The big event in the history of No 92 Squadron in 1954 was the arrival in February of the first of the long awaited Canadian Mk 4 Sabres. At last the Squadron had an aircraft capable of ‘breaking the sound barrier’ and the first sorties were flown on February 27th. By the end of March most of the pilots had been to RAF Wildenrath in Germany to convert to the new aircraft and a number of pilots who had been on the Ferry Squadron at RAF Benson and had taken part in Operation ‘Becher’s Brook’ – the ferrying of the Sabres over the North Atlantic from Canada – were posted to the Squadron. They proved to be a great help during the conversion phase and so did Flight Lieutenant Rex Knight who had flown the Sabre with the Americans against the Migs in Korea. Also posted in to take over ‘A’ from Flight Lieutenant “Tiny” Jay was Flight Lieutenant Woods. “Timber” was a great character and he also had previous Sabre experience from one of the Second Tactical Air Force (2nd TAF) Squadrons.
All the pilots were extremely impressed by the performance and handling of the Sabre and were also full of praise for the designer who had given them such a delightful and comfortable cockpit. In May the Squadron was detached to RCAF North Luffenham for ‘Escort’, a flypast up the Thames Estuary on the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen’s return from her Australian Tour.
Operational again by July, the Squadron as Fighter Command’s front line unit and Britain’s first line of defence took part in the major air exercise of the year ‘Exercise Dividend’. This proved the Sabre’s high altitude performance, when a photo reconnaissance Canberra was intercepted at forty eight thousand feet.
The air firing programmes held later in the year also proved its weapons capabilities. The Squadron finally achieved an average air to air percentage of 19.2 per cent and the top individual scorer was Sergeant Adams with a score of 60 per cent.
For the Battle of Britain Flypast the Squadron was detached to RAF Coltishall. Back at Linton-on-Ouse in time for the ‘At Home’ day on ‘September 18th, the occasion was marred by bad weather – heavy drizzle and low cloud – but the Squadron’s representative in the display, Flying Officer C.A. Graham, managed to do an extremely impressive high speed run. Popularly known as “Snatch” he was tragically killed three days later whilst making a night approach. This was a sad blow to the Squadron and an accident which was never fully explained.
On Saturday 2nd October 1954 the Squadron held their First Reunion Dinner at the Eccleston Hotel in London. The Reunion President was none other than the Squadron’s last South African CO, Johnny Gasson. The dinner was not badly represented by past members considering it was the first Reunion and it started a great tradition of Reunions which have increased in strength and representation ever since.
In November the Sabres with hard wings were modified. The modification was the installation of leading edge slats that deployed automatically at low speeds, enhancing manoeuvrability. At the end of the year the Squadron was visited by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord De L’isle and Dudley VC. He was met by the ‘B’ Commander, Flight Lieutenant Rex Knight, who was the commander of the Guard of Honour on this occasion.
Throughout 1955 the Squadron remained at Linton and continued to fly the Sabres. In January a change of command took place. Squadron Leader Rennie Turner departed, tour expired and handed over the Squadron Leader R W G Freer.
In spite of the poor weather which invaded the Vale of York each winter, the Squadron used to fly about five hundred hours each month and in the summer the target of five hundred and forty hours was usually achieved. During March the Squadron moved to Acklington for an APC, the first ‘swept wing’ squadron based in the UK to do so. This lasted for one month at the end of which the average stood at 16.3 per cent which was well above the Fighter Command average of 9.8 per cent. Upon returning from Acklington the 92 Squadron Sabres spent a happy summer engaging the Hunters with which the Day Fighter Leaders’ School had recently re-equipped.
The new Squadron Commander, Squadron Leader Bob Freer, established a new Squadron record by scoring 63 per cent at air to air firing in July. This was a night reinforcement exercise to RAF Oldenburg in Germany. The Squadron flew over the North Sea at night in formation, landing at Oldenburg to be welcomed by a plentiful supply of free beer.
Two riotous days followed before the return flight; in daylight this time. Other equally successful exercises followed later in the year.
The annual exercise this year in September was named ‘Beware’ for which the Squadron was detached for two weeks to RAF Driffield. The exercise proved rather frustrating for 92, there being a lot of cockpit readiness but few ‘scrambles’.
The second Reunion Dinner was held in London on 15th October 1955, in the chair this time was Wing Commander ‘Paddy’ Byrne who had been responsible for the origin of the Squadron’s Motto, back at Croydon in 1940. Paddy welcomed the guests and went on to outline his project for a “Roger Bushell Portrait Fund”. He echoed the thoughts of everyone in recalling the many virtues of the Squadron’s first commanding officer in World War II. As if by the wave of a magic wand, in walked General Spyvie USAF all the way from Alabama to join the dinner and to pay his own tribute to Squadron Leader Bushell’s memory as a fellow inmate of Stalag Luft 3. He was, needless to say, given a warm welcome.
