Recalling mixed feelings on my demob trip home

LIKE most servicemen stationed far enough from home to only get there on monthly 48-hour passes, I spent my last few RAF weeks in uniform full-time. Up to then, off-duty hours meant a swift donning of civvies, permission for which had long been granted.

LIKE most servicemen stationed far enough from home to only get there on monthly 48-hour passes, I spent my last few RAF weeks in uniform full-time.

Up to then, off-duty hours meant a swift donning of civvies, permission for which had long been granted.

But when demob neared, the order came that, because you'd remain on reserve and be liable for recall to the colours at short notice, you had to cart a lot of your service clobber home with you. So you didn't need an additional collection of civvy gear complicating demob day. They were duly packed up and taken home beforehand.

As it was, when the great day arrived, you had problems enough anyway. Like cramming stuff into a hardly touched kit-bag.


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It was the done thing for the billet to help the demobee, with words or action.

I was halfway through the kit-bag business when someone, catching sight of the inside of my locker door, enquired: "Leaving darling Doris behind then?" gesticulating at my collection of Doris Day pictures.

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Not keen on the family finding out about my pin-ups, I asked who'd like them. The adorable Doris, however, wasn't sufficiently stocking-tops and lingerie for that lecherous lot, and so went home with me.

Johnny "gent" Lovett shrewdly advised that my half-dozen pin-ups would travel best placed flat at the kit-bag's bottom. This meant taking everything out and starting again, being careful to protect Doris.

Once home, my great coat and best-blue were shoved into a wardrobe, and the kit-bag left untouched for weeks, until mum said we must turn it out in case anything was going mouldy.

I smile now remembering her gratified look when she saw her youngest's pin-ups were more girl-next-door than half-naked femme fatales. Privately, I thought how some of my mates' pin-ups would have made any mother's teeth curl!

The demob journey home prompted mixed feelings. I'd done the trek often enough, but never with so much baggage. The previous day I'd handed in plenty at stores, yet was still well lumbered.

As I passed SHQ for the last time, Wilf Fernghough, the Station Warrant Officer's sergeant, opened a window and, half-seriously, barked: "What you got under your arm, airman?"

I'd heard it before, but played along. "Nothing, sarge" I replied.

"Aven't you? I got hair under mine," cackled Wilf.

"I'll come and see you when you're on at the Palladium, Wilf," I last-worded. The exchange aptly reflected our station's general mateyness.

Wilf worked hard at being a character given his unenviable role as the SWO-man's gopher.

His bullet head was shaved close, grey stubble contrasting with a laughably luxuriant vivid red handlebar moustache. Some believed it a stuck-on job.

He once gave the station a good chuckle during a Saturday morning "cowboys-and-Indians" defence exercise, when he decided he was wounded and insisted on medics being called out to bear him away on a stretcher.

The medics own-backed by dumping the stretcher in the middle of the square, craftily advising him that the medical section, like he, had copped a direct hit.

Seeing him laying there, the SWO-man stomped out of SHQ and bellowed: "What the hell you up to, Wilf?"

"Wounded in action, sir," Wilf yelled back.

"Wounded, my arse. Get in here and do some bloody work for a change."

Local taxi man Albert ran me gratis to the railway station for the train to Peterborough, from where the Scottish express reached London at tea-time.

On the crowded rush-hour Tube, me and my kit-bag were not popular. It was a chastening lesson in that, whatever benefits civvy street might have over service life, mateyness was patently absent.

I was by then officially no longer on active service. Ironically, I found myself wishing for about the only time in my two RAF years that I'd been in full service marching order, complete with Lee-Enfield, ammo pouches, and scabbarded bayonet.

That might have made some of those miserable Underground beggars sit up a bit!

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