Surprise visit to Culdrose for veteran
Veteran Barrie Derrick had a very pleasant shock recently when his daughter arranged a surprise VIP tour of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose. Barrie served at the base as a mechanic on Wessex helicopters from 1961 until 1964.
Leading Airman Aircraft Engineer Barrie Derrick served in the Royal Navy from 1952 until 1964, servicing a wide range of aircraft types. In 1961 he arrived at Culdrose, servicing the then brand new Wessex HAS1 helicopters and being part of the newly recommissioned 845 Squadron.
Operations for the engineers in those days involved a few interesting roles that you might not find in a formal job description – for example being winched down from the aircraft with two empty bags at the far end of the airfield. When Barrie asked the pilot what they were for, he was delighted to learn that they were so that he could harvest the wild mushrooms growing in an otherwise inaccessible field!
After successfully learning to maintain and operate the aircraft in Cornwall, 845 Squadron then embarked onboard HMS ALBION and soon found themselves in the thick of the action in Malaysia in 1963. The aircraft always operated in pairs over the jungle and regularly took the engineers on sorties as part of the crew, so Barrie saw a lot of action. For his part in these operations he is the holder of the Pirgat Jasa Malaysia medal, and while there were undoubtedly uncomfortable moments, with typical downbeat naval humour Barrie makes light of them. In fact his daughter Sally said: “My main memory of his stories from that time was telling me he had to swat the Orang-utans away from his sandwiches with a tennis racquet. I believed him for years!”
Sally decided that as her dad had clearly enjoyed his time at RNAS Culdrose then it would be a nice surprise to call in while on holiday. A secret plan involving veterans’ organisations was hatched, there were no Wiki leaks, and a complete surprise ambush was achieved. Barrie and his family got to see the airfield from the top of the tower, and then proceeded to a number of squadrons to meet the engineers and track the development of helicopters from his day through to the present. He visited 771 Squadron (Search and Rescue) and saw a Wessex and Sea King helicopters, and then 824 Squadron Merlins.
Barrie thoroughly enjoyed his visit and said: ”Although a lot of the buildings have changed since my day I can still recognise the general layout. What I really enjoyed though was meeting the young engineers at work on their aircraft and seeing the same professionalism and fun and banter. That doesn’t seem to have changed at all!”