My RAF Journey Part 4
Running away from RAF College
Royal Air Force College Cranwell.
I arrived at Cranwell in Lincolnshire in December 1980 in the depths of winter – exactly one year after scrounging a living in tents at Plett with many of you, post our matric exams.
I was shocked at what I encountered. I was naively expecting those classic Nissen huts (prefabricated steel structures made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated iron), relaxing in deck chairs while sipping tea on the grass and talking aeroplanes. By contrast, this was a palace. I had never even been inside in a palace before, let alone lived in one. The next day we were assembled in batches in our suits under the huge dome of College Hall Officers Mess (CHOM). I was amazed at the four huge paintings: the Queen, Prince Philip, Lord Trenchard and Jannie Smuts with Table Mountain in his background (Jan Smuts was the founder of the RAF – worth a Google: it’s called the ‘Jan Smuts Accord of 1st April 1918’). In this session, we were bound to pledge allegiance to Queen and country in what was termed the ‘Formal Attestation of our Oath of Duty’.
I was first up, holding a Bible and a copy of Air Force Law. I stated my name and recited the pledge. The next chap began his and I started to creep behind a huge flower arrangement. I snuck further away, ran down the corridor, tossed all my textbooks through an open door, to my room, threw my meagre belongings into my suitcase, scampered across the croquet lawn to a bus stop. I hid behind the bus stop until a bus arrived, jumped off at a station in a nearby town called Sleaford and caught a train to London. Arriving at my aunt’s flat I called my father. “How’s it going”?, he asked cheerfully.
I had run away on the first day. It was all too alien for my liking.
To cut a long story short, I was persuaded to go back. On the same day, another intake cadet had attempted to commit suicide, so the ‘Directing Staff’ (DS) – the College leaders – accepted me back with a degree of compassion, but also with a stern lecture.
So, the game was back on, but the odds seemed statistically insurmountable. The failure rate to make it all the way through to operational Fast Jets (my only passion) was 97% from Initial Officer Training level. I was average as hell at SJC and had never excelled at anything meaningful. I would have been classified as a ‘Paft’ at some stages of schooling, except in matric when I rebelled with the ‘Breekers’ – yes, you know who you are!
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