In my nearly seventy years of life I have encountered many frightening experiences. Nothing however can compare to the experience narrated below.
I had been posted to RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire. Yatesbury was one of the main radio training schools. 'Radio' embraced wireless, radar, instrument landing systems and other aircraft electronics. I had just finished basic training and had been sent here to learn--before being let loose on aircraft on an operational unit.
Most arrivals were like me, Aircraftsmen 2nd class (the lowest one can be). The camp had to be guarded, and after 5 PM the airmen who's job it was to guard the camp, all knocked off for the day. (These guys would have been RAF police or maybe RAF regiment). It was then up to the guys on the various courses to cover the guard duties. Fortunately Yatesbury being a large camp, meant guard duty didn't come round too often---which was good because everyone hated it.
My first duty eventually arrived. Uniforms had to be spot on, everything had to gleam, boots were like mirrors---even then we knew something would be picked up at the inspection which preceded every guard duty. I found myself on the ten till one shift, not too bad, if all went well I could get some sleep---the guard was stood down at seven in the morning.
There was this building; we marched past it frequently on the way to our lectures, and also to the camp cinema. The building was wooden structured like all the rest-but it was always empty. Rumor had it that it was haunted.
Each guard was issued with a torch and a truncheon, and was given an area to patrol. Guard patrols could be, and were checked by the NCO in charge and also the orderly officer, there was no skiving. I commenced my duty at 10pm, winter was approaching and it was cold and miserable. Initially there were other airmen around, leaving the NAAFI, cinema, and other places of recreation, but soon it was very quiet. Walking round a military establishment at night with lots of buildings and dim lights and shadows, is not in itself very pleasant. When one knows however that on your patrol, is a place that is claimed to be haunted, all sorts of silly things go on in your mind. What had happened in this place? Why was it always deserted? Why didn't anyone tell us about it? The building was now in my sight I gripped my baton tightly and walked on. I deliberately didn't look at the building but increased my pace to get passed as quickly as possible. I knew at once---there was no mistake, the temperature had dropped significantly. I glanced at the building---nothing obvious, and as soon as I was passed the temperature returned to normal. I had to pass this place three times on my duty (not from choice) and each time I had the same experience.
After my duty ended the sergeant asked me if all was in order, I told him about the building---he just replied that all was in order then.
I didn't get any sleep that night, and it was a very tired airman that attended his lectures the next morning.
My next guard duty about four weeks later was at the aircraft pound about three miles from the main camp. This pound had an assortment of aircraft from the war, they were mostly bombers. I can remember the Lancaster, Halifax, Blenheim, Wellington and Mosquito and there was probably others. Some aircraft still had functioning equipment and these were used for training purposes. We were encouraged to look in all the aircraft to get an idea what conditions would have been like for the crews.
Many questions and answers were given; it was a very rewarding experience.
Walking round the aircraft during the day with others, and walking round in the dark on ones own is a very different matter. This was a large area, and large aircraft at night look rather frightening especially when silhouetted. Noises seem to come from everywhere--lights seem to shine from everywhere, especially when the torch was switched on. I didn't like it.
I had no idea really why this area was being guarded. There was a large perimeter fence and I couldn't really see why anyone would want to break in to a pound with old disabled WW2 aircraft. Something made me stop in front of a large bomber. I slowly scanned the plane from back to front with my torch, when my torch beam illuminated the cockpit the adrenaline rush nearly took my head off---Iooking down at me was a grotesque image of a face. I wanted to turn and run but I was riveted to the spot, my heart was pounding---I was suffering total and absolute terror. Then a hand slowly rose into view the fingers spread as if clawing at the window of the cockpit.
After what seemed like an eternity but what was in reality would have been only a short time I managed to tear myself away from this horror.
The night was cold and frosty, I had a greatcoat on and although I tried to run, I found it impossible. Trying to run round large bombers in the dark in a heavy coat is not to be recommended. Eventually I arrived at the guard post.
Now please ask yourselves how would you have handled this. Remember in those days there was no mobile methods of communication.
The Sergeant of guards took one look at me and at once knew all was not right. Over a pot of tea I told him as clearly as possible what I had just seen. He told me it must have been a trick of the light. The other two guards who were present were noticeably disturbed by my story. I didn't want to go back, but couldn't believe what I was hearing when I insisted that the sergeant come back with me.
