This is the second half of my original post about joining the Royal Air Force in 1956. Shows how old I am.
It was relatively easy to find the next train in the big city station. It was the station where many exciting childhood journeys had started: to London to Auntie Elsie, all over southern England to find father during the war, annually to Scarborough for our holiday week and even once to Paignton in Devon. It was on the next train that I met fellow traveller recruits. They were men. They resented National Service because they had jobs in factories. To them, two years in the Royal Air Force represented a hiatus: less income, fewer girl friends, only rare visits to the pub. This was a revelation to the greenest, the most naive of them: me, straight from school.
The next change of train was another revelation. In those days, changing trains at Sheffield involved a walk from Victoria to Midland. Not far to walk. To my companions, the biggest issue was which pub we should visit, given that we had a length of time to wait for the connecting train. I’d never been in a pub, coming from a near teetotal, non conformist leaning church background. Had my grandfather not been a Methodist local preacher? I had no idea what to order. My new found colleagues knew precisely what they wanted. And proceeded to introduce me to drinking beer. Which I hated.
A bottle of IPA was recommended. I had no idea then what IPA meant. It was relatively innocuous and while they downed their pints and ordered a second, I struggled to get though the one bottle of India Pale Ale, brewed relatively locally at Burton. We managed the change of train but with me in something of a daze, partly caused by the intaking of unaccustomed alcohol and partly by anxiety about making sure we did catch the train.
We did catch the next train. There were further refreshments en route and most of us were very relaxed on arrival at Sandy, where much to our surprise there was transport awaiting us to go to Royal Air Force Cardington. I was anticipating this eagerly, because it was here that my father had begun his war time service. The enormous hangars, legacy of the R series airships were impressive.
There were 36 of us in one barrack room. To my eternal shame, I denied my post adolescent Christian principles and didn’t join the one recruit who knelt at his bedside to say his evening prayers. But I was there, ready for the adventures of the next few days. I had arrived. I belonged. Until next day.