Times Remembered 1
1):- ex 4109595 Cpl Honey, ACB Plant Operator.
My involvement with the Airfield Construction Branch started in 1954, so I trust the reader will bear with me in the event I have made any mistakes about the plant, dates and places etc in these reminiscences but with 48 years having elapsed there may regrettably be some minor discrepancies and as I had no further contact with Plant after 1961, I do not lay claim to being an expert in these matters.
In 1953 National Service was then on going but I had opted for a regular engagement - so when I re mustered as an LAC from being a Fighter Plotter with 300 Signal Unit in Germany I went as a trainee excavator operator and found myself at
RAF Church Lawford
(Nr Rugby) and daily going to the Plant Training School in an old sand/gravel quarry at
Ryton on Dunsmore,
The crew mess and classrooms were all of wartime Nissan huts or large canvas structures and the site was a general sea of mud - see photographs - but with another ex excavator operator Lew Huggins I returned to the site in 1985 and most of the sand washing plant is still in use and the men there today can still remember the RAF lads being with them. (see GALLERY for photos taken at this old
Plant Training School, RYTON on Dunsmore
In late 1954 the Plant training school was moved to
(nr Warwick), being newly built of modular section concrete, flat roof buildings, a big improvement on Ryton and at the same time all trainees were also moved from
RAF Church Lawford
and were then billeted in the new Depot at
RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
(nr Stratford on Avon) and lorried in from there daily to Claverdon by the QL troop carriers, not very pleasant in winter - how we blessed those thick heavy greatcoats we had !
I again visited this site at Claverdon in 1985 and it has been handed back to the farmer and most of the buildings are now very dilapidated and some falling down but the visit brought back many memories.
At the time that I joined the ACB the initial trade training of plant operators was split into two parts being either excavator operators, who were also trained on trenching machines OR bulldozer/tractor operators who were also trained to use powered graders - both trade elements also covered what was termed as "small plant" i.e. pumps, compressors, road rollers etc.
On completion of either chosen course men were usually returned to the Depot and posted to Squadrons and if they so chose, they later returned to take the other course to qualify as a Plant operator 2, the Plant operator label was only acquired when both sets of training to a competent level on the various machines had been achieved and generally when this was completed along with a full driving licence, it meant promotion.
When I had trained as an excavator operator, perhaps because I was a regular (and I was advised that I had also been selected as I had a Grammar School education and they were short of classroom instructors), I was then offered the chance to take the bulldozer/tractor course straight away, which I did and this was immediately followed by a 4 week posting to RAF Grantham (the home of Aveling Barford rollers - and while there I arranged a tour of the factory for my fellow course members) the course being on
Training, organisation and method
which gave me the necessary classroom qualifications to return to Claverdon as an instructor.
At that time about 80% of intake to the Plant school were still National Servicemen and on completion of trade training all the operators were posted off to fill the needs of the operational Squadrons then being
5003 Squadron in UK, 5004 Squadron in Europe, St Kilda (Outer Hebrides) and Aden, 5001 Squadron in Egypt, El Adem, Cyprus and the Far East,
then on demob many of these trained operators went and worked for civilian construction and engineering firms, so not all National Service was a complete waste of time !
When my term as an instructor came to an end, I found myself posted back to Depot and on to a very small unit called
The Specialist Plant Section
and consisted of Plt Officer Pollock, myself as Cpl and one Clerk, we were responsible for looking after the 3 extra large war reserve pieces of equipment, this included the only 32 RB excavator with a 60ft dragline jib, a 16 cu yard motorised Euclid scraper, an all electrically driven and electrically operated 16 cu yard Le Tourneau Electric scraper, these had to be checked and run up on the airfield on a weekly basis and I will always remember using the peri track - flat out - with these huge machines (4 inch straight exhausts !), any road use meant a Police escort as both machines were 12 ft wide so that very rarely happened - these were eventually sent to Claverdon for use by trainees.
The other main role of the Section was to liase with manufacturers of new equipment and visit the works and then - if required - demonstrate the machines to the MOD procurement Officers (RAF and ARMY).
Up until the mid 50s most of the earth moving plant in use with the ACB (except excavators which were mainly Smiths of Rodley 5/20s and later 21s) were as a result of war time lend lease arrangements and the backbone were the Caterpillar D4, D6 and D8 bulldozers, Le Tourneau motorised and towed Scrapers, Galleon and Caterpillar graders etc but by this time British manufacturers had started to produce equipment which they hoped the RAF would take and use as replacements for the American equipment.
