I spent 22 weeks here in 1990 doing my trade training as a clerk
(Personnel Administration) for the Royal Air Force. It initially sounded like a really long time - it passed incredibly quickly, though. I finally escaped to my real unit (RAF High Wycombe & Headquarters Strike Command) in November. I spent my first two weeks waiting for my course to start, one of which was spent on Poole Flight (normally doing shitty jobs, but we had a decent SNCO1 so we did some quite good stuff - no real hard work).
Poole Flight is where you are if you aren't on a training course. You wear mostly greens (combat jacket, trousers, beret and boots) because you're doing what they call 'gash' (rubbish) jobs. I was there at the time with one other girl clerk and a bunch of suppliers; we got to know our way around the camp and generally had a good laugh. What you've just read is unusual. Normally clerks and suppliers do NOT mix at Hereford. It's an unwritten Law.
They eat in different places, they live in different blocks and they
train at opposite ends of the camp. We get our training in nice warm office buildings, they get lumbered with crappy wooden huts circa 1943. The devil could freeze to death in one of those huts.
Anyway, I digress. The first week was pretty casual - helping prepare
one of the blocks for a bunch of YTS2 kids - I think they were the
last YTS intake the RAF ever had - and also doing another block for a
bunch of space cadets (how we in the RAF commonly refer to CCF3 people). During that week we went to RAF Morton On Lug and did some shell collection picking up used rounds (this was a total skive) there, because it had just been used for MFT4.
The trip back was us generally behaving like a bunch of 10 year olds - waving at motorists out of the back of the wagon (one of those 3 ton green jobs used for ferrying troops about), holding up signs saying 'I am being kidnapped!' or having a pee over the tailgate whilst driving down the motorway - totally insane! See what I mean? And we're the people defending the country getting paid from your taxes!
In the second week I did guard duty, which wasn't too bad, mostly doing vehicle checks and passes on the main gate. I got to meet some SAS
guys who came in to play rugger against the station team. They
just look like ordinary people - sorry to ruin the illusion for
most people who think they all would look like Sean Bean!
Vehicle checks were a bitch. It was hot and we were wearing flak jackets. These restrict movement at the waist so it makes bending over to check under a car very hard. During that week I was bitten by a dog whilst checking passes. I'll explain.
It's the 7am - 9am stint on the main gate. Everyone that comes in gets their pass checked unless they have a special sticker in the
front window or it's an RAF vehicle. I'm checking them through like a demon then I check my watch; it's 8.35am. Next! In comes a guy, stops like a nice person, opens his window and reaches the pass out ever so slightly. Ok, I'd better mention I'm wearing my green woolly gloves because it's a tadge on the cold side at that time in the morning. The sun is just coming up so it hasn't taken the edge off the rather cold overnight temperature yet.
I put my hand a fraction inside the window and what happens next happens so quickly it's unreal. MUNCH! Some yappy dog has just attached itself to my damn hand and won't let go. In the background I just heard the armed guard cock his weapon (I think!). The owner blokey is hitting the dog over the head to make it let me go. I say as calmly as I can under the circumstances
'Excuse me, sir, I think you'd better make the dog let go as my
friend over there is about to shoot either you or the dog.'
This isn't a threat to him, merely a statement of fact to give the chap
a reality check about what just occurred. The damn mutt finally lets my hand go and dives into the back seat.
I get the guy to pull over for a vehicle check and radio the guard
commander. I take off my glove and there's a mark, I had to be taken off the gate and ferried over to the medical centre in the station guard force land rover for a tetanus jab. The bloke got to work late as the vehicle checkers went over his motor with a fine tooth comb. He was still there when I got back and the Guard Commander went over 'to have a word'. Turns out he was done for damage to government property (ie - me!) and had his permission to bring his dog to work removed.
At the end of the week we had an exciting incident. A real bomb! A couple of the supply lads on Poole flight were on the station golf course digging a new bunker. One of them finds something metal, kicks the dirt off it, deems it to be dull and kicks it off into the middle distance. 20 minutes later his mate goes to check it out, wipes it clean and discovers the red writing on it which reads 'LIVE' in 3 inch high letters.
It turns out this thing is a 9 inch WW2 mortar bomb and it's real! We had to do perimeter guard to move people back then we had to go to our proper station on the Sergeants Mess gate. This gate links the back of the camp to the married quarters so our orders are no-one comes in until it's blown up. The nearest anti-bomb people are the SAS who leg it over in a van as it's a good chance to practice what they do best - blow stuff up. They dump 20 tons of sand on it and do a controlled explosion.
