Memories of Church Fenton....
Here I have started collecting together people's personal recollections of what Church Fenton was like in their experience. Hopefully, this will add some authenticity to the site. A short summary of the memories can be found below:
|J. Kevin Webster||Air cadet flight in a Chipmunk in the 1960s|
|Bill Cundall||7FTS in the 1980s|
|Terence Wilson||19 Squadron in the 1950s|
|Steve Jones||Re-activation of the airfield in 1979|
|Ron Gooding||Church Fenton's closure as a fighter station in 1959|
|Ricky Spencer||Church Fenton 1972 - 1974|
|Mons Andrew Ford||Memories of Church Fenton pre-war (1938/39) and during the war (1942).|
|Vicky Thompson||Church Fenton in the 1960s/70s.|
|Stephen Birtles||Church Fenton 1986 - 88.|
|"Black Wednesday"||A story from the RAF Bomb Disposal Association website about the events of one night in April 1942.|
|Philip Baker||A small boy's visit to RAF Church Fenton shortly after its opening in 1937.|
|Arthur Grace||54 OTU in 1941.|
|Keith Wilkinson||Immediate post-war period at Church Fenton|
|George Edwards||Life as an RAF fireman at RAF Church Fenton, 1968 - 1970|
|Rupert Butler||Instructing on 7FTS 1965 / 1966|
|Kim Gowney||Station photographer 1972/73|
|Charles Collier||First posting as an airframe fitter after Halton.|
|Tim Dalby||Ground Radio 1979 - 1984|
|Eddie Klaja||Church Fenton 1970 - 1971|
|Frederick Moran||Church Fenton 1946, awaiting demob|
CHURCH FENTON FORTY
J. Kevin Webster
Well, almost 40 years anyway. Together with Linton-on-Ouse, Dishforth and Topcliffe it was one of the bases often frequented by an eager group of teenage boys dressed in the itchy blue serge battledress of the Air Training Corps.
I was a cadet with 44(F) (Bradford) Squadron, ATC. There were no girls in the Corps back then. Having decided on a career in the RAF, I joined the ATC as soon as I was old enough. Church Fenton was one of our regular haunts - the home of our host AEF (Air Experience Flight). It was there that I made my first flight in a Chipmunk (not the awful singing group of those days, but the venerable DeHavilland aeroplane!)
It wasn't the first time I had flown in an aircraft. That honour went to RAF Topcliffe, where, one bitterly cold January day, I boarded a Vickers Varsity for a trip out over the North Sea. Nevertheless, it was the Chipmunk that we had all been taught about. We took it all very seriously. I think many of us expected that something would be bound to happen to the pilot, and we would have to bring the ship safely home. Well, we had spent hours of survival lectures, in anticipation of an emergency parachute jump.
So the great day came and I was one of a group of lads who were picked for a Saturday morning trip to Church Fenton. Someone asked "where is it?" and another wanted to know if there was a church there. A "know-it-all" smile spread over my face, 'cause I KNEW where it was. My older brother Martyn, who'd been in the Corps before me, had taken me there once on the back of his Vespa scooter. Now he was in the RAF.
"It's near Tadcaster" I said, very nonchalantly, "the place where John Smith brews his beer." Since none of us was legally old enough to drink, I suppose it was a wasted observation. Somehow, I think we went to Church Fenton by train from Bradford. It was just before the infamous Doctor Beeching wielded his axe, but I seem to remember piling out of a train and being picked up by a Bedford three-tonner. There again, my advancing senility may well have got the wrong location. We had lots of RAF station visits in those days (when there were lots of RAF stations!!), but more accurate records are not available. This is because I lost my treasured 3822 many years ago (any ex-cadet will know what one of those is!).
What I do remember of that day, apart from the thrill of getting strapped into the rear of that Chipmunk cockpit, was the feeling that I had really grown up at last. OK, so I was only fourteen-and-a-half, but as that little silver aeroplane cleared the Fenton circuit and the pilot said over the intercom "you have control" and I took the stick in my hand, I felt as though I might have been born in the clouds.
I came down to earth with a bump. Not in the Chipmunk - the landing was perfect. I refer to my statement about feeling really grown-up. In the lunch queue at the Airmens' Mess, I was rudely elbowed out of the way by an adult SAC who said something about "bloody sprogs" (whatever that meant).
That wasn't the last time that I visited RAF Church Fenton. There were a few more Chipmunk flights and a couple of ATC West Riding Wing parades, before I finally handed in my cadet uniform in August, 1964. A month later, I became a "sprog" again, when I took the oath to The Queen as a new Admin. Apprentice at RAF Hereford.
It's good to know that Church Fenton is still a going concern. I never made my way back there in the time I served in the RAF, but it will always have a very important place in my memory.
Here are Bill Cundall's memories of Church Fenton, he served at CF for 7 years until 1988:
I think I held the record for long service at The Royal Yorkshire Flying Club serving there for 7 years and 9 months. I had some great times there and have to say how nice the camp looked in spring, it was covered in Blossom Trees, Daffodils etc, and the Spitfire on the gate (now flying again) attracted many worshipers who if you could get them talking about their recollections usually ended up in the Flyer paying for the drinks while we put up with the yarns.
I remember my wife's surprise when we first moved to Fenton, we had just come back from 3 years at Akrotiri our house there was the size of a ranch. 27 Dorts Crescent was to be our penance! you had to squeeze past the night storage radiator to get into the living room, a small house to say the least. It took no time at all to buy a house near Selby where we still live. I remember a tree outside 27 where the kids had hung a rope about 15 foot long with knot's in it for them to stand on as they swung from a branch about 10 feet above the ground. John S........h [name edited to preserve privacy!!] a character of renown for his antics was coming home from the mess after a few to many climbed the tree grabbed the end of the rope and jumped only to find out that the earth sucks.
I left Church Fenton 21/12/88 and declined the offer working for Airwork's as I was allergic to peanuts.
Anyone remember Thud Nut?
Here are Terence Wilson's memories of spending two years of his National Service at Church Fenton with 19 Squadron between 1956 and 1958:
Memories of RAF Church Fenton 1956 to 1958
|Entrance gates, RAF Church Fenton||
Photo: T Wilson 1998
I was first called-up to do National Service in May 1956 I was posted
to RAF Nuneham Park, then RAF Biggin Hill and RAF Stanmore Park. I never
thought I’d receive a posting so close to my parents home in Sheffield
so it came as quite a surprise when I was posted to RAF Church Fenton
less than 30 miles away.
