1954 to 1958
This article is an extract from Phil Tomaselli's book RAF Yatesboury The History and is Copyright ©
This article is an extract from Phil Tomaselli's book RAF Yatesboury The History and is Copyright ©
Another little-known aspect of RAF Yatesbury, (rather like RAF Townsend), is that 27 Group Headquarters was based in the old Flying School and known as RAF Cherhill.
27 Group was initially formed in August 1918 to operate bombers against long-distance targets in Germany, but never functioned and was disbanded in May 1919. It reformed in June 1941, based at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, taking charge of all the Radio Schools. It was moved around various Stations before settling at the old Flying School buildings on Yatesbury airfield in May 1954. The buildings had to be purchased from the MaIcolm Club, who had been given them by BAC in 1948. The Wiltshire Council had no objection to the RAF's using these buildings, but pointed out that the proposed new London-South Wales Motorway (M4) would cross the Southern part of the airfield. In the event, when the M4 was built in the mid 60's, it was routed about ten miles to the North of the Station.
27 Group was one of four Groups within Technical Training Command. It controlled three Radio/Radar Training Schools: No 1 at RAF Locking, No 2 at RAF Yatesbury and No 3 at RAF Compton Bassett
It also controlled RAF Regiments at RAF Netheravon (RAF Police), RAF Dumfries and RAF Watchet. This latter Station was closed due to the vibration of the guns eroding the nearby cliffs. The Group also, for some strange reason, administered the Chaplains' School at Cheltenham.
Unfortunately, the operational log has very little information, as all the detail is given in Appendices, which are not included with the copy held at the National Archive, (formerly the Public Record Office). The only information consists of athletic prowess in various Inter-Group events.
For instance, in February 1956, Air Commodore R.L. Phillips started the cross-country race over six miles and also presented the prizes. The race was won by LAC Ibbotson of RAF Yatesbury. Not really surprising as on 19th July 1957, at the White City, he broke the world mile record by beating the Olympic champion, Ron Delany, in a time of3 minutes, 57.2 seconds The Station also won the team championship, (for the fifth year running). In June 1956, it states, with a touch of pride, that 27 Group won the Inter-Group competition for the first time.
On 22ndNovember 1956, Air Commodore Phillips died very suddenly and was buried in Yatesbury churchyard on 27th November. He was succeeded by Air Commodore J.B.M. Wallis OBE on 9th January 1957, a temporary appointment, as he retired on 1st June that year.
Air Commodore C. M. Stewart CBE was then appointed, and stayed until the Group was disbanded in 1958.
The Group Headquarters was comprised of an Air Commodore, with an ADC, thirteen supporting officers. RAF Cherhill had a Flight Lieutenant CO, with six senior NCOs, six junior NCOs and 48 other ranks.
I received my call-up papers early in December 1956 with a travel warrant to travel from Marylebone station to Bedford station. There we were met by an RAF coach which took us to RAF Cardington. We spent the next few days being inducted into the Royal Air Force. Medicals, uniforms and a list of trades, four of which I was not interested in. As a trained draughtsman, I requested a trade test, which I was granted.
A few days later, we were instructed to obtain an early breakfast and a packed lunch and report to the camp station at 0800 hours, we were met by two 'guardsman-like' corporals, our first contact with drill instructors. The rest of the day was spent on the train to be shunted over the Midlands, this being a Sunday, to arrive at Bridgnorth station to face a barrage of noisy instructions to get to your transport in the station yard by calling out your newly-given, seven-figure service number.
After spending the next eight weeks being 'square bashed', during which I was sent off to RAF Weeton, near Blackpool, for my trade test. I passed as ACI and then received my permanent posting with a travel warrant to Calne to RAF Cherhill. On arrival at Calne, via the 'Calne Flyer' train from Chippenham, I got on a local bus and asked for my new unit. The bus conductor was mystified as he had not heard of this unit and said I had best get off in Cherhill village. Luckily for me, a local lady from the village told us that we should get off with her at the end of Yatesbury Lane and then walk to the Group Headquarters. This was quite a walk in your best blue with your kitbag. As there was no accommodation for junior NCOs and lower ranks at Group, a bus would take us to the two huts in 'W' lines which were located to the north side of the camp next to the Sergeants' Mess. This meant that to get to our cookhouse, we would cut across the grass, often being stopped by a Sergeant and, as I was then still an ACI, they thought I was a trainee and would try and put me on a charge. That is, until they found out I was from Group. They would then just send us away with a caution, as they knew that our unit CO would throw out such a trivial offence. Eventually we were moved to 'H' lines, the first two huts on the main road opposite the Permanent Staff cookhouse and NAAFL which meant we had easy access and a longer lie-in each day.
