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Gütersloh, Germany.


Gütersloh was not a bad place. The Station was originally built for the Luftwaffe who flew Junkers bombers from the station. The story goes that there was a beam in the officer’s mess. Of course I only heard the story but someone claimed it is true.

The beam you talk about did and still does exist. I saw it in operation on a number of occasions. It is situated in a very small dining room at the top of a 3 or 4 story turret shaped building connected to a corner of the Main officers mess, which would have been both the Luftwaffe and RAF officers mess in their day. The dining room seated I would say around 9-12 people and the access was from the main entrance to the mess up the main staircase then up a narrow staircase to the top of the turret. The beam itself appeared to be a solid oak beam of railway sleeper proportions, it was thick and very heavy looking and had a light fitting mounted in the middle of it with what appeared to be decorative metal (this was actually part of the hinging mechanism).
The story goes that the beam was there to be used as a dinner party joke and it was connected to, I believe, Goebbels. The beam came into the play during the after dinner speech where a far-fetched story was told. The punch line was " If I tell a word of a lie may this beam fall down on my head" at which point a stooge sitting at one of the 2 seat tables by a window reached down to a small trapdoor in the floor and pulled on a handle which was connected to a wire and the hinging mechanism of the beam, bending the beam obviously frightening the guests in the room. The beam was a very complex design and was balanced by weights on pulleys above the ceiling and inside the walls”.

Gütersloh had large modern barracks. A good control tower & I was, at last, allowed to operate the runway controllers’ caravan. I loved that. Situated on the edge of the runway, it was nothing more than a huge heavy weight truck, with a hut on the back, that needed to be unhitched & packed up when the runway was changed by a shift in the wind. It held tea making gear, radio links, very pistols & a landline to the tower. The runway controller was the last person to see your aircraft before it left & the one who looked up to see if your wheels were down. Obviously, they are considered non-essential any longer. I guess it was jealousy! Out there alone, seeing all and so close to the action. To see one of the big Britannia passenger aircraft’s huge wings & tail plane flexing as it revved up its engines. Watching the F104  “widow makers” making that ungodly noise as it flew past on a circuit & bump of the runway. (24) When nothing was happening, to sit there with the binoculars scanning the airfield & listening to the skylarks rising up as they sing their hearts out.

At school we weren’t considered smart enough to learn a foreign language. I arrived in German speaking only RAF! I was full of slang & colloquial English. That wasn’t what I wanted. I have also been conscious that the British thought all you needed, if a foreigner couldn’t understand you, was just speak louder, as it was his fault anyway. (I actually heard someone with a good school education say that). My first language was Italian! As we had Gast-Arbeiter (foreign workers) on the camp. I was in contact with them a fair bit & started to pick up the lingo. Once you are with people all day, it is so much easier to learn their language. I did try to speak German and the longer I was there, the better I got. One of the guys in the barracks had a very good command of German. Of course he was used all the time and I think he must have got sick of being the company translator. We were in the Hartz Mountains & he elected me to go & find a room to stay for the night. My God, how little I knew! Even now it never ceases to amaze me how little I understand. At least I gave it a go. I attempt to speak German (or any foreign language) at the drop of a hat. I don’t care how bad it may sound, how many mistakes I make. I know that all people appreciate you having the curtsey of trying to communicate in their native tongue. It is embarrassing to arrive in the back of beyond & find someone who is fluent in English, when I struggle with just one language. Plus the fact that most people realise that you are English and probably too badly educated to be able to cope with someone else’s language. They are so nice to you! Sometimes not even giving you a chance to at least practise your shocking German. The problem is, once you don’t practise, it fades quickly. There was an incident where we were invited back to a farm after a few drinks in a local pub. I was struggling with the lingo as usual, but after a delicious supper, the guy who spoke excellent German told us that we had just enjoyed a meal of cat. Of course, I had no idea what really happened, but he seemed to be genuine ... because he didn't have any! It was lovely, nice light white meat.

