The following paragraphs are are from New
Zealand ex-RAF Apprentices Association news letter No 9
To read all their newsletter go to http://www.nzrafaaa.co.nz/
- April 1951 to April 1954 -"The last of the great entries"
Readers may wonder why an article dedicated to a particular Entry should be published in this newsletter. How is the 68th any different from the rest? Well the answer is that the 68th was the Entry which received the first intake of New Zealand youths for apprenticeship training and without that significant tie-up with the British-born ex-apprentices it is doubtful whether our organisation would be as strong and active as it is today. We have 11 ex-68th listed as members of our Association and 6 of us attended the Napier Reunion. At Halton, the 68th was headed by Tom Enright, who hails from the Dunedin area of Otago. Tom became our Flight Sergeant Apprentice, thus starting a trend of New Zealanders aspiring to becoming the sole Flight Sergeant Apprentice in their particular intake. Tom achieved a number of firsts in that he also passed out as our top scoring Apprentice and he also succeeded in winning a Cadetship to RAF College Cranwell. The following article is a compendium of contributions by ex-68th members with the exception that we have one intruder in the guise of Monty Firmin 80th Entry, but Monty's inclusion will become clear after reading the following paragraphs.
David Sykes - Editor
Over and above the usual high-jinks and bed-tipping of rookies that the euphoria of the impending Pass-Out obliged the senior entry to indulge in, I was reminded that we invaded the WAAF Block and I recall that we arrived yahooing and in great numbers and charged through the entrance where the Queen Bee (Flt Sgt WAAF) was protesting and doing her best to stop us entering. We pressed on regardless and the WAAFS on every floor looked very scared and many were in pyjamas and already in bed, but it made no difference and they were unceremoniously tipped out!
I understand that, in the immediate years after we passed out, the administration took steps to curtail these sorts of activities, but I do not know whether this was as a direct result of the 68th Pass-Out or whether others following on emulated our behaviour and the authorities finally acted. In our present politically-correct world, arguments would be strongly raised against what we did at that time, but most ex-Brats would agree that there was always someone somewhere during our military career that could assert seniority and give us a bad day, indeed some even specialised in it and enjoyed treating subordinates badly. My argument is that the senior entry traditions, which clearly were a form of bullying, toughened you up, helped you to maintain discipline when under heavy provocation and made you resilient to the humiliation that could sometimes be heaped upon you by the military command system. In saying that, I must say that I was most impressed by the conduct of most of the Air Force people in command during my time in the Service.
During the time that we in 3 Wing were subjected to repeated bed tipping sagas by the 59th we had a brief, but very satisfying, reversal of fortune. It was thanks to New Zealanders Tom Enright and the late Graham Pratt (RIP). Tom and Graham looked quite mature compared to most of us, who generally looked like a bunch of immature choir boys and we were therefore easy meat for the seniors. One evening, a lone member of the 59th flung open the end window of our ground-floor room and leapt inside and proceeded to tip beds. The 3rd bed he reached was Tom's and Tom, who had done a bit of boxing, took up a defensive position with fists raised and warned the guy not to touch his bed. Tom was of stocky build and must have looked quite daunting and standing behind Tom on the next bed-space was the towering form of Graham, our gentle giant, who must have caused the invader to take a nervous gulp and think twice. The intruder made a token lunge for Tom's bed and got a box around the ears for his trouble and so decided that it would be prudent to retire and so, to our thankful relief, he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
Perhaps the reason for the 68th Entry making such a name for itself was that, as rookies, we were subjected to more than our fair share of bed tipping and senior entry queue-jumping than most, due to arriving at Halton just before the 59th Entry made their departure. (This was common among Spring entries depending on how the Easter holidays fell.) We were subjected to their antics and also those of all other senior entries up to and including the 62nd, who were our true senior entry. Collectively we must have felt that because we had been subjected to such a lengthy treatment at the hands of these many senior entries, then we would jolly well make sure the rookies below us would not get off lightly.
