We cleaned up the quarter in Wellington Square ready for marching out, we had expected a stringent inspection as the house had been recently refurbished but this turned out to be not the case, no damages or missing items were discovered and I handed the keys back to a very nice Families Officer. Clearing the camp was indeed a sad time for me, as the signatures gathered, my time on the camp diminished, finally I handed my RAF ID card in and headed for the main gates. I can remember having a conversation with the Education Officer by the gates, he wished me every success in civilian life then we parted company, he walked into the camp, I walked over to the old married quarters where our car was parked, it was so surreal. The drive to Bracebridge Heath seemed to take hours, I parked the car and walked into our new home, it was very sad times, we were officially civilians and a new and uncertain life was waiting for us. It was November 1985, Anne packed my uniform and RAF kit away for the very last time, this was a sad and strange experience, the last physical reminder of the RAF disappeared neatly packed into kit bags.
My last posting was RAF Waddington, shortly before my November 1985 demob date I had applied for quite a few local stores jobs, I never got any of them, their job descriptions were very far below what any RAF supplier would be expected to do. As an example, one job vacancy I remember applying for was working in a small to medium sized gas cylinder depot, the job entailed keeping the yard tidy, making sure the full and empty cylinders were segregated and loading and unloading lorry’s, I duly attended the interview, the person who interviewed me promised to let me know shortly if I had been successful, they never bothered to contact me, so I contacted them, I didn’t get the job. I had heard rumblings that some employers would not employ ex forces personnel, as the number of unsuccessful job applications rose, keeping an open mind became difficult to maintain. I became increasingly frustrated and concerned with the difficulty of securing any type of job in order to provide an income.
I had been posted to RAF St Athan for three years (1980 to 1983), without any doubt our best posting, the RAF school of motoring was there, and as part of my job had passed what was then called HGV 3. I did HGV 1 for my resettlement course at an organisation based close to Aintree race course, most of the instructors were Army Territorial Reservists. I passed my test, that type of licence was another opportunity to secure work, the pay was certainly higher than that offered for stores jobs.
I applied for a number of HGV 1 truck driving jobs with no success, most employers told me diplomatically to go and get some experience then come back, although disappointing was a fair comment.
I hired a large Renault Master van which had a useful side loading door, we moved our kit over in small loads then distributed it around the house where it was to be unpacked. The living room had polystyrene ceiling tiles which had been painted green, they had to go! The walls and doors were in a reasonable state of decoration which gave us a head start. We were so grateful for being allocated the house, however the awareness that I was to leave the RAF soon, that we would never move into another married quarter again became depressingly real. Although we were actually moving our kit into a new home, it just didn’t feel right, the new house signified the end of the RAF and the start of civilian life, the camp was around a mile away as the crow flies, we heard the noise from the aircraft engines just the same as before.
I had found the adjustment into civilian life difficult, the close knit RAF community was sadly history, our new neighbours kept themselves to themselves. Our house was semi-detached, our attached neighbours were ex RAF, he was a Chef, both he and his wife were very nice people. We had however felt like square pegs in round holes, I had the impression that some people resented the fact that an ex-serviceman and his family had been allocated a council house, maybe they felt we had jumped some queue, which we hadn’t.
Anne still went to the wives club in the thrift shop on Wednesday afternoons and no doubt met up with her mates and had a good chat over a cup of tea, or two. On the other hand, I had no inclination to make any effort to contact or speak to anybody whom I had served with, I felt awkward and felt I was no longer on the same level as them. Should I have bumped into somebody I knew it would have been awkward, the conversation would have run out of steam quickly.
Gareth and Tara attended the local school in the village and gradually we began to settle down, location wise we had the best of both worlds, Lincoln city was a few miles away in one direction, the lovely open countryside was minutes away in the other direction. We had a huge back garden divided in half, lawns up to the house and a vegetable area with some fruit trees in the lower half. The front garden was mainly made up of slabs and concrete areas with plants in them. For the first time ever we had a privet hedge as a front boundary, the hedge was overgrown in height and depth, I came up with a novel idea to get a straight line to cut, I placed an aerosol of white primer on the handle bars of a push bike and slowly wheeled it down the hedge as it sprayed a straight line on the leaves. After some hours of physical work, the hedge was an even shape albeit for the areas void of any greenery! After a good sweep up the job was completed then we took a few minutes to admire our handy work. We exchanged stories with our ex RAF neighbours which gave us a good feeling and a link back to the RAF.
