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Ray Cobbett interview: RAF and career

You mentioned going into the RAF?

I decided that at the age of 17½ that the prospects were frankly not good. We had to do national service anyway and it sounded like two years in the cookhouse peeling spuds. I was quite technically minded and good at putting things together and taking them apart again so I applied to become an engine fitter – ground crew, ground engineer. I passed the test went off and got trained at the RAF engineering school and then emerged to be posted to Wittering in Lincolnshire. I served on a V Bomber squadron in the Suez affair, after which I did a full tour in Malaysia and Singapore where I was in a helicopter maintenance support unit and did a certain amount of flying. We worked with the Special Air Service (SAS) and Ghurkas. The emergency was tailing off a bit when I went out there in 1957. Three years later I came back to a complete culture shock. I probably could have applied for a commission. I was a junior technician but I decided the UK had become a five-days-a-week air force so I needed to move on and did. I left after RAFserving my contract for five years, left honourably with a couple of service medals and resumed civilian life in Wimbledon.

Where did you work in Wimbledon when you returned?

It was 1961. I worked for two weeks in a local factory which was the most boring thing I ever did and got out of it. The RAF had improved my education I joined Decca Radar at New Malden as an assistant production controller, part of the junior management team. I did rather well with that and got a couple of promotions and again thought it was time to move on. My next job was with a company called Vactric Control Equipment in New Malden as a procurement specialist.

It was time to leave Kohat Road, my parents home, for good. So I took digs and then met my first wife, Anne, who was then at London University reading modern languages at Bedford College.  We teamed up and lived in 93 Worple Road in a garret at the top of a very large house .I had made the first stage taken by some kids born in South Wimbledon – I was on my way to North Wimbledon. 

What year did you get married?

I got married in 1961. There were no children by my first marriage but three (and a grandchild to come) from my second one in 1978.