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brian beckett

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 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: RAF Bruggen - 1958/59   Sat Jul 11, 2009 2:09 pm

I served my National Service in the army as a RASC clerk and was posted in May 1958 to the 471 Ground Liaison Section in Germany at RAF Bruggen, located on the German/Dutch frontier. 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, a bicycle.  It also had its own stock of small arms, 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.  But neither the RAF nor mainstream BAOR 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 vehicles & equipment, attached to the unit.    

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 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 a company sergeant major.  

Bruggen was only about five years old at the time of my arrival.  Its modern well appointed accommodation blocks were luxurious compared to anything I had previously experienced with the army.  The quality of RAF catering was of a higher standard too.   On the few occasions it was necessary to work very late I was entitled to a duty supper, invariably being 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 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 safe emergency landing; virtually everybody on the base was out on the airfield 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 cases of NAAFI duty free spirits purchased 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 (Top Weight) covering most of Western Europe involved several weeks 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 unwanted 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 then being able to continue our lives as we liked.  Regretfully  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 within the exercise and our assistance was needed in the ops room.  The station did however enjoy a long weekend stand down when it all finished.

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 never deemed it necessary to question any of 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 even occasionally 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 occasional use of a Champ for visits to Roermond the nearest town in Holland to get a decent haircut or for shopping, these trips were booked out as 'recreational journeys'.   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 and its CSM having some authority over us, but the CO 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 base had the usual NAAFI with a WVS reading lounge attached, and an Astra cinema. But like most RAF airfields in Germany at that time there was a Malcolm Club where personnel of all ranks were permitted to socialise.  The highlight of any week for a great number of homesick National Servicemen, particularly those with girlfriends and dreading a 'Dear John', was listening to Two Way Family Favourites on the radio at Sunday lunchtimes.   A number of songs were requested so frequently (one in particular: Shirley Bassey's "Hands Across the Sea") that even now whenever hearing some of them I am reminded of those days.   There was a television in the WVS lounge and one evening each week Netherlands TV showed a British film (Dutch subtitles/English dialogue); as most were fairly recent releases they were always 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 a car to a popular hostellerie in Bracht, it was run by three sisters and commonly referred to as 'The Six Tits'.  Being located on the Dutch frontier we were ideally situated for visits to Amsterdam, helped by Netherlands Railways which allowed British sevicemen to travel at half fare.
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 problems they had encountered.
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