50th Anniversary (Attestation) Reunion at Aston Clinton, Bucks
28th to 30th April 2006
Hi folks - settle down and take your time to read about our special reunion that took place over the weekend 28th - 30th April 2006 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 83rd Entry joining as Aircraft Apprentices at the No 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton.
This was our 14th Annual Reunion to date; the first one took place in 1992.
Following much hard work by Ivor John (our Entry Secretary) and his merry band of volunteers (some, like Margaret and Janet were press ganged!), it is my pleasure to report that our 50th Anniversary celebrations went according to plan and a great time was had by all. Certainly all the thank you cards and messages that Janet & I received overwhelmingly support that view.
Souvenir Commemorative Programme
We published a commemorative programme for this important event so that members could keep it as a souvenir of the occasion. It includes the detailed weekend itinerary and features covering our Entry History, Viscount Trenchard, the Entry Window and Order of Service for St. George’s Church.
We only produced one print run and the programmes were quickly distributed, so unfortunately we have no copies left to send out to anyone who did not attend the reunion but would have liked one. The next best thing is to click on the picture of the “front cover” below and this will upload a .pdf version of the document into your Adobe Reader.
A limited run of engraved optical crystal plaques approximately 170 mm high (see photo below) was also produced to commemorate the occasion. A few of these Commemorative Plaques are still available so if anyone would like to obtain one, please contact John Burt by ‘e’ mail or telephone.
(please note that flash photography has made the background colour in the box appear brown, it’s actually dark blue and the plaque is clear crystal glass)
Similar to past reunions we gathered at the venue during Friday afternoon and evening and it soon became abundantly clear that everyone was in the mood to have a good time and enjoy the company of old friends. So 2006 was no different to previous years - or was it?
This year we had a lot more "new arrivals" and a completely new venue so the planning and logistics had increased a fair bit to accommodate a bigger group of people. My immediate thoughts were - how would members and their ladies arriving for the first time at one of our reunions, react to it all? In a couple of words – Absolutely Brilliant.
As folks checked into Reception at the Holiday Inn in Aston Clinton near Aylesbury, those that had already done so were immediately on the look out from the bar / lounge area (the only place to be), to see who had just arrived. Then it was recognition time and a string of hearty greetings from the assembled group. Maybe having name tags did help a bit, but even after many years I think that most of us just about recognized each other!
By the time we got around to Dinner that first evening the bar and lounge area was full with a sea of familiar and happy faces. Everyone was getting to know each other, some after a break of 47 years, and the conversations were going at full speed. For sure, there was no one left on the side lines.
From overseas, our Rhodesian brethren were represented for the first time by Derek and Chalice De Kock who now live in Australia, Phil Pile who traveled up from Malawi and Tony Gassner from South Africa. Ken Butcher, one of our Kiwis, came up from his home in Australia and the last time he joined us was for our first reunion in 1992. And would you believe, Pat and Judith O'Shea traveled in from the USA by boat this time (or should that be ship?). Needless to say, our old friends from the Dominions were immediately welcomed by everyone with great warmth (I am reliably informed by Derek, we should no longer call them colonials).
Our "new arrivals" from around the UK were Dave (aka Bill) and Maureen Green, Mick and Valerie Merritt, Ray (aka Taff) and Sian Jones, Roland Piddlesden, Hughie and Christine Young, Mike and Kaye Murphy and Dave and Myra Lincoln. It was great to see them and welcome them all back into the fold.
I have to highlight the next bit because it shows the strength and courage within our Entry family when the going gets really tough. Mike, Mac, Ginge, Ted, Ray, Jean and Anne all attended the reunion despite having health difficulties. That's determination for you and a positive lesson for us all!
After a wholesome dinner in the Junction Restaurant (the lamb was great on Friday – see later) we assembled in the Broughton Suite. A lot was planned for this special weekend and guests had been invited to dinner on Saturday so Ivor took the opportunity to do his usual entry admin and briefed us on the form, etc. Chips (Wood) updated us on the "83rd Entry Service History" project he is doing (it's going well) and I briefed everyone about the Commemorative Brochures and Plaques and the arrangements for Sunday.
When Janet and I turned-in (a bit later than normal) there were a lot of folks still chatting away over a drink or two. It was reported at breakfast that several had continued chatting well into the early hours simply to catch up on 50 years of past events and exploits.
