Celtic Illumination, part 72, Biggles, Ginger, Algy and me
RAF Shawbury is, to me, what a real RAF station should look like. Lots and lots of mature leafy trees, red bricked buildings, surrounded by flat open countryside. On a sunny day you would want to pull up at the guardroom in your open top sports car, with your black Labrador on the passenger seat, sit on a terrace with a cold pint and puff away on your pipe as a spitfire droned overhead. However on my way there the only thing I would have wanted from that list would have been the sports car, any type of car actually.
I had arrived in Shrewsbury, the closest town to Shawbury. Standard drill was to telephone the MT flight, at whichever unit you were going to, and they would send a vehicle to pick you up. The guys at Shawbury were not that interested and told me to get a bus. It’s a real pain when you’ve got your whole world packed in two bags that are ripping the arms off you and you’ve gotta work out which bus goes where and exactly what bus stop to go to.
Despite the lack of interest from the MT flight I made it to Shawbury. I was once again put into temporary accommodation, which didn’t bother me in the least. It was far too late to report to headquarters so I found the mess, had some scoff and then went hunting for a bar. It was great fun. Seems that there was a student bar and a permanent staff bar. There were no courses going through for another three weeks so I was to be permanent staff for three weeks, which is just as well as the student bar was closed..
I reported to headquarters the following morning and was informed that I wasn’t a TAG any more. Promotion at last! I was now a SWO’s man. The SWO or the Station Warrant Officer, was the person in charge of discipline on the unit. He was God. He had a gang of chaps under his command and these guys would be in charge of the bedding store, the bike store, they would run the guardroom and of course were the instructors for all the standing still and marching about stuff. He was also very good at shouting insults at people.
I was told that I would be working for the clothing stores department so reported to the guy who ran stores. He brought me through to a warehouse and showed me a pile of uniforms. I’m talking about hundreds of uniforms. At this time buttons in the air force were made of brass, good for polishing, however just as the UK were changing over to the metric system, the air force were changing over to a plastic type button that didn’t require polishing.
I always think of the cartoons you would see from the Second World War era where a punishment would be to peel potatoes and you would see a service man sitting in the middle of a huge pile of spuds, peeling one after the other. Well; this was me, except I was cutting the brass buttons off the uniforms. Seems that this was a central collection point for old uniforms and they could only be disposed of when they had a certain weight, I didn’t mind, it was a strange job but, as with the extractor fans in Innsworth, someone had to do it.
Shawbury apart from being the central school of air traffic control was also an operational station and I enjoyed watching the aircraft take off and land. I was making friends and one kept taking me off to a remote hanger where we would play badminton. I enjoyed badminton and it was just so all relaxed it was wonderful. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the young lady, who did drive an open top sports car, wasn’t that interested in badminton and would selfishly use me to satisfy her urges and desires. I decided not to complain and didn’t mind if this sort of existence continued for a number of years.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end. The new students for my course were arriving and the people at Shawbury began to turn stupid. I had been drinking, socialising, and more, with them for three weeks I thought we were friends but was told that I was not allowed in their bar anymore. I was a student so I could go and drink in the trainees bar with the other students. I thought it was quite petty but went off to associate with my fellow course members.
There were six students on the course and like the course at Locking there was a split except this time the split was three boys and three girls. I moved out of the temporary accommodation and into the trainee accommodation. I managed to blag myself a single room, as I knew the SWO’s men who were allocating the rooms I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t use a little influence.
The other five were straight out of basic training so their uniforms were quite smart and clean and they still had all of theirs. I had been able to achieve quite a dishevelled look and had managed to leave various bits of my uniforms scattered all over the UK. As I said before, every Wednesday afternoon was sports afternoon and I arrived at the gymnasium for my first session. The instructor, a young girl, went completely ape shit.
She was screaming at me wanting to know why I had the audacity to turn up in her gymnasium in un-regulation attire. She demanded that I go and make sure I was kitted out with proper RAF sports kit and I wasn’t to return until I was properly dressed. I considered telling her that it wasn’t her gymnasium but decided against it. What she was telling me to do, was go to stores and buy a new set of shoes and shirts, however she had said I wasn’t to come back until I had got the new kit, so if I didn’t get it, I wouldn’t have to go back. I spent every Wednesday afternoon in the local civilian pub while the other five course members, in their proper RAF training kit, would perform star jumps and press ups. I thought I may have got into trouble over that one but I didn’t, the trouble was happening elsewhere unfortunately.
It was our first day in the class room and our instructor Jeff Sarchett welcomed us. He was a Cornish chap and had a lovely burr in his accent; it was like listening to a friendly pirate. Having welcomed us to Shawbury and enquiring if we had all settled in all right and had no problems, Jeff then began to outline what would happen. This was the course for assistant air traffic controllers. I interrupted.
“Sorry,” I said. “I must be in the wrong classroom; I’m here to be an air traffic controller.”
Jeff wasn’t amused. “Only officers can be air traffic controllers’ sonny, and you are not an officer, you’re an assistant.”
“Look,” I argued. “I was told that I was coming here to become an air traffic controller not some fecking assistant!” I really didn’t know the difference but felt that I should stand my ground.
Jeff was getting quite angry with me.
“You’re here to be an assistant air traffic controller. Now shut up and let me get on with my job. There’s nothing you can do about it!”
Now this sounded like a challenge to me, so, I accepted his challenge.
“There’s nothing I can do about it eh? We’ll see about that, because I am now on strike!”