Reminiscences of the 1st Entry (Contd).
Jock King already in the billet, having transferred from a Radio course at RAF Cranwell or Halton. (583106)
The following day – being kitted out. Incredible amount of webbing. Awful underwear – a sort of airtex material; the boxer style underpants with loops to feed braces through. Included a shaving brush of sorts, clothes brush, shoe brushes, a housewife. Brass button stick. Shirts with separate collars. Dreadful socks. Ugly greatcoat. Very coarse uniforms. A groundsheet as a “raincoat”. And wynciette pyjamas – white with blue stripes. (In later years I was to share these pyjamas with
a lady friend: she loved wearing just the tops)
We were told to mark everything indelibly with our names and numbers. Big metal stamps and inkpads.
A.A. Dunne (?) stamped his name and number on the outside of his collars, so that it showed up when worn. Half-inch high characters!
The Training etc.
Wg. Cdr. Reddick – C.O. (Wg. Cdr. D.A. Reddick D.F.C., A.F.C.)
Flt. Lt. Goldsmith – Adjt.
Flt. Lt. Maher or Mather, R.A.F. Regiment – Later Adjt.
Flt. Lt. Macnamara – Educ.
F.S. Davis, R.A.F. Regt. – Drill Instr.
Cpl. Bradbury, R.A.F. Regt. – Drill Instr.
Cpl. (Jock) Weir – R.A.F. Regt. – Drill Instr.
(Sometimes “Gunner Weir” (Gonorrhoea – get it?))
W.O. Hussey – Typing, Shorthand, Clerical procedures
Sgt. Evans-George (shortened to E.G.)
Sgt. “Joe” Rudd (Ken writes: Denny always used to lead the singing of “Poor Old Joe” when he took us for shorthand as he was invariably late for the class).
Sgt. “Beefy” Henderson – for drill – “reach ‘em back reach ‘em back”
Sgt. Greening – possibly for drill, but certainly for some instruction in unarmed combat. (Knocked the wind out of me with a throw. Gymnasium and Swimming Pool – Sgt. “Tiger” Williams.
The first four months
The time when only the first entry existed at St. Athan – seemed to be taken up almost entirely with “square bashing”. It probably wasn’t so, but it’s what sticks in the mind. Of course there was trade training, also seemingly concentrated on shorthand and typing. I can remember very little of what I learned, except that file covers were forms 2007, 2008 and 2009. It was commonly thought at first that Form 1 was bog paper. It isn’t of course; bog paper is a stationery office supply.
Form 1 happens to be a “Daily Return of Personnel Held in Custody or Released Without Prejudice”, which shows where the priorities lay when the forms were given numbers in the early days. Other numbers are coming back as I write:
Form 624:listing those who needed to attend “Sick Parade”;
Form 295: a short period pass;
Form 252: the dreaded charge report.
Forms 120 and 121: serious and not-so-serious offence records;
Form 1250: Identity Card;
A huge expanse of square. (In later years – a vast car park)
Very patient Sgt Bradbury and F.S. Davis. Standing to attention, at ease and easy, properly. Marching in step with arms swinging to the right height (Keep ‘em up;
Keep ‘em up!). Sizing, spacing, forming up, saluting, turning, wheeling, dismissing, slow marching, doubling, marking time, etc. etc.
On one occasion Sgt Bradbury had been taking us for drill instruction on the parade ground, and at the end of the session, with a make-believe officer in attendance
(which required us to salute), he gave the command,
“Officer on parade, to the right … Fuck Off”.
Rather shocking to us innocents at the time.
Cpl. Weir joined the wing somewhat later – I think at the time of the arrival of the 2nd entry. Almost unintelligibly Scottish, with possibly his most remembered commands, “Git ‘em up, Git ‘em up”, “Reach back, Reach back”. But I can remember him always laughing. No wonder, we were a right hilarious bunch.
“Tallest on the right, shortest on the left, in two ranks, SIZE!” And it was nearly always “Lofty” Simmonds, “Bollock” Cave, or Cornier who were markers.
One App: A.A. Bodell (?) – could not possibly get his arms and legs co-ordinated. He was memorable to watch. He left fairly early.
