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Can you help me? RAF 1960s.

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Can you help me? RAF 1960s.

Old 14th Dec 2018, 17:34
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Can you help me? RAF 1960s.

Hello,

I’ve been around in these forums for a very long time, but decided to post in my real name for this exercise.

I am in the process of writing a novel set on a fictitious RAF station in Wiltshire that hosts a test and evaluation unit (in the style of Life of Brian, the real Boscombe Down is mentioned a few times to underline the fact that RAF West Porton is entirely made up).

The book is set in 1966.

I’m in the third draft and heading for a Spring 2019 release (if you’re interested, I’ve added a synopsis below).

My father, an RAF test pilot at Boscombe Down 1959-1966 has been immensely helpful with some of the detail that will enable the book to feel authentic, but he is nearly 88 and his memory is understandably patchy. So I would love some help with some of the specifics if others on here were in the RAF during that period.

I would like to post some questions in this thread as they occur during the writing process and I would be immensely grateful for anyone who is able to contribute an answer.

I’ll try to post questions as individual posts to enable anyone who is able to, to answer with a reply/quote to that specific point.

Book synopsis for info:

A young pilot survives a crash, but loses his closest friend. In the days that follows he realises his late friend was in a desperate quest to uncover a corruption. Wracked with guilt about his role in the crash and his failure to listen to his friend in life, he must take up the quest as his only chance of atonement.

PS I'm also on the look out for advanced readers who could provide some feedback ahead of the official launch.
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 19:05
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Q1

The Argosy.

Does anyone have any experience in the back of an Argosy? Were you a loadmaster? Do you know: how an item such as a ‘gas bomb’ would have been pushed out of the aircraft? I realise this is unusual, but presumably and routine drop would work in the same way.

What was the arrangement for loads that were physically pushed out? Were they on a trolley, was there a lever that held the load back until release time? And also how would the loadmaster time this? Over the intercom from the cockpit? Or a lights system?
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 19:06
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Q2: (Sorry, they are coming slowly as this account is subject to moderation at the moment).

Line of sight in the Vulcan crew area.

I believe there may have been a curtain or screen put in place between the cockpit and the rear crew area of a Vulcan? Was that always in place? If it was not in place, can any crew members recall whether it was possible to see back into the rear crew from the cockpit and vice versa?

I’ve sat in a Vulcan a couple of times and this does appear to be the case, but I’m not sure about the curtain/screen arrangement.
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 19:07
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Q3:

Happy Hour.

As a BBC reporter in the 90s/00s I had some enjoyable experiences during Happy Hour on a Friday night in officers’ messes.

However, does anyone recall when this tradition began? Was Happy Hour a universal expression used on RAF stations? And was it used as far back as the 1960s?

Was Friday afternoon always a time for light sweeping/admin before an early repair to the bar?
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 19:07
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Q4:

Drinking on a dead man’s tab in the evening of a loss.

Sorry for the unhappy subject.

Does anyone recall if this was a common tradition in the 1960s and earlier? I understand it may originate in the RN, but I am not sure if this would have been the case in the RAF in 1966?
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 21:33
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Originally Posted by James Blatch View Post
Q3:

Happy Hour.

As a BBC reporter in the 90s/00s I had some enjoyable experiences during Happy Hour on a Friday night in officers’ messes.

However, does anyone recall when this tradition began? Was Happy Hour a universal expression used on RAF stations? And was it used as far back as the 1960s?

Was Friday afternoon always a time for light sweeping/admin before an early repair to the bar?
To the best of my knowledge, Happy Hour existed in the time period of your book. It was generally held in the Corporal's Club, or equivalent, the fiction being that a higher rank could enter premises for lower ranks, but not vice versa. The object of the happy hour was to twist all the arms, bend all the ears or call in all the favours you needed in order to get things done in the working day. As such, shop talk was permitted, indeed encouraged. However, later in the evening, or over the weekend, wives or girlfriends would have been in the company so shop talk was verboten. (Not sure if there would have been many husbands/boyfriends at this time). Indeed, I think it was on penalty of buying a round if shop talk accidentally crept into the conversation.
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 22:06
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Originally Posted by James Blatch View Post
Q2: (Sorry, they are coming slowly as this account is subject to moderation at the moment).

Line of sight in the Vulcan crew area.

I believe there may have been a curtain or screen put in place between the cockpit and the rear crew area of a Vulcan? Was that always in place? If it was not in place, can any crew members recall whether it was possible to see back into the rear crew from the cockpit and vice versa?

