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Mike Hodge



Ex-Brat Plumber in the 'Real' RAF (1960 - 1968) and then Fish-head Pompie Civvy

RAF St Athan

After Halton, my first posting as an armourer was to RAF St Athans. I groaned at the thought of being surrounded by B and bloody E's, so I was delighted to find that 32MU was far removed from East camp where they were, and West camp was almost another air base, we had no contact whatsoever with them, goodness knows where they went in their spare time, if they had any!!!.

I was to work on 4th Line: the servicing, repair and modification of aircraft guns, small arms and Canberra bomb beams, from RAF squadronsand armouries around the world. I nearly made it to 77 hangar where they were working on your big white birds, doing the work you mere mortals could not handle at squadron level. Whilst here I went to Bisley with the station shooting team in '61 and met Ex 8t7, George Little, he was at RAF Chivenor. St Athan turned out to be a fair posting as far as social life was concerned, but l yearned to be let loose on aircraft , after all wasn't it what we joined up and trained for.


RAF Stafford

My next posting was to RAF Stafford (still no aeroplanes) the HQ of 5131 Bomb Disposal Squadron, my allocated Flight (6226), HQ was Based at RAF Colerne near Bath. I was then informed that the Flight was detached to RAF Goldsborough near Whitby, North Yorks and given a travel warrant to what is now known as heartbeat country. The Flt was clearing UXBs and other miscellaneous ordinance from Fylingdale moor along with 6217 Flt (it was originally their task) from RAF Newton. Can you imagine 50 odd armourers pacing all over the moors toting metal detectors and spades it was not glamorous, far from it. Quite a lot of the guys were National Servicemen (the end of an era), so you can imagine some of the moans. The RAF Station was really quite quaint. Goldsborough was an ex radar station that had been mothballed, the domestic site being re-commissioned purely for our use, with the usual back-up facilities, and not an RAFP in sight.

The task lasted some 12 months. It was all to do with building the early warning station at Fylingdale ( Yanks wanted it built during the cold war), and the fear that when it was up and running the leftover war ordinance would cause a problem - the Army, Navy and RAF had used the moor as a live explosive exercise range . From here we went, (our Flt) not back south to Colerne, but to RAF Lindholme, our task this time to clear the old bombing range in front of RAF Misson (A Bloodhound missile base). It was here Tex Lee joined us, l was becoming disenchanted with my lot now, I didn't want to watch the white birds from Finningley flying over on their take off/landing approaches, I wanted to be closer to aircraft, nearer than our new Flt HQ in a redundant hangar at Lindholme, with Bomber command bombing schools Hastings, parked nearby on the perimeter track. These by the way had not long replaced the Lincolns!! Tex was also disheartened and purchased his discharge to fight an election campaign (A ploy to get out cheaply at 100 pounds, the cost of putting his name forward as a candidate) and went back to work near his parents and girlfriends home in Lyndhurst, doing quite what, I don't know .

I was sent on an ejection seat familiarization course to RAF Sealand (things beginning to look up maybe), after all modern aircraft have these things don't they? And then to RAF Weeton on an armament course, here I met two ex 8t7 armourers Jim Peach and Paddy T; I also bumped into Pete Monk taking his spec qual for promotion to Cpl Tech. After completion of the course it was back to my Flt. Good news! Having completed two and a half year tour on BD I was due a posting off.


RAF Bassingbourn

I was posted to RAF Bassingbourn 231 OCU, operating Canberras B2, PR, T4 and interdictors. Reported to my boss, a laid back Master Tech, who gave me some bad news: the aircraft servicing and first line was undertaken by Airworks company. We were the only aircraft trade on camp, and our remit was to supply the armament stores required by the respective Flts and of course the Stn Armoury. We did however have a detail on dispersals for arming up. I ended up in the bomb dump along with a Snr Tech and four other lost souls, becoming a milkman in the mornings delivering practice bombs, flares and engine starter cartridges. I trained for this!! I was amazed we didn't even staff the ejection seat bay. The only reason we were there was because Airworks didn't have the necessary explosive licensing certification

April 64. Great news, after only three months here, I'm on PWR for overseas posting - somebody up there likes me!! Down to Gen Office to make my three choices of posting (academic I know) and wait. Next step another course, RAF Melksham for an electronics course for 6 weeks (don't they know I'm a Plumber!!); turns out its for servicing electronic acoustic torpedoes. The course members are a refreshing bright bunch, a WO, Ch Tech, Snr Tech, two Cpls and four of us J/Ts. It was all rather confusing to me - the AC theory side, but somehow I managed a pass. Back to my Unit for a couple of weeks and then up to RAF Kinloss for 4 weeks practical experience. AIRCRAFT!, ok only Shackletons, MR MK3 but nonetheless aircraft, oh the joy to be involved in the not so modern Air force. Passed the practical exams, (I'm now considered Qualified Advanced Underwater Weapons), back to my parent unit and joy of joy my posting has come through - Royal Air Force Far East SINGAPORE.