The guest of honour was Sir Harry Burn of the East India Association whose witty and inspiring address explained to many for the first time the full implication of “East India” in the Squadron’s title and the immensity of that contribution to the Squadron’s equipment in the War. Quoting also from an “East India” publication of Squadron War Histories, he recalled many 92 Squadron incidents and names. It was inevitable that he should mention among others Wing Commander Bob Stanford Tuck, Group Captain Rankin, Group Captain Kingcombe, Wing Commander Don Kingaby, Wing Commanders Alan Wright, Le Cheminant, Milne and the previous Reunion President, Johnny Gasson.
The food some said was better than the last year, the wine certainly flowed freely. Peter Forster read out messages from all too many people who unfortunately could not be present including the Chief of the Air Staff, called away to Paris; Neville Duke, flogging his wares as test pilot on the Hunter; and Group Captain Kent, Senior Air Staff Officer Designate No 11 Group. A message was also received at the Queen’s command from Balmoral Castle in reply to a loyal greeting from the Squadron. Amongst ‘old hands’ present this year were Bob Stanford Tuck, Johnny Gasson, Tom Wiese, Mr Rolfe who had been on the Squadron in 1918, Tubby Back, Bill Shaw, and a strong contingent of the world’s best wartime ground crew. Post-war vintage was represented by Wing Commander Ricky Wright (CO in 1947), Squadron Leader Stan Hubbard (Farnborough) and flying Officers Clive Walker, Tony Madden and Ray Davies. Some twenty members of the present Squadron attended together with Group Captain Spotswood then the Linton-on-Ouse Station Commander. All three Flight Commanders were present Rex Knight, Tim Woods and Don Arnott.
The president for 1956, Bob Stanford Tuck, was unanimously roared into office after being proposed by the retiring president.
The year ended with the usual poor weather conditions and 1956 started quietly with a few months of normal Squadron training, but during April the Sabres gradually gave way to the Hawker Hunter Mk 4. The pilots reluctantly saw the last Sabre go in June. They had done sterling work on the Squadron and everyone was grateful for the opportunity of flying such a wonderful aircraft. After a major inspection and a lick of paint, they were reissued to our NATO Allies in the Greek and Turkish Air Forces. Sentimentality apart, the pilots looked forward to once again flying ‘British’, with a conventional instrument panel and the increased thrust of a Rolls Royce Avon Engine.
On Friday 20th April, the last day that the Squadron flew Sabres, a Guest Night was held to commemorate the occasion. Among the guests were Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb, Squadron Leader Knight, previously ‘Rex’, one of the Flight Commanders and Mr Gordon Elridge the Canadair representative.
The party went well from start to ‘fade out’. The “Boss” banged his hammer to propose “The Queen”; he then noticed that the port was still before him so he sat down, amidst hilarious laughter. However, he acquitted himself with a fine speech. Sir James Robb in his speech proved to have a very dry sense of humour and would have everyone believe that he was the pilot of all the pranged aircraft on 92 at the time when he was flight commander. Gordon Elridge was obviously confused and highly delighted when he was made an honorary member of the Squadron and presented with the customary tankard and a crest for Canadair. His reply was short and sweet in which he presented a silver ‘Sabre’ to commemorate the last squadron in Fighter Command to fly Sabres.
The new aircraft were slow to arrive and even more reluctant to become serviceable and so No 92 Squadron did not become operational again until 14th July 1956.
Much of this time was taken up preparing for the annual AOC’s inspection. The AOC this year was Air Vice-Marshal Cheshire. 92 provided their total strength of 9 aircraft and together with 66 and 264 Squadrons took part in a thirty one aircraft flypast. Most of the pilots had only had one or two formation trips in the Hunter so this proved rather exciting. In the afternoon the AOC arrived to inspect the Squadron – it didn’t seem to be very searching but the worse was to come. He walked into the crew room where Syd Adams stood proudly behind his polished tea pot where he had been briefed to make the AOC a cup. The AOC told Syd to sound the fire alarm, which Syd duly did, whereupon all hell was let loose as an unusually efficient Fire Service roared up. The troops didn’t waste their time either and in a matter of seconds they were whistling out of the hangar dragging Hunters behind them. The AOC seemed suitably impressed and so the Squadron could get back to their more important role, flying.
