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Author Topic: Post WW2 “Peace Time Conscription” National Service Memories 1948 to 1963  (Read 26785 times)

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Offline grandarog

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Thanks, another great post by Barry 5X.

Referring to his comments re Driving licences:
During my RAF service the Form 1629 Driving licences were in various grades.

 A Class were only held by an MT Driver by trade and was a full Driving licence with special annotations for Matadors, Queen Marys, Cranes, Forklifts, Tractors, etc. or other specialist vehicles.
 B Class were full licences for other Trades who drove as a secondary job in connection with their trade or squadron requirements. Covered the vehicles listed in the licence. (To hold a B class 1629 you had to have a full Clean Civilian UK Car Licence). My 1629 covered all commercial vehicles from Vans up to Hippo and Matadors, not PSV buses and ironically, not cars.
 C Class were restricted licences only valid on Airfield or Air Ministry (MOD) land.

Us B class drivers were necessary as the number of MT drivers on any RAF Station was nowhere near enough to cover daily requirements. I regularly fetched a Hippo load of Explosives from Newquay, Cornwall railway stations to airfield. With no power steering, needed two of us to drag steering round at slow speed manouvering to get into position. Then a mammoth effort to turn right out of the station without mounting the opposite pavement or get holiday makers stuck in the wheel arches. The Flags and Explosive Boards seemed to attract them to get as close as possible rather than the desired effect of keeping them away.
  The point is, when the Government introduced HGV licences, employers signed to certify that drivers had been driving HGVs regularly to qualify for the new licences.
 The RAF MT department, as employers, refused to sign B class drivers to the approval status required. Our 1629s were cancelled and new ones issued with just commercials up to 3 ton.
 Consequently there was a shortage of drivers available to drive off base until the MT brought a lot more of their drivers up to the heavier grade. Also left a lot of P*** off B Class drivers who would not have had to take the HGV test if they wanted to be truckers when demobbed.

Barry 5X

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An old soldier’s cardboard shoebox full of memories

Further to my late brother in law’s “Derek J Beans story of national service memories”; found amongst his personal papers was an old shoe box containing memorabilia of his army life; mainly the obligatory platoon photograph, a certificate of thanks for involvement in the Royal Tournament, discharge documentation of the day and of course his prized Buffs - Suez Canal Zone medal.

A point of note is the declared fact on his discharge document that he was “a driver”:

A good solid and thoroughly reliable type of man who has given valuable service to the unit as a driver.  Honest, sober and industrious, he can display initiative when given the opportunity.  A first class driver who has always given care and attention to his vehicle and his driving.  Will make any employer a good driver.

…… whereas after leaving the army he was known to drive a “Reliant Robin” three wheeler because he only had a motor bike licence!

In the 1950’s and 1960’s service personnel could drive various military vehicles “Whilst in the service” providing they had received the appropriate instruction, having passed a test and having been issued with the correct “service issued authorisation” form and/or chit for the designated type of vehicle (3 ton lorry, crane, ambulance, land rover etc.).
However this didn’t automatically entitle a serviceman to a UK driving licence - so Derek would have been demobbed without a full UK drivers licence – he would have therefore had to have taken a civilian driving test like all the rest of the UK population to get a driver’s licence.  There were some specialised driving courses available within the services where a UK driver’s licence could be issued after completing a test, however these courses were few and far between and you would have been extremely lucky to get on one.

As in most cases of having received an official photograph of the platoon, military custom would have been for colleagues to sign the back.  In this case from about a dozen signatures, the following names of Derek’s friends could be identified:  W Hammond, J Mennee, D Penney, C Theobald, A Gilham and D Williams.

Barry 5X

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In my introduction to this topic (Reply #1 in June 2013) I stated:

“Born in 1944 and as a teenager I was dreading the thought of national service having heard so many sorry tales from those who had experienced it, however, thankfully I didn't need to do it as it was stopped before I was old enough”.