Number 19 Fighter Squadron consisted of about ten Hawker Hunter fighter jets, half-a-dozen aging Gloucester Meteors and one two-seater de Havilland Vampire twin-boom jet for training. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Avon engine the Hawker Hunter reaching speeds of 700 mph had entered service only two years earlier in July 1954 as the RAF’s standard single-seater fighter. My job as a servicing recorder was to maintain minute -to-minute information on the status of each aircraft using Hollerith cards – a sort of early computer. Shortly before my arrival in autumn 1956, 263 Squadron with their Gloster Meteors had been merged with 19 Squadron. The twin-engined Meteors (affectionately knick-named ‘meat-boxes’ by both air- and ground-crew) were inherited from 72 Squadron which had been combined with 19 Squadron. The Meteors on 19 Squadron were 2-seater variants with with long, black, glass-fibre nose-cone extensions housing radar used by the navigator for night flying.
I arrived Church Fenton was in the process of recruiting musicians for
a station band asking for volunteers who could play an instrument.
What they omitted to
mention was that they meant to establish a brass
band. ‘And what do
you play?’ asked the corporal.
‘A bass’, I replied. ‘We
don’t have a bass but you can play the euphonium instead.’ I didn’t
mention I played a string bass in a jazz group. But no matter! One of the ‘perks’
of being in the band was that we were given time-off to join other musicians
at numerous other RAF stations to take part in Battle of Britain Day
parades. During the 1950s Church Fenton had its own cable-radio station.
The signature tune, "Sauter Finnegan’s Midnight Sleigh Ride"
(an arrangement of the Troika movement from Prokofiev’s suite "Lieutenant
Kije"), introduced a evening of record requests.
Returning to camp on a 48-hour pass from Sheffield Midland Railway Station I would be joined by a motley band of airmen and forty-five minutes later we would be pulling into the station to the familiar call, ‘Chu...ur...ch Fenton, Chu...ur...ch Fenton Station’. The winter of 1957-58 was particularly cold. One night on my return to camp it was snowing hard and the way back to camp was blocked by deep snowdrifts. One of our party was a chap built like a rugby prop – 6 foot 6 inches tall and weighing 15 or 16 stone. (He was so big he carried a special chit from the MO so that he could get double helpings in the canteen to cope with his equally enormous appetite.) Hanging on to his RAF great-coat tails, five or six fellow travellers were literally pulled through the blizzard and deepening snow through the village until we reached the camp gates.
|In the 1950s the United States Air Force purchased large numbers of Hawker Hunters using offshore procurement funds for the use of NATO forces. Number 19 Squadron was unique in the RAF; it was the only squadron where the squadron leader was a major – Major R. G. Newell. He was posted to Church Fenton to become familiar with the new aircraft. After his posting 19 Squadron earned the sobriquet of the ‘19th Swept Persoot!’ After Major Newell joined the squadron we had regular outings – both air- and ground-crew – using a station bus and famous squadron taxi for darts matches at to the local hostelry.|
Major R G Newell, USAF. C/O 19Sqn
Teabreak in front of 2 Hangar
|The squadron was sent on short-duration postings to other RAF bases in the United Kingdom. One of those postings was to RAF Aldergrove, Antrim, Northern Ireland. In the light of what we now know as ‘the troubles’ with IRA terrorists, shootings and bombings, memories of the first detachment to Northern Ireland are vivid. The ground crew including myself travelled to Belfast by sea from Liverpool. When we reached RAF Aldergrove, our billet was an old corrugated iron Nissen hut with a huge pot-bellied stove in the centre. The stove was kept well alight but the air was so damp that steam rose from our bedding in coils of condensation. We were never briefed on the history of the IRA or Irish terrorism and when I think about the nights of guard duty defending the squadron’s Hawker Hunter jet fighters armed with a Sten gun and two clips of ammunition, it sends shivers down my spine! This trip was also my first experience of flying – in an a twin-engined RAF Douglas transport taking us back home to RAF Church Fenton.|
|Another NATO tour-of-duty was a week at RAF Horsham-St-Faith, Norfolk during Easter 1958. A small group of ground-crew including myself left Church Fenton early one morning in April to travel 175 miles by coach to RAF Horsham-St-Faith. Six Hunters took-off from Church Fenton but only five landed at Horsham. Our USAF Major was missing! In his own words, “Flying over Norfolk I saw literally hundreds of airfields. I just said eenie, meenie, minie, mo! and landed here.” “Here” was a deserted airfield some miles away from Norwich one of hundreds of deserted ex-W.W.II airfields located in East Anglia.|
the runway at Horsham a pair of Hawker Hunters armed with air-to-air missiles
and live cannon rounds waited round-the-clock with pilots on-board, the
ground staff ready to operate the ‘accs’
to start-up the engines. Most
of the time it was boring, sitting waiting on the grass enjoying the spring
sunshine. Then on Good Friday morning the siren sounded, ‘Scramble!’
and all hell was let loose. A
single aircraft had been detected on the radar making an unscheduled crossing
of the North Sea. The two
Hawker Hunters immediately took off to intercept it.
Was this Armageddon? A Russian ‘Bear’ carrying its load of H-bombs?
Was this the start of World War III?
No, it was just an American pilot from Germany who had made an
unscheduled flight to spend Easter with his girl friend in England.
'Accs': (RAF slang) mobile battery accumulators.
|In memory of LAC Ron Wild, Armourer 19 Squadron: friend, best man at our wedding and great jazz drummer. With fond recollections of weekends spent in Leeds and Sheffield.|
Terence Wilson Feb 2002
Here are Steve Jones' memories of the re-activation of the airfield in early 1979:
I was on the first 7FTS Sqn that reopened the site in ~ March April 1979 as a Pilot Officer under training doing the 60Hrs Group1/Phase1 JP5a course.
Here are Ron Gooding's memories of Church Fenton's closure as a fighter station in 1959:
I was stationed at Leconfield in 1958 -1959 during the time the runway was being reconstructed adding concrete touch-down pads/ taxiways in readiness for the arrival of 19 and 72 Squadrons (great C&M days just a few of us there about six in the Sgt's Mess it was great!) As I recall Church Fenton people were not too happy about moving to Leconfield and to be honest we liked Leconfield the way it was on C&M too! However all these issues disappeared very quickly shortly after the move and everyone settled in very well.. in fact Leconfield was one of the best airfields I served at during my 12 years in the RAF.. morale was extremely high and we all had great fun working there! Yogi Bear and Bubu were very popular on TV at that time and everyone could perform a fair imitation of one or the other.
Church Fenton had a great jazz band that entertained regularly on Saturday nights at the Mess...lots of young local girls from Beverley attended too. Church Fenton Sgt's Mess had a "surplus" of funds which could not be moved to Leconfield (had to go into a central Mess pot) so a huge party was arranged with tons of food/ drink ..it was fantastic -sides of roast beef / pork the lot...never seen a feast like it before or since! Ronnie Hilton a very popular singer (with a No. 1 record in the hit parade at that time) who lived in Leeds attended the fund-spending party as did a lot of other local York/Leeds dignitaries...it was a great night...and a lot of fun was had by all...yes, those were indeed wonderful times!
In late 1959, 202 winched the former CF Fire Chief, who retired
shortly after moving to Leconfield, from off the top of the water tower, flew
around the station with him "dangling" below the helicopter waving
good-bye to us all gathered outside, below -before ferrying him to RAF Biggin
Hill where he was taking on the job of Sgt's Mess Steward!
