Leaving 3S of TT, RAF Hereford and 307 Entry behind me in 1967 I was soon to begin to learn about the lack of joined up thinking that remained apparent through the next 24 years. As was the custom, our one year apprenticeship was actually eleven months with a month of leave at the end before our first posting. I duly turned up at 231 OCU, RAF Bassingbourn only to find that I had been listed as absent for the preceding month because Hereford had not told Bassingbourn about the leave period. After a tense conversation that was sorted and I was told that I was going to be sent to work in Flying Wing Orderly Room to give me a chance to forget all that nonsense we had been taught in training. Fortunately one part of my apprenticeship proved useful as I spent the next few months typing up flying incidents and training reports which improved my typing well beyond the 24 words per minute required in training. I was then sent on a Q-SEC-T course back at Hereford where I managed to fit in a ‘bull night’, some PE and an amount of marching about presumably to get us back into a training mentality. The first lesson on the course comprised a test to establish what our base level of typing skills were. I exceeded the 30 wpm required of the course and disappointingly just failed to reach the higher 40wpm standard so that counted as a pass and I was sent back to my unit. Well, not quite. I had to clear from the station which involved over twenty signatures which seemed somewhat over the top for less than 36 hours on the camp.
The next step was also a bit odd because I was moved from Flying Wing to Station Headquarters where I had spells in the Central Registry and the Typing Pool before finally being moved into the General Office. Rather than utilise my ‘know it all’ apprentice training on P3 I was put on P2. Officer’s records! We had never touched those in training and there seemed to be different rules for every officer and there was a constant throughput of students from the Canberra courses keeping me busy, particularly when they decided only one P2 clerk was needed rather than two. Just prior to that Bassingbourn had to provide a clerk to go down to the Record and Pay Office (RAPO) as it was then and this was another excuse to get the ex-apprentice out of the way. It was supposedly a three month detachment to 4 Division on the opposite side of Eastern Avenue to all the trade cells in 2 Division and the job was to go through all the old personnel files for everyone who had ever been in the Service in preparation for the records being transferred to the computer. The work involved classifying all the records because all those who were in the Reserve or were pensioners with a liability to recall until age 60 which would be input in full (thankfully not be me!) and those not subject to recall who would only have minimal information transferred. On arrival we were told that this work would take twelve of us three months. In fact only three of us turned up and we got the job done in three weeks. When I arrived back at Bassingbourn over two months early the Chief Clerk assumed that I had messed up and had been sent back but thankfully a letter of commendation came back.
The OCU was running down then and preparing to move on although there was a brief hiatus in training when the Battle of Britain film was being shot because every time the aircraft took off from Duxford for filming we had to stop flying as their flight path brought them quite low over Bassingbourn at about sixty degrees to our runway. Gradually people were being released from the permanent staff as the run down progressed and eventually it was my turn. The Chief Clerk rang RAPO to release me and I was offered a choice of twelve postings. I chose the Joint Services Medical Rehabilitation Unit at RAF Chessington which, for anyone that doesn’t know it, comprised wooden huts that had originally been a barrage balloon unit. Several times the RAF tried to rebuild the site but the local council insisted that it was not a permanent site and so the wooden huts had to remain which meant ongoing repairs and the replacement of one complete hut. Any idea that I might have had about finally getting onto P3 was quickly dashed as I spent quite a few months running the Post Room. This involved dealing with and distributing all the mail coming in for the patients but the big job was dealing with the immense backlog of mail for patients who had left. Once I had dealt with that I was moved onto Establishments and when that was sorted I moved across to be the clerk in the Families Office with the SWO/Families Officer. There were no married quarters at Chessington other than the Station Commander’s hut that I was lucky enough to see inside on one occasion – it may have been a hut on the outside but it was grand on the inside. Most of my work involved supporting the constant rotation of civilian rental houses that were collectively known as hirings. With many rentals being for six months or a year that was quite busy and very inconvenient to all the married couples involved.
