Summer Camps 1953, 54 & 55

by Peter James, ex Adjutant 611 Squadron



During my time with 611 Squadron I was fortunate enough to enjoy several summer camps. This annual event was not new to me as when I had been an Auxiliary myself with 615 Squadron at Biggin Hill, we had our first at Manston. Not very exciting travelling all the way from one end of the County of Kent to the other for a two week stint.

The first with 611 was to Germany, Sylt in particular, an island off the North Sea coast, which was and still is, a very exclusive resort area for North Germans and the Danes, it being very near the border. The one great attraction, as far as we were concerned, its reputation by having nudist bathing beaches, one kilometre long stretches of the beach devoted exclusively to those who wished to strip right off and "enjoy" exposing their entire bodies to the elements, absolutely gorgeous when the weather is kind but impossible most of the time as the North Sea can be exceedingly tempestuous and the wind bitterly cold. Having struggled through the barrier of sand dunes a large wooden sign depicting a well endowed female pulling off her sweater at the crucial stage, proclaimed that if one didn't like what they saw, then keep away, but if you did come on, then join the others in being without clothes.

As the day of our arrival was one of those rare ones with crystal clear skies and beautifully warm, about a dozen of us made straight for the beach and found an empty hole which the Germans make to fend off the breezes and became FKKs. (Frei Korp Kultur), the German phrase for nudists, enjoying the passing scene. This was most interesting as, at that time, July 1953, there were still many German girls willing enough to find a man to keep them in luxury for considerations not unduly unpleasant to them. The fabled German Economic Miracle had yet to happen. A couple, quite obviously of that ilk appeared, he balding and old enough to be the father of the very comely wench at his side, strolled by only to be the object shortly afterwards, of rousing cheers as he ran back with what passed for an erection, blushing literally from head to toes, his whole body being scarlet, she, more slowly, with a smirk of satisfaction on her face, but it was no wonder he had fallen for what she had to offer.

A little later that afternoon a very attractive couple, stark naked of course, came along the beach, he tall and slim with she being a statuesque blonde. He greeted us with, "Hallo chaps, I'm the Station Commander at RAF Sylt, and this is my wife." We didn't know whether to jump up to attention, hardly appropriate, or remain seated. They departed with, "See you all in the bar tonight!" Our first meeting but not the last.

The weather never again smiled upon us during that fortnight but incidents continued to follow. Each night, just about mid-night, the barman would announce, "Der bus vor Westerland ist hier", followed by a mad scramble to get aboard so as not to miss the delights of the casinos and bars. Just how the following day the pilots coped was a wonder in itself but we got away with it and all survived.

With us that year were our sparring partners from Hooton, 610 Squadron. On the Saturday of our return we were waiting for the transport aircraft to proceed us, there seemed to some difficulty loading when the wailing of police car sirens came from around the perimeter track to surround the Vickers Varsity, with posses of German police quickly in place to stop the loading of one of the signs from the beach. 610 had decided it would look good in front of their hangar at Hooton. How Jas Storer managed to placate the very enraged polizei we never did find out.



The next year it was to Malta, not a bad second choice after Germany but very different in its way. Getting there for a start. All aircraft had to be fitted with long range tanks and even so it involved stops at Tangmere, Istres, in Southern France, El Aouina in Tunis before getting to Ta'Kali in Malta.. Here, before we could get out of our aircraft, a large bottle of Australian Swan lager was thrust into the cockpit by one of the lunatic pilots of 77 Squadron Royal Australia Air Force, who were the resident squadron there at the time. I say "lunatic" because they had not long returned from Korea where their Meteor 8s were found to be less than useless, either as fighters, absolutely outclassed by the Mig 15s of the enemy, or, as ground attack aircraft due to their nasty habit of "mushing" into the ground when pulling out of a dive, or, for that matter during tight turns. It was not very well publicised at the time, as the Training Officer I should have known this, but didn't. But our beloved old Meatboxes were deadly killers! Of the 850 that in total crashed during non-operational flying, there were over 400 dead pilots to testify to that. But ignorance is bliss, to coin a phrase.

