Friday, 13 August 2010

vulcan nuclear strike bomber circa 1962

Born in 1947 by the time I was 11 years old, along with my younger brother and our peers, I had been exposed to the cultural fall out of World War Two through out my formative years. It is not surprising then, that much of a boys pocket money was spent on the miniature toys of war back then. Model Soldiers, military vehicles and the iconic Airfix model aircraft construction kit. My army took turns to defeat my brother's army or be defeated on home soil which was our large back garden, on The Forbes council estate, at 38 Kipling Avenue in Warwick. My brother successfully destroyed many of my Airfix fighter planes as reprisals for undercover ops.
Meanwhile it was business as usual, the business of the Cold War, at RAF Gaydon 9 miles from Warwick.
On 1 January 1955 the first, 138 Squadron operating Vickers Valiants reformed at Gaydon as the first V-bomber squadron and the airfield then settled down as the operational training unit for Valiant and later Victor squadrons.
It was  a Bomber Command 3 Group squadron in its previous role, flying Lincolns until 1950. However, its’ main claim to fame, is as a wartime Special Duties Squadron. Flying Lysanders and Stirlings into occupied Europe and dropping off and picking up agents.
Although the station was used as a training establishment, recently de-classified information reveals that Gaydon was part of the strategic plan and in the event of war it was one of airfields to which Victor bombers would have dispersed ready to carry out nuclear strikes against the Russians.

This eleven year old wrote to the Station commander at RAF Gaydon, telling him that he wanted to be a bomber or fighter pilot though my real intention was to get him to send me photos of the new V Bombers , the older Valiant and newer Victor and Vulcan. A box of glossy pics came by return post with a letter informing me that the RAF would be happy to take me on when I was old enough. I remember the family went to an open day at the Gaydon base so I could gawp at all that lethal hardware.
The idea of me wearing the uniform of the RAF, or indeed any uniform at all, was anathema to my mum. The war had left her with a distaste for chrysantheums( the Japanese national flower) and clear political ideas about how her sons should be raised and the military was not on the plan.

On October 14, 1962, a United States U-2 photoreconnaissance plane captured photographic proof of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba. In 13 days time I would be 15 years old.

The U.S.  demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed in Cuba and remove all offensive weapons.
The entire western alliance was at alert level 2, the highest ever during the entire Cold War. The Americans had a naval blockade ringing Cuba. Nikita Kruschev wrote in a letter to J.F.Kennedy that US quarantine of navigation in international waters and air space constituted an act of aggression and would propell humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.

A few miles away in the heart of leafy Warwickshire, Gaydon air base was now a Russian target. In the event of a nuclear strike by the Soviets every one I knew, everything I could see and touch would have been vapourised.

Had the Russians attacked the V bombers would have set out with their Hydrogen bombs in retaliation. Three H bombs were designated for Moscow alone. None of the crews setting out would have expected to find an England if they made it back though incredibly, their orders were clear. Get back in case another strike is necessary.

My birthday on the 27th October came and went and the world didn’t end. The most dangerous moment in the history of the world had passed us by.

The confrontation ended on the 28th October, 1962 when President John F. Kennedy and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to dismantle the offensive weapons and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for an agreement by the United States to never invade Cuba. The Soviets removed the missile systems and their support equipment. The so called quarantine was formally ended at 6:45 p.m. EDT on November 20, 1962. As a secret part of the agreement, all US-built Thor and Jupiter IRBMs deployed in Europe were deactivated by September 1963.The first telephone hot-line was set up between Washington and Moscow so the leaders could talk directly to each other. The Soviet missiles were taken out of Cuba and shortly afterwards American missiles already based in Turkey were quietly removed.

