Sqn Ldr Jum Young’s Memories as RAF Commander

Sqn Ldr J M Young, MBE, RAF Ret’d

A Brief Insight


the Life and Times of the RAF Commander and Liaison Officer


Royal Air  Force BURTONWOOD

(Home of the 47th Area Support Group US Army)

May 1985 to May 1987

Squadron Leader J M Young MBE RAF Ret’d

Last October, I sang for my supper at RAFA Burtonwood’s 30th Anniversary Dinner where I had been asked to tell a bit about my RAF career and something about my time at Burtonwood. I was concerned that I might bore the pants of the other guests so I kept it fairly short and did not tell too many  tales out of school. Margaret, my wife wanted to know why I had been rattling my change and leaning back on one leg throughout the speech. Whilst I was still cogitating this first critical review of my performance, your Chairman, Dave Goulden, approached me with a proposition. He suggested that, as he had been forced to sit through so much drivel, perhaps I would inflict the same pain on his Association members. The rest, as they say, is history, and here I am. I hope you will not find what follows too painful but either interesting, amusing or, hopefully, both.

1936 was an eventful year. The HQ and  HQ Detachment of the 47th Quartermaster Regiment was constituted; this was the beginning of the 47th ASG. J M Young was `constituted’; the early beginnings of an RAF  Commander.  Decisions were made to construct Aircraft Repair Depots and Burtonwood was designated as one such site although construction did not start till 1938. The Header House and warehouses were  not built till 1955. It was obviously predestined that I should become a RAF    Commander and be posted here in May 1985 following a staff tour in RAF Germany.

When I was  posted to Burtonwood, I was not sure where it was or even what it was! One of the guys I shared an office with, remembered it vaguely as a Bomber Command dispersal airfield where he had spent some time sitting on the QRA dispersal at the end of the runway, which, of course, is now part of the M62.  As you will all know, Buttonwood had been the largest airfield in the world outside USA with a 9,000 ft long runway with a 1,000 ft overrun at either end. It had been known as the Gateway to Europe because hundreds of thousands of US Servicemen in the late 40s and 50s had passed through it. It had played an important part in the Berlin Airlift in 1948. In the 50s and60s, it had been the largest warehouse under one roof in Europe with some 47 acres of storage space. To put that into context, RAF Chessington, complete with all its buildings and playing fields, was only 46 acres in total.

Buttonwood had been quite a place in its day, and I was looking forward to coming here from Germany  in May 1985. However, as we drove  along the M62 on a cold, wet, miserable morning having just come off the Hull ferry, this feeling of euphoria started to fade. By the time we left the ‘onion topped’ service area and stared upon the broken down hangars, the wrecked Control Tower and the heaps of rubble everywhere, I was somewhat downhearted. This was more like the Gateway to Hell than Europe.. .1 wondered why MOD had done this to me?? What had I done wrong to deserve this??

On arrival, we were told that the Cdr’s MQ was to be refurbished and that we would have to live in one of the other smaller MQ’s for a little while. Because of our status, we were not entitled to a furnished quarter. This was not a problem as we could have our own things delivered from store virtually overnight. We had some things with us amongst which was a camping air mattress on which we could spend a night or two. When we awoke on the first morning and rolled off the air mattress, we fell into water. A pipe had burst during the night and the water had spread slowly over the floor all night. We had to be moved to another quarter, which did not leak. It was to be Christmas Eve before the RAF Cdr’s quarter was refurbished and ready for occupation. Although it had  been a trying time, the wait was worth it in the end. I wo tobacco houses opened into one house with 2 x large lounge/diners, 4 x bedrooms, two  bathrooms and  two kitchens; one all modern and one  with  commercial size  washing and drying machines.