Sept 64, arrived in Singers and transported to RAF Changi. It was a Thursday I was entitled to a day's acclimatisation leave, which meant I wasn't officially to arrive until the Monday. I Strolled into the Malcolm club to quench my thirst, it was so humid Id drunk gallons of ice water and lemon squash, to be met by a chorus of moony chants, led by none other than Jack McKee. A whole weekend of drinking and catching up ensued. I was a poor sight for the OC Arm Flt to behold on the Monday morning.

Disappointment again, The two Cpls and three other J/Ts from my Torpedo course were posted in with me, and only one QAUW was required on the squadron (205, operating even more antiquated Shacks Mk 2 Phase 3) mainly because the Mk44 Torpedo hadn't reached the Far East Air force yet!!. One of the Cpls got the Squadron, I and my cohorts the Servicing and Fusing-up sheds working on Mk30 Torps. Our new Facility for Mk 44 was in the throes of being completed in the new purpose-built bomb dump.

Jan 65, Moved into new facility and set about preparations to welcome our weapons from UK: a new Chiefy and Sgt. The new Ch Tech was a dour Scot, how he passed the QAUW course l will never know. The Ch Tech on course with us and who was supposed to arrive apparently died of a heart attack . The work was interesting enough, but we all vied after several months to get on the squadron. As a couple of new guys arrived (QUAW), two more places for QUAW became available on the Sqn, but my oppos beat me for the places. Its a hard life!

My time at Changi was probably the best of times I remember. The work was ok , Torp exercises were good, a day at sea on the RAF High Speed Launch, operating the target gear and recovering the weapons/sonobuoys, high speed runs towing skids behind for the Shack to bomb, or on the pinnace doing the same but at a more leisurely pace, the aircraft disappearing and carrying out an S&R, reappearing low flying over the mast head where we attached our SARBE beacon, scaring the living daylights out of the boat crew. On the HSL we would find a small islet to have a swim and lunch (the time on exercise being around a 8 hour day, but on the pinnace the day at sea was much longer, around 14 hours). These exercises were a monthly routine, and a welcome break from the Torpedo workshop.

All good things come to an end and my two and a half years soon passed. Once more down to the Gen Office to choose my home posting preferences, I couldn't be lucky twice surely. I'd put my tapes up while in Singers and wondered if indeed I would strike lucky, but fate dealt me a cruel hand: 6204Flt BD RAF Bicester Oxon. Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!!. An immediate application for an exchange of posting and advertisement in the RAF News saw no takers ( wily characters these plumbers, it might have appealed to young upstarts but not to the world and wily NCOs).


RAF Bicester

After three weeks disembarkation leave l arrive at RAF Bicester and walk into what appears to be an old Haltonian reunion of the 8t7entry, well not quite, but there to greet me are Pete Monk, Flash Nash, Pat Achilles and I think Brian/Barry? Mills, (can.t think of his first name ,old age creeping in), He was quite suave, owned a Morgan two seater sports car. All were at the time Cpls except Pat who had his third up. They where all posted off soon after I arrived, Except Flash who lasted about a year longer. Apparently I had just missed Johnnie Owens who had left the mob to go and join the Hong Kong Police!! I'd just missed Dave Green in Singers too when I arrived there. Pete and Flash put their thirds up on postings off.

The BD tasks hadn't changed much in my absence, still clearing ranges and the like. Attended an aircraft crash scene in Wales to search and sweep for missing ordinance, but on the whole the work was routine and mundane. Detached from Bicester most of the time to RAF stations Cranwell, Swinderby and Bawdsey. Sent on an Advanced BD course to the Royal Engineers Training School at Chattendean Kent (had completed the Elementary course on my first tour as a J/T), here I met Johnnie Duncan who had just completed the elementary course and remained to do the advance course. He was on the Newton Flt.

I was now like Tex all that time ago, disenchanted with my lot and seriously thought about leaving the mob. I couldn't see myself putting up with another 18 months of this. I saw the careers officer on one of my brief visits back to Bicester, and the outlook was dim. The service was going through a transition and our trade group was classed restricted entry and open to exit, we were apparently NCO top heavy ( That was obvious, we had more NCOs on BD than airmen, where on my last tour it was a ratio of 4 :1 the other way). I enquired about discharge and was surprised to find the service amicable to my request, after some soul searching I decided to go for it, at least I wouldn't have to fight an election!!. October 1968 I left the service. What was I, an ex RAF Armourer, going to do, my trade options were limited to say the least. I thought about a career in a commonwealth Air force, emigrating to Oz, New Zealand or Canada, maybe the Police Force, but I still had aircraft in my blood.


