Thursday, 28 January 2010

Please Turn Over To...

I have moved this blog to be hosted by Wordpress.

The page you need to visit is

That location is where any future blog update posts will be able to be seen.

Hope to see you there too!


Monday, 25 January 2010

Larger Than Life...

Earlier in the month I posted this article (Vodka March, Vodka March...) about the Long March - a little know, but very important part of the Royal Air Force's history.

It is 65 years today (25th January) that the Long March commenced from Stalag Luft III, and this fantastic article has popped up on the BBC website.  Written by Mr Andy Wiseman, it's a great first hand account of the Long March, written by someone who participated in the event itself, back in 1945 - and who still returns with young people of today - despite his 87 years - to tell that story so that people learn about and understand what went on in that freezing, snowy winter of 1945.

As I have said I have done the modern day Long March - some 65 miles in three days - and I did it in similar weather to that January, and when I did it, I had the pleasure to meet and spend a bit of time with Mr Wiseman...

...Who is the COOLEST guy.  He spent many hours regailing us with his stories and tales. He laughed and joked with us. He took the mick and gave and took a bit of banter.  He provided me with a sledge to pull along on the March - to see what it was like pulling a sledge over the snow covered roads (just as he had done).  When after four hours of pulling the bloody thing along I eventually lost my patience and threw it into a snow drift, he popped his head out of the car he was following us along with and called me over. "It's not easy, is it?" He said.

"No. It's a right pain, the bloody cobbles make it go all over the place."

"Yes. Mind you, you lasted about three hours longer than I did with one back then. I binned it after an hour and carried the stuff in my coat. Was much easier and it stopped the nasty bully-beef from freezing."

He told us that he marched in temperatures of -15...and as temperatures lowered during our trip hit -15 he added that -15 was the warmest it had been. No matter how cold we were, the temperatures he marched in went 5 degrees colder. Eventually getting to -23 degrees (I think he was just being nice to us, not wanting to upset ourselves when we were feeling a bit demoralised by the weather).  But we didn't care, because during his speech at the dining in night to celebrate our completion (and comemorate the March itself) he gave us the highest honour he could. He called US Long Marchers too.

I met Andy year or so later at the Funeral of Sqn Ldr Jimmy James (a Great Escaper himself) where I was acting in very small capacity.  He walked into a packed Ludlow Church and strode down the aisle.  He stood there looking for a seat (which I had reserved for him). I went over and shook his hand and asked how was he doing.  In front of the packed church, and with the Union Flag draped coffin of Jimmy James in front of him he said "Well, I'm not dead."

Larger than life is an understatement. He is a fantastic example on how to live life to the full.  He embodies the "can do" ideal of living life - that living involves actually doing things, and taking challenges head on.

Long may he continue to travel back to Poland and to participate in Long March commemorations.  The world will be a sadder place when he leaves it, but for now, long may he march.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

"All together now..."

The RAF (like most large organisations - and particularly the military) love acronyms.  Abbreviations.  TLA's (That's "Three Letter Abbreviations" - Ohhhh the irony).

And one of the worst areas I have come across is the Fast Jet world, particularly the Tornado fleet. Hundreds of TLA' - and many with more than three letters.

My favourite was the DINCDU. Or "Dinky-do" as we pronounced it.  This stood for the Dual Inertial Naviagation Control and Display Unit. It controlled the navigation system of the aircraft, and was a fairly reliable bit of kit, but was good for a wind up.

Here's one for you to try out,

Walk into Rect's Control and see that there's a snag on one of the jets that has something - anything - to do with the Nav system.  Stand and wait for the aircrew to come in so you can do the de-breif of the snag and ask him loads of questions to try to and get an idea of the fault - just like a garage mechanic would do if you took your car in for a "knocking noise".

The Navigator will come in and tell you what's wrong.  You'd ask serious questions - "Did you recycle the system?" "Did you get any fault lights on the warning system?" "Did the Dinky-do show any fault codes?"

You'd get serious and workman like answers.

