2005 UJ Club Reunion

After dinner speech...

Well, look who got the short straw for the after dinner speech!

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure, but nothing like as often as it used to! Nor for as long. I’d rather have a cup of tea, it lasts longer!

Right you ‘orrible lot, stand by your beds. Fancy coming for a little stroll with me along “Memory Lane”?.

40 years ago on September 7th  1965, 98 boys arrived at RAF Halton to meet each other for the first time. We were all volunteers, so not exactly torn from our mums’ apron strings but we were all thrown together with a common aim in life. That was “to become properly trained aircraft engineers” the quick way. In two years. In civvy street we’d have all had to do it as dual trades in five years. Mind you, the quick way didn’t seem so quick in those days did it? Here’s some food for thought. Of the 98 who reported the first day, 85 passed out, which means that 13 either didn’t get inducted into the RAF or fell by the wayside. Of the 93 on pass out parade, 7 were 203s and 1 was a 202.

 

Well, there we all were, lying quietly in the warm sunshine, potentially riggers, fitters and leckies! I don’t know what any of us was expecting, but what we got didn’t even come near my own expectations. I think most of us if not all had a rough time at some time or other. The question must be asked, would we have done things differently armed with the knowledge we have now? Whatever the answer, the outcome is that I believe it made us all better men than we otherwise might have been. It gave us a grounding in life which set us up for most, if not all, and I say that with personal reservations, of life’s ups and downs. There are obviously occurrences in life for which one is never totally prepared. But I think we all benefited by learning something which is sadly lacking in today’s society, self control. I’d just like to take a few minutes and share with you all a few of my own personal recollections of what life as a Halton Brat was all about. Everybody’s memories are obviously different and I hope my memories will spark some lively conversations after I’ve finished this evening’s lecture…er…..

 

I think most of us were pretty well bewildered by it all. Wet behind the ears or what! Shy boys, extrovert boys, bold boys, timid boys, quiet ones, noisy ones, tough guys, not so tough ones, those with a five o’clock shadow already, and those who still had the bum fluff. Can you remember how you felt at the time? I can. I was totally like a fish out of water. I think I was expecting it to be like some sort of boarding school, although I didn’t know what one of those was like either. I’d come to Halton from a Grammar School in Hounslow where I’d been a bit of a lazy sod. When my proper mum died when I was 13, I became very lazy, mainly because I found I could get away with not doing homework. I did manage somehow to scrape together 4 O levels, maths, tech drawing, French and English. I had really wanted to join The Andrew in the Fleet Air Arm, but they wanted 5 O levels! So there I was, lumped in with 97 other blokes, in the RAF just like my Dad had been in the 2nd War. I remember that some of us got very homesick. For me, room 6 block 11 1 wing RAF Halton was to be my home for quite a long time until we moved over to the 2 Wing side of that piece of very sacred and hallowed ground, the Henderson Groves parade square. I was given a bed space between Mick Elliott and Ian Allen. One of my first memories was of Dave Morgan, the LAA from the 104th entry in charge of our room waking us up at 6.30 with “Right lads, hands off cocks, on with socks”. As a matter of fact, Dave can be seen in the newsreel film of Winston Churchill’s funeral being one of the escorts to the gun carriage which bore the great man’s coffin. Another piece of trivia around that funeral is that, as coincidence would have it, an RSM friend of my father-in-law’s from the Tank regiment was one of the pall bearers, just thought you might like to know that!