Almost immediately the Mark 4s were replaced by the more powerful Hunter Mk 6 and the CO, Squadron Leader Bob Freer, formed and led an aerobatic team of four. One of the photographs of this team was the subject of the front cover of “Air Clues”, the Royal Air Force Magazine, in April 1957.
The aircraft were first used operationally on Exercise “Stronghold” which took place during September. Shortly afterwards an intensive modification programme was started in order to prepare the aircraft for participation in Operation “Quickfire”. Serviceability was poor throughout this period and the Squadron was not required to take part in any other exercises.
On the 15th November Flight Lieutenant Foster took up one of the newly modified aircraft complete with drop tanks on an acceptance test. After being airborne for one hour thirty minutes the Hunter plunged into a ploughed field at a high rate of knots and of course disintegrated, whilst the lucky old “Colonel” as he was known, floated down on his parachute, observed by a number of the Squadron from the airfield, straight into the bar of the railway pub in Tollerton. He had had trouble with the manual controls on the test which revealed a cold soakage problem and flying in manual was temporarily much restricted. When things became really fraught he became the first member of 92 to use the Martin Baker method of let down. The pilots when they reached him found him outside the pub with a glass of beer. Some said they weren’t sure whether the Martin Baker contraption issued it on the way down or whether he bought it himself; either way it was he who had to buy beers all round that evening.
In December, 92 moved to RAF Nicosia, the first of several detachments they were to undertake in Cyprus over the next few years. Concurrently the Squadron’s home station was moved from Linton to RAF Middleton St George in County Durham. This was to be the permanent base for the next four and a half years although many detachments were to be spent away from home. The small element remaining in the UK moved house and home to await the Squadron’s return.
On December 31st the Squadron started “Battle Flight” from dawn to dusk. This came about because a stray Shackleton wandered over the island early one morning and there was nothing to intercept this “unknown”. A pair of aircraft was required at five minutes readiness with another pair at ten minutes and two reserves. Dawn in Cyprus came early. This entailed getting up at 4.15am and at 7.25am on January 1st 1957 Ron Higgs found that scrambling in the early hours was an earth shattering experience.
February was an interesting month for the Squadron in Cyprus with an air to air firing exercise. On the 14th Stu Grieve thought he would use the drop tanks instead of wheels to land on. It was such a smooth landing that he didn’t realise his mistake and was still using brakes and then the power on the runway because he thought he had burst a tyre. Warrant Officer Cooper was distressed as was Dave Freeston as ‘F’ was his aircraft and Don Arnott, the deputy Squadron Commander. Whenever the Boss went away as on this occasion when he was in Nairobi, Don was left in charge, something always seemed to happen. However, ‘F’ only needed the drop tanks and Sabrina panels (ammunition packs) changed and it was ready to fly within twenty four hours.
The following day there was a cartoon of a Hunter making a wheels up landing in the Daily Mail.
On the 25th of the month a chap by the name of Robby departed by Hastings for Aden. The rest of the Squadron took advantage of his journey and when Robby stepped on the aircraft he took with him £240 worth of orders. He returned on Thursday 28th a weary man with a mighty tale of woe. All his £240 had been impounded by the Customs at the civilian airport. He had hidden cameras, exposure meters and projectors all over the aircraft but they were all found.
On conclusion of the detachment the Squadron flew back in March 1957 and landed at its new operational base. Throughout the attachment to Nicosia much valuable flying experience was obtained in those aspects of fighter flying which are not so easy to practise in the crowded airspace over the UK.
During April the command of the Squadron was handed over to Squadron Leader M.E. Hobson AFC. His first days on 92 were filled with the preparations for the Big NATO exercise of the year called ‘Exercise Vigilante’ in which 100 per cent of the aircraft remained serviceable throughout. During June the Squadron moved to RAF Jever in North Germany for a week of air to ground firing.
The next exercise was Exercise ‘Fabulous’ for which the Squadron were detached to Horsham St Faith, the home of No 74 (Tiger) Squadron. Socially the Mess at Horsham was dead until 92 arrived and as nothing was seen of the 74 Squadron pilots no one expected any friendly rivalry from them at all. It was not until August 15th when the Squadron arrived at work to do their last state, that they found a row of yellow painted Bone Domes, with sayings on them, where they had put theirs the night before. Two of the pilots immediately went into action and painted a Cobra biting the backside of the tiger which 74 had painted on the side of their hangar.
Alas, while 92 were at Met Brief, 74 got busy with some blue paint and erased it but as 92 could not fly back to Middleton due to a gale they had time to add a mouse in front of the tiger, the words “Esso Extra” and colour the space between the yellow stripes with red paint.