Lot of great characters in 19, 72 and 202 Squadron/ station staff just happened to come together at RAF Leconfield in 1959 -making those days perhaps the most fun-filled and memorable of my career in the air force and I am sure a lot of other folks too!
Here are Ricky Spencer's memories of Church Fenton from 1972 to 1974:
Ricky Spencer - Stationed at Church Fenton,1972 -1974 Clerk Stats - last tour of duty, many happy memories and good times, bulldogs, JP's and Chipmunks worked in Aero Med, Flying Wing HQ and Families Office. SWO in those days was Jim Hughes Leeds United Fanatic - buy a raffle ticket or else! Families Officer was Brian Holgate a real nice guy I'd like to meet again. Have searched all the known pages for old friends but have failed maybe someone remembers me, fixed cars and propped the bar up at New Inn aka Fenton Flier, still some John Smiths paid on from last P.U.!
Here are some of 88 year old Mons Andrew Ford's amazing memories of his time at Church Fenton in 1938 - 1939, and later in 1942:
614290 A.C. FORD.
In 1938 and 1939 I was stationed at RAF Church Fenton, and was attached to S.H.Q. and was on general duties. At the time the 2 Squadrons were 72 and 64. 72 Squadron was firstly Gloster Gladiators and later Spitfires. 64 was Hawker Demon Bi-planes changing to Bristol Blenheim (short nosed). The C.O. of 72 was Sdn Leader Lees and the 64 Sdn Leader was Herbert Percy who I remember had a very modern car (Hotchcis?) I remember then, the tall F.O. Nicholson [James Nicholson, the only Fighter Command pilot to win the Victoria Cross], and I had my first flight with P.O.George, Australian pilot Sheen , Sgt Norfolk and P.O. Fry. The Station Commander was Wing Commander Harris and the station adjutant was Sdn Leader Beamish.
72 hangar was nearest the road, between it and the road was the little gas chamber (tear gas). Whilst I was there a Blenheim disappeared, and was found quite a while later up on the Pennines, Sheffield, Manchester area. I think the crew were Sth Africans. One of the duties I did was on guard for about a week on a crashed Harrow Bomber at a little village called Kirk Smeaton. I liked it very much as we had all our meals and drinks in the village pub called The "Shoulder Of Mutton". We used to go to Tadcaster quite a lot and frequent the pub owned by Jimmy Scriveens, one of the boys was married to his daughter.
At the beginning of the war some of us went up to Upper Heyford on the way to France. We boarded a big 4-engined bi-plane called "Hannibul". It was Imperial Airways and the pilot was the bearded Captain Jones. we taxied out and the flight was aborted, why, we never knew, and returned to Church Fenton. I think the planes searched for the submarine "Thetis". It was found sunk in Liverpool Bay whilst on its trials, salvaged and renamed Thunderbolt. It was lost during the war.
I remember Smoky Toes were we used to call in on the way back to camp. Two of the boys I knew were A.C. Dawson, a very good violinist, and LAC Rolfe who played the saxophone. I returned to Church Fenton in 1942 from 60 MU, and did modifications to a Blenheims engines. It was under some kind of tent I think up near the rifle range. I returned to 60 MU Shipton after about 2 weeks.
Mons Andrew Ford.
And the second instalment:
"Dear Ian, further updates of church fenton 1938-1939:
I went to the signals block one evening with the duty wireless officer op, I was astonished when this typewriter (teleprinter) came to life, and began sending out a printed message (in code) which was duly taken to the duty signal officer. On another occasion I went with the duty armourer to the armoury where he showed me some of the officers private weapons, smith and wesson, and one very old and weird webley automatic. The rifles at that time were W.W.1 type, later on I remember the #4 Enfield, with the short spike bayonet.
On the occasion when I went to Kirk Smeaton, it was Nov.5th,1938 and we managed to activate a parachute flare, which lit up the field like daylight, also the very pistol was there with a few cartridges. We spent some time at the hotel "The Shoulder of Mutton" and I remember the girl (daughter?) called Peggy and another called Joyce Briggs. My regards if you are still around.
On my second short time at Church Fenton, probably 1941-1942, I was billeted at a little village called Stutton with an elderly lady called miss Brown. She baked bread, etc, for the locals, and the short time I was there I tidied up her garden for her, knowing I liked rice pudding, she made one for my supper each day ...god bless her. Another time we walked to a place called Barkston Ash, within its ground was a small lake.
Calling at this big house, the maid ushered us into the presence of a very charming lady who chattered with us and was very interested in our duties at the airfield. The upshot was we were given permission to fish in the lake!!! The fish were perch which we duly returned to the water. I think that would be summer 1939.
By the way, the first aircraft I worked on were a a Bristol Bulldog with an uncowled bristol jupiter radial engine.
Also a fairey "gordon" siddely "panther", also uncowled, and a westland "wapiti" large wingspan bi-plane. Cant remember the engine but I remember one had to be almost a contortionist to start and run the bulldog.
Hope this information can be of use to yourself, and the web site, and I will endeavour to
recollect more information from my experiences of some 65 years ago.
regards and thank you for your dedication.
M.A.FORD (D.O.B. 21 JULY, 1916)"
Vicky Thompson's memories of Church Fenton in the 60s / 70s:
MY DAD WAS STATIONED AT R.A.F. CHURCH FENTON IN THE EARLY 60s HE WENT ON TO WORK FOR Y.U.A.S. THEN HE WAS A SECURITY GUARD IN THE GUARDROOM HE DIED ON DUTY IN THE GUARDROOM IN 1976. AS A YOUNGSTER I CAN REMEMBER GOING TO THE GALAXY CLUB FOR DISCOs. I ALSO REMEMBER BULLSEYE HOST JIM BOWEN COMING IN WITH A FOOTBALL CUP BUT FORGET WHICH ONE. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER OUR FAMILY MY DAD WAS WITH THE M.T. SECTION? CAN ANYONE REMEMBER THE SCHOOL BUS TO TADCASTER GRAMMAR GETTING STUCK IN THE FLOODS?
VICKY THOMPSON NEE MASON.
Stephen Birtles' memories of Church Fenton 1986 - 1988:
I was OC SCAF at Church Fenton from 1986 to 1988 (at the same time that Ralph Bayley was the station photographer there), one of the two Supply Officers on the base. I was a Flying Officer in my mid-20's at the time.
Without any doubt, Church Fenton was my favourite tour of duty in my 10 years in the RAF. It surely was the nicest and friendliest station in the RAF. So, with that biased view in mind, I want to thank you for taking the time and effort to make a record of the station on your excellent website.
