"Dear Mum" Chapter 4
Dear Mum, We have been on GDT (Ground Defence Training) all this week. Monday we had lectures and drill with the rifles. Tuesday we did instruction in stripping our old Lee Enfields, also, aiming, firing, loading, unloading, etc. In the afternoon, we fired 5 rounds in the small bore .22, like I did at Leiston Rifle Club. That was easy, then we did 5 rounds on the .303. The Lee Enfield. What a difference! There is one heck of a bang and the recoil knocks your whole body back. It did not hurt if you held onto it, but some boys who had never fired anything before ended up with bruised shoulders. The next day we had to fire 40 rounds each on the .303. That was yesterday. I did some good groups, - they could all be covered by a 3 inch circle and some by an inch and a half and, subject to confirmation I have got a Marksman score. Tomorrow we fire the Bren. That should be even better!
One of umteen photos taken on my first weekend off. Still trying to stunt my growth!
One weekend when we had seemed to avoid any major upsets during the week, we were given a 48 hour pass. Not only that, but we got a rail warrant to our home town and a bag of sandwiches. I was always a good letter writer so my mother and brother were waiting for me and everyone was immensely proud of me and my uniform. I kept it on for a lot of the weekend as there was always someone wanting to take a photo. I still have the photos of that first weekend and I am proud to say that I can still get into my boots and my peaked cap. It went all too quickly and soon I was back and the weekend was a memory. I sometimes wondered if it had taken place at all.
There is no doubt about it that my best times were on the firing range. I found I was good at something. There is nothing like being good at something. I have not found many things that I am really good at. I am just sort of mediocre at most things (except slow bicycle riding, - I always won the slow bicycle race at school, everyone knew that I was going to win it every sports day. In fact it was hard to get anyone else to enter. I thought about presenting a cup for the winner after I left, but I decided that it was a bit ostentatious, so I didn’t. In later life it seems that this is a very limited sort of ability to possess. The opportunity for demonstrating my skill at it simply does not arise. You get cheated out of everything in the end.) There was something very satisfying about shooting. It was the powerful extension of control that it gave me, especially with the Bren Gun. I was also the top scorer with that, but you only got one marksman’s badge and that was for the rifle. Squirting bullet like that almost made me decide to join the RAF Regiment, but luckily I resisted that particular temptation. I volunteered for everything going, - to do with shooting. That was probably the beginning of the incipient deafness that has gradually turned me into a zombie at cocktail parties. Messing about with Shackletons with their contra-rotating props, later on, did not help, but no one told me it was bad and no one was handing out ear protectors.
We had to pose for the Flight Photo. I bought a Bridgnorth Cravat, which I still have. I have never worn it. I don’t remember the names of many people in our Flight. It was only 8 weeks and it was a long time ago. I came out a changed man. An Aircraftsman Second Class. There was no emblem for this, but at least we were not Recruits any more. I got another Rail warrant to Yatesbury, via Suffolk and another 48 hour weekend. The first thing I learned at RAF Yatesbury, the Number 2 Radio School was that Corporals and Sergeants were not all sadistic monsters. It was a different world.
Hut Z 54. 3 Squadron,
No. 2 Radio School,
RAF Yatesbury, Calne,
Dear Mum, This is the life! Our course does not begin until the 11th. Of November and until then all we have to do is go into what they call Pool Flight, where we just do odd jobs around the Camp. The discipline is lovely. The only thing the chaps complain about is that they are in the middle of nowhere and the nearest place is Calne about 4 miles up the road. Every weekend is a free 36 hour one and once a month there is a 48.
You should see some of the uniforms. Badges all green and brown with tarnish, but everyone one wears civvies after duty. And when a couple of my mates and I went to see The War of the Worlds at the Astra in our uniforms and peaked caps. We got a round of applause!
I spent nine months at Yatesbury. It was on the main road to Calne in Wiltshire and across the road on the side of a hill facing the Station was, and still is, the White Horse. This has been carved out of the topsoil exposing the chalk below. It is the only thing to be recognised now. I went back to see the Station about 20 year later and if it had not been for the White Horse I would have sworn I was in the wrong place. All the wooden huts having been removed and in their place, a very ordinary field of waving corn.
ARF (FN) 238 was the course name, there were about 20 participants. Four Regulars like me, and the rest all National Servicemen. After Basic Training and the Air Radar Fitter’s course, many of them only spent a few months on actual Squadron Duty. There were people from all walks of life. The only thing that they had in common was an aptitude for Electronics. This was not to say that they knew anything at all about it. They had the aptitude. There were some very clever chaps on that course. I would estimate that the average IQ must have been in the 140. - 150. Level. They all thought my IQ was about three and a half, - me having signed on. Some of them had wonderful jobs in Civvy Street and resented from the bottom of their hearts, being removed from their career and family to play soldiers for two years and only get 25 bob a week for it. I must admit to being influenced by some of them and I did not advertise the fact that I had volunteered and was earning about 4 pounds a week. The learning experience and the lax discipline after Basic Training, however, contributed to a good level of morale. There was always the Scrumpy, and no shortage of local talent. When I got a motorbike I was off down to the Trowbridge Town Hall every Wednesday night, for the Dance they had there.
There were lots of extra-curricular activities. There was a gliding school at RAF Upavon and one of the first things I did was enrol there. I was taken for a flight by one of the instructors and was sold. The idea was that newcomers would hang about doing menial jobs, like pushing gliders about and cleaning things for a bit and if they persevered then they would be given instruction. There were also classroom courses to attend. This all took place on Sports Afternoon and a bus over to Upavon seemed like a very good way of avoiding Football, which I hated. My father had taken me to a Football match when I was about 3 and I had been hit in the face by the ball, quite accidentally, of course, but I have had a consuming hate of it ever since.
The gliders were launched into the air by means of a very large motorised winch, holding about half of a mile of steel hawser, on 4 drums When a glider was launched the winch pulled it into the air and then when it was several hundred feet up the cable was released, the cable fell to the ground and, of course, this then had to be taken over to the other side of the field. There was an old tractor that pulled the cables back over the field emptying the drums as it went. Because of my farming associations, in my childhood, I often used to drive a tractor for the local farmers because all the men would be loading a trailer with sugar beet or something. I was not strong enough to do the loading, but I could certainly drive any tractor.
The cable drum, which was now full of thick steel cable and must have weighed several tons. Eager to prove how well I could drive a tractor. I hitched up the 4 cables to the drawbar and took off across the field.
The inertia of the drum made it impossible for it to start turning immediately. The result of this was that all 4 cables broke and I steamed off across the field, completely oblivious to the fact that I was pulling only the frayed ends of 4 cables and had left behind a large number of extremely irate pilots who saw the chance of flying that day evaporating as rapidly as I was disappearing into the distance. I was not the most popular person there, on that day and it was suggested that it might be better if I took up some other activity on a Wednesday.