I was so pleased like many of my school friends that the threat of National Service had been lifted.  I had seen my brother leave the RAF as a qualified Instrument Fitter (General) in 1958 having obtained the rank of Cpl Tech.  He had “signed on” for 9 years at the age 16 as a Boy Entrant and after serving 11 years he decided to leave the RAF and seek a career in “civvy street”.  (It should be noted that “served time” didn’t start until your 18th birthday so therefore 2 years of his time in the RAF were given to the King - for free).  Having then seen him struggling to get work in the Sittingbourne area despite his qualifications and experience I was further convinced the armed services were not for me.  I recall at this time that I didn’t feel the need to determine what my future would be; being a village lad I was also aware that if it came down to it there was also the possibility of farm work.  Basically there was no pressure on me – or so I thought.

In 1961 and at the age 16 and a half, out of the blue, my father began asking me what I was going to do, repeatedly every week.  Although I didn’t see the urgency to make up my mind, my father obviously did.  One morning at the Sheerness Tech a master entered the classroom and asked if anyone wanted to take the RAF entrance exam.  I saw this as a means to get my father off my back and thus took it – at least I could pretend that I was trying to get a job.  As it turned out I passed the RAF exam and was asked to go for interviews; by this time I had left school and I was happily working on a farm.  At Cardington we took further exams and were taken to RAF Halton to see the training school.  I was subsequently offered an apprenticeship place; however I had seen nothing to change my views on a career in the armed forces and subsequently turned it down.  On returning home, I told my father that I had turned down the offer as I simply didn’t want to join up.  To cut a long story short my father sat me down, said “Don’t move” and phoned the RAF; he managed to reach the Officer concerned and asked if the offer was still on the table as his son had returned home and had “changed his mind”.  This was news to me.  The next words I heard my father say was “Great, he’ll be on the train”.  A week later my father showed me the door and said “Son remember, in the RAF you will always have food on the table and a roof over your head”.  Two days later having just turned 17 years of age, I signed on for 12 years, which was effectively 13 years (Remember the 18th birthday rule).  Thankfully, the 3 year RAF Apprenticeship “Trenchard Brat” training and service life thereafter could not be really compared with that of a short term National Serviceman.  Ironically I eventually served 26 years in the period mostly associated with the Cold War.

Offline peterchall

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 Great stuff :) :) :)
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John38

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Really enjoyable meeting people who went through those funny old times, thanks for sharing. It's as interesting to note the similarities and the differences.

I agree there were many varieties of RAF, which could be seen between Commands and Stations.

On leaving training I was posted to RAF Bassingbourne and Station Workshops. This was like working for a small family business: one sergeant metalworker, one JT Coppersmith, one corporal blacksmith, an SAC Welder and me an LAC Sheet Metal Worker. However, it didn't last and I was posted to Germany, RAF(G) Butzweilerhof near Cologne. The flight from Manston to Germany gave me a whole flying hour!! The first time in an aircraft.

Butzweilerhof was a Forward Repair Unit for all the Motor Transport in Germany. It was like a factory with a hooter starting/ending work .... and we clocked in and out!

But this was all to change as I explained in the article for the RAF Mag:

For The High Jump.
'The swiftest and slimmest wolves have the best chance of surviving.'
                                              Darwin (Origins of Species, 1851)


Apart from the odd creak from the basket, the absolute stillness that so often accompanies early November mornings was complete.
   'It's very clear, isn't it?' said the sadist, 'look, you can see all the way up the A40 to Oxford.'
   I ignored him.
   'Plenty of cars scurrying to work,' he continued.
   I gulped... he grinned ... we both looked down.
   'Just step out when you are ready,' he suggested, 'careful you don't fall.'
   Given a choice, I wasn't going anywhere.
    'GO!'
   I cursed the thoroughness of the Parachute School's training, as my body responded to the command and I found myself four feet outside the balloon's basket and eight hundred above the ground, and falling.
***   
'I see the RAF want aircrew,' Pat announced, looking up from the newspaper, 'there is a bit of a shortage it seems'.
   'Really dear,' I answered, not really interested. I was, after all, a shipwright, or had been until quite recently. Anyway, I knew nothing of aeroplanes, having spent only one hour 'flying' in my whole life – and most of that with my eyes tightly screwed shut.
   'Mm, they pay a jolly good salary too, many times better than the one we are on,' she murmured.
   'How many times better?' I asked, a mercenary gene stirring within me.
   'Between twenty and forty times better,' she calculated.
  'Cut out the application thingy then, and I will send it off tonight,' declared the gene, on my behalf.   
   This conversation might well have sounded normal in most homes, but not so in ours, for we were already in the RAF and living in one of their houses in Germany, for I had been conscripted to do two years National Service on completion of my six year apprenticeship.
   
