Random Thoughts by Ralph Swift

It was Sgt Pilot Don Coleman and Navigator Sgt Mike Thomson who had the misfortune to land a Meteor in East Germany. Mike told me it was with great misgivings that after landing they became aware that the soldiers approaching their aircraft had red stars in their caps. OOPS!!!. The aircraft was returned to the RAF after some considerable time but there is no doubt that it had been gone through with a fine tooth comb as had all their maps and charts in order to extract as much technical information as possible prior to giving the aircraft up. I am not sure the Russians could have learned a lot from the Meteor but Watton was Central Signals and a very secure station in some areas and I have no doubt they would have found something of interest. Don Coleman was nicknamed “Dan Dare” by some of the un-kinder members of the Squadron !!

With regard to the airborne television experiment, most of the flying was carried out in the Varsity by Flt LT John Dean and “Red” Vine who promptly had a “Star” pinned to the office door to identify their celebrity status.

Among other names I also recall a Flt Lt Les Stapleton and Flt Lt Dave Clements, Flt Lt Chambers, Sgt Lupton and Sgt Jim Rutter, Fg Off Johnny Simms a temporary co-pilot on Varsity aircraft and Flt Lt Brian Boundy who clipped the trees coming in to landing one day, this made a gap in the skyline and from that moment on the shrubbery in that area was known as “Boundy’s bushes”. There was also Flt LT Arthur Stroud whose brother was to die in the Vulcan accident at London Airport whilst returning from a goodwill tour. The Vulcan, being flown by an experienced Vulcan pilot and an inexperienced very senior officer, struck the ground short of the runway in marginal weather. It caused quite a stir at the time since it happened in front of the assembled press corps and several senior government officials who were present to welcome the aircraft and crew.

Regarding the picture of the 527 Squadron hangar and your information that it was an American constructed device, if you look through the trees in the left hand side of the photograph and looking east, you will see another similar hangar. This is where the Navy squadron had their dispersal and in my day had “Sea Fury” and “Avenger” aircraft. Also readily apparent is the old “boiler” room where heat was made available for the hangar during the winter months. In the spring, the trees to the right of the hangar were full of crows nests and there was a constant “cawing” noise from hundreds of crows and their youngsters all milling around the treetops.

As you say, these pictures are probably almost unique, who would want to take pictures of scruffy, black painted corrugated iron hangars? and not only that, the authorities were not very happy about cameras on the station anyway. I used to use my bicycle to get to work, I lived on Watton Green and used to cycle up “the loke” by Eastern Radar and thence onto the old pre-war Griston Road and from there onto the perimeter track or if it was quiet I would sometimes use the old Griston Road itself which was still paved and wound it’s way across the active airfield grass just to the south of the tarmac runway. If I wanted to get to the Officers Mess I would cycle on the gravel drive past the front of “Rockels Hall” with all it’s spring Daffodills and enter the station either via the guardroom or the Officers Mess gate near the officers married quarters. The guardroom entrance was the only one to use if I had to attend “Met Briefing”. The meteorological section was in a wartime “Nissan” hut just to the east of the permanent hangars on the north side and it was quite a puff to cycle all round the perimeter track from Met briefing to the Griston side especially if there were a stiff breeze blowing.

Random thoughts keep surfacing as I write this, the wartime dispersal points were still very much in evidence on the whole Griston or southern side of the airfield at this time and there was a rear entrance to the village of Griston and very convenient to the “Waggon and Horses” pub if flying were cancelled or curtailed for any reason. Several of the crews would gather there for an impromptu pint if the occasion arose. Most of the area around the 527 squadron crewroom was later turned into a missile site and as I understand it, a prison now stands there. In my day the (at that time) disused hard standings extended beyond the 527 Squadron site and even beyond the Thompson to Griston road and the road was frequently closed due to the passage of the trains which crossed the road just before the main exit to the Thetford to Watton road. The old “Crab and Winkle” line passed at this point and there was a railway crossing gate there.

At that time also, the Watton to Norwich road was far narrower and wound its way past the RAF station gate in a series of shallow bends that have since been straightened out and there was still a brick “pillbox” standing on the north side of the road not far from the “Drome Garage” which I believe when finally dismantled revealed some unexploded ordnance buried close by. The road was very narrow and winding near Minns gravel pits and there was a very sharp “S” bend between the pits and Askews farm, which stood at the crossroads there, and it caught out many an unwary traveller including a young Ted Savory who upended his car at this spot (a little later in time).

One of your other correspondents referred to the muddy conditions existing at what I believe we called the “Neaton” site, a series of wartime ‘Nissan’ huts standing on Redhill Lane and the lane leading from Watton Green to the Church. In my day there were a few caravans parked there that housed the families of some of the camp personnel. A fellow squadron pilot named Flt Lt Dave Brooks lived there with his wife though most of the “Nissan” huts had been converted to pig sties or chicken houses by this time. I believe a Mr Knights farmed that area and if I recall correctly Tony Lincoln kept a few pigs there. From my cottage on Watton Green I could hear Mr knights calling to his cows on the meadow behind the “Drome Garage” to come in for milking, he just called them and they wandered over to the farm gate and across the road to the milking shed. no need to drive them in. I also seem to recall that the “Drome Garage” was built on the old Village garbage dump, but this was before my time !!. Watton Green was a very narrow lane with the row cottages on one side and a high Hawthorn hedge on the other, very little room to pass and pitch black in the winter.

Many of the old pubs we used have long gone from Watton High Street, the ‘Railway Hotel’, the ‘Black Horse’, the ‘Green Man’

‘Mr Whalebelly’s’ the ‘White Horse’ are just a few of those that I can remember and no longer exist.

Can you add to this? Comments are moderated so posting will be delayed