Newsletter 22
Autumn 2008
Updated on 11N2008
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

BAE Systems Facts
Conrad Southey 'Peter' John
Dunsfold Development
Eggheads News
Forgotten Aircrew
Hawk News
Hawkers Build At Kingston
Hunter 'Flying Club'
Hunter News
Hurricane News
Joint Force Harrier
Lighter-Than-Air VTOL
More about the P.1129
P.1127 to Harrier
RAF Club Camm Memorial
Red Arrows Petition
Sea fury News
Sopwith's First Designer
Wings & Wheels
     Derek Sims recalls his start with Hawkers and his unusual wartime service in the RAF....
    In July 1939 I joined Hawker Aircraft Ltd with hopes of an apprenticeship but I had left school at the age of fifteen years and this was not available to me until I reached sixteen.
    The only job I was offered was that of hall boy in the main hall at the Kingston Canbury Park Road factory, which I accepted. After a number of office jobs I took the advice of my boss, Frank Sherras, head of the contracts estimating department, and went into the works at Langley Airfield near Slough as a shop boy in the electrical department. This, I hoped, would be a start to my apprenticeship.
   Being hands-on the Hurricane and watching them fly suddenly made me realise that what I really wanted to do was fly them myself; and the only way to do this was to join the Royal Air Force.
The Forgotten Aircrew

    So, one lunch time when I was at Kingston, I walked into the RAF recruiting office, presented myself to the recruiting sergeant and asked to sign on for aircrew. He entered my name in his book and gave me a yellow slip which had the time and place of my first medical written on it.
   When I arrived home what I had done suddenly dawned on me. How was I to break the news to my parents? When we were all sitting down to our evening meal I handed the yellow slip over to my Dad. On reading it he burst into uncontrolled laughter and passed it to my Mum who also roared with mirth. Bemused, I enquired what was so funny about their son going to war in the Air Force? Dad passed the slip back to me on which I read in hard type, "Females are requested not to report for medicals whilst their periods are in progress." I then showed them the other side; I will not go into what followed.
    Since I was not 17 1/2 my application needed my parents' signatures and two others of substantial character. Working at Langley I had access to the Pilots' room in the tower, so I walked in and asked Flt Lt Roly Beamont, who was test flying for Hawkers while on rest from his squadron, and Major George Bulman, our Chief Test Pilot at the time, if they would help. They were both good enough to append their signatures. Flt Lt Beamont was great, giving me a real insight into what I was letting myself in for and asking me to let him know when I qualified. Alas, it was not be.
    I was eventually called to attend the selection board at Adastra House, London, for three days of medicals, aptitude tests, written papers etc. Unfortunately I ended up in Room 100 with a blue form. On entering I faced four officers who quietly informed me that the tests had shown that I was too short in the leg to fly as a pilot, my maths required some improvement for appointment to navigator, and I was too young to be gunner. They suggested that I join as an electrician, since my civilian skills were of great use, and apply again for aircrew when I was established in the Service. I did point out that the modern aircraft had adjustable rudder bars...which was met with a stony silence.
    So, enter AC2 Electrician Sims at the Advanced Flying Training School, Cheshire, trying the patience of the Chief Flying Instructor with constant requests to fly in the Oxfords he had been working on. Then I volunteered to board the boat to the Near East and ended up in the desert on the Suez Canal at 100 Operational Training Unit near Ein Shemer, working on Wellingtons, and was eventually given the task of looking after the Link Trainers until a posting came for me to report to 26 Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit, Ramat David, Palestine.
    Although an Electrical Tradesman I managed to get myself transferred to the office of Drogue Operator and Wireless Operator (D.OP/W.OP) on board our American twin engined Martin Baltimore light day bombers, provided I carried on in my trade and did the duties thereof. This, after all my ramblings, is the reason for the title of this article, "The Forgotten Aircrew." I was now a full member of aircrew, kitted out with all the flying gear, a set of log books and, best of all, a shilling a day flying pay (5p in today's money). My continuing to do the daily inspections and so on went down very well with the pilots as they felt that as I was flying with them I would make sure that the electrics, at least, would be airworthy.
    At the time I was the only D.OP/W.OP and since I was being called upon to fly three or four trips a day the CO requested support. Three Airmen arrived, two having been Drogue Ops since 1942 in Miles Martinet aircraft, originally intended to replace the Boulton Paul Defiant, which had been fitted with drogue winches. These airmen were General Duties Branch with no qualifications other than on-the-job experience and, like me, were a shilling a day better off. We had no recognised badge or rank and as far as I know the situation still exists. I cannot understand how this could be as, after all, the same tasks were carried out by them as the pilot. I was lucky, I had a trade.
    Anyway, after nearly two years of streaming ten and twenty foot drogues for the Army to shoot at along the coast from Jaffa to Haifa, calibration runs for the Navy in the Mediterranean whilst at the same time keeping an eye out for illegal shipping, and patrolling the oil pipelines from Persia to Haifa and reporting any terrorist activity by the Stern Gang, my log books (which I still have) showed some 320 hours airborne. Once when towing a ten foot sleeve for the Army at four thousand feet, the skipper and I could not make out why there appeared to be no activity behind us. I took a look out of the mid-upper gun turret to discover black puffs ahead of us! I reported to the skipper who said, "Derek, tell the fools on the ground that we are pulling the b..... drogue, not pushing the b..... thing!" They were laying the wrong distance. So, a Drogue Op's lot was not always a happy one, but a full apology was given by the CO of the gunners who threw a terrific party for us. I doubt that any of the aircrew or gun crews, either in training or on exercises, really gave a thought to who actually operated the sleeve they were shooting at, so I hope I have drawn attention to the work that these unappreciated airmen carried out.
    Many happy and not so happy hours were spent on these tasks which terminated when I was called to the orderly room one morning at breakfast to be informed that I was to be repatriated to the UK for entry into Aircrew training. I was to report to Initial Training Wing, Bridgenorth, on the East Coast and, would you believe it, this was the winter of 1946, the coldest on record. But who cared; my dream was about to come true and that, as they say, is another story.