Autumn / Winter 1949
And so the inevitable that was bound to happen did happen, a few months later. A Dakota went down with an engine change at Gatow and within a few hours a replacement- another KN 111 was in position at Gatow. The Schedule went through.
The amusing incident which happened a week or so later was that when the 'unserviceable' aircraft was returning to Northholt on Tuesday, at the same time as the schedule UWD (no definition found) was leaving for Gatow and both aircraft were using the same call sign. Air Traffic was confused by 2 aircraft in the circuit with the same call sign, one asking for clearance and the other for landing instructions.
It was soon afterwards that we began to see Dakota KJ 628 appear on the tarmac. (No results for this exact aircraft on Google) This was Field Marshal Montgomery's aircraft, a VIP Dakota, given to him by General Eisenhower following the defeat of Germany. It used to arrive at weekends for desnagging and disappeared again on Monday to Boscombe Down to pick up the Field Marshall and ferry him wherever. The pilot was Flight Lt. Houghton, an ex Halton apprentice.
One day in the crew room, whilst waiting for his aircraft, in conversation he told us how he became an airman sergeant pilot. As a fitter he was working on a Hurricane and he left a screwdriver in the cockpit, which either the pilot found naturally, or hit him on the head when doing acrobatics. As a result he did 28 days 'over the wall.' He decided that he would go for Airman Pilot, and here he was, Monty's personal pilot.
The Squadron then moved to Abingdon still operating Dakotas. Shortly, another VIP Dakota appeared: KJ994, belonging to Admiral Brind, NATO, based in Norway. The 2 extra Dakotas caused us a lot of extra work at weekends, even to the extent of polishing the aircraft with about 20 chaps. We also never got on very well with the AQM based in Norway who every time on returning to the UK always gave us the Form 700 with an entry Leak in the Kitchen Water System. Frozen burst pipes hidden under soundproofing. He didn't seem to remember that one could drain the system. We had told him enough times.
One day when we were expecting Field Marshal Montgomery's aircraft we were told that on its arrival nobody would be allowed to touch it. Keep away. It taxied into the lane by the Control Tower and was checked and locked. The following morning it was towed into the hangar and we were then told to thoroughly search the aircraft. Every panel off, cowlings off, bare arms even in the fuel tanks, suspected soundproofing removed. But no electrics were to be touched or operated on. We were told that there was a possibility of a frequency bomb or explosives having been planted in the aircraft.
The story is that following Monty's success after the war, he had become quite political and was not too bothered about what he said concerning the state of Europe and which politicians he annoyed. Whilst visiting Prague for a conference, the aircrew, on arrival at the aircraft in the morning, found that the padlock had been forced on the entrance door and there was evidence of entry into the aircraft.
The aircraft was flown home after a brief local search with complete radio silence in case some explosive device or frequency bomb had been planted. Therefore the reason for the thorough search.
The following day the aircraft was towed across to the other side of the 'drome to a secluded pan, a trolley accumulator plugged in and following the Sqdn. Cdr, Wing Co Flying and Sigs Officer tossing the coin, one of them went aboard and operated everything he could. Peace and quiet still reigned.
Normally our aircraft used to get Customs at Lyneham before returning from the Continent but now and again Customs travelled to us and cleared the aircraft at Abingdon. In such cases we were not allowed near the aircraft until the passengers had deplaned and escorted into the Air Traffic building for clearance. We had to be given the 'go ahead' by the Air Movements Officer.
One particular day we were waiting with the tractor and towing arm about every 10 yards from the aircraft ready to drag it away to prepare it for the following day when the passengers started to disembark.
A Flt Sgt appeared at the top of the aircraft steps and shouted across to me, “Hello, Bill, I didn't know you were here.” He descended the steps, shook hands with me and said out of the corner of his mouth, with the Customs Officer and Air Movements Officer watching, “Get rid of that,” and loudly, “See you in a minute, Bill.” He then disappeared into the building.
My name, incidentally, is not Bill.
When they had gone, I looked down into my hand and there was the most beautiful Rolex Oyster you had ever seen. Panicking, I drove back to the hanger and climbed up the hangar doors and stuck it behind a girder. The aircraft was later cleared of Customs and we towed it away. The Flt. Sgt. Soon appeared to claim his watch. It's not often a Sgt can rollock a Flt Sgt and get away with it, but this time he didn't seem to mind.
Whilst at Abingdon we gradually got equipped with Valettas CMK1s. The VIP Dakotas still came to us for weekend servicing. We were also allotted 3 VIP Valettas MK2, VX 576, VX 577, WJ504. More polishing. We managed to get a few extra tradesmen on strength to cater for all this extra work.
Then one day a number of civilians walked through the hangar accompanied by some officers from Command. We were told to supply them with an aircraft with a trolley accumulator plugged in and don't interfere. A couple of hours later they disappeared.
A few weeks later a lorry arrived with a large cage in sections, its walls 2” steel wire mesh. It was assembled in the rear of the aircraft, after the main spar, on the starboard side. It had a normal entrance door with lock. Nobody on the ground side could find any reason for it. Nor were we told anything.
Then we were allotted VW190, an extra aircraft for the cage. Every week, early in the morning about 6am it would leave us, fly to Boscombe Down, Pick up a professor and fly him up to Stornaway, together with his packages. There he left the island by Royal Naval pinnace and was taken to a ship anchored off Stornaway. Very hush hush.
Many years later we were told that the professor was working on germ warfare, his packages contained guinea pigs and the cage in the aircraft was a secondary precaution during transit to prevent any livestock escaping.