I would like to say that my patriotic conscience led to my decision in enlisting in the Royal Air Force back in 1971, but I would be lying. The reality which led to this momentous occasion was in fact a survival tactic on my behalf. Having spent the best part of 11 years after leaving school, moving from one job to another, mainly in the photographic trade, and getting nowhere in terms of providing sufficient financial support for a family about to increase in size, something had to change, albeit a complete re-incarnation on my behalf.

Overgate Centre Dundee

Somewhere in this shopping centre in Dundee, Scotland, 1971, was an RAF Careers Information Office, frequented by me on several occasions prior to making the final decision to take the Queens shilling and enlist. The information I received was not exactly impartial as the Sergeant assisting me in choosing a trade, of which my choice seemed endless at the time, was in fact an aircraft electrician and yes you guessed, I signed on as an Aircraft Electrician subject to trade training and passing exams. A decision which turned out to be the right one for me.

So with the background information set, it is time to gather some photographic content for 22 years worth of what I got up to serving Queen and country in a very exciting time, none of which I regret at all. Some of my postings during this period, left a lot to be desired, but on the whole most enjoyable. Do feel free to get in touch if you would like to comment on the story so far, or if you have any questions .

 

1971

 This was to be my home for the next 6 weeks, or at least it seemed that way, although we did have living accommodation which consisted of 12 man rooms and steel camp beds, what luxury, and we had soft mattresses too. Most of the recruitment activity was spent either here or in the station cinema for lectures or indoctrination would have been a better term. First off was the camp barber, short back and sides being the fashion then. This term was very fitting as I found out afterwards, a massive big mop on top and virtually nothing round the sides and back, very fetching indeed as my wife was to comment later on when I returned home for half time break at 3 weeks.


RAF Swinderby Hangar

This is where it all started out, on a cold January morning, myself and another batch of newly signed recruits rendezvoused on the assigned day at the Cumberland Guest House in Edinburgh. Guys like myself from different locations in Scotland all assembled here for an overnight stay and the following morning's onward transition to Newark Northgate rail station in Nottinghamshire, England, then by coach to RAF Swinderby where we were all to be kitted out and introduced to the joys of square bashing and domestic chores. I nearly forgot to mention I was a bit older than nearly everyone else at 26.

Next up was a series of vaccinations administered one after the other, thus saving time and allowing for extra rifle drill and other stuff like circuit training in the Gym. Human rights did not exist back then and as we all bared both arms and adopted the camp pose of one hand on each hip, we lined up and formed an orderly line at the slow march, needles firing in each arm as we moved, nobody passed out as far as I can remember. Sleeves rolled back down, pick up large broom and proceed to sweep the Hangar floor, this was a form of therapy to get the serum pumping through our veins quicker seemingly. Can't recall much after that as one by one we fell ill in one way or another, I ended up missing tea and opting for bed. Woke up the next day as usual, no option there, the klaxon made sure we were all up at 6 am, washed, showered, dressed, bed packs made and lined up for inspection "Corporal", yes they were gods at this stage of the game.

I almost forgot to mention that there was a postal strike on at this time, in hindsight a mobile phone would have been a godsend, but alas the technology was not around then. The normal communication was done by letter, remember these things? it involved some paper and envelope and a pen, usually of the fluid ink type too. Anyway I digress, what I was going to say was that prior to me boarding the steam train in Dundee for transmission to this boot camp, I was aware that during my six weeks holiday at RAF Swinderby there was a fair chance my wife would give birth to our latest family member while I was enjoying myself here, a boy named Neal.

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Back to the training now, bull nights and bed packs kept us busy, soon got the hang of all the blanket and sheet folding and was one of the lucky ones not to have my whole bedding pack thrown on the floor by the inspecting Corporal and Sergeant for not being regulation shape and size. Notice the highly bulled up shoes under the bed, a speciality of mine after a few days practice. Also made myself a few beer chits by helping others along the way.

