Mick in about 1932

Mick was born in 1927 - narrowly missing All Fool's Day - and was four and a half years younger than his nearest sibling, Christine, so he was a rather solitary child. The only feature of his childhood in Derby that he ever mentioned was breeding rabbits to sell for meat. The photo shows that he enjoyed the puppies his mother, Hettie, bred, although as an adult he was always scathing about dogs of any kind. He went to Nottingham Road School in Derby and then, briefly, to Bemrose School.

When the family moved to Hadleigh in 1939 he went to Sudbury Grammar School, where he was teased about his accent. The boys called him 'Toothy' (not quite as imaginative as his son's school nickname of 'Sabre', as in sabre-toothed tiger) and nagged him to 'Say something, Toothy!' so that they could roll about with laughter. He also had a stutter - like his grandfather - but whether this was an added attraction for his tormentors or was caused by their teasing I don't know.

Mick in about 1939

Pond Hall in the war years was busily full of women and children so, as a 13 year old boy, Mick was enormously grateful for the substitute father and brother he found in his Uncle Frank: the only member of the family of whom Mick spoke really warmly - or, indeed, much at all. I hasten to add that this reflects on Mick's taciturnity rather than on anyone else: the Billing line seems to have had a streak of misanthropy in it.

In 1942 Mick went to RAF Halton as an RAF Apprentice, despite rows with his mother about leaving school early. At Halton he became friends with Ray Bowyer (later very well-known as Chaz Bowyer , author of many books about the RAF) and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. It was an unlikely friendship, Ray seeming rather like one of Raymond Chandler's characters, and Mick thinking life should be played like a Dornford Yates novel.

Chaz and Mick

After passing out of Halton in July 1945 Mick joined No 40 (BT) Squadron in Abu-sueir, Egypt. The squadron had only just converted from Wellingtons to Liberators which, in their turn, were replaced with Lancasters in early 1946. Mick was still a technical apprentice, however, not in pilot training. In the photo at bottom left of the first album page below he is 3rd from the right.

The squadron moved to Shallufa in 1946 and then Mick was posted to 128 Maintenance Unit in Abu-Sultan in June 1947. In June 1948 he moved to a less balmy posting at North Coates on the Lincolnshire coast, working with the bomb disposal wing.

1945 page from Mick's album 1946 page from Mick's album

After brief tours at Hornchurch and Kirton-in-Lindsey, Mick finally got the chance he'd joined the RAF for and began flying training in 1949. While training on the Percival Prentice (a "gentleman's aeroplane", according to his logbook) and then the Harvard, at RAF Tern Hill, near Market Drayton in Shropshire, he met Jean Morris, his future wife, at a dance in Hodnet. He went into Shrewsbury on the bus each weekend thereafter and within three weeks had proposed to her.

They became engaged and at Christmas 1949 Mick took Jean to Felixstowe to meet his mother, Hettie. Mick went to RAF Driffield in Yorkshire for Advanced Flying School and began training on the de Havilland Vampire I (a "gentle thoroughbred", this one) and the Meteor VII. He continued this training at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk, chiefly on the Vampire V, as the two stations exchanged roles.

Mick was then notified of his posting to 32 Squadron in Nicosia in the coming November. He and Jean married in October 1950 in Shrewsbury and after a brief honeymoon Mick had to depart for Cyprus. On reaching Nicosia Mick discovered that 32 Squadron was moving to Shallufa in Egypt in the New Year.

de Havilland Vampire 1951

Mick had a couple of hours of familiarisation flying in Nicosia and then it was straight into armament practice for the next month. By Christmas his "Air to Ground [was] poor" but on the whole "Sgt Billing [showed] promise of becoming an Above Average weapons pilot", according to OC 26 APS, Wng Cdr R Deacon Elliott.

32 squadron flew in formation from Nicosia to Shallufa on 4th January 1951. After an hour's famil flight it was concentrated formation practice and "Mach runs". The entry for 9th January, after noting that the flight was 1.05, has the comment "That 5 mins! Arrived at runway together with W.C. Flying [Wing Commander i/c Flying] in Meteor. Oh dear!"

Among the routine flying Mick was also a member of the squadron aerobatic team, which he seems to have enjoyed - in the picture he is on the far right. In the formation carpet flying photo the others are Sgt A B Dicken (top), Flt Lt C P Francis (left) and Plt Off J E Auten (right). Flying Carpets In contrast with that enjoyment was a one and half hour night flying sortie in November 1951, after which he commented "Local & QGH - bum QGH; turned off runway and the motor stopped. No fuel". (ie, he was given a wrong heading to steer and therefore nearly ran out of fuel on the way back to the airfield)

The squadron decamped to Nicosia for an air combat course for 2 weeks in December and then the next interesting entry is on 13 February 1952: "Scramble: Wing v Meteors & Lincolns .40 minutes. (And a boy!)" Which was his first child, John, having been born back in England.

No 26 APC in Nicosialow level

In late April 1952 the squadron re-equipped with Vampire 9s, perhaps at the same time as they moved to Deversoir. Shortly after this move Mick was able to take some leave back in England, during which he and Jean heard that they had been allocated a married quarter so she was able to join him in Egypt.

