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Memory 6 - Roy Lavis - 49 Squadron 1961-1964

MEMORIES OF RAF MARHAM - 49 Sqn (1961 - 1964)



Wing Commander Chamberlin was then CO in 1961 when 49 Sqdn moved from Wittering to Marham, and I well remember the trek up the airfield to our dispersal at the back of the officers' married quarters in all weathers. We had exciting times with the 'Ban-the-Bombers' who kept us on base for a few weeks, bombing Competitions, which I think we won one year and kept us on our feet technically and QRA which took us to the other side of the airfield for days at a time and gave us some amusing incidents to remember. The Sqn. rather lost its identity when we amalgamated with the other Valiant sqns, 214 and 57 I think if memory serves me well, to form the Marham Wing. We moved down the airfield to the airfield side of the hangers. Wing Commander Langston had taken over as CO by this time. In 1964 on an atrociously wet and windy day in the summer we had our colours presented by Princess Marina, fortunately in one of the hangers. It was a memorable day in more ways than one. I married the previous year and as 'records' had blown the dust off my folder they posted me. I arrived on 3 Sqn at RAF Geilenkirchen before Christmas 1964 just in time to avoid the chaos of the Valiants falling to bits and the Sqn disbanding. I returned to Marham in 1968. There were still a few memories of 49 there and I did find XD825 in a permanent site just between the western hanger and the officers' married quarters. I stayed at Marham until I left the RAF in late 1970. Fixing Green Satin in the Electronics Centre.

Some 49 Memories - The move to Marham 1961
The whole squadron was summoned to the ops room at Wittering and told by Wg Co Payne,our CO at the time, that the squadron was to shortly move to RAF Marham. It was emphasised that we were told this in the strictest secrecy so that we could organise our personal lives but under no circumstances was anybody outside the squadron to be told. The strictest secrecy was again emphasised. On the way home somebody called into the village shop to be greeted with ' Oh we won't be seeing you for much longer will we'. So much for national security.

Quick Reaction Alert
Four aircraft were placed in a wire compound, bombed and fuelled ready to go. It was the era of the four minute warning and on receiving the warning from Bomber Command HQ, via a TELESCRAMBLE lead connected to the aircraft intercom and the Crew chief's headset, they had to start engines and get airborne as quickly as they could. To get the engines started as quickly as possible a trolley filled with batteries was connected to the aircraft starter circuits with the cables tethered to the ground. Four buttons on the trolley started the engines. The idea being that when the engines were simultaneously started (SIMSTART), the aircraft taxied forward the cables disconnected and they were off to the end of the runway and Russia as fast as possible. We had the American bomb and so also had a U.S. CUSTODIAN complete with gun in the cockpit to look after his bomb. We never started up or taxied with the American bomb although other squadrons with the British bomb did go to the end of the runway and back. On this particular alert we were all at our stations. Custodian in cockpit, crew strapped in, crew chief with fingers over buttons, groundcrew ready to be told it was all over and we could go back to our normal pursuits. Suddenly 'Oggy', the crew chief who came from the West Country, for some reason known only to himself pressed all four buttons and all hell broke loose. Four engines roared into life, the custodian shot out of the cockpit and hit the ground running. As he later said he 'wasn't going on a one way ticket to Russia'. Another crew chief thinking he had mis-heard something over the telescramble also pressed his buttons and started up. None of the crews had heard anything but we thought we were about to go to war. Every body was in a purple funk and it wasn't till the Boss got confirmation from Bomber Command that we could shut down that people started breathing again. 'Oggy' spent the rest of the afternoon explaining his action to anybody who was willing to listen. At the end of our bit of QRA we were all assembled and a beautifully carved and varnished finger, mounted on a shield was presented to 'Oggy', 49's own 'Mr Finger'.

QRA meals
The QRA area had no cooking facilities and so all meals were brought from the officer's and airmen's messes in insulated, wheeled containers. To get them from the main camp to the compound they were put on a modified NBS scanner trolley which had very soft springing. The contents of the containers after being driven at speed round the perimeter track had to be seen to be believed at times. Custard with brown spots and brown soup with yellow spot were fairly common at one time. On one occasion we had just started eating when the CO of B flight came in saying 'what was our meal like as theirs was bloody awful'. We made the usual comments of what an excellent job the cooks did, what great chaps they were and what fine gourmet dishes they produced when somebody commented that he thought the chicken tasted a bit strong. The CO looked at our plates tasted a little of the chicken and roared 'You've got my bloody pheasant'. Apparently he had put some pheasants into the officers mess kitchen for his crew as a bit of a treat. When the containers were unloaded the officer's one was given to the ground crew and our one went to the officers. We never did find out what they did not like about our dinner.

The Ban the Bomb Protest
In the summer of 1963 the Ban the Bomb campaigners decided to protest at Marham by attempting too take over the airfield and perhaps get to the aircraft. There were only a few hundred of them at the most and Marham is a very big airfield so their aim was a bit ambitious to say the least. They also had to face airman who had had their weekend leave stopped to guard the airfield so we were not too kindly disposed towards them. 49 squadron dispersal was just at the back of the officers' married quarters and so very accessible from the road. It was obvious we would be somewhat in the front line of the protest. We were told that they should be prevented from coming onto the airfield if possible but kept away from buildings and aircraft at all costs. We were also told that protesters should not be handled roughly as there may be cameras recording our actions and we did not want a public out-cry. We had our own thoughts about what we should do but saw the reason behind the order. In due course they turned up, shouted slogans, chanted songs and gave us some mild abuse. After some time they decided to invade the airfield by climbing over the wire fence. We successfully pushed them back without too much trouble. Female protesters found that they could get over the fence fairly easily but had great difficulty in getting back again. The male protesters made the mistake of giving us a bit of a rough time and running for the aircraft. This was seen by the rugby players as a wonderful chance for some practice and several protesters were brought down with tackles that would have done credit to Twickenham. Our last line of defence was the station police and doghandlers, they seemed a little disappointed that we were too successful as I think they also wanted to give their dogs a bit of exercise. Talking to some of the protesters a couple of our lads decided to spread some dis-information. They said that the metal covers and pipes sticking out of the ground in the area of the QRA compound actually formed part of a Regional Seat of Government. These had been in the papers quite a bit at that time and were to act as a bomb shelter for civil defence and local government in time of war. There was no mains sewerage at the compound and the cesspits had to be somewhere. We often wondered if anybody did sneak in and investigate our 'bomb shelter'. One of Michael Redgrave's daughters was said to have been arrested protesting somewhere in our area. The protests fizzled out after a couple of weeks and we got back to our usual routine of going home at the weekend. Keep up the good work.

Roy Lavis

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