Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

My First Car and the Prang

May 15, 2019

MY FIRST CAR AND THE PRANG
It’s quite amazing how closely my life and the life of Eddie Blackwell, who wrote the last tale, duplicated each other. Not only did we clash on opposite sides in the 1954 Leeds Red Triangle under 17s football cup final but we were both conscripted into National Service in the late 1950s early 1960 we both learned to drive in the army and both got our own first own car in 1962.
I want to tell you about my first car but first about the ‘prang I had while learning to drive in the army

THE PRANG
We national service personnel worked alongside career regulars. I believe my regular colleagues were disadvantaged in comparison to normal civilians. In the army, it is so easy to fall foul of authority. A mistake committed even in an off duty period could result in a NCO being ‘busted’ down, which contrasts sharply with civilian life where a transgression committed outside the workplace does not normally instigate disciplinary action at work. An instance of how easy it was to transgress happened to me while at Detmold: I managed to find myself on three charges at the same time. The first charge was for innocently wandering across a football pitch, which was evidently out of bounds. The second was after being pulled for having my hair too long and the third for having a ‘prang’ in a one ton truck while under driving instruction. On the face of it I looked a real villain, three charges, but what great misdemeanours had I really been guilty of? Nevertheless, it was not good policy to keep being dragged up before the OC.
The ‘prang’ though is an incident worth recording. A few of us were learning to drive in a one ton truck under the instruction of a subaltern, who like all subalterns spoke very cut glass.
I

It was my turn to drive and the rest of the lads who were either waiting or had already had their turn were sat in the back where they couldn’t see forward. We were driving along, on the right of course, it being Germany. The officer ordered me to turn right into a minor road where a German civilian bus was waiting to get out. Being totally inexperienced, I was going far too fast to execute this manoeuvre. I was still in third gear when I tried to turn into the side road. I can still see the horror on the faces of those Germans when they realised I was not going to make it. I gave the bus a real crack amidships. The unseeing lads in the backs cheered: ‘Hey up, Woody ‘as ‘it somat’
‘Oh hard look Wood!’ said the officer admirably keeping his composure. ‘Right Wood, reverse out.’ He was using the theory: if they prang, dust ‘em off and send ‘em up again before they lose their confidence. Unfortunately, I selected the wrong gear; instead of reverse, I selected one of the forward gears and gave the bus another crack. The lads in the back cheered again: ‘Go on Woody – give ‘em some more!’
‘I think I’d better drive back,’ sighed the officer, his good intentions going out of the window.
So, I was on a charge for the driving offence: as they put it, ‘For causing damage to a War Department vehicle and a German civilian bus’. I was marched under guard to the OC’s office. ‘Left-right-left-right,’ screamed a sergeant, it was all very formal, normally he was an alright guy but he’d turned into monster for the day. ‘Left-turn-right turn, beret-off-left-turn, A-T-T-E-N-T-I-O-N!’ They had me so confused by all the shouting that I finished up with my backside to the OC. (Captain Juniper) ‘Oh turn him round, sergeant,’ said the OC. in exasperation, whereupon the sergeant took me by the shoulders and turned me through 180 degrees. As far as I can remember, I only received a balling out and never heard anything more about the other two charges at all.
So the result was I didn’t actually pass my driving test in the army. But I had put that right by 1962 when I passed my test in civilian life and got my first car.

My First Car
It was a Friday lunch time in 1962 and clutching my new driving licence I was dropped off by Dad outside Magnetic Motors in Water lane, there to pick up my very first car. It was a 1959, beige coloured, Ford Popular 100E three years old and cost me the £165 that I had managed to save up from my meagre army pays. It was standing there bright and shiny amongst all the other cars in the showroom. I asked the salesman to manoeuvre it out for me as I was afraid of scratching it, not to mention the other cars. He parked it across Water Lane, shook my hand and wishing me the best of luck departed. I sat in the driver’s seat, twiddled the wheel a bit and looked across to the passenger’s seat; for the first time I saw there was no one sitting there – it was all a bit scary!

