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"Dear Mum" Chapter 2

Two leaders were good.  It just seemed natural to them to come up with the right answers and they had no trouble in getting everyone to agree to what they wanted done.  It was a very good and revealing test.   We said our farewells and all those left had a pretty good idea who would be selected and who would not.  At least that is what we thought, A few weeks later I got a polite letter from the Air Ministry saying that I had not been selected.   I must have been too tall and short-sighted after all. Or with the benefit of hindsight, maybe it was the broad Suffolk accent.


In those days, National Service was something that devastated a lot of young lives.   I was in the “grey area”.  For a long time I did not know if I was to be called up or not, but rather than get called up and have to spend two years as a cook,  (- it may have suited some, but I could think of nothing worse.  I have made a point of being a very appreciative eater so that people like to feed me.  If I am asked to cook for myself I suddenly lose my appetite, or open a tin or a frozen packet for the microwave.  I could not face the risk of being a cook.)  I decided therefore to sign on and be something that I thought would be interesting.


When I went along to the Careers Office of the RAF, did a few tests and showed them what I had been doing at school, they told me that I could do more or less what I liked, (except become a Pilot!)   I had always been interested in Electronics and Physics at school, so when they said an Air Radar Fitter was a good choice,   (this was one of the Advanced trades and would make me highly sought-after in later life,) I had to agree with them.    Before I left school, where I was more interested in motor bikes and the young girls that I met every week at the dancing classes to which I used to go, I found out that I would not have to do National Service after all.   As I had never thought of much else and a lot of my friends were doing, what I thought to be extremely boring things like apprenticeships at Banks, or, heaven forbid, going on to University.  I opted to join the RAF as an Air Radar Fitter.  I said farewell to a temporarily tearful girlfriend and set off for RAF Cardington, the Reception Unit.  The date which still sticks in my mind, was the 9th. of August  1959.  


10, August 1959. 


Dear Mum, I arrived safely last dinnertime at about half past 1. and we have been very busy. I don’t know where the Post Office is so I shall go and look for it in the morning.  I shall go to Bridgnorth on Friday and will write from there giving my permanent address, - well semi-permanent anyway.  I’ve got to stop so all my love,  Bill.   (Six 1/2d. stamps on this letter!)


Cardington had been designed so as to provide potential airmen with a nice, first experience of life in the service.  Don’t forget that, as yet, most of these young men had not signed anything and, - apart from the many National Servicemen who were bemoaning their fate, (as many of them continued to do for the next two years). The young men who joined of their own free will at this time had a lot of other options.  It was not as if we had to join.  It was a time of pretty full employment.   After my service I have not been out of work for one single day.  A lot of employers like ex-servicemen.  Cardington was designed to make the new aspiring airmen think the Air Force liked them.   It was a bit of a “con”.



RAF Cardington 


12, August 1959.  


Dear Mum, I have been accepted as an Air Radar Fitter, which they all say is a much sought after trade. They said I did very well on the test papers we did and so they would accept me even if my “A” Level results are not known.    

I leave for Bridgnorth for 8 weeks of basic training on Friday and should get my kit tomorrow.  I shall send everything home when they tell us.  While at Bridgnorth I get a 48. hour pass after 4 weeks and then a week at the end.  Then comes 9 months of trade training, which looks, (as I was shown the syllabus) very interesting, - all electronics – and finally a posting to a permanent camp.


When I write next I shall probably have had my first pay.   Sorry about the delay, but first I couldn’t find the place where they sold stamps and then the place to post the ½ d. stamp letter, as the camp is very dense with buildings everywhere.  Well, it’s now 10.30. and the loudspeaker in the barracks is just playing the end of Tuesday Tunetime.  Cheerio for now. Love Bill.



12th. August 1959.  


Dear Mum,  I was sworn in this morning (Wednesday) and was issued with most of my uniform. The dress suit is very nice, but the battledress is like wearing a piece of sandpaper.  I get paid tomorrow, about 3 pounds, I think. I’ll send 2 home and keep 1, as we have to buy our own cleaning materials. I have bought some already but there is still a bit I have to get.

It’s tea time now, so cheerio for now, Bill.


After a couple of days of gentle induction, we were sworn in and after this things changed. We were kitted out and shortly afterwards, with nearly all our personal possessions packed and sent home. We were all put on a train bound for the School of Recruit Training at RAF Bridgnorth, each with a hold-all carrying an amazing selection of things that I did not ever see a use for, like a button stick and a housewife,  (a little bag thing full of needles and thread and spare buttons,) as well as a huge Greatcoat, that I was very glad to have when I was crossing the Irish Sea later,

next year, in winter.

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