One example was the Fowler bulldozer - strangely up until that time we had been using the Caterpillar range which were mostly fitted with hydraulic blade control, now with the new Fowler we had reverted to cable operation, to many this seemed a retrograde step as with cable you could not force a blade down to get a cut if needed plus with the Fowler we found that they had a tendency to throw off tracks, this was overcome by a modification to the top guide rollers - the Navy were also issued with modified Fowlers for slipway winching duties and I believe that some of these were later handed over to the RNLI, the other new heavy bulldozer was the International TD18 and this did have a nice hydraulic unit for the blade with cantilevered arms. (see photo in Gallery.
). plus the very unusual Rolls Royce powered Vickers Vigor (the tracks were following the very successful and proven design of the Russian T34 Tank - 4 large wheels and no carrying rollers) which, on test, we found this 20 ton beast could easily match the other better known Caterpillar machines but for some reason they were not purchased for general use by the ACB but some 200 were acquired for and used by the Royal Engineers.
The other smaller rubber tyred tractor manufacturers, especially Ferguson, often sent their products with new types of ancillary equipment fitted to us, for testing and evaluation under field conditions and as up until that time most of such equipment had been cable operated, the first hydraulic JCB style rear end back actors etc were a great improvement but very flimsy compared to today's equipment, we tested them under varying conditions on waste ground near the firing range with, in some cases, the manufacturers representatives monitoring the results - the Ferguson range was found to be more suited to the needs of farmers rather than the heavier civil engineering requirements of the RAF.
Blaw Knox produced their Super 12 road grader powered by a Leyland engine and fitted with a cab to replace the Gallion and Caterpillar types we had and these were very successful, at the same time Blaw Knox also produced a rubber tyred macadam road spreader which eventually replaced our old crawler tracked Barber Green macadam spreaders, which were heavy and cumbersome but we liked the Blaw Knox and the first trial tarmac laying was at
for the benefit of the MOD Procurement Officers (RAF and Army) and this can still be seen adjacent to the control tower.
(These machines were purchased in large numbers for both the ACB and the Royal Engineers).
Later in consultation with Blaw Knox it was modified with hardened tampers to lay concrete as well as tarmac and in 1959 we used one at
laying up to 80 tons of batch mixed concrete a day around all the hangers, this was laid in 3 inch layers and steel mesh between each layer to a depth of 9 inches and huge "S" hooks set in 6ft deep pits to which the larger aircraft could be anchored.
At that time one of the prototype Comets and other large aircraft were delivered for the use of the Aircraft apprentices in training and these could not sit on grass for too long.
To provide the means of mass mixing of concrete, remembering that at that time most cement was in 1 cwt bags, Blaw Knox made us a huge cement silo which was filled from tankers, another new development and a measuring device was fitted to ensure correct ratio mixes of aggregate and sand etc were achieved.
I was sent to the Blaw Knox Watford works to collect it, as usual we had the matador and separate SMT2 trailer and the silo was laid on its side taking up the whole area of the trailer bed and the journey nearly ended up in disaster as the 4 ton all metal silo slewed on the trailer and nearly came off.
It was late afternoon and we were near an army camp and needed a lift to re-site and re-secure the load, so desperation made us call in to have use of the Coles crane to help us - very few military establishments did not have a crane available in those days.
The Orderly Officer was called and he was very helpful laying on the crane and its operator but the only area large enough to accommodate a Matador and trailer and a manoeuvring Coles crane was the beloved parade ground and in getting there from the guardroom we put many black tyre scuff marks on many a white painted kerb, carved up some grass corners and left heavy tyre marks across the parade ground and I have the memory of an apoplectic Sergeant Major threatening us with all sorts of un-mentionable tortures if we ever came within 10 miles of his camp again ! Had he any jurisdiction over us he would have had us in the Guardroom cells and thrown away the key !
The only record I have of this detachment at
are 2 photos showing the construction of the water drain off catchment area under construction in 1959 and again as it is in 1997.
