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Memory 5 - Lynne Braithwaite 1982

EXTRACTS FROM THE PERSONAL DIARIES OF LYNNE BRAITHWAITE

www.lynnesdiaries.freeserve.co.uk

As a dedicated VULCAN man I was a bit miffed to find myself at RAF Marham in 1982 when hostilities errupted in the Falklands. I would have much preferred being at Waddington. Still having had a fair bit of Victor experience it was a good 2nd best. I was supposed to be going to Eng Records but prior to my move was approached to see if I would swap with the FS in Eng Ops. I agreed, but had I known what was to happen later I would have refused. Politics! It makes you sick.

In a nutshell, I was dis-established, and got moved to Eng Records after all, then was dis-established yet again and finally ended up as FS QA and Eng Wg Adj/ PA to OC Eng Wg. I do ramble on. Lets return to 1982. Easter. Both Victor Sqdns are on standby and shortly after were being brought up to immediate readdiness. OPERATION CORPORATE was with us.

Seventeen Victor tankers were to be detached to Ascension Island (ASI) in the South Atlantic to support operations further south. The Victors were very quickly prepared and to achieve this task some a/c were robbed rotten, one a/c took the best part of a year to get back into the air again.

Ex Victor personnel were drafted in to Marham at very short notice to assist in all the preparations. There were some who found themselves in quite difficult situations eg. One SNCO rigger who was sent to us as having Victor experience told me on his arrival that his only experience was 12yrs previous as an SAC and all he did then was Marshalling, Towing and Cleaning! Now here he was, a newly promoted Sgt and expected to be i/c a servicing team. I never met him again to see how he got on.

Eng Ops was certainly the place to be if you were not at the sharp end with the a/c. You were able to get an overall picture of what was happening which helped enormously when difficult decisions had to be taken. In Eng Ops there were 4 Chief Tech's, one FS (myself) and a Warrant Officer with a Sqdn Ldr Eng boss. We were located in the Main Operations Building which also housed the Station Commanders office suite and fortunately for us the Aircrew Feeding Center. Had it not been for the "Feeder" when Op' Corporate erupted myself and the chiefs would have starved to death as the chances of getting home or to the Sgts Mess in my case were virtually impossible. The Chiefs were already on a shift system as the place was manned around the clock but were normally stood by at home during the week ends. This of course had to change and not without some harsh words with one individual who took to poking me in the chest to make his point. Talk about the problems of getting some people out of a peactime rut and onto a wartime footing, I couldn't believe it. The system had been manipulated and abused over the years by some people and always to the disadvantage of the more conscientious troops. I'm glad to say that things got resolved and my lot was eased with the arrival of a new WO. He and I took it in turns to be on shift or call at all times with whichever of the C/Tech's happened to be on. It was during this period that another of the Aircrew/Groundcrew barriers was demolished. The "ASMA" ( Air Staff Management Aide) Computer system was always "OFF Limits" to engineers because, as I was informed by an aircrew officer "It had been procured from the Air Staff budget and not an engineering one. However now that we had a large detachment of engineers looking after "Air Staff A/C" down in ASI and the only way of communicating with reference to the engineering states and in particular the Fatigue life of the a/c which was critical was the ASMA. The fact that it was very inconvenient for the Air Ops staff to look after the engineers forced them to give us access to the system. We were duly authorised and locally trained to get our fingers on the keyboards to send and recieve messages on our Eng Totes.

The Eng Totes became quite involved and proved to be a valuable service in the common goal. I should explain, we had two Sqdns of Victor K2 tankers (55 & 57) plus 232 OCU. For operation Corporate these two were effectively merged as far as the a/c and groundcrew were concerned and called "Victor Wing" tho' of course as far as manpower was concerned if it happened that a 55 Sqdn person had to come home then it was a 55 person who replaced him and so on. Life became quite complicated.

Memories of Marham
After the main batch of seventeen a/c had departed the supporting groundcrews were despatched and that not without some stupid drama. Two Senior Engineering Officers, one from each of the two Sqdns arguing as to who should go south. OC Wng Wg sent them both packing! This left us at Marham with just less than half the a/c and Sqdn manpower strength and no Sqdn Senior Eng Off. However OC Eng and Sqdn Ldr Eng Ops took over that task between them.

