A mostly enjoyable National Service, thanks to Marconi training
Charles Boyton, ex TV Test, New Street
I hope this contribution is usable as it not so much about my Marconi experience, as how my time as a Marconi apprentice greatly improved my National Service in the RAF. Incidentally, regarding your request for more contributions to the ‘Book of Memories’, I have previously submitted several items to earlier issues of the Newsletter and would be happy for these to be included in the book.
During my time at Marconi’s, several of my colleagues were ex-RAF, and their time in the service gave them a good grounding for their work in civvy street. Well, my Marconi apprenticeship gave me the same advantage when I did my National Service . Although I was a craft apprentice, my passion was radio and I was fortunate to spend the last nine months of my time in Building 46. My call-up was deferred until I completed my apprenticeship in October 1954, at the age of 21. I found being that bit older helped me to cope better with service life.
The next bit of good fortune came when I went for my job interview during ‘square bashing’ at RAF Hednesford on Cannock Chase. This interview determined whether you ended up as a cook or a clerk. When my interviewer found out that I had been a Marconi apprentice, he told me that I could take a trade test, and if successful I would be a Ground Wireless Fitter, with the rank of Junior Technician. He was very enthusiastic about Marconi’s as he had dealings with the company. I omitted to tell him that I had been indentured as an instrument maker, or I would have probably ended up as an airframe mechanic or something!
His problem, however, was that he did not have the facilities at Hednesford for me to take the test, which should have been offered to me while at Cardington when I collected my kit, so he placed me on a radar mechanics course and told me to apply for the trade test as soon as I arrived.
And so, after a welcome home leave at Christmas, I arrived at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare in January 1955. The mild Somerset weather was a welcome change from the bleak cold of Cannock Chase. I promptly applied for and got my trade test. Fortunately it was the multiple-choice variety. There were two papers, one theory and one on the equipment. I knew enough to pick the right answers on the theory, but as I hadn’t seen the transmitters etc yet, much less worked on them, this paper was a little tricky! In fact it was almost total guesswork. I passed with almost full marks on the theory and about half marks on the equipment, which the examiner said was the opposite to most of the students on the course.
Next I was given a practical test. For this, I was left alone in a classroom with a transmitter and an Air Ministry publication (handbook). I had to find the faults that the instructor had put on it and get it fully working. He came back after a couple of hours and wanted to know why I was taking so long. I showed him the list of faults I had found and explained that I spent the last hour or so trying to tune it up so that the front panel meter readings corresponded to the handbook. He laughed; ‘Don’t worry about those’ he said, ‘We modified it to suit our requirements, you have passed’.
I had to spend a further six weeks at Locking getting familiar with the equipment. I was given a list of handbooks (APs for short) that I could read up in the library. Although Locking wasn’t running wireless courses at that time, all the equipment was in the classrooms and I could spend as much time as I wanted getting familiar with the various types of gear, as long as I used rooms that were not booked for classes. I was not supervised, and was more or less left to my own devices. I was in a hut with a class of radar mechanics and each morning I would wait for them to march off to their classes before going to the library or an empty classroom.
At the end of this time I received my Junior Technician’s stripe (worn upside down) and a posting to Binbrook, a Bomber Command station in Lincolnshire. The great thing was I received pay at my new rank from the first day of entry in October, so I had over four month’s back pay to come, amounting to over £40. If I had taken the standard fitter’s course, it would have taken nine months on the lowest rate of airman’s pay. My time at Binbrook was mostly enjoyable, thanks to my training at Marconi.