These reminiscences of Boy Entrant training have been provided by Tony Fairbridge, 24th Air Radar.
|1 - HOW I BECAME A BOY ENTRANT||8 - "ENTRYISM"|
|2 - ARRIVAL AT COSFORD AND ATTESTATION||9 - THE FULTON BLOCK AND MIXING ENTRIES|
|3 - FIRST DAYS AS A BOY ENTRANT||10- JANKERS|
|4 - ITS TRAINING||11- TRADE TRAINING|
|5 - GROUND COMBAT TRAINING||12- SUMMER CAMP - WOODVALE|
|6 - SPORTS AND GAMES||13 - PIPER AND SWIMMER|
|7 - GRADUATING FROM ITS||14- SENIOR ENTRY AND PASS OUT|
1 - HOW I BECAME A BOY ENTRANT
I was not one of the school's more conspicuous successes, and my attitude caused me some problems. As the school still practised corporal punishment I came in for more than my fair share, indeed at one time I acquired the nickname "Stonearse". My parents were naturally concerned as to what was to become of me, as I had at that time shown not the slightest academic interest, although I was highly intelligent. I always managed to come top in English Language and Literature, bottom in mathematics and foreign languages and somewhere in the middle rankings in other subjects.
My Father considered that the services were the obvious choice, and with no better ideas in mind I agreed. I had a very strong mechanical aptitude, and could generally fix things, but with no school successes to show, my choice was limited. The army and navy had no appeal for me, whereas I had always been interested in aircraft, so I decided to go into the RAF as a Boy Entrant at the age of fifteen and a half.
My departure from school at the end of 1954 was viewed with some satisfaction by both parties. The night before leaving I crept out with a couple of others who were due to go, and we planted sunflower seeds in the sacred cricket square and urinated on it. I dropped my detested school cap in a rubbish container at Petersfield railway station on my way home.
I spent the Christmas and New Year at home, my last such for some years. On January 18th, 1955, I left home for Royal Air Force Station Cosford, in Staffordshire, to undergo the selection process for induction into the RAF This took 3 days, and consisted of a series of aptitude, intelligence, medical and academic tests to determine our suitability. I passed these successfully and was told that I would be enrolled for training in my chosen trade of aircraft engine mechanic. We were then given railway warrants and sent home to await orders to report back to Cosford in February. Return to Top of Page
2 - ARRIVAL AT COSFORD AND ATTESTATION
On my way to RAF Cosford, I was somewhat apprehensive, as I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived. I was wearing a new suit and trying to look like a seasoned traveller. I suppose I was in comparison to most boys of my age. Cosford is about 12 miles from the midlands town of Wolverhampton, in Staffordshire. It was at that time set in some very attractive countryside, although I didn't get to see any of it for some months. On arrival at the railway station at Wolverhampton one cold and miserable Monday in February, I was surprised to find a large number of boys of my own age waiting for the Cosford train.
Cosford Halt railway station only served the Air Force station, and we were met by a horde of NCO's, whose unfortunate task was to assemble us into some semblance of order and deliver us (by means of our own feet) to the Initial Training Squadron (ITS) area. They were polite and caring, and we began to feel that perhaps the rigours of service life had been overstated.
The next couple of days were a bit confused. On arrival at the ITS area, we were assembled into flights of about 100 and introduced to the people who would be our instructors. We were to be under the tender care of Corporal McGinn, a diminutive Glaswegian. He showed us where we were to sleep and eat, issued us with bedding and left us to the attentions of a number of boys from the senior entry, the 20th, who for the first couple of days were going to introduce us to service life. Entries in came at 4-month intervals, and we were the 24th Entry. As the junior entry, we were the lowest form of animal life, and we were soon made to realise this.
On the morning after our arrival, we were awakened at 6.00 by the incredible voice of Jerry Colonna singing " When the Tide Rushes In" at the maximum output of the public address speaker, which was hung on the wall of every room. After a hurried but substantial breakfast, we were told to assemble outside the huts and then we were herded to a large hangar-like building. This was the stone gymnasium, with which we were to make a much closer acquaintance with over the next year and a half.
Here, we were sworn in, or attested to use the correct terminology. The officer in charge talked to us about the step we were going to take, and said that if any boy was having second thoughts about joining, now was the time to say so and step forward. I do not recall any boys doing so, and after a pause he read out the oath of attestation. We stood with out right hands raised and repeated it after him. When we had finished, he said to the Flight Sergeant beside him "Right, Flight Sergeant, they're all yours." He returned the Flight Sergeant's salute and left.
