Although I was educated pretty much at the end of the runway of, and lived under the flightpath for, RAF Lossiemouth it never occurred to me that the service (or any of the other armed ones) might be a career for me. Lossiemouth was my third home town in the first eight years of my life but for the RAF kids I knew at school that was nothing. They were forever coming and going. I have always been interested in the RAF though. My Dad had done four years national service in Germany with them and had happy memories of that time which he shared with us. And, as I got older and began to take an interest in the Great War, I enjoyed reading about the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.
If Shirley Darbyshire is to be believed (and presumably her facts were checked) it was as easy as falling off a log to get into the ranks of the WRAF in 1955 and this is what our heroine decides to do after a passing meeting with a WRAF on a bus. Although she has the background to go for a commission, she decides it would be better to serve in the ranks first. Why, is never made clear but perhaps she needs to understand the lives of the less privileged. The book is full of unthinking snobbishness. Sarah is clearly better than many of the other recruits. Those she meets on the train to the training camp ‘could see that she was different from them; she was better dressed; she spoke without an accent; she had the easy assurance that comes from a secure background.’
The training is tough but Sarah is determined and she passes without any trouble. Her problem is that she has no clear idea of what trade she wants to train for. She finally decides on storekeeping and is posted to Merrowford about fifty miles from her home. It’s not until page 131 that we hear any mention of flying! Sarah is given the opportunity to go as a passenger for the experience on a short hop to Wales and loves it. But no chance for her to fly professionally of course!
However she is able to fly to Singapore when she successfully applies for an overseas posting. From Lyneham she goes to Tripoli (‘Just imagine getting as far as that in one hop!’) and then on via Habbaniyah, Karachi and Ceylon. Imagine all those places being safe to fly through!! Sarah enjoys her time in Singapore but it is cut short when she is ordered to return to England to present herself at a Selection Board with a view to being given a commission.
I read this book as an adult and I was irked by all the class issues as well as by the rules which Sarah has to live by. I’m presuming that some things have changed in the last sixty five years but I’m sure there are still plenty of rules In the RAF. On balance, I think it’s just as well I never wanted to join up!