RAF Cardington Camp

The time at Cardington was very enjoyable and I was able to participate in badminton and tennis. We had a block membership at The Bedford Lawn Tennis & Badminton club. Every Wednesday we had a sports afternoon and our tennis team visited a variety of bomber stations in East Anglia. The Vulcans and The Victors were the mainstay of our nuclear bomber fleet. The Officers and other ranks mixed up to play in our pairings but at tea time we were segregated. At the dental and medical departments the relationships between the other ranks and officers was good because most of them were NS.

H Pethen ROD 1956-7

Harry's fellow recruits - from left to right. Ivan Woodhall, Roy Edge, Harry, next person unknown, Malcolm Cooper, Phil Savin and Pat Kehoe.

As an experienced “Case Paperer” and LAC, I then graduated to the role of one of the two “N.S (National Service) Strippers”. No, sadly this was not as exciting as it sounds. It defined the stripping, collating, recording the bundle of documents accumulated for each recruit & despatching them as necessary. One of the forms was sent to the RAF Provost Marshal’s Office, no doubt charged with vetting and security checking all service intakes.

The most difficult cases, so far as we were concerned in case- papering involved recruits born in communist & some other countries of concern to Great Britain, who could take up to an hour to case-paper, compared with the 15/20 minutes for an average recruit.

NS Stripping was undertaken in the ROD HQ hutment at the back end of which was the Office of the ROD Commanding Officer, usually a long service Flight Lieutenant – whose word was law! I recall the one occasion upon which I entered the C.O’s office “on a charge.” As I had a BSA 125cc Bantam motorcycle, I didn’t have use for one of the free rail warrants issued each year, so gave it to a fellow airman from Leeds. Now, this was strictly against rules, but unlikely to attract attention, unless very unlucky or if the recipient was daft enough to misuse the warrant & bring himself to notice. The idiot, whose name I still clearly recall, instead of using my warrant to get home to Leeds and back to Bedford again, hitch hiked home and presented the rail warrant at Leeds rail station on the Sunday night for the return journey to Bedford. This irregular behaviour caused the ticket clerk first to check his identity & then call in the RAF police who decided to report the pair of us. On the Monday morning we were marched up to the HQ Building at Cardington, questioned separately by RAF police & charged with the improper use of a rail warrant.

Walter Paling - 1956-1959

Like Harry Pethen above, Walter Paling was also attached to the Records Office Detachment at Cardington - indeed the two have remained friends since meeting there in the late 1950's. Here is Walter's story.

“What was life like? Well initially, I with others reported to Cardington via Bedford Station, once inside the gates closed!! We were issued with a pint pot mug, and "irons", that’s a knife spoon and fork, with your service number stamped on later. I did not know Harry at this time. Once we had meals we had to wash our irons in a metal trough, which was either red hot or freezing cold. Tough if you dropped them in the trough, you could then be charged with "failing to protect Her Majesty’s Property", although I doubt it would stick. After being kitted out I then went on to RAF Hednesford in Staffordshire for square bashing which would last 8 weeks, I loved that, as you had to climb trees, etc. and in that time I went from 8 stone to 9 stone. Not all the things we did made sense, but as you were not in a position to comment, you got on with it.

What can I tell you? We at the Records Office Detachment lived in wooden huts, worked in wooden huts, not the glamour of SHQ with their central heating, we had coke stoves to keep warm, lit by applying floor polish to get them going, toilets were outside in a separate building, it was up to us to make sure the boiler did not go out. There was a cinema on the camp called the Astra, somewhere near the SHQ building, when after a "bull night", or domestic evening, we used to go there.
I recall I borrowed Harrys motor bike one evening, coming back to camp there was a cinema near Bedford Railway Station, and in those days you queued for the 2nd house sitting, when suddenly a black cat ran across the road in front of me, I braked, fell off, nobody came across from the cinema queue in case they lost their place! Harry went mad when I told him; luckily not much damage was caused.

When Harry used his bike either to go home to Harrogate or see his girlfriend in Bournemouth, he would come back frozen, so much so that he would keep his hat on to keep warm whilst asleep, Oh happy days, good friends were made, and enemies too. As I was a 3 year man, (Harry was a 2 year man) I was promoted to Corporal, which meant I had a private bunk in the hut. I will never forget what happened one freezing cold night after going to the camp dance-----that’s another story!!!
When everyone was demobbed as you would say, The Bull Public House was the drinking parlour, and if you were sober you would catch Birches buses back to camp. If not it was uphill to the camp via Shortstown. A walk down to Cotton End pub was another, together with the Turnpike at the bottom of the road leading into Bedford.

Bedford had a lot of memories for me, I passed my Motor Bike and Car test there, the test centre was near the Granada Cinema (which had a restaurant upstairs those days), on Thursday evening there was a camp dance when lots of local girls would attend, admission was free to them. My Dad, who no longer is with us, in the 1920s when he was young saw the R101 airship take off from Cardington on its way to India, sadly crashing in France killing most of the crew, the hangars I am pleased to see, remain. I have played football in one of those - massive inside."

Our thanks to Walter for sharing these memories.

Laurence Searing 1953 (ish)

Laurence Searling 1953 ish  poss Nat Service poss

This photo was sent in from Paul Searing who informs us:

“Here is a photo of my father Laurence Searing he is the one looking at the photographer far right. As far as I know he was at RAF Cardington in 1953 ish and was employed as a driver sergeants (or officers mess). Could be it was National Service? My father in law Fredrick Wiltshire is also already on this website (see Peoples Gallery RAF Servicemen 1945-1965).”

Does anyone remember Laurence Searing or recognise anybody in this photograph? Please get in touch if you can help at all. Our thanks to Paul Searing for sending in this photograph of his father.

Eye Witness National Service 1957 - 1958 Geoff Coppock

We are so pleased to have received the following information from Geoff Coppock who was at Cardington for his National Service initially in Jan 1957 and then later between May 1957 - Jan 1959.

Our grateful thanks to Geoff for this invaluable information - if you know any of the individuals he remembers please get in touch - we need to know what happened to them!

Wilfred Dunning. National Service 1957.

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