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Last updated on 16 October, 2021 at 5:14 PM
Each year at it's AGM the RAFLAA honours the 3 Entries which passed out 50 years previously. A member from each Entry is encouraged to say something about their Entry. The Golden Entries for 2009 were the 84th, 85th and 86th. Tony Beard was unable to attend on our behalf so he sent this piece instead. It covers our time at Locking quite nicely.
THE 84th ENTRY OF AIRCRAFT APPRENTICES
18th SEPTEMBER 1956 – 28th JULY 1959
On Tuesday, 18th September 1956, ninety-nine young men, most straight from school, travelled to RAF Locking. The majority arrived at Weston super Mare railway station to be met by either Sgt “Stringy” Corde or Cpl Butler and then were quietly, but firmly, shepherded into 3-ton Lorries or buses for the short journey to Locking. The 84th Entry was initially billeted in huts 351 – 361 and 362 in C Sqn lines. Three other new entrants whose families lived overseas had already arrived at Locking; one being from Malta, the other 2 from Service families. Later that week, the last of the original 117 members of the 84th arrived – these being 5 ex-Boy Entrants from RAF Cosford.
The first week or so at Locking is now, unfortunately, something of a blur in the memory of this author, but suffice to say, on the 19th September, the new arrivals were duly sworn in, given the Queens Shilling and their Service number which would stay, indelibly, in their memories for the rest of their lives. We were also acquainted with the rest of C Sqn staff; Pilot Officer Scott, our flt cdr, and FS Price. The most notable personality however, was Sqn Ldr Uprichard. If you played rugby – you were in – and I was! Saturday afternoons became a little more adventurous for an apprentice in his first year as a member of the Wing 1th XV who experienced the joys of playing at various locations around the district.
After being kitting out with uniforms the 84th were introduced to the strange ways of Service life. We were, like all other Entries of this period, quickly made aware of the concept of Senior Entry and of the power and strength of the 76th. In fairness, and retrospect, I can honestly say that they were a good, fair and responsible Entry, at least to us, and they carried out their Apprentice indoctrination tasks with a mixture of apparent pleasure, thoughtfulness for our welfare and the need to cultivate the necessary esprit-de-corps in our young minds. We all learnt a great deal about life and how to overcome potential disaster in those early days. Personally, I found myself very grateful for several years service in my school cadet force where I had successfully mastered the art of, among other things, collar studs and collar-detached shirts. My mother had also taught me how to use an electric iron and this training stood me in good stead in those early days. I was also fortunate in always carrying spare collar studs which negated having to plunge my hands into a 7lb tin of treacle to find my first set which had been placed there by kind members of the 76th! I also remember having to sort out my personal pair of boots from around 117 other pairs carefully placed in a bath – fortunately devoid of water!
Memories of that first year are somewhat vague but some incidents do stand out quite clearly. Who can ever forget the parades, particularly the (monthly) station parades together with what seemed to be an enormous number of airmen from the other Wings on the station. The uniforms and other dress accoutrements also remain clear in my memory. The hairy blues, the dreadful ground-sheets used as rain coats, the heavy but warm greatcoats, the endless “bull” that we all engaged in and the frequent billet inspections. These were normally followed by another trip to the NAAFI to purchase yet more tins of polish to replace ones not cleaned to the required standard and deliberately destroyed under the booted feet of the inspecting NCO. I believe china drinking mugs also frequently fell into this category. As a result of this, one of the more enterprising members of the Entry (whose uncle worked in the plating industry) came back from Christmas leave with a small quantity of chrome-plated boot polish and duraglit tins. The look on the face of the Leading Apprentice in- charge of our billet on the next inspection said it all!! I still have my two tins to this day as a reminder of the extraordinary way of life we led. It was not all bad news though; I still use my 53-year old black shoe cleaning brushes almost on a daily basis.
