I read the March Newsletter with a heavy heart. On the one hand the Editor lamented the fact he had received only a single article, and pleaded for further articles for his 25th Anniversary edition .On the other hand, our Annual Reunion is in jeopardy through a lack of members willing to attend. These problems are compounded by the dearth of members ready to take on the demanding roles of Committee Members.
The various reasons for this situation need not concern us here. The overall impact of the Newsletter was to leave me with a very real sense of sadness and a feeling of finality, as the end of an era approached and we face the very real possibility of the demise of our Association which – as we are all painfully aware – is inevitable with the passage of time. The situation is not new. Other, better authors in the past have also signalled the end of something special, eg:
“The curfew tolls the knell of passing day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me”
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
I would have given my right arm to have written anything as good!
Over the years I have written many articles for the Newsletter, covering as much of my RAF career as my fallible memory at 83 can consciously recollect. I have also contributed the odd humorous take on our shared experiences. Sadly the well of remembrance has run dry and this item will most likely be my last. As such it must represent something of a valedictory for an excellent Association and a way of life whose time has almost run out.
My cohort (29th) joined AATS in September 1956. I was only just 16 at the time. We were very young (and foolish?) and cocky as hell. We secretly considered ourselves something special – after all, most of us eventually got to wear that funny upside-down chevron for a start. It proved to be a whole new world of inspections, drill, parades, trade training, education and sport. After an intensive period of 18 months we graduated into the adult Air Force, complete with sharing barrack blocks with National Servicemen; NAAFI wagons appearing mid-morning to dispense tea and Cornish pasties; Flight Sergeants addressed as ‘Chiefy’, while our daily lives revolved round SRO’s, leave passes and travel warrants. We eagerly awaited our elevation to the rank of Corporal (which took only 6 months in my case), although others progressed to the dizzy heights of aircrew and/or commissioned status. The world was our oyster, and the RAF straddled that world – we flew 3 types of V-bomber for heavens’ sake, with flying not ceasing until Saturday lunchtime on operational Stations. AP 3297 (?) listed the many and various Stations available to us, several with the magic ‘W’ connotation indicating the presence of WRAF personnel, while overseas postings embraced much of the known world. Yes, it was a great time to be young.
However, whilst we may mourn the passing of our youth and the good old days, we must also factor in the amazing (and sometimes alarming) changes that have taken place in the country since those halcyon days back in the 50’s and 60’s. Please do not think that I am under the illusion that we lived through an idyllic ‘golden age’, a utopia of contented citizens. Nevertheless, as I recall it things generally worked (ie policemen patrolled neighbourhoods; the postal service was cheap and reliable; etc) and as the nation emerged from the tribulations of war with a young queen on the throne we enjoyed a steadily improving standard of living anchored on the nuclear family model. In addition we dodged the vicious Vietnam War; Mount Everest was conquored; and – in 1966 – we won the World Cup!
Now retired and in my 80’s I am facing a world I frankly do not recognize. The rapid surge of technological development has left me helplessly treading water in its wake, while I struggle to keep up with all the new words and concepts daily polluting the language I love. Wokeism leaves me bemused and baffled, while the latest medical advances in sexual orientation strike me as the stuff of science-fiction nightmares. I am angry but impotent in the face of those anxious to destroy our heritage to the point where I no longer feel this is my country anymore.
And so we fall back upon nostalgia, dreaming of the ‘good old days’. Hopefully we also recognize that change is inevitable and must be accommodated. Both our youthful antics and the country we once knew have gone and it is right we regret their passing, as we will regret the eventual demise of our Association. However, at the same time I hope we will take justified pride in our participation and achievements so long ago in the service of the country of our youth.