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-   -   Can you help me? RAF 1960s. (https://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/616339-can-you-help-me-raf-1960s.html)

James Blatch 14th Dec 2018 16:34

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.

James Blatch 14th Dec 2018 18:05

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?

James Blatch 14th Dec 2018 18:06

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.

James Blatch 14th Dec 2018 18:07

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?

James Blatch 14th Dec 2018 18:07

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?

alwayslookingup 14th Dec 2018 20:33


Originally Posted by James Blatch (Post 10335782)
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.

Pontius Navigator 14th Dec 2018 21:06


Originally Posted by James Blatch (Post 10335781)
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.

Pontius Navigator 14th Dec 2018 21:08


Originally Posted by James Blatch (Post 10335782)
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.

Pontius Navigator 14th Dec 2018 21:10


Originally Posted by James Blatch (Post 10335783)
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.

rlsbutler 15th Dec 2018 01:28

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.

MPN11 15th Dec 2018 07:45

#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).

Pontius Navigator 15th Dec 2018 08:09

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.

Tankertrashnav 15th Dec 2018 10:08

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).

Innominate 15th Dec 2018 10:49

In the MOD establishment I worked in, POETS was "Push Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday".

BEagle 15th Dec 2018 10:53


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 :ok:) reselection officers being there at the time, the vote went in favour of retaining Friday nights for D-I-Ns....:E Some of the beanstealers were, shall we say, not exactly happy...:hmm:

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.

ICM 15th Dec 2018 11:09

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.

spekesoftly 15th Dec 2018 11:26

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! :uhoh:

Timelord 15th Dec 2018 12:18

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.

retreating blade 15th Dec 2018 12:36

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.

Timelord 15th Dec 2018 12:39


Originally Posted by Tankertrashnav (Post 10336202)
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.

Dougie M 15th Dec 2018 14:56

James. IIRC there were no plans for the R.A.F.to drop the U.S. Daisy Cutter weapon in the 60's. There was a trial to carry 6 x 1000lb bombs on pylons on the exterior of the Argosy fuselage but that never happened either. Hypothetically a "gas bomb" could have been mounted on an SSP platform which would have been loaded onto roller conveyor tracks in the freight bay. This would be restrained by chocks and chains until the pre drop checks. The Nav would have control of the drop using a release handle mounted at the supply aimer's position in the nose window. I doubt that there would be ground impact point markers in view of what was on its way. Then the sequence would go as ICM explained. Merry Christmas Ian.

Pontius Navigator 15th Dec 2018 14:59

Some happy hour coloured bar chits were used. At the appointed hour these were removed and replaced with the normal white ones.

Fareastdriver 15th Dec 2018 15:33


all drinks were added to his bar book account which was subsequently written off.
That's because he wasn't officially dead until midnight.

Tengah Type 15th Dec 2018 19:59

Happy Hour in the 60's
The concept of Happy Hour in the 60's was to encourage all the officers to mingle and not just stay in their own specialist groups, Aircrew, Engineers etc, with the use of "Twofers"(Two for the price of One). This meant half price drinks for an hour on Friday night, usually between 1700 and 1800. In most messes a coloured bar chit ( Green?) was used for orders placed within that hour, with a scramble to get a Green chit before the bar staff removed them. Then back to the normal full priced white chits. If the mess used Bar Books as their normal control measure, then the chits would be transferred to the Bar Books on Monday. You could then find out that you had bought 100 cigarettes, despite not being a smoker. The Mess Admin always sorted this out as they well knew any persistent culprits.

Normal Mess Dress Rules were that Mon, Tues and Thurs nights, after 1900, the dress was either No 1 Uniform or lounge suits ties etc. On Weds, Fri and weekends you were allowed to wear Sports Jackets or Blazers. Ladies were not permitted in the mess on Mon, Tues or Thurs evenings, but were permitted (if appropriately dressed) on other evenings or for Sunday Lunch. Saturday Evenings the dress could also be DJ/Cocktail Dress or Fancy Dress as the occasion required. Friday nights Ladies were allowed in the mess, but it was not encouraged (and at risk). Messes had their own rules as decreed by the Stn Cdr/PMC so others may have different experiences.

