I worked as Station Photographer from approx 1972 to 1975, I was not a PhotoG but a lowly APO, the First PhotoG was a Brummie called Keith ?, he left after I had been there about six months, three months after that his replacement, Trevor Hulston, also a brummie arrived.
The Photo section was in the support flight building as were also the Armourers, and the Air Radio gang, the tea room being the communal gathering place.
One of the Radio boys was a civilian called Dave (surnames don’t stick so well!) whose passion, apart from fixing TV’s as a sideline, was making ultra light balsawood planes powered with an incredibly long elastic band and a large, slow turning prop. Soon we were all making these things and lunchtime would see us in the first Hangar (Gatehouse end) flying these things and getting them caught up in the roof structure!
An onerous task in the support flight was to be assigned as key man for the week, you had to get up early to collect the keys from the guardroom and open the building in time for everyone arriving for work. I was dreadful at getting up and frequently arrived a bit late. One day though I had real cause for regret and embarrassment, the day before we had run short of Acetic Acid which is used as a stop solution for developing prints, the large bottle supplied by the stores was duly collected, but upon removal of the packing it was seen to have crystallized in the bottle! A very unusual occurrence, the only solution to this problem was to break the crystallized mass with a glass rod and empty the jar into a developing tray where it returned to a liquid state. This was duly done, but as it was in the far darkroom, was also forgotten.
The next day I arrived, late as usual, to find the support building surrounded by various airmen and NCO’s all keeping a considerable distance and displaying signs of some anxiety, and as I passed the airmens mess I could soon tell why, or rather smell why! The whole area reeked of acetic acid as the damn stuff in the bath had evaporated and spread through and indeed out of the building.
I rushed to open it up and sort out the pong before I got any deeper into the **** than I already was!
Not long after my arrival at CF, I discovered to my delight that you could phone up the YUAS and get an experience flight; I delighted in any opportunity to get airborne and so made the call.
“Sure, come on down” was the reply
So Clearing it all with Keith and the Chief Tech Armourer who was our boss, I went to the parachute section to get kitted up with that, then wandered in that odd gait you have with a pack bumping you behind the knees to the line where I was met by an enormous pilot, he looked like sir John Falstaff (I seem to remember he was called John too) and I wondered how on earth he could get in and out of the plane!
Nevertheless, he managed just fine and we flew out over the Yorkshire countryside and on request he flew a series of aerobatics, loops, rolls, barrel rolls and probably some other moves I never heard of, chatting and naming them all. As I had only had a flight in an Argosy and two glider flights at Swinderby till then, it was an utterly thrilling experience.
It was during this period that the switch was made from Chipmunks to Bulldog aircraft, they were a delight to fly in, such a great view. My first flight in this neat little plane (I was strapped in by my friend on the line, Steve Lowry, a Pocklington man) was to photograph an ancient village, the remains of which were now only slight bumps in a field somewhere between CF and York, again it was in a YUAS plane we flew, and this time fairly late in the day as we needed the sun to throw shadows across the bumps to make them standout, it a very interesting flight which both the pilot and myself enjoyed doing. Not often you get an opportunity like that.
I did not have a particularly illustrious career at CF though, and was frequently found at weekends performing some odious task as part of a jankers penalty, cleaning the walls in the NAAFI, painting the windows in the motor club at the far end of the tennis courts, being somewhat prone to a lack of discipline, these were not rare events.
CF had an excellent airmen’s mess though, with first class food and a staff who were very friendly (well most of them, there was one guy who insisted he had no mates whenever I said “Hello mate”, naturally this only made certain I said it everytime!)
The Sergeant in charge of the mess (I forget his name) was a very nice chap. I used to fish in the Wharfe on evenings and weekends (When not on a charge!) and one day caught a nice little jack pike of about 3.5Lbs, I cleaned it and took it to the mess Sergeant who cooked it beautifully for me, on the proviso that the next one was his, alas, I never caught another, so was unable to fulfil my part of the deal. It tasted damn good though!
One NCO who became a very good friend was our boss, Armourer Chief Tech Dennis Pullen, who was a great snooker player and definitely knew a thing or two about race horses as well. We went to Wetherby races together for a meeting one evening where he determined to follow the fortunes of local jockey Tommy Stack, I should have followed suit. He never looked like doing anything right through the meet, but Dennis stuck to his guns and, betting on the tote, put his fiver (quite a hefty bet then) on the nose in the last, and Tommy Stack and his horse romped home with a nice long odds win. I of course had backed some donkey which disappeared halfway through.
Two events I shall never forget and will also regret:
The first might be that mentioned by Vicky Thompson, the football cup. I do not remember if Jim Bowen was there, but there was a visiting party of Polish ex fighter pilots and crew and they had the FA cup, (I think Leeds had won it this particular year)
They gathered in the “Pigs Bar” in the NAAFI for a group photo with the cup and I was the assigned photographer. Just days earlier, Trevor Hulston, (a far better photographer than me) had been describing the use and technique of “Bounced Flash” where the flashgun is aimed at fortyfive degrees to the subject and bounced of a ceiling surface, this is to soften the effect and get a better picture. I completely missed the point that it is used as a secondary light source rather than primary.
Determined to try this method, I foolishly shot all the images using this method (even though in the back of my mind, my intelligent brain cell (yes, it was singular) was yelling “Take a direct shot you wally”) I ignored it, the Polish guys went home, I knocked off, it was late evening and I would process the film tomorrow.
Alas and alackady! Every single shot was grossly underexposed, you could hardly see a mark on the film, it was absolutely impossible to get a single print from it.
For weeks, months even, afterwards I was constantly badgered by the PR officer (Sqn Ldr Lockwood) for copies of this shoot, which I managed to fend off, goodness only knows how, and to hide the disaster I had made of it. I always felt very sorry for the Polish pilots though, they must have been very disappointed, but there was nothing at all that could be done to rectify the error.
The second event I paid for dearly, Trevor had repeatedly reminded me that there was a shoot in the stores, they had won an award and were getting some trophy from a visiting AOC, he was off into town and I was to do the job. Simple enough? You would think so, but I was in cloud cuckoo land, had an early lunch and wandered back to my room and fell asleep, next thing the tannoy is blaring for the station photographer to report to the stores immediately!!
I rouse up, realise what has happened and in a fever rush to the stores, too late, I arrive just in time to salute the Station Commander and the visiting AOC storming out of the stores and off down to the HQ with expressions that left me in no doubt as to what the outcome of this would be. I think I got nine days.
I was again sorry for the stores people though as they had obviously worked hard, but now had no photographs to record it.
I can remember many other events, some funny, some very sad, some crazy, I had, on the whole, a great time at CF, it was a nice airbase to be at, and during the last year I was there it had one of the nicest Group Captains I ever met as Station Commander, even though I ended up in front of him twice without a hat on, but for now his name escapes me, but he was a genuine sort who treated you as a human being rather than as some lowly wretch.