Ex RAF Armourer in Civvy Street (1968 - 2001)

I was in a bit of a quandary as to what the future would offer an ex RAF armourer, I had considered the prospects of emigrating to join a commonwealth air force, or the police force. My immediate concern was to get re-employed, but where, the City of Portsmouth police and the Hampshire constabulary, considerations Id thought about, were not recruiting as they where about to amalgamate and both forces had a waiting list.

On my last posting a colleague from Gosport told me he was considering a job in the Royal Naval Armament Depot (RNAD) at Gosport when his demob came through,. This conversation recalled I had at least one more coal in the fire, short term. The local Employment office confirmed they had vacancies for fitters and arranged an interview, which I sailed through. I was employed and earning, 3 weeks after leaving the RAF. I now had some breathing and thinking time to consider what I really wanted to do for the future. Another equation to consider for the future was my girlfriend, a schoolteacher in Portsmouth my home city.

RNAD Gosport depot is quite large, with an acreage the size of a large RAF station. The depot was split into three sites:

1. Frater - Torpedo, ships’ guns and small arms factory and maintenance workshops plus General Stores Divisions and admin offices.
2. Elson - Missile and conventional armaments Divisions.
3. Bedenham - Explosive Stores Division complex, and the pier for the transfer of armament stores to the ships across the harbour.

I arrived for my first day of work as a civvy, and was assigned to the conventional torpedo workshop. On my interview I’d mentioned torpedoes as one of my experiences so I was greeted as an experienced torpedo fitter. I was somewhat embarrassed as I had never worked on submarine launched torpedoes. which looking round the workshop in all stages of servicing was all I could see, oops!!. Id seen some when visiting the RNAD in Singapore dockyard but that was it. They organised some on-the-job training, working with an experienced fitter; a few weeks later I was given my own work station, a skilled labourer for a mate and left to gain my own experiences of life working as a civvy for the MOD(N).

I found the work interesting initially and soon settled to it, I only intended to stay until the spring of 69. This is where plan 'A' fell apart, because in the spring love was in the air and I proposed to Wendy (the teacher) and we set the date for April '70. At this stage I was still harbouring thoughts of serving in a Commonwealth air force, and wondering how to approach the subject with Wendy. The work shop was staffed by wildly different characters and age group, a large percentage of whom where approaching retirement. There were a number of ex -service types from the Navy, Army, and RAF around the depot, to keep up my sense of humour. There was also the added pleasure of mentoring young apprentices who passed through the shops on phases of their apprenticeship. Time seemed to fly by, and almost before I knew it , it was my wedding day - April 1970; I’d been here near on 18 months.

Well the job was going fine at the time, so I fatally put my plans for the future on hold and explored the career avenues for engineers working for MOD(N) to see what was on offer and what I could realistically achieve. It was about this time that I was upgraded to a senior craftsman grade. It attracted a higher pay scale band, so I settled into a routine (rut) and more years passed by. I could more or less complete the overhaul repair and modifications of the 21 inch Mk8 Torpedo system with my eyes shut; I needed a new challenge.

I applied for interview boards for promotion but wasn't successful. I also had requests for transfer to other weapon systems within the RNAD refused. One evening I spotted an ad in the Local press for Professional Technology Officers (PTOs) in MOD(N); they also required some for the RNAD. I applied immediately. A couple of weeks later I was called to our Personnel Dept and informed that if I wished to apply for these posts, as a serving civil servant, I must apply through my Line Manager and not externally. It was here I found out about my supposed lack of professional qualifications - I discovered my qualifications had not been recorded on file. I had to resubmit them to HQ Bath, a task Admin had originally failed to do.(hence my earlier rejections).

Discussing my predicament with a couple of established PTOs, I was told the only way round it was to resign and then re-apply for a PTO post, but of course there was no guarantee Id be successful in obtaining a post locally, if at all. I felt I was being unfairly held back and after letting them know how I felt started looking around for other job opportunities. A month or so later a post within the Division became vacant and I was invited to apply for the post. I didn't hold my breath !! However, out of a field of 9 internal candidates I was successful and duly promoted to the PTO grade.