I thought I had made a mistake by going back to the base one Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago when returning to the south from a wedding in York. I don't know what I was expecting to find, but I was heartbroken to see the dilapidated state of the guardroom and SHQ as I peered through the rusting main entrance gates. I was equally devastated to find that the officers mess building had been completely bulldozed to make way for housing. Since that day I have been unsure of what to expect regarding Fenton any more. So, I was delighted to see the website and the interest that it has attracted. It gives me great hope to see that I am not the only one who has great memories and fondness for RAF Church Fenton.
|1. Attached is a photo of BM597 taken in its new home in Duxford on 19th October 2003. This ex gate guardian from Fenton used to be the delight of my day when I crossed from the Mess to Supply Squadron. I have photos of it in sun, snow and rain. I think most of my family have had their pictures snapped in front it by me! Just before being posted away from the base in 1988 there was a visit by a team from the BBMF who were eyeing it over for spare parts. A proposal was made to replace it with a glass fibre replica and take BM597 away to be stripped of parts to support the other Spitfires in the BBMF. This was a sad proposal and my heart sank at the thought of it. After being posted away from the base I assumed that the proposal had probably happened. So, it delighted me greatly to discover recently that the aircraft was rescued and restored to full flying condition by Historic Flying at Duxford.||
Click image to enlarge. © Stephen Birtles
|2. In the 1987 'Air Displays' section of the website you have mentioned that according to the programme various aircraft were scheduled to appear as static displays, including a Canadian Armed Forces CF-18. I can verify that not only did this happen, but in fact the CF-18 joined the flying display at the end of the programme and gave the most blistering performance imaginable, including a vertical full afterburner climb into the late afternoon high cloud base. I listened to the pilot on radio in the Air Traffic tower and he levelled out at 60,000 feet.|
3. Did you know that Concorde G-BOAA made an appearance at Fenton in early 1987? It was in the area doing an engine test after a refit. Linton Radar informed Air Traffic at Fenton that Concorde was passing near to the Fenton MATZ. One of the Fenton controllers quite cheekily tuned in and asked the pilot if he would be willing to do a fly past for the trainee pilots in 7FTS who were grounded due to less-than-ideal weather that day. Amazingly, the Concorde pilot consented. An announcement was rapidly made on the station tannoy that Concorde was about to appear. You can probably imagine that almost everybody on the station made a dash for the apron area to see it pass by. The pilot did Church Fenton proud by doing a beautiful approach and overshoot on runway 24 with undercarriage dangling and full afterburners.
|This is a story related to me by Bernard Westbrook (See Photo) and will also be chronicled in his forthcoming book on the RAF Bomb Disposal Organisation. The images in this story were taken on the weekend of the 2001 BD Reunion 27th September.|
|On Wednesday the 29th. of April 1942, the telephone rang in the office of No.15 BDS H.Q. in Ulleskelf, a small village near RAF Church Fenton. An Incident Report and map reference gave two German UXB's to be recovered Nr.Clifton Airfield York, between Skipton Road and Green Lane. Over fifty German aircraft had bombed The City of York that night, causing many casualties and extensive damage.|
|The duty airman filled-in the Bomb Disposal Report and hurried with the message, the hundred yards or so to Mrs. Archer's house, where F/Sgt. Travis is staying, and reported the Incident to F/Sgt. Travis, SNCO of No.15 BDS. He is already dressed, so without delay, walks back with duty airman to BD H.Q. F/Sgt. Travis phoned F/O Ievers, (O.C. No.15 BDS), at the Officers Mess on the RAF Camp Church Fenton. By the time F/O Ievers arrived at BD. H.Q. it was almost 08:00hrs.|
|F/O Ievers decided that a reconnaissance should be carried-out, to determine the safety areas, and how many personnel would be needed. Also there would be the problem of messing facilities and sleeping accommodation for the recovery crew. The outcome was, that F/O Ievers, a sergeant and two corporals would carry-out the reconnaissance, and will inform F/Sgt. Travis by phone as to the number of personnel and equipment needed for the incident.|
|This was normal procedure, so the reconnaissance crew left in the staff car for Clifton Nr.York. The recovery crew found the two German 250kg UXB's, and had just examined the size of the holes of entry, when both bombs exploded one after the other. A rescue party raced to the site where F/O Ievers lay with fatal injuries to both legs. F/O Ievers died on the way to hospital. They found Sgt. H. Phoenix, dazed, lying on the edge of the bomb crater. When he reached hospital, he was found not to have a bone broken or scratch on him.|
|Although very badly shaken, Sgt. Phoenix was kept in hospital under observation for several weeks. Corporals Bonner and Williams had both their legs broken, and were hospitalised for three months. All three returned to No.15 BDS at Ulleskelf when fit. It was a traumatic experience for the personnel of No.15 BDS, and it took quite sometime for them to come to terms with the situation.|
|Almost a week later, the Funeral Party for F/O Ievers assembles outside the Guardroom, just inside the gates of RAF Station Church Fenton. A low-load vehicle carries the flag draped coffin of F/O Ievers, his cap, gloves and rested sword lay on top of the coffin. The Officer i/c Funeral Party gives the order for the Funeral Party to slow march. As the cortege moves off, the Station Commander gives the cortege a smart salute.|
|With the personnel of No.15 BDS at the rear of the coffin, the cortege turns right out of the main gates of RAF Church Fenton, on its way to Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery. The cortege of F/O Ievers reaches the village of Ulleskelf, where the villagers have waited patiently. The villagers stand in silence as the cortege climbs the slope past the "Ulleskelf Arms", and crosses the railway bridge on its way to Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery. The villagers have said "Goodbye" to their gallant officer.|
|At Kirby Wharfe Military Cemetery, the Station Padre gives a brief funeral service. A volley of three rifle shots are fired over the coffin, the crack of exploding blank cartridges fills the air. As F/O Ievers is laid to rest, an RAF bugler sounds the "Last Post", the crisp clear notes echo around the still countryside. The Officer i/c Funeral Party gives the order for the Funeral Party to "Dismiss". In single file they slowly file out of the cemetery, and board awaiting transport, to be taken back to RAF Church Fenton.|
|The personnel of No.15 BDS pays its last respects to their brave officer, and assemble on the road outside the cemetery for the short march back to the village of Ulleskelf. On arrival at Ulleskelf, No.15 BDS are ushered into the village school-room, where a salad lunch and sweet have been prepared by the villagers of Ulleskelf. No.15 BDS stand while F/Sgt. Travis says Grace. No.15 BDS now sit in silence, while the ladies of the village serve them with hot sweet tea.|
the meal is over, F/Sgt. Travis pays tribute to a gallant officer and
gentleman. He also asks the squad to remember those airmen still in
hospital. Two airmen are given orders to collect the crockery and cutlery,
and place them at the end of the table. F/Sgt. Travis orders No.15 BDS to
return to their billets to change into their working uniforms, and report
back to BDS H.Q. for duty.
|F/Sgt. Travis thanks the villagers for their kind, generous and sympathetic attitude at such a time of grief. The excellent meal must have come from the ration books of the village community. This was the kind and generous attitude the village community always gave No.15 BDS.|
week later a new Bomb Disposal Officer arrived to take the place of F/O.
