Monthly Archives: November 2018

the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (2)

Last time I was talking about my visit to RAF Hendon where I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, and I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8. I ended the post by saying what the Meteor’s good points were:

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Set against the positives of the Meteor, though, is its dreadful safety record which soon led to the new jet fighter being called “The Meatbox”.

Almost 900 were lost by the RAF, the peak year being 1953 with 145 crashes:

Factors to blame were apparently poor brakes, the landing gear, completely different flying characteristics from piston engined aircraft, a flight endurance of less than 60 minutes which caused pilots to run out of fuel and lots of difficulties when only one engine was working. Even with two engines, response times were very sluggish. To add to the list, when pilots in those days were taught how to fly on one engine, the other engine was switched off completely so, to quote the forum where I found it, “you had no chance if you fouled it up”. The aircraft also apparently had a nasty habit of diving straight into the ground when any flap or the undercarriage was lowered when the wing mounted airbrakes were out. There were no ejection seats in early aircraft and it was therefore very difficult to bale out of, although it was extremely easy to hit the tail on the way out. The foreign air forces had the same kind of difficulties. Here is a Belgian crash:

According to one account I found, the Coroner at Darlington actually subpoenaed the commander of the local base to make him come and explain the steadily increasing size of the RAF section of the municipal cemetery. No problem for the commander. All he needed to do was to invoke the Official Secrets Act and it was problem solved. At least one student pilot on every course was being killed. No 74 Squadron had three killed in as many months:

In “The Meteor Boys” by Steve Bond there is an account by a prospective young pilot of his going on a course to learn to fly Meteors at RAF Driffield. He went to a funeral on his first Thursday and then to another the following Monday, and a third on the following Thursday.
In foreign service in the Netherlands, the Meteor was the second most dangerous jet aircraft they ever had with almost 36 crashes in every 100,000 hours of flying. (And the winner is…… the F-84 Thunderjet with almost 56 crashes per 100K hours):


Perhaps we should put these figures for the Meteor in RAF service in context, though. One forum I came across said that in 1953 the RAF lost 486 aircraft with 334 fatalities. The other years of the 1950s are believed to be 1950 : 380 aircraft lost and 238 fatalities, 1951 : 490 aircraft lost and 280 fatalities, 1952 : 507 aircraft lost and 318 fatalities, 1954 : 452 aircraft lost and 283 fatalities, 1955 : 305 aircraft lost and 182 fatalities, 1956 : 270 aircraft lost and 150 fatalities, 1957 : 233 aircraft lost and 139 fatalities, 1958 : 128 aircraft lost and 87 fatalities and 1959 : 102 aircraft lost and 59 fatalities

If my trusty calculator is correct, that makes 3,353 aircraft lost and 2,070 young men killed. My quick mental arithmetic says that you had, therefore, a 61.73575902177% chance of a premature death if anything went wrong with your 1950s RAF aircraft.

It must have been this kind of situation that provoked Prime Minister Winston Churchill to ask the Air Minister “Is the RAF training or killing its pilots?” The Air Minister told Churchill not to worry as these kind of figures were merely par for the course.
None of this takes away from the Meteor, though, the honour of being the first ever British jet fighter:

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My Dad came across a Gloster Meteor once:

“one day in late 1944, everybody was in the mess at Lossiemouth, eating their lunch and drinking their cups of tea. Suddenly the door was flung open, and a very excited young man came in shouting “Quick ! Quick ! Come outside and see this ! There’s a crate out here without any props ! ”

And sure enough, outside the mess hall, on the runway, stood one of the RAF’s first jet aircraft, a Gloster Meteor, a fighter plane which did not have any propellers. The mechanics could not believe that the strange aircraft would even be capable of flight. But then they realised…..

“ No more prop changes ! ”

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Nottingham High School on ebay (1)

I always keep an eye on ebay to see if anything is on sale which is connected with Nottingham High School, the school where I spent my entire teaching career. First, here’s something that I didn’t buy because I thought it was far too expensive. Here’s the front:

And here’s the back:

The seller wanted £85 for it which I thought was just too expensive for me. It was a medal awarded to Benjamin Herbert Heald of Wilford, a little village on the River Trent to the south of Nottingham. Born on September 16th 1874, Benjamin entered the High School at the age of 12 on September 11th 1887 as Boy No 664. His father was Francis Berry Heald, a designer. Benjamin left the High School on the last day of what was at the time quite frequently called “Term Three” in July 1893. He went on to Queen’s College, Oxford with an Exhibition of £42. That would have been at least 20 times the average worker’s weekly wage.  At the High School he was a true Clever Clogs of the Very Highest Level. He was a Foundation Scholar (1890), a William Enfie Exhibitioner (1892), a Morley Exhibitioner (1891). He won 12 School Prizes in his time at the school, and a number of medals. You can make your choice as to which one this was. They were the Bronze Medal for Good Conduct (1889), the Gold Medal for the Best Open Scholarship (1893) , the Silver Medal for Classic (1893) and the Bronze Medal for Good Conduct (1893). If anybody knows which medal this is, please make a comment. I presume it is one of the Bronze ones. Notice how the reverse has the normal badge of the School:

It also has the cross which appears on the coat of arms of Nottingham:

I don’t recognise the shield with the ring on it, but it does seem vaguely familiar so perhaps somebody has an idea about that.