My early memories of our harsh metamorphosis from young civilians to
aircraft apprentices are as follows:
When we started our apprenticeship in April 1951 the engine trades were allocated to 1 Wing, airframe and armourers to 2 Wing and electrical and instrument trades to 3 Wing and we of the 68th were duly chopped up and domiciled in those wings according to trade, but after 18 months the authorities decided that in order to foster 'entry spirit' all trades should be recombined and should be housed all in the same wing. The 68th were then all re-located to 1Wing and we completed our last 18 months wearing the red hat-band. As I belonged to the E & I group I started life in 3 Wing with an orange hat-band and recall our first drill in our brand-new mothball-smelling battledress, with boots all mottled and stiff and each of us wearing flattened store-new berets, which looked like flying saucers. The exceptions to this were our 2 New Zealanders, who wore smooth and well fitting No 1 Dress, each sporting a much envied forage cap. Under the menacing control of the constantly shouting Sergeant MacDougall we were drilled as an untidy rabble, each desperately and awkwardly trying to master the difficult process of marching in unison. Inevitably we had a number of characters who swung the same arm with the same-side leg and in their nervousness they continued to do so. Many of us turned left instead of right and we all got barked at and punished for our chaotic efforts with MacDougall pushing his face within inches of that of the selected wrong-doing individual and barking vehemently in his rasping Scottish brogue. Standing on the square watching the proceedings was our Flight Commander, Pilot Officer Jordan, who stood complete with a black swagger-stick and who joined in with the haranguing when he couldn't bear to watch our drill disasters any longer. Also standing watching were a group of dark-coloured young men dressed in light civilian clothes, with gaudy ties, newly arrived from Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka) and who were duly incorporated into the 68th after our drill session. These apprentices were the first of several batches to be trained for the Royal Ceylon Air Force.
David Sykes 68th
Later, the authorities obviously reversed their decision for more entry
spirit as Monty Firmin reports below:
We arrived at Halton in April 1955, the 80th Entry, all together in 1 Squadron, 1 Wing; each Squadron being a separate Entry. Targets for bulling and raids from other Wings were our lot for 8 months. In December the call came to break "Entry spirit". The whole camp was on the move as we were mixed up with various different entries and then allocated to each barrack room. Junior NCO apprentices were put in charge of rooms containing apprentices of more senior entries. We were separated from friends in our own entry but the desired effect was achieved with substantially diluted "Entry spirit" evident with no raids that I was aware of and certainly none of the "battles" of old.
Monty Firmin 80th
The First NZ Apprentices
As the 1950's began, the Royal New Zealand Air Force began to replace their existing aircraft with more modern types which called for increased skills and more specialised knowledge.
With this in mind they decided to call for applications for youths who would be between the age of 16 & 17 on 1st February 1951 for training in the U.K. as Aircraft Apprentices. There had been New Zealand Apprentices previously, but as individuals and not as part of a continuing scheme by the R.N.Z.A.F.
Over 200 initial applications were received, and preliminary interviews, aptitude tests, educational exams and medicals reduced this figure to 28 candidates for final interviews in Wellington in early December. From these a final 15 were selected and were:-
|Radio||G Barnard; C K Smith; D A Carter|
|Engines||W H Howell; R E Thomas; J M McLean; A L Lawless; D G Eves|
|Airframes||S N West; R C Oliver; C A Shaw; D I Lamason|
|Electrical||V G Pratt|
|Instruments||T E Enright|
|Armaments||H R Holland|
Offers of regular engagement in the RNZAF were sent to successful applicants on 18th December 1950 followed by movement instructions for them to be at RNZAF Wigram on the 17th January 1951.
On arrival at Wigram we were rapidly brought into the realms of service life. We were inducted and documented, issued with passports and given the necessary inoculations and then issued with uniforms for our travel to the U.K. We were given basic foot and arms drill, along with the usual kit and room inspections. This initial training period lasted for only 3 weeks and covered most aspects of service life, but it was quite hectic for us. During this period we lost G Barnard due to health problems, and this was a great disappointment for him. We went on Embarkation Leave and had to report to Wellington on 16th February to sail for England the following day on the M.V. Rangitata and we were placed under the watchful eye of F/O Pete Lumley. Also in our party were three Officer Cadets - R M Hancock, Ron Chippindale and Graham Brown, who were to train at Cranwell. Life was pleasant on board with the only real understanding being that we were to be well behaved.
