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Old 19th Jan 2013, 23:57
  #3448 (permalink)  
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Danny and the Lead Soldier Man (Part 1).

The Beauty Competition débâcle took place in the August (I think) of '49, but we (and "20 Sqdn" and "Valley" are synonymous in this respect) were still very much under a cloud the following Spring when I came. But help was at hand - from a most unexpected source.

I've already referred to our manual D/F hut, which was sited at Trewan Sands (a mile or two on the far side of Rhosneigr). Our T/R towers were over there as well, as in war both had served an underground Operations Block nearby. This was now disused, of course, but still on "Care & Maintenance" (for you never know). It was supposed to be inspected once every blue moon, but in fact no one had looked at it for years.

As it had been built during the war, the contractors would probably have been working on "cost-plus", so wastage would be of little account. An Ops Block (particularly an underground one) needs miles of underground cabling. In the days before PVC had been invented, lead sheathing was the usual waterproofing protection. There would be an enormous quantity of scrap cable arising from drum-ends and offcuts. The contractor disposed of these in the way in which builders always do with their rubbish (have you ever dug the garden in a new house ?)

As Valley was a Master Airfield, the D/F hut would need to be manned 24/7: this would require four operators working a four-watch system. This allows plenty of free time during some days, and they weren't all that busy when on duty. Navigators trying fixes from the old HF/DF stations were getting tired of "cocked-hats" the size of Greater London, when they could get instant bearings on VHF, accurate to a degree, from any CR/DF in earshot. Our four lads had a lot of time on their hands, and one (NS) chap had a very useful hobby indeed. He made lead soldiers.

He had a miniature electrically heated crucible, several sets of moulds and a row of "Humbrol" enamels. All he needed now was a small, but regular supply of lead. And of course, here was one to hand, free for the digging (for the cable was barely under the surface, and there were bits sticking up, so he didn't even have to prospect for it). The operation grew apace. (I would suppose the other three lent a hand; they could do the digging and stripping the lead while the Skilled Man did the casting and the painting). The results were of professional standard.

And they were coining it, right ?....... Wrong ! Now comes the surprising bit. He gave these sets of toy soldiers away free to local Good Causes - Childrens' Christmas parties for the Messes, Draw Prizes for local charites, Hospital Childrens' Wards and Orphanages. The Great Freeze started to melt. Perhaps RAF Valley weren't so bad after all. All this, of course, met with the heartiest approval of everyone from the W/Cdr downwards. The Station Institute staked him for his paint, linseed oil and brushes. People have got MBEs for less.

Here I should perhaps explain that the lead-phobia of later years had not yet developed. From the time of the Romans we had stored our water in lead cisterns and drunk it from the lead pipes in our houses, without noticable ill-effect. As late as Jan '73, on my "resettlement" Course at Catterick, I wielded a blowlamp doing "wiped joints" (?) on the old lead pipes with the best of them. The sight of her babe sucking on a lead soldier would not faze a mother in the least then. Lead toy soldiers were still in the shops.

Even National Servicemen had a bit of leave in their 18 months, and our chap was away. On a Monday morning, the Orderly Room got a call from the Stationmaster at Holyhead. The Adjutant groaned: "Not those bloody Communication Cords again !"

On Saturday nights the airmen used the train for a night out in the Big City - Bangor. Returning in cheerful mood to Valley on the last night train, they did not fancy a two (or three) mile walk from Valley station to the camp, when the line ran literally right behind it. A quick tug on the communication cord, the train ground to a halt, a crowd of shadowy figures tumbled out into the darknes (slamming the doors behind them, I grant you that) and legged it away over the fields before the guard could get anywhere near them. Cursing heartily in his Welsh whiskers, he had no option but to climb back aboard, reset the alarm and blow his whistle to restart.

Complaint to the Station Commander was ineffective, for the culprit(s) could not be identified, and the practice became so regular an occurrence that British Rail became resigned to it, it was said that the loco drivers shut off steam almost as soon as they pulled out of Rhosneigr, ready for the "emergency".

The story of the Lead Soldiers is about to take an unexpected turn.

Goodnight again,


Things ain't what they used to be.