Stan’s death (Jan 2nd 2014)
Jan 9th, 2014. I have just been informed, via Alan Causon who was contacted by Stan's daughter, that Stan died at 0600 on 2nd Jan 2014. His daughter reported that 'my father's heart just stopped'. We all send her our condolences (Andre Francis)
Springtime in beautiful Berkshire (via email from Stan in 2012)
I left the nearest railway station to RAF Warton, Lytham St Annes, with a smile on my face and a song on my lips, to go to Shinfield Park, Reading, which seemed a million miles nearer home. My route to Reading was via Paddington station in London. Bonhomie was bursting and my medical “wings” shone on my uniform. I left Paddington station and spotted some fellow RAF chaps in a carriage. Still full of bonhomie, I joined them and started a spritely conversation. A dour lad looked at me and said “Full of it, is’nt he, chuffed to f…k”. I took this as a compliment! A bus from Reading station took me to RAF Shinfield Park. On arrival I reported to the guardroom and was allocated to the accommodation block for those in transit. After finding a top bunk bed I popped into the NAAFI for some food and was greeted by two medics who acted as if they were witnessing the second coming of a blue-clad Messiah! They claimed to be understaffed and I was a welcome message from medical school!
I was awakened the next morning by the wonderful noise of birds chattering in the trees outside the window to welcome me to a new station and new experiences. But, what a contrast to the bleak, cold, hard Lancashire life I had got used to as the sun’s warmth moved round to cheer every corner of the room.
The station included 70% WRAF personnel, 30% RAF men and what seemed to be hundreds of officers. Sick quarters staff included Corporal Madge, red headed Helen, Nat Holt from Bolton who stopped his wife from getting “Scotch legs” by forbidding her from sitting too near their coal fire. Brian Johnson, a railway enthusiast from Cornwall and Ron from Oxford who swore that he was not going back to his previous occupation as a stone mason as he just got his hands back to an unscarred condition. In my early days at Shinfield Park I was always astonished to look out of my window in the early morning and see trails of footprints on the dew-laden grass from the windows of the WRAF accommodation block to ours, and presumably vice-versa. And, wonder who had made them?
The station sick quarters, SSQ, were about a mile away from accommodation blocks. This tended to discourage trivial attendance within our welcoming doors and ensured that we had to go and get the really sick in an ambulance that could well have doubled for a “fruit and vegetable” van. In fact, one of our visiting doctors was of the opinion that any patient, taken any distance would arrive with additional pneumonia. Our domain comprised a kitchen, which became my bailiwick for my first month, an adjacent boiler room, a small dispensary, the office, a treatment room and male and female wards and a small room where duty staff slept. The early settling-in, and disorganised days, saw me running out of clean pants and vest. So, one day on kitchen duty, I boiled the undergarments in a cooking pot. They came out several shades dingier than when they went in. My other total stupidity was to stir a cup of tea with a spare thermometer, as I could not find a teaspoon. I took the thermometer out and then realised it no longer had mercury in it. I dumped the tea in the sink and made another cup.
I quickly settled into a routine and found that when I arrived for work on a Monday morning we often had new patents with broken bones. Usually motorbike riders who had crashed on the A4 near Reading as they wended their way back to the West Country stations such as Yatesbury. We did have one most unusual lad who had fallen on a paraffin heater as he got out of his bath at home and badly burnt the left hand side of his chest. Our treatment was a bright yellow Acriflavine cream, a large lump of lint and sticky plasters scattered round its edge. After a few days we noticed that the poor lad was developing sore patches round the sticking plaster, obviously allergic. We then tried to find bits of skin not affected by the plasters or the burn and finished by using a wide 2-inch bandage round his entire chest. He seemed fairly sorry to leave us.
We had a couple of visiting doctors. One would usually cover our station sick parade in the morning and the other families in the afternoon. A WRAF told me that a sure sign of pregnancy was when the girls started to wear their shirts outside their skirts in the accommodation block. We had a much more accurate system. We simply scanned the medical examination form for the box marked LMP or Last Monthly Period. The Treatment Room was a good duty to experience as we met children and mothers. One mother who was involved with our theatre group seemed very pleased to seem me in a freshly pressed white jacket instead of the suit I had worn as the Colonel in our station production of Ten Little Indians. I must admit I got a much bigger laugh from the air force personnel in our next production, On Monday Next when I entered as a stretcher-bearer. My other sortie into the theatrical world was my entry to the Shinfield Eisteddfod with a passage from Richard III. The judge was very kind to me and I won. Unfortunately, the certificate was awarded to Robert Allen. Which is some kind of coincidence, as the Allen dynasty seemed to have started with Robert Allen, a Cambridgeshire agricultural worker, who was born in 1811 and died in 1861!