The drill instructors – F.S. Davis, Cpl. Bradbury and others – were all R.A.F. Regiment. The R.A.F. Regiment uniform in those days was essentially khaki, but modified with a blue beret, a blue webbing belt and blue gaiters, and with blue shoulder flashes and badges of rank. In later years this was all changed to the standard R.A.F. blue uniform retaining the R.A.F. regiment shoulder flash above the eagle (always referred to as a “shite-hawk”).
Their berets were of a very soft, almost velvety, material; nothing like the awful blue stuff of our berets – made of the same material as our uniforms.
Drawing a S.M.L.E. from the armoury. Order Arms; Slope Arms; Present Arms; saluting, trailing, etc. Even fixing bayonets. We didn’t get to fire the things until we went to our summer camp at Porthcawl. More of that later.
Rifle drill for some reason was always a pleasure for me. The bind, however, was having to parade and march to the armoury – some fair distance from the square – to draw the rifles, and then having to march back again with them. I can remember being quite surprised that one could salute with a rifle. Not just that, but two types of salute. I was given the chance of using the high-rank salute only on one occasion; more of that shortly.
We were all ranked as A.A. Smith or A.A. Jones. Later, again at about the time of the arrival of the second entry, about eight were chosen to be Leading Apprentices, or L.A.s: Denny, Cave, Blackie Smith, Pig Miller, Hedley, Yank Almond, and a couple of others.
Pig Miller then occupied the bunk of D.23 and became in charge of the barrack room.
Always marching to and from the classrooms. Classes held in B lines, behind the cookhouse. Wooden huts, same as the accommodation.
Typing and Shorthand
Was always a joy. W.O. Hussey instructed. He would occasionally chat about service in “the Messpot” (Mesopotamia). Typing was learned very precisely and strictly by timing to records; a huge record player on the rostrum. “Begin after four taps!” “Begin after eight taps!” The machines were all wartime Imperials in very good condition. (In later years I bought a couple of these for my own use. They could be picked up for a fiver a time.) Part of the instruction was in partially
dismantling them and re-assembling. Typing was done under a cloth over the keyboard, rather like a surgeon’s mask, with the tags wound around the two keyboard clips at the side. Pig Miller and Jeffries were the two stars at typing. Pig Miller was a bit of a pianist anyway. The typewriting skills became – for me at any rate – incredibly useful in later life, particularly when handling a computer keyboard.
I was most surprised, quite late on in the course, to see the folders kept by W.O. Hussey of our typing progress. He had kept every piece of paper that we had typed on since the very first
A-S-D-F fingering at one stroke a second.
I have since always asserted – to anyone who would listen – the necessity to train youngsters to type and use keyboards efficiently, as all our future industrial and office work would seem to depend on this.
Sweat rash and Ung Whitfields. God! That was memorable. About a dozen of us seemed to be constantly afflicted with sweat rash, which I understand is some sort of fungal infection. Must I say where? Why not! Under our arms in the first place, which wasn’t too bad, but worst of all around our knackers. We were given liberal amounts of Ung Whitfields to plaster on the sore, red areas – at first deliciously cool. Then it started to work, and had us all on the verge of screaming whilst dancing and hopping around the M.I. room. It wasn’t a permanent cure. After a couple of weeks of relief it always came back, and always with the same performance at Sick Quarters.
I began to suffer with painful – and badly septic – ingrowing toenails (both big toes), and had two periods in the station hospital in an attempt to put these right.
Successful only in the short terms. It was only when I was in the Suez Canal Zone later that they were cured permanently at Fayid hospital – by complete removal down to the nail beds, with skin grafts over the wounds to assist in their recovery.
As a consequence of the agonies of these ingrowing toenails I was excused marching and parade ground drills in the latter months of my apprenticeship, and had to watch from the perimeter of the square, behind the saluting base, at our passing-out parade. Not that I objected too much, but to see our entry retiring from the square, initially at slow march, then at normal pace, made me feel rather sad that I wasn’t amongst them.
F.S. Davis made up to W.O.
Cpl. Bradbury made up to Sgt.
Cpl. Weir made up to Sgt. somewhat later
(Ken writes: None of us can remember F.S. Davies (No! Definitely Davis, without the ‘e’) getting his W.O. or Danny Weir getting his Sgt. Thanks Ken! But I’m pretty sure of the above)
Cross country runs.
