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50th Anniversary

Reunion 2010

Where Were You? 


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John Hester          ( 681560 )            

On  22nd January 1956 we all started at No 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton as the 82nd Entry of Aircraft Apprentices.  If I recall correctly, the weather was, to put it mildly, cold and wet. Not an auspicious start.  The next 6 weeks are a blur of being issued with kit, Square bashing, PT, Medicals, Jabs, Haircuts(?) and Bulling.  I was then put into 1 Wing 2 Squadron, (Block 13 Room 4).  The Academic and Technical training passed without too much hassle.  I managed to keep sufficiently ahead of the Examiners and passed out with grades in the middle of the Entry.  As for sport, I quickly caught on to the fact that cycling got you away from the camp on a Wednesday afternoon and weekends, and also provided a legal set of civvies of sorts.  (Jeans, T shirts and jumpers were allowed, as well as the riding kit of racing vest and shorts).  I rode in 25 mile Time Trials for the School several times against the Army Apprentices from Arborfield, and also in the RAF Hillclimb championships at RAF Innsworth. 

I met Doreen, my wife to be, while on a weekend pass in February 1957, and we got married in September 1959.  We have 3 daughters and 6 grandchildren

My time in the Mans Service passed without too many hiccups, the main one being sent to Bahrain during the first Kuwait Crisis in, I think, 1961 while on Emergency Standby Draft.  That was when Iraq first thought about taking over Kuwait, but didn't actually invade that time, and no shooting took place. 

When I left the RAF in October 1968, after 12 years service, I joined Sperry Gyroscopes Ltd working on the bench as an assembler repairing returned instruments.  After 1 year I transferred to the Test Department and spent most of the next 8 years or so working on Marine Equipment, mainly collimating (optically aligning) the various rotating axes and lines of sight of, and mechanically testing Ships gun aiming Radar Directors.  I did get onto HMS Coventry, a Type 27 Frigate, and also on to The Ark Royal.  That was a huge ship, and we were escorted everywhere while on board, partly so that we wouldn't get lost!  I finished my time at Sperry's as a Senior Test Engineer. 

When I left Sperry's I joined a company called Pennwalt Sharples Ltd as a service and Commissioning Engineer.  They manufactured industrial Centrifuges of all sizes from small bench machines weighing around 10 lbs, in total; up to massive machines with rotating components weighing up to 5 tons, and a gross weight of around 8 9 tons.  I think one of the more dodgy places I visited while working for them was Iran.  There was quite a lot of shooting and burning of Cinemas and beer shops, as well as part of The British Consulate in Tehran. During the 6 weeks I was there.  Eventually I`d had enough, made a rather feeble excuse and left just a couple of months before the Shah was finally deposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini.  I said I needed to check several things with my Office, and as all the International Telephone and Telex lines were permanently down I would have to return to the UK.  I also went to Egypt a couple of times, visited several of the Iron Curtain Countries (Romania was not pleasant, Yugoslavia wasn't too bad, and Hungary and Czechoslovakia as it was at that time were OK), most of the Western European and several Scandinavian countries as well.  Iceland in December is COLD!  I did this sort of thing for nearly 10 years, and then came "In House" as the Pilot Plant Manager, doing test work to determine the correct machinery to carry out a prospective customers` process requirements.  This meant working with all sorts of materials, ranging from very smelly effluents of various types, many different chemical and pharmaceutical products and foodstuffs, in fact anything where solid particles needed removing from a liquid.  I did this for 11 years or so before being made redundant with about 3.5 years to go to retirement. 

I then moved to a small company making Oxygen Regulators for breathing sets and hospitals for 8 months. I then moved on again, to the Transport Research Laboratory for roughly 1.5 years, as a Lab Technician, servicing atmospheric pollution gas and particulate analysers in several outstations around the country.  The rest of my working life was spent as a Company Receptionist/Telephone Operator/Dogsbody for a small company making surgical appliances.  This was certainly the easiest job I had throughout my working life, as if I did 12 hours actual work in a 35-hour week I'd had a busy week.  They knew I was winding down to retirement, and even tolerated me reading books during slack times --- a very understanding and happy crowd of people so far as I was concerned. 

I retired in October 2003, and now spend time doing voluntary driving work taking people who now find it difficult to get about to Hospital and Doctors appointments, and other types of visit such as shopping, etc.  This is organised by a local government charitable organisation. 

Halton gave me a thorough grounding and training, which prepared me for a varied and interesting working life, both during and after my time in the RAF.