I’ve sat in a Vulcan a couple of times and this does appear to be the case, but I’m not sure about the curtain/screen arrangement.
There were anti-flash screens between front and rear. During day time flights they were usually closed to that the radar was not affected by the daylight. At night this was less a problem though the pilots might request them closed if the rear crew lighting was too bright.

It was possible, if the blinds were open to look either way except that only the AEO could see the copilot and the Nav Rad see the captain. Obviously if someone in the back got out of their seat and went forward they could see more.
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 22:08
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Originally Posted by James Blatch View Post
Q3:

Happy Hour.

As a BBC reporter in the 90s/00s I had some enjoyable experiences during Happy Hour on a Friday night in officers’ messes.

However, does anyone recall when this tradition began? Was Happy Hour a universal expression used on RAF stations? And was it used as far back as the 1960s?

Was Friday afternoon always a time for light sweeping/admin before an early repair to the bar?
Yes, happy hour existed in Officers messes in the 60s and beyond though the drinking laws started to reduce attendance. Frequently good was served, typically chips or sarnis. It would finish by 7pm when dress rules forebade the wearing of working dress (flying suits were not worn in mess).

On an operational bomber station flying on a Friday may continue to as late as 2300 or more.
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Old 14th Dec 2018, 22:10
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Originally Posted by James Blatch View Post
Q4:

Drinking on a dead man’s tab in the evening of a loss.

Sorry for the unhappy subject.

Does anyone recall if this was a common tradition in the 1960s and earlier? I understand it may originate in the RN, but I am not sure if this would have been the case in the RAF in 1966?
Not that I recall, but then we managed to be away each time a 9 Sqn Vulcan crashed.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 02:28
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Two pence worth for James’ questions so far, by message number:

#2 Argosies: no experience

#3 Vulcan cabin sight line: I was almost always in the front left seat. I was always tightly strapped in – it never occurred to me to go anywhere else. In those days I think I never used the pee-bottle. I have a vague memory of craning right with difficulty to look into the hole, but do not remember seeing a face to make it worth while. As PN says at #7, crew were able to come up to the front deck if they felt like it. When, as we often did, we carried crew chiefs or Nav trappers, we pilots might have expected a visit but I do not think it often happened.

#4 Happy Hour: Tengah 1962-64 had all sorts of aircraft and roles including a virtual wing of Javelins on 24 hour duty. Friday night was not very special. Indeed the drinking associated with UK station Happy Hours seemed instead to occur every weekday lunch time. When the first flight of Victors came to launch Confrontasi, they brought one or two gung-ho captains who insisted on a Happy Hour of their own. We had a good visiting relationship with the USAF (at Clark AB, in Okinawa and even transporters in Japan) so we knew what TGIF was. PN at #9 has the V-force routine as I remember it.

#5 Dead Man’s Bar Book: at the Bassingbourne OCU 1961-2 we lost five in a nasty car prang; the OCU staff were hardened old chaps and would have enforced this practice if they could. I do not remember it. At Tengah my squadron lost a crew of three just after I arrived. I would have remembered any mess bar ceremonial such as you suggest – it did not happen. However, very important for that witness, I cannot remember how we paid our way: if we had no bar books, as I sort-of remember, then the concept would be still born. In the rest of my time the question did not arise.

Sorry there are so few of us answering your plea James. If Danny 42 was still around, it would all be there on a plate for you.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 08:45
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#4 - Happy Hour. Certainly happened in 1966 at the RAF College of Air Warfare, Manby. A very mixed and sociable Mess population. As a watch-keeping ATCO, my attendance was however variable! Uniform not worn after 1900, IIRC.

Never heard of an All-Ranks edition as mentioned at Post #6, but then there would always have been local variations on the theme.

At Tengah in the late 60s HH finished promptly at 1900, when one was required to change rig into long sleeves and trousers.

In the early 70s at Eastern Radar, RAF Watton, it ran from 1700 until ENDEX, with food c. 1900 to benefit the watch-keepers coming off-shift at 1800. House rule was “No WAGs before 2100, and thereafter at their own discretion!” Uniform was regularly worn in the Bar, as controllers came and went all the time (it was a 24-hour Unit).
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 09:09
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R lsButler:

if we had no bar books, as I sort-of remember, then the concept would be still born
We either had bar books that the barman would fill out and you were supposed to sign. During a session the books could be set out behind the bar and often unsigned.

Sometimes bar books were impractical, for instance when lots of people and several barman were working, then we used bar chits. Bars were largely cashless.

A peculiarity was using your home station bar number and chit at a visited station. Accounts would often be forwarded to home base. Very useful for diverted aircrew who may not carry cash and departed before the offices ooened. It also applied inter service too. It was not uncommon for Yeovilton not to forward bills.