Our new Sergeant was Sgt Coombes, a small fat man with RAF issue spectacles, a German wife and her son. I still have my receipt for NHS quality frames that cost me 9s 9d (almost 50p) that were much smarter. Our sergeant suddenly tried to post me to the far North. I appealed and he lost as the Command’s chief medical man said there was no reason to deplete Command Headquarters’ medical staff and I had to stay. I especially wanted a few days in Grimsby for my parent’s Silver Wedding celebrations. Brother Reg could not get away from Yatesbury. In fact, I knew the Chief Medical Officer quite well as he was interested in sport and had used our temporary lorry-mounted dental laboratory to rip one of troublesome wisdom teeth out. This extraction took place in the morning. He was a big ex-rugby playing forwards with forearms that blocked out the light as he advanced towards me with the dental instrument in his hand. I swilled and spat and off to lunch where I proudly feasted on chips.
Mike Cannon, a fellow athlete and a member of locally based Maidenhead Athletic club, worked in the officer’s mess and was a close friend whereas one of the Redcap police was anything but and forever trying to use his authority to catch me out. He had been the central character in my great escape one Saturday morning. I was leaving camp and had “borrowed” some medical supplies that nestled in the bottom of my running bag. He called me into the guardroom and said he was going to search my bag and told me to sign the search book. He had previously stopped a clerk going out of camp when he discovered some contraband, possibly paper clips, and arrested him. The poor lad had a breakdown and was later discharged from the service. I digress. I signed the book and then he told me to unpack the bag. The first item out was a Jock Strap, which had been in intimate contact with my genitalia for far too long without the benefit of washing. Frankly, this grey, Vaseline soaked object stank. I carefully draped my undergarment across the two open pages of the search book and reached back into my bag. “Stop there ” he hissed, “Put that back and get out”. I put it back and got out.
Both my friend Mike and the Redcap booked in up for injections on the same day. In those days we re-used syringes and “sterilised” them in a stainless steel vessel with a perforated inner bottom that rose through the boiling water at the touch of a lever. Mike needed his injection as he had been posted to Germany but Redcap reported as he “wanted to be ready to be sent anywhere n the world”. Which, frankly, I was totally in favour of.
We knew that one needle was brand new and that the other one may well have been a little blunter as we had “accidentally” dropped it on the floor a few times. Both men entered our treatment room and bared their arms. I gave the Doctor a syringe with the brand new needle for Mike. The sharp, sterilised point entered his arm like a hot knife cutting through butter but the Redcap was not so lucky. He bent his bared arm and the Doctor applied minimal pressure with the syringe to find that the needle simply bounced out. A second attempt also failed. The Doctor then literally attacked the arm with the needle and syringe by holding the back of the muscle in place with one had and so gained entry for the injection. Redcap swayed, went a little white and thanked us. After this incident, members of the station sick quarters seemed to be treated much more as professional equals by the main guardroom.
In my very early days at Shinfield Park, Flight Lieutenant Gerry Warr called a station-wide meeting of all interested in athletics. I later discovered that he was a good walker and was basically the station athletic star. We were all asked to say what our athletic background was. My turn came. “880 yards Sir, best time 1min 59.9 Sir” The Flight Lieutenant responded “We call that 2 minutes”. I found myself saying, “Not if you have done it… Sir”
One of the Officer’s wives decided to shed a little culture on our lives and founded a Music Society. Those interested applied and soon afterwards an official order appeared on all our notice boards. The order included where and when music would be listened to and listed members of the society “ordered”/ “expected” to attend. The amazing thing was that we had all been promoted to Corporal for this grand occasion. Later we were actually allowed to borrow the Black Box record player for a small gathering in the kitchen of the sick quarters. Under supervision of course.
The SSQ staff played a lot of cricket round the side of the sick quarters with a tennis ball and I discovered that I could swing the ball viciously. This was noted by passers-by and I was reported to the station cricket captain as a potential player. Nothing happened and, in fact, the cricket team was a bit of an Officer’s preserve. We had some great off-peak times playing bat and ball!
We discovered that a cat from the married quarters had crept into the space between the boiler and the staff toilet and gave birth to half a dozen kittens. We kept one and we called him Ferenec Puskas after the great Hungarian Football captain. Puskas was noted for his on-ball skills but our cat could have shown him a skill or two as he pawed unopened tins of cat food round the kitchen floor in an effort to get at the contents. Puskas habitually spent the first part of the night on the duty bed, with the duty medic, in a small side room. He would ask for the window to be opened so that he could conduct feline operations in the night by sticking one paw in your mouth. Always worked for me.
