31 December 2002

RAF Compton Bassett 2

OldEric says :-) The nearest town to Compton Bassett camp was the small town of Calne barely 2 miles distant and easy walking. I like many others used to go here often during leisure hours for a change of scenery. The camp used to dominate our lives both in work and leisure. I used to find on camp you could never have any privacy, certainly not with a hut full of thirty individuals. There was the NAAFI to visit for a cup of tea or a meal or the Salvation Army for a standing cup of tea. Neither of these activities I found never fully fulfilled my leisure needs, even if I went with a mate and certainly you felt like a spare part if you visited on your own, usually sitting lonely at a NAAFI table. There was the Amateur Radio club but this was usually busy and I wasn't really into group activities in a big way.

On Saturdays I found the right activity to fulfil my needs, a combination of fresh scenery, a dose of privacy, relaxation and then a chat with some mates. I would catch the bus into nearby Chippenham, a larger town than Calne and arrive there by 10 am. The next three hours or so would be spent browsing the shops and shopping until 2pm. Then I would go to the movies, there were a number of movie theatres to chose from and at least one would be showing a top class movie. Movies were big in those days and popular, a double feature show would last up to three hours with the news and maybe a short cartoon, then a minor movie and then the main attraction. I always bought a large block of Toblerone chocolate, you know the one, it was a long triangular block of Swiss milk chocolate with tiny bits of nut and solidified pieces of honey. I would consume the first half quickly and the second half slowly and the bar would last most of the show.

The movie show would finish around 5pm and I would then stroll down to the NAAFI Club, a large establishment with a restaurant on the second floor. I would have a couple of beers, usually Wm. Younger's Double Century Ale and then I would go and have a meal. This invariably would be a mixed grill with two eggs and extra onions. By this time a mate or two may have shown up and we would then go into the bar and yarn. If no mates had showed up I would catch the bus back to Calne and go to a popular pub.... I forgot its name and usually found my mate Paddy and sometimes one of the Sergeant instructors I was friendly with. The pubs closed at 10pm in those days and we would catch the bus back to the camp road junction and there would have a cup of coffee at a large cafe and a bite to eat just up our side road to camp.

It was then a short stroll up the road to the camp gates and back to our billets and I felt rejuvenated with my day out and the thought that tomorrow was Sunday.

The billet was very quiet most weekends. Many of the trainees would go home for the weekend; most of the trainees in our billet came from the southern half of the country so weekend leave was regularly taken. I went home sometimes but the cost and time of the long haul up to Milnthorpe in what is now Cumbria limited my trips home. Maybe it was for the better that I didn't go home too often as I used to notice some of my hut mates used to look quite morose and unsettled on Monday mornings, especially Leadbeater who went home often.

The big exodus on Friday nights was quite something to behold. Special buses were chartered and would be lined up going to towns and cities all over the country each one dropping of airmen on their route. When I went home, the trip I seem to remember took about six hours. The same trip today from nearby Swindon to Kendal is about four hours, if I remember correctly when talking to my eldest son Ian who in 2002 lives in Cricklade near Swindon. There were no motorways in those days and not many town and city bypasses. There were dual carriageways in the busy areas but these I remember were speed limited by the deliberate inclusion of round-abouts.

I liked the quietness of the camp during the weekends and the absence of constantly moving bodies through the billet and the ablution blocks. After a few weekends I began to recognise the regular weekenders. One I met was Paddy from another hut and we became firm friends during our stay at Compton Bassett. Paddy was a ruddy-faced Irishman and with his outgoing nature seemed to know everyone. We often went down into Calne especially Friday nights, a popular night with both airmen and the locals. Paddy liked the odd beer as I did and we would wander from pub to pub. One particular pub was well known for its Scrumpy, that is cider better known as rough cider. It was usually consumed mixed with Guinness in equal proportions. The rough cider was very strong and drinking too much of it had the unusual effect of when you went outside into the fresh air, you felt you were walking on air. Or at least that is how I felt.

All in all I enjoyed my time at Compton Bassett with many pleasant memories and I came to like this part of the country very much. I enjoyed the electronics course I was on, I enjoyed my leisure time and I made some good mates.

Next episode I will tell you what I didn't like.

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