We then witnessed the most amazing thing we had ever seen. The kind, caring, helpful NCO's suddenly turned into ravening beasts, screaming at us to "Get fell in in threes, you're in the bloody Air Force now!". Next we were marched to the stores and issued with our kit. The kit was issued by a team of storemen who would look at us, make an arbitrary decision as to our size and hurl items of clothing at us. On trying them on later, we found most of these items to be too big, but Corporal McGinn assured us in his inimitable style " Och, soon it will a' fut, dinnae wurry".
We were issued with two uniforms, both of the tunic type. We would not be issued with the more comfortable battle dress uniforms until after we had finished our training, still a year and a half away. One of these was to be our "best blue" and the other the working day uniform, or working blue. They were stiff blue serge, and smelled of mothballs. We also received 3 collarless shirts, 6 collars, 3 sets of underwear, 6 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of boots, a complete set of webbing harness and various other pieces of equipment which the Air Force wished us to keep in perfect order. Also, a kit bag in which to carry it.
We were also given our service numbers, which were to be our label for the rest of our service lives. Mine was 1930756, and it will be burned into my brain until the day that I die. Return to Top of Page
3 - FIRST DAYS AS A BOY ENTRANT
Corporal McGinn had the unenviable task of teaching us the rudiments of military lore, drill and military history, while at the same time acting as guardian, teacher and watchdog. He and his colleagues must have been carefully selected for their job. Not everybody could have run a flight of 100 boys aged between 15 and 16 and stayed sane.
Not all of the drill instructors were as good as Corporal McGinn; there were some who were very different. There was a Corporal Kemp, who had a cast in one eye. This earned him the nickname "Isaiah". He was very different and took pleasure in making life miserable for his charges. Jock McGinn was a stern taskmaster, but was essentially a fair and decent man. He had almost the power of life and death over us, and could make our life a misery if he chose.
Over the next day or so, we began the long process of being knocked into shape by the long-suffering McGinn and his cohorts. The first thing that occurred after the kit issue was that we were marched to the station barber and given the most savage and inexpert hair-cut most of us had ever had, but as the ever cheerful Corporal McGinn said, " Dinna care, laddy, there's naebiddy goin' tae see ye for a wee while!" It didn't help. After that, under Cpl McGinn's supervision, we carefully packed the clothes in which we had arrived into a parcel and posted it home, with his assurances that we "would'nae need yon brothel creepers for a wee while".
When we were issued with our webbing equipment, we had found that the canteen sold two types of webbing cleaner. One was an attractive light blue, and was in the form of a waxy paste; the other was in the form of water-soluble cakes of a dirty field grey. In our innocence we all bought the blue type and applied it vigorously to our new webbing. When we had all finished, Corporal McGinn took a fiendish delight in telling us that while in ITS we would use only the grey variety.
He gathered us around and explained the complicated method of preparing our brand new webbing harness. It involved scrubbing it vigorously with detergent, partially drying it and then applying liberal quantities of the blue-grey webbing cleaner, which was applied with a nail brush and water. The brass fittings then had to be polished to a mirror sheen, with not a trace of metal polish on the webbing. Of course, before we could do this we had to remove every trace of the blue waxy paste.
We were busy all night with the webbing, and in that time we also managed to get the beginning of the requisite glassy finish on our boots. Being the son of a soldier, I already knew the art of bulling a boot, and I ran an impromptu class in the skill. It didn't seem that we were able to satisfy his quite unreasonable demands on our time. We assumed that we had several days to achieve the desired finish, but to our horror he said that he would inspect it the following morning, along with our new boots. Not much sleep that night!
The third day was devoted to tests, where they assessed our suitability for the trades which we had earlier indicated as our first choice. I had selected engine mechanic as my first choice, but the results of my tests suggested that I was better suited to become a wireless or radar mechanic, so I amended my choice to radar mechanic.
The fourth day was devoted to cleaning our new kit, and preparing it and our billets for an inspection. We had no real idea what this involved, but the senior entry boys assigned to help us pointed us in the right direction. In the afternoon, we returned to the stone gym for our first pay parade. I was paid on this occasion the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence. For the rest of our twelve weeks in ITS we were paid five shillings per week, with a rise to seven shillings and sixpence when we completed basic training.