I found out one strange detail about Benjamin Herbert Heald. In the School Register is a boy called Benjamin Arthur Heald who was born on May 11th 1856. He entered the English School at the Free School on Stoney Street, as it then was, in January 1866. His father is listed as Benjamin Heald and he was a “lace agent and designer” living at 18 High Pavement. Benjamin Arthur Heald was surely a relative of Benjamin Herbert Heald. Anyway Benjamin Arthur is recorded as having died at home from the effects of overbathing, probably in June 1867, when he was 11 years old.

Eventually, Benjamin Herbert Heald became the Headmaster of Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex. In later years he was to reminisce about how the High School’s Headmaster during his time at the School, Dr James Gow, was different from all the other teachers. He never called boys up to his desk to go through their work, but always went to sit alongside them. Lessons usually finished with the customary phrase, “…I think that just about finishes our dose.”

This is Dr Gow, the High School’s greatest ever headmaster:

Next time, some dirty postcards. Well, second hand, at least.

 

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Fred joins the RAF (4)

We left Fred last time in Blackpool doing his basic training with Sergeant Parry. All of the RAF’s young volunteers were billeted in boarding houses which, in peacetime, would have accommodated holiday makers. Here are Fred and his friends:

And here is the section with Fred in it. It always reminds me of the RAF version of “Where’s Wally?”:

The boarding house landladies in Blackpool were paid for every recruit they took, but a substantial minority saw this as a fine opportunity to profiteer, accepting money for meals that were never to materialise in the quantities that the payments might have implied. Instead, these unscrupulous women either ate the food themselves, or, more frequently, sold it to their neighbours, who were themselves short of food because of rationing.

In the boarding house where Fred was billeted, thanks to their particular greedy grasping landlady, the individual portions served, were, at best, markedly small. One day, after Physical Training on the beach, Fred and his friend Jacques, came back early from their exercise.

Jacques was Fred’s best pal at this time. He was the son of a Yorkshire farmer, with the physical build, and indeed the appetite for food, to match his origins. Here is the group as a whole in a formal class photograph:

And here are Fred and Jacques as a close-up :

If you remember,  Fred and Jacques had come back early from their Physical Training on the beach. Fred went straight upstairs to wash and make sure he was properly dressed for the meal. Jacques, however, went immediately into the dining room where he found a whole ham, meant for twelve hungry young recruits, waiting in the centre of the table. Jacques, clearly accustomed to Yorkshire farmer sized servings, immediately presumed that the meat was for him and without further ado, he ate the lot.

The reaction of his colleagues when they eventually arrived from their afternoon’s exertions, has not been recorded for posterity, but at best, they were not very impressed.

One of the other men in Fred’s boarding house had  a knowledge both of chemistry and of the behaviour of dogs. One fine, sunny day he went down to the local chemist’s shop, and bought a very large quantity of aniseed concentrate which he then proceeded to dilute:

He took this magic potion and laid scent trails through the streets of Blackpool, all of which led back to the boarding house. He then continued the trails inside the building, entering through both the front and the back doors, leading up the stairs to the different floors, then onto the landings, into the bedrooms and into the bathrooms. In short, his aniseed trails reached every single square inch of the property. Aniseed is desperately attractive to dogs. Once they get the scent…

…off they go, like addicts to their next fix:

They just cannot resist that aniseedy smell:

The result was one glorious afternoon of revenge, as every dog in Blackpool, driven crazy by the overpowering and intoxicating scent of aniseed, arrived at the house and ran berserk, up and down the stairs, careering backwards and forwards along the landings, chasing in and out of the rooms, widdling, piddling and scent marking up every wall and in every recess and corner as they went.

Never make an enemy of the RAF.

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the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (1)

On the very same visit to RAF Hendon when I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8:

To be honest, compared to the German thoroughbred, the Meteor looked a bit of a tub, to say the least:

On the other hand, the engines were lots better than the German ones and eventually the Meteor would be purchased by Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Biafra, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, West Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Syria and the United States. Here are aircraft from Argentina, Belgium and Brazil :

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Having been initially negative about the Meteor, it is only fair to say that in the in-service trials between the Meteor and the propeller driven Hawker Tempest, the Meteor was judged the winner on all counts, except, conceivably, manœuvrability. Pilots of propeller driven aircraft often said that the Meteor was “exciting to fly”. Norman Tebbit, the politician and ex-RAF pilot, said of the Meteor:

“Get airborne, up with the wheels, hold it low until you were about 380 knots, pull it up and she would go up, well we thought then, like a rocket”.

