I was restless, my eighteenth birthday had come and gone, I was expecting to hear at any moment where and when I was to report for my National Service, as it was decreed by the government of the day, that all male persons over the age of eighteen, fit enough to serve their country, will do so for a term of two years.
The powers that be, already knew my preferred arm of the service was the RAF, simply because I did not fancy the Army type discipline or way of life; similarly, the Navy, the idea of being cooped up aboard ship for weeks on end at sea did not appeal either. I had always had an interest in the RAF so it was no contest really where my preferred choice would be.
The buff correspondence duly arrived, directing me to report for a medical examination at an address in Plymouth. Sitting aboard the top deck of a green Western National bus, I looked out over Dartmouth as the bus wound its way on the first stage of a journey that would not be completed for me for at least a few weeks. The journey to Plymouth is both pleasant and spectacular; as the route travels along a coastline with splendid views of headlands and sea; picturesque villages dotting the way.
Reporting to the address, which turned out to be a block of buildings in the centre of the city, I found myself in a world of people walking around in white coats. I was instructed to undress and submit my anonymous body to a series of inquisitive proddings and tests, performed by equally anonymous doctors and nurses. After an age, I was duly released and presumably pronounced fit for duties, because a few days later, another buff envelope arrived directing me to report to RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. I was to travel by rail from Plymouth with a group of enlisted men from the surrounding area, which included chaps from Cornwall. I was pleased when I learned that the train, upon which we were to travel to London, was the famed Cornish Riviera Express.
In London our arrival was at Paddington and then by underground to St Pancras, where we would catch the Bedford train. This was my first experience of London and it was interesting to see the commuters in their bowler hats and carrying umbrellas and brief cases, just as depicted in many films. The journey from St Pancras to Bedford was exactly one hour; an RAF coach then took us on to the Reception Camp, RAF Cardington. The most memorable thing about this unmemorable place was a whale like barrage balloon, wallowing limply over the station. We were shown to our billet and then to the cookhouse for a late meal, as by then, it was late evening time.
The serious business started the following day; I had expressed an interest in becoming a member of the air sea rescue service, which at that time was still operating with high-speed boats. The authorities knew this and insisted that the minimum engagement was a period of nine years. I tried very hard to persuade them to take me on for my National Service with a promise of enlisting for a longer period if I found I liked it. Of course they would not entertain the idea so we parted company and I returned home to await my fate, only this time I would have to take potluck with whatever they offered me. As for the group I had briefly got to know, I never set eyes on them again.
Very soon, I was once more on my way to Cardington, the balloon still looking like a stranded whale, the rigging swaying and creaking in the light breeze. With an assortment of other chaps, who had drifted in from all over, we started on the process of being processed. This place was the reception camp for all new recruits entering the RAF; its main function was to provide all new clothing and equipment in order to survive life, in my case, for the next two years. On completion of receiving our new kit, the 'system' demanded we parcel up our civilian gear in brown paper and post it home. Whether by design or accident, this severing of all contact with our previous existence had the most demoralising effect.
A carton of sandwiches and an apple were issued to all personnel, along with the instructions for the journey to our next destination, RAF Basic Training Camp, Padgate, near Warrington, Lancashire. We were marched off to the camps' railway sidings and entrained, soon we were on our way. As the train gathered speed, I reflected on the fact I was following in the footsteps of my brother, who, only a few months previously, had taken exactly the same journey as I was now undertaking. Fortunately for me, this was the middle of summer, which would have a distinct advantage over my brother, who had to endure his basic training in the middle of a harsh English winter. Suffice to say we duly arrived and piled into three ton Bedford trucks for the journey to the camp. Packed like sardines under the canvas of the truck with all our equipment and kitbags, we were blind to the outside world, it was only the speed and sounds we heard that indicated we had entered a huge hangar type building.
Then all hell let loose! Screaming demented voices, accompanied by loud thumping on the sides of the trucks left us in no doubt that we indeed had arrived. This was our first taste of what was to come, the tailgate was released and bodies came hurtling out on to the hangar floor, hats, kitbags, legs and feet, all thrashing about in the haste to obey the torrent of orders and abuse. I suppose I should have been scared stiff, but the site before me almost had me in fits of laughter. Of course, laughter was not the intended aim of all this nonsense, so into line and look sharp about it. We were marched off to our new accommodation, hut number 232.