The Friday was a continuation of the cleaning and polishing. The billets had been thoroughly trashed by the entry before us who had just moved out, and we had to make good all the damage they had done. Floors were expected to have a deep shine, walls and ceilings to be spotless and free of dust, windows to be sparkling and all brass fittings to gleam. In our inexperience, we had yet to learn the quick and easy ways to achieve this condition, so we did it all the hard way.
On the Saturday morning we experienced the dreaded inspection. It was far worse than we had feared, with kit thrown on the floor, caustic comments about its state and punishments awarded to those who failed to satisfy Corporal McGinn. This was to be the pattern of our days for the next twelve weeks. If we were not polishing something, it could only be because we were asleep, as all waking hours were spent at schoolwork, other military skills or polishing.
I fell foul of Corporal McGinn early on in our acquaintance. Boy Entrants wore their berets in a distinctive way, pulled down hard on the right side, with the left side moulded close to the head and the badge prominently displayed over the left eye. It took some time to achieve this shape, and a complicated process of soaking the beret, moulding it and drying it in shape. To have a pancake-shaped beret was to be different, and that was death!
My beret refused to oblige, and while my fellows all wore theirs in the approved shape, mine still resembled a large grey mushroom. In desperation I put a pair of pliers in the side to hold it down. I thought it a good idea at the time, but Cpl McGinn thought otherwise. I spent some time parading around the billets with my beret held aloft on a broom-handle while the good Corporal told all and sundry what an idiot I was.
Such was the circumscribed world of the army brat that I found that several boys that I had known from my days in Egypt were enrolled with me. Tony Gisborne and I had been inseparable in Moascar, and here he was in the same entry, although a different trade. Jock Gruar was an entry ahead of me. Over the years several more of my childhood friends turned up in the Air Force. That was my first appreciation of the global village. Return to Top of Page
4 - ITS TRAINING
After all this, we settled down to our training proper. The days were divided into two periods, from 8.00 until 12.30, and from 1.30 until 5.30. Half of the day was devoted to drill, physical training, weapons training and other military skills, while the other half of the day was spent in continuing our normal academic schooling, with emphasis on maths, physics, chemistry, RAF history and English. I found that after the initial period of confusion, I quite enjoyed myself.
The schoolwork was not difficult, and the facilities available were very good. The work was strongly biased towards aviation and flight theory. We applied ourselves to learning the language of our new lives, for like every field of endeavour the RAF has its own dialect. We learned new terms for familiar items and learned the value of a smattering of obscenity in projecting an image. It was important to us to fit in, and to do that we had to know the language.
I found that my swimming skills were in demand as the school placed considerable importance on sporting prowess, and I quickly found myself representing the training squadron in swimming sports. I could swim backstroke well, and I was only beaten once in a backstroke event in all the time that I was at Cosford, when we swam against the naval cadets.
Initial training lasted sixteen weeks, and during this time I gradually absorbed enough military lore to satisfy the Air Force, and passed my exams at the end of this time. We were allowed off camp after six weeks, but only under the most restrictive conditions. Most of us went out once to have a look around and then gave up the effort. In our obviously new uniforms, we were targets for whatever rubbishing (and worse) that the senior entries cared to do to us. Return to Top of Page
5 - GROUND COMBAT TRAINING
Among the things we were required to do was Ground Combat Training, which was run under the not-so-kindly supervision of the RAF Regiment. Originally conceived as a means of providing the RAF with it's own organic airfield defence force, the Regiment fancied itself as a crack infantry force. Not being a soldier, I cannot comment on this, but I suspect that they were not as good as they thought they were.
The CO of the Regiment instructors was an ex-Indian Army Major, now a Squadron Leader called, naturally, Abdul. He impressed us when we were taken to the rifle range. We were to be introduced to the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Number Four Mark One Rifle. We had heard horror stories about the recoil of these monsters, mainly from the senior entries. An unknown boy asked Abdul about this recoil, and he loaded 10 rounds in a rifle, and firing it one-handed like a pistol, scored 10 bulls at 200 yards. We still called him Abdul, but we did it quietly after that.
In addition to the rifle, we also became proficient in the use of the Bren gun, at the time the standard British light machine gun. This was a delight to use, being almost recoil-free and deadly accurate. Later in my service I also became acquainted with the grenade and the Sten and Stirling sub-machine guns. Having had air rifles for all of my childhood, and having shot while in the cadet force at school, I had no difficulty in achieving the highest standard of marksmanship and wore my marksman's badge proudly on my sleeve for my whole period of service. It had a real value, as holders were paid an extra two shillings and sixpence a week.