Another overseas detachment was staged in September when the Squadron went to an airfield in Denmark for Exercise ‘Brown Jug’. This was disappointing as all the Hunters were inadvertently replenished with water contaminated fuel upon arrival and despite Herculean efforts on the part of the ground crew, very little flying was achieved. However the pilots found refuge in the bar sampling the numerous varieties of excellent lager available and some even ventured into the dining room where on the first night they were given prune soup and meatballs.
On returning from Denmark the Squadron landed at RAF Thornaby which was to be its new home while the main runway at Middleton was extended by six hundred yards. Conditions at Thornaby were far from ideal with a short runway, poor weather factor, close proximity to three large industrial towns and primitive communications, but 92 quickly became proud of its ‘very own airfield’ and spirit was almost immediately as high as ever.
By the end of 1957 the Squadron acquired two Hamsters; no one knew what sex they were so they were simply known as Middleton and St George. The saga of these two hamsters was followed keenly by the members of the Squadron when at home or detached overseas. By December 30th a litter of six appeared amongst the straw and sawdust, so for the first time one could distinguish between them and the mother was known as Middleton. By January 2nd the litter of six turned out to be only 4, by the 14th one had disappeared and another on the 20th leaving only two. The remaining two babies gnawed their way out of the box on the 31st leaving just Middleton and St. George.
The Squadron undertook its second “Quickfire” detachment during the first three months of 1958. Nicosia was again the destination and with the benefit of recent experiences the Squadron quickly settled down to its new routine. The flying continued without any serious incidents but tragically Ron Higgs was killed while travelling as a passenger in one of 284 Squadron’s helicopters, when it crashed up in the Troodos mountains.
The pilots in Cyprus were kept informed of the hamsters’ welfare; Middleton was not well but George was fine, biting everyone. On one occasion he was lost but found again four days later, having eaten his way through three flying suits and a battle dress.
The return to the United Kingdom was made on 21st March and following a period of leave the Squadron resumed operations from Thornaby.
On April 18th the weather clamped in and those airborne were diverted to Leeming including the Squadron’s Meteor which was still held on the strength for dual checks. Later in the day Harry Hood experienced an engine failure, known in a jet aircraft as a Flame Out, while on the initial stages of a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach). Two attempts to relight proved unsuccessful and Harry ejected at six hundred feet. He landed safely and made his own way home. The aircraft of course wrote itself off, without doing any damage - much to the disgust of 65 Squadron, as it was their aircraft but to the delight of a local farmer since it killed a fox which had been after his chickens.
A detachment to the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Leeuwarden was enjoyed during July which included a riotous party every night and on the final night nearly ended in disaster. While beer bottles were being shaken and the ensuing froth squirted over any unfortunate victims who happened to be near, someone noticed a grass fire perilously close to the wooden building in which the party was raging. A few of the pilots attempted to extinguish it by natural means but soon ran dry, then an observant character noticed a motor driven water pump only a few metres from the fire and attempts got under way to start it. Fortunately, when it did get going bodies were the main target as someone had primed the pump with petrol.
When the fire began spreading, a fire engine was called. As it approached a Dutch pilot got aboard and fired the foam guns, suitably drenching everyone and the fire.
In August the Squadron moved to RAF Waterbeach where they undertook the “Battle Flight” commitment and also provided reinforcements for the Fighter Command flypast at the SBAC (Society of British Aircraft Companies), show at Farnborough. Some pilots were also to take part in a twenty two aircraft loop with No.111 Squadron so all the Hunter Squadrons Numbers 1, 19, 56, 65, 63 and 92 were in the Cambridge area, which gave the opportunity for a get together. This was achieved by holding a punt race on the River Cam. Somehow 92 managed to maintain six pilots on standby and to enter two complete crews plus Sam, the Squadron dog, for the races. They were unable to supply a judge as they knew (a) that they should win easily and (b) if they didn’t win easily, a judge wouldn’t make any difference anyway.
In the first race ‘B’ Flight provided the first team, consisting of Brian Cox, Al Durward, George Aylett and ‘Smudge’ Smith, which streaked into the lead but when only half a dozen punt lengths from the finish they took a great fancy for the river bank and ended up in second place.
‘A’ Flight team, consisting of ‘Tinkle’ Bell, Dave Ozanne, Jim Edwards and Tony Back. They decided that paddling the punt wasn’t getting them anywhere so they all got out and pushed. They finished third although one of the two teams which beat them was later disqualified by the judges because, although they started off with a crew of four, they somehow managed to acquire another member en route.
