Big Country – Small World

Millions of tons of goods and fuel arrived in Berlin during the airlift to keep the residents alive and functional.

This is a story that started in 1950 during the Cold War years when we worried in case Russia and America started a Nuclear War. On November 1st 1950, several others, and myself, were standing in Newcastle Central Station waiting for the London train that would take us to join the Royal Air Force.  I was to become a photographer A/G, which means Air/Ground. The square-bashing days came first, then trade training, and then posting out to an RAF Station, in my case RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. Within a year I was posted to RAF Fassberg in West Germany, which was quite close to the  Russian Zone, as it was called.

A large part of my duty at Fassberg was to process the cine film which had been exposed to record any funny business by the Russians.  This was how the city of Berlin was kept alive in the early 1950s. American and British planes delivered anything and everything to keep Berlin alive.  Literally, millions of tons of goods and fuel arrived in Berlin this way to keep the Berlin residents alive and functional. I left RAF Fassberg in mid-1953, prior to de-mob on October 31st of that year.

On a recent visit to the USA I was privileged to go to South Dakota to marvel at the vast sculptures of the faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore.  Travelling south on the return journey, we had to cross one the vast plains.  Fluids are essential on a journey such as this, and so it was that we drove for hours without seeing a town, village or Indian tent.

Eventually we came across what was like an oasis in a desert, and naturally it was a McDonalds oasis. I stepped out of the car, and saw one of my favourite dogs on the back of a truck.  He was a Golden Retriever, and having previously owned such a dog, I could speak his language, and stroke his head, and scratch his back where he couldn’t reach. After a few minutes, an 81 year-old American came out of the McDonalds with a burger for the dog.  Almost immediately we were joined by the man’s youngest son.  We started a three-way conversation, and eventually, the elderly gentleman asked me if I had served in the armed forces during World War 2.

I had been born in 1932, I was 7 years old on September 3rd 1939, the very day that World War 2 started in Europe, so I explained I was too young to be called up for the armed services.  I did explain however I had served in Germany during the Cold War, and had served on the Berlin Corridor. I mentioned that my unit was very close to the Russian Zone, and he NEEDED me to tell him that I had been the Photographer A/G, at RAF Fassberg, because he had served on detachment to RAF Fassberg, during the same years that my duty placed me there.

His job was to refuel the American planes, for the remaining trip to Berlin, and back out again.  I wish I could say we knew each other for two of the years, but sadly, we didn’t. We exchanged memories of those two years, and shed a few tears, and shared a brotherhood in which he was the eldest son and I was his kid brother.  Truly, in those 30 minutes it was OUR Small World. A wonderful, and unforgettable experience.

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