One of my most treasured memories is of the Summer of 1977. As a 15 year old corporal in the Air Training Corps (1372 Squadron) I spent a glorious week with the Royal Air Force in Malta, learning the ins and outs of the Nimrod, a beautiful aircraft, writes Gary Cartwright.
Just one week after returning to the UK I then found myself at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, then the home of 617 Squadron, “The Dambusters.”
We were allowed to visit the office of the late Wing Commander Guy Gibson – who is much revered in the Royal Air Force – and the grave outside his office window of his much loved dog, Nigger, an elderly Labrador known for his love of beer.
Nigger was sadly hit by a truck on the morning of May 16th 1943, the very day 617 Squadron were to set out on their mission to destroy the Ruhr dams. He was buried at midnight as his master took off to lead his squadron in one of the most audacious bombing raids of the Second World War, Operation Chastise.
Lancaster bombers flying just 60 feet above the water would drop Barnes Wallis’ revolutionary Bouncing Bombs in an attempt to breach the Sorpe, Möhne, Eder, and Ennepe dams in order to flood the Ruhr valley and destroy the German industry there.
Two of the dams were breached and one other heavily damaged. The losses of aircraft and crew were very high: 53 dead, 3 captured, and 8 of the 19 aircraft were lost.
The last survivor of the Dambuster raids, bomb-aimer George Leonard “Johnny” Johnson passed away peacefully in his sleep in December 2022 at the grand age of 101.
Censoring the past….
Sadly Nigger’s name has been covered up on his memorial, which is now surrounded by a protective fence. Even the history of our Royal Air Force is now being rewritten in the name of political correctness.
During my stay at Scampton 617 Squadron, motto: “Après moi, le déluge” (After me the flood), were then flying Vulcans, beautiful delta wing bombers, originally part of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It was often said that the ear-splitting “Vulcan howl” – once heard never forgotten – was the last sound the people of Moscow would ever hear.
A little over one year later I would be at RAF Swinderby, again in Lincolnshire, undergoing basic training and about to embark on an incredible and rewarding adventure.
A few years ago I returned to Malta, to the old officers mess at Hal Far, where I was welcomed into what are now government offices and even managed to find the room I had shared with three fellow cadets back in ’77.
However I was saddened to note that one of the old buildings at the site had been fenced off and was being used as a hostel for illegal migrants, seemingly all from Africa. The garbage surrounding the building was appalling, and I was warned to keep a distance as it was not safe. With very few exceptions those residents I saw were overwhelmingly men of military age.
I learned that they were mostly from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. I also noted that a police station had been built close by. This is not the politically correct version of the truth, this is the real truth.
Close to the old runway, from which RAF Spitfires, Hurricanes, and even a few Gladiator biplanes fought off first the Italian air force and then the Luftwaffe, were rows of shipping containers that had been converted to “temporary” accommodation. I suspect they might not be so temporary….
So with this experience in mind, I was angered by the news that Britain’s Home Office is planning to turn RAF Scampton into “temporary” accommodation for economic migrants – and let’s be honest about what they are – who in Britain, like in Malta, tend to be unaccompanied young males of military age.
The original plan was for a first shipment of some 200 migrants to be brought to RAF Scampton in mid-August.
However, in a typical Home Office foul-up it was announced in the last few days that the arrival date has been pushed back to October due to a lack of building surveys and qualified people to connect the site with gas, water and electricity.
What happened to all those Polish plumbers and builders? Did they all go home after Brexit?
Local opposition to the project remains fierce, but the British government appears to have given up caring about what the British people have to say a long time ago.
My last visit to Scampton was some eleven years ago. The Vulcans were long gone, but the Red Arrows still used the base.
Some of the old barracks had been turned into an indoor antique/bric-a-brac market which I thought was rather nice, and walking around the old WW2 barrack blocks we stayed in as cadets brought back some great memories.
Meanwhile, RAF Wethersfield in Essex, formerly used as a base for U.S. Air Force bombers, has already been decommissioned and turned into a refugee camp with the first migrants having moved in in July of this year.
It is planned that 1,700 will eventually be housed there despite significant local opposition, including from former Home Secretary Priti Patel, who in 2021 told Britain’s House of Lords “In the last year, 70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.”
I do wonder, with a major war raging in Europe, and one that threatens to escalate and possibly become a nuclear war, why are we decommissioning important military bases and handing them over to young men of military age and very often of uncertain nationality or allegiance?
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