Then we met the staff, the first lot were Sergeant Perry, recently commissioned ex drill sergeant Pilot Officer “Paddy” Payne, later promoted to F.O., Corporal (Pat) Duffy, and last but by no means least, our dear old mate(?) Flight Sergeant (Buddha)(to some Fatty) Ware. What a sarcastic bugger he could be eh? Later on Sgt Perry was replaced by dear old Sgt Jim (Sooty) Corbett. He ran me countless times for various misdemeanours but we became kind of friends after pass out, we wrote to each other for several years when I was on 543 Squadron at Wyton. Pat Duffy was replaced by another dear man, Cpl Robbie Hood. Both of those two were holy terrors on the square. I’ll always remember Robbie’s cheese cutter peak on his SD hat. And last but by no means least, Paddy Payne was replaced by Flt Lt Bradley. I ran into Mr Bradley again when I was working on the Victor SR2s on 543 Squadron at Wyton. He was a Navigator Radar ( he was the one who sat at one end of the rear crew playing with his joystick, or the thing which pointed the H2S scanner where he wanted to have a look) and I was on flight line. He didn’t remember me strangely enough, despite having given me innumerable days jankers for various heinous charges I found myself on, like dreadful kit layouts or muddy boots. The other officer type guy I remember was Wing Commander Brown who was I believe the only bloke in the RAF who was allowed to salute with his left hand. There was also our 1 Wing W.O. Mr Elliott whose daughter, Christine, I went out with for a short while, later on, but the less said about that the better. He really didn’t take kindly to a pimply 5ft 9in pipe cleaner mimicking brat with rampant hormones even sitting in the same county as his daughter let alone being alone in a room with her!

Back to the 7th Sept. That first night, I don’t think any of us got much sleep, after being issued with our bedding, a gigantic mug for that substance which masqueraded itself as tea, or flavoured bromide, and a pair of denims. That was until we had signed up, taken the figurative Queen’s Shilling and got our uniforms, which was a while later. Do you remember that attestation day? On 8th Sept We walked over to 3 Wing Maitland Barracks all happy and smiling and talking to each other, laughing and joking, but once the deed had been done, our collective tootsies didn’t touch the bloody ground did they! We had our first taste of actually marching back to 1 Wing. I think we spent a fair bit of time that day learning how to march and swing our arms shoulder high. We stuck out like sore thumbs doing that. All the other brats we saw were swinging theirs in a very half hearted manner, but there we were shoulder high advertising to the world that we were the Rookies! There then began a period of six weeks during which I think we all went to hell and back several times! Six weeks of intensive square bashing, PT, medicals, jabs, and general bullshit. Polishing this, painting that, sticking hands down carsies, making bedpacks, remember them? shining up our new pimply boots until the shine all fell off on the floor, and we had to start over again, dusting, polishing that horrible stuff called brass. If it moves, clean it, polish it or paint it and then move it, if it doesn’t move, salute it! I wonder how many miles we marched up and down that square. If you watch “Carry on Sergeant” and listen to William Hartnell (the 1st Doctor Who) it all comes flooding back! Kit layouts, remember them? Friday night was not music night but Bull Night! Also we could put our laundry in. 9 items we were allowed. Boots too could go for repair. Did you know that our boots were mended by other people serving a different sort of time at Her Majesty’s pleasure? Saturday morning was always drill, lectures on stuff like first aid, nuclear biological and chemical warfare PT, route marches, road runs with full kit, etc. Saturday afternoon was generally siesta time!

One of the main saving graces throughout all of this was the Tank. That haven of sanity where we could supplement our diet, which wasn’t really all that bad or exactly short rations, with culinary delights such as the famous pink slice, the equally famous egg butties and wonderful delicacies like those pork patties and more of that funny tasting tea! Sonny and Cher singing “I got you babe” on the juke box every time you walked into the NAAFI. I can see you all nodding! Oh how I hated that song, and still do. Incidentally, those tasty pork patties were responsible on two occasions for laying yours truly very low. Once in the sick bay and again once in the Halton Hospital with salmonella food poisoning. That wasn’t very nice.

Believe it or not, there were also good times. They are the ones that are most easily recalled. Dave Shand’s pipe playing up and down the hill to and from work. Pete Davenport and John Merrey and others, blowing reveille every morning. Lots of our guys were in fact bandsmen. Ranging from drum majors ( they’re the blokes who wave those long stick things at the band and expect them all to understand what they want them to do)( they sometimes throw the things up in the air and catch them) and various types of drummers, big drums, little drums and middling size drums, things to bang anyway! to pipers and those who blow raspberries down metal tubes with a funnel at the end and knobs which go up and down.

