RAF 1967 to 1974

RAF Cranwell and RAF Marham

RAF Marham First Posting

RAF Marham Norfolk UK

Victor K2
Victor K2 refuelling 2 Phantom F4s

After I had completed my engineering course at RAF Cranwell, my first posting as a “fully fledged” Flying Officer in the Engineering Branch was to RAF Marham in Norfolk. At the time there were three squadrons using Marham as their base, 214 Squadron 57 Squadron and 55 Squadron.

55 Squadron was by coincidence my father’s Squadron in WW2, where he saw active service as a pilot on Baltimore aircraft from 1943 when based in Egypt, North Africa.

As the home base for the Victor aircraft, whose primary task was to carry out mid-air flight refuelling, my post as OCAREF (Officer Commanding Air Refuelling Equipment Flight) was particularly interesting. In the foreword to the book containing Bob Tuxford’s memoirs (57 Squadron and RAF Cranwell 97 Entry), Rowland White – the author of Vulcan 607 covering the Falklands airstrike – makes the point that without the Victor Tankers, the mission would not have been possible. Leading on from that, it follows that without the reliability and successful operation of the actual Flight Refuelling equipment, the mission would also not have been possible 

My team of airmen was responsible for maintaining the flight refuelling “pods” which were attached under the wings of the Victor. The pods were primarily hydraulically operated, and contained a long hose section (special piping) which was deployed in flight to transport fuel to the receiving aircraft: at the end of the “pipe” was a small drogue which acted as both stabiliser and target in the probe and drogue procedure.

The station was a fully operational base with constant activity, and a particularly long runway to accommodate the larger aircraft, which meant that we had visits from all types of plane, including the USA Boeing KC135 Tankers; the Americans had a nearby base at Lakenheath and were very hospitable as I recall!

Life at RAF Marham was comfortable and the Officer’s Mess and accommodation first class. My office was one of several in a building situated directly in front of the main aircraft parking area, and within walking distance of the bay or workshop where the pods were serviced. I reported to a Squadron Leader Grey. The section was very efficiently run by Chief Technician Barlowe, with a number of sergeants and a small team of airmen, who knew the equipment “inside out” – which meant that there was not a lot for me to do! Life was actually pretty dull after Cranwell, and my job was mainly paper pushing, checking on new modifications to the equipment, overseeing the occasional misdemeanour and making sure that my Chief Tech was happy! The Chief “ran the show”, and one of my self-appointed duties before I left was to recommend him for promotion to Flight Sergeant, which was long overdue and fully deserved.

One of my tasks was to organise the RAF Marham cricket team: since I was new to the station, finding out who could actually play cricket was in itself a challenge, and I needed to field a mixed ranks team of both officers and airmen to have any chance of putting together a decent side. I am happy to say that the team did have some wins, although we were hampered by availability problems when some of the key members (aircrew) were on exercise.

Apart from the cricket and the occasional challenges arising from air exercises and operations, life for me was boring. My fellow engineers were good sorts but dull – except for Flt Lt Fred Smith. Fred was then in his fifties and had come through the “ranks” – he had a wicked sense of humour and was great company. There was no-one else posted to Marham from Cranwell whom I knew, and the aircrew tended to be an elitist bunch. And I was pursued from time to time by unmarried daughters from the marriage quarters as a likely catch and good “husband material”

So for a number of reasons, after a year or so I applied to move out of the Mess and into private accommodation. There was a like-minded fellow officer – Bas Simpson from the Supply Branch (I think) – who was engaged to be married and shared my opinion about living on the Base: we found a derelict cottage in Saham Hills – a village a few miles from Marham. If I remember correctly, the rent was either nothing or very minimal because a lot of work was required to make it habitable. Bas, with his fiance, and I duly moved in and split the cottage into separate living areas.

As my posting drew to a close, in 1974 I put in a request to resign my commission and leave the RAF: the process was not straightforward, and my next posting would have been to RAF Wildenrath in Germany, looking after the Bloodhound Missile section, which under different circumstances, would also have been most interesting.