At the end of my  first week I attended the very American “Meet and Greet” where the  Colonel welcomes  all newcomers   and says farewell to those on their way out. After the speeches, the Colonel,  Jim Bickford, introduced me to his Cmd Sgt Major,   David Hunter. There was this little fellow with stripes all over his sleeves and a chest full of medals. Trying to make a good impression, I asked what I should call him? I thought perhaps Mister, like we did for WOs in the RAF.   He  said, You can call me ‘Command    Sergeant Major! And what  should I call you?” He asked  “Sir!”   I replied. I thought, I’ve got a right one here. It started the following week. We had two very tall flagpoles, each with a large flag. One was the Stars and Stripes and the other, the RAF Ensign.   The CSM  came  into  my office to tell me to replace that RAF flag with a Union Jack as only national flags were allowed  to fly alongside the Stars and Stripes. The CSM had all his rulebooks to prove  it. Well, I was not having an American sergeant major telling me I could not fly the RAF Ensign on  my RAF  station.

I told him, politely, to get lost. Next day, armed with QRs, I went to his office and pointed out to him that the RAF Ensign was equivalent  to, and flown in place of, the Union  Jack on  RAF Stations. Undeterred, he  was back a couple of days later complaining that the RAF    Ensign was flying higher than The US flag. Rubbish!”  I said. “What you see is parallax error”.  That confused him for a while and off he went. A couple of days later he was back. This time he  came to tell me that the car park, in front of Header House, was no longer the parade ground. In future, the Parade  Ground would be the outfield of the baseball diamond. The CSM   had convinced the Colonel   that the Army should march on grass. Of course, this now meant that the flags would have to change  poles as the US flag is always flown on the right of the dais. The day after the change, I went into the CSM’s office and formally complained that the US flag was being flown  higher than the British flag contrary to the rules. “Parallax!” He said. “Bollards!” I said. After  some lengthy discussion, he agreed that his engineers would lower the poles and check the measurement   of both poles. They found  that one was 6 ins longer than the other and was reduced accordingly.  When  the flagpoles were re-erected and both flags flying at the same height, we decided honour  was even  and  we should call it quits. Having flexed their muscles and sussed each other  out, the little boys went about their normal business. Thereafter, we became very good friends and  still are to this day.

Supposed  friends and enemies, that reminds me of story about a little bird, the feathered variety, that was  on its way south for the winter. Having left it late, it flew into a snow storm which was so thick and cold that it quickly froze and fell out of the sky, landing in a farmyard just at milking time. lying there dazed and frozen, it could feel its life ebbing away. It was really miserable. Just then a passing   cow dropped a great dollop, completely smothering the poor little bird, which thought, “That’s it! I’ve had it now.” But then that warm, moist covering melted the ice on the bird’s wings and  started to heat it up. Soon it began to feel much better, so much so that it poked its head up through the crust that had formed on the top of the pat and looked at the scene all around it. Feeling so lucky to still be alive, it started to sing at he top of its voice. Alerted by the trilling birdsong, the farmyard  cat pounced and, in a flash, plucked the little bird out of the mire for an early dinner. Just goes to  show that not everyone that sh*ts on you is your enemy and not everyone that pulls you out of it is your friend. The moral is — if you find yourself in the sh*t don’t make a lot of noise about it.

As    RAF Cdr and Liaison  Officer at Burtonwood, I also had responsibility for RAF Hythe, and a developing responsibility for RAF Chessington, previously the airmen’s rehab centre near Kingston- upon-Thames.    Chessington  was to become  the 47th ASG’s first 1,000 bed warm-base hospital set up in a designated site. The  US Army Medical  Command   actually tested it out during my tour. They flew in “casualties” from bases in Germany  for triage and passing through the system before shipping  them out to the States. As my tour at Burtonwood progressed,  I also looked at sites in North  Wales and  Scotland as potential Warm-base Hospitals similar to the one at Chessington.