Ievers, and F/Sgt. Travis introduced him to the personnel of No.15 BDS.
Two new corporals arrived to take the place of those badly injured in
hospital. No.15 BDS is now back to full strength.
On April the 29th. 1992, Mrs. Gladys Jewitt, Mrs. Pauline Woods, (Mrs Gladys Jewitts Daughter), and Mr. Geoffrey Jewitt, placed a wreath of flowers on the grave of F/O. Ievers on behalf of the villagers of Ulleskelf and the Lads of No.15 BDS. Fifty years after the incident, they still remember their gallant officer. The flowers here were placed by the webmaster and his wife on the reunion weekend 2001.
be remembered that what follows is based upon the memories of a small boy, from
almost 70 years ago.
The year was 1937 - or thereabouts. I would have been perhaps ten years old, and very thrilled to be shown around a real R.A.F Station - Church Fenton.
Our guide, an Officer friend of my older cousins, took us into the hanger and proudly introduced us to the latest fighter aircraft, neatly parked shining biplanes. I recall him telling my father that each aircraft could carry two machine-guns, positioned beside the engine so as to fire through the propeller. He went on to say that there were in the Station Armoury two guns for each aircraft, with a couple of spares, and ammunition as well. It was however unfortunate that not one of those guns could be mounted on any of their aircraft.
All the Church Fenton aircraft had Type A mountings to accept guns, whilst the guns on hand had type B coupling. And never would the two mate successfully. It was assumed that somewhere else, another Squadron was equally unhappily equipped. Discrete enquiries were being made, with the intention of arranging a suitable exchange of guns - without attracting undue publicity or arousing the wrath of those closer to Air Ministry.
Later we were taken to the Parachute Packing Shed, and there I was asked "Would you like to pull the rip cord?" Knowing that would put me 'One Up' on both my elder brother and my schoolmates, I accepted eagerly. Nevertheless my efforts were not much appreciated by the Parachute Packer. This because - with youthful enthusiasm - I had heaved far too lustily on the 'D' handle, and so pulled the bowden cable right out of its sleeve, and a fair amount of ingenuity would be needed to get it back into its correct position.
Our Officer guide, named Caffeky or Cafferty, was due to leave the Service in a couple of months, and was looking for civilian employment. Being an Irishman, he felt a certain affinity for potatoes and, knowing that the Ministry of Agriculture was recruiting Seed Potato Inspectors, he applied for the job. By the same post, but using another name, he requested all the Ministry's latest leaflets on Seed Potatoes. So, when he went for interview he had all the correct answers on the tip of his tongue - and with a touch of Irish blarney - he got the job! Fortunately for the Farming Industry, the Air Ministry - sensing a war might be looming - extended his term of service with the R.A.F.
For my part I served as a 'wingless wonder' Equipment Assistant 1945 -48, rising to the dizzy heights of Acting Corporal at H.Q. Central Signals Area. Bletchley. Bucks.
I hope the above will be of use in your researches into the past history of RAF Church Fenton.
Thank you for your Website.
54 OTU was my first posting in May 1941 as an 18 year old AC1 (Engines).
On my first duty at night I was told I could find a corner of the hangar to sleep and was shown bullet holes from the previous night. Sleep escaped me due to an aircraft crashing on an airaid shelter and the subsequent fire. I recollect an airman rushing to the scene with an extinguisher which he discharged over an officer who was supervising affairs.
This posting didn't last long but civvy billets on a farm at Stutton near Taddy made it enjoyable. Also I was privileged to fly in the upper turret of a Blenheim as a perk.
All the best .
And some further memories of Arthur's time at his billet in Stutton:
"In mid 1941 I had just passed out from Halton and was posted to 54 OTU, Church Fenton with a billet on a farm at Stutton. The first evening I was invited to join in a short prayer meeting in the parlour and the lady of the house encouraged her spouse to "sing up Bert" as we broke into song. The next morning the harmony was somewhat marred as Bert expressed his anger at "some --!?**!*?"---who'd trampled on his rows of potatoes. "
Church Fenton played a role in guiding me towards a career in Aviation.
So I really appreciate your dedication to this website.
My introduction to airplanes was when my Dad took me on a flight around Blackpool in a DH Rapide when I was quite young,
But that was nothing compared to listening to the sound of the Merlin engines of Spitfires and Mosquitos in the sky over Church Fenton and watching a Mosquito firing its 20 mm canons at a gun butt (into sand bags ?). I seem to remember that I retrieved one of those shiny shell cases.
I have no idea of the year(s) of these Air Shows but you have enough info to get the general time frame.
At another show, later in time, I remember that I talked to a Meteor demonstration pilot, there were lots of Meteors at Church Fenton at that time.
There had been a recent article on flying the Meteor in "The Aeroplane"
magazine, so I was asking the pilot questions about engine start up procedures which raised his eyebrows.
On more than one occasion I cycled the 19 miles from Leeds just to watch over the hedge at whatever might be happening.
Now here's something that has me a bit mystified. I could have sworn that there
was a point in time when Orenda powered F-86 Sabres were at Church Fenton. I
know that the evidence on your website and the Internet doesn't point to it,
but I remember clearly being on the airfield and someone pointing out to me
an F-86 in a hangar that had collided with a bird and the radome gunsite on
the upper lip of the intake was crushed. I also remember being impressed that
I was able to push in the leading edge slats of the F-86 with little resistance.
I could have sworn that it was a Church Fenton. I also remember witnessing F-86
takeoffs in which the plane was held low over the fields until it built up a
lot of knots when the pilot hauled back on the stick.
So was this a squadron passing through ? I have no idea.
Can you shed any light on this matter ?
I was able to visit an Air Show at Yeovilton this September where I recorded the sound of the Merlin engines of the Battle of Britain Flight's Lancaster, Spitfire, and Hurricane on my camcorder. A sound that I had not heard for many years.
I am very pleased to see, from your website, that they still have air shows at Church Fenton after all these years. We are talking about a long tradition.
I am retired from Northrop Grumman Corporation in New York. I had a very satisfying career in aviation having a role in the development of the F-14 Tomcat fighter and the X-29 forward swept wing demonstrator.
Thank you for your dedication to Church Fenton.
Memoirs of RAF Church Fenton
I arrived at Church Fenton in the summer of 1968. I had just completed a very
enjoyable 12-month tour at RAF Masirah (a lonely desert outpost off the coast
of Oman) and was delighted to find that Church Fenton was another friendly RAF
camp. I was accommodated in Block 5 I think it was. There were about thirty
of us in one big dormitory. There was a collection of different station tradesmen;
admin, suppliers, cooks, air traffic and a few Firemen like myself in our dorm.
