By Mike Stanley.Armourer

On my return from Aden I spent the last year of my RAF service at RAF St Athan. The differences between the barren rocks of Aden and the green undulating terrain of the Vale of Glamorgan and those between the heat, glare, and dust of Khormaksar and the freezing slanting rain of St Athan, was all quite startling at first. Equally startling was the difference in the level of security at each station.

Khormaksar was protected by a guard of 120 men each day (three shifts of 40). As a SNCO I did my share of Guard Commander/Deputy Guard Commander, and also did my share of guard duty around the Sgts' Mess of an evening when some sort of 'do' was being held. Off camp, in Maala, the blocks of flats being used as 'hirings' were guarded, between the hours of 2 to 6 pm, by male inhabitants.

Here is a picture of me keeping the dwellers of Wellington House safe from shot and shell, accompanied by my minder.

In contrast the security at RAF St Athan was none existent. East Camp had a RAF guardroom at the entrance, with the formidable barrier of a red and white striped pole - and I don't mean a native of Poland. This was the sole protection afforded No 4 S of TT, but by 1968 Boy Entrant training had moved to Cosford and presumably the 'Powers-that- be' didn't think safeguarding the RAF School Of Physical Training - aka the 'Muscle Mechanic Academy' - worth the effort. West Camp, home to No 32 MU, had no guardroom as such; the building that once had been the domain of the Air Ministry (later MOD) police was now the Station Armoury, and the cells housed hundreds of 0.303inch Lee Enfield rifles rather than inebriated erks.

Not to worry. Occasionally sneaky attempts were made to breach the 'security' of RAF St Athan by those stalwart members of the RAF Police belonging to a unit the exact nomenclature of which I have forgotten, but it was based at Gloucester - was it 12 PNSS or 12 P&SS?

One morning a Cpl in working blue uniform, and carrying a 0.303inch Lee Enfield rifle, banged on the Station Armoury door. All visitors to the armoury were directed to the barred sash window to the side of the door for checking purposes, as was he. "I've just flown in from Cyprus to attend a course," He announced, "and had to bring my gun with me. Can I hand it in here?"

"Be my guest," said the Duty Armourer, wincing at the noun used to describe a firearm as he pushed up the window to take the weapon from the Cpl.

"Oh no, I want to come in and see where the gun will be safely locked away." Says he, holding the rifle to his manly bosom as if it were . . . (name your favourite squeeze here).

"The rifle either comes through the window or not at all, Corp." The duty armourer said.

Reluctantly the Cpl handed his rifle through the open, but barred, window.

The duty armourer noted the serial number of the weapon and then filled in the relevant entry in the private firearms register.

"Your last three, and your name, Corp?"

"Err . . . double blank nought Brown. Where's Station Headquarters?"

"It's that bloody huge building with the RAF ensign flying from the tall flagpole in front of it." The duty armourer replied while pointing to the building opposite; the Cpl then walked away.

There are members of the RAF who assert all armourers are thick; well yes, some of us are, but even the thickest of us can smell a rat.

I was in the armoury office doing the quarterly ammunition expenditure returns when the duty armourer came and told me the tale. I rang the 'Rockape' officer who acted as OC Station Armoury to tell him that some half-baked attempt had been made to gain access to the armoury. I left it to him to set his men onto the interlopers . . . there just could be a few more wandering about trying to get into high security buildings on camp, like the barrack block where the female muscle 'mechanics-in-training' were housed.

Just before the end of the working day Cpl Brown reappeared at the window and asked for his 'gun' back. The duty armourer had spied him approaching, and I took it upon myself to confront Cpl Brown, late of Cyprus.

"Your 1250 please, Cpl." I demanded in my most charming of voices.

He handed me his F1250 and, of course, his name wasn't Brown but Scroggins, or some such.

"Sorry but I can only hand the weapon over to Cpl Brown." Down came the window quicker than the shutters in 1(A)Wing Tank, leaving 'Brown' looking slightly nonplussed as he, once again, wandered away.

About ten minutes later he was back, this time accompanied by an officer who, judging by his scowl, was not in a good mood. He banged on the window and, even before I had fully opened it, he was giving me an ear-full.

"I'm Flt Lt Bloggs of 12 PNSS. We have just concluded a security exercise and our transport is waiting to leave for Gloucester. Give Scroggins his rifle back." One brownie point for his correct terminology, but null points for his manners.

"I'm sorry Sir, but a Cpl Brown signed the weapon in and only Cpl Brown can have it back."

"It's the same damn person, you numbskull!" Obviously Flt Lt Bloggs believed the calumny that all armourers were thick, even, or probably especially, Sgts.

"I wasn't here when the weapon was signed in so I don't know that, sir. You say the exercise is over, but that could be a stratagem to steal a weapon from this armoury."

I became concerned that the Flt Lt was going into cardiac arrest; his face went a dangerous shade of puce, and I thought I spied froth on his lips. He was close to apoplexy.

"I'm giving you a direct order to hand Scroggin's rifle over to him immediately."

"I'm sorry, sir, but I am unable obey that order; weapons held against the name of an individual can only be released to that individual, it says so in Station Standing Orders."

You may think I was pushing my luck but, at that time, I had less than a year to do and besides I knew that he knew that I was fire proof. In fact it was his knowing that I had him by the short and curlies that fed his fury. He managed to control his rage, but if looks could kill I was a dead man walking, or rather standing.

"This doesn't end here, Sgt." He said in a tone of pure hatred as he turned on his heels and stomped away, followed by a disconsolate looking Cpl Scroggins, aka Brown.

Sometime later the phone in the armoury office rang. I picked it up and the 'Rockape' OC Station Armoury was on the other end.

"Let them have their rifle back, Sgt." He said, and I could hear the barely suppressed mirth in his voice. "It doesn't do to upset the SIB, but it does one good to take them down a peg or two."

Ten minutes later Cpl Brown/Scroggins arrived and, after signing for it, I handed the rifle back to him.

"Safe journey back to Cyprus, Cpl Brown, and give my regards to Flt Lt Bloggs. Tell him I didn't know Fred Karno also had an air force."