However,   by the end of my tour, only Kirknewton near Edinburgh  was being considered as the US Army   were moving  towards the use of pre-fitted expandable trucks for the basic hospital. These could  be set up on any site and did not need permanent buildings; any extra accommodation that might  be needed  would be provided in tents. I was also involved in reviewing the possibilities for storing and repairing US Army helicopters at sites in England, including the use of the hangars on the BRD   Site at Burtonwood.

RAF Hythe on Southampton water was the base for the US Army’s Marine Reserve Fleet, comprising  60 ft and 100 ft tugs with a variety of associated storage barges. This was a US commitment to   NATO. However,  as the likelihood of war in Europe subsided, we were rushing  up to the fall of the Berlin wall, there was a reducing requirement to retain the Reserve Marine Fleet at Hythe.  The  US Army  was, by that time, considering transferring these resources from the 47th ASG to the US 3rd Army and moving  them to Korea or Diego Garcia.  As this would create serious job losses at Hythe, I initiated negotiations to keep the Marine Reserve Fleet at Hythe under the 3rd Army.  The use of Hythe and  the Marine Reserve  was  a NATO  commitment, whereas, the US 3rd Army  was not. Nevertheless, we highlighted the ideal location of Hythe with its two tides per day and its excellent marine workforce and were able to convince American and British authorities to retain the Marine Reserve  at Hythe under US 3rd Army control.  There was a lot of politicking going on.  On almost the last day of my tour at Burtonwood, I was privileged to witness the first 3rd Army Exercise called “Big Red”. In this, a large proportion of the Marine Reserve at Hythe was loaded on to a  huge submersible ship in Southampton  Water for trans-shipment to Diego Garcia. The American   Cormorant, a massive  converted tanker was  submersed at Gillkicker Point until the decks were under water.  The tugs  and barges were then sailed into positions on deck and locked into place. The ship’s ballast was blown out till it was re-floated then it sailed off to Diego Garcia. A very efficient way to transfer a Marine reserve around the world.

 These are just a few of the technical highlights of my two years tour as RAF Cdr. There were others, such as the building of the new guardroom and the Bowling  Alley but, having lost my diaries during the many  house  moves we have  had  since leaving  Burtonwood (7 in 15 yrs), these are the ones I can still remember.

My  job as  RAF Cdr was to act as the interface between all things US Army and all things British. I kept the Americans right on British protocol and etiquette — how to eat with knife and fork and how to hold the little finger out when drinking tea; good, warm, strong British tea and not the iced American   rubbish with cinnamon and  lemon. Joking aside, the  RAF Cdr’s job was to deal with Parish, Town  and Regional Councils as well as with local MPs,    MOD and Central Government.  It sounds more  onerous than  it ever was in practice. As the British Government does not give land to foreign forces but does allow them to rent military bases, there is always a serving British officer as the base commander.   In most cases, they were RAF  bases and, therefore, a RAF officer would be appointed  as station commander. As  I used to point out at my briefings to all the many visitors to Burtonwood,  I was the landlord and the Americans were   my tenants. They had the use of the buildings  as agreed in the original contract and could only change that use if the change was agreed by the British government. Even when they changed the use of part of Header House to create their PX,-they needed to have it approved beforehand. It was funny when they first opened the PX because  the new Manager, Cliff, who did not know me, would not let me in because it was a Duty Free area and I was not an authorised American. I had to get the Colonel to come with me to the PX to explain to Cliff who I was and to tell him to allow me, as the RAF Cdr, access to the PX to ensure that it was being used appropriately. When the Health and Safety Executive inspector turned up a few days later, Cliff would not let him in; in fact, he shut and locked the doors and put out all the lights. “No one was going to be spying on him”. Once again, I had to go and get the Colonel to come   along to the PX to order Cliff to co-operate. Poor Cliff, he had his instructions from his American side about the use of the PX but they had not included any requirements for British HSE.

