Over 4,500 Service personnel will be deployed overseas this Christmas keeping Britain safe and supporting our allies. But where are they, and what are they doing there?
This video shows where some of them will be working.
The eleventh article in this series has been made possible by a submission from Mr John Matthews. This text also forms part of an exhibit at the RAF Museum recollecting his time at Biggin Hill.
My National Service Experience
I was a deferred electrical apprentice and having been an ATC cadet for six years with the rank of F/Sgt. I was called up to do my National Service ( 1954 -1956) and with my cadet experience I entered the RAF and proceeded with the Cardington procedure as the majority of us did in those days.
For my square bashing I was posted to Wilmslow (we had the company of WAAF entrants as it was their main square bashing station too which made life interesting). Being an ex ATC cadet my service number began with a `3` and having attended an ATC DI`s course at RAF Chigwell I was well prepared for what was ahead, needless to say I was soon appointed Senior Man not just of the billet but the entire intake I had to march them to the parade ground and hand over to the DI`s for our days drill. During this time we had various trade interviews and told to select three options, each time I selected the same and only one and informed the interviewer I only wanted to be an Elect. Mech. and in the end I won the day.
I was then posted to Melksham and after twenty weeks I had reached the dizzy heights of LAC Elect. Mech. (Air) and was given my final posting to RAF Biggin Hill, the famous Battle of Britain station, to join their Air Servicing Flight.
At Biggin Hill there was 41 sqdn. as the regular sqdn. flying Hawker Hunters and two auxiliary sqdns, 600 ( the late Queen Mothers sqnd.) and 615 ( Sir Winston Churchill`s sqdn.) flying Gloster Meteors. As the Hunters were new in service various manufactures modifications were needed and as I was promoted to SAC and having had drawing office experience and able to read electrical diagrams the Electrical Officer (P/O Riley) put me in charge of the modification team.
One day in 1956 while in the workshop and on `duty crew` heard the unusual sound of piston engines and going out onto the hanger apron saw a Hurricane and a Spitfire taxing over towards us and being piloted by the Stn./Cmdr. W/Cmdr. Smallwood (splinters) and our O/C Flying . Sqdn/Ldr Thompson, These two aircraft were to form the Historical Flight and later the BBMF. And these two aircraft are still with them today and I had the privilege of sitting in their cockpits to carryout post and pre-flight checks on them.
On a Friday afternoon I had to report to the flight office and a corporal and myself were informed we were to be `duty crew` for the next day as there was a special chartered civil aircraft arriving to pick up a VIP. On the Saturday morning we were issued with white overalls and awaited the arrival of the our guests, then a convoy of cars arrived carrying Sir Winston Churchill and his family, they were flying to Germany to see his racehorse take part in a race there. The aircraft duly arrived but as the weather was wet and windy we had to check with his doctor ( Lord Moran) for the safest altitude he could fly at due to his heart condition, the resolved, they all boarded and took off and we had to wait his return later that evening.
When he disembarked from the plane Sir Winston called us over and thanked us for being there and gave us ten shillings each.
We also had the late King Husain of Jordan come to the station every day for a fortnight as he was having flying lessons in a Vampire and we would have to strap him etc.
On a sad note I attended five military funerals in the time I was at Biggin Hill for pilots killed in air accidents. Our electrical officer (F/O H. Riley) and myself were involved in the unveiling of the stained glass windows in the Battle of Britain Memorial Chapel at Biggin Hill, we arranged electrical releases at each of the twelve windows so all the drapes opened at the same time.
Whilst we all remember our experiences good and bad in our national service days we should never forget those airman who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country which little is mentioned in our great magazine.
3144639 Nat. Serv. R.A.F. Assc. (List 13)
The following has been reposted from Steve Brew's Facebook page:
It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to one of our very loved Veterans, Flt Lt Colin Haines. He has been a member of this group for a couple of years and has loved the photos, comments and recently the wonderful birthday wishes. Colin had skill like no other when it came to the Spitfire and how to fly her with the greatest of ease and he knew how to make her move. It was because of Colin training many pilots from many squadrons, including 41 Sqn that we had such heroes of the skies. Steve and I will miss this very dear friend deeply and have treasured every conversation and story shared.
12 December 1940 – 11 Group had been considering the idea of sweeps over German-held territory for some time. It was a tactic that had already been executed with great success by the Luftwaffe for some months. An initial plan from late October 1940 was cancelled and replaced with a new plan on 8 December.(1) Its aim was quite simple: “To carry out whenever weather and other conditions are suitable, offensive sweeps by three Squadrons in company from a Sector”.(2)
The plan was for the Group Controller to issue the order to a Sector and outline the lateral limits of the area to be swept. Over all control of the sweep would be held by the Sector Commander and all three squadrons were to keep within visual range of each other. The three squadrons involved should rendezvous over base but not cross the Maidstone Patrol Line until reaching their operational heights.
These altitudes were set at 30,000-35,000 feet for the first, top squadron, 25,000-30,000 feet for the second, middle squadron, and 20,000-25,000 feet for the third, bottom squadron. None were permitted to descend below a base of 15,000 feet once the English coast was crossed on the outbound leg.
The three formations were then to proceed towards the coast of France in strict radio silence, with the exception of Pip-Squeaks, but were forbidden to proceed inland. Such operations were only to be conducted down-sun, between the hours of 13:30 and 16:30. The squadrons should then sweep once across their allocated area and return across the Channel, without re-traversing the area already swept.
On returning to England, however, they were to conduct a public relations exercise by flying directly up the Thames “to enable shipping in the Estuary to see our Fighters in strength”.(3) The order was to be executed, whenever suitable, from 11 December 1940 onwards. Thus, only a day later, the Hornchurch Wing was called upon to conduct “the first offensive sweep of three Squadrons… over the Channel”.(4)
The Station’s squadrons starting taking off at 15:10, with 41 Squadron’s twelve pilots airborne last, at 15:20. Having rendezvoused and formed up by 15:30, they crossed out in textbook formation, but 41 Squadron was soon called off to investigate what proved to be a false plot. They tried to re-join the sweep, but were unable to locate 64 and 603 Squadrons. As the operation could now therefore not be fulfilled as planned, the entire sweep was cancelled at 16:05.
No enemy aircraft were seen, and the Squadrons returned to base independently of one another, with otherwise nothing to report. 41 Squadron put down at 16:30, and this concluded the day’s flying. It had not quite been the success that had perhaps been hoped, and the first such operations did not commence in earnest until early 1941.
1. 11G/S.500/13/Ops, 1, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, dated 21 October 1940 was cancelled and replaced with 11G/S.500/13/Ops, b, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, dated 8 December 1940, and issued to all Group Stations and Controllers. See also 11 Group ORB Appendix, TNA AIR 25/198.
2. 11G/S.500/13/Ops, b, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, 8 December 1940, 11 Group ORB Appendix, TNA AIR 25/198.
4. RAF Hornchurch ORB, 12 December 1940, TNA AIR 28/384.
(Image: Crown Copyright Expired)
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