Eye Witness 1960 - 1999

If you served at RAF Cardington and have some memories to share please send them and I will add them to this page.

1. Memories of Alan Thomas in the 1960's

Alan Thomas RAF postal clerk

Alan Thomas


Alans original RAF postal armband

He appeared very acquainted with my arrival stating - the unit is waiting for you in that all the National Service Postal Clerks were discharged in time for Xmas and there is quite a bit of mail that needs sorting,
On arrival at the camp I collected my bedding from the main guardroom and was allocated to a temporary billet. As a Corporal I was entitled to my own room. The next step was to report to the Orderly Room which was located in the Station Headquarters building. I soon discovered that I would be working under the direction of a Sgt Chambers the senior Clerical Sergeant at Cardington. He was never a happy soul at the best of times and had no interest in postal matters.

I was given a short handover briefing the following morning on unit procedures and after sorting the mail delivery was advised - sorry old chap you are now on your own I have my own duties to attend to. Fortunately for me this once busy Postal Complex was shared by the Unit Taylor. Frank had been a taylor from before the war hence he knew every unit and section, his knowledge and assistance was invaluable during those first few days.
I could not justify occupying a large building designed to service the needs of recruits sending home their civilian clothing and within a few weeks the RAF Post Room relocated to the first floor of the Station Headquarters Building. It was titled Post Room in that there was a busy Civilian Post Office located near the main camp entrance. My working day was now established:-
0830 hrs - Receive all RAF Cardington mail from GPO
0900 hrs - 1030 hrs - Open for collection of mail
As the postal clerk I was entitled to be issued with a RAF bicycle and at 1030 hrs I would deliver and collect mail to the Sgt's and Officers Messes. The Officers Mess was located on the housing side of the unit and most mornings I would enjoy a cup of tea with the cooks and stewards. Between 1100 hrs and lunch time I with some difficulty tried to look busy by delivering any uncollected parcel or registered item. The afternoon mail arrived around 1330 hrs and the Post Room was open from 1400 hrs to 1500 hrs for mail collection. The afternoon duty was similar to the morning with a teabreak with the Officers Mess cooks and stewards. At around 1630 hrs I would collect all the outgoing mail from the Registry and prepare for collection by the GPO at around 1645. If Sgt Chanbers was not around I would quietly disappear for an early tea in the Airmen's Mess.

Due to the small numbers of Corporals available for Station Duties the dreaded Orderly Corporal came round far too often. During weekdays as Orderly Corporal one would assume control of the RAF guardroom with the assistance of a Duty Airman between 1700 hrs and 0800 hrs. The side gate would be locked at 2359 hrs and if one was lucky perhaps secure some 6 hrs sleep. At weekends one assumed control of the guardroom for 24 hrs the only break was for meals by the Orderly Sergeant. This was a duty that I did not particularly enjoy.

With grateful thanks to Alan Thomas for sharing his personal memories of his time at Cardington with us. Alan has also provided us with a description of the Station in these years which can be found on the 1960's Station Snapshot page. Many thanks Alan.

Cropped Les BIrkett 20 Lancaster Rd 1961

Les Birkett at Lancaster Rd in 1961

Cropped Cpl Birkett 25 Lancaster Rd 1962

Laurence Birkett outside Lancaster Rd in 1961

When I arrived at Cardington the Station Warrant Officer was WO Polly Perkins , he was the longest serving Station Warrant Officer in the RAF at the time. He was replaced by WO Robbs who appeared to enjoy getting us all into shape for Parade duty. He would march us round the camp in freezing conditions and bring us to a halt outside the Guardroom. He would ask if anyone was cold, if anyone said yes he would march us round again to keep warm. If anyone answered no he would say - oh good! - and march us round once more. There were several characters serving at Cardington at that time - one in particular was the Discip Cpl Paddy Brennan - he had 7 children and occupied 2 married quarters. Another character of note was Flight Sergeant Jim Bradley who was the senior Disciplinary NCO at the Youth Selection Centre. From small time trading from his married quarter he became a major property owner in Bedford.
Many thanks to Les for sharing his story and photographs with us. (April 2012)


Tom in uniform

Here is Toms story in his own words.....

