Why St Barnabas Church is also our RAFA Branch Church?

06/11/2014 14:12

St Barnabas in its original tin fabrication form, see picture 1, became after it was replaced, see below, the centre of RAF social and spiritual life in those dark days of 1941, when the RAF took over Morecambe which really became RAF Morecambe.  The words below by Rev Stranks provide the complete answer to why we value St Barnabas Church as our Branch's spiritual and social home.  It was then and so continues today with our Branch Chaplain as the resident parish priest in St Barnabas and we are indebted to him for all the support he has given the Branch including now providing the new venue for our annual Wings Appeal Concert. The pictures below show the original design of the replacement church and what was actually achieved as we have the church today.

The town was then full of R.A.F. personnel, who had
their centre in St. Barnabas's parish. In addition, a depart-
ment of the Post Office had been evacuated to Morecambe

and brought in a large number of people from the South,

many of whom made a notable contribution to the life of
the church. There could not have been a better place to
work in just then or a better group of workers than St.
Barnabas's people. Coming from twelve years service over-
seas, I had a good deal to learn about English parish life,
but my two churchwardens, Fred Child and Herbert Wild
were excellent persons to rely on. Fred Child ran an open
night every Wednesday for members of the R.A.F. and
later for the W.R.A.F. and even in those days of shortages
found refreshments for them and organised entertainments
from local talent or from the forces themselves. I still
recollect those evenings, the packed room, the cheerful
atmosphere, the real talent of the performers with special
pleasure, says Rev. C.J Stranks 1941

"Token of Sacrifice" including pictures

B G Moore

Morecambe and Heysham Times Ltd 1975

Experiences of a Cold War Bomber Squadron Ground Flight Engineer

12/12/2013 15:09


My introduction to a Cold War operational squadron, 12 Bomber Squadron, perhaps mirrored the experiences of many newly commissioned engineering officers at that time. In my case after 9 months at the RAF Technical College, Henlow, commissioning, and three years obtaining a degree at Birmingham University, I presented myself as a very green Flying Officer in the awesome presence of the Station Wing Commander Engineering; he was really the most powerful officer on the station responsible for all matters affecting the performance and safety of all aircraft and associated technical facilities, including some thousand personnel. His word was law.

I was curtly informed that my role was not directly under him but on 12 Squadron which was in the process of being reformed from previously flying Canberras to Vulcans carrying the nuclear missile Skybolt, fortunately, cancelled. The squadron was being equipped with eight brand new Vulcan Mark II bombers and some 150 ground crew. I was curtly informed that my immediate role was to take over a brand new hangar, capable of accommodating three of the beasts and arranging for the supporting logistics and accommodation of the personnel. None of these items I had any experience in handling.

I fled and found my way, somewhat disconsolate, to the enormous hangar where I was met by a Vulcan Crew Chief, Chief Technician Jones and one LAC. From this small beginning I thought I was expected to organise and equip the Squadron with the required engineering facilities for 150 men and eight Vulcans and I felt hairless. I had never set my eyes on a modern bomber aircraft let alone a Vulcan, never seen an operating squadron nor had I the faintest idea what logistic support was required. My initial reaction was to cut and run wondering what on earth I had got myself into after those hectic yet balmy days at University.

My first task, I was informed by Chiefy, would be to take over from Works and Bricks this massive hangar for the RAF, atask I had never in my life done before. I was told it had under-floor heating, and at least I knew something about that from my father's installation of such heating facilities in the war, but as for the infrastructure of the hangar, my limited civil engineering theory was of little help. I remember walking around this massive edifice with the works team, trying to behave knowledgeably by asking questions from time to time, and when we had circumnavigated the huge area we halted and I was duly told: "Sign here and here!" When I had done what I was told, I received the response: "She is all yours!" So I was now the doubtful owner on behalf of the RAF of one of largest hangars in the RAF at that time, and I didn't have the faintest idea what to do with it. During the bitterly cold freezing winter months the huge doors froze in position, and when they could not be bulldozed open by an aircraft tug they had to be left open and in the summer they buckled in the heat causing a similar problem. Fortunately, ignorance all round about what should have been provided prevailed and eased the burden of ownership.

Chief Technician Jones was a father figure to me, keeping me as best he could on the straight and narrow. I then attended a two-week course with all our squadron Vulcan Crew Chiefs to familiarise us in the key aspects of the aircraft. Crew Chiefs were very experienced system diagnosticians and I had a lot of deep respect for their abilities and cheerfulness in carrying such a burden. I admit I took very little in during the course, being mesmerised by the complexity of it all.

