From Form 543A, Record of Service for R A Bembridge
13.9.43 - 1.10.43. 1 ACRC (Aircrew Reception Centre, Lords Cricket Ground, London)
On the 13th September 1943 I caught the train to London to report for duty in the Royal Air Force, where I was to train as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. The place I had to make for on arriving in London was Lords Cricket Ground, where some of the buildings had been taken over as a reception centre for would-be aircrew. On this first day there were tests, medical examinations, etc. and I was made part of a 'flight' of airmen commanded by a very fatherly corporal who smoothed the transition to service life from civilian life in an ideal manner.
We were billeted in blocks of flats near to Regent's Park and took our meals in part of the Zoo's restaurant. We could hear the animals making their unusual calls as we walked to our meals. When teatime arrived on the first day, I assumed that we had the rest of the evening off, but I was mistaken, for we had to march to the swimming baths at Seymour Hall for a swimming test. If you could swim a length of the baths using any stroke you passed the test, and I was able to do this.
We had been issued with our uniform on the first day and, silly me, I assumed that next day we must get dressed in RAF clothes. After all we were in the RAF now! In spite of the others in my billet saying we had not, I put on my uniform and went for breakfast. On my way I was challenged by more than one veteran airman because I hadn't put on my cap, and this meant I was 'improperly dressed' for out-of-doors. On returning from breakfast, I soon changed back to my civilian clothes and it was some days before we all donned our uniform (including hat!).
Our corporal marched us around the area of London where we lived to various places during the next three weeks. We marched in columns of threes, and when we passed any young ladies he used to say, "Keep your mind on your mother!'' He also allowed us to sing songs as we marched, but not if we were near any important RAF building. Every day we had a 'square-bashing' session with him on some suitable open space.
One of the Sundays we were in London was Battle of Britain Sunday and we had to go on a parade to a church in Baker Street. In the RAF you had to be Church of England(C of E), Roman Catholic (RC) or Other Denominations (OD). When there were Church Parades you 'fell-in' with your religious group and attended the appropriate church.
I also remember marching through London to a theatre, where a special performance of a show had been arranged for service personnel. Cyril Fletcher, later seen in 'That's Life' on TV, was the star of the show, but I cannot remember now any other names of cast members.
Although my Mam and sister had helped to get me organised for this life away from home, showing me how to darn socks, sew on buttons, etc. and had made me a 'housewife' to keep my sewing things in, it was a whole week before I got round to writing a letter home. I can remember sitting by a lake in Regent's Park and writing it. I expect it was during the first weekend. Little did I realise that Mam was, by then, getting very worried about me; she didn't even know I had arrived safely! It never occurred to me to drop her a postcard saying just that. Our corporal often let us 'fall-out' for small purchases when we were marching around. I should point out that we were not on the phone in those days; they were not so common in ordinary homes.Return to top