After passing out as a J/T from Hereford in December 1956, I was posted to RAF Middleton St George, Co. Durham just 9 miles from home. My welcome to the station HQ Accounts Section was lukewarm to say the least. The Sergeant was genial enough, but detached. The Corporal was a morose, overweight, untidy Scot with an obvious chip on his shoulder and the airmen appeared to be time expired National Service types. I was left to my own devices and my Out Tray soon failed to keep up with my In Tray but when I approached an airman for help, was told “You’ve got the stripe old son” and then from the Corporal “You’re supposed to be the gen kiddie”
Matters got worse when I cocked up my first pay parade and the A/O could not balance his books. He tore me off a strip and finished with the classic words ”It is all very well being smartly turned out and have the ability to give parade ground salutes, as and when necessary, but that is not what you were sent here to do.” Matters, however, did not improve and I continued to flounder, much to the amusement of the morose Corporal.
My salvation happened, in a strange way, when I was accosted by a barrel chested PTI with a whistle and a clipboard ,who, whilst running on the spot demanded to know if I had any footballing prowess. I recounted my school activity. the fact that I once had a Town Trial for Hartlepool United and the recent season and a half played in the Hereford and District League with the AATS. He was unimpressed. ‘‘Kids stuff” he snorted “Plus you’re too short to be a decent keeper.” He paused, stopped running and consulted his clipboard. ”However, I’m bloody desperate for a team so be at the station sports ground next Saturday for a 2 o’clock kick off.”
Despite a bare, frozen, rutted pitch we scrambled 1-0 victory over nearby RAF Thornaby and I saved a late penalty. (It was not very well taken but I made the save look good). The PTI was ecstatic and, a week or so later, arranged a match against a local works team which turned out to be a big mistake. The game was one sided and brutal from start to finish and I, for one, suffered at the hands of a rat faced individual with bandy legs and a mouthful of yellow uneven teeth, who late in the game, contrived to bulldoze me and the ball into the back of the net and then stamp on my hand as I tried to get up. An ugly scuffle developed and to my disgust the Ref awarded a goal and then warned me about my future conduct!
We lost the match about 7 or 8 nil and the PTI was beside himself ” I said you were too short” was all he said before sprinting away. I never saw him again as that evening I developed a rasping pain in my chest and the next day it was like a knife every time I took a deep breath. I assumed it was bruised or cracked ribs and reported sick on the Monday but within the hour I was on my way to the Military Hospital at Catterick with a fever and high temperature.
There, a cheery Army MO informed me that I had a ‘‘ suspected tubercular pleural effusion” and that my immediate treatment would be a daily injection of streptomycin, the new wonder drug, plus a cocktail of assorted coloured pills. However, nine days later I was transferred by ambulance and train to the RAF Hospital at Wroughton, near Swindon, in the company of two rather taciturn RAF Medical Orderlies. On arrival at Darlington Station they placed my stretcher on a wooden luggage trolley, with cast iron wheels, and pulled me the length of the platform under the curious gaze of the mid-morning passengers. Finally they dumped my small kit on the trolley, draped my uniform over me, and disappeared into the station buffet. People came and went but with typical British reserve nobody took much notice until, finally, two elderly ladies hovered into view. One bent down, patted my hand, and I swear she said something like “Poor boy, Suez I suppose?”
My two escorts finally appeared and hurriedly pulled the trolley to a waiting train which had a reserved sticker on one carriage window. Unfortunately it was a corridor train and the stretcher could not be maneuvered in with me on it. I therefore had to get of and stand on the platform in my Army issue pyjamas and woolly bed socks whilst the stretcher and my kit were put into the carriage. The train set off and the two orderlies stretched out and promptly fell asleep, leaving me with travel rations and two half empty bottles of beer. Before long nature called and I made for the W/C at the end of the corridor only to find it engaged. In desperation I walked the whole length of the next carriage before I was in luck. When I finally got back one orderly was awake and went spare. “You stupid sod! Walking about like that in pyjamas . You look like a bloody flasher, PLUS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ILL!!
On arrival at a rather chilly and windswept Swindon Station, this fact was overlooked as I had to stand around on the platform whilst everything was unloaded, then endure the luggage trolley routine again, before finally being placed into the sanctuary of a waiting RAF ambulance. I spent the next 7 months in the Isolation Ward of Wroughton Hospital along with a mottley crew of other RAF lads all with the same malady. I soon learned it was imperative to keep a note and so alternate the daily jab of streptomycin as one’s backside would soon resemble a pin cushion. In this respect the female nurses showed compassion but one Welsh male nurse ,in particular, revelled in using his syringe like a dart. Each day we were given a pint of milk and a bottle of Guiness. We could smoke, but hoarding the Guiness for a mid-day or evening booze up was frowned upon, which we found rather odd. However they did take place on occasion by the use of crafty and cunning means. Once the fluid was drained from your lung or lungs you could get up for a few hours each day and play darts, table tennis, cards etc and watch TV. This obviously increased as the treatment progressed but, despite this, boredom did set in and silly pranks were played on the night staff such as stringing trip wires, unscrewing table legs, balancing waste paper bins above and behind doors etc.
In October I was regarded as cured except that the M.O. announced that I would have to take a large round rice paper anti-biotic capsule every day for at least the next twelve months. “If you don’t swallow right away old chap it will burst in your throat – nasty!” He then pointed out the medical disadvantages of continuing with a RAF career and said I would be eligible for a disability pension and a reference for civilian employment. I was given a Medical Discharge Form, already prepared, and that was that.
Three months after my discharge I had a job in the Accounts Department of a local company and was suffering the painful pangs of my first serious teenage romance. (She was a hazel eyed blonde who later gave me the elbow for being” too square” and not sufficiently “with it”) One evening, before all that, we were on a bus which stopped near Middleton St George and a group of lads in uniform got on. One face seemed vaguely familiar but I was too pre-occupied with indecent thoughts to care. After a while there was a tap on my shoulder. It was the vaguely familiar face. ‘‘Hello mate, weren’t you once in the Pay Accounts at Middleton?” I replied in the affirmative. “Well come and meet Dave – he was the poor sod sent here to sort out the******* mess you left behind!”
Fortunately our stop was coming up and I was able to escape intact. (If you are still out there Dave and were an ex-apprentice ,then I am truly sorry!)