Dai Jones' Story

The Beginning

Looking around at the large lorry packed with conscripts, like myself, arriving at RAF Padgate in September 1952, the variety of this new intake was most intriguing. The young men were, in the majority, all who looked like schoolboys who had hitched a lift. The average age must have been around 19 years old and, like myself, were fresh-faced, a little apprehensive although many portrayed a street credibility which, they hoped, would make them look like hardened warriors, heroes of the Battle of Britain, perhaps. However, assigned to each lorry were two NCOs, undoubtedly bored with yet another bit of military routine, looking after a bunch of raw recruits with a lot of edges to knock off.

Amongst this motley collection of individuals were a few older men, perhaps even as much as to be within the 21-23 age-group. There was a definite look of rebellion with these men. Many were bitter at having being conscripted only days after completing a lengthy apprenticeship. Others had the look which said “Why me”? Most likely, these chaps had recently completed a professional or technical qualification, accountancy, plumbing, even electronics or radio communication. What would the next two years have to offer such people or would their apparent antipathy to being called up for military service cloud their attitudes to the extent that they would see no positive qualities ahead.

To our “minders”, LACs, Corporals and Sergeants, we were just another “shower of erks” who they would have the credit (or otherwise) for knocking us into shape. We could all see that personal attitudes, discipline and ambitions would all have to change and fit into the military mode. Deep down, of course, there were many who hoped that the next two years would make them the air force heroes of the future.

The second day was spent in getting “kitted out”. After a short time, it was evident that the RAF only recognised three basic sizes of uniform, small, medium and large, so a long-legged man with broad shoulders would end up with his trouser bottoms about 8 inches from the ground, a tunic too tight for comfort and a hat only help up ears. We were also humbled by having a series of medical tests. Yes, even grown men can be shy in a queue of naked men lined up for a “jab”. A doctor would check for ruptures by holding on to our nether regions and asking us to cough at the same time. Is this really the test for a torn stomach muscle?

At the end of the series of tests, several recruits would be called into the panel of doctors, emerging with broad smiles and a chit of paper which was proof of some minor ailment, flat feet, poor eyesight, deficient hearing and the like. They would then announce that their time in the RAF had come to an abrupt end and off they went back into civilisation. The rest of us could only marvel at the incompetence of the authorities as shown by bringing men from all over the country only to be discharged immediately. Surely, their medical conditions could have been diagnosed in the home towns?

The first parades were something rather shambolic. We were misfits in any sense of the word. This gave our NCOs a golden opportunity to exercise their undoubted control abilities and, at the same time introduce what they called discipline. We would be berated about any number of aspects of the “dress code”. A button open here, a boot lace loose or not laced up to the required pattern. Minor punishments would be meted out, the results of which would ensure that there would be sufficient miscreants to carry out the many tasks associated with the preparation of food in the kitchens. It was a quick learning process and instilled in us the practice of immediate obedience to orders. Slightly late with the carrying out of an order and it was off to the cookhouse.

There were odd moments of humour. A hefty young recruit named Steve Maybe was asked by a corporal “What is your name boy”. Steve answered in the new booming manner being instilled in us, “May be”. The corporal went ballistic, threatening all kinds of punishment. He then pointed out his two stripes and asked “What do you think these are, laundry marks”? The unperturbed giant that was Steve said again “Maybe, Maybe is my name” The corporal slowly realising that he was losing face shouted “No, no, no, you have to say Maybe corporal” Steve complied but I often wonder whether the fact that he was discharged from the Service the following day had anything to do with little episode.

My own medical gave me the opportunity to ask the MO if he would take a look at my throat which had been very sore since arriving at Padgate. His immediate respone was “Quinzy, put him on light duties”. What luck! This meant that I missed many of the boring, repetitive aspects of initial training, no running around camp from one hut to another “at the double”. No cleaning, no helping to move large boxes or the piano from the Officers Mess. I was a happy man; I had survived the worst few days and I was still on course to join those of my colleagues who had been selected to go to RAF Hornchurch for tests which would determine whether we would become aircrew personnel or spend two years as a clerk in the administrative building or become a fireman. Poor old Steve Maybe, he was going to miss all that.

Under Training

We were not to know when we started our training that NS25 would be the last aircrew intake from the National Service recruits.  One year’s training and one year on the squadron was obviously considered poor value by the RAF accountants – so were we the lucky ones?   

