Monday, 25 May 2009
Moving On - To West Kirby Basic Training
After my induction at Cardington, which lasted only a couple of days, we were all transported to RAF West Kirby, near Liverpool. This would be my new home for a minimum of eight weeks. If for any reason, such as illness or failing certain tasks it could last longer than that. This is the "Flight" I was part of. You can see me in the second row, 3rd from the right. A real sprog; AC2, the lowest form of animal life in the RAF.
On arrival, still in January '53, it seemed as bleak and unwelcoming as Cardington. I was seriously feeling I'd gone from the frying pan into the fire. We were given our billets, this time they were the usual long huts, not the Nissen type of corrugated iron things. On entering the hut it seemed cleaner and more welcoming than Cardington. There was a round stove in the middle of the hut with a tall iron chimney pipe thrusting upwards through the pitched roof. The composite floor was clean brightly polished and the beds and wardrobe lockers were all perfectly lined up.
We had to draw our bedding from stores and a .303 Lee Enfield rifle which we were instructed to guard with our lives! I was now thinking that I'd got on the wrong train and had somehow joined the army.
Suddenly the hut door burst open and a rather short chap announced his presence by bellowing out: "Stand by your beds and shut up!" This noisy little man was to be our constant companion from now on. He was our drill instructor corporal, whose name I have completely erased from my memory. In fact I cannot recall a single name from all my square-bashing days; I could hardly remember my own at times as I was rushed around from pillar to post every day and sometimes every night.
Our beloved drill instructor, Corporal Whosenameescapesme, is seated in the centre of the front row. The photo was taken during the final week of our torment, err I mean training.
It was a really tough course and some chaps just didn't make it. One that we knew of had actually committed suicide by hanging himself one night in the latrines. Apparently, these "departures" were rare but not unknown.
I had more haircuts in those eight weeks than at any other period in my life. One day I had TWO haircuts. I was on the rifle range and the armoury sergeant asked me if I was in pain. No sergeant (see how quickly I'd learned the drill.." No sergeant I said. "Well I should be, I'm standing on your hair! Get it cut NOW!" So off I scampered, at the double of course, to the Sweeny Todd of West Kirby, otherwise known as the camp barber. Later that day our beloved drill corporal had a go at me for some paltry misdemeanour and he too asked me: "When did you last get your hair cut sonny?" I replied: "Today corporal." He then ordered me to go and get it cut again, and this time properly. It was no good arguing, so I arrived at the barber's hut yet again. He did not question why I had come back again; he just cut it even shorter! At a shilling a time for a short back and sides I was feeling exceedingly peeved, mainly at the cost to my pocket!
Well, the weeks went on and on and on... Marching, assault courses, route marches, physical training at 6 a.m. whatever the weather, various weapon training including rifle practice, Bren gun shooting, hand-grenade and bayonet practice. If there were other ways to kill a person I think we must have learned the vast majority of them.
All this frenetic exercise gave me an enhanced appetite of course. When I joined up I was around ten-and-a-half stone but after 8 weeks of this training and with three regular meals a day, plus "chips with everything in the NAAFI" I put on nearly two stone in weight and was fitter than I'd ever been, or will be again!
I think we all tended to hate all the "bull", such as boot polishing, button and badge polishing, keeping the billet spotless for inspections and other never-ending chores, but we accepted it as part of the "training". We just kept in mind that it would all be over and done with in a month or two.
One day we were ordered to assemble in the medical section. We were to receive a series of "jabs" to protect us from various diseases both at home and abroad. I queued up with about 30 others, stripped to the waist, waiting to get to the first of the medical orderlies or doctors who were sticking these large hypodermic needles into our arms. Not one jab, but three! I watched a couple of the lads simply flake out as they neared the dreaded needles; they just swayed and fell down in a sort of swoon.
We were warned that some of us might have allergic reactions to these jabs, and one was a lumpy swelling in the armpit. This did happen to me but it didn't bother me too much. We were also advised not to have too much beer that evening if we went out. We were in our fourth or fifth week now and we were allowed out of camp once a week. I and two buddies caught a bus into Liverpool that evening. Had one drink in a pub, a pub with a massive long bar, and one of the chaps said he felt a bit dodgy. We left the pub and started to walk to the bus stop, hoping the fresh air would help him. It didn't. We'd only gone twenty yards or so when he staggered and almost fell down, saving himself by sliding down a shop window and sitting on the window cill. It was a fish and chip shop and it was open. I went in and asked if I could call an ambulance or a doctor. I was told to push off or they'd call the police! We were all drunkards this friendly Liverpudlian chippy lady screamed at me. So much for northern hospitality, or they just didn't like the uniform!
Our poor mate said he'd rather just get on a bus and get back to camp, and this we did. We reported to the medical orderly who said it was "quite normal" for such a reaction in some people and told him to get a good night's rest and report sick in the morning if he still felt unwell. Fortunately he seemed reasonably recovered and managed to continue training on the next day.
Our final "passing out parade" eventually arrived and it was the end of our basic training. Although we all detested our little corporal drill instructor for weeks on end we seemed to grow more tolerant of him during the last week. He was always in our face, virtually 24 hours a day. He had a small room situated in the corner of one end of the billet and was thus always close at hand. However, our "Number 1 man" in the billet suggested we should have a whip round to get our little corporal a going away present and we all agreed. We presented our tormentor with a chrome cigarette case with combined lighter, engraved with his name and from the chaps in A-Flight.
We were all interviewed as to what our next training course would be, and were given a list of RAF "trades" to choose from. I selected (a) radar mechanic, or (b) radio operator, or (c) aircraft fitter. What did I get? Typist and Admin training! Not even close, but there was no appeal - one just had to accept what one was given. I don't know why they went through the rigmarole of offering us a so-called choice. I was to report to RAF Hereford (Credenhill) on the expiry of my weeks leave, and that would be a three month course of learning to touch-type. Great! I think not, but that was going to be it for me and nothing else.