Saturday – Daytime
I think everyone was "on parade" at a reasonable time on Saturday morning – including Patrick and Judith (they're late nighters' so usually the last to come down; although this time Pat was in his shorts – surely he'd not been to the gym!!). After a relaxed and pleasant breakfast to start the day off on a good note, everyone went off in different directions to do their own thing.
A group of us decided to visit Waddesdon Manor, one of the Rothschild Houses in the area. It was built between 1874 and 1889 to a design by Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur in the style of a 16th century French château. Hey, that's some place to visit and it's just down the road from Aylesbury. It's a beautiful country house (maybe that's the wrong description) in a lovely country setting and it has the most amazing gardens. After the walk around we had an excellent lunch in the adjoining stable courtyard area (now a restaurant). I think most of us had hot soup with crusty bread followed by ice creams (suggested by Anne and Pam as I recall) - OK, so we indulged ourselves – but why not!
Clockwise from the front: Anne Woods, Pam Miles, Ivor John, Ken Butcher, Margaret John, Jim Waddington, Sylvia Waddington, Tony Miles, Chips Woods, Janet Burt. Behind Sylvia and Tony are: Dave and Jean Smith
After returning to the hotel it was time to rest a while and then get ready for the big night
SATURDAY – THE REUNION DINNER
We all gathered in the bar area at the appointed time of 18.00 hrs – some quite a bit earlier than that. The men were fully "booted and spurred" and the ladies looked splendid in their finery. Yet more time to chat and catch up as some more old friends arrived to join us for the evening.
Our guests Group Captain John Harrison, the RAFHAAA President, and his charming wife Pauline arrived and were cordially greeted by Phil Pile our senior member, Ivor and Margaret John. There followed many introductions and much conversation, where else but in the bar and around the lounge area.
It happens every time! As soon as Johnny Walker "fired-up" his bagpipes to march us in to dinner the whole place came to a standstill and conversations fell silent – in anticipation I guess. As usual the wail of the pipes playing familiar "Apprentice" tunes also got the attention of other hotel guests, particularly the children.
Led by Ivor and Margaret, John and Pauline Harrison and everyone else filed sedately into the Broughton Suite and we took our places for dinner. Some of the other hotel guests were inquisitive to see what was happening and even followed the trail of our members and ladies in to the Broughton suit.
This time seating arrangements were pre-planned (by Ivor) so that reasonable order could be maintained on the night. The place cards provided by Ivor with mounted Apprentice Wheels for the men and a flower for the ladies was a nice touch. I won't mention the panic we had getting them set out in the right places barely an hour before the dinner!
Grace was said by Johnny Walker with great style. He always gives us something to think about and it's laced with his usual humour. Dinner was then served.
Immediately, I have to admit that I have little lasting recollection of the dishes that were put in front of me, with one exception. I chose the breaded lamb and that turned out to be a really tough call !! I dread to think what our Kiwi friends made of it; seeing as how New Zealand lamb is regarded by them as premier meat. Mike Frost was 100% right when we spoke a few days after; he was sure that when Lewis the Goat completed his time at RAF Halton (c1957) he was sent somewhere in Surrey to enjoy his retirement. We can only assume that Lewis found his way back into the Aston Clinton area - just before our reunion!
With that in mind, undoubtedly the highlight of the meal for me was the interesting conversation with Pauline and Janet sitting either side of me.
After the final course was cleared away and before coffee was served a surprise was dished up for the ladies. Dave Taylor had arranged a corsage for each of the ladies (see photo). The colour theme was red, yellow and blue to signify each of the apprentice wings - nice touch Dave.
Shortly thereafter the port was served. This was a cue for Ivor to use his newly acquired gavel with a flourish to introduce Ken Butcher as Mr. Vice. With authority and precision Ken led the Loyal Toast. Similarly, toasts were made to RAF Halton and the 83rd Entry.
With yet another flourish of his gavel Ivor then commenced the after dinner speeches with a series of recollections and anecdotes about the "old days". Some were amusing, some poignant, but all were noteworthy.
