It was some years ago that Fred Baldwin started the online conversation that the 48th Entry Boys should have a reunion for the 50th anniversary of their joining up. It was on 23rd January 1963 at RAF Cosford when the Boys all met for the first time. Apparently it was the coldest night of the worst winter on record. Away from home and not yet joined up, they were (as the story goes) each given eight extra blankets to keep themselves warm. On the next day they attested their allegiance to the Queen and this privilege was removed, as were all other home comforts.
With Friends Reunited messages, Facebook posts and emails flying in the ether around the world and with telephone calls made, this behind the scenes work of tracking down all the Boys was carried out in earnest. Dave set himself the task of trying to track down as many Boys as he could. Terry Jacobs, Des Martin and Michel Sinnott were doing likewise. Thanks go to Fred Baldwin who was able to supply some of the names and contact details from the previous attempt. Dave shared with me all his successes and failures, and I could see that for him this was a labour of love. With regret not all the Boys could be contacted, some that were couldn't come, and with great sadness it was found that not all the Boys made it to see this anniversary.
After a few hiccups the dates were set. I was pleased that at the dinner Dave had a mention in dispatches along with Terry and Michel for finding the Boys, and thanks must surely go to Des Martin and Richard Osler for making all the arrangements for the hotel and dinner. The hotel was a stunning venue, The Telford Whitehouse Hotel in Wellington. http://www.telfordwhitehouse.co.uk/
Some of the Boys arrived on Wednesday 23rd January. On the morning of Thursday 24th they went on a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire. http://www.thenma.org.uk/
Our journey started on the snowridden footpaths of home just before 9am on Thursday 24th. Fortunately we were well wrapped up. I had been able to pack my things into an overnight case with wheels. Dave's holdall fitted comfortably on the top making transport easy. The bus to the bus station was on time and the walk from the bus station across Mill Common to the train station easy if the patches of ice were seen and avoided.
A hiccup was the fares. After discussion at the ticket office we bought two next day returns to Peterborough and there bought two period returns from Peterborough to Wellington, saving ourselves £30 each on the fares had we bought through tickets from Huntingdon. No idea why the difference, and we wondered how many people have and will unknowingly pay extra for some fares.
Catching the 09.47 train from Huntingdon, meant that at Peterborough we had time for a leisurely hot chocolate and use of the facilities before boarding the 10.52 train to Birmingham.
The journey to Birmingham took about two hours so there was time for puzzles and time for knitting.
I was feeling extremely grotty with a cold and cough which had been hanging about for well over a week, not much like smiling or enjoying myself at all. And even after a short journey the sight of snow became monotonous.
On arrival at Birmingham we had to change trains again, to the 13.05 to Wellington. Thankfully at Wellington the stairs from the train station to the bus station had been gritted. We were lucky in that the first bus driver we spoke to was driving the bus we needed and very kindly told us when we had reached the right stop. We couldn't have missed it really, being right outside the giant hotel building.
The Receptionist was helpful and told us that our room was “just through those double doors”. What she forgot to add was: “at the end of the corridor”.
We are not very experienced with upmarket hotels. Comfortable and adequate ones, yes, but not what we encountered here. There were two double beds, one of which was six feet wide. We opted for the narrower one – next to the radiator and easier for us to keep each other warm. At first we couldn't find the tea and coffee making facilities, not expecting to find them in a deep drawer disguised as two narrower ones.
We then went up to Sir Stephen's Brasserie for lunch. There we met some of the Boys acting as a reception committee. Identification badges and metal pin badges, both courtesy of Ron Seddon, were handed out. As one of the few women there I was made very welcome.
After chatting time we opted for the cheese and pickle sandwiches. What we didn't expect was a feast! The filling was thicker than the bread and there was a huge salad. Afterwards, out of curiosity I went to look out of the window and was staggered to find a grandstand view of the Telford United Football Club ground.
Dave thought the reunion an important occasion and brought a shirt and tie with him. He remembered to wear his wedding ring and announced regret that he had forgotten cuff links. Yes, a very special occasion indeed.
We made our way to the Wellington Suite to join the Boys for dinner. Beautifully set circular tables with candles, and red, white and blue table napkins. Menus had been designed by Ron Seddon and each person given one as a memento.