Wednesday afternoons were not always sports afternoons, but sometimes the whole entry would be required to do the “Cross Country Run” (in quotes, because it was without exception on the main road from the camp to Gileston beach and back). I absolutely dreaded these, because I was never much of a runner, and suffered very badly from “stitches”. Almost invariably I came back with the tail end. I can remember Zahren being the runner. However, just to prove to myself that I could do it, on one occasion I went all out and managed to come back in third place. Nevertheless it wasn’t a race, just a run, and I didn’t have to strain all that much.
Because we were stationed in South Wales, someone had the bright idea that we should develop a rugby team. I was picked simply because my home was quite local and I had played rugby in school – not by choice I add. Despite playing it for four or five years in school before I joined as an apprentice, it was (and still is) a game I simply cannot understand. I must have excelled in school at the sheer incompetence at rugby, and of course was never picked for a team. However, I was selected for the beginnings of the apprentice rugby team, but soon showed I had neither the inclination nor the skill in playing the game. The same is true when I eventually went out into the R.A.F. proper on my first posting to Bassingbourne: selected to play rugby, then quickly dropped. However, the apprentice rugby team developed without my negative attitude, and played some matches locally. One I remember was against Bridgend Grammar School on their home pitch, which resulted in our losing by about 2500 to Nil, and another, much more memorable, was against some team from St. Athan village – again on their home ground. The referee was someone alien to both teams. I did not attend this game, but from what I can gather – during the play the referee consistently and repeatedly awarded decisions against the apprentice team, which increasingly annoyed them until this annoyance reached a stage when they were quite prepared to lynch this one-sided gentleman, and in the furore the match was abandoned. And this is putting it mildly. If Joe Green is still about, he can fill in the details. He was there.
St. Athan, as a large R.A.F. station, produced its own monthly magazine entitled, believe or not, “The St. Athan Magazine”. All contributions, of course, came from the station personnel whether it was news, topical articles, short stories, poems or what have you. This may have been regular, but I can remember only one occasion when eight magazines out of the hundreds which were probably printed one month had included within them “prize vouchers”. And I was a lucky buyer of one! Amongst the prizes was a free flight. What the others prizes were I haven’t the slightest idea, for the chance of a flight was, for me, a prize amongst prizes. So that is what I claimed at the earliest opportunity. And every moment of it is as clear to me now as if it happened an hour ago. I was picked up at our NAAFI by the pilot – as I remember a Flt. Lt. – and taken to West Camp to a Tiger Moth parked outside a hangar. A couple of chaps fitted me out with a parachute (“If you can stand up
straight, it’s not tight enough!”) and shepherded me into the FRONT seat of this aeroplane. Leather headgear, goggles, a microphone and I was able to talk to the pilot behind me. Then taxiing a long way around the perimeter track and taking off Westwards on the grass. Shatteringly bumpy for a few seconds, and then wonderfully smooth. No higher than 1000 ft, and along the coast towards Porthcawl and Rest Bay. Lovely beaches, inlets, blue sea, white breakers, grey cliffs and shingle, green – very green grass on the coast, and looking down at white seagulls. Tiny model farmyard animals, model cars on the roads, and strangely enough almost nothing that could be identified as a human being. Then turning inland to fly just short of the foothills over farms and fields back to St. Athan.
(I had “got to know” a pretty girl who lived with her family in a prefab at Pyle, ((Would you believe – there is a “Pyle Inn”)), and was able easily to identify where she lived from the air. She wasn’t there to wave to of course. She was at work – a clerk with the National Coal Board. I often wonder what became of her after I left. She was extraordinarily pretty, and during our Summer Camp at Porthcawl we used to meet and wander around Rest Bay. She even took me home to meet her folks. I never think of her as being my present age – she will always be a pretty girl. I won’t mention her name, although I remember it quite well.) Then circling the camp, noting all the features, which I had only previously seen at ground level, and coming in to land. Very quiet, with the engine almost cut off, and smooth and easy to a gentle bumpiness, and then stopped, only to taxi back to the parking lot and get helped out again. I can recall thinking that if ever I had needed to bale out I would probably have undone the parachute buckle instead of the lap straps, and even if I had got out successfully I would not have been able to find the D- ring.
