Lyneham was a large centre for R.A.F. passenger transport in Wiltshire. Nearest town was Calne. Famous for its pork factory and the white horse carved out of the hillside. (22) It was a modern camp, with four to a room, brick dormitories.
This was my second posting out in the wilds. I should have taken the hint & realised that an airmen in air traffic control, will be posted to airfields in the middle of nowhere. The one thing I needed to do was to get transport. It was years before I decided to spend money on this vital bit of kit.Cars were still regarded as a luxury. Very few had them, although with hindsight, I could see they were creeping into normal life slowly. Cars needed no MOTs. My father in law used to say, “Car dealers came in, as the horse dealers went out” You could buy the most appalling wrecks from “bombsite” dealers. There was only one rule. “Caveat Emptor”, (buyer beware!) You bought the wrong one & you suffered. During and after the war, there were men called Spivs. The dictionary describes them as n. Chiefly British Slang. Someone usually unemployed, who lives by their wits. Or one who shirks work or responsibility; a slacker. Bombsites were usually flattened bits of land that the Spivs would put cars on & sell. Before the world became consumer orientated & everyone was covered against crooks, you were often conned. It was like that in the early 60s still. Most of us didn’t have a car & motorbike. Getting around was by buses, thumbing a lift or we were lucky to know someone who had some form of wheels. (A rarity!). One guy I knew had a 1938 Morris eight. It was once his fathers. (I guess he was middle class!). For a small sum, (by today’s standards), we could all chip in for petrol and off we went for the night. I seem to remember five bob (or half a dollar), being a common sum. (Five old shillings = 25p). Another guy had a motorbike & lived quite close, near Bath, about 24 miles away. What a pity I can’t remember their names! I remember visiting Oxford with a lad who lived there, called Ernie Childs. A big guy, very friendly & his family were most welcoming. It was the beginning of a love affair with the West Country. It was glorious countryside, welcoming people & a small market town outlook on life.
I learnt to jive to rock & roll records at a youth club in Calne. Fell in love there, of course. The only thing that was consistent was the difficulty of getting to & from these places. Buses were the only reliable means. Taking women out meant the bus or train. So travelling & seeing places was very restricted. You could hardly impress women taking her hitch hiking!
These were the very early 1960s. In 60, JFK had just become the 34th. President of the USA. In 61, Yuri Gararin was the first man in space and Kennedy was facing down the Russians in the Bay of Pigs incident around Cuba. Sex, drugs & rock & roll passed me by. I was too busy chasing nice women, obeying orders & dressing sensibly. I didn’t drink much but I do remember going to a pub called the Crossed Keys in the village of Bradenstoke, at the back of the airfield. Unwisely, we all had some scrumpy cider. (23) We were all very drunk when we walked back to camp. My mate was so ill, he threw up & his false teeth came out. Being drunk, I picked them up out of his sick & put them back in his mouth. I guess its experiences like that; drinking rough cider, throwing up & feeling ill the next day, made me think, it’s Gods way of saying I couldn’t take it!
It was at Lyneham that I met a corporal who introduced me to jazz. He had a collection of modern jazz records; it was him that started my long love affair with the Modern Jazz Quartet. I had a steadily building collection, trad, jazz, Ella singing Cole Porter, Frank’s “Songs for swinging lovers”. I should have been saving for some transport but I spent my money entertaining others! We all enjoyed listening to my records before we fell asleep. A Londoner from Edmonton took me back to his place for a couple of days. We visited a jazz club; he opened my ears to Stan Kenton & Dizzy Gillespie. He loaned me his black drainpipe trousers, a black shirt & a wine coloured cord jacket. It was all so sophisticated! 20 odd years old, stinking of Old Spice aftershave, smoking Peter Stuyvesant, chasing women and listening to music. We weren’t teddy boys, bikers or mods. We were young, mainly stupid & thought we were indestructible! We thought we had travelled the world & looked over the edge.
The guy with the motorbike offered to take me to his village youth club in Bathampton. Off we went, no crash helmets & doing 80 mph (which was fast then!). I got to know that road real well! It was another session of rock & roll. In love with, a stunning city and friendly people. The Avon canal was lovely, once took an evening stroll & saw a snake swimming up the centre of the cut.