Six months after my initial newspaper conversation with Pat, I found myself at Biggin Hill with a hundred or so other candidates, for three days of examination and testing at the Aircrew Selection Centre.
   It soon became obvious that everyone there, except me, knew just about everything there was to know about aeroplanes and flying. Indeed many had Private Pilot Licences or flew gliders, and this didn't sit too comfortably with my own flying background – albeit the flight from Germany had doubled my flying hours ... to two! I couldn't even understand the welcoming address:
  'I am the Deputy Commanding Officer of the Aircrew Selection Centre and Vice President of the Selection Panel, or DCOASC&VPSP for short; I will spell that for you: Delta, Charlie, Oscar...'
   We were each issued with a set of overalls, and waistcoats that displayed our new candidate identities - I was S6.  This was as close as the RAF ever got to Marxism, for they considered our new identities removed any social advantages that our rank and name might otherwise bring. There was however, an inherent communication problem with such a system, as the bourgeois sounding A1 proved as he approached me in the bar that night; clearly a leader of men.
   'Well hi there, I’m A1,' he declared, 'where are you from, S6?'
   'No,' I replied 'Germany, not Essex'.
   'No, old boy, I said S6, not Essex.'
   'I'm from Essex too, S6,' said E6 - at least that's what I thought he said.
   'No,' I explained, 'A1 said S6 before, not Essex, E6.'
   'Sorry, were you talking to me?' asked B4.
   'No, B4, I said before, before, B4,' I struggled to explain.
   We all soon gave up and went our confused ways.

