Transcript of Wing Commander Stanley Kirtley talking of his RAF days (recorded 21 March 2006)
Stanley’s recollections of wartime service with the RAF. Recorded by his brother, Allan Kirtley 21 March 2006.
Allan Kirtley – So, now we move on to you in the Air Force. And you were working in the County Court at Southampton, weren’t you.
Stanley Kirtley – Yes. I got my matriculation at Bournemouth School. And somebody suggested I went into a finance company in Bournemouth.
Allan – Bowmaker?
Stan – That’s right. I had an interview – didn’t like it. Then somebody else said “Oh, you can have a job in a bank” – they offered me two jobs in a bank in Bournemouth, but I didn’t like the idea. And then someone else said why don’t you take the Civil Service exam? Because, in those days, to become a Clerical Officer, you had to sit a very stiff exam – I suppose like O-levels now. So I sat it, and passed it. And eventually I had a letter saying “you have been appointed to the Lord Chancellor’s Department of the High Court of Justice.” I thought “Oh, posh!” We had my wig all ready! It turned out that I’d been posted as a clerk to the County Court in Southampton, which, of course, was the smallest branch of the Civil Service. The Lord Chancellor’s Department covers quite a few things, actually – it covers all the judiciary. Southampton had a judges’ court and a registrar’s court… Of course, that meant going into digs.
Allan – So you didn’t go up and down on the train every day?
Stan – No. It was too inconvenient, and too expensive. It was cheaper to get lodgings in Southampton, and cycle home at weekends, which I did.
Allan – And you’d have been sixteen when you started?
Stan – No, seventeen. I didn’t leave school till after I was sixteen.
Allan – So that would be, what, 1939?
Stan – 1938 when I went there. Yes, I used to cycle up and down every weekend. (These days, the youth of the day would be very frightened at the prospect!) Anyway, war broke out in September 1939, and another chap in the office was already in the Volunteer Reserve, and he took off, and I went along to the recruiting office and said “I want to be in the navy.” And they laughed their heads off, and said “no spaces, we can’t take you in.” I said “well, what have you got?” They said “what about the air force?” I said “definitely not the army. Right, I’d like to apply, then.” And, let’s face it, when you’re coming up to eighteen, you think “this is it. I want to be a pilot.” Again they sort of giggled, and said “We can’t train pilots – we need them, but we can’t train them.” I said “well what have you got that goes up in the air?” He said, “Well you could be a wireless operator/air-gunner.” That sounded quite exciting, so I said “right, I’ll sign up for that.” He said “How old are you?” I said “I’m just coming up to eighteen.” He said “we can’t take you till you’re eighteen”. I said “I’m eighteen in November.” He said “Right, we’ll take you in as soon as you’re eighteen.” I said “can I have Christmas at home?” “Right, we’ll take you in immediately after Christmas.” And, on January the fourth 1940, I was called up.
Allan – And this was as an AC2, was it?
Stan – Yes, the ranks were different in those days. I went up to Padgate in Lancashire, in civilians, of course – I hadn’t been kitted out or anything. And I got there round about teatime, to be greeted by two funerals coming out of the gate of the place we were going. It was a flu epidemic, and people were dying like flies. After about a week, the few of us on that intake found ourselves as nursing orderlies in various barrack blocks, helping the poor characters who’d got flu. Quite a few people died – it was a very bad outbreak.
One interesting thing there, until then, all the forces drilled in fours – four ranks. And we started off learning how to drill in four ranks. When you’re an erk [a male member of the RAF of the lowest rank], and you’ve never been near the forces, drilling in four ranks is not easy.
Allan – They didn’t have a cadet force at Bournemouth School in those days?
Stan – They did, but it was an army one, and I didn’t belong to it. Anyway, I learned how to drill in fours, and of course after two weeks they changed it, and said everybody’s got to drill in threes now, so we had to learn how to drill in threes. So we did six weeks at Padgate, and I was saying to myself “any minute now, I’m going to be in the air.” But there weren’t many spaces, so we were hanging around the place…
Allan – Were you learning technical stuff?
Stan – No, no, I was learning how to march, push a rifle around – never fire it of course. I went down to Boscombe Down and shovelled coal, and one or two other things, went on guard duty at a Wellington station in Norfolk, waiting for my course, which eventually, in the March, came up, and I went to Gatesbury, in Wiltshire, just along the road from Marlborough.