My first month had been spent fighting the CSM about flags as well as getting to know my way around the base and the local area. In this I was helped tremendously by the 47th’s PR Officers, Ted Knipe and Yvonne Thomas.  They helped me to touch base with all the local dignitaries and ensured that I was not left out of anything. I seem to recall that one of the daft statistics of my time in office was  the fact that, on average, we had a visit by a dignitary of one-star, or greater, every week. One of the first big chiefs was the DCinC USAREUR, LG Tom  Ayres in June 1985, when he  was combining a  formal visit to the ASG with a short holiday in the UK; he was going to play golf while his wife was shopping in Chester. As they were staying in the VIP quarters for three days, there was a  limit to what the Colonel could do to entertain them. To help out, Margaret and I offered to have them for dinner one evening (and they were delicious). They were impressed with what we had been able to achieve in our temporary quarter so soon after our arrival on base. So impressed were they that in a letter of thanks, the General reckoned we had gone above and beyond the call of duty and deserved the Victoria Cross. We had the pleasure of meeting the Ayres again in June 1986.

In August 1985, we  had a visit by John W Shannon, Assistant Secretary of the US Army. He took in all the 47th’s bases and also timed it so that he could visit London over the weekend. Unfortunately, his weekend in London coincided with the American Bar Association’s annual shindig being held in London   that year and there were no hotel rooms available. Luckily, I was able to get rooms in the RAF  Club in Piccadilly. Normally a member is only allowed a maximum of two rooms, but with special pleading for a VVIP, I was able to book five rooms for our party. I must have looked after them too well as the following year we had a visit by the Secretary of the US Army, Hon John 0 Marsh  Jr.  We did not have any accommodation problems with him  but he was one for asking a myriad of questions about everything, particularly old buildings. This tended to faze the helicopter crew who were  already overawed in the presence of such a senior dignitary. On the way back from Hythe, I tried to help out by explaining what all the various buildings were as we passed over them.

I was unaware that the Secretary was a bit of a historical buildings buff and was really keen to know about  all the large churches and cathedrals we flew over. It was obvious to the crew that I was talking a load of bollards but the Secretary was impressed. So much so, that he insisted when he was leaving Buttonwood that I travel with him to Liverpool Airport where his aircraft was parked so that he could present me with a little memento of his appreciation. He gave me a lovely little pewter tankard inscribed with his name and the US Army crest.

The most feared visitor to the ASG, at least by the American soldiery, was undoubtedly the CG 21 SUPPCOM,    LG John D Bruen. Personally, I thought he was a pussycat, but then I would because he had no real clout over me. He could have had me fired, I suppose, but most unlikely. However, the tales of him sacking senior officers, who did not come up to the mark, are legion. Colonel Bickford took the perceived threat seriously enough and was always in his office before the General was  likely to be in his; just in case he might call. When you consider that the Americans generally start work at 7.00 am rather than our 8.00 am and that Germany time is one hour ahead or UK time, it meant that the Colonel was rising at 5.00am to get his run in and get to work on time. No wonder then that he used to skip out of formal functions very early. Most people at these functions used to think he was just a miserable party pooper; little did they know his daily schedule. Luckily for the 47th, everyone was well briefed and able to answer the General’s questions, even the googlies.

General Bruen had invoked a strict code on alcohol and drugs abuse, such that American soldiers waited for their senior officers present to give a lead on what to drink. Generally, they stuck to coca cola or a single glass of wine with a meal for fear of getting a bad mark. On one occasion, the 47th officers held a dinner for the General at the Cottons, near Altrincham. There was a private bar next to the private dining room but when we arrived we barely had time for one drink before the meal and most of them drank cola. At the meal, most drank cola with the odd, brave few having a glass of wine. Sitting next to Mrs Bruen, I asked if she would like a white or red wine, to which she replied, “Yes”. So I ordered a bottle of each, which we duly quaffed throughout the meal. The General and the Colonel ordered a bottle of each, which they shared with the visiting British Colonel, his lady and Margaret. At the end of the meal everyone but the General’s wife and I repaired to the bar, or so I thought. Meanwhile, Mrs Bruen and I finished our wine. It was a bit of a surprise when, a few minutes later, the PR man came to tell us that the bus was waiting to take us all back to base. It was not even 9.30pm. At the bus I told the General that it was far too early for British officers to retire and that I would stay and look after the British Colonel and his lady. Whereupon, the General reminded me of the next day’s early morning briefing in the conference room and that I must not be late. Needless to say, I did my duty and still made the briefing on time much to the General’s amusement.

