A Chesterfield Hero
A Few Random Ramblings
When not living on base, Jean stayed with her parents a lot at Hopcroft House, North Wingfield, Chesterfield. During his time on Valiants, when completing cross country training runs, Roy would ask his navigator to plot a course for Hopcroft and they would circle the house until the family came out to wave ,at which point, Roy would 'waggle' his wings and return to base. At some point, his navigator was passing through Derbyshire in a car when he suddenly realised he was in Roy Mather country. He managed to navigate to Hopcroft and knocked on the door for a visit.
My eldest sister lived with Roy and Jean in the married quarters at RAF Marham and remembers playing on the swings in the station's park. From these swings, the runway was clearly visible. When she knew dad was flying that day, she says she would wait until he landed and she knew that in half an hour she would have to go in and get her tea since she knew that Roy would be back by then having debriefed and changed out of his flying suit. She remembers saying to the other kids that she would have to go in half an hour as her dad had just landed. The other kids asked how she knew it was her dad's plane that had just landed she replied that she could always tell her dad's landings as had always made perfect landings, hardly ever smoking the tyres with both sets of rear landing gear gently kissing the runway simultaneously.
Roy's landing prowess was echoed by my uncle Joe, the husband of Roy's sister, Edna. Joe and Edna regularly visited Roy and Jean at both Wittering and Marham and would sit and watch him come into land. On one occasion at Marham, Joe says Roy knew they had come for a visit and in typical Roy style he decided to show off. On a high circuit of the field, Joe said he looped the Valiant. I doubt he actually looped it and maybe just barrel rolled it, either way he would have got into a lot of trouble. Indeed, Joe said that Roy was admonished for his act, and in his RAF record from Cranwell, it is noted that he was busted down to Flight Officer for a while. I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time some acrobatics were carried out by the Valiant crews when they were far away from anywhere on 'Lone Rangers' and such like, although I can't find any recorded anywhere. We know that Roy had met and was in contact with the Boeing test pilot of the B-47 Stratojet, Alvin 'Tex' Johnson, and Roy told us of Tex's famous barrel roll manoeuvre in the Boeing 707 airliner prototype, for which Tex had told his superior that he was ' just selling aeroplanes'. I don't know whether this was the explanation of Roy's actions but Joe still adamantly recalls this happening.
On another occasion, we were told that Roy, being now a very experienced Valiant pilot, was doing his pre flight checks and when starting one of the engines, he declared that there was something wrong with it as it didn't sound right. The aircraft had been passed by other captains and engineers but Roy was adamant this wasn't right and grounded the plane as was his right as captain. During the resultant strip down of the engine and subsequent inspection of the components, a critical part was shown to have terminal damage. An enquiry after came to the conclusion that a disaster was narrowly averted by Roy's intuitive action. It just goes to show how you can get so used to a piece of equipment you can tell whether it's normal or not just by the sound and feel of it.
After Roy's return from Pinecastle, life carried on at RAF Wittering and 138 Squadron. The routines would include flying on organised NATO exercises nominally 'Full Play', 'Sun Beam', Dawn Breeze', 'Buckboard', 'Topweight', 'Mandate' and 'Mayflight', the May 1958 and September 1959 RAF Bombing Competitions, and a number of 'Lone Ranger' missions to Luqa, Idris, Marrakech, El Adem, Ahlhorn and Goose bay. The mission to Goose Bay, Canada, included a trip to Lakehead, now Thunder Bay, but I can't find anything out about that mission. I seem to remember being told that on the 'Lone Ranger' flights, the crew had a Mini Moke on a specially built skid that fitted in the bomb bay. This Moke would be used by the crew to get about whilst they were in that far away land.
On the 18th September 1959, he took WP220 to RAF Aldergrove for a Battle of Britain static display at their airshow, and on the week before, it is notable that Roy practiced his first 'Scramble', which was to become a feature of the Quick Reaction Alert crews around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early sixties.
RAF Wittering had a bit of a reshuffle and on the 12th October 1959, Roy was reassigned to the Bomber Command Development Unit (BCDU). Apart from flying a 'Lone Ranger' to El Adem in November, time spent in the BCDU was filled with endless numbered trials and instant start scrambles. I remember being told that Roy flew some trials with the De Havilland Assisted Take Off packs which basically hung under the wing and provided a rocket assisted boost to take of enabling the giant bomber to shorten its take off run.
Sometime in 1961, BCDU relocated to RAF Finningley. The relocation is not recorded in Roy's log books but on the 30th August he recorded flying from Base to Wittering so it must have been before then.
Roy was now in his early forties and although the RAF wanted to keep Roy, they were not willing to let him fly operations anymore, only offering him promotion to a desk job. Being in the RAF was all about flying to Roy, not paperwork. He had made a lot of contacts in the aircraft business over the years and he was offered the chance to fly commercially on airliners, but then it would only be until he was fifty. Roy decided it was his time to turn down the RAF's offer and leave the service. On the day after Roy's 43rd birthday, he officially retired from the RAF to continue his life in civvy street. Later that year, the Valiants were found to have fatigued rear wing spars. It is more than well documented about the metal fatigue which lead to the indecent destruction of the Valiants. At least Roy wasn't there to see it.