One guard was left in the post and the three of us set off In my terror I wasn't at all sure were I was heading. There must have been forty aircraft in the pound. I remembered I had dropped my baton and asked the other two to look for it-. we now had three torches. After about ten minutes the other guard spotted the baton and called out; so now there
was three of us under the front of the bomber.
The sergeant asked me to show him exactly what I did, and where I shone the torch. I started at the back and slowly shone the beam up the fuselage and on to the cockpit. There was nothing there---and then very slowly the face appeared. If anything it was more grotesque, the mouth open and twisted---the arm and hand once again slowly appeared and seemed to claw at the window. The sergeant was unable to move, my fellow guardsman was being sick. I cannot put here what was said-I leave you to imagine.
When the sergeant had composed himself as much as was possible, he sent the other guard back to the post to ring for the orderly officer. I was much braver now with someone else there and feeling somewhat vindicated, I suggested we investigate further. The sergeant wasn't over keen, but reluctantly agreed. We ran a boarding ladder into position and the sergeant climbed up, I was shining both torches.
What happened next I will not forget until my dying day.
The sergeant opened the cockpit door, and I shone the two torches inside from my position on the ground. A figure suddenly appeared in the doorway---the face now caught in my upward shining torch beams more grotesque than ever, the hand and arm raised with claw like fingers extended. The sergeant passed out and fell from the ladder. I held my torch on the specter, which took a step as if to descend the ladder-and then the specter collapsed on to ground beside the sergeant.
My brain was now starting to function and I realized this was no it-it was a fellow airman and a quick check told me he was in a desperate condition. He was in a state of hypothermia and deadly cold. The temperature inside the aircraft must have been akin to a fridge. The sergeant was starting to come round, and I quickly got his and my greatcoats off and over the airman. Shortly afterwards the orderly officer arrived, the other guard had had the sense to ask for an ambulance, and not knowing clearly what was wrong a medical officer had also attended the scene. It must have looked like a battleground when they arrived. The Airman from the plane was rushed away in the ambulance, the sergeant was helped back to the guardroom. When we were all reasonably composed the orderly officer debriefed us.
I have never known this happen before, but the guard was stood down, and the reserve guard was called in.
By way of explanation.
That afternoon a group of airmen had been brought down to the aircraft pound to do the rounds of the planes. Somehow and this was never established--an airman was left in a plane and unable to get out. The lorry had loaded up the airmen and returned to camp without missing anyone. When the lorry had got back to camp it was teatime, no check on personnel, after tea--Leisure time, and then bedtime. It was quite common to go to bed and to sleep with a few beds vacant---nobody asked questions and they were always
occupied in the morning. It would then have been the next morning at first lecture before the airman was found to be missing.
The guy had only got a thin denim overall on over his battledress, totally inadequate for a frosty winter evening. I had warn1 underclothes, shirt, long sleeved jersey, battle dress and large military overcoat---I was still cold. His grotesque appearance was because of the intense cold he was suffering from. His right arm was raised and fingers extended because he was trying to hold himself upright by an overhead strap so he could be seen. (a very wise decision as it turned out).
The guy made a complete recovery. He had though damaged his vocal chords with shouted, and was unable to speak correctly for a number of days. The poor airman didn't know that there was no one to hear his cries. The sergeant made a complete recovery. I however did not. It is easy to understand when one has the explanation---but I sometimes still see that face in the cockpit window, and go cold to this day.
I eventually graduated from RAF Yatesbury and was posted to a Navigator training school. I there worked on the systems I had trained on at Yatesbury, in Vampire and Venom jet fighters.
RAF Yatesbury no longer exists. It seems it would be very difficult to recognise anything of the camp now, and nature has reclaimed it. Apparently a plaque has been placed outside what was the camp. It has the badge of Number two-radio school, and pays tribute to all the personnel who worked and trained there before, during and after the war.
I recently came across a fellow writer on another site who had written an article about his RAF service, I pricked my ears up when he mentioned RAF Yatesbury. I contacted him and we exchanged a few memories. In one of his messages he said
"Did you ever go past the haunted building while doing guard duty?"