Among the things considered vital to our education was bayonet practice. This consisted of screaming at the tops of our still slightly squeaky voices while running at a row of prone railway sleepers, stabbing them with our bayonets, and then stabbing a suspended dummy. We then had to swing the rifle and strike the dummy with the butt and run on. I managed to stab my bayonet into the railway sleeper so hard that when we left for our next class they were still trying to extract it.
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6 - SPORTS AND GAMES
The sports and games facilities were incredible. The school boasted two huge gymnasiums, one with a smooth concrete finish which was used for indoor roller skating, hockey and such and an even larger one with the more traditional timber floor, wall bars, weights, floor equipment etc. It had a full-sized boxing ring in one corner and adjoining was a hundred-foot indoor pool with 3 and 5 metre boards.
There was a staff of about 20 physical training instructors, among who were some real characters. One such was a sergeant "Chalky" White. He had apparently been involved in a road accident some years before and had been severely injured. He had fought his way back to perfect health by means of exercise and physical development. He was perhaps 40, but had the superb physique of a much younger man and a gymnastic ability that few could match. Years later I met him again in different circumstances.
Another was Cpl (later Sgt) Bruce Wells. He was at that time the European amateur middleweight boxing champion. He was a nasty piece of work. He was as thick as a brick, and had gained his rank by virtue of his boxing prowess. He was by nature a bully and sported the then current "Teddy Boy" fashions when out of uniform. He had a crowd of sycophants of like mind, and a reputation for getting into trouble. His idea of fun was to pick fights with unsuspecting drunks and beat them into a jelly.
He would invite boys to spar with him so that they could tell people that they had sparred with the great Bruce Wells and then give them a hiding. He came unglued with our entry. We had an Irish lad named Mulholland who had been a schoolboy middleweight champion in Ireland. When Wells issued his invitation, Mulholland stepped up. Halfway through the first round he realised that he had been set up and set about rectifying the situation. He was shorter than Wells, so he ducked very low, came up inside Wells' guard and sank his fist into Wells' lower regions. As Wells went down like a sack of spuds, Mulholland gave him a black eye. Return to Top of Page
7 - GRADUATING FROM ITS
At last, after sixteen hard weeks, we graduated from I.T.S. What had at first seemed impossible we now achieved easily. We could now maintain the billet and our kit in immaculate condition and still find time for some leisure pursuits. Those of us who had completed our exams satisfactorily were awarded our first progress stripe. These were small inverted chevrons worn above the cuff of the left sleeve, and were the visible evidence of our position within the hierarchy. There were three in total, awarded as we progressed through the training.
There was a parade to which our parents were invited, and we proudly executed our drill movements to the admiring Oohs and Aahs of the assembled relatives. Mine didn't arrive. After that, we were sent off on two weeks well-deserved leave. I spent the leave at Taunton, in Somerset, where my family now lived. I have already mentioned that we lived in army camps, and while as a child this presented no particular problems, now as a member of the R.A.F, no matter how junior, I was in an awkward position. I found it easier to wear civilian clothes.
At the end of my leave there was a national rail strike, and I was unable to return to Cosford. Instructions were issued over radio and T.V. for servicemen unable to return from leave to report to the service unit nearest to where they lived. I duly reported to RAF Merryfield, a fighter station near Taunton. They had no idea what to do with me, so I was sent home until such time as the strike was over. A week later I made my way back to Cosford and the start of trade training.
As a result of achieving good results in my exams, at this time I was offered the chance to become an Aircraft Apprentice, but in the trades of Airframes or Aircraft Engines. I chose to remain as a Boy Entrant trainee radar mechanic, and have often thought that perhaps my life would have been very different if I had taken up the offer. Return to Top of Page
8 - "ENTRYISM"
I should perhaps point out here that, in common with most service training schools, of any service in any country, we were subject to a degree of bastardisation at the hands of the senior entries. This "Entryism" is worth a look.
As in almost any structured hierarchy, the more senior levels preyed on the junior levels. This took the form of using junior entry people as personal servants; akin to the public school fag system. It gave one the right to go to the front of any queue. Sometimes a little brutality crept in. It was not unknown for juniors to be locked into lockers or tied into rubbish bins and tipped down the stairs, and their kit was used as a reserve from which to make good any losses. Punishments were awarded for any wrongdoing of the juniors, real or imagined. Some of these punishments were ingenious in their barbarity.
