Today my Dad talks about carrying out a scam as a sailor to get leave from the Navy, hitch-hiking and flying home on leave.
The RAF was more generous in allowing weekend leave than was the Navy and in any case we had a “scam” going on which gave us extra weekends. With the RAF, to leave camp one had to have signed by one’s section Officer a leave card which indicated the time of leaving camp and the time of return. If you wanted an extra weekend one of the RAF men in our section a London Jew named Greenbaum (his rank was a lowly aircraftsman) would expertly sign my leave card with a fictitious name followed by Flight Lieutenant. This got you out of the camp.
It was a tedious journey in those days to get from Bassingbourn to Yorkshire. All unofficial leave had to be at one’s own expense and I was always short of money. Hitchhiking was the only way but road traffic was very thin on the ground. I had to find my way to the Great North Road (the A1) about 30 miles away by thumbing and then thumb my way 150-160 miles to home. The A1 only was wide enough for two lanes of traffic, one in each direction and having to keep changing cars, it was usually an eight hour journey home and the same back.
I realized that if I could get to London to where in Edgeware Road the Great North Road started (actually at Marble Arch) I could more easily get a Northbound lorry that with luck would take me as far as Wakefield in one hop about 4 and a half to five hours away.
The next thing was getting to London but this could be done by cadging a lift on a King’s Flight plane. The various planes left frequently to pick up their VIP passengers at Northolt in West London and so on various occasions I flew as the sole passenger in magnificently furnished aircraft to Northolt, flashed my false pass to the guard on the main gate to Northolt and was easily able to hitch a passing life to Hyde Park onto the Edgeware Road and home.
Unfortunately the return journey was a more mundane hitch-hike as I could never rely on there being a flight available at Northolt. In any case as VIPs were constantly in and out of Northolt security for entry was quite strict and my false pass may not have stood up to scrutiny.
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.