Fred joins the RAF (3)

For ab initio training, new recruits to the RAF were often sent to Blackpool. The popular seaside resort had an abundance of boarding houses and small hotels to provide accommodation and food. There were plenty of nice, wide promenades to practice marching:

There were lots of even wider beaches for improving physical fitness:

In Blackpool, Fred was taught how to salute, to hold a rifle, to march, and, in general, how to behave as an Aircraftman Second Class, by Sergeant Parry. It was Sergeant Parry’s proud boast that

“One day you’ll be walking along the street, years after this war has finished, and you’ll suddenly hear me shout “Ah..ten…SHUN ! ! ” and you’ll pull up straightaway, and come to attention, even if you are 55 years old.”

In actual fact, this never happened to Fred, but when he was 75 years old, he was admitted to Burton-on-Trent Hospital, where, although he was eventually to recover, he was for some length of time, gravely ill. The Victorian ward he was in had very large metal framed windows, pale green and beige walls, and a yellowish grey light. It clearly reminded a very confused Fred of his original RAF barracks, and the nurses reported that on more than one occasion he was heard to call out, in his delirium,

“It’s all right, Sergeant Parry, I’m coming, don’t worry, Sergeant Parry, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Presumably, Sergeant Parry was marginally more pleasant than the only other drill instructor that Fred ever mentioned. Ironically, Fred never actually met the man in question face to face.

Instead, shortly after arriving at a training base where he was to serve, Fred heard the story of a sergeant instructor who regularly shouted and screamed at the young men in his charge and who, in his treatment of them, regularly overstepped the mark by a considerable distance. He was a bullying, aggressive man, and basically, everybody soon grew to hate him.

One day, a German raider arrived and began strafing the airfield:

The instructor raced away across the grass and jumped into one of the many slit trenches which crisscrossed the base, constructed for surviving just such an occasion as this. What he did not realise when he jumped in was that the trench was almost completely filled with water.

Unable to swim, he drowned. There were men there who could have helped him but they chose just to watch him thrash about in the water. They could have saved his life, but he had abused too many of them for anybody to want to help him now.

Here are seven of Fred’s instructors during his “ab initio” training, probably at Blackpool:

They are Messrs Newman, Pascoe, Turner, Flight Sergeant Prentice, Hirst, Clark and Hanson.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Criminology, History, Personal

11 responses to “Fred joins the RAF (3)

  1. Fascinating as ever, John. Great story about Sgt Parry – shocking one about the other instructor

    • Yes, Derrick, the second story is a shocking one. I suspect that he was one of the men who had joined the RAF in the 1930s and he resented this huge influx who were making his life far too strenuous for his liking. The young recruits though, were all volunteers and they knew very well that they would face death much more frequently than the nasty sergeant ever would. I don’t agree with what they did but I really do sympathise with them. They were all young and young men are sometimes very hot headed.

  2. Whoa! I’ve heard of many instructors getting their boots angry with them, but to let him die….

    • I suppose that the instructor committed the cardinal sin of uniting all those young men in their hatred of his behaviour. Personally, I don’t agree with what they did but I can definitely see where it’s coming from. The ordinary British serviceman soon learnt who would be doing the dangerous things and who would be staying back at base to organise the napkins at dinner. There is a famous example from the First World War where the padre finished the religious service with the troops who were about to begin the Battle of the Somme, the worst day ever in British military history. He waved them all off, saying cheerily, ” Good luck, lads and I’ll see you when you get back”

  3. It is quite interesting how much you remember that is instilled deep in the mind. Although I was only in the Army for five years I remember one day about twenty years later when someone completely unknown to me and who didn’t know I had been in the Army said, apropos of nothing, “What’s your regimental number, mate?” I hadn’t recited it since I’d left and it just flowed out without thinking. I now use it for passwords if six numbers will do, because I just can’t forget it.

    • Strangely enough, my Dad had exactly the same talent. He couldn’t always remember why he had come into the kitchen but he definitely knew his service number. From a different generation, I still remember my parents’ telephone number because I had to learn it for emergencies, but try as I might, I can’t remember the numbers for any of our previous houses, or come to that, a single computer password from the computers at work,

  4. I’d heard stories of drill sergeants being nasty pieces of work, but to let him die like that he must have been just terrible.

    • I think it was a risk he didn’t even know he was taking with the young men he bullied. I suppose it was a world where death was much more frequently encountered than it is nowadays and to have an instructor die was no big deal when 15% or so of RAF casualties took place in OTUs. I also think that if every single one of those recruits had complained formally about the instructor, they would have been the ones who got into trouble.
      It certainly was a good example, though, of ” Revenge is a dish best swerved cold”.

  5. Chris Waller

    The story of the instructor being left to drown is shocking but one imagines that, in the chaos of war, a lot of old scores were similarly settled.

    • I agree with you 100%. A man as nasty as that is taking a big risk with young men who, deep down, are just plain scared of what the future holds . I would think that many of them would never have been away from home before, and it wouldn’t have taken much to tip them over the edge.
      I myself know of one very similar incident when I was a boy, so it definitely happens.

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