Lighter Moments in the Royal Air Force by Ian Papworth – 1933
At Yatesbury during training you could avoid cleaning out classrooms on domestic mornings by getting hold of
a large brown envelope, or broom, and marching very smartly around the camp looking as it you were going “from A to
B”. No one ever stopped you.
In 1958, the Astra cinema at Yatesbury decided to show a “naturist” film, which promised female
nudity. Now in 1958 censorship in this country was very strict. The British Board of Film Censors decided what you could or not see on the cinema screen, but some
how or other this film had got past the censor.
Hundreds of men were queuing to get in to this wood built cinema at the appointed hour – yours truly among
them. Soon this single story building was packed. Every available space was filled, including the aisles between the seats. There were no “fire and safety” regulations in those days. Come the magic moment. The young lady got out
of her car – looked up the beach – all ok – looked down the beach – all ok. What a wonderful day for a ‘sunbathe’. The
blouse began to be undone.
600 men held their breath
The blouse fell away.
The camera zoomed in to a beautiful blue half bra, scalloped at the top edges.
Her hands went to the clip at the back of the bra.
600 men continued to hold their breath.
You could have heard a pin drop.
Would the camera pan away as it usually did? Please God no!
But no, it didn’t pan away. It zoomed closer.
Then the bra fell away, revealing the most beautiful pair of bare breasts you have ever seen.
600 men let out a long sigh.
There followed about 2 seconds of silence.
Then pandemonium broke out. People cheered, roared, jumped
up and down, and nearly tore the place apart. Such was the impact of a
pair of breasts on the screen in 1958.
We had a lot of Poles in the RAF in the 1950s. Most of them
had escaped from Poland in 1939, and joined the RAF to continue the fight, (WWII). We had a Squadron Leader at Yatesbury who was as tough as old boots, who had never quite mastered
the English language. I remember him giving us a “pep talk”
before an annual parade conducted by the Air Officer Commanding of the group. - “Zur
AOC vill enjoy seeing you parade, as you vill enjoy parading for zur AOC. So when you are marching on to zur square I vant to see lots of happy smiling faces. LOOK AS IF YOU ARE ENJOYING IT !!!”
“ And ven I give you za eyes right, look him in zur eye – tip him za vinkle !!” This same character, with respect to the technical training, insisted that all students should “be
above zur class average”…….
In all my time in the Royal Air Force (22years) I never remember a single drugs problem – unlike today. However the Air Force was obsessed with the problem of VD, and to this end we
were marched in to the cinema to see films about the evil of “loose living”.
These were mainly American films. The “no sex please, we’re
British” didn’t seem to have any films of their own.
They had posters though, and these were stuck up at the entrances to the messes, and depicted a sensual young
lady, perched on a bar stool, wearing a green ‘button-through’ dress whilst she held aloft a cocktail glass by
the stem. Underneath was written “clean living is the only way”. The airmen used to delight in defacing these posters in the most delightful
way, which caused great amusement. One wag once wrote on the bottom “I
don’t care if I do go blind, I can always sell matches”.
In mid 1957 I was posted to RAF Luqa in Malta, and sailed
out of Southampton for this posting on the good ship ‘Empire Ken’, which was
one of the last troopships ever to be used. I was one of 20 RAF personnel on this ship, the other 700 being army. The services
were still obsessed with VD, and we had had an FFI at the embarkation camp. (Free from Infection Inspection). Whilst sailing, we had another one. This involved hundreds
of men queuing naked along the companion ways and down to the next deck to be confronted by a bored looking army medical officer
who lifted your privates with his officer’s baton to have a quick look underneath in order to prescribe you “free
from infection”. When I got to Malta I would yet have another FFI.
On that same ship there were first class (officers) second class (senior NCOs) third class (unaccompanied airmen’s.
wives) and “troop deck personal” (me). We lived about four
decks down. During the voyage (and being a corporal), I was given 6 soldiers
and made “NCO I/C ships balloon blowing up party”. This was
a very responsible position, for I was responsible for providing enough balloons for the first class parties enjoyed by the
officers and their ladies. Later on as we got into the Med, I and my six
soldiers would be blowing up balloons on the stern deck and letting them over the end so that the upper echelons could fire
at them from the rear deck above us with Lee Enfield 303 rifles.
Around 1960 while on 25 SQN at Waterbeach, the squadron, being a night fighter squadron, entailed a lot of shift
work, our Engineering Officer used to get regular phone calls from a Brigadier, asking if his son - a lowly airman - could
be excused weekend work as they had important family functions. Our Engineering
Officer used to almost stand to attention by the telephone and generally agree to the requests. One day he asked the airman what regiment his father was in – “Oh, he’s not in the forces,
he’s a Brigadier in the Salvation Army!” I won’t repeat
what the Engineering Officer then said.