The weekend began for me on Friday afternoon when I booked into the Barrack Block assigned for those masochistic enough to want to spend a night there. As I parked my car I spoke to the chap who had just pulled up alongside. He mentioned what a terrible journey he had just endured on the M25 and I agreed as I’d not long before experienced the same. He introduced himself as Hugh Dibb (80th). It turns out that we are near neighbours, our houses being within 5 minutes walking distance. Our paths had never crossed before.
After unpacking we made our way to the Henderson Mess for evening meal. The food was excellent and the surroundings were comfortable. Eating irons were supplied at the servery so there was no swilling of dirty cutlery in ice cold, grease encrusted water in a tank outside the Mess. While I was eating my dessert who should arrive but the 96th’s very own Brian Spence, hot foot from Inverness
After a very pleasant meal, it was off to the Officer's Mess at Halton House where we had been invited by the PMC to use the bar facilities. Brats of all ages and who had achieved virtually every rank in the RAF, chatted together like old mates. Such is the tradition that binds us.
At 07:00 on Saturday we were awoken from our slumbers by the sound of Reveille being played on a bugle outside the Block. The bugler was greeted by shouts of abuse and derision – just like the good old days. At 08:00 those amongst us who were not excused boots, or unable to march for any reason (and much alcohol had washed under the bridge the night before), formed up on the road outside the Block. Some 51 of us managed to fall in, the rest were in danger of falling over.
We sized, tallest on the right, shortest on the left in single rank. We all remembered how to do it. We numbered from the right and sure enough number 25 called out 26 and we started again. Eventually we were formed up in 2 flights and we marched up to Henderson Mess. En route we wheeled left on to the Parade Square and marched, and I do mean marched, because by now we were a cohesive military formation reminiscent of our youth, past the saluting base. Min Larkin (63rd Entry) took the salute as we gave the eyes left. We then wheeled right and marched off the Square. At Min’s command we burst into a superb rendition of Colonel Bogey, which accompanied our exit from the Square and on to the road.
We ate a hearty breakfast before making our independent ways to the Airfield for the day’s events. Once there I made contact with the other 96’ers who had turned up – Alfie Burton, Merv Kelly, Robbie Honnor, Dave Murray, Tony Metcalfe, Martin Brown, Gordon Sherratt, Paul Holmes, Graham Castle, Andy Vincent and Stan John who was resplendent in full regalia as he piped with the Golden Oldies.
The sounds of the haggi being strangled was our cue to form up in some semblance of order for the march to the Station Church. This was a relaxed event with no real attempt at anything approaching an acceptable military standard. It was more of a gentle stroll through Halton Village, which was sealed off on all sides by the local police to allow us unfettered access. We were in Entry order and when I glanced at the 99th Entry behind me I was pleased to see one of their number, Barry Fagg, who had been at school with me back in the 50’s. We had not seen each other since Halton and we had a good old chat as we strolled along.
All along the Village the locals had turned out into their front gardens or the pavement to wave as we passed by. The link between Brats and Village has lost none of its closeness. At the Church, some attended a service to dedicate more Entry windows, including one commemorating the Royal Ceylon Air Force Apprentices. Others inspected the old workshop and school buildings.
Finally we formed up for the march across Main Point and up the Hill to the Parade Square for the sunset parade. We were under the control (?) of some Halton DI’s who did their best to instil some discipline but they were met by some good-natured abuse, which they took in good part. It was an odd combination of how we used to behave under the watchful eyes of our DI’s and how we would like to have behaved. It was almost surreal.
Once again, all traffic was brought to a halt as we marched across the road at Main Point. Once in sight of the saluting base all levity was abandoned and we were once again the pride and joy of Lord Trenchard. The Station Commander took the salute, made a brief speech and the ensign was lowered to the accompaniment of a lone piper. The Station Brass Band joined with the Pipe Band and we were treated to some stirring music. The pipes then struck up “Auld Lang Syne” before we all left for home or bar depending on our preference.
It was a fantastic experience and I’m glad I participated. Just 3 more years and I can do it all again.