Graduation Day - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Graduation Day

Towards the end of the course there was a reorganisation of our squadron. The whole of No 15 Flight had been selected to go off to form the Royal Guard of Honour at the Runnymede Memorial which was to be dedicated by HM The Queen on 17 October. As a result, my flight and 14 Flight were re-grouped into three flights so that, together with 16 Flight, the passing out parade would still be symmetrical with four flights per squadron. We on 13 Flight were quite disappointed that we had not been selected to parade before the Queen.

Above: This was our formal graduation photograph - the complete C Squadron - or those of us who were left. I am 6th from the left on the back row. There were some exotic ways of wearing the uniform beret! The chaps on either end of the back row were so large that they were having uniforms specially made for them but they did not arrive in time for the graduation parade.

On the penultimate day of the course we had the Final Drill Test which was in the nature of a dress rehearsal for the Passing Out Parade itself, but with only one flight on parade at a time. We on 13 Flight were quite confident of our ability and so we were looking forward to performing in front of Wing Commander Ostle again. We had to march onto the parade ground, dress off, present arms for the General Salute, march past the saluting base in quick and slow time, advance in review order, change from three to four ranks and back again, and so on. It was an absolute disaster - but not our fault! Instead of one of our Drill Instructors giving the orders our own Flight Commander, a young pilot officer navigator, was in charge because he would also be in charge of our flight on the real Passing Out Parade the following day. Perhaps his performance was also under scrutiny - in which case he failed!

We had been taught that whenever a wrong drill order was given we were to ignore it. For example, if the order to Present Arms was given when we were at the Order Arms position, we should ignore it; if orders to halt or about turn were given on the wrong foot, we were to ignore those orders. The idea of ignoring wrong orders was intended to ensure that every member of the flight did the same thing. The fatal flaw in the theory was that it relied on everyone being able to recognise a wrong order and by no means everyone could.

Sadly, our young Flight Commander gave a whole string of wrong orders almost from the off. When the order to about turn on the march was given on the wrong foot some, correctly, carried straight on regardless in the direction they were going, while others about turned. That resulted in the flight splitting into several small groups. Immediately afterwards, when the hapless pilot officer gave another about turn order on the correct foot this time in an attempt to rectify the situation, the various elements all about turned again, and seconds later there were multiple collisions immediately in front of the saluting base. Thereafter our Final Drill Test disintegrated into a complete farce. The grim-faced wing commander turned and left the parade ground, closely followed by our Flight Commander. One of the drill instructors sorted us out and marched us back in silence to our billet. We were genuinely disappointed that we had been made to look ridiculous and we, or at least I, honestly felt sorry for the young officer. Graduation Day was 20 October 1953.

Afterthought November 2015. I have just listened to a programme on BBC Radio about what are known as 'ghost trains'. There's nothing supernatural about them but the line between Stockport and Stalybridge, that I travelled on the day I moved from RAF Bridgnorth home to Wakefield, is one. There is now only one train a week on that short stretch of line from Stockport via Denton to Stalybridge but there is no train at all in the opposite direction. It leaves Stockport at 0922 every Friday, calling at Reddish South, Denton and Guide Bridge, arriving at Stalybridge at 0937. Apparently, it is cheaper to run that train once per week rather than go through the expensive and lengthy machinations to close the line completely. Now there's progress. I wonder what (Lord) Beeching would have thought about that.

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