At the end of the first year we were re-classed into trades and began the serious business of learning about radio engineering. Some of us took to it naturally whilst others found the learning process to be a distraction from enjoying the best bits that Locking had to offer. The weekends were all most of us lived for – the trips into Weston, the rucks on the beach with the local Teds and the seemingly endless quests for girl-friends – or was it just me? Walking-out dress in those days included, of course, hairy uniforms and big black boots. What the local girls thought of this each Wednesday evening at the Winter Garden dances I dread to think but we seemed to be able to impress them no matter what the attire! Of course, after the first term we all realised that having some illegal “civvy” clothing at Locking was the answer. The previous occupants of our billets had used the very dry and dusty conditions underneath the billets to hide their “civvies” and so we followed suit. Old suitcases and other assorted containers were easily lodged in every available recess to hold the afore-said clothing. We then of course had to learn how to break-in and out of camp without being seen by either the senior entry of the DS staff – skills quickly learnt.
Sometime early in 1958 we, together with colleagues from the 85th entry, organised a large “tipping-out” raid on the 87th entry who numbered something over 200 strong and were flexing their muscles a little early in their careers. There must have been some minor injuries sustained by the 87th as word of our mis-deeds reached officialdom and consequently we were gated for several weeks. To show the rest of the Wing, and particularly the Wing NCOs and Officers that we were a mature and responsible set of young adults, we organised a day of activities on the station for a large group of children from a local orphanage during one of these gated weekends. This went down very well; at least the children enjoyed it. On another weekend, we held an inter-billet sports competition for the Entry which achieved relatively nothing other than increasing the numbers at sick parade the following Monday.
Summer 1958 brought the summer camp – we went to East Camp at Lulworth and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As an exercise in trying to broaden our military training it achieved not a lot – there was a great deal of navigational exercises around the very pleasant Dorset countryside and if success can be judged on the number of public houses found and tested, then we did ok. The night exercises brought about a number of minor injuries and not just to the Apprentices – one or two RAF Regt corporals suffered as well – and not just their pride!
Probably one of the major escapades that the 84th planned and executed was the flag on the Odeon cinema in Weston. One of our number managed to climb onto the roof of the cinema one Wednesday evening and hoisted the Entry flag on a vacant pole. Being unable to re-enter the cinema, he made his way across several rooftops until he managed to get to the ground in someone’s back-yard. The Weston Mercury was telephoned the following day and we in due course achieved our aim of some little publicity in the next edition of the paper.
Having recently read in the RAFLAA newsletter about the exploits of the 82nd Entry in moving the Lincoln (? – or was it a Lancaster?) bomber from one of the hangars with the intention of reaching the parade square, I should add that a significant number of our Entry assisted the 82nd in this task as these aircraft were quite heavy. As I recall the incident we were only unsuccessful as roadside trees prevented further progress. It was quite amusing the following day watching the attempts by the MT section to return the aircraft to its original parking place.
Having cars and motor bikes at Locking was, of course, the big “verbotten”. Needless to say we had a number of members lucky enough to own cars and motor bikes. Somehow or other, a newly built block of 5 single garages in Weston became available and were quickly filled by an assortment of old and quite unroadworthy motor vehicles. These were soon followed by an assortment of old wardrobes inside the garages holding various civilian clothing – all of which were still illegal at that time.
From the 117 original members, the Entry was progressively reduced to precisely 46 on passing out day in July 1959 plus 4 others who came down from the 83rd and 82nd. Of these 50, two were awarded cadetships at the RAF College Cranwell and one went to the Technical College at RAF Henlow. In the years after leaving Locking a significant number achieved commissioned rank both in the air and on the ground. Our most senior member retired as an Air Cdre in 1993.
Eighteen months ago, two members of this Association decided to locate as many members as possible with a view to holding a reunion this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Passing Out from Locking. To date, we have managed to locate 30 members of the Entry, 16 of whom have booked for our first reunion in the Cotswolds this summer. Despite having had minimal contact in the previous 50 years, we confidently expect to have further gatherings in the coming years during which the main subject of conversation will undoubtedly be – Locking.
682407 Leading Aircraft Apprentice Tony Beard