Three Cheers For The Man On The Ground

Wherever you walk, you will hear people talk,
of the men who go up in the air,
of the daredevil way, they go into the fray;
Facing death without turning a hair.

They'll raise a big cheer and buy lots of beer,
for the pilot who's come home on leave,
but they don't give a jigger, for a flight mech or rigger,
with nothing but "props" on his sleeve.

They just say "Nice day" - and then turn away,
with never a mention of praise,
for the poor bloody erk, who does all the work,
and just orders his own beer - and pays !

They've never been told, of the hours in the cold,
that he spends sealing Germany's fate,
how he works on a kite, till all hours of the night,
and then turns up next morning at eight.

He gets no rake-off, for working 'til take-off,
or helping the aircrew prepare,
but whenever there's trouble - it's "Quick at the double",
the man on the ground must be there.

Each flying crew, could confirm it as true,
that they know what this man's really worth,
they know that he's part of the RAF's heart,
even though he stays close to the earth.

He doesn't want glory, but please tell his story,
spread a little of his fame around,
He's just one of a few - so give him his due,
and "Three Cheers for the man on the ground

Flight Mechanic E Sykes (1942).
The aircrews of the mighty bombers of Bomber Command were an important part of the hammer that struck out against the Axis Powers. Overcoming the fear and hardships of the flights over the Fortress Europe, time and time again. Their bravery and devotion to duty was plain for all to see. The newspapers and dispatches retold their exploits to the world at war.

Behind the scenes and not always fully rewarded for the work they did were the groundcrew members. Who spent loving care on their aircraft, for the aircrews only borrowed the aircraft, the groundcrew were its sole owners in their own eyes. It was also these men of the various trades who watched the takeoffs and remembered past crews who they had also watched leave and failed to return. The deep emotions that sunk into these men as they watched and realized that their ship and crew were not among those that had returned to base.

Then there could be the shock and horror of helping medicals with removing the wounded and dead from the aircraft, men you knew and now the best you could do was help carry them out of aircraft. And then the scene in the day light as they groundcrew returned to the bomber to start the repairs and the cleanup.

Each flight would have a Flight Sergeant in charge of 10 or so aircraft, the crew of an aircraft was headed by a Sergeant or Acting Sergeant, usually a Corporal . Then there were riggers, fitters, armourers, instrument technicians, radar technicians, radio Technicians and those who fueled the aircraft.
Riggers were responsible for the airframe and related parts, gaining their name from the original riggers on WWI bi-planes who worked on the cables, turnbuckles and wooden struts to “tune” the airframe. Fitters, some times nick named “engine bangers” amongst other things were responsible for engines and other mechanical components. Aircraft inspection would include checking all engine controls from cockpit to the engines themselves, all hydraulics and pneumatics all electrical systems, navigation and communication systems, lights, brakes and more items which had specific checks based on the number of hours of use on that part. The aircrew also would supply a list of items they wanted checked from previous flight. Their would be engine checks while running up the engines on the ground to check for leaks, sticking valves, burning oil, and checking the output of the electrical generating device the magneto. Oxygen systems, gun turret operation and intercoms were all essential to the safe operation of the aircraft while in the air.

The most common rank for the trades was LAC Leading Aircraftman, and never ever Aircraftsman, it was Aircraftman. LAC was not really a rank in the true sense, they had no powers of discipline over subordinates. LAC was a badge of accomplishment for having completed their trade training with high marks. The first true rank would be Corporal.

The term Erks which seemed to come from RAF slang that flowed over to other airforces and was a general term to cover those below Corporal. The Erks plied their trades out in the open air, hangers were for longer overhauls. No matter what the weather was like the trades worked at repairing, tuning and testing engines or instruments, hydraulics, guns airframe repairs or modifications. It was not a glamorous job in the least, the work went on until the job was done no matter how tired, cold or wet you were. Depending on a number of things outside of Erks control they could get a 48 hour pass every month or on occasion a leave.

Always putting their best work into the job at hand to do their part to bring the crews home safely. The groundcrew members were not except from the harms of war or accidents which killed and injured many in their number. Climbing up slippery wet or icy scaffolding, crawling across wings and fuselages under these same slippery conditions sometimes let to serious mishaps. Even in the best attempts to work safely, working with heavy items such as engines, wheels or being in the wrong place could bring about deadly consequences. The cold and wet would also take their toll on the health of the tradesmen too devoted to the job not to continue when they should have been hospitalized.

For the most part the aircrews respected the work that the crews put in to keep the aircraft in top form. Sometimes it was a simple “well done” to the Sergeant in charge from the officer signing off on the Form 700, the official form returning the aircraft to the aircrew for their journey into the hell over of the Fortress Europe.