As the juniors rose through the hierarchy, they also preyed on the new juniors. There was an unspoken code of degree in the penalties imposed by the seniors, and as juniors rose in seniority the impositions became less onerous. When they themselves became the senior entry, by tradition they embarked on a rampage to stamp their authority on the camp and on the juniors. As a system, it has been with us forever. It may even play a useful part in social development. Return to Top of Page
9 - THE FULTON BLOCK AND MIXING ENTRIES
The first thing we had to do after completing ITS training was to move from the wooden huts of the ITS training wing to Fulton Block. This was an enormous edifice that seemed to cover acres of ground, three floors high. It was effectively split into quarters, each quarter housing one squadron of about 270 boys. The basic air force unit of men is the flight, consisting of about 90 boys. Each squadron consisted of three flights, and two squadrons went to make up a wing. I was in B flight of Two squadron of One wing.
For the first few weeks of our time in Fulton Block we were billeted in entries, and all the boys in my room were from the same trade and entry. As was normal, the outgoing 20th entry had thoroughly trashed the place before they left, and of course there was an inspection the morning after we moved in. As a bonus, our webbing had to be completely cleaned of all traces of the grey cleaner, washed, dried and prepared for inspection the following morning with the bright blue waxy paste. No sleep that night!
There were about 16 of us in a room, and personal space consisted of your bed and the area it occupied plus an equal area beside the bed. In this area was a small locker, about a metre high, and beside it a big locker, actually a wardrobe about 2 meters high. Your kit had to be stowed in these lockers in a specific manner, and had to be spotless at all times. Inspections were held twice weekly and woe betide the boy whose kit was not up to scratch.
It took about 3 weeks to get the room up to standard, and just as we reached that happy state we were told to move rooms. We found ourselves split up and sharing rooms with boys from entries senior to us, the 23rd and 22nd. It had been decided to stamp out the bastardisation that was part of "Entry Spirit" or "Esprit de Corps", and splitting the entries up was thought to be the way to do it. As I see it, the idea wasn't a great success; it just made the junior entries more accessible and more fragmented, therefore easier targets. Return to Top of Page
10 - JANKERS
As ITS trainees, we had been exempted from some forms of punishment, but that now ceased. A number of us, myself not included, discovered the joys of Jankers. This was the common name for detention to barracks. Detention was only part of the punishment, as the RAF's way of ensuring that you were still in barracks was to have you parade about 5 times a day at the guard room in full kit. There, the Orderly Officer inspected you. As he didn't want to be there either, he made sure that you would not enjoy the experience, and it was common to pick up more defaulters parades before finishing the current set. Leisure time was spent in interesting fatigue duties at the direction of the orderly sergeant. Usually this meant plate washing in the mess, or weeding the entire perimeter fence. Return to Top of Page
11 - TRADE TRAINING
Life in our mixed billet was too busy for us to brood too long on the problems of mixed entries. The course of training was becoming more arduous and required a fair amount of private study, and of course this applied to all entry levels. Trades as well as entries were mixed, although in general similar trades were grouped together. As prospective air radar mechanics we shared our quarters with air and ground wireless mechanics. Elsewhere, airframe and engine trades were mixed, cooks and telegraphists, instrument, armourers and electricians.
Our technical studies were becoming more interesting as we now actually got to work on real aircraft. Although they were only training airframes that had seen out their operational lives, to us they were the real thing. We had a Lincoln, a Wellington, a couple of Mosquitoes and Hornets and a number of Meteors and Vampires to play with. I was in heaven. We spent half of our day in the classroom and the rest working on the aircraft. The instructors would walk us through the procedures for aircraft maintenance, and we would then carry it out ourselves. When we were confident with this we would be presented with faults to identify and repair.
As well as theoretical studies, we were required to be competent in the workshop. We would make up circuits using "breadboard" construction, and these became more complex as the training progressed. I have always been good with my hands, so I did well at this. We learned soldering, use of hand tools and basic workshop skills.
Of the 14 months remaining after ITS, approximately 6 months was spent learning electrical and electronic theory, after which we progressed to working on the actual equipment we would meet in the RAF proper. We were divided into various streams, depending upon whether we were destined to work on bombers, fighters or transport aircraft. In practice, this meant little. I was selected to study general navigational radar, indicating a future in bombers or transport aircraft, and my first posting was to a fighter squadron.
