Get Some In
Times Remembered 1
Times Remembered 2
Times remembered 2 :
Bill Johnson. 2571561 Johnson W. AC2, Hut 44, 27 Flight, G Sqd, 4 Wing.
I arrived at RAF Hednesford on September 18th 1952, after a more or less gentle week or so at RAF Padgate. There I had been issued with a much-creased uniform, to miraculously fit my eleven stone, 6ft 3in frame. Little did I know that in only eight weeks, that tall, thin frame would fill out to over 13 stone. Like thousands of other young men, I had been conscripted to serve two years in the Royal Air Force. I was loathe to leave home: I was twenty-one, had served my time as an apprentice patternmaker, had just received my first full pay of ten pounds, and worst of all, I was leaving my future wife behind.
We had left Padgate at 10am that fateful day, stood for two hours on Warrington station, feasted on the two cheese sandwiches provided for the journey, and at last the train was pulling into Rugely Station at about 3-30pm. There we were piled into the waiting RAF lorries, struggling to haul our kit-bags up with us, and after a short journey, turned into the camp gates of RAF Hednesford.
I was aware of cries of, "Hells bells," or words to that effect, as I held on to the bar above my head and felt the lorry turn right, then left and descend a slope. At last we stopped amid a strange silence. Within seconds however, our ears were assailed by the loudest and most sustained, repeated bawling and shouting I'd ever heard in my life. "Get down...get out...line up...come on you b..... idle shower...you're b..... airmen now..." and all interspersed with curses. I found myself in a straggly line of airmen in front of three scowling, immaculately dressed corporals, and at last could glimpse my surroundings. Just to the right, at the bottom of the hill, I could see some sort of range with targets and behind me was an expanse of rugged, bracken and tree-covered moor land as far as the eye could see.
Immediately in front of us stood an endless row of long wooden huts. Twenty of us were allocated hut 44 and we took stock of what was to be our new home for the next eight weeks.
The coke stove in the centre of the hut was a focal point of course and I managed to grab a bed near it. At least I'll be warm, I reasoned.
Then the corporal in charge of our hut followed us in. He was about 20 years old, half my size, uniform with razor-sharp creases, and boots with toe-caps that dazzled one's eyes. In one word, to us 'sprogs', he was 'immaculate'.
The rest of that evening is vague now, but from letters kept by my wife-to-be, I know that the night was spent bulling and polishing brasses and buttons etc., until lights-out at 10-30pm.
We had a morning of lectures in the camp cinema next day, an inoculation and a vaccination after dinner, and then squarebashed until tea. Our corporal had rudely informed us that he only had eight weeks to do in the RAF and because of that, he 'couldn't give a damn' whether we liked him or not. I found time that night to write home, "This is the worst camp in the world...no lights or hot water in the ablutions...no sheets for the bed. It's built on a hill-side miles from anywhere and surrounded by hills and moors...the blankets are tattered and torn," and so on. I felt utterly miserable by it all and I was not alone. Suddenly the home comforts I had taken for granted flooded through my mind and I silently railed at the injustice of it all. There wasn't even a war on, I reasoned. There and then I decided that survival was the thing and if I stuck to the book and kept my nose clean, I would get through it.
I had palled up with two lads who had been with me at Padgate and the three of us had grabbed three beds adjoining each other. Eric Murfitt, in the next bed to me, had only been married for three months and separation for him must have been very hard. We were a mixed bunch with accents from all over Britain. But as the long days slowly went by, we gradually gelled together and humour, we found, was a way to make life bearable.
Days began at 5-30, although reveille was at 6am. That half an hour was necessary to get everything required done in time for breakfast at 6-45. By 8am, we had to be on working parade on the road behind the hut and ready for inspection. By this time the corporal drill instructor had inspected our billet and of course inevitably found some fault in what we thought was an immaculate hut. This would often result in us having to bull it up again that night for it to be inspected again at 8pm.
During the day we drilled on the square over and over again until the bottoms of my feet ached with the constant pounding. The odd session of physical training and a run up the long and infamous Kitbag Hill helped to relieve the monotonous drilling. I remember us being halfway up that hill one day and 'on our knees', when the order was given to turn around and run up backwards. Surprisingly, this did relieve tired leg muscles.
Pay-day at last came after that first week and I received just �1, a tenth of my patternmaker's wage at home. Out of this, we had to buy blanco, boot polish and brasso, for our webbing etc. from the NAAFI. Constantly hungry, every meal was eagerly awaited, but the hour long wait to be served in the cookhouse meant that we had precious little time left to wolf it down. Consequently, sometimes I would skip the queue and down eight slices of jam and bread instead of the meal. I found meals to be reasonable there, but never enough to satisfy the constant hunger. For this reason, the NAAFI was a life-saver at night, if the bulling allowed that is, for a plate of egg, chips and beans could be had for 1s 4d (7p). We soon found out though that a mobile snack bar drew up outside the camp gates every night, which served the most delicious coffee and hot dogs. To this day I can taste that coffee.
At the beginning of October, we were beginning rifle drill and life was a constant routine of drilling to numbers, bull, PT, cleaning, fatigues, fire piquet and more bull. Changing from battle dress or denims into PT kit and vice versa all had to be accomplished in less than five minutes or else.
Everything had to be, "At the double." The slightest mistake or sloppiness in bulling, brought oaths and punishment from our irate corporal. Late night inspections and missed NAAFI breaks were two of his usual punishments. No longer was my name Bill: I was 'Lofty' or Johnson.
Then at last, we could be allowed out of camp in uniform for the first time - we were given a 36-hour pass.
Too far from home to contemplate going for me though, so I found myself in Wolverhampton football stadium that Saturday afternoon, feeling very conspicuous in my best blue, with that stupid, yet to be shrunk, flat beret on my head. I watched my beloved Newcastle United lose 2-0 to compound my misery.
The long hard days came and went and suddenly I found that we were actually marching quite well and responding instantly to orders. Rifles no longer went to the 'slope' one after another, but in unison, as one. We no longer struggled to 'fix bayonets', we just did it. Somehow, we were a unit of sorts. Then we were allowed to fire the rifles that we cleaned every night and the bren-gun, that we had learned to dismantle and reassemble by heart, was at my shoulder and effortlessly pumping bullets into a target on the range. I suddenly realised that all the bull and discipline was achieving its aim. So there was a purpose to it after all.
Now we were in the running for the drill cup, the corporal told us, and we were practicing hard for the 'passing-out' parade. At my height, I was a prime candidate for 'right marker' of course and I dreaded the day coming when I might slip-up in that conspicuous position.
The dreaded 'gas chamber', the assault course, aptitude tests and lectures, all came and went in those work-crammed days and evenings, until at last the great day was upon us - the 'passing-out' parade - and we had indeed won that 'drill cup'.
The parade is a blur to me now, fifty years on, but I vaguely remembering the butterflies and an anxious moment when I thought my bayonet was refusing to leave the scabbard. I also remember my wife (then my fiancee) telling me afterwards that I was the only one who didn't 'eyes right' passing the saluting base, flags waving and the band playing, but that's about all.
I look back on it now after all these years and marvel at the way those DI's turned us into a 'fighting force' of men in just eight weeks. I marvel at how we survived the harshness of it all in freezing weather too. But most of all, I feel a sense of pride that I 'did my bit', and even though it was only two years conscription, I can say proudly that I once served as a radar operator in the Royal Air Force.
Times remembered 3: Ted Caton.
2576583 Caton E. AC2, Hut 46 (I think), 25 Flight, G Squadron, 4 Wing, Nov 1952-Jan 1953
I arrived at RAF Hednesford on Monday 10 November 1952, seven and a half weeks after Bill Johnson (see Times remembered 2 above). Much of my experience was obviously the same as his and there is therefore no point in repeating it all here. It took me sixteen pages to describe my time, in a chapter entitled "Hell at Hednesford", in my book "An Erk's-Eye View" - Memories of National Service in the Royal Air Force 1952-54 (ISBN 0 9533030 0 4). Some copies of this book are still available at a cost of £7.50, plus £1.00 towards postage and packing, and anyone interested should please send a cheque for £8.50 (payable to E Caton) at 108 Moulsham Drive, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 9PZ
In all I spent a miserable ten weeks or so at Hednesford in weather which must have deteriorated after Bill's time as he doesn't mention the subject. Rain, snow, frost, fog: we had the lot and it was appalling. The conditions were so bad that we missed out on the route march, cross-country run and assault course - so there was something to be said for the conditions! Marching on ice-covered roads proved a nightmare, not helped by the fact that accompanying DIs tended to stick to grass verges where available.
Our 48 hour pass after four weeks' training coincided with severe fog which gripped the entire country, the resulting "smog" killing thousands during that weekend. I reached home in Essex after a nightmare journey ending in a late night taxi ride costing about three weeks' pay.