After a grand finale in which everyone ended up in the water, they all changed into dry clothes to the accompanying strains of an argument between the judges and the owner of the punts. The latter was demanding up to £100 for the non-existent damage to his punts. It was finally agreed that they should forfeit their deposits (£12 in all) and the owner went away very dissatisfied. Everyone adjourned to the bridge by the Mill and improved on the record profit by that pub for an evening’s work.
In October the Squadron returned to Middleton where the runway extension was completed and shortly afterwards the command of the Squadron was handed over to Squadron Leader R H B Dixon. On the 16th the NATO exercise, this year named “Sunbeam”, was staged and lasted three days. During November the Squadron was brought to a state of seven days’ readiness for “Operation Visage” which would have entailed redeployment to the Middle East, where a coup d’etat was expected. Although inoculations were brought up to date and tropical kit was issued, the Squadron was not required.
The year closed on a sombre note when Flying Officer S E Crook, a recent arrival on the Squadron, parted from his leader during a dogfight. He failed to return to base and all that was found was a pair of pylon tanks in the sea, the same epitaph as that of several Hunter crashes on other Squadrons in the following years.
However, good news greeted the Squadron on New Year’s Day, when it was learned that ‘A’ Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Tony Back, had been awarded the AFC in recognition of a great year’s work in which he gave many spectacular individual aerobatic displays at various shows throughout the country.
As always, the year 1959 started with a spell of poor weather during which time many airfields in all parts of the country were used as diversions, usually for overnight stops. Another detachment to Acklington for an A.P.C during January suffered from ice and snow from its inception and the only flying consisted of the two ferry flights in and out.
At the end of April the Squadron again undertook operation ‘Quickfire’. As before, Nicosia was the destination and this time the detachment lasted nine weeks. Flying consisted mainly of Air Defence, low level and various forms of ground attack. With the unrestricted use of the range at Larnaca the weapons scores improved markedly. In addition, a series of exercises was arranged with the Royal Navy, firing on splash targets towed by destroyers. A formation aerobatic team of four was formed at this time and the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Air Force authorised it to demonstrate before a party of Persian senior officers.
All the pilots returned to base after a most enjoyable detachment on 1st July and proceeded on ten days’ block leave. Since Middleton was to be “open” to the public on both Royal Observer Corps Day and on 19th of September for Battle of Britain day, various displays were practised. These were the formation team, individual aerobatics and a Squadron flypast and tail chase. Civilian spectators numbered seventy thousand or more on the latter date and the aerobatic team performed at RAF Leuchars and Acklington as well as at base.
The Squadron’s hectic social life continued as usual with never a dull moment. A party went to the Acropole after dinner one evening to deliver a bottle of brandy to a visiting ferry wing pilot but somehow it took nearly the whole Squadron, fourteen chaps all told, to carry the bottle and they all stayed for a drink when they got there. Soon their blood pressure leapt sky high when they met the original Yiddisha-Momma. She was shepherding sixty two Israeli Babes round the world. All of them were living dolls, Privates First Class and ace marksmen.
Although it is not recorded that anyone actually met the young ladies the thought of their physical nearness sent the old red corpuscles bouncing. One of the Flight Commanders made tentative arrangements for a party in the ladies room on the following Wednesday, proudly boasting that he could provide sixty two pilots from his Squadron to escort the babes. Luckily he was saved from having to honour this by one of the more drunken members telling the chaperone that he only wanted them in the Mess to play the old Australian game of “hiding the sausage”!
The annual exercise called “Mandate” proved to be one of long inactivity for 92 especially during the “fall-out” phase of simulated atomic attack. However, the ratio of scrambles to successful interceptions was the highest in No 13 Group.
The rest of the autumn was spent in Army Co-operation exercises in the Salisbury Plain area and preparation for re-deployment to RAF Idris in North Africa for exercise “Sambar” on 23rd October.
On the first morning in the North African Desert those who expected to wake up to the scent of warm desert air and the sound of date palms rustling in the breeze were sadly disillusioned. It poured with rain all day and very little flying was done. In the evening they went to the Wheelus Air Base Officers’ Club in Tripoli, by three tonner. The journey, on a road which was in a bad state due to the rain, was one that won’t ever be forgotten; especially by Dave Ozanne, who apparently had been chasing the lorry which couldn’t be made to stop.
When the rain cleared some scrambles were ordered. The ops officer would rush out and wave his hand to order the start up. One pair was sitting on state waiting when a visiting Staff Officer asked the Boss how they would be scrambled. “Like this” he said, waving a finger, and sure enough the air was shattered by the roar of burning Avpin, as two stubby digits firmly pressed the starting buttons.
