Number of posts: 43
Cap Badge: rasc
Places Served: Tower of London(initially in Royal Fusiliers) Aldershot, Sennelager & RAF Bruggen
Registration date: 2009-02-04
|Subject: RAF Bruggen 11/7/2009, 14:09|| |
I served my National Service in the army as a RASC clerk and was posted to the 471 Ground Liaison Section in Germany at RAF Bruggen during May 1958, and remained until demob in December the following year. 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). Additionally there was an officer and two servicemen from the Belgian army attached to us. The unit was virtually self functioning, it had a pool of vehicles which included two Austin Champs and a mobile office, and it had its own stock of small arms. It did receive assistance from the RAF's admin office (pay & leave movements) and from a couple of nearby army bases (vehicle servicing & supplies). But neither the RAF or mainstream Rhine Army took any interest in the unit's 'domestic' affairs. Discipline was kept to a minimum by the CO; there were no parades, inspections, or menial tasks to contend with.
The offices were located in the Wing Operations Centre where we worked and mixed freely with air force 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 the army. 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 at the base but with which we had no connection; a substantial sized unit of the The Royal Signals. It was completely self functioning along with the usual army bullshit, helped by its company sergeant major. The RAF had its yearly AOC's inspection and parade, (the equivalent of the army's dreaded Admin); our only involvement with that was to ensure our billet and workplace was clean and tidy.
I had no complaints with the RAF catering. On the few occasions it was necessary to work very late I would get a night duty supper which invariably was a steak sandwich with freshly baked bread.
There were three squadrons 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. On another occasion a Canberra of 80 Sqdn, whilst on local circuit training, could not lower part of its undercarriage. This incident was memorable because a detachment of personnel from the Green Howards regiment was on a familiarisation visit to Bruggen, arranged by our CO, and one of it's members was on board the Canberra taking a joy ride The aircraft circled for a couple of hours using fuel before making a safe emergency landing; virtually everybody on the base was out to watch. I would imagine the squaddie still remembers the incident to this day.
We had frequent visits of aircraft from other NATO air forces, but the most notable was the periodic visits of photo reconnaissance aircraft of the Danish Air Force from their base at Karup, referred to as 'liquor runs'. The cameras had been removed from the aircraft so that the space could be filled with duty free spirits bought 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 there, but there were never any at Bruggen during my time. One had been flown in especially for that day. Further on the article continues: 'The base is sensitive where strong security precautions are always in force'. That was not quite true, security wasn't as tight in some areas as it should have been, especially with a large German civilian workforce employed on the base which was always a serious risk.
The regular 'Practise Alerts' were always an unwanted surprise. They invariably came in the middle of a night and requiried all personnel to report to their place of work immediately; aircraft would take off on predesignated missions. NATO regularly held exercises but there was a particularly major one covering the whole of Western Europe which involved several weeks of preparation in the procurement of maps and target plotting. But within a short period of the exercise commencing the referees declared Bruggen had been destroyed in a nuclear attack, which meant our Canberra force could not continue taking part, except those airborne and diverted to other bases. This was a salutary reminder of our 'raison d'etre'. I'm sure none of us ever seriously considered this for real as our predominent thoughts were always that of making it through our two year stint with a minimum of fuss. Regretfully 'nuclear destruction' did not mean we could laze around on 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 in the exercise and our assistance was needed in the ops room.
We were extremely fortunate having an easy going 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. At times he was remarkably paternal towards us. He was a popular member of the officers' mess and was to able to obtain favours from anyone on the base whenever needed. He and his wife had a busy social life and we were often called upon to look after his young daughter when they went out for an evening. Occasionally he even volunteered us for a job at the base's golf course, a welcome activity because we were always offered a beer in the clubhouse. We were allowed us the use of a Champ to drive to Roermond in Holland occasionally to get a decent haircut or go shopping (shown as 'recreational visits' on the vehicles' work tickets). So long as we kept ourselves tidy, did what was expected, and caused no problems, the CO was happy to leave us to our own devices. 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 Signals having some authority over us but the major had no intention of letting that happen and quickly got the plan cancelled. The cosy familiarity that existed within the unit meant we tended to forget how important a major was until accompanying him on visits to other army units and seeing how all ranks jumped at his presence. The Belgian officer was nominally in charge whenever he was away on leave but we were always trusted to discipline ourselves.
The base had the usual NAAFI with a WVS lounge attached, and of course an Astra cinema, but like most RAF bases in Germany at that time it had a Malcolm Club, where all ranks were permitted to mix. The highlight of any week for a great number of homesick National Servicemen, particularly those with girlfriends back home and dreading the arrival of a 'Dear John', was listening to Two Way Family Favourites on the radio at Sunday lunchtimes. Some tunes were requested so frequently that even now when hearing them I am reminded of those days. There was a television in the WVS lounge and one evening every a week Netherlands TV showed a British film (Dutch subtitles/English dialogue); as most were fairly recent releases those evenings were always a popular.
Having a beer off the base involved nearly a 15 minute walk to the bar opposite the main gate, or, a further 20 minute walk to the bars in Elmpt village. Sometimes it was possible to get a lift in somebody's car to a popular hostellerie in Bracht run by three sisters, commonly known as the 'Six Tits'. Being located on the Netherlands frontier we were ideally situated for visits to Amsterdam, helped by the Dutch railways that allowed British sevicemen to travel at half fare.
Unlike probably 99% 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. The major even invited me 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 to the Hook of Holland 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 their tales of woe.