General Service Training (GSK) - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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General Service Training (GSK)

In the evenings, once we had cleaned our kit for the following day, we usually went off to the NAAFI canteen for an hour or so. We had to go in uniform because all our civilian clothes had been sent home from Cardington. We were allowed to march ourselves to and from the NAAFI as long as we did it in an airman-like manner. We were always short of money, but we really went to the NAAFI for a pleasant break away from the billet. Some airmen went for the beer, but they were definitely in the minority. At that time in my life alcohol had never passed my lips, nor did it occur to me to try it and no-one ever tried to tempt me.

We had to sign a register each time we had a bath and regulations required that we had have at least one bath per week. The requirement to sign was, so we were told, to identify lads who tried to get away with never having a bath at all - and there were one or two. In the 1950s there were no deodorants or other male cosmetics so, with 22 men living in close proximity, bodily hygiene was important. There were eight individual bath cubicles, with a plentiful supply of hot water, in a stone-floored room just off the main ablutions area but there were no doors on the cubicles. Whether this had been an economy measure to save money when the bathrooms were built, or to discourage un-airman-like behaviour, we neither knew nor cared. Being 'un-airman-like' was not permitted in any activity, as we were constantly reminded. There was also a communal walk-through shower area, but we were only supposed to shower after PT (PE hadn't been invented then!) or games - no-one seemed to know why. The shower heads were well above head height and the control taps were at one end of the shower area. "We don't want to waste hot water, do we?" said the corporal, gleefully turning off the hot water and turning the cold water fully on when he caught some lads having unauthorised showers. I can personally vouch for the fact that it was truly shrivelling!

Most of our drill instructors had the rank of acting-corporal-unpaid and, as we discovered later, had been in the RAF only a few weeks longer than we had. They had their own section of the NAAFI canteen so we didn't meet socially. Neither we nor they wanted it otherwise.

Above: Day 47 in the Royal Air Force
One of the things we had to learn as part of General Service Knowledge (GSK) was the number of Commands the RAF had. There were 13 at that time, each with its own Command HQ and a 3 or 4 star air marshal commanding: Fighter, Bomber, Transport, Coastal, Maintenance, Home, Flying Training, Technical Training, and plain Training Command, plus 4 overseas commands, Far East, Middle East, Near East and 2nd Tactical Air Force in Germany. That was a lot of commanders-in-chief. Since 2007 there is but one single command in the RAF and, curiously, it is called Air Command. The RAF official website explained that decision as follows: "The creation of a single Command, with a single fully integrated Headquarters, will better equip the RAF to provide a coherent and coordinated single Air focus to the other Services, MOD Head Office, the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the rest of MOD."

Typical 21st Century gobbledegook if I may be so bold, presumably written by a professional PR person. Why not call the single command: "The Royal Air Force"? No belay that: I'm too old to understand.

We were also taught, as part of GSK, that the word 'marshal' has only a single letter l at the end, and air vice-marshal has a hyphen between the vice and marshal. No-one seems to have an explanation for the hyphen; the Royal Navy manages quite well without one in Vice Admiral. The word marshal, with single l at the end, is a Common Noun and, in addition to the RAF usage as a rank, refers to a sports marshal, ground marshal, etc. Marshall, with a double l, is a Proper Noun, the name of a person, for example Field Marshal Marshall, or The Marshall Islands in the Pacific named after Captain John Charles Marshall the explorer. Marshall always requires a capital M. (The Marshall Islands in the Pacific, where the maximum height above sea level is only about two metres, were in the news in June 2014 because, as a result of global warming, graves were being washed away and skeletons, believed to be Japanese soldiers from WW2, were being found on shores.)

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