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Memory 4 - John Hill 1983-1989

MEMORIES OF RAF MARHAM - 617 Sqn (1983-84) & 27 Sqn (1987-89)

JOHN HILL

LIFE AS A 'LINEY'

I first heard about Marham whilst I was in the A.T.C. back in the late 70's early 80's. All I knew then was that it was in the middle of nowhere and had Victor tankers. As a teenager interested in aircraft it sounded very exotic. However after passing out of Cosford as an LAC flight systems mechanic I was about to find out for myself as I was posted to 617 Sqn in July 1983. This in itself was seen as a good posting because not only was it a famous squadron but they were also flying the (then) brand new Tornado GR1. From my mechs course two of us were posted to Marham---me to 617 and a Scottish lad (I forget his name) to EES. That was the theory anyway! Myself and two others from our course had actually passed out from Cosford a couple of days later than the others because we had had inside info on a test fault and had tried to blag our way through the fault finding process unsuccessfully. So in the end I arrived at Marham 2 days late. In those 2 days my mate who was posted to EES actually found himself posted to 617 by mistake and then back to EES.

My first sight of Marham was as my parents drove up the main drag towards the main gate past rows of married quarters. It looked like the camp had been built on the only hill in Norfolk. On getting to the guardroom I was shown to the transit block--- a married quarter! Which I shared with a painter and stacker who had arrived at the same time. The reason for the transit accommodation being in an old married quarter I found out later was due to the expansion the airfield was undergoing at the time. I also found out that July 1983 was not a good time to arrive at Marham as the then station commander (O'Brien) was about to do his level best to turn a little bit of Norfolk into a piece of Germany. The day after I arrived was the first day of a three-day station exercise, the first of many I would experience that summer, (rumour had it that that summer actually ran into the exercise budget of 1985!).

At the end of this three days of playing at soldiers etc I finally managed to a) find PSF and b) start going through the grind of arriving at every section on the station.

The fun part of this procedure I soon found was to get from the waterfront (where Eng. Manning was) to the other side of the airfield by air traffic where 617 was without possessing a set of wheels. A passing tractor going back to 617 from the engine bay solved this problem.

After arriving the next stage was the two weeks of SWO's marines, which was spent putting barbed wire fences up around 27 Sqn, all very nice in the hot sunshine which we had that year.

By August of that year I had moved into the squadron living accommodation (one of several ex-married quarters) and been passed out for the first line servicing of the jets.

Whilst being trained up for this there was also the added bonus of trying to remember your way around the Hardened Personnel Shelter and the rest of the site. The most important feature of the site was the provision of the squadron feeder (Niggers' Bone), which was a bonus because it cut out a 4 mile round trip just to get some snap.

My first trip away was in the September of that year to the Abingdon air show which me and Phil Goodman "won" as a punishment for forgetting to "blank" an aeroplane. Some punishment! A weekend of beer and swanning around at an air show.

The real shocker came with the onset of autumn and winter! I can safely say that Marham has got the laziest winds in the country. They don't go round you but go straight through you! The cold / wet clothing that we were issued with did exactly what it said. It kept you cold and wet!

The main things I remember about Marham that summer were that when I first got there there was only a handful of RAF policemen there but that changed on one nice day. I can remember being on the domestic site with Phil Goodman in one of the squadron wagons when we saw what appeared to be a sea of white hats walking from the main gate. The much rumoured influx of coppers had arrived. Marham would never be the same again. The other thing I remember was the twice weekly NAAFI discos. At the time Marham was pretty barren on the women front. I think there was only a handful of WRAFs there and these were all married so some kind soul at MT put a bus on into Kings Lynn to drag any women which were hanging around back to camp for the discos. These "electric wrestles" were a nightmare as I think the male/female ratio was something like 3:1---still the beer was good and reasonably cheap.

We also moved out of the old married quarters into the new T blocks, which had been built next to, clothing stores and just behind the mess. These were brand new portacabins which had single rooms which had fully fitted units and sinks in each one----absolute luxury (at the time).

