No 1 Radio School, RAF Locking - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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No 1 Radio School, RAF Locking

I was given just eight days leave after square bashing at Bridgnorth. I left home again on 28 October 1953, this time en route to No 1 Radio School at RAF Locking. Wireless training had started as early as 1916 at Farnborough - two years before the RAF was formed. Initially, the school was known as the Wireless Operators Training School, which seems quite an apt name since wireless operators for the Royal Flying Corps were trained there. More advanced wireless training, under various names and at several different locations, continued until, in January 1950, No 1 Radio School was formed at Locking, near Weston-super-Mare.

I had a trouble-free journey on 'The Devonian' long-distance express train from Leeds to the West Country that my Grandfather used to tell me about. He had been a guard on the expresses on that route in the 1920s. We steamed into Bristol's magnificent Temple Meads station with its long curving platforms, 21 minutes early. Had I taken a little more trouble with my travel plans I would have realised that this particular train went round the Weston Loop rather than bypassing the town and going straight on to Taunton. Instead, I left the express and crossed to a bay platform where the local stopping train to Weston-super-Mare had to wait until the express had departed.

On the platform at Weston I met up with three other airmen with kit bags who were obviously just out of recruit training because they were wearing gleaming new uniforms and glancing around warily looking for 'Snowdrops', aka RAF policemen. They had all done their square-bashing at other recruit training schools. One of them told me that they had seen me get off the express at Bristol, guessed where I was bound and had wondered why I'd got off.

A ticket collector on the platform volunteered the information that the RAF station was about four miles away and the next bus was not for several hours. The five of us agreed to share a taxi; it cost us two shillings each. On arrival we reported first to the Guardroom just inside the main gate to announce our arrival, then we collected bedding from an elderly corporal who had apparently been sleeping on a bed in a cell at the rear of the Guardroom when we disturbed him. Finally we set out to find, and move into, the transit hut.

Transit huts throughout the RAF were, by and large, fairly depressing places, usually cold and uninviting. In the 1950s they were almost always the same type of long wooden huts on stilts that we had met at Cardington and Bridgnorth: 22 beds, one coal-fired stove centrally placed near each end, a corporal's single room (always known as a bunk), a tiny storeroom for floor bumpers, cleaning materials and personal luggage, and two doors at opposite ends, one to the outside world and the other to an internal corridor linking several huts together. The stoves were usually lit only when the temperature was really low because lighting them created problems as well as warmth. Firstly, you had to find some fuel and secondly, every morning before start of work the stove had to be completely emptied and cleaned out, the coal scuttle had to be emptied and polished, and any other implements had to be cleaned.

Next morning a bunch of us made our way in a gaggle to the Education Centre where I learned that I was one of 16 u/t (under training) wireless mechanics whose course was not due to start for another week. We were, therefore, allocated to Pool Flight - an RAF euphemism for any group of airmen who were available for odd jobs, called fatigues, around the station. There were several dozen airmen already in Pool Flight when we arrived and new arrivals joined us every day while others moved on. Because the occupants of Pool Flight transit huts came and went each day, usually with little warning, there was never anyone around available to do the cleaning. Thus the permanent corporal in charge of the flight would grab the first airman he could and order him to do it. It's no wonder, therefore, that transit hut corporals were usually ill-tempered, humourless individuals, often wearing World War 2 medal ribbons on their uniforms and nearing the end of their RAF service. Every day they probably asked themselves, "What did I do to deserve this?"

The 16 of us new arrivals in Pool Flight were first sent to Station Sick Quarters where we were subjected to an FFI medical. I explained on an earlier page what an FFI was when we had one on our very first day at Cardington. This time the MO seemed less interested in genitals but when he got to me, he was more concerned that I had large amounts of dry, cracked skin on my face, neck, arms and legs. I cannot now remember this skin problem, but my diary is quite specific: it states that I had first noticed the cracked skin a whole fortnight earlier but had not considered it a problem. The MO prescribed calamine lotion to be applied liberally to all the affected parts, and then declared me fit for duty. So what you may ask? Well, for the next few days I was working in the Airmen's Mess helping to prepare vegetables, rabbit and chicken pieces, and other food items. Perhaps not the wisest decision that MO made but there is no record in my diary of an outbreak of food poisoning or skin diseases amongst the airmen at Locking so perhaps my affliction was not contagious. There was no further mention of my skin condition so I must assume the calamine was effective.

The day after the FFI was our first Saturday. My diary records that I went into Weston with another lad. "We had Fish and chips for tea. Saw Fanfan La Tulipe and Laxton Hall, a Scottish comedy at the Gaumont. Both were first class." When I read that entry recently I was not sure whether Fanfan La Tulipe was a voluptuous lady appearing at a seaside show in Weston or whether that was the name of a second film. The Internet now tells me nothing at all about Laxton Hall as a Scottish film but Fanfan La Tulipe was a 1952 French comedy film starring Gina Lollobrigida; she was certainly voluptuous. The next day I was excused cookhouse fatigues so that I could go to the Morning Service at the station church but when I got there the church was closed and no service was planned. Instead of reporting back to the cookhouse, as I should have done, I cycled off base with my camera to explore the local area on foot. I had already learned about skiving off.

My week in Pool Flight was frustrating rather than fatiguing because I was keen to get stuck into learning about wireless theory. There was a kind of hierarchy amongst us: those who had already been in Pool Flight a few days were looked upon by those who had just joined as the fount of all knowledge. In my first week I learned that such was the RAF's demand for wireless technicians of all types that new intakes of 25 to 30 airmen were starting their training every single week - and Locking was but one of several radio schools.

The largest area on the station was called No 1 Wing where several hundred RAF aircraft apprentices lived and worked. Apprentices (always known as 'Apps' long before Apple and others started using the abbreviation for something entirely different) joined the RAF at the age of 16 and studied at Locking for three years before being let loose on the real RAF. Regular airmen trainees were part of No 3 Wing. We were banned from visiting No 1 Wing and  the apprentices were banned from visiting our areas. Quite what the RAF thought we might do to each other if ever we met, baffled us. I suppose the RAF as an institution took their in loco parentis responsibilities seriously. I never discovered what No 2 Wing was: it seemed not to exist at all.

I can't remember much about the Airmen's Mess food at Locking, but my diaries show that virtually every evening my friends and I went either to the NAAFI for a supper or into Weston for fish and chips. The buses to Weston ran only very infrequently. Usually we set off walking along the A371 and more often than not some kind soul in a car or lorry would stop and give us a lift.

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