We were all given (generously) room jobs. Just a minute, we’re supposed to be talking about good times! Tez and Jacko’s  favourite was block surrounds, mine was red tiles or bumpering the centre deck. It only took one twat to come in from outside with muddy shoes on to f…. er….. muck…. up the whole lot and you’d have to start again. After six weeks of only each other’s company, we were allowed off camp, So then it was sort out which of the local hostelries to frequent. Most of us went for the King and Queen in Wendover. Bear in mind that none of were 18 yet. I remember one bloke’s favourite party trick. Boris Drawmer, after several pints of the black stuff, Guinness to the uninitiated, would come in and dropping first his kecks and then his guts, would set fire to it like a flame thrower!

That big hill behind the camp, part of the Chiltern’s chain, must have been the highest knocking shop in the land. I think there must have been hundreds of us who went through some kind of initiation up there from some of the local talent at some time or other! There was a lot of rumour and superstition about the big hill behind the camp, especially Pimple Point. Black arts. Visions of covens of witches dancing naked round a fire on Halloween. Gives me the willies or something!

There was also a BBC televised Hill Climb Event, you know, all those old fashioned sports cars and things, which was being broadcast live one Saturday afternoon on Grandstand. Several brats had volunteered to act as marshalls including yours truly, Nigel Summers and Martin Taylor. I think we all thought we had done a spectacularly good job, but Raymond Baxter, who has remained in my memory as a pompous twat ever since thought and said otherwise during his commentary. He slagged us all off publicly live on TV as being somewhat less than competent. I don’t care how good a Spitfire pilot he had been during the Battle of Britain. He was rude, and arrogant and I for one never will forgive him for what he said. We were only kids after all. I don’t remember his exact words but what I have actually reported is extremely mild to what he said. Not a nice man! (Curtis steps off soap box)

What about the things we used to get up to to get off camp for even a few hours. Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards. How many of us did that eh? I only went as far as the Bronze, did anyone get the gold one? Or the silver? I can remember going to organ recitals and classical concerts in High Wycombe, boxing matches at RAF Uxbridge, anything to get off camp for a few hours. The Model Railway Club used to have working weekends away on Welsh Narrow Gauge Railways track laying with Phil Wells. Phil will probably remember the TV documentary.

Phil and I met up later on at Lindholme on an ATC air experience flight flying Chipmunks. Now that WAS fun! Nigel Summers turned up on leave as well as his dad was Flight Sgt in charge of MT there. Oddly enough, his dad had a Morris 1800. Could that have been because that was the standard staff car in 1969? Phil may remember the oily Jock J.T. who got court-martialled for belting that snotty sergeant cadet round the earhole who thought he could order us staff about? 56 days in Colchester wasn’t it? Did Phil come with me as escort or was it someone else? Hellfire. What a horrible place! Even as an escort you had to double everywhere!

Among other good skives that were learned particularly for getting out of church parades, I joined the choir. I could go in civvies! And get up just that little bit later on a church parade morning.

I’m sure that there must be countless tales of things we did at work. I remember during the airfield phase, dipping worms in Liquid Oxygen, hitting them with a hammer and being delighted with the explosion thus caused. I also remember doing marshalling practice with a live prop Provost while chiefy had one hand tightly grasping my collar to yank me out of the way of that spinning prop should I get into a bit of trouble Betty! I also remember Sgt Amiss, a rigger basic phase instructor, who used to sing “Take my gland, I’m a strange looking parasite” and other much ruder songs!

A real high spot for me was of course the Monday night dance down the PMUB club, where my band “The Motion” used to play. We even got asked to play both the Sergeants Mess and then the Officers Mess. What a lovely place that big house is. And what a buzz for a bunch of brats to be allowed in the Officers Mess. Wednesday afternoons were sports afternoons. I was delighted to discover that one of the greatest skives of all was finding out quite early on that fishing was regarded as being a recognised sport in the great definition of things! I used to go off for the afternoon to the Grand Union Canal over at Tring with the very appropriately named Chief Tech Lake from workshops for a couple of hours match fishing practice. That was until I found out that I was reasonably good at Hockey. I had also played at school. I hated footy then and still do. But Hockey was a bit different. I never can quite understand why there is still very little Hockey on T.V.

