Fifty years ago, along with a bunch of other guys, I had graduated from the Royal Air Force Technical School at Cosford in England. The guys had organised a July reunion in the area and I did not want to miss this once in a life time occasion.
My trip down memory lane started with a long journey from Mauritius to Brussels, Belgium. After a week there I moved on to a mini-reunion with some of the guys at North Weald in Essex, England (read other blog article).
Now came the time to shift North and brave a taxi ride from Epping in Essex to Euston railway station in London. That in itself, for my driver, was an achievement in what is horrendous London traffic with annoying road works that blocked our progress. Eventually, I was able to get on to a Virgin train to Birmingham. This was my first experience on this express train and a pleasant one too. The Virgin trains are comfortable and offer Wi-Fi connection too. Arriving at Birmingham New Street station I had to make a change to get the regular train that goes to Shrewsbury for my stop at Wellington. Uneventful in comparison to this same journey that I had made 51 years ago (read about it here).
After nearly four hours journey I eventually arrived at the venue which was the Telford Whitehouse hotel near Wellington. Having checked-in and refreshed I headed for the bar. Well, where else would you head for in a hotel? A natural choice as some of the guys had arrived and the bar had already been requisitioned. Quite an emotional time seeing the pals after a break of 50 years. People change with age but most still had the features I could recognise and my brain was multi-tasking searching for names. The group grew as more participants of this reunion arrived. Some like myself would be coming from different parts of the globe, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Canada and Thailand. The evening in the hotel bar would become louder with our catch-up conversations and laughter. A happy bunch celebrating life and you could see that because the hotel staff had to change the Becks beer barrel quite a few times.
Next day there was either a group Shropshire steam train ride, visit the Iron Bridge or do your own thing. I opted to spend sometime visiting the RAF Museum at Cosford along with my compadre Tom. The museum is just alongside our old training school and near the Cosford airfield where, in our youth, we used to have our air experience flights in those old Chipmunks. The evening was reserved for our formal dinner get-together. A separate private area complete with bar had been set-up with many tables for our grand evening. The same scenario ensued with more exchanges on where we went from training and what we did or became in civilian life. During the speech by our speaker and organiser, Dick, he mentioned the names of our absent friends. Sadly, a few of our lads have died and others have health problems or have not kept in contact. However, we could not forget all those that shared the same experiences all those years ago. There were many camera flashes as group photos were taken and even the ladies managed to form a happy group. The dinner evening wound-down on an emotional note when Frank’s wife, Ruth, sang a beautiful rendition of “Con te partirò” – “Time to Say Goodbye”. This left most of us silent in amazement at Ruth’s singing prowess. However, the song befitting the occasion I suspect that emotion touched even the hardest heart.
On the last day we assembled at the Cosford museum for a wander around the exhibits and refreshments in the cafeteria. The highlight of our organised reunion was to come in the afternoon. We gathered at the car park near the entrance to our old training school to board a bus. The bus and an official guide would take us on a formal tour of what was our old home in our youth. Through the gates and passed the guardroom we went, each with his memory of that first time 50 years back. Much has changed since our days here, many new buildings and accommodation blocks. Our old parade ground has been turned into a car park which has to qualify as a sacrilege or desecration in military terms. We were shown the inside of the hangars where we had our classrooms. Greeted by instructors we were explained in brief terms today’s training methods and the use of the material. The material in the hangar being aircraft and engines used for hands-on education and training. We were permitted to take photos and wander around the aircraft. Many of us swarming over the aircraft like kids at a fair ground. As a last visit we entered Fulton Block which is now regarded as a monument to this illustrious training facility. This is the building in which we lived and ate in the ground-floor restaurant. Here we were treated to tea and cakes and sat down at the tables with our memories. After, we gathered outside of this building around the plaque that attests to the long history of the building. A suitable place to take our last group photos on the very spot where our graduation photo was taken some 50 years ago. The official visit ended here and we were ushered into the bus to be returned to the exit car park. Here we said our goodbyes as some would leave while others would return to the hotel for yet another bar evening. You just can’t keep a good airman down !