“The year was 1949, June 16 to be absolutely precise, when I set forth from my home at Ferndown in Dorset, some 6 miles north of the fair town of Bournemouth, to assist in keeping the Red hordes at bay. Yes, it was National Service time. I found myself at Padgate, signing in with a lot of other pale faced 10 and 11 stone youths, before being transferred to West Kirby to do my initial 8 weeks square bashing. I stood in line and the gentleman behind the table said “Would you like to be a Gunner?” Being old enough to remember the daring deeds of the RAF during the War, both Fighter and Bomber Division, I thought “Yes, that’s for me.” How many films I’d seen of tail-end Charlies in the famous Lancaster and Wellington Bombers, side Gunners on the huge B-51s! Little did I know that I’d signed up for 18 months in the RAF Regiment!
A lot of memories are still clear in my mind of those early days, waking at 4.00 on the first morning in a desperate attempt to learn how to fold up one’s bed linen and get a shine on one’s boots. We were looked after by a Corporal Fewless, who had eyes like a coddled egg, thick lips, which were continually wet, a ruddy complexion, lead weights in his trousers, the rest of his uniform looked as if he’d come straight from Saville Row, and he frightened the living daylights out of us. Looking back though I did notice that he bit his finger-nails, so he perhaps wasn’t quite as confident as he made us think.
I joined up with Guy Wolstenholme, who I’d played with in the Boys’ Championship at Bruntsfield on the west side of Edinburgh, we played for the England Boys against the Scots in 1946 and had been successful. He went into the RAF and then we lost touch with each other apart from the occasional letter. He became a Wireless Operator and had the most joyous of times playing golf 3 or 4 times a week, whereas my golf, from the moment I left West Kirby and found myself doing another course at the RAF Regiment Depot at Catterick, was limited, to say the least. Whilst I was at Catterick, I did manage twice a month to go and spend time some 40 or 50 miles south staying with some friends who were members at the Moortown and Sandmoor Golf Clubs. Looking back, they were very happy times and many good friendships were made. Sadly we’ve all lost touch but those memories stay very clearly with me.
RAF West Kirby, Wirral – Peter Alliss Front Row Next to Sgt on Right
There was much unrest in the world and it looked as if our team of slick fighting warriors (which is what we were) would be sent either to the Middle or Far East, but it wasn’t to be. Instead I found myself posted to Watchet on the north Somerset coast some 4 or 5 miles from the town of Minehead. There were only about 30 permanent staff, the CO being a Flight Lieutenant. Almost immediately after my arrival I was summoned to his office, he told me that he was a mad keen golfer, played off 8 and he was looking forward to having some very happy times on the Minehead links. He was as good as his word and 3 days later we were off to the club, I borrowed some sticks and away we went. Oh, this was going to be alright. However, within 3 or 4 days, he got orders to move on and his place was taken by a rugby fanatic who thought anyone who played golf, was a poof, so that was the end of that. Luckily my brother, Alex, was the professional at the Weston-Super-Mare Golf Club and by devious means I managed to get to see him 1 or 2 weekends a month. Then, low and behold, with about 5 weeks left of my duty to complete, they stuck an extra 6 months on, so 18 months became 2 years. I remained at Watchet and the time passed. Interestingly enough one of our camp members was Gordon Pirie, who was then known as Doug. He went on to become one of the greatest long distance runners that Britain has ever produced. He was one of the most maniacal fitness gurus I think I’ve ever known in my life. Sadly he contracted cancer and died a few years ago at a relatively young age.
I remember thinking as I was completing my last few months how my time in the Service had been so different from that of my friend Wolstenholme, but then I thought of the years that many sporting men and women had spent fighting in the Great War then, latterly in the ‘39-45 fracas and thought how fortunate I was to have spent that time learning about life. Certainly my education began with my initiation into my time as a National Serviceman. I, like many of my age, think it’s a great pity that we don’t have a similar arrangement today because it certainly made me self-sufficient and ready to tackle most things.
My time ended on the 15 June 1951. I went back to Ferndown and renewed my position as assistant to my father, Percy, and the rest, as they say, is modest golfing history. Golf has been everything to me, an educator, a friend, an enemy, a delight, a horror, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’ve no desire to be playing golf today, having to put up with the keyhole journalism and living in a world where we no longer play “games”, it’s all business. I often wonder if I’d stayed in the Air Force where I would be today. Paddy Hine who’s just a whisker younger than me, did his National Service, enjoyed the life and stayed on. Look what happened to him, he ended up as the boss of the whole thing. Who knows, I might have nudged him aside if I’d stayed put but that’s another story.”
All good wishes, Peter Alliss.
As reported to the RAFGA Magazine, Summer 1999.
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