In 1964, along with a bunch of like minded friends, (all “Young Socialists”), I took part in a CND march. This was the first time I had participated in a political demonstration. It was what first lead me to look at direct action. I met so many good people then. We were all enthused by the idea that there is always some thing that can be done, that we have a voice and should use it. Among others it was the steadfast support of my parents, the words of Bertrand Russel, others like him and the comradeship of like minded, fellow travellers that accelerated my politicisation. During the march I remember we stayed over night with The Society of Friends (Quakers) who were very supportive and kind. They found a battered old radio so we could listen to some music, fed us and gave us shelter.

Come in you’re quite welcome
There’s room at the shelter
Take food and warm clothing for yesterday’s men.

So, most of my old comrades from back then are still around though we are scattered to the four winds. A few have passed inevitably. Life goes on inspite of the near misses. The V bombers have been replaced by nuclear submarines and the demo’s still take place albeit on a smaller scale. We have to keep their fingers off the trigger. Let them know we haven’t gone away. Most of us will be reeling from Government cuts in a years time and some of us will have to warm up our protest voice and sharpen our tactical tools. It’s been a while for some of us and we might be a little rusty. For most of us the nuclear threat is probably on the back burner of our current fears and it seems likely that domestic fiscal  issues and the War in Afghanistan will continue to be the main preoccupations for some time. On a difficult day I will think back to October 1962 and be thankful that sanity prevailed. Breathe and be glad………

Update : There are now only 2 of 10 Fair days pay for a fair days work shows still available to be booked for 2011.
Book me for your birthday party, anniversary, barbecue, garden party or any other private event any where in the world.You’ll get me and my acoustic guitar and a solo performance of my songs just for you.This will be your private performance and only the people you want to know about it will be there.
What will it cost? One day of your wages what ever that might be plus travel fares, accomodation and my supper.
If you are interested email for more details



Anonymous said...

What an intersting story. Those were dangerous times indeed. We live in Kineton and have followed you since early days. Saw you at Leamington last year. It was a great night. Remember the fourpenny shop? Love the fair days pay idea. Will there be more on offer? Good luck with all of your new ventures.
Mel and Sam

Anonymous said...

I feel so very honoured to have seen you and the band so many times over the years. From The Ritz in Bournemouth in 1969 to The 100 Club last February. As I said when we spoke in Frome:- you guys mean so mush & are responsible for my 'social awareness' so much that I gave up factory work in order to work with unloved street kids & currently helping to make ex-prisoners with mental health problems see themselves for what they can achieve, not for what society sees them as. Bless you, Rob, Steve, Art & the many more who came & went through the ranks of The EBB. YOU ALL HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART.

Tony H

Anonymous said...

I was not born in 62 but I learned about Cuba much later. It is hardly ever discussed these days so it was intriguing to read your perspective on it. The good old days eh? N.Korea or Iran , who is next?

Anonymous said...

Trident is the choice weapon of idiots now. It must seem like a total waste of money to a lot of people right now. Could buy a lot of top players for that cash Rob.
Seriously though it was dark days and you just a lad.
Dazza said...

Yeah I remember it well, Donovan led the march with Bruce Kent and we rested our young feet in the Quakers Hall, Edmonton which is still there, a few miles from where I live.
So simple then, a protest.

Steve Broughton said...

Forgot to say that the Yanks were the best payers when we played Gaydon !!!!

Steve Broughton said...

I meant that the American air base at Upper Heyford paid better than the RAF at Gaydon!Strange now to think of us playing those places whilst they were in readiness for Nuclear war but we were all in the shadow of it locally. There was a very real fear and sense of impending doom although we weren't really aware of the scale of things as we are now.

Anonymous said...

A good article. Strange days and they still are bit strange though marginally not quite so dangerous Axis of evil and all. Nice anecdotes about your childhood. Let's have more. Good luck with new ventures.
Jackie Whitehouse

Anonymous said...

It never fails to surprise me that those things that happen when we are so young are so formative. Still these were not your average childhood events.
You have both remembered much and researched well. A really interesting read.

Re your "Fair Days pay........." what a great idea. So good to know there are people who still hold that ideal.

Like Jackie and others I wish you well with your new ventures.

Pete Foster