At Coltishall, I learnt about rescue, the first lesson being on working with
petrol, having not had any use for petrol prior to going into the services.
This petrol was of a higher octane than that used in the ordinary motorcar.
When the aircraft came back in, both the airplane lads and myself as engine
crew, all mucked in to get the flaps off the covers of the petrol tanks, and
help them to refill as soon as possible. This was done on a regular basis.
On this particular day that I would like to mention, was we had a squadron stood by. We were put onto what was known as ‘20 minute readinesses. In the process of checking the aircraft; we had to top up all the aircraft petrol tanks. This involved bringing the petrol tanker close to the aircraft-the back of the tanker had a little engine, ordinary petrol engine, and on this occasion, it had run out of petrol .One bright spark, decided to fill it up with the aircraft petrol. He squirted it out of the large nozzle into the small-necked tank. What happened next was really amazing. Upon putting the handle in to wind the engine up at the rear, there was one big flash and a bang. This was caused by the fact that some of the petrol had sunk into the well, where the flywheel was. There should have been a hole there, but it was blocked up, so a pool of petrol had got there instead. With the petrol flying up on the flywheel, it went straight to the spark plug at the side of the cylinder. The result was one almighty big bang and the whole of the rear of the tanker was a blaze. Full credit to the person who jumped onto the tractor, and started pulling the tanker into the middle of the airfield out of harms way. Alarm bells rang and in the process, the fire brigade went out, and fortunately, they did get the fire out and kept it away from the full petrol storage tank. This, as I say, was my first lesson in petrol.
A little later on we had an incident .One of the Spitfire’s had been attacked by a German fighter, having chased him, the Spitfire dived and hit the sea .The German pilot seeing all the spray go up, veered away and cleared off home. Amazingly enough, the pilot had managed to pull the aircraft back up off the waves and started heading for home, complaining of an unstable engine! . At the station, two aircraft were scrambled immediately, one with the Commanding Officer and they went out to meet him and escorted him back to our dispersal .On stopping his engine, and having complained about a rough engine, we looked at the aircraft, all the yellow tips at the end of the three propeller blades were missing. Having hit the water so hard, he had broken them all off, one of the props was slightly split but otherwise, in tact. No wonder he complained about it being a rough engine! It had brought him back home, we were all amazed, and the pilot was very lucky to have survived.
The next instance I would like to mention about the petrol, was concerning myself. All the aircraft were at full readiness, we had filled the tanks, wiped the wings down, and stood by .As we walked back, and I went into the hut, a wooden hut, to see the lads. I was walking near the fire, a wood/coal cinder fire, which had a flap in the front at the top and a flap at the bottom, to let the draft in and a pipe up into the roof. As I walked past it, there was a flash, and I was in flames from top to bottom. With that, I headed out of the hut, and rolled on the floor in the grass, and fortunately for me, the lads knew the drill and threw the fire blanker over the top of me.