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RAF Butweilerhof, 1958-61 - Personalities - Colin Noad

I thought that, as a follow-up to my previous contribution (below), it might be nice to talk about some of the people whom I encountered whilst at Butz, between 1958 and 1961. I could, of course, just list people's names but that would be pretty boring and, anyway, there is a list on a German friends website, at http://www.koelner-luftfahrt.de/colin_noad.htm, for anyone interested.

First, the GSO (or German Service Organisation) civilian personnel, with whom I worked. We were really lucky in MTSS (MT Servicing Section), in contrast to some of the other sections and units on the Station (as I have since heard), in having a happy little band of people. We co-worked with the civilian mechanics, fitters, cleaners, etc. and we all shared a rest room in our tiny office block, within the MTSS area. It was great fun, during the lunch or tea breaks, to see (or perhaps, rather, hear) the Germans playing cards. The noise was incredible, as they literally threw their cards onto the table, announcing, very loudly, which cards they were playing; for instance "Pik As", or Ace of Spades!

I tried very hard, and reasonably successfully, to learn German. I didn't mind being in the "Ein bier bitte" camp but I wanted to take fuller advantage of being abroad. Needless to say, the first thing that I learned to do was to swear in German and, later, in Spanish, when some Spaniards joined us as "Gastarbeite" (the current euphemism then, for migrant workers. Thanks are especially due here to Otto Hollatz and Manfred (for the German) and to Manuel and Ramon (for their Spanish tuition). Well done, guys - I have never forgotten the words, although I do try not to use them in polite company nowadays!

We had two really good deutsche's with whom I worked in our paint shop - they were Alfred and a short chubby, very jolly, gentleman whom I dubbed "Klein Khrushchev", because of his resemblance to the Russian leader of the time! We enjoyed many laughs together. Most of the civilians in MT and MTSS were regular sorts of people. One, in MT, did have the attributes of an arrogant dislikeable swine but he was definitely in the minority.

Fritz (Mann?) was the GSO supervisor over in MTSS. Another GSO type was Willi, who always looked a little on the sad side but that was just his way! Ingo was a youngish German worker.

On the RAF side, individuals who especially come to my mind are Sergeant Technician (later Chief Technician) "Woofty". Sadly, I have no idea what his real name was but I assume that his nickname was based on his surname! He was unusual in that he was quite a lot older than the other Senior NCO's. He was a Christian and he did not approve of swearing but everybody liked and respected him. He was a very wise and kindly man and took the new arrivals in MTSS under his wing, helping, advising and assisting, whenever possible!

Another kind man was Corporal Ron Wicks. Ron was excused shaving and could often be seen sporting a full beard (a la Royal Navy), because of a skin condition. He and his wife Joan took myself and Ian Langmuir (who was an armourer, I think) with them on a trip to Amsterdam, in their Merc, to see the tulips in Spring. I am still in touch with Ron and Joan.

Sergeant Briggs was a rough, tough, Yorkshireman - he seemed to be completely impervious to electricity too! He had a very nasty trick that he played on new drivers or mechanics who passed by, as he sat perched on a lorries mudguard, alongside a running engine; he would say, "Come here lad, I want to show you something". Then he would grab your arm. What you hadn't realised was that he was holding a live ignition lead .. Ouch!

There were two of our people who wed German ladies - Corporal "Porky" Ford and Junior Tech (later Corporal Tech) "Chalky" White - he married a woman called Eva whom, I seem to remember, worked in the NAAFI.

I vividly recall a Corporal Tech Peter Carey. He later turned up, as a Chief Technician, at Old Sarum (Salisbury) in one of my later postings where he examined and passed me for my first UK driving licence; he made a recommendation that I should 'drive with more panache', which I have endeavoured to do, ever since! Corporal Fred Needham was an RAF qualified Motorcyclist and could often be seen test driving motorbikes around the camp.

SAC's Derek French and Nigel Clarkson were together with me at Weeton, as I recall, during our MT Mechanic trade training. In Germany, we often used to go out together as a trio. Nigel later acquired a huge late-model Opel Kapitan with a radio aerial that must have been at least twelve feet long. No problems picking up BFN when we were on the move with him!

Joe worked in MTSS stores and, thereby, possessed a strange power over us mere mortals!

When I first moved into Portal block, I shared a room with about five or six others, one of whom was Pete Evans, a Driver. Later, I was lucky enough to get a twin bedded room, which I shared with Jock ("Haggis"), also an MT Driver. One of the sad occasions was saying farewell to Paddy Reynolds, another MT Driver. I was on his final Guard of Honour after he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Two very colourful other Drivers were Tich and his mate Bert - always up for some fun! Owen and Wilky were never far away when there was some fun to be had.

Another mate was Geordie Marsden, who had a rare wit.

I also remember a few of the British civilians, especially Roy (I think that was his name) - he ran the camp (PSI) shop and seemed to be able to get pretty well anything you needed; he also arranged photo processing with a company in Cologne. The two WVS ladies were Audrey and Joan(?); they were always so pleasant and arranged some super trips off camp for us. I recall going to Monschau, in the Eifel mountains; Königswinter; the Siebengebirge, Brühl, Königswinter (on a Rhine cruise boat), Ehrenbreitstein fortress at Koblenz and Altenberg, where they had 'dancing fountains'.

