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RAF Apprentice



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No.1 Radio School crest" What did you do in the "Cold War" Dad?"RAF Locking crest
Part 1 - Royal Air Force Apprentice (continued)
 (Apprentices "wheel", RAF Locking crest & No.1 Radio School crest purloined from RAF Apprentices and Boy Entrants home page: http://www.appbe.com/)

Apprentices also received air experience flights from Weston-Super-Mare in a twin engined Vickers Varsity. Towards the end of my apprenticeship I was able to take the co-pilot's controls shortly after take off and flew the aircraft over to Portland Bill. After the crew had practiced a few passes over the Precision Approach Radar (there was no runway, only a helicopter landing pad) I was able to take the controls again and flew back to Weston, finally relinquishing the controls as we flew the down wind leg.

Earlier in my apprenticeship a ride in a Varsity cured a migraine attack. I had suffered these debilitating attacks throughout my teenage years, successfully hiding the ailment from the authorities by carrying Anadin tablets with me at all times (I knew of an apprentice who had received a medical discharge due to migraine attacks). On the day in question I was having a particularly bad attack and was given the option of either attending the obligatory sports afternoon or going on an air experience flight. I felt I had been offered a terrible choice; a game of football or a couple of hours in the noisy confines of a twin piston engined aircraft! I opted for the flight as at least I could feign airsickness if the attack got worse. The start of the flight was every bit as bad as I feared; the noise and motion soon conspired against me and I must have looked a wretched sight huddled in the back of the aircraft with my face deep inside a sick bag. The pilot took the aircraft up to 10,000 feet, about as high as one can safely fly without oxygen and as we climbed I started to feel better. I soon felt well enough to get up and move about and I began to enjoy the flight, joining another apprentice in the slipper beneath the fuselage where a bomb aimer's window gave one a fabulous view of the countryside below. By the time we landed I was feeling euphoric and I never suffered another migraine attack from that day on.

When I passed out from apprentice training in October 1972 I was one of the very fortunate few to be awarded the Philip Sassoon Flying Award . I went on to learn to fly and gained my private pilots license (PPL) with the Northamptonshire Aero Club at Sywell aerodrome. This was a wonderful, unique experience and I spent a very pleasant few weeks learning to fly Beagle Pup 100's in the company of three other former apprentices from the other training establishments at RAF Halton and RAF Cosford. It is difficult for me to choose which certificate I am more proud of, The Philip Sassoon Flying Award or my Apprenticeship Certificate!

Our passing out parade took place before our invited guests and families on a damp, grey day on 13th October 1972. I still have my copy of the parade programme and I plan to put it on to this site when I get around to it. After the parade there was a small reception for the prize winners and their families in the Flowerdown Club, the apprentices Naafi. The day was rounded off with an evening function in Cheddar attended by the apprentices, their families and the NCO's and officer commanding the flight. Successful completion of our training meant that we could remove the coloured discs and bands from our hats and the apprentice "wheel"  from our uniform sleeve. In place of the "wheel" we sewed on the four bladed propeller badge denoting our new rank of "Junior Technician"  and the "Sparks" badge that showed we were in the telecommunications trade group (see below) was proudly sewn on above the elbow on the right hand sleeve of our uniform jackets.

The "Sparks" badge is unique in the R.A.F. and it held a special place in our hearts. In the early days of the R.A.F. an airman was not allowed to speak directly to an officer, only an NCO was permitted to do so. As wireless was introduced it was often necessary for airmen to approach an officer directly with an important signal. The "Sparks" badge was the  airman's authority to approach an officer. This badge is unique as it was the first and only trade badge to be authorised  by the Royal Air Force (19th September 1918 - AMO 1066) and to this day the signals trade group is the only trade group in the R.A.F. that has been granted the privilege of wearing a trade badge.

Detailed descriptions of Royal Air Force uniforms and badges can be found in Malcolm Hobart's definitive and well illustrated book, Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force, published by Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, year 2000


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Updated 09/08/2009

Constructed by Dick Barrett
ęCopyright 2000-2009 Dick Barrett
The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.