When I returned to the Squadron, I found it a hive of activity with everything appearing and being slotted into the appropriate place under the control of the Squadron Engineer, Squadron Leader Roy Salmon. He was a brilliant organiser and maintenance manager. He also had his pilot wings and from time to time flew his own Tiger Moth which he kept parked as a minute dot in a corner of the hangar, where in wet days we held station parades, it was that big.

Roy's maintenance approach integrated well with the squeaky clean reputation of "Shiny Foxy" 12 Squadron, earned from the shiny engine cowlings on its WW I aircraft. His approach was simple: clean environment ensured clean work. For instance, our aircrew debriefing room was varnished and polished throughout. Five aircrew, the system experts and Roy or myself as chairman sat around a highly polished table within a very formal atmosphere. The chairman ruled over any rank present including the Group Captain Station Commander as the sole aim was to distil out all faults, missing none, and identifying trends and repetitions. The whole process was recorded in a handwritten manual which was signed by the chairman and pilot captain as a true record. This proved invaluable in helping me learn about the aircraft, in keeping track of the faults, their diagnosis and repair. We also had, even in those early days, computer support from Bomber Command's computer system based on punch card input and were sent regular printouts of all the faults, diagnoses and spares used on Vulcans throughout the Command; useful but it rarely was that helpful because faults had a habit of not repeating themselves that often.

Roy introduced many innovations to ensure efficient and safe aircraft maintenance. For example, he had built huge moveable-tool shadowboards, some say the first in the RAF, and also mobile ones to take on dispersal. Woe betide the departing shift who left a gap in the shadow board: Roy had no hesitation in calling them in from their homes and barracks and remaining in the hangar until the missing tool was found. Roy taught me to always put the lives of the aircrew in the front of my mind in my decision-making and any risks to them had to be removed and not just minimised.

I had to learn on the run, probably at super-sonic speed, with much anxiety because in those days mistakes were unacceptable and not getting an aircraft airborne when a full alert was called was unforgivable. To accommodate this need, the maintenance of the aircraft was partitioned into time slots designed to ensure the regeneration of the aircraft within the prescribed time limit. This requirement stretched us to our limits. A defective part requiring a spare, which could not be obtained by robbing another aircraft because of time-to-regenerate strictures, if not found in station stores or another station squadron, resulted in a Vulcan on the Ground (VOG) alert which meant the whole country including manufacturers had to be scoured for the part and the logistics people had to drive through the night if necessary to get it to us. I became infamous for raising a VOG for a "P" bulb used on the instrument panel and forced a country-wide search for one. Needless to say we were never out of stock of "P" bulbs again.

Roy was a good friend albeit a tough and exacting task-master which was to be expected from one who lived through WWII and experienced years in a prisoner of war camp. I greatly appreciated and admired him, especially as he suffered from severe depression caused by his prisoner of war days, and this meant he had to be relieved of all duties for a time until he recovered and I was left trembling in charge. I therefore had to redouble my efforts to acquire the sustaining knowledge I needed. Fortunately we had very good highly trained technicians who were a joy to work with, and I admired them all greatly for their cheerfulness in sometimes very stressful periods. I can recall a dent in the wing of one aircraft disappearing as a Chief Technician air fitter with his small hammers patiently over an hour or so teased out the dent; he made it look so simple.

The Vulcan in those days was painted all white to protect the aircrew from nuclear flash and radiation, and this had to be kept clean by us. We had no safety harness but the airmen ran over the wings like squirrels. The two other most unpopular jobs were de-icing the wings and replacing fuel tanks. We had to demonstrate that in an emergency the duty flight could, using long tug of war ropes, tow all three aircraft from the Hangar at the double and we did just that. Other activities included the Wg Cdr Eng's team using jet engines strapped to a frame to blast off the ice from the runway in the winters of 1962 to 1964, rapid scrambles for the Press at RAF Waddington, endless Quick Reaction Alerts, and often endless nights and weekends getting those analogue electronics serviceable.

Although I could only be at the side of the working technicians in all weathers giving support when I could or was asked to, I was not capable of much technical input. We had to break out the Rum Ration twice as it was that cold. I did have my periods of glory when a fault defeated them, the whole of the Command and the manufacturers, by going back to theory and finding the cause of that problem and also when consulted on other occasions; this helped me to be accepted as more than an imposed interference.

Six months into my first operational tour saw us tumbling into the Cuban Crisis with new aircraft and a largely untried team. It was hairy but we generated all our aircraft ready for the off in good time and I shall never forget how close the Cold War came to a Hot War. On Saturday 27th October 1962 I was advise to go home, as there was nothing more to be done and return on the Monday if we were all still here, and tell nobody about it. I did not go home but spent the time in the RC Chaplaincy at Birmingham University: the best place if we were nuked.

