Despite serving in the ‘real’ Air Force in UK, Far East, Middle East and ‘The Isle of Christmas’ on operational stations, I had the extremely good fortune to serve at two of the softest postings in the history of the RAF.
Having departed from Hereford (24th Entry) in August 1956 I was posted to RAF West Malling in Kent, with Don Phillipson and Ming Gould. I did not enjoy this posting at all,serving under an odious SEO and an equally odious ex-Cranwell Pilot Officer – my face did not fit! Suddenly after about seven months I was advised by a chum, probably Don Phillipson, that a posting had come through for me to go to 3701 Radar Reporting Unit, BRIGHTON. I was delighted and when told of the posting by the SEO, I replied “Yes Sir I know”. He naturally wanted to know how I had heard before him. We had a mutual dislike and I’m sure he was glad to see me go, he had in fact rejected my promotion to Corporal the previous month.
3701 RRU was an Auxiliary Air Force unit located in a beautiful Victorian house in an exclusive district of Brighton, Preston Park. It consisted of 12 full-timers together with auxiliary airmen and WAAFs who came in for training at weekends and one night a week.
My ‘duties’, about 4 hours a week, consisted of amending Air Publications and driving to our parent unit to collect auxiliary uniforms and the odd piece of barrack equipment.
The CO was an Auxiliary Squadron Leader, a bank manager from Hailsham he came in once a week for a drink and a chat. The unit was run by the adjutant, a Flt Lt (Sec), a lovely chap, one of the old school. Hr ran a chicken farm at Partridge Green where he lived. He employed a couple of the National Service to work on his farm on a daily basis. They were glad of the extra money. We saw him most days but despite being a regular officer his heart was really in the chicken farm.
I spent most of my time visiting the local hostelries on a RAF bike – what a life! We had some wonderful parties; the local ladies loved them.Alas all good things must come to an end. After 10 delightful months I was promoted to Corporal and posted to Christmas Island – that was a cultural shock!My second ‘cushy’ posting was in August 1959. Having survived Christmas Island I was serving at RAF Mounbatten, Plymouth when I was posted to 1107 Marine Craft Unit, Newhaven.
For those among you who remember ‘The Navy Lark’ on the radio, 1107 MCU was a dead ringer. Once again as the unit Supplier, there was very little work for me and I spent most of my time on the high speed launch, fishing and sometimes poaching lobster from fishermen’s pots.
The CO was a Flt Lt, with a Fg Off and about 35 others, including a few civilians. The offers lived out and we had 3 SNCOs living in.
On one occasion a very distinguished gentleman in civilian clothes walked up to the gate and asked to see the Orderly Officer. The ‘erk’ on duty told him that we only had duty NCO, and he asked if he could see him. Eventually and elderly sergeant came to the gate in slippers and braces. The visitor announced himself as Air Chief Marshal Sir ?????? and asked the sergeant if someone could keep an eye on his yacht overnight. The embarrassed Sergeant recovered some of his composure and agreed to see to it. Next morning the AVM turned up with thanks and a crate of beer.
The Sergeants Mess was really the ‘local’ and frequented by all ranks. It was run by a Chief Tech Engine Fitter who never seemed to set foot on any of the launches and hadn’t been to sea for years. (I’ve drawn a veil over his ‘private’ life as described by Jimmy)
The CO appeared puzzled by the amount of money that went over the bar from only 3 SNCOs! When the local pubs closed all the ‘boozers’ headed for the mess and closing time was, to say the least, flexible. They had a civilian Mess Waiter known affectionately as ‘Scrotum the wrinkled retainer’. It was a fun place to be.I volunteered as the driver of the 1 ton Bedford and once a week drove to Tangmere to pick up spares. However on one occasion I was dragged from my bed to use the truck to block the towpath to assist Customs and Excise in arresting diamond smugglers arriving by boat from France.On another occasion I ‘volunteered’ to jump from the high-speed launch, swim around until I was winched up by a 22 Squadron chopper and then lowered on to the still moving launch.
We often worked in conjunction with the Newhaven lifeboat. When there was a ‘call out’ the lifeboat crew were at sea in minutes. It took a bit longer for the RAF crew who were not actually on standby and had to found.
When tied up the launches were used for all sorts of ‘romantic liaisons’ I even saw a coxswain baking cakes in the galley.
I spent 2 ½ great years at Newhaven. Met my wife. Joined the local Amateur Dramatic Group with some of the other RAF men. Used the Bedford to move scenery from the Theatre Royal at Brighton. Yes Jon Pertwee and Leslie Phillips from the Navy Lark would have fitted in well.At last good things came to an end and in Feb 1962 I rejoined the ‘real’ RAF at Tengah, Singapore where another culture shock awaited me.