At Tengah in 63-64, on my squadron, it was not unusual to have an all-ranks "Barrell" at 1600 after which some of the Junior Officers would be invited to the Sgts And WOs mess by the SNCOs. On arrival at the mess, you sought the PMCs permission to accept the invitation to enjoy their hospitality ( this was, of course, at our expense). After a couple (or 8) Tigers, you left to join the festivities in the Offs Mess. This changed with the arrival of a new Stn Cdr. Happy Hour, by then, was a major event following the arrival of several squadrons from UK, Cyprus and NZ to reinforce for the Confrontasi. A major feature of Happy Hour was the singing of Rugby Songs. On one famous occasion a choir of at least 200 was conducted by the late Manx Kelly in a rendition of " One Black One, One White One and One etc" which elucidated a noise complaint from the Javelin squadron situated a mile away across the airfield, and all the quarters kids humming the tune at school on the Monday. The main bar also frequently contained the Stn Cdrs, and OC Admins Staff Cars as well as the 2 Japanese WW2 cannon that were normally placed outside the mess. The later charged with strings of Chinese Crackers. Dress Regulations were not always applied!

At Marham, from the mid 60s, the Dress Regs were as I have described earlier, but even though flying suits were not worn away from the squadron, some working dress might have been evident later in the evening. It was also a time when a certain degree of relaxation of the normal rank structure was permitted and one could "Tease" ones Flt Cdr, Sqn Cdr,or even Stn Cdr. If overdone it was required to present yourself on Monday morning to be told (with undertones!) that you were "Forgiven". Or so I am told.
Of course, in those days, the majority of officers lived on base. In 68, on 214 Squadron, we had 53 officers, 3 married lived off-base as they were under 25yo and were not entitled to apply for a MQ, one had a family locally and the rest were in the mess or MQ.

The introduction of the Breathalyser (in 69?) changed things for the livers-out, and as more people moved to live out in the 70s Happy Hour has declined.

The tradition of drinking on a dead man's Bar Bill did occur, but my only experience of losing Sqn members was the Victor/Canberra accident in 68 which happened at night. After landing we were met in Ops by Stn Cdr, Sqn Cdr and OC Ops who told us to go straight home and not to talk to anybody. But the officers Mess Bills were cancelled.
The other(previous occasion ) was when I was at Hullavington in 62 when a Valetta crashed. IIRC the bar was open in the evening on "Mess Guests"( ie free) for the wake for the departed. I assume the Sgts and WOs Mess did the same for their own.

CharlieJuliet 15th Dec 2018 20:10

Lightning/Phantom 60's and 70's. Remember Happy Hour/2fors but don't remember drinking on a deceased's bar bill.

Pontius Navigator 15th Dec 2018 21:01

TT mentioned women in the mess. In some messes this was verboten apart from functions. At one mess wives were not even permitted to check the mail rack.

The reasoning was she might see mail addressed to another officer who might not have wanted knowledge of such correspondence to spread.

At Lindholme telephones were not generally available. One wife-of used to have to walk passed the mess to the guardroom to then ring the mess to find out if her husband was there.

Fareastdriver 15th Dec 2018 21:09


One wife-of used to have to walk passed the mess to the guardroom to then ring the mess to find out if her husband was there
As it should be!

Cornish Jack 16th Dec 2018 11:49

The combination of Boscombe and the Argosy triggers memories of the one which crashed into the bomb dump. We picked up the Staff TP and took him to the Mil Hospital where he made a subsequent remarkable recovery. Not sure that that episode would have much relevance to your intended novel.

Pontius Navigator 16th Dec 2018 18:58


Originally Posted by Dougie M
There was a trial to carry 6 x 1000lb bombs on pylons on the exterior of the Argosy fuselage but that never happened either.

We had Argosy 'bomb aimers's' on a course at Lindholme when I did my visual bombing course. I think the plan was to use them in Aden.

ICM 16th Dec 2018 19:25

PN: Now that's interesting, as I'd never heard of anything being done that suggested we might ever have used the spigot in the nose that I understood to be a bombsight mounting, and I don't know of anyone who did such a Course. In the event, nothing of the kind was ever done by 105 Sqn at Khormaksar. I did fly a Hunter-assisted leaflet dropping sortie upcountry one afternoon, but I suspect that the days of "Air Control" had been left way behind in the 20s/30s.

And Doug: Seasons greetings duly reciprocated - and I'm glad to see that my recollection of how it all went was not too far off course!

