George 'Gibbo' Gibbs - RAF Fire Service 1954-1958

I was born at Maize Hill Greenwich London in 1936

I trained with the RAF school of fire fighting and rescue at RAF Sutton on Hull, a former balloon centre used to defend Hull in World War 2. I wish I’d taken some photos of the aircraft on base now, there were literally hundreds of Spitfires and Lancasters on base and some were Ace’s aircraft and bombers that completed many missions.  They all suffered the same fate though, they were filled with straw and had fuel poured over them and had a dummy put inside the cockpit and torched. It was then our job to get the dummy out and put the fire out

Passing Out Parade at RAF Sutton-on-Hull
RAF Sutton-on-Hull
RAF Sutton-on-Hull, George Gibbs, RAF Fire Service
In no particular sequence - L Mason from Newton Abbot, George Gibbs from Spencer Estate, Northampton, Ken A Miles from Redbourn, J G Wootton from Bromley, Kent, G J Mills from Godalming, W E Brown from Shropshire, T Lidett from Leigh, Wycombe, D Pulman from Exeter, P A Woodby? from Richmond, Surrey, R E Woolbridge from Yeovil, E J Wallace from Dyce, Aberdeenshire, J M Mullan from Motherwell, G W Warren from Rugby RCC, J A Williams from Sale, Manchester, V Whitall from Preston Lancs, 15 out of the 18 on the photo. photo courtesy of George Gibbs

I was posted to RAF Worksop in may 1954 with Jock Collington who was on the same course as me at Sutton on Hull,  The journey to the airfield is one I’ll not forget.  We arrived at Retford  by train and weren’t sure where anything was around the area, We caught a taxi and asked to be taken to RAF Worksop , the driver said there was no such place so we showed him  our posting details.  He replied he had still not heard of but would take us to RAF Scofton, and get us sorted out there. When we arrived we pointed out to the driver a huge blue and red sign which was marked RAF Worksop, he said he had never noticed it before.  When we first arrived at the base we had to check in at the guard room and we were surprised that it was in the middle of the base, this meant that anybody could get on to the base without being checked. It was later moved further down the camp road to the boundary of the base.

Worksop was a very busy airfield. It was constantly breaking records for most flying hours in a day/week/month/year .Group Captain Barber used to reward staff by giving 48 hour passes out when the record was broke.  We could buy very nice Christmas cards from the unit with the station crest on and a close up photo of the aerobatic team flying their four Meteors. The unit had a Prentice aircraft that was used as a runabout, some of the lads managed to get the chance of a flight in this.

I remember when Prince Phillip visited the unit, after inspecting the guard of honour on the airfield he went to Welbeck College to their prize giving day.  We had to take a crash crew to the college while his helicopter landed and later took off.
Wing Commander Philips was in charge of the admin site, he was keen on discipline so all the lads gave him a wide berth, he would put airman on a charge for not saluting him even when it was dark and they did not know it was an officer. We used to have a C/Os parade once a month on 2 squadron aircraft parking area with rifles and the full works so we had to be on the ball with all our gear,
Worksop was a good posting once you got used to cycling everywhere.

During the four years I was at Worksop we had about 48 aircraft crashes, about 7 were fatal and only one of these was on the airfield, the rest were mainly at night due to landing without wheels down in the locked position. On one night we had 3, the first hit the undershoot lost his wheels and after a runway inspection the second came in and hit a wheel that had not been spotted on the runway , the  third had been kept up so long that when he landed he made a complete mess of it and damaged his aircraft.  All the above aircraft were meteors because at that time the vampire squadrons had not been posted in.
There were two panels on the meteor wings inboard of the engines that we could remove and hook cables to the main spar and pull the aircraft off the runway if they landed on their belly. At about this time I believe they fitted orange lights on the nose wheel cover so you could tell when the wheels were down and locked, this made life a lot better for the runway controller at night. It wasn’t unusual for some of the trainee pilots to forget to put the wheels down when they had so much to think about.

We were sent up to Stanage Edge on one occasion for a week to do crash guard duties when a T11 Vampire XE866 crashed during bad weather, one of our task was to pick up any small parts  of the crews bodies if we found any, we were given kidney dishes for this purpose. One of our biggest problems was keeping souvenir hunters away from the site.
On one occasion a Fight Lieutenant from the RAF Regiment took off in a Meteor F8 and once in the air we noticed his nose wheel had come away from its mount and was hanging on what looked like a hydraulic pipe.  He had to drop his ventral fuel tank and then fly around the airfield until he had used his fuel up. He made successful landing, but was quit shook up when we helped him from the cockpit.