And then the Navigator would ask - "What do you think is wrong?"

You'd ponder for a second or two..."Hmmmmmmm". Check the fault codes in your Gen Book, and then reply...

"It's probably the Duck-Do."

"Duck-Do? What does that do?

All together now... "QUACK QUACK!"


Thursday, 21 January 2010


This is the first of a few Blog posts in response to questions asked over on Twitter...I am working on the rest, unfortunately, my recent Manthrax (cold) and lots of work on has slowed me down somewhat - needless to say, the other posts are in progress.

The first one is an easy one - What changes have I noticed in the RAF in the time I've been in.

Wow. I actually had a think the other day about this, and I realised I've been in the RAF for 22 and a half years.  23 years in July! Blimey!

In that time the RAF has changed's changed from facing a threat, that - to be honest - wasn't a real one. Back in the 1980's, of course, there was still the Red Empire that was threatening World Domination and spreading global communism, etc, etc.  There was the danger of nuclear war and Mutual Assured Destruction and all that crazy scary stuff associated with superpowers going "toe-to-toe in thermonuclear combat " (to quote my favourite film Dr Strangelove). 

But lets be honest - for all the threat they were never really going to fight a nuclear war...the global superpowers found it convenient to have the threat, but not actually follow it through, simply as there was too much to lose.

I joined the RAF at that time.  The Russkies were our enemy and we were going to have to defend the UK against masses of Backfire bombers flying across the North Sea.  And we trainded to fight accordingly.

The basic scenario was this - they were going to send loads of bombers across. We were to launch our air defence fighters to protect us. I was working on an air defence squadron at this time and we sent aircraft flying and "fighting" to prepare for it. Knowing that in reality - deep down - it never would really happen - but it was a good giggle and we had a lot of fun on exercises and we were ready to defend the nation if we were called upon to do so.

And then the Berlin Wall fell.

And the Russians admitted that they weren't ever really going to attack and couldn't do it in the future. We sort of lost our role for a year or so we didn't really know what we meant to do. We continued to train to fight for the war that would never come. But to a much less intensity.

And then Saddam invaded Kuwait.

And the First Gulf War kicked off and we went and fought a war that we were not used to.  Going AWAY to fight? Not being at home in our nice warm protective Hardened Aircraft Shelters. These were proved to be a BAD thing anyway as our bomber aircraft blitzed Saddams airforce bases and took out each individual hanger and shelter with their bunker busting bombs.

And it was that moment that the RAF changed.

It stopped being about sitting waiting for the enemy to come and attack us and became about expeditionary warfare - about going off and fighting whatever war we were instructed to do so by the government.

Instead of sitting in our nice warm bases we were now all about going off to protect the UK from outside it - we are now all about Expeditionary Operations

The wars we have to fight became more assymetrical - and the training we had for it became more specific to it.  We stopped spending so much time learning about the effects of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological warfare, and more about how to carry out immediate actions on how to deal with an IED when travelling in a vehicle. The first aid is more about dealing with first aid on battlefield casualties.  We didn't worry so much about burns from chemical agents - and more about how to deal with blast and gunshot injuries.

It all became more serious. It all became more specific. And it all became more real.

And that is what the biggest change I have noticed about the RAF over my time. It's got more real. We are still about defending the nation, but in a much different way. It has been painful to change our focus from "at home" operations - to "expeditionary warfare".  Some people found it difficult to cope and couldn't handle that change, but over the time we have got more used to it as the "Cold War Warriors" have become time-expired in the service. 

To the new people joining it has always been that way, and that is how organisations really change.  The RAF has changed.  It's become applicable to the modern world - as it has had to.  I would like to think that we've become more professional, and more military.  When I first joined my military knowledge was all about how to fire a gun. As simple as that. My job was to fix aircraft and the soldiers did the fighting.

But now, as the nature of how and where we fight has changed I have had to learn the skills that will help me survive should I go to a warzone.  Now I know how to carry out immediate actions on a rocket or mortar attack. How to carry out fire and manoeuvre drills. How to extract injured personnel from a vehicle under fire.

