Royal Air Force
Administrative Apprentices Association

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Ah Yes, I Remember It Well! – Terry Waine (35th)

I was in the Royal Air Force for nine years, including my apprenticeship, when I purchased my discharge.
I have no idea which Teacher at my school thought a period of service in HM Forces might be good for me. I first visited a Royal Naval base where I was shown a film of a former Artificer Apprentice. There was a man in a white vest with oil stains, spanner in hand, sweat on his brow, with the view and noise from pistons in a ship’s engine room, and steam all around. This was definitely not me! My trip to a Royal Air Force base for an Administrative Apprentice interview was more civilised. Another mystery was who thought I would be a suitable Pay Accountant.

In September 1958 I arrived at RAF Herford to be greeted by wooden barracks, and black stoves. I was part of the 35th Entry, the biggest as we numbered 126. We also probably held the record for the highest cull rate as 65 passed out! The horror story continued finding out that it was like a public school with fagging (not onerous as there were many ‘fags’ to a senior entry), beds with sleeping bodies tipped up against the wall at mid-night, and the threat of cold baths. I then learnt that two terms of failure at examinations could result in being ‘turfed’ off the course to Boy Entrant, man service, or civilian life.

Things improved vastly when the whole school was transferred to a place called Bircham Newton, in the middle of nowhere, in Norfolk. There were brick buildings! Central heating! I was no longer Junior Entry! The nearest village was Docking, with the tales of Docking Lil who was supposedly the answer to every apprentice’s dream! There was also the apprentice song, ‘She wore a yellow ribbon’, with revised verses which included words such as ‘perambulator’ and ‘shotgun’. I remember there were three Pay Accountants I was closer to than the others. We were 593632 Terry Tyers, 593633 Terry Waine, 593634 Dave Williams, and a lad from Newcastle called Keith Pattinson. Dave was more mature and had a presence . He became Flight Sergeant Apprentice for the entry. For the first time in my life, I ‘knuckled’ down, and actually worked at my studies.

One part of the Apprentice summer camp in Yorkshire were the ‘hikes’ on two consecutive days that left me with blisters on my feet. On the second day a lady came out of her house and asked my group whether we would like tea and biscuits. I still remember with gratitude the kindness of that woman. I met a girl in Whitby who lived in Staithes, and I subsequently visited her a couple of times. As a Southern boy Sunday lunch was interesting! A dinner plate was placed in front of me, and on it was a Yorkshire pudding and gravy. The expression on my face caused amusement to the other diners as I looked for the beef, roast potatoes and vegetables!

When I passed out, I was posted to RAF White Waltham, three miles outside of Maidenhead, along with Terry Tyers. Accompanying me were my new dancing skills, and a single breasted, two button, charcoal grey suit, with 16-inch bottoms, and a double vent at the back! Not forgetting my Elvis ‘quiff’!
The station was very small with around 200 plus personnel. A contingent of WRAFs were bused over daily from nearby RAF Shinfield.

Terry and I were joined in the Accounts Section by a Boy Entrant Roger Rance, and there were two National Service personnel. One of them was on 3 years for the higher money, and the other was a very disgruntled two-year server. The officer in charge was a Flight Lieutenant. There was a Warrant Officer, and I remember a Flight Sergeant, Ken Godden, who I was to meet again at the end of my career. The section for a while was over -manned, and quite often we were let go early on a Friday afternoon-except for one. The Flight Sergeant mentioned that he came from Kent the Garden of England. I replied that that was because they had thrown all the weeds out! Terry and I explored an empty office next to the Accounts Section. There was a filing cabinet , and in it were the Pay Accountants’ Technician promotion questions and answers. Using these as a foundation I passed the examination for Corporeal Technician, and was promoted. I then completed the Sergeant, and Chief Technician’s examinations only to discover that this promotion route would no longer be available to Pay Accountants! I went out with a WRAF called Cathy for a while, and I have memories of my four roommates leaning out of the upper floor window of the barrack block singing The Everly Brother’s ‘Cathy’s Clown’ as I walked up the path! I also remember the first appraisal given by our Warrant Officer. Terry and I both scored 4 for Trade, but in Personal Qualities I received 5 and Terry a 4. When we queried the marks, we were assured that they were reasonable for the first year, only to find out that our peers were getting 6’s and 7’s!

