This is another story about the Royal Ar Force in the 1970s and therefore contains frequent bad language and scenes of bullying.Enjoy.All names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Nestled comfortably in the heart of the Lincolnshire countryside, the ancient market town of Sleaford was thirteen miles from RAF Coningsby and was the railhead for the thousand or so airmen stationed there. Sleaford was difficult enough to get to at the best of times and, as the junior ranks did not get paid well enough to afford cars and alcohol, rail or bus travel became their only means of escape. A local bus company provided a sporadic service between the two locations, so if anyone wanted to catch a train that was not at half past Thursday the only option open to them was to hitch a lift.
Hitchhiking was a necessary evil, to which rain could add immeasurable misery, even when the weather was warm. Most airmen hitchhiked in uniform because they were more likely to get picked up that way, but that morning Joe ‘Jankers’ Jones had decided to wear faded blue jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt. It was a decision he was beginning to regret as he trudged along the Dogdyke road – five miles of walking and no sign of a lift. His feet were beginning to become weary and the back of his neck was aching from the weight of the RAF-issue kit bag that was slung over his shoulder. Even though the sun was shining and the birds were singing he still felt miserably depressed.
After another mile or so a white Ford Capri pulled up ahead of him and the passenger door swung open. With a sigh of relief Joe ran to the car and, without looking at the driver, threw his kit bag onto the back seat and climbed inside.
“Cheers, mate,” he said cheerfully. “If you could drop me near Sleaford Station that’d be great.”
“I can do better than that,” replied the driver. “I can drop you right outside the door of the barber’s shop next to the Station and I can come in with you and make sure you get a fucking haircut.”
Joe turned his head and looked into the face of his nemesis – the most feared man at RAF Coningsby – George Jones, the Station Warrant Officer.
“Oh shit,” said Joe.
“Oh shit, indeed,” replied the Station Warrant Officer.
The Station Commander might have been in command of his unit but it was the Station Warrant Officer who wielded the ultimate power. He could bollock who the hell he liked, including the Station Commander should the occasion ever arise. WO Jones arrived a few weeks before the annual Air Officer Commanding (AOC) inspection and he put the fear of God into everyone when he was placed in charge of the parade, owing to his previous experience as a drill instructor.
The closer it got to the day of the inspection the more frantic things became. If the grass wasn’t the correct shade of green airmen would be despatched with cans of green paint to remedy the situation. “If it moves,” declared the SWO, “salute it; if it doesn’t move – paint it; if you can’t paint it, then hide it!”
George Jones felt his old skills return to him when he stepped out onto the parade square, the peak of his cap slashed so that it went down with the line of his nose. He watched the parade with beady eyes, looking for obvious mistakes that would give him the chance to pounce on some unsuspecting airman or airwoman.
The parade, which had been practicing for about six weeks, consisted of six Flights, each consisting of three ranks of ten men or women. At the head of each rank was an officer, usually a Flight Lieutenant, who had joined the parade only three days beforehand, and whose principle job, it seemed, was to fuck everything up.
Parade rehearsals were a pain in the arse for everyone concerned; the SWO became consumed with apoplexy every time someone made even a tiny mistake. He once stopped the parade to shout and bawl about the way people were marching. In order to get his point across he opted to give a demonstration in how not to march. He marched past the parade, swinging his arms too high whilst lurching forward with each step. “I’ve seen some of you marching like this!” he yelled, red-faced. “It’s impossible to march like this!”
It was at that point that SAC Jones pointed out the obvious. “You’re doing it, sir,” he said.
The SWO stopped in his tracks. “Who said that?” he barked. “Who the fuck said that?”
Nobody said a word.
On the day of the parade itself the opportunity to pounce came within ten minutes as the combine Flights were stood at ease and a WRAF in the front row of the front middle Flight started to sob quietly to herself.
The SWO marched over and came to a halt directly in front of her. Standing in front of her with his nose almost touching hers was a deliberate action, a tried a tested method of instilling nervousness and fear into his chosen victims.
