Posted by: thomlift | March 29, 2009


As Mentioned previously I was a 5 year apprentice with Aldous Campbell Ltd training as a Fitter and Turner. A Fitter and Turner is someone who manufactures mechanical parts (turner) and assembles (fitter) those parts together to manufacture a mechanical device. During this period the Government made it compulsory for all 18 year old boys to go into National Service, however apprentices were excused this duty until they had finished their apprenticeship. This let me off until I reached the age of 21.

So in 1950 I was drafted into the RAF to do my National Service. Off I went to Padgate near Warrington in Lancashire to do what is known as Square Bashing, this is slang for marching up and down the parade ground until we formed a synchronized unit. All of the 8th Flight B Squadron were 18 years old except me.

We were billeted in huts of about 20 lads and on the first night I was playing nursemaid to most of the others in the hut who were crying for their mothers.

I was asked occasionally to take over the group in the billet  and march them to other parts of the camp for varies duties. On one occasion I took them to have our inoculations and after I had mine I went outside and fainted. The lads brought me round and immediately I jumped up and told them to Fall in and then marched them back to our billets.

The time came for all of us to be posted to an operational unit after we Passed Out (finished our training with a ceremony) so off we went and queued in front of guys at desks who decided what work you would be doing and where it was to be done.

When it came to my turn the guy said “so Thomas you are to have an office job because you are graded A2”.

This was because of a problem with hearing in my left ear, so I said what about me being a Draftsman which is what I was doing in civvy street.

“Oh”, he said “A good idea”.

This is where it gets a bit stupid. In the Flight were 3 other Draftsman who were grade 1, but worked for aircraft companies, they got posted as Cooks or Wireless ops.

During my time at Padgate I was often asked by the Drill Sergeant what was wrong with this flight and my reply was that they were very young for their age.

My posting had not been confirmed by the time we left  Padgate so after some leave I came back for 2 weeks.

During this period I was also called upon to do some technical drawing for the Air Commodore. The sergeant took me to his office and left me outside, The A C called me in and showed me what he wanted me to do. It was a series of hand drawn Graphs that he needed to be drawn up in a professional manner. He told me to sit in his chair to do the graphs as no one was to see them, he said he would be back in a couple of hours.

During the time I was working on in his office there were knocks on the door and people would come in, saw me in the Chair and apologise and hastily leave, it was great fun. When The A C came back I had completed the job in hand, he was pleased with my work and called my Sergeant and told him to look after me. This meant going to the Sergeants Mess and in a large cupboard I was to help myself to goodies.

My posting came through and and off I went to RAF Bicester, Oxfordshire. This was a Maintenance Unit (MU) with scores of RAF Officers and most of the Erks were attached to Officers to carry out any work they required.

I reported for duty on my first day to the Technical Officers only to find that the position of draughtsman was for one non-commission rank  and this was filled by a Corporal who was a regular serviceman was not a in the RAF doing National Service.

He said “what are you doing here?”. And after I told him he said “Well you can do the work”. A week later another corporal appeared on the scene.  The Officer in charge of our section sent me to RAF Chigwell for a trade test. This consisted of a written paper and completing a drawing of a Diesel Engine Injection Nozzle, I completed these in the time allotted  and passed the test , and the officer in charge told me afterwards that very few people noticed the very tiny holes in the nozzle for the fuel to spray out into the cylinders.

Soon after returning to RAF Bicester my grade came through from the test to promote from an AC2 to a Leading Aircraftsman with 3 half propellors on my sleeve. This made me the senior man in the hut.

I managed to get some 48 hour passes to come home at week-ends and stock up on food. My best fried in the billet was a chap called Norman Lloyd nicknamed Slash, who lived near Manchester and therefore did not get home very often but he would get food parcels and we would share our spoils. My nickname was Eggo – dont ask me why, I dont know, but nicknames are like that!

About May 1951 there was a search for Draftsman in the RAF because there was a shortage of Draftsman in the Air Ministry, we did not know the details for this at the time but a lot of National Service Draftsman were sent by coach to RAF West Drayton near London and from there we went to Bush House in the Strand for interviews by civil servants in all departments to see if we were suitable to work for them.

I was not doing very well with this until I was interviewed by a Captain Burridge who was having a problem with a lift in a building at London Airport. The building was a Radar Unit and the roof was to be kept clear of obstructions so there was no place for a motor room for the lift. I told him how this could be achieved by using a hydraulic lift and thus I was was told to report for work in the Air Ministry Architects Dept next morning at Bush House North Wing.

I went back to West Drayton and got myself a living out pass, so having booked myself in at West Drayton I then went around again to book myself out.

I was now working in Bush House, living at home, and travelling to work on a number 21 bus from the Bricklayers Arms, South London crossing the Thames on the way, so I could say I was serving overseas, collecting my pay by draft every Thursday from an officer also based in Bush House. This continued until the end of my national service in 1952. It was then back to West Drayton for Demob.

I was now back at Aldous & Campbell drawing office and because of my influence at the Air Ministry we quoted and got the order for the hydraulic lift at the airport, and my task now was to prepare the drawing for the lift and pass the instructions into the factory for producing the parts to construct the lift on site, the main feature of this lift was that at the top floor it would continue up from this floor with a security switch to raise the roof over the lift so that Radar instruments could be taken out on the roof and used without any obstructions when the lift was lowered.

During all this time since leaving school I was attending Mass at the Church, English Martyrs, and also the Youth club that met in the school. I was also a member of the YCW (Young Christian Workers) where we studied the Gospels and also visited lapse Catholics in the area whom we knew to try to get them to the Club. At the club we played cricket, football and tennis in the school playground ,Gym exercises, Billiards and Dancing Lessons on Wednesday evenings. We had a great time and everyone was happy to be there.


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