Saturday mornings as I said earlier were comprised of mainly parade ground drill, first aid lectures and NBC training in the regiment Block. Do you remember that film about the old Dakota which crashed in the middle of nowhere and take note of who the so called tough guys like John Oliver were all fainting at the sight of all the claret? Ah, not so tough then were they? Some of the drill was quite complex wasn’t it? Do you remember the Continuity drill demonstration we did for that open day thing we had sometime or other? I enjoyed that very much. I never used to mind that sort of thing. I was not known for being masochistic, but I suppose I must have been. I even used to enjoy Route Linings! They were fun weren’t they. All that practice for weeks on end. There must have been some better way to spend Saturday mornings? And then on the way into London on the A40 in the bus, we hit a car which had decided to jump the lights, not, I would add, entirely by itself. Here was obviously some moron at the wheel. Some people never learn do they?. We all piled off the bus, had a good look, and then we all piled back on the bus when our Old Bill escort caught up with us.  The fun didn’t end there either. Hundreds, nay, thousands of blokes had marched off from Horse-guards Parade. Mostly professional soldiers but there we were too. Not much more than a bunch of schoolboys. We spread ourselves out along Whitehall in the prescribed manner and waited for the big moment to arrive. There we were just come up to the present, King Hussein’s carriage was just coming round the corner from Parliament Square, some joker had stuck an apple on my bayonet! Mr Plod, being an observant, brainy and diligent kind of chap said, “Oh look sonny, you’ve got an apple stuck on your bayonet” Oh blimey, well I never! I thought. So there is! “We’d better not leave that there had we, Sonny.” Under my breath I replied “who’s the we dopey?” and he promptly ate the offending apple and a slight titter went around the waiting hordes behind us. You needed five O levels in those days to be a copper and none to be a Halton Brat. Speaks volumes doesn’t it?

Then there was the other time in the pouring rain. Cape drill. We were in exactly the same place on the corner of Parliament square. The order came “Ground Arms, Off Capes” About turn, ground capes, about turn again, take up arms. The Heavens opened with a vengeance. Royal Salute Present Arms. White webbing in a complete mess, blanco everywhere, we never had the plastic stuff then did we! Order Arms, ground arms, about turn, take up capes. Errm ! What capes? Where the hell were they? They’d all floated off down the rather deep gutters along Whitehall and were reposing in a huge pile on top of a storm drain. Oh what fun!

The second year was very different for me. Summer Camp. How could they call it summer camp in October? Now that was fun. I really enjoyed summer camp, mind it was bloody cold at night! I shared a tent with Pete Cadywould. Bloody Norah, his feet were legendary! You were never bothered with mosquitoes when you had Caddy’s feet in the vicinity. So was his snoring legendary! You know, I never would have thought that I’d have the courage to abseil down a cliff face. But I did it. The great 3 day yomp across what seemed like hundreds of miles of Welsh Mountains. Actually, it was about thirty or forty I think. Cornish has a nice anecdote about what he said the AOC, when he came to see us, building a log bridge across the river Wye. Ask him about that! My great turning point came when I was awarded the Airframe Progress Prize. That book is one of my most treasured possessions. Things seemed to go a bit differently after that. I felt like I wasn’t a complete wanker after all.

There were downsides occasionally. We did lose a few members on the way. John Towers when he decided to bring forward November the fifth by setting fire to the Halton Society. I wonder if he liked Cosford any better than he did Halton. I remember thinking, “There but for the grace of God, go I”. My dear friend Martin Taylor, with whom several of us met up for lunch in Wokingham a while ago. Martin was a victim of clinical depression even in those far off days and bought himself out before he finished the course. He still suffers from it nowadays even though he has had a very successful career in the industry ending up as a Technical director for Goodrich.  He decided a few months back that he doesn’t qualify as a member and cut himself off from us again. That quite upset me personally. Once a 204 always a 204 in my book. Geordie Wydell fell by the wayside. He was never really happy in the mob, but then who was at that stage? Dave Bairnsfather collapsed during a welding lesson quite early on. We all thought that it was the whiff of acetylene gas that had done for him, but the M.O. sent him to Halton Hospital where they found he had a serious stomach ulcer which had burst, so it was medical discharge for him. Whatever happened to Sam Nelson? We’ve often talked about him at various lunches recently. Another pair of legendary feet! Was it true that he was the son of some African tribal chief or something?