It was while with the Specialist Plant Section that I visited some of our big UK jobs, such as at
and get a few photographs (see Gallery
) and I was lucky enough to be sent to the factory to see the new Goodwin Goliath primary and secondary crushers prior to delivery to us for field testing, the trials were done in a small quarry at Lighthorn, near Gaydon (Myself and 2 other Exc Ops lived for about a week with the machines) and different trials were conducted for the benefit of the MOD Procurement Officers (RAF and Army) who then purchased them for use on St Kilda and by me again later at Wimpole Park.
However at this time the EOKA troubles had flared up in Cyprus and all Greek Cypriot workers on military Air Ministry Works Department bases were sacked - the Turkish labour force were kept on - but to fill the vacuum of AMWD Civilian Foremen to take charge of the remaining labour force, myself and 8 other Specialist Trade NCOs were sent out at 24 hrs notice to take over the civilian Works depots.
Those of us who needed them were given a comprehensive tool kit and sent from Blackbushe Airport via Eagle Airways direct to Nicosia. I found myself i/c the AMWD Plant section at
, billeted with 5001 Squadron but seconded to the Civilian Works Department as a civilian supervisor.
My main function was to deploy Turkish teams with compressors, (see Gallery:
) rollers, pumps etc to support the Army on building up the airport defences - the civilian Works Department Plant yard I inherited was full of wrecks, most only fit for scrap, I doubt if any routine maintenance was ever done, so unlike any military units I had seen.
One lasting memory I had was that one day I had occasion to cross the main runway with a 10 ton Aveling Barford road roller - Nicosia being both a Military and a Civil airport at the time - and had positioned myself on the edge of the runway and awaited the green very light from the control tower, when it was given I opened her up and went for it - not the quietest or quickest of machines - and they scrambled a squadron of Hawker Hunter jet fighters right over me - I had no idea they were about until I caught the jet thrusts, a very scary moment !
The detachment lasted for just over 6 months and on return, I was then posted back to 5003 Squadron and to the detachment of some 40 men being sent to
(nr Royston)(billeted at
) on a site clearance job of an old USAF hospital and again was lucky to get some photographs.(see GALLERY
This job was unusual for the ACB as it meant that we had to completely remove a huge ex USAF war time Military hospital which consisted of a spider complex of ward units all linked by enclosed corridors, main buildings consisting of administration blocks, stores, operating theatres, staff quarters, boiler houses and a sewer complex with 3 circular filter beds, add to that all the roads had been laid with concrete - 12 inches deep in places - and a huge concrete water tank on top of the hill and then finally to re-grade the site and return it open parkland once more.
The water tank being made of 12 inch thick concrete and reinforced with railway line caused us some headaches - we invited the army in to blast it apart but all they managed to do was to blow the whitewash off and in the end it had to be dismantled the hard way by the use of jackhammers on the walls and the floor was broken up by using the 1 ton ball on the Smiths 5/20 excavator.
The sewer also caused a problem in that to get into cinder the filter bed a Cat D8 bulldozer operator knocked down some of the wall and then went to climb up and over and into the circle, he climbed up OK and when the balance of the D8 went over top dead centre it caused it to topple forward into the cinder area and with about 20 tons falling, unknown to anyone it was falling on to an upright piece of "H" girder set into the floor of the circle, this pierced the armoured underbelly of the D8 and the end went through the sump of the engine, I think this is the machine shown loaded on the Scammell and trailer awaiting return to base.
The plant in use here were 2 Smiths 5/20 excavators with skimmer attachments, 1 Smiths 5/20 with 40ft jib and a 1 ton smashing ball to break the roads etc and one Caterpillar D8 dozer.
My particular job was i/c a small team and to run a 20 ton GOODWIN Goliath Primary crushing plant into which all material was placed and reduced to 3 inch pieces maximum, we had no use for the Secondary crusher as smaller pieces were not needed on this job - we had to segregate dirt and dust from the end product and this was done by rigging up a screen on to which all material fell and the dust which went through was diverted up and away by a conveyor to the right side and on to a separate pile (this dust was later used in the re landscaping of the site.) the 3 inch aggregate was stockpiled and a civilian firm then took over the loading and transporting of this material to the Biggleswade by pass then under construction.
The crusher was towed by a Matador, whose front end coupling and pushing capability was useful to position the crusher into the bay in the hillside which had been cut out for it - this allowed the rear height for the tippers to feed it - once the crusher was positioned the Matador returned to base.