On another occasion, I chased General Bruen all over England as he visited our bases and British Army units around Salisbury and Wilton. He did most of his travel in a Huey whilst I was in one of HM’s Vauxhall  Cavaliers. At the end of a particularly stressful day, the General insisted that Colonel Bickford accompany  him around Salisbury’s shops to find a suitable gift to take back to Germany.   When I met Jim B some time later, he was in desperate need of a calming, foaming pint of ale. We had just started to drink it when the General appeared, at which point Jim nearly had apoplexy. The General was a bit of a tyrant about his officers drinking alcohol. Nevertheless, I asked the General if he would like to join us with a small pint of the local brew and he thought that was a good idea and thoroughly enjoyed it. Shortly afterwards at dinner, we shared a bottle of wine followed by a dram of the real stuff which helped the evening move along. Later, there was a Real Ale festival in the Hotel courtyard with Morris dancing, folksingers and, of course, a variety of Real Ales. We  all joined in the festivities. The General was particularly interested in the various activities in the hotel courtyard, as he wanted to collect information for his wife who was studying folklore, etc. That we drank a few real ales in the process probably accounted for the remark from the General’s ADC about not having seen the great man so relaxed and happy in many a long time.

My time at Burtonwood  was not all sweetness and light, it did have its drawbacks from time to time. Over the two years, I was at work most weekends unless I was on official leave and away from the base; this was courtesy of the CND activists. They would arrive at the main gate early on Saturday morning and depart, as the sun went down on Sunday evening. They actually pushed down the fence one weekend and it was all I could do to stop the Colonel and the CSM from dashing out in defence like John Wayne with their Colt 45s strapped to their hips. The MOD and local police saved the day. At that time, the CND faction insisted that as it was an American base, there must be Nuclear weapons stored there. One of our local MPs helped maintain this myth that nuclear weapons were stored in silos under the warehouse. Despite many invitations to visit and inspect the base, that MP always refused to attend and, thereby, be a party to the destruction of the myth. The only  underground chambers in the area were mine shafts from the colliery. The area mines inspectorate  had assured me that the nearest mineshaft was some 3000 ft down and about 500 yards in  front of Header House. This had been one of the reasons for the subsistence that closed the main runway. This information  was made available to us when we were considering building the new Guardroom  and  when  we were checking on possible subsistence to the main warehouse.

There were sad occasions and one of the saddest occasions was the suicide of one of the Sergeants. He  had been reported for sexually harassing some female staff. During the subsequent investigation, he became so upset that he decided the only solution was to take his own life. This was a dreadful shame  and waste. We  also had a young Lieutenant who went  AWOL. He  had an unhappy love affair and could not cope with the various pressures from both families. There was the case of the American  Major’s wife who went stateside on vacation and got all religion before running off with a young  hippy toy boy. That was long before taking a toy boy was fashionable for the more mature lady. The other near scandal was the Major who was forced to resign or face a Court Martial. The political situation at the time was such that the Colonel would not authorise long leave stateside for his officers. This thwarted the Major’s wedding plans and he returned from a short visit stateside with his new wife; who was not. The major organised a flat in downtown Warrington, but the Colonel would not authorise him to live off base but insisted he lived in an appropriate base MQ.