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Geordie ready to
be a Mess Steward
for the night

 

Nigel Clarksons car with Nigel  Derek French.jpg (48934 bytes)
Nigel Clarksons car
with Nigel Derek French

 

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Nigel Clarkson

 

Ian Langmuir.jpg (50761 bytes)
Ian Langmuir

 

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Pete Evans resting

 

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Pete Evans

 

 

Christmas 1959

 

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Xmas 59 CO etc with names.jpg (38511 bytes)

 


My time at Butzweilerhof - Colin Noad

Arrival

I arrived at Butz in August 1958. I was a newly qualified MT Mechanic and I was posted to the station's MT Servicing Section. I later became a Mechanic (Driver) and so feel that I do qualify to be included on this website!

At the time of my arrival, I had never been abroad before and did not even possess a passport - not that this was unusual in the fifties.

Upon arriving at Butz, I had quite a shock at seeing the fifty or so Command Reserve vehicles parked on the square; these were our bread and butter, in MTSS, as we had to service them and run them up regularly, just in case the balloon ever went up. I was never quite sure how this motley collection of Magirus lorries would help us win the war, against the Eastern bloc's tanks, but mine not to reason why. The batteries were invariably flat when we went out to give them their monthly engine runs. We just had to hope that the Russians would give us sufficient notice of any attack for us to get them all running beforehand!

 

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How did we know we were in Germany? On camp you could have been at virtually any RAF station. However, at the time of my arrival, most of our RAF vehicles were of German manufacture. We were paid in BAF's but we could pre-order Deutschmarks, for spending out of camp. Later, after the transition from 2 TAF to RAFG, we were paid entirely in DMs and had to request any sterling that we might need for returning to the UK on leave, etc. The Bundesbahn maintained a railway spur line into the Station and they used their locos and rolling stock to bring supplies in and out for us. BAOR knew our terminus as Köln 9 Depot - a rather grand description for what amounted to just an unloading platform and an engine shed

One could happily stay in camp and never venture out but I decided to learn German, helped by the fact that we had German engineers working in MTSS. Needless to say, I learned to swear fluently in Deutsch fairly quickly! This was duly followed by swearing in Espanol as we eventually recruited two Spanish Gastarbeiters ("guest workers", as they were known). Cologne was on our doorstep and so I had many opportunities to take myself off and talk to the natives.

The WVS (as it then was, before becoming "Royal") used to organise coach trips out and about, which enabled those of us without personal transport to see some of the sites. The ladies manning the WVS club (I remember one of them was called Audrey) were charming, friendly and helpful.

The Malcolm Club introduced me to those heavenly amber liquids contained in the green bottles of Der Rhein and brown bottles of Die Mosel. Before arriving in Germany, I don't think that I had ever drunk wine (again, not so unusual in those days).

 

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Daily life in MTSS

All of the other ranks of the MT section and of MTSS, lived in Portal block, close to the Astra Cinema and opposite the butcher's and the PSI shop. At work, the RAF staff's days consisted, mostly, of maintaining the Command Reserve and other lorries (such as the wide spectrum of RVT, specialised radio vehicles). By contrast, the German civilian workers usually took care of cars and vans - mostly VW Beetles and Kombi's.

We also had a paint shop and there I found my own niche. I was a pretty average Mechanic - if a thread could be stripped, it was usually me who did it. However, when it came to spraying and brush painting, I was the man. I found it both creative and enjoyable. Most of the vehicles were painted a rather boring overall green. However, for the canvas tilts that covered the rear of our lorries, we used a foul-smelling greeny-brown bituminous gloop that resembled liquid pooh to smear over those. Not such an enjoyable job!

 

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My very favourite vehicles to paint were those of the Butz-based 6209 Bomb Disposal Flight. On the BD vehicles, we were actually allowed to paint vast areas (such as the wheel arches) in a bright, vivid, red! On top of that, there were large areas of white including the wording "Bomben Räum Kommando" that appeared in very large lettering, for obvious reasons.

We used to collect our stores from the other side of the site. We had a funny little Lister, three-wheeled open backed runabout to do this. We called it "Thunderbird". Driving this was more like fun than work. However, we did have to fire it up with a starting handle, as it had no electrics, apart from the ignition itself.

Occasionally we would get a chance to go off-site to repair or collect broken-down or crashed vehicles. I well remember one such 'adventure' where three of us went (in a large Ford Köln coach), all the way to Ingolstadt, down in Bavaria. We stayed in a hotel there - another first for me - my, how times have changed. I then had to earn my crust by replacing an exhaust pipe on a lorry, in freezing cold temperatures, working under an open sided ramp. We left the coach there for the use of the detachment, whilst we returned to Butz in the lorry.

Another trip that I took was in a VW Beetle, to Borgentreich (near Kassel); this wasn't quite so much fun as I crashed it on the way back. The weather was really cold and when I rounded a corner onto a straight stretch of road, I saw two civilians flagging me down. I braked and the car span several times before backing gently into a tree! They had been trying to warn me of black ice. The only problem was that they were at one end of it and I was at the other.

 

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Other duties

I volunteered for the Station Guard of Honour. Most of our duties involved parading for the AOC's visits and, sadly, quite a few funeral ceremonies. However, I did once get to travel to southern Germany, to take part in the NATO 10th Anniversary parade, held on 4th April 1959, in Mainz. Butzweilerhof supplied the 36-man RAF contingent and we stayed at a US Army camp located in Wiesbaden, whilst we were there. We all thought that we had died and gone to heaven!

I learned to drive whilst at Butzweilerhof and so I sometimes covered MT runs, such as the regular shuttle service to the RAF Hospital at Wegburg and the frequent trips to the Astra cinema at Volkspark, where the main Married Quarters were situated.

