Journey

Everybody has a book in them, or so it's said. But it's something else again getting it onto the page and to a place where it might be shared.

I have been writing since I was a child. Always, my dream was to see my name on the spine of a book. Books gave me life, a dream to live by. Through their portals I could escape easily into other worlds. Books also saved my life ... yes, really!

This is the story of my books and my journey as an author. I hope it will inspire and give hope to writers young and old.

Getting published can be a waiting game. It's hard .. and it's getting harder. But then sometimes it happens in unexpected ways and suddenly, we are living the dream. And we realise that it isn't after all the winning that is important so much as the journey along the way.

I would love to hear from anyone who connects with what is written here. A signed copy of any of my books is available. You have only to write and ask:

janineharrington53@gmail.com







Thursday, 29 March 2018

SOUVENIR OF OULTON 1945


MEMORIES SHARED

by Accounts Officer: Flight Lieutenant David Collins

 

The Buckinghamshire Arms, known as 'The Buck'; a familiar haunt.
The hedges and the trees which line the Aylsham road still wore the fresh green of summer when you left us. No doubt, you still picture the tall chimneys of Blickling against the bright blue sky of early morning as you waited for the bus. The kites bask peacefully on the airfield in the warmth of the morning haze ... do those days seem far off now as you sit by the fire at your comfortable peacetime Station?

Since then, the gales and fogs of winter have descended upon the wilds of Norfolk. The airfield is bare and desolate; the Control Tower is deserted. Not an echo of a clang disturbs the silence of the hangars. The Signals Block is locked and barred. The sites are swept and garnished. The Sick Quarters slumber quietly up the road, but the old Station dies very hard. An R.A.F. uniform is still to be seen in the village shop. The sound of a scratching pen may still be heard at S.H.Q. where an odd bod or two challenge the claims of the rats and mice to undisputed occupation. Occasionally, a Morris van limps by, and the hoot of the NAAFI wagon will evoke a surprising response at any hour of the day or night.

The oldest inhabitant staggers painfully around in his tattered uniform with the help of a crutch; and often his thoughts will turn to livelier and happier days of yore. Then Oulton was a place of life, vigor and laughter; of coaches and vans and sports cars; of whirring air-screws of taxiing aircraft; of snappy salutes and bright-eyed Waffies. He has bidden farewell to many an airman and WAAF since those days, as he pressed a parting gift from the safe into their reluctant hands. He knows that almost without exception, they left full of pleasant memories of the weeks and months spent on the Unit. All have agreed that Oulton was an exceptionally 'happy' Station. Group Captain Dickens could not have failed to be gratified to hear the comments that were made.

803BS Lt Scott with Commander Dickens
Having an idle hour to spend whilst awaiting his own departure, the Oldest Inhabitant thought that an account of the gradual decline and final graceful expiry of Oulton might be of interest to some of her former inmates; while the setting down of the few of the memories which so often float through his mind might perhaps stir up similar pleasurable recollections in those of his readers.

Big things happened at Oulton during 1944 and 1945.

We knew little of what was going forward; each man did his job and he asked no questions; each man and each woman had some share in those achievements. Big men lived among us, ate with us, played with us at Oulton. Some of them flew away into the night and never returned ... They were gallant souls. We mourned their loss, but we didn't talk about it much. All that is another and a far greater story. The O.I. is not the man to tell it. He was one of the 'chair-borne troops' whose task was glamour-less and unspectacular. Still maybe he experienced phases of camp life which were missed by some of the others. These too have their interest. Anyway, here are some random memories - no attempt at a history, just a 'Souvenir'.