Returning on Sunday evening I reached Euston Station in London where coaches should have been waiting to return large numbers of us to Hednesford but, not surprisingly, they were not there and we were told to return early Monday morning with fingers crossed. I spent the night at the home of a hut mate (in Ealing) and eventually arrived at Hednesford early in the afternoon. We were all told we would be charged but, with hundreds arriving late from all areas of the country, there was obviously no question of taking action against us all.
Christmas fell during the second half of my training and our leave was a re-run of the 48 but without the problems. On both occasions we were required to lug all our kit home, presumably because its security couldn't be guaranteed in empty huts.
At the trade selection centre I was invited to become an SP. I declined. I said I wanted to be a photographer. Told I'd have to sign on for eight years I enquired whether this would guarantee my becoming a photographer. No, it wouldn't. As a qualified shorthand writer and typist,
it was decided to send me to RAF Credenhill, Hereford for a trade test which, if passed, would enable me to be posted direct to a permanent station with retrospective promotion to LAC as from date of enlistment. I passed and, eventually, received appropriate back-pay.
My only recollections of the passing-out parade are of rain and a few visitors huddled under blankets and brollies on the side of the square. Unlike Bill Johnson, I don't remember any drilling on the square prior to a rehearsal for the passing-out parade. I can only recall drilling on the road in front of our huts. There was no posting for me and I was told to return to Hednesford after a week's leave. I then found myself on 'Pool Flight' for a week or so where I was given the task of supervising, often in a blizzard, the issue of coke from the compound.
Eventually a posting came through and I found myself at RAF Norton, Sheffield acting, in effect, as the CO's secretary. After a few boring months there I broke the golden rule about volunteering and applied for a posting to SHAPE HQ. I eventually ended up at HQ Allied Air Forces Central Europe, Fontainebleau, France on the personal office staff of the Commander, the legendary Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry KCB KBE DSO DFC AFC RAF.
My decision to embark on the book mentioned above has led to the formation of an association of AAFCE veterans, now over 200 strong, holding annual reunions and returning on coach trips to France. My two years proved not only eventful at the time but to have had some long-term repercussions.
[As a footnote, I'm envious of Bill Johnson's £10 a week as a patternmaker; I got £3 as a junior clerk in local government.]
Times remembered 4: "From the other side" 2582708 Cpl (DI) Buchanan W. (Bill) Billet 159, 32 Flt, "H" Squadron, 2 Wing. 1953/54.
A...TEN.......Shun, as you were. A...TEN.......SHUN, as you were !
That sounded like a cat pissing on a hot tin roof !. - Get it together or you will be here all day !.
OK, I confess, I was a Recruit Training Instructor or DI as we were affectionately known at RAF Hednesford from September 1953 to 13 December 1954.
My own National Service experience commenced at RAF Padgate and then to RAF Wilmslow where I endured 8 weeks recruit training with D Is who seemed to take great delight in making our lives as miserable as possible. Wilmslow had one redeeming feature missing from Hednesford......WAAFS......we were of course segregated from them but managed to get together in a very cold hanger which was the camp cinema, where it was customary to take a blanket to keep them - I mean us - warm.
A number of us also found religion at Wilmslow as we very quickly realised that if we attended the C of E communion service on a Sunday morning, it ended with a very pleasant hot breakfast again in the company of WAAFS !.
Even as a raw recruit I knew that you do not volunteer for anything, however on one occasion I did and have never regretted it since. The trades available to National Servicemen unwilling to "sign on" consisted of a choice of batman, admin orderly or cooks assistant. To my amazement I and a few others were asked if we would consider volunteering for a DIs course. From AC2 to Cpl, from 28 shillings to �4.4.0 per week - I volunteered.
As our instructors course at RAF Uxbridge was delayed owing to the Queens Coronation, we were temporarily attached to the RAF Advanced Drill Unit which has since become the RAF Regiment No 63 Queens Colour Squadron. I actually enjoyed drill while square bashing but this was in another league. The enthusiasm of the unit was unbelievable, we could eventually do an eight minute drill display without a word of command. Only the Royal Marines Kings Squad was acknowledged to be better - the Guards did not even begin to compare !
When the DI course started after the Coronation it was explained to us that Drill Instructors in the future would be National Servicemen. I think the reasoning behind this was that we would be demobbed before we could emulate some of the historical harsher practices which had evolved over the years.
My first impression of RAF Hednesford was favourable, it was the height of summer and a few of my friends from the DI training course were also posted to "H" Squadron. I think we mostly enjoyed our time at Hednesford but there was always a gulf between us and the "regular" D Is, especially our Sergeant who only seemed to put in an appearance when he had to. I think they understandably regarded us as the thin end of the wedge and did not approve !
On the whole we managed to implement the excellent training we had received in a more humane way than had gone on before. It is essential that all new recruits learn to obey all orders immediately and without question, regardless of how ridiculous they may seem at the time. This of necessity involved a lot of shouting and threats which were seldom carried out.
At Hednesford any outstanding sportsmen among new recruits tended to get favourable treatment, if they were boxers and good enough to represent the station they were allowed to continue with their own training routine which I am sure they took full advantage of.
Tennis players of County standard or better were "borrowed" by the Officers and playing badminton with County players most evenings improved my own game.
As most recruits will have noticed, DIs had many perks - we had our own room in the billet to which tea and a bucket of hot water for shaving was delivered by the fire piquet each morning, our own canteen, the Cpls club in the NAAFI and after hours, access to the cookhouse for bacon or fried egg butties, which was a long standing arrangement with the duty cook, who received in exchange a greater than authorised number of fatigues for cleaning duties !
Unless on parade, D.Is were allowed to wear whatever combination of uniform they preferred, individually we all looked quite smart but in a group we looked ridiculous, we also had canes and occasionally Sgts pace sticks. Most of us took a pride in our smart appearance but unknown to the recruits we had two pairs of boots (one pair always immaculate and another pair for the rough stuff). Officers "stay bright" buttons, purchased from Gieves and Hawkes plus other duplicate items of kit, including a second set of bedding permanently squared off for inspection.
Each new intake of recruits was similar to the one before, there always seemed to be the same percentage of tall, fat, comedians, trouble makers, mummy's boys and high IQ types who genuinely did not know left from right !
There were odd exceptions, one recruit from my billet was discovered to have a very large carton of cakes, biscuits etc, from which he was paying others to clean his kit.
I had to escort another recruit to the guard room following his first weekend leave - apparently his father, who had a scrap metal business, had come by a C type Jaguar which had crashed at Le Mans - he had repaired it and gave it to his son, who was charged by the civilian Police for speeding in excess of 85 mph through a village at night. The Police had been in pursuit but were unable to catch him, which is not surprising as they were driving a Wolseley 6/80.
I also remember two recruits who spent their leisure time talking to each other in Russian and reading Russian paperback books. On completion of their square bashing they were promoted to Sgts and became translators.
Do you remember the roundabout outside the camp gates ? and the bus from Rugeley bringing recruits back to the camp after their first pass and encounter with beer ? If they were just drunk the bus driver would stop at the bus stop, if they were causing problems on the bus, the driver would stop outside the guard house and let the SPs sort it out. In this event it was not unknown for a few to jump off the bus as it slowed down for the roundabout, mostly this was successful but occasionally someone would jump into a telegraph pole and finish the journey by stretcher !.
I remember many amusing incidents, sometimes at our expense, on one occasion I observed and heard a recruit marching up and down my hut shouting "take a full pace of THE---RTY inches". Despite being a Scot I did not think I had a pronounced Scottish accent and I can honestly say that I have never said THE---RTY since. Even my Microsoft spell check does not like it !
When marching in quick time the command ABOUT-TURN is given when the left foot is forward and on the ground. However this is not the case if the squad is some distance away, especially against a strong wind, when the command may be required to be given on the other foot.
DIs know this, Pilot Officers do not !
At Hednesford the drill test was always taken by DIs, however on one occasion our Flight Officer was asked to do it. The flight was marching away from him, when at a distance of about 50 yards and against the wind, he squeaked ABOUT -TURN. The rear rank heard him and turned - and the front ranks carried on marching. ..... In a panic he increased the volume and shouted ABOUT-TURN again.......I will leave the resulting chaos to your imagination, when I tell you that everyone heard him and all turned (on different feet) to meet in the middle !
That evening on Radio Hednesford there was a request by 32 Flt for Pilot Officer-------------- "Lets go this away, not that away" by, I think, Alma Cogan !.
Does anyone remember taking part in a tattoo at the White City Stadium ? 180 recruits and DIs from our Squadron trained at RAF Uxbridge for four weeks to put on a physical training display. For a well deserved break we gave the recruits a choice of a visit to the Tower of London or Windsor Castle and I was in charge of two coaches with about 80 recruits going to Windsor Castle. When the coaches stopped in the road leading to the Castle gates, I decided in a fit of madness, to form them up and march them into the Castle forecourt and dismiss them there.