drove gingerly back to McLaren’s Fabrications where I was employed at the time; I was as proud as Punch and eager to hit the open road but it was still only Friday lunch time there was the afternoon to get through first. I worked with my dad at the time and Dad’s mate was a guy called Cliff; he was a grand guy – the firm’s mechanic. He came over to take a look at the car standing there, still all bright and shiny and he said, ‘Well, it looks a million dollars.’
I had to park it overnight in our back street and in those days even in a back street a car had to have lights. Now, if you were to leave a car overnight with even the sidelights on the battery would be as flat as a pancake in the morning, so people had various devices to show a light. Some obtained road-mender’s lamps and placed them in the road alongside the car. I had a spare battery, which I positioned in the boot and ran a line to a tiny little light that fitted onto the top of the driver window and showed red at the back and white at the front. Well, as ‘Sod’s law’ would have it on that very first Friday night that I had the car we had one of the worst gales I can recall before or since. I lay in my little back bedroom hearing slates being blown off the house roofs and crashing down into the street all night long, crash after crash; all I could think about was my poor little car. In the morning there was a huge gash where a slate had sliced into the car roof.
The following night, Saturday, I proudly took my mates out for the night – we went to Harrogate and I was relieved when I managed to get the vehicle home without further damage. After the slate fiasco Dad had managed to negotiate with a neighbour to allow me to leave the car overnights in his large unused garden. This would save me from falling slates and absolve the need to put on any lights at all. Unfortunately, while attempting to manoeuvre the car into his garden the front wheel fell down a huge unseen hole and crumpled the front mudguard. I had to get Dad up to extract me from the hole as I was making an even greater mess of the car in my efforts to pull clear.
I drove it to work on the following Monday morning; Cliff the mechanic took another look at it – now with its gashed roof and crumpled mudguard. ‘Well.’ he said, ‘It looked a million dollars on Friday – but I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it now!’
The winter of 1962/63 was a bad ‘un; one Friday night (4th January 1963) I parked the car in the centre of Leeds and went dancing with my mate to the Majestic Ballroom. I met Brenda that night and gave her a lift home we got stuck in the snow on a hill between Harehills Road and Harehills Lane. The very first night we met. Brenda had to push me out of a snowdrift in her high heeled shoes – we never looked back and had our golden wedding in 2018

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The Magic of Aeroplanes

December 1, 2016

This month’s tale is about aeroplanes but there will be special Christmas tale by Eric Sanderson concerning dastardly deeds at the Slip Inn .

Look out for it on Christmas Eve

THE MAGIC OF AEROPLANES
We have all spent our lives under the sounds of aeroplanes and I Say ‘aeroplanes’ not aircraft for that is what we called them in the 1940s and they landed on ‘aerodromes’ not ‘airports’, ‘Yeadon Aerodrome’ not ‘Leeds Bradford Airport’. Somehow the name ‘aeroplane’ seems to carry the magic better.
When we were young, in the 1940s, the air would be full of piston engine aeroplanes droning above us, there were so many and we were so used to seeing them we hardly bothered to look up. If we did look up we would see, Spitfires and hear their beautiful Rolls Royce Merlin engine note, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes with their snub noses, Blenheim’s, Lancaster’s, Halifax’s, Sterling’s, Wellington’s the American ‘Flying Fortress’s with its many gun blisters and the work horse Dakotas’ with one engine hidden behind the fuselage so it looked as though it had and engine missing. These were to name but a few. We recognised them by their wing tip arrangement some clipped some curved and by their tail fins. We were spoilt, we observed these beautiful aeroplanes oblivious that this was a unique experience which would not be repeated for future generations.  The German planes only came by night but you could recognise them by their sinister, irregular engine note. When an air raid was on and we were in the shelter and the drone of a plane could be heard overhead someone would say, ‘Is it one of ours or one of theirs’ even as a child I could always tell them.
There was an ack ack battery further down Knostrop in the middle of the woods. When they opened up they made a ‘pom pom’ sound so we called them the ‘pom poms’ the night sky would be filled with searchlights trying to light up the intruders. The raid would begin with the wail of the sirens and the boats on the river would blow their hooters too. My dad would say, ‘the mussel boats are going off it’s time to go to the shelter!’ When the guns went off they would rattle the door of the shelter and I, being child, was once heard to say, ‘Someone’s knocking at the door.’ Seemingly that lightened the situation but the dog we had, Bobby, ‘took his hook, and we never saw him again. When the ‘all clear’ sounded it was welcome and had a far pleasanter note, then we could return to the houses and bed.
In the mornings after a raid we kids would hunt for shrapnel for souvenirs. The Germans were dropping anti-personnel mines so Mam would say, ‘Don’t pick anything nasty up’; with her saying ‘something nasty’ I expected the mines would look something like dog droppings. A sea change event occurred on Friday night the 14th of March 1941 when a German Bomb hit Richmond Hill School. As it was at night no one was injured but the pupils of Richmond Hill School were scattered among the other local schools in the area or in some cases evacuated to places like Ackworth and to Lincolnshire. Betty Nevard (nee Gibbins) in her tale on this site, see Aug 2007, tells of how next morning she could see her poor little knitting on pins (the girls were knitting socks, gloves and Balaclavas for our soldiers) among the debris.