214 Squadron aircrew based at RAF Oulton

On January 1st, 1944, I set off for Sculthorpe, Oulton's forerunner. Late at night I arrive at Kings Lynn and spent an hour in the crowded buffet waiting for the Peterborough train. What a line! Gosh, it was cold. Eventually, I reached Sculthorpe; even in the dark you could sense the flatness and bleakness of the place. Still, they were a jolly crowd that gathered in the Mess. G/C Dickens, Jean Woodman, F/Lt Martin, Sgt Wickenden and other pioneers had arrived from North Creake; Sigs Collins, the Adj., and F/Lt Brown had joined them. The next few days brought S/L Bradshaw, dear old 'Sado', the Catering Officer, S/L Howard, Doc Vyse, and sundry others; all set to with a will to get the place ready to receive 'the lads of 214' and the American Squadron. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was fun. The Officers in the Mess chiefly occupied themselves in the evenings with darts matches organised by G/C; while troops settled down as best they could with somewhat limited resources. There were plenty of wind and bags of rain; many an evening the Accounts Staff would foregather round the stove in the Section for warmth and dry off after the trek from office to site and site to Mess. There was much clamouring for coal, much searching for wood and the fires wouldn't light - ask the Batman - but those were good days. As winter relented and the sun broke through and evenings drew out, the bikes came out too and troops began to explore the road to Fakenham (egg and chips!), to Wells and Runstanton, and to Walsingham. Esna came to visit us. We had some working parades! The Accountants took to P.T. The kites were airborne; and rumours came of a move to the eastward.

Line drawing of RAF Oulton by Len Bartram, young local lad at the time

Do you remember the long trek to Blickling in convoys from Sculthorpe? The '214 bods' who couldn't be found when it was time to start? The D.Rs who trailed us and rounded us up like watchdogs, and who turned up as if by magic at every signpost? The long wait up in the lane on arrival while they manoeuvred the Queen Marys? I shall not forget in a hurry the first view of Blickling Hall, flanked by the creeper-covered almshouses, and the great yew hedges; and the white 'Buck' with its red geraniums in window boxes, nestling among the tall trees. Did you see the gardens about that time? What a show of rhododendrons and azalea, of lilac and laburnum, of bluebells in the woods, of prunus and cherry blossom, and at the end of a long walk, the Solarium shining in the sun. The swans had nine youngsters in 1944 and they used to sail up and down the lake in convoy. We watched them grow as summer lengthened, until in time, they could all take off in formation and execute superb sweeps and dive-bombing operations.

Blickling Hall and lake in 1944/45

The Lido at the head of the lake seemed more popular in those days than latterly. The rubber dinghies were very much in vogue until some silly fatheads got in them with spiked shoes. The WAAFs produced some very natty bathing ensembles and certainly appeared to enjoy themselves, if one could judge by the amount of screaming and shrieking which was heard in those regions. Remember the swimming sports and the jousting? In 1945, fishing was more popular. the more elderly gentlemen of the M.T. Section were usually to be found patiently waiting for pike in the evenings. I certainly saw a monster they caught one day. The Batmen had their successes too; one sometimes wondered whether they had really come from the lake though! The Met Officers were often to be seen on a raft, but I never discovered what they were doing there. The place was a real delight to lovers of nature. I wonder how many times some of us walked round in the course of the summer months ...

The dwellers in the Hall in former centuries would have been sorely shaken had they beheld some of the things which happened when the R.A.F. arrived. The ghost of Anne Boleyn must have been gravely disturbed. At first, she mildly protested by such time-worn efforts as swinging open the great wardrobe in Lord Lothian's bedroom in the middle of the night when the Group Captain was sleeping there, but within a few days, she grew more lively. At midnight in the Lothian passage such phenomena occurred as the flinging open of bedroom doors with resounding crashes; bundles of stair rods were precipitated violently inside. On opening one's door in the morning, fire buckets full of water would crash to the floor from the door handles. At all hours there were ghastly groans and shrieks - some of them strangely masculine. The inmates of the aforesaid passage celebrated their emancipation from the more restricted amenities of the Nissen huts by some astonishingly light-hearted exercises. I shall never forget the sight of Brad and Sammy tumbled in a struggling heap among the coats and wellington boots, in a cupboard linking my room with Brad's. Brad was an entertaining neighbour. He had a most original vocabulary. The Padre used to say he had never heard anyone swear so charmingly as Brad, and he was usually the first in the bathroom in the mornings, full of irrepressible high spirits whatever time he had gone to bed.

Nissen Hut

The part of the Hall which was usually locked was extremely interesting, if you could gain entry. To do this, you had to make friends with the Custodian, Miss O'Sullivan, the lady in slacks with the fierce hound, who was so often to be seen walking round the grounds. She very kindly showed me round on one occasion. There was a magnificent library upstairs, with some very fine old books. There were rooms where royalty had been entertained in bygone centuries, and there was much fine old furniture and a number of interesting pictures and tapestries.