"You are on a charge lad; those were the first words I heard on arrival at RAF Cardington from Melksham after trade training and had gone home to Scotland on a 48 hour pass but had been delayed on the train (not my fault BR had stopped for no good reason). So I was late and spent my first week and many more afterwards on company punishment "Jankers" as it was known.
One of the first people I met was Junior Technician Jim Frazer & we are still friends today 50 years later. He now owns several hotels in the Cotswolds but the day we met he was also being charged by a corporal Lorrie Birkett whose son Les Birkett I am still in contact on Facebook. Small world eh! But on with the story; I also met on the first day a civvie sign writer Len Ebbage, a musician of some note & we went on to become good friends as we shared a passion for music. Sadly Len passed away a few years back but I still see his widow Hazell & his three sons Ken, Colin & Neville. Colin incidentally was my apprentice when I worked for BT in Bedford so again small world.

I was employed as an electrician at Cardington and one of my duties was to visit the married quarters in Shortstown to check cookers, kettles, irons etc and there were lots of pretty girls! I also helped out on the camp switchboard - more pretty girls! What a life! On a more serious note we did lots of other things I also worked the lighting at the camp dances and remember meeting Frank Ifield, Freddie & The Dreamers and John Dankworth to name but a few. We also did Honor Guard for the Bedford Crown Court. I also remember doing a service funeral for a WO Sykes who died at Cardington, he is in Cardington cemetary. I went to his grave a few years ago & all the memories came back, slow marching & firing over the grave etc.

4. Jack Freer early 1960's

Jack Freer had two stints at Cardington, first arriving in 1959 and returning later in 1960. We are very fortunate that he has a good memory as he has supplied names of some of the men he served with and also some names of professional footballers who were there at the same time. He also recalls some of the entertainers who performed on the camp. Here is his story:

Bedford was a very lively town during the 60's with local dancing in abundance. The biggest attraction on a Saturday night was the Station dance. Rocky Rivers a local impresario booked many up and coming stars to attend and perform. Likes of ... Frank Ifield, Freddy Starr, Joe Brown and Eden Kane.

The local group was the Kingpins who also toured with Gene Vincent, Jimmy Crawford and were regulars at the Conservative Club and Pascalls on a Wednesday and Thursday.Their big rivals were the Stillettos.”

Our thanks must go to Jack Freer for supplying us with this information - if you recognise any of the names here please get in touch and send in your stories. Thank you Jack!

5. Frank Grant Cardington 1960

The first few days were boring. Talks from pompous uniformed officers with large handle bar moustaches, a film about sexually transmitted diseases which invoked a continuous titter when the cartoon male organ on the screen tried desperately to stay erect to demonstrate the journey little sperm were going to make or couldn’t due to the STD, and of course that military pastime of endless pointless marching around the camp in our civilian clothes accompanied with barking mad adults with stripes on their sleeves and who did not understand the meaning of manners and a language that did not include every blasphemous word from A to Z.

