Girls provided - by the Station Commander! - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Girls provided - by the Station Commander!

Incredible as it may seem to today's young folk, officers under the age of 26 were not allowed to get married without the written permission of their Station Commander. Permission was not always given - and even if permission was granted to officers under the age of 26, they would not be allocated an RAF married quarter, meaning that accommodation off-base would be required - and costly. Like most of my single colleagues at that time, marriage was out of the question anyway because we were not paid enough to meet both an officer's service obligations and to run a family. Nevertheless, I was never without a current girlfriend.

For certain formal functions, such as the Annual Battle of Britain Ball and the Christmas Draw, one station commander at Finningley used to invite a small number of single girls of his or his wife's acquaintance to his official residence for pre-function cocktails, and then select an equal number of bachelor officers to host them. We never worked out whether that station commander thought it was part of his duty to ensure his young officers were suitably entertained, or whether he wanted to make sure that we didn't bring 'unsuitable' young ladies to Officers' Mess functions. Either way, we had no option but to accept his offer, unless we wanted to risk jeopardising our careers, so it meant that current girlfriends could not be invited to those particular functions.

I can remember attending only two such 'arranged' occasions. We didn't meet our 'selected' girl until we were introduced to her in the Station Commander's residence where she had, presumably, been dropped off by parents who were not invited to the function. Naturally, we were expected to drive the girls home at the end of the function and, even though the breathalyser had still to be invented, it would have been very unwise to be caught driving whilst under the influence of alcohol. (It would have been even more unwise to have been caught with a girl in the single officers' quarters.)

There were several residential teachers training colleges and nurses homes within 30 miles of Finningley at which young aircrew officers were always welcome and Nottingham, with its extensive nightlife was just under 50 miles south. Many of Nottingham's young ladies were, apparently, attracted to youthful aircrew officers not just because we were thought to be 'proper gentlemen' with an exciting job (thanks to the many books and films about the Battle of Britain which were particularly popular at that time) but also because we received a small amount of 'flying pay' added to our monthly salary so we were richer than many of Nottingham's own young men. We, the youthful aircrew officers, liked going to dances in Nottingham because that city prided itself on having more unmarried young women than any other city in the north of England. To keep our travel costs to a minimum, we took it in turn to do the driving. My car at that time was a second-hand, large, very fast Vauxhall Cresta which had long bench seats at the front and the rear so there was plenty of room to take girls back to their colleges in comfort after an evening out.

One Saturday when it was my turn to drive, three of us went to Nottingham's famous Palais de Danse for a night out. On this occasion we picked up three local girls at the Palais during the evening. That's not quite as bad as it sounds. In the 1960s, unaccompanied men used to sit on upright chairs along one wall of the dance hall between dances while the unattached girls sat, expectantly, on chairs along the wall on the opposite side. It was then a matter of the men eyeing up the 'talent' and eventually going across the floor to invite the girl of their choice to dance. If all else failed there was always the "Grimmy Contests" but the less said about those, the better. Grimmy Contests would, these days, quite rightly be considered grossly sexist.

There was usually at least one 'lady's choice' dance where a girl could come across the hall and select a man to dance with and it was considered ungentlemanly to refuse her offer. There were also the ‘excuse me’ waltzes where any girl could break up a dancing couple and take over simply by saying “Excuse me”. The band really did play the Last Waltz around midnight in dance halls in those days - and in case anyone was in any doubt that the entertainment was over, the National Anthem followed.

On that particular late Saturday evening my two colleagues took their girls off in taxis to wherever and we agreed to meet up again at my car for the journey back to Finningley. The problem arose when I simply couldn't remember where I had parked my car. Eventually, when my girl was beginning to get suspicious about my motives, with good reason, a conscientious policeman approached and asked the young lady if she had a problem. I explained that I had parked my car on the side of the road near a large indoor ice rink which had been the nearest space to the dance hall that I could find. The policeman walked with me and my girl through the streets until we found my car. My two fellow officers, having already dropped off their girls, were already waiting at my car and looked very worried at my late arrival with a policeman in tow. Fortunately, the PC then departed without asking any more questions and my two colleagues chatted up 'my girl' in the back of my car until I dropped her off at the end of her street. That was not how I had planned the evening to end!

One of my regular girlfriends at about this time was a newly-commissioned officer at RAF Spitalgate in Lincolnshire. She lived in the WRAF Quarters, a segregated area of the Officers’ Mess strictly out of bounds to male officers. One Saturday night, well after midnight when I was creeping along the upstairs corridor of the WRAF Quarters on my way out before the drive back to Finningley, I heard a door open behind me and a female stage-whisper: “Good night, Tony, drive carefully if you’ve been drinking!” It was the Queen Bee, the euphemism for the senior WRAF officer. “Good night, ma’am”, I mumbled. I was quite convinced that she would report the matter to my station commander, that I would then become the subject of a new entry on my own blue file, and that my short career would be over. I worried myself sick for days on end, but I never heard any more of the matter.

Afterthought. If you really want to know about 'grimmy contests' click here (opens in a new window)

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