We were a family. Thirty young airmen thrown together in wooden hut No: 44 on an RAF School of Technical Training back in the1950s. Days of parades, kit inspections and hours of demanding study the evenings spent revising for the end of course examinations that would determine our Service futures. Dragged from our civilian lives and thrown together by the National Service Act from all parts of the United Kingdom. We came from all walks of life. Ex university students, coal miners, carpenters, undertaker’s assistants, farm labourers, all in the melting pot of RAF life for two years. We swapped stories on cold nights around the glowing coal stoves that kept the hut warm. We shared the occasional food parcels from home, we shared too the burden of any one of our number who fell foul of the rules of RAF discipline. We pressed the uniforms and shined the shoes of anyone of our ‘family’ who was on extra punishment parades, (known as ‘Jankers’). We wrote up their course notes for them so that they didn’t fall behind in the technical studies. We sneaked food from the cookhouse for those who hadn’t time to go to meals.
The high point of the day was the mail delivery. Letters from home were our only link with our loved ones. Most of us had left girl friends behind in our home towns and the receipt of a love letter, perhaps perfumed or with the initials SWALK (Sealed with A Loving Kiss) on the back was eagerly anticipated.
Inevitably there were a few girls for whom absence did not ‘make the heart grow fonder’. Their letters would become less frequent, less intimate, with a final one to break off the affair. ‘My dearest darling’ became ‘Dear John (or Peter, Michael, Jeremy or whatever the luckless airman was named).
We called these letters ‘Dear Johns’ and the brotherhood of the hut 44 developed a strategy to deal with a devastated airman in the agony of lost teenage love.
A DJ would soon be detected in the close living conditions of hut 44. All your mates would first try and console you. Then they would make jokes about the situation. Eventually you would be persuaded to read aloud to the whole hut the contents of the letter. Ribald comments would flow. It was surprising how little the letters varied. The same phrases were repeated in most of the letters. It was as if the girls went to an evening class in how to send a brush off letter. Often an abusive reply was composed with contributions from all in the hut. Usually by this time we had all dissolved in laughter – even the spurned lover. The next phase was to go to the NAAFI and get thoroughly inebriated.
Even the menacing Service Policemen on their patrols turned a blind eye to a drunken body being supported on his way back to the hut. “He’s had a DJ Corporal”. “Get him to his pit then and keep your voices down”.
The victim was put to bed and in the morning the painful hangover eclipsed the agony of lost love. This help continued for as long as it took to get over the incident. It was rather like having a big supportive family around. This group therapy and got many of us through an unpleasant episode.
I know. It happened to me. I wonder how it’s dealt with today. Probably by counseling sessions with some highly paid psychology graduate?