Leamington Spa march past - Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts

Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts
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Leamington Spa march past

Battle of Britain Remembrance Parades: Written on 11 November 2008

For the past few days I imagine most of us have been reminiscing about Remembrance Days gone by. I can’t remember my first Remembrance Sunday although it was probably at this time in 1948 – my first term at Grammar School. Younger readers may not realise that it is only in the last few years that in addition to Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to 11 November, there has also been a National ceremony at the 11th hour of the 11th month when that did not fall on a Sunday.

The 1914-18 war had been heralded as the ‘war to end all wars’ but after the outbreak of war in 1939 that earlier war was usually referred to as 'The Last War' – using ‘last’ in the sense of most recent, rather than in the sense of the last ever. Once WW2 was over and on into the early 1950s, I seem to recall that far more attention was paid to VE and VJ Days rather than Remembrance Day. That was, I suppose, understandable, since the end of WW2 was then in the forefront of our memories.

After I enlisted in the RAF in 1953 and for many years afterwards there was always, without fail, a mandatory church parade on every Battle of Britain Sunday – the nearest Sunday to 15 September. There was also a ceremonial parade for all RAF personnel on the main parade ground on the previous Saturday morning. Those who were in the RAF in those years will recall that before prayers were said by the C of E Padre, the Parade Commander gave the order: “Roman Catholics and Jews, fall out”. Airmen belonging to those denominations then marched to the rear of the parade and stood with their backs to the proceedings. Once the prayers were over, they were ordered back into the ranks and the parade continued with the Advance in Review Order and then, after a final General Salute, the march past and off. You couldn’t get yourself excused Church Parades just because you were not of the Church of England faith.

Above: That's me leading the RAF Gaydon contingent through Leamington Spa at the 1964 Battle of Britain commemoration.

When I was at the RAF No 1 Radio School RAF Locking in 1953-54, a new religion, ‘Christian Scientist’ was in vogue about which little was known (although there was one devoted adherent on my course). A joker on my Wireless Fitters course decided that he would go one better and announced that he was a Cathode Follower. A cathode follower was a type of radio circuit that we had just been working on. Over a period of several days, many of us changed our religion to Cathode Follower on the small cards on our personal lockers on which was inscribed our name, rank, service number and religion. Our Drill Instructors and some very young inspecting officers were mystified by this rapidly spreading new religion and wondered whether Cathode Followers should be ordered to fall out on church parades along with the RCs and Jews. Eventually the truth came out and those who had been taken in were not amused.

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