AIRCREW TRAINING: RAF BRIDLINGTON & RAF USWORTH
From Form 543A, Record of Service for R A Bembridge
2.10.43 - 8.12.43. 20 ITW (Initial Training Wing, RAF Bridlington to November 43 then RAF Usworth)
At the end of three weeks, we had a passing-out parade at Lords and were then on our way by a special troop train to RAF Bridlington. We were now aircrew under training and wore a white flash in our hats to indicate this. Originally, the white flash meant Officer Cadet, because pre-war aircrew were always commissioned officers but during the Second World War many aircrew were only Senior N.C.O.'s (Non-commissioned officers) i.e. Sergeants, Flight Sergeants and Warrant Officers. Our chances of being captured by the enemy were greater than those of ground staff, but, under the Geneva Convention, Senior N.C.O.'s and officers received better treatment if they became prisoners-of-war.
Bridlington in the late autumn of 1943 was a seaside resort under wartime conditions. You could not go on the beach because there were barbed-wire defences everywhere (in case of a sea-borne invasion). We were billeted in private houses at the north end of the sea front; I remember I was living in 'Fifth Avenue'. The owners of the houses were not there and I presumed the RAF had commandeered their property for the duration of the war. The holiday cafés, amusement arcades, etc. were either closed or taken over for forces purposes. We did our drilling on the promenade and I remember learning how to 'slow march' (as in a funeral procession). We also did rifle drill and learned how to salute with a rifle. A large hotel had been taken over and divided into classrooms, and it was here I learned to send and receive Morse code by key and earphones. We practised with Plain Language (real words) and Bomber Code (groups of letters and figures). In the grounds of the hotel we learned how to shoot 'clay pigeons' with a shotgun, the first firearm I had ever fired. There were a number of other aspects of training we began at Bridlington such as P.T., self-defence, throwing hand grenades but throughout all this there was no opportunity to go home not even for a weekend break.
A high spot of weekends there was the Sunday Night Show at the Spa Pavilion. This show was free for members of the forces and was provided by ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association - with its HQ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane). I think most of these shows would be called variety shows and they included well-known stars that gave their services as part of the war effort. Sometimes the show would be at a higher cultural level and I remember there was ballet on one occasion. You can imagine the comments of some of my colleagues about the male dancers, as none of us had probably seen ballet before!
Near to Bridlington is Flamborough Head and one day we had to run non-stop in P.E. kit to it and back, a distance of 5 miles! We were told not to change from running to walking even if we got the 'stitch', as our bodies would get accustomed to the new pace. I remember following this advice and completing the run, although I passed many walkers towards the end. Jogging was unheard of in those days!
I was stationed at RAF Bridlington for almost 3 months and during that time I never went home, but we expected to finish the course there and then get a week's leave. A few weeks before this time was reached, however, the whole establishment was transferred to a place near Sunderland called RAF Usworth. My memories of this place are of an out-of-the-way spot in winter. We got up in the dark in one hut and had to go outside to another hut to get washed and shaved. We also went swimming in the public baths in Sunderland town. Washington, the mining village, was not far away and I had heard of that. A colleague on the course had relatives in Gateshead, and they welcomed several of us, when he took us on an evening visit. It was such a welcome break to be in an ordinary home again. After perhaps as little as three weeks at RAF Usworth, I finished the course and, at last, went home on leave (complete with travel warrant to pay the train fare). This must have been close to Christmas 1943. While on leave I had to wear RAF uniform, unlike members of the forces nowadays, and so everyone knew if you were in the RAF when you went out and about. Only after the war had finished in 1945, and I was still in the RAF, did the rule change allowing me to wear civilian clothes when off-duty.Return to top