I think the biggest advantage for me – after my unhappy experiences at King’s School Canterbury – was the personal freedom now enjoyed, combined with new colleagues who were my equal in status: Cranwell was not about how much money your parents had or social position. Yes, I had some academic advantages, which gave me a head start, but at 96 Entry we were all in this together as young adults, going through the “system”. And my father had served in the RAF during the war, flying Baltimores on 55 Squadron, so there was a family connection.
I was used to the concept of starting from the bottom as a “new boy” and working up the ladder: I understood the rationale behind the need to foster team spirit by sharing in the demeaning tactics – “crowing” – employed by the Senior Entry and our Drill Instructors: it did not bother me in the slightest!
Of far more importance to me were the new freedoms and facilities available to all of us, including our own cars (for those who could afford one): and the fact that we actually got paid something. And the sporting facilities were superb, the food was great and the accommodation slowly improved as we progressed up the ladder: after (I think) the first year, we were moved out of our shared “barracks” and allocated our own rooms in the main College Building. I still remember vividly 30 or 40 of us cramming into one of the TV lounges on Thursday nights so we could watch Top of the Pops and – more importantly – Pan’s People!
The Saudi Influence
When 96 Entry was formed, the Senior Entry was 91 Entry and one of their members training to be a Pilot was the son of the King of Saudi Arabia at the time, King Faisal. There were strong political reasons for the UK to host and train the King’s son – involving Oil, British Aerospace and other National Defence considerations. Some of our cadets – including several in 96 Entry – were later to pursue careers outside the RAF but linked to the Saudi connection – Martin Shewry 96D RAF Reg and Rob Deacon-Elliott 96D GDP spring to mind.
The Saudi Royal family had untold wealth, and this was reflected in the car used by King Faisal’s son, which was an orange Lamborghini capable of 180 miles per hour, and parked at Cranwell for us to admire. Rumour has it that late at night, the journey from London’s Royal Garden Hotel (where the Saudis had a complete floor at their disposal) to RAF Cranwell was accomplished in a little over an hour.
In 96 Entry D Squadron we had our own Saudi, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Bandar was one of the King’s illegitimate sons, and so not directly in the Saudi Hierarchy and was also training to be a Pilot. He had more modest transport in the shape of a Mercedes sports coupe and pocket money of £2000 per month, but, despite the “wealth” inequality, he was a charming and a popular member of 96, and went on to serve in the Saudi Airforce before being appointed as Saudi Ambassador in the USA – perhaps one of the most important and influential diplomatic posts of the era. Bill Simpson 96D Equip later persuaded Bandar to tell him his Life story, and the resulting book entitled “The Prince” was published in 2006
One of the most amusing memories I have is of Flight Sergeant Ken Adams bollocking Prince Bandar on the parade ground after some inept behaviour..
Who Needs a Passport? And Bandar was incredibly generous – many years after leaving Cranwell he personally paid for and organised at least two five star trips for surviving members of 96 Entry. One of those events was two days in a palace in Marrakesh in 2005 and has to be one of my best experiences. We gathered at Bandar’s luxury estate in Oxfordshire the night before the trip, and were then bussed to a nearby airfield where we boarded his personal jet with First Class travel to Morocco. When we landed I realised that I had forgotten my passport, but it did not matter – I just left the plane directly behind Bandar and never needed to produce it. We were met by a fleet of cars and it seemed that the entire city came to a halt as our convoy proceeded to Bandar’s palace. The palace was incredible – we had a superb time with traditional food and entertainment – and it will undoubtedly remain as one of my all-time best experiences.
96 Entry Personalities
I must preface this by saying that anyone who went through RAF Cranwell and shared the same experiences is pretty special in my opinion.
During my internet research, I came across the memoirs of Bob Tuxford (97A GDP ) who went on to fly Victor Tankers at RAF Marham (which was my first posting as an Engineering Officer) and was one of the Tanker pilots refuelling the Vulcan that featured in the Falklands campaign: a very interesting read, it has a section about Cranwell and mentions several of the 96 Entry Personalities featured below – notably John Waterfall – and has a photo of the College Tennis team at the time with Pete Harding and Bert Neo
Although I am only mentioning a few of my colleagues, this is either because I personally knew them better, and spent more time in their company, or as in the case of David Evans, I have benefitted from his commitment to 96 Entry.
The list below is in no particular order and mainly covers some of my memories about them during our time together at Cranwell
John Waterfall GDP 96D Decd became our Senior Under Officer, and was my personal hero because he could throw a cricket ball further than anyone else I knew! We were in the College Cricket Team together and he was later married to Jenny, whom he had known from childhood. He was humorous with acerbic wit and a great bloke. After some tours with the RAF, he left to fly as a Captain with Monarch Airlines. I was very sad to attend his funeral some 20 years ago – a life cut short and a great loss.
