It was May 1953 when I completed my eight-week stint of ‘square-bashing’ which, to the uninitiated, is basic training that everyone has to endure on joining the armed services. It comprises largely of learning to march with precision, obey orders instantly and without question and becoming physically fit. As I said, everyone had to do it, with little variation, in the army, navy or air-force, and the RAF was the service I had been conscripted into. To anyone who has never even been on a military camp before, square-bashing came as a considerable shock!
I spent my first few days as an airman at a unit where we were kitted out with all the paraphernalia we were going to need in the next couple of years – uniform, underwear, boots, hats, cutlery, and immunisation jabs (that last item causing quite a few to faint while queuing!). Then we were put on a RAF bus which took us to the unit where we were to do the basic training, a place called Wilmslow, near Manchester. All was quiet on the bus, just the general chatter you hear on any public transport, as we started to get to know each other. There were about 30 of us, plus a couple of corporals sitting in the front seat, next to the driver who took no notice of us at all – I guessed we were considered to be well below their dignity!
After about half an hour, the bus drove through the gates of Wilmslow and pulled up alongside a row of billets. The two corporals in the front seats got up and descended to the ground ahead of us, then they turned to face the vehicle and all hell broke out! I’m sure anyone who has been in the services will know exactly what I am talking about, but for those in ignorance, the two corporals appeared to go completely insane. The shouted and screamed at us, using words I couldn’t repeat here, telling us to get off the bus; they then read out each of our names (in the same lunatic shrieks) and when we responded we were told to RUN to billet number 3, or 4 or whatever one they wanted each of us to go to, to find a bunk, dump our meagre luggage there and then run back out to where they were. We were then made to spend the next hour trying to learn how to march, on the square!
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The next few days were lived through at the same frantic pace, being shouted at in the same shrieks as in those opening moments; in fact they continued to treat us in the same way until our eight weeks were completed and we ‘passed out’. But after the initial shock and fear of our arrival there, most of us grew to really enjoy the life, so unlike our civilian occupations and so energetic, with drill, route-marches and gym sessions virtually every day, from dawn to dusk. I have to confess, the food was pretty good too: nourishing, well cooked and tasty, so that by the time my comrades and I had finished our eight weeks of learning discipline, and were ready for regular postings to trade-training units, and I think most of the others were just about as fit as me and they had ever been up to that time, or at any time since! I was bursting with energy, deeply tanned, because I joined up at the beginning of summer and most of our time was spent out of doors, and I was actually genuinely happy, simply because I was feeling so fit.
I would have to say, after the first fright, I really enjoyed the two years I spent in the RAF, I made a lot of mates there, some of whom are still friends to this day, 60 years later, and I learned to be a man, with a disciplined mind and respect for others, something I believe is sorely lacking in today’s easy-going and politically correct world.
Perhaps National Service should be brought back, if only to prepare our kids for the lives they are going to have to live, once they grow up and go out into the wild, wild world.
What do you think? Do you agree with Brian’s last lines here? Should military-like training be compulsory or necessary for young men (and women)?