Christmas was looming, I still hadn’t managed to get a job which had got me down, decorating the house and buying carpets hadn’t been cheap, our small nest egg had diminished. For some months we had been putting money down on a BMX bike in Halfords for Gareth’s main Christmas present, we had managed to get a slight reduction, in those days haggling sometimes paid off! Tara had a pram and a doll which came from a mail order catalogue, we had decided that some odds and ends would be more than enough for us, after all Christmas was always for the kids. Anne also went to toy parties held by one of her mates which accounted for some of the Christmas presents.
Persistence in the Job Centre eventually paid off, in the board marked transport I spotted a hand written card for a gritter driver, naturally it was a seasonal job, I had never driven a gritter before, it turned out the employer was an agency, the job was working for local Council. In those days before computers most documentation was handwritten, this was the case in the Job Centres, they had numerous boards with headings above them e.g. retail, transport, production etc, the hand whiten cards, roughly the size of postcards were either pinned onto the board or sat on a small shelf. If you were interested in a particular job you simply took the card to the person behind the counter. The Job centre person would look at the job details on the card and ask a series of questions before calling the prospective employer.
I went for the interview with the guy who owned and ran the agency, he was a decent bloke, laid back but nobody’s fool, I liked him, after a good chat I was offered the job which I gratefully accepted. I was very happy to get this job, it wasn’t permanent and last as long as the Council deemed fit pro rata to the weather. Outside his premises, my gloomy mood lifted, no more worrying about the prospects of going onto the dole, I was about to bring a wage home. We knew the job would end when the cold snap turned to spring, but we weren’t bothered.
I reported to the Council depot which was next to the River Witham, this was to get some experience driving and operating a gritter truck before the job actually started, this was good for me as it was all new to me. The guys in the depot were a good laugh, the gritters were bright yellow Magirus Deutz trucks which had longish bonnets compared to the flat fronted RAF Bedford’s, I spotted that they were all left-hand drive, this raised some concerns with me! The last left hand drive vehicle I had driven was about 1974, it was an old VW Beetle that somebody had brought back from Germany with them. First I had a briefing about operating the salt or grit part of the truck, I then ended up sat behind the wheel with one of the Council guys in the passenger seat, brave man! He told me that everybody who had never driven a left-hand drive vehicle before had thought they were close to the kerb when in fact they were not. I had owned a left-hand drive VW Beetle which Anne had learned to drive in; this was over ten years ago and naturally much smaller. I started the engine which had a lovely tone to it, they were V8 air cooled units, from the start I noticed it had a lot of power.
We drove around for a while, the guy gave me words of encouragement then asked me to stop and look out of the driver’s window; true to form, I felt I was close to the kerb, this proved not to be the case, the truck was some feet away, after a while I had got the hang of it and was signed off. The job was working through the night, from memory 2000hours to 0700hours, there was always two gritters which covered two different set routes, there were two other guys, one was a retired fire fighter, the other guy was an agency driver, we alternated to give us nights off. After we had picked up a gritter each from the Council depot we would drive a short distance to a yard where there was a salt heap, a loading shovel and a small building for us. Sometimes we would report at 2000hours and were told to grit all four routes, other times we were told to keep our eye on the weather. If it rained there was no need for any gritting unless it began to freeze, this did play my body clock up!
Keeping an eye on the weather involved driving around every hour or so to look at car roofs or any other signs of a freeze starting, when this was found we gritted all four routes. One full hopper was enough for one route to be gritted based on single button mode for normal salt dispensing, for seriously bad weather the double button mode was used which delivered more salt to the spreader, the hopper then needed loading more frequently. The hoppers had angled sides with mesh grids on top of them to stop any lumps or stones getting into the hopper body then onto the conveyor belt at the bottom which would cause damage. I had got well used to driving around with the amber lights flashing away and sometimes talking to the other guy on the radio. When the snows came the gritters were fitted with snow ploughs, this was an enjoyable new experience, snow falling, orange lights flashing and snow being moved off the roads by the plough.