Ivor then invited John Harrison, the Commandant, to give us an insight into RAF Halton and its training role today. It was fascinating to hear how today's recruits continue to draw on the long history of Apprentice training at Halton but nowadays in an environment and framework that is right up to date and geared to meeting service requirements for the 21st Century. Highly significant was John's reference to the motto on the RAF Halton badge "Teach, Learn, Apply" – so nothing fundamental has changed in Halton's role and you don't need modern "management speak" to get the message across. However, long gone are the days of 3-year Aircraft Apprenticeships and instead the recruits have just a few weeks in which to "make the grade" before they are posted to any number of "areas of conflict" where today's servicemen and women might be expected to serve. There's no doubt that the insight given by John into today's RAF was warmly received along with his many references to Halton history and our time there, the traditions we followed and the subsequent successes we have enjoyed in life. Makes you feel real proud and appreciate how good a start we got as "Brats".
Unbeknown to Ivor there had been a couple of conspiracies taking place before we arrived at the reunion. Being a pretty staid old chap, Ivor likes to be in control (hence the gavel) and do things his way by numbers (old habits die hard). So, we really caught him out when we confiscated his gavel to call everyone to order and announced that it was his Birthday (age irrelevant). As the cake in the shape of a bottle arrived complete with a balloon on a string, we all sang Happy Birthday to him – it's not often he's rendered speechless. And there's more - Dave Taylor presented to Ivor and Margaret a superb glass plaque as a measure of appreciation for his hard work as our Entry Secretary.
Then it was photo time. The challenge was to get some good group photographs with our guests, members and ladies in shot and in focus. This year we had 62 souls to arrange and control - the largest group ever. Unfortunately, I have since noticed that Ann Walker is missing from the group photographs – I don't know how that happened! Also, someone "popped" the pair of balloons to the left of the RAF Ensign!
Anyway, I think we generally succeeded simply due to the magic of digital SLR technology and the software that comes with it. See for yourself.
Just before mid-night we all said farewell to John and Pauline – they were great guests and had certainly captured the spirit of our special occasion. It wasn't long afterwards that the rest of us also departed for the "land of nod". We had a full day in front of us on Sunday.
SUNDAY PART 1 – HALTON HOUSE VISIT
Another tasty breakfast was enjoyed by most if not all and then it was time to pack the cars, check-out of the hotel and get on the road to Halton House.
On arrival at Halton House we were greeted at the Porte Cochere by Francis and Jean Hanford (our guides for the day) and then shown into The Boudoir (unoccupied at the time!) for a briefing by Francis on the day's activities. A tour of all the rooms on the ground floor revealed the splendor of this Rothschild House which continues to serve as the Officers Mess. As Apprentices, few of us ever got to see the inside during our time at Halton but one or two had since used the mess during visits or postings. Particularly interesting are the many paintings displayed in each of the rooms. And a real treat was to be found behind the Grand Stairs in the area of the Gun Room (I think!) where paintings and other memorabilia from the RAF's past Halton links were exhibited. The visit concluded with a photograph of our group taken on the Grand Staircase (See below).
You can find out more about Halton House by visiting the RAFHAAA website and following the links.
SUNDAY PART 2 – THE COMMEMORATIVE CHURCH SERVICE
It was just like the old days when we marched behind the pipe band to the old St. Georges Church (it used to be in the workshops area). This time it was a lone piper, Johnny Walker, who led the way. I notice that some of the flight managed to keep in step but I think the rest had somehow lost the plot.
The “Apprentices” church is certainly a unique place of worship. The first thing you notice on entering the “new” St. George’s is the spacious, bright and airy atmosphere. The next thing is the many shafts of coloured light from the stained glass windows appearing from behind the rows of pews. Then as we took our seats you soon noticed the lack of cushions on the hard pews – but this could be an age thing!
Shortly after we had seated ourselves the Padre, Wing Commander Adrian Gatrill, Director RAF, Armed Forces Chaplaincy, introduced himself and warmly greeted the congregation. Adrian had previously served at Halton and he came back to lead our commemorative service.
The proceedings followed the Order of Service in our programme and it was good to note that everyone participated in the prayers and responses and we gave a good account of ourselves when singing the hymns to the excellent accompaniments provided by the organist, Margaret Evett. The Padre shared with us his personal experiences of RAF Halton, the Reading was delivered by Pat O’Shea and Jim Waddington recalled some notable experiences from our time at Halton in his address – we could all relate to them.
After the service and to mark the occasion, Ivor presented the Padre with a “kneeler” from the 83rd Entry. The “kneeler” had been expertly hand crafted by his daughter Sandra and has probably created a precedent as the next “apprentice project”, now that most of the Entry stained glass windows have been installed.
