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 Memories of RAF Bruggen - 1958/59

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brian beckett

Number of posts : 44
Age : 77
Cap Badge : rasc
Places Served : Tower of London(initially in Royal Fusiliers) Aldershot, Sennelager & RAF Bruggen
Registration date : 2009-02-04

PostSubject: Memories of RAF Bruggen - 1958/59   11/7/2009, 14:09

I served my National Service as a clerk in the Royal Army Service Corps and was posted in May 1958 to the 471 Ground Liaison Section in Germany at RAF Bruggen, located by the Netherlands border near the Dutch town of Roermond.  Apart from the CO, a major designated the Ground Liaison Officer, the unit consisted of only four servicemen of corporal and below - two clerks & two drivers.  It had an array of vehicles consisting of two Austin Champs (jeep), a motorbike, a Bedford lorry with field office trailer, and a bicycle.  It also had its own stock of small arm, held in the airfield's armoury. Assistance was received from the RAF's admin office in respect of pay & leave movements and from a couple of nearby army bases for vehicle servicing & supplies. But the unit was independent and operated without the RAF or HQ Rhine Army taking any interest in its 'domestic' affairs. Discipline was at a minimum, with no parades, inspections, or menial tasks to contend with. Additionally, there was a Belgian Army liaison section attached, comprising a lieutenant & two other ranks.    

The offices were located in the Wing Operations Centre, in which we worked and mixed freely with RAF personnel of all ranks. The unit's role was army/air liaison, its principle task being the briefing and debriefing of aircrews whenever they flew operations in support of ground forces.  We were never overworked.   I was even sent on a RAF course to learn how to use and service a 16mm film projector as we were often called upon to show training films to aircrew when bad weather stopped flying.     
There was another army presence on the base but which had no connection with us. It was self contained unit of the Royal Signals that functioned with the usual army 'agenda', helped along by its sergeant major!  

Bruggen had been open about six years at the time of my arrival.  Its modern well appointed accommodation blocks and other facilities were luxurious compared to anything I had previously experienced with the army.   The catering was of a much higher standard too, whenever it was necessary to work late I was entitled to a duty supper which invariably was a steak sandwich with freshly baked bread.  

Three squadrons were based at Bruggen. Two were equipped with Canberra bombers, 213 with B6s and 80 with PR7s.   The third squadron, 87, was equipped with Javelin F1 fighters.   During my time 87 Sqdn lost two Javelins, one close to the airfield and another over the Dutch Coast at Bergen Op Zoom.  There was a drama when a Canberra of 80 Sqdn whilst on local training could not lower part of its undercarriage.    This incident was memorable because a detachment of army personnel from the Green Howards regiment was on an 'educational visit' to the airfield, arranged by our CO, and one of it's members was on board the aircraft taking a joy ride   The aircraft circled for a couple of hours using fuel before making a successful emergency landing; a great number of people on the base was out to watch.     

There were frequent visits by aircraft from other NATO air forces, but the most notable was the periodic arrival of a couple of RF84Fs of the Danish Air Force from their base at Karup.  Referred to as 'liquor runs' by Air Traffic staff, the cameras had been removed from the aircraft to allow space for the cases of duty free spirits that their crews had come to purchase from the Officers' Mess.

Around the the time of my arrival at Bruggen the Duke of Edinburgh made a visit.  The Daily Mail reported the occasion as follows: 'The RAF sealed off one of it's top secret bases in Germany so that Prince Philip could have a close private look at some of Britain's A-bombers'.  The intimation being that nuclear armed aircraft were based at the airfield, but there were never any during my time, one had been flown in especially.   Further on the article continues: 'The base is sensitive where strong security precautions are always in force'.   That was not quite true either, security wasn't as tight in some areas as it should have been with the large German civilian workforce employed on the base, which was a cause for concern.       

The regular 'Practice Alerts' were always the unwanted surprises.   They invariably came in the middle of a night and required all personnel to report to their place of work immediately, whilst the aircraft would take off on pre-designated missions.   Several NATO exercises were held during my time but one in particular, designated 'Top Weight', involved a large amount of preparation and target plotting and one of the drivers took me to the Command Map Store in Bielefeld to collect many of the maps needed.  Whilst there our Champ developed a broken a half shaft, which resulted in a hastily arranged overnight stay with the REME unit that repaired it.   Soon after the exercise commenced however the referees declared Bruggen had been destroyed in a nuclear attack, so our aircraft could not continue taking part, except those that were airborne and diverted to other airfields. This was a salutary reminder of our 'raison d'etre'. I'm sure none of us ever seriously considered this possibility for real; our predominant thoughts were always that of making it through two wasted years with a minimum of fuss and bother and getting back to civilian life.  Regretfully destruction did not mean we could laze around until the exercise finished.

