3512399 AC 1 Ken (Harry) Harriman
Medical Staff, RAF Hospital, AAFCE, Fontainebleau, BFPO 6. I was at Fontainebleau for only six months, the last six months of my regular service.
After basic training at West Kirby, and a spell in Hospital I was back-flighted and eventually posted to Medical Training Establishment 13 Site Lytham, for trade training as a Medical Orderly. Unfortunately I failed my exams
Now here is where the fun begins! I was posted to No 1, FTS, RAF North Luffenham which was just up the road from my home, twenty miles to be exact, a very nice home posting, But! this was April 1952 and North Luffenham had been handed over to the RCAF in November 1951. Someone, somewhere, had not done their homework, and on the day I was to leave Lytham near Blackpool, my posting had been changed to 206 AFS Oakington Cambridgeshire, which was the group that had been in residence at North Luffenham until November 1951 as No1 FTS. Are you still with me?
I duly arrived at Oakington, I reported to the Station Sick Quarters, immediately falling foul of the 'jumped up' little corporal, for entering by the wrong door. Please don't get the idea I don't like 'Geordies' I do, they're straightforward decent folk, this guy was an exception. (even to the human race). I discovered that he had only been made up to corporal that same day. But he was always on my back, after that.
Apparently I was not supposed to be there, they didn't have me down for posting in to that unit or for the Sick Quarters either, as they were fully staffed and had their quota of Ward Assistants, which I now was. I was taken in to see the SMO by the Sergeant who was an extremely affable Man, Sergeant Arthur Groves was his name and he had joined the RAF in 1932.
The SMO was very sympathetic and began to make phone calls, and used a few very choice words to the recipient at the other end of the line, one call must have been to someone very very senior, because he was very deferential, the result was that I stayed at Oakington.
My thoughts were that this would be an exciting place to be with Meteor T7s and Vampire T11 sand FB5s, it was a splendid camp, clean and tidy and the meals in the mess was very good, the food was far better than we had at West Kirby and Lytham, and with one notable exception, all the Medical staff were very friendly.
I was informed of my duties and what the 'Crash Bell' procedure was.
The small operating room was readied in case it would be needed and an Orderly helped me unlock the doors of the Mortuary, as that was the place that was needed most often. I was responsible for the Mortuary, keeping it clean and making sure the strong rubber gloves and Lysol etc. were replenished. It was not a very pleasant job, especially if we had more than one cadaver to clean, ready for a Coroner's report.
My Hobby and pastime was bicycle racing which I started when I was 15 and until recently, before a heart problem stopped me I was racing at the age of 65 .Before I joined the RAF I raced at various venues in the Midlands one of them being at Kettering in Northamptonshire where I made a very good friend in a local racing club, he was at a grammar school somewhere in the area, and a year and month older than me. His father, and mine also, had been in the RFC/RAF as Officer Cadets and although 'rivals' on the track, we became good friends. Imagine my surprise at meeting him at Oakington, he was a Pilot Officer on a flying course, and he was close to completing that course. We sometimes went into the White Horse in Long Stanton to drink together, but we usually wore 'Civvies' One day I was in the ambulance in the 'Crash Bays' near the Control Tower, when a Meteor took off from the runway, it turned Sharply in the circuit and came into land but had little or no room to get the undercarriage down again before hitting the ground very forcibly, and burst into Flames.
The emergency vehicles sped to the scene, but they could not get the Pilot out and he burned to death, that was a terrible shock to see that happen, it was made even worse when his remains were taken to the Mortuary where the Junior Medical Officer and myself began to remove his charred clothing, the JMO removed from the pocket of the dead man's Flying suit, his identification, showing his name, I realised then, that this was my friend, Trevor. It affected me deeply at that time and still does when I recall the details still etched by in my mind, and when I look back at some old racing programmes with our names printed on them.
In all I attended to sixteen crash victims mostly air accidents, some whole, others not so, when the biggest bits would fit into a shopping bag. It was a rotten job for an eighteen to nineteen years old lad. It was a rotten job for anyone. Eventually I was posted to Ely Hospital from where I went to an interview at White Waltham or Maidenhead I was told to wait in a room for someone to come to see me. I had no idea what it was all about except that my thoughts were of a colleague who had recently been court marshaled and sent to Colchester.
Eventually a Squadron Leader came and ordered me to follow him. Up the Marble staircase and to a room where he entered and said out loud" LAC Harriman Sir!” I entered into the office of an Air Vice Marshall who bade me come forward to his desk, where he got to his feet, shook my hand and bade me 'good morning'. "Sit Down Lad" indicating a chair slightly to one side of centre. I had been ushered into the Office of the Angel Gabrielle himself, either that or I was going to be shot at dawn. And to this day I can't remember who he was.
He quizzed me on all that I had done, especially at Oakington, finally he said "You've been dealt a bit of a bad hand haven't you lad", I replied that it was a job that someone must do." Good Man -Good Man, How would you like to go to France?" It sounded alright to me. He then dropped his little Bombshell, "Right! We are opening a hospital there. It will be a new hospital for us although it is in a part of a French Hospital. It will need all your expertise in the cleaning and getting this hospital up and running, you do understand me, don't you Harriman?" I am relying on you not to let the side down. You will be the only Ward Assistant to be posted there, and you have been selected especially by me, for the task. How do you feel about that?"
What could I really say - Nice one! I see I've been thrown into the Cacky again' or Thanks a bunch I was quite happy at Ely'. Instead I replied "I feel honored Sir that you have entrusted me with this posting." What a load of Male Bovine Excreta that was. I didn't know I was that brainy to come up with a saying like that.
And that dear friends is how I ended up doing the last six Months of my RAF service in MFCE Fontainebleau.