The site transport were Bedford RL tippers and one 16 cu yd prototype Leyland tipper, which were loaded by the 5/20 skimmers and then they fed the crusher, our Officer had a series 1 Landrover for his use, the conveyance of the men from the site to our living quarters at
, some 4 miles away, we had one Bedford R troop carrier.
The crusher performed well - in the reception hopper is a metal linked track (like a bulldozer track) which moves forward on a ratchet system in 3 inch jerks, this can be immediately stopped by the operator if any metal or other foreign objects are tipped into the hopper - there were 2 sources of trouble that had to be dealt with, one was to stop any metal - usually reinforcing rod from the concrete - or any other sharp items from going into the jaws because if it did go through it then had to fall onto the rubber belt which carried the crushed material forward to discharge and on occasions when this did happen it cut or tore the belt to pieces, making hours of extra work replacing the damaged sections.
The other thing which caused problems were the lumps of clay, that careless excavator operators would lift up with the concrete by skimming too deep and if this was not spotted and removed while in the hopper, the clay would stick to the corrugations of the crusher fixed jaw and cause a blockage, which if we were lucky we could either hook it out or push on in and clear it.
One safety feature of this machine was that the jaws were driven by a split 2 ton flywheel which in the event the jaws met any resistance it would sheer a softer safety pin and immediately disconnect the drive but if the blockage was only clay being compacted onto the jaw surface and not creating an immediate resistance OR if the belt was being torn or cut by a foreign object, again not causing the sheer pin to go then to stop the momentum of the flywheel would take 5 minutes and this was a nuisance to be avoided if possible when tippers were queuing up to discharge into the hopper.
All though never designed for it, a practice that certainly that would not be approved today, to sort out the material and keep things moving two men had to be in the hopper and the discharge from the tippers had to be regulated to the amount of sorting needed by these men - the ratchet operator was responsible for signalling to the tipper driver as to when to discharge or not and he controlled the speed of material dropping into the jaws, great trust and co-operation was needed by all concerned, had we not adopted this un orthodox method of working then the process of crushing would have ground to a halt.
We were lucky in that we had a good civilian operator of the Bray loader which had to clear the discharge end of the crusher, tidy up the stockpiles and when required to load the civilian tippers taking the material off site.
This was a happy detachment and the job was completed within 9 months and I was among the last to leave as I used a Blaw Knox grader to do the final levelling and shaping of the hillside parkland.
I did see it coming that the RAF units would be absorbed by the Royal Engineers eventually and as I had 4 years still to serve I decided to re muster and found myself at
RAF Kirtin in Lindsey
(Lincs) with rank of Cpl I joined the RAF Postal Service, serving initially at
16 MU RAF Stafford, RAF Ouston
and then i/c
Air Ministry Post Office
and it was because of the high security clearance that the Air Ministry Post Office job gave me that I had a strange meeting again with some members of 5003 Squadron.
It came about that in 1963 the USAF had opened
early warning station (nr Whitby - Heartbeat Country) and they urgently needed a Post Office on site to cater for the needs of the civilian staff and the USAF service personnel, this being possibly one of the most security minded military bases in the country at that time.
I drew the short straw and wound up there for 3 months until relieved and I could return to Air Ministry Unit once more but was joined by 2 bulldozer operators who had been sent in with machines to be on standby to keep access roads clear from snow, (we were the only RAF personnel on the site) at one stage the snow was so heavy that they failed and the only access to and from the site was via the train in the valley - now thankfully preserved as the North Yorkshire Railway
The photographs I managed to take at the time - and those donated to me later by others - do give some indication of the Plant available for deployment by the RAF and they do give an insight into the existence of perhaps the scruffiest, long forgotten small group of RAF Servicemen with whom I found it a privilege to have served, like so many ex servicemen I can truly say
**they were happy days!**.
If any ex Airfield Construction Branch lads read this and have any similar photographs lying around please send them to me as I am in the process of making an archive of all such photographs and copies of the whole archive would be available on disc. I can be contacted on:
Tel: 01782 516887 OR by e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
NIGEL EDWARDS: would like to hear from any of his old mates from
5003 Sqdn MT Section RAF Lichfield
especially "Smithy" from Nuneaton - we spent many hours together with our Matadors and trailers up and down to Scotland with heavy plant from RAF Lichfield to Stranraer and Cairnryan 1954-57 in preperation for Operation Hardrock (St Kilda).