Training would be at two centres, RAF Halfpenny Green in Staffordshire and RAF Swanton Morley in Norfolk.  Our course had three sections, radio transmission and receiving including the Morse Code, the use of radar and, finally, the use of Sonar equipment (most of us were destined to be posted to Coastal Command).  We were to end the course as Sergeant Air Signallers; this position is no longer available.  The equivalent now would be Air Electronic Officers. All this gave us plenty to think about; there would be much hard work, lots to learn and, best of all, no “square bashing”. 

Learning how to use the R1135 receiver and the T1154  transmitter was fascinating but hardly complicated, today’s personal computers present much more by way of intellectual challenge. However, it brought smiles to our faces when we were taught how to carry out emergency repairs, including the use of Wrigley’s chewing gum in place of a soldering iron. A reflection on those accountants again I suppose? 

Much of the training was in various classrooms but, as the year progressed, there was an increasing amount of using our new skills in the air.  The planes available for our course were the two-seater Prentice and the larger Avro Anson, neither of which could be compared for size or speed with the large variety of aircraft in use today. 

Unfortunately for me, one of the pilots seemed to have a grudge against Welshmen, England must have lost to the “red invaders” in what was then, the 5-nation rugby championship.  Before take-off, we were always issued with large brown-paper bags, no imagination needed here as to their designated use! This particular pilot would do his utmost to force me to use these bags by giving me the roughest ride possible.  Mostly, his ploy would work, with me carrying a full bag back to the hangar with the pilot smirking by my side.  I needed something which would even up the score so I hit on the strategy of opening the canopy as we were taxiing back and dropping the bag out of the plane.  “How was that Taff?” the pilot said. “Really great, exciting”, I would reply.  Round 2 to Wales. 

Learning Morse is difficult in itself although it would appear that those with an ear for rhythm could grasp the new language quicker.  On Friday of each week, we would be tested at a certain rate of words per minute and, if you passed the test, you would have the rate increased the following week.  The final test demanded a speed of 25 words per minute, failures at this speed being held back for a further month.  However, being the last course, our failures were taken off the course completely and sent to other postings, not always to their liking. 

One lasting memory of learning Morse reflects the repetitive, rather pedantic, approach imposed by our military employers.  The instructor had a small library of audio tapes which he would play over and over again.  One such tape was entitled “How Jimmy Edwards won his DFC”.  By the end, we could transpose from the Morse to plain language with ease – or was it that we simply knew the tape by heart?

As I noted earlier, we were excused “square bashing” but there were occasions when we had to march in some sort of order, for example from the classroom to the mess for meals or from one classroom to another. One particularly memorable marching episode was when the Air Officer Commanding visited.  We were to march past him with our Flight Commander a couple of yards ahead of our column. This would be the first occasion (correction: the only occasion) when we would be issued and march with rifles.  A total lack of preparation was very apparent. 

From the “at ease” position, we would be ordered to come to attention and then “slope arms” to put the rifles on our shoulders ready for marching.  Our Flight Commander was more ill-prepared than ourselves. We were brought to attention and then given the order to march with our rifles still at the “trail” position. By whispers, our front rank managed to convey our dilemma to the Flight Commander and, very untidily, we transferred our rifles to our shoulders.  The amazing thing was that the AOC congratulated us on our smartness??  We also sustained one injury in the shambles, one of our airmen cutting himself with his bayonet during the “complicated” transfer of his rifle.  For some reason, this travesty of a parade was never mentioned again by our superiors! 

Time does not permit more than a cursory recall of our training period but the whole year left me with the memory of a very happy time, wonderful camaraderie and most enjoyable evenings in the pub in nearby Claverly with one of our number accompanying our choral contributions with his expert piano playing.  

We were all different in character and, I suppose, we all contributed in some way to the success of NS25.  However, I have to mention one individual who never ceased to amaze us with his enterprise.  His nick-name was Farouk because of his drooping moustache and his rotund physique.  He had a great sense of humour but he also amazed us with the fact that he, somehow, always managed to miss out on any aspect of our training which required physical effort.  We believe he had a private printing press upon which he produced a plethora of paper slips from the medical officer which excused him from wearing boots, swimming and marching. 

Our final period was in Swanton Morley and it was really just “more of the same”.  By the time we arrived at this larger establishment, our numbers were down to about 16.  We would have our reward by receiving our “wings”, or more correctly, our brevets. We would have two weeks leave and then travel to St Mawgan in Cornwall for a conversion course that would, hopefully, fit us for our postings to the various Coastal Command squadrons. There was a little sadness when we realised that almost all of us would be posted to the three squadrons at RAF Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, one would end up in RAF Aldergrove and another in Flying Training Command at RAF Hullavington. What a pity?