This action was not appreciated by the Welsh Guards duty Officer who did not seem to acknowledge the authority of an RAF Cpl DI.
Oh well - you cannot win them all !
I enjoyed meeting so many interesting people during my 2 years National Service and if any of you remember me, I would love to hear from you at: Kepdarroch@hotmail.com 2582708 Cpl Buchanan.W. (Bill).
Times remembered 5. 4109621 AC2 Kent J.
Hut 112, 4 Flt, A Squ. 1 Wing. Sept 8 to Nov 4th 1952. (photo 005)
CALL UP FOR NATIONAL SERVICE
On 11th August 1952 I was summoned under the National Service Acts to attend the Employment Exchange (MR.DEPT) West Street Sheffield 1, for a medical examination. Following the medical examination I was issued with a Certificate of Registration and a Grade Card. The Certificate of Registration was evidence that I had registered under the National Service Acts and the Grade Card indicated that I had been examined and passed Grade 1 and therefore fit to join Her Majesty's armed forces. During an interview following the medical examination I was asked which branch of the services I wished to enter. My choice was to go into the Royal Air Force and work on RADAR equipment. Sorry, I was told that is a four-year trade, but you can go into the REME and get the same trade for two years. I was determined to go into the Royal Air Force and signed on for the four-year term.
Two weeks following the medical examination I received a letter telling me to report to the Employment Exchange at Sheffield on September 3rd 1952 at 10 am. At the Employment Exchange I joined another three young men who were also joining the RAF. One was on the books of Sheffield United Football Club another was at Barnsley Technical School at the same time as me, but in the Building Department; I was in the Engineering Department. I don't remember anything about the fourth member of the party. I was given the custody of the travel passes and rail tickets and told where to change trains, and we made our way somewhat apprehensively to Sheffield Railway Station; our destination RAF Cardington where we were grouped together with other recruits and Corporal H directed us to our first RAF billet.
From Civilian to RAF ERK in Three Days
The recruits in the following pictures came together on the 3rd of September 1952. We first met at RAF Cardington where we spent three days being kitted out with uniforms and personal equipment. We had arrived there with a large sheet of brown paper as instructed on the recruitment documents, in which to wrap our civilian clothes to be posted home. That was the last we saw of civy clothes for the next four weeks, when we had a 48hour pass.
During our stay at Cardington Corporal H took us around. At that stage we did not know how to march so we went around as a group. Around that time the expression 'nig-nog' was often used, meaning someone had made a fool of himself. A recruit from Birkenhead named K...., we never knew his Christian name as we always called him 'Tiger,' stated that a nig-nog was a pregnant fairy. Corporal H had not heard the expression, but before we left Cardington he was calling us all nig-nogs.
At Cardington we were given our RAF number, I became 4109621 AC2 Kent. J, and our civilian identity card and ration book were exchanged for RAF Form 1250 (the RAF identity card) that contained yet another number, mine was 873088, and a Ministry of National Insurance card with our National Insurance Number. We were told to memorise both our RAF number and Form 1250 number. We were issued with uniforms, Working Blue and Best Blue and two each of other items of clothing. The forage cap was being phased out when I entered and we were issued with two berets.
A colleague and myself went to the NAAFI shortly after we had been issued with our uniforms. On our way there we saw what we thought was an Officer approaching and agreed that we had to salute him, although at that stage we had not been told who or how to salute. Never the less we did our salutes, the officer did not return the salute but stopped and called us over, and in a friendly manner told us that he was a Warrant Officer and we did not salute his rank. A different attitude to some Warrant Officers I met later in my RAF career.
One of the things I remember about Cardington was having a hearing test. This consisted of one medical orderly standing facing away from the person having the test and speaking softly, while another orderly wiggled his finger around alternately in each ear of the person being tested. The person being tested had to repeat what he heard, crude but the way it was done in those far off days.
We were fortunate whilst at Cardington to see an Airship pulled out of the huge hanger and flown over the campsite.
The pay for a four-year regular was ten shillings a day, �2-10/- per week; we were not paid for weekends. This was nearly double what I was being paid as an apprentice electrician with the Yorkshire Electricity Board. We were asked if we would like to send money home to help the budget of our respective families, it had to be multiples of a days pay and it would be stopped from our pay. I sent two days pay home and still had more pocket money than before I joined up.
Square Bashing at No 11 School of Recruit Training Royal Air Force Hednesford
September 8th to November 4th 1952
Following three days at Cardington, where we had changed from civilians to RAF Air Craftsmen Second class AC2s (erks) we were marched across fields, amid abusive and sarcastic remarks, such as 'what are you going to be a bloody cook, get that hat pulled down at the side', from the drill instructor escort, to Bedford railway station where we boarded a train to No 11 School of Recruit Training RAF Hednesford.
On arrival at Hednesford we were divided into groups and placed in huts on No 1 Wing. Our group were put in Hut 112, Number 4 Flight,' A' Squadron, Number 1 Wing. The Corporal in charge of the Hut was Corporal B.... My ex-school colleague was also placed in the same hut as me; I don't know what happened to the other two recruits that travelled from Sheffield. The Hut was in a very tatty state when we arrived, the floor was scratched and muddy as though it had not been lived in for many weeks and we were told that we had to get the floor gleaming and the place tidy before we went to bed. Polish and scrubbers were provided from a cupboard and we all began to work. The Corporal selected a senior man from the recruits, he was AC2 H.... and he was responsible for allocating jobs in the hut. We were shown how to shrink our berets by dipping them alternately in hot and cold water, and bull our boots by applying polish with a duster wrapped around a finger and rubbing the polish onto the surface of the leather using a circular motion, liberal amounts of spit had to be applied to the surface during the operation. Some recruits heated a spoon and rubbed the domed face over the areas of the boots to be bulled to reduce the chroming of the leather, before applying the polish. I don't know if it was the spit, but some airmen could get a much better shine than others. The area of the boot that was bulled was the toecap and the stiffening on the boot heel.
Corporal B..... passed a book into the hut called Airman's Guide to Air Force Law, he told us to read the book, as it told us what we could or could not do and how to redress any grievance we might have with the Air Force or higher ranking officials. There was only one copy and to digest its content in the time we had, what with bull and parades, was impossible. I only remember reading the redress part.
We were told that we had to be up by 6.30am, washed, shaved and ready to be marched to the Cookhouse by 7am. Tiger didn't have a whisker on his face but he was told he had to shave. We were shown how to fold our bedding and how to leave our beds in the morning. The bedding had to be folded in blanket, sheet, blanket, sheet, blanket, on top of each other and a blanket wrapped around the pack. The pack had to be left at the top of the bed. Half way down the bed a clean towel had to be laid across and clean mug and irons placed on the towel.
We were told that whenever we entered the Hut from that time onwards we were to use pads, small pieces of folded blanket, these were kept in the broom cupboard and each recruit placed his feet on the pads and skated up and down the Hut, polishing the floor by this action.
At 7.am we were mustered outside the Hut, inspected and shown how we must carry our mug and irons in the left hand behind our back and to swing the right arm shoulder high front and rear, when being marched to and from the Cookhouse.
When we returned from the Cookhouse we were dismissed and told to be back on parade in two minutes, the last man on parade would be on fatigues that night. We had to dash in, place mug and irons on the towel on our bed, and get outside as quickly as we could.
We were then paraded to the Armoury to collect a Rifle, webbing belt, rifle sling and gaiters. We were instructed how to clean the Rifle by using 4 by2 and a pull-through to clean the barrel. On one occasion we couldn't get 4 by2 so I tore a piece from a sheet, attached it to the pull-through and attempted to pull it through the rifle. It got stuck and no matter how I pulled it wouldn't come out, so I poured oil down the barrel and stood it in the rifle rack, which had a chain that passed through the trigger guard of each rifle and a lock was attached to the chain. I hoped that the oil would soften the cloth overnight and I would be able to pull it through by morning. However, I was saved because Sergeant H.... in charge of the squadron office, visited our Hut that night and asked who's rifle had the pull-through sticking out of the top? He rolled the cord of the pull-through around a broom handle and asked two Airmen to pull on the broom while I held the rifle. Thanks to him I was saved from an embarrassing encounter with the drill instructor the following morning, and no doubt at least one evening of fatigues. We were shown how to wear a webbing belt with a bayonet scabbard attached and how to put the bayonet in the scabbard, and how to fit gaiters. All items of webbing had to have Blanco applied each night, and the brass buckles and adornments polished with Brasso. The drill instructors had pieces of chain inside the turn ups of their trousers to weight them down and when tucked over the top of the gaiters it caused them to hang over their boot tops, very smart !.