RYTON ON DUNSMORE Training School.
My time here was as a trainee excavator op and when I had finished that I was kept at
RAF Church Lawford
on the Plant holding unit but returned to Ryton to take the tractor ops course, until the move to
CLAVERDON Training School
My time here was as an Instructor and most of the lads coming through were National Servicemen.
RAF Wellesbourne Mountford depot.
Odds and ends of photographs taken on the depot / Cookhouse / Living Quarters / MT and Sick Bay etc.
RAF LYNEHAM detachment.
When on the Special Plant Section at Wellesbourne Mountford I visited this detachment and took these photographs then.
RAF WIMPOLE PARK detachment.
This was an unusual job for the ACB as it was demolishing and removing all trace of an old USAF Hospital.
I was on this detachment as NCO i/c Plant and to supervise and run the Goodwin Goliath crusher unit, we were based at RAF Bassingbourne 4 mile away and it was an enjoyable 9 months..
This detachment was for 9 months and was to lay aircraft holding areas around the hangars and put down aircraft securing points, the concrete was laid in 3 inch layers to a depth of 9 inches.
I was NCO i/c Plant and we had a batching silo etc to feed the mixers and the concrete was conveyed from mixing to laying by Thwaites dumpers, the concrete was spread using the new Blaw Knox tarmacadam spreader with modified tampers.
RAF NICOSIA AMWD.
This represents 9 months when, during the EOKA crisis, I was detached to AMWD to take charge of the Plant Section, my role was that of a civilian charge hand and mainly was to deploy and supervise a team of Turkish staff employed on camp and runway maintenance.
I lived in 5001 tent lines but the only contact with the RAF was on pay parade, as I worked for AMWD I had freedom to go anywhere I chose (if out of the camp I collected an armed RAF Regiment guard). A wonderful posting.
RAF BRUGGEN. 5357 Wing 2TAF.
D Metson sent me these photographs (plus some not shown) and they depict rather a large job at that camp in 1954.
RAF GUTERSLOH. 5357 Wing 2TAF.
These photographs were supplied by 2594526 Mackie E who kept on working as a plant op in civvy street.
RAF EL ADAM. 5001 Sqd.
Some of these photographs were supplied by John Shepherd, still working as a Plant operater in civvy street. He contacted me when I wrote the main articles for Classic Plant magazine.
He reminded me that he was one of my trainees on the tractor course at Claverdon.
Lew Huggins (My Best Man) also sent some pics.
RAF GAN (Maldive Islands) 5001 Sqd.
These photographs again were supplied by John Shepherd,
2):- St Kilda 1957 / 58.(outer Hebrides) 5004 Sqd.
I did not go on this Detachment but as I had been to Goodwin Goliath Works and had demonstrated the newly acquired crushers I was involved in the preparation of them and some training of operators and maintenance fitters.
Photographs taken on the Island supplied by Peter De Salis Johnston, Jeff Gibbons and Chris Hebbron
.are a good record of this detchment: known as
. Under the direct Command of Wing Commander Cookson.
Some 300 personnel were on the Island for the summer period only, over 2 years in very arduous conditions and when completed the site was taken over by the Army and they are still in occupation today.
Movement order and notes issued by Wing Commander Cookson. March 1957.
Royal Air Force Wellesbourne Mountford *Hard Rock* Task Force.
Some notes on the Island of St Kilda:-
The Island of St Kilda is approximately 80 to 90 miles to the west / north west of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides and members of the Operation *Hard Rock* will will go by air from an airfield in the vicinity of Wellesbourne Mountford (Gaydon) to Benbecula, which will take about 3 to 4 hours.
On arrival at Benbecula a meal will be served and all troops will be transported to Lock Boisdale where they will embark on Mark VIII type tank landing craft.
The supply arrangements were by using RASC Mark Vlll landing craft, operating from Cairnryan and Benbecula.
These craft were 225 ft long and 39ft beam and had a draft of 45 inches. Displaced 895 tons and could carry a payload of 350 tons. 22 crew and were powered by 4 Paxman engines each capable of 460 horsepower and gave a max speed of 12 knots and a range of 2,500 miles.
