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Memory 16 - John Stephenson - 1968-1970

John Stephenson - Marham 1968-1970

On a cold and damp afternoon on 4 January 1968, I found myself at King's Lynn Rail Station, carrying 2 kit bags, and wearing No.1 dress and greatcoat, looking for a bus to get me to Marham - my first station after leaving training at Hereford. I found the bus and about an hour later, I was outside the main gate. After reporting, I was put in transit accommodation (behind the guardroom). Arrival started next day, trogging around camp certainly helped me find my way around. SHQ told me I'd be working in Eng Records, 3 Hangar so went there and reported to Flt Sgt "Taff" Gasking who introduced me to my section head - Chf Tech Gordon Jones. It was then up to the Eng (Discip) office to meet Sgt Nicholson (initially, he scared me to bits until I found out he had family in my home village so gave me a couple of lifts home over the next 2 years).

Back at SHQ, the SWO had allocated me to H - block accommodation next to the airman's mess (the block was filled with blokes from EES + me (a Shiney!!). I recall a long, dark room with a polished wooden floor - Tuesday "bull" night was a real eye-opener, clean and tidy your room only as a civvy cleaner did everything else (what bliss for someone straight out of training). I also remember my delight at the quality of the food in the mess (though I'm certain they still put Bromide in the tea/coffee!).

There were 4 of us in our little section of Eng Records: me, Colin "Sam" Weller, Paul Jones (so tragically killed in a motorbike accident ) and Chiefy Jones. We looked after and prepared all check servicing job cards for the ME(A)S teams, printed O.O.P. servicing cards and SI procedures and monitored the fatigue levels on all of the Victor fleet (including TTF) in order to initiate NDT testing as well as Major servicing and CWP at St. Athan. The main office dealt with MOD states etc ( Cpl Joe Hutchinson and Eric ? here) whilst another section housed the Hollerith coding team (I remember Ernie Patton and Dave Webster here). We took turns to be section key orderly and I was invariably late opening up on a morning - I did like my pit! Another enlightening experience for a young airman was having to wash-up the tea mugs in the ME(A)S crewroom - a salutory experience indeed !! In 1970, I was seconded to the IFR (Pod) Bay to set up a monitoring system for Mk 17 HDU and Mk 20B Refuelling Pod removal/replacement/ for all line servicing and ME(A)S checks (I also polished the storeroom floor every week)!

I was in the station band and one of my most profound memories was playing for the funeral cortege of the Marham aircrew killed when a Canberra and Victor collided over the sea on a night sortie (1968 I think); the funeral of Paul Jones in Marham cemetery was also a poignant moment. I also recall looking out of the office window at a USAF F-111 overflying the airfield when the pilot suddenly ejected. I watched the plane nosedive, crashing between 57 Sqn dispersal and the bomb dump; how it missed those planes on the dispersal I'll never know.

My first overseas experience was on a 57 Sqn detachment to Muharraq, and abiding memories were getting Bahrein Belly for 4/5 days, the swimming pool, the causeway to/from Manama city and the 2 lane 10 pin bowling alley with the 2 Arabs who manually re-set the pins (somewhat different from Marham Bowl).

Another detachment was with 214 Sqn to Gan in 1969 where I worked with a SE Fitt called Jackie Colquhoun; we repacked the Victor brake chutes in the station gym. I thought Gan was absolutely fantastic and loved the place.

Back at Marham, I eventually moved into the "new" block with my mates and as well as the standard Friday all-night card game, I recall getting absolutely blasted on port and sherry and being ill for 3 days afterwards (Christmas time 1968)?

We regularly used the 3 pubs in the village and though I can't remember its proper name, "Fag-ash Lils" (the pub at the bottom of the hill) was a regular haunt; Lil was a constant smoker, pulling pints with a ciggy in her mouth. We used to bet on whose pint would get the falling ash!! In 1970, myself and Sam Weller had our joint posting party here in the back room (Sam to West Raynham and me to Scampton on an exchange). Lil prepared a buffet for us; Adrian Garside felt sick, got lockjaw and hosed the reflux through his nose over the buffet!!! We didn't eat much of the food which didn't please Lil very much (no-one dared tell her what had happened).

Saturday was Kings Lynn day. We got the 10.00 bus into Lynn, looked around the shops, placed a couple of bets then adjourned to our usual pubs for a game of darts and a pint or three before going to the pictures - 2 cinemas and, irrespective of what film was showing, we alternated each week. After the film it was another few beers or four before a chinese then taxi back to camp (talk about boring or what - well, we enjoyed it!). I had my 21st at Marham with one of the celebrations at "The Swan" in Fincham; I had a mini at the time and have a recollection of about 8 guys in and on the mini for the journey back to camp. We also paid frequent visits to the hostelries in Narborough, Shouldham, Swaffham. I believe I actually learned about beer drinking when I met Ted Bayles, "Geordie" Feary and Paddy in the Marham Bowl (I grew to really hate that Watney's Red Barrel!).

I also remember those Norfolk fogs especially the one which arrived when myself and a mate called Dave Page were on our way to a dance at Watton - it took about 3 hours to get there and the dance was about to finish.

Back at Marham, I remember getting a pint of milk to drink with my ham and plain crisp sandwich while listening to "FIRE" by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (funny how inconsequential things like this stick in the mind). We played a lot of darts in the "Pigs Bar" as well as lots of bowling - people I recall were Don/Lois Foster, Les/Anne Landers, Roy Crooks, Timmy Watson, Colin Coward, "Percy" Pilgrim, George Berwise. Inter-section football/cricket comps abounded.

I also reckon I did more AOC's parades than your average airperson as, being in the station band, I did parades at numerous other stations including Bawrty as well as passing-out parades for the WRAF at Spitalgate plus Remembrance Day parades in the local community. I also recall that most Friday nights we played at the Officers' Mess for Dining-in/Guest Nights plus frequent visits to the SNCOs messes at Chicksands, Mildenhall and Lakenheath. The formation of Strike Command in April 1968 was memorable as the band had just been to Spitalgate that morning. I was supposed to be going on leave; this was cancelled and I finished up at Scampton for the ceremony.

The bandmaster, Bert Holt, also happened to be i/c the Station Cinema so after rehearsal, a freebie to see the main feature was a real bonus; as I recall, the cinema was in a building just past the Sgt's Mess and not far from the MT section in 5 shed.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Marham (although I could have done without the winter Sno-flo duty). I can see a lot of faces in my mind but can't put names to them; even so, they were friends and Marham was truly a friendly station. One of these days, I would love to come back and visit.

P.S. I seem to recall a Valiant on static display, possibly outside the Ops Block? And who was that chap who did a marathon charity walk around the airfield peri one weekend?

John Stephenson
John.Stephenson@durham.gov.uk

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