Scottish Memory Lane - Brushes with the Law

Police Box - Before the age of Mobile Communications

Readers of this Web site will, of course, all be law-abiding citizens who have never broken the law... (I wouldn't expect confessions to any misdemeanours anyway!) But most of us meet up with law enforcement from time to time for various reasons - even if it is only for a minor driving offence. But you may have had an incident involving law enforcement agencies that are a bit out of the ordinary...

A Russian Spy?

As a teenager I became interested in aviation and used to go to air shows and cycle to airfields that were not too far from home. I even cycled the 30 miles to Prestwick airport when "Air Force 1" arrived with the President of the USA landed there - not that I was interested in President Eisenhower - I just wanted to see and photograph his plane!

By this time I was working in a bank and I arranged to take two weeks of my annual leave going to the Farnborough Air Display - the "Black Arrows" (a precursor of the present day "Red Arrows") display team flying Hawker Hunter fighters were a highlight I recall as was the Fairey Rotodyne which had wings and a turbo-prop engines for forward flight and jet engines at the tip of its rotor blades for vertical take-off and landing (see black and white graphic).

I also stayed for a few days in East Anglia where there were a couple of major aircraft museums and a number of Royal Air Force bases. I stayed in Cambridge and hired a bicycle to tour around various locations, taking pictures over (or through) fences of English Electric Canberra bombers and anything else I thought was interesting. Bear in mind that although I had graduated from a basic box camera to one using 35 millimetre black and white film (which my father had taught me how to develop and print at home for myself), the camera had no telephoto lens capacity. All us aircraft "spotters" did go armed with binoculars, however, so that we could see and record the serial numbers of the aircraft which were in sight. Even though this was at the height of the "Cold War", as far as I could see, security was somewhat lax at these RAF bases and, as in the case of this English Electric Canberra bomber, they were there to be photographed... Of course, I don't think that the Canberra would be of any interest to Soviet spies!

But some of the airfields were used as by Britain's nuclear bomb-carrying "Valiant", the first of the UK's "V-bomber" force. This type of aircraft had dropped nuclear bombs on test in Australia and on a South Pacific island. At that time it was the mainstay of the UK's "nuclear deterrent" until the more advanced "Victor" and "Vulcan" came into service. One day I arrived at one of these bases on my cycle tour. Understandably, although I could see some white painted Valiants in the distance, they were parked some distance from prying eyes away from the boundary fence. I should have accepted that, but instead (you've guessed it already) I climbed over the low fence and strolled over to get closer. I got near enough to take a decent picture but soon after that somebody at last noticed the trespasser and I was marched off to the guard room!

While I was being grilled, an airman had gone to collect my bicycle - and found my maps of the area marked with all the RAF airfields shown in red. During the interrogation my camera (it had been under my jacket) was uncovered and the two RAF personnel began to wonder if I was indeed a "spy" or someone sent to vet their security. Eventually they announced that if I was actually from the security section sent to test them out, I should reveal my identity as they were going to contact senior staff in their HQ to come and interview me. I assured them I was just an "aircraft spotter" so we had to wait several hours for the more senior officers to arrive from London. After more questions, they at last believed me - and drove me and my bike back to my hotel. (Graphic of RAF uniform via Wikimedia Commons )

The next problem I had, however, was that it was now after midnight and I had no key to get into the hotel! I didn't want to ring the bell and cause a commotion but when wandering round to the back of the hotel I noticed that the window to my room was slightly open. I managed to shin up a drain pipe, open the window wider and climbed in. Amazingly after all that excitement I just went to bed and fell asleep. In the morning I managed to attract the attention of a member o staff because, of course, I was locked inside my room without a key!

A few weeks later, back home, my heart sank when I received a large official OHMS ("On Her Majesty's Service") envelope. I relaxed when I saw what was inside - the RAF had developed my pictures of the Vickers Valiant nuclear bomber, had decided there was nothing threatening national security in it - and sent me a copy!!

Scottie from Glasgow Scotland

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