Bull night was Thursday. The routine was to move one line of beds to the centre of the room, and clean and polish the vacated space, then move that row back in place and move the other side to the centre and clean and polish that side, the centre of the room was polished last. On such a bull night I was standing around waiting for the opposite side of the room from my bed space to be completed, when from the Corporals bunk there was a shout for the Senior Man. He was asked to send someone to the cookhouse to get him some cocoa. I was volunteered, and the Corporal told me to take an empty 5lb jam tin - that had been converted by the addition of a wire handle into a small bucket - and get him some cocoa. I marched to the canteen, tin behind my back and swinging the right arm shoulder high. When I got there the cook hadn't made cocoa only tea. I marched myself back and told the Corporal, who was sprawled on his bed while two AC2s were actively cleaning his bunk and bulling his boots. I reported no cocoa only tea, the Corporal retorted 'get me some of that', so, another march to the cookhouse. On my return I was shown a mug and told to fill it and put the rest on the fire, meaning the tin and its contents. The fire was at that time being stoked up by one of the AC2s. I took the mug to the outside door to avoid spilling tea on Corporals floor. At this stage, I was somewhat annoyed at this lazy lout laying on his bed while all around were beavering away. I put the mug on his bedside locker and as the AC2 was about to place the lid back on the stove I halted him and poured the contents of the tin into the stove, thus filling the room with smoke and soot. Corporal was somewhat annoyed at this and let out considerable abuse at me, leapt from his bed as if hinged at his ankles and stood upright on his bed before proceeding to chase me down the hut hurdling the beds down the centre of the room as we ran. I don't know what he would have done if he had caught me.
I took refuge in one of the toilets in the ablution block and remained there until the Senior Man found me sometime later. All my colleagues, with the exception of the two witnesses, wanted to know what had happened.
Days later Corporal tried to get his revenge by taking the wadding out of my Duraglit tin, which was on my bedside locker ready to clean my brasses the following morning prior to going on parade, when I was fast asleep, placing a squib in it and lighting the touch paper. The squib failed to go off, so he replaced the wadding in the tin put the squib into it and ignited the wadding. I awoke with a start with flames about six inches from my face, and knocked the tin to the floor. Corporal walked away with a sheepish look about him.
The morning following bull night a hut orderly had to stay in the hut to receive the inspection party. This party consisted of the Wing Commander who was, Wing Commander W.....-S....., and his entourage. The orderly had to salute the officer when he entered the hut and recite as follows: Sir! AC2" Name" hut orderly Hut 112, No4 Flight, A Squadron, No 1 Wing. The recruits are in their nth week of training and the hut is ready for your inspection, Sir! Then step aside to let the officer and entourage pass, and tag along at the end of the procession. When the inspection was over the orderly saluted the officer and the officer left the hut, inspection completed. Anything unsatisfactory during the inspection was reported to the orderly by one of the followers.
I was hut orderly for the 8th week of training much to the disgust of the Corporal.
Hut 112 Recruits ( 001)
The picture (Gallery Recruits 1952 - 001) shows the Airmen who occupied Hut 112 from September 8th to November 4th 1952. Pat Honey and I are first and second left respectively, centre row. Tiger is second left front row, Senior Man is left centre back row and our best recruit, is centre right back row.
The drill instructors (DI's) at that time were Corporal B...., Corporal Harry S...., he was Midlands cross country champion, Corporal M....n, he was as mad as the proverbial March hare but brilliant at rifle drill, and Corporal R.....
There were four or five Irish lads in our squadron, one of these was a good boxer and when on drill one day the mad DI must have reprimanded him. That evening when in the ablution the Irish lad challenged him to go to the Gym. Mad DI declined and the Irish lad could do no wrong in his eyes thereafter. On another occasion the mad DI grabbed a rifle from one of the other Irish airmen and in so doing cut the airman's hand. He airman was quickly taken to the Squadron office to have the wound dressed and he could do no wrong thereafter.
Around the middle of the second week of training we were marched at the double to the medical quarters to have inoculations. All the recruits formed a line and approached the Medical Officer in turn. As we were dressed in PT kit under a denim boiler suit we were asked to drop the boiler suit to our waist and roll up the sleeve on our gym shirt, and in went the needle. Several recruits feinted whilst waiting to have their jab. They were just pulled out of line and inoculated where they sat. We were then doubled back to the hut to get circulation flowing. The inoculations were for Typhoid and Para Tetnus.
About a month later we went through the same routine for a booster jab.
We were issued with a certificate of inoculation, which we were told to take with us wherever we went in the RAF.
ROYAL AIR FORCE
Certificate of Inoculation
At the start of a drill session the bayonet, we had the pig sticker type, had to be fixed to the rifle. Quite often when the rifle was shouldered following the instruction to 'fix bayonets', there would be a clatter as someone's bayonet fell to the floor, the Airman had not engaged the bayonet in the rifle clip properly. A night of fatigues in the cookhouse tin room was the usual penalty for the offender.
At around 10am the drill session was suspended for NAAFI break. We were marched to the NAAFI and joined the queue, which started at the door and went almost around the room. Usually we just got served with a scalding hot cup of tea and a Nelson slice or doughnut, and the Corporal would shout four flight outside at the double. We had to gulp down as much of our purchase as we could and head for the exit; otherwise you were destined for an evening in the cookhouse.
Passing Out Parade Rehearsal (photo 004)
'A' Squadron Passing Out Parade Rehearsal is shown at open order; the date of the parade was November 4th 1952. I am the right guide on the fourth row. AC2 Our best recruit, is the guide on the row in front.
RAF Hednesford Main Gate (photo 003)
Service Police, and Airmen on guard duty at the Main Gate RAF Hednesford. The people in civilian clothes are parents of some of the recruits who had visited the camp to watch their son's passing out parade.
All Ready For Inspection (photo 002)
A typical hut layout ready for inspection is shown on the above picture, note squared off bedding pack, plimsoles and shoes at the foot of the bed, mug and irons on a clean towel and kit bag with Airman's number showing, in each bed-space. The buckets were bulled with Brasso and the coal was washed when it became dusty. Buffers and polishers for the floor are in the foreground. A lot of bull but it disciplined the new recruits.
A day at the Rifle Range (photo 063)
Around the 6th or 7th week of training we went to Kingsbury range for rifle practice, for many of us it was the first time we had fired a rifle. We were shown how to hold a rifle and told to pull the rifle butt into the shoulder to avoid bruising. The routine to aim the rifle was: close the disengaged eye, align the rear sight with the target then raise the tip of the fore sight in line with the rear sight and the target and squeeze the trigger. Many Airmen returned from the range with badly bruised shoulders caused by the recoil from firing, because they had not held the rifle firmly into their shoulder as they were instructed to do.
We fired several rounds from 300 yards, 200 yards and 100 yards with the 303 Rifle, running the 100 yards between each stage. We then fired several rounds in service bursts of five rounds at the target from 100 yards using the Bren gun. With the Bren gun, which had a gas recharge system, there were immediate actions (IAs) to be taken when the Gun stopped firing. The first IA was Gun stops firing: cock, mag off, mag on and carry on firing. The second IA was put into operation when the first IA did not cure the fault. I do not remember the sequence, but I remember having to crawl along the side of the Gun and release the barrel-locking nut. Perhaps some other member can fill in the details.
When not firing we had to take our turn in the butts signalling to who had fired where the bullet had hit the target, sometimes it didn't hit the target but went into the bank beneath which you were sheltering and you got showered with soil. One of the markers next to me was waiving his lollipop marker stick when marking for someone firing the Bren and his lollipop was shot off the stick. It was the only time in four years service I used the issued Dixie cans, and we had our meal from them on that day.
The assault course was another memorable experience scaling high walls, tight rope walking across a brook, while the drill instructors swung the rope from side to side to try and make you fall into the water, and when crawling under the tunnels they would stamp on the top to cause the roof soil to fall on you. The last finishers found themselves in the cookhouse tin room for the evening and still had to do their bull ready for parade next day. Good fun when you are young!
It was a new adventure to us all, assault course, rifle drill, being shouted at and abused as a group and individually, having as many as three haircuts in one day everything being done at the double and any misdemeanour being punished by an evening cleaning greasy tins in the cookhouse. The camaraderie and friendship grew as we got to know each other and we came away looking healthier than when we first met eight weeks earlier.
We had two recruits in our hut, AC G.... and AC J.... who portrayed Jessy and Frank James the notorious bandits. Whenever they entered the hut in the evening following a visit to the NAFFI, it was always a stick-up. They added some light-hearted amusement to the industrious environment in the hut. They both came from the Potteries.
The popular record of that time was Nat King Cole singing 'Somewhere Along the Way', which was regularly played over the Tannoy system.
In the next four years I only met one of those recruits again, that was Trevor H.... who I met in the Corporals mess at 16 MU Stafford, he was an SP and I was an Air Radar Fitter.
Following our passing out parade we were issued with passes for a weeks leave and train warrants to our next RAF Station. I was to report to No 2 Radio School RAF Yatesbury for training as an Air Radar Mechanic.
