The FORTY SIXTH Entry was attested at the Administrative Apprentice Training School RAF Bircham Newton in May 1962. The School transferred to RAF Hereford in January 1963. Training was undertaken at RAF Bircham Newton and RAF Hereford in the trade Clerk Secretarial until 13 December 1963. This was the last Entry to be trained to Jnr Tech rank and to be trained over a period of 20 months.
10th April 2023
Peter was born at Neath Abbey, near Swansea. Wales on 12th December 1944. He was the only child of John and Joyce Spight (nee Watkins). His father spent his working life in the Royal Air Force and he retired in the rank of Warrant Officer but continued in the service as a civil servant. Peter spent many of his formative years in Poulton-le-Flyde near Blackpool and always maintained that he developed his cross-country running skills, he had been selected to run in the County team, as a life-survival strategy to avoid being beaten up by some of the more dubious characters that could be found in Blackpool in the late 50’s/60’s. This was the era of Rock’n’Roll – Elvis, Buddy Holly and in UK, Cliff Richard and Peter was no exception joining a local band as their singer and even, at one point, did a sound check for the Shadows as Cliff Richard was away doing a promotional interview. Larry Parnes (the first major British rock manager) wanted to sign him up but this needed Peter’s father’s approval, which he did not give, so he went for a more illustrious career and joined the Royal Air Force as an Administrative Apprentice in May 1962. . Peter still kept up his love of Rock & Roll as every RAF base would have a band, and with the regular posting of personnel, he generally found there was an opening for a lead singer.
The Royal Air Force Administrative Apprentice Training School (AATS) was located at RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk and that is where some twenty six innocent young men were formed into the 46th Entry (clerk secretarial). They were not alone, there were the 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 45th Entries already there and they were much larger as they trained Suppliers and Accounts Clerks as well as Clerk Secretarial. We were the last Entry, the smallest Entry and the lowest of the low in the pecking order. It was the working-man’s equivalent of Eton College which was founded by Henry VI in 1440 and the rules established then were applied at AATS and to Borstal Correction Centres. Early on we were all ordered (as the Junior Entry) to get up on the stage and introduce ourselves to all the Entries gathered in the Station Cinema. We had to say our names and Service Number especially as our numbers were 5942xx. We were to shout out the 42 and then the last 2 numbers. When the hilarity fell away the Flight Sergeant Apprentice said “I understand that one of you is a singer” and Pete acknowledged it was him. He was then told to sing a song to all the Apprentices in the theatre. Pete then sang a Cliff Richard number “Living Doll” without any accompaniment and that took some balls – credit to Pete.
There were many restrictions placed us poor youths – wearing only uniform until our final term, suffering evening disturbances at the hands of the Senior Entry e.g. tipping everyone out of bed and acting as butlers to selected members of the ruling class. But there were fun times and it brought the members of the 46th into a strong bond of friendship that has lasted over 60 years. Peter particularly enjoyed the flights in the AEF Chipmunk aircraft from the grass field at Bircham Newton.
Bircham Newton was closed in December 1962 and the AATS was moved to Royal Air Force Hereford which was the training school for the RAF Boy Entrants. The timing was significant as the winter of 1962/3 was one of the coldest on record and, horrors of horrors; we had to have our Christmas leave extended because of the weather. When we did eventually move to Hereford we were accommodated in Nissen Huts, with coke fired stoves in the centre of the billet so the order of the day was get coke, and more coke (not the drinking kind or sniffing kind). It became a right-of-passage to steal from those huts around us and Pete and I managed to purloin a decent quantity from the Sergeant’s Mess. Around Easter in 1963 we were moved to a Summer Camp in the Brecon Beacons where various orienteering, walking and more walking skills would be learned. Blissfully accommodated in tents in the springtime on the beautiful mountain slopes was shattered when we woke up to four inches of snow around us. Pete and I were selected to represent AATS in a rifle shooting competition between all the Royal Air Force training schools taking place near Crickhowell, South Wales. Unfortunately, this meant that we would miss out on a day of hill walking and pine pole constructing but, for the good of the AATS, we accepted our fate and were driven to the Rifle Range. Amazingly we won the 500 yard competition and were presented with our prize – an engraved ashtray! We looked forward to our journey back to give the good news to everyone but, as every apprentice knows, never trust a drill instructor. The land rover pulled up and our kit chucked out with a “have a pleasant walk” leaving us with 10 miles to walk back to the camp.
One memorable occasion that Pete and I often laughed over was one weekend when we were in Hereford having a well earned pint at, I think, the Castle Hotel when two of our drill instructors came into the bar – their eyes lit up seeing these two sprogs drinking and came over to remonstrate with us but we just held up our F1250 showing that we were both over the age of 18yrs. They declined our offer of a pint on us.
