Final days at Cardington - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Final days at Cardington

Once the formal enrolment ceremony had been concluded without, as far as I know, anyone refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance, we were hustled off to the Station Barber's shop. I seem to remember that there were four, or perhaps five, barbers clipping away; each man was shorn in about three minutes. After that, the first and last free haircut I had in the RAF, we were confined to barracks for the rest of our time at Cardington. The following morning we were handed £3 each and told that it was to last us a fortnight. Then it was off to the stores for the issue of uniform and accoutrements.
Below: The 4th day at Cardington
A great mass of kit was handed out by civilian storemen as we moved along a very long counter in a hangar. The kit included: our Number 1 Home Dress jacket, with brass buttons, and trousers (usually referred to as Best Blue); battledress blouse and trousers (No 2 Home Dress, also called Working Dress); three pairs of underpants ("One pair to wear, one pair at the laundry, and one pair for emergencies", smirked the storeman); one pair of RAF pyjamas (we had to launder those ourselves I discovered later - or do without every alternate week while they were at the laundry); three blue shirts with separate collars (we had been told to bring our own collar studs with us from home); vests; PT shorts; black ties; blue knitted woolly gloves; socks and boots.

Somewhere along the counter we were issued with a Housewife, a small cloth bag containing a collection of sewing needles, a thimble, a reel of black cotton, a ball of blue wool, and a brass button stick. We always pronounced it as housewife but I learned later that some posh folk pronounced it as 'hussif". I still have my original housewife - and it still contains some of the black cotton and blue wool, the thimble, and the sewing needles. The button stick disappeared many years ago - probably disposed of after the brass buttons on airmen's uniforms had been replaced with anodised buttons that didn't require polishing. (My diary shows that my first set of anodised buttons were issued, actually I had to pay for them, on 9 January 1954 and I spent an hour or so later that afternoon sewing them on.)

Many of us needed our uniform jackets and trousers to be altered to fit properly and we left them overnight with the civilian tailor. The following morning we got them back and then we were left alone to try everything on and admire ourselves in the full length mirrors at each end of our hut. Still confined to camp, most of us went to the station cinema in the evening where we sat through Abbot and Costello in Jack and the Beanstalk. The RAF certainly knew how to entertain their new recruits. Now that we all had a complete set of uniform (except for one lad who was about 6ft 6in tall and very broad with it), we had to pack away all our civilian clothes and deposit our cases, labelled with our home address, at a barrack store. We were told we would not be wearing civilian clothes again for several weeks.

On our first Sunday in the RAF, eight of us had our initial experience of Cookhouse Fatigues. We started at 0700hrs and finished, worn out, at 1900hrs. We had learned to use the 24 hour clock by then. That evening I wrote in my diary, "I'll not dwell on the facts as they were not very pleasant. I went to the NAAFI in the evening, after we'd finished, to have a good meal because I didn't feel like eating any of the Mess food."

On Monday we were issued with our official Identity Cards, RAF Form 1250, always referred to as 'twelve-fifty'. We were warned that if we ever lost our twelve-fifty we would get 14 days 'jankers' if we reported the loss, or two years imprisonment if we didn't report the loss! For the next 47 years, home or overseas, on base or off, I never went anywhere without my twelve-fifty - and I never did lose or misplace it but a new one was issued from time to time following a significant change of rank or on commissioning. In fact I still have my final F1250, although I should not, and I carry it about in my wallet behind my driving licence. Why? Well, you never know when it might come in useful!
Below: Our 8th day in the RAF
Tuesday 25 August was the day when we left RAF Cardington, in my case never to return, and moved to the recruit training centre at Bridgnorth in Shropshire, under 100 miles away by road but we travelled by special train from Bedford. The five hour journey followed a very roundabout route, via Stockport, Stalybridge and Shrewsbury. Just outside Stalybridge station we had to wait about 10 minutes for a cross-Pennine train to pass. I could hear the station announcer proclaim that it was the train for Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leeds. I had a momentary pang of home sickness but that disappeared as soon as we started moving again. The final miles from Shrewsbury were on a mainly single track line, southwards through beautiful countryside.

When we 'de-trained', we were greeted by what seemed like dozens of corporal drill instructors (DIs) shouting and bawling. That was more like what we'd been expecting. The DIs sorted us into four flights, numbered 13 to 16, before loading us onto coaches for the drive to RAF Bridgnorth.

"We're really in it now," someone near me said softly. Apart from that an eerie silence reigned in the coach on the 30 minute ride to Bridgnorth.

Afterthought November 2015. I have just listened to a programme on BBC Radio about what are known as 'ghost trains'. There's nothing supernatural about them but the line between Stockport and Stalybridge, that I travelled on the day I moved from Cardington to Bridgnorth, is one. There is now only one train a week on that short stretch of line from Stockport via Denton to Stalybridge but there is no train at all in the opposite direction. It leaves Stockport at 0922 every Friday, calling at Reddish South, Denton and Guide Bridge, arriving at Stalybridge at 0937. Apparently it is cheaper to run that train once per week rather than go through the expensive and lengthy machinations to close the line completely. Now there's progress. I wonder what (Lord) Beeching would have thought about that.

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