Historical places, airship, Bedfordshire local history, airships, national heritage sites, historic preservation, attractions in the UK, heritage sites in the UK, historical monuments, historical landmarks, tourist attractions in the UK, places in UK to visit, tourist in England, historical tourism, R101 and R100 airships.

Shortstown Heritage

"I arrived on the 28th August 1947. I had volunteered to serve for 5 years as opposed to conscription. I was just 17 1/2 , born on 5th Feb 1930. This was a training station for regulars. I understand that some conscripts were sent there to be kitted out. We were 125 different characters almost all my age although some conscripts just turned 18 if prepared to sign on for a set term joined us regulars.

My time there was pleasant although it being my first taste of discipline. My parents were Salvation Army Officers so I and my sisters never even smoked or took a drink. I was used to obeying orders within the constraints of school and home life. We were 25 to a hut, one double bunk at one end of the hut and the rest were single beds. I grabbed the top bunk to avoid the inevitable horseplay until after a few days our 'Billet' corporal sorted us all out. The food was quite good, 3 good meals a day. In the evenings in the NAAFI ( a canteen, some snooker, table tennis and general relaxation area) we were not allowed to buy a meal, only a cake or a wad as cakes were known. This was to hopefully stop us complaining in letters back home that we needed extra rations. The whole menu was based on sufficient calories to help us get really fit. I suppose we could all have devoured another meal but we all had to wear a coloured disc behind our cap badge so that the wise mostly female staff could recognise us as recruits. Permanent staff were not subject to this rule.

The 28th of August was a Thursday, the staff started issuing uniform and bits of kit. The next day was a series of quite significant tests. I had set my heart on being an R A F policeman mainly due to a challenge of a friend of my dads who had been an RAF policeman during the war. After these tests I must have shown a potential for a more technical trade. I remember being asked to reconsider my choice of trade, a five year stint, to make it a seven year engagement as the training they had in mind was almost certainly a longer training period, police training was a 12 week course. About 3 years ago I wrote to RAF Insworth for my personal record - one entry says that I refused technical training. I believe they had a career in Radar for me. As a Salvation Army

bandsman I took the opportunity to join the station band. A mixture of permanent staff and any recruits. One chap on my course was going to the RAF School of Music after our basic training. I have no regrets not joining the Music Services. I wanted some excitement.

The 'ablutions' for toilets were in another hut. No hot water to shave, a rule still applied in the prison service for prisoners today. Reveille was 6.30am. Breakfast finished at 7.30 am. if you missed breakfast and then fainted on parade you were put on a charge of self inflicted injury which meant parading about 6 times a day in full kit. We were told that if we came up to scratch in drill, marching, saluting and weapon firing etc, we would be allowed a 36 hour pass after 4 weeks of training. Until then leaving camp was totally forbidden. We were not to be seen in public until we could look smart in uniform. All our civilian clothes had to be sent home. I was paid 4 shillings per day but received £1 weekly the rest was credited for any barrack damages caused by us (???)

On Sunday the 31st of August 3 days after joining we had a church parade.
COMPULSORY!! 125 of us on parade 8.30am straight after breakfast. We formed up in 3 ranks there were 3 padres. We were called to attention. One padre called "Fall out the Roman Catholics". A fair number went off with him. Then "Fall out the C of E's" (Church of England). Off they went leaving a dozen or so with the remaining padre. All padres were Commissioned Officers. He called out " You are the Other Denominations" I gathered that this meant Baptists, Methodists, Congregationists etc . I raised my hand and said "Excuse me sir, I am Salvation Army". He said show me your pay book a small hard backed book about the size of a small wallet. I still have mine.
 

I remember the station band played music at a rememberance ceremony about the loss of the Airship R101, that was in October. I believe that ceremony still goes on. Passing Out Day - as a member of the band I was in my "Best Blue" walking out uniform , tunic with brass buttons etc. We did three passing out parades that day. We played lots of music. The last parade about 4pm was my squad . They were in Battle dress, working uniform. When we were dismissed I went back to the billet with my billet mates, only to find that all the other lads who had hung up their walking out uniforms had had the tunic buttons cut off, all of them, all buttons. A trick played on them by the billet corporal. There was a scramble for each man to retrieve his "housewife" from his kit bag to sew the buttons back on. Apparently the other lads had made a French bed for the corporal (folding the sheet like an envelope to stop you stretching full length.)"

 

My thanks must go to Mr Parsons for this fascinating glimpse of life back in 1947 - his experience would have been typical of the thousands of young men who passed through the camp all those years ago - yet looking at the site today we would never know this. For this reason the memories of Mr Parson are very precious as little seems to be recorded locally of these years. Thanks must also go to the RAF Music Services Association who kindly put me in touch with Mr Parsons.

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