One weekend on duty I committed a cardinal sin, I almost let the boiler go out. Panicking, I threw methylated spirits on the hot embers and then, stupidly, leant forwards to check. The meths exploded and I instinctively turned my face away from the blast. I toasted my cheek, burnt my eyebrow and warmed my spectacles. I was sore. This meant that I could not shave and could not appear on the parade ground or in the accommodation block. I took all SSQ day and night duties for a week!
Mick Cannon and I went to many races with Maidenhead Athletic club including a handicap three miler road race where I clocked under15 minutes for the first time. We also went to an International opening of the new cinder track at Hayes where long-time friend Don Taylor was later based as Manager for Hillingdon Council
It was my turn to represent the SSQ on parade for the Queen’s Birthday on a very hot day after I had raced over 660 yards in 86 sec the night before at Palmer Park in Reading. I stood in the hot sun and started to feel faint. Sweat ran down my back but before I collapsed I broke ranks to report to Maggie and Helen who were on medical duty. Nobody seemed to notice.
We used to fly to various championships from White Waltham, now an industrial estate, and on one trip to Cranwell I finished second over 880 yards in 2min 6.8 sec in the Command Championship. My records show that this included meeting a tornado over Bedford when traveling in a Hastings ambulance airplane and the fact that I thought the race was over 910 yards! The next year, in June 1956 I won the Command Championships at Cranwell over 880 yards with ease despite DIY surgery to scrape a fungal infection between my toes with a razor blade the night before. Warrant Officer Harrrison, and a Cranwell resident, asked me to double up with a run over a mile. I showed him my foot as an excuse but after seeing the longer race I realised that I could have easily doubled up.
And so I progressed to the RAF championships at Uxbridge on July 2nd. I met Squadron Leader John De’ath, an old friend, from Herne Hill Harriers, Ted Caiger from Hercules AC and Ian Cummings from Notts AC, and they were all in my heat of the 880. I asked John, being an officer, what I should call him. He said “Call me John as you always have”. He then said that we should run the first 500 easily and that I should go with him over the last 300. I stuck like glue. As we approached the 300 to go mark he looked over his shoulder and said, “Are you ready, Stan?” I said, “Yes,” and we went through the field. Entering the home straight I kicked past him and then Ted and Ian. I was in the lead. I stormed down the straight and then 10 yards from the finish I relaxed. I had made the Final.
In those final seconds five runners went past me and I swore. The expletive echoed round the deserted grandstand. Deserted that is apart from two WRAF girls with bright red faces. I ran 2 min 2 sec and was so fed up I went to Tooting Bec track that night to finish 9th in the Herne Hill club championship with 2min 3.9 sec. When I returned to Shinfield Park, I was summoned to the Orderly room where a Warrant Officer wanted to talk about my behaviour at Uxbridge as he had received an official complaint about my expletive. He said that as I was so disappointed with not reaching, or possibly winning the final, the matter would not be taken further.
Perhaps my most comfortable ride from a track Command Championship at Cranwell was in a Dehavilland Dove used by the Commander in Chief of Flying Training Command. Mike Cannon and I were told to hide behind the tail of the plane until the C in C had boarded. My problem was that I had not polished my hat badge or buttons for a few days; in fact they had a distinct tinge of green. I hid as commanded and scrubbed my brass bits with a handkerchief. All would have been well but the C in C knew Mike from his duties in the Officer’s mess and he kept turning to chat about our races. He did not seem to notice my brass bits and was pleased with our Command victories.
It was always a good start to the day to walk to work across the playing field, jump over a wire fence and wander downhill through the shade of the woods, as it gave a limited period for exploration. There was even a public footpath from bottom of the camp, through the playing field and out past the guardroom. One magical summer day we found a large lake and a giant dead pike on the shore. Fascinated by the teeth and the size of the fish we visited him frequently until the stench proved over powering. In winter we had to use the road down to the SSQ. This prompted me to apply, in writing, for permission to have a bicycle on camp. Permission granted, I went home to Brixton, oiled the fixed-wheel bike given to me by my Biology teacher, Mr. Hamer, and rode back to camp down the A4, eventually. Later I bought a Royal Enfield ex-WD motorbike and sidecar from the paraffin man in Stockwell’s Clapham Road. I roared round the camp to the great annoyance of the sergeant’s mess. I drove round the mess a few times and was heartily vilified for affecting their TV reception. I explained that the bike was suppressed and they suggested that I should be as well.
