24 December 2002

RAF Bridgnorth The Billet 1

OldEric says :-) Our billet or hut contained 30 men, 15 beds down either side, two coal burning stoves and a tall bedside locker for each man. Most of my room mates like me were twenty plus with a small sprinkling of eighteen year olds.

All males during this era of the 1950s and early 1960s were subject to National Service at the age of eighteen years . Those doing trade training or full time study such as University could be deferred their National Service until their studies were completed. It would appear looking back now that the younger eighteen year old recruits were kept together and the older recruits together as far as practicable with some overlap.

We were required to keep our billet spotless, the floor a mirror shine, ourselves better than tidy and our hair cut short back and sides. In fact one of the first acts after our arrival was a group visit to the barber. Each evening seemed to be spent keeping our uniforms spotless and knife edge creases in our trousers. The biggest job was our boots, these were the focal point of any inspection. A spot or a smear was not just frowned upon, it was a crime of huge dimensions. Spit and polish was the order of the day. The toe caps of the boots were the most important. When the boots were new the toe caps of the boots were patterned with little bumps and indentations and the ideal was for these to be ironed out to a smooth mirror-like finish. Many ways and witches brews were used to achieve this ideal. The most common way was a heavy layer of boot polish on the toe caps and smoothed out with the back of a hot spoon. The hot spoon helped to smooth out the bumps on the toe caps and fill the indentations with polish. Many hours was spent over days trying to get the ultimate shine.

The drill Corporal inspected our billet each morning. Blankets and sheets had to be removed and the top cover placed over the mattress and tucked in, the blankets and sheets folded to set dimensions and placed below the pillow in a neat pile. When inspected not a wrinkle had to be seen on the top cover, the pillows or the folded blankets, everything had to be perfectly square with the tucked in corners of the top cover neat and even. The punishment for failure was do it again, for repeat offenders it may be a tipped up bed and fatigue duty after hours. The offending bed had to be redone and inspected before breakfast.

Our day started at 6am. We would be washed, dressed, beds made and ready for inspection by 7am. Then breakfast after room inspection and on parade at 8am and then dress inspection. A missed shave on a icy January morning or dull brass buttons then names would be taken and a wait all day to learn our punishment.

Each week we had a major kit, hut and personal inspection by the wing officer together with his minions. Each piece of kit had to be placed on our made up bed in a predefined place and order and perfectly in line. Lockers to be tidy and subject to critical inspection. We too were subject to inspection. Any major criticism of kit, bed or self would be followed by "take that mans name". Fatigues....jankers would follow. The hut had to shine, the floor a mirror, no trace of dust anywhere, even the top edges of doors were checked. Criticism of the hut, the whole hut suffered. Too much criticism of hut and men and the drill Corporal was in trouble. Then we suffered the Corporal's wrath. You gritted your teeth, got on with it and did what had to be done. You couldn't win. Fortunately our hut learnt fast, we had no bad eggs among us, we all pitched in.

For eight weeks we followed this regime and I think we slowly turned into a tidy, cohesive body of men. The initial few weeks…. was it two or four?, we were not allowed any weekend leave or I think for that matter leave the camp.

For recreation there must have been a NAAFI at the Bridgnorth camp but for the life of me my mind remains a blank. What I do remember is the Salvation Army watering hole for a comforting cup of hot milky tea and a bite to eat. Many airmen were drawn to the Sallies and I think most ex-airmen remain with a soft spot for the Sallies. I always, even now when the Sallies have their national appeal give willingly and more than I would usually give to other appeals remembering those Sallies of long ago who gave willingly of their time to those young men when feeling down or dispirited and often far from home. A simple cup of tea and a smile went a long way especially for the younger recruits.

A funny story included in the next episode.

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