richmond-hill-bomb-damagen

At one point I was sent off to stay with my aunt in the country as seemingly being safer than Leeds but the first night there the Germans dropped a flare right outside her cottage, evidently searching for the massive Avro munitions factory
Towards the end of the war I recall a full week when nearing dusk the sky would be filled from northern horizon to southern horizon with endless formations of bombers their red and green lights winking. We were used to seeing a lot of aircraft but this was obviously something quite special. I wonder now, looking back if they were the 1,000 bomber raids or perhaps the build up to the invasion. It was such a sight I have never forgotten it. When the RAF lads came home on leave in their blue uniforms they were the celebrities, especially if they had wings above their left breast pocket, one wing for aircrew and a double wing for a pilot and a god.
Sometimes there would be an exhibition on a spare space in the centre of Leeds and there might be a Lancaster bomber and you would be allowed, as a child, to clamber in and wonder at how tight the space was inside and the marvellous array of dials and gadgetry and the smell that went with them, there seemed to be so much that could go wrong.
After the war we saw the first of the jets: the Gloster Meteor, De Havilland Vampire, with its twin fuselage, The Hawker Hunter and the English Electric lightening. All were beautiful aeroplanes getting faster and faster – the goal was to break the ‘sound barrier’ which at the time appeared to be some sort of a mysterious barrier where the plane would be buffeted about, some thought bizarrely that the controls would become reversed. We went to the cinema to see films such as Test Pilot and The Sound Barrier. 762 mph at sea level was the sound barrier but I remember 606 mph being the record at one time. Test pilots were now the new heroes; it was a dangerous job De Havilland lost three of their family testing planes
I would regularly take on the congested traffic around tiny roads to watch the air shows at Church Fenton. There’s a pub there still, The Fenton Flier, filled with photos of wartime aircrew and general memorabilia you can get the feel of the RAF guys piling into there for a few pints after sorties, having survived another day in the skies. On one occasion there was a Harrier vertical take of plane practicing the day before the show, it hovered about for a bit then it put on full power and climbed nose first vertically the back draught from its engines was so powerful caused huge mature trees to bow as if they were twigs.
Along came national service for me in 1959, I was drafted into the REME attached the Army Air Corps The Army Air Corps function was primarily to act as eyes for the Royal Artillery to help them target their guns but we also had a liaison duty, which entailed ferrying VIPs around. It did get a bit over the top on occasions. For instance, sometimes we would pick up a general and fly him for hundreds of miles to attend a meeting but then we would have to drive a petrol-tanker to the same destination to ensure the helicopter could be filled up with the correct fuel for the journey home. I recall going along for a ride with the bowser driver all the way from Detmold, in Germany all the way into France to complete such an operation.
At 652 Squadron we had fixed wing aircraft: Austers and Chipmunks and rotary wing aircraft in the form of the tiny Skeeter helicopter which could just hold the pilot and one passenger; later we acquired the larger French Allouette helicopter. The Auster actually had its tail wheel attached by means of a thick rubber band – this was the correct monoculture for the job but it enabled the RAF lads to have a laugh at us and our ‘toy planes’. In theory, the lightweight Austers could actually fly backwards. It is air passing over the wings of an aircraft, which actually keeps it in the air. So if the if the wind speed is 50 knots per hour and the engine is only making 40 knots per hour, then the plane is losing distance at the rate of 10 knots per hour but can still stay in the air. The advantage of the Auster, was it could land on a sixpence. When we went on schemes, any old field could present a landing strip. One had to take care around aircraft: if a plane came into contact with a solid object there was hell to play. Everything had then to be checked out with a fine toothcomb before it could fly again. There was danger too. The main rotors blades of the tiny helicopters dropped to below head high as they were slowing down so you had to keep well clear and the tail rotors were lethal, they revolved so fast that you didn’t actually notice they were there at all. On one occasion, walking blindly into a spinning tail rotor decapitated an unfortunate Alsatian. The method of starting the light aircraft was to ‘swing the prop’ but you had to make sure you arm was out of the way before the engine fired or there was a danger of losing it. That was not a job trusted to a humble clerk.