 

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Amusing times

It wasn't all very serious and cold-war like. For instance, the most important part of preparing for the AOC's inspections, for us, was loading all of our 'gash' gear and bits that we had mossed away "in case they came in useful", into a Magirus 3-tonner. Come the day of the inspection, that lorry found itself on special duties, off the Station. Once the inspection was over, the vehicle returned, was off-loaded, and we had all of our treasures back once more.

At this time, the Belgian Army occupied the airfield on the flying side of Butzweilerhof. Approaching the camp on Butzweilerstrasse, from Ossendorf, there was a level crossing, without barriers, right on a sharp bend. The road there was cobbled and got extremely slippery in rainy weather. We christened this "Belgique corner" as it was not at all unusual to see their private cars, or even military lorries, in the field, where they ended up after missing the bend! Happily there didn't ever seem to be any injuries. Belgians did not have to pass any driving tests at that time.

 

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There came a time when two Corporals from MTSS had to go into Cologne to locally-purchase something or other. They decided to stay for lunch (of the liquid variety, I fear). Their big mistake was to ring up and speak to the Warrant Officer, telling him that they were 'having a good time and won't be coming back in the near future'. Other NCO's didn't have to worry about doing Duty Corporal for quite a long time!

There was a very funny incident at the main gate during one dark rainy night. It would appear that one of our favourite 'Snowdrops' had been having a little personal game of trying to get the barrier down as soon as possible after vehicles came in. Unfortunately, with all of our vehicles being painted dark green, he managed to drop the barrier between a lorry and the trailer that it was towing! The trailer was damaged slightly but the barrier came off much, much, worse! We were so sorry to hear about it next day but the tears were of laughter. It served him right!

Virtually all diesel vehicles in Germany at this time used an identical and very simple ignition key - it was simply a flanged shaft with a shaped top and a ball end. If stuck, a nail could be used as a substitute, however, not at night as the key flange was what operated the lights, when it was turned in the ignition - no key, no lights... Imagine my surprise, when on a Rhine trip, to see that their hulking great Rhine cruisers used exactly the same key!

 

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The finale

When first arrived in Germany, I had not realised that the SHQ / Malcolm Club building was what had once been Cologne Airport's main Terminal Building. This building miraculously survived the war, despite the fact that "the Brits knew where it was" - we should have, since Imperial Airways were operating from there, prior to the war.

I managed to visit Cologne at the end of 2007. Prior to that, I found a couple of web-sites specialising in things Butzweilerhof. One of the contacts I made, offered to take us out to the old place and the other contact arranged for us to be shown around the restored Terminal Building (aka our old SHQ, Malcolm Club, Astra Cinema block). The restoration is indeed impressive. We were there only days before the bulldozers moved in to flatten pretty well everything else on site. My contact informed me that I was the last RAF person to see the place before the final decimation. We returned to the city on the good old Number 5 tram, from Ossendorf.

Postscript For those who are interested, the German "Butz" websites referred to above are at:-

http://www.koelner-luftfahrt.de/ It has been put together by a chap called Werner Mueller and features extensive galleries of photos of Butz, together with interesting historical notes. He is always interested to hear from RAF personnel, with their memories or photographs.

http://www.butzweilerhof.de/butz/ The website is run by the Trust that renovated and now maintains the old Terminal building.


Added 16/09/08

Frau Petra Keller sent these pictures on to Colin, they are of her Uncle Erwin Rutzen who worked in Butz MT on the GSO staff

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1945 (?) Erwin Rutzen
fourth from right

 

1945 (?) Erwin Rutzen
far left, bottom row

 

1954 Erwin Rutzen
second from left

 

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Feierlichkeit Butzweilerhof 1955 ?
"Feierlichkeit" = "Party"
(probably Christmas as we inherited a tradition of Xmas parties!)
Butzweilerhof 1955 ? Erwin Rutzen second from right

Added 15/04/09

Memories of R.A.F. Butzweilerhof - Derek L. French

I arrived at R.A.F. Butzweilerhof in August 1958, straight out of the R.A.F. Weeton training school. Like many others of my age, I thought the world was mine. Not long out of school and green as grass I was about to start to learn about Real Life. Especially in Germany. I did the usual round with the blue card and eventually presented myself at M.T.S.S., where my tools and overalls were issued, and I was put under the watchful eye of a Senior Tech. Barker (Woofty) He had been in the R.A.F. for some time, and was an ex aircraft engine fitter. He was one of the best influences in my career. And a true Gentleman in every sense of the word. He taught me and the other "new boys" to double check our work, to be more accurate, and gave us hints and tips that he had gained during his career. He had in his possession a very large crescent adjustable spanner, I think it came from an O.K. crane. It was a superb piece of engineering, with no play in the jaws at all. If we had a nut or bolt that we couldn't shift, we just called for Woofty and along he would come, it never failed.

I did upset him once; we were putting an engine back in a Magirus truck and trying to line up the rear engine mountings. There was a bottle jack under the engine and I had to pump the jack handle to raise the engine so he could get it lined up from the top. Unfortunately I hadn't used a jack before, so didn't know that the handle had to be pushed right in. I started to pump slowly and the engine rose a little, he was feeling under the mounting and said "start pumping". I did so and there was a scream, in fact there was a scream every time I pushed the handle down. It turned out that I hadn't pushed the handle in far enough, so as I pushed the handle down the engine rose, but as I got to the bottom of the stroke it dropped, straight on to his hand. Fortunately there was no damage done. It was the only time anyone had heard Woofty shout. And my next lesson from him was on the operation of the bottle jack.

