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Norman Plastow interview: National Service in the RAF

When I finished that I had been engaged for three years and then came a problem. Should I get married or wait another two years because then I had to do national service? That had been deferred because of having the five-year course. I go three years deferred. So having got married, two weeks later I was back in the RAF for two years. I started up in Manchester for general induction course, then Spitalgate for basic training, and went to Burcham Newton on an administration course. By this time I had been to officer selection procedure as an officer cadet. I became a flying officer in the end which in two years wasn't bad.

I was surprised that as officer cadets, having been selected, we then had several weeks waiting to go on a course. We had just finished basic training where we had a corporal who was someone pretty tough on you. We discovered that as officer cadets we had jumped from being airmen second class to the equivalent of warrant officers, two ranks above sergeant. A sudden change. I always remember when we first went on this administration course. We were used to having corporals and sergeants and we suddenly had a warrant officer responsible for drill. He said: "Right from now on I address you as Sir and you address me as Sir - but YOU mean it!" Another of his sayings was: "I'll play ball with you if you play ball with me - but remember it's MY ball!" So there was a slight conflict between the actual warrant officer and the newly trained people who were acting warrant officers. A technicality.

I did have an interesting time. When I went into the air force I went along to a selection procedure which was held at RAF Hornchurch in those days where they selected air crew. I was selected but I was about to get married so how would that affect it? I had then to go to the Air Ministry and check but they couldn't say for certain. Anyway when I was commissioned they had to turn me down for air crew because it was too risky. Being married they didn't want to pay a pension for 40 years but it was interesting because I then went back to Hornchurch working on air crew selection.

Selecting air crews and keeping records:

Working behind the scenes was interesting because every month you'd get a list through from the various training airfields and there would be about 25 or 30 names on the list and results. At the bottom almost invariably there were one or two names that were listed as "permanent wastage". Out of every 30 who were training, one or two were killed in training.

I remember these reports coming back - they were mainly flying accidents, landing accidents. They were common. It was quite an interesting time. I worked first of all on the exercise section. These were initiative tests basically. The candidates were given the job of crossing a ravine on planks that were too short and a piece of rope and what the devil could you do with this? Those sort of tests. We had four or five corporals and other staff there and my job was to give the introduction at the start of the day explaining things to them, going round to observe things and other duties.

Then I became a records officer in the HQ building which meant that I had all sorts of other jobs to do. On the poop deck as it was known, the top floor, we had the CO and the Adjutant and I was at the end being then just a pilot officer. On a sunny day the CO would go off and play golf and the Adjutant would go off and do something else and all the telephone lines got to me so I finished up in charge of everything, not knowing what to do. Everyone else was away but I could never get off.