Celtic Illumination, part 305, If you don’t get caught, you deserve everything you steal.
As I had driven towards Pitreavie Castel I had noticed an air cadet building, a pretty easy thing to do as there is usually a big five feet square sign announcing the fact outside the building. On our way back to Turnhouse I saw that the air cadet building was open and noticed cadets running around. I stopped and went in asking if we could pop in for a cup of tea. They were very welcoming. I went in with the staff and the cadets did whatever cadets do, which was probably go around the back of the building for a smoke and to chat up members of the opposite sex. All of the staff members were in uniform and it didn’t take long for me to work out that none of them were ex forces. It was interesting to watch and listen to them as they went through the motions.
Despite the fact that my main reason for being with the air cadets was to get my two eldest boys, out and about involved in outdoor pursuits, I was constantly questioning whether or not the cadet movement, including the army and navy cadets, was in fact a good thing. Yes it was good to get them involved in community activities, helping the elderly and infirm. It was good to encourage them to participate in activities that they would not normally come across. It was the military aspect of it that grated most with me, not the marching about and playing at soldiers but teaching young people how to use weapons. I would have been using a shotgun from the age of six or seven; I respected the weapon and tried to follow all the safety aspects. I was killing game, which I would then skin and eat, so for me it was a natural thing to do, but was it right to teach a young person how to use weapons that were specifically made for killing their fellow man?
I can still not get my head around it. I spent an enjoyable hour chatting and joking with the staff at Rosyth air cadets. I made my excuses and began to prepare to leave, to discover that my cadets were marching up and down with the Scottish cadets. I smiled as they seemed to be enjoying themselves and I remembered that at their age I was using a slingshot to fire stones at passing British army patrols. I still think attacking an army patrol is far more fun than marching up and down, but that’s just me. It certainly had been a long old day and I was looking forward to downing one or two beers in the Sergeants mess, once I had returned the cadets and settled them down. Thankfully almost everyone was tired out and they all seemed to settle down quite quickly, I made my way over to the mess bar, glad that the marching and bullshit was over for the day. How wrong I was.
As I came in to the Sergeants mess bar I found two visitors, in full orange lodge regalia, marching up and down the bar while singing the sash. Two drunk fools, in their white shirts and orange sashes, complete with bowler hats, were trying to march around the mess bar. Some people were clapping hands in time with their chanting and trying to sing along. You may think that I was disgusted that such bigoted behaviour would be allowed in a Sergeants mess, but I wasn’t. I was used to meeting idiots in all walks of life and you have to accept that some people have been well and truly beaten with the stupid stick. It was soon pointed out to them that I was an Irishman and was invited to join in with their celebrations. I don’t know what they were celebrating as it wasn’t the twelfth of July. I think they had been to some local Orange Lodge and drank themselves silly while burning effigies of the pope, it’s their culture. I excused myself and went off to my room allowing them to freely express themselves without fear of upsetting anyone, which actually is their only goal in life.
The next day we were off for a visit to RAF Leuchars. It was only about one hour away and I was looking forward to the trip. Leuchars had two phantom squadrons and one mountain rescue team so there was a good chance that I would know up to thirty percent of the people there. I was looking forward to the chance of bumping in to old mates but at the same time I didn’t want to meet anyone I knew, as my connection with the air cadets would have them unmercilessly rip the piss out of me. Normally our squadron was supplied by RAF Sealand, but they would only supply us with standard items, we were not entitled to, or allowed to ask for, technical items such as tools or bodge tape or even para cord. This was all operational equipment which was specifically for the real air force. My job for the day was to scrounge anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down at Leuchars
I had a large brown leather briefcase with me and if the truth be told I should have worn a stripy jumper, eye mask and written ‘swag’ on the briefcase. I went with the squadron into flight planning where the ops guys began to give the station brief. It was interesting to see someone do the job that I used to do, not a patch on me you understand, no panache. I suppose I could have stood up and given the brief myself, all I would have to have done was change the squadron names, although for a Cobra to stand up and talk about the Fighting Cocks and the Tremblers, I would have to point out their inferiority to the best squadron in the air force. After the station briefing the cadets were taken off to be shown around air traffic control. I explained to the Squadron Leader that I was breaking off from the squadron and would catch up with them later. He knew exactly what I was up to, even when I explained that I was keeping two cadets behind.
Luckily the guy in charge of flight planning was a decent enough bloke. I didn’t know him, but managed to take most of the maps from flight planning and had my two cadets take them to the coach and store them, before re-joining the squadron in air traffic control. I managed to scrounge a load more stuff from flight planning and then made my way over to the ground radio flight. In flight planning I had said that I was ex air traffic so was seen to be one of their own and allowed to help myself basically. In the ground radio flight I explained that I was an ex electronic fitter from Locking and once again was allowed to stock up on solder and flux, even getting two soldering irons into the bargain. From there I made my way on to the main technical site and aimed for the parachute bay.
I knew there was no point in going to the main stores building as most stores facilities were run by civilians who actually though they owned what they were responsible for issuing. The parachute bay was run by a Flight Sergeant and I noticed that on the cuff of his jacket he wore a mountain rescue badge. Over coffee we chatted and laughed and spoke about people we both knew like Pib, Louis, Docker and Tom. I explained what Tom had done to me the previous evening at Pitreavie and although we had just met, it was as if we had known each other for years. He knew I was ‘on the scrounge,’ so took me over to his secure metal cabinet where all the important and expensive stuff was kept. In the air force this was known as ‘V and A,’ valuable and attractive, and was rightly kept under lock and key. The Flight Sergeant swung both metal doors open and invited me to help myself.
I was now faced with the little boy in the sweet shop dilemma, I didn’t want to appear to be greedy but at the same time this was a golden opportunity. I took two spools of parachute cord; well; you never know when your coach will break down. I then took four rolls of bodge tape and hesitated. I think he saw that I was reluctant to follow his instruction and help myself so he started chucking stuff in to my case. It was at this point the Squadron Leader and cadets came in on their tour of the unit. The moment the Squadron Leader saw me and realised what I was up to, he turned the cadets around, stating that they shouldn’t interfere with the Warrant Officer when he was attending to business. I asked for three cadets to remain and he knew I meant three cadets that wouldn’t ask questions and do exactly what they were told and when.
I closed the case and thanked the Flight Sergeant. I called one of the three cadets over, gave him the case and told him to take it to the coach. The Flight Sergeant looked at me and I think he knew what I was going to ask for. He had been really generous and only because we were both mountain rescue men, like Tom had at Pitreavie we would always help each other out, as and when we were in a position to. I was now about to test this theory to the limit as I asked him if there was a spare parachute lying about. Parachutes were the rocking horse shit of the air force world. You could use them as awnings for barbeques or outside parties. You could cut them up and make cushions as we used to. You could even sleep in them and have that silk bed sheet experience, not that Irene and I would ever do such a thing, especially when I was running the guard room at RAF Watton.
To prove that the bond between rescue men was stronger than any rules or regulations the air force could dream up, the Flight Sergeant walked over to another cupboard. With no indication that he was aware of, or even cared about, how many rules he was breaking, he opened the cupboard and called the two cadets over. He gave each of them one parachute each and then suggested that they follow the other fellow and get them safely stowed on the coach and if they had any sense to remain with them and guard them. Unfortunately the day was almost over which meant that I had no time to get myself over to the mountain rescue section which was probably a good thing, for their store room would have been empty and our squadron would have the best outdoor equipment of any squadron on Merseyside. It was a good day scrounging and as we left Leuchars and drove back to Turnhouse I realised that I would be leaving them soon, for wasn’t I about to head home for my new job.