Mick with mates

By 18th May 1953 Mick was assessed as 'Above the Average' as first pilot, as pilot-navigator and in both RP and Air Gunnery. He had a total of 926 hours, mostly on Vampires. In August he was posted to 257 Squadron at RAF Wattisham, flying Meteor 8s. He seems to have enjoyed this aeroplane as much as the Vampire, judging by the photos in his logbook and he was assessed as Above the Average as a fighter pilot after 2 months on type in October 1953. (I note with disapproval that the arrival of his daughter in September did not merit a mention).

On 4th November he flew a "Refamiliarisation with spectacles" sortie, which seemed to go well enough, since he subsequently flew normal sorties; low flying, intercepts, formation flying and air tests - including one that marked his 1000th hour of flying. His 'Green' instrument rating was renewed in December 1953 but then on 23rd February 1954, after a 20 minute aerobatics sortie in the day, he cut short his night cross-country, landing after only 15 minutes.

In Jean's words: "he was night flying and suddenly didn't know which way up he was - completely disorientated - so he landed and then ran his aircraft off the taxi track into soft mud. Then he told the CO he wouldn't be flying again".

He implied, many years later, that this was the second occurrence of disorientation that he'd experienced since transferring to Meteors - and wearing spectacles. He was examined and interviewed over a period of several weeks, with varying degrees of sympathy or unpleasantness. He was particularly affronted at having to visit a psychiatrist.

Eventually Mick was grounded permanently but while waiting for the RAF's verdict on his prospects he and Jean left Wattisham in March 1954 and found a house to rent near Shrewsbury. Mick was posted initially to RAF Innsworth, near Gloucester, and then to RAF North Coates on the Lincolnshire coast, on a Bomb Disposal course.

It was at North Coates that Mick first met Bill Mercer (right), who was to become a lifelong friend and, in later years, his employer.

In January he had the option of leaving the RAF or signing on until he was 55 but, given his family circumstances and his lack of any civilian training, he didn't feel he had any choice but to sign on. The course at North Coates only lasted about five months, then in May 1955 the bomb disposal flight moved to Marham in Norfolk.

Mick and Jean enjoyed Marham - Mick liked his job as sergeant of the bomb disposal team, clearing the beach at Breast Sand of old bombs from the war. The team was reasonably autonomous, which suited him. Bill Mercer was in the team as a corporal as well as Ted Tout and Jim Read. There was also 'Uncle Tam Johnson' who was much older than the others and kept them amused with jokes and stories of his time as a bus conductor in Norwich.

Harley Davidson

Before too long Mick was posted again, this time to RAF Moreton Hall, which had been disused for some time. In the August of that year, with wife and children in a side car, Mick drove his Harley Davidson to Shrewsbury for a week's holiday. After a day-trip to the Welsh Marches they arrived back in Shrewsbury to find a telegram recalling Mick to duty as his bomb disposal Flight was on standby for Suez. The flight went to Yatesbury near Marlborough until November, taking it in turns to return home for very short weekends.

In November the flight departed, travelling in Shackletons to Malta and then in HMS Ocean to Egypt. Having got there they were sent to clear the airfield of explosive litter: unexploded bombs and shells. Jean writes; "When that was done the Force Commander wanted them to clear the beach of landmines so the chaps could have a swim but Fenton [the CO] turned up trumps and backed the blokes, saying “Not bloody likely!” – he was sent home in disgrace for that".

The Bond MkD at Kirkham

The flight returned home on Christmas Eve and in February 1957 Mick was posted to Kirkham, near Blackpool, to be an instructor. The photo shows the Bond Mk D that Mick bought at this point as a replacement for the Harley Davidson and sidecar, as he was fed up with being out in the weather while the family luxuriated inside.

After less than a year he was sent to Filton in Bristol on a three month Bloodhound missile course, after which he was posted to Yatesbury in Wiltshire and moved the family into a hiring in Marlborough. Yatesbury bloodhound

While at Yatesbury Mick passed his Chief Technician board and also had been busy supervising the erection of a Bloodhound missile at the camp entrance. "His CO was so pleased with this he recommended him for a commission" (Jean) so in May 1959 he went to the Officer Cadet Training Unit in Jurby on the Isle of Man.

Calshot caravan 1959

The day after passing out Mick went to join his bomb disposal flight at Calshot, near Southampton. Initially he hired a caravan but before too long a quarter became available. Calshot had been a flying boat station and a couple of Princess flying boats were still standing there under covers. Mick had a particular affection for these old stars.

Mick and Tony Attrill 1961

In September 1960 he was posted to RAF Goldsborough as officer commanding (to give an idea of the size of this command, there was only one officer's quarter) where, with the children stashed away at a prep school, he and Jean enjoyed an active social life. This included visits to and from Tony Attrill (pictured, right, with Mick in 1961) and his wife, Gerry. Tony had been on Mick's course at Jurby and the two couples hit it off very well, sharing an interest in visiting ancient monuments and boozy dinner parties.

After a very snowy winter and one summer on the Yorkshire moors Mick received his next posting, which was to RAF Changi in Singapore.

This was a dream posting for all the family and Mick's job was quite interesting, too, including the yearly task of choreographing the station fireworks display. The armoury at RAF Changi

There was a hectic social life and Mick also played squash and water-skied, soon becoming one of the duty ski-boat drivers. Fancy Dress 1963 In the fancy dress party photo Mick is at the far left and Jean is third from the left.