Another chore was the upkeep of our webbing issue, Blanco was used for this purpose, a messy process to say the least, but had to be done. Button sticks of the brass variety were issued to enable cleaning our brass buttons, buckles and the likes, the button stick was to prevent Brasso cleaner from staining the Blanco. Another time saving clothing issue was our shirts, these were collar less shirts, called grandfather shirts I believe, collars were issued separately and in greater quantity than the shirts, so in effect you could attach a new collar to a shirt which was a few days worn, and still look smart. The collar stud was the only problem, it tended to irritate the neck if worn for long periods, but it did cut down on having to have a fresh shirt every day.

The early morning Tannoy calls of "Rise and Shine" took some getting used to at first, but not responding was at your own risk of being thrown on the floor by the Corporal and not very good for your street cred in front of all your newly found friends either. Most of our intake played the game accordingly and it was good that we had a couple of lads who had been out of the service and having tasted civvy street, were back in once again, having missed the comradeship that was part of forces life, something that I found out as time went on, and especially the day I was de-mobbed.

It was now nearly time to have a break in our square bashing routine, week three looming and the chance to go home for a long weekend was so welcome from the intensity of all this newly acquired routine. Cinema visits played a fair part too, safety films, trades films

The structure of the RAF films, you name it they all got played out, often a welcome relief from the constant rifle drill on the parade square, all this culminating later in a pass out parade complete with the RAF band, spectators, family members and of course us newly formed band of newbie's.  On our return for the second half, we had a new adventure lined up, a week in Sherwood Forest completing our Resource and Initiative training in the snow, living in tents in the middle of winter, oh joy!

Up till now only the very few who lived nearby or those lucky enough to have a car, escaped home at weekends, as for me, no car and living up in Dundee, my lot was staying on base, and enjoying the pleasures of the TV room and the NAAFI, where I had to endure my first taste of English beer of the worst kind "Worthington E", how I longed to get home, good beer, good company and everything else I had given up to be an airman. Square bashing completed and rail warrant in hand, was time to head off on my Basic Trade Training course.

Course Photograph (me front row right of Corporal (DI)



Basic Training

RAF Newton (Lincolnshire) March the 24th 1971  I was once again on the train, heading for RAF Newton, I arrived at Bingham station and decided to walk the few miles to the unit, on the way I stopped off at a pub just up the road to try the local brew, surely it must be better than my earlier attempts at trying to get used to Double Diamond, how wrong can you get.

I eventually arrived at RAF Newton and reported to the guardroom where I was given instructions about where my accommodation was and where to get my bedding etc.  This process was to take place almost every time I arrived at a new unit.  

I was informed that that due to unforeseen circumstances my mechanics course would not commence on the date as previously planned, but was being put back two weeks, and I was to be employed by the holding flight  “ Pool Flight “ . In other words I would be part of a pool of airmen in similar circumstance who could be called upon to carry out any task that the Disciplinary staff could think of. My task was to assist staff in the Training Aid Workshop i.e.: make the teas, sweep up, pretend to be busy and generally keep out of the way till my course started. Actually it was entertaining and very interesting working with real air force tradesmen for two weeks and I picked up lots of interesting facts about service life and other small snippets of useful stuff that I would find helped in the months to come.

Two weeks later when all the recruits due to start the course had arrived on the unit, it was time to get down to some serious education. The course would run from Monday to Friday for six months, and those of us who had cars could obviously shoot off home at the weekends. My circumstances with no vehicle, had to make do with a monthly rail warrant which would take me home. Luckily for me there were two more Scots in the same boat, and at least we had each other’s company at weekends on camp.  

On the weekends at Newton our trio spent some time going into Nottingham, the place amazed me, there were women in the ratio 3:1 to men, and it whiled away the time admirably.  It was a place of similar size to Dundee as far as I could make out, and had all the usual pubs, cinemas so it kept us all from getting to bored. But we all knew that it would be much better when the Rail Warrant was in our sticky little hands.  