It is now 50 years since I joined the RAF and when I look at the photo's I have recall of the young men who shared those weeks with me, the different accents of the individuals their idiosyncrasies, the moments when we were disciplined as a 'shower of incompetent so and so's' and the camaraderie that developed amongst us.
I still have the button brush that was issued for polishing brasses; it is now used to polish shoes. The coat hangers that I purchased in the NAAFI at Henesford are still used in the wardrobes, and the housewife is still in my collection with the original needles, cotton and darning wool.
It must be a sign of ageing; reminiscing about our youth. As someone once said, when you have little future left to look forward to you tend to reminisce.
Times remembered 6: "From the other side" 4108867 Cpl (DI) Blank. D.
Hut 208. 2 Flt. A Sqd. 1 Wing. 1952 to 1956.
In the 50s the call to National service at the age of 18, was a blessing in disguise for me as at that time working in an office for the National Coal Board had become a bore and the thought of getting away for two years and seeing the world was like a dream come true.
A routine medical and an interview with some person in Hanley and suddenly, in no time at all, I was in the RAF.
In a matter of weeks I was reporting to RAF CARDINGTON, I think we were there for about a week, the official signing in and issue of uniform, aptitude tests to determine the trade we would get (in my case radar or wireless was on offer) and afternoons playing football etc.
Not being interested in the trades offered I decided to sign on for 4 years and become a DI, this meant more money, quick promotion and an open air life.
If only I had known then what I was letting myself in for !
RAF HEDNESFORD was my next port of call - recruit training it was called !
Our welcome on that Thursday afternoon will never be forgotten, the minute we left the coaches the world went mad, NCOs shouting and yelling orders, persons running all over the place - it was like hell on earth - I remember to this day not knowing if I should run, jump or just lie down and die, Cardington was never like this !
I will never forget the next 8 weeks, drill and more drill, lectures, never any time to think of the outside world, never ending yelling from the NCOs, medical - drop your trousers, cough - inoculations with some recruits fainting at the sight and thought of the needle, the sore arm for days afterwards and in my case, three days in the sick bay with a temperature, the never ending kit inspections, button cleaning, trouser pressing and the spit and polish of ones boots, it never stopped !
As the weeks went by life began to improve, the bonding with friends and after 4 weeks the Flt drilling as one unit began to take shape.
The first 48 hour pass, a chance to get home in uniform for the first time.
The final 2 weeks were something to remember, drill became almost enjoyable as we were now getting it together, the NCOs became human and informed us that with a little more effort we could be as good as the last lot and with a bit of luck we could even win the drill cup - a contest which always took place before the final passing out parade.
It came to pass that 20 Flt, E Sqd did win the drill cup, the passing out parade came and went and we were all off on leave, smart and with shoulders back, so proud to be wearing the RAF uniform and all ready to tackle our next training camp.
After my weeks leave this meant reporting to RAF UXBRIDGE for what would prove to be the hardest period in my life - I thought RAF Hednesford was bad but this ???
The camp is close to the railway station and on the edge of the town and as camps go, one of the best with no wooden huts but brick built 5 story buildings with an entrance hall and central heating, hot water at all times, three to a room, in short - luxury accommodation - the food was very good, even a selection for all main meals, a huge difference from Hednesford, for at that time RAF Uxbridge was the home of the RAF Drill Unit, the RAF Ceremonial Squad and the Womens RAF Band.
The Drill Instructors course lasts for 14 weeks, a Sgt Instructor to every ten men, 30 on each course and it was pointed out to us that only a third would make the passing out parade - this proved to be true.
No shouting or yelling this time only constant drill, lectures, assault courses, PT and all the time being watched and assessed, 2 kit inspections every day and even during the night visits were made to check on your every move.
How I ever came through it I will never know !
I remember to this day when we were assembled in the main admin block and issued with several sets of stripes and told to report, with uniforms, to the camp tailor - I guess this was one of the proudest moments of my life watching the Corporal stripes being sewn on to my uniform.
Not yet 19 years of age, less than 6 months in the RAF and I will be returning to RAF Hednesford as a Drill Instructor.
BACK TO RAF HEDNESFORD.
It was mid day when I reported early to the main admin block, my reporting time being 14.00 hrs, I was reporting to Sgt C, NCO i/c 3 Flt, A Sqd. 1 Wing.
By 14.30 hrs I had been informed of my hut No and told that after getting a late lunch I would be drilling No 3 Flt, who were in their 6th week of training and it would be for the last period of the day on the main square - thankfully they were well trained and my first drill period as a DI went without any hitch.
Over the next 3 and a half years I learnt a lot about life, the awful welcome given to new recruits is all part of the plan, the shouting and yelling gets an instant response, no one questions an order and over the 8 weeks all these 120 airmen will bond into a single unit.
Our training at RAF Uxbridge was solely to this end, to get a body of diverse men from all walks of life to work as a team - if we could do this then our job had been well done - in my 3 and a half years this was always our aim and we could claim many successes.
The constant turn over every eight weeks took some getting use to - to train over 100 oddly assorted bunch of disorganised airmen into the organised and well drilled cohesive unit they are on the final passing out parade does make one think !.
To see how 8 weeks of rigid intensive drilling can transform those airmen and to see the pride they have in themselves on that final passing out parade, is a memory that lingers to this day and when they have all departed and you are left with an empty silent hut and the memories of another flight gone and a new one due in 2 days and it all starts again - HELP !
Looking back, they were good days and I am sure that most of those recruits would own up and say that it did them more good than harm ?
I am still in touch with many of my fellow ex DIs and in November 2003 we will be having a re union along with ex recruits at Scarborough .
My one regret is that I have lost track of my old DI friend RON VICKERS who came from Charlton (London) he was a tool maker and was last heard of courting a Cannock girl - if anyone knows of his whereabouts or if you remember me - I would like to hear from you - please contact me on 01782 542732 or via the webmaster.
(Since writing this we have found Ron Vickers in Florida. PGH)
It is over 50 years since that initial call up for National service in 1952 - treasured memories - what a pity that the youth of today do not have the opportunity to enjoy the experience?
To all the recruits that I had the pleasure of training - I hope you remember me without any rancour - you were a grand lot and I hope the rest of your service days were as good and enjoyable as mine were.
Many of you, I suspect, married a girl you met while serving in the RAF - the uniform often helped ? - I did and have never looked back, I hope you were as lucky as I.
Finally, with Pat Honey and John Kent, arranged our on site re union in 2003 - our chance to all get together once more - a day of memories. (See Gallery).
Regards Dave Blank.
From: "Jim Wood"
Pat, Many thanks for your recent letter returning my passing-out picture which arrived safely. Glad to hear that we are now on line.
Since my visit to Hednesford in December I have been trying without success to trace my particular square-bashing pal, Mike Worden, who is third from the left in the front row of the picture. Should he by any chance make contact with you, would you be good enough to let me know.
Regards, Jim Wood.
brian hill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
comment: I WAS POSTED TO THAT HELL HOLE IN MID 53 ESCAPED MARCH 56 WORKED OFFICERS MESS.
#4125898 LAC. MET & WORKED WITH GOOD MATE RON DODD WE WERE BOTH FROM BRUM HAVE BEEN TRYING TO TRACK DOWN RON HE LIVED PERRY BARR WAY I THINK
Tony Hewson Oct-Dec 52 (email@example.com)
comment: A superb website. My thanks to all involved in its construction. It brought back memories ("The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there!") Kent J's contribution was astounding for its detail. Did he make notes? Is it possible for me to contribute? 2575316 Saarh!
From: "Mike O'Neill"
Hi Pat: Have been in touch with Bill Buchanan-hoping he was our Corp' in 1953-no such luck. Anyhoooo, he said you "were a mine of information"! So here is my question, If I joined at Cardington on Sept 17th '53, that would put me at Hednesford in Sept? Would you know the Wing that I would have been in??
I have poured over all your excellent Gallery Photo's (nice work) hoping to see myself & other buddies-no luck. So I'm hoping that if we can identify the Sept '53 Wing than maybe, just maybe you will put up a Photo one day & "Bingo" Ha Ha.
05: 2703223ac2. bert edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org) on Thursday, May 01, 2003 at 07:16:53 brilliant website - so evocative! I was there from 31/8/53 for my square-bashing stint, a great melting pot of a hut to learn different accents, rude ditties, how to lie, cheat, steal and generally grow up. Onto Middle Wallop to become a radar op/plotter, then a brilliant 20 months in 2nd TAF, Germany at many different stations in 537 SU, a mobile radar unit, working from backs of lorries and living often in tents. I'm retired and compiling a loose autobiography, mainly for my grandchildren, who don't believe my version of escapades and cock-ups. (I still have photos of Hednesford but my memory's poor on hut number, flight, etc. Some NCOs, like Corp Crawford, I'll never forget! Nor the kindly sergeant who protected us and for whom there was a collection on our last day for his getting married - we learned later that he got married every 8 weeks!)