Clearly the General Office was not beckoning me and I volunteered to be a Personnel Selection Assessor (Q-SEC-PSA) after which there was an Area of Choice posting. There were only three choices to fill in the three options and the last place I wanted to go was the Youth Selection Centre at Stafford so I put that last. Needless to say I was posted to Stafford but thankfully my line management stuck up for me and I went to OASC RAF Biggin Hill for three and a half years and it was there that I met my wife, Sue, who was teaching at a Junior Girls School in Westerham. I like the logic of maths and I noticed a flaw in the way that re-tests were being marked which gave an advantage to those returning which I brought up with my Flight Sergeant who dismissed it. I mentioned it to the Flight Lieutenant and the Squadron Leader who took it up with MOD Science 3 or 4 and they agreed with me so the system was changed. At my annual assessment my Flight Sergeant commented that I was cursed with an opinion and initiative that would stand me in good stead as a SNCO but was holding me back as an SAC. A week before my marriage the Turks invaded Cyprus and I was the single guy on OERS when they needed to find someone. Fortunately I was out with Sue and when I returned to camp they had found a married person to send in my place. It is fair to say that Sue was exercised by this and the minister at her family church where we were due to be married turned out to be the CSFC Chaplain at Chelsea Barracks and took it upon himself to ring the Station Commander. An interesting meeting in the Station Commander’s office as he thought that I had set this up but it was complete news to me. Mind you, the station got their own back on me quite quickly. I went on my honeymoon week ready to take over a hiring when we got back – but the station had decided that they didn’t need any more hirings while we were away. I had a posting in prospect to Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) at RAF Rheindahlen the following February so that allowed us to take a six month private rental in Godstone. However when another clerk failed his security clearance for his move to Headquarters Allied Air Force Europe (HQ AAFCE) at Ramstein I was next in line and my posting moved six months earlier which led to a battle with the letting agent but the lady owner was actually quite reasonable.
I arrived at Ramstein and was shown my new office and the printing presses therein! The nearest that I had ever been to a printing press was the old hand cranked Gestetners but it was just another thing to learn. It was an amazing posting and I got to act as a courier in war games flying in a Belgian Alouette between AAFCE and AFCENT. Leaving there did at last have the bonus of promotion after years of blockage caused when the Far East and Middle East Air Forces returned home. Just as that was clearing there was a decision to merge Clerk Secretarial and Clerk Accounting into Personnel and Accounting Clerk which was a further nightmare as there had been a promotion blockage on the accounts side for years which had led to inflated assessments. I was called to the office of the OC Support Unit who told me of my promotion and asked where I wanted to go and I said ‘Anywhere but Cranwell’ – immediate anger as to who had told me but no one had. Fortunately I was as amazed by his reaction as he was by mine so that moment passed.
We returned to the UK on Christmas Eve 1977 and I arrived on camp after the Christmas break. We had left the comfort of our warm German flat in downtown Kaiserslautern for a freezing married quarter in the open Lincolnshire countryside where we had entirely pointless night storage heaters, a one bar electric fire and windows that fitted so badly that a howling gale came in. Sue and our toddler Aaron used to walk to the library and the shop for as long as possible to keep warm and Aaron slept with his top coat on but was still cold. After three or four months Sue ensured that we moved into our own house before we froze to death which meant another of my history of ‘boss lectures’, this time about all the amenities that we would be giving up. He also raised the issue of the mortgage costing more than AMQ but I was able to advise him that the mortgage was actually significantly lower. I was still not in the General Office but at least I was finally doing something that I had trained for ten years before, I was running the College Secretariat Registry.
My next posting finally got me back into the General Office, still mainly dealing with the now computerised P2 side but also with the P3 payroll side. As the senior of two corporals I also took over the office when the sergeant Chief Clerk was away and so I finally got some P3 time. Promotion was again looking bleak with the accounting clerks backlog and so I volunteered to take the Q-SEC-ADP aptitude test. There were about twenty of us for two or three places and when comparing notes afterwards everyone else seemed to have got much further through the test than me. A major element of the test was accuracy (apparently) and when a candidate amassed three wrong answers they stopped marking at that point. I had answered fewer but with no mistakes. Before anything came of that time came for a posting and by good fortune and string pulling I moved to RAF Odiham on promotion to be Operations Wing Adjutant which was the best posting that I ever had. I did much more flying during that posting than in the rest of my career, usually in Pumas but also in Chinooks and a Gazelle. I even got to take the Puma controls and flew the Gazelle all the way back from the south coast to Odiham. However Q-SEC-ADP caught up with me and all too soon I was beginning a long career in programming during which I gained my BSc on day release and then continued with IT in the Civil Service and finally in the water industry.
Rob Weller (aka Sam)