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

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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. 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 formal functions, such as the Annual Summer Ball and the Christmas Draw, the station commander at Finningley always invited a small number of single girls of his or his wife's acquaintance to his official residence for pre-function cocktails, and then detail an equal number of bachelor officers to host them. We never worked out whether the 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 our current girlfriends could not be invited to those particular functions.

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 never seemed to be invited to the function. Naturally, we were expected to drive the girls back to their parent's home at the end of the function and, even though the breathalyser had still to be introduced, 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. In the 1960s Nottingham prided itself on having more unmarried young women than any other city in the north of England and was, therefore, much more attractive than Doncaster. To keep 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 a long bench seat at the front so there was plenty of room to take the girls back to their colleges after an evening out.

There was usually at least one 'lady's choice' dance where a lady 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.

One Saturday in late-1961 when it was my turn to drive, three of us went to Nottingham's Palais de Danse for a night out. On this occasion for a change 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, be considered grossly sexist.

On that particular late-1961 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'd 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 accompanied me and my girl through the streets until we found my car. My two colleagues, who were already waiting at my car, looked very worried at my late arrival with a policeman in tow. The PC then departed without asking any more questions.

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