Three years ago, well - nearly three years, I'd joined the RAF. Like most lads in those days I was marking the days off the calendar as "demob" day approaches.
My travel warrants were made out, from Bruggen in north Germany through RAF Gloucester - and in mid-December 1955 I was on my way to the demob centre in Blighty.
Feeling happy and sad at the same time I travelled alone on the train through Germany and Holland. Boarding the troopship at the Hook of Holland I was amongst a varied bunch of RAF chaps heading for Harwich.
Arriving at RAF Gloucester is something I only half-remember; it's all a bit hazy now. I have one indelible memory of that day though: to go back to Civvy Street or sign on in the RAF again!
I'd been counting the days to demob for some months but now it had arrived I was so unsure of what to do. The officer who interviewed me prior to getting my discharge papers made it even harder for me. He looked at my records and, in a sincere and friendly way, did his best to sign me up for a 5-year engagement.
He was adamant that my acting-sergeant rank would be made substantive in a short period of time if I decided to stay on. He pressed home all the advantages of making the RAF a career, not just a short compulsory engagement. Foreign travel, good pay as an NCO, no housing problems, all food and clothing included ... what more could one want!
His attitude was quite 'fatherly' and he seemed genuinely concerned about my making the right decision. "What" he asked, "would I be doing if I left the RAF?" That was a good question! What indeed would I do. I daresay I could have returned to my job as a 'day-book' clerk at Charrington the brewers but the thought of that mundane life held no appeal now.
"I just don't know what I'll do, Sir" I replied. He seized on this and pressed home all the good things about staying in the RAF. I was almost persuaded, but in the end I said no; I wanted to leave now, and he said "Well Harfleet, I wish you all the best and if you change your mind you should get in touch and we'll welcome you back."
That was the end of one part of my life that, with hindsight, was probably the best three years of my life.
Soon I was back in the parental home, officially on leave until 17th January 1956; I'd be 21 in a few weeks time.
I had to keep my RAF uniform as I was on the 'reserve list' for seven years, during which time I could be called up for duty in the event of a war or various other situations. Other than that I was a civilian again. An unemployed civilian. I still had a tidy little sum in my post office savings book which came in very handy. I had, of course, to pay my mother a weekly sum towards my keep at 45 Kensington Avenue and then there were personal expenses.
My immediate concern was to find a job. I soon found one, thanks to a friend and ex-colleage from Charringtons: Dicky Cox. I called at his house one evening, in Derby Road, West Croydon, and discovered he was now working as a "settler" in the office of Arthur H. Horton, Turf Accountants, of Anerley Road. Dicky used to be a stocktaker at Charringtons but had got cheesed off with that job and had been working as a settler for about 18 months.
What is a settler? He settles the punter's bets; he works out what money is due to the punter if the bet is not a loser. The bets can be anything, from a simple 'single' bet, such as £1 to win on a horse or dog, or a complex set of doubles, trebles, accumulators, 'round the clock' bets, 'up and down, double stakes about' bets and other combination bets.
Anyway, Dicky Cox said he'd introduce me to Arthur Horton, the bookie and the upshot was I became a trainee settler. I would start in early January, 1956. Another new learning period was on the way!