So started a process that millions of British men had embarked upon throughout history. Over hundreds of years, the military establishment had honed to perfection every nuance, trick or otherwise, in dealing with inflicting unswerving obedience into the human soul. It became immediately apparent we had no rights, no individualism, and above all no right of redress or appeal, in other words we were there strictly for 'their' purposes to do whatever 'they' deemed necessary. I felt quite certain (and still do) that behind this facade, was a regime, which would, deemed necessary, resolutely crush any elements opposing or impeding its ethos or performance. I felt the only way to deal with this situation was to blend into the mass and remain as anonymous as possible
Actually I enjoyed the day-to-day physical activities of basic marching and drill. I surmised that being of average ability there would be nothing in the programme that I could not adequately deal with. By and large this proved to be the case, so sticking to my rules time went by swiftly and reasonably smoothly. The basic pay was twenty-six shillings a week (one pound thirty pence) I managed to save over ten pounds whilst there, the only thing I spent money on was mainly cleaning materials. Very little time was spent off camp, as the only place to go was the town of Warrington, which had no great appeal anyway; besides, I was usually too tired to think about going out. Although it was the height of summer, the weather was not good. Drill was frequently interrupted by torrential showers, which would soon flood the parade ground several inches deep in parts.
The course was to last for twelve weeks, soon the instructors moulded us into a team, we became as one, obeying instructions without hesitation, our bearing became military, clothing and equipment started to mould to our healthy fit bodies, the huts were maintained to zealous and obsessive cleanliness. The treatment was irresistibly working; we had lost our individual identity and acquired a new one, we marched as one, we ate as one and we conformed as one.
The Drill Instructors were quite professional in their work, and had a great sense of humour, many times during parade ground drill uncontrolled laughter would ensue a bawling out of some unfortunate man, for committing some unforgivable sin. It was to their credit, that given the absolute powers they had, seldom did I see them abuse it, no doubt some did. The DI’s themselves showed little realisation, that they themselves were all part of the process. All the exercise we were getting made us hungry, I'm glad to say the food was excellent, not haute cuisine perhaps but good wholesome fare, and plenty of it. It was now August and soon we would be on our way again, our intake, always the best of course, duly passed out and the notice board was eagerly scanned to see what destinations lay ahead. As for me, after a spot of deserved leave, I was to report to RAF Hereford for my trade training as a storekeeper.
I think it is appropriate here, to comment on the social climate of the times. I as an individual, at the tender age of eighteen, being reared in a time when ordinary people were conditioned into unquestioned obedience of any form of authority, I accepted without question the fact that my country had the absolute powers to direct me to any place, for any reason at any time of their choosing. I think today this would not be possible; years of progressive liberal thinking governments of all parties have eroded the social discipline of the people. This has been a gradual process taking place over many years, I would be very surprised if any government of today could introduce a National Service without the consent of the people.
With my basic training behind me, I returned home for a couple of weeks leave before going on to start my trade training. By now it was September and an eventful summer was left behind, one morning I gathered my belongings and caught the 8,05am train from Kingswear to Hereford, a journey of six hours or so. At Churston station, which is the first station along the line, an airman stood on the platform waiting for the train to stop; he got in the carriage ahead of me and settled down for the journey. I could not help but wonder where he was going, but as the journey progressed my thoughts turned elsewhere and I forgot about him. The train was a through train, which meant I did not have to get out anywhere to change; the route was to Bristol and through the Severn Tunnel to Hereford. When the train approached Hereford I noticed the airman who had got on at Churston started to gather his things, I could see now that he too, was destined for Hereford. I found out later his name was Mike Buleigh from Brixham, he had completed his training at RAF Bridgenorth and was destined for the same trade course as me. In civilian life he was a gas fitter working in Brixham.
My job was to be a storekeeper/ packer and it was here where I was to learn how to do it. The course was to last for six weeks, after which time I would be posted to a permanent station, hopefully to a flying station somewhere in East Anglia, until I had completed my time. The pace of things here was much less hectic than at the previous camp, a congenial Geordie Flight Sergeant of rare vintage; was our instructor and life proceeded at a gentle rate. The only thing here to upset an otherwise civilised life, was the presence of women military police, who, like all of their trade took a sadistic delight in making other peoples lives as uncomfortable as possible. The only way to avoid them was not to leave camp for any reason, thereby not going through the camp exits, which were of course controlled by MP’s. However, one day, I did decide to run the gauntlet of the guardroom, this was because I had decided to hitch hike to Ross on Wye to try a find an old school friend and pal of mine, who lived not far away, I had not seen him for nearly ten years. It was autumn, the countryside at its best, the leaves like spun gold in the September sunlight. The warmth of the sun on a gentle breeze, reinforced a complete sense of freedom I was feeling for the first time, I could not have had a more perfect day for my introduction to hitch hiking. My destination was Ross on Wye, which was some ten miles away. In the time honoured manner I raised my arm, and without a care waited to see what chance held in store for me.
