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Library Reference Number: 048

'Pardon My French'

Bob Kemp, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

The following 'now it can be told' aircrew story is recalled by Group Captain R.G. Kemp, QVRM, AE, ADC, FRIN. RAuxAF. This is a slightly humorous story that can now be told 30 years on. I say 30 years on because it all started in the home of the now ACA Archivist, Graham Pitchfork. We never spoke about it then or since, so he may well have forgotten the episode. I haven't.

It was June 1971 and I was a young navigator on the Buccaneer Force. It was a Friday night and after one of those memorable TGIFs in the bar at Honington, S/Ldr Ops, Graham Pitchfork, said "I've a good idea, let's go back to my place, Marlene is away for the weekend and there's beer in the fridge." So off I went with my trusty pilot, Andy Marrs to be hosted by the "Fork". And there we had a few beers - well a lot actually. Graham kicked us out or we left, I can't remember which, but I do recall that the beer was finished.

The next day dawned and most aircrew were still in bed but not Kemp and Marrs. We were kick-starting our jet to go and wow the crowds at the Paris Air Show, plugged in behind a Victor Tanker to show everyone just how easy air to air refuelling really is. Before the fly-by at Le Bourget, we had planned to carry out some practice plugs on the Victor refuelling hose just off the coast near Great Yarmouth. This was a job for Marrs - I even had my radar switched off because of our proximity to the Victor and, as we were following the tanker to Le Bourget and back, I did not even think about navigation. I had nothing to do except read the paper and shout "Geronimo" every time Marrs missed the basket - which was often. The rest is a bit hazy (even 30 years on I am no fool) but we both jumped out a few minutes later in cloud having lost control after a Lightning strike.

My chute opened and I saw a forest below me as I cleared the low cloud. The King's Forest of Norfolk I thought, just as the jet speared in to the trees in front of me in an impressive ball of napham-like flames. I was in the trees in seconds and ended up suspended a few feet from the ground with my chute caught in the branches. I released my harness to find that only one lift web released and I was left with one foot barely touching the ground and hanging at an angle with little chance of releasing the other lift web that was now jammed. Some 10 minutes later someone arrived on the scene and I called out for help. The chap approached me cautiously and I explained that if he supported my dangling leg I could release myself. He said something to me in French. "Just my luck," I thought, "I land in Norfolk and I have to be rescued by a French tourist." My schoolboy French stretched to useful phrases such as asking my Aunt for her pen, but stopped short at requesting assistance to escape from my Houdini like predicament. Another guy arrived- "At last" I thought, "I'm saved." "Bonjour Monsieur" he said. "I don't believe it, there must be a tour bus here" was my reaction. When a Gendarme arrived with a little hat on, even I twigged. "Mon Dieu - I'm in France." And I was, right in the middle of the Forest of Compiene. I caught up with Andy Marrs a little later and we were airlifted back to Honington the same day complete with a bottle and 200, although we then spent some time in Ely Hospital. I still blame Graham Pitchfork for all this, and I think that he can now have the story back in his capacity as ACA Archivist. Cheers Graham.

Aircrew Profile:


1984 Retired from RAF, appointed Weapons System Marketing Executive, Ferranti. 1986 Commissioned into RauxAF1990 Commanding Officer, No.2 Maritime Headquarters Unit, RAuxAF. 1998 Deputy Inspector, RAuxAF.

2000 Appointed Inspector RAuxAF and ADC to H.M. The Queen.

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