Norm de Plume remembers his arrival at Watton
I don’t suppose that my arrival in Watton, seated upon my old faithful BSA 350 B31 motorbike on that November day in 1960 has been remembered with any significance by anyone other than myself, but here I finally was, cold damp and hungry!
Having stopped in the High Street, which by the way had alternate days parking in operation at that time (Which ran well into the 70’s, and did a far better job of controlling market day traffic than the present system!) I was directed easterly to the entrance of the main camp, and turned right from the Norwich Road into my base, for primarily the next two years. But more of that later! As one drove into the main camp one was greeted by the Main Guardroom on the left, and SHQ on the right
Initially parking my velocipede in front of the guardroom, I gained the information that I, as an airman, had to go into the general office located in SHQ to obtain my blue card. (A Card used to Arrive and Clear an RAF camp, containing many required signatures, eg bedding store) and my sleeping accommodation details. HOWEVER, airmen were not allowed to use the front entrance, only the rear!
Presenting myself at a hatch in the rear of the building, I was given a Blue Card and told that my accommodation would be in Block 14 Room 3. Hastily, I drove the bike to the parade square which was now regularly used as a car park, the 60’s being upon us! Plonked my kit on a vacant bed, and made a hasty dash for the cookhouse, or Airmen’s Mess situated on the other side of the main Norwich Road, (where Mr Reads Carpet Centre now is).
But I’m jumping a bit ahead of myself here, and think that I’d better explain from whence I had come – North Coates, Lincolnshire, the LAST place on God’s earth!!! So bad, that even the NAFFI, the “Wonderful Institution” that was as a sinecure for retired Admirals, Generals, and Air Marshals, was located outside the camp gates!!! This was the year of the wet autumn that made the harvesting, in Lincolnshire, of potatoes impossible with tractors, farmers having to rely totally on manpower and horses. Things were so bad near Grimsby that the airmen on the camp were released by the CO to help, if they wanted to, with the harvest, therefore getting the hardy ones amongst us, two salaries in one week. There were plenty of volunteers on the first day, (I was NOT one of them – my Dad said never volunteer for anything!), but hardly any on the second day!!!! – being a mud-lark certainly didn’t have any glamour attached to it!! The point of me returning the reader to this hell-hole was to explain what the food was like in this Lincolnshire penal colony!
Imagine if you can, dozens of wooden huts, in which we lived, painted green, (ours had been No77, jokingly known as Sunset Strip). And a similar one with a stench of boiled cabbage hanging over it, like a smelly-vision version, of the Quatermass experiment, and you’re beginning, to get the picture. Here in this Airmen’s Mess, aptly named, was served every day the same menu for lunch – Cold Meat, with gravy poured over it, and then placed on the hot plate. Pomm potatoes, which, as anybody that has eaten them will vouch, were probably invented by Porton Down, the chemical warfare establishment, and spotted dick and custard. I love spotted dick, but day after day for over two months puts you off it a bit! The usage of Hard Tack biscuits and Compo Cheese on the side table by the door, was phenomenal, anything to give a bit of flavour! But enough of this, back To Watton.
I crossed the road, entered the Mess, and was greeted by the most fabulous array of food I’d seen for years! The initial queue divided into two, and I found myself in a dilemma, whether to go for the hot choices, or cold!!! Having not seen anything green in my diet for two months other than cabbage the site of lettuce in November was overwhelming, so the cold buffet won!
When the great time arrived of me reaching the head of the queue, I was greeted by a Cpl. carving knife in his hand, who, after what seemed a few micro seconds to me, asked what I wanted?!
I was so taken aback at the wondrous items on offer, whole salmon, roast beef, pork etc, that I blurted out I’ll have some ham please corporal, to which I got the terse reply back “Don’t piss me about airman, which sort of HAM do you want?”!!!!!
I had arrived!, and apart from less than two years absence when I got de-mobbed. met the wife, and thence returned, I worked on the camp for 30 years!