And it is this stuff that has allowed us to be able to hold up out heads slightly higher as part of the military. We are no longer "garage mechanics" who just fix aircraft, but we are also able to fulfill our role as fighting members of the armed forces.

We are fitter, leaner, sharper and as I say, more applicable. 

And I for one think we are better this way.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

We All Need Heroes...

I am a great believer in heroes. I think they are vitally important to us as human beings.

They enthrall us, amaze us, inspire us; giving us something to aim for - to try to make us a better person.

I have a couple of heroes. One is very famous - the explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  His story is amazing and his leadership ability to see his crew safely home after a series of misfortunes - not least his ship (The Endurance) being crushed by the Pack Ice.

But as I say, his story is famous.

My other hero, however, is much less well know. His name is George "Grumpy" Unwin. He was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain...but went on to finish his career as a Wing Commander, before living a full and active life and dying at the age of 93 in 2006.

His story is fantastic. And not at all well know.

He was the son of a miner born in 1913, near to Barnsley, who joined the RAF in 1929 as an Administrative Apprentice.  A Sergeant in 1935, he was selected for pilot training and by 1938 he was a member of 19 Sqn which was the first operational Spitfire squadron and George was one of the first to fly the aircraft. Indeed as part of the trials for the new aircraft, after an engine failure he deliberately crash landed his aircraft to avoid a childrens playground.

He was a Flight Sergeant in 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain still with 19 Sqn, when this picture was taken.  It is my favourite picture of all time. Showing George and his squadron commander, Sqn Ldr Sandy Lane. Sandy himself was just 23, and the strain of the Battle can clearly be shown in the picture. In this picture, they'd just returned from a sortie and by the end of 1940, George had gained 13 confirmed kills, 2 shared kills, 2 unconfirmed kills and 2 probables.

But it is not actually this that makes him my hero. It's more. It's the fact that he was a human being. And it's al down to his character - and the character that gained him his nickname.

As you may know Douglas Bader was also posted to 19 Sqn, and George was his wingman for a while. Famously Bader had "tin legs" and one evening he stopped up late into the night filing his legs to make them fit better.  Unfortunately George was in the next room and was kept awake by the noise of the squeak, squeak, squeak of Badar filing the tin!  The next day on the squadron, George let everyone know about the noise and his lack of sleep and he quickly gained the nickname "Grumpy".  This stuck with him for the rest of his career, even after he'd managed to get a commission and become an officer.

The thing I love about George's story is that he was just a man doing his best.  And his best was good enough to gain a DSO and DFM with a Bar.  He was proud of his heritage and was proud to remain an NCO (he was only persuaded by the commission once he knew he could get extra pay).

He was a no-nonsense airman who is an example to us all to do his best and to get the job done - not suffering fools in the process.  He is all I would like to be - to me, he was a complete airman.  The modern RAF holds the Core Values of Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence.  To me, George "Grumpy" Unwin embodies those Core Values, and is a shining example of them.  He was a man doing his job, and he was very, very good at it.

His dog, "Flash", became the squadron mascot, and you can bet - that when I can finally live in a place that allows dogs - I'll be getting a dog, and you can guess what the name of my puppy will be.

Yes. George. But I'll probably call him "Grumpy"...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


The idea of this account (linked to the Twitter) is to give people an idea of life in the Royal Air Force.

Today I had another example that it is not always a good deal to be in the Armed Forces.

I have been remiss you see. I have three children - two from my previous marriage, Sam and Charlotte, and my youngest, Lily. I have actually been irresponsible in that I haven't had life insurance.

This was inexcusable of me. So I decided to recify that today.  And I plugged my details into the standard life insurance websites - and get nice numbers out - £16 to £25 for £250,000 worth of cover. Including Critical Illness cover.


And then I phone them up.