We were extremely fortunate in having an easy going major for a CO.   He was from the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment and previously when with his battalion was possibly quite 'regimental'.   But the comfort of being in charge of a small autonomous unit within the relatively relaxed atmosphere of the RAF had mellowed him.    So long as we kept ourselves tidy, did what was expected, and caused no problems, he was happy to leave us to our own devices, infact at times he was remarkably paternal towards us.  He even allowed us the occasional use of a Champ to visit Roermond to get a decent haircut or for shopping.  During his absences the Belgian lieutenant was nominally in charge but he was always happy to let us run the Section without questioning any of our activities.  The major and his wife had a busy social life and one of us was regularly called upon to babysit his young daughter for an evening.  On one occasion the RAF decided to move us and the Belgians out of the accommodation block in which we were billeted with air force personnel of Flying Wing and into the one used exclusively by the Royal Signals.   We viewed with extreme horror the idea of the Royal Signals having some authority over us, but our CO had no desire for this to happen and using influence with his pals in the Officers Mess quickly got the plan cancelled. The cosy familiarity that existed within the unit meant we that tended to forget how important a major was until accompanying him on visits to other army units and seeing how all ranks jumped in his presence.

The base had the usual NAAFI with a WVS reading lounge attached (newspapers were normally available by early afternoon every day), and an Astra cinema.   The WVS lounge had a television, and one evening a week Netherlands TV screened a British film (Dutch subtitles/English dialogue), as most were fairly recent releases they were always popular.  Also, Bruggen was one of the airfields with a Malcolm Club, in which personnel from 'all ranks' were permitted to fraternize.  

Once, the NAAFI manager complained to the station adjutant about the amount of cutlery that was continually disappearing from the NAAFI canteen; the obvious place to go for anyone needing to replace a lost 'eating iron' (knife, fork, or spoon).  In response, the adjutant instructed the station police one lunchtime to check the cutlery of everybody entering the dining hall, which resulted in a considerable amount of the missing items being recovered and temporary inconvenience to the culprits, one of whom being me!
Having a beer off the base involved nearly a 15 minute walk to the bar opposite the main gate, or a further 20 minutes to the bars in Elmpt, the nearest village.  Occasionally it was possible to get a lift to a popular hostellerie in Bracht, which was run by three sisters and commonly referred to as the 'Six Tits'.

For National Servicemen with girlfriends back home there was the constant dread of receiving a 'Dear John'.   A highlight for many of them was listening to 'Forces Two Way Family Favourites' on the radio at Sunday lunchtimes.   A number of songs were requested so frequently on this and similar programmes (one being 'Hands Across The Sea' by the then young Shirley Bassey) that even now when I hear some of them I'm automatically reminded of those days.  

Being located close to Holland and Belgium we were ideally situated for making short visits to Amsterdam and Brussels, helped by generous rail discounts offered to NATO military personnel.   Anyone taking local leave, instead of travelling home to the UK by way of the free military rail/sea route, was entitled to claim a rail warrant covering a distance of up to fifty miles beyond a West German border,

A great number of servicemen based in Germany took the opportunity to purchase luxury items such as cameras & watches, all at much lower prices than in the UK, and which in those days were liable to British customs duty when taken home. Consequently personnel arriving at Harwich on the military ships had to face a rigorous ordeal from customs officials who viewed them all as potential smugglers.       
Unlike the vast majority of National Servicemen in BAOR, I never minded returning from leave. I was a corporal at the time of demob and was 'almost' sorry when it arrived.   I was even invited by the major and his wife for a farewell drink!   My job had been interesting, I had learnt to drive, had flown in a Canberra, and had made a lot of friends.  Life had been sweet. A fact reinforced during my demob journey on the military train and troopship, when I met a few members from the RASC draft with whom I had traveled out to Germany nineteen months previous and heard of the aggravations they had experienced.
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