A Different Take On My Time In The RAF
This year marks my 66th year as a competitive runner and the recent newsletter led to me reminiscing with my family on some aspects of what now seems quite a long passage of time as a runner. This brought back memories of some of the friends I made while part of the running team at both Bircham Newton and then latterly at Hereford where we completed our last term of apprentice training as 44th entry. I particularly remember Dave McMurdo, Ian Ritchie, Steve Pitkethly and Brian Morrison (although Brian was only part-time runner as his main interest was cycling). I also became mates with Brian Balls and Tommy Thomas (Hereford Boy Entrants) when competing for the Hereford team in 1963 and later on joined those two in the RAF cross-country team. We won the Apprentices and Boy Entrants cross-country championships in 1963 and I still have the plaque that we were each given for that achievement. The Hereford team finished with the 6 scoring runners in the first 9 places so it was quite a comprehensive win. After all of this time I wonder if I am the only Admin Apprentice to have been part of a winning team in this event? Dave Mc and myself both went on to run for the RAF although our period in that team did not correspond unfortunately. I did serve with Ian Ritchie a couple of time after we passed out but Ian had given up on running then. Brian Balls (ex-boy entrant at Hereford the same time as me) and I did serve together quite a bit and he still lives locally so I see him out and about occasionally.
Anyway, to go back to the title of this piece I thought I would enlighten everyone as to why there is a question mark. Over the years I have had various experiences due to my running, some good and some not quite so good. On the downside I have been bitten by dogs on 6 occasions, was knocked down on the snow and ice by a dog on one occasion which resulted in a visit to A&E in the local hospital to have my forehead stitched up. Fortunately the wrinkles in my brow brought on by the aging process mean that the scar just looks like another wrinkle so no longer spoils or enhances my looks (take your pick on that one). I have been knocked down by cyclists on 5 occasions (why do people cycle on the path and why are such people always dressed in black). On the last occurrence of that about 14 years ago I landed on my right knee which still troubles me to this day. The friendly/unfriendly part of my running career stems from me being nudged into a bramble bush and getting well scratched when competing against the Navy lads at HMS Ganges, being knocked into a ditch during a race at one of the London stations, being nudged off-line going down a slope in a race at RAF Colerne and skidding into a tree knee first (I thought a softer part of my anatomy was going to suffer there so that is the only time I have been grateful to use my knee to stop myself) and ending face down in the steeple chase water jump in a particularly rough race at RAF Abingdon. I always thought that running was a non-contact sport but these and other incidents have proven me incorrect in that assumption.
On the plus side I managed to hitch a lift with the American Air Force from Tehran, Iran to the USA in 1975 to run in the Boston Marathon and on the return trip did the last leg with their Chief of the Air Staff who was visiting Iran. The aircraft we flew in was the back up to Air Force One and it was very instructive to see the American VIP fit compared to the RAF version when I flew in a VIP fit Comet with one of my bosses. We were in the USA for their 200th anniversary so we were able to watch the revolution re-enactments on the TV at the end of the day having sometimes run over the ground for a training run in the early morning. I have been privileged to compete in many countries due to my time in the RAF and along with visits whilst working as a PA can say that my service certainly met my expectations when reading the recruiting literature in that I got plenty of both travel and sport. As a schoolboy I received a number of certificates for running achievements but my first medals (which I still have) were awarded for 2nd places in the 1 mile and 3 miles at the Bircham sports day in 1962. Last medal was as a 73 year old and I have a collection that includes Transport Command, Air Support Command, Support Command, Medway Command (Navy) and 18 Group amongst others. I competed over every distance from 200 metres up to 54.25 miles (did the London to Brighton race one year to get some time at the seaside, or so I claim). One of my most unusual awards was a pint pewter tankard awarded for winning the Bath Inter-Youth Club cross-country championships as a 17 year old. Not sure why they thought that an appropriate prize but I did use it to drink my first ever pint of bitter and found the taste disgusting so never drank bitter again. However, all my friends tell me it had nothing to do with the pewter mug but was just a reaction to my life-long addiction to Coca-Cola! To finish, I spent most of my time at Bircham and then at Hereford trying to find a way to get out of the RAF as most of my contemporaries will probably remember. The fact that my service continued for over 30 years and that I have many, many fond memories of people, places and also races from my time just goes to show that you never really know what life has in store for you.