At the end of the four day detachment the weather was perfect and serviceability remained excellent. A few sorties were flown in which they practised some Low Level cross countries. The desert was just as everyone imagined it should be; sand dunes, rocky hills, camel trains, date palms and black tents. They noticed that some of the Arabs lived in man-made caves in the hills. Parts of the desert were just huge areas of flat sand as far as the eye could see and it was difficult to imagine how the Arabs managed to navigate across these featureless wastes, especially as the Hunters couldn’t.
Those who weren’t flying went to Tripoli to do their final shopping for camel stools, slippers, tin trays and other assorted articles. Wandering around the Suk (market in the old town) was quite an experience. The sinister narrow streets seemed to lean right on one as you picked your way through hand arts, scruffy little kids, heavily veiled women and squatting Arabs drinking their nauseating inky black liquid out of small enamel cups. If you survived the foul stench, the sound of a million hammers beating out patterns on huge brass trays would soon wear you out. If you managed to pass unscathed through the throng of souvenir merchants vociferously urging you to pay through the nose for shoddy knick-knacks, it was pleasant to pass out through the gates past the rows of horse drawn gharries and into the modern part of the town. This part, built mainly by the Italians, consists of wide palm tree lined streets with tall well built shops and hotels, with a beautiful modern road round the harbour.
The departure for home on the 28th went well but made quite an interesting saga. Eight aircraft arrived at Orange safely, but the Boss and Wing Commander Flying had to divert to Decimomannu in Sardinia where they landed on the taxiway due to the runway being blocked.
Before the other eight left Orange they were told that they would probably be diverted as most of the country including base was out with high crosswinds. Sure enough when they arrived over Britain three were diverted to Marham and the others to Thorney Island. The three from Marham made a stab at getting in to Middleton and “Tinkle” Bell made it just, while the other two diverted to Leeming.
In November the annual reunion was held at the Royal Air Force Club to mark the Squadron’s Fortieth Anniversary. The whole Squadron went down to London by train from Darlington, after a few beers at the Imperial Hotel before going to the Station.
The Squadron Adjutant had very thoughtfully booked three compartments on the train which were used for at least seven minutes of the journey. The rest of the time was spent in the bar. Double Diamond and Carlsberg were drunk steadily and in no time at all the carriage was rocking to the strains of Old English favourites as “She wore no blouses – “, “Parties make the world go round”, “All the nice girls love a Sailor” and not to mention “Good King xxx Wenceslas” which was sung for the benefit of the clergy having tea in the next carriage. When they had completely drained the bar of any sort of beer they all went their separate ways, some even dared to enter the adjoining carriage for tea and toasted tea cakes.
Kings Cross soon arrived and they went to the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly where they met the past members including Wing Commander Stanford Tuck, the President, ‘Tich” Havercroft , Ricky Wright and Tom Wiese, the Intelligence Officer from the Biggin days.
After the meal, Wing Commander Stanford Tuck gave a humorous speech in which he reminisced how Titch Havercroft needed numerous parachute cushions in order to see over the coaming of his aircraft. Dinner finished and they adjourned to the bar which had been reserved for them in the ladies room. It wasn’t long before Don Arnott was giving a Dead Ants call. Perhaps a word of explanation should be given here. A Dead Ants call is a rather unusual but highly effective method of deciding who should pay for the next round of drinks. All of a sudden any individual may shout “Dead Ants” and the assembled company will dive for the ground and lying on their back stick their hands and feet in the air. The last person to remain standing, usually an unsuspecting visitor, has to pay for the beer. When the bar shut at eleven they purchased several crates of beer and pushed on into the smoke room. Singing started, a piano was called for, volunteers were called for, and the grand piano finished up in the middle of the corridor (minus a hundred pieces) with five exhausted bodies on top of it. This, however, didn’t daunt ‘Titch’ Havercroft, who grabbed a chair and started to play. No one remembers how the party ended but all the beer had gone and someone whispered the address of a party.
There were some more excellent parties before the end of the year and a splendid Dining-In Night on December 11th, at which 92 and 33 Squadron at last had a chance to pit themselves against one another. The Mess games progressed to the expense of ribs, limbs, fingers, shirts, studs, cufflinks and everything else a smart young officer wears. It is recorded that 92 carried themselves off well on the whole; the Mess Rugby was the only thing they lost and that was undoubtedly because ‘33’ had twice as many players and four times the weight.