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Roy rocking his shades. The back of the photo says Palestine but more likely to be Libya and RAF Idris
More trials continued at Finningley including a couple more 'Lone Rangers' to RAF Idris via Kinloss and El Adem - RAF Khormaksar (Aden) - El Adem. He also was involved in some SAGW trials which I believe was conducted around RAF North Coates. SAGW stands for Surface to Air Guided Weapon and RAF North Coates was the first operational base for the Bristol/Ferranti Bloodhound guided missile. I can remember seeing the Bloodhounds all pointing out to sea at RAF North Coates from our family holiday chalet on the Fitties Camp, Humberston, north of the base. I used to think they were all pointed at Russia when I was a kid which of course was nonsense since they were just air defence missiles. Just after the trials, Roy flew on 'Exercise Ciano' for three days which I believe he dropped Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) to try and stop the Bloodhounds targeting the incoming bombers and evaluate both the countermeasures and the missile systems. The 16th October 1961 was the last of Roy's days at the BCDU as he was reassigned to the Valiant Simulator Section under the wing of 207 Squadron at RAF Marham.
Roy and Jean at a RAF Finningley Party
Roy and Jean at the Officers Married Quarters, RAF Marham with my granddad's Wolseley 16/60
Training operations would sometimes feature survival training. This could involve being parachuted into a particular place and having to navigate your way back to prearranged coordinates. I remember being told that on one such operation, Roy was dropped into a desert area and was told to navigate back to a camp not too far away. Being a bit hot and tired he tried to pick up a stick that was lying on the ground to help him on his trek to the camp. At this point the 'stick' turned and tried to bite him. The 'stick' was actually a Black Mamba who was minding it's own business basking in the morning sun until rudely awakened by a hairy arsed pilot. Roy recalled not needing any help in his trek after this incident as he ran almost all the way back to camp.
On another operation to a far off land, Roy was billeted in a tent on the base. It wasn't the first time he was given these overnight arrangements and it was usual to get indigenous small furry nocturnal creatures inspecting the tent in the wee hours. On this occasion one such creature was making more noise than usual in it's tent inspection and Roy reached for a flashlight to investigate. The small furry creature transpired to be a large, hairy black panther. Fortunately the panther was more perturbed by Roy's screams and was the first to leave the tent
Now at RAF Marham, his days were spent in the simulator, training future pilots with all real flying done just to keep his Green license current, however during the Cuban missile crisis and with Britain on a high state of readiness, Roy took his turn with the QRA crews at Marham.
Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), was undertaken by all of the V-Bombers at various stations around the east of the country. I remember being told that Roy would be sat in an aircraft for a full shift taking their meals in there and everything. After the shift was over another crew relieved them and this provide 24 hour cover in case world war three started. This memory is from Roy Lavis - 49 Squadron 1961-1964 which I found amusing and explains QRA better than I ever could.
"Four aircraft were placed in a wire compound, bombed and fuelled ready to go. It was the era of the four minute warning and on receiving the warning from Bomber Command HQ, via a TELESCRAMBLE lead connected to the aircraft intercom and the Crew chief's headset, they had to start engines and get airborne as quickly as they could. To get the engines started as quickly as possible a trolley filled with batteries was connected to the aircraft starter circuits with the cables tethered to the ground. Four buttons on the trolley started the engines. The idea being that when the engines were simultaneously started (SIMSTART), the aircraft taxied forward the cables disconnected and they were off to the end of the runway and Russia as fast as possible. We had the American bomb and so also had a U.S. CUSTODIAN complete with gun in the cockpit to look after his bomb. We never started up or taxied with the American bomb although other squadrons with the British bomb did go to the end of the runway and back. On this particular alert we were all at our stations. Custodian in cockpit, crew strapped in, crew chief with fingers over buttons, ground crew ready to be told it was all over and we could go back to our normal pursuits. Suddenly 'Oggy', the crew chief who came from the West Country, for some reason known only to himself pressed all four buttons and all hell broke loose. Four engines roared into life, the custodian shot out of the cockpit and hit the ground running. As he later said he 'wasn't going on a one way ticket to Russia'. Another crew chief thinking he had mis-heard something over the telescramble also pressed his buttons and started up. None of the crews had heard anything but we thought we were about to go to war. Every body was in a purple funk and it wasn't till the Boss got confirmation from Bomber Command that we could shut down that people started breathing again. 'Oggy' spent the rest of the afternoon explaining his action to anybody who was willing to listen. At the end of our bit of QRA we were all assembled and a beautifully carved and varnished finger, mounted on a shield was presented to 'Oggy', 49's own 'Mr Finger'."