Caravanning and RVing in Australia

Courting days for Murphy and me.

Chapter 5

I met Vi playing in the Salvation Army band in Harrogate when I moved to Topcliffe and we continued our courtship when I moved to Dishforth. Vi's Dad was a stocky little Yorkshire farmer who was straight out of one of James Herriot's vet books. After he had gone to bed at nights when I was visiting Vi, I would ask her what her Dad had been talking about as I couldn't understand his broad dialect spiced with some of his own made-up words. Next morning he would say, "What was yor yoong man sayin' las' naht?

It was a long way on a motorbike from Harrogate where Vi lived to my home in Hampshire but we decided it was time I took her down to meet my folks and we had a pleasant enough journey down and a very nice weekend with Mum, Dad and Vi getting on very well together. We left for the return trip to Yorkshire in the middle of a sunny winter's afternoon and all went well until it started to get dark around five o'clock. Murphy destroyed the generator yet again although the repair shop suggested it might have had something to do with over-revving the motor and causing the commutator segments to fly apart!

The battery didn't have a huge amount of reserve so in Banbury, known to children the world over in the nursery rhyme, 'Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross', we didn't find a horse but a bicycle shop where we bought battery operated front and back lights with a couple of spare batteries. With the lights on 'Park' we came around a corner to find an accident scene complete with police and flashing lights. A dour Mr Plod came up to us and said, "The fellow who hit the back of that truck on his motorbike had poor lights and he's now in the mortuary - dead!"

We were struck dumb by this insensitive remark and I didn't have the heart to suggest that he wouldn't have been in the mortuary if he hadn't been dead! We spent the rest of that dreadful, cold, frosty night riding by the light of our puny bicycle lamps and for a while following cars or trucks until a couple of slides made me realise there was black ice on the road where drizzle had frozen to an incredibly treacherous, slippery surface.

Harrogate has lovely parkland surrounding the town and when we eventually reached our destination in the early hours of the morning, I woke up as the bike came down over the kerb at the far side of one of these parks. We had ridden right across the park without hitting any trees and had cut the corner to the road we wanted. When we reached the farm at last, Vi's dad was sound asleep with all doors locked and we only managed to wake him by throwing gravel at his upstairs bedroom window. A few hours later I got back on the bike and rode the 20 miles back to camp to report for duty but Murph relented and gave me a quiet day.

I often used to sleep in an attic at the farm and go back to the airfield in the morning in time for the day's activities but came unstuck one morning when Murphy threw a spanner in the works. It was the morning of our pilots final flying test. There were two crews due for their test - my pilot was Flying Officer 'Dinty' Moore and Derek's skipper was a dapper officer whose name I've forgotten.

Dinty was not a good pilot and could never tell which engine had failed when an examiner had cut off the fuel to it and he could never remember which services were supplied by that particular engine. We devised a strategy to overcome this problem. The normal procedure was that the pilot pulled back the throttle of the engine he thought had failed and if there was no swing of the aeroplane then he had chosen correctly and if it did yaw then it was the other engine on that side of the plane. In our case when Dinty put his hand on the throttle levers, I waggled the 'dead' one from the engineer's position where I had a duplicate set. He then pulled that throttle back - no swing - so he got it right every time. Then having 'feathered' the propeller the pilot usually called on the intercom to the engineer, 'Check services lost,' and proceeded to list them - with the engineer repeating them as a further check. In our case I would call them first and Dinty repeated them - amazingly no examiner ever picked up our subterfuge and our crew had breezed through our training.

On the fateful morning of our air test, Murphy made me oversleep and I broke all records getting washed, shaved and dressed and in just a few minutes I was roaring off on the Ajay with just enough time to get back to camp for our flight. This would have been okay but 'he' had another trick up his sleeve. The plug lead came off as I was doing about eighty miles an hour and I reached down to put it back on. Of course the engine was still rotating although not firing and I got a massive shock right up my arm as I got hold of the live lead. The shock made me lose control momentarily and the bike ran off on to the soft verge. There was still a chance to regain control but someone had dug a deep ditch at right angles to the road and the bike stopped dead when the front wheel dropped into the ditch. I didn't stop and became airborne as I went over the handlebars only to come down with a tremendous thud some yards further on. Fortunately the ground was wet and soft and, after I finally got some air into my winded lungs and was able to take stock of things, I found that apart from the winding, I had suffered nothing worse than sore and swollen lips and nose where I had hit the muddy ground head first.

Vi's dad had walked into a tree branch and blacked an eye the day before and people looking at us thought we had been fighting.