At the end of the first day, the number of candidates had halved. I had survived largely because everything was geared to hand/eye co-ordination, which favoured a trained tradesman.
   At the end of the second day, only thirty candidates remained, I began to suspect an administrative error had occurred, and found myself frequently apologising to the others, when they spoke at length about flying: 'I'm very sorry but I don't understand, I'm really a shipwright you see.'
    Finally, at the end of day three, the remaining twenty of us were told we had been selected. I felt like saying, 'Excuse me, there seems to have been a dreadful mistake.' But every time I attempted to speak, the DCOASC&VPSP chap would say:
   'Well moving swiftly on ...'
    And on, we all swiftly moved.
***
Despite the directives of the 'Trade Description Acts', parachutes had not been mentioned anywhere in the advertisement for aircrew, neither had anyone mentioned parachutes to me at Biggin Hill, nevertheless, I found myself reporting to the Parachute School at Abingdon, for a six weeks course.
   'You’re three days early,' the duty Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) informed me, 'your course doesn't start until Thursday. There's an aircraft getting airborne in fifteen minutes, get on that while I sort out what to do with you.'
    'I don't know anything about getting on aeroplanes, I'm a shipwright...' I began, nerves twitching, but he was gone.
   He returned with an 'authorisation book', into which he entered my name, and he also gave me ... a parachute!
   We walked out to the aircraft dispersal area, the parachute straps trailing and clinking on the ground behind me, here he handed me over to another PJI who was loading Army Paratroopers onto a Beverley, an aircraft that looked like an apartment block with propellers.
    'Get up there into the boom, out of the way,' the PJI ordered, in a bored voice, pointing upwards.
   I climbed up the gym-like wall-bars that ranged along the inside of the monster-aircraft, and through a hatch into the boom, which in itself seemed like a small passenger aircraft. The forty seats that normally occupied the space were missing, so I sat on the parachute instead and looked out of the window.
   Soon the big aircraft's four propellers were turning and we trundled out of the dispersal area, turning onto the runway, the engines roar reaching a crescendo. As we began our takeoff run, I fell backwards off the parachute, and rolled along the metal floor – no place for a shipwright I thought, eyes clenched shut. We eventually levelled out, and too scared to walk, I crawled back to the parachute.
    'Standby for equipment check!' screamed a voice.
  I edged forward and peered down through the hatch to see rows of paratroopers being checked by teams of PJIs.
    In an instant the aircraft was full of daylight as the whole of the back of the aircraft opened to reveal Oxfordshire, a gulping thousand feet below.
   'Stand in the door!
   The paratrooper’s peculiar noisy shuffle, which normally dominated the Parachute School, silenced here by the engines roar. The rows shuffled forward in unison until they stood inches from the edge of the door.
   'Green on! GO!' Came the command, and like an express train of lemmings, one hundred paratroops were gone, the aircraft seemed strangely empty and dark as the doors closed behind them. I sat frozen in the realisation that in the next six weeks, I was going to have to exit the aircraft in a similar manner.
    'There is no possible way I am going to do a parachute jump,' I swore, 'I am a shipwright, and I never said I wanted to jump out of an aircraft.' This was not the life for me, I wondered if I could resign.
***
Twenty-five years later, we taxied into the VIP stand at Heathrow, my final flight finishing. It had been a long trip, a tour of Africa.
    I moved back to say goodbye to our passengers.
   'They tell me this is your last flight,' said the Queen.
   'Yes Ma'am, the last one,' I replied, bowing as we shook hands.
   'What will you do?'
 'Well Ma'am, I will find plenty to do, you see, really I am a shipwright.'


Offline peterchall

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It was surprising how conditions varied between stations.

At Bicester we were allowed to go hatless and wear plimsolls on the domestic site after working hours. Like many RAF stations the domestic site was across a public road from the technical site, and one evening I was threatened with being put on a ‘two-five-two’ for crossing the road hatless to post a letter in the post box on the tech site. But generally the minimum of ‘bull’, CO’s Parade monthly on a Friday in Best Blue, so you were ready to go on the monthly ‘48’ as soon as the parade was over. Centrally heated, brick-built barrack blocks with ablutions inside, pay parade during working hours. On the other hand, we had to be back at 23:59 on Sunday after a weekend pass.

In contrast was RAF Stoke Heath, a wartime built dispersed station with 4 hutted domestic sites, only 2 with dining-hall and NAAFI, so if you were on one without those it meant over a mile to eat and for evening entertainment. Camp cinema on its own site way out ‘in-the-sticks’, huts with those pot-bellied stoves and ablutions in separate (unheated) huts. Over a mile to your technical site – 2 miles if you wanted to go via a ‘cookhouse and NAAFI site’ on your way to/from work. Everyone issued with a bike, of course. Bad enough, but why did it have to go with more ‘bull’? CO’s Parade weekly, pay parade after working hours, less tolerance towards minor transgressions (mine at Bicester would  have resulted in more than a warning). But we didn’t have to be back until 08:00 on Monday, after a pass (or ‘two-nine-five’)

As I said previously, there seemed to be different RAFs.
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Offline grandarog

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We only ever had our beds head to tail during the flu epidemic wich is probably when John 38's Barrack room picture was taken. Brings back thoughts of bumpers, deckpads, polished spitkids and rifles in racks to be kept spotless. Bedpacks and Bull Nights, Astra Cinemas, The Tank (NAAFI), 36 and 48 passes. Never be without your 1250. Mirror at the Guardroom, Jankers, Parades, weekly room inspections. Kit layouts as a special treat to satisfy a sadistic Flight Commander. Happy Days  :)

Offline peterchall

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Thanks for the photo of the hut, John 38, it brings back memories, although we never had the system in that photo of alternate beds being head-to-wall and feet-to-wall.