Our vehicles were extremely varied, the usual mix of German manufacture, such as Mercedes, Magirus Deutz, Borgward, Faun, and Opel and Volkswagen cars. Plus there were many elderly British vehicles left over from the war that were still in use. Such as Ford WOT six wheelers, Austin K6 six wheelers, an old A.E.C. which I think had an Autovac fuel system,(don't ask as I don't remember how it worked) plus some others that I've forgotten. The workshops were very good, with central heating, three pits, and crane bays. Across the yard were the bays for cars, mainly manned by the German staff. I think that the foreman was called Fritz, he also was very liberal with his advice and assistance, his knowledge of Volkswagen cars was limitless. The other R.A.F. fitters were friendly, and also very helpful, many were National Service and were just waiting for their ticket home.

Our S.N.C.O, was Flight Sergeant Pruce, of the old school, and he was positively in charge. After a short while I had settled in and the others took me under their wings and started to show me the ins and outs of the local hostelries (of which there were many).The best of the nearest was Bardos (I think that is the spelling) but it was on the out of bounds list which came out in Station Standing Orders. As soon as this list came out everyone scanned it to see if there were any new ones to be explored. All the time I was there I never saw the Snowdrops check (fortunately I suppose). There were the trips to Köln (Cologne), how and where to get the bus, and ask for a ticket. Then the best places to eat and drink. We were shown The Grosse Brinkgasse, the expensive brothel area, (35 shillings) and The Kleine Brinkgasse, also called The Vater Rhine (Father Rhine) because it was on the Rhine bank and the pub at the end of the road was of that name. Here the price was 17 shillings and six pence. I have never admitted it before, but I never did partake of the services offered; as I am now 70, I don't care what anyone thinks anymore. A case of Damned if you do, and Damned if you don't I suppose.

I had been at Butz. for only a few weeks when I was told to get some kit together as I was going on crash guard. I hadn't a clue what this meant so I did as I was told and reported to the guardroom with my gear. We were issued with wellies, bundled into a waiting bus and off we went. We were briefed on the way. A Canberra aircraft had crashed and we had to form a guard around the area to keep out any civilians. The site was in the hills above the Sorpe Dam, with just a farm track for access. The rain was almost constant and even with our capes we got very wet. I didn't know what to expect but it was a shock when we first saw the wreckage; the aircraft had cart-wheeled into the ground and there were just bits and pieces scattered around.And as the three crewmen were killed it was not a nice thought.

We spent 24 hours there until relieved. I was really glad to leave. But before we left we had to wait for the Queen Mary trailer to arrive, it was reversed up the farm track from the road, and I was in awe of the driver for being able to do it. I can remember thinking to myself that I wanted to be able to drive as good as that and I like to think that I achieved it, albeit many years after I left the Mob.. I think that this episode was one of the first lessons in life for me. The thought that it was just a matter of one little mistake and life could be ended in a second did sink in.

As in other R.A.F. stations the personnel were always changing; new friends were made and old friends left. Four of us were always together as we had all arrived within a few weeks of each other. There was Colin Noad, Ron Ward (Geordie), Nigel Clarkson, and myself. After we had been there for a while we were given the automatic promotion to the dizzy heights of Leading Aircraftsmen and to gain our Senior Aircraftsmen status we had to take an exam, so we all applied for the next one.

We were under the wing of a new arrival, Senior Tech Simpson had replaced Woofty. He was also very good with us, keeping an eye on our work and giving us advice. He had a good sense of humour. If we made a silly mistake he would get a piece of chalk and put the Cross of Lorraine on our backs. He decided it would be the cross as I was the first to make a mistake when he took over, and as my name was French he thought that it would be appropriate, so it stuck.

So the papers came for our exams, and we took the Ballot paper. We would normally have gone to the Forward Repair Unit for our practical exam, but for some reason it was to be taken at our section, and S/T. Simpson was the examiner. He got us all together on the morning of the test and told us what was going to happen, and how he would conduct the test. He then said," If one of you passes you all pass". So we all got our pass, and were able to sew on our three bladed prop. He never told us if anyone actually failed. French, Ward, Noad, and Clarkson were now S.A.C.s.

By this time I had passed my test for vehicles up to about ten tons, it was for convoy and recovery only, and testing on camp. Colin and I had mopeds which only cost a few pounds; they were handy for getting around camp, especially when we were on key orderly or duty fitter. One day as I took the keys to the guardroom I was approached by an R.A.F. policeman, who as it turned out was from Geilenkirchen. He had a look at the moped and after a few questions I was nicked. No tax, no licence, no test, no insurance and not registered with B.Z. Authorities. If he had done his job properly he could have added unroadworthy. So I was due to appear in front of the Wing Commander. I was in the section with my Best Blue on and all my kit packed when a new arrival walked in. It was Corporal Ron Wicks, he was immediately given the job of being my escort. What a welcome! I was expecting a few days Jankers, and was a little upset when the Wingco said "Seven days detention". I said "I'm going on leave tomorrow can I do it when I come back"? I had never seen a Wingco explode before, it was not a pretty sight, and not one I'd like to see again. ( I did manage to get a similar effect from a manager at Walls later in life, but that was deliberate) Anyway, I did not go on leave the next day.

