Interview with Charles Bland


Interview with Charles Bland


Charles Bland joined the Royal Air Force in February 1942 and went to RAF Halton as an Aircraft Apprentice.
He tells of his training at Halton, and describes the different trades and his exams to become an Leading Aircraftsman 1st Class, where he was then transferred to a Repair and Inspection Unit (R&I) working on Spitfire engines.
Charles then went to India via the Suez Canal and then on to Ceylon to 121 Repair and Salvage Unit, looking after 2 squadrons of Beaufighters and 1 squadron of Spitfires, but he says that because he was an apprentice, he could turn his hand to anything.
He was posted to instruct at a Motor Transport Unit, and spent time learning about the maintenance of other equipment including diesel engines.
Charles was posted to 109 Maintenance Unit, repairing Merlin engines, however at this time the V Bombers were coming into service. He trained as a Crew Chief and after passing these exams he was assigned to the Avro Vulcan XA908, at RAF Waddington.
Charles related the stories of the work he did when the Vulcan had hydraulic failure at Goose Green, the bombing competition in Florida where the aircraft suffered broken bomb bay doors and a cracked bomb aimers window, and the trip home from Bermuda with no fuel in one tank and a broken bogie beam.








02:21:37 audio recording


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ABlandC150817, PBlandC1501


CB: My name is Charles Bland and this is my story of what, the Air Force I suppose. I started off in grammar school, Boston and then I did my school certificate and my school certificate results were sufficient that I was able to become, join the Air Force as an aircraft apprentice in February 1942. February 1942. It was the first time you’d left home and we all had to arrive at Marylebone Station and it was February the 18th, I think it was, February the 18th, and so I left Boston, got down to London and, and found on Marylebone Station a great number of boys, all the same age as me. Most of them the first time they’d ever left home and so I consequently got on this train and I happened to, it was a non-corridor train and you had the compartments and I got in the compartment and they were all Geordies. You sort of, I mean, I’d never met Geordies before or anything and the, the chap who -
[machine pause]
Yep ok, we got in the carriage and that was the first time I’d sort of been away, more or less, and mixed with a lot of other boys from different parts of the country. Eventually we got there and we got to Halton and we, the first time we’d ever been in a room, we got to a room and there was twenty two of us in the barrack room and all of us were exactly the same. Most of us had never left home before and the most, I got, my chap in the next bed to me was a Scotsman, a chap named Jock Blythe and, but anyway that’s how we, we eventually got in and then we, then they, we all had to go off and go in the mess and we all sort of got together and then, of course, became the thing of joining the Air Force and the first thing we had was a medical, and the medical I failed. I failed because in this, for some reason or other, the Air Force had decided that you had to have bite, what were known as biting points and I had one biting point short so therefore I was not fit to be in the Air Force and for some reason or other, I was discharged. So I never joined, so they sent me back to Wendover Station and there was another chap who finished up, an armourer and myself who had failed our medicals and we stood on the platform station and waited for the train. Both, well, dispirited I suppose, and the next thing was, the warrant officer who was known as Beefy Paley eventually came on and called out our names. What was his name? Damn, I can’t remember. Anyway, he became an armourer. So he said, Charles Bland, so we all went back, the two of us went back to Halton and for some miraculous reason they found us a biting point, so I was in the, I eventually got in the service. So I -
MJ: What was your favourite biting point?
CB: The biting. I have no idea. This biting point was how your teeth clamped together I think, I don’t know, I never did find out, but I was in the Air Force. I didn’t care much then. And so we, I came, went back and but then of course, because I’d dropped behind, I was at, my number is a hundred behind where I, where the chaps were originally, but anyway that all came, it all came about but so on February the 19th, February the 19th, I joined the Royal Air Force and got sworn in and got this number, 578762, but er, but you see where the people that I was with, I should have been 662 not 762 but anyway, I went back to visit the beginning. All the initial because there were several methods of getting in as an apprentice. There was service candidate in which was all based on the fact that you had a father or something in the Air Force. By examination which was then you went on, did the exam and various, how you finished up on the exam, or what was known as a direct entry. I was a direct entry because I had sufficient, I had [unclear], what they were called? Credit standards. I think credit standards in my school certificate in maths, physics and chemistry and that allowed me to go as a direct entry. I was a direct entry with others but all of us, a direct entry were in the beginning, direct entry and service candidate had the first choice and then the others who did the examination, depended on where you came in the examination, what you got, how you got treated, but anyway that was it. We all got uniforms and we all won and we all got our classes, all got our classes, but then you had to be, oh I remember this, in this, my barrack room where these, these, all these people joined in and you all had trades. Now, the trades all, you had the one, was the radio trades, ‘cause they went to Cranwell, they didn’t do at Halton but then the others that were all picked out. You all got selected, if you like to put it, what you were going to be. You’d put down on your exam, on your joining what you’d like to be but it didn’t, yeah, it didn’t necessarily mean you did, because, we, in this barrack room where we were, ‘cause we had all those, I wanted to be an engine fitter. Some wanted to be riggers, armourers and instrument makers. Those were the Halton trades and we, we came back and I always remember, oh God, I can’t even remember his name now. Damn, damn but anyway, anyway this we all went this way selected and we got selected and said, you know, I was going to be an engine fitter. That was all. Then there was Jock Blythe, he fancied airframes so he was, and he was alright, but then we had one chap come back and he come back to the barrack room after being selected, and he was in tears and we didn’t quite understand why he was crying, and we thought maybe something had happened, but he came back and said, you know, I mean we were boys and I mean, we’d only met each other but you know you’d think well, why, you know, some sympathy for why he was crying. And why he was crying was that they’d made him an air frame fitter, and he wanted to be an engine fitter, so that was why he was crying. I met him years afterwards and he always, he always used to say, you know he always used to, he was a crew chief same, crew chief with me [unclear] for years on, but it was this business that he cried when he was at Halton, went years on. Years on ‘cause he knew that he, he wanted a different trade. Oh that was something, yes, he cried because he was made an airframe fitter and not an engine fitter, and there we are, but then we did all the, we did all the training that was necessary. Well boys, when you get boys, boys together, all sixteen year olds and you see you, they, you sort of went, you, I think that you went there, you became a disciplined hooligan I suppose really. It was nothing. Because you all went there like choirboys but after you’d been with all this lot, you became as, you know, apprentices. I don’t know how you sort of became, I don’t know, you’ve got, because funny enough how, because you treated NCOs and everything as they were but you’d, I suppose you’d got a cheekiness and whatnot, I don’t know, but you survived. Well survived. I can’t say that but, but a chap, an ex-apprentice I met years and years later and he had been, he had been a Japanese prisoner of war, and for some reason he didn’t talk much about it, but he, his, he reckoned that his survival as a Japanese prisoner of war because he, he treated the Japanese the same way we treated NCOs and whatnot as apprentices, and he put his survival as a Japanese prisoner of war to the fact that he’d been apprentice, and that was his attitude towards authority. So that was it. But that was a digression from that. Anyway, I left Halton after I managed to get an AC1, oh, and I got thrown out of a class once through laughing, but then of course the, but then days as apprentice were something that, incidents, I’ll mention a couple of incidents. One which, because I mean you all swore, you did all sorts of things and the one was that I always remember we were doing, we had, of course, you had engineering drawing. We did all this business there and engineering drawing. Our instructor was, oh, very studious squadron leader I think. Obviously, he was just like a parson and of course, we all lot we had a, because you had, I mean as boys we buggered about, I mean it was, you know. It was one of the things and I always remember my, one of my colleagues, well I’ll say classmate [unclear], Rickards his name was, and he, he was on there and the he said, oh, and of course there that the thing was we always buggered about and of course, we were doing engineering drawing and his, his statement was, ‘Who’s the thieving sod who’s pinched my rubber?’ And this was part of everyone talked about, but the instructor was a bit like a parson he was, and he stopped the class and he said that, he said that it was getting beyond when one boy called another boy a thieving sod. Well, I mean that was of course, that all went and that, that was being an apprentice and then all sorts of things. You were hooligans really, because you did, you did, you know, filing and all the, all the rest of it. You learned how to file, you learned how to rivet, you learned how to do all sorts of things and the, another thing when you did welding or, welding was one and of course, we had, you always got somebody there who was, would get rather picked on. Picked on in a class and one who was a, who was trouble was a bloke named Bryce, he came from Devon and Trevor Boone was another, he was, Trevor Boone was a, he was a bit of a softie. He was rather, he had a tendency I suppose to be bullied a bit. Yeah, because Bryce was a bugger you see, he was, he, we’d do soldering abrasion, welding, welding and of course all doing, we’re doing, we’re doing that. Not arc welding, it was oxyacetylene and of course, then of course, a pair of pliers that you use and Bryce, of course, played his flame on Boone’s pliers, so that when poor old Boone picked his pliers up, he got his hands burned. Devilish things sort of like that. Oh, and then of course, you, ‘cause we had, there again, McDonald beds. Now, McDonald beds were solid iron beds but they had casters on because you had to, you had to make your bed up in the morning. You had this bed. One, the bottom half slid into the top half and your blankets had to be your biscuits which were the three biscuits. Mattresses, or whatever you like to call them, had to be stacked on one another. Your blankets had to be folded with, we had sheets, so the sheets had to be put between the blankets, and then one blanket wrapped around the whole lot that so it sort of made like a sandwich, if you like and it, that was it. Beds have to made up as laid down. That was the one of the comments that you had to do, yeah. But then we, when we managed and the time came then and of course, we had our drill and had to be marched up and down and of course, we had the pipes and the drums and we were all, and it was, it was you carried your books, you carried your overalls and you had these horrible ground sheets which were meant to be capes, and the trouble was when it rained, and you were marching and whatnot, your legs got soaking wet because the damned ground sheet came to your, it was only came just below your knees, you know, the edge of it, but there we are. What else did we do? We used to march back and forth and, oh aye, that was another thing. We had, because we had various engine, as engine fitters of course, we started off on basics, which was an old Gipsy engine, a four cylinder Gipsy engine we had and then of course, you, you moved off, but then of course, we were in, at Halton we were in, started off in what was known as the old workshops, and then they decided, because we had airmen and wartime fitters there, they decided that they’d move the apprentices to the new workshops which was, if anyone knows Halton, I don’t know if they’re all like that now, but the old workshops, the new workshops were newer buildings and across the other side of the road. I can’t remember our position now but anyway it was across the other side of the road and we all moved. There was er to, going down into the new workshops was a downhill run, if you like to put it, and of course, we happened to be when we, when they changed to the new workshops, we happened to be on the radial engines, which were mercury engines, Bristol Mercury’s, and we were on radials and then we had to move the whole class and our engines from the old workshops to the new workshops, and we had an instructor named Mr Petty. He was the instructor. And so as a class, we moved our engines, but the thing is, when you get a bunch of boys and all of us, they decided to move these engines and of course, these engines were in stands, on castors so we pushed them up to the top of the hill, but then there was a downhill run to the new workshops, so of course they decided then, of course, being boys and whatnot, we decided that the only way to get these down there was to run them down and stand on the stand so that it went down like a trolley. Well of course, this was all, this did very well until we came and there was a curb by the side and of course the next thing was, one of the engines of course, hit the curb and thank goodness there was a bank there. It went into the bank and tipped over but it was not completely over, but of course, it had hit this bank and of course, we came down. We had to heave this engine back on its trolleys and push it back into the workshops, and then of course the thing was, we all got there, and the comment, Mr Petty said that he could not understand why one of his engines had got soil amongst the cooling fins, but nobody enlightened him that it had fell, it had fallen over. But then you had, and I always remember, you know, all, you know, you remember these sorts of things. I remember we had another instructor was a Mr Palmer and Mr Palmer was quite a, he said, ‘If you’re using a hammer, use it’. Don’t, you know, don’t dilly dally with it. Use it. And there was a boy called Hind in our class and, Mr Palmer, I don’t know what happened there, whether it was a hard face or whatnot, but he hit something. The hammer head came off and it finished up in Hind’s stomach so it, it was quite funny really because all it was, was Mr Palmer just extricated this hammer head out of Hind’s stomach and carried on. Hind was a bit breathless but never mind. But there was the other thing we used to do oh, and that was again Butch Hind, was, we did magnetos of course, but then of course, using magnetos of course, you can charge, you know, the thing is, you get a spark and whatnot but they were doing magnetos, and it was found that Hind, by judicious of winding these hand starter magnetos up, that Hind could be charged up and I don’t know if it was, he wore rubber boots or, so he was, you had to gently sort of, Hind would hold the leads and get himself charged up and then someone would go up, put a finger near his ears and he’d get a crick across the ears, you know. It was, oh we did all sorts of things like this, I mean, it was ridiculous really. And we had, we had a lot of civvy instructors and we had one for basic was a Mr Tatum, and Tatum could do anything with a piece of metal that I know, but then you had, he used to be doing because you had to have your, some on the file and some on top. You had to hold the files correctly and if you weren’t holding the files correctly and you were doing something, you suddenly find you had a whack on the finger, because you weren’t correct and he used to come around and give you a whack on the finger. But it was, you know, I suppose, brutal really. I mean you wouldn’t have it now, ‘cause they was being mistreated or something. I don’t know but I mean, you just accepted it. You accepted it. Well he was, but I’m ok. There we are. Then of course, you had your various exams, and that was another one. Petty, another one. He got killed. He went aircrew and he became a pilot, he got killed in a Canberra. Colin Petty. And we had, during exams, there was various means of making bolts and one was what was known as a cold headed bolt, which had all these had different markings in, ‘cause this was all part of the thing of knowing what your markings of all these various equipment and steel and everything were, and one was, a bolt was known as a cold headed bolt and it was a bolt where the head had been pressed in cold. Not, not been turned. It was pressed and this had a ring around the top, but in the exam, it was, ‘How do you recognise a cold headed bolt?’ And of course, Petty didn’t know, and so Petty wrote, ‘Wears a balaclava helmet’. He got seven days for that, seven days jankers for that, for being frivolous on an examination paper. That was how, that’s how things were, you know, you got done for everything. You couldn’t smoke. Oh you got a smoking pass at eighteen, but you weren’t allowed to smoke everywhere and the toilets down in workshops of course. Toilets, yeah, and you could hear because you could have puffs, I mean, you could make a cigarette end last with a pin till the last puff. Oh dear, it was all sorts of things like that. As an apprentice, you did everything, always pushed to the limit, and it, and all your instructors. Oh, and there was another incident, I always remember that we had a named, chap named in our class, Dicky Burke, and Dicky Burke was, he was a oh, he was the same as anyone else, but one time we had a, we had er notes. A corporal, I can’t even remember his name, a corporal was giving, he was an instructor and of course he said we had to, I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, he said take, get your notebook and take these notes, and Dicky Burke said, ‘We’ve already got these notes’, and the corporal said, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’ll still do it’, you know. And under his breath, Dicky Burke said F you, and the corporal heard him and so he was wheeled up to the squadron leader, and in less than two hours, Dicky Burke was, was doing a stretch of twenty eight days in the guardroom, but he still had to come to, well he was doing a stretch but he, he, he was doing his spell in the guardroom but he still had to come to school. He still had to do his doings, so one of the corporal apprentices, a bloke named Ted Atkinson who was a friend of mine, had to go to the guardroom and march him down to school and then march him back up to the guardroom for his, his lunchtime and any off duty, so he did his twenty eight days on off duty, more or less, so he was one of these, one of these incidents that er, but he did the twenty eight days and was shovelling coal from one side to the other and all the rest of it, but as I say, they used to make you do anything. I don’t know, but that was Dicky Burke and his twenty eight days. I’m trying to remember humorous incidents of things and very, it was, of course we were apprentices anyway but then, of course, the other thing was they had Air Training Corps, ‘cause they were the civilian side. I mean, most of them were the same age as us but of course, we were apprentices as opposed to theirs was, well Air Training Corps wasn’t it? People that you join and they had the air training corps come and did a spell well in the camp near Halton, which of course upset those, a bit of an upset, and of course the apprentices raided them as normal, it was normal sort of business. Used to, oh dear oh dear. Apprentices. The other one was, all daft things really. And of course, you had not money, you used to get, we used to get paid a fortnight of three [unclear], nearly new two shilling pieces. That was our pay. Three, three every fortnight, which I mean you had, you could buy chips in the NAAFI and the old rock cakes and whatnot, but, but then of course, there was, generally you used to run out of money or something and they used to do odd, and there was one time, oh, what was his name? He was short of money, and then the thing was that we had, because there was twenty two of us in a room, twenty two of us including a corporal or a snag which was a LAA, a leading aircraft apprentice. He had one stripe on his arm and then you had a corporal apprentice, a corporal he had was probably in the bunk at the end of the room, was the corporal apprentice, but then of course, then they’d get someone short of money and one of the, one of the, one I remember is, I can’t remember his name now, never mind, short of money and then it said was halfpenny around the room. That would give him ten P. A halfpenny around the room and he’d run around the barrack block stark naked which was a, oh God that was brass and of course, he said he’d do it and that so everybody, but then of course, you had to, then had