From: "Burt EDWARDS"
Was on the Norfolk Broads last week, so visited the RAF Radar Museum at RAF Nettishead (near Horning). No coverage of 2nd TAF but a really good, nostalgic display there.
I do have some decent photos of boot camp at Hednesford but have not yet learned how to scan them for e-mailing. One day!
How about this, then: few weeks ago, writing some memoirs (provisionally called "Carry On Up The Cock-Ups") for the grandchildren, got to wondering if there had ever been a reunion for 537 S.U. Checked the web, masses of unit reunions but nothing for my old lot, but there was a mention of a book "RAF Signals Units Since World War II". So I rang the author to ask if it mentioned 537SU. He was astonished, because although it did not (he said that 537 only lasted for 3 years, 1953 - 56) he said I was the second person to ring him in two weeks with the same question. The other enquiry was from a bloke I served alongside and we are now in good touch, swapping anecdotes. So, no contact for 50 years, then two in two weeks!
Briefly, from Hednesford memories: got very fit, from a weedy civilian to a smart/reluctant airman.
learned to understand regional accents. learned to steal, carrying NAAFI supplies from trucks to the cookhouse. learned to lie, inventing ACII Robinson whenever a name was wanted for fatigues.
learned to laugh on the left side , while keeping the right side of my face straight.
learned to survive on pennies. and much, much more..............All best, Burt ( 2703223 SAC Edwards)
From: "Ralph Bale"
Thank you for your e-mail. Its good to hear from people with common interests in nostalgia. I love the idea of a meet at Cannock Chase visitor centre in July.
One pal of mine who was serving in the RAF in Germany and had square bashed at Hednesford, wrote to me about the square and referred to "having marched on that square, you know what Capt. Carlson felt like when his oil tanker, the Flying Enterprise I believe, ran on to rocks and listed badly, but the Captain remained on board.
I am attaching three pics, one of the NCO's, one of the whole flight, and the inmates of hut 39 with Cpl L (I'm front row 2nd from the left, wearing a "kit bag" on my head). Cpl L was very crafty, he was married and lived off camp, he always wore best blue which meant he did not wear gaiters. The bunk at the end of hut 39 was occupied by Sgt Tomlinson.
Hopefully, when you have the reunion, you will be able to put some pics on your wonderful web site.
Take care best wishes, Ralph Bale Taunton.
ralph Hopkin (email@example.com)
comment: I was 2562879 airman Hopkin. I was in 15 Flight in 1952. I was under the Eagle eye of Sgt Grafton and Corporal Clark.(I think)
This was in July/August/Sept. This is about all I can remember as to units and non-coms. I went from Hednesford to St. Athan and thence to Coastal Command in St. Eval, Cornwall. The only claim to fame in our wing was the inclusion of the actor the late James Cossins. I think the appointed senior man was named Jennings or Jenkins. I remember a RAF regiment instructor who was about 5 foot six and a ball of Scottish fury. I also remember a Colin Dumper from Southampton and a Dave Mines from the same town which is from where I came. I now live in California USA (since 1967)
I was a tad older than the average recruit as I had obtained a deferment until my apprenticeship was completed so I was twenty one and a half. I am now almost 73.
I like the site. Keep up the good work. Ralph.
From: "robin cheesman"
My service history did not take me to Oldenburg but when I was at 724 SU Wildenrath, we were linked to other sites, but as an Operator, we probably did not even speak to each other. Mind you a lot of guys were posted to 300SU so you MAY have heard my name mentioned but I did not reach Germany until Feb.5th 1954. As for Hednesford. I arrived on August 20th 1953 thru Oct 7th. Then Yatesbury thru Jan 1954. I do remember the Days of the Long March down to
the Radar school . That cabbage patch certainly smelled during the cold winter that year.
D.I.'s at Hednesford were McCluskey, Doyle, Swann, Hill
and a Peruvian whose name escapes me. I do have a list of all those who shared Hut 60 (?) with me but that will take some finding amongst all my treasured rubbish !!
I just cannot believe it is 50 Years ago. Three of my friends from then (Spargo, Cross and Askam) who I see often do not seem to have changed apart from the obvious grey hair etc.
Anyway, nice to hear from you and I am glad to know that some of us still remember.
2701323 ACll Cheeseman. R T. (Stretch!).Hut 60. 4 Wing. Aug 20th to Oct 7th 1953.
After the first couple of weeks when the shouting and rushing around had become a case of "Oh no, here we go again" without a sense of panic, sheer terror or palpitations, we realised that we were going to survive squarebashing after all.
Another 2 weeks passed and we were allowed a pass to go home for the weekend.
I lived in the Forest of Dean and found it was possible to get home by 15.30 hrs on the Sat providing the bus left the main gate on time in order to get to New St (Birmingham) Station at 13.30 hrs.
After a non eventful couple of half days at home, the dreaded return journey began. Dreaded, not because I was going back but because of the thought that I would not make it by 23.59, the witching hour !
My train left Gloucester at 20.40 hrs and was very slow - it finally arrived at Wolverhampton very late and although there were more sprogs milling about, I still felt apprehensive and was relieved when the train for Brindley Heath finally pulled in.
as I remember it was a short journey but it was after midnight when we came to a halt and what seemed like half of the Air force tumbled on to the platform and proceeded to climb that long hill back to the camp.
At the top of "kitbag hill" was the camp cinema - the Astra - and as we approached in the gloom we could see two white patches about head level bobbing around in the entrance of this deserted building and was accompanied by the clink of chains. Yes it was the "all chains and no brains" mob, affectionately known as Snowdrops !
At this point we all smartened up and passed on our way fully expecting to hear the dreaded shout of "AIRMAN COME HERE" but nothing disturbed our heavy breathing.
I finally arrived back to my beloved pit at 00.45 hrs not knowing that apart from being first back, it was generally acknowledged that leniency was the oed
re of the day as our arrival solely depended on the state of the transport system.
Think about it - all that panic for nothing - and I was still on time for Breakfast Parade.
At the end however, I and many thousands of others survived to complete our service and emerged two years later none the worse for it and with a completely new outlook on life and some catching up to do as the world did not stand still while I was away. Regards, Robin 2701323 Ex SAC
Albert Hinsley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
comment: Hi Pat, My service number was. 2781636 hut 76 D Sqd.
Time spent at Hednesford, December 1955 to February 1956.
Just found your web site through a friend, who I am in touch with by email, he was at Hednesford a bit later than me. Would love to attend the reunion, but now living in British Columbia Canada, so a bit short notice, maybe the next one. I remember the DI's, CPL Keen ( very appropriate name,) and Sgt Doyle, can't recall the other DI's name.
Good luck with the site, will try scanning some photo's later, Albert.
Hi there, Pat. Great to hear from you. Strange to think that the one time which caused so much stress, should be the one time we look back on with nostalgia. Certainly I do.
Regret I don't have any pictures of this time. Only those bought at the site.
After leaving Hednesford I went onto Netheravon to do a RAFP course. Then was sent to Stanmore Park/Bentley Priory ( Fighter Command HQ ) and then onto Fontainebleau ( NATO HQ ) and had two great years. I am a member of the association, and am in contact with a number of ex inmates.
As said, was at the camp a three weeks ago. Where I got this site from. I have passed it onto an e-mail friend ,and ex Hednesford inmate, now living in Canada.
He thinks it a great sight, and I.m sure will make contact. It would have been great to have been there in July, but regret unable this time. Maybe a future date.
My regards to you. I look foreword to further contact with others during this period. By the way. I'm one of those who got a Marksman badge. Might as well boast about something. Take care.
Mike Woolton (email@example.com)
comment: Hi, there, Pat. 4178644. AC plonk. That was me from January 1956 to March 1956. I think it was "D" squadron. With a Sgt. McClusky and Cpl. Jollife in charge. I was at the site a few weeks ago. Changed somewhat ? Can'y remember names of this period. One fellow came from Wolverhampton. He took me to meet his parents. That day we saw Wolves play. Another fellow sang. " It's Almost tomorrow " every night before lights out. Another chap lived here in New Malden. Memories. It would be great to make contact with anyone from this period. Am in touch with others.
Tony Allen ("mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org") comment: 4149455 AC2 (of course !) Allen reporting. Sorry, I can't remember Hut Number / Flight details.
I did my square-bashing at Hednesford from late April (just before Easter) to the end of June 1954.
Anybody remember them ? More to the point, anybody remember me ?
I've also just seen the name Cpl McLuskey in another post. That name, too, rings a bell.
Great site by the way !
I did my initial training at RAF Hednesford in May / June / July 1954.
I cannot remember my intake number, but among the DIs under whom I suffered were Cpls Blanchard and Jillings.
My contemporaries as recruits are too numerous to mention, but among those I particularly remember, the name of Alan Randall stands out.
