It has happened again! After a 2 year interregnum our sadly-depleted Band of Brothers, just like the Muslim Hajj to Mecca, and the seasonal migration of many birds, heeded the call and made our way to our chosen watering-hole for a weekend of nostalgia and bonhomie. After the enforced break in our annual ritual it was a blessed relief to see normal service resumed once again. No-one was more pleased than I was to once again meet old friends and yet I confess I approached the weekend with a mixture of anticipation coupled with a measure of some disquiet. Perhaps I had better explain.
First anticipation. The reunion weekend is – by its very nature – an annual affair. It therefore comes out of the blue to impact on our normal everyday, routine (and dare I say, dull?) lives, and the impression it makes is all the more impactful for that. Within minutes after my arrival at our hotel I was once again overcome by memories of those days of our youth and life at AATS.
What a different world we lived in those days. The 1950’s began with a new young queen on the throne; the conquest of Everest; and the Festival of Britain as the old country awoke from the conflict of war and ushered in a new era of optimism and progress. On top of that we ‘sprogs’ assembled at RAF Credenhill to become Apprentices. What a disparate group we were, culled from all corners of the nation and thrown together in our wooden huts, a veritable United Nations of English language accents, probably all wondering what we had got ourselves into. Remarkably we soon got to know each other and learned how to counter adversity with humour. There was a lot of humour.
At the end of our training we slow-marched through the ranks and – with barely disguised excitement – headed off for our first posting in our chosen Service. Now in case you think from my earlier remarks about Great Britain that I was nothing more than a naïve and starry-eyed youth concerning my nation’s place in the world, let me say straight away that England was far from perfect in those days but there nevertheless remained aspects of our nation that we could justifiably take pride in, and the RAF we were about to join was just such a feature. In early 1958 I think it is fair to say we were proud of our Service and – thanks to the AATS – we all felt just that little bit ‘special’. The Jesuits famously claimed they could win the allegiance of a child if they had them in their care 7 years. The AATS and the RAF produced much the same degree of patriotism and loyalty in just 18 months!
The Reunion then met all my expectations. To meet all those young men once again and recall their exciting and interesting careers always leaves me feeling quite humble. In comparison mine was pretty humdrum and lacking in significant achievement, but I thoroughly enjoyed it before opting for an alternative career at the 12 year point. I sometimes wonder what I am doing in their company on these occasions until I remember that my Service Number entitles me to call them friends and colleagues.
Now to the disquiet. This arises from my inherent reservation about the overt demonstration of emotion. I think it is something to do with being English, and there is no denying that that is how I see myself. Although adopted as an young orphan – thereby casting some doubt about my lineage – nevertheless as G&S
wrote, “For in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations” I remain an Englishman – albeit an old and cynical specimen. Consequently I tend to be averse to displaying my innermost feelings – call it stiff upper lip syndrome if you like – but there it is. For example, I know I never tell my wife often enough that I
love her, and that the time is coming when it will be too late to amend that omission, and yet ………..