While I was waiting for a decision, I was “seconded” for a few months to the Marconi Company based in Chelmsford Essex, which was a Defence contractor – part of GEC at the time – and now part of British Aerospace (BAE) I was working in the section involved with radar for the military, and as I recall, we operated out of Portakabins on the Marconi “station”.

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Thank You 96 Entry

RAF Club reunion
96 Entry 40 years on at the RAF Club reunion dinner

Why RAF Cranwell was Important to me

Personal Memories

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 DecdRob 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.

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RAF College Cranwell

Life as an Officer Cadet 96 Entry

RAF College Cranwell
Graduates in front of the College Hall


RAF College Cranwell is the training college for future officers in the RAF. To qualify for entry in my day, every candidate had to pass a selection of aptitude tests, which were taken at the time at RAF Biggin Hill – which was in Kent and therefore quite close to my school in Canterbury.

“A” Level passes were taken into account as educational qualifications, but the most important information for the RAF was gathered from the aptitude tests, which were a combination of tests for physical attributes (sight, hearing etc) physical co-ordination and seeing how well candidates “performed” in a team environment – which was directly linked to leadership potential and therefore “officer material”.

Candidates were about 17 or 18 years old (I was 17 at the time) and we came from varied backgrounds – some like me from Public School, others from Grammar Schools, and some from RAF Halton and RAF Locking – the training colleges at the time for airmen – where the top apprentices were assessed as future “officer material”.

Some candidates had RAF connections – I remember two of our Entry had fathers serving at the time in the RAF as Air Vice Marshals – but many of us did not, and some came from overseas, so it was a mixed bag of raw talent. The most important aptitude tests were those related to flying – many of us wanted to become pilots and only a few who passed the fairly rigorous tests – including medical tests – were given this opportunity. 

At the time, and as I remember it, the choices – or branches – available to a potential RAF Officer going through Cranwell were:

(1) GDP (General Duties Pilot)
(2) GDN (General Duties Navigator)
(3) Engineer
(4) Secretarial
(5) Equipment
(6) RAF Regiment

I enjoyed the experience: the tests were taken over a  period of several days, and I was lucky enough to be offered entry to Cranwell and the choice of any Branch. I had always wanted to fly, but chose the Engineering Branch because I had one eye on a future which may not involve the RAF and flying: but only after I was assured that Flying Training was still “on the cards” after I had qualified as an Engineer. Another good reason for this was that I knew that an Engineer with flying experience would always be more likely to  be taken seriously by full time pilots: there was – and probably still is – a big divide in attitude between aircrew and those who  supported them on the ground.

96 Entry

I was in 96 Entry and about 60 of us assembled at RAF Cranwell near Sleaford in Lincolnshire UK to begin our journey into the unknown on 27th March 1967. There were two new Entries every year – arriving in March and September: each Entry was due to graduate (become fully fledged Officers) after two and a half years

The hierarchy at Cranwell was similar to the hierarchy at my last School: we were separated into Entries (Ist Year as “new boys”, 2nd Year, Senior Entry etc) and each entry was split into existing Squadrons which was equivalent to the “House” system at School. We had four squadrons – A, B C and D – and I was in D squadron.

The first year cadets were the “low life” and we were housed in Barracks known as the South Brick Lines. The Senior Entry at the time was 91 Entry, and they were within 6 months of graduating as RAF Officers: they had all sorts of powers and privileges over the “low life”, and the infliction of this power was generally known as “crowing”. At the top of the tree were Senior Under Officers (like the school Head of House) supported by Under Officers (Monitors) for each Squadron: the Under Officers were chosen by the Cranwell hierarchy as those most likely to succeed based upon their performance during their cadetships.

Each Squadron had it’s own Drill Flight Sergeant – with a Sergeant looking after the first year cadets – and we, as the new Entry, were quickly introduced to the realities of early morning drills, parades, bed making, boot shining etc.