You could also make private phone calls through the military exchange and have it charged back through your meds bill.

As an aside, Boscombe was a Vulcan dispersal for Waddington.

Last edited by Pontius Navigator; 15th Dec 2018 at 15:44.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 11:08
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Re happy hour - certainly existed in the 1960s. Other terms in use were TGIF (long before the TV programme of the same name), and less commonly "POETS night" (p**s on everything, tomorrow's Saturday).
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 11:49
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In the MOD establishment I worked in, POETS was "Push Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday".
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 11:53
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Never heard of an All-Ranks edition as mentioned at Post #6, but then there would always have been local variations on the theme.
Good grief, what a frightful concept... Perhaps on a small detachment now and again, but never routinely on a home station.

Where a station had a large number of beanstealers (e.g. OASC Biggin Hill), they often tried to hold Happy Hour on Thursdays, so that they could snore off their hangovers behind their desks on Friday mornings, then poke off on Friday afternoon. We had an OM Mess Meeting at Biggin Hill where the idea of Dining-In Nights being held on Thursdays was put to the vote. With rather a significant number of cheesed-off aircrew (and fighter controllerettes ) reselection officers being there at the time, the vote went in favour of retaining Friday nights for D-I-Ns.... Some of the beanstealers were, shall we say, not exactly happy...

Re. Vulcan sight line, when we went over to green gloves, the SFOM sight glass against green gloves could make a passable mirror to see whether the lower deck was asleep...

As was the case with our Nav Rad - downwind from Scampton for an Infernal Aids approach, we were virtually at the Binbrook MATZ before the bugger woke up.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 12:09
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James: I started as an Argosy Navigator. Drop timing was controlled by the Nav lying on a board up front, looking down through an aiming window in the nose. He would have calculated a release point, though I have no idea what the Forward Throw for your "Gas Bomb" might have been, and established it in terms of yards left/right and long/short from the desired impact point (IP). Having no idea what your scenario is, I can't say what DZ markings there might be to assist in estimating ground distances. Maybe just a smoke canister on the IP? On the run-in to the Drop Zone (DZ), the Nav would advise the pilot with Left/Right calls and, with 10 seconds to release, would call "Red On" and a red light by the rear para doors would come on. Over the release point, he'd then call "Green On" - a green light would come on and the load release would commence.

I'm assuming that your "Gas Bomb" would have been rigged something like a standard 1-Ton Container - ie pallet mounted, on guide rails, and probably with an small extractor chute fixed to the upper clamshell door. At "Green On" the extractor would hopefully drop free and open in the airflow, pulling the load out and initiating main chute opening clear of the aircraft. Sorry, I can't recall detail of the braking system on the guide rails that would be released, or of the rigging system that was used for main chute initiation - that was Loadmaster and Air Dispatcher business, and it's all 50 years ago. (Dougie M may be able to assist if he sees this - he was another Nav involved in airdropping on the Argosy and C-130 for much longer than I was.)

Hope that helps a little.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 12:26
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I left the RAF some 40 years ago, but Mrs Speke could never understand why it was called happy 'hour' ...... She is also of the opinion that they took place every weekday evening!
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 13:18
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I can’t speak for the 60s but Happy Hours were certainly well established in the V Force by the early 70s. And by then Friday afternoons were usually “light”, and sometimes even involved a barrel at the squadron before happy hour.

If the curtains were open it was possible for the pilots to look into the rear crew area, although straps would need to be loose. There was a good description in the accident report into the Spilsby Vulcan crash of the captain watching the rear crews’ attempts to abandon the aircraft with increasing desperation.

As a Nav Rad or 6th seat I took every opportunity to stand on the ladder and look out but it was hard work wearing a parachute and very hard work with parachute and dinghy.

Last edited by Timelord; 15th Dec 2018 at 13:42.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 13:36
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Many years ago in Belize, we lost a fast jet pilot in a crash one morning. Later in the day, his friends and colleagues gathered in the bar to drink to his memory and lay the ghost of his passing; all drinks were added to his bar book account which was subsequently written off. The Belize OM was joint Army/RAF and as you might imagine, our tradition drew angry comment from some.
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Old 15th Dec 2018, 13:39
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Originally Posted by Tankertrashnav View Post
Re happy hour - certainly existed in the 1960s. Other terms in use were TGIF (long before the TV programme of the same name), and less commonly "POETS night" (p**s on everything, tomorrow's Saturday).
And “twofers”. I thought “POETS” was p**s off early -tomorrow’s Saturday.
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