A brief summary of my life and times - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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A brief summary of my life and times

Left: That is a school photograph from Summer 1945 when I was almost 10 years old.

On the first day of 1948, at the age of 12 years and two months, I was having a little private worry about my destiny. I had come across the word ‘serendipity’ in one of Dad's books and, after looking the word up in my dictionary, I reckoned that serendipity had, even then, featured in my life but I was uncertain whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. It was on that very day that I started keeping a diary and from then on I aimed to write something every day.

I was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in September 1935 and, with the cussedness of old age, I still refer to the West Riding when most younger folk, who have never heard of it, use the current but not synonymous, title: West Yorkshire. For most of my working life I lived outside God’s Own County, as it is known by true Yorkshire folk. Where I was born, and now live in retirement, was the West Riding of Yorkshire until 1974 and, as far as I am concerned, it still is.

Below: An extract from one of my mid-1951 diary entries about my growing passion for classical music. Even as I wrote it, I was already thinking that one day I might write my autobiography but more than 60 years would pass before I got around to it.

At different times prior to joining the Royal Air Force at the age of 17, my ambition was to be a railway driver, a professional musician, an announcer on the BBC, a bank manager, a school teacher, an author, and an RAF pilot, more or less in that order. As it turned out I never did work in a bank - although Dad did make me go for one interview when I was 17 years old; that was a disaster, thank goodness! I could have been a professional musician/violinist but had to abandon that ambition for reasons completely beyond my control, but you can read about them in this website. I never drove a train, but I have been a lifelong railway enthusiast and there can’t be many people who have stood all the way from London Waterloo to Paris Gard du Nord and back in the driving cab of a Eurostar express. (I have had a lifelong, irrational fear of tunnels and that trip did nothing to allay that fear!)

I was never a teacher in civilian life but I spent quite a lot of my time in the RAF as both a ground and flying instructor. I taught and examined on such diverse subjects as resistance to enemy interrogation (and the converse – how to be an effective interrogator), anti-submarine warfare techniques, V-bomber electrical systems, and Victor air-to-air refuelling operations. Later I spent several years in a variety of intelligence appointments in Europe and the Far East and I had two very enjoyable tours on exchange duty with foreign air forces: Pakistan (1969/70) and Oman (1984/5). Finally, I spent 11 years as the first full-time public relations officer for the RAF Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows.

I did become an author. I have had two books published, co-authored two more, and I’ve written a large number of articles for newspapers and magazines. I never worked officially for the BBC but I worked for them semi-officially when I was on RAF duty in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1954/55. Later, I made many radio and television broadcasts for the BBC, and many other media outlets worldwide, during my 11 years as the publicity man for the RAF Red Arrows (1989-2001).

People often say that ‘things run in threes’. Certainly, the number three seems to have a special meaning for me. For example: I had lived in three different cities by the time I reached the age of three; I was educated at three different grammar schools; I qualified for three different RAF flying badges; I made three parachute jumps; and I have three times taken off from, and three times landed back on, a US Navy aircraft carrier. More obscurely, I have been the subject of three ‘Desert Island Discs’ type of radio broadcasts – one of them broadcast live from a real desert island. Come to think of it, my local rugby league team in Wakefield is a Trinity - and one of my three great nephews plays for them.

Left: That's me in my conservatory in 2012 taken by a newspaper reporter for a story he was writing about 'exploding teacakes' in RAF V-bombers.

I used to tell my family and friends that a true Yorkshire man would always return home eventually so it caused them no surprise when, within weeks of retiring from the RAF in April 2001, I moved home back to Wakefield, to a house not more than four miles from the one in which I was born.

Where I have written on this website about military matters that were once classified, I always first ensured that the material had been declassified. Where I have named other people, I have, where possible, checked with them first and then made any changes and corrections they suggested and I have acknowledged their contribution in the text. I thank them all. If there are still misrepresentations or errors, then they are mine so please let me know about them.

The RAF promotional literature at the time I signed on in 1953 stressed: "Join the Royal Air Force and see the World". By the time I retired I had either served in, or visited on RAF duty, the following countries: Aden, Algeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Borneo, Brunei, Canada, China, Cyprus, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Uruguay, USA and Zimbabwe.

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