to, everybody, this was immediately transmitted all around the rooms that he was going to run around the block stark naked, and so that meant that everybody was, when he set off, everybody was at the barrack block windows, shouting and cheering him on as he went around. And that was another incident, anything to make money. And then there was, you had jankers, ‘cause that was another one. Your jankers, seven penneth for doing anything. No I managed to avoid that, I wasn’t caught smoking or missing church parade. Anything to scrounge. You get seven penneth and then, but then you were allowed, they decided that you, that the jankers would be separated from the other boys. For what reason I don’t know. And there was a Corporal Croft. He was a corporal in the DI we had and they put him in charge of, ‘cause we had the barrack blocks but then we had wooden huts, and they decided to put the, the jankers in the, or a wooden hut with this corporal in charge which was then, ‘cause he was Corporal Croft, and that was known as Croft’s Cottage, but I think, I think they abandoned that because you got all the ne’er-do-wells who wanted to pinch anything all at, do and that was not, they weren’t distributed cause they used to supposed to do jankers in the cookhouse and they were the ones that always got fed the best, ‘cause they always managed to purloin something. Food or something. It was, it was all part of the game. Part of the game. I mean the best of it was of course, some of the worst offenders became commissioned officers. That was the best of it wasn’t it? I mean years, years on. There was one there, Hammer Mallet, Tom Mallet. He was, he was one but he became a squadron leader engineer. Just shows you ,doesn’t it? How to become commissioned? Become jankers, you know. But then, that was the years. Went through that lot and of course came, I mean we were doing our drill with our rifles and bayonets and all the rest of it as well, and then came the day of passing out and then you had to do, but then you had your exams but then your exams depended on where you were doing, whether if you got, if you got called that you would do your oral exams and boarded, as they used to say, and you’d go for your board to these, you know, either senior NCOs or officers and you were questioned on your trade. I mean, as well as written exams, you had written exams as well which was, you know, like school and whatnot, but your boards were you were all against mostly to gain your trade. They asked you, you know, how you would identify some stainless steel or some question how would you do this or do the other, various things so, but then you, you’d do your board and then if you were you didn’t know how you were doing, you sort of go back again and then, and sit down and go back where you came from and then someone would say, ‘They want to speak to you again’. And you’d think, now that meant either one of two things. That A) you hadn’t got enough marks to pass out or B) you got sufficient marks that they were doing, that they were doing you that instead of AC2 pass out or AC1, you got an LAC. That, that was the thing but I mean, you had to know whether you’d done well enough or poorly or not because if they asked you back again and you’d done very poorly and you were only getting to re-boarded, you again to become an AC2 and I got, I had to go back again because I didn’t get an LAC. Anyway, I did, I finished up AC1, that was how I passed out. I passed out then from Halton, that was then and they said, right then, we are posted. Where were your choices to be posted? Well I come from Lincolnshire so I suppose you put Lincolnshire. I mean, ten to one you never got what you put down for. I put Lincolnshire and I finished up, posted to Kirton Lindsey. That was, and of course the thing was, in those days, and you used to get trains and you didn’t know where you were and blackouts, and you get on a train. There was several of us posted to Kirton Lindsey, I think about four, four of us posted to Kirton Lindsey, and of course, on these trains, you didn’t know where the hell you were going. You got a train, you had to get a train to so and so, and then of course, the only time you ever knew where you were, was if some porter called out, you know, the name of the platform or stop where it was, and we got out at Kirton Lindsey. There was four of us and some airmen as well, and so we got out there and some of the airmen were worldly, more worldly wise, get transport, and they eventually came, got transport and of course, it’s a blackout, you didn’t know where the hell you were. Got to, went to this, got to the station and eventually the guardroom and we were then sent to transit block. Transit block. And the transit room, you went in there and you, you were, I can’t even remember now whether you had, whether there was bedding in there or you had to go to the bedding store and get your blankets, I think. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Got there and eventually we got dished out to the general office, and then we were given wherever we were going, so it’s, you were sent down to the tech side and then they decided where you were going, ‘cause I mean, they were riggers or fitters. I finished up in R&I. R&I. We were doing majors on Spitfires there. Got R&I, some of them got others. And there was another place called Hibaldstow, which was a satellite of Kirton Lindsey. Two of them got sent to Hibaldstow. As I say I was sent to, to R&I. I don’t know, I think I was the only one out of our group who went to R&I, which is Repair and Inspection, which was the major. We were doing majors, majors on Spitfires but, so we used to have the flights when the flights board there, I mean, I mean, oh, and the other thing was, I must have mentioned this, the other thing they had now, so that we, we had, ‘cause we had WAAF fitters as wel,l and we had, I was put into, put into a gang with Corporal, Corporal Shear was in charge and I was put in this gang and of course, I was an, I was an AC1 apprentice fitter. Apprentice, ‘cause the others in the gang were all wartime blokes. One was a bank clerk, one had been, one was, one had been a waiter, I think, but they were a good lot anyway.
[pause for phone]
So we, now, we got to Kirton Lindsey now so that we got to the WAAF fitters, and I was put in a gang, and I can remember Corporal Shear was the corporal in charge, and all the others were wartime. Well one was a fitter, two mechanics I think, we were doing majors on Spitfires and Sadie was the WAAF, and Sadie was, I mean I was only, what, eighteen and whatnot, but I didn’t fancy her really, but I think she rather well she, I don’t think she fancied me. All she did was bugger me about really, ‘cause she would, if you were doing on the engine and whatnot on there and she was sitting on the main plane she’d, and you were doing something, she’d suddenly put her legs out and wrap them around you, you know. But she wasn’t really my type at all, so I didn’t really fancy her and she, the trouble with WAAFs. they either overtightened things or didn’t tighten things up enough. Couldn’t, plugs. they never put the plugs in tight enough and they’d bloody shear off a bloody two by eight or something like that. but anyway that was, that was the WAAFs. But incidents. Incidents, oh the other thing of course, they were Mark II Spitfires and they had Merlin 12s, and they had Coffman starters and cartridge so that you had a cartridge, and one of the things was the flight sergeants, ‘cause we had, oh all part and parcel, you had to, you had your sort of annual booze up and whatnot, and of course, then money had to be put in and the flight sergeant used to fine you for A) for being late if you were late for work or whatnot you’d, he’d fine you sixpence or something, which all went into the fund, and they used to do cartridge starters. I mean, you had to be starting a Merlin on, with a cartridge. You could do it with one cartridge or two but if you had more than two, he used to fine you sixpence a cartridge. So, so the thing was, you had to make sure it was primed and everything before you could, he’d be there, but he’d listen to you, and you would fire up on one and you’re all right. Fire up on two and if it didn’t fire you think, God there’s another sixpence gone you know. So that was the fine, I mean that was a fine for using too many cartridges, but that that was one of the things. Another incident here I always remember, we changed over from Mark II’s to Mark Vs and the Mark Vs were coming in, and this was during the summer of 1944. The warm weather. And we came, we were in, we were in R&I and of course, we were duty crew, if you like, and of course we were at, they were bringing in these Mark Vs and we were, all of us nice summer evening it was, sitting outside and we were all thinking of going down the boozer, and he said, ‘Righto we’ve got, we’ve got four, four spitfires coming in.’ And they were all sitting there in the sun, at the wall of the hangar and the first one came in and of course, then you were all sitting there. Who was going to see the first one in, and I said, ‘Oh bugger it, I’ll see the first one in’, and off I went in to see the first one in. Taxied in and, lo and behold, it was when, when the pilot of course, took her helmet off, it was an ATA pilot. A blonde. She had blonde hair, and who she was I don’t know, and of course, I saw this one in and of course immediately the others saw this girl taxiing this one in, they all rushed out to see the others in, but anyway I don’t know who she was, I’ve no idea. But I often think of the ATA pilots because, oh she was older than me but, and she had blonde hair and I often wonder, having seen ATA pilots, you know, years gone on and wondered who it was. But that was, we got Mark Vs then instead of, but then of course, the time came and then the incident I mentioned of the only time we got involved in Bomber Command In those days was, we had a Spitfire lab down at North Creake, which had Stirlings on and we had to do an engine change, and doing this engine change underneath the belly of a Stirling. That was quite interesting but then that was, then I’ve, then of course, my posting overseas came so then I went up to Blackpool and met all, a lot of the chaps who were at Halton with me. So that was, so we were at Blackpool there, getting kitted out. Marks and Spencers of Blackpool, well then because they had all the, which was Marks and Spencer, had all the kit in there so you, and when the tower, well anyway, that was September ‘44. We went, went to Gourock. Gourock and then we boarded this, I can’t remember even, can’t remember what my, my draft number was. Anyway, but anyway we were boarded on the Orion and the thing was, was this a battleship, no, it was a cattle ship, because there were five thousand, troops, troops in it. That was an incident. There was Army at the bottom, Air Force in the middle and the Navy at the top ‘cause they were the best. Anyway, so we, we went out on that, through the Suez ‘cause then, I think they’d cleared the Med of subs. We went to India via, via the Suez Canal and not around, around the end of South Africa. That was it, no incidents. We had some ex Australian prisoners of war on board and they were well fed, and they used to give us a bit of grub now and again, but and then eventually we got, got to India, but of course, the other thing of course, I’d better mention it that was the, the beginning of my marriage I suppose, ‘cause this friend of mine, who had had the, this corporal apprentice, had to go back to my brother in law who was, he was also at Halton but he was two entries after me, and my friend was a corporal apprentice, was in charge of his room and my brother in law, Bill, he, he gave my, he had a twin sister who became my wife, but he’s, this corporal apprentice started writing to Margaret, but then, I don’t know, it all petered out or something, and then of course, we came on, came on the boat going to India and of course, was one of the things, anyone got any girls to write to? And he gave me Margaret’s address and said, ‘Don’t tell her I gave it to you’. So I came out of the top of my head was a load of rubbish that I found her address floating on the deck of a bloody troop ship’ you know’ but anyway that was that. I wrote to her and of course that was, we got out to India and I was then posted from [unclear], I went to a place, I was posted down to Ceylon to a repair and salvage unit ,121 RS, oh R&SU I suppose. We just used to call it just RSU. So we went down by seven days on the rail, down to India, down all the way down in from Bombay, down all the way down India. Took us a week. Then to Ceylon and we eventually ended, finished up in a place called Vavuniya in Ceylon, and we formed, well I think we formed this R&SU there, We serviced Beaufighters. We had two Beaufighter squadrons and a Spitfire squadron. I can’t remember the Spitfires, but the Beaufighter squadrons were 22 and 217, and we did engine changes and then I got, I got detached to 22 Squadron because they were short of fitters, and I got detached there for a, for a spell. So, I was doing, working with 22 Squadron but then of course, everything changed and they decided that we were going on a, we got, we got sent, we got notification we had to pack up, what was it? Operation Marbrisca I think it was, and get everything, gear and of course it never came about and we then, we moved the whole lot, the unit moved up into India. And Marbris, that was an interesting thing because it was years, years later after I came back home and the I went to, went to school and there was a master at school who had also been out there, but he was in, in SEAF or SEAC operations and I mentioned about this, oh years about this Operation Marbrisc, and he told me what it was. It was in actual fact, they were going to take the island of Phuket. I mean we called it something else as you can imagine which is, I mean, is a holiday island now, and the idea was, they were going to build an airfield on Phuket and operate from there against the Japanese, but then he said that the casualty situation would be, was exorbitant and they cancelled it. So that was where we were going. This Marbrisc. Anyway, that was cancelled and we moved up into South India, basically to, I think it was preparation for the Malayan invasion, ‘cause we moved about. God, as an RSU, we sort of did anything. We did some servicing on Thunderbolts of all things. Then, then we sort of petered out and did nothing really. We sort of, all we did was, oh and then of course the next thing was, they said, oh we got issued with jungle green, so we all got issued with jungle green and we had, then we got to have equipment to do this invasion or whatnot, back up so we got a lot of new waggons and cranes and all sorts of things, all ready to do this repair and salvage, because we were supposed to, I think, we were supposed to service two Beaufighter squadrons and a Spitfire squadron. I don’t know whether they were the same ones that we had before but, but then of course, they dropped the atom bomb and that was, that was the end, that was the end of our sortie to Malaya, but, but then of course, the whole thing wound up. What was the next troubles? ‘Cause it became, the whole thing then, the war had ended and all the blokes that were in the war in Europe were getting demobbed, and people with the, on the unit with the same demob number were not being demobbed, because they were in the Far East, and then of course, we came, these problems what do they call them? What do they call them? Riots I suppose. I think they termed them as riots when they were bloody you know, I don’t know, you were nearly court martialled but anyway, but then of course that all, this came, the whole of India was like that but of course, we were regulars so we, we weren’t involved. They, we, we just didn’t get involved in all that, any of these struggles at all, but then of course, our lot folded up and we were posted to, and then they said, oh we’re going on occupation force Japan. {Unclear] and we went to a place in India called Tamberam, to get to move out but then they cancelled the whole lot so we were less than with all this gear and whatnot, in this Tamberam, and then they decided that we were going to be disbanded, we were. So all the equipment had to go back. All these new lorries and cranes and whatnot, so they were all moved and taken to a place called Visakhapatnam, I think it was. Viso we called it, and they took all this and there were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles. All just, all lease lend stuff. And that was, and they shifted us to a place called Redhills Lake, which had been a flying boat station, to disband. Well, and of course the thing was, and it had a lake there so we did a bit of swimming. That was for a while and apart from that, we did nothing, just sort out equipment, half of it got dumped in the lake and then the day came when I was posted. We were posted, we were distributed and I was posted to 353 Squadron at Palam, and that was Delhi, and that was right up north, and so the next thing was of course, to get the train from, was it Madras, I suppose. I think, I can’t remember where, so, to Delhi and oh, it was a troop train. It was marvellous, marvellous train because it had been a casualty train for, for carrying wounded, not a trooper and oh, it was most comfortable. Had a real good trip ‘cause against all the others we had a, ‘cause normally the trains in there you had same as the doings. You had the hard wooden benches and the ones that slap down on chains for sleeping on, but anyway that was, but anyway we got to Palam and that was 353 Squadron was a Dakota squadron, but then of course, they’d centralised servicing really so that it didn’t matter what squadron you were on, you were, you were put in workshops. I was in engine repair and in engine repair was you did anything really. A Pratt and Whitneys, it didn’t matter what came in and you said, because Palam was a, was a main, well it’s now Delhi airport isn’t it? I think, yeah, and Dakotas, but we used to get all the mail stuff come through. That was the Yorks. And we had also the, was it British Air? No, BOAC was it? BOAC in those days. And it had BOAC Yorks came because the airport was at, was at Palam. Well it was Delhi Airport, but part of Palam, but just around the peritrack and so I did, I did a spell with Dakotas and Yorks. I had engine changes on Yorks. We actually did minor a inspection on Lancasters that flew in. Oh, I did a couple of jobs on BOAC Yorks, but they had landing trouble and they had no fitters, and they used to get sort of co-opted on the engineer, BOAC engineers. They had no, no people at all, so I did a couple of jobs on BOAC Yorks while I was there and then of course, came a time that I didn’t get mid tour leave although I’d put my name down, I wasn’t lucky enough to get any. And then of course in April, oh, then of course the Partition was on. India was, and things were not, things were not very good then. You, you didn’t, if you wanted to go out you made sure that at least there was two or three of you together, ‘cause things, I don’t know why, they didn’t like us really. And then in April, I got a raise and I came home in April. I came home. I went out on the Orion and came back on the Chetril and then we arrived back. It was quite, they say about you know seeing England when you come back, it was, go on, anyway we landed at Southampton and we had to be shipped up to Burtonwood near, oh where is it near? Oh God, Burtonwood. Warrington isn’t it? I think it’s at Warrington. Anyway, when it comes to the point there, we got back to there and everybody was, of course all they wanted to do was get home, and they would have flown us and said this, that and the other, until everyone was chuntering and whatnot the bloke at Burtonwood said, ‘Right’, he said, ‘Get on the lorries and you can go to the bloody station’, you know, it’s up to you where, you know, you go. We’d got our warrants and I think there was, I think a train going south and a train going north and it cleared the station. Didn’t care, you really didn’t care where you went as long as you left there and on the way home. So, I sort of, I got from Warrington to Manchester, and Manchester and of course, while I’d been, while I’d been overseas, my parents had moved from Lincolnshire. They’d moved to Yorkshire, and so I didn’t know where I was going home so the er, got to, I got to Manchester and got to Leeds, and I thought what and I got my parent’s telephone number so I thought, oh I’d better, I’d better ring them and let them know, and so I phoned up and my mother answered and of course she said, ‘Oh your father’s in, in the Isle of Man at the moment’, ‘cause I said, ‘well can you, can you pick me up at the station?’ And so anyway the incidents, isn’t it? So, so I said, ‘Well I’ll go to Harrogate’. I had to go to Harrogate, from Leeds to Harrogate and the, get in the train and the, ‘cause I had two kit bags and your webbing and everything and you know you were sort of carrying these down, and of course I’d asked where the train, the -
[phone ringing]
