This piece was written on 18 August 2017
I left home on 18 August 1953 and started what turned out to be 47 years (17,373 days) in the Royal Air Force. There were already 189,000 regular service male personnel in the RAF when I joined and, in addition, there were thousands of National Service airmen but I have no idea how many. I was, apparently, just one of 39,000 young men who signed on in the RAF in 1953 alone. (I don’t have figures for WRAF). Of the 200-plus young men who arrived at the recruit reception station at RAF Cardington on 18 August 1953 (and there were four similar reception days each week), I have only ever come across about half a dozen since leaving recruit training at Bridgnorth.
Below: This is part of my diary for 18 August 1953. (1326 on the top left of the page indicates this was my 1,326th consecutive entry in my diary since 01 January 1948; the figure 1 on the top right hand side means this was my 1st day in the RAF.)
Here is a quote from the 1953 Defence Estimates that I noted on another page of my diary 64 years ago this week: “The Government is satisfied that, having regard to the present international situation, it would be impossible to allow a depletion of the armed forces and their reserves to the extent that would occur if the power to call men up for National Service on reaching the age of 18 were to be allowed to lapse at the end of 1953."
Above: The front cover of the recruiting pamphlet which encouraged me to visit the Leeds Recruiting Office in the summer of 1953 and led to my enlistment on 18 August that year.
One of the first things we had to learn as part of what was called General Service Training was the number of operational Commands the RAF had. There were 12, each headed by a 3 or 4 star ranking officer who went by the grand title of Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief followed by the name of the command. The RAF commands when I signed on in 1953 were: Bomber, Fighter, Transport, Coastal, Flying Training, Technical Training, Maintenance, and Home Command, plus 4 overseas commands, Far East (FEAF), Middle East (MEAF), Near East (NEAF) and 2nd Tactical Air Force Germany (which became RAF Germany in 1959 and was then demoted to 2 Group within Strike Command in 1993). We had to memorise all those facts in the first week of our service - and we were tested to make sure we had! Recruits these days do not have the same problem because over the years the number of commands has been steadily dwindling so that there is now only one: Air Command (formed in 2007 by the merger of Strike and Personnel & Training Command).
In the 1950s there really was “…a place for you in the Royal Air Force” and you really could “…join the RAF and see the world” as the recruiting pamphlet proclaimed – and I certainly did!
Depending on which source I looked at, the current strength of the Royal Air Force in August 2017 is 33,340 active personnel (5,660 fewer than the total number who signed on in 1953 alone, and 869 operational aircraft.)