99 M.U.

This article has been written by Robert Ballantyne Driver/Mechanic  

I was posted to 99 M.U. RAF Foulsham  Norfolk on the 31st December 1953 and the immediate task was to move the unit to RAF Lichfield on the 1st February 1954. The CO was Sqdn/Ldr Reg Hart - Senior Technical Officer Fl/Lt Stan Jenkins plus 40 other ranks and we occupied the blister hangars bordering the A38 Lichfield to Burton Road . The role of the Unit was to receive all types of vehicles, with the exception of specialist items, either from manufacturers or other Units having vehicles surplus to requirements. These were received on strength, serviced whilst in storage and as required issued to Units throughout the United Kingdom.

There was a pretty mixed bag of vehicle types including Standard Vanguard cars, light delivery vehicles, one ton trucks, make unknown, two and three tonners some of which had been modified as radio trucks, I can remember a very large delivery of Fordson three tonners which ,I think, were ex Canadian Army and which were the cause of a certain amount of heartburn due to the lack of spares, David Brown tractors, AEC Matadors, Leyland Hippo's, Queen Mary trailers but I cannot remember the Prime Mover type. They were not Bedford and I expect the name will eventually come back to me. We used to receive Leyland Hippo cab and chassis from the makers which we had to take to Zwicky, in London to be tanked and have the pumping gear fitted. Some of the same cab and chassis had to be taken down to Treorchy, in Wales, for body fitment and thence to EMI for fitment of radar equipment. We received a number of ten ton capacity Hands Trailers which had to be taken to a company in Blackpool for overhaul. As you can imagine, we were quite busy especially when you consider that we had a total of fourteen drivers and driver/mechanics on strength - much of the time we were away from home.

We did require craning facilities on the Unit and there was, in fact a crane on Unit strength. The trouble was that there was no qualified crane driver. A crane course was applied for and, eventually, two of us, myself and Cpl Bob Watts went off to RAF Weeton for training. The training vehicles were the old Coles Petrol Electric cranes and, after two weeks, Bob and I duly qualified. The only problem was that "our" crane was an old American Moto Lorraine and which was purely mechanical and there was no-one to advise us. Bob Watts decided that his talents could be better utilised elsewhere and I was left to get better aquainted with the beast. In the end I became so fond of it that, when we finally aquired a Coles, it lay abandoned in one of the hangars.

I have many memories of RAF Lichfield, most of which are a pleasure to recall. One, in particular, I try to forget was the Fradley Fog. I remember taking a bus from our main parking hanger to pick up the work party at No 6 site. I left the hanger at 16.45 and got back at 19.15. Having a bus load of people who were late for tea and about to incur the wrath of Corporal Bibby in the mess was not a happy situation.

I was detached from 99MU in August of 1956 and went to join 215 wing at RAF Yatesbury where we were kitted out and did some training for the invasion of the Canal Zone in November 1956. We left Yatesbury for Southampton where we loaded our transport on to a rather aged LCT called "The Reginald Kerr" and went to Malta for a month or so before loading up again and heading off to Suez. It was a ten day trip to Suez, there was no canteen, no dartboard, not even a pack of playing cards so a buddy of mine, Fred Needham and I went to see the Chief Engineer and got ourselves a job in the engine room of the ship. We scraped rust, slapped on paint, got up to our elbows in grease and oil and, in general, had ourselves a Hell of a time. Our pay was a bottle of whisky and a 50 tin of cigarettes at the end of our four hour "watch". At that rate we were doing much better than our CO Flt Lt Chalky White.

I proposed to Nancy by letter, left Suez on the SS New Australia, spent Christmas Eve in Oran Harbour, arriving in UK just before New Year 1956. The bad news then was that 99MU was closing down and eventually closed  in March 1957. A very sad day for a lot of people who, like me, had been happy there. Nancy and I were married on 5th Jan 1957, took off for parts unknown for a couple of weeks and came back to a posting to 16 MU at RAF Stafford where we stayed until our first Son was born two years later then took off for Singapore.

The Association expresses its grateful thanks to Robert for permission to reproduce this article in full and if any readers have photographs of these vehicles taken in RAF Service or now in private hands please e-mail them to the Webmaster.

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