WHY DID I JOIN THE RAF - (Well the following might give you a clue!).

By Ken Francis.Airframes.


During World War 2, although we lived in the country in Sussex I remember aircraft 'dogfighting' overhead, searchlights in the sky at night, air raid sirens (from the direction of Horsham 4 miles away), a Christmas party in the local searchlight crew hut (models of aircraft hanging from the ceiling) and later in the war the sky being full of aircraft (bombers going towards Germany?). Although the south of England, prior to D Day, was pretty much an armed camp, with, in our area, British and Canadian soldiers, my memories are strongly aircraft related. My father, having been a butcher, joined the RAF at the beginning of the war and became one of the various grades of engine fitter that seemed to exist at that time. During the war he was, to my knowledge, stationed at one of the landing strips set up across the centre of Africa to ferry aircraft round the bulge of Africa, across and up to the Middle East, thus avoiding the Mediterranean. Latterly he was a member of 189 Sqn (a temporary wartime squadron - hence no Sqn badge at RAF Hendon museum) 'Lancasters', I think.

After the war he was demobbed, together with large numbers of others, and began driving buses and taxis - he did not return to the butchery trade.

Meanwhile the powers that be realised that the RAF had been denuded of a lot its experience and knowhow as a by product of post war downsizing so, as a result, there was a poster campaign to re-recruit experienced ex-RAF personnel. The poster depicted a smiling, waving, ginger-haired airman with the logo 'Ginger's back - join him in the RAF' they were obviously trying to attract some of the 'old lags' back in. My father succumbed, particularly as it meant receiving a special, one off, re-signing on bounty payment. Those who took the bribe and re-joined became known as 'Ginger's Mob'.

During his next 4 years with the RAF (approx 1946-1950) he was posted to one of the overseas basic flying training stations, RAF Heany near Bulawayo, in what was then Southern Rhodesia. Pilots were taught to fly there, ab initio - Tiger Moths then Harvards.

He was there for two years, during that time he was joined by the rest of his family, namely his wife and two children, the elder of which was me. No air trooping then it was Union Castle Line to and from the Cape of Good Hope and a 2-3 day train journey up to Bulawayo.

We enjoyed various experiences during our time there. I learned to swim, had a lot to do with horses (my father being a founder member of the station riding club) and land yachting on the station runway. We visited Victoria Falls staying in very basic accommodation - (huts), the only hotel there at the time being the old colonial style 'Livingstone Hotel'. We visited Motopos several times and saw Cecil Rhodes grave and the memorial to the Battle of Shangani river.

All this was the background to 2 years of RAF life (the married quarters -huts with communal toilets and washing facilities were located on the station) with its attendant, continual awareness of aircraft doing circuits and bumps and cross country flights; culminating in passing out parades when the trainee pilots graduated.

During this time I travelled to school by bus, attending the Fairbridge Memorial College located between Heany and Bulawayo. This school, populated by children living in a series of huts, formed the Southern Rhodesian element of the Fairbridge scheme to populate 'The Empire' with children from Britain. These children were sent to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and southern Rhodesia. A scheme which, although idealistic in conception, has latterly attracted notoriety (see various books - notably 'Empty Cradles' and others via Google).

I took the RAF equivalent of the 11 plus while at Heany (at RAF Kumalo nearby), just myself in a classroom invigilated by an RAF Education Officer - very intimidating. I passed, but on my return to the UK in 1950, for some unknown reason I did not go to the local grammar school (Collyers in Horsham). I did however, after two years in the local secondary school, pass an exam for and subsequently attend Horsham Technical School. An interesting place, another series of huts! The site on which they were located was divided into two parts by a high meshed fence. One side was our school, the other side was home to people of limited mental capacity - enough said. Our headmaster was also the Commanding Officer of the local ATC Squadron (No. 1015) and one of the other teachers was also an ex RAF Officer with some connection to the ATC.

The school had a bit of a tradition of sending a few boys to Halton each year. I can recall several others in entries senior to ours who became RAF apprentices via Horsham Tech. Other classroom colleagues of mine all seemed to be into aircraft recognition and aircraft model making. I even built a Kielkraft model glider myself - I think it was a Soarer Major (36" Wingspan?). I joined the ATC, as I understood that the Squadron received points when any member left to join the RAF (what these points achieved I don't know).

Following discussion with my headmaster and parents I applied to go to Halton. On receiving the necessary paperwork my father said something very interesting "You know that when I was a boy I sent off for the paperwork to apply for Halton - on receipt my mother burnt it - good luck to you my son." I took that as his total blessing and proceeded.

Just as my father had been one of 'Ginger's Mob', I was to become a 'Trenchard Brat'.

Je ne regrette rien!!