I decided to get a car. It was a very strange estate car, a DKW 1000. (An Audi derivative I think) Very different set up. It had three pistons, each with its own HT lead. Two stroke engine. Front wheel drive and an estate. That meant, if you loaded it up, the weight came off the front wheels & the steering got VERY light. It took us lads to the Hartz Mountains by the Russian border, Holland, Hamlin and the statue of Herman the German at Detmold (Hermannsdenkmal). It was on a trip to Holland that I saw the dangers of road travel, the roads were straight & fast, they were usually lined with trees, any mistake was punished with a bad accident. We helped out at a crash where the parents were killed & the children where injured. Soon after returning to Gütersloh, there was a fatal accident with a stunt aircraft. It went straight in & killed the two guys on board. I remember writing to Kath & insisting on the seat belts being used. These were the early days of occasional lap straps & very few people used them regularly. It’s hard to believe now that successive U.K. Governments proposed, but failed to deliver, seat belt wearing legislation throughout the 1970s. In one such attempt in 1978 they were still claiming the potential lives and injuries to be saved. In 1968, Steve McQueen played his famous role as Bullitt. During the film, he only put on a seat belt if he was going to do some high speed driving and then it was only a lap strap.

On that trip to Holland, we went to Amsterdam. It really is an attractive city. Even went to the Rijksmuseum. There was a stunning painting of hands in prayer. I have not seen it since. It was breath taking! Of course we had to go to Canal Strasse to see the ladies of the night in their lit windows. There is something very bizarre, to a reserved England man, to see ladies disporting themselves in a window display. We went to Alkmaar, a real Dutch town that is a centre to the cheese market. Fabulous people. So inviting & kind. Because the R.A.F. had helped out the Dutch with problems from the Germans in the war, (25) they were especially nice to the English & RAF in particular. There is a long beach on the west coast; we did some sunbathing at Alkmaar aan Zee. The Dutch are a most attractive race, welcoming & open.

It was just before Kath arrived with Andrew that the wheel bearing went on the car. I tried very hard with my crap Kraut to tell the garage my predicament. It took a long time; lots of hand signs & appalling German but it must have worked. Just as I reached the end & an English speaker translated for me, the garage owner had got my story & it was fixed before they arrived.

We had a nice two bed roomed flat in a real German village called Georgsmarienhutte. (26) Nice shops, lovely natural park for Andrew to feed the ducks, good local shops. The villagers used to spoil the kids. Always gave Andrew some leberwurst (Liver sausage, which he ate & enjoyed!). Our local shop had a very nice girl assistant. Every time we greeted each other it was always a language exchange. If I started in German, she replied in English, I start in English; it was German that came back. I never caught her out either! The trouble was, I was too cocky & confident! When we needed a potato peeler, I just looked it up in my dictionary & went in, full of confidence! I couldn’t get across to this woman what I wanted! The poor women showed me all sorts of things, I repeating myself, using lots of hand gestures. She nodded, indicating she understood but keep saying “Ich habe denjenigen nicht. (I don’t have one)”.  Of course she did, it was a hardware shop for heavens sake! She’s showing me all kinds of stuff. Finally, I found out that I had been asking for a person who peels potatoes or at best, the peelings off the potato! These were the days before enterprising people found a way of selling you the stuff we used to throw away. There were no potato skins with cheese & a dip then!

The great German food discovery was the Bratwurst! (Translated as roast sausage). A man used to sell them from a mobile cart. French fries, your portion cooked freshly as you waited there. Salted as they cooked them. The Bratwurst was the Germany equivalent of fish & chips. So tasty, usually grilled & served with either Ketchup or mayonnaise. The Mayo was the best! Another choice was to have the Currywurst. A bratwurst smothered in curry powder. My god, I’m dribbling thinking about it now! When I joined a German company, later in life, it was a joy to go into town, especially around Christmas and get a currywurst & a mug of Gluhwein. (That’s a heated wine similar to an English mulled wine). They were just the things to keep the Germany winter at bay.

