Conscription - Glenn Beckerton

Joining the Royal Air Force at age 21. All the male species in my family have had themselves inducted into the Army. Of course I was the biggest disappointment to my dear Father. The RAF had far more many electronic gadgets to play with in my work as an Electrician. I managed to get to RAF Melksham in Wiltshire to sit for an examination of my talents.

Mr Noddy Greenwood (as we knew him later) set the examination papers. All the questions were well within my talents and I knew that I had 100% correct answers. I complained when I was awarded just 85%. Noddy told me that yes, all my answers were correct but only commissioned officers got 100%. There was my first problem. I was only a third class citizen. Next off to RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire to be fitted out for Uniform. Great it cost me nothing. All that new clothing at zero cost. Other inductees dragged in at the ripe age of 18 were not so delighted and that was before some lazy twit invented the Gap Year. Next step was reporting to RAF Bridgenorth for training.

We arrived at the railway station. Created by a Senior Aircraft man and a half mad Corporal. He yelled at us get into the truck, a three ton Bedford. A most uncomfortable ride to Bridgenorth and on arrival, another mad NCO to greet us. Corporal Bob Crampin. He yelled at us continuously. Get out of the truck and hurry about it we don’t have all day. One poor soul fell out of the truck and broke his leg. “Don’t think you will get out of the Air force by committing suicide you Bastard”. Someone spoke up. “We were told not to swear”. ”I am not swearing at him”, yelled Crampin, I am describing him. A truly great beginning to our six weeks of training.

1. How to stand at attention. Heels together. Stand straight up, chin raised, arms by your sides Palms and fingers straight and facing the front. Do not move when at attention.

2. The salute. Raise the right arm up and level to your shoulder. Bend elbow towards your head and place your forefinger jus touching the badge on you Beret. The idea is that you are raising the visor on your Casque so that your King can see your face and recognise you. The fact that we had a Queen and did not wear a Casque was somehow missed out. At the end of the Salute (to all officers) the right hand was brought swiftly down and back to the Attention stance. On no occasion should an officer be given a two finger salute even if he deserves it!

3. Everyone on the Command Quick March steps off on the Left foot. The Arms are swung to waist belt high or shoulder high. All depends on who is giving and when he is giving the Order to so do. If you are told to dress by the Right. You keep the bloke on your Right level with you. Dressing by the Left. OK, you got it. By the centre, yes he is the mug.

4. Half way through our training the powers that be thought it would be a good idea if we all gave a pint of blood to the Red Cross organisation. That went very well but afterwards we were made to run round the Parade Square. A great number of us fell by the wayside and collapsed. Crampin was not having a great deal of sympathy for the Flight he was trying to train. Then he had a change of heart. To rest us he thought it was a great idea to introduce us to the Tear Gas chamber, just to see what it was like to experience this phenomena. It was absolute Hell. Coughing uncontrollably, tears pouring out of our peepers. So happy to finish that little test.

Training was such fun. We were issued with a 303 rifle, so modern that it was left over from World War One. This was a weird contraption. We spent most of our time cleaning it. Learning how to hold it, March with it and stand with it. Then of all things we had to attach dagger like device called a Bayonet to it. Then spent many happy hours trying to kill straw filled bags by stabbing them. The grass round our Billet was doing its thing by growing long. The Corporal in charge of our billet thought it was a good idea to mow the grass. Our Store Room at the end of the Billet had somehow lost its mower. Corps was not amused. “Use your nail scissors”. Some bright soul told the Corps that you could not cut grass with nail scissors. Corps turned a bright red in the face. He told us to DO IT. Guess what? You can cut grass with nail scissors and we did a mighty fine job too. One of us did complain and ended up having to proceed to the Guard Room to do extra duties. We called these extra tasks, Jankers.