Howard Bates GDP 96B Decd A fellow cricketer, and talented footballer, Howard was one of the nicest people you could meet. I remember being invited to stay at the family home in Sussex, where his sister Vivian developed a crush on me – which was flattering! Howard left the RAF fairly early on and – with great acumen – started a business selling Personal Computers at the right time. He did exceptionally well by all accounts, but it ended in tragedy. He made a trip to the USA to collect some money he was owed by a partner, and ended up as a murder victim. A promising life cut short.
David Banks 95/96? Engineer I knew David fairly well and had met his family – they lived fairly close to Cranwell. Although we have not kept in touch, I shall always remember him because he had a gorgeous sister (Dorothy) with whom I had a – sadly – very brief affair after she was my partner at our Graduation Ball.
Pete Harding 96D Eng Pete (at the time!) was tall and good-looking and had an older girlfriend who visited Cranwell on several occasions: we were all very jealous. He was/is also a great tennis player, and had a wicked sense of humour. I remember that he targeted fellow engineers Bert Neo and Joe Raimondo in particular, because of their accents. I also have a lasting memory of the two of us driving my Spitfire (car) on the Cranwell airfield in the early hours of one morning after a party, trying to shoot hares with an air rifle.
Joe Raimondo 96D Eng Joe is from Malta and also one of the nicest guys you could meet. I was with him on our trip to Malta, and I have vague memories of driving around Valetta in an Italian car in the early hours, and meeting his family. I was able to repay the kindness by inviting him to stay with our family for some days at our home in Chew Magna. As fellow engineers and in the same Squadron, we got to know each other fairly well: I will always be very grateful to him for “tracking me down” many years later in 2005 so that I did not miss the Marrakesh trip.
Bert Neo 96C Eng Bertie is from Singapore, and again, one of the nicest guys you could meet. We were both on the Electrical Engineer “course”. Good humoured and always cheerful, he put up with the banter from the likes of Pete Harding and myself, and he and Pete made an unlikely but successful tennis pairing – Bert was also pretty good at tennis!
John Bradshaw 96B Eng John I remember as a serious individual, who took his studies more intently than most of us. I do not have any anecdotes involving John, except that he was the source of all information and the “go to” when one of us needed assistance with something.
Rob Deacon Elliott 96D GDP Rob’s father was an Air Vice Marshall and so Cranwell was a natural choice for him. Not the most serious of people, he was good company, and we were in the College Squash team together. He was close to Prince Bandar and I believe he left the RAF after a short period to work with Bandar full time.
Richard Calder 96D GDP Richard (Dick) Calder was brought up in Rhodesia, and was a thoroughly nice guy – quiet and serious. After graduating, and taking some further flight training, he left the RAF to “take up the cause” in the Rhodesia fight for independence, flying with the Rhodesian Airforce. I caught up with him some years post UDI when he was running a small Charter Airline out of Africa.
David Evans 96B Secretarial I did not know David that well at Cranwell – we were in different Branches and different Squadrons – but he has been the lynchpin for 96 Entry and kept us in touch with each other for the last 50 years, organising meetings and reunions. So I very much appreciate his efforts.
Rob Hunter 96D GDP Decd – Rob was one of the nicest guys you could meet. He also left the RAF early, and somewhat overweight when I spoke with him at various reunions, he was in his ideal job – flying Gulfstreams for wealthy businessmen. Sadly missed.
96 Engineers – Personal Overview
After graduating as Officers, and half way through our degree course, we were assigned comfortable accommodation on another part of the base to complete our studies.
In the first two years I had been able to “coast” academically because I had passed Maths Physics and Chemistry A Levels – which meant that I could play more sport and enjoy life. However, there were some very bright colleagues – especially ex Halton – who began to excel and this put me under some pressure.
In the last two years of training, there were other practical subjects all linked to engineering, such as woodwork and metallurgy. And a number of trips to RAF stations which were designed to show us the equipment in use and the practical side of being an Engineering Officer.
Electronics was never my favourite subject and I remember that my thesis – one of the last things to prepare for the degree – was on Gyrators, which remain a mystery to me to this day. Our RAF instructors were, however, excellent and very patient.
I developed a way to pass the necessary Exams by studying into the early hours the night before: all this resulted in a 3rd Class Honours Degree in Electrical Engineering with Aeronautical spec, but I would not describe myself in any way as particularly gifted – or interested – in electrical engineering.
Other Memorable Trips – Pre and Post Graduation
Being part of the RAF meant that travel was not a problem, especially overseas. As trainee engineers, we visited other UK stations to see some of the actual equipment in use, but for me, visits to stations like RAF North Luffenham were of limited interest.