The disappointment was German Beer. Not that it was bad or tasted wrong, it just took ages to serve! The method of serving from a small pipe seemed to produce so much froth; it took an age to get to your lips! During the world cup in 1966, a friend and I were out somewhere. I had never had any interest in football, I just seem to remember it being a warm day and we called in a pub for a drink. Of course it’s full of Germans rooting for their team. The time it took to serve us a beer, with the realisation we were the only two English guys in there who didn’t give a toss what was happening, made it a long wait!

German food was very good. Eating cheese & ham for breakfast was a little strange to English tastes but there was plenty of food to choose from. Not a lot of hot food, apart from the boiled eggs. It was later I found the secret. It was to ask for “Ei und Speck”. This was scrambled egg with the nearest thing to bacon that the Germans had. Quite delicious! This was 1966 & Germans ate a lot of meat. Finding a vegetarian was as rare as rocking horse droppings.

Kath got pregnant with Ian and returned to England & stayed with her mum & dad. I managed a couple of breaks back in England. One journey was by getting a lift with a warrant officer in his VW caravanette. Another time, I got the chance to travel by helicopter. That was noisy! It showed how the customs & forces had an understanding. A customs officer asked the pilot if he had anything to declare and he replied for all of us, “No”. That was it! We were in, no matter what we had on board. He didn’t actually ask anyone. I think it took more time to get from wherever we landed to Preston, than it did to fly. The journey in the VW seemed to take forever! I think the W.O. was based in London & that took another long train journey to get me “up country”.

On one of the trips home, I nearly managed to end a glorious career in a car smash. Frank & Wendy had got a Ford Cortina GT. A Mark one model. It was lovely. As usual, he let me go for a spin. Coming over a humpback bridge, I couldn’t figure out why this tractor was trying to overtake all those cars! How stupid! Of course, it was lucky he had slowed the traffic down; I was on the German side of the road! The Gods were on my side that day!

Ian was born on the December of 1967 as I left in May 1968. After Kath’s long labour with Andrew, our sleepless nights & a child that ran everywhere, Ian was a lovely surprise. He arrived quickly, was as good as gold & slept well. Was this a sign my life was going to change?

Whilst working the last months at Barton Hall again, I took some part-time work as a car cleaner for Chorley Ford. There was a vague thought in my mind about selling cars as a living. The wages were brutal and I knew I couldn’t afford to do it.

Leaving the RAF after 12 years was a bit of a blur. Hardly anyone turned up at my demob do. I can’t recall much of the handing in of kit, I was just glad it was all over. Five or seven years would have been just right. In the end I was just waiting to be turned from Corporal Tich back to Mr. Lowe again. I was too much of a free spirit, too unreasonable about rules & regulations. Hated my wife & family being subject to their whims. I realised it was what I signed on for; after all, as they used to say, “If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined”.

The only thing I really miss from the RAF was conversation and being close to aircraft. I still have a few good friends but mostly people floated past you. Good short-term friendships with men who were straight enough but always going to another posting. The RAF wasn’t like a ship or Pongo regiment, you didn’t stay with people all your service life. In the 12 years I’d learnt to take care of myself & untie my mummy's apron strings. Now I was looking forward to dropping the saluting, peeing in a different place because you weren’t good enough and giving up polishing huge lino floors!

As my RAF life finished, The Viet Nam war was growing, one of my heroes, racing driver Jim Clark was killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim, The Beatles announce the creation of Apple Records and The last steam passenger train service ran in Britain. A selection of British Rail steam locomotives made the 120-mile journey from Liverpool to Carlisle and return to Liverpool, before having their fires dropped for the last time (a working known as the Fifteen Guinea Special (£15.75p)).

So Corporal Tich was to become Mr. Frank again. As usual, I had planned very little. I knew I didn’t want to continue in civilian air traffic, I’d seen how unhappy they were. (I think it got worse later on too). Bob, my brother in law, had been in the Post Office since he was a lad. It was shift work with an opportunity to get plenty of overtime. We needed to buy a house and furnish it with all the stuff that the RAF provided previously. So I applied and was accepted as a Preston Postman. I was starting to sort & deliver letters around Preston, it was then I realised … I hardy knew any Preston street names!

Next on to civvy street.