I left Secondary School at the age of 16 in the summer of 1970. After nine months as an apprentice storeman in my hometown in the South West of Scotland I decided that it was time to branch out and move on.
My elder brother had joined the Army as an apprentice, so I decided to be different and join the Airforce as an apprentice.
I travelled to Glasgow on the Train and the RAF put me up in a Bed and Breakfast on Bath Street. I completed the necessary application form and then did a number of IQ tests. At the end of the 2nd day I was graded as suitable for administrative duties and I chose to became an apprentice storeman (Supplier General – Supp Gen). Before leaving I was sent a letter advising me of what to bring with me. My mother dutifully sewed labels onto my towels and I went out to nearby Gents outfitters to
buy their last stock of collar studs for the detachable collars our service shirts were to have. In May 1971 I got a train to Hereford and found that I was a late arrival, the others having arrived a week earlier than me at RAF Credenhill. I was taken to Learoyd Block and joined ‘C’ flight, 322nd entry. I was given a bed space and found myself next to a likeable lad and across from his pal. Corporal Apprentice Thom from Gretna introduced me to the regime of bed times and so on. He was in 319th entry and was only around for 4 months before moving on to his first posting as an SAC.
Others showed me how to make a bedpack and bull my boots and shoes. I was taken to the dentist the next day for a check up where the dentist (a Flight Lieutenant) told to wear the jacket to my suit as I looked smarter. After this it was of to the stores for a uniform.
The barrack rooms were long and rectangular with about fifteen beds on each side. Beside each bed there was a small bedside locker and tall locker. We were advised, before leaving for the unit to bring two padlocks to lock them with.
I soon settled in and got into the routine of square bashing Saturday mornings and being marched everywhere. Trade classes were Monday to Friday with Wednesday afternoons for sports. We were kept busy all of the time. Shining the lino floor, cleaning showers and toilets, bulling shoes, cleaning kit and preparing bed packs in the morning before going to breakfast and classes. Regular inspections meant we were constantly cleaning the barracks. Not only did we do trade training we also received general education in Maths, English and Physics though many of us had ‘O’ Levels in these subjects. In the first term we were known as ‘sproggs’ and had the dubious pleasure of occasional visits from the middle entry (320th – their second term) coming into the barrack room and turning over the beds without any recourse by us. It was a tradition, a pretty tedious one in others and mine opinions. Fortunately, this stopped after a few weeks.
The main entertainment in the evenings between cleaning, bulling and bed was the NAAFI where we could get soft drinks, crisps and sweets. We were all underage so we weren’t allowed alcohol. In the shop we could purchase stationary for letters. In addition it had a post office for buying stamps. My parents, like many others sent letters on a regular basis. We were all grateful for these reminders of home. Other than the NAAFI there was the Cinema. It showed ‘B’ type films rather than the main run movies. Despite this it was better than spending an evening in the barracks cleaning and bulling. I well recall one evening watching a film with a full house of apprentices. The scene in the movie was becoming amorous though the girl was reluctant to get involved, at which point an ‘A’ Flight mimic barked out “Come on, love me. Now!!” in the same voice as an unpopular (is there such a thing as a popular) drill sergeant from Birmingham. It brought the house down and has stuck in my memory ever since.
The first of three terms passed quickly. We weren’t allowed off camp during the first term and were always kept busy. The mid morning and afternoon breaks from class gave one a twenty minute break, enough time for a bottle of coke and a Mars bar, luxury!
I don’t recall exactly how much we got paid but I think it was about £5 per week and another £5 per week was put into a Post Office bank savings account, which you
got at the end of each term.