Train was there and of course I’d got my kit bag on, and you know you’ve got a kit on, a kit bag on your arm, your webbing and a kit bag on the top, and of course there was an airman in a carriage doorway, and I says, I said, oh you know , ‘Open the door’, and I bend over and let the kit bag drop on the floor, and my father was on the, on the train and he picked it up, so and that’s how I met my dad. He came and then my sister, mother at the station. So, incidents, you know, that, ‘cause I came back and of course my father was on the train with the gear, and so my mother and sister at the station. The incident I’m trying to think of. Not that is, ‘cause I didn’t, oh dear, I didn’t stop by. OK now then, we’ve got to, we’ve got to Knaresborough, that was where my parents lived, so and the next thing I had to do, as I’d been writing to Margaret for, oh, since, when was it? 1945. I wanted to get down to Hereford, so I went down to, went down to, go down to Hereford but it’s quite strange really that I’d been writing to her there, but it was, I’d got down to, got down from Manchester, get down to Hereford and the, the last stop before Hereford is Shrewsbury, and I debated whether to get off the train. Why I don’t know but there we are, but anyway it all worked out. We met on Hereford station and that was, that was it, so the beginning of our relationship. Yeah. Anyway, then that all finished and the next thing was of course, we got posted and then, oh God, that was it. Posted, posted to Wheaton, Wheaton, what the hell was at Wheaton? I thought what on earth’s there? Blackpool, near Blackpool. So off I goes to, to Blackpool. Get back on the train, get off at Wheaton and what’s Wheaton? Trainings. Bloody training station, nothing to do with aeroplanes. Bloody drivers, fitters, blacksmiths, welders, everything bar anything to do with aeroplanes, and I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ So, anyway, of course, I arrived on the station and this is in, and I thought, you know, and I went and they said, you’re going to, you’ll be on one wing, I think it was. MTMs, Motor Transport Mechanics. So what the hell am I doing here? And anyway of course, I went in to the general office, off I went, report to squadron leader so and so, so I went to him and immediately I went in there and of course, there was a few, there was an MT fitter and whatnot, and me. So, anyway, I immediately said, complained, ‘What am I doing here?’ you know, and MT and all the rest of it, and this officer, whoever he was, said I was posted as an instructor. I said, ‘I don’t know anything about MT at all’. And this, I remember this officer, who he was, he said, ‘You’re an ex apprentice, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes sir’. ‘Well’, he says, ‘In that case’, he said, ‘You can do any bloody thing’. So that was that. That was me teaching motor mechanics, MT mechanics, and I knew nothing about bloody brakes or anything like that. Well, I think, anyway so I went down to this, where was it? Where I was supposed to be? The phase office, that was it, the phase, the phase office, and there was a sergeant MT fitter there, and I said, ‘Well I know bugger all about motor transport’. He said, ‘Well I’ll tell you what’, he said, ‘I’ll put’, he said, ‘you’ll be on’, I’ve forgotten what it was, but he said, ‘I’ll put you with, there’s a civilian instructor’, he says. ‘You can have a spell with him’, he said, ‘you’ll pick it up from there’. Oh God love us all. So, anyway, I was with this, oh I can’t remember his name, and he was an ancient civvy and so I was picking up brakes and steering, and I never knew there was a blinking theory on brakes and how line up and all this business at all, and of course I was doing this and that, was the, I was on the first week. There was a fortnightly course for this MT mechanics. A fortnight course so I was in there for a fortnight. I’d done one week and there was a fracas in there, and one of the corporal instructors had clobbered a, or hurled a coupling at one of the trainees, and he was then immediately taken off instructing, and the only person to take, put on, was me, and he was on the second week and I’d only done the first week, and the second week was completely, was ridiculous. But anyway, so I had to do it. Have you ever taught, taught people about something you know nothing about? Well, that was what it was with me, instructing people. I had to try to gain a, oh dear, it was ridiculous, but anyway. Then, of course, funnily enough, then they started to er, a phase on diesel engines. Well funnily enough I’d been very interested in diesels, even in India, and I had had my father send me books on diesels, high speed compression ignition engines and whatnot, and so therefore I knew quite a bit, and when they started this phase on diesels, I said well I, you know, I’d done diesels. Oh, they were quite, and shoved me on diesels straightaway, so that was, that was the way it went. I finished up doing diesels and did various other things and then of course I, I, I, I wanted to get away from Wheaton. I’d liked to get down south somewhere ‘cause I mean I was courting then, I mean, and it’s a long way from, from Wheaton, Blackpool down to Hereford, which I used to do on a blinking short weekend. It was bloody fast because I used to have to, I’d travel all night back and have, get my breakfast and kit bag and sort of virtually go straight to the classroom, you know, and get straight, but anyway, but then of course I, I got, I got a what was it a payform 36 posting, because for some reason, I don’t know how I managed it, but anyway down to Hereford. At Hereford. And I was still instructing but when I got down there, I found out there was nothing there, it was equipment assistant. Stores bashers. I thought what the hell am I doing here? But then of course, I got there and the next thing that I’d got there was another, in fact an apprentice, ex-apprentice was a bloke named Don Rigby, and he was posted there as an instructor. He was, he’d managed to get fitter one scores in his career and so the two of us there. What the hell were we doing here? But then of course, we went down to the general office who sent us to this. He said, ‘Yes, you’re definitely posted here’. I thought someone had made a mistake, you know, but then we went to, the pair of us went down to see this squadron leader, and I said, ‘Well what are we doing here?’ I mean. ‘Well you’ve got to tell them all about’, you know, ‘it’s yours to sort of give them an interest in the mechanical things of aeroplanes and engines’. And I thought what am I doing, and we had no syllabus, we had nothing, so we had to, between the pair of us, we sort of worked it out, but God what a, talk about a working week. I think we, our working week was about two or three hours, all week, working week was two or three hours, so we were there so I mean, but we got on ‘cause all the equipment, all the store bashers, instructors, were senior NCOs. We were the only corporals there in the doing but er, we got on very well with them because if they wanted to go off shopping, we’d take their class on, you know. It was, it was or if, you know, something they were getting short of time and they’d, they’d use our time and it was doing but anyway, that all went on and then that collapsed but then of course, at that period of time, I’d been courting. This was 1949 I get, I got married, we get married. So, I got married in 1949, got back off the honeymoon, to the bunk was a piece of paper slipped under the door and it says, ‘Go to the general office ‘cause you’re posted to MCOS’. MCOS. What the hell was that? MCOS. Never heard of it. Nobody doing and this was at Wythall, which is just outside Birmingham. So, Wythall. Wythall. I’d never heard of a Wythall. No airfield that I knew of at Wythall, but anyway MCOS. We’d no idea. So anyway gets to MC, gets to, my, my colleague who was the other corporal there, he got posted, he got posted to, he got his posting to Suez Canal, so he was, he was gone anyway and there was MCOS, so got down to Wythall and doing I found out that this was what was known as the Mobile Classroom Operating Section. So I was back on instructing only in a mobile classroom. I was, as I’d done diesels and they put me on wheels and tyres for starters because I’d been, I’d been steering and whatnot, but then that, that, I can’t remember but I think the instructor on diesels, he was posted and they knew I’d had, done diesels instructing experience and they put me on to the diesels.
So that was that, but that was out on the road for six weeks and back at Wythall for a fortnight, so we roamed the countryside teaching. You went to any station that wanted you and you’d instruct on whatever’s going there, but there’s that was the biggest lot of rogues. The drivers, mostly the drivers, ‘cause you had a driver and instructor with each wagon and the drivers, I think they were the biggest bunch of rogues I’ve ever come across. Pinch anything. And oh, and then the other thing of course we, we were at Wythall which was, had been a balloon base, but Austin’s had taken half of it over to store, you know, their manufactured equipment and whatnot. Gearboxes and whatever you could think of and of course, it was, this was all partitioned by wire netting from the mobile classrooms and of course, knowing the drivers and whatnot and the people that were in Austin’s store place and whatnot, people got, stuff got passed over the wire which as the drivers were traversing the country, you’d get to a transport café and you could sell anything so, you know, parts of cars got sold but then they got wise with it, because the police, Air Force police and whatnot, got wise to it and you got, they, they stopped the wagons at the guard room and got searched and so you couldn’t have any, any Austin components in there, but they used to be fiddling the thing. They used to, somebody, one bloke even moved a whole family because, I mean, the classrooms were big and so they use it as a pantechnic and one chap moved somebody there. I mean they used to, these corporals would do, do anything really. That, but of course the thing was, you see, once you got to the station where you were instructing course they had nothing to do. You were doing the instructing. So they sort of you know did anything really. It was quite. They were a bunch, a really, especially one -