After a major servicing had been carried out on an aircraft the mechanic who had been responsible for the servicing was supposed to make the first flight with the pilot. This was a safety precaution to encourage him to carry out the job correctly but as long as someone went up with the pilot they were not too fussy as to whom it was. The safety procedure was quite rigorous though, loads of forms had to be signed and counter signed before the aircraft was released back into service. If the mechanic didn’t feel like flying I would often volunteer to take his place, I loved flying; couldn’t get enough of it. Sometimes they wouldn’t have even have bothered putting the doors back on yet, when the pilot banked you were looking out into nothingness but we were strapped in and somehow looking out of an aircraft is not so frightening as looking down from a high tower or a bridge. Once in the air the noise from the engine was terrific, you were sat next to the pilot but you could only speak to him over the radio.
Flying was so exhilarating, especial when you went above the clouds after a dreary period of weather and saw the sun which might have had been missing for days: the sun always shines above the clouds in daytime of course. The servicing would likely have been carried out by one of my airframe, engine or electronic fitter mates from the billet, who might well be complete ‘nutters’ in their off duty periods but I never worried, I knew they would be spot on when aircraft safety was at stake.
Helicopter rides were my favourite, I recall a particular helicopter flight when the pilot followed a herd of deer running through the fire breaks of a forest at tree top height, and it was a sight you don’t easily forget. Helicopters sometimes have to encounter a phenomenon known as a ‘vortex ring’; these are pockets in the sky where the air will not support a helicopter. Apparently there is no warning when you are about hit one of these things

allouette-helicopter

and the ‘copter drops like a stone. The pilot would practice the procedure for dealing with a vortex ring or indeed for engine failure should it ever arise: you cannot glide down a plane without wings. The method employed to prevent a helicopter from actually hitting the ground was to disengage the rotor blades and let the machine fall. The action of falling through the air causes the blades to rotate faster and faster, and then just before the ground arrived the pilot would re-engage the clutch that would alter the pitch of the blades, which hopefully would be just enough to hold the machine for a soft landing. Of course, when carrying out these exercises, it was the pilot’s game was not to warn you what he was about to do in advance, so when the plane dropped you turned green and left your stomach a few hundred feet above. The lads always had a laugh at my expense when I took a helicopter flight in the tiny Skeeters. These small aircraft were not advised to take off vertically, except in emergency when carrying more than twenty-five stone. As few pilots were under ten stones, our flights fell into such a category, to compensate for the extra weight the helicopter would take off along the runway like a normal aircraft, generating much laughter from the lads. We didn’t get much pay on national Service, If I recall it was about £2 10 shilling per week but the c/o helped us out by giving us an extra 7 shillings and six pence a week if we could become ‘observers’ for this we had to be able to recognise aircraft silhouettes from a card, which was a ‘piece of cake’.
Originally I had been posted to a small airfield in Detmold, West Germany but eventually I was posted with our flight to RAF Wildenrath, still in Germany. Here we were part of a huge RAF station. It stretched for three or four miles in every direction. One would have been talking about ten miles plus, to walk around the perimeter fence. It seemed a bit of an extravagance that our little Austers, which only needed thirty yards to take off, used their giant runway. The fact that the RAF did all the guards was a bonus too, as it meant we did not have to do any ourselves. The station was equipped with Canberra bombers they were bombers but handled like fighters and were flying somewhere in the world for almost fifty years.