Our working day would start with the coach to take us up to Group at 0800 hours to be on daily inspection parade at 0900 hours, when the flag would be raised by one of the Drawing Office staff. Some officers would then dismiss us; others would take a full inspection. One of the officers had a mastiff that would walk up and down the lines inspecting us on behalf of that officer.
The main purpose of Group Headquarters was to prepare all the training manuals for all three Training Schools, including the Apprentices at RAF Locking. The officers would write out in longhand the manuals where it would go into the typing pool for typing onto wax stencils. They then came into the drawing office for us to draw the various diagrams, 'squiggles' as we called them. They were then to be printed on the 'Gestetner' duplicating machine and bound into manuals and issued to the proper schools. The drawings for the Apprentice manuals would be drawn onto linen then sent HMSO for litho printing.
As we were working on top-secret 'V' bomber equipment training materials, we had to sign the Official Secrets Act. A security officer would visit us every six-month to check us out, but when he learned that all three draughtsmen were from the boiler manufacturing industry, and did not have a clue what we were drawing, he would just get us to sign the documentation and disappear into the adjacent Officers' Mess for the rest of his visit.
The advantages of being at such a large camp as RAF Yatesbury was the wide range of sporting activities, including of course the standard sports, for example football, rugby, cricket, and of course athletics. At one time, Yatesbury had the fastest milers in the world, namely Bannister, Chataway, Brasher and Ibbotson, most of their time on camp was spent on the camp running track. (I know that Ibbotson was stationed at Yatesbury but there is no record of the others being stationed there, but I have heard that they may have trained on the camp- Ed)
Other sports included rock climbing, pot-holing, both at Cheddar Gorge, and rowing which took place on the nearby River Avon at Bathford. (I have been informed that rowing took place at Saltford and Bradford-on Avon, not Bathford. -Ed). My sport being cycle racing and as there was up to eighteen cyclists of all types, we could on some occasion’s field up to four teams of four especially in local RAF events. The club was named RAF Yatesbury Wheelers and we had our own clubroom at hut Y20, fitted out with rollers so that we could do training during inclement weather, and store our cycles. The club colours were mid-blue with a horizontal gold band.
During the summer season, the local cycling club, Chippenham Wheelers used to organise ten and fifteen-mile time trials on the Sutton Benger to Great Somerfield course on alternate Wednesday evenings starting at 7 pm. After competing we usually ended up at the NAAFI Club in Chippenham for a "fry-up" before returning to camp. The other two local events were organised by RAF Compton Bassett. Their event was usually 75 miles, often used as a selection event for short-listing riders for the forthcoming RAF Five Day, or the Isle of Man International events. The course would include three of the biggest road hills in the area namely Clyffe Pypard, White Horse Hill, and Wroughton Hill, all very hard climbs. The other event being held on the aerodrome perimeter track at RAF Hullavington, this being 50 miles and would attract a field of 5 0-60 riders from local stations.
During the winter months on the Wednesday sports afternoons, we would cycle to Newbury to avoid the obligatory cross-country running or football, to spend the afternoon in a cafe until it was time to go back to camp in time for the evening meal. During the run-up to the racing season, the racing cyclists would use the return journey as a training session, the first one back through the main gates would get a free beer in the NAAFI that evening. At weekends, we would go touring, using Youth Hostels, averaging 100-150 miles over the weekend.
During my stay at Yatesbury, we competed in the Inter-Station 100km (62.5 miles) Mass Start Championship held at RAF Syerston during August 1958, in which we won the second team award. I was also a member of the Technical Training Command winning team in the RAF Inter-Command Five-Day Road Race based at the nearby RAF South Cerney over 480 miles of Cotswold open roads which also included all the major hills in this area.
