Life in a Balloon Crew

"When I first found I was to be posted to the Parachute Balloon Training Company, all manner of thoughts entered my mind about the type of work I should be expected to do. I had even heard that blowing up toy balloons to amuse the married families' children at garden parties was not outside the range of our activities.

On arrival at the Company's base at Cardington, Bedfordshire (of R101 fame) I found that I had to take a three-month course before I could be classified as a balloon operator. The course consisted of many subjects, all in connection with balloons. Here are a few of them - rope and wire splicing, knots, winch driving and maintenance, balloon inflation and deflation, and hydrogen handling. After three months had elapsed, we trainees were, thanks to the able tuition of the RAF Balloon Unit instructors, passed as qualified balloon operators.

Next came my first commitment and the crew to which I was attached was being sent to Edinburgh to enable troops of the 15th (Scottish) Bn. TA to carry out continuation parachute training.

Throughout the year this Company, which consists of five crews, must cope with commitments in almost every county of England, Scotland and Wales. When a crew leaves Cardington it must convey all necessary equipment by road to whatever destination is stated in the relevant movement order and the Company motto "When in doubt brew up" is to the fore during many a long trip.

Upon arrival at the destination the crew must immediately lay the balloon bed at a suitable site chosen by the crew sergeant. This is not such an easy matter as it sounds, because laying the bed involves sinking by hand 57 x 4ft. 6 ins. screw pickets and laying 22 x 200 lb. concrete blocks in position. The weather is a controlling factor; occasions have arisen where, after laying the bed, the site has had to be moved because rain has made the ground unsuitable. More frequently, a strong wind has prevented parachuting and a balloon can be inflated for several days, waiting for the wind to drop.

Once the balloon is inflated, a day and night picquet must be maintained and the crew are always on hand and are frequently turned out to "turn the balloon into wind," etc.

Most of the times on detachment a crew lives under canvas and must work in all conditions; it is not uncommon to see several of the crew drying out after a rain storm. However, the work must continue and by good spirits and comradeship the work is done and done well."  

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