The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

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On the 17th February 1958, CND was established; I can not believe I have been supporting and marching in step with CND for over sixty years now. I was in the RAF the following year and had been posted to Hemswell, in Lincolnshire for a few months. Hemswell at the time, the home base of Britain’s first line of defence, their Thor Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Hemswell had five satellite stations scattered around Lincolnshire, where the missiles were housed and would, if required, be fired from. It would take around one hour to take the missiles from their silos, stand them upright and fill them with liquid oxygen and nitrogen, knowing full well that we had a maximum of only three minute warning of incoming missiles from (the old bogeyman) Russia, via any of our radar stations scattered around the country. I’m sure if we were on anyone’s hit list, Hemswell and her satellite station would have had a circle drawn around them with a notice saying ‘No immediate danger’. Not only were they inadequate as defence against a first strike, the Americans had already developed solid fuel rockets (the minute man) that could be in permanent readiness and presumably the Russians had a similar rocket system too, so Britain’s first line of defence was already obsolete, but we went through the motions anyway, much like Britton’s nuclear submarine deterrent today, political rather than stategical.

When moving these rockets around, mostly shipping them from site to RAF Scampton to be loaded onto Globemaster aircraft and taken to America for servicing and/or test firing. This was a real pantomime and would require a convoy with an American officer, alongside the driver in the truck carrying the missile, or missiles warhead. He, of course, came complete with sidearms. As you can imagine this was a slow process on such narrow roads and a stop would be made in Market Raisen for NAAFI break. The officers would go off to the tea rooms, other ranks, the little village café. The café had no shiny Jukebox, however, the owner did have a portable record player, on which he would play his collection of Jazz LP, his customers could choose tracks. So popular did this café become that bikers and young students from around the area were drawn to it like they had been when school students to the back of the school bikeshed. I frequented the café a lot at that time travelling there on my beautiful little 1959 350cc Velocette Viper motorcycle, like the image below (which belonged to me and the hire purchase firm).

$_57

I soon became involved with CND and went on early marches and rallies in and around London; the A15 to Peterborough, there to pick up the A1 south, was a well-trodden path for me and the RAF Club in London gave me accommodation for the night. My riding gear consisted of an RAF Second World War sheepskin flying jacket, white woolen sea-boot stocking turned over the top of Wellington boots, ex WD goggles, a pudding basin skid lid, (a motorcycle helmet that resembled a pudding basin with ear flaps) and to complete my attire I had a scarf pulled up over my mouth and nose.

The trips south would be punctuated with calls at transport cafes that were dotted all the way along major trunk roads, none more famous for bikers than the Ace Café on London’s Outer Ring Road. Transport cafes were hot noisy places with their obligatory shiny jukebox and where the main food served was a mixed grill (a big fry up) You would garble your order through frozen lips and received in return a big pint mug of steaming strong tea. Cradling this in both hands, until enough feeling came back into frozen face you would attempt a drink; even then you dribbled tea down your chin like a geriatric OAP. Although the speed limit for lorry’s had been lifted from 20 MPH a fully laden lorry would have had difficulty breaking even that limit and with duel carriageways still few and far between big convoys of trucks, resembling trains rather than road transport plied up and down Britain’s highways and byways at the speed of the slowest truck, a motorcycles was really the only way to pass on through such convoys. Not until the building of the A1M motorway did things start to change. As ever Britain was the cow’s tail when it came to forward planning and transport companies rather than buy British went to Sweden, (Volvo) Germany (Mercedes) and Holland (DAF) to buy their new trucks that were capable of sustaining high speeds on the new motorway, (Europe having had Autobahns since the 1940s) this was the final nail in the coffin of HGV vehicle manufacture in the UK.

One day when the RAF unveiled one of their missiles on an exercise, they were less than happy to find a CND sticker plastered on its side. You just would not believe the howls that when up when the smelly stuff hit the fan. We were treated to endless patrols, guard duties, exercises, you would have thought world war three had broken out, thankfully they never found the culprit, he would have been hung drawn and quartered, not by the powers at being, but by his ‘no longer’ mates, having subjected them to many extra duties and marching up and down. Strangely enough, the Snowdrops (RAF Military Police) did not suspect a lowly Airman running around with a CND sticker on the back mudguard of his motorcycle and one prominently displayed on the back of his pudding basin helmet; anyway I was posted to Germany soon after that little episode, phew!

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