In the October of that year (83) we lost our first jet which crashed into the Wash with the loss of the pilot. Unfortunately this came close on the heels of a 9 Sqn jet crashing at Sandringham and as a result the fleet were temporarily grounded and the recently introduced ground crew trips halted until August 84.

1984 started with 27 going to Oman on a sales trip for British Aerospace and yours truly being on BLACKTOP. This being the name of the airfield snowclearing teams. I recall being called out in the middle of the night whilst 27 were away as the snow was coming down in slabs. The snow clearing kit at the time were large brushes and blowers towed behind 4-ton lorries and bowsers, and we had to control these for the drivers. The snow was so bad that by the time we had gone round the 617 site (which was horseshoe shaped) and come back in the other side you couldn't see where we had been. I was lucky. I was in the cab of a four tonner some of the lads were perched outside the cab of one of the Victor tugmaster tugs doing the same thing.

I think that snowfall must have given the SWO kittens because if I remember rightly the Queen came to inspect the station that week on one of her regular visits.

The next event of note for me was being sent to LAARBRUCH on one of the regular EASTERN RANGER trips. This was the first time I had been abroad and although on first impressions LAARBRUCH didn't impress me a good time was had by all (aircrew and groundcrew). The good thing being, we flew most of the groundcrew out and sent a Sherpa and 4 tonner out as well. The last two vehicles being well used to bring the duty frees back. Around about Easter time that year we had the added distraction of a "peace camp" outside the main gate. This was supposed to be a large gathering of tents, caravans etc to protest about the presence of nuclear weapons being on camp. However the large protest turned out to be two tents and about 6 or so protestors who decorated the barbed wire at the main gate with balloons etc. they were rumoured to be staying for as long as it took to clear the weapons from the camp. They went after a couple or three days after supposedly having their tents kicked down by some scaley brats. Shame it looked everso nice as well.

The rest of that year the squadron spent training for the detachment of the year. This was 2 months in the States taking part in GIANT VOICE at ELLSWORTH AFB in South Dakota, truly a trip that no one wanted to miss out on. What can be said about this trip? It was a grueller. $246 a week in your hand, your pay going into the bank in UK and hotel life. Absolutely superb! This was what I had joined up for.

However whilst we were in the States winning the competition I was told that I was being posted-to LAARBRUCH. Initially the date was to be whilst we were out there but after some string pulling by the redoubtable Mr. McBAIN I eventually went 3 weeks after we got back.

I was next to see Marham in November 1987, when I was posted back to 27 Sqn. This was to be my final tour in the air force.

Getting of the train at Downham it seemed like I was going back in time to 1983. Absolutely nothing had changed there. After 3 phone calls chasing up transport from camp to pick me up it seemed that nothing had changed there either. However when the transport turned up I could see that one thing had changed---they now had women there!

Initially I was put back into the T-blocks and then I managed to get into the permanent block. Which compared to the accommodation I had experienced previously was a palace. Rumour had it that the block was supposed to have been the WRAF block but had been rejected by OC WRAF due to it having urinals fitted.

The camp itself hadn't changed a great deal except for a Victor being parked on the NAAFI car park. There were still 2 buses a week to Kings Lynn, the mobile chip shop still came to the main gate, and the camp still emptied at the weekend.

Life on the squadron was pretty much the same as my other squadrons even down to learning how to do the job I had been doing for 5 years before I could carry on doing it.

One bonus for me was that because the air force seemed to be cutting down on the aircraft types it operated quite a few of the groundcrew and indeed aircrew on 27 when I was there I already knew from my previous tour in Germany.

During the last two years of my time at Marham I don't think I have ever done as much guard duty especially in my last year. This and the fact that the air force had changed finally convinced me that it was time to look forward to demob.

Looking back I can safely say I enjoyed Marham (good & bad) and am glad I experienced it. I have many memories of the place over my 2 tours that I haven't included here. Maybe I'll write them down sometime.

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