It is necessary to appreciate the views of us at the time. All of us had survived a terrible World War, and I had been living in South East London throughout the Blitz, been fire bombed out of hospital, blown to the back of our house by a V1, seen devastation all round during my early years from ages 1 to 5. On my days going to school, houses along the road one day there and the next a heap of rubble. I had seen at first hand the horrific devastation of Plymouth. It was so terrible that we believed that the only way to prevent another devastation like this was to convince the Russians we really meant business if they attacked us. It was essential that we believed in what were doing and had no hesitation in going nuclear. To say we carried this situation lightly is partially true, but we often thought about it in terms of making sure we always could do what was asked of us.

Many of us should not have survived WW II, so we lived alert after alert, year in year out without stress or perhaps a mere shrug of the shoulder: we lived for the present and were thankful for it. I can still see, at any time during 24/7, a Vulcan scrambling down our runway and then suddenly relative silence as the engines were cut. Another day of relative peace for if it had taken off, we would have been playing it for real. "Playing it for real" was a view I applied to all my decisions throughout my service life, although I became aware that as the Cuban Crisis faded away many did not share my attitude any more. This tough initiation taught me that the impossible is always perhaps possible if you never give up. Those aircraft were ever ready because of the wonderfully dedicated ground crew who never said we can't do it, or are too tired or cold to go on!

I have to mention our Squadron Commander Wing Commander Lagesen, a wonderful South African leader, having a larger-than-life personality. Many would have gone to hell and back for him. He arrived to take over the Squadron in his own typical way, in his Vulcan sweeping down onto our hangar then climbing up, giving us all the full thrust of his four engines down onto our heads: the boss had arrived! He was a real charmer, tough but loyal to all of us individually and to a fault. He always wore dark glasses, and so we painted dark glasses on the fox on his aircraft.  He never mentioned his WW II experiences, and it is fitting that I complete this personal record with his World War II South African Air Force citation:

"Lieutenant Philip Jacobus LAGESEN (203584 V), S.A.A.F., 31 (S.A.A.F.) Sqn.

This officer was the second pilot in an aircraft detailed to attack the Parona rail/road bridge at Verona. Soon after leaving the target area the aircraft was attacked by a fighter. Evading action was taken but the aircraft was hit by a burst of machine gun fire. Much damage was sustained. A fire commenced in the rear of the aircraft. Being unable to communicate with other members of the crew, owing-to the unserviceability of the inter-communication system, Lieutenant Lagesen went aft to investigate. He found the rear gun turret on fire. The rear gunner lay wounded just outside the turret. Ammunition was exploding intermittently. Despite this, Lieutenant Lagesen fought strenuously to overcome the flames and finally subdued them by means.of extinguishers. He then turned his attention to aiding his wounded comrade. Just then, another fighter closed in. Lieutenant Lagesen promptly manned the beam gun and assisted the mid-upper gunner to drive off the attacker. Fire again broke out in the rear of the aircraft. All the effective extinguishers had been used. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Lagesen tore down and threw out some burning material and then beat out the remainder of the fire with his hands. This officer set a splendid example of courage and coolness in the face of great danger."

Air Marshal Sir Philip Lagesen returned to South Africa where he died in 1995, as he perhaps would have wished, helping the poorest of the poor in the hill country of his beloved country: a great man in keeping with a great nation and a great honour to have served under him.


Bob Latin

Memories of Lancaster Castle

18/09/2013 16:37

Sometime during 1938 or perhaps 1939, I was on a school visit to the Castle. Everywhere was open to the public, including the Magistrates Court when not in Session. We walked round the ramparts and down into the dungeons - little did I know that a few years later I would be more than a visitor to the dungeons.