We got up to all manner of things whilst being stuck here, sport was one of the things, with a free gymnasium and squash courts, so we made the best of it all. I was to spend the next six months here and learn all the basic theory appertaining to the  electrical trade, whilst all this knowledge was being instilled into my brain, opportunity had come my way in the form of incentive. A special scheme had been introduced to encourage trainees to do well, this scheme was called the Star Mechanic scheme and offered the following: a trainee who achieved over 70% in all exams throughout the course would be given a written guarantee of a Fitters course no later than two years from the date this course finished. I welcomed this opportunity with open arms as it meant I could progress in my trade faster and also more important was the substantial rise in salary from Mechanics to Fitters status. This meant doing the best I could and to this end I did achieve my “ Star Mechanic”  Award. 



I was billeted in the middle H Block on the ground floor, we assembled on the small parade square just across the road from the block each morning and were inspected for haircuts and uniform condition before marching off to the workshops or school classrooms. A nice 6 months stay.

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Pass out day, me standing by my parents car outside our block

I passed out from RAF Newton as an Aircraft Mechanic Electrical and also with a jump in rank to Leading Aircraftsman  (LAC) on the 22nd  August 1971. My parents were able to come down to my pass out parade. Dad seemed to enjoy the whole affair, being ex-RAF himself and commented on how the food had changed considerably since his World War II Service days. It was a great day, and a relief at having done what was necessary,  also a bit of emotion crept in with all the events of the day, and that I was leaving behind all the friends that I had spent six months of my life with. I had of course the chance of meeting a few of them again when I was selected to complete my Fitters course, but that was in the future.

1971-73 continued

My First Operational Posting  RAF St Mawgan. It was actually August bank holiday and I made enquiries if it was possible to submit an annual leave pass from Newton and was told that I was effectively posted from this unit as of now, and they were not responsible for my admin, this would be done at my new unit where I should now make my way.  My new unit was RAF St Mawgan near Newquay in Cornwall,  I was issued with a rail warrant, and that was their way of telling me to get on with it. I wandered off back to my billet and said goodbye to the friends still around, most had transport of their own, and had long left Newton.  Gathering together my suitcase and holdall I made my way to Bingham station and caught the train to London and Paddington Station. I had time to reflect on the last six months, and all the friends I had left behind, the chances were I might never meet them again, but at least this was progress and I was heading for my first operational Unit, and as such was eligible to apply for a married quarter and the prospect of having a family life again. 

I arrived at RAF St Mawgan without too much trouble, the train journey down had been quite a lengthy one, and with a quick look at the lay of the land on the way there, found it to be situated like most Units, quite some distance from the main towns, approximately seven miles from Newquay.  The first task to do on arrival at any unit is to report to the Station Guardroom, from where I was told where I would be assigned to work and given all the usual maps to find my way round the unit.  I asked the most pertinent question on my mind at this time,  “ Do I get leave for this Bank Holiday ? “ and the SNCO said “ Why did the silly B-----s send you all the way down here knowing that the vast majority of this Unit are away on this holiday ? “   

As it transpired,  they could not start my arrival procedure till the following Tuesday, due to everyone being on bank holiday leave.  They could not give me a warrant  to get home either as my admin docs had not arrived from RAF Newton. I managed to get my accommodation sorted out at least, and unpacked my kit,  not a bad billet with four man rooms, and built in wardrobes and carpets on the floors, obviously the two other beds with bedding on belonged to persons I had yet to meet, but that would come later.  Weighing up the situation and the thought of being stuck here with nothing to do for four days, I made a decision, to get myself back to Dundee and my family, so after forking out a fair bit of cash, made my way home by rail, and arrived in Dundee 23 hours later, a journey which I was to make several times.

Before departing St Mawgan, I had made enquiries about the married quarter situation and was advised that I may be lucky to get a place in about  one year’s time. The allocation of quarters was made on a points system, points for how many kids, also how long you have served in the RAF, well it doesn’t take too much working out where I stood and the small amount of points I had accrued since January 11th .  I was advised the best bet would be to start looking around for private rented accommodation and if the RAF approved, would subsidise the hiring to the equivalent of what I would pay for a married quarter and a bit more, to any landlord who would take me on. 