As Colin Noad mentions in his article, we had a fatality one night. Paddy Reynolds was the main ambulance driver, and was almost permanently at S.S.Q. He lost control of his motor cycle in the wet and sustained fatal injuries, the mobile operating theatre was called to him at the roadside, from the University Hospital, but he was too badly injured to survive. He was to be brought back to Butz and an ambulance was sent for him, which seemed to be rather ironic, considering his job. I was on duty fitter that evening and I was called out by the duty driver, the ambulance had broken down on the way back, so I had to go out and tow it in.

One of my room mates was a driver; he was mostly on the shuttle bus run to the Met. Office, at R.A.F. Wahn, and the Married Quarters. These were on the other side of the City, so I used to go for the ride now and again when there were few passengers. The Met. Office was unbelievable noisy, with several rows of teleprinters all going at the same time. When I got my licence and I was on duty fitter, Ted would phone up from Wahn and say the bus had a fault, so I got a run out and he would do one less trip. Quite a nice arrangement, but I do feel a little guilty about it now.

When we came home on leave we nearly always got the train from Köln. And it was the Yugoslavian Express. It would pull into the station at exactly 03.00, and pull out at exactly 03.11. It was possible to set a watch by it. I went home to Romford, and was home just after midday. Quite a good trip.

Our accommodation was in Portal Block, a two storey building with the entrance in the centre, a corridor down the middle with rooms off. The toilets were at one end; at the other end was a window which was invariably wide open. Most of the M.T.S.S. were on the lower floor, and drivers upstairs. The rooms were being decorated so we all had to move upstairs and double up. So one weekend we shouted each other it was time for lunch, the four of us went to the toilets, washed our pots and irons (we all had a pint china pot and knife fork and spoon as part of our kit as there were none in the messes then) and prepared to set off for lunch. One of our number, who shall remain nameless unless he would like to own up, ran up the corridor as usual and shouted "Last one to the mess....AARRRHHH". He had forgotten we were now on the top floor and jumped out of the end window as normal. As he fell his arms went up and he let go of his pot and irons, which after a second or two fell past the window after him. Well the three of us fell on the floor laughing; we were totally unable to go to his aid. When it got through to us that he was probably hurt, instead of rushing down to see, we all rushed to the window. He was lying on the grass with pot and irons around him, fortunately he had cleared the concrete path and landed on the grass, he was winded but unhurt.

A new S.N.C.O. arrived in the section, a Sergeant Briggs - a real Yorkshireman; it was sometimes hard to understand his accent. But the one time when we had no trouble understanding him, was at the end of a road test when he checked our work. He would drive across the square towards the section, slow down to walking pace at the entrance, then he would open the hand throttle (fitted on most large German vehicles) shout "All yours", and jump out. We had to move quickly to take over before the end of the yard. We all got wise and were ready for him, so he stopped playing that game.

As Colin says in his article Sergeant Briggs could play with the H.T. leads and give others a shock, but he came unstuck one day. He worked at the station pig farm when off duty, and part of his job was to electrocute the pigs for slaughter. This entailed standing the pig on a steel plate and putting a clamp on the back of its' neck, this was connected to the power and was switched on automatically by the previous carcase going round on a hook. One day a pig decided that it wasn't going to go quietly, and put up a struggle. Serge had hold of the clamp and as the power came on he also had a foot on the plate. ZAPP - one electrocuted S.N.C.O. Fortunately he managed to fall off and let go of the clamp. It was weeks before he tried to get us in the section again with his tricks.

Another trick played in the workshops was with the spark plug cleaning machine. Anything metal on the bench had to be treated with caution, because some people used to make sure all the metal parts were touching, and wait until another person came along and if they touched any of the parts someone would press the button and 12000 volts would pass through the metal and anyone who touched it. One day one of the German staff came to talk to us; he did no more than sit on a piece of chain on the bench and, when he wrapped his legs around the bench support, it was too good to miss, and the button was pressed. It took a few seconds before he could untangle his legs, all the time getting a huge belt of electricity into his backside, when he eventually threw himself off of the bench he nearly fell headfirst down the pit. His last words to us as he went out of the door were, "English B******s".

One of the National Service airmen was a Geordie Williams, a very strong man. He could pick up a bus wheel and lift it over his head. But one day his strength came in useful. We had an M.T. Assistant, Joe Deans, a Scotsman (who liked his Whisky). He was sat with his legs under the front of a bus cleaning the brake linings when it started to roll off of the axle stand, Geordie who was nearby saw it and shouted for him to get out, at the same time he put his back to the bumper and kept the bus on the stand until Joe got out, it dropped as soon as he moved away.

Joes' liking for "a wee dram" got him into trouble with the Snowdrops one night. Outside the block were a few trees, not very tall but easily climbed, even when drunk. We heard a commotion and when we looked out there was Joe up the tree and two police trying to coax him down. Not a chance! They couldn't get up to him so he was giving them a lot of verbal. Then when someone came out of the block and talked to him he decided to see sense and come down. Unfortunately he was stuck, too drunk to make it, so the fire section had to be called to help. I can't remember if he was charged.

The things that went on then would not be tolerated nowadays; we were really dangerous now I look back. One game was to tie the cleaning rags in knots and use them as missiles. It was during one of these games that Ron Wicks received his injury, and I have always believed that our game possibly played a part. It was getting towards time to lock up so we were closing the doors, putting our tools away and making sure everything was safe; while this was going on the missiles were still flying about. Then there was a bit of shouting and people running and then I saw the two electricians taking Ron across the square to sick quarters. Half way across, the little one, Paddy Levy, fell on the floor while the other one, Paddy Simpson, carried on with Ron.(It turned out that the little one asked Ron to show him the wound, and fainted when he saw it). It transpired that as Ron was closing the doors they closed on his fingers and they were squashed to about wafer thin, but were not split.