I was now a Technical Supervisor responsible for a workforce of 30 odd staff and welcomed the new challenges this brought. It was now 1976, we had two children ( girl born 1972, boy 1975) and the obligatory mortgage. Life was pleasant on the south coast but around 1981 I needed a change as once again I found the work routine a little repetitive, and some days the staff could be a mite wearying. Lucky me, a retirement saw me shifted to a Production Planning post, and better still I was not responsible for any staff,; we were a small team of 5 - oh bliss!

I enjoyed my new post, being involved in all aspects of production planning - it was a new experience for me. Alas this lasted for only 11months as I was only on temporary promotion in the post and reverted to my own grade and another stint as a Tech Supervisor. I’d failed a promotion selection board 4 months earlier. In 1982 the Falklands war saw the Depot very busy indeed. The Torpedo that sank the Belgrano had come through our workshop. The Missile division being equally busy supplying Sea Dart, Sea Skua, Sea Cat and Exocet missiles, as well as conventional armament stores.

Life once again settled down to the mundane after that hectic start to the year. I was fairly content though, but still looking at MOD Vacancy notices to see if there was anything interesting for me to attempt, without the upheaval of a move, in particular one that involved relocation. There were plenty of opportunities for promotion, but none locally. I settled once again into civil service life, not too dissimilar to service life I supposed, doing management courses and the obligatory Health & Safety courses that came along. Time passed and in 1984 I was again selected to attend a promotion board , again a failure resulted.

Nov 1986 brought another call-up to a promotion board; I wasn't sure I wanted to attend. These boards were somewhat hit-and-miss affairs, and you could not anticipate what field of questions you where liable to be hit with. The board was composed of four people, drawn from engineering and administration; one’s only hope, if not extraordinary bright, was to discover who was on the board and their specialist pet subjects. I didn't knock myself out revising on this occasion, I wasn't really keen enough now. The results came out in Feb 1987 and blow me down I’d passed. Now a new turmoil, as being an open board, they could post me anywhere; unlike the forces though, you could refuse two postings before losing your ticket. Wendy and I agreed that a move was out of the question. She had recently returned to teaching full time having gone back to it 4 years earlier initially on supply. I was fortunate enough to be offered a post on promotion to Elson - the Missile Division. I was internally posted to the Exocet section as a production controller - a new learning curve for me to get to grips with. I survived a fast mind boggling Training and Familiarisation course, and settled into my new domain. Fourteen months later I was seconded to the Sea Skua Missile section to help out in their planning department on a new computer recording system; this lasted for three months. The head of the Sea Skua section was impressed with me and poached me permanently. I was very happy in my new surrounds and with the work. Another act of fate saw me moving to the master schedulers seat and manager of Sea Skua Production Planning.

I had six happy years in my new post. It kept me very busy, liaising with the workshop Production people, Stock control, Stores, RN ships, Fleet Air Arm, HQ Bath, and of course the prime contractor BAe Dynamics Division. The Depot had another hectic time of it during the Iraq war and we, on Sea Skua, were in great demand, as were the Sea Dart Section. Both weapon systems were in action, ours knocking out the Iraq small fast attack craft (entirely), which had the capacity to do considerable harm to the fleet with their on-board missiles and of course, the Sea Dart which took out a Silkworm missile aimed at a US ship. (Sea Skuas were carried by Lynx Helicopters).

1994 - another call up to a promotion board and another failure notification to paste on the wall, and also time for a change of post. I was internally posted to the Factory division, back in Frater, as Production manager of the machine shop: welding, metal laundry and the servicing/repair of miscellaneous armament ancillary equipment (the dregs ). In 1995 a review (cost cutting), saw me also tasked with the Production planning dept of these sections work. I can hand on heart say that I was overworked and underpaid, doing effectively two jobs with not enough time in the day to devote to one or the other. Fate stepped in to save my sanity. In 1996, The Missile division wanted me back, having taken over the servicing of the Sea Wolf missile from RNAD Ernesettle (Plymouth/Stonehouse). There were no takers from the staff there to relocate here. So another familiarisation course with Bae Dynamics and then set up with staff training and equipment to undertake all facets of Sea Wolf servicing. Here I was to work quite happily until my retirement in September 2001.

Considering I was originally only going to stay until the spring of ‘69, I ended up in what turned out to be a varied and interesting career with MOD(N) lasting almost 33 years. Did I regret leaving the RAF in what amounted to a fit of pique? Initially I think I did, but once settled into a civilian way of life - No. I was often dealing with service types, laughing and joking with the crews of RN ships and establishments, from junior rates messes to wardrooms on ship visits and staff meetings. You could say I had the best of both worlds, albeit without the overseas postings.


Mike Hodge