ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

11 January 2005


Following the fascinating accounts from two of their members who became Helicopter Winchmen at one stage of their peacetime RAF service, two recent meetings of the local branch of the Aircrew Association have also been devoted to members’ accounts of aspects of their service careers.

Peter Hughes climbing into his Piston Provost during flying training
Peter Hughes
The first account was by Peter Hughes, whose grandfather and father both served in the Navy. He joined as a Boy Entrant in December 1949, and was given a very wide range of courses at St. Vincent, followed by 2 months sea trials at Portland Firth. Some boys he met there from HMS Arethusa were very advanced, and helpful. Following this he was sent by “Empire Pride” to Colombo, to join HMS Mauritius, which was in dry dock there, prior to putting to sea for working up, and was called to Shatt El Arab to brazen out the Persian gun batteries guns to guns.

His next ship was HMS Kenya, where he was head messenger boy for the Captain’s cabin, which enabled him to swat up for “Educational Test 8” and take up an interest in anti-submarine warfare. Passing out from HMS Vernon as UW3, he was posted to a 400-ton coal-burning minesweeper. About this time he applied to become a commissioned pilot, but failed his first board – and only passed his second board, despite failing every question, because “he showed a good sense of humour”! Members were very lucky to be told how it really was, on a day to day basis, to serve in the Navy “below the decks”.

In 1955 he flew 120 training hours on Alvis Leonides piston-engined Provosts, and was commissioned at Syerston, expecting to go on Gannets for anti-submarine duties. However, he went on to RAF Valley to fly Vampires, which changed his ideas to becoming a fighter pilot, in which role he flew Sea Hawks from Lossiemouth. (It was from here that his father flew against the Tirpitz.) Later he developed Vertigo, which caused him to be discharged from the Navy, and he then served as an Air Traffic Control Officer in Heathrow Tower.

Stuart Holmes
Stuart Holmes
The second account was a most interesting sidelight on life in South Vietnam from Branch Member Stuart Holmes who was posted to Saigon as the British Air Attaché from 1969 to 1972. He was able to show his own family ciné film footage and some excellent slides of life in Saigon; in the Hill Station in the mountains, and along some of the 4-500 miles of lovely sandy coastline in this stunningly beautiful country. He was also able to show pictures of his informal and formal uniforms, which he had to wear to receptions, briefing meetings, on visits to schools and to USAF units, including the USS Ticonderoga (a carrier) and USS Perkins (a Gearing Class Destroyer). The USA had about 4000 helicopters in South Vietnam at one time. In between such official duties, he was able, with his family, to enjoy some quite gracious living in a spacious house, with car and chauffeur at government expense. Not a bad deal, for a mere Squadron Leader!

Branch Chairman Eric Smith GM presenting an ACA Presidential Commendation to Branch Member Clive Watt at the Christmas Dinner in December
At the well attended Branch Christmas Dinner at the Chobham Golf Club, Chairman Eric Smith GM presented Clive Watt with a Presidential Commendation for his exceptional service to the Branch, both as Treasurer, and in editing “Upside Down and Nothing on the Clock” – the Woking Branch record of many members’ war service stories, often illustrated by unique photographs, which sold out completely, with all profits to Service Charities. (An enlarged and updated version is now available on CD-ROM at £10 per copy, obtainable from the Treasure Stan Instone on 01753 574 735, which contains more than 50 stories and over 2 hours of video, and is a unique archive of personal memories from this local group of experienced aircrew.)

Les Bigwood
Les Bigwood
Sadly, Branch Member Les Bigwood, a former mid upper air gunner in Bomber Command, who was seriously injured bailing out of a damaged Halifax bomber at low level, passed away just after his Diamond Wedding Anniversary. A large contingent of Branch Members convened at Ripley to attend his funeral on Thursday 6th January.

As a memorial to Les, his story from the recently-published Woking CD-ROM Upside Down Nothing on the Clock, but without the video content, is HERE .

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