I would like to know if he or any others of my intake who remember the nightly delights of the hot dog stall at the camp gates or the weekly delights of Saturday night out in Cannock are likely to attend the reunion on 10 July.
4149455 AC2 (later J/T, later still Corporal) ALLEN
BAILEY T (TONY) (email@example.com) comment: I was at Hednesford 1953/4 service no. 4182729/aircraftsman/hut - can't remember!/B squadron 8 flight. (this would be 1 Wing PGH).
I remember our drill instructor, Corporal Ball. I am very much looking forward to meeting everyone at the reunion.
Peter Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)
comment: I square bashed at Hednesford in February and March 1952 as a National Service recruit Service No. 2545497. I regret I cannot recall the hut number, the flight number was Flight nine and I believe it was 2 Squadron. At that time 4 Squadron was unused as it was sinking into the mine shafts under Cannock Chase. I remember the latter fact well, as their was a fuel shortage, it was bitterly cold and somebody had stolen the doors from the 4 Squadron billets and used them as firewood. We were all charged barrack damages at the conclusion of our training to pay for these. I returned to Hednesford for a further 6 weeks in Pool Flight awaiting a posting, which finally came through in June 1952. I was posted to Lyneham as a Clerk Air Movements.
I still have the book of photographs that was given to us at the conclusion of our training, which I would be happy to send. I now reside in Perth, Western Australia so regret I cannot get back for the re-union . Stand by your beds
You asked if I could number the huts. I regret that I cannot. Whilst I remember many things about my time at Hednesford, as I not only square bashed there, but also had about 6 to 8 weeks in Pool flight awaiting a posting, my memories tend to be selective! I cannot even remember the hut number.
What I can confirm about my intake is that we were split into two flights 9 & 12. I have a picture of my hut,(102) which was part of 9 flight plus the NCOs and Flight Officer.(103). I find that when looking at photos of a bunch of 1950 type 'erks they all tend to look the same. On perusing all the photos on the website, I keep going back and saying "I know that bloke" only to realise that I cannot possible have known him. I have studied the camp map in attempt to jog my memory of the layout of the camp and am convinced that the hut area I was in is the area marked 1 Wing. The area on that map marked as 4 Wing, was most definitely "closed" in early 1952. The reason given was that the land under that area of the camp was subsiding into the mining tunnels underground. It could possible have been re-opened later in 1952. What convinces me of that memory is the location on the map of the YMCA hut. That was still in operation yet the huts opposite were not in use.
When I try to remember the square bashing time I only seem to relate to geographically is the hut I lived in, the drill sheds, the gymnasium and the mess. During my time in Pool flight I managed, after a couple of weeks, to become unofficial "batman" to the Corporal in charge of the TV hut. Which was a nice cushy job, as all I had to do was "bull" his kit and watch TV. The TV hut was down slope from the Spitfire which is in picture 045b.
My main memories are of arriving at the camp in a manner similar to you, in the back of trucks. I had been kitted out in Padgate, but one of my prize memories is that in Padgate they were short of webbing kits. I got just the belt and gaiters and a deficiency chit for the rest. I handed in that deficiency chit the day I booked out of Lyneham and I cannot repeat the comments on how I had managed to do two years N.S. without a full set of webbing!
The day I arrived at Hednesford was a miserable winter's day. I reckon that the brightest light globe in the hut was 25 watt and to make matters worse, because we were split into billets in alphabetical order, all the mates I had made during my time in Padgate were in different huts. Some even in the other flight. We got the usual "I'm a bastard" routine from the Corporal and despite the fact that that photo shows greatcoats etc. hanging on a wall, we did have cupboards which were about 6 foot high. In the top of the cupboard door was a little slot in which you had to put in a card giving your name, service number and religion. My memory of that day is of it being the most miserable day of my life! I mentioned the drill sheds(hangars) earlier. The weather was so atrocious, ice and snow, that most of our drilling was done under cover. After about four weeks, I remember us all being lined up after a period in the gymnasium first thing in the morning with just our PT gear under our boiler suits, in the perishing cold, to be told that King George VI had died overnight and that we could possibly be used to line the funeral route. Fortunately the powers that be realised that we were still too "raw". I was very grateful for that fact. It was about this time that our senior NCO made his first appearance. He was a Sgt Grafton, who is mentioned elsewhere in the website. He really was a bastard. I heard a rumour some time later, possibly after I had been demobbed, that he had been found murdered in a back lane in Birmingham. I can think of many recruits who would have had a desire to do just that. I suspect the story is apocryphal, but one lives in hope. Another memory is of a C.Os. parade. I had my gear in immaculate condition, but had sat in some porridge on the seat.
When on parade, as the Officers and entourage passed behind me, I heard some whispering and the next thing I knew was a drill Corporal saying in my ear "airman, you've got porridge on the seat of your pants. Report to the tin room at 6 pm tonight". I spent that evening up to my elbows in greasy water. Yuk! Other memories. Chaplains's hour, the high spot of the week. I am an R.C. and there were about a dozen of us who reported to the R.C. chaplain. It was heaven. A nice cup of tea and a chat in civilised surroundings. I don't remember the Chapel, but I do know that I went to Mass each Sunday I was on camp. I possibly served Mass, I know I did at Lyneham. A trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers ground to watch the R.A.F. play the Army. I had split loyalties. I am a Londoner and the Spurs are my team. Tony Marchi, who played for them was in the Army team. The inoculations and then having to do bayonet drill the day after, before going home on our first 48 hour pass. The gas chamber, going sick with a swollen ankle and being kept in the hospital for three days and being terrified of being "re-flighted". Going into Cannock to see a film with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. All that pent up testosterone nearly ruined my "best blues"! A British Restaurant in Hednesford where one could get a cheap meal. Going to the Astra cinema on camp, where the comments from the audience alone made it worth going. Hitchhiking down the A.5. to London. Finally Pass Out parade. I cannot remember who won the cup. I did not care- it was over. Then realising that I had to return, to go into Pool Flight. By this time spring had arrived and Cannock Chase was a beautiful spot. That is my final memory of Hednesford, leaving on a beautiful warm day. Because I had been in Pool Flight I had my "civvies", I could not get everything into my kitbag, so I had to wear my greatcoat despite the fact that it was a summer's day. I kicked my kitbag down kitbag hill, in order to get a train to Dauntsey in Wiltshire, via Bristol, to take up my posting as a Clerk Air Movements at Lyneham, where I spent the remainder of my N.S.
Strangely enough, I had not given a lot of thought to Hednesford in recent years, but I had been reminded of my N.S. with all the 50 year celebrations of the Coronation etc. I was at Lyneham at that time and watched the Coronation on the NAAFI tv. I was also there for the East Coast floods of '53 which was a very hectic time. Last year I enrolled on the Friends-Reunited site. and about 4 weeks ago, I received an email from an ex Movements "bod" who now lives in Queensland (I live in Western Australia and have done so since 1972). He was at Lyneham during my time, though I do not remember him. He gave me your website address as he realised I had square bashed at Hednesford. Within days, I received another email from someone I met during my days at Hednesford. We had kept in touch for some years after demob, but had lost touch before I left the U.K. He had found me on the Friends site.
Mr Brian Kendal , Email Address: email@example.com
I was at Hednesford 11 S of RT from November 1950 to January 1951 in the original 16 flt. At that time two flights per week were arriving , numbered 1 and 8, 2 and 9 etc, so 8 and 16 arrived in the 8th week after the school opened. Our corporals were Rudd and Walls and another whose name I have forgotten.
Our billet was filled with recruits from South Yorkshire, mainly Rotherham, Leeds and Bradford
The weather was atrocious, the food even worse and the only hot water was on the night before pass-out. One of our lads was put on fatigues for heating water on the stove in a fire bucket.
We obtained coal for lighting the stoves by clandestine expeditions to the coal heap by the Officers mess
Still we survived and I went on to what I consider the most valuable two years in my early life.
Brian Kendal (ex- 2497419, SAC)
AC2 Peter Middleton . Telephone Number: 01926-812243
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Service recruit at Hednesford from March 1956 to late April.Service No. 5014037. After 'square bashing' went for trade training at RAF Credenhill. thence to RAF Weeton Hospital as Typist. Finished service at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford on 28th February, 1958 as SAC. Glamourous wasn't it?!!
I'll be there and hope to meet my D.I. - Corporal Beauchamp!!
AC 2 Ray Spiers Telephone Number: 01491 573498
Email Address: email@example.com
Simply did my training there (8weeks) in July 1954 Service No. 2727201
Will never forget the VD films, the jabs or the DI's! Would love to see the DI's again.
The passing out parade was something to take pride in too.
Went on to become a Radar Op PPI at the Ground Radar Calibration Unit (GRCU) base at RAF Chigwell, Essex. From there we went to various bases to calibrate radar installations, mobile and fixed.
