February 2007 / Revised 4/2009
P.S.C, BA (Open), ACIB, FGS, AMRI, Curator(Hon) Oxford University Museum Fellow of The British Institute for Geological Conservation
A NATIONAL SERVICEMAN AT R.A.F. IBSLEY: 1950/2
I was called up for 18 months National Service in the RAF on 19th January 1950. There were many induction paths to follow; mine was – Padgate – West Kirby – Bawdsey, for Trade Training as a Fighter Plotter.
Padgate I remember as a lot of young men in ill-fitting uniforms singing mournful choruses of ‘Good Night, Irene’ – all very homesick and hormonal.
West Kirby – square-bashing – end of that story.
Incidentally, in 2004 during one of my geological excursions I was able to stay ‘B & B’ at Bawdsey Manor, which was by then an International Language School; ‘B’ was sole occupancy of a cottage on the estate while ‘& B’ was a short drive to the Manor house to eat in the one-time Admin. Block/Officers’ Mess – which I had not previously entered unless accused of some terrible breach of King’s Regulations.
Towards the end of the Bawdsey course volunteers were sought for an overseas posting (Changi, I believe) and I duly volunteered. However, everyone but me was drafted and I was sent off to RAF Ibsley, arriving there some time in March/April 1950. There was a certain malicious satisfaction to be derived a few weeks later when my course-mates from Bawdsey arrived at Ibsley, following cancellation of their overseas posting – but not before they had undergone the full course of painful inoculations!
Initially I was billeted on the lower level of No.2 Accommodation Site and transported daily to RAF Sopley GCI station (surface block at that time) to ‘Protect The Airspace Of Western Democracy’. Unfortunately Bawdsey had trained me on a horizontal plotting-table using magnetic bits and pieces and it soon became apparent that I had the kind of brain that could not cope with writing backwards with crayons from behind a Chinagraph screen. I suppose that there was some element of desperation involved when I was transferred to the Fighter Marshal’s section – a small group of airmen who talked to the fighters and gave them D/F positions, all under the direction of a good-tempered and patient Sergeant (a fairly rare species). The Sergeant sometimes took his team-for-the-day down to Sopley in his Austin Seven – a much more civilized mode of transport than the usual 3-tonner ‘cattle trucks’.
Having spent three years in a naval boarding-school I was used to discipline, rules and restrictions so I settled into routine fairly happily, apart from when the Government decided that National Servicemen should serve for two years instead of one-and-a-half because of the Korean War. Home was in Portsmouth Dockyard and I became a regular hitchhiker.
Being a fairly ingenious youth I soon found that displaying sporting pretensions was a good way of avoiding extra duties “Sorry ‘Flight’, the Cross-country Team is scheduled for a training run” – even if it only involved a trot across the moors behind the camp to a welcoming pub (but we didn’t mention that bit, although with his experience, he must have suspected). Of course, I’d justify it as being more worthy than skulking in a hut. I led the team to fairly undistinguished results in Cross-country events at RAF stations Tangmere, Benson and a trip to North Weald for 11 Group Sports, with results long forgotten. I won the Station quarter-mile in 1950 (second in ’51) and anchored both the Medley-relay and Tug-of-War Fighter Plotter teams to victories in the 1950 Station Sports – by the way, I still have the medals. I had been successful in Rugby Football at school but found that trying to bash strong young men out of my way was rather more difficult than massacring schoolboys – so I gave that up.
Among my black-and-white blurry ‘snaps’ I have annotations that there are images of:
Eric Burdett, Jock Slaven, Bob Weightman, Bill Elliott, Tony Marner, John Hill, Allan Wiseman, Allan Godfrey, and John Knight. There are somebody else’s rather better pictures of the
Cross-country team in action, showing Jerry Owens, Colin Stephenson, Terry Belcher, Allan Godfrey and Pete Wills. Hidden amongst the other bodies are John Figg, Ivor Rice-Jones and Andy Cardwell (and me).
Among the interesting characters that I knew and befriended was Leonard Setright, a hut-mate and introspective intellectual, mad keen on motor-racing, who introduced me to the sport. We often went out in his Morgan 3-wheeler – far too fast, of course. Len became a famous motoring journalist and author, writing in magazines like Esquire and Playboy; because of his influence I attended at least one of the car-race meetings at Ibsley in 1951. Then there was the virtuoso pianist who never seemed to play anything other than ‘Sabre Dance’ or was it ‘The Ritual Fire Dance’?