We arrived at Southampton on 20th March, where we were met by S/L Furlong and F/L Free from RNZAF Headquarters staff, New Zealand House. We travelled up to London to New Zealand House where we were welcomed by Bill Jordan, the New Zealand High Commissioner. We stayed overnight in London and then moved on to RAF Halton where we were initially accommodated in No 3 Wing whilst the apprentices were on leave for Easter Break. To keep us occupied, there was a programme laid on for us to visit places of interest and of educational value. The visits entailed early starts and late returns, with a packed lunch, so I don't think we would have been very popular with the Mess staff. After the apprentices returned from leave, we were moved to our respective Wings and Keith Smith and Alan Carter moved on to RAF Cranwell and later to RAF Locking when the Radio School moved there. We mixed in with other members of our Entry and many long and lasting friendships were made. In addition to the Trade and Educational portion of our courses, we participated in the many sport and hobby activities that were available and in some cases represented Halton at various events around the country.
Our Welfare and Guardianship was under the RNZAF at New Zealand House. At first this was Sqdn.Ldr Furlong but all staff there really looked after us, and I know that Sqdn.Ldr Furlong, Air Cmdr Kay and Bill Jordan all wrote to my mother and, I'm sure, all the other NZ Apprentices' mothers too. All had some personal facts mentioned, so some thought went into allaying any fears the families may have had with their young ones so far away. For those who had no known family relations in the U.K, home stays were arranged by The Dominions Fellowship Trust. This was very helpful when we first arrived but, as time passed, most found relations where they could stay or had invites from fellow apprentices and went on leave with them to many parts of the U.K., including Ireland. Rationing for many things was still in effect following the war and we were given coupons when required. I can remember using them for sweets and some suits I bought.
Photo taken at New Zealand House after our arrival including F/O Lumley, Air Commodore Kay,
Bill Jordan N.Z High Commissioner, Sqdn. Ldr Furlong and the three Officer Cadets.
Our time at Halton saw several notable events which included the deaths of King George VI and the Queen Mother Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth's Coronation and the Queen presenting the Queen's Colour at Halton. When the RAF Memorial was opened at Runnymede our Entry of New Zealand Apprentices were there as the RNZAF Representative in the Guard of Honour.
Most 68th New Zealanders achieved promotion in apprentice rank and received good marks in their exams. Of the 183 apprentices (145 RAF, 12 NZ, 20 Pakistan and 6 Ceylonese) who passed out in the Entry, New Zealanders in Order of Merit were: 1st, 7th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 25th, 27th, 31st, 38th, 40th and 104th. Parade Commander for Passing Out was F/S A.A. Enright, while No 2 Flt Cmdr. was S.A.A. Dick Thomas. Tom Enright took 1st place in the Entry and received a Cadetship to Cranwell.
New Zealand Apprentices passed out as L.A.C's as, unlike the RAF, the RNZAF did not have technician ranks. We then did a one year improver service with the RAF. Most went to 32 M.U St Athan in South Wales for 6 months with other ex-68th friends before being split up and going to either Oakington on Vampires, Abingdon on Hastings or Pembroke Dock on Sunderlands. On 15th April 1955 we embarked on the M.V. Rangitiki for our return to New Zealand, arriving on 20th May. After a period of leave we went to RNZAF Wigram for a short course before posting for duty at our respective stations. The last intake of Halton/Locking Apprentices commenced in 1959 but the training continued with future intakes being trained in Australia. More on this episode in our life may be found on the 68th entry website http://halton68th.co.uk
Of the three Officer Flight Cadets who travelled to England with us, two, R M Hancock and Ron Chippindale, were the first RNZAF Cadets to go to Cranwell, whist the third, Jim Brown, had received an RAF Cadetship and they were to become part of No 60 Entry at RAF College Cranwell. They successfully completed their course in December 1953 and passed out as Pilot Officers. Jim Brown continued his service with the RAF and retired as a Sqdn. Ldr in March 1970. Rutherford Hancock returned to the RNZAF and served in various postings until he left in 1971 with the rank of Sqdn. Ldr He became a Training Consultant and then Personnel Manager of a multi-national Oil Company before retiring. He wrote a book on his Cranwell experiences entitled " Flight Cadet ". Ron Chippindale returned to the RNZAF and served in various duties until he retired as a Sqdn. Ldr In Nov. 1974. He worked in the Civil Aviation Dept. becoming Chief Inspector of the Air Accident Section. He then took up teaching at Massey University on the subjects of Air Accident Investigations.
Between 1951 and 1964 the RNZAF had 15 Flight Cadets attend RAF College Cranwell, including 2 ex-Halton Apprentices. Tom Enright (68th) and Tommy Thomson (71st) both won the Sword of Honour, and finished 1st and 2nd respectively in their courses, Tommy retiring as an AVM and Chief of the RNZAF in December 1989.
Sam West 68th