One of the gritters had an issue with the heater controls, the hot air came from ducting over the exhaust manifolds and couldn’t be turned off. I just wore jeans and a tee shirt, my jacket was on the passenger seat, to regulate the heat I opened the window, anybody seeing me must have thought I had gone mad! The main area of attention was Lindum Road this was a steep hill leading to the top of Lincoln (as we called it), it was one of the major routes in and out of Lincoln, the County Hospital was located at the top of Lincoln. Just a few inches of snow was needed to cause problems for articulated vehicles, they lost traction on their drive axles, effectively stopping them which caused the traffic to back up. In severe snow conditions the gritters had chains fixed to the back of them which were used to tow ambulances up the hill, thankfully I never needed to do this.
I generally cycled back and fore work, when it snowed, I walked back and fore to work, I was a lot younger, fitter and streamlined in those days! Every Monday we went to the agency to hand my time sheet in, I was always paid in cash neatly contained within a small brown envelope for the previous week. We continued to shop in our favourite shops, we used Sainsburys which was close to Brayford Marina, we always treated ourselves to fresh cream doughnuts and whatever cakes the kids wanted and took in the view of the Marina.
Brant Road was slightly out of town, there was a good shopping centre there, we bought our freezer food in a great shop, most of the food was cheap brands which we found fine. We regularly bought strawberry mouses, artic rolls and filled pancakes which were the kids’ favourites. At that time, we bred hamsters for a bit of pin money, we sold them in a pet shop there, the lady in the shop had a large rabbit which had the run of the shop. Anne likes Kebabs, she bought many of them from the Kebab shop there, the owner had a brilliant memory, as soon as Anne got to the counter, he knew her name and what kebab she had ordered at her last visit.
We had a great Christmas the kids loved their presents; Anne was in her element cooking and fussing around in the kitchen which was always warm from the solid fuel stove in the corner. There was no central heating nor double glazing like Wellington square, the small solid fuel stove had one sole purpose which was heating the water, on a few occasions the pipes made a banging noise which meant we had to run some hot water off. We had a gas fire in the living room which worked well and kept us warm, the single glazed wooden windows let the warmth out and draughts in, we had hot oil radiators upstairs in the kid’s rooms. I had a novel idea to beat the draughts in Gareth’s bedroom, the worst effected room, a plastic decorating sheet was neatly folded around some wooden battens which were arranged and secured to cover a whole window, this worked brilliantly.
During one very cold winter the water froze in the downpipe from the bath, strip washes were the order of the day until the water in the downpipe thawed out! As the weather warmed up the downpipe thawed and bathing returned to normal. The need for gritting diminished then the job, as expected came to an end. The guy in the agency guaranteed me the same job later in the year which was good, we really needed a permanent job, or the next best thing work to fill in the gap until the next season of gritting started again.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for long, Anne and I were in the job centre when I found a card for a HGV 2 driver wanted to drive a tipper for a local aggregate company. The person in the job centre called the company and tried to sell me as best they could, after they mentioned I was ex RAF there was a silence, then the person wrote down an interview date and time. I couldn’t thank the person enough, we then made our way outside, maybe our fortunes were about to change. The interview was quite relaxed, the Transport Manager was a rugged ex RAF guy who was a lot older than me, he wore well-worn fleece lined orange leather drivers boots, jeans and a big jumper, he was a friendly guy who spoke with a watered down Northern accent. He told me the job wasn’t permanent, it would last for as long as the peak demand for aggregates in the construction trade lasted, then it would be the end of the job for me, just the few permanent drivers would remain. Generally the construction of houses and commercial buildings slows down as the winter approaches and picks up again the following spring.
He must have noticed that I wasn’t put off by this then he told me, “if the job suits you, it’s yours” I smiled and immediately shook his hand, I was to start the following Monday morning, we then spent around half an hour exchanging stories about our times in the RAF. Before I drove out of the quarry I spent a few minutes looking at the tipper trucks, they were mainly eight wheeler Scammel tippers with orange cabs and black roofs. Eight wheels meant, two steering axles with single wheels at the front and two axles with double wheels at the back, a six-wheeler had just the one steering axle on the front and two axles on the back.
Throughout our married time in the RAF we had amassed a wealth of fantastic and irreplaceable memories of the countless great times we had, the great characters we had met and sometimes living life to the fullest without two pennies to rub together.