The College was run as an active RAF base and the Commanding Officer or Station Commander was a Group Captain, with a support staff. The station was basically split into three main groups – the Academics (the teaching staff for us as cadets), Operations (the Flying Instructors and ground crew needed to run the Chipmunks and the squadron of Jet Provost Trainer aircraft for the pilot training) and the Logistical (everything else needed to run a working RAF Station)

Apart from the College Building and surrounds and the airfield and hangars, there were educational and sports facilities and living quarters, and the Station was spread over a large area, with possibly 2000 personnel including cadets.

More information about Cranwell as it is now can be seen on the official RAF Cranwell Facebook page

A word about GDPs (Pilots)
As Flight Cadets at Cranwell, the greatest stress was undoubtedly on those who had been chosen as Pilots: theirs was a continuous and steep learning process and flying training in first the Chipmunks and then the Jet Provost trainer aircraft was a serious business. The main hurdles to overcome on the way included their relationship with their assigned Flying Instructor (QFI), the first solo flight – usually after 25-30 hours training – mastery of navigation, all weather flying (instruments only) and night flying: all the time their performance was being evaluated and under-achievement at any point in the process would mean failure. If the target was to become a “Top Gun” and qualify to fly strike/intercept aircraft such as the LightningPhantom F4Buccaneer and the Harrier (and later the Tornado), the standards were exceptionally high and most trainee pilots would not make these standards. 

The other non-GDP cadets, by contrast, did not have the same stress, and faced more academic challenges in the classrooms and so – in my view – had more of an  opportunity to enjoy the  unique experience offered by RAF Cranwell.


The aim of the College was to roll out new Officers after two and a half years training, who would then either be assigned their first posting in their chosen Branch (RAF Regiment) or continue their training. GDPs and Navigators were posted to one of the many RAF stations operational at the time – either in the UK or abroad. The Secretarial and Supply Branch graduates spent an extra 6 months at Cranwell before being posted, and the Engineers stayed on at Cranwell for further training in either the Mechanical or Electrical speciality, the aim being to qualify with a BSc Honours Degree after a total of 4 years and 8 months.

The College Building

As can be seen from the photo, the College building was large and impressive: there were two wings – East and West – and two main floors, the top consisting mainly of accommodation and the CO’s office.

The main feature on the ground floor was a massive dining area (Mess Hall) which also hosted many special events, such as Mess Guest Nights, Summer Balls and Graduation Balls. On the same level were the kitchen, several large lounges, the Mess Bar, games rooms and other areas.

The large entrance Hall led out to the main steps and the Main Parade Ground, in front of which which was the “Orange”, and a large grass covered circular area which was ideal for entertainment and/or Sports: I was lucky enough to play cricket for the College on the Orange, which gives an idea of its size.

Behind the College was a large parking area, and sporting facilities which included Squash and Tennis Courts – both used regularly by myself!

College Personalities

There were two individuals who stood out for me while I was at Cranwell, and I do not mean fellow Flight Cadets. Both these individuals were Airmen and involved in our training.

The first was Warrant Officer Garbet. The highest rank for an airman is Warrant Officer, followed by the rank of Flight Sergeant. Warrant Officer Garbet was always immaculately turned out and probably the most powerful man at Cranwell, and I remember him saying one thing in particular to a Flight Cadet (it could have been to me – I don’t remember!) “The difference between you, Sir, and myself is that we both call each other Sir, but I don’t mean it”

The second person was Flight Sergeant Ken Adams the Drill instructor for D Squadron. His job was to turn an unruly and undisciplined rabble (us) into a well disciplined unit capable of drilling at the highest standard. On parade, we had polished boots, white belts and our own SLRs (Self Loading Rifle). Woe betide you if you did not concentrate 100%: a short man, he could be heard from over 100 yards away. One of his favourite sayings – often repeated to any cadet guilty of losing concentration – involved the words “..tearing off your arm and hitting you with the soggy end, Sir”  – the last word being emphasized! I have to say, I actually enjoyed the drilling and I was once in the Colour Party (the group of four bearing the RAF Flag) as the Colour Officer on one occasion when D Squadron had that honour at one of the Parades.

