A retrospective of RAF service of the time

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ABOUT ME.......

My name is James (Jim) Aitken. I joined the RAF before my 18th birthday in January 1953. National Service was the order of the day and I didn't wait for conscription. I had tried for aircrew selection but was unsuccessful on medical grounds. My original trade choice was RAF Regiment but after hearing of the training regimen while at West Kirby, I quickly changed my mind! I had worked in road transport before joining, so I decided that Transport Command Air Movements would be an appropriate choice.
The photo of me is from 1961. I look a bit different today!


There was excitement and in some ways,trepidation, when I received my call up papers. I was still only 17 and had never left home before, apart from a stint as a young evacuee during  WW2.
The great adventure began at RAF Cardington along with hundreds of other recruits. The huge balloon hangars were in use as equipment dispensing stores and we trudged around being issued with the required gear. Haircuts, medicals and lectures helped to keep us busy until after taking the Oath of Allegiance to HM, we were then assigned to recruit training schools.
I had never heard of West Kirby and was told it was somewhere near Liverpool. Movement was by way of a combination of truck and train and it seemed at the time that all the young men in England were on the move in some sort of uniform. National Service was in full swing with all 'over 18s' being required to serve 2 years. The Korean conflict was coming to a close but there were still hotspots around the Empire including Malaya and  the Canal Zone.
I signed initially for 3 years which was the minimum regular service option. In some respects it was a glorified National Service but it did allow you to choose which service and  the trade you wanted. National Service was a lottery as to which service and around then the majority were being shunted into the army.
No 5 School of Recruit Training at RAF West Kirby was a distinct shock to the system to all us clumsy youths. We soon became familiar with the notion that Corporal Drill Instructors were god.    " When I say move, I don't mean move, I mean FLY !!! "  " There are doors and windows in this hut, when I say OUTSIDE I mean NOW". Many of these DI  bawlings remain in my memory more than 50 years later. Although we thought it was all bullshit at the time, the object was to instill discipline and immediacy in obeying orders.
Slowly we began to change from an uncoordinated bunch of blokes into what resembled a reasonable military unit. Officers were rarely seen except on barracks inspections. Corporals ruled the days and nights.
Food was minimal and quite unappetising. The smells emanating from the cookhouse reminded one of pigswill being doled out. Of course the NAAFI did well in our free time in the evening with egg and chips or bangers and chips being great favourites. That is if you had any money to spend. after buying personal stuff like soap, shaving cream, blades and toothpaste.


In that short period of some 8 weeks, the motley crew of bumbling recruits was turned into a fine body of airmen who could march and carry out rifle drill with the best of them. Most evenings were spent in getting our equipment in top order. Boots were polished to a high shine using tactics various, from pure spit and polish to ironing out the nubbles on the toecaps with the handle of a toothbrush! You learned to use brown paper to apply creases to trousers for sharp long lasting effect. Or running a smear of soap down the crease on the inside to get a real sharp one. Some of us had never wielded an iron before let alone wash a shirt or underwear. In the above photo I am in the middle row 4th from the right. Not too many smiling faces !!

Due to restrictions on the number of photos that I can display on this site, I have supplied a link to my Webshots Online Album which contains some of my RAF West Kirby collection. Most of these photos have been contributed by others and I will be adding more as time permits. The link is in the Menu at left.

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***********************Stop Press November 2012!!**************** Sadly, Webshots has shut down its free online service so I have relocated the RAF West Kirby photos into the "Photographs" page



 At the end of basic training the big day came around. We would pass out by marching in review order before the Station Commander who would take the salute. Our DIs had by now begun to soften a little as they knew we were going to put on a good show. They must have been pretty proud of each group they processed and we were all trying to ensure our Flight would be the best in the Squadron.

After the parade we were virtually finished with training and were given postings to our new camps where we would enter trade training or for some it was posting straight to an operational unit. Some were posted overseas from day 1 and there were mixed feelings dependent on where you were going. The Far East was considered a favourite whilst postings to the Canal Zone or Aden were not well received. My posting was to the major Transport Command operational unit at RAF Lyneham.


Christmas Island and H Bomb tests

If you got here in search of the above then please go to the Members' Recollections page to read items by members, Alex Masson and Tony Sargeant,
 who both served on Christmas Island during the nuclear tests.

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