Boy Entrant Caterers
by Howard Dunne
Boy Entrant Caterer
This year marks the 90th Anniversary of the start the RAF Apprentice scheme at RAF Halton which was part of Lord Trenchard’s initial proposals on the formation of the Royal Air Force. It was his plan that the 3 year training given to these boys would form the back bone of the technical skills and technology required by this new Service and they would go on to be the officers and, warrant officers of the future which they certainly did. Eddie Jones asked me to write something about the Boy Entrant caterers as he wrongly believed that it was their 90th anniversary also. The following is a brief history of the Boy Entrant caterers and a few of the experiences I had in my 18 months of training.
In 1947 it was decided to run an 18 month Boy Entrant training scheme to run alongside the apprentice’s, initially mainly for technical and engineering trades. It was open to boys aged 5 to 17 and consisted of an 18 month course designed to give the student a good grounding inRAF history, drill, sport and education as well as trade training - they passed out as mechanics. The results proved positive and it was felt that this type of training could benefit the administrative and support trades, catering being one of them. A purpose built cookery school was erected at RAF Cosford which opened on 11 February 1954 with the 21st Entry being the first students. It was opened by Air Marshal Sir Victor Groom. In his address he said “ It was the Boy Entrants trained at RAF Cosford who the RAF looked to for its future Technician Cooks.” An entry originally consisted of around 24 boys but this increased to 40 as time went on. They formed B Flight of No 1 Squadron, 1 Wing. The rest of 1 Squadron consisted of 2 Flights of Telegraphers and 1 of Photographers. A specialist Catering Officer ran the school but was responsible for trade training only. The Flight Commander was aircrew serving a ground tour. The training was intensive and a result of this process meant that the greater majority of individuals passed out from Cosford as a leading aircraftsman (recommended for promotion to SAC after 6 months). Further promotion to corporal followed quickly to those educationally qualified, some after as few as 6 months productive service and in many cases as young as 18.
I joined the 36th Entry at Cosford on 17th February 1959 along with two other members of the Association, Gordon Frude and Chas Sinclair. The first 10 weeks were served in the Initial Training Squadron (ITS) where we were segregated from the other entries, living in huts with our own mess and NAAFI. When we did come in contact with the older boys we were treated with contempt and called “sprogs” and any back chat resulted in a duffing up. After ITS we moved into the huge Fulton Block to join up with the rest of the other three cook entries. The first night was a rude awakening with the senior entry handing you their kit to clean, tipping us out of bed and making sure we all new our place which was the very bottom of the pecking order just like Tom Brown’s school days. It was pointless going to the mess or NAAFI or in fact anywhere with a queue early because every one pushed in front of you. If you were big and tough, which some were, and objected to this treatment you found you were not taking on another individual but the whole of his entry and it was far wiser to keep your head down and wait until it was your turn to be senior entry. The one bright spot during those early days was having Phil Aylward (34th entry) in charge of our room. He treated us all well, with kindness and leadership. We worshiped him and did what ever he asked. He used to sing to us, as he still does and he was the one bright light I remember about Cosford. He passed out a FS Boy Entrant and was the Parade Commander at the Pass out parade. Another member of the Association who passed out that day was John Hamilton who I remember won the prize for the best student cook.
In July 1959 the school of Cookery closed and the 34th, 35th, 36th, and 37th entries moved to RAF Hereford. We marched out of the gates, got on a train for Credenhill station to be met by a screaming crowd of drill instructors who were going to start as they meant to go on. The nastiest was a Sgt Bernie Lawton a “Scouser” who terrified every one he met. He gave us a hard time but during my service I kept bumping into him when he was a Station Warrant Officer, MBE and highly regarded in the RAF. He retired in Norwich like me and sadly I was at his funeral a year ago where there was a huge attendance. At the wake afterwards we all agreed we had been scared stiff of him in the past.
RAF Hereford was a much better place than Cosford, much smaller, less bullying and we were No 4 Squadron in our own right with each entry being a Flight. Our Flt Cdr was Fg Off Dudly Hammond who went on to become a wg cdr. Our drill instructor was a Cpl Ken Fieldhouse seconded from the RAF Regiment. He was a dreadful man who made our lives a misery right until the end of training. In 1962 I was a corporal in the JRM at Akrotiri working on the servery when who should be standing in front of me but SAC Fieldhouse. My first reaction was to dip his head in the custard but I thought better of it and told myself he had just been doing his job. The School of Catering was purpose built and brand spanking new and we had civilian mess hands to wash up our pots and pans during training whereas at Cosford we did our own. In the October of 1959 the 38th Entry were the first to train stewards and purveyors as well as cooks and they were largest entry in numbers up to that point. Looking back to those times it was amazing how ruthless the system was, if you did not shape up in training or if you failed an exam you were either relegated to the next entry or discharged. The 36th entry started with 43 boys and a few were relegated to us and yet only 22 of us passed out. Obviously money was not an issue in those days but the one’s who did make it were good. The training was Monday until Saturday lunch time, when we stood down until church parade on a Sunday which was mandatory. We were allowed into Hereford at weekends only but had to wear our best blue. The senior entry were allowed to wear civilian clothes but this had to be a black blazer with a RAF Hereford badge and tie, white shirt, grey trouser with the bottoms being no less than 18 inches wide the drill instructors use to measure them with a ruler. Hard to believe now. Some wag wrote to the daily paper about it and it became front page news. There was a big hunt to find the culprit but the 18 inch rule remained. Therefore being in civilian clothes in Hereford we all stuck out like sore thumbs. Drinking alcohol was strictly forbidden and any one caught was given 14 days detention at the Detention Centre at Cosford. One of our entry did end up there. They were many happy days, in the summer we use to swim in the gravel pits at the back of the camp and sport played a big part in our leisure time. It was amazing the talent our entry had in every sport, Chas Sinclair was a great table tennis player, Gordon Frude was good at everything but especially sprinting and basketball and on sports day the Flight won 12 of the 20 events, amazing for 22 boys.
The last Boy Entrants to pass out were the 51st entry in July 1965 and Eddie Hunt, a member of our Association was one of them. The cost of 18 months training was looked on as too expensive and it was replaced by the Craft Apprentice scheme of a one year course which continued until September 1973. Therefore the Boy Entrant scheme ran for only 30 entries lasting just over 11 years. Was it a success, who is to judge? Out of its ranks it produced one Wg Cdr - Dickie Parkinson, of the 39th entry, several sqn ldr’s and flt lts who are too many to mention and hundreds of warrant officers. In the early 1980’s of the 72 warrant officer chefs, well over 40 were ex boys. For most Boy Entrants promotion could be fast, before I left the RAF my staff would not believe that I was an SAC for just 5 months and warrant officer at 36 years of age. In fact in my service I was a wo longer than all my other ranks put together. Dennis Griggs was even younger than me when he reached wo rank but I believe that the youngest of all was Brian Toullson at just 32. (tell me if I am wrong.).
Good memories, the bad ones long forgotten and friends made for life. On the 17 February 2009 Gordon Frude, Chas Sinclair, Geof Barwick, myself our wives and our guest of honour our ex Fight Sergeant Boy Entrant (34th Entry) Phil Aylward were staying at Warners Holiday Hotel on Hayling Island to celebrate our Golden Anniversary of joining the RAF at Cosford. A brilliant time was had by all and to the embarrassment of our wives we sang all the old songs of the past and were told by fellow guest that we were better than the cabaret. We plan to return for our Diamond Anniversary in 2019, God willing!