The Services were always very supportive. When, for instance, an event was north of London, we were issued with travel voucher of tickets to the nearest railway station.We would sign off camp on a Tuesday to travel to the event, compete on the Wednesday afternoon, and travel back on the Thursday to report for duty after signing back on camp for Friday morning. Then if it was a camp "48", leave camp at 4 pm to cycle home. In my case that meant S. W. London, ready to compete in a local civilian event on the Sunday, and catch the last train from Paddington to Swindon, arriving approx I am, cycle back to camp to arrive about 2.30 am, then up at 8 am to start another working week. "What a life"!!
On occasion, to save 12/6, (a lot of money when your weekly pay is £2) the travel voucher amount, we would ride to Cranbourne Youth Hostel in Dorset, approximately 60 miles. Next morning, ride 25 miles to the event, race the 75-mile road race, and then cycle back to camp another 60 miles, arriving at midnight.
Once a year in May, RAF Yatesbury would promote its own 25-mile time trial on the local Chippenham course, which attracted all the top RAF racing cyclists.
The last event in the racing calendar was the Inter-Station Hill Climb time trial held at the nearby RAF Clyffe Pypard which had a very steep and long hill adjacent to the camp, a real lung buster!!
During the winter months, Group HQ staff were invited to the Marlborough hospital dance where the Matron kept a very strict surveillance over us airmen to ensure that there was no funny business' as she would say. In return, we would invite the nurses to our Permanent Staff mess dances and, of course, the Matron would accompany the nurses, and with the Duty Officer, would see that the dances were kept in proper order.
Other local entertainment included the local cinemas, Calne YMCA for social events and Friday dances. Other dance venues were on Saturday night, either at Calne Town Hall or the NAAFI club in Chippenham.
As there was no "other ranks" accommodation at Group, we were billeted at the nearby RAF Yatesbury camp, firstly in the billets at the back of the camp opposite the caravan section, and then they moved us into billets (two huts) opposite the permanent staff cookhouse.
These two huts each held 24 airmen with our corporals having the end rooms in each hut.
Each hut had two loudspeakers mounted on the huts 'roof trusses, one was for radio, the other was for Camp Tannoy system.
We often had "billet" jollifications which ranged from water fights, pillow fights, especially on a members de-mob night, when we all returned very merry, during which the two loudspeakers often got knocked down from the rafters.
It was on one of these occasions, a Thursday evening prior to a camp 48 hour weekend. At that time (this being during 1957) Yatesbury had over 3,000 trainees under technical training for Radar mechanics and fitter courses, together with the new guided missile courses.
Prior to the release for a 48-hour week-end the camp commander held a station parade on the main parade square which included both permanent and trainee staff but excluded our unit, which was at work at Group Headquarters. During the previous evening both our loudspeakers got knocked down and their leads broken off. Clive my next bed-mate replaced both speakers, making the required joints, and replaced them back on the rafters, not realizing that he had reconnected the leads incorrectly, namely the Tannoy leads to the radio loudspeaker and vice-versa.
The next morning whilst we were at our office, which was over a mile away from our billet a rumour started that there was a problem at the Yatesbury parade. It turned out that when the guardhouse turned on the camp Tannoy system, which included the speakers on the main square, instead of the Tannoy system message being broadcast, it was Housewife’s Choice that came out over the camp loud speakers. The Group Captain taking the parade was naturally "not amused" and demanded action by our camp’s "Snowdrops" to find the culprits. However when they started searching they started at the other end of the camp and our offending billet was the last to be searched and the offending loudspeaker found.
All the off duty staff that were sleeping were turfed out of bed to be interrogated, but they could not give any answers as they had been on night duty the previous evening, which did not help the "Snowdrops" tempers. When we returned to our office after lunch, instead of being allowed to return to our own places of work, we were paraded in front of our own unit CO who told us what had happened and requested the culprit to step forward. Clive responded saying to me, here we go for 10 days in the guardhouse, and was marched off to the COs office, where he told what had happened, and it was not intended to embarrass the Yatesbury Group Captain at his parade. Two other Senior Group Officers were also present at the meeting, all seeing the funny side, found it hard to keep from laughing.
Clive was given a warning and told to get lost, and to advise us all to be more careful in future evening "doings".