Allan – And that was March 1940?
Stan – Yes. And I did a full wireless operator’s course there – aircrew – they trained both aircrew and ground crew, but I was on the aircrew side. So we did fly. Once we got to a certain stage, we went up regularly each week in a Dominie – a De Haviland twin-engine biplane.
Allan – Do you remember your first flight?
Stan – Vaguely. There were six of us inside this thing, and each of us had a wireless set in front of us, and a corporal.
Allan – So you didn’t have much time to be frightened.
Stan – You didn’t have much time for anything, except working the radio. Anyway, in the middle of the summer, they came round and asked for volunteers for pilots. And, believe it or not, out of however many of us were there, only four of us were accepted. But they said “we can’t take you yet, but we’ve got your name down.” So I finished my course, and became a fully-fledged wireless operator – sparks badge and all that. The rest of the course went to Wales on an air gunnery course, but the four of us, at the end, which by then was December, we were posted all round the country. I got posted to a Hereford squadron, 3 Squadron. Which, at that time, I was told, was stationed at a place called Wick, in the north of Scotland.
Allan – Just to interject, this would be about five or six months after the Battle of Britain?
Stan – Not so long as that – about three months.
Allan – But the kudos of being in the air force then must have been sky-high.
Stan – Oh, yes. But in the December, as I said, I was posted to Wick.
Allan – Sorry to butt in again, but were you still an AC2?
Stan – You couldn’t be anything else. In those days, that was the highest rank you could get after you’d finished your training. If you wanted to go higher than that, you had to pass an exam. Later on it was different, of course, but in those days, ranks were very hierarchical. Anyway, I got to Wick, literally on Christmas Day. I had to go to all the way up to Wick on what they called the Jellicoe train – it was a service train from London. I got there at lunchtime on Christmas day, too late for Christmas dinner. Drunken cooks…nothing to eat. And the squadron had moved! They’d gone even farther north to the tip of Scotland, to a place called Castletown, near Thurso. And on Boxing Day, I went up on the mail wagon, and joined them at Castletown. I was billeted in the local school, which had been taken over as barracks, and was allocated to ‘B’ Flight. And one week later, I found the squadron had moved even farther north, and ‘B’ Flight were posted to the Shetlands.
Allan – They weren’t trying to tell you something, were they?
Stan – Well this was going on and on. One week after joining the squadron at Castletown, I was trundling up to the Shetlands. And I was with 3 Squadron in the Shetlands for about two to three months.
Allan – Was that teaching you to be a pilot?
Stan – No. I was a wireless operator, servicing the radios in the Hurricanes. Actually, while we were there, 3 Squadron shot down an enemy aircraft, and they managed to get the German cross off the aircraft, and had it displayed in the crew room. Years later, when I was living in Cornwall, we took a holiday trip up to the Shetlands, and we had a VIP tour round the aerodrome, (which was Sudborough Aerodrome) by the airport manager, and that cross was still there. Anyway, after I’d been there for a while, I was posted down into Scotland to an aerodrome near Elgin. 17 Hurricane Squadron was there, and I’d passed my AC1 exam in the Shetlands, and it was a tough exam – it was all practical – there was no written work, but a very hard practical exam, and I became AC1 S. Kirtley! I wrote to Mum and said “make sure you change the rank when you write.” And I was put in charge of what was called a homer. It had a big thing in the middle, rather like a submarine periscope, going up through the middle, and a big aerial up the top. You were inside, operating the big wheel to turn it round. You could get a fix on whoever was transmitting in the air, and find out by looking at the gauge what direction he had to fly to come home. You were in contact with him, of course. Hence, it was called a homer. And this helped the Hurricanes. In those days, there were very few navigational aids.
Allan – And did you triangulate with other homers?
