Sidney's National Service

To begin with, National Service seemed to be all about waiting,

First I waited for a month in Padgate while 'they' decided whether or not I was a POM (Potential Officer Material). During this time I had put my hand up to volunteer for air-crew ... because I was keen? Nah, because of the extra three shillings a day! A second medical (at RAF Hornchurch) confirmed that I was fit enough and wasn't colour-blind. I wasn't popular with the interviewer, however, because I had not included Observer/Gunner in my list of preferences. I was even less popular when I gave 'wishing to do something more constructive' as the reason.

Next I waited at Cranwell for another month while 'they' decided whether or not there were enough bods around to make up another Air Signallers course. This was even less fun because Cranwell was an OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) and when people weren't spitting they were polishing. Eventually it was time to start the course (NS25), but with 8 weeks gone and a 46-week course about to start, there simply wasn't time for the regulation 6-week 'square-bashing'. Aaah ...

At Halfpenny Green I met all the other bods who were to become my life-long friends (well ... some of them did) and we all learned Morse Code together. In double-quick time I joined the local cycling club so I could continue with my obsession on Wednesday afternoons, cycling being the closest I could get to levitation. The station closed before the end of the course so we all had to move to Swanton Morley. The others went in an army lorry but I went on my bike - 95 miles in RAF uniform, although I did wear cycling shoes instead of regulation boots.

Those of us that were left on the course duly passed out and got our postings. All of us got Coastal Command, our last choice, and two weeks leave. After one week I received a telegram from the Air Ministry cancelling my posting and telling me to wait for further orders. Oh bother! I had to wait at home another four weeks until I was told that I had been posted to RAF Hullavington. So, on top of making me spend five weeks at home, I was to be with Flying Training Command less than 100 miles from home. Really, it was enough to make me spit!

RAF Hullavington was one of two Air Navigation Schools, the other being RAF Thorney Island. My duties were indescribably onerous - two flights per week. A five-hour flight to help the little darlings learn how to navigate by giving them bearings on demand, and a one-hour flight to make sure everything was working. Although this didn't leave me much free time, I managed to get to a reasonable standard on the snooker table. Again I joined the local cycling club (Chippenham Wheelers) and even represented the station in an RAF 50-mile time-trial on one Wednesday afternoon.

My National Service ended as it began, with a two-month waiting period, brought about by the closure of the station. Almost everybody else on the station was transferred to RAF Thorney Island, but with only two months to demob, I had to stay. Now I officially had nothing else to do except play snooker and ride my bike. But what was this at the gate? A load of ATC cadets thirsting for knowledge, and anything else they could lay their hands on, arriving for their summer camp. Problem solved! It was now my turn to teach somebody else the Morse Code. So ended my two years - not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a presentiment of things to come.

Thank you RAF for making National Service seem almost civilised.