“What’s the matter with you, girl?” he asked in his parade ground voice.
“I . . . I . . . I . . ,” sobbed the unfortunate girl, “I . . . I think my . . . period’s just started, sir.”
“Well, my young lady,” growled the SWO, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.” He tapped his pace-stick on the ground and then he reached forward and readjusted the girl’s tie. “The bad news is that you’re staying here and the good news is that you’re not pregnant. Now –pull your-fucking-self together.”
Sniggering broke out in the next flight along.
“Shut the fuck up!” roared the SWO, as he turned on his heels and marched over to where the offending noise had originated. “What do you think I am – a fucking comedian?”
He looked across the front rank until his eyes fixed on a familiar figure. “Jones,” he said with disgust, “I might have known you’d be involved with this bloody rabble.”
“Sir?” said SAC Jones.
The SWO looked SAC Jones up and down. “Did you iron your trousers this morning, Jones?”
“Well try switching the fucking iron on next time!”
SAC Jones stifled the urge to laugh.
“Do you think I’m funny, Jones?” asked the SWO.
“You don’t think I’m funny at all, then?”
“That’s strange because my wife thinks I have a pretty good sense of humour.”
“Yes, sir. You have, sir.”
“So, you do think I’m funny?”
“But you just said you didn’t.”
“Errr . . .”
“You must have been lying to me earlier, Jones.”
“I wasn’t, sir.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“Are you aware that lying to a Warrant Officer in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force is a chargeable offence?”
“Well, you are now, aren’t you?”
“And how do you feel about that?”
SAC Rogers who was stood next to SAC Jones could hold it in no longer and he started to snigger. He was a well-educated, well-spoken son of a Wing Commander and if there was one type of person the SWO disliked more than comedians like Jones it was well-educated wankers like Rogers who had sprung from the fanny of a senior officer’s wife. “Do you think this is funny, lad?” snarled the SWO.
“No, sir,” replied Rogers.
“Then shut your fucking mouth!”
“Didn’t I just tell you to shut your fucking mouth?”
“Then shut it. Shut that fucking mouth of yours!”
“Are you taking the piss out of me?”
“Then when I tell you to shut your fucking mouth why do you keep talking instead of shutting your fucking mouth?”
“I only answered your question, sir.”
“Oh really – and what question was that?”
“When you asked me if I thought you were funny.”
“You see, that’s where you’ve gone wrong, my boy – I didn’t ask you a question. I was making a statement! Now shut your fucking mouth!”
SAC Rogers didn’t answer. The SWO glared at him for a full minute before saying, “Well?”
SAC Rogers looked confused. “Sir?”
“Answer me then.”
“But you said I wasn’t to answer you, sir.”
“I told you not to answer the question I asked you five minutes ago. Are you fucking stupid or something? I expect you, though, to answer the last question I asked you.”
“Err – what was your last question, sir?”
“Weren’t you listening to me you fucking prick.”
“Didn’t I just tell you to answer my question!”
“I just did, sir. I said ‘yes, sir’. That was my answer.”
“Don’t you ‘yes sir’ me!”
“That’s better. Now answer my fucking question.”
“Sir, the answer to your question was ‘yes sir’.”
“You seem to answer a lot of my questions with ‘yes sir’, don’t you?”
“Do you like agreeing with me, Rogers?”
“That would make you a sycophant then, wouldn’t it, Rogers?”
“Yes, sir. I suppose so, sir.”
“And what exactly is a sycophant?”
“Sir – a sycophant is a servile or obsequious person who flatters somebody powerful for personal gain, sir.”
“Fuck me,” said the SWO, “listen to Mr La-di-fucking-da Oxford English Dictionary here.” He turned his gaze away from Rogers and addressed the rest of the parade. “Would anyone else here like Mr La-di-fucking-da Oxford English Dictionary to define a word they don’t understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said SAC Jones, “how about tyrant?”
“Shut up. I asked a rhetorical question.”
“A rhetorical question,” said Rogers, “is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a poi . . .”
