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 Memories of National Service at RAF Bruggen - 1958/59

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brian beckett

Number of posts : 55
Age : 84
Cap Badge : rasc
Places Served : Tower of London(initially in Royal Fusiliers) Aldershot, Sennelager & RAF Bruggen
Registration date : 2009-02-04

Memories of National Service at RAF Bruggen - 1958/59 Empty
PostSubject: Memories of National Service at RAF Bruggen - 1958/59   Memories of National Service at RAF Bruggen - 1958/59 Icon_minitime11/7/2009, 14:09

I served my National Service as a clerk in the Royal Army Service Corps during the height of the Cold War 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 nor the RAF took any interest in its 'domestic' affairs.  Discipline was at an absolute minimum, with no parades, inspections, or menial tasks to contend with.   Furthermore, upon arrival at the unit most of my equipment/kit was stored away and was never needed to be touched until I handed it in at the end of my service.

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 unit of the Royal Signals, that functioned with the usual army 'agenda', overseen by a company sergeant major.  There was also a couple of men from Royal Engineers who staffed the base's British Forces post office.  (A German (Bundespost) post office was on the base as well.)  

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 Aerobatic 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 uncomfortable 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.

Periodically we spent a day taking part in an Escape and Evasion exercise conducted by the RAF.   This involved running around the local countryside looking for 'Soviet Infiltrators'.   It was fun and at the end of the day we were taken by the officers for a beer at a nearby bar. 

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 were our nominal COs. 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 had to contend with two currencies.  One being the 'British Armed Forces Service Vouchers', commonly referred to as Baffs. They were a series of currency notes ranging from 3d to £5 - pre-decimal money - and were the only acceptable forms of payment for purchases on British bases. In addition the UK penny (1d) coin was used.   But Deutschmarks were needed when off base.  So when collecting weekly pay we had to calculate our needs of each for the coming days. During my time the exchange rate remained fixed at £1.0s.6d. (£1.2p) to 12DM. Shortly before my demob the Baffs were withdrawn so allowing the DM to be used on British bases.  

The airfield 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 by 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 receiving a Dear John always present.  A highlight each week for the homesick was listening to 'Two Way Family Favourites', the radio request programme that was broadcast simultaneously from the UK and Germany at midday on Sundays. Some tunes were played so regularly on this and other Forces Network programmes that even now when hearing them I'm often reminded of those times. 

Almost all National Servicemen 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 the Wagon-Lits Company and served 'silver service' - sheer luxury for mere squaddies. However those that did opt to take leave in Europe were entitled to claim a rail warrant for any itinerary within West Germany that could also include a segment of up to fifty miles across any of its 'Western' borders.

A benefit being located close to Holland and Belgium was that we could easily spend weekends in Amsterdam or 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 its customs officers viewed everyone as a potential smuggler and therefore did not expect an easy time when facing them.

Cars were also a lot cheaper, but those people who purchased one had to have owned it at least a year before importing it into the UK and then retain ownership for a further two years in order avoid excise duty. 
Unlike the vast majority of National Servicemen in BAOR, I never minded returning from leave. I was a corporal at the time of demob in December 1959 and was 'almost' sorry when it arrived (I had a combined 21st birthday and demob party and still remember how I suffered the following day).  My job had been interesting, I had learnt to drive, had flown in a Canberra, had visited many interesting places, and had had a lot 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.

Demob procedure for army National Servicemen was carried out at their units in Germany, this included handing in all kit and almost all the uniform 2/3 days before leaving.   The few items retained were needed for wear up to and including the demob journey.  So after getting off the military train in London the morning following my leaving Bruggen I was able to go straight home, take off that last bit of uniform and immediately become a civilian.

FOOTNOTE.  I was initially conscripted into the Royal Fusiliers but within a few days was confirmed partially colour blind and therefore classified medically unfit to serve with an infantry regiment, so I was transferred to the RASC for clerical training.   Never in my wildest dreams during those bleak early days of army life could I ever envisaged that being unable distinguish shades of green and red would mean my service life would radically change course and that I'd eventually end up working with the RAF.
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Memories of National Service at RAF Bruggen - 1958/59
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