In common with many former National Servicemen, Ron Swain has never forgotten the years he spent as a conscript in the UK Armed Forces, his two-year stint as an ‘erk’ (RAF slang for a non-flying tradesman) in the Royal Air Force in 1952-3 having been particularly eventful.
Ron’s account of his National Service years, being compiled from a diary kept at the time, contains an enormous amount of historical detail, indeed his recall of names, places and events is so remarkable and his descriptions of them so vivid and evocative that his readers are transported back 50 years to share his experiences, as if serving alongside him.
First came the weeks of Basic Training that all National Servicemen will recall (in Ron’s case at RAF Wilmslow): the ‘bull’, the ‘square-bashing’ and the hated Corporal Drill Instructors all being depicted with truthfulness and humour. Next came training in a specific trade (in Ron’s case as an Airframe Mechanic or ‘rigger’ at RAF St Athan) and finally a posting to an operational squadron, which for Ron would be 148 Squadron of RAF Bomber Command, based at RAF Upwood, where he would soon find himself responsible for the upkeep of RE347, one of the squadron’s Avro Lincoln bomber aircraft.
This was an interesting period in aviation history, witnessing the end of the piston-engined era and the beginning of jet-powered flight. Old war-horses like the Lincoln (successor to the famous WW2 Lancaster) were about to be consigned to the history books, replaced by jet aircraft such as the English Electric Canberra and the Vickers Valiant, which in due course would themselves be recognised as ‘classic’ aircraft. In the course of his National Service Ron would be closely involved with all three of these vintage aircraft and his detailed descriptions of them will be of great interest to aircraft enthusiasts.
As well as his day-to-day duties on the Squadron, in the course of which he would become intimately acquainted with the workings of the Lincoln, Ron also attended one of the first training courses for the Valiant and as a consequence was sent on detachment to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where he would play a part in the RAF team effort to win the 1953 London-Christchurch Air Race (eventually won by an RAF Canberra). Once again, Ron’s detailed and accurate on-the-spot reporting does an excellent job in conveying the excitement of participating in this historic aviation event.
On his return to the UK there was to be no let-up, because following the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 there was to be a major review of the RAF in 1953, to which RAF Upwood would be contributing. Lincolns from 148 Squadron were to take part in what is now remembered as one of the greatest flypasts in British aviation history. Ron’s descriptions of the preparations for, and execution of, his squadron’s part in this major event are once again remarkably detailed and accurate.
All-told, this is a fascinating and evocative memoir, packed with an unusual amount of authentic period detail and delivered with great style and good humour.