On day in April 1943, ages 17½ years old, I stood outside John O'Gaunt's great gate at 9.00 am along with three other young girls waiting to be admitted and begin training as members of the Royal Observer Corps, plotting aircraft movements in the north west of England. That day, for me, began my 40 years service with the Corps, albeit part-time from 1947. On that day we were met by Obs Lt Stuart Prewett and taken through the main gate across the area between that gate and the inner big metal gates, and after going through these we walked up through the gardens to the huge open area in the centre of the Castle. Here we did a sharp right turn across this open area and then passed under an archway with rooms right across the top. We were now in a very much smaller, enclosed courtyard and we turned left through a big open entrance and walked right through the dungeons situated at ground level; these were lit by one very small light bulb. At the far end some stone steps appeared and as we went up the first two or more went to the left to a little doorway completely sealed off with concrete. This is where the pre-war visitors had come through to view the dungeon areas and also the little courtyard, the place where all the hangings were carried out. As we entered the courtyard, the women's toilet was situated in the place where the underground dungeons had been and I can safely say that none of us ever went down those stone steps, then or very much later, by ourselves. Anyway, to carry on that first day in 1943, we carried on past the sealed up doorway and came to a huge room on the first floor. This was fitted as an Operations Room with the main plotting table, the magnetic, almost vertical, long-range board. There were other items about at that level too. All this was overlooked by a raised balcony and on some of the walls were what looked like traffic lights amongst other things. This Operations Room and the offices above the archway into the courtyard were, or had been, the Headquarters of No 29 Group Royal Observer Corps, Western Area. The ROC had Group status with RAF Fighter Command Headquarters alongside Fighter Command Headquarters at Bentley Priory. The Castle premises had been vacated at this time and removed to new premises in a bank building in Church Street. A very much smaller Ops Room, but much more facilities etc, not to say more comfortable. However, the four of us recruits spent about 3 or 4 weeks basic training; telling and recording was carried out on the job. We were measured for our uniforms and then posted to one of the three full-time crews. I was lucky and drew 'B' Crew. We had done a couple of watches in each of the three crews and I found the 'B' Team much the easiest to get accustomed to, plus the fact that Obs Lt Prewett was the Crew Duty Controller.

So that concluded by second visit to Lancaster Castle.

In 1947, all ex-wartime members of the ROC were recalled; we had stood down in June 1945. We duly reported back to the bank premises. Also a recruiting campaign was being carried out, particularly amongst ex-service personnel who were Z reservists. If they joined the Corps on a part-time basis, as we were, only the Air Ministry Admin staff and the full-time officers were in situ all of the time; these Z reservists would be exempt from any call-up to the Armed Forces in the future. The ROC was beginning to play a major role in the defence and survival of this country as we were to discover in the early 1950s. So there we were back at Church Street but not for very long; we were soon marching back up Castle Hill and the old premises from wartime, all still intact and no less scary. The full-time Air Ministry Admin staff and ROC full-time officers had their offices in the rooms above the archway at the entrance to our courtyard and opposite to the Ops Room. The staircase leading to the offices was haunted, just to add to the many delights of the castle. We had the REME for company in that courtyard in wartime, but now we were all alone in the whole Castle, apart from the Magistrates Court when working, and visitors on the other side of the sealed up areas. We were not left to ourselves for very long. I cannot remember just when it happened, but the Castle was completely closed to the public and we found ourselves with some very scary residents - they were the hard-case prisoners from Strangeways in Manchester and there we were right in the middle. We had to walk right through our new neighbours at very close quarters and we were told not to look at them, to keep our eyes on the ground. God knows what the prisoners thought. When any of us arrived at the John O'Gaunt Gate, day staff as well, a Prison Warder would emerge, count us and let us through a small gate set into the large one; he would then count us again, then open the huge iron gates and escort us to the entrance of our courtyard. When it was time to leave, the whole procedure was reversed until we were set free on the other side of the small main gate and I would like to bet that the Prison Warders said, "Thank God for that". We were there on different training nights, weekend exercises, all-night and the day-time staff must have been in and out all the time.

That was my third visit.

Just after the ROC was reactivated, I had commenced working at Manchester Airport and of course getting to Lancaster Castle to carry out my service was well nigh impossible on a regular basis so I requested a transfer to the Manchester Group (19) Operations Room. When I was eventually posted to Preston (NATCC) in 1948, I transferred back to Lancaster Group and so started a fourth term in the Castle.

About 1950, we packed up all our gear and removed to a brand-new purpose-built Headquarters and Ops Room etc, on Willow Lane at the back of Williamsons down by the River Lune. There we remained for many years until the Home Office took us in hand and we changed course from being the eyes and ears of the Royal Air Force and became the first link in the battle for survival in the event of a nuclear attack on this country.

Whilst we were domiciled in the Castle, and more or less within prison walls with the rest of the inmates, No 29 Group HQ and Ops Room had the distinction of being the only unconnected body of people to function daily, evenings and weekends, all night on occasion, within prison walls. Better to be known for something I suppose than not at all. I wonder how many ghosts we left behind inside the Castle walls.

Pat Fernihough née Harper, July 2013.

Members' Contributions

10/08/2013 09:05

All members are invited to provide contributions to this section.  They should contact the Secretary with items of wider interest to tshe Brance including service and civilian experience, hot news items arising in the community or elsewhere which might affect members or the Branch such as laws, closures or health, places to visit, shows recommended, TV or films well worth watching, local events to attend and so on.  We do want to hear from our serving members who are welcomed to make use of this section.


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