History Of Our Entry

© 96th Entry

Based on the collective memory of many of the Entry:

From all over the UK we assembled at RAF Halton to sign on the dotted line (by way of a formal attestation) on 14/15th September 1960, the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

In truth we were a bewildered group, most of whom were away from home on their own for the first time in their lives. The first couple of days were spent in civvies, attending to paperwork, being attested, getting used to living with 15 other boys in the same room in a 3-storey dormitory in Number 3 Wing, or Maitland Wing as it was more properly known. This was to be our home for the next year.

We were also introduced to Sweeney Todd the demon barber, who would shore our locks to the bone on a weekly basis. Thankfully Malcolm Prior was a dab hand at providing 'just-regulation' haircuts.

Our initial chaperon and mentor, was a Corporal Drill Instructor (DI) who was extremely polite and very helpful at first, but this seemed to change once we had signed on and had been issued with denims to cover our civvies, pending issue of those hairy blue (serge) No. 2 dress uniforms.

The sight of such awkward lads masquerading as troops invoked a monster in this DI that was to test our will in the weeks and months to come. We also found out that there were higher ranks than Corporal; some with more stripes on their sleeve that shouted louder than him and some that didn’t need to shout at all to promote discipline. The latter tended to be officers, they had people to shout for them.

We learned to line up in threes, in order of height, to march in line of 3's, turn left and right, then halt upon command, all in a cohesive body ... eventually.

We were quickly introduced to bull-nights, at first every night and then later once a week on Fridays, but the inspections came day upon day, week upon week. Inspections of boy and uniform, of room and ablutions, inside and outside the 3-storey building that was our home, inspections at all hours day and night. ‘I want my Mum back’ was a cry sometimes heard.

After several weeks we were issued with guns, big heavy .303's (the short magazine Lee-Enfield to be precise as used in WWII). We learned to like our guns and bestow spit and polish upon them, as we did our boots, webbing, buttons, badges and all things brass as well as anything else that didn't move. Moving things usually had to be saluted. Everything gleamed except fingers and thumbs, which were usually grubby and sore from the continuous cleaning and polishing.

In the fullness of time we were allowed off camp for a weekend, but had to remain in uniform, until the right to wear 'mufti' was earned (mufti being a regulation pattern navy blue blazer and grey flannels, white shirt and approved tie and black shoes - a lot like a uniform really).

The first year passed slowly but we became more confident in ourselves and very skilled at marching and rifle drill. We also became skilled in the art of sloping off camp past the snoops - aka RAF Police - who guarded the gates.

Usually illegal civvies were worn to partake of an equally illegal pint of ale in the pubs of Wendover, Aston Clinton and surrounding villages; whose landlords were very understanding of apprentice ways, such that they also provided semi-legal parking for illegal cars and motorbikes i.a.w the 1-mile from camp rule.

3-Wing also sent us back to school - in reality a fine college that provided a splendid continuing education - a fact not fully appreciated by many at the time.

Every day, morning and afternoon, we marched back and forth ‘twixt barrack block and Kermode Hall to be taught the subjects necessary for our further education, punctuated only by half days doing PT, more drill, or sport, until we doubted we would never see a workshop or an aero plane at all.

When we did get into a workshop it was to learn essential engineering practices with file and saw and drill and rivets and solder and similar such things in 'Basic Shops', but hardly ever to see, smell, feel or clamber over a real aero plane.

The return to camp after our first summer leave saw us moving from Maitland Wing to Henderson - Number 1 Wing. We exchanged our yellow cap band for the red one of Number 1 Wing. We had gone from being senior entry in the junior wing to 'rooks' in the senior wing. A bit of a set back to our new found confidence having to mix it with these older more ‘RAF-wise’ entries.

Schools finished in the fullness of time with the gaining of recognised qualifications - GCEs and/or HNCs. Then we put more time into workshops, learning about aero planes and how they worked, and then eventually on to the airfield phase of training where the final parts of our training came together. The airfield had real aero planes, piston and jet engines that we could run up, flying control and electrical control systems that responded to our inputs, aircraft that taxied more or less under control of our nervous marshalling, but sadly never they flew again.