There was drama almost every day but everyone got stuck in. The one group of engineers who were always a the fore front and more often than not saved the day were the Aircraft Servicing Chiefs (ASC's) better known as Crew Chiefs. They flew with the A/C and carried out as much maitenance as was possible with the limited resources available to them, ie what they carried in the a/c pack up stowed in the "back hatch". This included replacement brake parachutes which were streamed on almost every landing. Hard work for the whole crew. So for instance, the three a/c operating out of BANJOULE near DAKAR in Senegal for the purpose of flying Photo Recce missions over South Georgia prior to the Falklands campaign proper were able to be looked after by just three ASC's. Very cost effective as like all the ASC's on the "V" Force they didn't get flying pay. It also made for a more covert operation using the minimum no of people.

Memory 5
Meanwhile at Marham it was all happening. All the remaining a/c had to be brought up to combat readiness as soon as possible.This was not an easy task bearing in mind that all the best a/c had been taken down south. On one particular occasion the troops had worked day and night to recover a Victor and finally it was sent out to the flight line where it was prepared for an air test. The crew to fly it was captained by our "Tame American" on an exchange tour. He was upset as the US Government wouldn't let him go down south with his adopted Sqdn. To political if anything went wrong. The crew-in went OK and away they went taxying to the end of the runway. Take off checks complete and all systems go, brakes off and gallop down the runway. Having just got airborne a large piece of black sheet metal was seen to drop off the a/c and on to the runway. In Eng Ops we could hear all the coversation on the R/T . The a/c did a circuit and returned to base. The fire crews brought the offending piece of metal to Eng Ops where it was identified as a piece of jet pipe. The next thing I know the Sqdn Ldr Ops came charging in where the chief and myself were working, cursing and swearing "Bloody engineers can't F....... do anything right" he then picked an a/c state board off the tote and hurled it across the room. I was absolutely stunned! Then I got mad, Sqdn Ldr or not this was not on and I told him so in no uncertain manner. My chief like the good troop he was departed the room which left no witnesses. Or so I thought! I made it abundantly clear that the engineers had worked bloody hard and long to recover that a/c for the air test and it was serviceable until it took off. Also he had no right to come in like a demented idiot throwing things around and if anything was broken he would be paying for it. What . I asked would his reaction have been if I had done the same in his office? He calmed down , glared at me and left. Then it dawned on me what I'd done. OH Shit! said I to myself. Anyway he dissapeared. The chief came back smiling, heads appeared thro' the door,smiled and went. The next thing the phone rang and it was my boss (Sqdn Ldr Eng Ops) who was a big mate of the one I had just bawled out. Report to my office immediately! Here we go! So I ensured that I was correctly dressed, hat on even tho' we were in the building and away I went leaving the chief in charge. Well did I get a roasting. Who the hell did I think I was? A SNCO hauling an officer over the coals etc, etc. I said my piece! He said I know what happened, I was next door. So me and my big mouth did it again and said "Then why didn't you come in and sort him out" That went down like a lead balloon and I was told to "GET OUT". Tempers were running high for a couple of hours. Later in the day my boss had a quiet word with me and we agreed to bury the hatchet as it were ( Altho' I was determined it wasn't going to be in me)

Apart from preparing Victors which were urgently required for giving Flight Refuelling practise to pilots of Vulcans, C130's,Nimrods, Harriers etc. they also sent down 4 Vulcans from Waddington to have an additional Navigation System fitted. We had already modified the Victors and it was a great success, I heard that the equipment had been purlioned from the VC10 fleet Service and civilian aircraft but I don't know for certain. Yet another interesting exercise was being carried out. The design and construction of Martel Missile Pylons to fit on the Victor wing in place of the Mk20B pods. The stress and design men arrived from BAe and worked in OC Eng's ( Wg Cdr Carruthers) with their drawing boards etc. Stn Workshops manufactured each part as soon as the design was completed. The Martel technicians were working flat out alongside the Victor Techies to devise the wiring and fitting of the control panels. Well in about two weeks the job was done and one a/c was actually fitted with the pylons and missiles and that was as far as it went.