Right. So having, Wythall finished these mobile classrooms and then I got posted to the Middle East. The canal zone so, and the canal zone, went on a, oh what was it, oh I can’t remember the boat, but that was another one, anyway we got to, got to Abihad and Abihad was 109 Maintenance Unit, and that was the repair of Merlin engines, and they were set up, sort of posted on, to start up a repair service on Hercules but that never came about, and I finished up on the overhaul of the propellers. That was, that was a standard sort of a job but it was er, the mid, then of course we had the problems, in fact when my wife came out, the problems of the riots and all the rest of it which that we were, we lived in Ismailia, we had a flat in Ismailia but then all the problems came and we got, if you got enough points, my wife, we got a hiring on the Canal Road, which is not far off the Great Bitter Lakes, you know, where the canal goes through and we, we got this hiring which was a bungalow, it was sort of quite a complex of bungalows. It was typical Egyptian, oh, and of course, I must have mentioned that our bungalow was the only one with a bath, all the rest had showers. We had a bath and this bath must have been built by the Egyptian who made the tombs and whatnot, ‘cause it was like a big concrete but we were the only one with a bath, but then we had no hot running water so the only way we had a, the only way you could have a bath, in fact the ladies, my wife’s friends and whatnot, well, service people that lived there, they had a bath, you could have a bath and by having two primer stoves and put the zinc bath on top of the two primer stoves, get the water heated up enough, tipped in to this massive bath and put some cold with it and then you could have a decent bath. But the ladies, all the wives, there were quite a number of us there and of course my wife would ask the ladies if they wanted to have a bath, so they come and we’d heat, well my wife organised it and they’d have a bath then. Anyway, that was so that was it, but at that point in time was, was the, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and the point was then, then there was this big expansion programme of, I suppose with the V bomber pilots and whatnot and they wanted fitters and riggers back, back home and I was premature re-patted, but then there was a major problem of my wife was pregnant and of course, she had to come back and they, they, it depended on if they couldn’t come back, I’d have to go out, but then it depended whether the aircrew on the aircraft would bring her back. Would they have her and that and it was a Hastings flight and they said yes. So my wife who was, oh was she near, I wonder if, ‘cause that was, oh she’d be at least eight months. She must have been eight months so it was really, you know, it was touch and go, but anyway she came. They decided to take her so we, she came back in this Hastings or we came back in this Hastings and of course, the bloody thing went u/s in Malta, so we all had to get off and of course, she was the only woman on board the aeroplane. The rest was all, all men. She was the only woman and of course, then, of course in those days, there was no family accommodation. There was only women’s and men and so my wife finished up in this nissen hut all by herself and me in the, with the, ‘cause I was a corporal, with the rest of the men and because I was doing and then I remember in a morning, some chap out there says, ‘Is there a Corporal Bland in the hut?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am’. He said, ‘Your wife wants you’. I thought, Oh God, you know, we’re not going to have the happening in Malta, you know, but no well when I went out she said, ‘When are you getting up?’ So that was it but eventually we, they got the aeroplane serviceable and we came back, and then of course, they wanted to put us in transit, and my wife said no I’m not going in transit, I want to go home and I’d bought a camera out there and then I had trouble with the customs. I said, ‘You can keep the bloody camera’. But they didn’t like that much, but anyway, we finished up at, where was it? Swindon Station. God knows what. Coming back in the milk train ‘cause we were going back to South Wales to her home in Newport or [unclear] and so we had there. So we, we finished up on this, and oh, Swindon I’ll always remember that. She was wanting to lay down and I said, ‘Alright’. and then of course, it was a bit chilly or something. Was it? I don’t know, but I know a porter came in and lit a fire in this waiting room, ‘cause there was only the two of us, and so eventually we, she kipped down on me, but anyway we got the milk train, we got back to, got to Newport and got a taxi from there and of course, the thing, because she was pregnant, my wife wouldn’t, wouldn’t tell her parents that she was on her way home. So, so we arrived completely unannounced, caused consternation as you can well imagine, but anyway that was it. I got posted to Worksop and she had the baby in Pontypool, and I think she’d have been better off in a military hospital then she was in a national health. I didn’t, she didn’t get treated very well there at all, anyway, that’s by the by, so we got to Worksop and I was on Meteors. So, posted to Worksop. Worksop which was an old wartime airfield which had been renovated, and we got Meteors there. So of course, I was, I was then a corporal still and then I got, I passed my senior technician’s exams, so I was a corporal, but I wasn’t really due for my senior, ‘cause at the time, wasn’t due for my senior and then I got my third. My sergeant came through, so I was a sergeant senior tech qualified. So that was the way it went on for the time being. I hadn’t, the time was it, wasn’t to go for the chief so that was the way it was. So I was on Meteors there in R&I, in Meteors so that was, that was my spell there. Then that went on till was it 19, I think it went on until 1955, and then a friend of mine who was also at Worksop, and he was a great reader of AMOs and he said, he said there’s an AMO about this new V bombers and their looking for aircraft servicing chiefs. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘that’s a good idea’. ‘Oh’, but he says, ‘they’ve got to be aircraft fitters’. Well I‘m only an engine fitter, I wasn’t an aircraft fitter. He was an aircraft fitter. Anyway, he volunteered for it and because he was an aircraft fitter, he finished up with it. Anyway, he was waiting and then, then they changed it and he came to me. He said, ‘Ay’, he said, ‘They’ve done, they’ve done a change on the AMO’. He said, ‘They’re taking on airframe and engine fitters’. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘Right’. So I went straight into the office and volunteered, and saying that was in 1955 and, yes and that was at the beginning of ’55. Must have been because then I had to go and they said alright, and I got this and I had to go to Brampton for an interview for this aircraft servicing chief. So I went there for this interview and a panel of officers, wing commanders and educators and electrical officers and so I had to, you know. What the hell for I don’t know. They ask you all sorts of questions. So that was it. You didn’t know anything about it at all until, when was it? It would have been, when would this be? July, August something like that, and it came through and told me that I’d got to, now I’d got to, where did I have to go first. I had to go Wheaton first, to get, to go on an airframe course. So I went on this airframe course, which was quite a small one. I don’t think I learned much more than I knew in the first place, but anyway I went on this airframe course and then from then on, I sort of moved on to, we had to then, had to go down to Melksham to go on the instrument and electrical course, so having done that, we went to Melksham, and then they allocated you from Melksham. It depended on how well you did, what you, what aircraft you went on, ‘cause the Valiant was in progress ‘cause there were Valiant crew chiefs, had been trained and I can’t remember how many crew chiefs there was. Twenty of us on the course? Was it? I can’t remember now how many, but anyway, then it worked out the Victor came in and the Vulcan and, and the Valiant but some Vulcan crew chiefs had been trained before, but out of my course there was four Victors that went on the Victor. There was eight, eight, was it eight? Yeah, eight Vulcans and the rest were Valiants. So that’s how I was, and they did you, on the, you were allowed to volunteer which aircraft you want, went, went on but it depended on your position in the final exam which aircraft you got. Unfortunately, I came top so I was able, I had my pick of Vulcan, I didn’t want the Victor. All the others were interested in was the Victor, I wasn’t interested in the Victor at all so I went and got on the Vulcan. So then from Melksham, we went on to Avro’s. Was it Avro’s? No Avro’s weren’t first. Where did we go? Boulton Pauls power fliers I think. Boulton Paul. Was there Avro’s then? I don’t know. A V Roe’s. And then you had to, Bristols was the engines you had to do that so that was the end of, I mean, this was taking you up from, so that was, what are we saying? Was it May? May or June? I don’t know, ’55? So this was 1956 and we were all posted to Waddington, all of us, and all the crew chiefs, the Vulcan crew chiefs, were at Waddington. Half of us had nothing to do. In fact, what did we do, because I’d been in, here it is you see, you come back, you’ve been MT, so you’ve been working on MT and you’ve got an MT driving licence and whatnot, so I finished up driving a bloody lorry, making a car park. That just shows you. Crew chiefs. We were doing sweated labour if you like. And then the first Vulcan arrived in, was it June? July? Anyway, whatever it was and that was it and of course, the only one that was Geordie Colley, who was the number one, and so it did a while and then he had to go down to Boscombe Down on intensified flying trials. And then during this space of time, they’d allocated crew chiefs for the OCU. The first squadron which was 83, which became 44, and then the second squadron was 101, which was going to be at Coningsby and of course, we’d all been buggering about this long, so four of us, we decided we’d try to jack up the system a bit and we get posted to Coningsby. We were all ready for the Vulcan when it came, what a doing that do? Anyway, I got nominated by the engineering officer to go as number two to Geordie Colley, so I finished up going down to Boscombe Down on the intensified flying trials with this XA 895. That was the first Vulcan. The other one of course, the one that crashed, was Broadhurst was 897 and I was 89, with 895, so I went down there with Geordie Colley and then Geordie Colley’s wife had a baby, so I was left on number 1 with this bloody aeroplane that I knew, well I say you knew nothing about. You were one of the one’s that knew anything and everybody, before they did a bloody job, came and asked you was it right, and you had no bloody idea either so it was, and that was the way it went. So I did my spell at Boscombe Down, fell out with the engineering officer, and so he sent me back, which was very nice. So I came back to Coningsby. I get back to Coningsby. No aeroplanes at Coningsby so what, what do we do? You’ve got a crew chief here with no aeroplanes in the wrong airfield because they’d decided the Vulcan wasn’t going to Coningsby, it was going to Finningley, so we got four, four crew chiefs all trained up in the wrong place, wrong time, wrong everything, you know. So I went in to the squadron leader, Coningsby was on C&M I think at the time, ‘cause they were, they were, they got some Canberras there I think, but then I went in to see, ‘cause I went there, went in to see the engineering officer, was a squadron leader OCUEng, and so anyway ‘cause then he says, oh, do airframe and whatnot. ‘What have you done, Chief?’ I said, ‘Oh, just instructing MT’. ‘Just the man’, he says. ‘You’re in charge of MTSS’. So here am I, a fully trained Vulcan crew chief, in charge of MT servicing, so that was, that was it and I thought, well crikey I’m a, you know, I’ve got sergeants here, MT fitters. I’m not, you know, qualified but anyway it didn’t matter, and then there was another chief tech there doing, so anyway and then the flight sergeant came so I was able to hand over to him without any trouble at all. And they put me then, the MTO said, ‘Oh you’d better come on the MT operating section’’ and that was, I went on the MT operating section and that was when, I suppose, I achieved an ambition as a small boy. As a very small boy, all I wanted to do was drive a big lorry, and so anyway, ‘cause I had the MT operating section and whatnot, the MT, I had a 658 to cover me on everything and I managed to drive one of these damned great snow ploughs. So I thought I’d achieved a very ambition of long ago when I was a little boy, so that was it, but then, then of course things all changed and then the next thing that happened they, where was I? Was I still at Coningsby? Yeah. Or was I oh, no we got posted to, did we get posted to Finningley? Got posted to Finn, oh the, we managed to get ourselves, four of us, back to Finningley, and of course at Finningley, of course there were new quarters. No equipment barrack equipment in them. We were posted, so the barrack warden, you know, he said, ‘I can’t’, you know, ‘I haven’t got the men. I haven’t got transport’, I haven’t got do this, that and the other to furnish these quarters, which need doing, so what we did, I got the 658 and I could drive the truck, so we furnished the quarters. The four of us furnished our own quarters out of the stores and all the rest of it, so we furnished our quarters so we could move the families in. So that was, that was Finningley, and then of course all this was done, and then the next thing, they despatched me back to Waddington, ‘cause they, they were taking the Vulcan to America on a bombing competition. So they detached me back to Waddington so that I could go on this, the SAC bombing competition with these, with the Vulcans and because you weren’t allowed to, you were only allowed, you weren’t allowed to have two crew chiefs per aeroplane, the thing was you’d got to have, in your crew, you’d got to have a crew chief standby in case the original crew chief went sick, so I was, this was the best of it was, I was an engine fitter and basically an engine fitter, so I went as an airframe, an airframe mechanic. I went as an airframe mechanic to Florida on the bombing comp, so that was it, but then of course that all went. Came back home and then of course the second squadron, ‘cause the first squadron, the ones that were at Waddington had all got, been crew chiefs and got their aeroplanes, and my friend who got killed, Taf Everson, he got 908, XA908 but, and anyway they, they, he went and everyone got their aeroplane and because I’d been in America, course I was way down the list, so I eventually, eventually when was it? Would have been ’57, would it, then? Yeah, ’57 aye, yeah. Came up and I went to, I had to go to Woodford and I picked up XH475 that was, that was my aeroplane, so anyway I went up there and got that and became part of the squadron, you know. That was the crew chief. Didn’t matter what you were. And of course, got this aeroplane and took it all over the place. Got stuck all over the place. Lost an engine in Goose. Pump failure. So that was on. Got hydraulic failure, the hydraulic system in, where was that? Oh God. It was, oh dear. Where was that? And that was in America. I can’t remember. That was somewhere and then of course we got, come back and you did the ranges. Then they had the, what was it, oh I can’t remember. The exercises you had to go to. Butterworth. Was it profiteer? I don’t know what it was, I can’t remember now. So I took 475 there. I was flying, I was flying with the wing commander’s squadron. Flew out there and got out there flying and whatnot. I had a day off and of course they wanted to do something, and they, my aeroplane, I had a day off and I came, went back and found that some daft bugger had closed the bomb doors on the safety razor and broken one of the bomb door links. Oh God. And that was, I said, ‘That’s a brilliant one isn’t it?’ So, anyway, only had to be, how am I, there we were, how were we going to get back and there’s all the gear we got there and of course, you opened the bomb doors and we could open them and put all the stuff in and then you had to, we’d close the bomb doors. The only way then was we had, got local blacksmiths to make a turn buckle, and with turn buckle, so you could close the bomb doors and once you’d closed them, we wound them up so that you couldn’t open them. Anyway, took the fuses out and everything, so I had a bomb door, bomb bay full of US equipment, all my tyres had been burnt and worn, so I said to the wing commander, I said, I said, ‘I’ve got no I’ve got no gear in as I can use’. I said, ‘If we get left behind, we’re stuck’. He said, ‘We won’t get left behind’. But then of course, the next thing that happened was, I don’t know how, CRACK. My bomb aimer’s window was cracked. Oh dear. So I said to the wing commander, I said, ‘We’ve got a cracked bomb aimers window’. I said, I said, I said ‘I don’t know, we’ll have to fly back with it’. I said ‘I’ll do a pressurization and see’, you know, ‘if it’s alright’. He said ‘we’ll do the pressurisation on the way home’. That was it. So I flew home with a bomb bay full of rubbish, a bomb er, cracked bomb aimer’s window and came home that way. Landed and that was it. We managed without any trouble. I can’t remember, did we have any troubles? I normally get all sorts of troubles and that but, but I didn’t. I think we got back home without, and then of course, that was it. And then of course the next one was the CnC and whatnot, wanted to go on a lecture tour of America or something but he, he didn’t go in mine. He went on, I forget, was it 909? I think it was, with his own crew chief, Bill Neane I think, but then that got, flew via the Azores to Bermuda. Got to Bermuda and the inverter failed and his brakes, the brakes failed. The CnC wanted another aeroplane to go in so that was it. God knows what time of night I got knocked up in my night quarter, and they said, ‘Chief, we’re going, we’ve got to take, get an aeroplane to Bermuda. His inverter’s gone, brake units so we’ve got to take all the spares’. So there’s me, middle of the night with a pannier, getting bits and pieces and loading it all up, and then off we get to go to Bermuda via the Azores. The Azores. Always remember the, the, was he, is it Portuguese? I think he was, this officer looked as though he’d come out of what’s the name? I can’t think of the place. He had tassels on his uniform and all sorts of things, and did I want compression. I said, ‘Did I want compression?’ I couldn’t figure out what he was on about. Eventually I worked out that he, ‘did I want compressed air?’ Oh yeah, I wanted compressed air, yeah, so, but anyway that was left there without any trouble at all. Got to Bermuda and then of course met the crew chief and the crew of this 909. Landed there, got off the aeroplane and I got, got met by two Canadian Navy petty officers with a big bottle of whisky. ‘Come and have a drink mate’, you know. We’ve got, you know. I said, ‘I can’t drink and do’ and anyway my other crew chief there I said, ‘Alright we’ll have a drink’. So managed to have a couple of whiskies, but we got to change everything on these two aeroplanes because of all the gear from his aeroplane had to be transferred from mine to his and all the rest of it, so we did a pannier change and wheel change with the only support we had, ‘cause it should take four men to winch a pannier down off a Vulcan, was two crew chiefs and two drunken Canadian naval petty officers. So, but we managed and that, that was that. We had a bit of a problem. They had an electrical problem on start-up. It was robbed of, robbed a component off the aeroplane and that was my aeroplane cause I’d been, I’d changed, I’d made, well I’d thought I was going to go through with, with 476 but then, I don’t know whether the CnC wanted Bill Neane. I don’t know what it was but I finished up with this heap of rubbish in Bermuda instead of going onwards. And then, oh dear that, where did we get to? Yeah. Two drunken petty officers winching the pannier. It was amazing we got it down but anyway, we got it down. We got the gear changed over and everything, and Bill Neane wouldn’t drink anymore so as I was stopping, I was stuck. These two petty officers and whatnot decided we should finish this bottle of whisky. Oh God. What a thing isn’t it? So that was it. Then they changed over, then of course, they all got in. The bloody aeroplane went u/s again. That was the one I’d brought in so the CnC had to go, he had a date in America, the CN not the CnC was he? Not the CnC. Whatever he was. Whoever he was he had to go on by, by American transport and how humiliating really. So then of course, I had to rob, I robbed the aeroplane, robbed the u/s aeroplane to get this one serviceable. Then of course, had to get to America, and of course the CnC was acting as co-pilot, so of course there was one pilot missing, so the only way was the co-pilot that came up, came over with me, had to go on to America with this, with this, this other aeroplane. I don’t know how they finished up but anyway the co-pilot came back, but then, then of course the problem came, of course, I had this, left with this aeroplane in Bermuda with brakes troubles and inverter troubles. They’d sent an inverter, they’d sent an electrician out via BOAC to give me assistance on this electrical stuff, but then of course, he came out and I said, righto we’ll, we’ve changed the inverter. We’re alright. We’ll change, do the brake change. We can do the brake change and of course he was an electrician, and of course all he had to do to help me was to jack up and whatnot, and of course then, there was, then came a sorry tale. I got the jack underneath to, to change the brake units on this and I found that the bogie beam had a crack in it, a crack right along the end. Oh, at the end. I thought, what the devil do we, so anyway, all I got, I said to the captain, I said, ‘We’re in trouble here’. I said, ‘We’ve got a cracked bogie beam’. ‘Oh dear’, he said. So anyway, I’ve signals going back and forth, this cracked bogie beam. I said ‘well could drill a hole at the termination of the crack, but then the bogie beam takes all the stress of landing’. So I thought, oh well, but anyways I left it up to the UK air to decide, so they sent out a Doughty draughtsman, techno, oh, stress man or something, to see whether there was any possibility of doing this and he came out, and of course, no. Obviously he wouldn’t say it was even, if it probably was, because if it had cracked and the aircraft had crashed, it would have been him, so that was, that was it, so I was left there with this bloody aeroplane, with the