The big news

Chris Fish's picture

The big news, in the middle to late 1950's, through the news papers, radio and television, Great Britain was developing Atomic Weapons. I was a few years away for being called to take part in National Service and gave no thought of one day being part of a unique group of personnel, forces, civilian, member service personnel from commonwealth countries and local inhabitance, Gilbertese as in my case and other personnel who went to Christmas Island, North Pacific. I say Christmas Island North Pacific, so people reading this and looking at pictures submitted do not geographically think of the Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Two geologically different Islands.

The time came in the early part of 1958 for me to be called for National Service. I chose the Royal Air Force to do my service because living as youngster in Southall a suburb of London, now part of Greater London. An aircraft, on returning from a raid over the Continent crashed in the gasworks, into a large coke (product from coal) heap. Before crashing the aircraft had passed over and between the small rear access service way to our terrace of houses and the next terrace of houses and passed across the road, going through the space between the terraced houses. On it's decent taking out the gable end of the terrace of houses, on the right. Dad and Mum never knew how it happened but the aircraft left a string of machinegun bullets in our front garden. The ARP came and took them away. Later we learnt no one was injured or killed locally and the aircrew had bailed out over Greenford, Middlesex.

Dad and Mum at the end of the war took us up into London and we saw aircraft put on display for the celebration of Victory over Europe.

In 1949, Dad and Mum and us four children moved to Brandon, Suffolk a very short distance from RAF Lakenheath, which became the home of quite a number of B36 bombers. The aircraft had ten engines, six pusher engines and four jet engines. Later the sweptback wing, Boeing B47 Stratojet bombers were stationed at Lakenheath. As Brandon is on the boarder of Suffolk and Norfolk other airfields were a cycling distance away, in Norfolk.

I became interested in all types of aircraft, building Balsa Wood models of aircraft, Super Marine Swift, Hawker Hunter, Comet 1 and from imagination the Space Rockets of the BBC Radio Programme, Journey into Space. (The large one looked a touch on the Apollo Space Rocket. Still have photographs of these models. May just for interest place copy to view).

A couple of moves with Dad and Mum, we found life in Heathfield, Sussex, though our home was in Old Heathfield. Early Spring of 1958 I had to report to the National Service Centre in Brighton, Sussex for the enrolling procedure and undergo a medical. At the enrolling procedure each person had the choice to say which of the three service's they preferred. As mentioned earlier my enthusiasm of aircraft, I chose the Royal Air Force.

It was in August 1958, I received a letter, rail travel warrant and told to report to RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, for National Service. On arrival we were given an RAF Medical (Many of you will remember the procedure.) and asked by filling out a questionnaire which trade we would like to take up while in the RAF Service. We were also asked if we would be willing to signup to be a Regular RAF Serviceman, from three to twenty two years of service.

I signed up for three years and was asked if I was willing to do overseas service. Again I said yes as I felt it was a way of seeing the world. This reasoning came through my eldest brother Tom, (died 2009) had served in Southern Rhodesia and had an enjoyable time, of his three years service.

Kitted out, we left by Cardington Camp Railway Station, on a 'Forces Special Train'. We did not know where we would be carrying out our basic training. The train made north and we eventually stopped at Wilmslow Station, where RAF lorries were waiting to take us and our kit the few miles up (yes the camp was up higher than the town) to the RAF Camp. Our Flight greeted by Corporal Willis and Corporal Wild. The camp was our home for the next eight weeks, to carry out basic training as it was called. Or in other words getting us to be part of the Royal Air Force.

Passingout Parade, eight weeks done and end of Basic Training, travel warrant's issued and it was off home for some leave with loved ones before going to Trade Training Camp.

The now familiar On Her Majesties Service franked, buff coloured envelope, with the letter and rail travel warrant arrived. I had to report to RAF Weeton, not far from Blackpool, Lancashire, for Motor Transport Driver Training. If my mind remembers right, the name was No.8 School of Technical Training. (If any one knows it was different please say! Thank you). I had a short detachment to RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Fourteen miles north of York before the end of trade training.