There followed an opportunity to gaze at the colourful display of apprentice stained glass windows whilst listening to a mini recital on the piano by Mark Bishop the highly talented son of Steve, one of our members. Steve and Mark had made a hurried journey down from Warwick that morning to be with us for the service – that’s dedication for you.
Without exception, everyone who attended the service subsequently remarked about how appropriate and enjoyable it had all been. So on behalf of the 83rd Entry their ladies and guests, I have written to the Padre to personally thank him and the other church staff who contributed handsomely to our special time at St. George’s Church.
SUNDAY PART 3 – GROUP PHOTO AT THE TRIBUTE
After leaving the church we all made our way across to the front of Kermode Hall to have our picture taken alongside the The Halton Tribute (unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 31 October 1997), before traveling up to Henderson Square.
SUNDAY PART 4 – LUNCH AT HENDERSON MESS
On arrival by car at Henderson Square (how times have changed – it’s now partially a car park!!) we were all intrigued to see several flights of airmen and the Golden Oldies pipe band just completing their rehearsal for the 50th Anniversary “Freedom Parade” in Aylesbury that afternoon. Included were a flight of Ex. Apprentices led by Min Larkin, the RAFHAAA Vice President. Pat O’Shea had opted to join the parade in the afternoon “for old time’s sake” and was resplendent in his newly acquired forage cap (required dress for the occasion).
We entered Henderson Mess from what was remembered (in times past) as the customary entrance. We got that all wrong because the mess interior now bears no resemblance to the open plan dining hall arrangement in our day. However, it did provide everyone with an opportunity to take a comfort break before negotiating our way through the modern restaurant areas to where the “active” servery was located.
We were warmly greeted by Billy the mess manager and his staff and introduced to “mess food 2006”. There’s even a menu to choose from! - with a good selection of dishes and accompaniments. Soon we were all served, comfortably seated and tucking in. For a “fiver” a head I think we got very good value for money.
After we had finished our lunch Ted Butcher got up and spoke about his experiences in 1 Wing mess (the same building) many years ago and drew comparisons with today. He then thanked Billy and his staff on behalf of us all for a job well done and a pleasant culinary experience. This was followed by a call for “three cheers” of appreciation.
Prior to Pat O’Shea’s dash to meet up with the Ex. Apprentices contingent for the Aylesbury parade, Phil Pile took the opportunity to thank Pat for his much appreciated assistance in bringing our Rhodesian and Kiwi friends together in the UK for the 50th Anniversary weekend.
SUNDAY PART 5 – APPRENTICE MUSEUM VISIT
A short stroll across the Henderson Square brings you to the Apprentices Museum.
A couple of observations about the square deserve a mention. I guess the Tornado that is parked there is probably a prank by the last entry that “passed out” – they’re probably still waiting to find out who’s lost it! The other item of note suggests they don’t do nearly enough drill at Halton these days – otherwise, why do they need all those white painted lines to form up and march along?
Once inside the museum it’s a real nostalgia trip. Clearly, the RAFHAAA and Francis Hanford have done an excellent job of bringing all the various exhibits together to tell an important story in the annals of RAF history - one that should be preserved for posterity. To lose it and all the memories it provokes for Ex. Apprentices would be totally unacceptable.
Surprise Surprise! - Francis told me he is an Ex. Supplier not an Ex. Brat. Still, Suppliers always have all the right contacts to get hold of things on the QT – like the Gnat he plans to have delivered shortly!
As a measure of the 83rd Entry’s concern that very little is on display that relates directly to our Entry and our time at Halton we presented to Francis, a Commemorative Plaque and Programme for the museum.
SUNDAY PART 6 – FAREWELLS & FOLLOW-UP
After an hour or so browsing around the museum (the tipped pit was particularly relevant and amusing, amongst the other very interesting exhibits), it was time to bid farewell to RAF Halton and say our personal goodbyes to each other.
It seemed to me the weekend had gone by in a flash and we will now have to wait for another year to meet up again. For the record, 2007 is also a Halton Triennial.
And here’s a thought to stimulate some forward planning - some of our members from far away in the Dominions have indicated that God willing, they will be looking ahead to another visit for our 50th Anniversary Graduation Reunion in 2009.
The feedback we have received since the event clearly demonstrates that a great time was had by all and we got everything just about right. Many thanks to you all – it’s very satisfying to know that all the planning and organizing done by Ivor and his merry band of helpers was much appreciated.
© John Burt – 25th May 2006