The New Year began quietly with the departure of Tony Back being replaced by Taff Freeman for his third tour on 92. By the end of January the Squadron were required to deploy to Duxford to take part in the forthcoming flypast for the Queen’s baby. There was plenty of time to practise as they were not required until February 20th. During the time on ‘Standby’ several fields were explored, far too numerous to mention, but one was the Officers’ Club at the USAF Base at Wethersfield. Here they learnt that beer was unavailable but that “Rye on the Rocks” flowed abundantly. This was requested by all except the Boss who with usual British Independence ordered Orange Squash. It transpired that water was also lacking, so whilst the Boss quietly downed a pint of gin and orange the rest were struggling with pints of whisky. A long drinking session followed with the Americans and when one ordered a “Hot Brandy”, “Dusty” Rhodes, never at a loss, produced a brandy and a Ronsonol lighter with a three foot flame. This proved to be just a little too hot for him but he invited the Squadron back to his room to help him with a “little bottle of Paul Jones”. This was the bottle to end all bottles and Dusty helped himself to a pint in a hot water bottle just to take away. Later in a curry house he offered an undergraduate half a pint of this, the undergraduate realising his good fortune seized it and downed it in one fearing it might only be a dream.
On the 20th February the flypast was flown, at eleven hundred feet, that being the cloud base. It should have been a day earlier but it was all delayed twenty four hours in order that the Army could load its guns for the salute.
At the end of the month the Squadron said goodbye to Tom Griffin, the American Marine. Flying the Hunter and following the day fighter role was all very new to Tom when he joined the Squadron in July 1958 and it was some time before his long “transport type” radio calls were cut down to the fighter pilot’s cryptic patter. An incident worthy of note concerning this R/T patter happened when Tom was leading a ‘four ship’ formation. Tom meant to pass first of all a message to the recovery organisation and secondly to his section. Unfortunately between the two messages he interposed, as the Americans do, with the words “Break, Break”. To a fighter pilot this means apply full bank and pull the stick back to get your aircraft turning quickly either to avoid a collision or to prevent another fighter from taking film or “shooting you down”. When Tom looked up he suddenly found himself all on his own. That was learning the hard way.
The normal TGIF’s (Thank God it’s Friday), common throughout the Royal Air Force, were celebrated with considerable élan on 92. These sessions usually led on to greater things as on one Friday evening in March. When the barrel was empty they moved onto a local pub where they met Desmond and Dorothy, a most charming couple who lived in the outskirts of Stockton and who always kept an open house to 92. Spirits got even higher at the pub and unfortunately, after beating all the locals at darts, Jerry Seavers pinched the bottle of lighter fluid which he somehow managed to pour all over his hair. The management subsequently took offence at this gesture and told them not to bother to go back there again. As usual Dorothy and Des played up trumps and invited everyone back to their place for drinks. Knowing that this meant tumblers full of whisky this time the Squadron took along a couple of crates of beer. Tinkle Bell showed his prowess at the piano, which was a shame because the Squadron Fund couldn’t stretch as far as a new piano; then they returned to the Mess at Middleton.
On their arrival in the bar they found some much undressed gentlemen all in their underpants. Apparently Dennis Caldwell had complained of the hot stuffiness in the bar. The drinking continued. There were unfortunately a few rash words spoken at some later stage when the lads were unable to find their clothes, carefully hidden in the cooking cauldrons by 33 Squadron.
The episode should have finished there, but it didn’t. Dusty Rhodes had one of the narrowest squeaks of his career while driving home dressed in a hat, coat, underpants, shoes and socks. Unfortunately, he dropped his cigarette in the car just as he was passing over Urlay Nook Level Crossing. He slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and began a furtive search for his cigarette. Just at this moment a police constable stepped out of a police car parked just behind him. The conversation went something like this:
“And just what are you doing here?”
“Just looking for my cigarette” said Dusty, adjusting his underpants and putting his hand over his mouth.
“You know you have had far too much to drink, Sir.”
“Constable, you are quite right! And what is more, had I only half of what I’ve had, I would still have had too much.”
This staggered the policeman who could only mutter, after finding Dusty his cigarette:
“You fellows from the camp just won’t be satisfied until someone gets killed.”
With these last words the police constable moved off. Just as well, because had he stayed five seconds later the constable would have witnessed Dusty replacing the cigarette in his navel before pushing on.
April 20th, a Wednesday, saw the departure from Middleton, for Cyprus, of eleven Hunter Mk 6s and a T7. The overnight stay in Malta produced the usual bad hangovers and tummy-trouble but, apart from introducing the “Gut” to one or two of the more junior members of the Squadron, the journey was uneventful.