The journey from Loch Boisdale to St Kilda is one of about 10 hours and it is the intention during the whole operation to do the sea crossing during the night, pack up meals being provided to cover 2 meals.
RAF Station Wellesbourne Mountford will be the parent unit dealing with all P.Staff matters and all Airmen will be paid 2 weeks pay before embarking. Cairnryan - a military port in south west Scotland will be the rear base for the project and from here the whole operation will be supplied with all the stores, food and NAAFI goods required, the forward base will be Benbecula.
A wireless link is being provided between St Kilda and Benbecula and Cairnryan, so that communications with the mainland will be maintained.
The operation has been organised to construct roads and buildings on the island, including the erection of a camp to house personnel engaged in the operation.
This work is of an interesting and unusual nature, the roads will have to be blasted out of the rock, a bridge of 50 to 60 feet span will be constructed and a stream dammed to furnish a water supply.
The only approach to the island, which is approx 2 miles x 3 miles, is into a bay called Village Bay and it is the area which was inhabited up to about 30 years ago. The old stone houses can still be seen but are in a very bad state of repair. The island is occupied at present by a type of wild sheep and is also a bird sanctuary. It is asked that all personnel at no time interfere with any of the wild life on the island. On this operation will be a certain number of civilians whose job it is to see that the natural beauty and antiquivars of the island are in no way disturbed.
It may be of interest to note that on 15th may 1918 a U-boat shelled St Kilda and knocked down a house which stood at the side of the old manse, it has been recorded that the natives were going down to ask for tobacco, then the firing started and they promptly took to the hills. The authorities made a concrete gun emplacement on the hillside, behind the manse and installed a large piece of naval ordnance which is still there, somewhat rusty and immoveably pointed inland.
The past inhabitants lived in holes in the ground, a sort of tunnel led into a first compartment where the livestock were kept and then into the natives cavern. This would have had a fire in the middle of the floor, a smoke hole in the roof and no other source of light.
These were followed by the byres and houses seen today, when the byres were built as houses, no trace was left of the original dwellings and so the village lost its un- interrupted stretch into antiquity. The cleats seen dotted all over the island were built for drying and storage chambers. There is an old graveyard and close to this, a prehistoric underground dwelling or earth house said to have been used by horsemen.
The species of birds and animals, St Kilda Wrens and Sheep are all peculiar to that island, as are also the puffins of which it is understood to be the largest colony in the world.
The island is supposed to have been the site of three ancient chapels: Christs, St Columba's and St Brinian's but all have long since disappeared, no trace being left.
It is amusing that the locals used to put their post in a sealed bottle, place this in a sealed box pointed at one end and wired to a float, the latter being made out of a sheepskin bladder. When the wind was from the northwest x west the whole was launched and eventually reached the mainland, which mainland did not seem to matter as it is recorded that one was picked up on the coast of Norway.
The first party will leave loch Boisdale on or about 15th April and will comprise of 35 to 40 personnel under the command of Wing Commander W M Cookson, Officer Commanding Hard Rock* Task Force. This will be followed on the 1st May by a further 40 Officers and airmen, in command will be Squadron Leader E Roberts and then 40 on the 3rd May. So by about the 3rd of May there will be just over 100 Officers and men on the island whose duty will be to prepare for the main part, reception of Plant, MT and stores.
The main party will start in waves of 40 about the 15th May and each third day will be followed by a further 40 until 30th May.
The landing or first party will take their Easter grant from after duty Tuesday 9th April to Sunday 14th April reporting back to Wellesbourne Mountford by 08.00 hrs on the 14th. Each of this party must ensure they carry enough money, cigarettes, toothpaste, chocolate, soap etc for at least 2 weeks, small NAAFI pack ups are being prepared to cover emergencies, but all is to be packed in suitcases or parcels not exceeding 40 lbs.
Detailed instructions wilol be given for the later parties after the first landing.
(W C Cookson) Wing Commander. Task Force. Operation *Hard Rock*.
RAF SELETAR. 5001 Sqd.