A noble feature of Blickling was the Concert Hall. It was only after the war began, of course, that the old barn was patched up, and a stage added to produce the really excellent hall that we knew. Many were the pleasant evenings spent here. The distinctive atmosphere of these entertainments could hardly be reproduced outside the R.A.F. the notabilities with their wives in the front rows, the welcoming whistles of the troops and the pretty girls, and the precarious tiers of seats at the back, crowded to capacity. Perhaps the most dramatic episode was the noisy interruption of the sirens and the doodle-bug at the crucial point of 'Gaslight'. Then there was the gruesome hanging scene from Maria Whatsit. Do you remember the Canadian Show - 'cakes-wid-or-widout prunes'? And the Ballet and 'Swinging on a Star'? And the Russian concert at Sculthorpe, and Ann Casson in 'The Taming of the Shrew'? The greatest success without a doubt were our own shows so excellently produced by Corporal Parish; and the dashing Ken May and dapper Corporal Gratwick.

No reference of Blickling would be complete without reference to the famous Brains Trust. S/Ldr Foster, F/Lt James and Cpl Griffiths certainly established a reputation that night and they compared very well with Professor Joad and Lord Winster. Leslie Mitchell as Question Master rounded off a tip-top performance, and if I remember rightly, Cpl Griffiths preceded the Trust with one of his famous quizzes.

One of the highlights, in the history of the Accounts Section at any rate, was the 'Sports Day' in Farmer Mitchell's field. Let it be recorded for posterity that, fielding a team including four old men approaching forty, and two determined WAAFs, urged on by the enthusiastic Sandford and the cheers of the crowd, they defeated a team of tough Armourers by 2 pulls to 1 and reached the Final. Pretty good going. My word, I shan't forget pushing old Webby in the wheelbarrow race, we didn't get very far! What other memories are there of Blicking Hall? The M.T. vehicles neatly stacked row on row, the rush for buses to Oulton, the trek of Officers back to lunch led by those absurd Aberdeens, the crowd in The Buck every evening and the inexhaustible energy of Mr O'D in cutting sandwiches, the friendliness charm of little Susan Vyse and the cats!!

MT Section of RAF Oulton

The Music Circle must have a paragraph to itself. In the earliest days, we had the privilege of some masterly programmes given by S/Ldr Sutton. Then we moved to Blickling and used the Solarium - a lovely setting for music, but also for midges. With the onset of winter, attendances of 80 and more were reached. Those were the days of Jackie Furner's 'Bach to Baizy' Shows, and the operatic performance of F/O 'Your tiny hand is frozen' Darracott.

Air Vice Marshall Jack Furner
Then came the purchase of our own records and two programmes were given weekly for nine months. In the bitter cold of January we would sit in comfort by a roaring fire, the less highbrow members writing letters or knitting according to their sex; and when summer returned Beethoven's 7th might be heard in the Tudor garden. A noble band of Compares came into being, the soothing Goddes, the pugnacious Crowson, the voluble Cpl. Snell, the calm Harry Blyth, the witty Scott and very many others. First class pianists like F/O Heal and Weaver revealed themselves (almost too late) and greatly added to the enjoyment. Nor must be forgotten the record short programme of LACW Haywood; the consistent production of 'wads' by Keen; and the faithful distribution of the same with coffee by LACW Gamble, Newton, etc. There were more unorthodox meetings of the Music Circle such as the midnight performance in the water tower in the days of Uncle Jo. I think, for years to come, the hearing of Bach's Toccata and Fugue, the 'Pastoral' Peter and the Wolf, or the Dance of the Hours on the radio will awaken vivid memories; and that many will have a greatly increased appreciation of good music as a result of those evenings. I shall, anyway.

Officers' Mess, with a visit from Pat Roc (L) and Margaret Lockwood (C)
(The filming of 'The Wicked Lady' was something else to happen at Blickling, which caused quite a stir among the men particularly as they mingled among them, some fortunate to get involved in the actual filming itself.)