This the major did, much against his own wishes. It was a month or so before the Major could legalise his marriage situation by going up to Gretna and getting properly married. All went well for several months until a disaffected NCO in the HQ Company noted the discrepancy in marriage and accommodation  dates and blew the whistle. The major was accused of fraudulently living in married officer’s housing whilst not entitled. It all became messy and it took the CG 21 SUPPCOM to come to Burtonwood  to resolve the situation. This was a real shame as the major and his wife were probably the best American couple we knew at the time. Another sad occasion was the aftermath of the  bombing of Libya. The Colonel put the base on full alert and mounted armed guards on both the technical and domestic sites. Needless to say I disagreed with his decision to have armed troops walking around the domestic area and stormed out of his office after the briefing. On my way out, the Colonel shouted, “I know where you’re going! You’re going to phone MOD and see if I can do it! I can!” Some time later, after a long call to the Duty Officer at MOD, I had to accept that the colonel was right. After I apologised to him, we discussed the issues of loaded weapons on the domestic site with American and local civilians all around. We came up with a compromise that the weapons would not be loaded on the domestic site. The colonel decided that an officer would keep the bullets on site under lock and key for issue only if required. I was still unhappy with this arrangement  but it was soon changed to guards carrying pickaxe shafts after one guard said he had been attacked by someone  trying to steal his weapon. It eventually transpired that that guard had made up this story to make himself look like a hero. He was shipped out quickly and dealt with rather severely.

Enough  of the misery how about something a little lighter. There was the time we lost a General in Kingston. He  was over from 21    SUPPCOM to check on our arrangements for the Surgeon General’s inspection of the warm base hospital at Chessington. The general had arrived latish from Germany the evening before the Surgeon General’s inspection. We put him in a hotel in a little back street in downtown  Kingston and left him to his own devices for the evening. Early next morning he was up before 06.30 hrs and off on his daily run. Some American soldiers are like that. He apparently thought he would just run round the block as one did in American towns. Unfortunately, Kingston is not built like that; it’s full of crescents, avenues and cul-de-sacs. Before too long, he was lost! He did not know where he was, where he was going or how to get there and, he did not know the name of his hotel or even the street it was in. When I arrived at 07.45 hrs, the appointed pick-up time, I found the colonel having kittens in the front courtyard. when the general had not shown up by the time the colonel had finished his breakfast, worry started to set in. Eventually, summoning up the courage  to check general’s room; the worry became panic when he found it empty. No one knew where the general was, what he was wearing or whether he knew how to get back to the hotel. I could not go to the police and say, “I’ve lost a general”. All we could do was just wait and hope that he found his way back. At about 09.15, the general came staggering down the street with his grey tracksuit soaked in sweat. He was almost on his knees. He had found his way back only because he was a sports car buff. He had spotted a Morgan sports car just after he had left the hotel and, seeing it on his run, he remembered it had been parked at the end of the street with his hotel. What the outcome  would  have been if the Morgan’s owner had gone to work early or if there had been two Morgan   sports cars in Kingston that day, I hate to think. We would probably still be looking for him.  As it was, he apologised for having taken so long on his run, rushed upstairs to get ready and was back in minutes looking bright as a new pin. We made it to Chessington in time for the Surgeon General’s inspection.

We  also had a bit of a laugh with a British 2 star. AOA, Support Command, Air Marshal Whittaker came  to represent the RAF when Colonel Bickford became General and handed over his command.