5001 Sqd gang, pic from Glyn Roberts.
Up until the late 50s all the ACB plant was transported on SMT2 tow bar trailers generally towed by Matadors, these were all fitted with winching gear and a sprung front coupling attachment for ring and pin which came in very useful for front pushing of trailers where needed. (see Gallery:
If in use by the ACB all our motor transport would carry the large white M41 on front and rear, this designation indicated " Maintenance Command "and the unit No. in our case M41 - if Fighter, Bomber, Training or other Command this was designated by "F and No" (F10) or "B and No" (B14), "T" and No (T9) etc which made recognition and Station identity easy wherever and whenever RAF transport was in use anywhere in the UK.
The trailers had very heavy drawbars with pin attachment, an example shown is of a 20 ton Fowler tractor with a rope operated blade on its trailer, these trailers had a beaver tail and loading ramps made of 8 separate pieces which clipped onto the inverted U channel on the trailer and when not in use had to be loaded back on to the trailer and secured anywhere on the bed of the trailer where they could be fitted in.
The ramps were heavy and dangerous to handle and not very stable when erected. I have had many a scary moment when loading Smith 5/20 excavators, unstable at the best of times but when combining wet metal tracks on a shaky metal ramp anything can happen and often did !
When heavy plant was moved using this equipment, a Plant operator OR tractor/excavator operator always went as second man and most cabs carried a notice saying
** All personnel - regardless of rank - are to demount and assist the driver as instructed**.
We carried Le tourneau scrapers which when on the trailer were higher than some bridges allowed it to be and it was the general thing to deflate all the scraper tyres to lower it enough to get clearance rather than detour.
If the load was a Smiths 5/20 or 21 excavator, maybe with its 40ft jib still attached, the route had to be carefully planned ( pre motorway days) and on short journeys between depots i.e.
Wellesbourne Mountford / Claverdon and Church Lawford,
it was common practice to -
and I have done this myself
- leave the engine running and for the operator to ride in the excavator cab - 16ft above the road - and rotate cab and jib as needed to negotiate obstacles. I did this on many occasions while negotiating a load through Warwick and the outskirts of Leamington Spa, imagine doing that today !
As expected though where possible these 40 ft long jibs were removed and to carry these we had Bedford R "donkeys" on loan from Fighter Command and they towed the 50 ft **Queen Mary** trailers - normally used to carry aircraft fuselages and wings - and as we found out at
these 50ft trailers were also ideal for carrying 6 of our Thwaite dumpers at one time - all driven in over the lowered tailgate - however at
I had occasion to return a jib to Depot and they sent me a Bedford/QM unit but no lifting slings as I had requested.
So once again I acquired the Coles crane from the Halton MT section to do the lifting (civilian driver) but he had no slings either - so we cobbled up some old wire rope to get the loading done and unfortunately it broke directly over the cab of this borrowed Bedford donkey - not a pretty site, no one was hurt but another Court of enquiry! - I was exonerated as I had used signals (old type E Mails between military units) requested slings be sent and it was taken into account that in using my initiative I was trying to compensate for the shortcomings of Depot staff.
1960 saw the later **Crane** trailer on loan from the Navy and being hauled by a Scammell Constructor, on these trailers the rear wheels could be drawn off and the trailer lowered to the ground if needed but it was general practice with bulldozers and excavators to side load and then slew the machine, if you were competent it saved time and effort !.
A photo shows the writer standing beside such a unit at
, the machine is a Caterpiller D8 with hydraulic blade control (blade removed) and a Hyster winch fitted for use with a towed scraper. Note the overall length of the unit and this was before the advent of motorways, in fact all the crushed material leaving our site at ,b>Wimpole Park
was used as the foundation of the Biggleswade by pass - later the A1 motorway and the start of main motorway building.
The other set of photographs show an accident outside the Wimpole Park site on the old A14 - in Arrington, now the A1198, north of Royston, Herts - I had been ordered to ship a Smiths 5/20 - minus jib - plus a 1000 gallon Diesel bowser, back to base at ,b>RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
As the Plant Operator it was my responsibility to load the vehicle and had loaded the fuel bowser on the front and crossed loaded the excavator to the rear of the trailer, leaving the tracks across the trailer as directed by the driver and rotated the excavator cab to leave the front locked in the facing forward position.
Any excavator of this type is more stable with a jib on as it acts as a counterbalance to the rear mounted weight and they were usually transported complete for this reason but in all cases tracks are chained down front and rear and also chocked with timber baulks wedged in between rollers.
