Taff’s biography

Part 2   RAF

After basic training Taff settled on a trade in the RAF. He had proved adept at understanding the complex technical work involved in maintaining Radar equipment and in 1948 he became a maintenance fitter. At this time the RAF had developed the GCA (Ground Control Approach) landing aid and Taff became an expert on the system.

That same year the geopolitical situation in Europe created the first opportunity for Taff to use his new skills. The Soviet Union blockaded the Allied sectors of Berlin and no access was possible by land, so Berlin had to be supplied by air. The Berlin Airlift became the first post war test of resolve for the West and GCA became a critical element in the logistical effort. Taff spent 2½ years based at RAF Gatow in Berlin, undertaking maintenance operations with No5 GCA Unit.

No5 GCA Gatow, Berlin 1948 (Taff second left)

 

Taff always enjoyed singing - he was a member of a choir as a boy in Cymmer. In Berlin he had the opportunity to go to the Opera and this further developed his love of classical music. 

During the time Taff was in Berlin, he was regularly writing to the daughter of the local butcher in Raglan and seeing her when visiting home. Marjorie Spencer was the middle of three children. Her father, Francis, was a strong personality and he and Marjorie frequently rowed. Francis was not particularly enamoured with the idea of Taff as a prospect for his daughter, and he memorably told Marjorie around the time of their wedding “You’ve made your bed and from now on you will have to lie in it!"

 

Marge and Taff... Early days

 

 After the Korean War and Berlin Airlift the United Kingdom determined that it urgently needed to increase its fighting capability and decided that part of this approach required an increase in the number of pilots in the RAF. Candidates were sought. Taff had the necessary qualifications and immediately applied. To his dismay however, his Wing Commander rejected his application on the grounds that he was too useful in his current role. When hearing of the rejection, Taff's Squadron Leader told him to reapply. The Squadron Leader then by-passed the blocking Wing Commander by taking the application straight to the Station Commander. Taff was accepted this time. He often told this tale and one wonders how things would have turned out had the Squadron Leader not intervened and the second application not been submitted!

Several significant events happened over the next couple of months. Firstly, as part of his promotion Taff became a Commissioned Officer and second, he was accepted onto a pilot training course taking place in Gimli, Canada.

He was given very little notice and was due to leave in early September 1952 for nine months. Marge and he decided that they would get married before he left. They had one week to get everything arranged and the only available time was very early in the morning of the 1st September 1952 in Raglan Church. So Marge and Terry began their 61-year marriage with nine months of separation.

 

1st September 1952. L to R (Spencer) Joyce, Francis, Graham, Ann, Unknown Guest. Marge and Taff. The Rev Duck, Unknown Best Man, (Williams) Maud, Harry, Joyce. (Note the long shadows - the wedding took place very early in the morning)

 

Taff’s flying skill rapidly became apparent, with a swift progression to flying Canberras on 61 Sqn from RAF Upwood in the early 50s and then on Vulcans at RAF Finningly and RAF Waddington. He and Marge loved the life in the RAF, both (but Marge especially) were gregarious and sociable and were ideal material for the Officers Mess. They swiftly made friendships that lasted a lifetime. The Tallis’s, the Wallbanks, the Shepphards and the Whitelaws all became fixtures in their family life. 

In December 1955 the family expanded with the arrival of Lynne, followed in 1958 by Gareth.

This part of Taff’s RAF life came to an end in July 1964, when, in an incomprehensible (to this eye) change it was decided that Taff should be assigned to an unaccompanied (i.e. no families allowed) Ground Operations role in Northern Borneo for a year. Taff felt he had no option but to obey orders.

This gives an interesting insight to Taff’s commitment to the RAF. Subsequently, when asked, he always described this as an intrinsic part of the RAF deal. The RAF gave him huge opportunities and allowed him to fulfil his lifetime’s dreams of flying. This was the other side of the coin, the quid pro quo.

Marge though was very upset by the decision. Particularly when it became apparent that she would no longer be allowed to continue living in their married quarter while Taff was away. As he was no longer a member of a squadron based at Waddington there was no obligation to provide accommodation for his family. So, while Taff left for Kuching in Borneo, Marge departed for Monmouth with Lynne and Gareth, to live back with her parents.

In Borneo, living in straw-roofed basha, Taff kept himself busy, amongst other things by filming the local flora and fauna on a cine camera he took with him. He also took every opportunity to fly with the Whirlwind helicopters who were supplying the troops involved in the operations at the time. On one sortie he wedged himself behind the pilots while they flew the helicopter at low level along a river course to avoid small arms fire and potential missile attacks. It was just as well Marge only saw the footage when he was safely back home.  (See the Gallery page for a film about the footage).

Only four months into the deployment however, a shaving cut became infected, exacerbated by the rubbing of his flying helmet. Finally it turned into a rodent ulcer and he was sent back to the UK for treatment. After a significant amount of surgery it was determined that his time in Borneo was over. He was posted to Lyneham to fly Comets. During this time, more enduring friendships developed, with John and Honor Tulip and Red and Pam Sankey.

In 1966 Taff was posted to RAF Brize Norton and onto the first training course being run to train pilots for the RAF's newest big jet, the VC10. The satellite village of Carterton became the base for the rest of Taff and Marge’s life together. They bought their first house in the village after the shortage of married quarters made it the only practicable option, and Taff settled into flying the VC10. He started as the co-pilot to Wg Cdr Mike Beavis and later ascended to the very top of the flying tree. He retired from the RAF as the Senior Pilot on the Examining Unit at RAF Upavon, above which there was no flying role to which he could aspire.

Painting of Taff and Mike Beavis in the cockpit of the VC10 approaching Kai Tak airport, Hong Kong

Family life at this time had changed significantly as Taff’s primary role was to fly the VC10s around the world, effectively keeping the UKs military bases overseas manned. “The Route” as it was called included stops at Cyprus, Bahrain, Gan in the Maldive Islands, Singapore and Hong Kong. Each of these trips would last a fortnight and he would normally do one a month.

"The Ten" possibly Taff's favourite aircraft

Carterton was home not only to RAF personnel. Marge and Taff swiftly made good friends in the village, with Bill and Barbara Brooks especially, being very close. Meanwhile from the RAF Al and Kath Shepphard and Margaret and Tommy Thompson became de facto members of the Williams family. All three couples looked out for the children during Taff’s absences and were the most wonderful friends and companions to both Taff and Marge for the rest of their lives.