I arrived at RAF Wildenrath in May 1976 on a posting to 3 (F) Squadron Harriers, it was intended that I should be employed in the rectification of the Harrier GR3 and T1 but on arrival it was decided that due to my lack of experience on the aircraft that I should be a “liney” for a while.
I was introduced at this point to a man who would become a valued and trusted friend not just a boss, Mick Harding, at first I struggled to understand him but it soon became obvious that he was the sort of plain speaking man that I can still admire today.
Mick was the shift boss and responsible for the provision of aircraft for sorties requested by operations, to achieve this he had been allocated a varied assortment of human beings who had been classified by the RAF as mechanics and fitters of one sort and another, being mainly teenagers or in their early twenties this band of brigands were known to get up to the odd prank or two. As part of his duties Mick was required to keep us all under control.
One day shortly after I arrived one of the younger lads was getting up to mischief in the line crew room and thought he was getting the better of Mick until he produced a broom handle with a dart in the end which he launched through the office hatch into the crew room presumably aimed at the miscreant, however it missed it’s intended victim (as it always was meant to) and whistled very closely past me. Instinctively I picked up the weapon and returned it in the direction from which it had come.
This it turned out was both stupid and inspired in equal measure because the next thing I knew was that this big booming voice interspersed with some phrases I had never heard before was demanding my presence in the office next door. I received a lecture about the consequences of striking a SNCO for those within earshot and a shake of my hand and a huge grin for those that were not.
The time came for me to go on my first field deployment, I was of course allotted to Mick’s team and boy was it hot, after arrival at the site and my baptism of fire and a couple of visits to the local hostelry the time came to “go to war” and try as I might I couldn’t find my “tin hat”. More strong and words interspersed with phrases I had never heard before, or since come to that. Problem solved masking tape applied to my camouflaged hat and the words “CPX Steel Helmet” applied – war fought and won and no injuries to my head although my ears did ring for weeks afterwards.
Mick left the squadron with the words “now I can throw this cabbage gear away, you will never see me in this kit again”. The next time I saw Mick was when I was on the Visiting Aircraft Sections (VAS) at Coltishall and we were putting a visiting Phantom into 6 Squadron’s hangar and he was wearing, yes you guessed it his “cabbage gear”. Well I couldn’t miss an opportunity like that could I, so from the cockpit of the aircraft I shouted a reminder of his Gutersloh leaving statement which was responded to with some inventive hand gestures and the words “it’s a good job you are up there and I am down here you ***!!!*** (modesty prevents me repeating that bit). I was subsequently detached to 6 Squadron and so our working lives added another chapter.
It wasn’t over there though Mick left Coltishall for pastures new, eventually landing at Kemble on the Red Arrows. A couple of years later I too was given the opportunity to go to Kemble (on an exchange posting
would you believe?), by this time Mick had moved on to 1st Line and the display season whilst I was one of the rectification team back at base. After my first year I was allocated a place on the 1st line and once more my good friend Mick was my boss again. In fact there was a good contingent of ex 3(F) there mainly amongst the pilots Iain Huzzard, Tim Watts, Tim Miller and Henry de Courcier if memory serves my right.
We spent many happy hours together on the road and one or two more one-way interviews accompanied by Mick’s really unique take on the English language. I was known for being the perpetrator of more than one prank whilst we were away but one thing I did know that I would never ever be one up on him because he would always find a way of making me pay.
After Kemble we all moved to Scampton on our return from Cyprus where Mick saw fit to trust me with setting up the Flight Line whilst everyone else went on leave (me and the troops I was in charge of had already had ours prior to the Cyprus trip). It was the hardest and the easiest job I had ever had – hardest because there was some resentment that I had been chosen to lead the team as I was not top of the pecking order in terms of seniority – easiest because Mick had trusted me to do and there was no way I was going to fluff it.
Mick and I shared another common similarity; neither of us at that time had received our Long Service & Good Conduct medals, Mick however was properly recognised before he left the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team. His leaving do sadly was the last time I ever saw Mick.
To me he was a first rate boss, a man with a sense of humour unsurpassed by his peers or his masters and to me one of the best friends I ever had in the RAF. I think about him all the time when things go wrong and he helps me get out of sticky situations or if I want a gag to lift a difficult moment. Thanks Mick it was my very great honour to have known you.