Stan – Well, some times you could do, but normally you didn’t have to. You just had to give a bearing , and , with a bit of luck, he’d hit it. Anyway, I was there for a few months. We were billeted in a very old house in Elgin. It used to be owned by the Bibbys, the people that made the babies milk. Of course, they weren’t there at the time. It was quite a place. Of course there were a hell of a lot of us in there, bunk beds all round the place. The sergeants were based in a place that made whiskey. They were in one of the levels, and on another level were these dirty great vats of whiskey, which they couldn’t get at, because they were locked with time-locks. That was the first time I ever saw a hundred-proof whiskey. Completely pure, it looked like gin. I shook it, and there were these beads round the side. But I didn’t taste it. Anyway, whilst we were there, something came through…Pilots Course in Babbacombe. Well, after travelling up and down the country, we were old sweats by now. And four of us joined up again at Babbacombe. Everybody else there was brand new in the Air Force, so of course we were strutting around with our badge on – we had proper gas masks, and they had cardboard ones.
Allan – And, just to interject again, at any of the stations you were training at, did you ever experience any raids by the Luftwaffe?
Stan – No, nothing of that sort. We were a bit cheesed off that we had to do the drill. The sergeants there had only been in the Air Force themselves about six weeks – they were all professional footballers, or something like that, and they became drill instructors. And of course all the raw recruits were having to be taught the stuff that we had learned nearly two years previously. But fortunately they realised that it was a bit silly trying to teach us to do all these things that we knew backwards. So we used to march off down through an avenue of trees at the bottom of Babbacombe where all the drilling took place, and then we went round a church, and then we sneaked off down to Torquay, and spent the morning in Torquay, and then we used to look at our watches and get back just in time to rejoin the march back again. So we never did the drill there.
Allan – And the new recruits didn’t resent that?
Stan- Oh, no. They knew we knew it backwards. Then we went to Scarborough, which was an ITW. [Initial Training Wing] Stayed in the Grand Hotel. Again, a slight problem. Everybody else had to learn Morse code. Of course, we were wireless operators. And because of the extra Morse we’d taken before we left Gatesbury, we were receiving Reuters at 22 words per minute – passing out speed was 18. (To become a pilot, the passing out speed was 8.) We got up to about 28. Anyway, they said we didn’t need to take the wireless course – but you have to take the test. Well, the test came up, and we went in and all failed! All four wireless operators failed at eight words per minute.
Allan – Why was that?
Stan – It was too slow.
Allan – You had too long to think about it, you mean?
Stan – Well the chap who was doing it wasn’t a wireless operator. To give you an example, the letter F is dit dit dah dit, two dots, a dash and a dot. Now he was sending it dit…..dit…..dah…..dit, so they could count it out right. We, at the speed that we were doing, it was d’d’dahdit. It was rhythm Morse. And when we were writing down from what was being said, we were writing down words about two words after what had been transmitted. We just couldn’t get it – it was too slow. Anyway, we took a test later on at a decent speed, and showed them we could do it. Then they selected a very few of us to go and train in America.
Allan – This was under the Arnold Scheme, was it?
Stan – Yes. General Arnold was in charge of the Air Corps in America, who were at peace. And he suggested to President Roosevelt that, although the Geneva Convention prevented them doing anything direct, if we sent people over in civilian clothes, and joined and went through their normal scheme with the American Air Corps, we might get away with it. And that’s what they did.
Allan – Had you done any piloting up to this point?
Stan – None at all.
Allan – So when did you go across?
Stan – I started in 1941.
Allan – And where did you go?
Stan – First of all Canada, to No. 1 Manning Depot, where we were equipped with a grey suit and a black beret. Then we got on a train and went down all the way through Canada, all the way through America, right down to Alabama.
Allan – Whereabouts?
Stan – Tuscaloosa. And that was where I did my first training, in a PT17, which was more powerful than a Tiger Moth.
Allan – Still a biplane?
Stan – Yeah, a biplane. A Tiger Moth type, but a bit more powerful.
Allan – And what about the first flight there? Was that exhilarating, scaring, or were you used to it?
Stan – Exciting. That was the first time I’d been up in an aeroplane handling the controls. The only other time I’d been up was as a wireless operator in a Rapide the year before.