A steady stream of traffic, mainly private cars; was making use of the fine weather. To my delight an obviously new, open topped Morris Minor car pulled up, it had a family of four inside, Mum dad and two small children. They asked where was I going? I told them I would like a lift to Ross if at all possible, the nice couple invited me to sit in the back with the children and off we sped. They told me they were going to Weston Super Mare and I was quite welcome to go with them if I wished. I thanked them profusely and said I would settle for Ross as I had planned my day, a little later we said our goodbyes and wished each other well.
Alone in the delightful market town of Ross on Wye, I planned my strategy for finding my friend. I had no idea where he lived, or indeed whether he still lived there at all! Suffice to say, after painstakingly asking here and there, I slowly but surely tracked down my prey. I first found the home of his parents who were pleased to see me and made me most welcome, the mother told me he didn't live with them but he was living in town with his girl friend. This news gave me a jolt because I still thought of him as a small boy with whom I used to play. He too was doing his National Service in the Army, he was a Bren Gunner in the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, he was home on embarkation leave and I was lucky to catch him at home. His mother told me all this whilst waiting to see if she could get word to him to tell him I was there. He was not long in coming and we were soon exchanging stories, for saying he had no idea I was looking for him the whole episode went off extremely well. It became time to leave, we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. I returned to camp, strangely I have no memories of the return journey.
This pleasant interlude, which punctuated my stay at RAF Hereford was the only thing of note to mark my stay there. Time progressed and along with the dozen others, went on to complete our course. As far as I remember nearly the whole course was posted to No 16 MU RAF Stafford, in the Midlands not far from where I used to live. I was bitterly disappointed when I learned Stafford was to be my destiny, it was a far cry from a flying aerodrome which I so badly wanted to go. We all travelled together, Hereford to Shrewsbury, change for Stafford via Wellington. When we got to Stafford we caught a bus to the outskirts of town and then started to walk along the road, which led to the camp. It was a gloomy, dull grey day and my spirits matched that of the weather. Coming toward us was a solitary airman, as he got nearer we could see he was an old timer, I would guess being at least twenty five years of age, his well worn uniform contrasted starkly with our brand new best blues, his well filled kitbag balanced nonchalantly on his shoulder. Someone asked him where we should report on our arrival? He pointed down the road, indicating the main guardroom was about five hundred yards or so on the left. We thanked him and as a parting shot asked him where he was going? He told us he was going home as he had completed his tour of duty after five years. We all looked at each other, FIVE YEARS!! We watched in silence as he walked on his way; already disappearing, in the gathering gloom.
So this was to be my home for the next eighteen months; looking around it seemed a daunting prospect, the camp was a huge sprawling place set in not unpleasant countryside; located on the outskirts of the county town of Stafford. The planners had taken air warfare seriously as the camp's different storage sites were spread out over a large area, well dispersed into the surrounding countryside, insurance against air attack. I was allocated to number four site which, luckily was fairly close to the living quarters. The working day differed very little from any civilian job, we started at eight thirty am and finished at five pm, if any emergency occurred then this would be covered by a rota system. My mode of transport was my bike, which I took to camp at the earliest opportunity, as the distances to be covered were great.