Completing trade training, I moved from Aircraftman 2 (AC 2) to Leading Aircraftman (LAC)and posted to RAF Northolt, Middlesex. I carried out various Motor Transport Driver (MTD) duties. A spell being Sick Quarters, ambulance driver. Great group of medical chaps along with Sargent Hart. One tea break he came in the kitchen, telling the medical orderlies when they had to report to RAF Lynham for their Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) duties, which would be at various weeks to come. When Sargent Hart had gone around them all I was the only one who was not flying any ware! So cheeky me said 'What about me Sarg'. I was surprised when he said 'What you want a flight Fish'! I said 'Yes Sarg'. He turned and said 'I will be back in a while'. My feelings sunk as I thought now I'm in for it. A few minutes and Sargent Hart returned and said 'I have got you a flight! Flight to Jersey next Wednesday. You have to report to Flight Line Control Office at 08.00 hours. You will be flying out in an Anson and you will be serving the coffee on the way". What a great thing of him to do! It introduced me to what is now known as 'An away day'.

While at Northolt I was given training to become Senior Aircraftman (SAC). Taking my Coach Driving exam and test at RAF Kidbrooke, South London. (The site now a housing estate. Most road names end in brook). Not many weeks after being promoted to SAC I was told by (By, I have tried to remember was it Corporal Fyfe or Sargent White, I just can't remember.) to report to Station Head Quarters, Personnel Section for an overseas posting. There I was told I would be posted to RAF Christmas Island.

First I had to go into London to Adasta House to have my Yellow Fever Inoculation. A day or two latter I was given a clearance sheet, to take around to various sections to verify that I had nothing outstanding from the section. Before I left the MT Section Warrant Officer Wilson called me to his office and gave me a few words and told me that when I reached Christmas Island the MT Officer would be Warrant Officer Harding. Evidently the two men had served together during there earlier service.

My kit packed and again travel warrant issued I left RAF Northolt to make the journey down to RAF Innsworth, Gloucester to the Personnel Dispatch Unit, for kitting out with tropical kit, documentation and final medical for departure to Christmas Island. We were told that if we done everything by midafternoon, on the Friday we could have our last weekend at home for those who could make the journey home and back before eight O'clock on the Monday. Of course those who could not make it was those who lived far north and into Scotland.

Those who went home like my self who had travelled up to and through London were back at camp Monday morning, only to find mid morning we were taken to Gloucester Railway Station, put on a train for Paddington, London. Arrival and we were met by RAF Coaches that took us across to the Embarkation Centre, RAF Hendon, Middlesex. There we met up with some Army and Naval chaps who would be travelling out with us.

Final preparation were made for our departure for Christmas Island. None of us knew how we would be travelling to Christmas Island. From what Airport or come to that Sea Port but as the day, turned into evening, it became clear through our documentation, tickets and the Five Dollars we were given (lodged against our pay) that we would be flying out and via America!

I have reached this point and trust the words above have lead you to this point to understand like many a fellow in the 'Service of the Country' before me have had experiences that have lasted as deep memories of their young life. The words I now layout are from the letter, (Yes a letter, I still have. One may call it a Log.) I wrote as we made 'A Journey of a Life Time'. Back Fifty Years Plus.

Blackbushe, Airport. 28.10.59. 12.33 AM. GMT.

Dear Mum, Dad and All.

At last we are now on our way. This evening we have done various things down at Hendon, getting ready for this flight. We left Hendon at 10.55 PM. GMT. 27.10.59, have arrived here at 12.15 AM. GMT. We have come across by Eagle Airways Coach, from Hendon. The journey was very comfortable. We are now waiting in the lounge here for our aircraft which will be a DC6c. The flight will be held up for an hour, as we have to wait for an incoming flight, which means instead of taking off at 1 O'clock it will be 2 O'clock, they told us. I will stop now and write to you on our journey from here.

TIME 1.37 GMT AM 28.10.59.

Here I am once again. We have just boarded the aircraft at 1.35 AM GMT. They have just started the engines as I wrote the time at the top. Now 1.41 AM. GMT. and we have started to taxi to the end of runway. I am sitting on the port side. Just al little in front of the wing. When I lookout of the window I am looking a the engines. We are now at the end of runway, checking instruments. TIME 1.51. We are now going down the runway and we are off. So I now say Cheerio to you all for some month to come. As I lookdown, things and the lights get smaller and smaller. The next stop is Shannon Airport.

TIME 1.56 AM GMT. 28.10.59.

We are now banking to starboard, 1.58 AM still on a gradual turn, now we have leveled out. Time 2 O'clock I have been looking out of the window and everything looks like a fairyland. The aircraft is very comfortable. The seats are setout in twos and threes, all facing backwards. The seat on the starboard side are threes and the ones on the portside are twos. The Interior if the aircraft is done in three pastel shades. Blue, Pink and Cream. We each have our own fresh air duct and seat light though the main lighting is in the cabin roof, hidden away by a creamed coloured Perspex.