Allan – And concentrating on the wireless…
Stan – We had sixty hours. It was a bit fraught. The American pilots were all graduates, instructed at university. They’d gone wild at university, and consequently, as soon as they got into the American Air Corps system – their military – they had to be disciplined. And their discipline was childish, as far as we were concerned. To give you an example, you spent four weeks as lower classmen, and then the next lot came in, so you moved up to upper classmen. And any upper classman, could stop any lower classman, by saying “Mister, hit a brace!” That meant coming to attention, and staring straight ahead. Then they’d say “Mister, you’re a dodo. What’s a dodo?” And you’d have to stand there like an idiot and say “Sir, I am a dodo. A dodo is a bird that has no wings. It cannot fly.” You made yourself a complete bloody idiot. And that was only one of the things. There were many other similar childish disciplines. When the officer came round on a Saturday morning for inspection of the room you were in, your blanket had to be absolutely taut, and folded over at the corners at 45 degree angles. So much so, that the Sergeant who was with the officer had a set square to check the 45 degree angles. And he had a coin, which he used to flip onto the bed. And if it didn’t bounce, you’d had it. All your clothes hangers in the wardrobe had to have the hooks pointing the right way, and had to be facing the same way. It was that sort of childish discipline that they had. Consequently there were Americans that were chucked off the course, and went up to Canada, and got their wings there.
Allan – And how did the Brits get on with the Americans? Because you were there with a group of British…
Stan – Yes. We were British cadets. I was then a Corporal in 42D. The first course, naturally, was 42A. Our senior members were Brits. But of course all the officers were Americans.
Allan – Were there also American trainees going through?
Stan – Not at that time. Not on our station. Anyway, we were of course still in civilian clothes, because December the 7th [Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, that brought America into the War.] hadn’t happened. But when Armistice Day came on November the 11th, we were then allowed to put on our RAF uniforms. So when the big parade went through Tuscaloosa in Alabama – and everybody was there, Air National Guard, the whole lot, with arms swinging backwards and forwards about six inches – there was a whole bunch of RAF cadets for the very first time, swinging their arms properly. I’ve got a picture of us all matching down, very proud in our RAF uniforms.
Allan – And when did you hear about Pearl Harbor?
Stan – On the Sunday [7th December 1941]
Allan – And did you put your uniforms on?
Stan – No. We weren’t allowed to until two days later. We had a directive from Washington that said we could.
Allan – And what was the reaction of the Americans to you wearing uniform?
Stan – They were relaxed about it. They were more concerned about Pearl Harbor. By then, I was in Montgomery, Alabama.
Allan – Had you flown solo by then?
Stan – Oh, yes.
Allan – How was your first solo flight?
Stan – Worrying, but exciting. I’d got quite a few solo hours in. The training was a lot longer at the American school than it was in the UK. You got sixty hours in primary school, which was the first one I went to, of which two-thirds – forty hours – were solo. Then we moved on to Basic at Gunter Field in Montgomery, where they had a fixed undercarriage monoplane called a BT13 – Basic Trainer 13. I got another sixty hours there, by which time we were in RAF uniform. And then we moved from there to Craig Field, near Selma, Alabama, where they went on to the AT6 – Advanced Trainer 6 on Harvards. Another sixty hours there, and at the end of that you got your wings. But of course we’d gone through an American training scheme, so I was awarded American wings, which I still have. And I’m entitled to wear them. I have a certificate saying I have gone through their training scheme, and graduated as a pilot under the American Air Corps.
Allan – When you came back to the UK, did you have to take any sort of test to get RAF wings?
Stan – No, they were given at the same time. Automatically having got our American wings, we got it all the way through. We’d done many more hours than an RAF trainee, either in Canada, South Africa or England. We’d got 180 hours as a pilot.
Allan – Did you know you were going to be a fighter pilot, rather than Bomber Command?
Stan – Yes, that was why I went to Craig Field on the AT6. Other people went to Georgia to train on twin engine aircraft, but by then it was agreed that I was a fighter pilot type, and that was why I went to Craig.
Allan – So having been at Craig, and finished all the training, what happened next?
Stan – Well… I was commissioned.
Allan – So you’d gone from AC2 to AC1. Did you go through anything like Flight Sergeant?
Stan – No. I became LAC [Leading Aircraftman] when I started my aircrew training in England, at Babbacombe. And I remained LAC right the way through until I’d finished training, when I was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. I thought I was going back to England, but they said they wanted me to do a course to become an instructor. I didn’t like the idea very much – I wanted to go back to England, but they said no. So I went on an American Instructor’s Course at Craig Field, and instructed for nine or ten months on Harvards, first of all instructing RAF cadets, and then, for the latter part, instructing Americans.
