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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Per ardua

Roughly translated this means through adversity, and it is part of the motto of the Royal Air Force. My first experience on entering the gates of RAF Padgate, near Warrington, was to be kitted out. As I had volunteered for aircrew I did not receive the full issue, in particular no boots. This was rectified shortly after and had to start basic training, commonly known as “square bashing”. We entered a large building arrayed with clothing, where we were handed our kit. I received two berets, one smart, slightly small and the other not very smart and overlarge, so that when properly worn it almost reached my shoulder. Then I encountered the “that is your issue” statement. We were ordered to place it in a kitbag and then march with this on one shoulder as directed by a corporal. One of our number seemed to have difficulty with his kitbag and the corporal, who made up for his lack of stature by his shouting, asked him his name. He received the reply “Ball”, which incensed the corporal who shouted “always answer me as Corporal and what is your name”, receiving the same reply. We later discovered that Ball was a boxer.
Twenty of us were taken to a large wooden hut, which was to be our billet, to be known as “5 Flight”. The flooring was linoleum, badly scratched by the previous occupiers boots. The NCO said “I want to see this floor shining in the morning, but there is no polish. I am not telling you to buy polish from the NAAFI, but I expect to see it shining tomorrow, or you will be in trouble”. So of course we all trooped to the NAAFI and bought polish and made it shine that evening. Next day, the NCO applauded us, but then said today the polish has arrived! We had discovered what basic training was about. We were instructed to always refer to the Royal Air Force, never as raf or riff-raff
Next we were ordered to parade in three rows, so that an NCO could walk between us. He stopped behind one of our number, saying “Am I hurting you laddy ?. Well I should be as I am standing on your hair”. Followed by “No laughing in the ranks, stand to attention”. No pleading that his hair was cut on the previous day prevented his name being taken. We were instructed how to stand at attention, at ease and the correct way to salute. We were issued with rifles, and taught rifle drill, ground arms, shoulder arms, present arms, etc. Then we marched with rifles, “Left, right, pick them up, dig those heels in”. One NCO pronounced it “Elft, Oit”, which was confusing. We were marched to the rifle range and had to fire several rounds at targets. I was not very good, but personally not the worst.
Several of our NCOs were Scottish and one ordered us to sit down on the grass and asked how many of us were Scottish. A few raised their hands and were asked their town/village. One recruit gave the answer hoped for and was asked “You’ll be a piper, then” and agreed. He was told he would be given a 48 hour pass and rail ticket to go home to collect his pipes. Every morning we marched to the Cook House, carrying our knife, fork, spoon and mug in our left hand behind our backs, to the sound of his pipes for breakfast. Two of the NCOs were also pipers. I do admire the way the services handled rail tickets, from home, through changes of train, to the final destination, with apparently no mistakes.
We were marched everywhere, to PT, to rout marches around the perimeter of the camp. On several occasions we paraded outside our hut, to be told to go back inside and come out with pyjama jackets replacing our battle dress tops, within so many seconds. Then ordered back inside to come back out wearing “tin helmets”. We wondered what possible alternative would be next. Of course from the beginning we had what was commonly called “Bull” impressed on us. Colleagues who had older brothers were able to give us tips, for example, the uniform was very substantial, hence difficult to hold a good crease. We were told to rub the inside of the crease with soap, before ironing and it really worked. Then most evenings we would work on polishing our boots. Some boots had small bubbles in the leather on the toecap, but industrious “spit and polish” managed to remove them. Polish from the NAAFI of course.
One day we paraded to be told that a Flight Sergeant wished to talk to us about a camp concert. He asked for volunteers to join him and others to present a concert. I had some amateur experience at my place of work, so volunteered, as this seemed to have been approved by our NCOs. When we were next paraded for inspection by a young officer, our NCO stopped in front of me and said “Amor here has volunteered for the camp concert, Sir”. The officer said “Amor, I will remember that name. If your drill is not satisfactory because of this, you will be reflighted”. Reflighting was our biggest worry, as it meant that one would have to repeat the “square bashing”, staying at Padgate for another 6 weeks or so. Ball, the boxer, told us that frequently the NCOs would call him off parade to their own part of the billet, to tell them of his stories of boxing. He was beginning to worry that he was missing so much drill that he could be reflighted.
We paraded near a war time Lancaster bomber on the square, with the number PB480 on its wings. Frequently we were told that soon we would be tested with 20 questions, one of which was the number of the Lancaster. Another would be how many bullets are in the Lee Enfield rifle and told this was a trick, as you had to add one extra already “up the spout”. This was repeated so often that an individual would need a very poor memory to fail. During arms drill we were told to slap the rifle very hard, so that it echoed around the parade ground. If we could hit it hard enough to break the rifle, we could have a weekend pass. One day Ball told us that he had loosened the screws on his rifle and having large powerful hands thought he could manage it, and he did and received his pass. One afternoon we were marched to a Hangar for a “3 in One” injection. I doubt if the needle was changed at all. With aching arms we were marched to our billets to collect our rifles for arms drill. This continued until the third man fainted. We were told to collect our comrades and settle them on their beds, with a mug of water.
One evening there was a boxing match on camp. In our billet I and my next bed mate were left alone. I was about to commence a letter home, when a Warrant Officer came in and asked why we were not attending the match. He then said to me, your boots are always well polished, so you can clean mine and have them like yours by the morning. My colleague assisted me and the boots passed muster. My colleague, who was from Scotland, told me that he recognised the accents of some of the NCOs as coming from the worst part of the Gorbals.
After a Trade Selection interview I was told to go to RAF Melksham, in Wiltshire, for a check on my knowledge as an electrical engineer. I joined 6 or 8 others, from other parts of Padgate for 2 or 3 days, which coincided with the Camp Concert, so I dropped out of its practice meetings and kept up with normal drill. Not surprisingly we all passed the checks at Melksham and returned to Padgate for our final passing out and eventual return to Melksham, after our return home for a period of leave. Before we left an NCO told us to scratch the floor with our hob nails, ready for the next intake. This was my first return home for several months, as I had explained to my parents that the journey from Padgate to Wiltshire was so long that it would take up most of a 24 hour pass and much of a 48 hour one. Instead I would visit some of the nearby places in the north of England and I visited the well known resorts of Blackpool and Southport. It was not much fun alone, nearing the end of the season, but a change from the restricted life of “Per ardua..”
As yet Bridport History Society has no date to return to normal meetings. A visit has been arranged to Mapperton House and Gardens on September 15th in the afternoon. Numbers limited. Contact sylviabluntshay@btopenworld. com for information.
Cecil Amor, Hon President, Bridport History Society.

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