top of page

Acerca de

"Dear Mum" Chapter 3

4253464 AC2 Bell G.W.

Hut 187. Flight 21.

C. Squadron, RAF Bridgnorth,

Shropshire.   16th. August 1959.

Dear Mum, We arrived at Bridgnorth (there isn’t an e in it) yesterday evening at about 6 and were immediately “hutted”, then we went for tea at the canteen. 

The conditions here are not half as good as at Cardington, but I suppose that is to be expected, as we are definitely “in” now. We have got tons of kit and lots of brass and boots to clean. We got paid 3 pounds on Friday, but we don’t start our regular pay – it will be about 4 pounds ten, till a week next Friday.


I will always remember the first thing that happened when we got off the train was the regulation haircut.   This was the start of a period of attrition, the purpose of which was to break any strong wills that existed.  The loss of their magnificent “Teddy Boy” haircuts was a traumatic experience for a lot of young lads.  Short back and sides was taken very literally.  We were shown our allocated billet and given tasks. Everyone shouted at us.  I was thrown in with a load of National Servicemen who could not understand why I had signed on for five years, and spent the next 2 months trying to make me see the error of my ways.   Within the next hour or so I had to agree with them.


The jobs to be done were chosen on the basis of the trades that the new recruits were to pursue after basic training.  One of them was to be a Fireman so he got the job of cleaning out the big solid fuel stoves for which we had no need whatsoever, as it was one of the hottest Augusts experienced for years.   When the Corporal asked me what I was going to be and I answered proudly that I was to be an Air Radar Fitter, as it was an “Advanced Trade.”  I was expecting a highly technical task befitting my elevated station.  I was disappointed when he linked my future career to electricity and I ended up cleaning all the lamp shades and fittings.


Later on, I was cleaning the baths. It was extremely late and I had not been given anything with which to clean the bath, except a small piece of soap that I had brought with me, I sat in it with nothing on, trying to wash it and myself and - as it was the only place where I could do it, I cried quietly to myself for at least half an hour.  What had I done? Why did everyone shout at me?  Was this what my life was going to be like for the next five years.  Five Years! I had not been away from home, except for a few days before and I wanted my Mum.  When I went back, I had pulled myself together and was able sleep for a few hours, which was just as well as the next two months were unmitigated hell.  It was designed to be, but when I came out of Bridgnorth I was fitter, leaner, more self-assured and although they had not broken my spirit, it was very bent.  When someone said jump it was not a case of if I should do it or not, it was more a case of asking permission when I could come down.


Bridgenorth 16-8-59.  

Dear Mum, Today is Sunday and this morning I went to Holy Communion, then there was a church parade and we all went again.  You might ask Grandad the best way to shine boots and get the bumps out of the toes.

The language used in the billet is disgusting at times and you can tell that some people have not had a very good upbringing. We are sworn at regularly by the NCOs and the shower temperature cannot be regulated, so you find one that sprays and crouch on the floor so that it has time to cool before it hits you.  The washing of your cutlery and mug is rather rustic. There is a big tank of hot water that you dip them in as you walk past.


There were Corporals and Sergeants who would have better suited to working for the Gestapo.  Perhaps they had come over from the Gestapo at the end of the war.  Their exquisite cruelty on the tender souls under their care astonished me. I had seen bullies at school, luckily my tall stature had deterred any from afflicting me, but this did not stop these sadists.  With the benefit of hindsight, they had a job to do and it was to iron out any last vestiges of rebellion that may remain in our undeveloped minds.  They had me shaking in my shoes on many occasions.  They knew that I was scared stiff of them, because of the power that they were able to wield, at once.  Being six feet four inches seemed to make them even more convinced that I was likely to be a problem, when nothing could have been further from the truth. 


The worst time during the whole period was a week in the Tin Room at the Airmen's Mess.  There, all the greasy baking pans were brought and, armed with a dirty cloth and some tepid water and a very meagre supply of soap powder, some poor bugger like me would have to get all the burnt-on deposits off, - an almost impossible task.  The Corporal in charge could see that I hated it and delighted in bringing in huge mounds of dirty tins just at break time and informing me that these had to be done before I could go.  After seeing what went on in the mess, I lost a lot of my appetite and so ended up even leaner than I would have done, given the amount and severity of the exercise that we also had to do.   The highlight of every day was the mail call and it was very disappointing not to get anything.


Bridgnorth, 21-8-59.   Dear Mum,

I’ll give you a typical day, e.g. yesterday (Wednesday) 5.30. get up. Reveille at 6.15. We don’t have to get up till 6.15. but I find there is a heck of a lot to do before breakfast, - a bath if you are early or a shower if not, - cleaning boots, buttons, belt, brass etc., shave every other day and then put on uniform for breakfast and make bed. (I almost forgot.)  Breakfast is at 7.30 and we are on parade at usually 8.30. then we have our periods. Yesterday we had P.T. very energetic. Shower, 10. minute break, educational lecture on Current Affairs, then drill until dinnertime, with a break half way through. Dinner is at 12.00. until about 1.30. and just before that we have our mail distributed. After dinner we had more drill and another talk and more drill with breaks if we have progressed sufficiently.  We march about the Camp and salute, about turn, right dress, open order, etc., etc.



