INSIGHTS ON IVOR
For some people the 1950’s in Britain were dull and grey but for others it was the start of a new beginning. We were still recovering from the war years. Austerity, rationing, bombsites, some of which still had hidden UXB’S (unexploded bombs) buried deep within the rubble, there were plenty of old air raid shelters still in evidence and concrete hexagonal shaped look out shelters strategically placed around the country and from which solders or Home Guardsmen would watch through narrow slits along each side of the shelter for any enemy parachutists. As I write this the year is 2017 and I can tell you that there are still many of these concrete structures still standing throughout the U.K., minus the guardians inside of course.
These were the days when Authority was respected. Adults would reprimand any unruly children, whether their own or someone else’s without the fear of arrest or recrimination. This method meant children grew up instilled with the discipline of acceptance and not questioning their elders. In a strange way it gave the children a sense of understanding and security. Television in 1950 was still a luxury with fewer than two million sets sold in Britain. Many considered the ‘box’ in the corner of the room to be a threat to family life. Of course the pictures were black and white, there were no daytime programmes and the service closed at eleven o’clock every night.
In addition there was a one-hour break in transmission every evening between five and six o’clock. This was named the ‘toddlers truce’. Small children, believing that television was closing down for the night, a belief instilled in them by their tired and harassed parents, were packed off to bed. This parent friendly ploy by the BBC lasted until 1957.
But I am jumping ahead a little here so let’s go back a little and start with one day in March 1950 when a letter arrived from our friendly Government, who, knowing that I was now 18 years old, ‘invited’ me to report to the RAF camp at Padgate in Lancashire. As the youngest member of the family I had grown up listening to stories about Army life from my Father, three brothers and my sister and had long decided it wasn’t for me so I applied to join the RAF. My request was granted and on March 28th 1950 I duly reported to RAF Padgate and joined the Royal Air Force to serve my eighteen months National Service.
One of the first things to do was for all of us to get kitted out with uniforms and a myriad number of other items deemed essential to make Airmen out of us young fresh faced slightly bemused ‘erks’ – the nickname for such young inexperienced newcomers - What followed next was, for me, quite hilarious. We were marched to a Store Hut in which a group of N.C.O.S were standing behind counters awaiting our arrival. The first item of kit was thrust into our arms with great rapidity as we were hurried along the counters to collect the rest of our kit. Boots, shoes, underclothes, socks, shirts, collars, ties, sweaters, trousers, battledress tunics, ‘Best Blue’ uniforms . Two hats, one a beret and the other a forage cap, woollen gloves and the very necessary item for the time of year, our greatcoat, completed that list.. Next came items which included polishing equipment for cleaning all the uniform brasses and boots and shoes, a drinking mug, cutlery, knife, fork and spoon (referred to as ‘Irons’) and other items deemed necessary by the powers that be. All of these items came flying through the air at great speed accompanied by shouts from the N.C.O’S to ‘Hurry up chaps’ (or words to that effect!). The sight of all these ‘sprogs’ (another nickname for newcomers) with boots and shoes which for expediency, tied around their necks, their faces lost behind all the other equipment gathered in their arms, blindly staggering around the room, crashing into each other wondering what on earth had hit them was just too much for my ‘Goonish’ sense of humour. I was doubled up with laughter. Of course, with such loads precariously balanced it was inevitable that some items would fall to the ground causing the unfortunate losers, panic stricken by now, to struggle to redeem their fallen articles. Their clumsiness bought more verbal encouragement from the N.C.O’S and more laughter from me. All of this paraphernalia required a large kitbag to carry it so this was another fiasco which caused last laughter. Each individual kitbag required some form of identity so we were all given stencilling equipment and instructions on how to stencil our service number onto the bag and underneath that the number of the current month followed by a hyphen following by the last two numbers of the current year. In our case as it was March, the third month, we had to put a 3 a hyphen and the last two numbers of the year 1950 which meant the finished version should show 3 – 50. Now, the Corporal in an effort for absolute clarity said, and I quote this verbatim ‘Put three hyphen fifty, five 0’ Simple enough really but of course there’s always one isn’t there. This poor embarrassed lad took the instruction literally and his kitbag ended up showing his serial number correctly and underneath the numbers 3 – 50 50.
Naturally as you can imagine the Corporal was delighted whilst the rest of us thought it hilarious.
Equally funny was marching back to our billets after being issued with rifles and tin helmets. These helmets were supposed to stay on your heads but some lads had great difficulty in achieving this despite inclining their heads alarmingly to one side. Failure to master this technique resulted in the helmet leaving the head and landing in the road with an almighty clatter. As the poor unfortunate loser tried to retrieve it the marching feet of his colleagues kicked it as they tried their best not to fall over it. We all learnt a few new words that day I can tell you. Me? I was doubled up with laughter.
After Padgate I was posted to R.A.F. Wilmslow in Cheshire for eight weeks square bashing. In those days there were about two thousand W.A.A.F’s (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) stationed there but what with the sheer physical hard work to say nothing of the bromide in the tea we were too exhausted to chase after them!
Another incident which caused much merriment occurred whilst the platoon was drilling on the parade ground. The Drill Sergeant bellowed out the command ‘about turn’, we all ‘about turned’, all except one silly devil who blindly continued marching straight on all on his own. This prompted the Drill Sergeant to break into song and the first five notes and words of ‘Beautiful Dreamer, wake unto me’ wafted across the parade ground. I have often wondered if that particular ‘Dreamer’’ was the same man with the iconic 3 - 5050 on his kitbag!
It was during those drill moments on the parade ground that I was grateful for my days in the Boys Brigade. Marching, including slow marching, forming fours, about turning etc were all drill movements I had learnt from the age of twelve. The RAF also taught me to use rifles and sten guns. I managed to gain the accolade of being a Marksman in rifle shooting. I knew watching all those rooting, tooting, fast shooting cowboys films chasing Indians across the plains in my youth would come in handy one day. After I had completed six weeks of the normal eight weeks square bashing I contacted, for the second time, scarlet fever and was put in the isolation ward of the camp hospital for two weeks treatment. Afterwards I was sent home for two weeks convalescence before returning to camp for the passing out parade signifying my square bashing time at RAF Wilmslow was over. .
Unfortunately in June 1950 the Korean War broke out with the result that the Government increased the required time scale from eighteen months to two years for all current and future National Service conscripts. I have good reason for remembering this because by this time I was at stationed at No.3 Radio School, Compton Basset in Wiltshire undergoing training as a Teleprinter Operator. There were rumours going the rounds that our class was earmarked for Korea but luckily for us we were let off and destined to stay in the UK. So the extra six months service in the UK was accepted and infinitely preferable to being shot at in Korea. This war became known as the ‘forgotten war’ because whenever people are discussing past wars and conflicts you can bet your life that the Korean War is usually not mentioned.
As a matter of interest from the end of the Second World War in August 1945 - (not May 1945 – that was when the war in Europe finished) The British 14TH Army, also known as the Forgotten Army, fought on against the Japanese in the Far East until the two Atom bombs dropped by the Americans forced Japan to surrender – to the end of National Service conscription ending in 1960 there were about 400 National Servicemen killed in action plus many more wounded in conflicts in Malaysia, Kenya, Cyprus, Suez Canal, Aden, the Gulf States and Korea.
--End of Part Nineteen—