Allan – Was this in 1942?
Stan – 1943.
Allan – So Pearl Harbor was the end of ’41, then you carried on the training and then did the instruction through ’42…
Stan – That’s right. And then at the beginning of 1943 I finished my tour of instruction, came back via Canada to the UK…
Allan – Did you sail back?
Stan – Sailed back, watching for submarines on the way over.
Allan – What happened when you got back to England?
Stan – First of all I went to a Hurricane operational conversion unit in Scotland, where I flew Hurricanes. That was interesting. It was the first time I’d ever flown an aeroplane with a gear change on the right hand side to fasten the undercarriage. So you had to swap over hands to raise the undercarriage. But I’d always wanted to be on Spitfires, so after that I then went down to a Spitfire conversion unit.
Allan – What was the attraction of Spitfires over Hurricanes?
Stan – I suppose the name, and the Battle of Britain association, and all the rest of it… Again, that was an interesting thing. The Spitfire 1, an early version, of which they had two, hadn’t got an automatic retraction for the undercarriage – it had a pump lever on the right hand side. So you had the throttle on the left hand side, and your right hand on the stick, and you opened up the throttle and took off. And to raise your undercarriage, you had to switch hands, put your left hand on the stick, and pump with your right hand to get the undercarriage up. And your left hand automatically went left. So you could always tell somebody doing that while they were taking off, because they wobbled so much…. Anyway, I did my Spitfire conversion, and then joined 118 Squadron, (which were then on Spitfire 9s – a very late model) at Detling, near Maidstone. I flew with them for quite a while.
Allan – What sort of missions were you doing then?
Stan – Our squadron was designated a close-escort squadron. There were two kinds of escort squadrons, and close escorts shepherded in very close to the bombers. The ones who had the fun were the others who flew all the way round. The close escort weren’t really allowed to do that – you had to stay close by, in case anything got through the outer shield.
Allan – And did it ever?
Stan – Occasionally, but very rarely at that time.
Allan – So what did you do when it did happen?
Stan – Well, a couple of you went off after whoever came in, but generally speaking it was the people on the outside that got the task. We got an awful lot of flak, of course, because the ack-ack was going up at the bombers, and so it came up to us. But we were sort of a last reserve, in case anyone got through… We went on a few fighter sweeps across France, but the Germans were more concerned with Russia at the time, and they were also conserving their aircraft because they thought there was an invasion coming. So we didn’t really see very much up there.
Allan – What were you attacking on the fighter sweeps? You weren’t with bombers then – you were on your own…
Stan – The fighter sweeps were just literally that, just flying around as a squadron, hoping that the enemy would come up, and trying to draw them out.
Allan – And did they come out?
Stan – No, they never did. We did three or four fighter sweeps from Detling, but they never came up at all. We just saw an awful lot of the French countryside… The squadron had been in operations for quite a while before I joined them, and they were then sent on rest. I went back up to the Shetlands, and we stayed there until D-Day. And a month after D-Day we were posted south.
Allan – When we were up in the Orkneys, didn’t you say you chased a Luftwaffe pilot off, while you were up there?
Stan – Yes, but I never saw him. Although the Spitfire wasn’t really made for night fighting, we went up on a night-flying patrol. My number two, for some reason, couldn’t keep up, and he disappeared, and I was vectored after a Fokker-Wolf Condor, which was a large four-engine bomber that used to patrol over the Atlantic. It came back, apparently over Scapa Flow, and at the time that they spotted him, I was over the north of Scotland, and they vectored me onto him. I chased him to about halfway across the North Sea, but I never caught up with him. I was on my own by then, because my number two had gone home. I managed to get back only just, with hardly any fuel at all, so it was a bit dicey….
Then we went down south again, again close escort flying, and we were there for the bombing of Caen. That was about a month after D-Day, and it was the first time I saw what they called scarecrows. They sent a big force over to bomb Caen, and the shells that the Germans sent up were like flaming bombers. It was a psychological thing. The shell burst, and it looked like a bomber going down in flames, so that it would have a psychological effect on the bomber crews. The shells didn’t do any damage to the aircraft, but there was an awful lot of anti-aircraft there. In fact my flight commander, Mike Giddings, was hit, but he managed to get back to a little airfield on the south coast, and I flew in with him. We had so little fuel that the engine cut out going down the runway. Then I had to fly his damaged aircraft back to Manston, where we were based by then… Manston was interesting, because they had the first squadron of Meteors there. The Meteor was of course brand new to the RAF. It never flew in operations over Germany, it was only used against the doodlebugs. [V1 flying bombs.] But they were in operation with 616 squadron. One of their flight commanders had trained with me in America, so he allowed me to sit in the aircraft. It was very secret, with guards all around it.