I quickly settled down, finding company in such likeminded chaps as myself, a lot of them were from similar walks of life, reasonable working class lads, prepared to do their best, albeit in lack lustre circumstances; roll on demob being the code to surviving. There were three types of airmen on site, the regular airmen, national servicemen and a third sizeable category, the three-year men. These being longer stay national servicemen, usually for reasons of pay and were pretty good types. It was most noticeable there was a large contingent of Scottish chaps on the camp, I was intrigued why this should be, but I never did figure out exactly why this was so. During my first winter there I contracted a severe bout of Asian flu' of which there was a national epidemic. I had heard of dreadful tales experienced by people reporting to the sick bay on official sick parade, so I pleaded with my sergeant for permission to remain in my billet, for the duration. To his credit he agreed, fortunately I had the room at the end of the building, so remaining out of view of prying eyes. For several days I lay in a feverish condition unable to help myself or even get out of bed, I felt desperately ill. A close knit bunch of Scottish chaps from my billet had been aware of my plight from the start, and without any prompting or fuss they assumed the mantle of nursing me back to full health. In addition to their daily work they provided me with all my needs; they maintained the fire day and night, obtained food from the cookhouse and NAAFI and also medicines. Gradually I regained my strength and eventually returned to my duties, my admiration for those chaps knows no bounds, for what they did, without thought of reward or thanks, I am eternally grateful. Needless to say, to this day, I have a great regard for all things Scottish.
Daily social life on the camp was basic, there was a well-appointed cinema which showed up to date films, changing the programme perhaps three times a week. Sport was encouraged by the high ups, all the mainstream sports being catered for; naturally, being a large camp with a big population the standards were quite high, especially football and rugby. The only other facility of any note was the NAAFI, where food was sold at reasonable prices accompanied by music from the juke box, the strains of Elvis Presly's Jailhouse Rock, still ringing loud in my memory. Any other activity must be sought off camp, usually in the town of Stafford itself. I found it such a drab place my visits there were very infrequent. Consequently, most airmen lived from weekend to weekend, fortunately for me, my former hometown of Burton was a short distance away and I went there whenever I could.
One day, out of the blue, I received a letter from my old friend whom I went to visit in Ross on Wye. It was a long friendly letter telling me all about his posting to of all places Jamaica, I was really pleased to hear from him. To my eternal shame I never replied, and never heard of him again.
In the next bed space to me was a chap who seemed much older than me, not only in years but life itself. he was a very enigmatic and solitary character to the point of being almost spy like, for I once saw him one night in the town of Stafford, standing alone in the shadows looking for all the world like Harry Lime with his glowing cigarette and Trilby hat. To my young mind he appeared to be very experienced and worldly, which made it all the odder why he was completely frank and open in his ways with me, because as far as I could see he would have no truck with anyone else. We would lie on our beds for hours discussing every subject under the sun, he came across as a very knowledgeable and disarming chap, although on one occasion I had witnessed his no nonsense approach to a gang of bullies in our hut. I found I could ask him his advice on anything, and he would reply frankly and without the slightest embarrassment. For the first time in my young life I was experiencing an openness with another person that I did not think was possible, for I was young, guarded and suspicious. This chaps all consuming efforts were concentrated into convincing the RAF authorities he was medically unfit for service, and should be discharged. He felt life was much too precious to be wasted in this manner, and wanted out, for he had more ambitious plans in mind. If he told me what they were I have long forgotten but the next thing I knew he had been posted to Lancashire, where they were building and testing what was to become the legendry English Electric Lightening aircraft. It was not much longer afterwards the news filtered through that he had been successful in his quest and was now out of the RAF. Once or twice he invited me home but like all other such invitations I found an excuse to decline.
As mentioned already, I loved travel, even the depressing thought of returning to camp after a weekend would be sweetened by the thought of the journey. Typically, I remember one Sunday night returning to camp from Devon when it was my intention to travel as far as Bristol by train and then catch a private motor coach which would then take me on to Stafford by road, arriving at about five am Monday morning. Perhaps this indicates what a big RAF Station Stafford was, because as far as I remember all the coach passengers were RAF types returning from weekend leave, in fact coaches from all over used to travel to Stafford on a Sunday night returning airmen back to camp. My train left at eight o'clock in the evening and arrived in Bristol about midnight. I left the train and dashed outside of the station to find the coach, it should have been waiting nearby in the approaches to the station. After much frantic searching there was no sign of it, which urgently begged the question, what was I going to? I had to make my mind up quickly.
A quick glance at the time told me the train for the north, upon which I had just arrived, had not yet departed. I made an immediate decision to rejoin it and continue my journey to Crewe where, I could get a connection to Stafford. I quickly bought a ticket and boarded the train, even so I had time to spare as the train was scheduled to pick up mail and parcels before continuing its journey at around a quarter past midnight. As I have already mentioned its eventual destination was the North of England and Scotland, the route being through the Severn tunnel to Hereford, Shrewsbury and Crewe, this had been the main route from the west of England to the North since the times of the GWR.