Pontius Navigator 16th Dec 2018 20:10

ICM, several of my nav course went to Argosy and I have vague memory of who a couple might have been. They would have been starting 2nd tours, they were Tim Hankey and Bill Hamilton-Irving aka Bill H-I.

tlightb 16th Dec 2018 20:10

Khormaksar.
 
ICM, going a bit off thread with this reply, but ref the bombing capability at Khormaksar I remember that 37 Sqn (Shackletons) had the bombing facility and used it I believe when there was incoming from the Yemen into Dhala. On 21 Sqn (Twin Pioneer) we trained up on dropping bombs on the range (AD3) with 25lbs bombs. The bombsight was quite a large bit of kit and would have been a bit of a problem in the Argosy drop position if used there. The accuracy was good (straight and level approach) and at that time the recipients didn't have anything in the way of air defence. If they did it would have been a one way trip.

oxenos 16th Dec 2018 21:14


At one mess wives were not even permitted to check the mail rack.
In two messes that I recall, the mail rack was inside the men's cloakroom.

Brian 48nav 17th Dec 2018 10:23

PN

Tim Hankey was on Andovers, 52 Sqn, Seletar then Changi in 68/9 and lived in the same apartment block as us - the 'Under 25 " Ghetto in downtown ( almost ! ) Singapore. Since demolished.

At Temple Hill OM the mail rack used to be at one end of the mess verandah - I can remember some folk getting quite uptight when wives drove up to collect their mail. I couldn't see the problem until years later, and now a civvie, when at an ex-Herc' mate's house for supper his sister-in-law ( a BA trolley dolly ) arrived and exclaimed " XXX, I checked the mail rack for you when I arrived back from en-route, nothing there". XXX now a pilot with BA went crimson and told her " You never collect someone else's mail! ". I knew his reason why!

ARCHIE1 17th Dec 2018 18:46

Following Argosy conversion at Thorney Island in mid-63, those pilots and navigators on my course destined for 105 Sqn undertook a short bombing course at RAF Lindholme followed by an air photography course at RAF Bassingbourn. The plan was indeed to carry six bombs externally and to run a camera on an athwartships rail out of the rear (side) passenger door. The bombing course included a live exercise dropping small practice bombs from a Varsity at Theddlethorpe range but there was no practical aerial photography involved. In the event, my posting was changed to 267 Sqn at RAF Benson but I understand my colleagues who went to RAF Khormaksar never did get a chance to put their training into practice.

Pontius Navigator 17th Dec 2018 21:29

Brian, thank you, it was 50 years ago.

Archie, good to get corroboration. It might have been at my initial Lindholme course and not my later visual course.

James Blatch 18th Dec 2018 16:18

Well, after a 'life event' intervened last week, I have finally had a chance to come back to this thread and it is a veritable gold mine! Thank you all so much.

The little asides (Mrs X wonders why it was called 'hour') are gold to me in injecting more than a whiff of authenticity into the novel.

The feedback on the drop timing and method for the Argosy is brilliant, thank you so much @ICM.

One of my get-outs is that this is a trials unit and therefore not everything was done as it would have been on a squadron. The Argosy gas bombs are based on a real event, however. My father recalls the trial - they built a mock village at Porton Down and then dropped them with mannequins dressed as civilians with patches recording the spread of the gas (tear gas my father thinks). At some point I will visit the National Archive and read up about this and other trials in more detail.

I have a couple of follow ups and one new question to post below. Thoroughly enjoying the gen, thank you all very much:

@Pontius Navigator
@ARCHIE1
@Brian 48nav
@tlightb
@oxenos
@ICM
@Cornish Jack
@fareastdriver
@charliejuliet
@Tengah Type
@Dougie M
@Timelord
@Retreating Blade
@spekesoftly
@rlsbutler
@alwayslookingup

James Blatch 18th Dec 2018 16:21

FOLLOW UP: The dead man's bar bill appears to have been patchy in its tradition. But would there have been a gathering in the bar that night (regardless of this tradition)? Or would people have gone home to their wives/families?

James Blatch 18th Dec 2018 16:22

Q5: Odd one this...would airman and officers have worn their uniform to church on Sunday?

weemonkey 18th Dec 2018 20:31

It picked up in the 70's and peaked late 80's.

Cant post images but will get back in 5 more posts ;)


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