The Royal Air Force at Brompton Barracks.
In the early 1970’s Brompton Barracks was used to provide accommodation and messing arrangements for Royal Air Force personnel who were attending training courses at the Marconi Elliott factory at Rochester. I was there in 1973/1974 to attend a manufacturers course on electronic equipment fitted to the new RAF Jaguar fighter aircraft and for 6 months lodged in the Sgt’s Mess where we came across the strange peculiarities of Army life. One being that despite the Sgt’s mess bar being open at 6pm every night, no beer could be served by the mess steward or consumed until the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) had entered the bar and downed his daily tipple. I forget the number of times my colleagues and I gave up waiting to have a pint because the RSM hadn’t turned up or was late. In the RAF when the Mess bar was open – it was open!
To make matters more complicated, the senior member of the Brompton Barracks Sgt’s Mess was a RAF Warrant Officer who was the permanent liaison officer between Marconi Elliot and the RAF Engineering authority. He of course was a thorn in the side of the RSM, and was known to throw a spanner in the works when it came to army matters; a classic example was to call an extraordinary mess meeting, having waited until the RSM went on leave, so that the mess members could vote to buy some new disco equipment for the mess dances. The RSM would have cause vetoed such a move especially when the new turntable, amps, speakers and lighting equipment costs amounted to £750. The vote was carried, the money spent and the new disco was in place by the time the RSM returned.
Being fellow serving military personnel working for Queen and Country and being (albeit temporary) mess members (for which we had a monthly bill to pay); us RAF bods did have equal voting rights when it came to mess meetings. On one occasion the RSM (better known as God) told a mess gathering that he had purchased a solid silver condiment set and held it aloft for us all to see. Gentlemen this is a farewell gift from the Sgt’s Mess for the departing Commanding Officer and this will cost you all an extra £2.50p on your next mess bill. There was a short period of shock and quietness, which was broken by a RAF Sergeant who stood up and reminded the Mess membership that it was contrary to Queens Regulations to buy presents for serving Officers. This statement of fact was totally ignored by the RSM who then invited mess members to vote on the motion by a show of hands – “Gentlemen, all those for” which was met with the show of hands by every army SNCO present. “Gentlemen, all those against” which was met by 5 RAF SNCO’s having raised hands. As every vote taken had to be unanimous to be approved, the RSM with hatred in his eyes stated that the vote would be taken again. It was, with the result being the same as the first vote. “Motion carried” said the RSM, as if the RAF contingent had suddenly become invisible.
When it came to paying the next mess bill, the RAF members of the mess refused to pay the extra £2.50 – funnily enough, despite warnings that you cannot refuse to pay, nothing else was said or done.
As a footnote, at another mess meeting the RSM declared “Gentlemen, last Saturday night I attended the mess and had to ask three guests to leave the bar for swearing. Gentlemen this is not F***ing good enough”. We the RAF SNCO”S as one burst out laughing to this statement as we saw this as a welcome but unusual outburst of humour from the RSM – he was human after all! Immediately aware that we were the only one’s laughing and the army attendees all had deadpan faces, we realised that the RSM hadn’t been joking and was deadly serious. Thank goodness, we had the unspoken protection of the RAF Warrant Officer. Jeez that RSM hated the RAF.