Jim Draper

20th June 2013

I was mad keen on getting into the RAF from the age of about 13 when a chipmunk from Dyce flew low over the farm as I was cleaning the chicken houses out (my Saturday job and a very smelly one!) and the pilot waved to me. That and being on the end of the runway at Dyce when a pair of Venoms took off – directly over where I was peering over the wall. The local recruiting officer wanted me to stay on and take my highers (equivalent of A levels) before joining up, but I would have none of it. After sitting the exam – very lonely as I was the only entrant from my school, I decided to take the RAF up on their offer to have a pre-medical at RAF Cosford. I arrived there aged barely 15 and if I hadn’t piped up, I would have been inducted as a Boy Entrant – apparently there was two of us with the same surname at the camp – the other was going in as a Boy Entrant – thankfully it was soon sorted. Then before I knew it, I was off to Halton for the three days of tests and medicals. I wanted to be an armourer (as I am colour blind – found in the medical at Cosford – I knew I wouldn’t be able to do electrics or electronics) but the assessor was a rigger and easily persuaded me that the riggers life was better than an armourers!

Sometime later (I think and can anyone remember those few days and weeks up to signing on?) I arrived at the camp to join the 90th entry in 3 Wing. Oh the joy of bull, being tipped in the first week, kitting out and parades. The RAF soon knocked any country boy innocence out of me and the others in my room in rook block knocked out my very strong Doric accent.

6 months or so later and horror of horrors I failed basic workshops. I was given little choice but to back an entry – and if I failed again, that would be that, I would be out. Thankfully, it was just the knock that I needed and I passed out with the 91st. The three years at Halton seemed to pass in a flash. 7 days jinkers for slipping bout the back way when I was pulled up for illegal civvies was the worst I got. Looking back, I quite enjoyed the whole experience.

First posting was to RAF Waddington and a stint in the hydraulic/ tyre bay. Our Sergeant was a real character – a Brummie – he drove a very old singer I think that had the front doors tied together with locking wire as both locks didn’t work.

Then came a trip to Australia in 1963 to support a try at beating the record for a non-stop flight to there by Vulcan 1A’s. Firstly we flew out to Aden for 10 days – hot, dusty and not very nice – especially in the transit billet. After that back to the UK before heading for Gan or 10 days. I remember the water – horrible, the angel fish taking my bait and ignoring the hook, only gooseberries for breakfast, dinner and tea as supplies had been delayed, walking round the island and general boredom. I’m glad I only had 10 days there!  Back to the UK again and finally flying to Pierce AFB outside Perth via Aden, Gan, Cocos Islands (we were entertained royally there as they hadn’t seen visitors for months).  Enjoyed Perth while waiting for the Vulcan’s, then we did a tour of Aus – Sydney and Auckland before heading home.

Around this time I had become engaged to a lass from Aylesbury – we met when I went back on a nostalgic visit (where I bumped into McIsaacs in Woolworths). We planned to get married sometime in 1964. At the time (1963) I was a volunteer on the camp radio and I was warned that I needed to apply for overseas by one of the WAAFS who worked in the postings office. So I applied for Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong – so what did I get – Goose Bay in Labrador – typical airforce.  I was also made aware that I needed to pull our wedding date forward as the posting would be sooner rather than later. This we did, but on the Wednesday before the big day, I got a telegram ordering me to report back to camp on the Monday following the wedding to fly out on the Wednesday. Panic – no honeymoon – so up to London and finally through the good services of a hotl finding agency, got a room in a hotel for one night. Back at the camp, I was informed that as I had contacted people from the Typhoid area of Aberdeen, my posting was delayed for three weeks. Telegram to Margaret to come up and we stayed in a friend’s house for the week.  Pleading with the senior WAAF officer got me a week’s compassionate leave so back to Aylesbury missing a surprise party put on by my mates from the radio station. All good things come to an end and after three weeks of doing nothing off I went to Goose.

Goose was in fact very good and pretty cushy then as the station was being built up from 8 to around 80 and we were the first batch of the increase. We did a Pre-flight on whatever V bomber was on the station; it then disappeared for 5 -6 hours and then a quick post-flight. So I reckon we did about 3 hours a day and nothing at weekends. Weather was an issue – winter it got down to -20 degrees and in the summer it was + 80!

After my year there, that it was back to Chivenor and on to the target towing flight, servicing Meteors – quite a culture change from the V bombers. Two delightful years in Devon and I was on the move again. This time to Singapore, finally.  6 months on Javelins, a stint in an office (very boring) then doing majors on Canberra’s and Hunters till it was time to go back to England. I enjoyed every minute of my time there living first in Johore Bahru and then at Woodlands just off the Bukit Timah.

My final posting was to Lyneham and Hercules. Quite enjoyed them – dead easy to service and frankly I am surprised to see them still soldiering on – more than 40 years after I left the mob. I enjoyed trips to Cyprus and Peru as part of the ground crew. Peru took us three days – via Gander and Jamaica. The return trip being via Jamaica and Goose. The pilot on our aircraft wanted me to find something (anything)at Jamaica to hold the flight up, but I couldn’t find anything at all. The other aircraft (piloted by a squadron Leader who wanted to get home) was carrying some pretty serious faults and he just kept signing them off on the 700 – I was glad I wasn’t flying with him!

And that was that – I left after three years as an apprentice and 12 years full service as a Sergeant with no regrets but a lot of happy memories.

To be Continued – Civvy street

Site Search

The final apprentice reunion will take place at RAF Halton on Saturday 15th August. To take part in the parade, you must be a member of RAFHAA - however adding £10 to the application form feeallows you to be a member for 1 year. Wives or partners are allowed on this occasion to witness the march past.

I have booked a hotel for the Saturday night and have also booked a smaller number of rooms for the Friday night for those travelling great distances. Further information will be issued later in the year.

A successful reunion was held at the Cambridge Belfrey in Cambourne on the 12th and 13th May to mark the 60th Anniversary of the entry's formation. 62 came and took part in both the meet and greet evening and the formal dinnewr on the 13th.

A visit to IWM Duxford was also arrange for the 13th. The weather was glorious and the highlights of the day were the test flights of the Duxford B17 and the test flight of a DH9 after an 18 year restoration. Film of both aircraft as well as of the evening functions are available under Reunion Photographs.

The new General Data Protection Act becomes active on the 28th May. One of its proviso's is that personal contact details (telephone, email, addresses) cannot be displayed. As such all email addresses have been removed, but what remains is a list of the email addresses held by the site administrator. If an email address is required, please send a request to the email address provided. Do not be offended if further details are required before an address is divukged.

News has reached me that the film 'Allied' starring Brad Pitt is using Halton as a location. Will be interesting to see if any of it is recognisable in the film.

Nick Bale has had a look at the RAFHAA website and found that we feature THREE times on the site. I have put a link out to it on the links page so have a look and see if you can spot yourself.

I have now created a separate page for each member that sends me his life story - so come on - you all have a story to tell.

I have added a page listing those that are still missing. Have a look at the list and if you know of the whereabouts - or indeed any information - on any of them, please let me know.