- RAF West Kirby -

Early in that first week it was deemed necessary for us all to have an 'FFI' inspection. The armed forces were forever worried about the prospect of venereal diseases decimating their ranks, as such had been the experience of the army in previous times. Accordingly new arrivals at any RAF camp were expected to offer themselves for the Free From Infection examination, but at the Basic Training establishments it was compulsory and carried out en masse.

Thus one day without any warning, in a group of possibly a hundred, we were marched to a larger hut than usual. It contained but one room in which the only furniture consisted of four rows of low gym benches, while the walls were fitted with multiple rows of clothes hooks. A medical orderly ordered everybody to strip naked and much to our relief, our DIs, hugely amused at the discomforture displayed on our faces, laughingly left the room before we could do so. Those shorter in height were required to stand on the central benches, the two rows of bodies facing each other, while the taller people formed ranks behind them also standing on benches. As each row contemplated the bodies in the row opposite, two Medical Officers entered the room and the command was given for those in the front two ranks to retract their foreskins when the inspecting officer neared them, this unusual form of salute inwardly amusing me more than somewhat as my mischievous mind compared it with the more normal salute of 'presenting arms', and my mind also instantly recalled and modified my only rude joke to 'What are the biggest drawbacks in The Royal Airforce?'. The officers then prowled slowly down the central aisle each closely scrutinising the individual organs in one row of the plethora so overtly paraded, and strangely, all the feet of their owners too. It was a surreal experience, and for the overly sensitive amongst us it must have been something of an ordeal. Then the inner rows were commanded to sit on their benches to allow the rear ranks to be similarly humiliated. However it was a salutary and formative lesson, for one instantly realised that whereas hitherto one's adolescent brain had imagined one's own item to be the norm, a standard by which all others should be judged, now the inescapable evidence presented made one realise that there was no such thing as a 'norm' as anything or everything was 'normal'. The inspection resulted in about three people being told to report to the Medical Section for further investigation. In addition a few despicable people were told to wash their feet and/or attend to their toenails. Then we had to remain standing there naked to receive a brief homily about the perils of VD, the importance of washing behind one's foreskin and caring for the feet.

To provide a welcome relief from these sordid matters, I now include a photograph of some of the hapless young participants of the incident just described, but of course now decently attired, the official photograph of my flight in fact.

Flight Photo
Corporal Gaunt is seated at the centre with Coombes to the left (as we see it) and Stanley to the right. The author stands second from the left.

Another interesting but highly unpleasant diversion from Drill occurred when we were required to receive injections. Once again an en masse system was used, and a hundred or so marched to a football field and were halted in lines near two wooden tables, each having a complement of medical staff equipped with an array of the necessary syringes etc. First we needed a 'Schick Test' (or some such name) whereby two small injections were made in the inside of the forearm, just below an elbow. If these festered slightly within a couple of days, then that was a good sign, otherwise a diphtheria shot was required. So we advanced in columns of two between the tables and one column received the jabs in the left arm, and the other in the right. I was foolishly apprehensive about this veterinary-like procedure and on receiving the second needle there was a roaring in my ears and I fainted. I came-to on the ground to find a friend slapping my face, my collapse having been totally ignored by those uncaring brutes wielding the needles. My comrades dragged me to my feet and assured me that the worst was now over, so I should relax.

However, my relief was shortlived, for as soon as all those in the the two lines had been similarly cruelly served, we were formed up for a second and what turned out to be an altogether more severe onslaught. Their sadistic scheme was to attack each person more or less simultaneously on each arm. A huge syringe of the combined TABT serum was to fill one arm while the shoulder of the other was to receive a Smallpox vaccination administered by something resembling an office stapling machine which gouged up a flap of skin and deposited the serum beneath. There was no way I was able to look forward with equanimity to that impending vicious bilateral assault. But there could be no respite and all too soon I found myself back between the two tables. With my eyes closed and teeth gritted, the thick steel needle was thumped in, and it hurt every bit as much as I had anticipated. While I was mutely awaiting in ovine fashion the seemingly inevitable outcome of again becoming unconcious, I was distracted from the activity of the torturer abusing my left arm by feeling a heavy thump on the opposite shoulder and a voice shouting...glory of glories...'Next!' Wow! No roaring in the ears and no grey mist! I was still in the land of the living and free to totter back to the ranks.

I remain perplexed to this very day about the affair, about why I passed out for the lesser needles but not the subsequent more brutal ones. As for the business of fainting itself, well it was a hot June day and they did use blunt steel needles in those days so I claim that there was some excuse, and I should add, I was not the only one. We were all allowed a half hour to recover on our beds and then it was time for the mid-day meal. That afternoon the thoughtful authorities decently did not require us to over-tax ourselves by marching up and down the drill square: no, they merely required us to stand upon it, as we were to have 'Greatcoat Inspection'. Thus we found ourselves lined up in open order in the blazing June sun wearing our very substantial greatcoats. A civilian tailor worked his way down the ranks unhurriedly considering the fit and length of the thick material of each coat. About half required alterations which he marked with tailor's chalk. We were probably there for a couple of hours and people were dropping like flies. But not me.

I'll conclude this page with another couple of medical events. I'm sorry but its about VD again, but I will be brief. Yes we were shown a gory technicolour film depicting without restraint the possible outcome of infection, foul sores and evil discharges and so on. That was why all those foreskins had to be retracted otherwise the most likely site of such a sore would have been covered. A little of that went a long way and when combined with glimpses of the surgeon's instruments causing some people to hurry out, presumably to vomit. The Medical Officer told us that on average one such case per week was encountered at West Kirby. We were informed that at every RAF camp there was a small room located behind the guardroom that was equipped with washing facilities and prophylactic creams with which, on return to base, anyone foolish enough to have given himself cause for concern, should introduce into his urethra and thoroughly annoint his suspect appendage. However the blatantly obvious primary military plan was to deter us young chaps from ever inserting ourselves into risky surroundings in the first place, and in my case their plan worked brilliantly.

One day about half way through the ten weeks we were all marched to Sick Quarters and on arriving there were told that we were all to be blood donors. There was no choice, they were not asking for volunteers, we were to be blood donors. But as it turned out, not me as I had a heavy cold and was rejected. I didn't know whether to be glad or sorry.


Top of Page...or...Previous Page...or...Return to Index

Text © 2005 D.C.Adams