My Dad’s first flight was a King’s Flight.
Today Dad recalls his first flight in a plane which took place when he was a teenage sailor and it was the King’s plane!
All the aircraft received a lot of attention and maintenance as they had to be constantly available and in spic and span condition. I recall one occasion when the King was to use his personal Dakota one weekend. We, that is our Safety Section, were detailed to polish the aircraft. The Dakota was an unpainted version meaning that the outside consisted of bare aluminium panels. It was our duty to metal polish the entire outside of the aircraft top to bottom, front to back, wings and all so that it looked like a mirror.
Several of us were hoping to go on weekend leave on the Saturday but couldn’t go until the job was finished. So we started on Friday and continued working all through the night until we finished on Saturday morning to go on leave. The reflection of the early morning Sun on the aluminium panels was blinding. One wondered if the King even noticed.It was in one of these King’s Flight planes, a Dakota, allocated to the United Nations that was the first time I ever flew. We in the Safety Equipment Section learned that one of the Dakotas was to be be test flown after a major service crewed by a pilot and a flight engineer. Three of us Navy men persuaded the pilot to let us go up as passengers and then persuaded the Section Sergeant to turn a blind eye to our absence for a hour or so. In those post-war days there was a lot of breaching of regulations and things happened with a wink and a nod.
And so we joined the crew of the Dakota which was fitted with about 30 seats. The pilot and engineer were in the flight cabin but left the door to the saloon part open so that we could peer over their shoulder. We were excited as the planes took off and were scrambling to look through the windows on either side to see the homes and fields diminishing as the planed gained height.
As we flew the pilot or engineer called out various features that could be seen below. The cities of Cambridge, Ely, Ipswich, Norwich. The rivers, roads etc. Suddenly we passengers panicked because as we looked out along starboard wing we saw that the propeller of that engine was stopped. We imagined crashing to earth 10 000 feet below and although we were parachute packers there were no parachutes in the plane. However, the pilot told us not to worry as feathering the propellers one at a time was, of course, part of the test procedure (A Dakota could fly on one engine). After a circular tour of the Fen country we returned safely to ground.
We were subsequently offered the chance to go with a Lancaster or Liberator to Singapore as a cabin crew member but this would mean a 12 day round trip and leave would have to be taken to do it. I was not prepared to forfeit a two week leave to go.
What were the World War 2 Aircraft kept at RAF Bassingbourn?
Today, my Dad’s memoirs talk about the planes he maintained including the King’s Flight.
At Bassingbourn were stationed two Bomber Squadrons and King’s Flight. The Bomber Squadrons were one of Lancasters and one of the American Lieberator bombers. These aircraft has been converted into troop carriers and most uncomfortable passenger carriers they were.
We were responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft’s emergency dinghies located in the wings and also for the parachutes carried by the reduced crew. The war being over there was no need to carry the three air gunners and the bomb aimer who were paret of the crew. They thus carried pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer and wireless operator. In addition, they carried one or two aircraftmen unskilled who is this day and age would be called cabin crew.The interior of the aircraft had had all wartime fittings removed and had had canvas seats fitted along the fusilage. This enabled about 30 soldiers to be carried in most uncomfortable circumstances. The purpose to bring back to England quickly those troops who had been involved in the war against the Japanese in Burma and involved a flight to Singapore and back. The planes left England empty and flew the following route with refuelling and overnight stops at Rome, Cairo, Bahrain, Karachi, Calcutta and Singapore, a total of 6 days flying. The return journey would have the same touchdowns. Hence the round journey took about a fortnight when the plane was serviced and then repeated the trip.
King’s Flight consisted of a number of aircraft not as the name implies solely for use of the king (King George VI) but also for a variety of VIPs. The aircraft for use of the Royal Family were the aviation version of the American C47 (Dakota) a twin engined propeller driven plane. There was one for the King, one of his Queen and one for the two Princesses. The Royals did not fly in the same plane. In addition to these three Royal planes there were other planes, a mixture of Dakotas, Avro Yorks and Auro Lancastrians and a sprinkling of other types which were used by dignateries e.g. Winton Churchill, Clement Atlee (PM) Ernest Bevin (Foreign Sec) other Ministers and then the leading military people. President Jan Smalls of South Africe, Field Marshall Montogomery and others.