“Shut up! This is a parade, not a fucking O level English class!”
Rogers and Jones thought that it would probably be a wise thing at that point in the proceedings to shut up. The SWO leaned forward and whispered, “I want to see both of you in my office at 0900 tomorrow morning – and you better make sure that you both have had a fucking haircut.”
Five months later Joe Jones found himself sat a couple of inches away from George Jones, who was sat in the driver’s seat of the car that had just picked him up.
“You going to Sleaford Station?”
“Yes,” said Joe.
Joe sat in silence for a few minutes, before saying, “Thanks for the lift. It’s a shame that we won’t be seeing each other again.”
“Well, I’m out of the Air Force. I applied to buy myself out about five months ago and it was accepted. I cleared from the unit this morning but I didn’t see you around.”
“I’m sorry, Joe,” said the SWO, “I didn’t realise.”
“It’s not your fault, sir; you weren’t to know. I was hardly likely to come round to your office with hair the length of mine just to tell you I was buying myself out.”
“No. Right. So, what have you got planned?”
“Well, I’ve fallen on my feet really, sir; I’ve got a job in the Training Department of Woolworths in Cardiff, and it’s not far from where I live, so I won’t need a car or anything.”
“That’s great news, Joe. Oh and seeing as you’re out I suppose you can call me George now.”
“Oh, yeah. Thanks, George.”
When they reached Sleaford Railway Station George parked the car and said, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll come and wait for the train with you; you know, keep you company and that. It’s not that often I get to say a proper farewell to one of my airmen.”
“Brilliant. Thanks, sir . . . err . . . George.”
As the train sighed into the station Joe climbed aboard and pulled down the window so he could continue chatting with George.
“Well, see you then, Joe,” said George. “Good luck with the job. Maybe we could meet up in Cardiff sometime for a drink.”
“That’d be great, George.”
It was like they’d been friends for years; they were like Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter.
As the train started to pull out of the station Joe said, “There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to know, George.”
Why did you always pick on me whenever I was on parade.”
“Because you’re Welsh,” replied the SWO.
“But you’re Welsh.”
“Exactly,” called the SWO as the train began to pick up speed.
Joe Jones returned to RAF Coninsgby two weeks later after a particularly restful leave. It was lovely morning as he walked across the grass between his barrack block and Supply Squadron. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, insects were buzzing, but all that was shattered by a familiar sound.
“Jones, you fucking bastard!”
SAC Joseph Jones turned around to see Station Warrant Officer George Jones shaking his fist in the air. He smiled and waved at him before sprinting out of sight.
ROYAL AIR FORCE STATION RANKS & CAPABILITIES
- Leaps tall buildings with a single bound.
- More powerful than a locomotive.
- Faster than a speeding bullet.
- Walks on water.
- Gives policy to God.
- Jumps small buildings with a single bound.
- Almost as powerful as a locomotive.
- Just as fast as a speeding bullet.
- Walks on water if the sea is calm.
- Talks to God.
- Hops small buildings with a running start and a favourable wind.
- Not nearly as powerful as a locomotive.
- Faster than a speeding air-gun pellet.
- Walks on water in an indoor swimming pool.
- Occasionally talks by God.
- Barely clears small buildings.
- Can recognise locomotives two out of three times.
- Can fire a speeding bullet from a loaded weapon.
- Swims well.
- Talks to God only if a special request is approved.
- Tries to leap buildings but usually runs into them.
- Gets run over by locomotives.
- Can usually handle a weapon without self-injury.
- Can dog paddle.
- Hardly ever talks to God.
- Falls over door sill when trying to enter buildings.
- Says “Look at the choo-choo!”
- Is never issued with a weapon.
- Can stay afloat if properly instructed.
- Never talks to God and mumbles to himself.
Station Warrant Officer
- Lifts buildings and walks under them.
- Kicks locomotives off their tracks.
- Catches speeding bullets in his teeth and chews them.
- Freezes water with a single glance.
- He is God!