Memories from Geoff Wanley

I was posted to Watton in April 1965 after joining the RAF at the tender age of 15 in 1963, as a Boy Entrant Apprentice. It was certainly an eye opener given my leaving what was akin to an RAF version of a Boys only Prep School and then being thrust into the world of being billeted with all ranks and trades some of them having seen service in WW2.

Plus of course we had the additional temptation of a large WRAF contingent on the station itself and at Eastern Radar. I certainly grew up fast!!!. This is a picture of me taken in December 1963 on my first home leave, looking like a schoolkid at some sort of fancy dress party having been made to sign his life away for the next 21 years. . .

Geoff Wanley Dec 1963 First Home Leave

I have many fond memories of the base, the town plus its people and surrounding areas. In particular joining our friendly Fleet Air Arm squadron personnel who liked to “go ashore” from their accommodation block for a few bevies in the NAAFI which became the Shirley Club.

I also have some memories tinged with sadness including having to stand guard overnight at the crash site of the 97 Sqn Canberra which cartwheeled into the perimeter track after a flame out upon approach to landing, one of those killed was a good friend who had been the navigator on our trip to Gibraltar.

The first picture is of the entire station on parade in June 1965 for the AOC’s visit, he clocked me straightaway during his inspection as I wore no indication of rank, plus my uniform was marked in several places where my Boy Entrant badges had been, we had quite a good chat really. As far as I can remember the picture was taken by the station photographer.

Parade RAF Watton June 1965

The second picture was taken in Oporto during a refuelling stop on a Navigational Exercise to Gibraltar carried out in a 115 Squadron Vickers Varsity, it took us 10 hours to get to Gibraltar where we had a 3 day stopover. I am the middle of the three personnel standing in front of the aircraft.

Refuelling stop at Oporto 1966

4 thoughts on “Memories from Geoff Wanley”

  1. i did national service at watton in 1955 -57 i was an air radar mech we looked after 6 lincoln bombersi enjoyed it very much made some good friends ken large brian gasgoin barry broadhead best wishes to all ex watton lads
    lac john hill

  2. I was at Watton from Jan ’65 to oct ’67. I remember the crash you mentioned, on an assymetric practice landing the engines spun up at different rates causing the aircraft to roll into the ground. Flg.Off Topaz ejected sideways and survived. The other backseater, a Canadian on his last flight with the squadron before returning to Canada, elected too late and died – I was on the Guard of Honour at his funeral. The pilot also died without ejecting. I watched it from our crewroom in SIF, 3 hangar. The other fatality was a few months later when a RN Nav ejected through the hatch during a practice engine failure on take-off. His seat separated and narrowly missed a WAAF in MT. The parachute also separated and landed a few feet away from me outside SIF and the unfortunate guy sailed through the air and landed in the Sgts mess. Maybe knowledge of the previous accident prompted his ejection although why all the gear detached itself was speculated as some sort of Naval procedure.
    Other than those 2 events Watton was a happy posting for me.

    1. Hi Peter.

      I recently started a YouTube channel, which aims to document interesting/exciting stories from ex-RAF pilots and the like. I began with my dad, who flew Victors, Canberras, Gnats and Hawks etc., as well as one of his old Victor contacts who experienced an engine failure in a Victor. Here’s a link to one of my recent videos, if you’d like to get an idea of what I’m putting together for Ken’s story –

      Whilst putting my dad’s Canberra tourex video together, I stumbled upon the story of WH857 and Ken Topaz’s amazing escape. I’m working on a video to document the accident as I’ve only found a few references to it online and thing it deserves to be better known. (I’m conscious Ken was keen not to name the other crew members, so will respect that wish).

      Given that you witnessed the accident, would you be willing to discuss it with me further please? Perhaps on the phone? If you’d rather email then I can be contacted at



  3. Hi,My Friend from Liverpool was Atc at Raf Watton.Mike Harris.I was Mtd also from Liverpool.I must of been there the same time as you.I did Enjoy my time there.

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