The main area of activity was the bar.
Before the dinner was the group photograph.
An opening speech was made by Richard Osler, followed by a toast to absent friends.
And the fabulous three course meal began and ended. Boys had come from all over the world to attend, Germany and Papua New Guinea are two countries that come to mind. After the meal Derek Clinick gave each person one of his greetings cards with a facsimile of one of his fabulous drawings on the front. http://www.planeart.co.uk/
I was sitting next to a slim and elegant woman who works as a community matron. It was fascinating to hear about her job. I felt rather shabby with my wobbly bits, red nose and other disadvantages (including having to rush from the dining suite with a coughing fit). I didn't regret wearing my hand knit glitter sweater. Not only for flying the hand knitting flag, but also for keeping me warm. A pity I had forgotten to bring the jewellery to wear with it.
I found it very moving that all these men who hadn't seen each other for almost 50 years were chatting and socialising as if the hiatus had not been there. After a suitable interval following dinner I left Dave with his pals while I went back to bed but not before looking out of the window of the Wellington Suite and seeing another fabulous grandstand view of the football ground. The carpet in the Wellington Suite and surrounding areas was dedicated to the team, with the team's emblem woven in.
On Friday morning the snow on the ground was almost as bad as the day before. Breakfast was self serve and was superb. Hot was hot and cold was cold, and plenty of it. We caught the bus to the station and then the 10.00 train to Cosford for the muster at 10.30am. There's about a half mile walk from the station to the RAF Museum at Cosford.
Dave thankfully pulled the overnight case and holdall while I crawled along behind trying not to slip. The road was clear of snow but there were patches of black ice. I was afraid of being hit by a car as there were no pavements (or if there were then we didn't see them).
The hot chocolate on arrival was nectar for the soul. We wandered about the museum at our own pace. I spent my time in the Cold War exhibition while Dave had a look at everything. I couldn't face going in and out of the cold to see all the hangers and outside exhibits. Dave took some excellent shots.
|Hawker Siddeley Nimrod|
He took some good indoor shots as well.
|English Electric Lightning|
|Thor Stand-off Rocket|
We also had a good look around the shop and I bought myself a book.
We were given a lift from the museum to RAF Cosford itself where a tour of the camp had been arranged by Richard Osler.
We were given an introductory talk about the history of RAF Cosford and its role as a training establishment, and then shown round three different training sections. Much of it was over my head but it was interesting to learn about the different types of weapons and how weapon technology has changed since the Second World War.
Then a coach tour around the camp with a stop at Fulton Block for a photoshoot. This building is said to be the largest brick built building in Europe and was where the Boys were billeted during their training. It is now used as offices and training rooms. Not all the Boys stayed for all or part of the Cosford visit. Some had a long way to travel home and heavy snow had been forecast.
The wording says: FULTON BLOCK This building was erected in 1938 to provide accommodation for the thousands of Apprentices and Boy Entrants undergoing their technical training at RAF Cosford. During two periods of refurbishment, from 1989-1990 and 1993-1994, Fulton Block has been refitted for use as training accommodation.
After the tour farewells were said and we made our way to the station. There were about 35 minutes until the 16.18 train and we had hoped to have a warming drink in the café while we waited. Hopes were dashed when we found that the café closed at 15.00. The few of us whiled away the time with reminisces and social chatter. A young lady came to wait for the train and she and I struck up a conversation. She saw our luggage, and proud of the Boys I explained who they were. She volunteered that she was a civilian worker at RAF Cosford and that they were looking for stories from people who had been based there for its 75th anniversary this year http://cosfordairshow.co.uk/ and http://www.bada.uk.com/calendar/icalrepeat.detail/2013/06/09/41/-/raf-cosford-air-show-75th-anniversary-of-raf-cosford. She gave Dave a business card and he will contact the Boys with the details.
The train arrived and we started the journey home. There was enough time between arriving at Birmingham and catching the 17.22 to Peterborough to buy a sandwich and a hot drink. The 19.46 train to Huntingdon was already in so we had a seat in the relative warmth while we waited for it to depart. Steve's Taxis sent a car to pick us up at the station immediately we rang and we arrived home tired but happy.