Another memory is the bedding folded and stacked on the bed. I recently visited the Army Museum at Aldershot where there was an exhibit of just such a bed - all I can say is that if ours had been done to the same standard our corporal would have tipped it on the floor straight away!

I can't say that I've got any really bad memories of 'square-bashing'. There was one occasion when a corporal swore at someone in the ranks and hit him with a glove, but he did it at the wrong time because there was a shout from behind of "Corporal, come here" from an officer who happened to be passing. Another nasty occasion was when someone, sloping arms with rifle and bayonet, managed to stick the bayonet through his right cheek.

Otherwise it was genuinely trying to be the best Flight on parade, and it could actually be amusing when a corporal put his face about 3 inches from yours and said "Airman, you are a stupid little man - what are you?" to which you had to reply "I'm a stupid little man corporal" loudly enough for everyone else to hear.

But sadism wasn't the prerogative of the drill NCOs. We got some delight during our final week of square-bashing in visiting the billets of new recruits who'd just arrived and telling them lurid stories of what was in store for them, and giving advice such as 'you are allowed to walk with your hands in your pockets after 6 pm'

The story behind my flight in the Oxford, Robin, was that at Marham the MT Officer was a Warrant Officer who actually took his tea breaks with the 'erks', and when I did a 'moan' about having done 2 years in the RAF doing only what I'd done in civvy street, he fixed the flight. Another thing about Marham was that Junior Technicians and Corporals had their own mess, whereas in my previous experience only Sergeants and above got that - 'wow, is this the same RAF?' I thought.
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Offline Robin

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John38.

That is a great piece, really took me back 50 years, the thought of those 'jabs' still makes me shudder, the other thing that I will never forget was being in the long queue to have my blood test, I got to the cubicle and passed out, I came round a short time later being held out of the medical centre window being shaken and shouted at by the Corporal in no gentle way, it was only when I went into hospital at the age of 60 that I found out for the first time what blood type I was.

Peter.

I was also lucky to get a flight home one week-end.  I was on a short detachment at Farnborough, and was due to go on leave to my home in Lancashire.  My boss asked me how I was going to get up there, and would I be able to afford the trip on my NS pay, I said that I would manage somehow, so he told me to have a word with the 'High Altitude Flight' who had various aircraft, and ask if they had an aircraft going North, so I had a word with the Flight Commander, who I knew, who asked me which was the nearest airfield to home, and so, after going through various tests, I found myself being strapped into a Canberra Jet Bomber, and they flew me up to RAF Warton, near Blackpool, where I think the aircraft had been built.  Unlike your Proctor, the Canberra does not have any passenger windows, so I did not have a view to enjoy.  Great time.

Robin. 
Per Ardua ad Astra

John38

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RAIN of TERROR

At Bridgnorth it rained and then rained again to make 1959 one of the wettest autumns on record. It was also very cold, a deep down wet and chilling cold. I have never been through a period of my life in which every second seemed dominated by miserable weather!

   We were accommodated in wooden huts, twenty-four to a room. In theory the heating was supplied by two coal burning potbellied stoves. In reality the stoves were ornaments to be polished and burnished. The coal scuttles became the home of perfect pyramids of pieces of coal – each piece polished. I don’t suppose the fires had ever been lit. We kept warm by polishing!

   This ‘square-bashing’ period of National Service was all about turning us into servicemen. In charge of this operation were three very unpleasant corporals: Gavin, Turner and Stewart. Of these Stewart was by far the worst: a man with genuine psychological problems. Towards the end of the six weeks the Sergeant in charge, who had little to do with everyday events, apologised for Corporal Stewart. He had been, the sergeant explained, ‘ill’. Whilst looking at the Bridgnorth website as part of my research, I noted that Stewart only lasted there for a little over a year.
   