In addition, there were about ten Dakotas for the use of the United Nations Heads of State.
Today my Dad’s memoirs see himself and other Navy personnel joining the RAF at Royston.
We got our travel warrant to Royston in Cambridgeshire and on arrival were trucked to the RAF Station at Bassingbourne some 3-4 miles North Of Royston. Bear in mind sailors were like snailes in that they carried their “home” with them . Each of us sailors was laden with a full kitbag, a hammock in which was fastened mattress, blanket, mattress cover (and any items of clothing which did not fit in the kitbag) an attache case and a new item now that I had qualified in the Safety Equipment trade a wooden tool box and contents. Four items in total which has to be carried in one go otherwise risk them being stolen.
Thus we arrived at the RAF Station where were given a late supper and allocated somewhere t sleep. This meant a dormitory in a purpose bulit brick block two stories high. One dormitory on the ground floor and one of the first floor each accommodating about 20 upper and lower iron beds. Here we found sheer luxury in that the beds had what were called “biscuits” three in umber each about 2 foot 6 x 2 foot which when laid end to end formed a comfortable mattress. There were two pillows to each and bed and blankets and sheets!! Also a decent sized wardrobe/locker to put our clothes in! Luxury indeed.
The RAF Brylcreem boys were pampered. Without doubt, the RAF had a more comfortable lifestyle and a less rigid discipline than the Royal Navy. I spent about 4 months with the RAF and enjoyed the more relaxed lifestyle whilst I was there.
On the second day there we had to do a joining routine. We were given a card which contained a list of different departments but first of all we were each issued with a black sit up and beg bicycle whihc we retained throughout our secondment. The RAF Station including its airfield covered a vast area with different departments scattered around its perimeter. Armed with bicycle and joining card I spent most of the day visiting the various listed premises where the officer or NCO there had to sign that I had reported. It became clear subsequently that the reason for this was that if I had been issued with anything from a particular department the man in charge would be able to claim it back when I completed the reverse process with a leaving routine. Apart from the bed sheets and the bicycle I was issued with nothing else but nevertheless still had to have a full card of signatures.
The joining card fully completed had to be returned to an RAF Officer best described as an adjutant who was responsible for the Naval personnel on the camp. I never saw him again until I did the leaving routine 4 months later.
On the following day I commenced work in the Safety Equipment section. The person who was in charge of the day to day running of the section was a WAAF Sergeant. We six sailors more or less doubled the size of the section which until then had numbered three WAAF and two aircraftmen.
The sections’s duties consisted of care and packing of parachutes and the maintenance of dinghies. These duties did not occupy the whole time and we therefore involved in internal and external cleaning of aircraft on King’s Flight which was located here.
Today, my Dad’s memoirs show him leaving his firm friend and going to RAF Bassingbourn.
Early in January, we left Raven and returned to HMS Daedalus. Immediately Ginger and I were back on the guard under the selection process. Time spent in Daedalus was time spent in awaiting transit to somewhere else and we carried out frequent checks looking at the noticeboard outside the drafting office in the hope that your name appeared which signified a move.
Ginger Jackson and I had been together now for over a year and were firm friends but now our courses diverged. After only about 4 weeks in Daedalus this time we both got Draft Chits. Ginger ws to go out to Malta and my Draft Chit said RAF Bassingbourne. I left first with all my kit and a Travel Warrant to Royston. There were give other Safety Equipment ratings on the same draft and we were at a loss as to how Naval Ratings were to relate to the R.A.F. Nobody made us any the wiser. I had what I thought was one consolation. I was aware that Royston was just outside Barnsley and had visions of getting home in the evenings and certainly for weekends.
We made our way to London and reported to the Regional Transport Officer at Waterloo. He directed us to Liverpool Street and only then did I find out that there was a Royston in Cambridgeshire where we were bound. Transport was available here to take us out to the R.A.F. Station at Bassingbourne. This was huge airfield with over 1000 R.A.F. personnel. We six were the only Royal Navy ratings there.