The Sergeant’s mess was very close to our sick quarters and we got our main meals from there. I asked the Chief Chef Sergeant to write out menus for a two-week Scout camp and he said he would provide a day at a time if I played him at chess. We played and the 8th Lambeth Scout troop used these menus for over 50 years. One sergeant was diagnosed as having mumps and was restricted to his own quarters. But, he had to be fed. We treated him as a case for isolation and carried out full barrier nursing procedures. The main problem was that he was restricted to a diet based on eggs and we quickly ran out of different ways of cooking and presenting them. Still, he did recover.
A small wooden hut guarded the entrance to our bottom end of the camp. So small that it contained two beds and a miniature coal-fired stove squeezed between the feet of the beds. Two RAF men stayed in the hut at nighttime acting as fire piquets and for general security duties. As the sick quarters were at this end of the camp, our personnel were always allocated to this small hut. My turn came round just after the IRA had raided the Army camp at Arborfield, just down the road from Shinfield Park. My companion had gone to the Sergeant’s Mess for some supper and I was knelt down between the beds trying to light the stove. I heard a noise, looked up and saw a man standing over me. As I was on the floor I scanned him from shoes and socks upwards. I stood, realising my vulnerability and started to talk to him. He seemed to have an Irish accent and claimed to be taking over the main NAAFI in the top camp. He asked if the gate between the two parts of the camp was locked. I nodded enthusiastically but without real knowledge. He then left and I rang the main guardroom. A few minutes later, a Redcap military policeman arrived cursing the fact that the main gate separating him and me was locked. He took me to the main guardroom and I gave a detailed description of the stranger. Shoes, socks, trousers, shirt, tie, jacket, face, hair etc. The Redcap was amazed and asked how did I do it? I explained that I had been in the Boy Scouts and had passed my Observer badge!
After the IRA raid just down the road at Arborfield, security at the camp was increased, but not enough. One night RAF Special Branch raided us. They got into the armoury by knocking on the door and offering the guard a cup of tea. He said “Thank you” and opened up only to be arrested. And, the Camp commanding officer was not too pleased to arrive at his office early the next morning to discover a Special Branch officer sitting at his desk going through his papers. Security was again stepped up. Soon after this, the station commanding officer, Squadron Leader Wilson, was passing the guardroom late one night when challenged by one of the guard. Wilson identified himself but the guard demanded to see his identity card. Sir was not pleased but eventually did as requested. The odd thing was that the guard was posted to Germany the very next day!
Food in our Airmen’s mess was of very high quality. One year the station entered our mess in the RAF wide competition to find the best catering. The food on competition day that day was better than ever, not an easy feat in itself. But the area we queued in for service was, that day, a sea of flowers. It was rumoured later that the mess lost the Champions cup because the airmen in the queue made loud remarks like “What’s all them flowers for?” and “Blimey, that’s unusual”
I checked with Wendy, our winsome WRAF physical education instructor, to see if I could use the weights in the old cricket pavilion. This was long before the days of weight machines. I went one night without Wendy, slapped what seemed to be an appropriate number of discs on each end of a bar, bent down, grasped the bar and heaved up. The bar came up, over my head and I dropped it behind my head and onto my shoulders. I meant to lift the bar back over my head and down to the floor but I could not move it. I staggered round the small pavilion looking for an answer and softly calling for help. The fireplace was the key. I staggered over to the fireplace and placed one protruding end of my bar onto the mantelpiece. It took the weight. I then lifted the bar off my shoulders with both hands and wriggled. The weight-laden bar crashed to the floor a second before I crashed out of the door.
On the weekly “Bull” night we scrubbed our corridors sparkling clean, scoured the toilet block urinal and toilets and polished every brass pipe to perfection. When we arrived for the evening’s fun after tea, I noticed that the first part of the corridor outside our four-berth room was always scrubbed clean. On enquiry, I was told an airman who had landed a steady early-evening shift job at Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory in Reading always did it in the late afternoon. I will readily admit that after our cleaning and polishing we looked spick and span. We always left one toilet for everybody’s use, which was cleaned just before Inspection. Brass gleamed, corridors and toilets shone and, frankly, we were proud of our efforts. Until, one night after we had popped out for a quick pint or two, Roger Burland threw up all over the urinal and all over our shiny brass pipes. We all turned out in a semi inebriated state and helped to restore the toilet facility to its former glory while “Roger B” snored the early night away.
Click to enlarge
Two camp documents
© Andre Francis 2020