Narrative kindly provided by Ivor John with photos by Tony Miles and Ivor

Saturday 21 September 2013 was the appointed day and several 83rd Entry members attended the Triennial gathering at RAF Halton. I took Stefan Chmielowski and Dave (Bill) Green in my car.

The day started overcast with a sprinkling of rain which stayed with us for quite a bit of the day.  Having parked on Bakers Field we proceeded towards the bus shuttle area.

On route I saw a notice directing people to the “Trench Lines”. I had visited the "Trenches" during the 2010 Triennial and wondered if Stefan or Dave had seen them. They hadn't and were totally unaware of their existence. The trench area is at the rear of what we would remember as “New Workshops”. They have lain as a hidden treasure at Halton for a long time and have only been excavated in recent years as an archeological dig. The site is still being examined by archaeologists.  

L to R: Chips Wood, Dave Green, Dave Taylor, Stefan Chmielowski, Ivor John

The trenches were used as a training exercise for the troops who were waiting to go into battle in Europe, during WWI and they are laid out in sequence. Phase one, how to prepare and dig the trench. Phase two, would be learning to repair and develop the system. Phase three, the actual learning to live in the conditions for at least a fortnight so as to fully prepare for trench living. These historical trenches are now maintained by recruits as they progress from the basic training. To better understand the history of the trenches click on this link. The 'Next' buttons on the .pdf don't work so use the page turner buttons at the top of your screen!

The next stop was at the Old Workshops and what we would remember as the Engine Bays are now the Supply Training Area. The purpose of our visit here was essentially to defuel and refuel, if you get what I mean. However, we couldn't help noticing that the area looked very sterile and lacked the character we remembered from the late 1950's. There was not a drop of oil or any rags in sight but we must not harp-on about how it was in our time; because the recruits today look just as keen as we did and are up for the challenge ahead.  

Next we made our way to the coach and onward up to Henderson and Grove. I immediately went to the back of the bus to meet Hughie Brown who was with me on 54 Squadron (Hunters at West Raynham). We recalled several memories and enquired about various members and this is what the Triennials are all about.

We got off the coach and on the way to the Drill Hall to get booked in we encountered the last part of the Golden Oldies display. The sound of the pipes  always takes you back to our days at Halton. We then made our way into the Drill Hall to sign-in on the lists displayed at our Entry gathering points around the walls. Although we in the 83rd have aged somewhat since we left Halton, it is noticeable that the position of our Entry meeting point is still only half way in the 'pecking order'. This simply tells you that there must be some very old ex-apprentices still attending Triennials!!

L to R: Dave Green and the rest are junior entries

L to R: John Gardner, Ted Butcher, ? McKensie (84th), Dave Green, Dave Taylor, Stefan Chmielowski, Chips Wood

This airframe obviously got left behind from the early Aircraft Apprentice training days!!

I then sought out some other people I had served with, to 'chew the cud' with them. There were many happy memories and some not so good. One ex. Apprentice that sought me out was Tony Collins of the 79th. We had served on secondment together in Malaysia and he said that his wife Brenda had told him we had to meet up on Sunday morning so that our wives could get together. So it was arranged to meet in Wendover on Sunday (See sequel to this meeting at the end of the 2013 Reunion write-up).

The day progressed to lunch time and feeling peckish along with other members, we discovered that the 83rd had been allocated to 1st sitting. Thank goodness it had stopped raining because there was a long queue. Once inside the mess hall, which bore no resemblance to the style of the late 1950's, the food choice was reasonable but finding a seat was definitely a bit of a challenge.  

Ivor John and Dave Green discussing the merits of modern day RAF catering!!

After lunch we visited the Trenchard Museum and were impressed to find that the Museum now reflects the continuing story of Halton. However, as would be expected, there is much to be seen about Apprentice life over the years. It's always worth a visit the see the test jobs, kit and many other artifacts that provide vivid reminders of our time at RAF Halton. For some there are happy memories but for others, maybe not so happy. Nowadays, there is also more 'memorabilia' to see in the old Groves Mess where various aircraft and engine components are on display.

A Tornado and mixture of old WW2 vehicles displayed in front of the old 1 Wing (Henderson) blocks

Eventually, it was time to fall in for the “March Past” and thankfully, the rain that had occurred throughout the day had cleared up, so that was a good thing.

Recruit Training Squadron Drill Instructors were in full voice attempting to persuade us to line up properly in Entry order. It was noted that DI’s today come from all trades. One of the corporals was a “Sparkie” and a sergeant was introduced as a “Techie”!!

L to R: John Gardner, Ivor John, Dave Taylor, Dave Green, Chips Wood, Ted Butcher, Stefan Chmielowski sadly without the 83rd Entry Banner to obscure the one in the background. 'Someone' had made an executive decision to leave the banner at The Peacock!!

I sought out the Parade Warrant Officer for a chat because he was parading with the “Brat Pace Stick”. Some years ago, this was something I had convinced the Association to have made and presented to the Senior Drill Instructor as a symbol 'tying' the Aircraft Apprentices of yesteryear to the present-day recruits that now use our parade ground.  

Warrant Officer Jonathan Crossley - Warrant Officer Recruit Training Squadron with the “Brat Pace Stick”

As is tradition, the march past took place with the Station Commander taking the salute and we formed up in a hollow square with both the Golden Oldies and the Halton Brass Band on parade.

Previously, I had informed the Entry wives to try and come and watch the Sunset Ceremony. The lowering of the RAF Ensign was followed by the magnificent sound of “Highland Cathedral” being performed by the two bands; and all agreed that the orchestration and performance was superb.

The RAF Halton Queens' Colour was marched off the parade and then the Apprentices, led by the Golden Oldies, were marched off and down the hill to St George’s Church.

Just like the old days, all traffic across Main Point came to a complete stop for a long time. What with all the banners in evidence, it probably looked to outsiders like some sort of protest march.

The Golden Oldies in full blow

Tony Miles (photographer) in the centre foreground with other 83rd Entry members on parade

At the Church we were dismissed and lots of Apprentices quickly skived off. Nothing new with that! They had heard that it cost nothing to get into the Church but a collection would take place on the way out. POSB springs to mind.  

This years' Triennial was a very pleasant occasion for me and the weather didn't really interfere with the days activities. Many friends had once again enjoyed opportunities to meet and relive their many memories. The spirit of the “Brat” is still alive and well.  

Well done and thanks to all those folks who made it possible.

Ivor John