Oh you are in the Armed Forces. Ahhhhhh...Well we don't insure "your type". (Yes one company actually said that!) We, might insure you, but you will need to phone our specialist department. One company was quite rude (They are a well known company that USED to be based in Norwich with a Union. And now sound like an old Vauxhall Car), who transferred my to a nice lady who asked me if I was "an Army man" (Sigh).

Anyway this nice lady took my details, and gave me a quote. For Life Insurance AND Critical Illness Cover.

Wait for it...£79.80. Bargain. For a year. Ahhhhhhhh, no. It was a month.

Which I considered to be a bit steep. Just a little.

So we had a discussion (once I got my voice back) and said how much would it be for the duration of the remainder of my service - 7 years - for £250,000, WITHOUT the critical illness cover.

A much nicer £18.48 a month. Which I have gone for. The bonus is that this policy will cover me incase I get sent out to Afghan - even this company said that they wouldn't cover me if I was already under orders to go out.

So as of today, should the worst happen, at least my girlfriend and the kids will be slightly more secure financially then they were before.

But it made me think. It makes me think. Sometimes, when it comes to members of the Armed Forces, it's not only the Taliban that are making a killing.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Vodka, March, Vodka March...

In recent Twitter exchange talked about Vodka.  Mainly stemming from me posting a picture of myself in Poland and then a picture of some Vodka Martini's I was drinking.

It reminded me of the context of the original picture of me in Poland.  I was there as part of a "Staff Ride" - an week long activity to recreate a wartime event called The Long March, which happened in January 1945. In this case in 1945 the Prisoners from Stalag Luft III were forced to march from Sagan (in Poland) to Spremberg (in Germany). They did so in terrible weather - one of the worst winters on record - and with virtually no warm clothing or provisions, living on less than 100 Calories a day - taking upto three weeks to make the journey of 65 miles.

We followed the exact route that the Marchers had taken, albeit in modern clothing and with the support of a mobile catering unit. We did however do it in just three days, 21 miles on the first day, 20 on the second and 21 on the third day. We also did it in similar conditions given that we also did it at exactly the same time as one of the more infamous marches began.

Anyway, the first night that we arrived in Poland, we travelled to Sagan to the site of Stalag Luft III (also, as history buufs will know the site of the "Great Escape" in 1944) to spend the night in the camp. We were fortunate to camp on the site of the original camp - which is now, sadly, ruined and overgrown by the trees of the forest there.  To get us in the mood for the whole endeavour (such as we needed!) it was decided that we should watch the classic film there.

Yeah, we actually watched the film of the Great Escape, where it actually happened!  But even in the visitor centre where we were watching it, it was very cold. So to warm ourselves up we were given - by the locals some vodka.

Which was perhaps the roughest, nastiest vodka I have ever tasted. And of course, as is the fashion over in Poland, it was drunk neat...and so it was even rougher!

Vodka became a bit of a theme to the trip to be honest. With the locals where ever we stopped being the friendliest bunch ever - almost competing to out do he hospitality of the last! This was topped by the local Womens Institute of Lipna Luszcyka who put on a choral evening of folk music. Which included a very bizarre version of Viva Espania to an accordian!
The trip and the march we undertook was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was physically and mentally demanding. At the end of the first day, marching through deepening snow which had been blowing into our faces all the way, over cobbles for 21 miles I was almost broken. About a mile from our destination I developed cramp in my thigh muscles and a sever sense of humour failure.

But I went on. There was nothing I could do other than go on. I was there to recreate something that people had done in far more and difficult circumstances to me and I was not going to be beaten.  I was doing something that previous members of the Royal Air Force had done - and something that is not widely known about.  I wanted to honour those who had done it by doing it myself.

And I think this is part of another reason why I enjoy being in the RAF.

It's being part of something. Part of something that has history and tradition. That is bigger than we are individually. The RAF is made up from little bits of greatness carried out by normal people. Ordinary men and women doing extra-ordinary things.

I did this March in 2007. I was 38. And it was here that I learnt that we need to belong to things. And that when things are really tough and we are in pain - we still need to keep going and keep working. Oh and that vodka is a lot stronger and rougher in Poland.