Life generally was good. As a Corporeal I had my own room in the block. The Camp football team for which I played was top of the second division, and on a giant killing cup run in the RAF Junior Cup, when half the team were posted before the quarter finals. I had met a Warrant Officer’s daughter (Priscilla). When her father was posted to the Isle of Man, she returned after a few months there and went to live with her aunt in North London. We were then able to meet regularly. After about 3 years I was posted from the Accounts Section, RAF White Waltham to the Officers’ Mess, RAF White Waltham. The Officers’ Mess was situated about a quarter of mile away. I had my own office on the first floor at the opposite end of a corridor where the Site’s Officer Commanding, a Wing Commander, lived. It was a different form of accounting, and a different world! I think I still reported to the Accounts Officer on main site. No one really bothered me, except once a month the Wing Commander always wanted to be the first one to pay his Mess bill! The Education Department had suggested that I should study for a professional examination. With their help I was accepted as a student of what is now The Chartered Governance Institute, an internationally recognised body. Priscilla and I married, and I found a hiring at Woodley, near Reading, where we stayed for around a year. I was then posted to RAF Khomaksar on an accompanied tour. By that time, I had passed the intermediate examination of the professional body.

Aden had a warm sea, sand and rock. My wife joined me after a few months. RAF Khomaksar with the airfield was at one end of the peninsular, and RAF Steamer Point with the port was at the other end. In between was the Maala Straits, a dual carriageway with local shops either side, and the Forces’ hirings above them. We were in a large flat with two bedrooms. The local towns were out of bounds. Steamer Point was the main area for specialised shopping, and in the early days it was possible to go back a few streets. Eventually we were restricted to the main road after two civilians were shot. Two songs remind me of Aden. The first was the Khomaksar anthem sung by Engelbert Humperdinck,- ‘Please Release Me, Let Me Go’! There was an attractive Sergeant’s wife who on occasions would walk through the Accounts section with a smile singing The Rolling Stones,’ ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’. Many of the watching airmen, I am sure, would have had a variety of helpful suggestions to alleviate the young lady’s situation! One good thing about the posting was the opportunity to spend two weeks in Mombasa, at the RAF leave centre situated next to a magnificent beach. After a time, I was moved from the air-conditioned Accounts Section, to the fan cooled Civilian Pay Office. The complement was a Sergeant, myself and three civilian clerks We were responsible for paying the Adenese workers. The senior civilian clerk was called Ali. I have sometimes wondered if he looked back on the British ‘period’ with nostalgia. The Front for the Liberation of the Occupied South Yemen-‘Flosy’ for short!- were the insurgents. Apart from the extra guard duties, and being cautious and restricted, we were not greatly affected. Occasionally we heard a grenade going off. The worst incident was one night when a Bren gun was fired at the flats from the top of rocks behind them. The bullets hit the wall of the bedroom of the flat at the rear of us. In the early months we used the local bus, but eventually travelled by taxi. We found a club beyond Steamer Point on the beach that had food, and a shark wall around an enclosed sea swimming area.

The decision was made to close the two bases, and families were evacuated first. By this time, I had completed two parts of the final professional examination, and I was studying for the last part. The benefit of the RAF was that it was possible to take examinations in the locality. I had to make a decision of whether to purchase my discharge, or apply for a commission, (I had met a Wing Commander on the base who had the same qualification for which I was studying). I had learnt that many Pay Accountants were being posted to a Central Pay Office at Barnwood, near Gloucester. It sounded a bit like the Elephants’ Graveyard for accountants! I applied for discharge, and was placed on a waiting list. Eventually I reached the top of the list, and returned to the UK for discharge and civilian life at the age of 25. That is another story, including my trip to America on Concorde!
My period as an apprentice, and subsequently man service, set a career path for me that was satisfying, and rewarding.

Postscript: I was at an AGM before COVID, where the speaker was a female Group Captain who was expounding on the administrative side of the Royal Air Force. Not once did I hear the words Pay Accountant mentioned!

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