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No.1 Radio School crest" What did you do in the "Cold War" Dad?"RAF Locking crest
Part 1 - Royal Air Force Apprentice (continued)
 (Apprentices "wheel", RAF Locking crest & No.1 Radio School crest purloined from RAF Apprentices and Boy Entrants home page: http://www.appbe.com/)

Life was intense, if not hard, at RAF Locking; what with all the "bull" , the training, the parades and so on. It only left a little time for sampling the delights of Weston-Super-Mare and letting off steam in places such as the Winter Gardens, the pier, bingo halls, games arcades, the Hole in the Wall, the Starlight Room and other places of ill repute. Pranks were regular and helped to endear us to the locals - soap suds in the fountain, the dummy display bomb stolen from outside the station armoury and left under the pier with its fins in the air, the running battle along the beach between apprentices and the "skin heads"; such excitement! There were occasional trips out to the country too, Wookie Hole, Cheddar Gorge, Wells cathedral and the City of Bath are a few that spring to mind, and of course there was the odd trip to a remote farm house to purchase small barrels of "Scrumpy", the champagne of the west country! (and the only thing we could afford to drink in large quantities!). Once a year we further endeared ourselves to the locals as we got to stop all the traffic and march through the centre of Weston-Super-Mare with "Bayonets fi xed, flags unfurled and bands playing" in the annual "Freedom of Weston-Super-Mare" parade. Yours truly, all bulled up, is on  the extreme right of the colour photograph of the 1974 parade. The black and white photograph shows the flight I trained with, G flight, 219 entry, passing the dais taking part in the 1971 parade.

There was something of a dark side too; it has to be said that early in the apprentice's training some bullying went on, mostly "public school" stuff but bullying non etheless. One or two individuals were less than particular about their personal hygiene; if their body odour became unbearable they soon found themselves being thrown into a bath full of cold water, covered with " Vim" (a powder based scourer) and orange floor polish and rubbed down with scrubbing brushes and bass brooms. Late night raids on the barrack blocks of junior entries were not uncommon, the occupants being tipped  out of their beds and their room trashed being the usual consequences though occasionally someone got hurt. More seriously, I recall one individual in our entry named Bamford who struck terror into many  and was who best avoided if possible. On one occasion he was picking on one of the slighter built boys in the washroom early one morning as we were carrying out our ablutions. I made some comment along the lines of "leave him alone" and in moments ended up on the floor with a  bloodied nose and eyes that soon gave me a panda-like appearance. I've never seen a room empty so quickly. In fairness to the adult NCO's I have to say that the incident was somehow brought to their attention and Sergeant Greaney asked me some very searching questions regarding the state of my face. He had a good idea of what had happened and I think that all he needed was a complaint to make it all official. I kept quiet though, for several conflicting reasons. Firstly, I didn't want any more to do with Bamford if I could help it and I certainly did not need another hiding but secondly, and more importantly to my way of thinking, if I complained I was "squealing" and admitting that not only could I not take care of myself but that the entry could not take care of   its own dirty business. Not long after this incident Bamford became just another boy sent home deemed unsuitable for apprentice training; a small part of the general training attrition that over the ensuing two years reduced our entry's numbers from somewhere over  100 boys to 35 or less.

Then it was back to school. The range of skills taught to Royal Air Force craft apprentices was very impressive, for as well as the traditional class room subjects of English, Science and Mathematics we were also taught Electronics and Electrical Engineering theory and Mechanics. In the workshops and labs we learned to apply our theory to practical problems and built small projects. Later in the course we gained practical experience in the maintenance and repair of ground radar equipment. I recall that we had practical training on radar displays, the radar office, an AN/FPS-6 height finder, AR1, ACR7 and  Cossor 787 airfield radars, a Precision Approach Radar (PAR), IFF Mk.X, British and American TACAN and a Type 80 search radar (minus the aerial!). There might well have been others but the memory fades.

We were taught to fault find on radar systems right down to component level, something we rarely get to do in these days of modular equipment and multi layer printed circuit boards that are thick with surface mounted components. Faults were simulated by inserting faulty components into the circuits, un-soldering wires or by "frigging"  relays by inserting small pieces of paper between the contacts. To get some idea of the scope of the training check out my Apprenticeship Certificate by clicking on it. I am particularly and unashamedly proud of the certificate and the comments that appear at the bottom. The quality of the training was second to none and I firmly believe that there has been no other training scheme, before or since, that comes anywhere near a Royal Air Force Craft Apprenticeship.

We took part in two "camps"  whilst I was at Locking, where we learned about living under canvas, hill walking, climbing, canoeing, radio operating, map reading, how to use a magnetic compass and how apprentices can survive on the hills without doing too much damage to either themselves or the hills. The first camp was a few days in the Quantock hills in Somerset, the second was two weeks (I think) in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Naturally, the RAF chose locations that were remote from civilization, more to protect the locals than to teach us self reliance. However the apprentice's ability to quaff large quantities of alcoholic beverages coupled with our new found map reading skills meant that we could navigate an unerring course to the nearest pub (usually in the nearby village of Llanfrynach) in the foulest of weather. Many of the things we do in our youth are known as "right s of passage"; one result of these camps was that our new found climbing and rope skills were soon put to use accessing a vertical sla b of rock in Cheddar Gorge where we proudly painted "219", our entry number, in large numerals alongside those of our predecessors. I think "Wally" Waldren had a hand in this escapade. Can anyone tell me if all those entry numbers are still there?

One of the inevitable facts of life about being a "Brat" was spor ts; every Thursday afternoon was given over to the healthy pursuit of various shapes of ball over varying grades of terrain. Not long after our arrival Sergeant Greaney took us to the ring to see if we had any boxers amongst us. I was matched against Steve Smart, a young man from the Ground Radio side of our entry who seemed to have very long arms as he immediately got inside my guard and knocked the senses out of me. Within thirty seconds I was climbing out of the ring with the tears streaming down my face, vowing never to enter the boxing ring ever again. In gen eral I don't get over excited about sports, which goes a long way towards explaining why my broad mind and narrow waistline are now changing places at an alarming rate. The one exception to this rule was gliding and powered flying and I used to nip off down to the airfield at Weston-Super-Mare at every opportunity. Powered flying is much less demanding than gliding. This is because powered aircraft have an engine and a propeller to pull them along which makes staying up almost too easy; in a glider you have to work at it! Here you see our hero, resplendent in his aviator sun glasses, getting ready to launch Mr. Peter Britain (one of the nicest men I have ever met, a true Gentleman) in a Ka8 at the Mendips Gliding Club at Weston-Super-Mare airfield in the summer of 1974 (no longer a "Brat", I'd gone back on a training course). The red and blue glider in the background is a Slingsby T21, a wonderfully forgiving trainer and this particular example is the aircraft in which I first flew solo.


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Updated 09/08/2009

Constructed by Dick Barrett
ęCopyright 2000-2009 Dick Barrett
The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.