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Memory 12 - Keith Matthews - 1955-1957

Keith Matthews - Marham 1955 - 1957

It was late one evening in the summer of 1955, together with several other erks straight from trade training in various camps around England; I arrived at Downham Market Station. The consensus was that we had all been deliberately sent to somewhere completely unknown us. A 5 tonner arrived from Marham and the scruffy driver told us to throw our kitbags into the back and climb up.

My first memory of Marham was the very imposing entrance complete with guardhouse, visited many times later when on piquet duty etc. I was sent across to my new home in the very imposing two-story billet shared by others from 115 squadron, the well bumpered polished floors reminding me of basic training at Wilmslow.

However the new boys soon found that life at Marham was different, parades were few and far between and life was very much attuned to keeping our squadrons Canberra aircraft flying. The majority of tradesmen on the squadron were national servicemen like myself, and the days consisted of early breakfast, being picked up by the transport and delivered to the squadron hut some miles away around the perimeter track. Then back to the canteen for lunch, and home to the billet in the evening.

I had been trained as an air wireless mechanic, tuning and repairing the vhf sets kept us busy and as the squadron pushed its flying hours up so our work increased. It was not unusual for the squadron to be night flying and this meant night work for us. We also had to manually refuel the aircraft which were fitted with wing tanks, and it could be very cold sitting on a wing tip in the Norfolk winter.

However there were many clubs to keep us occupied, my own favourite being the model aero club. We had many good evenings in the station hanger with our 'A' class team racers, and one highlight was being flown in the station Anson to Conningsby for the R A F championships.

Memories of Marham
Me on Canberra, winter 1956
(I remember we had to check the sticky tape on the tail fin)

Memory 12b
Me (second from right) with friends from our tent on Nicosia airfield. The tall guy on the right was called Harry Heindman (from Southampton) and the guy on the left was Maurice? (born in Malta) Sorry my memory is failing!

The cold war was at its peak during our time at Marham, but the Soviet heads, Krushev and Buganin decided to make a diplomatic visit to Britain. They expressed a desire to see an R A F Station, and Marham was chosen. On the day of the visit the squadron personnel were on parade on the side of the airfield with the Canberra aircraft parked each side of the taxiway. The visitors landed in a well-polished Viscount, which taxied, to the end of our line. They alighted and were met by the group captain and squadron CO's. The climbed into an open top car accompanied by their own bodyguards and a couple provided by the camp. The selection process was "anyone done any boxing", a Londoner colleague, named Wade, stuck his hand up and was volunteered!

An unforgettable moment followed: As the visitors car passed along and in between the aircraft the 'start engines' command was given from the control tower. In those days the Rolls Royce engines were cartridge started through a small turbine in the spinner. These sounded like cannon firing, and as the first 'shots' were fired the distinguished guests threw themselves on to the floor and their bodyguards jumped up and brandished pistols which had been well hidden up to then. It could have been the start of world war three, but as the realization of what was happening sank in peace prevailed and the aircraft took off and gave their usual spectacular display. There were many other interesting events and one that caused some embarrassment, was when a nearby squadron of Vampire fighter jets all miscalculated their time in the air and had to land at Marham through lack of fuel. Their CO having his engine stop on the peri track right out side our hut, then having to open his canopy and ask "would we please mind giving him a push".

In late 1956 our squadron was flown out to Cyprus where we lived in a tent village on Nicosia Airport. We returned to Marham in 1957 and I was demobbed on March 7th. I remember my time at Marham with some affection, friends were made and we had seen another side of life.

S A C Keith Matthews, 3145977

Keith & Barbara Matthews 53 Fairweather Crescent Ph: (03) 327 2219 Kaiapoi New Zealand Email: kebar@ihug.co.nz

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