weather and the opportunity of bringing back cheap drink.  It was the time of the dispute with Spain over the ownership of Gibraltar and to get across the border into La Linea was a stamp in the passport and a lengthy wait.  It was worth it, however, as the bars were a lot more lively and the drink cheaper.  With a few others from the Squadron I went into one little bar and after a few drinks, fell madly in love with one of the Spanish waitresses there.  She was cute as a button and had tooth missing from her upper set that I found very appealing at the time.  Feeling the need to make room for more drinks I looked around for the loo.   There were two doors. One was labelled Senoras and the other Caballeros.  Knowing that a man was a Senor I decided that more than one man was likely to be Senoras, as I had never heard of a Caballero.  I went to the door and disappeared inside to the hoots and shouts of all the Spanish in the place.  


My little Spanish waitress was not amused and it was decided that I had had enough that night and was escorted back to the Camp at Gibraltar.  I still have one old passport almost full of La Linea stamps. 


We always had a great time on these detachments.  There were always a group of us and we knew each other very well and always stuck together.   I missed this part of the life the most when I left the RAF after my 5 years service was up.   What followed was a lot more lucrative and satisfactory in a lot of ways. I did not have to put up with all the daft things that we were expected to do like parades and inspections.  I did not experience the comradeship like that again, nor the excitement of not knowing where I might be in 24 hours time.   It was not a bad life.


One of the attractions of living in Ballykelly was the small village atmosphere of the place.  At the bottom of the airfield there was the main railway line from Londonderry to Belfast.  When we wanted to catch the train to Belfast for the ferry or whatever, we used to get a lift to the outskirts of the Peri. Track and then walk about another quarter mile to the station, along the railway track, which passed along the perimeter.  I was a bit late one day and I was a long way from the station, but the train I wanted to catch appeared in view.  The train driver obviously saw me running along with my holdall and patiently waited with his main line train full of passengers till I reached the station.  It would not have happened anywhere else.


The climate was a problem, but in 1960, before the “troubles”, it was a very friendly place to live.  I was settling down nicely in the later part of the year when out of the blue, someone told me I was on the PWR.  I did not have a clue what this was or if it was a good thing or not to be on, but I found out that it meant the Preliminary Warning Roster and, much later, I had been chosen to go to Singapore. I had to look at a map of the world to find out where it was.   When I finally found it, it was seriously far away.  It was the other side of the world.  There was no way that I could pop home for the weekend.   It transpired that during the induction process, I had inadvertently said that I was prepared to be considered for overseas service.  Without any further consultation, they had taken me at my word and here I was on PWR !   This was going to require a lot of thought.  


I bought a little book in Londonderry about Singapore, The Land and Its People.  They struck me as being a bit weird.  It did not really prepare me for what was to come. I got lurid tales of the sort of things that went on, from some of the airmen who had been, there. They all had been to somewhere called, Bugis Street and said I would have to go there, so I wrote it down in the back of my little book.  Mainly, I took it all with a big pinch of salt.  No one told me it was hot, so I packed my Greatcoat, gloves, Cashmere scarf, hobnailed boots, Trogg boots etc.  The time passed quickly and soon I was saying goodbye to all my friends at Ballykelly and heading off, after my disembarkation leave, to the Personnel Dispatch Unit  (PDU) at RAF Innesworth, near Gloucester, to be kitted out with Tropical Uniform.


I could not believe that so many people should be going abroad at the same time.  There seemed to be hundreds, but I suppose that at that time, there were many little RAF Stations abroad.   Singapore had three Stations, all by itself and also had, at Changi, the Headquarters of the Far East Air Force. This fact, I was to discover, was a distinct disadvantage.   I was to be attached to 205 Squadron, - Shackletons again and so after my experience with 210 I did not see any problems with work.   I was not terribly impressed by the tropical kit with which we were issued.  The shorts were extremely long and loose and I would not, even in those days, call the uniform at all attractive or fashionable.   There was not much I could do about it, so like everything else, I accepted it and forgot about it.  We were very philosophical in those days.  I can’t believe that I put up with so many things that no one would accept now.   Not just the tropical uniform, either.   Most people, when they arrived in Singapore had the local tailors make up a very nice tropical uniform in some other much more elegant material. So did I.


During the three days (and nights) at the PDU.  I went to one dance and spent the other nights out drinking my last of English booze.  I met a girl called Sandra at the dance and as it was my last dance in England for two and a half years, - because that was the tour in Singapore, I became very sentimental and proposed that she should wait for me till I came back. Strangely enough, she agreed to this and we swapped addresses and then forgot about each other.  She was a nice cuddly sort of girl and I often wonder what happened to her.

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