Richard (Archie) Luck
It all began on Euston Railway Station 5th May 1965. I potted along the platform lugging a suitcase, to get the train to Cosford. What did I see but a load of other young lads all with cases heading in the same direction, all being waved off by loving parents, I had left mine back in Maidstone. Joining some of the lads in one carriage, I found, I was with some of the other potential photographers of the 303rd entry Craft Apprentice.
We arrived at Cosford, detrained and was met by our friendly basic training corporal who marched us off to Fulton Block. That little journey is nearly a mile long and lugging a suitcase made a few of us puff. The next few days were spent kitting out and the first of many scalping, which we all objected to as the fashion at the time was very long hair. All this initial basic training was, a little tough for me, as my right arm wanted to swing with my right leg, the same thing happened with my left arm and leg. I looked like one of those wooden puppets that happened to be on the TV at the time, and with my initials being R G, and nobody yet learning any bodies names, I was called 'Archie' for the first time and it stuck. Not many people in the air force ever heard my real name, Richard Gordon Luck.
Well after a couple of days it came to signing on the dotted line, I was all for doing a straight 22 to pension but found we could only do up to 12. I then had a quick calculation, and found that, due to my tender age at the time of only being sixteen and two months, my first few years in the RAF till I reached 18 would not count, so I changed my mind and signed for nine, but did not even get to finish that, as I became disenchanted with the service and purchased my discharge, but before then had a few good years.
The first suprise was the final exams after training, I came top and received the prize for top photographer on the 303 Course. As I still was under age for service in the Royal Air Force I ended up at Wyton in the factory. The work was quite interesting and I had a hand in some of the more memorable photographic jobs of the period. Does anybody remember Abervan, the coal tip slipping down on to the school in Wales killing 144. Another interesting job, was the pictures for the Tory Canyon Oil Tanker Disaster.
One problem at the time at Wyton was, every now and again you had to stop your conversation as an American Air Force F4 Phantom flew over head on its way to Alconbery. One day sitting in the coffee bar in the factory we saw one Phantom coming, we got ready to suspend the chat, and what did we see, two ejector seats popping from the plane, no need to stop talking the Phantoms engines had stopped and it was rather quiet. The plane continued to fly for a while and crashed just short of the cross-roads, at the Huntingdon end of the Wyton main runway. A few weeks later I was in the mess having lunch when a 543 Victor beat up the airfield for 543s Press Day, we ducked as it did its fast and low fly past, very noisy and then quiet, thirty seconds later the crash alarm goes off. The display plane had crashed killing the five crew. 543 Squadron lost another couple of pilots in a Chipmunk crash whilst I was I was at Wyton. 58 Squadron lost a Canberra, it landed short of the runway one night just missing the last lot of houses in Huntingdon.
Hurrah, I am now officially in the RAF having reached eighteen and soon to be off to No2 MFPU ( Mobile Field Photographic Unit ) based at Guttersloh Germany. I think this is where I began to get cheesed of with the service all because of some of the attitudes of some of the NCO. I did not like washing the sand off the parking lot in the rain, and I defiantly did not like getting my hair cut. So, one hot summers day after failing to get my hair cut I was put on a charge. The flight Co would not deal with it, so had me placed under close arrest, and I spent the day in the cells, till I went up before the station commander. By this time I was quite pissed off and felt quite rebellious, so ended up getting fourteen days detention. The cells at Guttersloh were short term only so I was to go down to the nick at Larbrook.I arrived at the nick the next day with my personal escort, two MPs with their two RAF Police Dogs. It caused quite a stir in the nick, what type of prisoner was this to have all these guards, it suprised them when I said what I was in for, "Refusing to Obey an Order,(get your hair cut.)" The MPs and Dogs where only there because they where going for a Dog Display Team. Anyway I spent the fourteen days in the nick doing rather a lot of odd jobs, and the Americans Landed on the moon, I missed it as prisoners did not have a TV. It came to the day for my return to Guttersloh, so I said to the man in charge, "don't you think I should have a hair cut before you send me back".