The Arnhem drop happened when we were there. [A major paratroop assault in Northern Holland, subsequently featured in the film “A Bridge Too Far.”] That was interesting. It was very foggy in the UK, but the troops in Arnhem obviously needed supplies. The Dakotas were going over, and they had to have an escort. You couldn’t see the end of the runway, but the order came through “we don’t care if you lose the whole of the Manston wing, you will take off.” Manston was one of three aerodromes in the UK which had been built as emergency airfields – very large, very wide, and very long. One was at Woodbridge in North Suffolk, the other was at Bradwell Bay in Essex, and the other one was Manston. And there were bombers coming back in an emergency, landing on these strips, but we took off, in a full squadron of twelve aircraft, line abreast and slightly staggered, otherwise we’d never have seen each other, and would never have joined up. And we took off through the fog, and then off we went and escorted the Dakotas dropping supplies to the chaps at Arnhem.
Allan – Was there much flak while you were over there?
Stan – Oh yeah, a hell of a lot. We had people landing all over the place – on golf courses, and anywhere they could. I was fortunate enough to get back to Manston, but it was a bit dicey coming back.
Allan – Did you get hit?
Stan – Yeah, I had a few holes, but nothing to worry about.
Allan – But no Luftwaffe?
Stan – No, the Luftwaffe were notable by their absence. It was mainly flak we had to worry about….
And then we changed over to Mustangs, and moved up to Bentwaters in Suffolk. But before then, I had a broken neck…
Allan – Oh yes, you fell out of a car.
Stan – That’s right. I was on holiday in Bournemouth. My neck was broken, and I was plastered up from top to bottom. But when I eventually rejoined the squadron, it had moved up to Bentwaters. That would be the beginning of 1945, but I flew some sorties with them on the Mustangs, to the Rhur, and nearly to Berlin – very long range. But again, no Luftwaffe, just the flak. We were the squadron chosen to go to Berlin to escort Churchill back from the Potsdam Conference. Half way there, my number two’s engine started playing up, and I had to escort him back to Bentwaters. The rest of the squadron went on to Berlin. He got his aircraft fixed up, and we took off again to go to Berlin, just the two of us. The ground crew had orders whenever an aircraft landed, to clean it up, and take out any maps and bits and pieces after the end of a sortie. They hadn’t been told to leave my maps there, so when I looked for my map it was gone. So there was me, flying across France and Germany to Berlin with no map. We had to use what they called an Aircrew Europe Map, about the size of a piece of A4, covering the whole of Europe, and I had a number two to look after. Anyway, I managed to get halfway across, and there was an airfield down below. We spent the night there and I managed to get hold of a decent map, and we eventually got to Berlin. About four days later we escorted Churchill back. He’d lost the election, of course, although nobody knew it until a day or two after. Anyway, coming over Holland, once again one of the aircraft started playing up, and I was delegated to take him in. So we broke off from the squadron, and landed at an airfield in Holland. We had a fantastic ten days there, with the Dutch really looking after us, until a part was flown out from England to repair his aircraft, and then we flew back to the UK. The War was over then, but they asked for volunteers to be instructors on Harvards in Canada. I thought that was just the job, because I’d been an instructor on Harvards in America, so I volunteered.
Allan – Was that when you decided you were going to stay and make a career in the air force?
Stan – Oh no, that was later. Anyway, we went to the training school in Wiltshire, and I suddenly found out that no longer was this Canada scheme on, it wasn’t going to be on Harvards anyway, it was going to be on Oxfords, a twin engine aircraft. I’d never flown a twin in my life. And it was going to be in England. So I packed it in, and went on ground duties at Manston. I did an admin course, but asked for postponement of release. I was due to go out at the end of the year, but at that time, you could apply for postponement of release, either by twelve months, eighteen months, or three years. Well, I was still a member of the Civil Service, and they wouldn’t authorise a postponement of anything longer than twelve months. So I had to scrub the postponement of release, and during the remaining time I thought well why not, I’ll sign up, if I can, for an extended service commission for four years, but I had to resign from the Civil Service. As soon as I’d signed on for four years, they said right, you’re off to India.