Newquay being a holiday resort town, consisted of Hotels and guest houses by the hundred and of course the rents in season were steep to say the least. There was a limit to how much rent the RAF would go to, so a severe handicap at the outset. It was a sad task having to explain to Sheila my wife, the fact that they would not be able to just move down to Cornwall as we had hoped and planned, but after explaining the housing situation down there, I was sure I could manage to find somewhere soon and that was how  we left the situation. 

I had to make my way down to Newquay after the Bank Holiday. My immediate priority was to find a place to live, and get my family back down here. I had a lot to think about on my trip to Cornwall, and the 23 hours quickly passed and I was back at St Mawgan and glad to see my bed, after all the travelling etc., On the Tuesday morning I was awake early,  ready shaved and showered and dressed once more in RAF uniform. I made my way up to the Mess and had a good breakfast before setting off to the General Office where I would begin my arrival procedure. 

Having been given instruction on which departments to go to, I duly set off. Most importantly was to visit the Families office to get the forms required for any prospective landlords. I found out that I was to be working in the Electrical and Instrument Bay , servicing and testing mainly Nimrod equipment, although there was Canberra’s and Wessex helicopters on the Unit too, and I would work on their equipment from time to time.  At my place of work,  I met Pete Rodgers another lad who had just moved down here three weeks before me, and he was in virtually the same situation as myself as regards housing, but slightly worse off as he had no kids and obviously less housing points. Pete had managed to find a winter let in Newquay and told me that there was an empty flat available in the same property he was in. I contacted the landlord and he agreed to let me rent the flat but on the proviso that I had to vacate by Easter, basically the start of the summer season in Cornwall. I got the keys from him and went off to have a look at the flat.  It was a bit damp, and musty smelling, but nothing too bad, a good bit of heat wouldn’t sort it out.

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7 Marcus Hill, Newquay our first hiring

A good bunch of guys in the E & I bay and another mate John Lovegrove also doing the same job as me, shuffling 720C & D’s around was in the throes of getting married, so it was that Pete and myself were witnesses to their  marriage at St Austell Registry Office (22-Aug-1972), special permission being granted for us to wear our best blue uniforms with white webbing. Lost track of the two lads over the years but in March 2011 had a surprise email from John who tracked me down through the internet and has brought me up to date with his adventures since 1973 when I left St Mawgan.

 

 

Pete Rogers (on the right) and myself at St Austell registry office

© John Lovegrove both photos

The happy couple John Lovegrove and his new wife

I telephoned my wife and gave her the news that I had secured a hiring, and although we had to be out by Easter, it gave us a chance to be together and that we should be able to get a permanent place  before the deadline. Back to work, and working in the E & I section was very interesting, doing tests on various pieces of equipment and learning all about schedules etc.,  my tutor was a Cpl who lived locally, and he had a good way of teaching people. I got to know the Station well over the next three months, and found out we had Americans lodging on the unit.  USNAF who’s prime role was to run a Bomb Dump where all the missiles and bombs were stored and serviced in a special compound which was heavily guarded by their personnel. Station exercises were quite the norm with at least one every month. This involved everyone on the unit and being a mere LAC also secured me the position of guard, in whichever deployment the guard commanders saw fit. Usually this was on the main station patrolling various areas, but also could include helping out our American friends guarding their compound.  Of course all this entailed donning attire they called cabbage gear, which was NBC Suits, rubber gloves, respirators, tin helmets and not forgetting the infamous SLR  ( Self Loading Rifle ) at that time using blank ammunition or more often than not,  none.

The day came to bring my wife and kids down to Cornwall, and we dually arrived at Newquay station without any hitches apart from the length of journey. Fortunately the flat I had taken was only 100 yards from the station and an easy walk.  Sheila’s reaction to the slight dampness and musty smell was as I had imagined, but opening the windows did allow the smell to subside whilst I disappeared to put on the kettle for a brew.  We both agreed this was not the ideal place to raise two kids one who was only just 8 months old, but was a base from which to work from.

Months later as luck would have it, a reply to one of our many replies to newspaper advertisement’s proved fruitful, and after having a look round  the new flat, found that it was ideal, also dry and clean into the bargain, this was to be our new home and a more permanent home than Marcus Hill. Situated at 22 St Thomas Road, Newquay, only a short distance from where we were living.

