LM(E) Peter Latham at work circa 1967.
At the tender age of 20 I found myself a Killick (Leading Rate) Badger on HMS EAGLE from Dec 1966 to middle of 1969, being the FWD CAT HOLDBACK NUMBER. During this period the catapults launched around 3500 Cabs (aircraft) off from the cold of the Arctic to the heat of the Far East. I joke to my wife, that at that young age I had one of the most powerful thumbs in the fleet; it was my last visual underneath the plane which determined thumbs up or thumbs down (launch or not to launch). Indeed, during the two times that I cancelled launches of vixens, I was sent up to Flyco for a "chuck up"(congratulations), as BIG 'F' (Commander Air) told me I had probably saved the lives of aircrew and aircraft. One time, by hand action, I summoned in the AEO to check something that I didn't like the look of. As he came running in under the starboard wing, the 'Jockey' selected Full Flap, which knocked the AEO out and I was hit by an unconscious tumbling body, which I dragged clear, before we carried on. (He made a full recovery and said cheers!) I always thought the observers were brave chaps to sit in that pokey little hole with just a window the size of a fag packet to look out of. As Holdback Number, I had many memories of being burnt, my socks used to go first - the itchy ankle was the first indicator. The other thing with Sea Vixens was the underside had lots of razor sharp fuel vents, which used to give us all nasty cuts. One unpleasant memory, and the reason I contacted www.seavixen.org, was the crash of April 1968. The Sea Vixen was 132 of 899 Sqdn. I distinctly remember eyeballing the Pilot as FDO wound him up for launch. Minutes later they were dead. Believe he followed his rockets in on the 'splash target' astern. I have never ever forgotten that and what we pulled out of the oggin (sea), and the impression of how we carried on flying. I told myself that "Yes, they will be missed" but we are a carrier, it’s what we do, we carry on in spite of what happened, not stopping because of it. So to 'keep on flying' has a deep meaning to me.
I just happen to play a bugle too. I know all the old calls. Every year I put on my old sailor suit and play The Last Post (Peter Latham seen later in life on YouTube) in our Church on Remembrance Sunday and those two aircrew are the chaps I think of during the silence. I've also attached a photo of myself under a Sea Vixen. It just doesn't convey the situation that much of the heat and noise, running between bombs and rockets etc. Wouldn't have missed it for the world I really felt part of something special. I really did not like putting the holdback on the COD Gannet. It was on the nose oleo two feet away from two huge contra rotating propellers."
Badgers were ships company compliment Mechanical Engineers (stokers) that would normally been working in the ships machinery spaces of the boiler and engine rooms. Those who worked the Flight Deck would be responsible for maintaining and operating Catapults, Arrester Gear, All Hydraulics, and Fuelling (AVCAT) systems. The Flight Deck was a very dangerous place to work. Jet Blast combined with a slippery deck. Jet engine Noise and the wind over the deck made it a place for only a special breed of young man.