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 Memories of RAF Bruggen - 1958/59

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brian beckett

Number of posts: 44
Age: 76
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 in the army as a clerk in the RASC.  In May 1958 I was posted to the '471 Ground Liaison Section' at RAF Bruggen, located on the German/Netherlands border and close to the Dutch town of Roermond.  It was one of the best postings in BAOR.  Apart from the CO, a major designated the Ground Liaison Officer, the unit consisted of only four other ranks of corporal and below - two clerks & two drivers.  The Section was virtually self sufficient, it had an array of vehicles which included two Austin Champs, a motorbike, a Bedford lorry with field office trailer, and even a bicycle.  It also had its own stock of small arms which were kept in the station'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, etc.  But neither the RAF nor Rhine Army took any interest in the unit's '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 comprising a lieutenant and two servicemen, complete with its own vehicles & equipment, attached.    

The offices were located in the Wing Operations Centre where 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 with no connection to us.   It was a substantial sized unit of the The Royal Signals, completely self functioning with the usual army 'agenda', helped along by its own company sergeant major!  

Bruggen had been open about six years at the time of my arrival.  The modern well appointed accommodation blocks and other facilities were luxurious compared to anything I had previously experienced with the army.  The quality of RAF catering was of a higher standard too, and on the few occasions it was necessary to work very 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; nearly everybody 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 NAAFI duty free spirits that their crews had come to purchase from Bruggen's 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, especially with the large German civilian workforce employed on the base which was always a cause for concern.    

The regular 'Practise Alerts' were 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, named 'Top Weight', covered most of Western Europe and involved us in a large amount of preparation and target plotting. One of the drivers took me to the Command Map Store in Bielefeld to collect many of the maps needed, and whilst there our Champ developed a broken a half shaft, which resulted in a hastily arranged and inconvenient overnight stay with the REME unit that repaired it.   Soon after the excercise commenced however the referees declared Bruggen had been destroyed in a nuclear attack, so our Canberras 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 predominent 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 in our beds for the remainder of the exercise. The Javelins were still flying, joined by 33 Sqdn on detachment from the UK; they were operating a different role within the exercise, a complicated scenario, and our assistance was needed in the ops room.  The base did however enjoy an extended weekend stand down at the end of the exercise.

We were extremely fortunate having an easy going major as our 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.  During his absences the Belgian lieutenant was nominally in charge but he was happy to let us run the Section without questioning our activities.  The major was a popular member of the officers' mess and seemed to be able to obtain favours from anyone on the base. He and his wife had a busy social life and one of us was regularly called upon to babysit his young daughter for an evening.  He sometimes volunteered us for a job at the base's golf course, a welcome activity because we were always offered a beer in the clubhouse.   He even allowed us occasional use of a Champ to visit Roermond, to get a decent haircut or for shopping; those journeys were booked out as 'recreational'.   At one stage the RAF wanted to move us and the Belgians out of the accommodation block in which we were billeted with air force personnel, and into the one used exclusively by the Royal Signals.   We viewed with extreme horror the thought of the Royal Signals, particularly its CSM, having some authority over us, but the major 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 jump at his presence.

The base had the usual NAAFI with a WVS reading lounge (newspapers normally arrived on day of publication) and an Astra cinema.   There was a television in the WVS lounge and one evening a week Netherlands TV screened a Brithish 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, to the momentary inconvenience of 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'.

Being located close to Belgium & Holland we were ideally situated for visits to Brussels and Amsterdam, helped by the generous discounts offered to British servicemen by the railways of those countries.   Anyone taking local leave, instead of using the military transport service to the UK for home leave, could obtain a rail warrent to destinations of up to fifty miles beyond the West German borders.  

National Servicemen with girlfriends back home anxiously awaited the arrival of the mail each day, some always dreading a 'Dear John'.  A highlight for a lot of them was listening to '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 whenever I hear any of them I'm sometimes reminded of those days.
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 travelled out to Germany nineteen months previous and heard some of the aggravations they had experienced.
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