First off, the AOA’s aide asked for a room in the Mess where the AOA could change in to and out of uniform. I explained he would have to slum it in my MQ, as there was no Mess, but that I would probably not be at home for either his arrival or departure. His arrival went O.K. but the departure was something else. General Bickford had presented his personal general’s flag to Warrington Town Hall and I, with a number of others from the “Change of Command” reception, had gone to the little ceremony in the Mayor’ Parlour. As there had been only sherry to drink, the group of “senior citizens” (reprobates) decided it was back to Jim’s for beer. Unfortunately, I had to go to the technical site first so they arrived at the RAF Cdr’s house before me. They saw the staff car in the drive and, when no one opened the door to them, they started banging on the doors and windows and shouting to be let in. The staff car in the drive was the AOA’s and not mine. The Air Marshal and his wife who were just about ready too leave but were too terrified to open the door. Luckily I arrived within a couple of minutes to restore calm. After the usual introductions, the Air Marshal joined the reprobates for a few beers while his good lady supped tea with Margaret. Earlier that day, General  Bruen had told the Air Marshal how wonderful I was to outgoing Col/Gen and they both agreed  that it would be most appropriate for me to attend General Bickford’s take-over command ceremony in  Zweibrucken. Margaret and I went over to Germany for a few days and thoroughly enjoyed  our time there with the Americans. A photograph of Margaret and I appeared in the American Army   newspaper under  the caption “NATO’s elite watched the ceremony”.

One  of the real highlights of my tour was the visit to the base of 16 Mayors or Chairpersons of Councils. We  had previously given a tour of the base to the Mayor of Warrington and thought he would not want to be included in the list when we invited all the other mayors in Cheshire to visit the base.  How wrong  can you be?? As soon as he heard about the visit on the grapevine, he promptly told us it was not on; it was not proper protocol. In no uncertain terms he told us that “foreign” Mayors  could only come into his patch as mayors if he had invited them. After a grovelling apology, we  compromised. We  included him in the party and everyone had to foregather at his Mayor’s  Parlour for drinks and photos. Afterwards, we all left in convoy for the base with the Colonel  and I in the lead car, the Mayor of Warrington next and the rest sorting themselves out into order of seniority. You had to get your priorities right. That visit ended with a few drinks and nibbles in the Eagle’s Head.

As well as visits to the base, 1 was often invited to visit other organisations like Army and Navy units, the ATC, Sea Cadets and the   GVC. Often I would be  asked to carry out an inspection or to say a few words or even give  a talk like this. On one such occasion, the local GVC Captain asked if I would give a short talk to her girls and, naturally, I said I would. Then she dropped the bombshell and  asked if! could give her girls a talk on sex — as I was a man of the world. I dared not tell Margaret what  the subject was to be she would not have thought it seemly. Instead, I told her I had been asked to give the girls a talk on sailing. After all, I had done a little bit of offshore sailing out of Kiel when we had  been  in Germany.  The day after my talk, Margaret bumped into the GVC Captain in  Warrington and asked her how my  talk had gone down with the girls. “Wonderful, wonderful,” she said, “The girls loved it”. “Well I am surprised,” said Margaret. “He’s only done it twice before. The first time he was sick and the second time his hat blew off’.

As I approached the end of my two-year’s  tour as RAF Cdr, I reckoned that my next job was likely to be as a Ground Defence  officer or some such in a hole in the ground at either a Group or Command    HQ.  A tour of duty at Support or Strike Command filled me with dread. After two wonderful years at Burtonwood  with the American  Army,  being the only serving airman in Cheshire and having a brief to rush all over the UK at the MOD’s expense, such a thought appalled me. Having  been my own  boss for so long I knew that life within the RAF would never be the same again. I, therefore, decided to retire at the end of my tour of duty at Burtonwood although I had hoped to stay connected with the area, as we had bought a house at Hawarden.  I am afraid that I did keep  coming back every time  an invitation was sent. It was such a delight to meet all our old friends again. I am sure that this might have been much to the chagrin of the RAF   Commanders   who followed me, since it is always the returning prodigal son who gets the fatted calf.

Having  played a very small but, nonetheless, pleasant part in the life and history of RAF Burtonwood,  I  know how  fascinating the place and its people could be. I think, therefore, that I can understand your fascination with RAF Burtonwood. I sincerely hope that my little talk this evening has filled in a little more of the gaps for you and that, perhaps, given you something to smile about.

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