The bike was a bit the worse for wear and I limped back to the farm and rang the camp to say I'd had an accident and wouldn't be able to fly. Dinty was wild - Derek had to take my place and didn't know our ruse so Dinty nearly failed his test and swore I had deliberately missed it. I never flew with him again and when we were both posted to the same squadron a few weeks later he managed to blot his copybook by nearly landing on the Commanding Officer's car as it passed by the approach to the runway. Just after that he was flying in formation with another Hastings and during a position change managed to put his wing through the propeller of the other aircraft nearly causing both planes to crash.

The subsequent Court Martial spelt the end of his flying career.

Our new posting was to No 511 Squadron, Transport Command, and the squadron had just been awarded the Command Shield for Air Safety. I was pleased about this as I felt they were ahead of Murphy here and nothing could go wrong. Once again I had underestimated our mate and it wasn't long before he showed his skill.

Besides flying the air routes of the world, crews had to do a certain amount of practice flying locally and my first two hour training flight took place at night.

I was flying with a very experienced pilot and coming in for a landing he remarked to the second pilot, "Look at this bloke - bet we scare him." He was referring to a car passing on the road near the approach to the runway and he had no sooner uttered these words when there was an almighty bang and vibration as we touched down. "That's the way to kill him, not just scare him," I thought, but in fact we had hit the 'BABS' wagon with our tail-wheel. The BABS was a radar system and we had hit the caravan that housed it near the end of the runway.

Another Hastings from our squadron crashed on take-off at Fayid in the Canal Zone that same week with yet another making a crash landing at Kai Tak - Hong Kong's airport - and I began to wonder what the 'unsafe' outfits were like.

Another former member of No 10 All Through, Geoff Fear, had also been posted to 511 and he and I used to make weekend trips back up to Yorkshire when not away flying. Geoff was courting Shirley, a girl from Knaresborough near Harrogate, and I was of course going to see Vi at the farm. We used to leave camp by a little side entrance just wide enough to take the bike and one day Geoff's knees caught both sides of the gate which left him sitting on the track wearing a very surprised look.

On the 4th of August 1952, Vi and I were married in the Salvation Army Citadel in Harrogate and Murph behaved impeccably although I wasn't rapt with the confetti down our necks at the railway station as we waited for the train to Liverpool. He did take a hand with the weather on the Isle of Man and it rained for most of our honeymoon. As we had only booked bed and breakfast we spent a lot of time wandering around arcades and shops in Douglas.

When we arrived back in Harrogate, Vi wasn't too well so I hired a car to go back to Lyneham on my own with all our gear. Step in Murph! The little Ford 8 sedan had a crook petrol pump and the engine cut out whenever I had to climb a steep hill. I beat him though by reversing up all the hills and letting gravity assist the ailing fuel pump. I wasn't an engineer for nothing but, oh boy, was I tired when I eventually reached the new caravan we had bought to live in.

Flying started in earnest after that and I was away on overseas trips for nine of our first twelve months of married life. This gave Murphy ample opportunity to practise his skills and the first example of his talent came one day over the Swiss Alps.

There had been exceptional tides and flooding on the east and south coasts of England and the emergency services were running short of sand-bags to build levee banks. RAF Transport Command and all available civilian aircraft were called on to go to various parts of Europe to collect spare bags to be filled with sand. Our first trip was to Zurich where we did a two-hour turn round and straight back to Lyneham without a hitch. This means I can honestly say I've been to Switzerland although two hours there in the dead of night is hardly the usual sight-seeing visit.

Next day we headed for Milan in Northern Italy but Murphy decided to take a hand on the way back over the Alps. We were struggling to reach our safety height over the mountains when the supercharger clutches on one engine started to slip and the engine lost power. We shut the engine down and maintained height with the other three running at full climbing power. We still hadn't reached safety height and all around us we could see the snow covered peaks. One of the first things a pilot learns is that if there is trouble you look for a flat place to land. Our pilots could see nothing but mountains in every direction.

My calculations showed that at the new fuel consumption using climbing power we didn't have enough fuel to get back to England and then, to add to our problems, the oil temperature on one of the other engines began to rise to a dangerous level. The captain seemed to have quite sufficient on his mind without this additional worry so I kept that to myself and watched it like a hawk.

Fortunately there wasn't too much cloud about and we were able to dodge the peaks and safely reach the other side of the mountains. Once we had descended to our normal cruising altitude we were able to restart the feathered engine as it functioned perfectly at the lower level, the oil temperature came back down to its proper place on the gauge and the fuel consumption showed we could make it to Lyneham but with a greatly reduced safety margin.

We were the last aircraft to use the route over the Alps and everyone else had to take the long - but safe - detour around them.


Chapter 6