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John George
Rushden Echo and Argus, 18th June 1954, transcribed by Jim Hollis
John George on duty In his bed
John George of Rushden on duty on the flight deck of the Illustrious, and in his hammock.

This ‘Teddy Boy’ does a man-sized job

Want to meet a real “Teddy Boy?”  He is fresh-faced 20-year-old John George, of Rushden – but he is far from being one of those draped-shaped gentlemen who lounge about the streets.

They call him a “Teddy Boy” because of the clothes he wears.  But there the similarity ends, for he is doing a man-sized job on board the aircraft carrier Illustrious.

John, whose home is at 99 Westfield Avenue, Rushden, is up at six o’clock most mornings, jumping from his hammock slung in the naval airmen’s mess, right “forrad” in the 28,000-ton ship.

By 7.30 he is hard at work garbed in clothes that look like a mixture of a loose boiler suit, a bather’s cap, and a circus clown’s boots.  The suit protects him from the high wind that zips across the flight deck – wind that is vital to flying, giving lift and speed to the aircraft.

The cap is the only type of headgear allowed.  Other caps and hats have to be taken off.  They can damage aircraft and cause accidents if flung against aircraft by a wind so strong that a 16st. man has difficulty in walking about.

John, a Naval airman with 2½years’ service, is technically a “hookman.”  This week on board the ship I saw exactly what this work entailed.

Firefly aircraft being piloted by young men polishing off their training, circled the ship, making left hand approaches to the stern, and keeping a constant watch on “the batsman.”

Time is vital

With a tennis racquet shaped piece of wood in each hand, the “batsman” directs the planes in up……down……and on to the deck.  A hook trailing from the plane fastens on one of the nine wires lying across the deck, and the firefly and pilot are jolted to a standstill.

Quick as a flash, John scrambles from his position on the very edge of the deck and slips the wire from the hook.

In front of the aircraft another airman watches, and immediately he is sure the wire is free, beckons the pilot forward. All this happens in a matter of seconds – so quickly, in fact, that occasionally the pilot gives the engine the gun to taxi forward before John is back in his position.

It all sounds very simple… but one fumble from John and an aircraft following the first one down has to be waved off and come round again for another landing.

In action this would mean that vital time was being wasted in getting the planes aboard.  The ship would be in danger from submarines, for while the aircraft are landing a steady course into the wind has to be maintained.

While flying weather is good John’s hours are long – generally from dawn until nearly dusk. It’s an outdoor life all right, like the one he left on a Wymington farm. But there any comparison ends.  For John did not travel far on the farm.  That’s why he joined the Navy – to see the world.

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