The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome

No. 12 Summer 2005

A Touch of National Service

By 2354097 A.C.I. Gayton (previously Brooklands Aviation No.6 EFTS 1943 - 1947)

Lancaster "C" PB135, built in 1944.
Lancaster "C" PB135, built in 1944.

On Friday, 13th June 1947 I went on National Service in the RAF, did the usual eight weeks 'square bashing' at RAF Innsworth near Gloucester, and was then posted to RAF Ouston near Newcastle while I waited to go on an airframe course. That RAF station was a Services Flying Training School (S.F.T.S.) and the aircraft used for training were Harvards. I was involved with preparing one for the Battle of Britain Open Day. It was highly polished and set in the middle of one of the hangars and looked good with whitened rope on posts set in drums around it. I also had to march through Newcastle on the Battle of Britain parade, with best uniform, polished buttons and blanco'ed belt.

Eventually I went to RAF St. Athan, South Wales, to No, 4 School of Technical Training for an 18 week course for Flight Mechanic Airframes. The course involved all aspects of aircraft work from basic to systems and theory of flight, my previous aircraft experience was of great help on the course.

Having completed the course I was posted to the Air-Sea Warfare Development Unit (A.S.W.D.U.) at Thorney Island on the South East coast (near Hayling Island). The unit had a variety of aircraft, Hudson, Sea Otter, Beaufighter, a prototype Brigand, a Warwick and Lancasters. The Lancasters and Warwick being mostly used. I soon got used to the swing of things, including flying in the Lancasters on trips quite low over the English Channel. It was great to fly in such a famous aircraft, the best wartime bomber of our time, and I never refused a trip. At Thorney Island was also a Naval F.A.A. Unit, a Spitfire Squadron and a Helicopter Unit. I was not there for long as Fighter Command wanted the airfield, and we, (A.S.W.D.U.) had to move out to R.A.F. Ballykelly, Northern Ireland. It was about 14 miles from Londonderry with the Fleet Air Arm station of Eglinton in between us, they operated Sea Furys and Sea Hornets. After our brick-built accommodation blocks at Thorney, with highly polished floors (BULL) we now found ourselves in Nissen huts with a tide mark on the wall from previous flooding, and of course, in the centre of the hut, the usual pot belly stove. We had left a few aircraft at Thorney Island, The Beaufighter, Brigand, Hudson and Sea Otter, so only had the Lancasters, a Warwick and an Anson. It was a fairly busy time and I flew a trip to R.A.F. Kinloss, Northern Scotland to get a tailplane for our Warwick, We had to take it off a scrapped Warwick and lash it in the bomb-bay of the Lancaster then fly back to Ballykelly.

Eric Gayton at St Athan, South Wales in 1947-48.
Eric Gayton at St Athan, South Wales in 1947-48.

We were also getting a new Bristol Brigand. Unfortunately the day it arrived the ferry pilot put one wheel in a ditch, causing damage to propeller, wingtip and other parts. It was supposed to have been due to brake failure, the aircraft had only done a few hours testing at Bristol (Filton). A repair party was sent over and eventually it was back in the air, ready for trials. As they wanted longer range I was sent on another trip in a Lancaster to Filton to pick up long range tanks, again we lashed these into the bomb-bay. On the way back we called at R.A.F. Benson in Oxfordshire to pick up an Officer. Some of the airmen based there were curious as to what the wing tanks lashed in the bomb-bay were, they had a tailplane with fins on and they thought we had some special bombs on board, I eventually told them what they were and they seemed disappointed that they were not special weapons.

We used to go on detachments to R.A.F. St Eval near Newquay, Cornwall and on one trip we had a close shave, having taken off from Ballykelly with air crew, ground crew, tools etc. We landed at R.A.F. Aldergrove near Belfast to pick up a Naval Officer, and on take-off we ran into a flock of seabirds, a sudden blast of air came through the aircraft, and a bird had gone through the Bomb Aimers persplex nose position. We hastily found a cover and put it across up front to try to stop some of the draught. We carried on our journey but one engine was overheating so they stopped it. On landing at St. Eval the radiator of that engine was found to be covered in bird remains, another was partially covered, it looked as if someone had thrown a cannon ball at one of the spinners which had a large dent in it, also one of the carburettor icing guards was missing plus various other small dents on the leading edges. We were lucky one hadn't gone through the pilots windscreen as that would have been a disaster and I wouldn't be writing this.

Another hairy incident was when one of our pilots had been learning to fly the Brigand and we were on our way to St. Eval once more. As there wasn't much room in the aircraft, I was down the back behind the main spar sitting on the floor. On the way there, we landed at Filton to drop off our Squadron-Leader, who had been teaching the Flight Lieutenant how to fly it. He then took over and we were on our way once more. Being down the back end I couldn't see much, so when we arrived over St. Eval I only knew by the engine note we were approaching the airfield to land. The next moment we hit and bounced. Everything around me rattled, then the engines opened up and after another bounce we were going round again. I was tense this time as I'd realised I was sitting on the entrance hatch and if it opened I would be on the concrete runway. I couldn't move as, apart from the hatch, I was in the best position if we crashed, right behind the main spar. However, after a couple more bounces (not as bad as the first time) we were on terra firma. The pilot Flight Lt. Locke apologised about the landing, and the rest of the flying went well whilst on attachment there. A lot of the time, the aircraft were tracking the Fleet, testing radar equipment at all hours day and night, but when not on duty there were nice bays like Mawgan Porth with sun, sand and blue waters.

A Lancaster Bomber with H2S radar.
A Lancaster Bomber with H2S radar.

One late evening I was on guard duty at one of the entrances that overlooked the air field and saw lights over near one of the hangars on the far side of the airfield. As I knew there was no night flying going on that night I wondered what was going on. So I rang the main Guard Room, and they said they would look into it. Shortly afterwards I heard a couple of shots, fired from that direction, and later learned that a couple of R.A.F. personnel and a civilian had been stealing fuel from the Lancasters at the Joint Anti Submarine School (J.A.S.S.) who we shared the airfield with.

The Avro Anson that we operated was a late MK 19, but while on duty one weekend we had a MK 1 from, I think, R.A.F, Hawarden come over to give cadets (A.T.C.) a flight. This types undercarriage had to be operated by hand, which gave the lads something to do as well as look out. I went up on the last flight over Londonderry, but didn't volunteer to wind the under carriage up and down.

A Warwick with 'Chin-Type'<br>radar dome under the nose.
A Warwick with 'Chin-Type'
radar dome under the nose.

One day, near Christmas a Lancastrian (a prop and jet engined Lancaster) landed to pick up some officers, and two or three of our airmen going on leave got a flight back to England in it, I wasn't due leave for two or three days so missed a rare opportunity.

Further detachments went on to St. Eval and on one trip back I flew in the Warwick, a more powerful engined and bigger version of the Wellington Bomber. This aircraft had a large 'chin type' radar dome under the nose and a Leigh Light that retracted in the fuselage just aft of the main-planes.

MAY 1949

My time with the R.A.F. is ending and it has been an interesting part of my life. Now it's on to R.A.F. Warton for De-mob and then home, and back to Brooklands Aviation.

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