Posted by Big John on January 13, 2007
It was a freezing cold day in early March 1958 when the bus carrying me and my fellow conscripts rolled through the gates of RAF Cardington, the reception centre for recruits (willing or not) in Bedfordshire. I looked out of the window and saw a World War II barrage balloon floating high above at the end of it’s steel cable.
“I wonder what that’s for ?” said the boy sitting next to me.
“I believe that they make you climb up the cable before breakfast each day”. I joked, and then I saw that the poor lad thought I was serious as his jaw dropped.
When we left the bus we were lined up in threes by a plump, and to my surprise, kindly corporal who marched (well more like shuffled) us away to begin our new lives as aircraftmen in the Royal Air Force.
I don’t remember too much about that first day of my national service, but I do remember being served my first meal by a scruffy cook who was wearing a grease stained beret, filthy ‘whites’ and who, as I stood in line, delighted in dropping a large ‘dollop’ of ‘grease with lumps in’ onto my plate from a ladle held just in front of my face.
The other thing that stands out in my memory is how bloody cold it was that first night. The wooden hut I was in with a couple of dozen other unfortunates had one stove in the middle of the room and no fuel. The only way to keep from ‘freezing to death’ was to feed the stove with everything that we could find that would burn; which left the barracks without a single wooden fixture or fitting.
I spread my civilian overcoat on top of the thin blankets and climbed into my bed. I lit a cigarette and lay there listening to some lad talking in his sleep and calling out for his “mum”. Someone threw a shoe at him and he shut up.
The next day we were due to start the process of being kitted out …
… before being sent on to a training camp for a few weeks of ‘square bashing’. That’s me wearing my new unpressed uniform and standing 2nd from the right.
I remember saying to myself … “That’s one down. …
… Only seven hundred and twentynine to go.”