Ex-serviceman Mel, 71, travels full circle to Watton
10:03 20 July 2012
Archant © 2012
Mel Richmond spent a year of his teenage life more than half a century ago as a raw recruit at the former RAF Watton station.
It was his first posting – working with a wing servicing Bristol Bloodhound missiles – and he recalls spending his spare time at ballroom and rock and roll dances at the town’s Queens Hall and at the old New Inn pub.
Now life has gone full circle for the 71-year-old grandfather, who is enjoying retirement in a home at the base where he learned his trade.
Mel, who grew up at Fritton, near Great Yarmouth, first joined the RAF on January 22, 1959 aged 17 after he “saw the writing on the wall” for employment in the area.
After completing his eight-week basic training at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, he was posted to RAF Watton in May 1959 where he stayed until September 1960.
The retired supply supervisor said: “I was a raw recruit and I didn’t have a clue, so they put me to work on the base.
“My first impression of Watton was it was like a park rather than an RAF base. All the trees were beautiful – it was a lovely looking place. I was quite impressed.”
Mel and his wife, Anne, 67, moved from Hingham to their new three-bedroom home in Shire Horse Way, which was a former stable block, about a month ago.
It is one of 46 new eco-homes built by Watton firm Abel Homes. They were the first people to move in and had also been Abels’ first customers when they launched 16 years ago.
“Watton is a little bit different now with the additional houses, but in many ways it is familiar,” he added.
During his time at RAF Watton, he was assigned to the 24 Surface to Air Guided Weapons Wing and aircraft included the Lincoln bomber as well as Varsity and Comet planes.
He was in charge of keeping account of all the supplies relating to the Bristol Bloodhound missiles, which lined the now redundant railway line in the town.
Mel said the basic training was physically hard and it was a treat to be placed on a base.
He added: “Most of the men were older than me when I came to RAF Watton because of national service.
“Most were in their 20s. None of us had a lot of money in those days and you could go and chat to people and it was quite interesting because they all had different backgrounds.
“Two older Scotsmen took me under their wing and kept me out of trouble.”
Mel, who has two children and a grandson, made friends with the locals and for entertainment the serviceman would either go to a café off the Watton main road or the town’s New Inn pub, which has since closed.
He also enjoyed the ballroom and rock and roll dances at Queens Hall, Watton, which took place every Saturday night, and dancing at the Samson and Hercules ballroom in Norwich three days a week.
In 1963, while at the popular venue on Tombland – which is now apartments – Mel met his future wife whom he married in May 1964 at Hempnall Methodist Church.
He added: “It was quite an easy-going life. I look back now and think, ‘I didn’t have a bad life really’.”
After his year at Watton, Mel was posted to Aden in Yemen between 1960 and 1962, RAF Wattisham in Suffolk until 1966, RAF Cottesmore in Rutland until 1968 and Singapore until 1970.
He spent his last few years in the RAF as a supply instructor in Hereford and RAF Coltishall before retiring in 1981.
RAF Watton was established in October 1945 to continue the research and development of radio electronic warfare for the RAF.
In the post-war years the station had a number of visiting units, the least known of which was an American unit operating Lockheed U2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, which flew from Watton during the latter part of 1958.
The base ceased to be an operational airfield by 1968 and parts of the site are being sold off by the Ministry of Defence.