RAF Marham Norfolk UK
After I had completed my engineering course at RAF Cranwell, my first posting as a “fully fledged” Flying Officer in the Engineering Branch was to RAF Marham in Norfolk. At the time there were three squadrons using Marham as their base, 214 Squadron, 57 Squadron and 55 Squadron.
55 Squadron was by coincidence my father’s Squadron in WW2, where he saw active service as a pilot on Baltimore aircraft from 1943 when based in Egypt, North Africa.
As the home base for the Victor aircraft, whose primary task was to carry out mid-air flight refuelling, my post as OCAREF (Officer Commanding Air Refuelling Equipment Flight) was particularly interesting. In the foreword to the book containing Bob Tuxford’s memoirs (57 Squadron and RAF Cranwell 97 Entry), Rowland White – the author of Vulcan 607 covering the Falklands airstrike – makes the point that without the Victor Tankers, the mission would not have been possible. Leading on from that, it follows that without the reliability and successful operation of the actual Flight Refuelling equipment, the mission would also not have been possible
My team of airmen was responsible for maintaining the flight refuelling “pods” which were attached under the wings of the Victor. The pods were primarily hydraulically operated, and contained a long hose section (special piping) which was deployed in flight to transport fuel to the receiving aircraft: at the end of the “pipe” was a small drogue which acted as both stabiliser and target in the probe and drogue procedure.
The station was a fully operational base with constant activity, and a particularly long runway to accommodate the larger aircraft, which meant that we had visits from all types of plane, including the USA Boeing KC135 Tankers; the Americans had a nearby base at Lakenheath and were very hospitable as I recall!
Life at RAF Marham was comfortable and the Officer’s Mess and accommodation first class. My office was one of several in a building situated directly in front of the main aircraft parking area, and within walking distance of the bay or workshop where the pods were serviced. I reported to a Squadron Leader Grey. The section was very efficiently run by Chief Technician Barlowe, with a number of sergeants and a small team of airmen, who knew the equipment “inside out” – which meant that there was not a lot for me to do! Life was actually pretty dull after Cranwell, and my job was mainly paper pushing, checking on new modifications to the equipment, overseeing the occasional misdemeanour and making sure that my Chief Tech was happy! The Chief “ran the show”, and one of my self-appointed duties before I left was to recommend him for promotion to Flight Sergeant, which was long overdue and fully deserved.
One of my tasks was to organise the RAF Marham cricket team: since I was new to the station, finding out who could actually play cricket was in itself a challenge, and I needed to field a mixed ranks team of both officers and airmen to have any chance of putting together a decent side. I am happy to say that the team did have some wins, although we were hampered by availability problems when some of the key members (aircrew) were on exercise.
Apart from the cricket and the occasional challenges arising from air exercises and operations, life for me was boring. My fellow engineers were good sorts but dull – except for Flt Lt Fred Smith. Fred was then in his fifties and had come through the “ranks” – he had a wicked sense of humour and was great company. There was no-one else posted to Marham from Cranwell whom I knew, and the aircrew tended to be an elitist bunch. And I was pursued from time to time by unmarried daughters from the marriage quarters as a likely catch and good “husband material”
So for a number of reasons, after a year or so I applied to move out of the Mess and into private accommodation. There was a like-minded fellow officer – Bas Simpson from the Supply Branch (I think) – who was engaged to be married and shared my opinion about living on the Base: we found a derelict cottage in Saham Hills – a village a few miles from Marham. If I remember correctly, the rent was either nothing or very minimal because a lot of work was required to make it habitable. Bas, with his fiance, and I duly moved in and split the cottage into separate living areas.
As my posting drew to a close, in 1974 I put in a request to resign my commission and leave the RAF: the process was not straightforward, and my next posting would have been to RAF Wildenrath in Germany, looking after the Bloodhound Missile section, which under different circumstances, would also have been most interesting.
While I was waiting for a decision, I was “seconded” for a few months to the Marconi Company based in Chelmsford Essex, which was a Defence contractor – part of GEC at the time – and now part of British Aerospace (BAE) I was working in the section involved with radar for the military, and as I recall, we operated out of Portakabins on the Marconi “station”.