Recruit training at RAF Bridgnorth - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Recruit training at RAF Bridgnorth

RAF Bridgnorth camp was actually nearer to the Shropshire village of Stanmore than Bridgnorth but couldn't be called Stanmore because there was already a famous RAF station of that name in Middlesex. We could see the station's water towers on the top of the ridge from quite a distance before we arrived at the main guard room where we were ordered out of the coaches. I wrote in my diary that evening:

"When we arrived at the camp we were greeted by the raucous shouts of the corporals. I don't think they are as bad as they sound; ours is quite decent anyway. Tomorrow will be the first of 55 days of hard work."

Above: This image shows the new occupants of Hut 162 at Bridgnorth. I am in the centre of the back row. We obviously still had a lot to learn about the way to wear RAF berets!
After being shown to our billet, hut number 162 with 22 beds, we changed out of our Best Blue uniform, in which we'd travelled, and set about cleaning all our kit, and the billet, ready for the morrow's inspections. We learned that we were now 13 Flight, one of four flights in C Squadron. We wore a green disc behind our beret badge to denote that we were members of C Squadron. Our own corporal assured us that 13 Flight would be the best flight in the Wing or he would know the reason why!

I had expected that we would spend most of our time doing drill and firing guns and generally acting like soldiers so I was vaguely surprised that we spent a lot of time in the next eight weeks sitting in classrooms listening to lectures. Our first lectures, which took up most of the first morning, were given by a Catering Officer and an Education Officer but I didn't record in my diary what either was about. I do recall that throughout my service the RAF was always very keen on general education. During that first afternoon we had lectures about the history and traditions of the RAF, the badges of rank, and how to recognise the corresponding ranks in the other Services. Then followed our first formal drill lesson.

Before we could start square-bashing on the move, we had to learn how to stand to attention: heads back, looking straight to the front (“Don’t look at me, airman, I’m not beautiful”), stomachs in, fingers loosely clenched, with the thumb to the front, not tucked in, and running down the line of the seam in our trouser legs. In the early marching lessons, long before we were issued with rifles, some airmen found it difficult to start off from the halt without getting themselves into a tangle. Time and time again we practised because it took some of them a long time to get the hang of it. The drill instructors were quite patient!

"Step off with your left foot," barked the DI. "Take a full thirty inch pace - nothing less, nothing more. At the same time bring your right arm smartly forward to waist height, no higher, and push your left arm smartly to the rear to waist height, no higher. Don't bend your arms at the elbow - that's what women do! If you all take a full thirty-inch pace and move your arms correctly, there'll be no collisions!"

The RAF didn't go in for swinging arms shoulder high; the lads who had served in the Air Training Corps or Combined Cadet Force had to remember that. Some found it well-nigh impossible to keep exactly in step with the man in front and so they were always very slightly out of synchronism with the rest of the flight. Others seemed to have an irresistible compulsion to swing their left arm forward in time with their left foot, and right arm with right foot. This was known as 'tick-tocking' and, once started, it was extremely difficult to stop it and get back into sync with the rest of the flight. It looked highly amusing and inevitably caused the man behind the tick-tocker to trip up, and that then rippled backwards to the rear end of the flight, leading to a complete collapse of discipline. Fortunately, I never succumbed to tick-tocking. The Warrant Officer at Cardington had actually been correct in one respect: there was very little gratuitous swearing, just a lot of mild cursing and haranguing.

The days passed surprisingly quickly and were mostly enjoyable. We quickly settled into a routine of early rising, cleaning the billet for morning inspection, and only then off to breakfast. For this we had to form ourselves up into a flight, in three ranks, at the front of the billet, march to the Airmen's Mess, mug and irons clasped behind our backs in our left hand, right hand swinging smartly waist high, to front and rear. When we'd eaten, we cleaned our mug, knife, fork and spoon by dipping them into a cauldron of near boiling water by the Mess exit. So efficient this was that at first we thought there must be some sort of detergent in the water, but it was just plain water and nothing else. We never did know for certain whether the RAF caterers put bromide into our tea to suppress sexual desires - as legend would have it.

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