 

22 St Thomas Road, Newquay, our second hiring

My trade work was coming along in leaps and bounds, sitting various trade tests and oral examinations during the course of my work, this enabled me to progress up the promotion ladder and in January 1972 was promoted to the rank of SAC ( Senior Aircraftsman. ). This particular title seemed badly thought out  to be considered senior after only a year, nevertheless it did mean a small pay rise and was gratefully accepted. Almost a year from being posted to St Mawgan, I was offered a married quarter, the location 7 miles from base at an old RAF airfield site called St Eval, of course we accepted. One small piece of information that had gone unvoiced was that without a vehicle, things got pretty lonely round here in the winter. 

Bus services were only in the nature of one per week down to Newquay, so my family were marooned for quite some time. I purchased a motor cycle soon after moving here, nothing fancy just a Yamaha  RS 125cc machine, but this was preferable to having to catch the RAF coach every day at 7 am and having to wait till everyone was aboard in the evenings, I could please myself what time to set out and leave etc., so quite a good purchase.  Sheila and I frequented the families club here, usually once a week, the entertainment was very good and mostly country and western, usually during the evening we would also tuck in to a Cornish pasty or  Oggie” but it was at least social life of a kind and welcome in the winter months. 

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Our married quarter 218 Beaufort Avenue, RAF St Eval (changed a bit since1971)

At work  things were never dull, I managed to get some extra studies done in the guise of “ Science B “ , a modular course loosely based on Physics. This course was in preparation for my fitters course which as I explained earlier was promised to me within two years of leaving RAF Newton. My coursework was completed as fast as I could get my modules in and marked,  providing they were correct of course and I managed this within a couple of months. To date I had carried out all that was required of me education wise, to qualify getting back on my Fitters course. 

Exercises in Defence of the Unit played a large role in service life, and as much as I hate to admit, I intensely disliked this aspect of military life, my prime objective was to make it as an engineer and do the work I thoroughly enjoyed, and being paid for it helped also. Flight experience was gained through having several flights in the units Nimrods and I will always remember my first trip and the excitement and thrill of the sheer power of the four Spey engines on takeoff had me forced into the back of my seat.  The duration of these flights were lengthy and gave me time to ask many questions of the aircrew about the role this aircraft and much more, by far this was what I had imagined the RAF to be all about. 

To further my electrical trade knowledge, I asked, and was moved from E & I to the Rotax Bay where I was taught to service and test Alternators and Generators, starter motors and the like, Rotax was an annexe to the main E & I and run by Chief Technician Fred Brooks. Fred was an amiable bloke who ran the section efficiently, and providing our work was up do date and rather than have us hanging around doing nothing, would have no aversion to his lads being stood down, usually at least twice a week. This was more like the thing, and I really enjoyed learning and working here.

Official notification had arrived on the unit, about the time and dates for my pending Fitters course, I was over the moon at this information, and after finding out the details, hurried home to let Sheila know the good news.  One of the salient points for this move was, that I was only being detached rather than posted  so my family could stay in married quarters until I completed the course and returned. I did not feel so bad about the move because at least we would have a house here and no chance of trying to find a place elsewhere for the immediate future anyway. More preparation for my Fitters Course entailed getting all my kit ready, plus extra items like slide rule, compass etc.,  In these days it was always necessary, prior to departing one unit for another, to present ones No1 Uniform for inspection to my immediate boss who would have to sign my clearance form to the effect it was presentable. 

February 1973, preparation for my posting to RAF Halton well under way now, final checks before packing my bags was that I had to present myself in best blue uniform for an inspection by my then boss, a chief technician Fred Brookes, who I was later to meet at another unit sometime in the future. Being the nice chap that he was, he said that instead of attending this inspection at work, I could pop round to his married quarter in the evening so he could have a good look at my uniform and sign my form for me. This being completed without problem, was very good at bulling shoes, a speciality in fact and something that not everyone could master. I did take pride in my appearance in those days, paid off many a time for me anyway.

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