He was told in S.S.Q. that he could go to R.A.F. Wegburg hospital and they would amputate them. Or he could go to the University Hospital in Köln and they would attempt to re-build them. So off to Köln he went. And he kept his fingers! Although it took some time to get full use of them.

At another time someone was working under a bus. So a person I will not name decided to play a trick with the water hose. He bent it double so the water would not flow, turned the tap on, then let it go under the bus, where it thrashed around like a demented snake. The person under the bus immediately sat bolt upright, smashed his head on the prop shaft centre bearing, and fell back, out cold. The tap was turned off and he was dragged out; he was soaking wet, had a split across the forehead, and a big lump on the back of his head. And for some reason we couldn't understand why he was not happy. We put it down to a poor sense of humour.

There was a P.S.I. bus on camp which could be hired out for trips. I can just remember it was, I think, blue. But when it went on a trip it had to take a jerry can of oil as it burned so much. It wasn't long after I arrived that it was scrapped and I don't think it was replaced.

As well as the silly tricks we played at work, there was also a lot of drinking and driving. When I look back on that we were very lucky to get away with it as often as we did. On one occasion we went out in the station photographer's car to a local inn. Part way through the evening he passed out, so we left him slumped over the table and carried on drinking. When we were ready to go we picked him up and put him in the driving seat and woke him up. He managed to get the car started and eased it out of the car park, then set off towards camp. He stayed in first gear all the way, while the rest of us were hanging out of the windows shouting, "Left a bit Ian", or "Right a bit Ian". Goodness knows how we got through the camp gates without hitting them.

Once some of us had been into Köln with Geordie Ward. We probably visited a bar known as Helens' Bar to us. It was run by a very nice woman called (strangely enough) Helen. Anyway, the car was a Mercedes 170, with a front door that opened backwards. As we travelled, a car came toward us and wouldn't dip his headlights, so SAC X (as I'll call him, to save his blushes if he's still around) in the front seat opened the front door and tried to get out to "talk" to the other driver. This at about 50 mph. So Geordie was left steering with his left hand whilst trying to pull X back in with his right, and trying to slow the car down so the door wouldn't be torn out of X's hand and slam back.

Time was marching on and my tour was coming to the end. My 21st birthday came; I was on duty fitter that week so any celebration had to wait. But it wasn't quite the same. I duly filled the forms for my choice of postings when I returned to the U.K. I asked for London area. Unfortunately the one throwing the darts was not too good a shot, so I was to go to R.A.F. North Coates, near Grimsby.

So I started to say my Goodbyes to my friends and colleagues, and in January 1961 I left Butz. It was the best posting I was to have in my service and I now wish that I had made more effort to keep track of the friends I made there. But as is said: "Hindsight is 20-20 vision", and it is easy to be wise after the event.

I hope this has given you some insight into The Mob as it was to us then, and kept you amused for a few minutes at least.

Derek L. French

 

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MTSS yard
RAF Butzweilerhof

 

Derek French at work on a Borgward RVT 105

 

Derek French on moped
outside Portal Block

 

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Off duty during a visit to Ehrenbreitstein, KoblenzDerek, Bert, ?, Paul, Pete Evans

 

GSO (German civilian) workers in MTSS?, Manfred, Klein Kruschev,Herr ? (our cleaner), ?, Derek

 

Ready for a night outJock, Geordie, Scouse, Derek French, Nigel, Jimmy

 

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Derek French, ready for inspection

 

Derek French standing by the Wahn 'Living out' (Ford Köln) bus

 

Derek French working on an RVT, with 2 Spanish civilian workers alongside Gregorio(?), Ramon, Derek French

 


Added 16/04/09

Gliding at Geilenkirchen

A few of us used to go gliding at Geilenkirchen on Sundays, with the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association (RAFGSA). They had an old tandem Kranich II glider, for learners. It had a wonderful red colour scheme - presumably to signify danger! I had the privilege of being taught by a Sergeant Andy Gough, who held many gliding records and trophies. Sadly, he was killed in a gliding accident in the mid-1990's.

On my very first flight there, I thought that I was going to die. We were winched up and rose at an extremely fast rate to a goodly height. It was my first flight of any description (ever) and I was both exhilarated and terrified in equal parts. However, there suddenly came what sounded like a loud explosion directly beneath my feet. It transpired that we had actually arrived directly above the winch and the towing cable was back-released automatically by the safety mechanism. Had it not done so, we would have been pulled downwards into the winch. it was a pretty awful experience at the time!

Gliding at Geilenkirchen.jpg (33747 bytes)

We used an old Opel Kapitan, to collect the cables from the winch end of the field and take them back to the gliders. I had great fun racing it around the perimeter tracks and runways at speeds that would have been frowned upon in other circumstances!


Added 18/05/09

After my tour in Germany I was posted to R.A.F. North Coates, but after six weeks managed to get a posting to R.A.F. Stanmore Park. Quite a nice place to be and most of the work was on Staff cars, Humber Hawks, and Snipes; the A.O.C.s Austin Princess was there as well. It was a nice cushy number. But there was a lot of "Scrambled Egg" around from Bentley Priory. But they did pay well for work on their private cars!