On one occasion flt/lt Levitt was performing aerobatics over the airfield and crashed into the runway, which made quite a large crater in the main runway. I was at the fire section at that time so I jumped in to a back up fire tender and shouted for some of our lads to come with me, the idea was for us to back up the duty crash crew, but when we arrived on the airfield there was nothing left of the aircraft and I received a reprimand from Wg Cdr Farquhason for driving over some of the wreckage. To this day I was sure it was a MK 5 Vampire that Levitt crashed, but the report states it was a MK7 Meteor.  Flt/ Lt Levitt owned a very nice 1939 Fraser- Nash open top car that was auctioned off after the crash.
One point of interest in the ground instruction block was the nose cone from a meteor with a large gash in it, the message under it was something like; don’t let this happen to you.  Apparently a meteor had hit the high powered cables that crossed over the road at Ranby between the pylons and I believe put the lights out in Retford for quite some time.When the IRA was active in the UK we were told by the powers that be that if they tried to break into our armourary the fire section duty domestic fire crew should jump into the fire tenders and charge to the armourary with bells ringing to scare them off, we got a big laugh from that'

RAF Fire Service, Thornycroft crash
The horrors of life saving during nightime hours - this Thornycroft rolled over killing one crew member (location and date unknown - the photo was given to George some years ago he wasn't involved in the incident) Photo courtesy of George Gibbs

616 Squadron arrived on the unit and stayed for while; a lot of their flying took place at weekends.
They used to arm the meteors and then fly off after a Mk 7 that towed a target on a long line behind it. This was so the pilots could keep in touch with using the guns.
We had quite a serious incident one Saturday morning when 616 Squadron were flying out to Germany for summer camp. Sqd/Ldr Abel who was the CO of 616 had a habit of retracting his undercarriage very early on takeoff and on that morning the aircraft were fitted with extra fuel tanks for the journey, this made the aircraft heavier. That morning the aircraft were taking off in three abreast formation, Abel was in the first group, he was in the centre. He retracted his wheels but did not get off the ground so his ventral tank under the belly of the plane hit the runway and burst into flames, even so he did take off, but the two wing men stayed on the runway and ran through the overshoot into the fields beyond, in the meantime Abel had ejected his canopy and landed back on the runway and all he seemed bothered about was the fact that his best hat had been sucked out of the cockpit when he opened hi s canopy.
Another tale we heard about was when a 616 pilot took a female up in a MK7 and when he landed later she had been very sick in the cockpit and he expected the ground crew to clean the mess up but they refused and he had to do the job himself.
On the fire section at Worksop we had 11 vehicles, two MK5a foam tenders, 1 dual purpose tender that could deal with domestic or crash fires, 2 rescue Land Rovers, 2 Austin CO2 trucks, 3 water bowsers, 1 Austin domestic tender towing a trailer pump. We had about 30 men including NCOs to cover all duties, leave and sickness. Each crew of 6 men included 1 NCO who was the crew chief and the crash crew had one foam tender, 1 CO2 tender, and 1 rescue Land Rover.  Two crews shared crash duties for day and night flying at Worksop,, one crew covered day flying at Gamston, one crew covered domestic duties at the section, all crews rotated every week
We did not have any protective clothing; the men wore denim overalls, leather jerkins, wellington boots with sea boot socks, and asbestos gloves and tin helmets with face visor.
All fire section personnel lived on number two domestic site, we all had bikes to get around on and I think everyone enjoyed the life.
The fire section was next to the guard room, about two hundred yards from the airfield and control
Airworks Services were posted in to take over servicing of the aircraft, they were all civilians and we noticed little problems occurred after that i.e. one pilot reported that he was having problems controlling his Vampire, and when he landed his aircraft was checked over and they found a screw driver inside one of the tail booms that had been jamming the controls.
On another occasion a canopy came off on takeoff.  On several occasions the crash crew reported to the control tower over the two way radio, that aircraft waiting to take off had not had the safety pin removed from the parking position rear sear, which would prevent the pilot from ejecting from the aircraft if the need arose.  When the pin was in the safe position you could see a large red disc hanging from it, but when the seat was live the red disc was stowed in a pocket so you could not see it. On another occasion when all aircraft had finished flying for the day and we were stood by while refuelling was taking place we caught a refuelling bowser driver smoking behind his vehicle, he was reported and we never saw him again.

The airfield at Gamston was only used for circuits and bumps and the aircraft never stayed on the ground, but I can remember on one occasion when we had a very bad thunderstorm and two aircraft did land and park up.  Worksop had to send a ground crew out to Gamston to get the aircraft airborne again after the storm had cleared. We used to have problems at Gamston sometimes when members of the public used to take shortcuts through the fence around the airfield and come on to the runway while aircraft were performing. We were sat in the crash vehicles one day when we got a shout from the air traffic  controller telling us that a pilot had reported a lorry on the far end of the runway when he was taking off, we went to investigate and found an army transporter truck with a tank on the back driving up the runway. When we asked him what was he doing he said that he was told he could take a shortcut to get to the A57 and get back to Ranby army camp, when we explained he was driving on a live runway he nearly had a fit.  The problem with Gamston was that the perimeter fence was not very good and the public were often breaking the fence down to get on at night so they could drive up and down the runway.
The airfield was always busy and aircraft would be queuing to use it for training. There was always a cook and 2 ambulance crew on site as well as the crash crew and air traffic control. Close to the control tower were two cottages and one of the elderly ladies who lived in one of them often offered us food or drinks.