There used a to be a corporal fairy (air traffic controller) in charge of the
block who had his own room and his only function in the block was to remind
us of the monthly bull night and CO’s inspection which we all avoided like the
plague. Most of us drank in the NAAFI and the manageress was a lovely relatively
elderly lady Miss Tuson. None of us knew her first name and when we went to
the counter or the bar it was always a cup of tea or a pint of bitter please
Miss Tuson. Most of my mates myself included drank in the Junction Pub and we
had some great times there. Fred and Barbara were the publicans and what lovely
people they were. There used to be a corporal fireman Tom Sawyer who was captain
of the station football team and the local village team Ulleskelf. When I told
Tom I had played football for Masirah I went straight in to both teams and later
captained them both when Tom was posted. Life on the fire section was fairly
routine most of the time we watched the chipmunk aircraft bounce up and down
the runway as the trainee pilots struggled with the rudiments of flying. We
would also spend time at Rufforth airfield, which was then a relief landing
ground for Fenton. We used to get quite excited driving past Thorp Arch prison
which was then home to Christine Keiller.
There were some wonderful station characters. There was a RAF policeman who had lost an eye and had a glass eye fitted. His party piece was to sit next to a FNG (Fenton New Guy) at the bar and then take his glass eye out place it in his pint and tell the eye to keep an eye on his pint while he went to the toilet. Scary when you first see it done. I had a great collection of mates Chuck McGinley although a air traffic controller he had all the qualities of a RAF fireman he could certainly go ten pints without a pee. Another mate was Clem Gettings an admin clerk. A southern Irish lad who had taken the pledge as a youth and alcohol never passed his lips I decided after watching Clem cop off with the best looking nurses who were bussed in from a Leeds hospital not to drink on dance nights. Another station character was Eddie Kopka also admin clerk. Eddie had only been in the RAF about four years but had four campaign medals. Medals were very rare in those days but Eddie we used to say received his medals for being first in the NAFFI queue on the four short detachments he had completed.
I served in the RAF for 22 years and had 10 postings. I had a wonderful three years at Fenton, which was without doubt my favourite posting. I came to Fenton from the Middle East and went back there after completion of my Fenton tour only this time to RAF Sharjah.
Well done to Ian Herbert for producing such a great web site and lets hear some more Fenton memories.
PS When I left Fenton I sold my car a bright green Austin A35 to a civilian MT driver. I forget his name but as well as being a MT driver he had a small pig farm at Fenton village. He told me he intended to cut off the roof of the A35 and use it to transport pigs to and from market, which is something similar to what I had been doing.
George Edwards BEM
I take the chance to congratulate you on your Labour of Love. All of its parts have combined to give a clear sense of a good flying station with a history to be proud of.
My little bit of its history was as a flying instructor on Jet Provosts T3 and T4. I was on 1 Sqn of 7 FTS for about 18 months, until just before the FTS was closed in 1966.
7 FTS had just two squadrons of two flights each, where the norm was three squadrons. For us, as for your other respondents, the station was a very happy one perhaps just because it was smaller than usual.
With one exception, the names I remember remain undistinguished except that they epitomised steady experience, skill and professionalism. The station commander was Gp Capt Clive Baker, a very dry soul whose background included war service in the Far East twenty years before and whose chief role seemed to be personally to absorb whatever enmity might otherwise, on a normal station, have divided his officers. Such as it was, that enmity did not stop us piling in to help dry out his Station Commander's Residence (his I think being the lowest lying of all the married quarters) when the River Wharfe had one of its fits of real bad temper !
My squadron commander was Sqn Ldr Bill Waite, an excellent person who later worked for BAE in Saudi Arabia. For a while I had as Flight Commander Flt Lt Cyril Peters DFC - a very downy bird, shrewd and firm; he was once a Lancaster pilot and then a school teacher before he came to us; he retired as a teacher of "difficult" children in a special school in Lincolnshire.
The standardisation flight could have been a source of anxiety for a young instructor, but not one run by Sqn Ldr Tom Cody and Flt Lt Duncan Robinson - Cody an old-school gent and both very experienced and imaginative teachers.
On our squadron there were two or three "creamed-off QFIs", meaning that they had been taken straight from flying training onto the instructors'
course and then to us. They would characteristically have been highly rated as students of course, but they would be in the instructors' crew room with no background and no "war stories". We other instructors would be conscious that they could not pass onto their students anything that was not in the book. The Canberra squadron I had been on previously had such a pilot, then on his second tour, who fitted badly because he had some seniority and a clear sense of his own worth but still lacked experience to go with it. So our creamies were supervised carefully and otherwise tended not to be very prominent in our lives. One of these was the late "Hoof" Proudfoot, who afterwards blossomed into a truly exceptional airman and an all-round star show pilot.
One of your correspondents mentioned Flt Lt James Nicholson VC. As a bachelor I was accustomed to walk and bicycle around the countryside. In this way I met by chance his widow who lived nearby in a very comfortable woodland house with their one son. She was a very elegant lady who occasionally lent distinction to our Officers' Mess functions. I remember that the younger Mr Nicholson was an executive locally in the wine trade and had plenty of time to be a prominent local amateur cricketer.
The flying was fun. Apart from the noisiness of the Viper, previously mentioned,
the aircraft were just right for the job. I have always believed that the training
is better done side-by-side than in tandem cockpits as in the Tucano. (I later
went into Air Experience flying and would say the same about the Bulldog v the
Chipmunk). One oddity that comes to mind was the dual exercise that we did in
the T4; we would climb as far as the aircraft would go in order to demonstrate
how, in really thin air, it would wallow and run out of puff. We were conscious
(and firmly reminded in briefings
etc) that at least the older of us were liable to suffer from bends and were at risk of something worse. The whole exercise seemed to me to be mildly pointless; I have always wondered that the Service bought so many T5s, fearing that this one ponderous exercise was its only justification for doing so.
We were not a "chopping" school, unlike the fast jet AFTS and OCUs. However, in our time, there was an edict that there were no bad students - only bad instructors. I had a student whom I thought too slow for the work; the edict got him through because he got the extra hours he needed. We had one other student who was able but pathologically dishonest - we all wanted to chop him; I do not know what became of him but he was always going to be the pilot for whom the accident was waiting to happen.
My saddest experience arose from my night-checking (dual before solo) the quiet sensible young student of another instructor. Climbing out from the runway at the start of his solo sortie, he went into the medium-level cloud that we had entered dual. He presumably fixated on too few instruments, lost control and dived into the ground. I knew the fireball on the horizon was his because, in another aircraft, I had heard his R/T on departure. I met his parents at the inquest; they were kind to me and sadly recognised that the accident was "one of those things".
I hope these notes help to give flavour to a relatively empty part of your history.
With best wishes
My experiences at CF:
I worked as Station Photographer from approx 1972 to 1975, I was not a PhotoG
but a lowly APO, the First PhotoG was a Brummie called Keith ?, he left after
I had been there about six months, three months after that his replacement,
Trevor Hulston, also a brummie arrived.