The 204th Entry produced some great characters like Chris (Boris) Drawmer and Sandy Duncan.  I think we all remember the antics those two used to get up to. Boris always seemed to get away with the most outrageous cheek to Buddha and Sooty. I was, until about a year ago in fairly regular contact with Sandy. Then he decided to leave his lovely wife Helene and took off to the States with a youngster who I’m told was about the same age as his daughter. Helene gave me their daughter’s email address, but sadly it seems that she is so annoyed with him about that that she hasn’t even bothered to reply. I do wish she had said something.

There are some who are sadly not with us any more and I’d like to mention them now. Scotty McClennan, who died suddenly aged 25 in the far east from a bout of flu; John Foreman who died a short while ago from a long illness, I think probably the big C; Vic Sylvester I’m told also died from the big C a short while ago: and a few years back now, a colleague of mine at work from the 214th told me that while he was at Scampton on the Vulcans there, His friend Charlie Grant had died in a motorcycle accident. But then out of the blue a few weeks back came a phone call from Geoff Fowler who told me that it was not true and he’d seen Charlie about 10 years ago in Germany, was it Geoff? There may well be others among those who we’ve not managed to contact yet. As a sobering thought, there were 6 people who were contacted over the past 3 years who have declined to join in any 204th association activities. They have all said they don’t want to be reminded of their days as brats. To quote Harry Bunn, “they have all moved on from there”. I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly sad. Sure I hated being a brat, but I am so proud these days to have been one. There were some good times too. Let’s not be morbid.

What about the events leading up to our passing out parade! You may recall our propensity for arranging chairs all through our apprenticeship. If there were any chairs to be set out, for a passing out parade, then guess who got the job. So that’s exactly what we did one night. We set all the chairs out from the Regiment Block on the square in full review order, as if they were the parade. And at the same time some wag had run up his own colours, or should I say feminine underwear trophies up the flag pole. The powers that be didn’t appear to be amused. No sense of humour some people. By the way, while I’m on the subject of parade squares, Denis Hartshorne asked me not to remind him or anyone else of a certain occurrence but did say that he much preferred to wake up in the morning in his own room in the warm rather than in bed on the square covered in snow! So I won’t mention that eh Dennis? Tell me, did you really not know? Till you woke up? 

I could go on for a lot longer reminiscing but my darling wife, She-who-must-be-obeyed, has told me not to make a meal of it. She knows what I’ve inherited from my dear departed father, also ex-RAF and very fond of trapping on and on. So in summing up, I’d like to say to each and every one of you how proud I am to have done it. How proud I am to have served Queen and country with all of you. Not for very long in my case, but there is nevertheless a great camaraderie which binds each and everyone of us together. We weren’t all destined to be lifers.  I have found that with every ex brat I’ve ever come across in my life. There were people in the 204th with whom I simply did NOT get on as a brat. One more reminiscence, do you remember the great snow fight? Now that really did get dangerous, especially the rocks in the snowballs. That was something which did bind us together. We really did stand together then on that day. Buddha once said we had no esprit de corps way back at the beginning, which was why we adopted that as our entry motto. How wrong he was and I wish he was here now so we could all rub his bloody nose in it! We have proved to the world that we really do have esprit de corps. We were 204s then and we are still 204s now. We still stand together. Ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you please to charge your glasses. Before I ask you all to stand and drink 4 toasts with me, there are a few people I must say public thanks to. First of all to Dave (Witchfinder General) Rundle, without Cornish we would have had only a very small reunion. Dave spent hours scouring phone books and things finding people to phone up to ask them “Does 204 mean anything to you?” What a tremendous job! Second to Mike Jackson for his stupendous website and forum pages. Thanks Mike. To Rae Herries for looking after all that dosh for us. Cheers Rae. To all three for being great friends. To my Brother-in-law Colin who made this wonderful shield for us. To our wives, Vanessa, Carole, Pam and Teresa for putting up with preoccupied husbands, I know Nessa has! And of course I must not forget all you guys for withstanding al of my Cajoling and bitching about this that and the other and thanks to you all for coming.

First toast of all is to absent friends,  Second her Majesty the Queen, Third the staff here at the UJ Club who have made us so welcome and done us proud this evening, thanks chaps! But finally and most importantly, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you

The 204th Entry