Number of posts : 50
Age : 81
Cap Badge : rasc
Places Served : Tower of London(initially in Royal Fusiliers) Aldershot, Sennelager & RAF Bruggen
Registration date : 2009-02-04
|Subject: A National Serviceman's 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 sent to Germany at the end of April 1958 and posted to the 471 Ground Liaison Section 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 and two drivers. There was an array of vehicles consisting of two Austin Champs (type of jeep), a motorbike, a Bedford lorry with field office trailer, and even a bicycle. It also had its own stock of small arms held in the airfield's armoury. Additionally, there was a Belgian Army liaison section attached, comprising a lieutenant and two servicemen. The unit was self contained but assistance was received from the RAF's admin in respect of pay and leave movements, and from a couple of nearby army bases for vehicle servicing and supplies. Neither HQ Rhine Army or the RAF took any interest in its 'domestic' affairs. Discipline was at a minimum, with no parades, inspections, or menial tasks to contend with.
We worked in the Wing Operations Centre with RAF intelligence and mixed freely with air force personnel of all ranks. Our principle task of army/air liaison involved 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 operate and service a 16mm cine projector so I could be called upon to show training films to aircrew whenever bad weather stopped flying.
There was another army presence on the base that fortunately we had no connection with. It was a substantial and autonomous unit of the Royal Signals, that functioned with the usual army 'agenda', overseen by a company sergeant major. There was a couple of servicemen of the Royal Engineers who staffed the base post office billeted with the Signals.
Bruggen had been open about six years at the time of my arrival. The well appointed accommodation blocks and its catering were far superior to anything I had previously experienced with the army. Night duty suppers for example were invariably steak sandwiches made 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 while using up fuel before making a successful emergency landing. Many people were out watching with cameras at the ready!
There were frequent visits of aircraft from other NATO air forces ranging from a week's stay of a of Canadian CF100 squadron from Marval in France to a quick stop by the USAF's Skyblazers Team's F100s. But the most regular arrivals were a pair of RF84Fs of the Danish Air Force from Karup. They were referred to as 'liquor runs' by Air Traffic staff, because the aircrafts' cameras had been removed to allow space for the cases of NAAFI duty free spirits the crews had come to purchase from the Officers Mess.
Around 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 as security wasn't as tight in some areas as it should have been; there was a large German civilian workforce employed on the base which was a continual cause for concern.
'Practice Alerts' were 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, code named 'Top Weight', involved a large amount of preparation and target plotting and required one of the drivers to take 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, resulting in a sudden 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. A salutary reminder of our 'raison d'etre'. I'm sure none of us ever seriously considered that possibility for real; our predominant thoughts were always that of making it through two wasted years with a minimum of fuss and bother.
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, At times he was remarkably paternal towards us and we were often called upon to spend an evening at his home to look after his young daughter when he and his wife went out. Furthermore, he allowed us the occasional use of a Champ to visit Roermond when needing a decent haircut or for shopping. When the major was absent either the Belgian lieutenant or the RAF Intelligence Officer was nominally our CO. During a reorganisation the base's administration had the idea of moving us and the Belgians out of the accommodation block in which we were billeted with Flying Wing air force personnel and into the one used exclusively by the Royal Signals. We viewed with extreme horror the idea of the Royal Signals, with its sergeant major, having a degree of authority over us. But as CO of a separate unit the major had no intention of allowing that 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 tended to forget how important a major was until accompanying him on visits to army establishments and seeing everyone jump in his presence
We handled two types of money: 1) British Armed Forces Special Vouchers, commonly called Baffs. This was the 'pre-decimalisation age' and they were a series of currency notes in denominations ranging from 3d (1.25p) to £5, and was the only money allowed for use on British bases. 2) Deutschmarks, for off base use. So before collecting our pay - from the RAF - we had to decide our needs of each for the coming week. During my time the exchange rate remained fixed at approximately £1 to 12DM. The Baffs were withdrawn shortly before my demob at the end of 1959 leaving the DM for all usage. They were reintroduced a number of years later, when the £ was worth much less against the DM.
The base had a Malcolm Club where unlike the NAAFI, officers, NCOs, other ranks, and accompanied wives, were allowed to visit and mix. For entertainment there was the Astra cinema. There was an adequate library and UK newspapers arrived around lunchtime each day and could be read in the WVS lounge. A television had been installed in the WVS lounge that was popular for sporting events and the English dialogue films that were frequently shown on Netherlands TV.
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', i.e. a knife, fork, or spoon. In response the adjutant instructed the station police one lunchtime to check the cutlery of everybody entering the dining halls, 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, it was owned by three sisters and commonly referred to as the Six Tits.
For National Servicemen with girl friends back in the UK the arrival of mail was the major event of any day and caused anguish if late or its non appearance; the fear of a Dear John was prevalent. A highlight each week for the homesick was listening to 'Two Way Family Favourites', a radio music request programme broadcast between the UK and Germany at midday on Sundays. Some tunes were played so regularly on this and similar programmes put out by BFN (British Forces Network) that even now when hearing them I'm reminded of those times.
Almost everybody took their entitled leave in the UK, travelling free of charge on the scheduled military rail/sea service that operated three times a week from BAOR to the UK via the Hook of Holland. Meals were provided in the trains' restaurant cars by catering staff of Wagon-Lits and served 'silver service' - sheer luxury for mere squaddies. However people opting to take leave in Europe were entitled to claim a rail warrant for an itinerary within West Germany that could also include a segment of up to fifty miles beyond its non 'Iron Curtain' borders. A benefit for us being located close to Holland and Belgium was that we could easily take weekend visits to Amsterdam and Brussels, helped by much reduced train fares offered to NATO military personnel.
Members of the armed forces stationed in Germany had ample opportunities to buy luxury goods such as cameras and watches at prices much lower than in the UK, but most items when taken home in those days were liable for UK Duty unless purchased at least 12 months previous. Servicemen disembarking the military ships at the Port of Harwich were aware that the customs officers viewed everyone as a potential smuggler and did not expect an easy time when facing them.
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. My job had been interesting, I had learnt to drive, had flown in a Canberra, and had made a lot of friends. I was even invited by the major and his wife to their house for a farewell drink. Life had been sweet. A fact reinforced during my demob journey to the UK 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 had to contend with at their units.