Tag Archives: RAF Upavon

Dear Miss Bulford – Part Four

RAF Upavon Crest

In the first three parts below, of “Dear Miss Bulford” I describe my [1] entry into the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force, [2] the basic training [3] posting to a trade training camp, and this part four, my first posting as a trained Medical Assistant.

  1.   https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/

2.   https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/

3.  https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/29/__trashed-4/

Arriving in Salisbury, Wiltshire by train, I made my way to the bus station. wearing my ‘best blue’ uniform.  As I was searching for the camp bus,  two army men also in uniform approached me, and asked if I was going to RAF Upavon? [1] I said yes, so they offered me a lift in their car. They were stationed a few miles from RAF Upavon, at the Larkhill Army Garrison.  I accepted their offer. Something I now think was not too wise, but it was the 1960’s. However, they were very polite and pleasant and I enjoyed the ride to the camp. They said they often came to our mess to dance and drink so I would see them in the future,  which I did.

Arriving at RAF Upavon the Duty Officer at the main gate, directed me to the arrival office where I waited for someone to take me to my new quarters. RAF Upavon was small compared to my last posting. Only one block for the WRAF and one for the men,  each side of a parade square. From the window of my new single room-  wow! this was great- I could spot the mess hall.

The sergeant of our block, two-storied as usual but only three or four to a room, came and introduced herself, and offered to take me to the mess for tea. On the way, she told me about the SSQ (Station Sick Quarters)  I would be working at and who made up the staff. There was a  civilian Doctor, who drove up from the Upavon village each day,  a Sergeant, two Senior Aircraft men, and a civilian nurse who was retiring. I was to take her place.

Next morning, dressed in my nurses uniform, I nervously made my way to the SSQ. I met the civilian nurse, Mrs Bowes who showed me her routine. Unlike her, I would be ‘on-call’ a shared duty with everyone else in the SSQ.  (Which was why I had the enviable single room!).

Me at RAF Upavon SSQ

A few months after I arrived I went to the weekly ‘hop’ a Saturday night dance drinks and general fun. There, I met John, who had only just arrived on camp himself. He was an admin assistant and worked in the HQ (Headquarters) for Sir Thomas Prickett, RAF Upavon’s Commanding Officer. He walked me back to my barracks and we arranged to meet at breakfast in the mess, the next morning. We spent the weekend together, getting to know one another walking around the camp and talking about our lives so far.

Saturday night dance. John on the far left, shortly after we met, with SSQ staff Dave and Mick, and me.

On Monday morning, when I went to the waiting room, there sat John! In he went in to see the Doctor. When he came out, his medical notes said ‘Mononucleosis’ (otherwise known as the kissing disease!). We sent him to sickbay and put him on antibiotics. The male nursing assistant stayed the night with him.

After one night in sickbay, John had not improved and now had a high temperature, so he was sent to the RAF Wroughton Hospital [2] by ambulance.  I accompanied him on the ambulance trip. I told him he would be spending time in isolation at the hospital but that we could meet again when he got back to camp. We had a date that night!

Seven days later he returned to RAF Upavon and we resumed our getting to know each other routine.  We would see each other at breakfast, lunch and tea, so we got to know each other pretty quickly and very well. We would take the bus to Salisbury on Saturdays to shop and come back in time for the Saturday dance.  We babysat for the local personnel on the camp and spent our days off, together. We took leave and went to my home to visit my parents and up to Liverpool where John was born to meet his Mum.

One year later, on the anniversary of the day we met, March 2nd 1965, we got married. in Plymouth Devon. John’s Commanding Officer, Sir Thomas Prickett sent us a Congratulatory Telegram, as was usual in the days of snail mail and telephones.

Wedding Day 2 March 1968

Telegram from John’s Officer In Command,  Air Marshall Sir Thomas Prickett and Lady Prickett.

After our marriage, I stayed on in the WRAF and RAF Upavon. After all, what was I going to do in the middle of Salisbury Plain for a job? Besides, I was enjoying my life at RAF Upavon. Here, I was photographed demonstrating a new lightweight stretcher for the RAF Magazine – so light even a woman could lift it!

It was considered very unusual for me to continue in the WRAF, as most girls got married to ‘escape’ the WRAF.  However, I loved it so we applied for married quarters, completely forgetting that John was not 21 years of age yet, so he was not eligible!  Whilst I was certainly eligible being a little older than John,  nobody had ever experienced a married 22-year-old WRAF applying for married quarters before, so my request was denied. We just took in  our stride, but today I would have strongly questioned it.