As for Air Force duties; these included unloading barbed wire at the now defunct Ringwood railway station and a never-to-be-forgotten Night Infiltration exercise where a group of us started in Sopley village, tasked with infiltrating the GCI station in the face of searchlights and patrols. We were instructed to make maximum use of natural cover, skulking in hedges and ditches – unfortunately the weather was blowing a gale with horizontal rain, so a few of us came up with the idea that the ‘enemy’ would be looking for us in cover so we would walk up the middle of the field, looking like a patrol and getting wet but not muddy. To our surprise and disappointment (?) we were soon captured and incarcerated in a warm, dry guardroom. There was one truly remarkable event, involving a major air exercise when, for some reason that I have forgotten, data flow to the main screen was interrupted for a short while and information about the exercise was temporarily taken from the D/F Table – which I was temporarily in charge of! We were ‘fixing’ continuously, the bearing-setter lads were working their socks off and I was carrying a mass of call-signs, heights and vectors in my head. My brain was crystal-clear, my concentration intense, to a level that I have never achieved again. Burnt-out at 19 years of age – tragic. I was distantly aware of an audience but when someone sought to relieve me, a distant voice said – “Leave him alone, he’s the only one who knows what’s going on”. Eventually, the situation was resolved, I was relieved, thanked and told to take the rest of the watch off. Actually, sensible management as by that time I was exhausted and no use at all to anybody – just as well I was ‘off-watch’ as I remember going to sleep in a chair! Time passed and, to my surprise, having been LAC and SAC, I was promoted to Corporal – surprise compounded because nobody told me face to face, just that I happened to read the Station notice board. This meant a transfer to the upper site at Ibsley, was it Hut 312? where, amongst other ’deficiencies’ I had to sign for many, many feet of wooden shelving, long since fed into the central cast-iron stove.
Eventually, 18th January 1952 came along and I left Ibsley forever, as I thought. I resumed my career in banking, ending as an Administration Manager attached to a Regional Office for ‘hatchet jobs’. Along came retirement and a new ‘career’ as a geological educator (unpaid) and Honorary Associate Curator, Geological Collections, Oxford University Museum (still unpaid!) but no thought of RAF Ibsley, although I had been living in Lymington (a mere19 miles away) since 1966. Eventually I discovered the annual ‘History with Wings’ fair and that there were societies for former inmates of Ibsley and Sopley. I then learned that that long-ago good-tempered and patient Sergeant with the Austin Seven was living in Fordingbridge and I had great pleasure in telephoning him to say “Hello Jimmy, I’ve not spoken to you for fifty-five years but how are you?”. Yes, it was Jimmy Moir and I am very happy to have had another opportunity of working with him on ‘Bygone Days’.
But that’s not the most amazing thing – and here’s hope for all of us with failing memories – on the second occasion that I met Jimmy I suddenly said, without any prompting “Was there a Flight-Sergeant Enticott?” – answer ‘yes’ – but I had not given him a thought for all those fifty-five years, so where did that come from? Don’t despair, it’s all in the mind, somewhere, even if buried deep!
So, this isn’t an autobiography, just random memories set down to give a flavor of what it was like for some to do National Service in the 1950s and a continuation of the ‘Ibsley Story’ after closure of the airfield. Less important in ‘The Grand Scheme of Things’ but it was important to us at the time.
If anyone out there can amplify or correct, I’d be pleased to hear from them.
I’ve been reading a lot of things lately about the difficulties of monetizing skills and talents, both on the internet and elsewhere.
Unbelievably incredible creative people are finding the rug tugged out from under them in this digital age of mp3s and JPGs.
Over time the internet has become just one huge trolley dash to grab at everything unthinkingly, with no sense of the damage to those people who put their talents out on show for us to enjoy. We’ve all downloaded copyright content I’m sure, without the slightest sense of guilt or shame. Are we missing the bigger picture?
Human beings (such as myself) are selfish creatures on the whole, and are motivated almost entirely by self-interest. I want to do what I want; when I want; and at minimal cost to myself in almost every situation, but one. That exception is social.
There is an impulse to act unselfishly in support of family, and of friends. We do not offer an aesthetic critique of the paintings our children bring home from school; we smile and thank them, because we love them. In doing so, some may argue, we may have compromised one part of our integrity, but that is more than compensated by the deeper significance of supporting and loving another human being. In this way we endow our friends and our families with the confidence and the potential to move on, improve and facilitate their continued progress and success.
