A FORMER sailor and radar expert has spoken of the huge changes in the navy after working for more than 50 years at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall.

Dave Goodrum, 72 and from Falmouth, has now retired after 34 years in the Royal Navy and 22 years with company Lockheed Martin – spending almost his entire career at the air station at Helston.

“I’ve only ever had two jobs in my life, the navy and Lockheed Martin, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both of them,” he said.

Mr Goodrum was born the same year Culdrose was commissioned, 1947. As a ten-year-old boy in 1957, he was thrilled to visit Culdrose’s Air Day and sit in the cockpit of an aeroplane. His parents moved to Helston a couple of years later and then, at the age of sixteen, he made up his mind to join the navy.

This is The West Country:

Dave Goodrum, aged 10, at the 1957 RNAS Culdrose Air Day. Picture: Dave Goodrum

“My brother-in-law was a petty officer in the navy and I just always wanted to join too,” he said. “He said that if I was going to join, I should become an artificer apprentice on a five-year apprenticeship to learn all the skills. So that’s what I did.”

Soon Mr Goodrum found himself selected for the Fleet Air Arm and was learning basic engineering at HMS Fisguard, near Torpoint.

“I remember they picked us up from Plymouth station and took us across the Torpoint ferry to the base. The first thing they did was pay us - 10 shillings I think - which was a momentous amount of money in those days. It was equivalent to taking the Queen’s shilling, a tradition which goes back to Napoleonic times. They paid us £5 a fortnight at HMS Fisguard, although they deducted the cost of a haircut every two weeks.”

In 1967, Mr Goodrum was posted back to his hometown, to Culdrose. Although his family lived in Helston, he had to live ‘aboard’ the air station rather than visit them ‘ashore’, as they say in the navy. He was only allowed to visit the town only if he was wearing his full naval uniform.

This is The West Country:

The old Culdrose parade ground and Seahawk Club hall (top left) pictured in 1967. Picture: Royal Navy

By now a radio electrical artificer, specialising in repairing radios and radar equipment, Mr Goodrum was assigned to 706 Naval Air Squadron - a giant by today’s standards with up to 20 Wessex and Wasp helicopters.

After a spell away at HMS Daedelas, near Portsmouth, to complete his training, the now promoted Petty Officer Goodrum was back in Culdrose when he saw the first Sea King helicopters delivered in 1964.

Culdrose was to play an even more significant role for Mr Goodrum when he met his future wife, Melva, at a dance at the former Seahawk Club. The couple now have four children. The old club has however long since gone, it was demolished to make way for the station’s gym and sports centre.

In 1969, Mr Goodrum took part in a memorable 13-month tour to the exotic far east, when he joined the frigate HMS Argonaut, with the support crew for its Wasp helicopter.

“We spent three weeks blockading oil supplies into Rhodesia,” he said. “That was called the Beira Patrol, where the UN had imposed sanctions on Rhodesia.

“The only mail from home was dropped by a Shackleton [aeroplane]. They would drop a canister into the sea about a quarter of a mile away and the ship’s boat would go and fish it out. We didn’t lose any mail, although we came close.

“We then went on to Singapore and Hong Kong. The Vietnam War was still on at that time and we actually got quite close and I remember seeing the American aircraft carriers operating off the coast.”

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The old road to St Keverne, pictured here in 1982, used to cut across RNAS Culdrose. Traffic had to be stopped if aircraft were being moved from the hangers to the airfield. The road is now diverted around the station. Picture: Royal Navy

He also saw Australia and Japan before his return to Culdrose in 1972 where he was promoted to chief petty officer. Mr Goodrum served on the aircraft carriers HMS Hermes, HMS Illustrious, HMS Invincible and HMS Bulwark, which infamously caught fire while on tour to America in 1980.

“It was about 5am and we were moored by the dockside at Philadelphia when one of the boilers flashed and caught fire. We were sinking,” Mr Goodrum said.

“We evacuated the ship on to the dockside and it was about minus five degrees. We got all the aircraft out of the hanger and we were fighting the fire using AFFF – which was the foam stuff you get on ships. The American fire service then turned up with what seemed like the world’s supply of AFFF and that saved the ship.”

In 1997, Mr Goodrum left the navy and joined the aerospace company Lockheed Martin, as a quality assurance manager working on the long-term maintenance of helicopter systems at Culdrose. A year later, he saw the first Merlin helicopter came to Culdrose for trials, which would ultimately replace the Sea Kings entirely by 2018.

This is The West Country:

Petty Officer Dave Goodrum (centre on the rear landing gear) relaxes with his mates with their Wasp helicopter aboard HMS Argonaut. Picture: Dave Goodrum

Looking back at his time, he said: “One really big difference was from the late 1970s and through to the 1990s, you went from a service where 70 per cent of the sailors lived onboard, in messes in the camp, to them instead having their own houses and living ashore.

“There were only married people living ashore in the married quarters and very few owned their own homes. I used to be in a large mess called Albermarle, built from buildings they had in the Second World War. There were probably thirty of us at mess [sleeping quarters] – now you have one person in their own room.

“The Wrens had a separate area. They used to have their own compound, surrounded by barbed wire and a guard, that no-one was allowed there. It used to be where the wardroom is now.

This is The West Country:

Dave Goodrum, who has retired after more than 50 years working at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose. Picture: Dave Gallagher/Royal Navy

“Another big change is that, for donkey’s years, the main defence perimeter wire was just three single strands of wire, and we didn’t have a security problem. We occasionally used to have the odd visitor let his dog run onto the airfield, but that was never a problem as the naval police patrol had bigger dogs.

“I suppose, when I joined, the navy was more disciplined. Today, there isn’t the tremendous gulf that used to exist between rates, senior rates and officers.

“For the first five or six years of my naval career, you could only go ashore in your naval uniform. The other big change was we used to have a big parade called Divisions, every couple of weeks or once a month at least. You don’t see that anymore.

“I think Culdrose has always been a good ship. This has always been a happy airfield without a doubt.”