The Photo section was in the support flight building as were also the Armourers, and the Air Radio gang, the tea room being the communal gathering place.
One of the Radio boys was a civilian called Dave (surnames don’t stick so well!) whose passion, apart from fixing TV’s as a sideline, was making ultra light balsawood planes powered with an incredibly long elastic band and a large, slow turning prop. Soon we were all making these things and lunchtime would see us in the first Hangar (Gatehouse end) flying these things and getting them caught up in the roof structure!
An onerous task in the support flight was to be assigned as key man for the
week, you had to get up early to collect the keys from the guardroom and open
the building in time for everyone arriving for work. I was dreadful at getting
up and frequently arrived a bit late. One day though I had real cause for regret
and embarrassment, the day before we had run short of Acetic Acid which is used
as a stop solution for developing prints, the large bottle supplied by the stores
was duly collected, but upon removal of the packing it was seen to have crystallized
in the bottle! A very unusual occurrence, the only solution to this problem
was to break the crystallized mass with a glass rod and empty the jar into a
developing tray where it returned to a liquid state. This was duly done, but
as it was in the far darkroom, was also forgotten.
The next day I arrived, late as usual, to find the support building surrounded by various airmen and NCO’s all keeping a considerable distance and displaying signs of some anxiety, and as I passed the airmens mess I could soon tell why, or rather smell why! The whole area reeked of acetic acid as the damn stuff in the bath had evaporated and spread through and indeed out of the building.
I rushed to open it up and sort out the pong before I got any deeper into the **** than I already was!
Not long after my arrival at CF, I discovered to my delight that you could phone up the YUAS and get an experience flight; I delighted in any opportunity to get airborne and so made the call.
“Sure, come on down” was the reply
So Clearing it all with Keith and the Chief Tech Armourer who was our boss, I went to the parachute section to get kitted up with that, then wandered in that odd gait you have with a pack bumping you behind the knees to the line where I was met by an enormous pilot, he looked like sir John Falstaff (I seem to remember he was called John too) and I wondered how on earth he could get in and out of the plane!
Nevertheless, he managed just fine and we flew out over the Yorkshire countryside and on request he flew a series of aerobatics, loops, rolls, barrel rolls and probably some other moves I never heard of, chatting and naming them all. As I had only had a flight in an Argosy and two glider flights at Swinderby till then, it was an utterly thrilling experience.
It was during this period that the switch was made from Chipmunks to Bulldog aircraft, they were a delight to fly in, such a great view. My first flight in this neat little plane (I was strapped in by my friend on the line, Steve Lowry, a Pocklington man) was to photograph an ancient village, the remains of which were now only slight bumps in a field somewhere between CF and York, again it was in a YUAS plane we flew, and this time fairly late in the day as we needed the sun to throw shadows across the bumps to make them standout, it a very interesting flight which both the pilot and myself enjoyed doing. Not often you get an opportunity like that.
I did not have a particularly illustrious career at CF though, and was frequently found at weekends performing some odious task as part of a jankers penalty, cleaning the walls in the NAAFI, painting the windows in the motor club at the far end of the tennis courts, being somewhat prone to a lack of discipline, these were not rare events.
CF had an excellent airmen’s mess though, with first class food and a staff
who were very friendly (well most of them, there was one guy who insisted he
had no mates whenever I said “Hello mate”, naturally this only made certain
I said it everytime!)
The Sergeant in charge of the mess (I forget his name) was a very nice chap. I used to fish in the Wharfe on evenings and weekends (When not on a charge!) and one day caught a nice little jack pike of about 3.5Lbs, I cleaned it and took it to the mess Sergeant who cooked it beautifully for me, on the proviso that the next one was his, alas, I never caught another, so was unable to fulfil my part of the deal. It tasted damn good though!
One NCO who became a very good friend was our boss, Armourer Chief Tech Dennis Pullen, who was a great snooker player and definitely knew a thing or two about race horses as well. We went to Wetherby races together for a meeting one evening where he determined to follow the fortunes of local jockey Tommy Stack, I should have followed suit. He never looked like doing anything right through the meet, but Dennis stuck to his guns and, betting on the tote, put his fiver (quite a hefty bet then) on the nose in the last, and Tommy Stack and his horse romped home with a nice long odds win. I of course had backed some donkey which disappeared halfway through.
Two events I shall never forget and will also regret:
The first might be that mentioned by Vicky Thompson, the football cup. I do not remember if Jim Bowen was there, but there was a visiting party of Polish ex fighter pilots and crew and they had the FA cup, (I think Leeds had won it this particular year)
They gathered in the “Pigs Bar” in the NAAFI for a group photo with the cup and I was the assigned photographer. Just days earlier, Trevor Hulston, (a far better photographer than me) had been describing the use and technique of “Bounced Flash” where the flashgun is aimed at fortyfive degrees to the subject and bounced of a ceiling surface, this is to soften the effect and get a better picture. I completely missed the point that it is used as a secondary light source rather than primary.
Determined to try this method, I foolishly shot all the images using this method (even though in the back of my mind, my intelligent brain cell (yes, it was singular) was yelling “Take a direct shot you wally”) I ignored it, the Polish guys went home, I knocked off, it was late evening and I would process the film tomorrow.
Alas and alackady! Every single shot was grossly underexposed, you could hardly see a mark on the film, it was absolutely impossible to get a single print from it.
For weeks, months even, afterwards I was constantly badgered by the PR officer (Sqn Ldr Lockwood) for copies of this shoot, which I managed to fend off, goodness only knows how, and to hide the disaster I had made of it. I always felt very sorry for the Polish pilots though, they must have been very disappointed, but there was nothing at all that could be done to rectify the error.
The second event I paid for dearly, Trevor had repeatedly reminded me that
there was a shoot in the stores, they had won an award and were getting some
trophy from a visiting AOC, he was off into town and I was to do the job. Simple
enough? You would think so, but I was in cloud cuckoo land, had an early lunch
and wandered back to my room and fell asleep, next thing the tannoy is blaring
for the station photographer to report to the stores immediately!!
I rouse up, realise what has happened and in a fever rush to the stores, too late, I arrive just in time to salute the Station Commander and the visiting AOC storming out of the stores and off down to the HQ with expressions that left me in no doubt as to what the outcome of this would be. I think I got nine days.
I was again sorry for the stores people though as they had obviously worked hard, but now had no photographs to record it.
I can remember many other events, some funny, some very sad, some crazy, I had, on the whole, a great time at CF, it was a nice airbase to be at, and during the last year I was there it had one of the nicest Group Captains I ever met as Station Commander, even though I ended up in front of him twice without a hat on, but for now his name escapes me, but he was a genuine sort who treated you as a human being rather than as some lowly wretch.
I had the dubious pleasure of graduating from Halton as a 20 year old substantive corporal airframe fitter. This was compounded by the fact that the posting I was given was to a Category 3 aircraft repair outfit – No 60 MU Aircraft Repair Flight (ARF). The minimum rank accepted on the ARF was J/T and the average age of the corporals was 30+.