Allan – Were you a Flight Lieutenant at the time?
Stan – Yes. I was in India for nearly three years. I was there during Partition [when Moslem Pakistan split from largely Hindu India].
Allan – Did you see much of the troubles at the time?
Stan – A certain amount. I remember my bearer had to get out. I was based in Bombay, and I paid for most of his family to move up to Karachi, because he was a Moslem. Anyway, I heard whilst I was in Karachi – by then I was stationed there – that Dad had died, and I applied for a compassionate posting home, but in the meantime I was posted to Iraq. I became Station Adjutant at Basra, and I was there until my actual posting home. And I came home, by which time I wanted to go back on flying again, and I was sent on a refresher course on Oxfords. And I saw in The Aeroplane, the magazine, that I’d been given a permanent commission in the Secretarial Branch! Of course I’d been doing a lot of secretarial work in the previous few years, but I went whistling down to the Ministry of Defence, and said I didn’t want to be in the Secretarial Branch, I wanted to fly. So they changed it eventually to General Duties Branch, which was flying. And I ended up at Horsham St. Faith, in Norfolk, posted to a squadron that was doing army co-operation, flying as targets for the army around Norfolk. They had four more Meteor squadrons there, and after a few weeks, I talked myself into being posted to one of the Meteor squadrons. And with that squadron I became flight commander, and then squadron commander.
Allan – Was that the first time you’d flown a jet aircaft?
Stan – Yes. There were no dual jet aircraft then, either. You had nobody to help you, and you had to pick up the pilots’ notes, and when you’d read them, up you went.
Allan – It must have been very different from a propellor aircraft.
Stan – Oh yes. It was like a bomb up your backside when you took off…
After that, the squadron moved down to Wattisham, and after I’d done my tour there, my flying tour was then over. I was sent down to be adjutant at a GCI [Ground Controlled Interception] station near Eastbourne. Again, I was dying to get back to flying again, so I did a quick refresher course on Meteors again, and became squadron commander of 611 Squadron at Hooton Park.
Allan – Where’s that?
Stan – Well actually, Hooton Park’s in Cheshire but the squadron was the West Lancs. Squadron.
Allan – Was this when you were near Wollaston?
Stan – That’s right. There was no aerodrome in Lancashire at that time that could take the Meteor, so we were at Hooton Park with 610 Squadron, County of Chester Squadron… And from there I went to Wildenrath in Germany, in flight safety…
Allan – …which is now a railway test track.
Stan – That’s right. And then I got promoted to Wing Commander, and I was Wing Commander Admin when you came out to Wildenrath…
Allan – I remember.
Stan – Then I came back and did Staff College as a student – that was in 1959 – and after having been a student at Staff College for a year, I took over as commanding officer of the big maintenance unit at Lyneham, where we were renovating Meteors and Canberras. I had three test pilots that I used to share the testing between. I was C.O. of the place… After that, I was posted to the Ministry of Aviation, and about half way through my stint there, I was selected to go onto the directing staff of the Staff College, but my Air Commodore vetoed it, and said he wanted to keep me on. So I had to finish my tour, but at the end of my tour I was still wanted, so I was sent to RAF Staff College at Bracknell on the directing staff. I did my two years and two terms, by which time I was beginning to think that I’d served enough. I was due for promotion to Group Captain, although there was no “due” for promotion – you were selected for it. One of my friends at MOD advised me not to leave, as he said I was going up in the next list, but I had the yen to go out.
Allan – What was the episode at the Paris Air Show that, as you’ve said after a few drinks, may have cost you your Group Captainship?