v-bomber
All the three ‘V’ bombers: The Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and The Vickers Valiant, would drop in from time to time. It was the time of The Cold war and all three aircraft producing companies had been commissioned to come up with a plane that had the ability to carry a nuclear bomb to Russia and return. It was a marvellous sight to see them landing and taking off. In my spare time, I would enjoy just sitting on the grass and watching them: there is an exciting smell and a sort of magic just to be around aeroplanes. There were regular open days at the station, when all sorts of exotic aircraft would arrive to take part and we saw it all for free. I recall one day prior to an open day air show two jets arrived one coming from the east and the other from the west and they crossed right over my head it was a memorable occasion another memorable sight and one I have never forgotten to this day because the odds against it happening were so great happened a night with a lovely silver full moon,

I looked up and a Vulcan bomber passed exactly over the moon and for a brief second its delta wins and the moon fitted perfectly together.
On one of these open day occasions I remember having the doubtful pleasure of sitting astride a nuclear bomb. From time to time, the RAF had to practice night flying, which could be quite noisy. It kept you awake the first few times then you got used to it and never seemed to hear it at all.
I would have loved to win a flight in a Canberra sometimes as a money raising effort the RAF would raffle a flight in the nose of a Canberra bomber they would whisk you out across the North Sea and back. Alas I was never lucky enough to win a ticket. That would have been something special for me.
The mighty Vulcan bomber made its finest and farewell flight – in fact its only flight in anger – in 1982 when it was already out of service making its daring flight from Ascension Island to the Falkland island to put the airstrip at Port Stanley, held by the Argentineans, out of commission. The flight was far beyond its range but a planned series of thirteen Victor Tankers continually refuelled it and had to be refuelled themselves to achieve the objective. It must have been a morale lifting sight for the subjected Falklanders to hear the mighty roar of the Vulcan delivering its pay load over runway and know that although Britain was 8,000 miles away they were not abandoned. After being refuelled by the last Victor it became apparent to the crew of the Vulcan the fuel load to complete the mission was inadequate they could carry on and complete the mission but not have enough fuel to return or they could abort the mission altogether. They decided to a man to complete the mission whatever. Only one bomb hit the runway, the first, but it was enough it put the airstrip out of action and could not be used for the duration of the war by the Argentineans. On the way back they met our fleet on the way out to the Falklands who thought the Vulcan to be an enemy aircraft and nearly shot it down. It would seem the Vulcan was out of fuel and out of tankers and they were preparing to ditch in the sea, then in the nick of time a Victor turned up out of the clouds to refuel the Vulcan and save the day. What a welcome sight it must have been for the brave crew of the Vulcan; surely a tale fit for a ‘Biggles’ adventure.

Today, faced with the enormous cost of producing a new plane from scratch it is beyond the scope of individual companies to produce their own new aircraft, it’s even beyond most countries and the European countries pitch in to produce a new plane between them. We have The Typhoon and The tornado fighters but you hardly ever see them in the sky and unless you are taking a trip on a faceless commercial airliner plane spotters are restricted to watching vapour trails in the sky and wondering how the bodies of tiny sea creatures produced so much oil to fuel them all.