Bath city was really beautiful; everything you need was there. A stunning Cathedral. Classy cafes. An Italian men’s hairdresser who told me that style was everything. The Georgian Royal Crescent & the famous Circus. History by the bucket full. A shop selling Roman coins on the bridge over the River Avon. The Roman Baths. If I’d have had transport, the whole area was absolutely stunning. In fact, in the end, it was a guy with a motorbike that whisked a young lady away. I never learnt! She worked for a firm of solicitors & for some mad reason we bought matching trilby style hats! What on earth we looked like, I can only guess. We were young & thought we were so smart.
Her mum & dad were wonderful, they really looked after me. I really thought they were the salt of the earth. If he wanted to say yes, or agree with you, He used to say “Werp” Never heard it before, never heard it since. The fabulous West Country accent attracted me. I saw him painting a soldier on horseback. When I asked what it was, it came back as “Oozar ona Orse” A Hussar on a Horse!
It was 24 miles back to camp. Many are the nights I hitch hiked back, arriving at some unearthly hour to start work at 8:30. In those days, there used to be a machine that dispensed cold milk in Box village. Half a pint, in a carton, for 6d. (21/2p). I can remember one night having the sixpence, but in copper coins. The only person around was a policeman. All he carried were the two 2d, for phone calls to the station. They didn’t have radios then & they were still walking the streets on a “beat”.Some nights were better than others for lifts (and weather). I only had to walk the full distance a couple of times. 24 miles is a long way in the dead of night, when you’re tired out and its work within hours. I owe so many people favours for those lifts. Only once did a pervert catch me out. Harmless but persistent! It was a small van, probably a Ford 8 and he had his terrier with him. He got the talk round to modern kids not being as strong as in the old days, he tried to get an argument going that we were too soft. All he tried to do was to get to spank my bum. 20 miles he must have tried! I was pleased it cost him petrol & got me back to camp, all for nothing! He must have been on that run many times. I was lucky to only see him the once.
I once saw a heavy landing by a Britannia aircraft. I was on local control (that’s the glass box you see on top of a control tower) we sorted out all the aircraft taxing, landing & taking off. Very roughly, if it was close enough to see, we looked after it. This huge aircraft was under training & came in to land at a very steep angle. The front nose wheel took the entire weight! How that didn’t buckle under the energy of that impact was amazing. They must have built them tough then. The controller asked if he wanted to note a heavy landing. They seemed very calm & said that won’t be needed!
I can also remember putting the fear of God up a pilot by telling him his aircraft was “clean”. I meant it was in order. “Clean” really meant wheels up and doors closed. As he was asking us to check if his wheels were down and locked, I think I may have cured his constipation!
We had a visit from a couple of American airmen trying to get a lift back home. As I was taking their details, he gave me his name, which I never forgot. Cornelius McNellis the third. Wherever you are now Cornelius, I still remember your name!
It was on Lyneham that I got my taste of waste in the forces. I was chosen to be on SWO duty. (Station Warrant Officer. The big non-commissioned cheese who ran Lyneham, while the Station Commander thought it really was him!). It must have been a power thing, as it was really just able to acquire a gofa from another section. He didn’t need the airman. He just thought it made him look good to have someone at his beck & call. One of the jobs was to get a bicycle, go to the stores and get the cleaning equipment that was allocated every week or month. It must have been a regular run because it was all known quantities of floor wax, stove black, cleaning rags and such. I duly got them & was told to put them in a cupboard. My God! It was packed with this stuff, tins & tins of junk. Someone at sometime must have put in a requisition & it just kept coming! I wonder if it was sent back when the cupboard couldn’t take anymore? Did the SWO man have a fiddle going? Who, except the armed forces, used crap like this? The Air Force issue clerks always seemed to work on the principle that if you didn’t actually issue anything, you were all right! But once it was official, you issued it, whether it was needed or not!My contact with the West Country ended by being posted to Northern Ireland. That killed off my love affair and took me away from the friendliest of people to a very strange place.