To get back to Malta, those bottles of Swan were just the precursors of things to come. The "Wild Colonial Boys" from Oz were determined not to loose their reputations as being just that. Their idea of having fun was to tie an army thunderflash to a line and swing it into the flat below them in married quarters, tall tower blocks with being Malta, all doors and windows open in summer. They tried something similar that Saturday night in the mess bar, dropping one into the large decorative ceramic urn, hundreds of pieces flew across the room and how no one was hit was miraculous, but the whole of the back of the bar which consisted of a huge mirror behind all the spirit bottles was completely shattered.

The C in C Fighter Command, Sir Dermot Boyle, visited us and I was directed to take him up in the 7 and show him how attacks on the flag were made for air firing practice. Mushing was not the word for it, unbeknown to me the long-range fuel tanks had been refilled and the weight of 200 gallons of avtur was too much for such tactics. To say the least it was abortive. On landing he told me that pre-war he had been the number one air-firing pilot in the RAF!!!

It has always been something of a joke about the perfect formation photograph taken of the Squadron flying over Malta, how they got airborne is one thing and to get themselves in such precise alignment was quite another, the night before had been horrendous.

Coming back was another story. The bulk of the Squadron had gone on ahead, leaving Chris Neville, the Regular Adjutant, in an 8, Bob O'Brien, our Canadian and myself in the 7. Chris may have been the RAF Shot putting Champion but as a pilot he was not in the same class. All the way across France the cloud was solid up to over 20,000 feet, we couldn't go any higher, no pressurisation in a 7, and we just followed the 8, until we broke cloud when we in the 7 were very low on fuel, with nothing but sea to be seen, obviously the North Sea, so we turned west and found the Thames Estuary and made a dive for Manston getting there with literally "nothing on the clock but the makers name". For so long and so high the fuel transfer cock had frozen.



Back to Germany again. This time Celle, just a few kilometres from Belsen and a fully active Fighter Station and guess who was the Station Commander, you've got it, our naked one from Sylt!

On the second week-end I quietly went over to the Mess on the Sunday evening and found myself the only occupant sipping away a beer at the bar when in came Tony Stainforth. On enquiring what I was drinking and found it was beer, said, "That's no good, its champers tonight". German Sekt at the equivalent of 10/- didn't hit the pocket too hard, and so it was after telling the barman to get all the bottles in stock. Eventually it turned into the biggest drunken brawl I've ever seen with floor of the kellerbar awash with a mixture of spilt drinks of various kinds. Along with the Station Commander and wife was the Wg. Co, Flying and wife along with most of the Mess inmates. The Wing Co. was dragging the Station Commanders wife around the floor by her hair and so it was going on.

I decided enough was enough and retired to my room only to be awoken by the rest of 611 battering in the door and when opened they proceeded to throw fire buckets of water over my bed and squirt the contents of extinguishers. Forgetting the wetness of everything I foolishly switched on my bed light and suffered an almost deadly shock.

Tony had only recently recovered from having the only serious accident whilst I was with the Squadron in that he had pressed his luck a little too far when towing the flag for air firing and run out of fuel whilst in the circuit. There is a saying in Cheshire that there is a pit in every field, meaning a pond. Unfortunately Tony couldn't miss the one in the field he picked. Apart from the fact that after the Sunday night he had alcoholic poisoning which manifested itself by his back showing every laceration from the accident when in the ablutions next day, he had also lost his nerve.

I was trying to nurse him back to normal and flying with him whenever possible. We were up doing an exercise together when he went to pieces and wanted to jump, having talked him out of that I got him to formate on me and slowly led him down right onto the runway. That was the last time he ever flew as a pilot.

Getting back to drunken orgies, it must be remembered that a large number of aircrew at that time, although ten years after the end of the war, were still in the throes of trying to forget their experiences, especially as quite a few had been on exchange postings with the Americans or Australians in Korea and were accelerated on the promotion ladder for the experience they could bring to Squadrons.

Also, being in Germany had many advantages, as above with Sekt at 10/- (50p) a bottle, petrol was linked to pre-WWII prices when it was 10_d a gallon, 4_p, with 4.45 litres/gallon that is 1p/liter, think of it. Cars did not have vat levied on top of which the French gave special discounts to members of all Allied Forces, the Canadian Forces had their equivalent of the NAAFI, again with large discounts. There were special hotels in Berlin and Winterberg in the Sauerland for Winter Sports and much more. No wonder things did tend to get out of hand.

Peter James Sept 2005