I married while I was there in March 1963, then after a few months I was put on P.W.R.s and waited for my posting. It eventually came and what a blow. I was to go to R.A.F. El-Adem; the date given was January 10th 1964. Time seemed to fly by until January was on us.

On the 10th I left the married quarter at R.A.F. North Weald and reported to R.A.F. Lyneham, where I and many others were put onto an R.A.F. Comet and were on our way. It was raining at Lyneham as we left and I thought "Never mind I'm off to the sun". Foolish thought as it turned out. We duly landed at Malta, it was raining! Then we flew on to Tripoli, it was raining! Just a shower I told myself, on to El-Adem, no need to tell you really, but it was raining!!! Apparently it was the winter season, but arriving then had its good points as we were able to ease ourselves into the warmer weather rather than arriving when it was really hot. I did the Blue Card rounds and reported to M.T.S.S. Flight Sergeant Hancock was in charge; he was almost at the end of his service and was a nice bloke. Having now served a few years it was easier to settle to new surroundings and new mates. So I soon felt at home, and quickly got into the swing of things.

It was not a particularly nice place, the food was awful, it was sent from Cyprus in an old Hastings, and was probably the stuff that the camps there didn't want. Some of us used to fill up from the NAAFI wagon, and eat in the NAAFI in the evenings. Or go to the mess for supper and fill up on toast and jam. It did change later in my tour when everyone boycotted the mess on the A.O.C.s visit. He asked for volunteers to air the grievances of us all, with no comebacks, and within a few days the food had changed. We got fresh fruit, which we hadn't seen before, and the meals were really good.

The M.T.S.S. was not too great, we either worked in open bays or out in the open. The vehicles were very tired, and in poor condition, mainly due to the exceptionally rough roads. In the 18 miles to Tobruk there was not ten yards of even road. We were changing spring hangers like crazy; the bus panels were falling apart because the shaking on the road loosened the rivets. Broken springs happened that often we could change them in our sleep, Spares were a big problem as they took so long to arrive. Sometimes we would be given jobs to finish that we had forgotten about. I worked on the medium line, the heavy and light lines were in a canvas hangar at the back.

Arriving in winter also had another small advantage. The Comet was known as the Moon Rocket, and the new arrivals were Moonies, because they were all white and stood out like sore thumbs at the swimming pool. I heard about this and decided to cheat a little. So I talked to a couple of other new arrivals and as the weather started to turn warmer we took ourselves off to a small inlet in Tobruk harbour, and with copious amounts of Ambre Solaire, we proceeded to get ourselves a nice tan. So on our first visit to the pool we didn't get the usual round of p*** taking and the customary ducking. As the year progressed the weather started to warm up, working became uncomfortable, then we went onto summer hours. That is starting early, having a midday break, and working another two hours in the afternoon.

As usual, there were a few of us that "clicked", and went around together. We played snooker, darts, cards, and the fool. Steve Bateman, Tony Finnegan, Pete Collingburn and myself. I'm now back in touch with Steve.

El-A. was a staging post for through flights, and also a Major Diversion airfield. Sometimes there would be an emergency alert, if it was a passenger aircraft there would be a massive burst of activity. During working hours three or four buses would be delivered quickly to M.T.S.S. where we would all be waiting with spanners in our hands. We would descend on the vehicles and strip the seats out and fit poles into them for stretchers; we could do four in less than fifteen minutes. They would then be driven round to S.S.Q. for the stretchers to be put in and driven to the airfield. Out of working hours was different, the duty fitter would be alerted and he would help to round as many servicing personnel as possible (many from the bar) and all run to the section to start the work. Fortunately in my two years there we did not have any reason to use the "ambulances" for real.

For recreation there was not a lot of choice. The swimming pool was popular with everyone, including the families. Some airmen joined the sailing club in Tobruk harbour, but many never sailed. The reason for joining was because the bar was open all day. I was one of these, but I did sail once. Other entertainment was darts or snooker in the N.A.A.F.I. - or just plain drinking.. I joined the Model Car Racing Club, but didn't go all that often.

On the edge of Tobruk was a long white wall; painted on the wall was the badge of every Army regiment that took part in the fighting around the town. I visited several times but never once looked to see if there were any R.A.F. Squadron badges,

On Bank Holiday weekends it was possible to pay for a truck on a form 793 and go along the coast for several miles to camp on the beach. Everyone would throw a mattress into the back, K?rations obtained from the mess, a petrol stove and other utensils and of course several crates of booze and off we would go. Either to Bardia near the Egyptian border, or to Derna, which was towards Benghazi. On arrival we would just throw the mattress on the floor and that was it for the stay. Just drinking, eating, swimming, and taking it easy.

In Bardia was a building which had a large mural on one wall, it was done in boot polish by a British soldier sometime during the war. It was signed J. Brill. R.A.S.C. but had no date. He was a good artist and probably well educated.

During the summer we were subjected to another test of our stamina. The Ghibli, or in common terms, a sandstorm. The wind would start blowing and pick up the sand and throw it at us with a vengeance. It became very hot, we sweated, and the sand stuck. It also got into every possible place in and on our bodies, and some places we didn't know we had. Our rooms were not immune, it went into them even with the doors closed, got into our clean clothes, bedclothes, no corner was left out. Then, when it was over, the big clean up started, in the rooms and at work. Quite a task.