Travelling overnight for me was always a tiring business, mainly because I couldn't really sleep, how I envied those who could fall asleep at the drop of a hat, me I would just sit slumped in my seat with my eyes closed neither asleep nor awake. On this particular occasion I remember I had a compartment all to myself, so I could stretch out comfortably, even so I didn't sleep. At about two am I got up to have look around and stretch my legs in the corridor, I pressed my face against the window so I could see outside into the night, it was a brilliant moonlit night, it was so bright I could see the shadows of engine smoke dancing speedily through neatly laid out rows of apple trees, for the train was travelling at speed through the cider county of Herefordshire. The sound of the exhaust from the castle class locomotive cracked out over the sleeping countryside, it was moments such as these that made travelling such a pleasant experience.
Throughout the night the train travelled north, Hereford and Shrewsbury came and went, and at the awakening of a new dawn the train snaked its way into the approaches of Crewe station. This is where I was to change trains, so gathering my things I stepped out of the warm fug of the carriage and stepped out on to the platform. The time was shortly after four am, the grey streaks of dawn already evident, I gave an involuntary shiver as I turned up the collar of my greatcoat, the morning air was chill, to which my misty breath was testimony. Looking around I was taken aback at the scene of so much activity going on, it seemed totally out of keeping with the sleepy but businesslike arrival of my train. There were crowds of passengers about, and the reason to my delight was across the platform, a southbound Scottish overnight sleeper was taking a breather before continuing on its way to the capital. I suddenly found myself hastening to the business end of the London train as I was keen on finding out what type of engine it was, this entailed a long walk as the length of the train was extraordinary, I guessed and hoped it would be an ex LMS Coronation class locomotive, which were the elite of the West Coast Main Line, needless to say I was as pleased as Punch when this turned out to be correct, trouble is, damned if I can remember what the name of it was.
The scene on the platform was what railways to me were all about, people on the move. Many were in uniform like me, returning after a weekend like me, railway workers, passengers, coloured signal lights, heavy wooden trolleys being loaded and unloaded, mountains of newspapers, doors slamming, people in small groups drinking from steaming cups, all of this an island of activity in a sea of tranquil dawn. I was uncertain of the departure time of my train so did not dwell on observing the scene about me, however it turned out I had plenty of time as my train was not due to depart for another hour or more, getting into Stafford at six fifteen am in plenty of time to get back to camp and start work.
The standard RAF staff car in use at this time was the Standard Motors Vanguard, they were a common sight on the camp in Stafford, I think its fair to say whenever I got near one I would positively drool over there sumptuous lines and would dearly loved to have a ride in one, which all leads me to remember another journey. One night on my way home to Devon, I had passed through Bristol and was by the roadside waiting for a lift when this car drew alongside me, although it was dark, I could see it was a spanking new Vanguard and eagerly accepted the invitation to 'hop in'. The driver was bound for Exeter and so I settled into the comfort of the bench seat and relaxed in the (to me) luxurious comfort of my dream car. Soon we were gliding effortlessly over the Bridgewater flats, by which time I had learned my host was a rugby player, (not surprising really as he was a big chap sporting a beard) and also seemingly, quite 'well to do'. A few miles later there was a sudden commotion and grimacing coming from my driver who was writhing about and obviously in some distress, I immediately thought he was having a heart attack which in turn nearly gave me one as the car seemed to be getting out of control. With the car still travelling at a fair speed the driver eventually calmed down and sorted himself out, apologetically telling me he suffered from bouts of severe cramp in his legs and hoped he hadn't startled me. What could I say? I could hardly say I had nearly died of heart failure, so I lamely said no I was ok and thought that was the end of the matter. However, by the time we had gone through Bridgewater it had occurred two or three more times, albeit with not quite the severity as before, by this time it was quite embarrassing and I didn't know what to say, quite frankly I was becoming alarmed and wanted out, thinking it was a sham and there was some ulterior motive behind it all. I was just about to make some excuse to get out when he asked me if I could drive? I replied I couldn't and asked him why? He said if I could drive he would be grateful if I would take the wheel and drive him the remainder of the way to Exeter. Suddenly my fears evaporated as I could see he was sincere and he really had been suffering from severe cramp, you can imagine my disappointment at having to turn down the chance to drive my dream car. The remainder of the journey was without further incident, but I remember it well and always will.
