Tuesday, 26 May 2009

RAF Hereford 3 months learning to touch-type!

Around April 1953 I am introduced to the Admin wing of RAF Hereford. My target for today: to learn to touch-type at a minimum of 30 words per minute on a "state of the art" mechanical typewriter, an Olympia. Oh well, not quite radar technician or radio operator or aircraft fitter but hey ho, off to work we still have to go.

RAF Hereford was a tenfold improvement on both Cardington and West Kirby. The whole way of life at RAF Hereford was much more relaxed. The only "bull" we had to contend with was keeping our living quarters up to scratch. We still used bits of old blanket to "slide" across the floor with so as to keep the shine on the composite flooring, just as we had to do at West Kirby. We did not have to have a .303 Lee Enfield rifle in our locker either, so no cleaning and oiling of these heavy old weapons.

The training was quite intensive to start with. We all assembled in a large hut which was equipped with a desk, a chair and an Olympia typewriter for each trainee. Our instructor was a corporal who had a larger desk at the front of the class, complete with blackboard and chalk, just like being back at school.

Anybody who has been on such a course will know that the first exercise is to learn how to use the "guide keys" and the space bar. We went through umpteen chants of A S D F G with the left hand and SEMI-COLON ; L K J H with the right hand. Time and time again we repeated this on the first and second days. These mechanical typewriters required quite a firm touch with the fingers in order to make an impression on the paper resting on the platen. Still, we all seemed to manage quite well so that on the third day we were introduced to "strict tempo typing" to some kind of music on a record player. This was supposed to your fingers tapping away on the keys in a regular pattern.

We were tested at the end of each day to see how fast and how accurate we were with the exercises thus far. One or two trainees just couldn't get the co-ordination right and after a week or so they were "failed" - unsuitable. Whether or not these chaps were deliberately skiving off the course in order to try some other "trade" I know not. Wouldn't be at all surprised if they were trying to "work their ticket" and eventually get dismissed from the RAF as total incompetents.

Suffice to say that the majority of us managed to gradually gain speed and accuracy. At the end of the course I could type at over 45 wpm with no errors and felt quite pleased with myself. Although I would not have chosen this form of training I have to say that it has been very useful in life ever since!

My main interest whilst stationed at RAF Hereford was the weekends! We were free to do as we pleased after 5 p.m. Friday - unless there was something special on the cards for Saturday or Sunday, which was very rare.

Friday evenings were usually spent on camp, in the NAAFI, having a beer or two, playing darts or table tennis or whatever one chose to do. Just winding down from the clickety-clack of the Olympia typewriting machines and relaxing.

Saturday was the day of the week for me and most of the other chaps here. Hereford is a pleasant city in a picturesque county with other smaller places surrounding the city. There were some absolutely delightful old pubs all over Herefordshire and many of them produced their own cider, known as Scrumpy! This home-made brew was a potent concoction, cheaper than beer and twice as strong. I was never able to drink more than two pints of the stuff and stay reasonably concious. Any more than this and I would undoubtedly fall over in a sort of stupor. Usually the landlord or barman would dispense this powerful brew from a large jug, often enamel and able to hold about four pints of the cloudy liquor. After two or three weeks of visiting the various pubs, playing darts or skittles in them whilst gradually getting a bit woosy, I had a strong desire to resume ballroom dancing. A mate of mine on the course told me that there were always dances in the main area of Hereford and so one Saturday evening, spruced up in our "best blues" (i.e. the more formal RAF uniform and not the workaday gear) we took the bus into town.

The most popular place was at The Hostel, a decent enough dance hall with a good gathering of local young ladies keen on dancing. Another popular venue was the town hall ballroom; I went to both during my three month training period. But it is The Hostel which impressed me most, mainly because I met a lovely young lady named Joan Turner and it was the start of my second romance.

Joan was 18 months younger than me, which made a change! She was quite shy, which I found most attractive, and she was a decent dancer - which added to her attaction for me. On our first encounter we danced five or six times together - and when we were sitting one out we sat together with a light drink, just getting to know each other. I arranged to see Joan next Saturday evening, which we did, again at The Hostel. I asked her if she would care to "go to the pictures" on the morrow, Sunday evening, and she said she would. It was all so lovely for me and, I think, for Joan. We really did get on well together.

After about three or four weeks later she invited me to have tea on a Sunday afternoon at her home, where she lived with her parents and two older sisters. I was really pleased about this and looked forward to it. It turned out that her father was involved in the management of Hereford United football club and he asked me if I would like to go, with Joan of course, to their next home game. Although I was not a madly keen football fan I said I'd love to go and see the team play.

In those days, Hereford United FC was an amateur team, comprising all local "part-timers" such as the local butcher, baker and candle-stick maker. Nevertheless, the football was entertaining enough and I enjoyed going to see them now and then.

The training course came to an end and I would soon be learning where my next posting would be. It would mean departing the area and leaving Joan, which was not a happy prospect for me, nor for Joan I think. She came with me to the railway station when I had to leave Hereford and take a few days leave at home. She started to weep as the train pulled out and stood there waving goodbye until the train was out of sight of the platform. I promised to write every day, and I kept that promise.

I had not been home during my three months course and thought I'd better pay them a visit before I moved on to pastures new. I had been posted to Headquarters Technical Training Command at RAF Brampton Grange, near Huntington, as a typist! I had no idea what this place would be like but there was nothing I could do about it; I was posted and that was that.

I know I would miss Joan; we had become quite close. I wondered if I would ever see her again...

1 comment:

A human kind of human said...

During 1976/77 I spent a year as a typist in a naval training base - what an interesting year. Not the routineness of the daily orders, etc,but the many interesting characters I got to know. Although married to a senior rank, I was only 2 years older than the national servicemen and as such became aquainted with many of them. I used to feel sorry for their hardship but remember that they mostly walked around with smiles on their faces and their pride at the passing out parade, in front of their parents or loved ones, made up for all the hardship of the preceding weeks. I also well remember the waxsheets and the red correcion ink not to mention the sore arm from duplicating all the lectures on that horrible machine.