What is it that draws middle-aged men together to revisit their long gone, youthful days? In particular what is it that draws middle-aged, military men together in that peculiar social event called ‘The Reunion’?
After all we were the children of the Cold War, the hot war that was never fought and so that meant that most of us had an undistinguished military career; forever on standby but never called to duty, and yet most of us were happy not to see mushroom clouds erupt all over Europe where it was predicted the main armoured battles would occur. Silence was our victory and we were pleased to retire without a shot fired or city scorched black.
In the late 60's/early 70's the nation called upon its youth to come forward and volunteer for service in all three armed forces. In particular the Royal Air Force was seeking hundreds of young men to join up and maintain the BAC TSR-2 supersonic strategic bomber force and so we were enticed by recruiting posters seeking tomorrow’s ‘Technocrats’. The poster also featured a young lady in a bikini, water-skiing in a Caribbean island setting. This may also have been a key factor in persuading many a young man to take the technical selection tests.
So it was that we a below average intake size of apprentices, drawn from all of the main industrial cities of the UK, the
223 Craft Apprentices entry of 73 young men aged only 15-17, formed up on Maitland Parade Square at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire. Dressed, in drab grey overalls with rubber buttons on a
June day in 1971 to be cajoled into dressings by the right, and open order, in threes, by our very own and beloved Corporal and Sergeants General Duties, IC
The reason why a reunion of these young men, now in their late 50’s is important is very simple. We enjoyed both a common and yet a very unique personal experience which shaped us for the rest of our lives. The common elements were dictated to us by our trade schools, drill staff, parades, standing and routine orders; and our educational and technical curricula. The individual experiences were dictated by the personal choices that we made regarding the hobbies, music, sports, travels and friends that we all chose along the way. Forty years on, it is now time to reflect. How have we done? We served both during the Cold War and in hotter zones: Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belize, the Falklands and in the Gulf Wars I and II. We saw the end of Empire and the continual shrinkage westwards of the Royal Air Force until it was very hard to find an open base in Lincolnshire! We never saw a TSR-2 either! But despite this pessimistic reductionism, something elemental still remains – an individual and entry pride and we want to feel that excited heartbeat again.
That is why in May this year (2011) the 223 Craft Apprentice Entry will re-emerge to meet on our 40th
Anniversary of enlistment, and we hope as many as possible will attend. I sometimes think that it is harder for
the large entries to stage such an affair, as smaller entries tend to be more cohesive and know each other very well;
223 were certainly one of the smallest but have a very good record of
reunions and have achieved contact with a high percentage of ex members.