The silences of the passages and the empty offices at S.H.Q. are very strange after all the activity and bustle of the old days, and the queues of airmen awaiting casual payments, or a less attractive interview with the S.W.O. or C.O. they were a grand crowd at S.H.Q. S/Ldr Lowry, now in Civvy Street, had the most ferocious bark, but the gentlest and most benevolent bite that you ever met. S/Ldr Cox, ditto, ditto, was surely one of the world's hardest workers. Mr Norton, one of the most popular S.W.Os. There is no doubt we were exceptionally fortunate with our WAAF 'G' Team - Flight/O Wareham and 'Little Betty'. Few would realise how many lame dogs were helped over the stiles by Padre Price. In P2 we had the smiling and competent Gamble and the obliging Sgt. Wickenden; in the Registry, the glamorous 'Goo-Goo'. Corporate modesty forbids detailed reference to the efficiency of the Accounts Section - addressed so politely in public and referred to so scurrilously in private! Suffice it to say, it has been a great pleasure to work in their company for nearly two years and I shall miss them all.

Yes, I could go on for hours ... could tell of the official V.E. Day Celebrations, the unofficial V.J. Day celebrations in the Hall, the Savings efforts of the Signals Section, the gardening abilities of the Sick Quarters. I could say a lot about Pay Parades and the all-in salute-and-grab evolutions of the WAAFs. But you will want to hear of the last days of the Station.

Celebrations at RAF Oulton, 1945

It must have been about the end of August when most of the aircrew types left. Life seemed very quiet without them. F/Lt Wynne and some others remained for a time to ferry the kites away. They occupied their spare time in archery and other pursuits. A number of Officers continued in the Mess for a while awaiting release. In fact, the Release Section was working at high pressure for several weeks and the golden voice of F/Sgt O'Connell could be heard on the Tannoy almost continuously, urging prospective civvies to step up and see him some time.

By the end of September, about 400 bods were on the books, although we didn't see much of them. The dozen Officers moved into the fragrant and hallowed precincts of the Sick Quarters. Jack Clark still presided in the Little Bar there; Crib and Patience became in vogue about that time, but we did break out occasionally on more traditional lines, notably when the Sergeants visited us and the day when S/Ldr Cox returned from hospital. Then came a Blitz from Command. Press Gangs got to work. The troops were rounded up from local farms and the sites, and real progress was made. Equipment fairly poured into the Stores, and overflowed all round. Bods were hounded off the Station, and on October 29th, after many postponements, the Station was officially handed over.

In October, we fell below the 100 mark; all feeding together in the Airmens Mess. The cinema had closed of course, and the liberty runs had ceased. Even the NAAFI had shut up shop, but life was pleasantly informal, as it was no doubt in the earliest days of the Unit at North Creake in 1943. Six Officers moved into the hut formerly used as the Padre's Office, and thereafter, the story of the ten little boys was enacted. The WAAFs had to be transported from Group H.Q. each day. Evenings were pretty quiet, except on the famous occasion when my lonely slumber by the Mess fire was disturbed by the sound of female carollers about 9pm and our six WAAFs appeared, after having spent two hours losing themselves on the perimeter track, and demanded accommodation for the night! However, we coped. Smithy has gone and the pheasants breathe more freely. Sgt Wickenden has left us. The last two Orderly Room staff, Newton and Mountain, go in the morning. The remaining five Accountants leave at the weekend, and I go to Cheadle, Staffs, on Wednesday. Only Sgt Wright and three Stores WAAFs: Livingstone, Clark and Jones, will be left of Bomber Command. Otherwise, the C and M Party will be in sole possession.

And that is the end of my story.

Service life certainly has its bright side. Nothing has been said here of other aspects of the war - the separation from home comforts, the monotony, the danger and the loss. The Oldest Inhabitant is an incurable philosopher, and he asks will all this be allowed to happen again? If it does, the papers tell us the Atom Bomb will put paid to civilisation as we know it. Can this be prevented? He himself can see only one solution, ultimately, and that is a return to a vital, genuine Christianity - born out of giving, of respect, of laughter, of love. We don't talk about this much in the Services, but we think quite a bit about it.

Thank God the war is over!

We find ourselves living, nevertheless, in perplexing and somewhat irritating days. But they are days filled with opportunity. Let us make the most of them, and learn how to co-exist ... and live in peace!


Air view of Blickling Hall, courtesy Eric Dickens






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