Memories of Marham
Other events overtook us and the Vulcans with their much more agricultural looking launching gear coupled with the "SHRIKE" missiles did the job. After the dust had settled in the Falklands the Victor effort in Ascencion Island went apace until the runway and airport/base at Port Stanley were built. The ground crews were detached down on rotation from Marham for four to six weeks at a time. There was always an Officer or WO plus a Flight Sergeant in charge so this was getting a bit much for the two Sqdns plus they now had normal detachments and leave to work into the system. Initially when the F.Sgts from Marham Engineering Wing voluteered to help out we were told to get lost as we wern't on the Sqdn's and wouldn't be able to cope (Cheeky devils). However when they couldn't get their leave in or a good detachment to the USA for the Bomb Comp it became a very different story. This lead to yet another head to head for me and my boss.

I had heard thro' the grapevine that a certain WO on one of the Victor Sqdns (NOT my idea of what a Warrant Officer is or should be) had made up a new rota for the personnel rotation to the ASI and that the three Eng Wg F.Sgts were included and had been allocated the periods covering Summer school holidays and Xmas.

By this time I had been dis-established from my job in Eng Ops. The FS who had put one over on me on my arrival at Marham and was working in Eng Records had got himself a Tornado Managers Course even tho the job held a Victor Managers "Q" annotation. Then when 27 Sqdn was formed was found to be the only FS qualified (NO experience) and got promoted to WO to form the 27Sqdn ground crew set up. SOME JUSTICE!

Well I ended up in Eng Records with a very discontented bunch of men/women and this is where I was employed when the subject of ASI was officially announced and I told them to take a running jump and to get on and do their own work following what they said when we initially volunteered. Also that I wasn't very impressed with being told when to go by someone I considered unfit to hold both rank and post. YET ANOTHER INTERVIEW WITH GOD! My points were taken and there was a large amount of sympathy and support but I had to withdraw my more personal comments. This I did grudgingly. But at least we three FSgts didn't get stuck with the rubbish periods. If they had been half decent about the way they tried to do the job I and the others would have volunteered for those school holidays etc as our kids were grown up and had left school. But principles can be costly and some people have long memories especially when annual assesment time comes round.

Lynne's diaries contain extensive coverage of her time spent on detachment at Ascension Island, but we rejoin her story on her return to Marham.

One day I had to contact the people at Support Command HQ re some problems with the Data Analyst trades that were in my employ and the voice that answered the phone was that of a very dear friend from my Cranwell days, Janice who worked for me in Eng Records and subsequently ran Eng Discip at Cranwell when the Sgt was posted to RAF Hereford. It was like a voice from heaven. We couldn't talk much at that time but I got her Number and gave her a ring in the evening to catch up on the latest news. She and I are Kindred Spirits. She hails from Barrow in Furness and is therefore a fellow countryman/woman and we Cumbrians stick together. One weekend we had to work Sat morning at Marham so I arranged with "J" to meet her in her local town St Ives for a meal and a chat on Saturday evening. A very pleasent evening was had and I comiserated with her over her divorce. I hadn't been suprised really as I knew her husband , he had worked for me at Cranwell on the JP Flight Line. Back at Marham! I don't know whether it was just me or what, but I did get let in for some rum jobs. OC Eng Records was also disestablished in DEC 1982 and was sent down to RAF Stanley for his efforts and that effectivly left me in charge of the Engineering Records department plus it's bits and pieces.

Xmas is looming and the section Xmas do is being organised, it is a midweek job and Non isn't keen on coming down, in fact Non isn't keen on anything I do these days. To be honest things have not been right between us since we came back from the USA. One Sunday morning when Edward my mate from the farm at Harmston was visiting Non let it slip that she had consulted a solicitor with a view to leaving me! That was a real suprise. Anyway to cut along story short I rang "J" and asked her if she would like to go with me. She said yes. So on the appointed day I drove down to St Ives, picked her up and we drove back up to a village pub Nr Kings Lynn. We had a very enjoyable evening then drove all the way back to StIves. Then without so much as a goodnight kiss I drove back to Marham. I was shattered the next morning and did I get some stick from the lads about my "Dolly Bird".