The first Meteors to see action were with 616 Squadron who began by chasing V1 flying bombs over south eastern England from July 27th 1944 onwards. In early 1945, they moved out to Belgium and then Holland, carrying out armed reconnaissance and ground attack sorties but without meeting any Me 262s. The Meteors were painted all white to avoid friendly fire issues:

After the war, the Meteor came into contact with the Soviet Mig-15 both in Korea and in the Israel-Egypt war in the mid-1950s. It was found to be lacking in many respects.

More on the Meteor’s shortcomings next time.

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Card Carrying Commies (5)

One of my very best friends, whom I have known since Infants’ School, has always been a keen photographer. In 1989 he decided to go to Berlin on one of those cheap European flights. As luggage, he took with him a camera and a large hammer. He wanted, I suppose, to help history along on its way:

By December 25, 1991, the desire for change had spread to the USSR. The Soviet hammer and sickle flag over the Kremlin was pulled down for the last time. Mikhail Gorbachev, a good man, was replaced by Boris Yeltsin.

Here’s Gorbachev and Yeltsin:

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And the world that Aleesa and Vladimir had known all their lives comes crashing down. For years and years, Aleesa has come into the office with her Party dues. She has paid her money every single month without fail, to the only organisation she has ever belonged to. And then, she goes along to pay for May 1990, perhaps thinking it will help with the cost of the celebrations to mark the end of the Great Patriotic War on May 8th or perhaps even May Day itself. The day which celebrates the Workers of the World. But the Party is over. Gone for ever:

Vladimir will experience exactly the same process. He goes in one day to pay his 1 rouble 13 kopecks and there’s nobody to take it from him. Why, they’ve even written the next year on the blank page, so certain were they both that the Party would be there for ever:

But now, there are just lots and lots of blank pages, each with the number of a future year already inked in in the top right hand corner. Life though, has changed for ever:

Even “Zolochevskiy” has changed as I found out when I googled it. In my previous post, “Zolochevskiy” was the name of the local administrative area of the Communist Party. I skimmed through four news reports thrown up by Google and I found nothing at all about any branches of the old Communist Party.

“Zolochevskiy” was there though, but the stories were all reported with the kind of vocabulary such as:

“Anti-Corruption Bureau, colossal greed, corruption, crime, criminal proceedings, dirty money, embezzlement, illicit assets, laundering, mafia, misappropriation, possible abuses, proceeds from crime, seizure of property through abuse of official position, stacks of treasures, suspicion of illegal enrichment and the wanted list.”

How sad. The Party fades away and is replaced by something lots, lots worse. And that’s not just the Ukraine, of course. Plenty of other ex-members of the Soviet club are much, much worse off than they ever were before. Whole countries run by criminal elements. Fixed elections. Old people forced to beg in the streets because their pension funds have been stolen.

Don’t worry though. I’m sure that somebody will come along and save them all:

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Fred joins the RAF (3)

For ab initio training, new recruits to the RAF were often sent to Blackpool. The popular seaside resort had an abundance of boarding houses and small hotels to provide accommodation and food. There were plenty of nice, wide promenades to practice marching:

There were lots of even wider beaches for improving physical fitness:

In Blackpool, Fred was taught how to salute, to hold a rifle, to march, and, in general, how to behave as an Aircraftman Second Class, by Sergeant Parry. It was Sergeant Parry’s proud boast that

“One day you’ll be walking along the street, years after this war has finished, and you’ll suddenly hear me shout “Ah..ten…SHUN ! ! ” and you’ll pull up straightaway, and come to attention, even if you are 55 years old.”

In actual fact, this never happened to Fred, but when he was 75 years old, he was admitted to Burton-on-Trent Hospital, where, although he was eventually to recover, he was for some length of time, gravely ill. The Victorian ward he was in had very large metal framed windows, pale green and beige walls, and a yellowish grey light. It clearly reminded a very confused Fred of his original RAF barracks, and the nurses reported that on more than one occasion he was heard to call out, in his delirium,

“It’s all right, Sergeant Parry, I’m coming, don’t worry, Sergeant Parry, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Presumably, Sergeant Parry was marginally more pleasant than the only other drill instructor that Fred ever mentioned. Ironically, Fred never actually met the man in question face to face.

Instead, shortly after arriving at a training base where he was to serve, Fred heard the story of a sergeant instructor who regularly shouted and screamed at the young men in his charge and who, in his treatment of them, regularly overstepped the mark by a considerable distance. He was a bullying, aggressive man, and basically, everybody soon grew to hate him.

One day, a German raider arrived and began strafing the airfield:

The instructor raced away across the grass and jumped into one of the many slit trenches which crisscrossed the base, constructed for surviving just such an occasion as this. What he did not realise when he jumped in was that the trench was almost completely filled with water.

Unable to swim, he drowned. There were men there who could have helped him but they chose just to watch him thrash about in the water. They could have saved his life, but he had abused too many of them for anybody to want to help him now.

Here are seven of Fred’s instructors during his “ab initio” training, probably at Blackpool:

They are Messrs Newman, Pascoe, Turner, Flight Sergeant Prentice, Hirst, Clark and Hanson.

 

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