Near to the RAF Camp was a Public House. We desperately wanted to go there and sink a few beers and possibly a spirit or two. The Navy Army Airforce (NAAFI) Institute was not allowed to sell spirits to the troops. Problem. We were not allowed passes to leave the camp. One bright soul suggested we change into our PT gear and go for a run to the pub. At the Guard room we were stopped. We were informed we were not allowed to out for a run without a pass. Our spokesperson told the Guard that we could not carry a pass as our PT gear did not have pockets. The Guard, poor soul, thought we were just going for a run in the country. The hard part was trying to run back past the Guard room pretending that we were NOT drunk. Lucky, we got away with it.

My first posting was to Bedford, a camp which specialised in Portable Radar Gear. Perfect, work that was right up my street. Now as a Junior Technician I had a little power. J. T. roughly equal to Lance Corporal. I arrived at the Camp in a very thick London type Fog. No idea where I was going, just followed the Railway Lines until I got to where I was supposed to be to complete the Arrival procedure. Two days later the Fog lifted and being able to see much more of the Camp than previously, I was lost again, back to the railway lines.

Then another promotion, this time to Corporal Technician. More pay. What joy? Then the Earth fell apart. A new posting to Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, (this island is now renamed Kiribati). Just in time to witness the worlds Largest Atomic Bomb. My job was to attend to the electrical side of all the RAF vehicles. One job entailed going to the Port of London about 30 miles from our base in the MT section. I had the job of fitting batteries to a load of vehicles which had just arrived. The Island atmosphere was so bad that a vehicle only stayed in a good condition for about six months. So a bus and a load of drivers set off to the port. I got the new vehicles running and the drivers all set off back to the MT section.

Problem! There was one vehicle left over. An AEC Airfield Fire Engine. The officer I/c told me to drive it back to the Airfield. Problem. I did not hold an Airforce driving licence. My normal transport was a Villiers 197, 2 stroke motor cycle. I explained to the Officer my problem. He said never mind Corporal, you have thirty miles in which you can learn to drive. So, a few minutes learning all about this Monster and its 15 forward and 13 reverse gears. I became a driver and I never crashed a gear on the journey back to the Airfield area.

Then came the day of the Atomic Bomb. All none essential Airforce staff were driven and marched to a place of supposed safety. The Navy types went back to the Port of London and hid themselves on a ship. The Army lads sheltered in a Coconut grove. Then the aircraft took off and the Pilot gave us an account over the radio of what was happening. The aircraft followed an elliptical course up to 40 thousand feet. Then we heard Bomb Gone. The device fell for 20 thousand feet and then it automatically detonated. We had our backs to the blast.

Sitting on the ground, knees raised, hands on our knees and our faces pressed against our hands, eyes shut. The flash had a curious effect. We could see the bones in our hands and knees and the grass below. I had the opportunity to explain what it was like to a new Medical Officer. He told me that it was impossible. He knew about Tropical medicine but nothing about Nuclear medicine. Happily, I was not the only one who enjoyed this very discomforting pleasure. We were very lucky. Our warrant Officer who had enjoyed some world war two experience filled his pants. The Army lads under the coconut palms suffered concusions from falling coconuts.

Years later many of us found that the radiation had caused some kidney damage. The old Prostate caught a bit of flack as well in quite a few of us Once the brilliant light had waned we were allowed to stand and watch the atomic cloud rise as the blast effect passed us by. With the blast we also felt the heat, short lived but tremendous. A few days later the island stank of dead, rotting fish, birds and Land crabs. The attendant radiation we enjoyed is still with us to this very day. Babies born, some missing an arm or a leg. Some with mental problems. Many, too badly injured to remain alive. Help for the afflicted conveniently overlooked by the Government of the day.

Twenty-two thousand men used just as an experiment to see what would happen. I find it somewhat strange that no one power in those days thought to study records of what the USAF bombing of Japan with nuclear weapons did to the people of Japan. Gentlemen, heed my words, become one of those Parliamentarians who only need to polish their chairs with their very expensive pants and get highly paid for doing little else each and every day. Oh! I apologise I completely forgot to mention the extra-long tea breaks.

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