One day all hell broke loose with an offshoot of our empire that I had had nothing to do with at all previously. Namely the Stationary Store. This outfit should have been part of the Eng Library set but wasn't. The reason it wasn't is because this was Marham! A LAW UNTO ITS SELF AS ARE THE TWO VICTOR SQDNS and I might add the two Tornado Sqdns are trying very hard to get into the same bad habits!

The Stationary Store was located in Station Headquarters and run from the Central Registry which was mostly controlled by civilians and the SWO and they all wanted to keep their grubby little hands on all the pens and goodies etc. Well I was summond to OC Eng's office to be told that at all costs,we, Eng Hq & Records WOULD take charge of the Stationery. This was as a result of OC Admin Wing getting upset about the distribution of supplies to some very unhappy officers on the newly formed Tornado sqdn's. So he "threw his toys out of his cot", and said to OC Eng Wg"It's not my job anyway it's yours"! So there we were with thousands of items and nowhere to store them.

Fortunately for me I had a stirling ally in Sgt Doug Edmunds my SNCO Discipline who had run a Stationery Store on a previous unit in almost the same circumstances. We went to SHQ to survey the situation, it was horrific, no records, thousands of pounds worth of supplies un acounted for, diabolical! 5,000 envelopes had stuck themselves down because they were stored in an annex into which the rain leaked and the floor was awash. Because our OC Eng Records had been done away with we had a spare office into which we immediately moved all the Valuable and Attractive (V&A) items of which there are many in the office Stationery World. At the same time we had to catalogue and list quantities held. There were also loads of special demands that had not been actioned and they had to be pushed thro the system.

On top of all this I had to sit down and design an extension to the existing Eng Library at the rear of No1 hangar to accomodate the stationery, also to write a case for increasing the staff levels to cope with it. I then found a load of works orders that hadn't been actioned for the existing library building, it almost needed a new roof. To cap it all this building had to be evacuated for the work to be carried out. So using all the Eng HQ and Records staff we moved some 7,000 Air publications and possibly 30,000 forms into yet another building, also the stationery and at the same time tried to keep everyone happy.

To this end I placed a rather contentious entry into the Station Routine Orders explaining the situation. Rather naughty of me realy as they were promlugated under the signature of OC Admin Wg. and he signed them not having read right thro my tome. I later got a rather hostile telephone call from him. It went in one ear and out of the other, having said tha, I got on quite well with him, I found he was a man I could talk to.

Another detachment to Ascension Island is on the cards for 23rd October 84 and I'm looking forward to going to get away from Marham for a while. The new camp is now in use so that will be something to see. No diary this time. RTU 21st November.

About eighteen months later the building was done, the only facility that I wanted and didn't get was a Ladies Loo which made life awkward for the female staff who worked in there and who subsequently had a long walk when the need arose. It was good to see that those who controlled the planning rules didn't work in there.

We finally got everything moved into its proper place in the new set up and even tho I say it myself I believe it was quite a useful addition to the Marham facilities and had the added bonus that all stationery and office supplies were brought under proper control.

