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- Royal Air Force
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- 15 November 2003
One day in July 1944 I found myself on the way to the No.2 Radio School at Yatesbury in Wiltshire as an acting corporal radar instructor. There the permanent staff with the help of some six mechanics drafted in from No.75 Wing set up a series of crash courses, lasting a fortnight each, with the aim of initiating other radar mechanics into the workings of the Type 14 equipment.
Radar in general was then treated as a subject of great sensitivity and the Type 14 equipment was particularly highly classified. It was, therefore, of some surprise to the instructing staff at Yatesbury to find that the Americans included in their intakes for these courses, not only the technical bods, but also all the support personnel, such as cooks, medical orderlies and drivers. This had the advantage of giving each mobile unit a sense of solidarity but it certainly flouted principle of limiting information to those with "a need to know".
Established in the early months of the War to supplement the radar training at Cranwell, the RAF station at Yatesbury was run very much on the same peacetime lines, that is to say with loads of "bull". This included the compulsory church parade.
Whilst I was there it became known to the permanent staff that if an airman attended the eight o'clock Holy Communion service on Sunday morning (for the Church of England), the padre would sign a chitty excusing attendance at the later and less convenient church parade. The chitty enabled an airman to obtain a pass to leave the camp early in the morning. Such good news was not to be confined to the few and was soon noised around. One Sunday, another NCO and I decided to try our luck at this ploy. We found the small Nissen-hut chapel packed to the rafters with some two hundred or more airmen. It was quite obvious that the sudden increase in attendance at this service, over (as I was later told) the "usual half-dozen", was not due to any religious revival. The "usual half-dozen" seated in the front row set the pace by genuflecting at the appropriate moments and this started a Mexican wave type of movement as the rows of airmen behind attempted to follow the example of the pious six. The padre was clearly unhappy about the whole business, particularly when only a handful of us actually took communion leaving him with a considerable quantity of the Eucharist to consume. Nor was he pleased when after the service a long queue formed up for the valued chitty. The line of airmen extended from the door of the tiny vestry completely round the chapel and along the pathway. By the time he came to sign my chitty, the red-faced padre was suffering from writer's cramp and had quite lost his usual urbane manner.
The following week's station orders remedied the position, at least in the eyes of the padre. In future no early passes would be issued to airmen attending the eight o'clock service. Early Holy Communion was thus left to the "usual half-dozen".
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