My week at home passed all too quickly and the time was spent almost equally between being fed lavish meals and getting to know how to handle my Douglas motorcycle. My anxious mother was worried by my loss of almost a stone in weight whilst at West Kirby and of course, as any good mother would, she did her best to aid its replacement. But I resisted as I felt so much fitter after the rigours of the previous ten weeks. All too soon it was Sunday and in the afternoon I found myself travelling on a railway line which took me via changes at Didcot and Bristol on to Weston-super-Mare.
Another uniformed RAF lad was sitting in the same compartment after my change at Bristol, but he did not speak until it was to advise me that we were nearing our destination. He was wearing an unusual chequered hat band and when I queried that, he said that it denoted him as an Apprentice. He helped me off the train as I had a suitcase as well as my kitbag and he insisted on carrying the latter as he led the way to a waiting RAF bus. During the journey he explained the role of Apprentices and how they joined the RAF at the age of sixteen and signed on for twelve years. In return they could expect, subject to ability, fast promotion through the non-commissioned ranks. It seemed that a separate section of RAF Locking was devoted to both the basic and the technical training of Apprentices. He laughingly suggested that I should have arrived a week earlier when the pubs in Weston had served free beer in the evening after the 'Freedom of Weston for the RAF' parade and ceremonies. The bus arrived at the camp entrance where a large signboard told me that I was at No. 1 Radio School. I had to book in at the Guardroom so I was parted from my companion, somewhat touched by his friendly helpfulness. Later on I was to discover that there was considerable rivalry between the Apprentices and the more numerous and supposedly more mature airmen, sadly sometimes even to the point of fist fights, but none of that was ever to affect me.
From the Guardroom I was directed to the 'Fitters Lines' which were some considerable distance from the main gate and reached by initially passing through an area of flowering shrubs and grass, and then by the inevitable parade ground. This place did not have the same grim aura that had prevailed at West Kirby, and a feeling grew that life at Locking was going to be a happier experience. Five huge buildings came into view, not corrugated iron hangars but structures almost as big, of modern two storied brick and multi-windowed construction, perhaps 250 feet square. Several radar devices were built on or near these buildings and I wondered if any of them was to become my particular province. Past another playing field and then I was at several rows of the familiar green wooden huts. In the third rank of which I found and entered the one I had been directed to and was cheerily greeted by five other lads who had already arrived. I chose a bed and started to unpack my gear while chattering to my new friends. Thankfully a pile of bedding was magically provided on each bed so there was no tedious trip to a distant bedding store to be made. There was a feature missing from this hut : there were no iron stoves. Instead a thick heating pipe ran the length of the hut on both sides and the bed heads butted up to these. Also there were only ten beds on each side, so there was marginally more room. Nor was there a rifle-rack in the centre, so without the stoves too, there was room for two tables each with four chairs in the central space. The ablution arrangements were the same as at West Kirby and the baths and showers were at the far end of the long spinal corridor which joined sixteen or so huts.
As we chattered the door was flung open and a corporal entered holding a wash bag and with a towel over his arm. Somebody bellowed 'Corporal present!' and we all leapt up to attention. Our corporal stood there looking slightly embarrassed, but then grinned. 'No, no lads, its not like that here. For officers yes, but not for me.' He told us his name and said he lived in the small room off the entrance lobby and that he was an instructor. He wouldn't cause us any bother at all provided that we behaved like normal civilised human beings. Wow! After West Kirby that was hard to imagine. When he came back through after his wash he said that tomorrow we should report at 0800 to the Squadron Office, and as we had missed tea, supper could be had at 1900 in the cookhouse which was about ten huts away. After that a couple more blokes arrived together and at 1900 we all drifted down for our food. More people arrived during the evening but two didn't turn up until just before breakfast time, having arrived very late, and therefore having to spend the night in the transit billet near the Guardroom. They made our number up to sixteen in all.
We found the cookhouse crowded at breakfast time, there were literally hundreds queuing or tucking into their breakfasts. At ten to eight we joined the flow of the crowd and found that they were assembling outside a couple of huts set apart. A flight sergeant appeared and the first thing he shouted was for 'New arrivals to fall in over there.' About four hutsworth of us did that while the old hands who were already in their own groups were subjected to a roll call. They then marched away to one of the large buildings. Then it was our turn. It seemed that we were two people short which caused some brief consternation before being told that we were Class GRF R42 and would receive instruction in a particular classroom of the Fitters' block and that we should report there forthwith. He asked who was the Senior man and when he received no answer he appointed one of us at random, and he was told to march the class to the Block, a matter of a mere couple of hundred yards or so. We went to the building the old hands had vanished inside and with the aid of a thoughtfully provided plan of the layout fixed to the wall of the entrance lobby, we quickly located our room, which was upstairs and there we found a young Pilot Officer awaiting our arrival. He indicated that we should enter and seat ourselves at the two rows of tables.
I realised there was something a bit odd about this officer: he was the first one I had ever seen who was wearing the same type of hairy battledress and trousers that we wore. He introduced himself and said that he was doing his National Service too. He would be taking us for Basic Principles, three weeks of Electrics and then four weeks of Electronics. However there would be an examination at the end of the first part, and those falling below the required level would be back classed. Should a backclassed person fail again he would be transferred to a much shorter Radar Mechanic's course, these also being conducted at Locking in the adjacent block. In addition there would be weekly tests to check that we were absorbing what was taught as we went along. During this period we would also be doing laboratory work and receiving tuition in workshop practice to reveal and improve our practical skills, and that Wednesday afternoons relieved the pressure by being Sports afternoons. He went on to tell us that sixteen weeks ago he had graduated at Cambridge where he had been reading Physics which in his case had been biased towards electronics. He enquired whether there were other holders of degrees present and it transpired that we had two amongst us, although neither were scientific degrees. Further questioning revealed that we had several holders of Higher National Certificates and several Ordinary National Certificate holders too. The remaining few, myself included, had no better qualifications than a handful of 'O'Levels including Physics, Maths and English, although everybody in that group had been employed in one branch or another of the electronics industry. Our teacher did not seem particularly dismayed to hear of our lack of higher education, he merely commented that we would have to work pretty hard to cope with the mathematical side of things. With that he distributed blue notebooks (Form 619) and our course commenced.
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Text & Picture © 2006 D.C.Adams