The exercise in Cyprus, known as Exercise “Fawley”, went off very well with plenty of flying including some sorties at dusk. There was rather a tense atmosphere in the Ops Room one evening when the Boss had been telling the Group Captain and Wing Commander that these dusk sorties were not dangerous; in walked Tinkle Bell saying “Christ, that was suicidal”, and so ended another day.
After two weeks of very hectic flying and drinking on the Island they returned to be given a two week stand down.
The next exercise was Exercise “Yeoman” in May to test the Hunter Javelin techniques. There were plenty of targets, but hundreds of fighters which constituted quite a collision risk and sure enough, bang, two Javelins from 29 Squadron at Leuchars collided over Middlesbrough Bay. All four aircrew used their ejection seats, two landed on dry land and the other two had to resort to dinghies about forty miles out at sea. At six o’clock the two who had landed on dry land were enjoying beers in the Mess at Middleton whilst the other two were safely tucked up in bed at Catterick, nursing some very sore spines.
The aerobatic team was retained but now increased to five aircraft lead by the CO, Squadron Leader Bob Dixon. Throughout the remainder of the year the Squadron provided the secondary Fighter Command display team. Shows were given at several stations at home and detachments were made overseas.
One detachment to Rygge in Norway for six days in June included a visit to Oslo, then Bodø to see the midnight sun and a trip on the Range Safety Launch up the Oslo Fjord. They went up as far as the point where the German Cruiser Blücher was sunk by the Royal Air Force during the war. The ship’s fuel tanks were just beginning to break up and push out a steady flow of thick oil which was causing some concern to the local authorities.
Another display was given in July. This time it was at Exeter which went down extremely well and gave rise to a large amount of Press and Television coverage. The “New Black Arrows” as they dubbed the formation team put on another show especially for the press and ended with a bomb burst which was not as lacking in spectacle as it was in altitude. Everyone was very impressed except a bowser driver and Group Captain Dumas.
In the following month further displays were given in Malta at Ta’Qali, and at Leconfield and St Athan.
On September 9th, exactly twenty years to the day since they first arrived there, 92 Squadron returned to Biggin Hill for the annual reunion. There was a particularly good turnout of ex-Battle of Britain types including Group Captain Brian Kingcombe, Wing Commanders Stanford Tuck, Don Kingaby, Titch Havercraft and Paddy Byrne, Squadron Leader Tony Bartley and Flight Lieutenant Tom Weise. After two or three barrels the Boss made a speech and they all lay on the floor and waved their arms and legs in appreciation. Then they roared off down the hill to Brasted where they visited the Prestons at the White Hart. The younger generation were intrigued by the famous blackout screen with all the names of former 92 Squadron pilots chalked on it. There they drank a great deal more beer than was needed and the ancient beams soon rang to “Parties make the world go round”. A quick chorus of “Goodnight Ladies” had absolutely no effect so they sang “She wore no blouses and I wore no trousers”. All the other occupants of the pub then left so they all lay flat on the floor again.
On the flying side, more formation aerobatics and flypasts were given including a Battle of Britain Day Flypast at Kinloss. They made one pass under a cloud base of one hundred feet and pulled smoke. If Kinloss hadn’t been clamped before it certainly was then.
The Battle of Britain cocktail Party that year went very well with all the pilots trying to out-drink the Gordon’s distillery. The party developed in all sorts of ways and the most unique was that half a dozen Squadron members found themselves on the half completed roof of the Senior Met Officer’s Quarter, each wearing a lady’s hat and well plied with ale. The Boss’ Red braces made a splendid Omni directional beacon. Chips Carpenter fell through the roof but as he was completely rubberised he didn’t suffer too badly. “Saint” St Clair was despatched to the railway station to collect a Pakistani exchange officer. Soon Hamid Anwar, appeared through the hole in the roof or at least a bowler hat appeared with a brown moustachioed face grinning happily. The face was fed with beer and so grinned even more happily. The rest of the body never really arrived but didn’t seem to matter as the hat, the grin, and the ale entry part were all present. One other incident later on was an eager Hennessy’s first “Dead Ants” call. Now the chap who calls “Dead Ants” is invariably the first to get his hands and feet in the air; unfortunately this was the fourth call and therefore not valid so a prostrate Hennessy was drenched with beer by all the standing members.
Soon after this the Squadron received the terrific news that they were to replace the ‘Black Arrows’ of No 111 Squadron as the Royal Air Force’s premier aerobatic team. Soon, once again the name of 92 Squadron was to become a household word in the air minded homes of Great Britain, Western Europe and the Middle East.