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The First Seventy Years: 25 – Learning Lessons

While serving in the Air Force Eric Biddulph experienced the "delights'' of jankers - being confined to barracks for a midemeanour.

Somewhat surprisingly my diary tells how frequently I embarked on a run, sometimes alone but usually in company. This was usually down to East Gate, about a mile away and back but sometimes we would run down past the guardroom to the ferry and follow the camp perimeter road, returning along the tree lined access road from East Gate, a total distance of around four miles.

A five day working week was introduced on 1 January, 1957. This made it possible for many airmen to have most weekends at home. Probably two thirds of personnel on the station lived in the London area. A short train or bus journey to Ipswich, then in just over an hour they could be at Liverpool Street Station. Their departure left an eerie silence over the weekends.

Being on station duty over a bank holiday weekend was the worst. It was little different from 'confined to barracks' punishment except you did not have to parade in front of the guardroom at periodic intervals and complete two hours’ fatigue duties. This usually entailed working in the airmen's mess on the foulest duties that could be found. For such duties one had to change out of parade blues into working blues and then change back again for late evening parades in front of the duty officer.

I was the recipient of such a punishment on only one occasion. It was during 1956 whilst we were still working Saturday mornings. I had anticipated getting a pass, which would have enabled me to finish work at 1300 hours on the Friday and get myself to Nottingham that day. For some reason which I cannot now recall I was desperate to be home on the Saturday morning.

I had applied to the Station Warrant Officer for a pass and it had been refused. I decided to try the dangerous and devious tactic of making a direct request to the Station Adjutant without telling her of my earlier rejection. She was of Flying Officer rank, commissioned, and hence senior to the SWO. I sometimes worked for her so she knew me quite well. She signed the sacred pass.

I finished work at noon on the Friday and went to the mess to eat. At 1300 hours I was in the course of changing into civvies when the Station Headquarters corporal appeared at my bedside. "SAC Biddulph," he said, "I charge you with ...." and then proceeded to quote the nature and reference number of my offence under Queen’s Regulations. Changing back into uniform, I was escorted back to SHQ.

At around 1330 hours I was marched into Squadron Leader Taylor's office flanked by escorting airmen on either side of me with the corporal giving the marching orders. In retrospect I was a fool to think I could carry it off. If I had left camp a little earlier I would at least have had the benefit of the longer weekend, but at what cost? A longer period of jankers? I shall never know. It was nevertheless, a salutary lesson.

I nearly copped it on another occasion and was lucky to avoid a charge. Whilst weekend duty clerk I was occupying myself on the Sunday by doing maintenance on my bike. It was almost unheard of to be called out on a Sunday afternoon. When I turned up at the airmen's mess for tea, I was immediately bawled out by the station duty sergeant. "Where have you been?" he said in a voice which immediately alerted me to choppy waters ahead. "The duty officer has called for you three times on the tannoy. Have you been off the station?"

"No, Sarg, I've been working on my bike in the storeroom all afternoon."

"You should know there are no tannoys in the storerooms. You should stay within range at all times when on duty. It's up to the duty officer whether or not you are placed on a charge. Report to the officer's mess immediately."

It was with some trepidation that I presented myself to the duty officer. He delivered a severe reprimand, but I avoided the worst. Phew, what a relief.

It was always the received wisdom that one never lowered one's guard when dealing with both NCOs and commissioned officers. Being human, however, one can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of security after one has had dealings with a person for a longish period of time.

The Station Warrant Officer engaged me in casual conversation one day in a very civilised way. We got into the issue of sleep. I can't remember how the topic came up. Knowing me to be one of the leading athletes on the station, he may have asked me about training and rest.

Whatever it was, I fell for the bait, if indeed that was what lay behind this conversation. I told him that I usually went to bed around 2300 hours and got up at 0700 hours. He replied in a voice which gave no indication of the direction of his subsequent action, "But reveille is 0630 hours."

"Yes sir," I replied, "but I find I can do all my domestic duties, have breakfast and still get to work for 0830 hours." I thought little more about it during the rest of the day.

At 0630 hours the following morning the duty sergeant came crashing in the billet shouting, "Everybody up."

This applied not just to me of course but all the occupants of my billet, including the two corporals who never got out of bed much before 0800 hours. My faux pas ruined our leisurely life style. Random sorties by a succession of duty sergeants over the next few months was damned inconvenient to say the least.

The SWO eventually called off his hounds and the billet returned to something resembling normality, although we remained forever aware of the risks we were taking. It took some time for my mates to forgive me for stealing their valuable pit time. The morale of this story: never engage in conversation with anyone who may be able to threaten your way of life.


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