Midnight on 30 June and 31 December used to be the dates when the RAF promulgated its six-monthly Honours and Promotions. The list was usually sent out just a few hours before midnight in a confidential signal message marked ‘Personal for Station Commanders only’ with the strict instruction that the names were not to be released to anyone, least of all the recipients, before midnight. I was summoned to the AOC's office mid-afternoon on 31 December 1965 to be told that for some unknown reason the Station Commander at RAF Wittering had not received his copy of the all-important Honours and Promotions signal.
"As my P2 officer," said the AOC, "you'll have to make a copy of our signal and take it to the Station Commander at Wittering. Make sure you hand it personally to the Station Commander. He'll be expecting you. As you know, our own Comms Centre has already closed for the weekend." Before continuing, the AOC peered straight at me with his bushy eyebrows raised. "The New Year's Eve Ball will have already started at Wittering when you get there but I'm sure you will be invited to stay on so remember to put your Mess Kit on."
I guessed from his questioning expression that the AOC had only just learned that I would not be attending our own Officers' Mess New Year's Ball because I was taking my current girlfriend to what promised to be a much livelier party in Ipswich. The AOC probably regarded that as a breach of both Service and Mess discipline and was waiting for my explanation – but I declined to be drawn. As I turned to leave his office, he called me back and said, "Our MT Section is already closed but I don't want you to call out a driver and spoil his New Year's Eve arrangements just for this little errand. You can use your own car and put in a mileage claim later – if you need the money." So that was my punishment, I thought – but I had underestimated my AOC.
Later, after making my telephoned apologies to the girlfriend in Ipswich (she was not convinced by my explanation and never spoke to me again), I dressed up in my formal Mess Kit and set off in exactly the opposite direction.
In the 1960s the 50-mile route from Mildenhall to Wittering zigzagged across the Cambridgeshire Fens, very narrow roads with many right-angled bends and no dual carriageways. It used to take at least an hour each way in daylight and good weather, but even before I was ready to set out it was already dark, and dense freezing fog was forecast for later.
Despite what the AOC had told me, the Station Commander at Wittering was certainly not expecting me, and he look startled when I entered his office wearing my Mess Kit. After I had handed over the sealed envelope and he had read the flimsy signal message inside, he smiled and then looked up at me.
"It's very good of you to volunteer to turn out on a foggy night but you needn't have bothered. I sent my duty driver over to Cottesmore to get a copy of the signal from their Comm Centre." He pulled another flimsy out of his waistcoat pocket in case he thought I wouldn't believe him. "However, now you're here you're welcome to stay and have a few drinks before you go back to Mildenhall – you have got a driver, haven't you?"
I stayed at the Wittering Ball just long enough to recognise that a navigator friend of mine was there with a former girlfriend of mine and was that very evening announcing their engagement. It was a long, lonely, sober drive back to Mildenhall in freezing fog.