Returning to 2 MFPU at Guttersloh, I continued to enjoy my self, no air crashes but someone managed to let fly with a few rounds from the 40 mm cannons on a Hunter parked in the hanger on jacks. The shells went across the hanger through another Hunter parked on the opposite side, through the pilots briefing room, and finally the last two, rattled around a couple of the MFPU lorries parked out side the hanger, luckily the only injury was to the squadron CO who was hit by some brick splinters and got a cut forehead. Within a few weeks of this incident, someone managed to fire the starter cartridge for the engine, of Hunter parked in the hanger in the same location. This managed to ignite the fuel in the drip tray under the air craft, so for a while we had quite a blaze in the Hanger. Luckily we managed to put the fire out before to much damage was done. The next memorable occasion was my 21st birthday party, or may be the next day as it poured down with snow. The usual call went out for any drivers to report for snow clearing, and off I went, I spent two hours as standby emergency ambulance driver, and then I got my snow plough, off I went clearing the snow on the main aircraft pan. After an hour they sent someone out to relive me, so I nipped off, and returned to the party and helped finish off the barrel of larger we had started the night before. Then next day I got a message from the MT section thanks for volunteering, but try and be sober next time!
After Germany I returned to Wyton and the Photographic Factory, to relive the boredom I volunteered for a testing session at Porton Down Chemical Warfare establishment. I wonder now, if I suffer from any after effects from the tests I under took as I had a spell in the gas chamber with some very nasty nerve gas. Returning to Wyton, I am sent off to Cosford for additional training. I meet my future wife at a dance in Stafford. Completing the course I return to Wyton for a few weeks and am later posted a few miles the other side of Huntingdon to RAF Brampton. After a couple of years I get a posting to Gatow Berlin, so decide to get married so the wife could go with me, as soon as I married they cancel my posting to Berlin.This disappointment does not last long as I get told, I am off to Northern Ireland for a six month detachment. Having done a lot of photographic work for Northern Ireland, I felt inclined to decline the detachment, this proved to be a bad move as it turned out I was the third person to raise objections to the detachment. I got sent up to see the admin officer, and by the end of the interview I had told him to stuff the RAF as I was applying for a purchased discharge. This did not go down, very well at all and the officer threatened me with all sorts of punishments. His biggest punishment was to make me do the AOCs inspection parade in my last week in the service, I also had to learn a complete new set of arms drill as we now had the SLR rifle and I had done all previous drill with the 303. Come the day of the parade, the admin. officer was really pissed off as I was the only one the AOC stopped and spoke to, that last little bit of spit and polish paid off.
Leaving the RAF I move up to Wellington in Shropshire, now part of Telford. I get a job at GKN Sankey as a production inspector checking off pieces of car body work coming off the presses. During this period my marriage finally breaks up. I get cheesed off, with the three day weeks due to the miners strike, see an add in the British Journal of Photography apply for it and get the job and move down to London. I now start my career in Aerial Photographic Survey. I spent about six months in England sometimes working in the lab processing films, and occasionally flying in the aircraft operating the camera. After some rather heavy drinking sessions whilst in Scotland, I find out another use for those plastic carrier bags you get from the supermarket, if you hook the handles over your ears they make a very good sick bag, and they leave your hands free to carry on working. After one rather heavy session with some navy helicopter crew, it was ex RAF against the navy, we had the pilot and the navigator and my self all with bags on. We heard the Navy crew next day leaving to head back to Portsmouth from Prestwick in Scotland, they were going to follow the cost back to Portsmouth, only problem was they turned right northwards instead of left when they got to the coast, they started taking the long way home.
The opportunity comes up for me to go to Nigeria for the company so off I go to Kano. Life in an African country is quite a bit different thanEurope. I enjoy life as an expatriate, the old colonial traditions and all that. I join the local motor club but never make much impression as a Rally Driver or Navigator.My expertise seemed to be as a marshall, or the recovery vehicle for all the breakdowns. I change employer a few times in Nigeria, I started with the English Company, then worked for the Nigerian Partner, later transferring to a Finnish Company working in Nigeria. During one of these change over, I ended up back in England whilst the paper work was sorted out, I started flying lessons and got my UK Private Pilots License. I returned to Nigeria for another year before the work dried up, and then ended up in Libya with the Finnish Company. Whilst I was in Nigeria there was around six Coups by the Military, the Army rioted after a road accident out side its barracks in Kano, by the time they had finished there was a three mile long line of burnt out vehicles out side the camp. Had a few air crashes as well, a Russian Pilot instructor for the Nigerian Air force tried to land at the same time as a Nigerian Airways Focker F28 passenger jet, neither made the runway, no one lived to tell the tale.
Can't remember the other crashes but at the time it seemed, if a Nigerian Airways Pilot survived a crash, he was promoted to a bigger aircraft. The old aircraft we where using in Nigeria was getting near to a major service, so we needed to get it back to the UK, nobody wanted to fly it back it was so unreliable, so we took it to bits and had it air freighted back to the UK, the company in the UK got quite a suprise.