One summers' evening, whilst out cycling from camp, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Trent and Mersey canal running through the nearby village of Sandon. I was immediately attracted to this literal backwater, as it was set in quiet pastoral countryside, just the sort of place I needed to get away from the drabness of camp life. I must have spoken to someone fishing in the canal, because as I returned to camp, I promised myself on my next visit to bring my own fishing tackle with me. It must have been late in my second year at Stafford when I discovered this place, consequently I didn't have many opportunities to take advantage of this tranquil hideaway, as I would soon be leaving the RAF. This was a pity, because the few times that I did go, I really enjoyed it. Once in a while I still go over to Stafford and visit this very spot; it is almost unchanged, except it is busier with leisure craft activity.
Usually, once a month we would be allocated a forty eight hour weekend pass, which meant I could leave the camp at midday on the Friday, and this would give me sufficient time to go home to Devon. It was these occasions and journeys I liked best, as hitch hiking then came into its' own. Christmas 1957 stands out in my memory, as it was the time to go home to Devon for the Christmas holidays, the journey being a distance of approximately two hundred and thirty miles. It was an absolute pea soup of a foggy day when I started out midday on the Friday, I made my way out of Stafford hitch hiking on the A449, en route for Kidderminster, Worcester and the A38 for Bristol and the west. After eight hours on the road I had covered barely thirty miles, which found me at Kidderminster. For the first time I felt I was being defeated by the conditions, a serious rethink was taking place as to how I should proceed from here. There was nothing for it but to abandon my plan and try and get to the nearest railway station, which was Kidderminster itself.
Under the eerie swirling light of a street lamp I waited for the sound of an oncoming vehicle, I could not see a thing beyond the swirling yellow wreath of the street lamp; eventually the fog deadened silence was broken by the sound of a vehicle approaching, appearing out of nowhere a Morris Minor convertible broke through the curtain of light and drew up rather irritably, as if annoyed at the necessity at having to stop. The driver leant across the passenger seat, wound down the window and asked where was I bound? I repeated the plans that were still fresh in my mind and that I wanted to get to the nearest railway station. Still leaning over the passenger seat he started to wind the window up indicating he could not help me, his rapid movements suggesting speed was of the essence, I thought I caught the word 'Exeter' through the fast closing window. Did I hear right? I quickly yelled I was going to Devon, the door opened and I hurriedly joined him.
He set off at what I thought was a lunatic speed, the fog had not let up one bit, in fact I think it had got worse plus the fact it was now pitch dark. I strained my eyes trying to see through the windscreen, but all I could see was the reflection of the car's headlights in the fog. To me it seemed impossible the driver could see where we were going; I sat back, closed my eyes and resigned myself to whatever fate had in store. Mile after mile this man drove like a man possessed, he was a young chap not much older than I. As the miles clicked away my apprehension of this man's driving changed to admiration, how he was managing to drive with such assuredness in these truly awful conditions defied logic. Towns came and went, we must have passed through Bristol but I could not recognise anywhere; conditions remained unchanged and we sped on for mile after mile.
At times I glanced at the speedometer, which I swear was registering eighty mile an hour. I have had many years to remember this journey and still ask myself if I really did see that needle hover over the eighty mark. I suppose the logical answer must be it could not have been possible, I must have imagined it in my near state of panic, either way, he dropped me off at the Exeter Bypass at exactly two o'clock in the morning. I reckoned we had covered one hundred and eighty miles non-stop in just six hours, which in those conditions was incredible. (motorways were not even on the drawing board) I thanked him profusely, what more could I say. I slammed the door and waved, by which time he had disappeared into the fog, which had not abated one jot. Throughout the long journey he had talked quite freely about himself, but for the life of me I cannot remember a single thing he told me, doubtless my selective memory process choosing more pressing details of the journey. What a pity!
On the Exeter Bypass, I again stood alone in the freezing night air in the silence of the fog. In a matter of minutes, a police car of all things drew alongside with two policemen on board; within seconds I was on my way to Paignton. When they dropped me off they told me that later they were going on to Brixham and if they saw me on the way they would give me a lift to Kingswear, which I thought was decent of them. However that was the last I saw of them though, because by then I was walking the railway line at Churston, it was my intention to walk the line to Kingswear, even if there was a tunnel to go through!