We marched up and down, with rifles with bayonets and without them. We ran cross-country in full kit. PT was done in shorts and vests. When we played sport, one team took off their vests and hence the phrase, “Skins versus Vests”.  We fired rifles and Bren guns, we were put through the gas chamber. There was no ‘soft’ anywhere just a life of sharp and cold corners

We learnt to wash our clothes and iron them into exactly the right sized bundles: vests, for example, had to be exactly ironed into 8 inch squares, and shirts 12 inch ... or ... they were thrown into the coal-scuttle or out of the window. The floor was so polished that we wore pieces of felt under our feet and skated about. All this for about £1-25p a week.

In my room were, ‘Paddy’ an Irish piano turner, ‘Marrow’ the goal minder for the Brighton Tigers Ice Hockey team, Keith Songhurst from Queenborough a Shipwright, ‘Taffy’ Sparks a graduate from Cardiff University, ‘Bud’ Westmore who had returned from Hollywood where he was a make-up artist with his famous Uncle Bud.... A real cross-section of society.

Theoretically we had a week under canvas, but in the event it rained so much that the river burst its banks and washed the camp away. We were brought back wet and frozen, so they marched us up and down to warm us up!! In the photograph, just before we got washed away are:

Top (l – r)     ??    Bud   ??
Middle (l – r)   Taffy      ??     Marrow   Paddy
Front  (l – r )   Me      Keith Songhurst        ??

John38

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There are some great stories about how 'erks' got lifts in aircraft, and your story's up there with them Peter.

Those injections! They were quite an ordeal particularly, as Grandarog so eloquently puts it, TABT. As aircrew I almost had a permanent hole in one arm from injections. I was supposed to take paludrine pills (anti malaria) each day for two weeks before going into a malarial-area and six weeks after coming out. Given the job I was in it would have meant taking them constantly for 20 odd years!

Offline peterchall

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There's always a risk in posting pieces that the author thinks will interest others, conceit is only a small step away.
It’s called ‘sharing knowledge for the benefit of all’ :)

Actually I did get near aeroplanes a couple of times.

One was getting a lift from Ternhill to West Malling one Saturday morning with a Wing Commander who’d passed the word round that there was a spare seat in his Percival Proctor runabout. When he found out it was my first flight he told me that if I was airsick in his aeroplane I’d have to clear it up. At West Malling he offered me a lift back on Monday morning, but didn’t offer to square it with my CO (a mere Flight Lieutenant) when I said I’d got to be back for 8am.

The second time was when I was called back about a year after my full-time service for 2 weeks reserve training at Marham, Norfolk. Cutting a long story short, I found myself sitting on the wing spar of an Airspeed Oxford trainer behind 2 Sergeant Pilots, and when one of them turned round to me and shouted in my ear “Do you know where we are?” I thought ‘OMG, we’re lost and he’s asking me’. When I said “No”, he said “Well. that’s Kings Lynn down there, and Hunstanton over there, and.....” – Phew!
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John38

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Thanks Lyn, thanks Grandarog. There's always a risk in posting pieces that the author thinks will interest others, conceit is only a small step away.

Offline grandarog

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John 38 that was excellent. Your experience was almost identical to the T as mine in 1957 when I enlisted as an aircraft apprentice at the tender and naive young age of 15.
 Arriving at RAF Halton we were treated exactly the same screaming Cpls. etc. The memory you didn`t mention was the 2 shot torture in each arm, followed by a cross country to encourage the absorption of the noxious substances, forced through your skin with a blunt needle, shared and used hundreds of times. At least we were allowed the rest of the day to cower in our beds. If that wasn`t enough the next day was a TABT injection which raised a tennis ball size lump under your armpit with accompanying agony.
 However within 3 weeks we were transformed from weedy little sprogs into semi muscular and certainly fit young men who could march, do rifle drill, dress and bull as smart or smarter than the more senior entry apps who had slipped a bit.
We were then moved from the Initial Training Flight onto our respective training Squadrons and then followed 3 years of skill training that turned us into the famous "Trenchard Brats", well known and respected as the best engineers in the aviation industry worldwide.

Offline Lyn L

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I really enjoyed reading that John38  :) Thanks .
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life tryi

 

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