Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Condor Troop 1973

14th July - 25th August 1973

Castletown, Caithness.

14th & 15th July
Prepare vehicles, personal kit and Equipment.

16th July
A 9 hour drive up country to Castletown, set-up tents in a field, next to the main road, just inside the Farmers gate. That night we were pestered by cows coming up to the tents.

17th July
Troop built a fence aroundc the camp, with second Farmers gate, to prevent the cows getting out and to prevent the beasts pestering us. They soon lost interest, but our cook kept eyeing them, fresh meat.
To be sure, we also set up an electric wire around the fence, so they did not push the fence over.

Troop had 3 Sites to clear, these had WW2 Dragons teeth on the beaches, concrete blocks and a few metal objects, plus a Pill box dug into the Cliff face. The Cliff was sheer all along the coast, with only a few ways down to the beach.
We had to cover the three areas, spread over nearly 30 miles, to remove these WW2 obstacles.

Troop Officer and Staff Sergeant recced the Sites.
1st Site - Castletown - 80 x Concrete Blocks/20 Dragon Teeth/Pill Box in Cliff.
2nd Site - Wick - 700 Concrete Blocks/100 Dragon Teeth.
3rd Site - John-O-Groats - 800 Concrete Blocks/150 Dragon Teeth.

17th - 18th July
Troop Fitter and Clerk sent to Rosyth Dockyard, to collect Explosives in 3 tonner.
20lbs of High Explosive
200lbs of Plastic Explosives

19th July
Tipper working flat out, collecting back-fill from the local quarry (half a mile away), to empty into the large crater, where the Pill box used to be.
Muirhill waded out onto the beach, lifting dragon teeth into his bucket, four at a time, then trundling back to a storage area.
Troop Fitter is Duty Driver (t-total), drove lads into Thurso for a drink, from now on, lads will go into Thurso 3 times a week, plus using the local pub a mile away.

The Dragons Teeth were lifted out by the Muirhill, placed in storage area, then loaded into Tipper for disposal at Wick Harbour - new retaining wall.

Two teams were formed up:

Clean-up Team
Muirhill digger
Two Field "Doggies"

Explosive Team
Explosive Handler - Blue Fenwick
3 Tonner
Two Field "Doggies"

The rest of the troop moved from site-to-site, as required for work.

To lift the Dragon teeth, Ron Gould had to time his runs along the beach, or he would be cut-off by the incoming tide.
Wick complained about the Dragon Teeth being dirty, so Ron had to slightly open his bucket, drive into the sea slightly and lifting his bucket up and down in the sea, wash the dragon teeth. On a few times, Ron drove over buried sheep in the sand, causing them to explode, the stench was awful. It is thought these creatures had died of Fott & Mouth, then buried under the rarely used beach, needless to say, the Farmers were not pleased about our "finds".

The large Concrete Blocks could not be moved by the Muirhill, so the Compressor (trailer mounted) was backed up to the edge of the Cliff and hoses trailed down the cliff face. An extra 10 feet was required, but as we had no spare air pipes, the trailer would have to be backed out onto a Spur, with only an inch to spare on each side. The spur was considered to be safe for the weight, but no gaurentee.
The trailer was an 'A' frame, with front steering wheels, making it difficult to reverse. A volunteer was called for from the drivers and as usual, the Troop Fitter was "pushed" forwards.
Slowly, inch by painful inch, the trailer moved back the extra distance, onto the Spur.
The Troop Fitter was responsible for operating the Compressor, but had to climb along the trailer, to start or service it.

The large blocks had to have holes drilled into it, then explosives packed in the holes and blown-up, into manageable pieces. The first attempt was a disaster, Blue used 1.5lbs of high explosives, instead of 1.5 ounces of explosives. This resulted in the beach being littered with lumps of concrete.
That night, the lads went to the local pub, only to be refused service, a lump of concrete, nearly a foot square, had crashed through the pub roof, which was a mile away from the explosion.
Even with the correct explosives, each Block exploded left a mess, which had to be cleared by the Muirhill, un-covering more dead sheep.

Only once did Ron make a pure bad judgement, thought he could lift the last set of Dragon teeth, before the tide turned. He lifted the Dragon teeth, proceeded to wash them, then realised the tide had overtaken him. Dropping the Dragon teeth, he raced through the fast incoming tide, just reaching his escape point, before having to swim for it.

The Cook remained in the Field, usually with a driver to collect stores, or deliver meals to the sites. The cook was using Compo rations and required fresh vegetables from the village each day.
The diet was transformed by our troop poachers - Arnie Dousse and Jock-the-Doc, who caught fresh Salmon from the near-by river, using one of two methods: Trailing electric wires across the river and hooking them up to a vehicle Battery, or using Plastic Explosive. Blue Fenwick would go out and catch Rabbits or other game.

The field was actually a dis-used Bomber Airfield from WW2, it did not stop a light single engined Cessna aircraft from landing, he wanted to see what was going on. When he went to leave, his battery was too low to start the engine, troop drivers rigged up a 'jury' rig from vehicles and slave started the aircraft.

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