First weeks of officer training - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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First weeks of officer training

I had one week at home before setting off for the Isle of Man and a new life on Wednesday 3 February 1960. There were several ways to be commissioned into the RAF direct from civilian life in 1960 but the only way for serving airmen like me was via the 12-week Officer Cadet Training Course (OCTU) at RAF Jurby, a remote airfield about six miles north west of Ramsey. My fellow cadets, all male apart from one lady joining the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service as a Matron, ranged from teenagers to fifty-year old Master Aircrew.

All those of us who were currently serving in non-commissioned ranks were instantly re-mustered on arrival to Officer Cadet and all badges of rank, but not aircrew brevets, had to be removed. This was designed to ensure that we all had equal status and so that no student could 'pull rank' on another. There were a few professionally-qualified new entrants to the RAF on our course who were given probationary commissions on arrival. They wore the rank badges appropriate to the rank they would have when their commissions were confirmed, and were known as Student Officers throughout the course. All of us wore the distinctive white epaulettes which showed that we were soon to be granted the Queen's Commission, subject only to passing the course.

The course was cunningly designed so that none of us could feel at all confident of graduating. One rather worrying effect of re-mustering to Officer Cadet meant that there was no guaranteed way back for an ex-airman if he should fail the course. We could reach no consensus about whether I or any of my fellow ex-airmen would have even wished to revert to our previous airman rank and trade had we failed the course; we decided that the best course of action was to ensure that we did not fail.

In the third week of the course I started to worry seriously about my own chances of success when the language barrier reared its ugly head yet again. The Senior Education Officer, a squadron leader, told me he was "concerned" about my Yorkshire accent, even though he added that "the RAF is now a little more relaxed about regional accents than in the past." It is obvious now that the education officer had already read the reports detailing why I had twice been rejected at Hornchurch - reports that I did not see until 30 years later. The Schoolie, that's what all Education Branch officers were known as, told me that I needed private elocution tuition with him to rid me of my accent.

The other cadets thought it hilarious that I was having to spend time in the evenings learning how, as they put it, "to speak proper". My most heinous 'defect', the Schoolie told me, was that I invariably failed to pronounce the final 'g' on words such as thinking, eating and swimming, an omission that I was not aware of and no-one had previously seen fit to point out to me. We all had lessons on public speaking – it was part of the syllabus. We each had to prepare a 10-minute talk on a specified topic. I still remember that a formal talk should have three components: an introduction, the body of the talk, and the conclusion or, as one instructor put it: “1 Tell them what you’re going to tell them; 2 Tell them; 3 Tell them what you’ve told them”.

In the last few weeks of the course, when we had become the senior entry, we moved from the Airmen's Mess which we had shared with corporals and below, into the quite separate Student Officers' Mess. From then on we were treated like officers. We had our food served to us by civilian staff and we had our own bar and an anteroom where tea, coffee and toast were served at the appropriate times and where we could read the daily newspapers which were provided free of charge.

The Student Officers Mess Manager, a serving RAF warrant officer, was really excellent and offered us all manner of advice. We had to learn to conform to the civilian dress standards that were the norm in the public rooms of all real RAF Officers' Messes at the time. After 7pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the only acceptable male dress was a dark lounge suit, a suitable shirt and tie and highly polished black Oxford-style shoes. On other evenings, including the weekends, the dark lounge suit could be replaced by a sports jacket and flannels (to use the 1960s descriptions), shirt and tie. Sports kit was definitely forbidden at all times in public rooms.

It was at this stage of the course that we were measured up for our officer uniforms. This was a source of financial worry to me. Officers had to buy their own uniforms and, although we were paid an initial allowance to buy the first set, thereafter for the remainder of our commissioned career we had to buy our own. A selection of approved Service tailors visited us at Jurby and we opened our charge accounts, signing away money that we had not yet earned. I chose to patronise Alkit of Cambridge Circus and remained with them for more than 30 years. The more affluent students opened accounts with Gieves who were more expensive, but arguably of better quality. Because of their prices, Gieves was always known within the RAF as 'Thieves' which was rather unkind. I ordered a service dress cap from Bates Gentlemen's Hatters of Jermyn Street, because their caps were softer and much more comfortable to wear than the rather stiff uniform caps made by the other tailors.

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