Personnel staff duties at HQ No 3 Group RAF Mildenhall - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Personnel staff duties at HQ No 3 Group RAF Mildenhall

Following my time war planning in Singapore, the powers-that-be decided I was due for a 'proper' desk job, so I was posted to the Headquarters of No 3 Group at RAF Mildenhall. The Group HQ was housed in a delightful old mansion on Beck Row and was adjacent to, but quite separate from, the USAF site. From March 1959 the USAF had described their facilities at Mildenhall as the 'Gateway to Europe' because it was the home for the Military Air Transport Service, later Military Airlift Command, and was USAF's main air passenger terminal for the United Kingdom. (In January 2015 the US Department of Defense announced that their operations at RAF Mildenhall would end.)

My new appointment was known as P2, the Personnel Officer responsible for overseeing the careers of about 700 flight lieutenants and below - and I do mean 700, however astonishing that figure might seem these days. As well as pilots, navigators and many ground branch officers, those 700 included AEOs like me who had recently been employed on the Valiants before they had been suddenly grounded permanently or were currently employed on Victor bombers.

The Air Officer Commanding 3 Group when I arrived was Air Vice-Marshal Denis F Spotswood (later Marshal of the RAF Sir Denis Spotswood), one of the grand old school of AOCs. He had joined the RAF before I had even reached my first birthday and I found him to be a remote, taciturn officer. He had an interesting rule about working hours. He let it be known to those of us on his staff that we could start work at any time in the morning we wished, as long as we got to our office before he got to his. Since my office was on the AOC's route to his, I started work early. Every working day just before 10.30am all the staff officers used to leave their offices and gather in a rather nice conservatory for the morning coffee break where the AOC used to hold court for half an hour.

I was told that on one occasion the AOC arrived by air at one of his stations (I believe it was Marham in Norfolk) to conduct the annual AOC's Annual Formal Inspection. The Station Commander greeted the AOC at his aircraft and together they were driven the short distance to the parade ground where the station personnel were on parade ready to give a General Salute. In those days the annual inspection always started with a formal parade. However, on the way the AOC saw something, it is not recorded exactly what, that caused him displeasure.

"This station is not ready for my inspection. I'll be back in exactly seven days," he snapped, to the Station Commander's dismay. With that he ordered the driver to return him to his aircraft and so he was back at Mildenhall many hours earlier than expected. A number of staff officers, having decided to have a few hours off while the AOC was away, were caught out and thereby incurred the AOC's wrath.

Seven days later he arrived again at the same station, not by air as expected but by road at 6.30am, three hours earlier than the scheduled time. His large staff car, with star plates fixed front and rear and his pennant flying from the bonnet, swept unnoticed past the Guardroom (no booking-in and no gate guards in those days) and went straight to the Airmen's Mess. The AOC, wearing his ceremonial uniform complete with sword and medals, went to the servery, joined the few astonished airmen in the queue and, when it was his turn, ordered breakfast. A startled cook telephoned the Station Commander's residence to tell him that the AOC was already on base and was having breakfast in the Airmen's Mess. That Station Commander probably didn't get any breakfast that day.

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