The Glorious 74th Entry RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices (The Coronation Entry).

Stan Norris Remembers.

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2. My First Overseas Posting.

My First Posting to No.137 MU RAF Safi, Malta Was a Fascinating Experience.

Photograph: group of men in a hanger.

[Photo: Bessoneau storage hanger at RAF Safi 1958. On the back row 5th from the left is Mike Monaghan ex 74th and extreme right back row is myself (Stan Norris).]

May 1956. Malta. I had arrived on the island after an overnight flight from Blackbushe in the civilian version of a Valletta. It was about 08.00. The three ton truck ground to a noisy halt outside an unimpressive building at RAF Safi after travelling the short distance from Luqa. Old hands had told me that this place was known as 'Happy Safi' throughout the RAF.

After the usual preliminaries in the General Office I was directed to the domestic site, a collection of Nissen huts on the outskirts of Safi village where I was to take up residence in hut B.1. My first impressions was that I had entered a bygone age, it all looked very rough and unready after Halton.

Some Sort of Paradise?

I tentatively pushed open the hut door to reveal a scene which I could only describe as squalor - I was subconsciously comparing it with Halton. A snoring drunk lay on the first bed inside the door, mosquito nets hung askew over and around the other bed spaces, washing lines spanned across the room, flies everywhere and it looked as though the occupants had vacated the place in a panic. It looked anything but a military establishment and I was wondering was this some sort of paradise?

The Arrival Proceedure.

I dumped my kit on the one vacant bed space. Having failed to get any response from the drunk (who I later found out was the Cpl i/c hut B.1) I went to the picket post for directions to the hangar. Following the dusty track I eventually found myself crossing the apron in front of the hangar to a barrage of humorous comments about my standard of dress, my lily white knees and my obvious youth.

The arrival procedure didn't take long and after lunch I met the rest of the occupants of B.1. The Cpl i/c was in his late thirties who during his career had served six months detention in Colchester, he was as hard as nails and his brutalised face was evidence of past brawls. His two drinking companions were also Cpls., one, an overweight, loud 36 year old Geordie, the other in his mid forties with a row and a half of campaign medals was a taciturn Scot from Glasgow. Then there was an ex 69th entry member and finally an SAC supplier in his late twenties - and me, an 18 and a half year old new boy. I quickly settled in but it was a tempestuous few months before the older ones were tourex and replaced by Mike Monaghan (74th) and Pete Russell (72nd/74th). During this time a small, white dog adopted us in B.1 and we called him Brumas and he loved us all.

Safi Seemed to be a Unique Place.

Safi seemed to be a unique place. The Station Commander, Wg Cdr Harry Hester and his wife Marie were wonderfully different to what I would have expected! On several occasions, normally near the end of the pay fortnight, the pair of them would drive to the domestic site, tap on the door of the first hut and ask, "anyone coming up to Pop's Bar for a drink?" Pop's Bar or the Blue Star Bar to give it's proper name was our nearest watering hole other than the NAAFI. It was always a good party on those nights. Marie Hester made a birthday cake for each living in airman's birthday and delivered the cake to the billet, she visited any Safi personnel in hospital or Sick Quarters and that included families. Those and many other little personal touches endeared them to us.

At work I was put in the Modifications Bay with about six Maltese civilian aircraft workers and we were led by Cpl Fenwick-Walpole. Wally, as everyone else called him had a definite European accent and he disliked ex-apprentices intensely. First of all he took me all round the hangar, oil stores, ground equipment area and all the time asking me questions. At the end of it all he told me I had done quite well as all the questions were from the Snr Techs exam that he had recently taken! The very first job he gave me was to replace and wire lock the Avery hydraulic connections blanking caps on a Meteor Mk 13. Wally came along, gave it a thorough inspection, snipped the locking wire and told me to do it again. I thought I had done a good job, puzzled and mollified I did. This time Wally looked perfunctorily and told me to sign the F700. I asked him what was wrong with it the first time and he said "Nothing, I wanted to see if you could do it again to the same standard!"

Building a Number of Bessaneau Hangars.

But I loved the variety of aircraft and tasks. Beaufighters, Meteor 7's and 13's, Shackletons, was our main bred and butter but many other aircraft types came our way if not at Safi it was Hal Far, Luqa, Ta Qali, Idris, and El Adem. When there was no aircraft work a dozen of us were tasked with building a number of Bessaneau hangars. These were large wooden structures covered in canvas which we had to build and erect at various locations on Malta. We worked hard and played even harder. The Suez Crisis hit us very hard and I was one of a small team detached to Luqa as a mobile line rectification party to cope with the huge number of aircraft staging through to Cyprus.

I had not been at Safi for very long before I was promoted to acting Cpl (paid), but I never found out about it until five weeks later when I was nominated to be the Safi representative on the Vernon Club Committee (an all ranks all services club in Valletta), I went to SHQ to find out what it was all about. I was greeted with, "Where are your badges of rank Cpl?" My innocent protests that they had the wrong chap was swiftly and I thought rudely, over ruled and there was no apology when it was discovered that my promotion had been omitted from promulgation in Station Routine Orders which is when I would have found out about it.

I Learnt so Much During My Tour at 'Happy' Safi.

During 1957 I had Asian flu, in November I got married and just a few weeks later my wife was admitted to hospital with appendicitis and was also told she was pregnant. The next six months was a busy phase of the tour. Detachments to Idris and Ta Qali, a long spell in isolation with infectious hepatitis, the Malta riots, the arrival of a new Station Commander Wg Cdr Ellard-Styles, the complete opposite to Harry Hester, the birth of our daughter Teresa, life was now far from plain sailing. Tour-ex by November 1958 and it was home to Ipswich to await my UK posting which turned out to be RAF Wittering instead of Martlesham Heath and a complete of change lifestyle. It was a good first posting, an ideal foundation for a career for a naive 18 year old straight out of Halton. I had learnt so much about so many things during my tour at 'happy' Safi.


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