A former Chief Technician takes us on a trip down memory lane as he is invited back to the RAF for a graduation ceremony.

I left the RAF in 2005 after 28 years’ service, and being in Gibraltar there isn’t much chance to connect with former workplaces and colleagues. Luckily for me, friends made in the service are friends made for life. I was invited last month to RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire by close friends James and Veronica Brayshaw; it was great to see them and their children Alex and Millie, both of which I hadn’t seen since they holidayed near Nerja some years ago.

James and I met in 1998 at the RAF recruiting office in London during one of my stints away from the armament world I generally lagged in. He was a junior officer and I was a sergeant. Thankfully the tables have now turned as I am the more senior ‘Mr’ whilst he, a Group Captain with 3 tours of Afghanistan under his belt. I was excited because RAF Halton was once the No1 School of Technical Training, a place I had completed my Weapons Mechanic course, post recruit training in 1977. I’d first seen it at the age of 16 and though I had attended other courses this was to be a first as I was invited to see a recruit graduation ceremony; something I’d not seen since my own in July of ’77. I was also excited because in those long gone days we would have our cross country runs around the environs, sometimes passing the beautiful looking Officer’s Mess – an old Rothschild mansion. I’d always wanted to see inside.

Michelle and I were picked up at Wendover Station and taken to the house for a quick catch up before James’ car arrived to take him to review the parade dress rehearsal. He reviews the parade to ensure all recruits and standards are reached before allowing them through into the RAF proper, past the watchful eye of the reviewing officer invited for their special day. In this case, Air Vice-Marshal Sue Gray CB OBE MSc CENG FIET RAF, the Air Officer Commanding Number 38 Group.

The following day suited and booted we headed to the Officers Mess for a pre-ceremony lunch with the AVM Gray and other guests in the ‘gold’ room of the mess followed by a drive to the parade ground to watch the ceremony proper accompanied by the Band of the RAF Regiment. Nos 11 and 12 Flight equipped themselves excellently with several marches past in varying formations with the band playing superbly. Their first tune sent a laugh through the two stands of spectators as they tunefully began with that classic movie song “The Great Escape”, fitting as the recruits finally get out of training. This culminated in a general salute to the AVM by the recruits and the parade executives as an emotional flypast roared just above our heads by a Hawk T2 from 4 Squadron.

During the parade there were a number of awards for recruits that had excelled in certain areas. I saw several female recruits gaining awards which was brilliant. In my time, men and women trained apart in different camps. I suppose it gave the men a better chance of winning something because the ladies did better than average. After the parade the families that had been loudly cheering their sons/daughters, brother/sister and grandchildren all came together for lunch and plenty of congratulations. It was a lovely day and a rare experience back in the fold for us ‘has-beens’.