rain pouring down, wind blowing, with this, with this aeroplane. Salt air was making things go a bit rusty but anyway they decided, well they had to change the bogie beam, the bogie beam. I don’t know [unclear]. The bogie beam carries the whole aeroplane of four wheels on one side, you know so, and the weight of the aeroplane so that had to be jacked up. The thing was, was all the equipment, was getting the equipment out to me in Bermuda and of course, the Air Force in those days, hadn’t got any bloody transport aeroplanes at all I don’t think, so they had, they had to hire, hire a DC6 to carry this. So I’d got four jacks, one hydraulic rig ‘cause retractions had to be done, so I had four jacks and a hydraulic rig, and of course they sent it out in this DC6, but fortunately they sent two, a chief tech out of their hydraulic bay and another rigger who was, he was, he was ex Halton boy, the same as me. So we had a chief tech, me a crew chief, a chief tech rigger, a sergeant rigger and a sergeant electrician and the aircrew, and these jacks all had to be built up ‘cause they couldn’t fly them in the aircraft whole so they were all in bits, so I had to build all these jacks up, fill them with hydraulic oil and do everything there to get these jacks up before we could jack the aeroplane up. And the other thing was a negotiation with the, the master sergeant of the hangar, ‘cause there was only one hangar on Bermuda and that was, had the doors welded open so that the wind could blow through it ‘cause otherwise it would have blown off and this, as I say, this master sergeant looked like Geronimo. I’m sure he was Indian anyway and we got on but he was not, he was a hard looking man and of course then he said, I said, well you know trying to negotiate use of this hangar for jacking up. He said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘You can have the hangar but’, he said, ‘for twelve hours only and that’s all’. Twelve hours. I thought, bloody hell and all that, you know we’ve got to change and do hydraulic tests and everything on this, but anyway we managed it. And then a dry, to drive these axles out of the, of the bogie beam was, was the only way we could use - the Americans had solid chocs like sleepers and the way we drove these axles out of there was by one of these chocs and heaving it like a battering ram, but anyway we got the axles out. We got it all done anyway, and all the rest of it and retractions and the wind was blowing through the hangar, but we managed it. We did, we did it all. Much to, well we had to do it in the time, we hadn’t got much option and anyway, we got it out and on the, then of course all trouble started ‘cause then of course, I got water in the pitot system. That was ‘cause of all this terrible rain and the pitothead covers were bloody ridiculous so that was another job I had to do. Clean out, get all the water out of the pitot system. So that was it. ‘Righto’, he says. ‘That’s it. We’ve still got to do an air test’. So we got down to do, I forgot to mention that the only power, the only power source ‘cause the Vulcan bombers was a hundred and twelve volt DC and the only power source they’d got, ‘cause the Americans don’t use it, they use twenty eight volt but the, and only one we could do was borrow. They had a hundred and twelve volt for the, was it the Britannia on the, BOAC, BOAC side or British, yeah, British Airways side of Bermuda, so I had to borrow their diesel generator when they weren’t using it, so that was another thing. So I had to borrow this and then I had to tow it across the airfield to me. So anyway, that was, that was that was another thing, borrowing it and negotiating and all the rest of it. So we got that, got that done and eventually got it, got it started and, ‘Righto, we’re off’, you know and, oh that’s right. When I found that it goes boring off again and, that’s right and of course, they shut down and came back. I said, ‘What’s, what’s the trouble?’ ‘We’ve got no ASI’, no Air Speed Reading. This was when I found out that these pitothead covers were no good ‘cause I got water in the pitot system, so that all had to be drained, all that drained, done, everything else. ‘Have another go’. So we had another go, air test. Off they went and they flew around. I thought, ‘Oh we’re in business here’, they landed and I said, ‘Any?’ ‘Yes. Compass’. Oh dear God. Compass. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ They said, ‘Our readings are wrong’, you know, somewhere along. I said well you know, so after much investigating, I thought, well it’s near impossible, the two pilot’s repeaters were duff. I thought it’s either that or the master indicator. The master. And I thought, if it’s the master, we’re in trouble ‘cause we’d got to do a compass sweep and all the rest of it for that. So anyway, back goes signals and the next thing comes out an instrument maker who happened to be an instrument maker off my entry of course, so I knew him personally. A chief tech. Instrument came back BOAC. I mean his, his, his excess weight baggage was off because he’d bought a compass, a master indicator, the blinkin’ whole bloody bag of shoots with him, and what state to do a compass sweep if he had to. Anyway, it turned out it was the two, as I thought it was, the two pilot’s repeaters were both u/s. Most unusual. So, anyway, that was, that was changed. I mean, mind you in this, [unclear] I know all this stuff had to be packed up and whatnot and landed on this DC6, to be flown back home and so that was another job. And where had we got to? Oh aye, the compass, that was it. Oh, that was it. Then the other things was, the thing that was before the compass, I can’t remember. Number 3 tank on the portside had developed a bloody leak and the Mark I tanks were not what I’d call brilliant. Anyway, the only way I could do it was, I thought, well I don’t know what I can do with this leak, and the Americans had some, had some peculiar sealant that they had, ‘cause they used a similar sort of thing that I used, and after much, as I say, I got to know this, my master sergeant quite well and I had a long chat with him, and I said, ‘Well have you got some stuff I can maybe cure this leak?’ ‘Cause I knew where it was. The tank where the pump housing and everything was, prone to split. The bolt holes tend to split so I, after much talk with this man I dropped the, I dropped the pump on number 3 tank and lathered this sealant in place, hoping it would do it because I mean, the tank change was beyond and so I had a go. It wasn’t, it wasn’t much good at all but then of course, we’d had the air test. We’d had everything done. We were all ready to go home, but with this tank and I said ‘well’, I said, ‘we’ve got the pilot who was’, Beavis, his name was. Who was he? He finished up a, was he master of the Royal Air Force or something? Mike Beavis, and I said to, and John Ward was the co-pilot, I said, ‘Well look. I can, I can put fuel it for you to go home’, because by this time, we were, we were, this was the only thing that was stopping us. I said, ‘To go home’, I said, ‘Look, we either if you can work it out with number 3 tank empty, we can make it’. I said, ‘Otherwise’, I said, ‘I’ll fill number 3 tank’, and this was number 3 tank port, I said, ‘And then you use all that fuel off that tank for everything to empty it’. And then I said, ‘What’s left we’ll just have to let it leak out’. And so John Ward did his calculations, that we could fly back with that number 3 tank empty, so I then sort of took all the fuses out, took the pump off it and everything. Well, the pump was there but I took the fuses out and everything so that the pump couldn’t overheat or anything, and that was, so we flew back from Bermuda to the Azores. So we land back to the Azores and so I said we were alright from the Azores back home with still number 3 tank empty, and then, of course, oh damn. The Azores, we started off on my pack that I’d got, with the battery pack that I’d got in the bomb, in the pannier, started up and was doing and then they said, Number 3 inverted, was the one that I’d changed, we’d changed in Bermuda. Number 3 inverter had gone down. I said, ‘Oh God’, you know, I said, I said, ‘Well we’re sunk’. I said, ‘I’ve no spare inverters that I can change’. I said we, we, I said, ‘Look. It’s, it’s number 3. We can go on’. Number 3 was the sort of standby. I said, ‘We can either’, to the captain, I said, ‘Look. We either wait here and I get an inverter to change it or we fly home on everything we’ve got with no spare’. So, after a bit of a discussion they said, ‘We’ll, we’ll, go home’. So we started up and flew home. Got, ‘cause we came from Finningley really. Course we landed at Waddington and of course, we had to there for customs clearance of all things. So we landed at Waddington and the wing commander was there to greet us, and my captain who was not the, not the first pilot, he was the navigator, ‘Oh’, he said, we could, he said ‘If you put a brake chute in, we could fly home couldn’t we?’ I said, ‘Look’, I said, ‘I’ll put you a brake chute in but’, I said, I said, ‘I’ll walk home’. I said, ‘That’s a bloody heap of rubbish this is’. A heap of rubbish. So anyway, the wing commander was there and so I said, ‘Well that’s it’. And, and that aeroplane at Waddington, took them a fortnight to get it serviced to fly it to Finningley. So that was, that was me. I came home after months in Bermuda and the wing commander said, ‘You’d better have a couple of days off’. But that was a bloody aeroplane. Bloody aeroplane. 909. XA909. It wasn’t mine, it was Fred Harrison’s. It wasn’t one I fetched, and then oh, after that, we went to, we went on a, to Butterworth. Went to Butterworth and then we, because this was when they shut my damned, did I tell you about that. I haven’t put that on there have I? No. I can’t remember, I’ve told that much. They shook my, they shook my aircraft [unclear], broken the bomb doors. I had to take 9, I had to take, the aircrew wanted to go, were minded to take an aircraft to Manila in the Philippines from Butterworth, and mine was u/s with the bomb doors, and the only one I could take was 909. The engineer said, ‘Do you mind taking 909?’ ‘Cause that was the one that was stuck in Bermuda, Bermuda with. I said, ‘I’ll take anything as long as its serviceable’, so, and that was the only, the only range I ever did where I had a serviceable aircraft from start to finish. I flew there no troubles. No troubles there and flew back and that was the only, only trip I ever did in a Vulcan where I didn’t have any problems.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command Archive I’d like to thank Warrant Officer Charles Bland at his home in Lincolnshire on the 17th of August 2015. Thank you for the recording.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Charles Bland,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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