Libya is a nice place, but the customs and things can be a bit of a pain, so after six months I quit the company and head off to America for some more flying training. Fort Worth Texas sees me doing my American Commercial Pilots Training. I get my license, and as a special treat,I get to go with the flying school owner, to pick up two new Piper Tomahawk aircraft from the factory at Loch Haven. When we arrive at the factory they tell us, if we don't take off soon we won't get away till after midday the next day due to autumn mist and fogs in the morning. So after a very quick inspection, we took off and headed back to Texas, me following the boss. Only trouble was, I lost the boss in the lowering evening murk flying west into the setting sun. We decided to land and headed for a radio beckon where we would meet up. I spotted the boss coming to wards me so I turned my aircraft to follow him, as I did I lost sight of him, and felt this is dangerous he could hit me so I turned back the other way, the next thing I knew, I was upside down in a powered dive. In the murk, I had rolled back past level flight and managed, to turn the aircraft up side down. I thought very quick, I am not that high, there is high wooded hills around me, do I look out to see if I am going to hit the trees? No way, recover control first, if I hit the trees to bad. I immediately went on to instrument flying and got the aircraft back under control, headed back up to what I hoped was a safe height. Once at a safe height, I had a look out side the trees where now well below me, I tuned in the airport radar beacon and headed for the airport. Did I tell the boss, I had nearly crashed his brand new airplane, well not straight away.
Well I survived, and got my, American Commercial Pilot Certification. This basic license does not allow you to much choice in the type of work you can do, but enables you to work, and build up your flying hours to get the next higher license. Most people become flying instructors to build their hours, so I started the training. Not doing very well, I was relieved to see an advert in the paper, for a photographer with air film processing experience, just the job for me. I left Texas and headed up the east coast of America to Connecticut, to begin an enjoyable two years as photographer, dark room technician, and co-pilot doing Aerial Marine Life Surveys. This work involved flying, university researchers over the sea at three hundred feet for many hours, so they could count the Whales, Sharks, Turtles, Dolphins and Birds. This was a very enjoyable job as it took me right up to Gander and Goose Bay in the north, down to the Mexico border in the Gulf of Mexico and all points on the east coast in between. The highlight of one trip, was to arrive in Florida, and watch the launch of the first ever Space Shuttle. During this period I had a little problem with the, Department of Immigration, I was on a student visa, but had applied to work, done all the paper work and went to get my new work visa. Instead of a visa I was arrested and deported as an, Illegal Alien and had to come back to England to get a new visa, this time I go back to America as a visiting business man. I also had a nice trip flying to Alaska and back, spending a month photographing the melting ice cap at, Dead Horse, the main oil drilling area at the time. As they say all good things must come to an end, so did this job and I headed back to the UK.
Back in England and unemployed, I am looking world wide for work, and get an offer of a job in South Africa. So off I pop to South Africa, but I don't like the way the Apartheid was working, it was a lot different than Nigeria, so I turned the trip in to a holiday and then returned to the UK.
Being unemployed for several months, long enough to qualify for retraining, I get on a Government Training Scheme and end up at Blackpool for a year, learning Colour Photography Laboratory Processing Techniques.
After completing the course, I get a job in London working in the laboratory of a small photographers. After a few years of this, I get itchy feet, and move back to a previous company I had worked for, who had just installed their own colour processing machines to process the Aerial Survey Films. This was a very enjoyable job, as colour air photographs look so much nicer than the plain old black and white.
Colour photographs may look nice, but to get them you have to mess with some nasty chemical combinations. It seems I had started to react to some of these chemicals, beginning to experience some health problems, I decided to quit the photographic industry . I spent the next few years either, unemployed, on a government work scheme, doing college courses and a couple of short term jobs, from which I was made redundant.
After four years without a good job I gave up worrying about getting one, and came home to look after my mother as a career. I have done a few odd gardening jobs to fill in the time. I have now once again started to think of my future employment opportunities, I got a job as the local primary school cleaner, I also do relief for the dinner lady. Not got around to being the Crossing Patrol Lolly Pop Man as yet. For something requiring a bit more effort, I have started helping out in the class room, as a 'Learning Support Assistant', if I do well at this, maybe I'll get on one of them Government Training Schemes that trains up older people as teachers, some hope.
Richard (Archie) Luck