Well fate dealt another card from the bottom of the deck in March 1985 when after another Manpower Scale Review I was disestablished yet again. A Warrant Officer post was established as OC Eng Records and the FS post was done away with. I had visions of being posted yet again, however a new post had been established on each major operational unit in the RAF. That of FS. QA Co-Ord. Mrs Thatcher had decreed that the services get their act together and operate under the rules of British Standard 5750. The WO post of Eng Wg Adj was also axed. Ours was demobbed just at the right time so that saved him being posted. Our OC Eng was determined not to be without an Adj to protect his rear end so guess what? Yes , I became Eng Adj and also the QA Co-Ord. I also inherited a complete rewrite of The Eng Wg Order Book, Unit Servicing Orders and the register of Certificates of Competence. The first of these required massive inputs from the Sqdn Senior Eng O's. I had a deadline set by OC Eng and they didn't like being pushed by a mere FSgt. Not even an old one. In the midst of this I had to attend a QA course at RAF Newton for 2 weeks. It was certainly different. To put this into operation at RAF Marham was I knew going to be difficult to say the very least, a minor miracle or two would help! The RAF had done it on the cheap again. If the QA post had been for a WO. the whole thing would have been politically much more acceptable to the Officer and Warrant Officer Mafia. But to put a FS into OC Eng's outer office was seen by them as almost treachery. However it was a decision that they had to learn to live with dut it didn't make life for me any easier. The heat was on, Pre AOC's Inspection was looming and the Eng Wg Orders, USO's and certs of Comp had to be completed or else. The Eng Wg Typist was an absolute treasure and without her co-operation my task would have been impossible.

Well another year has gone by and it's all change again. Oc Eng's location is on the move. 232 OCU has been disbanded and their premises vacated on the front of No2 hangar. So away we go. Oc Eng, theAdj, Sqdn Ldr Eng Ops upstairs. Downstairs we have Eng Wg Discip and Engineering Records who were politically evicted from No3 Hangar. Other people had laid claim to the offices on the front of No2 hangar and were told very clearly that the hangars were the territory of engineers and that is the way it would stay and it was only right that OC Eng should have all his HQ Staff in one location and not spread all over the station. It is a fact of life that without Engineers the RAF wouldn't be of much consequence. In 40yrs the message has come over loud and clear many times that ONLY AIRCREW made decisions in the RAF. Well this is one they didn't win!

Memories of Marham

We made the major part of the move over a weekend as well as late evenings (not very popular) but the works services had to be planned and co-ordinated first. The super smooth power supplies for the two computer systems also the computer links to the Tornado Propulsion Hangar had to be installed, power points and telephone links had to be transferred. then finally all the Eng Records telephone No's had to be transferred to prevent world wide confusion. The Telecomm Engineers did us proud.

Guess what happened next! A directive was issued to all units. Eng Wg Orders, Unit Servicing Orders and Certs of Comp. had to be reduced in size and condensed. Therefore a complete Review and re write was the order of the day.

By this time we had a new typist, a real treasure ( AND PRETTY!) also very efficient and more to the point is located in the office next door which saved me a lot of time. Also a new WO had been posted in to be i/c the Eng Wg HQ empire.

This was good news for me as it allows me to concentrate on my Quality Assurance duties which had never really got off the ground. Pre AOC's is over. I got a WELL DONE for the rewrite of our bibles but hauled over the coals for my lack of progress in the QA field. You can't win!

Not only that but I am now in posession of a letter from PMC (Records) telling me in words of one syllable that I won't achieve my goal of being a WO. "I have not achieved the steady improvement in my demeanour and way of dealing with my superiors that is required".

DO YOU WONDER IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING AND THE SITUATIONS I'VE FOUND MYSELF IN OVER THE PAST 4 OR 5 YEARS.

I worked for three OC Eng's whilst at Marham two of whom I had met previously as Junior Eng O's or known to us at Waddington on the "V" Force as BENGO's ( Baby Engineering Officers). Both had made their way up thro' the commissioned ranks and had made Wing Commander. At the same time another EX Wadd J Eng O was in post as OC Eng at RAF Coltishall.

So I guess Waddington in those seemingly far off days can't have been too bad if it bore at least three OC Eng's in succession in the period 1966-72. And the latest news is one of them has been promoted to Grp Cpt and is Stn Cdr at RAF Halton circa 1990-91.

Well I applied for a last tour of duty at RAF Waddington. I do not hold out too many hopes. But one has to try. Surprise. I have got my wish. It seems that I am scheduled to join a WO to set up the AEW Nimrod Major servicing team on that unit. That will certainly be something new. The effective date is 1st October 1986. Suits me fine.

The one thing that I am pleased about. Is my connection with the superb Silver models of a Victor K2 and Tornado GR1 that were made for the Sgt Mess by my good friend Derek Birch from Lincoln.

 
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