I’ve reserved one of Pete’s finest achievements in the apprentices until last. Five miscreants, with Pete as ringleader (as he had a driving licence), and demonstrating his nascent leadership qualities, which would eventually elevate him to senior officer rank, clubbed together to buy a car, a 1930’s Morris 8. It cost around £30, which stretched their financial resources to the limit! They were also breaking all manner of rules and regulations. Apprentices were not allowed to own a car and such behaviour would be seen as a direct attack on good order and Air Force discipline (something which we tried not to dwell on). They only managed one Saturday evening sortie with the car, visiting a dance at Hay-on-Wye, where it was rumoured that student nurses might be encountered (the rumours were true). I’d like to say it was his idea, but it had been pinched it off another enterprising group of five whose ambitious expedition which, if rumours are to be believed, ended in some low flying and a barrel roll! The ‘heat’ was on and Peter’s group was forced to abandon the Morris behind Hereford camp.
The 46th Entry Passed Out in December 1963 and were scattered to all ends of the UK, Pete and about four others, me included, were posted to Headquarters Transport Command at RAF Upavon and that was the last time I saw Pete until we met up (via Skype) in 2012 and established a regular and closer friendship.
I know Peter had married and divorced and had two sons. He served in Aden prior to our withdrawal in 1967 and could also have served in Germany at Royal Air Force Wildenrath. Peter was commissioned in 1978 and eight years later was at Royal Air Force High Wycombe as that is where he met his current wife, Virginia, in April 1986. He had been a Recruiting Officer in Exeter some years earlier and was again given the Recruiting Officer post in Cardiff following his posting at High Wycombe. Then followed a posting to Royal Air Force Barnwood and later to Innsworth where he worked on the teams tasked with reducing the size of the Service. Apart from the implications of the work he undertook he thoroughly enjoyed his time at Innsworth and would have been happy to see his service out there. His final posting was to St Athan which was not too far from where he lived in Cardiff.
Pete and I were best friends in training and I can always remember him back-combing my hair (Oh, happy days) into a style favoured by the Rock singers like himself during one of his visits to my home. We also hitch-hiked to his grandmothers in Gower, West Wales in uniform – our Apprentice Wheel signifying that we were trainee helicopter pilots, that worked for many Apprentices! When we rekindled our friendship via Skype and then Face time and Messenger it was with Peter and Virginia and Liz and me that the friendship was made. We used to speak nearly every month and would, of course, discuss any International rugby matches that were taking place. We were able to meet eventually when Pete and Virginia came on a cruise that berthed at Adelaide in 2013 just for the day. We followed this up when we spent four days in Amsterdam in 2014, Pete and I did the Heineken tour and Virginia and Liz the Anne Frank tour. It was great to spend time together after such a long time. We met up again in Canada the following year travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer and Cruising the Inside Passage to Alaska. In 2018 we toured New York and the North East of the USA and were hoping to meet again next year.
Peter loved to travel and it is a wonder that they have not named a cruise ship after him; he enjoyed life to the full and especially his life with his partner of thirty-seven years, Virginia. She was his rock and he loved her with all his heart and they were a couple that it was our pleasure to know and to call our very best friends. VALE Pete.
Obituary To 594250 A D (Tony) Melville – Pete Ralph (46th)
Tony Melville died on 2nd January after a long battle with Parkinsons. Five of the 46th Entry attended his funeral in Gloucester. He was a much loved husband, father and grandfather and all our sympathies go to Sheila and their family. Tony was a “service brat” who, while in Singapore, fell in love with another and was only parted from Sheila by his death. He joined up at Bircham in May 1962, passed out with the rest of the 46th from Hereford in December 1963 with distinctions – the most notable of which (in our eyes) was that he was the only member of the Entry with a fiancée! He and Sheila married on 19 December 1964, upon which occasion I had the honour to be his best man. His subsequent career took him to Stradishall, Henlow, Lindholme, Bawtry, Newton, Hereford and three tours at Innsworth, where he was a fully paid up member of the “PMC Mafia”! His overseas tours were to Labuan, Singapore and twice to Rheindahlen. Loyal to our trade, he did the full term to age 55 and reached the heights of Warrant Officer Clerk Secretarial – the first in our entry to do so. During his career, apart from the GSM and LS&GCM and bar, he was awarded the MBE, BEM and MSM. He was an excellent all round athlete with his first love undoubtedly being golf: he had a single figure handicap – and even then I suspected him of being a bandit! Although we lost touch from time to time, we always connected in the end – at Rheindahlen, Innsworth (many times) and Hereford. During those meetings, I met other friends of his and realized that I have never met anyone who didn’t like Tony – he was that rarest of individuals, universally popular. Steve McKay, another member of our Entry (and of the Association), upon hearing of his death wrote: “He was very laid back and a great companion, full of fun. I shall certainly remember him with affection.” I can’t improve on that.
Vale, Tony: ‘XLVI in aeternum’.