We may claim to love our favourite TV stars, singers, writers and artists too, but until now, we did not have the opportunity to know them personally in most cases, but things have changed. The difference is that now we have Twitter
Last night I read an incredibly moving blog post by Wil Wheaton You can read it here
From @WilW 10th Feb 2010
“In which the impact of Twitter on my life is examined, and thanks is given to @ev and @biz http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2010/02/in-which-the-impact-of-twitter-on-my-life-is-examined.html%20“
Now to me, eighteen months ago, Wil Wheaton was just some young American actor I had seen on TV a few years ago. He doesn’t know me, we’ve never personally interacted, he has no idea who I am; yet in those words he has expressed a large part of what I too would like to say on this subject. Twitter changes lives, and it deserves to be taken seriously.
Most of the print media, certainly here in Britain, are fond of running disparaging pieces about Twitter and how they see it as a pointlessly ephemeral waste of time designed for geeks, nerds and losers who have nothing better to do than be on the Internet twenty four hours a day. Now, why would they do that? Call me a cynic but to me it is glaringly obvious that they realise that they are in a dying industry and cannot compete. They, and other leviathan old media institutions, like record companies and broadcasters creak and groan as the age of information overtakes them like a swarm of migrating army-ants, leaving them gasping and struggling in a snare of millions of copyright infringements. (As an illustration of that let me direct you to Al Yankovic’s tweet
From @AlYankovic 8th Feb 2010
“In case you were wondering… ditto for me. http://okgo.forumsunlimited.com/index.php?showtopic=4169 #okgo”
An eloquent and impassioned explanation, brilliantly expressed there by Damian Kulash of @OKGO)
In this free for all, where are these creatives to find new markets?
It seems obvious to me that we are downsizing and, with tools like Twitter we are getting up close and personal with people whom we would normally never have come into contact with. There are so many examples of this.
Musicians, such as the extraordinarily lovely and talented Terra Naomi (@terranaomi – another of whom I knew nothing before Twitter) streaming live from their own living rooms to their Twitter followers and creating not just fans, but making new friendships; new allies in strangers from all parts of the world, who, in their turn will be very likely to buy the music, or the tickets to live shows when they are offered, because they now “know” that artist and can relate to them, not as a remote figure, but as a sort of a friend to whom loyalty is gladly given.
Other artists use Twitter and other social media to organize national tours of ordinary people’s living rooms, like wandering medieval minstrels. These people have an urge to create, and to share their art with other real people.
A great example of using Twitter comes from the extraordinary Peter Serafinowicz (@serafinowicz) His amazing story of how he used Twitter to get his DVD publicly released can be found here in this Boing Boing interview
It’s our attitudes that need adjustment as we enter this new era.
Already, the once World Wide Web is being carved up by big business to fit a tired old world business model. If we decide that we want to retain the freedoms that are here in cyberspace, we need to address the issues entailed and devise radical global solutions to copyright law issues if we are to achieve justice for the brilliant people who entertain us
So many unexpected and serendipitous collaborations have arisen on account of this supposedly trivial and pointless website, that I think it really is time to stand up and say NO. Twitter should not be viewed as a passing fad. There is an ease and openness of communication available here as in no other place.
On Facebook, if you don’t know me, you aren’t going to add me are you? You’re in your ivory tower with your chosen few and I’m just a peasant at the gate. That’s why Facebook sucks.
MySpace was actually a whole lot better when people still used it, and additionally it was a great market place for creative people to showcase what they do. It’s so sad that it became deserted as the sheep all flocked to Facebook instead. I still really don’t understand the appeal of that site, but I digress…
Due to its format, Twitter is not cliquey. I can follow anyone, (except those who have protected their tweets.) I can, after a fashion, “talk” to anyone out there. Whether they respond or not is neither here nor there. Some people I talk to all the time, but although they may never respond (you know who you are!) I can be reasonably confident that I got my point across anyway J
Twitter. It is important. It is democratic. It is frightening those who would control us and separate us. We, the people have the news before the old-school news media, governments or authorities can sanitize or censor it. We need to recognize the importance of unrestricted wide scale, real time communication and the part it can and will play, not only in the recreation of business and economic institutions and society, but also in the defence of human life and rights as we have seen in Iran and Haiti for example.
On a more human scale, and as Wil Wheaton pointed out, Twitter is a place to meet people and make friends. On the strength of some encouragement given to me by someone I much admire (@TheGreatBermuda) I have put a lot more thought in the last year or so into what I actually enjoy and what I am good at.
To me Twitter has become an important way for me to get to know and learn from incredibly talented writers. The warmth of the welcome I have had from many professional writers has been so nurturing to me, that I really am starting to think that perhaps I too have a valid creative urge irrespective of whether that will ever put food on the table. That encouragement and friendship has actually changed the way I view myself from a negative to a positive light. That has to be a good thing.
Thank you for reading.