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12 - SUMMER CAMP - WOODVALE
In the August of that year we went to summer camp. This involved about 2000 boys travelling to Woodvale, near Southport, North of Liverpool. We went by means of a special troop train as far as Woodvale Halt, and from there on we marched. Woodvale was a coastal Airfield in sand dune country, about 6 miles South of Southport, on the Lancashire coast. We lived in 6-man tents for 2 weeks, and spent the days engaged in visits to various places of interest in Liverpool, (factories and major public utilities and such), swimming off the magnificent beach nearby, military exercises by day and night and flying around the local area in Ansons and Chipmunks.
During one of the military night exercises, one of the senior entry boys decided to bury his rifle, pack and groundsheet in the sand dunes and visit his girlfriend in Southport. He knew what time he had to be back, so it shouldn't have presented any problems. When he came back, he couldn't find his rifle, as at night one sand dune looks pretty much like another. We were out all night with the instructors poking sticks into the dunes, but it wasn't found. It may still be there for all I know. His life became a lot more interesting after that.
A few days after we arrived, we were paraded to witness the punishment of 3 boys from a senior entry who had been caught stealing. The details of their offences were read out, and they were marched off under guard to go back to Cosford, where they spent the time we were at camp in detention. When we returned, they were again paraded and dismissed. We never saw them again.
There was a certain amount of friction between the local youths and our boys, and this came to a head when one of our boys was caught on his own and severely beaten and slashed by a gang of locals. The word got back to camp, and the next train to Southport carried about 5-600 boys wearing webbing belts. The web belt is a handy weapon if need be.
The local coppers carefully looked the other way as we rounded up every local youth who even looked as though he might be involved, handled them very roughly indeed and threw them off Southport pier into 5 feet of stinking ooze. Some produced knives, but against web belts these were useless, and the only result was that the knives were broken or confiscated and the owners ended up with broken noses, fingers or wrists and artistically slashed clothes.
Several hundred local youths were so treated, with threats of much more trouble to come if they chose to push this any further. No arrests were made, we went quietly back to camp when we ran out of locals and the next day we were paraded and told not to do it again. I think that it was realised that we had behaved with restraint under the circumstances, and the locals thought we had done them a favour. We had no further trouble, and the following year our boys were treated with more respect.
I had a memorable fight with a lad called Chamberlain while we were there. I've no idea what it was over, but at the end honours were about even and we were still friends. A few days later, I had another one with a lad called Peacock. Again, I have no idea what it was about, but we came out about even. This was not my normal pattern; normally I am quite a mild-mannered person.
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13 - PIPER AND SWIMMER
We had gained our second chevron after completing our theory exams, and this marked our progress up the pecking order. By now, the newness was gone from our uniforms and we were completely at home in our environment. We were a great deal tougher and more confident than when we had first arrived and we carried ourselves with a confident swagger.
A major feature of life at Cosford were the various bands. Each Wing had its own bands, both trumpet and drum and the pipe bands. In addition to this was the station voluntary band, which was a conventional military band. The drum and trumpet bands were restricted to those instruments. Two ranks of side drummers, two tenor drummers and a base drum, and four ranks of trumpeters. The trumpets were valveless cavalry trumpets, somewhat larger and longer than a bugle and with a more mellow tone.
The pipe bands were conventional military pipe bands, with two ranks of side drummers, tenor and base drums, and four ranks of pipers. Both bands were led by drum majors, with trumpet and pipe majors supporting them. There was great competition between the bands as they led us on the march to classes each morning. The drum majors were expected to be able to toss the mace over the hot water pipes where they arched over the road, and catch it without looking for it. Each entry traditionally added their own unique march to the repertoire.
Having played the clarinet, I joined the 1 Wing pipe band, and the sounds of a chanter were added to the other noises of the billet. The fingering of the pipes is essentially the same as that of the recorder, and the only real difficulty that I found was co-ordinating squeezing the bag with marching while fingering the pipe. The instrument, like the recorder, is achromatic, and this I found to be very limiting. At about this time I was given a clarinet by a cousin, and I far preferred to play that. Nevertheless, I became quite a good piper.
My ability in the pool made me an automatic selection for the Squadron, Wing and School swimming and waterpolo teams, and this involved two hours training every evening, in addition to our normal school load. All this physical activity, plus the normal growth of youth, meant that the kit which we had found too big when we first joined was now straining at the seams. I was several inches taller, had filled out considerably in the chest and shoulders and had lost the chubby look that I had as a child. I have probably never since been as fit as I was then.