It was pretty insane that day. After that week I started my clerk course and we just struggled along. Learn, remember and drink in the NAAFI once a week. We also had PT5 (which I quite enjoyed) and, on the hottest day of that year (1990), we did our course aero run; 1.5 miles to be run as fast as possible. I ran an all time personal best of 8 mins 35 secs, beating a female cross country runner into second place. That time went on the top 50 all time bests on the PT board. When that board was moved to Halton I'm fairly certain my name was still on it. The board was retired so my name would still be on it today!
I also remember the fine tradition of the Chip Van after the NAAFI bop. Chips with red sauce, brown sauce or salad cream.
The maddest thing about RAF Hereford was the Feral Cats. RAF Hereford has this underfloor heating system so there are underground pipes everywhere. The rats and mice get in these tunnels where the pipes are so the station had brought in cats - which bred. We used to chase these cats when we were drunk, chucking apples at them.
That was another thing about the camp. The apple trees. Once a year Bulmers (the cider people) ask people stationed on the unit to volunteer to pick apples - payment being a tour of the cider factory. NEVER mention free alcohol to forces people, we love the stuff! I was there and how so!
We spent a day chucking apples into baskets and got our tour of the cider factory along with a rather extended tasting session as the bloke with us was afraid to tell us to stop drinking - there were 50 of us! - so we got mashed. The great thing is there is a bus stop right opposite the cider factory so we came out afterwards, staggered over a rather busy road and waited for the bus to ferry us home.
I had anticipated being drunk so I had told everyone to have the right money in their pocket. The bus rolls up, we pay, sit down, then be quiet and get back to camp and roll through the gates whammed - much to the disgust of the gate guards. (Like we cared!)
Hereford is on the flight path for many training jets doing low flying training over the Black Hills and the Welsh mountains. Most
people were annoyed when they flew over but it always reminded me why
I joined. We were all convinced we were going right out of Hereford straight off to the Gulf War which was just about to start so many mad and crazy times were had there and real extremes of weather. I was the
fittest and fastest I've ever been when I was there, I ran
We spent money like water; overdrawn was a way of life. We lived in a room that had between 10 and 24 people in dependant of time of year. We gambled money we didn't have and we jumped on each others beds after coming back from nights on the beer in The Crystal Rooms also known as soggy carpet central (what's heavy and sounds like nylon? Pile ON!).
We almost set fire to the door after the 'spider incident' - don't ask6! We constantly got turfed out of the block by the station guard force (claiming they found the front door unsecure). We spent our spare time staying sane and doing our ironing. Odd free evenings meant watching videos in the station cinema or attending the Computer club in a wooden hut. I remember the NAAFI7 and its video jukebox almost perpetually playing 'Heart Of Stone' and 'If I could Turn Back Time' by Cher (Thank you to Cher for keeping my libido in check!).
Yet more memories:
Being shouted at for not marching to work, dinner and anywhere else whilst in uniform, being made to parade at stupid hours in the morning because some fools didn't want to wake up the guards so they climbed the fence then got caught, opening room windows in the middle of the night for people running from the WRAF8 block to escape the station guard force then pretending to be asleep and denying you ever opened any windows.
Falling up the little grassy hill outside the block because we were too drunk to make it and too tired to walk over the path which was an extra 11 feet and 2 minutes that you could have been spending in bed and trying not to get caught being on the grass.
Falling into the broken parts of the paved-over under-camp heating system and only not breaking any limbs because you were smashed out of your brain. Losing stupid amounts of money at the Hereford Horse races. Trying to find a Tom's Cab at the train station because it was driven by a RAF guy moonlighting for the extra money and he did us cheap fares.
Having to clean the station jet whilst on Duty Airman (the station
mascot jet), I cut my damn hand doing that! Doing key orderly in
the Admin building (going round checking all doors and windows are
secure). Having to do the Battle of Britain parade in Hereford town and then freezing to death on a cold wooden pew in Hereford cathedral. Being banned from the Kerrys Arms in Hereford for fighting, fighting, swearing and more fighting. Catching buses from the Sainsburys terminus.
I finally escaped Hereford in November of 1990. All clerk training and supply training are now done at RAF Halton. The Hereford camp was sold to the army and the SAS use it for training now. I went back there in the middle of 1994 for a computer course. The place was half empty as the camp was winding down due to the fact it was about to be closed and all training moved to Halton. It felt like a ghost of its former self. I half expected to see all the people I'd been with there previously, though weirdly enough the only other guy on my course had been there at the same time as me so we spent the whole time remembering the past.
Mad times all fondly remembered.
incident' I will write of it at another time.7Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes.8The women's branch of the RAF.