As I approached RAF Church Fenton camp gates in my Austin A40 Devon Saloon it was a warm morning in September 1961. My posting instructions were to report to the No 60 MU Orderly Room. As I passed through the gates I saw a sign to No 60 MU which I was about to follow when something happened to delay that!
There was a raucous shouting: “That car stop at once, I say that car halt now”. I glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw a small, rather portly RAF corporal policeman running helter-skelter after me! I came to a halt; the window was down so I waited for him to catch up with me. Almost breathless, he told me that he was charging me with driving without due care and attention; failing to book into the guardroom on arrival; and finally, failing to stop immediately when ordered to do so by a superior officer. It was at this point I decided to get out of the car and counter these ridiculous suggestions. As I emerged I noticed his expression change as he saw the corporal stripes on my ex Halton serge blue tunic. I said I objected to him saying that he was the superior officer. I told him that I was a substantive corporal and that I suspected that he was either an Acting or Temporary corporal! His expression changed dramatically then; to a bright red hue as he rocked back and forwards on the balls of his feet in a complete quandary about what to do next! He then turned around and marched himself angrily back to his guardroom.
Being left to my own devices I made my way to the 60MU orderly room, filled in the paperwork, and was then told that the OC, Wing Commander Dunphy wanted to see me. I was to go to the outer office where I would meet his batman, a Geordie AC2 whose dialect I couldn’t understand. The door opened and I walked in, saluted and was asked to sit down and take my beret off. He explained the workings of the ARF commanded by an ex-brat Flt Lt Alderson and that as I was a full corporal without experience he was going to put me working with another ex-brat Cpl Tech Tony Dovner. He thought that I would be well suited to the cat 3 world with my Halton training and said he knew this because he had commenced his life as a brat at Halton as well. I was to make my way to the corporal’s canteen at the other side of the hangar and make my name known to Cpl Dovner. As I walked over the hangar floor I heard the conversation going on which said: “Have you heard the latest: there’s a brat from Halton posted in and that’s not all: he’s coming here as a substantive corporal! There was uproar. I thought now is the time to kill this so I walked in and said to them that they were talking about me! This quietened them down. Oh it’s you is it? Yes, I said. Is Tony Dovner here? Yes, came to voice from behind the tea counter I looked at him and saw that he was a tall elegant Gregory Peck look-alike!
That’s my story at the commencement of working life.
I was running the late shift and working in local (The tower) one night caring
out some Mincom's servicing when we had an amazing storm.
Suddenly a bolt of lightening hit the runway and ran down its length it was a sight to see, then another bolt hit the wooden antennae tower next to the transmitter building at the far side of the airfield. Inside the building was a couple of my guys doing monthly servicing on the transmitters which involved changing the rear air filters. To do this you had to withdraw the transmitter cases from the rack to gain access to the filter. When the lightening strike hit the wooden mast it travelled down the antennae feeders into the transmitter building and jumped across onto the transmitter racks causing a large flash and bang as the lightening found earth through the racks. At this point both the lads came running out of the building like scolded cats into a heavy downpour. When I saw them I tried to ring to see if they were alright and tell them to suspend servicing until the storm had passed and come back to the tower. Neither of the lads would re-enter the building to answer the phone it just rang and they just stood outside dazed getting soaking wet when eventually I managed to contacted them via the Storno radio in the rover I asked them why they had stopped outside in the downpour and not return to the section they explained that they had suffered temporary blindness from the flash and could not see never mind drive the rover back to the section hence the reason for standing out in the rain. When the storm passed we returned to the site to inspect the damage. One of the transmitters was used for a system called forward relay on the 243Mhz distress frequency. Luckily this transmitter was the one the lads were servicing when the lightening struck so it was sat on the bench inside the building, however all of the other transmitters were still in their positions in the rack and all had been damaged by the strike. We reinstalled the 243Mhz transmitter back into the rack and restored the service, West Drayton who remotely controlled the distress transmitter explained that the storm had knocked out most of the transmitters under their controlled in the Yorkshire area as the storm passed over and having Church Fenton back on-line gave them the ability to continue this highly important aircraft emergency service.
Next day the morning shift were greeted by 8 broken transmitters that had to packed up and returned to North Luffenham for repair.
I arrived at Church Fenton railway station on a cold and very fogy Sunday night in January 1970. I had just completed a tour in the Far East(18 months RAF Seleter and 9 months at RAF Gan, the most easy going RAF station in the Air Force) Phone the camp, my instructions said, there was no one around, so I staggered with all my kit into the village and found a phone box. The duty driver told me he would be along in about an hour or so, can you see the pub? he said, called the Junction. Go in there and I will pick you up. Found the Junction, very friendly people and some of the RAF lads tried to get me to phone the MT Section again and tell the duty driver to come at closing time. This seems a good place thought I but I refused as I did not want to upset the orderly Cpl. issuing me transit bedding late at night. Finally arrived the camp, reported in and went to the NAAFI for a beer, only to find the place dead as a grave yard, not such a good place now I thought. Back to bed and sleep. Reported to the General Office in the morning ( the Station tannoy blaring out Flying Phase one, or Flying Phase two) whats goiong on? The Chief Clerk knew me from RAF Seleter, no cushy job for me then. He told me he was puting me on P2 (in charge of all things to do with officers documents, which included all the student pilots, Naval officers and Jordian students). A pain in the backside. I started to get settled in my new surroundings (Flying Phase three blared out the tannoy) and meet my new mates. This is when the told me, being a new guy, at the weekend I would have to complete a Phase Three. What is that? I asked, all smiles and no replys. Saturday arrived, I was woken up early and taken down to the Mess for a big breakfast. (not my usual routine). Down to the Junction for opening time(Phase one) drinking many pints till closing time. Taxi down to Tadcaster to the British Legion, til the pubs opened in the town(Phase Two) Around eight taxi back to the Junction until closing time(Phase Three). Do all this without falling asleep, and you were in. I managed to do this(what a fight} but all the other Phase Three's I went on, I never survived.
That was the start of a great tour at RAF Church Fenton in which time I got engaged and disenged from a lovely local lass from the village. Jackie was her name. Many more great stories and times until I got promoted and posted to RAF Boulmer late in 1971.
My father, Frederick Moran, joined the RAF in December 1942 at the
age of nineteen. After a long period of training in Rhodesia, Egypt and
India, he saw active service as a Spitfire pilot in Burma in 1945. He
left India 17 May 1946 and arrived back home in Bolton on 5 June 1946.
By this time he was a Flight Sergeant, though at some time before he
left the RAF, he was promoted to Warrant Officer. After visits to London
and Nottingham to deal with bureaucratic problems and to sort out
details of his posting, he arrived at Church Fenton on 10 July 1946.
My father, centre, best man at the wedding of his friend, Mac, who was also at Church Fenton. August 1st 1946.