I joined the RAF Admin Apprentices Association a few months ago and I guess I am a bit of a whipper snapper compared to many other members. I joined in the RAF 1965, a year after the Boy Entrants and Apprentices scheme had been revamped. From 1964 Admin Apprentices became a gateway entry for a variety of trades at several RAF Training Schools. For some obscure reason, the powers that be
decided to give the same Entry number to different trade groups at each school, so for example there would be a 301st Admin Apprentice Entry of Nursing Attendants at RAF Halton and a 301st Clerical Entry at RAF Hereford – both groups joining in the same month & year. At the time it didn’t seem important, but when I now read in the RAFADAPPASSN Newsletter of someone in the 304th (my Entry for Nursing Attendants at RAF Halton) I assume I must know them as they would have been in my Entry group. It then becomes clear that they were part of the 304th Clerical, or Catering or whatever other group. Making incorrect assumptions like this reminds me of one the Sergeants in charge of our square bashing at Halton who memorably said “Never forget the word ASSUME is made of 3 syllables – ASS, YOU and ME – and it usually makes as Arse of All of Us” I wrote to Ken Cameron who edits the newsletter asking for references to the 3** series of Admin Apps to include the Training School or Trade Group to help us identify more of our own group. He kindly accepted the suggestion and I noticed in recent newsletters the suffix ‘M’ has been added to the entry for Medical Apprentices.
Whilst replying to my comment he suggested I may want to write an article describing the way things were for us baby boomers who joined in the mid 1960s. I don’t usually write to newspapers and magazines, nevertheless I thought it would be worthwhile, partly as it may interest other members of the association, but mainly it would be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for myself. So here goes and I apologise in advance for any errors or wrong details – it’s been a long time since 1965 and the memory fades more quickly as you get older and enjoy more nights in the pub.
So where to start? I guess the sensible place is at the beginning. Although my father served in the RAF during WW2 (Transport driver in India & Burma), I don’t come from a family with a long tradition of serving in the armed forces. I left school in London at the age of 15 and started work as a trainee photographer at a firm of press photographers. The training to achieve the status of photographer would have taken at least 7 years and one day I noticed in the paper an advert to join the RAF and become a photographer in one year. This seemed like a good idea and I went along to High Holborn to enrol. I passed the initial tests, but in my medical they discovered I was colour blind which they felt may be a handicap in the role of photography. By now I had become quite enthusiastic about joining as it offered the opportunity to move away from home and see more of the world, so when I was invited to go to RAF Stafford for a 3 day assessment to find out which other trades might appeal I happily packed my bag and took the train to Stafford.
The 3 days in Stafford covered a variety of educational and practical tests and I was offered a place in any Apprentice groups that wouldn’t be affected by my colour vision, so basically anything except aircrew, photography or electronics. There were quite a few boys on the assessment course and I teamed up with a guy from Liverpool who was planning to join as a Nursing Attendant. As I didn’t have any specific ambitions I decided to go along with his ideas and asked to be enrolled into
the Medical Branch. So instead of joining as an aircraft engineer, cook, clerical, or any other trade – I joined the Nursing Attendant group. This turned out to be a bit of an irony, really, as the Liverpudlian failed to make the grade and didn’t join up!
A few months later, I set off from home to take the train to Wendover and start my training on 3 Wing No 1 School of Tech Training RAF Halton. We all arrived on September 7th 1965 and took the oath on the next day. I remember being sent by the Corporal on that first day to take a message to the Wing HQ. On my way back I strolled across the Parade Ground with my hands in my pockets – that soon brought out a shout from an NCO to “…take your f*#k+&g hands out of your f*#%ing pockets you little ba*&^ard”. My first lesson in military etiquette.
The first few weeks were spent doing the usual square bashing, kit preparation, buffing the dormitory, learning to clean anything that was stationary and salute anything that moved. Our education was split into two parts. Basic education (English, Maths, Science, etc) which was carried out a couple of days a week at the main apprentice school. Specialist trade training was provided at the Nursing school attached to RAF Hospital Halton. So some days of the week we would line up with all the other apprentices and march down to the main school behind the pipe band. On other days we would gather as a group and stumble down the narrow path to the Nursing School as a much more disorganised rabble. This was to be the pattern for the next 11 months, except Wednesday afternoon when the whole
camp seemed to have PE and Sports.
The first Sunday in the month was compulsory Church Parade. Few of us took religion seriously and it meant missing out on the one day of the week when we could get a lie-in. The first time we had to parade came on the first Sunday in November and despite it being an exceptionally warm day (an unseasonable temperature well up in the 70s), the rule that greatcoats must be worn throughout the winter was rigorously enforced. Quite a number of boys fainted with heat exhaustion even before we arrived at the church, but still the rules had to be followed regardless – another education in the mindset of military types.
The training was not excessively hard – the basic education was at a similar level to today’s GCSEs and our nursing training was mainly ‘O’ level Anatomy & Physiology with some extra work on First Aid. In some ways it was like going to a modern College of Further Education, but with the bonus of being paid a little bit of money and the downside of being more strictly controlled.
The facilities at Halton were excellent and there was much to enjoy outside of the basic training. I became a member of the Boxing team (as a small lad of under 8 stone I fought at Mosquito weight). This help me grow up more quickly and meant I rarely got bullied as it created a false image of toughness. I hadn’t taken part in sport at my previous schools and being part of a successful team (we won the Inter-Camp competition for Apprentices that year) was a matter of great pride.
For many of us it also provided our first experience of flying; experience trips in a Brittania to Gibraltar & back (without landing) and a quick trip over the Chiltern Hills
in a Chipmunk from the Halton Airfield. Great fun.