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Memory 2 - David Henderson 1953-1958


David Henderson


As an ex-Boy Entrant, 16th Entry, RAF Cosford, my first posting as an ‘Airman’ in December 1953 was to Marham. I was 17 years of age and had passed out LAC recommended SAC. Marham seemed to be at the other end of the world compared to Cosford and the small village in North Wales where my family lived. My journey to Marham was routed via Euston and Liverpool Street stations (through the wisdom of some clerk GD in Cosford) to disembark at Downham Market - I can remember thinking how dark the soil was and how flat the land seemed to be in Norfolk. My other memory is travelling with full kit, webbing harness, small pack, large pack, water bottle and kitbag. The form was to balance the kitbag on top of the large pack, unfortunately as I got to the top of one of the tube escalators my SD (peak cap) slipped over my eyes and as I flicked my head back, off rolled my kitbag causing mayhem to all and sundry behind me.

On arrival at Downham Market I had to phone for transport and found myself put in charge of the small contingent of National Service men also waiting. They all seemed a lot older than me and it was my first taste of the disadvantages of being ‘Senior Rank’. The railway station was a busy place early Monday mornings when the London train disgorged countless airmen. The last coaches never made the platform so it was open the carriage door, one foot on the barrier and a dash to the waiting coaches.

After wondering around a day or so with my signing-in chit, it was decided that my newfound skills as an instrument basher would be put to the best use in the Photographic Section. I was then left to myself and racks of F24 focal plane cameras to service, I often wonder if all the cameras continued to operate after I had my hands on them, perhaps the cold war would have been over sooner if I had been deployed elsewhere.

During this time Marham was in a transitional period changing over to Canberras and the Washingtons had just been phased out, I can remember my first ‘Duty Crew’ and being told to go and marshal in a B29. It was night and I had to bring it in on the apron beside No 4 Hanger. The shivering I was doing was not through being cold!!, the nav lights looked a couple of miles apart. I then worked in the Instrument Section on the front of No 4 Hanger (Flt/Sgt Kempsey I believe was in charge) and did 2nd line servicing on Canberra’s, major and minor inspections. Lightened by NAAFI breaks and a ‘wad and cuppa’ from the young lady who served from the van between 2 and 3 Hangers and who always allowed ‘credit’ until payday if funds were low. Also memories of Carters and Matthews coaches to ferry us into Lynn for the Saturday nights out at one of the three cinemas, the roller skating rink and maybe the Embassy or Corn Exchange dance halls to compete with the American Air Force for the attentions of local beauties.

In May 1955, as I remember, my services were required by the ‘V’ Bomber Force and I was posted to 148 sqdn. I recall what seemed to be long sunny days sitting outside the squadron huts waiting for the Valiants to arrive, wondering if each new one appearing on the horizon was for 115, 207sqdn or us. Really happy days with detachments to Malta etc, following the Valiants out in Beverley or Hastings aircraft. Even active service in the Suez crisis, based at Luqa, we only flew a couple of night sorties and it was all over. I managed to hitch a lift back in a Shackleton as Christmas was getting near, but it took about 12 hours in rather cold and cramped conditions. Most squadron members seemed to be rather affluent in the booze, cigs and watch markets after these trips. My claim to fame during this era was running the ‘B’ Flight coffee swindle and many a airman can thank me for a cast iron constitution!

At this stage I confess, that whilst rushing to go on leave, I was the one who pushed the ‘activate’ instead of the test button and set all the fire extinguishers off whilst doing a pre-flight on a ‘V’ Bomber in 1956. I’ll do my jankers willingly if I could have my time back!

Other memories are of doing ‘Fire Piquet’ which meant free entry to the cinema as you had to check the building before and after every performance and ‘Guard Duty’ wandering around the airfield with a pickaxe handle and a torch, also patrolling the ammunition compound with a Very pistol when the IRA were thought to be active and nearly shooting when the other guards patrolling anti-clockwise took a shortcut and met up sooner than expected, remembering Friday night is ‘Bull Night’ and listening to the ‘Red Planet’ on the tannoy.

I left Marham in December 1958 for RAF Safi, back to Malta of all places. Then spent another 10 years in the Air Force before being discharged.

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