Stan – Well, it wasn’t really as bad as that. At that time I was in charge of planning parties of directing staff, and I did all the arrangements for the Paris Air Show for the whole of the college. That was quite a lot of people. I’d arranged with the Air Attache in Paris for three coaches, with an interpreter in each, to meet us at the aerodrome. We got there and found out that a VIP visitor had turned up that day, and all the interpreters were allocated to the VIP, so we ended up in our three coaches with no interpreters. We managed to get a couple of French officers who spoke a bit of English. There were three coaches with a Group Captain each in the other two, and myself in the lead one. And we told them to keep in convoy until we got there. About two thirds of the way there, the rear coach, in which was my own group commander, overtook us and disappeared, and we never saw them again. Anyway, the two remaining coaches got to the Paris Air Show, and we agreed in our broken French, with a little assistance from the French officers, that they would meet us at the end of a particular hangar at half past five. And that was it. It was all we could do. We had no idea where the other coach was. Well the end of the day came, and the other coach party, if they were lucky enough to meet up with people from the two coaches, knew we were there. But some of them didn’t, and there were eight missing. In the meantime, the Group Captain who was in charge of the coach that had disappeared, he was all highfaluting and starting to take over, and was ranting and raving because only one coach had turned up anyway, instead of three. I had been drinking with the test pilots. I wasn’t drunk by any means, but I was late. I turned up about twenty minutes after the coaches should have been there, by which time the Group Captain who was in the wrong had tried to sort things out. And then I heard that a lot of the chaps were missing. So I said “Right, off you go, I’ll go and see if I can find them around the place, and I’ll make my own way back.” So they went off, and left me, and I walked around the Paris Air Show. I couldn’t find anybody, so I went back to the pilots’ place, and with their assistance, I got a taxi out to the aerodrome, and joined up with the rest, and eventually got back. But of course, being in charge of the show, I carried the can. None of the chaos would have happened if the original Group Captain
hadn’t disappeared with his coach and gone off. But it was rather funny, because there’s always a Staff College pantomime at the end of the year, and that year they showed a Wing Commander carrying a couple of buckets, and someone said “who’s that?” And they said “Oh, he’s carrying the can for the Paris Air Show.”
Allan – What a good story… Just a little postscript. It struck me when we were all at an RAF Ball with Adrian, that the young pilots weren’t so keen on hearing about flying Spitfires, they wanted to talk about the Lightning. Didn’t you fly one?
Stan – Well I was a second pilot in a Lightning once. I mentioned that at one stage after the War, I was a Wing Commander seconded to the Ministry of Aviation. They were responsible for seeing through the process from design, through production and everything for all aircraft to go into civil or military service. My side was of course the military side. The test pilots were civilians, some of them quite famous, like John Cunningham, Trubshaw and people like that, and part of my job was to look after them, and see that they got what they wanted, see that they had the right flying hours in, and were keeping up to date. I had to approve the airfields they flew from, approve the low flying areas, tracks for supersonic flying which they requested, and of course I had to do staff visits to all these civilian firms around the country. I used to go to the [?indecipherable] test pilots at Farnborough and use their Meteors. I used to fly a Meteor to the various aerodromes ….
Allan – You flew Meteors for a lot of years…
Stan – I was Wing Commander in charge of a big Meteor maintenance unit at Lyneham. I used to share the testing and the test piloting. Oh, yes, I’ve got quite a few thousand hours on Meteors of all kinds. Anyway, when I went up to Wharton, in north Lancashire, where they were producing the Lightnings, they had a two-seater Lightning. It was the very first dual one – a Mark V. Because the other Lightnings only had one person in them. And whilst I was there, I persuaded the chief test pilot, Wing Commander Beamont, to let me go up with one of the test pilots in a Mark V. I wasn’t allowed to fly it on take-off or landing, but I did fly it in the air. After all, it belonged to the Ministry of Aviation, and there would have been a hell of a fuss if anything had happened.
Allan – Why were those young RAF pilots, all those years later, so interested in the Lightning?
Stan – Well it was a fantastic aircraft. It was the fastest fighter aircraft in the world at the time.
Allan – What was the top speed?
Stan – I don’t know…Mach 1.5, I think.
Allan – Which would be what in miles per hour?
Stan – Eight or nine hundred, or so. [Mach speed depends on altitude, which affects the speed of sound]
Allan – And that was faster than anything the Americans had at the time?
Stan – In service, yes… It was over Mach 1. I have a certificate saying that I’ve gone through the speed of sound, which is about 760 miles per hour.
Well, that’s about it.
Allan – Thanks for that, Stan. I hope some later generations of the family listen to this. I’m sure they’ll find it fascinating.