As a swimmer, I frequently represented the school in swimming and water polo events and one of the benefits of this was that I gained my "Colours". This was a pale blue lanyard worn around the right shoulder to signify that the wearer represented the school in their sport. It conferred no benefit other than recognition, but it felt good.
I continued to swim competitively, with considerable success. Our water polo team was unbeaten until we played the final against a 2-wing team who we had already beaten, and to our surprise we were soundly thrashed. We had become complacent and we suffered the consequences.
For amusement, the school offered an extremely wide range of activities. Every sporting activity was catered for, as were more cultural pursuits. One Saturday afternoon several of us were lounging in the billet when a PTI came in and ordered us off to the sports field to give the station Tug-o-war team something to practise on. We were very annoyed at this disturbance of our leisure time, and pulled the official station team all over the field!
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14 - SENIOR ENTRY AND PASS OUT
The end of our training was fast approaching, and in our last four months we were senior entry, with all the privileges that went with it. The last month or so was taken up with frantic study for our final exams, then the exams and after that drill, drill and more drill. The passout parade was the culmination of everything we had learned, and it was going to be perfect!
We did a complete dress rehearsal three days before the great day, at which all our faults were pointed out to us, with threats of great unpleasantness if they were not rectified. The night before the parade, Fred Pooley, a roommate, burned a hole in his jacket sleeve while ironing it. He was completely reduced to tears, but our Flight Sergeant came to the rescue and arranged for the issue of a replacement at midnight. Fred was on parade with the rest of us the next day, resplendent in a new uniform.
That same night, various things were done around the camp to mark our passing. The numbers 24 appeared on the roof of one of the hangars in 20 foot high letters, a Vampire was pushed from the same hangar and left on the square and a pair of knickers provided by one of the canteen girls appeared on the flagpole at the flag-raising ceremony and were duly saluted by all present.
That evening, our postings and results appeared on the noticeboards. I had hoped for Fighter Command, and I had got it. I was posted to Stradishall, in Suffolk, home to a number of fighter squadrons. Which Squadron I would be assigned to would be decided when I arrived. Wally Easom, a classmate, was also posted there, so we would be seeing more of each other.
The next morning we checked the weather. A fine day for our passout parade. We preened and primped like a load of schoolgirls, all gleaming brass and razor creases. Packed, said our farewells, collected monies owed and paid those due. We swapped names and addresses with the best intentions in the world, and for the most part never followed them up. We were learning one of the great lessons of service life. You may make friends, but just as surely, you would lose them again. We had our final pay parade, where we were given our pay for the leave due to us. We also collected funds which had been held back from our pay until this time. It made us feel wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.
As we assembled for the parade, we all had a sense that this was the end of a significant part of our lives, and that things would never be quite the same again. We had made friendships that would last all our lives, although we might only meet by chance in some remote part of the world a decade or more later. I had passed out as an L.A.C. with a recommendation for promotion to S.A.C. after six months. Most of us had relatives there, and as my parents were in Malta my Grandmother had come to watch me pass out.
The actual parade was an eerie experience. As far as our drill movements were concerned, it was as perfect as we could make it. Nothing went wrong, our turnout was perfect, our ranks were straight and even those who could never march properly managed to perform. At last it was over. As we marched off and were dismissed, there was a palpable relaxation. This part of our lives was closing, and we had survived a rite of passage. We had somehow changed from schoolboys into men, albeit young ones. To a man, we were now lean and fit, and confident in our manner.
We handed in our chequered capbands and fitted the black ones we were now entitled to wear, carefully removed our boys insignia and sewed on our new badges of rank, collected our leave passes and it was over. Within a couple of hours, the 24th entry was dispersed all over the country, never to assemble again.
All of us were given 14 days leave before reporting to our new stations, but because my parents were still in Malta I had taken an additional 14 days. I travelled by train to London with my Grandmother. I had arranged for my RAF kit to be shipped to my new station, Stradishall, via the stores, and I travelled in civilian clothes. In London I said goodbye to my Grandmother and made my way to Heathrow. There I caught a British European Airways Viscount to Malta, via Rome, and later that evening I got off the plane at Luqa, a free man for the next month.
This is a good place to finish with this part of my life. Maybe I'll tell some more of it later.