In the second of the three terms life got a lot more interesting. The good news was that the Saturday morning drill stopped, we had a whole Saturday to ourselves. We still did Sunday services in our best (No.1) kit. As the middle term we could go around and tip the ‘sproggs’ beds over. I didn’t but others did. We were now located in Nicholson block. One of our flight took the bed tipping a bit too far and tried to extort some money from a ‘sprogg’. Either this, or it was misinterpreted as such. The new apprentice told his parents who in turn called the camp commander to complain. The offending apprentice was charged and sent to the RAF Prison for three months and then
dishonourably discharged. We saw him being marched away to the Guardhouse after being charged and sentenced. He was in tears and we felt for him despite what he had done. Some caught a bus into Hereford on a Saturday but were set upon by the local youths. The week following a group of apprentices went into Hereford to address the problem with the natives. The outcome of this was the whole apprentice wing was disciplined which in our case meant extra drill after class one evening, in our greatcoats, followed by jogging until a few of the flight dropped out through exhaustion.
In the second term we did a camp at Crickhowel. It lasted about a week and we took part in a number of activities. One of the first things we did was a two-day hike across the Brecon Beacons. We were dropped on one side and our team leader was briefed to walk us across to a reservoir for the night. We would stay in a tent overnight and then carry on to Crickhowel in the morning. On the first day our group became separated in the mist. Five of us made it to the reservoir, a rolled up bed,
tent and hot meal. Those we had separated from spent the night on the moors. The next day we got into camp late afternoon. For splitting from the group we were made to clean the latrines.
Next, we had to do a ‘parateepee’. This required us to be left in a park area close to Langorse Lake with a parachute. We had to construct a tent from the parachute using the trees and bushes nearby. We were also given a tolled up bed and some rations. Once the tent was up we decided to nip into the nearby village for a drink (my first). Unfortunately, we were just settling in for an underage pint when a couple of Corporals from our camp came in, spotted us and threw us out. We were lucky not to be charged. One of the Corporals was well up for it but the other persuaded him to drop it. For that infraction we were given guard duty the next night. This would have been a chore if it hadn’t been for a wonderful, Irish RAF Regiment SAC. He came back from the pub at 23:00 the worse for wear and with a couple of large bottles of Cider for the “men in the guard, I always remember them”. We drank it with a gratitude to him that has lasted over the years.
Another day we were driven to Langorse Lake and told to build a raft out of barrels, planks and rope. On the last day we were to have a bonfire in the evening. Late
afternoon we were all sent of the gather wood. I and couple of others made our way down a nearby lane, grabbing what we could as we went along, when a tractor
and trailer came along with a pile of wood and tree cuttings in the back. We flagged the farmer down and asked what he was going to do with the wood. He was going to dump it so we asked if he wanted to dump it in our camp. He did, so we rode back into camp with him and after some discussion with a couple of NCO’s we had a really big fire. We returned to Hereford the next day. I won’t forget the meal when we got back in the evening. We were late and only got their in time for supper which was cheese on toast, I was amazed at how good it tasted after the cooking and rations on camp. In the second term we were taken out for a day to an RAF base. I don’t recall exactly which RAF station. We were each given a short flight in a Chipmunk. It was fairly uneventful fortunately. I wasn’t airsick, which was a fear of mine. It was my first ever flight in any aircraft.
It was necessary for us to experience CS Gas. Why, I don’t know. I couldn’t see me forming part of an anti-riot formation. In any event, we were marched to the edge of the drill hanger, by the football pitch, split up into small groups of six individuals and told to put on gasmasks. Once inside a small brick building we were to remove the gas mask and, and say our name, rank and number whilst CS gas was sprayed in the air by a couple of corporals wearing gas masks. That done we were told to leave and run onto the football pitch so that the air against our eyes would reduce the effect of the gas. It worked but only in part. To this day I will never understand why we had to do this exercise.