So, for a few months, we lived on camp in our separate barracks and looked around for a place to rent close by. We were lucky to find ‘Dairy Cottage’ an early 19th century run-down, thatched cottage but rental affordable in the village of Upavon, just a bus ride from the camp. We lived there, for 18 happy months. We did some house painting and a few repairs on the inside. There were pheasants and various birds in the overgrown garden and we had get-togethers with our friends.

Our first home together, Dairy Cottage

The SSQ I was posted to was small and intimate and I quickly learned the routine. The staff were very helpful. I soon realised that I was the only female nurse at the camp. Soon, everyone called me Florence, as in Florence Nightingale! I was flattered. As the SSQ was right in the middle of Salisbury Plain, I was not too thrilled as I am a city girl and this place was very ‘country’.  Still, I made some great friends and soon settled in.

We treated the RAF personnel on camp and the civilians from the Village and so the daily ‘surgery’ was usually full.  We did all the necessary vaccinations for overseas postings and dealt with minor sicknesses. We took and developed x-rays and had our own dispensary, where we dispensed medicines and pills. We had a four-bed ‘sick bay’ for things like flu or contractible diseases. The RAF Hospital Wroughton was an ambulance ride away for more serious problems.

One night I was on ‘call’ and my first problem was at 9 pm. The Duty Officer called to alert me to the fact two Army men were at the guardroom, injured. I opened up the SSQ and waited for them. Both men had injuries. They had been on night manoeuvres and had fallen in the dark.  They undressed and I examined them. One had difficulty breathing so I diagnosed a fractured rib. The other man had the same problem but head scratches and a bloody nose.

As I was dressing their wounds and binding their ribs two more men showed up! At that point, I called the other two medics on camp with an urgent tannoy (public address system) message and they also arrived to assist me.  We sent them by ambulance to RAF Wroughton Hospital.

After our marriage,  John decided to change trades and become an Air Cartographer, so he was posted to RAF Northolt to learn his trade.  I tried for a posting there, but no luck. However, I did get a posting to RAF Uxbridge in the SSQ in the same area. So here we were, John at RAF Northolt and me at RAF Uxbridge! Once again we hunted for accommodation and a few months later, found a bed-sitter in Uxbridge for rent. Now, John was ‘of age’ for married quarters and entitled to payment of the rent until we could get a married quarter home at RAF Northolt. I finished my 6 happy, enjoyable years in the WRAF and found a job at a doctors office in the area until I became pregnant with the birth of our first son. This year we have been married 52 years.

Post Script:  When I told my family where I was to be posted, my Gramps told me, that in WW1, he had been at RAF Upavon for his training as an air gunner. However, HE was –  in his own words – ‘under canvas’ What a coincidence!

[1] A Short History of RAF Upavon 

The station motto was In Principio Et Semper, and translated from Latin means “In the Beginning and Always”. The station crest had a pterodactyl rising from rocks, which symbolised the station’s connection with the early days of flying, and was also a reference to the location of the station near to the ancient monument Stonehenge.

Smaller camps such as these were fully functioning  RAF Stations with small Medical Centres and a few beds plus an RAF Hospital nearby in case of emergencies. The nearest hospital to RAF Upavon was RAF Wroughton a Royal Air Force airfield near Wroughton, in Wiltshire, England, about 4 miles south of Swindon.

RAF stations in post-war England were many, and quite historical as most were built in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, most of them, have now closed or like my posting to RAF Upavon, taken over by the Army.  The station opened in 1912 and closed in 1993 when it transferred to the British Army and became known as Trenchard Lines.

[2] A Short History of RAF Wroughton

RAF Hospital Wroughton was part of the station and stood near the eastern boundary of the site, about 1 12 miles (2.4 km) west of Chiseldon. The RAF General Hospital (as it was known) opened on 14 June 1941 and by the end of March 1944, its bed capacity was 1,000. Wroughton continued as a General Hospital treating military patients, and from 1958 took NHS (National Health Service) cases as well to relieve backlogs in the Swindon area.  Following a visit to the hospital by  Princess Alexandra on 4 July 1967, the Queen conferred the prefix “Princess Alexandra’s” on the hospital on 4 October 1967.