On occasion real aero planes came and went. We got to fly air experience trips in the De-Havilland Chipmunk and Avro Anson, even a Westland Wessex and other in-service aircraft during station visits. For some flying the Slingsby TX.1 Sedbergh glider with its open cockpit was a regular event in lieu of sports afternoon. One day a Vulcan landed on the grass field, and a Comet, neither to ever take off again.

Along the way we got into some scrapes, although there were many high days and even some holidays.

Of the high days to name but a few - there was route lining in London, recreational and duty trips to Earl's Court, more recreation at Stretham Ice Rink and onto Abingdon for an adventurous team building weekend (this was also a scrape).

There were many organised weekend trips out with the various clubs of the Halton Society - which was a superbly organised mega-hobby club. There were car-hill climbs to enjoy near the pimple on the ridge behind 1 Wing.

We went on Entry outings to Great Yarmouth and Southend. There was a graduation dinner at High Wycombe (was it an hotel or one of the messes at Strike command - peoples’ memories are vague on this).

Who put the purple crystals in the fountains in Trafalgar Square (see the Window page for more information).

Frank Baldry was in a pop group that performed in 1-Wing Tank (NAAFI), on the Station Radio and regularly at Courts Dance School in Aylesbury - what was that group called? (Frank can’t remember) - why was the NAAFI called the Tank?

Not to mention the excellent brass and pipe bands that many saw as an ideal way to skive, although in fact they performed at many out of hours functions and other extra duties.

The scrapes included jankers for any minor misdemeanour (was it a white or yellow armband to signify you weren't allowed off camp), ofttimes for being caught with a car or motor bike inside the 1-mile exclusion zone.

Some people remember a visit to the local cop-shop as a result of going a bit 'wild' during the Abingdon adventure training weekend and having to be bailed out by the good Flt Lt Roberts who extracted much of our meagre wages for weeks afterwards to pay a fine to cover supposed 'damages'. Someone must remember the details (I am told - think young lads, pubs and too much beer, river and boats, park benches and trees, general rowdiness, a police station and a serious talking to by the Flt Cmdr).

Forfeiting precious weekends was the usual way to pay collective penance for minor transgressions that are long forgotten, then being subject to endless drill sessions, inspections, changing in and out of best blue, hairy blue, PT kit, denims and boots at the whim of a masochistic DI as a result. They wouldn’t get away with such beasting nowadays. The only consolation was that if we were there all weekend, so were the DIs. To be fair some of them were good old boys at heart - Ex Irish Guards Sgt Barney Meehan would usually buy you a half if you stumbled into his local, which was essentially any pub in Wendover.

Memory being what it is the scrapes seem to have faded faster than the good times, except for the training road runs in preparation for summer camp. These were done wearing denims and boots and usually went by road round the back of the ridge to a cafe by the golf course, where you could have a cup of tea and a smoke before trogging back over the ridge through the woods.

Who remembers skiving on sports afternoons by doing cross-country and going for a smoke in the 'dust bowl' - an ornamental pond/skating rink in the Halton House woods across the road from the Polish Avenue gate on the way to airfields (read the Halton House book) - before joining the runners as they came back, but being caught out by the PTI's at the check point for lack of a 'back of the hand' stamp and being made to go round again. So much for an early tea.

Hands up those who had a spare set of eating-irons and a horrid plastic mug in their side pack, so they could fall out from marching up the hill straight to meals instead of belting into the block for their real mug and irons. Who had his pot mug accidentally dropped during room inspection because it was supposedly filthy.

The climax of our time at Halton came just before graduation, when we were privileged as senior entry to provide Guard of Honour and escort for the Queen's Colour - the only colour party paraded entirely by non-commissioned ranks - and to act as ushers at the Service of Dedication of the new St. Georges church; where our own Entry window was dedicated on 7th Nov 2004. Our window remains unique in having the plain 1963 church window incorporated into our church window which now adds to the blaze of colour that is the current church window. Several members and their ladies attended the re-dedication service at St George's on 19 May 2013 - a picture of them is posted on our Photo Gallery - General page.

If you have any memories or details to add to or refute any of this saga then please send them in via the various links on this site.

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