I was then and am still a keen angler so I joined the Angling Club. The good thing about the Angling Club in the Hereford Society block was that we could get of camp on a Wednesday evening for a few hours on the pretence of going fishing. I well recall grabbing a rod and reel with some other basic tackle and getting of camp on a lovely late summers evening. Two of us could only be out for a couple of hours we just walked of down a road at the bottom of Credenhill on advice from another angler. It took us to small hamlet after twenty minutes. Beside a pub (you can see where this is going…) we went down a short track to a lake. On it we could see a lot of large Carp rising but they were all beyond our casting range. We wet a line for twenty minutes, packed up and nipped into the pub for a pint. It was a much- appreciated break from the constraints of the camp. It broke the monotony and showed me how beautiful that part of the country is. I have strong memories of the rolling hills, fields, orchards and hedgerows.
The third and final term was spent in Gibson block. In this term we didn’t have to attend Sunday Service. Two whole days a week without wearing a uniform or square bashing, luxury!! We were still kept busy during the week though. The Apprentices had their own radio station, which was piped into each block. I recall the music they would play as we got ready for bed. I still can’t hear ‘Hold Your Head Up’ by Argent without being taken back to the barracks. The apprentice DJ liked it so
much he would play it two or three times an evening.
We spent two days at RAF Lynham. Firstly visiting the Supply Flight and then doing a circuit in a Hercules followed by a visit to RAF Abingdon. Here I witnessed a transport aircraft receiving a third line service (with WRAF airframe mechanics) and the Parachute training school. I must admit the harnesses and jumping equipment looked good fun, but I daresay actually making a thirty-foot jump in a harness would have been very daunting.
It was a tradition that the apprentices in the final term got to sit at the back of the Cinema. So one evening I was there with a 15 or so others watching a poor attempt at a spaghetti western when we thought we would tease the rest of the audience by announcing the kiosk was open when it wasn’t. The first time it worked and half the audience trooped out only to be disappointed. The second time we were virtually ignored. On the third attempt half a dozen of us trooped out and returned. That
fooled ‘em!! I don’t recall laughing so much before as half the audience was fooled again. It was childish behaviour really but it relieved the tedium.
Early into the term I was struck down with a bout of Flu the like of which I had not experienced before in my short life. I had a real boneshaking fever and had to go into the station sick unit. The ward was occupied by a number of trainee storemen and the SAS. This was impressive for a young person who had only ever read about the SAS before. I actually got to meet and talk to them. I was particularly impressed with a medic and a couple of the troopers. After three days I was about to
be returned to the flight but I had one more night to do. It was Sunday evening and most of us were gathered in the TV lounge at the end of the ward when news came in of ‘Bloody Sunday’. The SAS were nearly all ex-Paratroopers and cheered them on as scenes of the shooting appeared on the evening news.
During the final term I and half a dozen others in my flight decided to take up the offer of Institute of Purchasing and Supply (IPS) classes. As I recall it was one evening a week, given by a member of the trade teaching staff. The focus was on the basics of the physical storage of goods and materials among other topics. We sat one or more tests and we all passed the test and received a certificate.
It came time to pass out and move onto our first postings. In the last week it was decided that we would get a spare sheet and write our entry number on it, preparatory to hanging it from the Water Tower across from the entrance to the camp. We agreed the night before our last day that a group of us would climb up and hang it. That evening we went out for a drink. We went to the local hostelry and I tried a couple of pints of cider, which made me slightly drunk. It was ten o’clock and no one had turned up to help hang the sheet so, under the influence of the cider, I did it. I dimly remember climbing up the tank and at the top lying on my stomach, looking over the edge as I tied the sheet to the tower. I knew at the time it was fairly dangerous but looking back, it was a foolhardy thing to do in my state. Someone up there was looking over me since I survived it. It got a laugh next morning as a couple of airman tentatively and carefully clambered up to take it down. I should
think they cursed me.
The following day we had the passing out parade. My parents, along with all my mates’ parents turned up. We were introduced to each other’s parents. The day was full and it passed very quickly. I recall the parade and the PT display I took part in and then it was all over. I remember saying goodbye to the friends I had made before we all went our own ways.
Of all my service in the Air Force, this first year is the one that sticks out in my mind most. It was an intense and radical change in my life, as it was for all the others who attended apprentice training. A truly unforgettable time.