My footsteps sounded hollow on the wet sleepers, up ahead somewhere, was the tunnel. Presently, a yawning black hole loomed out of the fog, this was it; as it happened I had foreseen the possibility of such an occasion and had taken the precaution of packing a torch, I congratulated myself on my preparedness. It was absolutely pitch black inside the tunnel, the only sound being the steady drip, drip of water dropping down from the blackness above, it would have been treacherous without the aid of the torch. At about the half way mark a grey circular hole appeared in my vision, at first I was puzzled but then quickly realised it was the tunnel exit; the tunnel was built on a curve and as I rounded the bend, the exit revealed itself. I was all the time apprehensive that a train might come either up or down the single line, I tried to convince myself that this was not possible because the trains had stopped running into Kingswear hours ago, there was however the possibility that with the fog extending all over the country, and it being Christmas, a late train might come down the line.
As I emerged out of the end of the tunnel I was aware something was different, it took some time for me to figure out what it was, then it dawned on me, for the first time since leaving camp the fog had lifted, for bright moonlight was penetrating a thick mist. Now I was nearly home, I wearily climbed the hill past the village church, it was as quiet as the graves just over the stone wall, then suddenly, the silence was shattered as the church clock sonorously clanged out four times, signalling to the unhearing people of the village it was four am. Checking my watch, I noted I had been on the road for over sixteen hours. I was so, so, tired, but even then, I felt like yelling at the top of my voice…. " Happy Christmas everybody",…….. but of course I never did.
Reading through these pages I note I say very little about my work, I find this understandable as I considered my work very mundane, not boring because there were too many 'characters' around me to be bored. (Eddie from Whitley Bay who could mimic Little Richard to perfection) However, No16 Maintenance Unit Stafford was probably the largest storage facility in the RAF; as I started out by saying, it was an enormous place and well spread out into the surrounding countryside for miles around. There were sites which, were essentially self contained units in themselves, each one being responsible for storing a range of goods from say, a bicycle pump to a crated jet engine for a fighter plane. One of the sites I worked on held spares for the V bomber squadrons, I was severely brassed off one sports afternoon when at the last minute I was ordered to load a tail section of a Vulcan Bomber on to a railway wagon and arrange for its despatch to an airfield somewhere in England. This was in response to a VOG signal being received. The mid nineteen fifties was the height of the cold war between Russia and the West, and the signal V Bomber on Ground was a top priority request for spares, in order to get the aircraft back into the air, to my young mind it seemed there was nothing left to chance in the system, that the required spares would be got to the bomber squadrons in the absolute shortest possible time. It brought home to everyone the military tension was at near breaking strain, and when you got a VOG to deal with you could forget all about your important game of football. So this is what I and about twenty others in my group on my site, did for nearly two years of their lives, pack and despatch an incredible variety of spares to RAF bases all over the globe.
New year 1958 found me back at Stafford, only a few more months and I would be back home, not that I allowed myself too much time to think about it, because as a now nineteen year old, 'only a few more months' seemed like an eternity. As time went on it became noticeable that civilians were more and more taking over the duties of us airmen, as they were proving more suited to the job.
Whilst in the RAF, apart from the fact that I never went to a “proper” station, I think my biggest regret is not buying a motorcycle, whenever going through the town of Stafford, either on my way to Burton or Devon, I would pass this motorcycle shop. Almost every time, I would look longingly at the bikes on display in the window, and I would let my imagination take me on exciting travels. Norton, AJS, Ariel, Royal Enfield, Triumph, BSA, Velocette all names synonymous with the youth of the 1950’s, I could have bought any bike in the shop, I had the money, but I never did. It was not until I returned home did I by a sparkling maroon and chrome 250cc BSA, complete with fairing and leg-shields.
The pattern of life remained much the same until eventually the day came to say farewell to this odd chapter in my life. I handed in my kit and collected my travel warrant and made my way to the station. On the way I passed the spot where nearly two years earlier a group of us had met the homeward bound airman, I looked over my shoulder and took one last look, and in a brief few seconds the previous two years kaleidoscoped in my mind. My reflective thoughts remained with me on the train as it sped westwards, like a film being played over and over in my mind. It had started to rain but I did not see the rivulets of water trickling their unpredictable path down the carriage window, for the rhythmic swaying of the coach and the drumming of the trains wheels were taking effect, my eyes slowly closed……I was going home.
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