Social Life

While we were at Cranwell, the “Sixties” era was in full swing and so we missed out on this culture: as cadets, we had short “back and sides” haircuts, and so were pretty conspicuous when we ventured outside the Station. However, in the depths of Lincolnshire, there was not much on offer for randy young men. Apart from the towns of Sleaford and Grantham (4 and 10 miles away) the nearest “cultural centre” was Nottingham, and London was 120 miles away down the A1. There were a number of local “ladies” educational colleges which were visited to a greater or lesser extent, and some of us (the minority) had existing girlfriends who were allowed to visit on occasion, which caused some jealousy as I recall (Pete Harding and John Waterfall spring to mind..)

As we progressed in our seniority at the College, more cadets could afford cars, and weekend passes could be obtained which relieved the social isolation

Trips and Exercises

As part of our cadet training the RAF organised some joint exercises outside the College. I remember three in particular.

Catterick Survival – A Bitter Experience.
The first was a Survival Exercise, designed to test our “mettle” in the outdoors: the venue was RAF Catterick in Yorkshire. The time of year was winter, and we were bussed to the North of England (early 1968 I think) when one of the coldest spells on record was in progress. Our mission was to set up tent in some remote area and basically survive for one or two days, with the most basic of provisions. I remember sleeping fully clothed and waking up in the morning with ice inside my boots. There were several casualties and cases of hypothermia in the “ranks”, and in retrospect, the Exercise should not have taken place.

Escape and Evasion – or Chicken and Chips?
The second exercise took place over a few days in North West Germany: we flew as a unit to RAF Gutersloh, and were then – if I am correct – assigned by Squadrons to various  Army Regiments. Our hosts were the 22nd Field Artillery Regiment based in Dortmund, part of the British Army On The Rhine (BAOR). Their principle weapon was the Abbott Self propelled Gun – basically an amphibious tank – which was great fun to drive! The aim of the main exercise was to split our squadron into groups of 4 or 5 cadets, and, armed only with compasses and Ordnance Survey maps, we were dropped some 20 miles or so away from the Base with a view to returning on foot without being “captured” en route by the Army. In the same group as myself, as I remember it, was Prince Bandar, so monetary assistance was never in doubt. Our adventure included chicken and chips in one German pub, and part of the journey was by taxi: we were not caught, but I am pretty sure our solution was not what the organisers had in mind!

King Rock
Named after the Rock of Gibraltar, this exercise occurred for 96 Entry in the summer of 1967. Gibraltar has a resident colony of monkeys – colloquially known as “Rock Apes” – and this affectionate nickname was passed on to anyone serving in the RAF Regiment Branch, which is primarily responsible for airfield defence. I did not attend this particular exercise, for a reason that I cannot recall, but I can report that the two weeks exercise for 96 Entry consisted of one week of survival training which included canoeing in the Eider See and the other week concentrating on escape and evasion, with a one mile race with full backpacks thrown in for good measure.

Escorting Miss World Contestants 
Definitely one of the highlights, the Organisers of the 1968 Miss World competition hosted in London had decided that they needed a bunch of fine young men to act as escorts for the contestants at the Dinner/Dance which followed the event: Cranwell was the lucky beneficiary, and an eager group of us attended – I think we stayed at the RAF Club. All the girls were stunning, but of course most of them had regular boyfriends, and so any form of romance was out of the question! I cannot remember which of the girls (or which country) I “escorted” but it was a fantastic experience for a young hot blooded and totally inexperienced young man! 

The RAF Club 128 Piccadilly London

London was – and still is – the centre for so many cultural events, night-life and other forms of entertainment. To have the RAF club available to us in the middle of London as our personal “hotel” and at reasonable cost was a huge bonus. I used the splendid facilities there on many occasions.

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