The hospital was the primary destination for returning casualties of the Falklands War in 1982. When the hostages from Beirut were released in August 1991, Wing Commander Gordon Turnbull, a psychiatrist based at Wroughton, with his team, debriefed John McCarthy, Terry Waite and Jackie Mann and provided the counselling necessary to ease them back into freedom.  The hospital closed on 31 March 1996 as part of the Conservative Government’s defence cuts at the end of the cold war. The hospital was demolished in 2004 and the site, called Alexandra Park, used for housing and a conference centre; a memorial commemorates the former hospital.

DEAR MISS BULFORD – PART THREE

Parades made up a big part of life, while in training as a nursing assistant at RAF Halton.  Every few months, we would have the ‘Air Officer Commanding’ Parade and recruits and trainees like us were roped in to attend.

Everything was expected to be polished and ironed steamed and brushed. Any negative remarks from the parade commander about our appearance was NOT a good thing!! I was always on the end of a parade, due to my height as parades were organised by height smallest in the middle and fanning out to the tallest at the end.

The person on the right of the photograph, jaws clenched, anxiously awaiting the officers’ inspection is me.

The Air Officer Commander Parade –  May 1966 RAF Halton

RAF Halton a large camp included the Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital on its grounds. It catered to the big RAF population on the station and the local civilians. Many babies from the surrounding towns and villages were born at RAF Halton and during our training period,  we spent a few hours a week there to observe and learn.

Christmas 1966 was spent at RAF Halton[1] and what an enjoyable experience. The food, once again superb as you can see from the menu below.  One of our duties as trainees, the day before our Christmas dinner, we had to prepare all the vegetables for the meal. I and another girl prepared mounds of Brussel Sprouts all morning! We actually enjoyed ourselves.

 

The Christmas Menu  at RAF Halton, 1966

In January 1967  our course was over and our results posted. We had all passed!  I cried tears of relief because I never thought I would pass the exams.  We had our official photograph taken with our tutor, Sgt. Constantine in the centre.

I am in the front row on the left of Sgt. Constantine.

The Medical caduseus badges were issued which we proudly pinned to each side of our collars on our ‘Best Blue uniform and on our nurse’s uniforms.

My Medical Pins with The Kings’ Crown, on top.

Our Sgt. Constantine’s had King George VI crowns on his pin signalling he was an ‘old soldier’  At the end of the course, he gave them to me! I still have them. Made of brass, and once again, I had to polish well before photographing!

I started life in the Women’s Royal Air Force, as an ‘ACW’ (Aircraft Woman) however, after this nursing assistant course, I became an LACW (Leading Aircraft Woman) and in the future, I could take additional courses for further advancement. I ended my career as a SACW – Senior Aircraft Woman, nursing assistant.

We had a ‘going away party’ in the local pub with our Sgt. Constantine and the group.  Mrs C is sitting front left and I am on the right, with my hand on Sgt. C’s shoulder.

Now, we waited to be posted to another RAF station and start our careers as nursing assistants. Where we would be posted we did not know yet, so once again goodbyes were said and another wait for our next postings which came a few days later.

I was to be posted to the Medical Centre, at RAF Upavon near to the ancient monument Stonehenge in Wiltshire England.  RAF Upavon was built in 1912, It was a grass airfield, military flight training school, and administrative headquarters of the Royal Air Force. [2] and was where I met my future husband.

My RAF romance will be told in Part Four…

Dear Miss Bulford, basic training in the WRAF, can be read here: https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/01/02/dear-miss-bulford/

Dear Miss Bulford – Part Two can be read here: https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/22/dear-miss-bulford-part-two/

SOURCES

[1]  https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/3425/raf-hospital-halton

[2] https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=RAF+Upavon

A Brief History of RAF Halton

Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital Halton was opened in 1927 as a large military hospital and as an institute for pathology and tropical medicine Before that it was a temporary hospital set up for training nurses during the First World War.  In 1940, it became the first hospital to use penicillin on a large scale soon after its discovery and introduction into clinical medicine by Flemming, Florey and Chain.

In 1945, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain shared a Nobel Prize with Alexander Fleming Penicillin is one of the most important discoveries in medicine. When peace was declared in 1945, the hospital was kept as a training unit using the best facilities and medical specialists. It later became a specialist burns unit, employing the skills learnt to help victims who suffered during WW2 and the medical units grew alongside the main RAF base. 

The hospital closed in 1995 because the MOD (Ministry of Defence) wanted one centralised unit to train military nurses, making the Royal Hospital in Haslar, at Gosport in Hampshire, their main base and the RAF Halton site will be completely closed by 2022.