TIME 2.25 GMT 28.10.59.

I have just asked the stewardess where we are and she tell me we are going over the Welsh Mountains.

TIME 2.35 GMT 28.10.59.

Now saying goodbye to England as we are now heading out over the sea.

TIME 3.35 GMT AM. GMT. 28.10.59.

We are now coming into land at Shannon.

TIME 3.45 LOCAL TIME 28.10.59.

We have just landed and should be here for about on hour. Then we shall take off for Gander. Cheerio for now.

TIME 4.53 LT. Shannon 28.10.59.

Well I am back again after being refreshed. We are now off to Gander. The journey will take 9 hours. And we shall be flying at 10,000 ft. So I shall have some sleep on this part of the journey. AS I lookout of the window at the sky, it is getting a little lighter. I think of you all in bed there while I shall be getting further away.

TIME 5.3 AM LT. 28.10.59.

Engines started and we taxi off.

TIME 5.11 AM.

We now start our run after having had instruments checked. Now after that run we are airborne. As I lookout, the sky is like a clear night. I will close now again as we speed off on our journey. Goodnight all.

TIME 07.47 AM. GMT. 28.10.59.

Here I am again. The stewardess has just brought us breakfast. Fried Egg, Bacon, Bread, Butter and Marmalade and Toast. As I lookout of the window I see something I have never seen before. We are flying above the cloud with the Moon Shining above us. In front of us it's still night time but as I look towards the tail the sun is beginning come up over the horizon. If I lookdown I can see the sea through the cloud which is patchy. The colours in the sky at the moment are fantastic. I just cannot explain it.

TIME 11.19 GMT 28.10.59.

Now the sun has caught up with us and is streaming through the window at the side of me. We have about another 2 hours 30 minutes to go before Gander. I have been to sleep most of the morning.

TIME 12.34 PM. GMT. 28.10.59.

The stewardess is now coming around with the lunch, so will stop now and have that.

TIME 1.16. GMT. 28.10.59.

We have just had lunch and I must say it was very nice.

TIME 1.52. PM. GMT. 28.18.59.

Looking out of our window I can see the sea beneath us, through a break in the cloud.

TIME 2.14. PM. GMT. 28.10.59.

We have just reached land and are now fastening safety belts for landing. We also are loosing height for the run into Gander. This is Canada, I can see pine trees now below me with some clearings. It also look like in places silver birch trees, as they show silver. There us just below us a river winding it's way along. We are stopping here for about an hour. Cheerio for now.

TIME 3.40. PM. GMT.

Hello once again. We are back in the aircraft, after had a wash and brush up and a cup of coffee. We are going to take off for New York. The stewardess has just told us the journey will take 5 hours and we will be flying at 12,000 ft.

TIME 3.53 PM. GMT.

Again we are in the air making for New York, this time. This time I can not see the ground as it is cloudy and raining. It was raining at Gander.

TIME 6.5 PM. GMT. 28.10.59.

As I lookout of my window the cloud bank has broken up and you can see the water beneath us and further along you can see land with rivers running out to the sea. The stewardess said it is most likely Novascosia.

TIME 7.58. PM. GMT. 28.10.59.

We are still going strong on our way to New York. At the moment we are as it seem following the coast line. It is really beautiful country.

TIME 8.47. PM. GMT. 28.10.59.

We are approaching Idlewild Airport, this should be the end of our first leg of the journey. I will be unable to get any photos of the landing at Now York as I wanted but there will always be another time. As I am looking out now I can see ships going in towards New York.

TIME 8.54. PM. GMT.

I can now see New York. It's like one big giant city. We are going around now on another circuit of the airport. I don't know the reason. I now see why there's another aircraft going to land.

TIME 8.58. GMT.

We are going down now 8.59 PM. We are down. Here I come to the end of the first leg of our journey. The local time here is 5 O'clock and your time is 9 O'clock PM. GMT.

So cheerio goodbye to you all.

From your loving Son, Grandson and Brother Christopher.

P.S We are not stopping here as expected. We are flying on towards San Francisco but first of all calling at Omaha. The journey to Omaha 5 hours. And we will be flying at 14,000 ft.

Love Chirs.

I posted this letter in San Francisco. Date stamped Oct 29, 5.30 PM.  Cost of postage was 30 cents.