During our off duty time on Friday and   Saturday nights we used to go to the Worksop Palais. Worksop had a lot of pubs at that time so we often went into town for a drink. We used to go to the Labour club on Westgate quite a lot.  In the middle of the week when we were short of money we often used to put what money we had together and ride our bikes down to the Chequers Pub at Ranby, Mr and Mrs Gledhill owned the pub at that time and the officers and airman used it all the time, they had our squadron crest on show behind the bar. The pub yard had small post around the edge with chains between them and i remember one night after we had a few drink too many Jock Collington jumped on his bike to race us back to camp, but he forgot about the chains and tried to ride through them, he came a right cropper and fell face down on the gravel yard. It took weeks before his face cleared.

One or two of the lads used to baby sit for Wg/Cdr Farquahson on occasion and this helped them when they asked him if they could get a flight in a Meteor MK7
I met my wife at the Worksop Palais, and we got married on 21 of March 1958 and I lived off camp after that. When my service time finished my wife wanted to live in London, but I had got used to Worksop life by then so we stayed in Worksop.  A few of the other lads also stayed in the area, one guy , his name was Pugh, I don’t remember his first name but we used to call him Pug’h, another was Bob Taylor, he was an NCO when I arrived at Worksop and he lived in Retford. A Scottish guy called McIver also married a Worksop girl, he was well known by the local Police because they found him on more than one occasion drunk on the road back to camp, He was posted to Worksop after he got drunk on his German base and drove a fire tender through some hangar doors; He liked his whisky.My wife and I met his wife while we were out shopping one day and asked me if I had seen him, and when I said no  she said she had come home from work one day and he and all there  furniture had gone and that was the last time she saw him.

One winter, I think it was 1956 we had a lot of snow on the airfield, about two feet thick so we had to connect snowploughs to our water bowsers and clear the runways. We got quite a unusual request from Wg / Cdr Coward,he asked if we would tow his wife up and down the runway on her skis

George Gibbs, Al-Adam, Libya, 1958

I was in charge of the fire section for a while, but suddenly got posted out. I received a phone call one afternoon from Wg / Cdr Phillips and he asked me if my wife was pregnant, I said no and he said he was sorry but I had to clear the camp because i was required at RAF Insworth urgently.
I reported to Insworth but no one would tell us what it was all about, we had lots of jabs including yellow fever and then we were sent on leave for ten days.  I was recalled after only five days and we were taken to Gatwick Airport by coach put on board a Viscount aircraft and the next we knew after refuelling at Nice airport in France and then at RAF Luca at Malta we landed in the small hours of the morning at RAF El -Adem in Libya, north Africa.
We were a mixed bunch but quite few were radar people so we assumed that we were going to be involved with radar.  We were moved into an old prisoner of war camp because there was no other accommodation for us and we were given tins of paint and told to paint everything.
Two weeks later a ship arrived in Tobruk harbour with all our radar equipment on, it was then that we were informed that we would be known as 625 Signals unit.
All the equipment was set up outside the airfield perimeter and that was our Base we worked from.
We were then informed that we were there because Egypt was threatening Libya..
From then on; we were on standby around the clock but the only excitement we had was on some days Russian Ilyushin bombers used to fly over at high altitude and our hunters from Cyprus used to chase them off.
 At that time King Hidris ruled Libya and I believe the UK had some kind of agreement to protect Libya. We were given orders that if we met the Kings motorcade any time when we were driving out on the roads we should pull off the road or the Kings out riders might shoot at us. We received two shillings and sixpence overseas allowance while we were there but we had to pay one shilling and three pence for our water because it had to be shipped from Cyprus.  The water had so much chlorine added to it that all the cooked food and tea tasted of chlorine.
The Arabs would steal anything so we had a full time job keeping an eye on all our equipment, one night a cement mixer was stolen from a compound in the middle of the camp and it was never seen again.  The only good thing about that posting was that the RAF had their own private beach at Tobruk and when we were off duty we had transport to take us swimming, the journey was about fifteen to twenty miles.   After about five months I was posted back to the UK and demobbed.

RAF Al-Adam, libya, 1958, George Gibbs
George and friend on the RAFs private beach near the airbase at Al-Adam in 1958. photo courtesy of George Gibbs