Monday 13th May 1963 the adventure begins………………
Young boys from all over the country converged on the little Welsh railway station of Gileston, from the far reaches of the southeast and the south west, from the north, from Scotland, from Ireland, and even one or two from Wales itself.
Aged between 15 and 16 they had one thing in common……….they were all still "wet behind the ears".
At Gileston, the boys were herded onto busses and taken to their home for the next 18 months, Royal Air Force station, St. Athan, home to No. 4 School of Technical Training. where as Boy Entrants they would be trained for service in the Royal Air Force.
Within eighteen months, they would be turned into healthy, fit young men, proficient and skilled in a number of trades, and ready to take those skills into the Royal Air Force around the world.
Some served only 9 years (or less), while others made the Royal Air Force a lifetime carreer, serving 22 years or more. Today, more than fifty years later, these "Boys" still have one thing in common, they were all members of 49th (St. Athan) Entry, RAF Boy Entrants
Reunion Report 2017
LINCOLN AND BOMBER COMMAND COUNTRY (PART TWO)
Following our highly successful visit to Lincolnshire in 2016, we returned to the county again for out 2017 reunion, this time basing ourselves in Lincoln itself at the Lincoln Hotel, with its views of the medieval cathedral, situated just across the road.
After settling in, and with fine weather promised for the duration of our visit, the group of ‘boys’ and their respective ’girls’ gradually congregated in the hotel beer garden where we all caught up on the past year.
The following morning saw us boarding a coach for a visit to the Newark Air Museum, located on part of the former airfield of RAF Winthorpe, used primarily during WW2 as a heavy conversion unit training aircrew to operate the heavy bombers of the time, the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster.
On arrival we were met by one of the museums volunteer guides, Brian Withers, a former Shackleton and Nimrod pilot who gave us a conducted tour of the museums hangar collection, which contains a substantial number of varied, interesting and at times, unusual and rare airframes and artefacts.
Arrangements had also been made to open up a number of aircraft for viewing, and so it was that, a few at a time, we climbed aboard the Avro Shackleton and the mighty Vulcan.
For me, the last time aboard a Shackleton being some 53 years ago while serving at RAF Ballykelly, the sites and especially the smell (what WAS that smell) were exactly as they were then, and the years just fell away. I admit to having to wipe my eyes (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one) before making my way forward towards the cockpit.
It was only when I was climbing over the wing spars, with creaking knees, and not such a flexible back as in my younger days that I came back from 1964 with a bump, and the realisation that it wasn’t only the aeroplane that had put on over half a century since we last met.
It was after a very enjoyable day that we boarded the coach and headed back to the hotel, where once again the group enjoyed a convivial evening together.
Friday morning and we were off to RAF Scampton, home to 617 (Dambuster) squadron at the time of the WW2 Dams raid, and a visit to the station Heritage Centre.
After arrival at the main gate, we were issued with passes and escorted to the Heritage Centre where we were met by the volunteer staff and given a very informative and interesting tour of the site, which included the opportunity for those that wished, to climb into the cockpit of a ‘Red Arrows’ Hawk jet aircraft (with the inevitable photo opportunities), and a visit to the preserved office of Wing Commander Guy Gibson V.C., leader of the dams raid by 617 Sqn and the grave of his dog, which was run over and killed on the same day as the raid took place.
Our visit was somewhat rudely interrupted by the sound of jet engines starting outside, and we all made our way out onto the airfield, where a neat row of nine red Hawk aircraft were taxying out to the far end of the runway, and out of sight.
A few minutes later however, and the noise of the engines increased as the Red Arrows performed a display take-off and commenced to carry out a superb practice flying display over the airfield, with us being the only apparent spectators
After landing, the team re-grouped on the runway before taxying back to their dispersal, passing within yards of where we were standing to watch them………….awesome.
I wish as the visit organiser that I could claim responsibility for having our own private Red Arrows display, but in truth it was just a case of “right time, right place”.
After a enjoying a meal in the airman’s mess, it was back onto the coach for the drive over to the International Bomber Command Centre, where we were met and conducted around the site, which was still under construction.
From the monument, there is a good view of Lincoln Cathedral, one of the last sites of home that the aircrew members of Bomber Command saw when leaving on raids over Germany during WW2, and for the lucky ones, a welcome site on their return.
The centres completion will be a very fitting monument to those who lost their lives whilst on operations with Bomber Command.
The day, and the reunion was rounded off that same evening with the reunion dinner taking place at the ‘Wig and Mitre’ restaurant in the Cathedral Quarter of Lincoln.
The meal was accompanied by several bottles of wine purchased from a very generous donation made by Brian and Hildi Trew, who were unable to join us this year due to Hildi having had continuing health problems. Hopefully she is now on the way back to full fitness, and we hope to see them next year.
Following the meal, a raffle organised by Pauline raised £83.00 which put towards donations made to The Royal Air Force Association, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and the British Heart Foundation in memory of David ‘Taff’ Rees and Rob Campbell, two members of the 49th (St Athan) entry, and members of our reunion group, who both received their final postings during the past year.
Last year, our 2016 reunion was rated as ‘The best to date’, but 2017 surpassed even that, and will be a hard act to follow.
However, with a visit to RIAT 2018 at RAF Fairford being planned for the RAF’s Centenary year, watch this space………………………………
For further information re the 49th Entry RAF St Athan then contact Pete Chapman at e: firstname.lastname@example.org