AC2 Michael (Mick) Street-Williams .Telephone Number: 01227 364426
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I think I was in the first intake when the camp was reopened as a square bashing school. Eleven is new to me. October 1950 through into January, and I seem to remember I was in hut T5.
I have some vivid memories that I cannot talk about on the net. Most of them were good, but it was dreadfully cold.
Now that I have retired, I sign my name as Major Street-Williams. So it must have done me some good!
Jock Fraser Telephone Number: 0889 451208
Email Address: email@example.com
I had a happy stay at RAF Hednesford 1956-1957.
LAC Dan Danaher. E mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Would have loved to be there. at the re union. I served (squarebashing) from mid-March 1952 for the normal 8 weeks. I now live in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. If anyone from the mid-March '52 group wants to email me I would love to hear from them.
Dick /R Read . Email Address: email@example.com
at Hednesford 27 Nov 1953 to 28 Jan 1954
posted to RAF Locking then RAF Hemswell as Ground Wireless Mech
Mr Brian Turner .Telephone Number: 01274 691535
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Entered RAF 12 Jan 1956. At Hednesford for basic training. National Service. trained Air Wireless at RAF Yatesbury followed by 18 months at RAF Luqa Malta. Would like to see some of my old intake
Len Farrow (Farrowwsd@aol.com) on Friday, July 25, 2003 at 15:30:46
comment: 4149745 AC Farrow.L.H, I cannot remember Hut No. I believe it was A Flight, 22 Sqdn, cannot be sure, I arrived at Hednesford after coming from Cardington at the end of May 1954, the Flight was picked for a P/T display at the White City stadium, so the Flight only done half a day square bashing, the other half training for the show, whilst I was there we had an AOC's visit and the camp was condemned even then, I never had a pass out parade at Hednesford, owing to the fact that being at RAF Uxbridge, for 3 weeks whilst the show was on, How many ERKS remember this time, I went into National service at the age of 20yrs old, but it taught me many things, I then was stationed at RAF Felixstowe for 2yrs, and then exchanged posting to No. 1 Emb Unit London, I have found this site bringing back many Memories.
AC2 Haythorne, Ivor (email@example.com)
> I was at RAF Hednesford May-July, 1953. I did visit the site (though the camp had closed by that time) about 1964. I didn;t go again until 1999 and had the job of finding it from the bottom of Kitbag Hill. The Visitor centre, when I at last reached that, was closed.>
> I went again last year (2002) and discovered the Visitor Centre open and was delighted to discover quite an impressive RAF display. I was also invited to sign the Visitors Book, and I was shown a small photograph album which contained a few photographs and a few note.
That night, I decided to write down my reminiscences of the camp and present it to the Visitor Centre. This I did just a fortnight after the re-union!>> I was interested to hear about the re-union and should most certainly have come if I;d known in time. Is there to be another? Will someone keep
me posted?>> I was also delighted to discover the web sight and to learn of the
Association? How does one join?>>
Though there were times - as with everyone! - when I wished the wrath of heaven would descend on the place but, by and large, I enjoyed my time square-bashing. Yes, I really did! It was certainly a turning point in my life and proved to be to my advantage.>
> Best Wishes to the Association and the web site, and to all concerned.
> Ivor Haythorne.
Roger Edwards: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
comment: Thanks for a splendid website, bringing back old memories. I square-bashed 2/53 and I think I was in hut 184, B squadron, 1 Wing. Service number: 2584213. Returned 8/53 till 2/55 on permanent staff as the C.O's clerk, working for Grp, Capt. Montgomery. Would really like to contact any members of the permanent staff who were there during that time, especially those working in SHQ, or the stores because I was in a storemans' billet.
From: "2548502 HOPKINS "
comment: I enjoyed visiting your site here the other day and I have the four bob little album of photos sold to me on 2/12/52 passing out parade day fifty one years ago. I can remember just about every minute of that eight weeks of my life spent there from arrival from Padgate kitting out on 8/10/52. I particularly enjoyed seeing the photos you have included of then and by comparison now. I live in East Anglia nowadays so do not pass that way, AC2 HOPKINS J.A.G. Hut 193 5 Flight B Squadron 1 Wing RAF Hednesford Staffordshire as National Service recruit.
From: "Stan Thompson"
comment: I joined the RAF on the 7th Sep.1951.my 1st port of call was Cardington after being kitted out, took the train journey to Hednesford and completed my 8 weeks training, after 50 years I couldn't remember to much about the place untill I found your web site and then it all began to come back to me, I can't recall the hut number or the Flt. but I did play in the station band which got me out of a lot of drill and P.T. I got to know the parade ground quite well as you can imagine. Thanks for the good old memories. I would love to visit the camp site one day, only one thing, I now live in Australia but who knows miracles do happen. My service No. was 3511259 I served most of my time on No.1(Field) Sqd.in Germany. RAF. Regiment, Thanks again. Stan Thompson.....
Ex 2582946 AC11 Wray M.J. Hut 67 31 Flight H squadron 4 wing
11 S of RT RAF Hednesford.
The journey to RAF Padgate started at Goole Station on Tuesday 3rd Feb 1953. Arriving at 1:50pm along with other young men carrying small cases. Many different accents in the billet with Birmingham 'up front' I had imagined everyone sounding like me- east riding.
That unpleasant first morning is easily remembered. Being woken very early to the sound of reveille played on a worn scratchy record over the tannoy system. I was in for a shock for the rest of that week, but thanks to Michael Bromfield s diary I have a clearer picture of what happened. I do remember being pleased to get a uniform. Much warmer than civilian clothes.
On Wednesday 11th Feb we arrived at RAF Hednesford. A brief entry in my notes says snowing and very cold. Through the falling flakes of snow the wooden huts with a background of fir trees made it look like a stalag.
Very soon I was to find out that it was.
Allocated hut 67 with its two long rows of beds cold black stoves and scratched lino floor it was a typical Hednesford welcome. A notice board at the end of the room showed the names of its earlier occupants with deceased against three of them. We were to repeat this welcome for the next occupants 10weeks later.
The stoves stayed cold along with ourselves that first night. I can't remember how we were woken up every morning but don't think it was Padgate style. Something even nastier I expect. I do remember sleepily sliding feet into cold boots putting greatcoat over pyjamas and with soap, razor and towel trudging through the snow to the ablutions block, unheated of course.
Although I did not keep a diary I did sometimes make short comments. For the first full day the entry is "Inoculated today, very cold." We stood in the snow outside a medical centre in shorts and vests waiting to be jabbed. I did not have any after effects but maybe didn't have time!
So it all went on. Well described by other contributors to the web site. The DIs were successful in keeping us subdued (me anyway) and occupied, and doing it in an unpleasant way. Cleaning tins in the cookhouse came along too often. Not a hard task but the greasy smell is remembered.
The DIs list of nasty jobs must have been endless. A time spent on hands and knees in a toilet cubicle scraping of the old seat varnish with a razor blade. With scratching noises from next door it was some comfort to know that the fatigue was not exclusive to me.
Lots of memories sitting around the now hot stoves, bulling boots, and discussing the common enemy. Did we use heated spoon handles and dubbin to iron out the goose pimples in the leather? For a long time the smells stayed with me. Hot stove Dubbin, Brasso and floor polish but nothing else which is surprising me now because I don't remember having a bath! Can't even remember where the baths building was or that I ever had to clean it.
Maybe the RAF solution was a diary entry for 4th March. A visit to Walsall baths for a swimming proficiency test. It wasn't that difficult,- 150 yds in total using breast stroke back stroke and front crawl for 50yds each. The real challenge came holding the baggy P.T. shorts in place with one hand and swimming with the other.
Sunday March 22nd and the diary records a lone 9hr train journey to Compton Bassett for a W.O.P. trade test. Successfully completed it was back to Hednesford.
So life went on until the passing out parade on 14th April for which I was excused as I had missed some of the training whilst at the trade test and also during a short spell in hospital.
After a week at home, back again to Hednesford on pool flight to await posting. Not a bad time- more fatigues- but missed the company of friends, anti climax comes to mind.
Finally posted to Swanton Morley on May 6th 1953 -Best Forgotten.
With thanks to son Nick who found the web site and printed off 29 pages of wonderful nostalgia. I am really pleased to be able to read about all the experiences which were mostly common to us all. I have remembered a few more which I hope will be recognised by old flight.
I hope what I have written does not sound too gloomy because once the snow disappeared and the sun shone, marching in step was enjoyable. From this safe distance of fifty years am I am pleased to have been there. The most rewarding part of my National Service..
I have included the photos of hut 67 where are you all now?
On the 31 flight 4 wing photo for March 1953 I am seated on the front row second from left. I hope to visit the "old camp" this year.
Finally if the airman who played the wakeup call on the first night at Padgate could get in touch---------.
Michael J Wray. March 2011. Louth. Lincs.