Of far more interest were the overseas trips, and one with the Royal Navy.
Malta – RAF Luqa
According to Joe Raimondo – our resident Malteser – we made this trip shortly before graduating. Malta was interesting because of it’s strategic location in the Mediterranean which meant that all manner of aircraft needed to operate from the base at Luqa. We were guests of the Officers Mess and greatly enjoyed the trip, and visiting the old town of Valetta with our own personal translator!
Cyprus – RAF Troodos
Like Malta, Cyprus was an important strategic location and the main Base was RAF Akrotiri. As electrical engineers, our primary interest was in Troodos, where the mountain range provided an ideal site for Radar installations, run by RAF Signals. I remember also visiting Famagusta and Nicosia, and being impressed by the climate and the beauty of the island.
Gan – RAF Gan – National Squash Champion?
Not all my trips were as part of a group. Gan is a beautiful island, part of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and was used by the RAF as an important staging post for flights to the East. The base – first built by the British during WW2 – was capable of handling large transport aircraft. My visit to Gan was by way of a two week “detachment” to gain an insight into the workings of the base from an Engineering Officer’s perspective. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and for the first and only time in my life became a National Squash Champion! Ok, let me explain: there was a Squash Court on the station and I arranged a game with the best player on the base. After two hours play in sweltering conditions, where the squash ball was so hot that the rallies extended far longer than normal, I eventually came out on top. After this strenuous exercise, back in the Officer’s Mess, I sank two pints of orange squash in two minutes, quickly followed by several Beers!
HongKong – RAF Kai Tak – Topless or Bottomless?
From Gan, it was possible for anyone in the RAF to travel East by joining one of the scheduled trips from the base as a passenger: this was know as an “Indulgence” flight. I had always wanted to visit Hong Kong, and seized the opportunity by persuading the crew of one aircraft to take me with them on their next trip to Hong Kong. Sure enough I arrived in Hong Kong’s Kai Tak base one afternoon, having made sure of my return flight to Gan the next day! Although short of money, I planned to take in the sights of Hong Kong, and then to check out the night life from my base at a cheap hotel. I have to say that the nightlife was exotic, and the Asian girls extremely beautiful. After checking out several nightspots, and carefully monitoring my cash balance, I realised that I had to make a choice between a “bottomless” bar and a “topless” bar. I think my choice was “topless” but I may be mistaken!
Footnote: One of our Entry, Sam Hunt 96C GDP and our Number One Squash player in the Cranwell team, later became Station Commander at Kai Tak
HMS Artemis – How I became a Submariner
Whilst at Cranwell, we were given the opportunity to see what life was like in the other Services – the Army and the Royal Navy. The opportunity arose for me to spend some time aboard an active Submarine, HMS Artemis. Artemis was one of 3 surviving “A” Class submarines at the time, based at Gosport, and under the command of Lieutenant Commander Richard Sharpe. I duly arrived at Gosport and was made very welcome in the Officer’s accommodation on board, which was rather cramped as one would imagine. We were to sail from Gosport around the west coast of England to the Nuclear submarine base at Faslane in Scotland, much of the time submerged. Dress on board was pretty casual, and I spent most of the trip – approx 10 days – keeping out of the way and observing how things were run and organised. On the surface, the engines were noisy, but when submerged the boat was pretty quiet. I remember being invited to the Conning Tower with the “Skipper” as we entered Faslane, surrounded by Royal Naval vessels of all types – and being thoroughly impressed by the crew’s professionalism.
Footnote: In 1971 the Artemis sank whilst being refuelled at the Gosport Base.
My first posting was to RAF Marham, which I cover later in the next “chapter”, but this a good point at which to make a comment. Towards the end of my time at Cranwell, I had made enquiries about transferring to a Flying Training course so that I could complete the pilot training I had been promised. To my disappointment, “official channels” informed me that this was no longer possible due to funding and other considerations.
When I left the RAF after serving two years at Marham, I was feeling incredibly guilty at “abandoning the Service” and that was the main reason why I did not keep in touch with the friends made at Cranwell. Many years later, I realised that I was not alone, and that a good number of other colleagues had also left the RAF early rather than complete the normal career pattern to age 38 or to age 55. There were also a good number of fatalities in “the ranks”, some in flying accidents others in more “conventional” circumstances. When I met up again with members of 96 Entry in Marrakesh 35 years later, I was really pleased to see that we still had a lot in common, and everyone of us could talk together openly as former colleagues, with different experiences to share. If I am honest with myself, when I was at Cranwell I did not give 100% – that came later in my business career – but I was pleased to see how many former Cranwell colleagues had excelled.