Amongst the Flight, as that was what we were called, were a couple of chaps who had done it before.  They always seemed to know what to do, their uniform was always spotless, they never got into trouble, their bedpacks were always so square that it looked like they had been machined in a workshop.   They even joked with the Corporals and Sergeants.  I could not understand it.  I do now. If I had to do it again it would be like that for me.  I would know, and they would know I knew. That’s all there is to it. It’s knowing.  Of course we did not know, the rest of us, and that is why we were there, feeling lousy and quaking in our shoes whenever we saw anyone who was not one of us.  For me I think it was being shouted at.  No one had ever done that to me before and I did not like it.  I do not like it now and I try and avoid people who do it.  There is no need for it. 


Bridgnorth, 30-8-59. Dear Mum,

As you see by the money, I did not get my pass.  Every flight in the Squadron except ours got complete passes and out of our 80 odd men only 20 got passes. Boys from other flights who got passes stop and look at our brilliant shoes and buttons and are very surprised when we say we did not get ours.  Their kit looks as rough as anything compared to ours.  It’s our blessed Sergeant who is the trouble, he is a proper blighter.

I am top left. Do you recognise anyone?

All the chaps signed the back of the photo. Now you can really see who was there.

The Sergeant in charge of our Flight was a Sergeant Palace.  He would become apoplectic. Towards the end of our training, we had just about learned all the complicated steps and manoeuvres involved in RAF Basic Training, for the Parade Ground.   We had learned it by doing it over and over again, in the August heat in denims and webbing, throwing about a heavy Lee Enfield Rifle with all the screws in the woodwork loosened, so it made a nice noise when it was slapped.  I can remember standing, watching the sweat dripping from the beret of the guy in front of me and knowing it was doing the same from mine.  We had saluted an imaginary Officer on Parade countless times after receiving the full gamut of injections on one day just before a 36 hour pass was cancelled because we were not good enough to be let out.  Considering all the other things we were learning at the same time I thought we were quite good.  Sgt. Palace did not.


We were chosen to attend a church parade at Warrington Church one Sunday. This was to be our first public engagement, - our baptism to fire.  We were extremely smart as we unloaded from the busses and marched up the hill to the church.  It was at the top of quite an incline.  We sat in church and silently listened to the service, the line up after the service and the start back down the hill was performed to perfection. Every brass button was polished, every bit of webbing was blanko’d. All the hob-nailed boots were mirror-like in their shine. They were even polished underneath.   Disaster struck when the leading flight slowed down at the bottom of the hill to be dismissed to get on the busses and escape.


By now we were quite enjoying it.  We were also eager to get away, so when the order came to halt it was a bit of a surprise.  Steep hill, hobnailed boots, a spanking pace, an emergency stop.  Imagine it.  The crowds of spectators on either side of the road certainly got their money’s worth.  If not from the airmen, some of whom ended up on their backs as their boots skidded from under them, then from the spectacle of our very own Sgt. Palace, beside himself with rage, screaming all sorts of hell and tribulation that was to fall on our heads when he got us back to the barracks.  It was not a happy homecoming and we missed another 36 hour pass because of it.  Although I did not actually fall over, someone in front of me managed to gouge the toecap of my drill boot with his heel. It took a good two hours of  “spit and polish” to fill it and get the mirror back.

One of the members of a parallel flight was a big lad.  He stood taller than me but he must have weighed about 18 stones.  He was still afflicted by Corporals and Sergeants, but not from any of us.  One of the tortures that we had to put up with was to stand at attention with a heavy Lee Enfield 303 at arm's length, in front of us. We were told to do this, but not to stop doing it, so the Corporal would then go round and see who was wavering or who did not have his arm at a precise right angle.  Our big lad never had any problem with this. He would stand like a rock for as long as anyone ever wanted him too. He never even seemed to get bored with it and as we were dropping like flies, he would stand there until it was the Corporal who got fed up.   In the communal shower it was soon noticed that he had a very tiny dick.  I would imagine that it was the result of an accident or a circumcision that went wrong.  It was only long enough to just show through the hair.  Needless to say no one ever mentioned it.


As the weeks slowly rolled by, we gradually regained our morale.  It was not going to last forever and there was life after Basic Training.  We had learned about Atomic Warfare, but as far as I could see there was not a lot of it about.  I had never, nor had anyone I knew, been exposed to poisonous gases.  Under the circumstances, it seemed the best thing to do was to die as quickly and quietly as possible if it happened, but it did not seem to be particularly likely. The worst thing that seemed at all likely to happen was that we would all get VD and there was a lot of talk about how effective penicillin was.  I found out that I was a better shot with the old Lee Enfield than anyone else in our flight and they gave me a little marksman’s badge to sew on my arm, next to our non-existent badges of rank.  We were not even Aircraftsmen second class until we passed out from Basic Training, and according to Sgt Palace there was very little likelihood of any of us ever doing that.  No, we were Recruits, but we had a sneaking feeling that there was more to the RAF than this and there were not so many people left over, when the more senior flights passed out.  In fact there did not seem to be any.  We did not believe everything Sgt. Palace told us.

< Previous Chapter                           Chapter Selection                           Next Chapter >
bottom of page