I need not have despaired as not all was as continually boring as this. One interesting event occurred just a few days before we were to take the oath which meant that technically we were still civilians and not subject to service discipline, rules or regulations despite what many of the barking mad N.C.O’s thought. The incident happened innocently one lunch time when someone with three stripes and a crown on their grey blue sleeves strode magnificently into the mess hall and shouted for all Boy Apprentices to go to the main gate where a coach was waiting to take them on a trip to somewhere or other. The rest [Boy Entrants] were to go to such and such hanger where they would be shown how to tether and untie an air balloon, for what purpose I have no idea but then service life in those early 60’s had little reasoning behind many of the things we were made to do. Like for example, some years later having to paint the trunks of trees brown alongside a main road through the camp so that when the A.O.C.(Air Officer Commanding) made his annual inspection, he would see all the tree trunks looking the same shade and colour. Then there was the time when the Queen was traveling to R.A.F. Catterick to present new colours to the R.A.F. Regiment and her train pulled into a siding at Bedale just south of Catterick so that she could be up early the next morning and finish her journey after breakfast, the ceremony being at 11am. Next to the siding was a coal yard which we had to continually spray with water during the long cold night to stop any coal dust blowing onto the Royal train. On one occasion some time later, when the Princess Royal was flying in to get into a waiting helicopter to take her to R.A.F. Catterick for another ceremony, it was decided to build her a toilet on the flight plan in case she wanted to go as the nearest female toilet from the flight plan was some way away.
They built this single toilet beside the flight hanger. She landed, got off the plane, onto the helicopter and that was the last we saw of her. The toilet was dismantled immediately despite the nearest toilet for those servicemen working on the flight plan being nearly a mile away!

However, on this afternoon several of us decided that going on a coach trip was far better than standing around on a windy airfield to look at some silly balloon floating in the sky above, so we just made our way to the main gate and boarded the coach pretending to be Boy Apprentices rather than Boy Entrants (the difference being that Apprentices did three years of training and passed out as either Lance Corporals or Corporal Technicians and Boy Entrants did eighteen months training and passed out as either Leading Aircraftman or Senior Aircraftman, ranks just below those achieved by Apprentices. Sitting on the back seats we were very arrogant, proud, elated, chuffed and even excited at what we were doing and even more excited at what delight was in store for us. What a tale we would have for our mates when we returned, green with envy we said. How clever we were they would say. Good thinking they’d chant. Wish we had thought of it they’d moan, and so on. The day would really be ours.

The coach pulled up outside a grey round wooden Nissan hut with a corrugated roof with a sign outside which just said FFI. As we left the coach we were arguing over what FFI meant, chattering like little school children who were about to get a treat of such magnitude that we were making up silly names for what it meant.Our feelings of jubilation was nothing but short lived when we got inside. Shock, horror, stomachs flipping over and over, accusations as to who thought of the stupid idea to get on the coach etc. did little to quell the sinking feelings we all had. The initials FFI was now in full on a stand in the hallway. Foot and Foreskin Inspection. Our feelings of dread was shattered by the loud scream of a corporal who shouted for us all to get in a line and drop our trousers and underpants.

Worse was to come. A bespectacled aged female doctor strode into the room in a short white coat, behind her came a young female nurse. The doctor closely resembled Hattie Jacques in the Carry On films but nowhere near as nice. She lurched along the line of quivering males squeezing our manhood as she went, shouting, “cough you worm”. Just when we thought it was all over and we could cover up our embarrassment, the nurse came along swabbing our testicles with something orange. We never knew what it was but the shock of having her do it was worse than not knowing what she was doing it for.
Once our feet were looked at by a gangly looking doctor who marked my medical card with ‘extreme flat feet’ and we were back at R.A.F. Cardington, the acrimonious battles began when we all started to blame each other for the choice of activity. However, that evening there was a disco in the N.A.A.F.I.* canteen and so we allowed the local young ladies to distract us from our early mishap. *Navy, Army, Air Force, Institution)

However the following morning we all saw the funny side of the previous day until that is after lunch when we were all told to board a coach as we were going to be taken for a ride. Fear became a reality and the funny side went out the coach window when it pulled up outside a wooden Nissan hut with a signpost outside with the initials FFI on it!
Any thoughts that once they saw our orange testicles, we would be spared the embarrassment of having to go through it all again but then this was the military!

Later, after being sworn in as a serving member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, I was given a train ticket and put on a train for R.A.F. Cosford just outside Wolverhampton. When the train pulled up at Albrighton Station, every carriage door was thrown open and a tidal wave of sweating little bodies spewed out onto the platform. The 39th Entry had arrived. I was pleased to see that Chalky, Geordy, Paddy and Colin and myself were all in the same trade and therefore in the same billet lines."

Our thanks to Frank Grant for sharing this little incident with us!

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