However, in the RAF any load, once loaded, is solely the responsibility of the Driver of the unit, he should secure the load for transit, in this case our base at
was only 4 miles away and it was his intention to only go that far on that day and return to,
RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
the next day.
It seemed he assumed that the 4 miles on a level clear road would not be any trouble so only partly secured the load for that journey, intending to add more chains and chock the tracks etc before undertaking the main journey next morning.
On site he roped the bowser on and to secure the 20 ton excavator he used 2 x 40 ton adjustable chains, attaching one end of each to the jib pins on the front of the excavator and then crossed them and secured them to the side of the trailer in an **X** and started his journey.
It was dusk and drizzling and he had only progressed some 300 yards along the road when another vehicle overtook him and caused him to swerve slightly towards the verge of the road , with a vehicle and separate drawbar trailer of this length, if the prime mover moves over say 1 ft then the trailer will weave and move over 2 ft before it lines up again- this just happened to be a grass edged road with a bank some 6 inches high and just in that piece, unfortunately, a conscientious road worker had cut 3 trenches with his spade to allow surface water to clear the road.
The trailer mounted this bank and hit the 3 trenches causing a bump and one of the 40 ton chains holding the excavator broke - and the metal machine tracks slid on the metalled trailer surface and over the nearside it went - luckily into the hedge ! - the other chain held and the consequence being that the trailer was lifted, buckling its main chassis member and left suspended as shown - the initial recovery meant holding the excavator with winches, positioning a gas cutting torch with clamps and set it to cut one link of the still complete chain and when it snapped, luckily the excavator did not fall back any further but with tension off it was possible to extract the damaged trailer.
Needless to say the trailer was a write off but the excavator and the diesel bowser suffered only cosmetic damage, a Court of Enquiry was later held at the Depot and the driver was found to be at fault for not correctly securing his load before transit of same.
Luckily - in spite of it being pre motorway - the movement of this heavy equipment around the UK did not lead to many accidents.
If any ex ACB lads have similar stories I can use - please contact me: email@example.com,/b>
3):- 1716374 LAC dennis Gore, Electrician 1 A C B 1941-1946
Azores 1943-1946. 5351 wing ?
It is now 66 years since I volunteered For the RAF in the World War 2 and Served in one of the least known Branches which was called Works And Bricks which released some of the Personnel that worked for the Ministry of Works.
The first major Job was to Build Satellite Air fields along the South Coast for damaged aircraft to have a chance to land safely.
We were then drafted to our Base, which was adjacent to DeHavilands and all the Trades required to build an Air Field with all the heavy machinery Assembled.
Next was to join all the others at Glasgow and went aboard the Troop ship Franconian, kitted out with furs thinking that we were of to Reykjavik. When we were well out to sea in a convoy all the kit was collected and were reissued with tropical kit and given all the jabs that were needed.
Waking up one morning to find that we seem to be alone with one other ship and no convoy.
The destination was at last reach and informed that it was the Island Called Terceria one of the Nine Azores group Owned by the Portuguese and it was our Job to build a large Airfield which was Called R A F Largens and later an American Group came as our Guests .
This Airfield became one of the most important in the Atlantic as it enabled Dakota, Sky Masters, Mosquito aircraft to fly from Canada and America stop and refuel to carry on to the Uk or Europe, it was also used as a search and destroy base in the battle against German Submarines operating in the Atlantic
It was also used as a decoy route when the Big three, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had their meeting,
I was hoping that we would have been awarded the Atlantic Star Medal like the Aircrew got but without the Aircrew Bar.
Failing to locate any others of my Group I am beginning to feel I must be the last and no hope of the medal now.
At least with the Help Of the Lotto Heroes Return I with my Wife and Son did manage to visit the present Air Field and with the help of my Son got a VIP visit with the resident Portuguese Air Force and presented some Photos from 1943 and Our Association Air Field Construction Badge on a Plaque and a copy of Official Manual, this was in October 2005.
As The Imperial War Museum Duxford were running a programme in 2007 where the Public Meet WW2 Veterans, I joined in and dis so again in 2008, I may eventually meet some one from the Azores yet.
All this information is in my Story of My Life 1923---200?
Vol. Royal Air Force.
1716374 LAC Electrician 1 A C B 1941-1946
Azores 1943-1946. 5351 wing ?
If anyone reading this was at Terceria, during this period, please get in touch with me:
Dennis Gore: e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org