As first entry, and the second entry of course, we were at St. Athan for two Battle of Britain days – September 1947 and September 1948. The public was permitted only to East Camp where there was an impressive display of exhibits, and opportunities to visit workplaces. As apprentices our chief tasks were to sell programmes and act as guides where necessary. But I was in a rather unique position. My family from Cardiff visited and I was able to stay with them and accompany them around and about. I was able to show them where I lived – the billets were all “bulled-up” just in case anyone wished to see them – and where I was fed, spent my leisure time in the NAAFI, and what our entertainment facilities were like – the cinema, swimming pool, gymnasium, etc., as well as showing them the active workplaces which were not a part of the apprentices’ sphere. But much more impressive was being with them at a very good vantage point to view the flying display. My ten-year old brother watched spellbound as a spitfire zoomed low in front of the crowd, and then cried just after it had passed, “There’s the sound!” The crowd had stretched for several hundred yards verging the perimeter track to see this display, when at one point it started to rain. The far end of the
crowd started to run for cover into the display hangars, whereas where my family and I were situated the rain left us quite untouched. That was the first year. The
same privilege given me the following year.
Some apprentices weren’t too happy with their lot. One – I may remember his name shortly – elected within the first three months to leave the service, giving the
reason that was required at home. I don’t think any reason was really necessary, it was a right, which could be exercised.
I think it was either Zahren or Cornier (who I’ve always incorrectly remembered by the name Cornish).
Your recollection of who was discharged in the first three months. Bill Zahren was discharged after completing 2 years as an apprentice. I returned to St. Athan in March 1949 representing RAF St. Eval in the RAF Cross-Country Championships and changed in the same dressing room as the St. Athan team. I was surprised to find
Bill Zahren still there and running for St. Athan. Got great support from the lads who were at various points around the course. Zahren still beat me. It was probably
Cornier who was discharged in the first three months.
Thanks Ken! He actually elected for discharge. I remember that quite well.
Two others decided to do it the alternative way, by walking out. Yorkie Marshall and Dunne went AWOL and were picked up having walked to Barry at night, about eight miles away. They were placed under close arrest and confined to the guardroom. Frank Kershaw and I were appointed armed escorts whenever they were required to leave the guardroom for whatever reason. Rifles, no ammunition, but fixed bayonets. Me in front, Frank behind, and vice versa, with the two idiots between us, marching everywhere.
It was on this occasion that Frank and I were waiting outside the guardroom, stood “at ease” with our rifles, and waiting for something to happen, when the Station Commander was driven in through the gates, with flag flying. We had to salute, despite the fact that he had long gone by the time we started. Up to attention, and then through the whole process of sloping arms and giving the salute “present arms”, to which the Station Commander, Air Commodore Opie, was entitled. This of course
takes a long time, about half a minute, apart from coming back to standing at ease with our rifles. So we thought we’d shorten it, by simply coming up to the slope and then back to standing at ease. We weren’t to know that the R.A.F. Police sergeant in charge of the guardroom was watching us. Out he came, somewhat amused, and made us go through the whole procedure again, but properly this time.
An aftermath, which disgusted everyone in the first entry, Yorkie Marshall was made up to Leading Apprentice at the first selection – and this, was very soon after his attempted desertion. It was generally thought that someone in authority felt that some responsibility might do him some good. It didn’t change him for the better though, but encouraged him to throw his weight around. He was always quite foul mouthed and uncouth, and I never knew him any different. Poor Dunne, though. He had simply followed Yorkie Marshall like a sheep. A case of big-boy worship.
Another case of “bad behaviour”: Jock King – the transferred Aircraft Apprentice – took it into his head to make a bit of money by selling to someone a quantity of work overalls. He got caught.
Quite a few of us were charged (a disciplinary procedure commencing with the dreaded Form 252) with odd misdemeanours. The punishments were fairly light: 7 or 14 days “C.C.” (Confined to camp, fondly known as “Jankers”). This involved turning up at the guardroom at inconvenient times in full webbing with gleaming brasswork– early morning and late evening for a roll call of defaulters; punishment drill in full webbing on the square at least once per day; being prohibited from the
cinema, swimming pool and the NAAFI.
(My father had served in Ireland, Aden and on the North West Frontier in India (Razmak, in Waziristan) as a young soldier, and when I told him of the 252 and C.C. he said that it was the same in the army, and that he had once been given 28 days C.B. (confined to barracks) when a bird shat all over his uniform from a great height – whilst on parade. Tough! Army C.B. was a Punishment (with a capital P) in those days.)