We were quite often called out on breakdowns, if it entailed the "wrecker", a very old Scammel probably left over from the war, it was quite often driven by Corporal "Timmy" Spencer. We arrived together on the same flight and remained friends for over twenty years, until his early death from cancer. I was detailed to accompany him one occasion and we left camp towards Tobruk. Once he had engaged top gear (possibly eighth) he asked me to stand on his right side. I squeezed around him next to the drivers door and said "What now", "Stand on the accelerator" he said. To get to top speed the accelerator had to be fully pressed to the floor, this could not be done from the driver's seat. So the driver's mate had to do it. Top speed was a stunning 30 miles an hour. The gears were selected by going through the gear to the next one, so if an emergency stop was made, the driver had to go back through every gear to get to first. It meant changing down in plenty of time while driving, or coming to a stop to get to first again. Now that was REAL DRIVING!!

Another time the wrecker was sent out to recover a loaded fuel bowser, it arrived at the breakdown and the driver proceeded to start the recovery. He started to lift the front of the bowser and it was too heavy, it just lifted the front wheels of the wrecker off the floor. As this was happening, the living out bus turned up, and the recovery driver had a brilliant idea. The first we knew about it was when they arrived back on camp, the wrecker cab was full of airmen, packed like sardines, and there were others sat on the bonnet and front wings clinging on for dear life. All holding the front down to give the driver steering. I some how think today's Health and Safety brigade would not have approved of that incident.

I did two more trips out with Timmy. One was taking a Land Rover to Benghazi with a tiny coffin in the back. An 18 month old baby had drowned on the beach and the funeral was at the Military Cemetery in Benghazi. A very sad trip. The other was when we took a coach to pick up passengers and crew from a stranded aircraft, again from Benghazi. We set off with extra cans of fuel on board for a journey of (I think) over 300miles. We travelled as far as Derna, where we stopped to eat our packed lunch outside the water pumping station. Soon someone came out to speak to us . It was the British engineer working there, he invited us in and we sat talking to him and his wife for about an hour. He explained that the water was pumped to Tobruk mainly for the palace of King Idris, and some was for other parts of the town. We reluctantly took our leave of them and continued on our way.

We had gone just a mile or two when an aircraft flew very low over the top of us, it was the station Argosy. So we stopped and stood at the side of the coach, the aircraft flew over us three times, each time it flew in the direction of El-Adem and waggled its' wings. So we decided to turn the coach round and drive back the way we had come, the aircraft circled for a minute, waggled the wings again and flew off. We had been recalled. It transpired that the aircraft at Benghazi had been repaired.

Sometimes when we were travelling along the coast on our trips out, we called in to see a British woman who everyone knew as Miss Britten. She was elderly, and was the Kings Beekeeper. She lived alone on a small plot of land with the hives, and the honey was solely for the king. She was always glad to see us and we always got a cold drink. And as a bonus we sometimes had a bathe in the pool at the bottom of the cliff, which was fed by a waterfall. The pool was crystal clear, freezing cold, and it felt really good. I often wonder what happened to her when the king was deposed.

One incident caused great hilarity among the Army Detachment at El-A. and a few red faces among the R.A.F. The Rescue helicopter developed a fault whilst some way from camp and could not be repaired where it came down. As there was no R.A.F. vehicle capable of recovering it, the Army helped out by sending their tank transporter. As it was driven back into camp everyone could see the recovery team had added the letter D to the side of the aircraft, so it read R.A.F. RESCUED. There was a lot of p*** taking in the N.A.A.F.I. for a few days.

The Coles Crane was out the back of the section one day being tested after a service, there was a lot of commotion so we went to see what was happening. There was the crane lying on its side, the test weights had gone through the cab window as it fell, so we all thought that the driver would be, at the least, injured, but he was luckily O.K. It took a week to right it (again with the help of the Army).

I joined the Go-kart club for something to do. The karts were the old ones from the club in Episkopi. Old being the word! Someone in their infinite wisdom decided to arrange a match with the Episkopi club. So it was arranged and we put our knackered, Villiers engined karts on a Hastings and went to Cyprus, to race against the new American engined karts. What a fiasco, our karts had a job to finish the races, let alone win. But we did have a good time, with decent food in the mess, and sunk a few local beers. Keo if I remember. And the taxi ride down to Limassol was one to cure constipation.

I paid several visits to the British, German, and French Military Cemeteries while I was there, it is sad and very sobering. To think that my father could have been there if Fate had been unkind. He always said that he and Rommel chased each other up and down North Africa for a couple of years, but never actually met. It never seemed to me to be a place to die for. But sometimes there's no choice.

So I finally got aboard the returning Moon Rocket. I wasn't sad to leave El-A, but I was sad to leave the good friends that I had made there. Most R.A.F. bods were used to this, and didn't stay in contact. But it is nice to sit and remember them and the times we shared, and to wonder how they all fared in life.

Most of these memories are not necessarily in order, but I'm not a very orderly person anyway so what's new. Hope you enjoy it regardless.

Derek L. French


Added 18/05/09

Hello Ian,

I was stationed at RAF Butzweilerhof 1956/59 as a Telegraphist, I have read the articles on your website from Colin Noad and Derek French which I found very interesting, I visited Butz 3 times during the years 2004/5 and met the guy Meyer (not quite sure of the name) who was restoring the old Astra cinema which was the reception area for the old koln airport before the RAF took over, attached is a picture of the finished area maybe you can pass this on to Derek, I am aware of the sad loss of Colin.

Butzweiler-hof-empfangshalle.jpg (48193 bytes)

Regards

John Joiner

website stat

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