When 27 Group was disbanded in September 1958, it was merged with 24 Group HQ at Rudloe Manor at Box on the Bath Road. I was posted to the HQ of RAF Yatesbury Radio School, where I stayed until I was demobbed on 4th December 1958.
"AC1 Taylor you're posted to RAF Cherhill" "Where’s Cherhill"
"Somewhere in Wiltshire"
As a National Serviceman, I had passed the Clerk Organisation course and days later found myself on the train bound for Calne. There were changes at Pontypool Road, where I left a case in my carriage, and Chippenham, eventually arriving in a small town dominated by the Harris Baconfactory, on the "Calne Flyer".
Here a Garry, (RAF lorry), (service slang, probably derives from "ghari", an Indian wheeled vehicle - Ed), picked me up along with others bound for RAF Yatesbury, where 1 was to eat and sleep. The transport travelled eastwards along the A4 trunk road passing signs for RAF Compton Bassett and through the village of Cherhill. On arrival, I was directed to my hut, near to the main entrance, and met by my Cherhill colleagues for the first time.
Next morning another Garry, (or was it the same one), gathered us all up and left camp by the back door, as it were, opposite the Malcolm Club and travelled along the lane towards Yatesbury Village. Before we got to RAF Cherhill, we passed a couple of hangers on the left, outside which were some six grounded "Lincoln s" and a "Lancaster ", used for radio training. A left turn along a drive brought us to the khaki clad RAF Cherhill, complete with parade ground behind the complex as below.
Looking at what I think was the last official photograph taken of the station s staff, 1 can count 66 officers and men (and a Golden Labrador). So who were we and what did we do?
Well, RAF Cherhill was 27 Group s Headquarters within Technical Training Command. (Note: 27 Group was about to be absorbed into 24 Group and moved to RAF Rudloe Manor). Yatesbury came under our wing, as it were, and it was our job to provide all the syllabi for Yatesbury s courses, as it was for all the other stations in the Group, such as Compton Bassett, Locking and Netheravon, for whom we prepared a syllabus for RAF Police Dog handling.
Each course was meticulously compiled and bound into a foolscap card cover which was usually sky-blue (no international paper sizing in those days) and on which was emblazoned the Command badge together with the title of the course. The course itself was subdivided into numerous sections, each being given a specific time limit, usually in minutes.
How did l fit into the scheme of things? Well, 1 worked in an office with two Warrant Officers, Marsden and Thompson. W/G. Marsden had played football for Barnsley and Thompson was a keen motorist, very proud of his new Vauxhall Victor. After the syllabi had been compiled, it was our job to proof-read the copy. 1 would be the first to admit 1 was downright careless. Dotting every "i" and crossing every "T" wasn't my scene. The strange thing is that later in life I became an industrial editor with P&O/Orient Lines and then with Telephone Rentals which was eventually taken over by Mercury, the Cable & Wireless subsidiary. This early training stood me in good stead and gave a good career which also saw me in as a published railway historian.
We had a sports officer, a Fit/Lt. Bolton, who was keen on my entering the Wiltshire cross-country championships but sporting-wise my heart was with Yatesbury where I rowed at Number 2 in the station crew. I was interested to read in a previous issue of our newsletter of how one chap nearly coxed his boat over the weir at Avoncliff. I did it too; in thick fog I must add! Those Wednesday afternoons at Bradford-on-Avon were great fun as was the hot buttered toast at the "Three Gables" after each training session. We performed quite well in competition reaching the final of the Maiden Fours at the RAF Regatta at Bedford, in 1958, beating RAF Honington and RAF Colerne on the way eventually losing to RAF Brampton.
199 Other memories of Yatesbury come flooding back; taking a pillow down to the hangar to enjoy films; walking up to the Lansdowne monument, close to the Cherhill White Horse featured on the station s badge; discovering Avebury, and catching those coaches to the White City coach park for weekends in London.
And that missing suitcase; the next evening I caught the bus into Calne Station and there it was waiting to be collected. Weren't the railways efficient in those days!
Due to the run-down of National Service, 27 Group was disbanded on 1st October 1958 and merged with 24 Group based at RAF Rud10e Manor. This Group controlled both the Mechanical and Radio/Radar Training. When Yatesbury, Compton Bassett and Cherhill closed in 1965, they were handed over to RAF Lyneham for "inactive parenting" until they were completely removed.