Chits for ‘excused boots’ and ‘light duties’ were submitted by Butch Beale, Tojo Gault, Toddy Hood, Brian Perryman, Jimmy Reynolds, Sandy Sanders, Roy Studart and Kay Wilson. Toddy has only missed one of the 22 reunions and he was most disappointed that he couldn’t make the final one. He was on a waiting list at the hospital for an operation and he was called in on the Wednesday before the reunion. Toddy was naturally disappointed at not being able to join us, but Ben's wife Jean hadn’t missed any, and unfortunately she had been in and out of hospital since March and is being cared for at home by daughter Amanda, and they 'ordered' Ben to go to Bromsgrove. Since Day One she has been i/c the raffle, along with helpers over the years - Ruth Brooks, Hazel Lunan, Esther, Margaret and others, and wished to thank them all.
Reluctantly she handed over those duties to Margaret & Esther. Jean sent her best wishes to one and all, and asked that everybody had their money to hand when they went up to the raffle table.
We received donations from Margaret & Lawrence Cox, Brian Perryman, Sandy Sanders, Roy Studart and Kay Wilson, towards raffle prizes and liquid refreshment, also a most generous donation from the Richardson Family in memory of Al & Kath Richardson who were regulars at past reunions. Margaret & Esther were in charge of selling the raffle tickets. Thanks to the generosity of those attending, there were numerous prizes to be won and Ken & Esther were in charge of the drawing of the raffle tickets.
Ken started the dinner proceedings with the Aircraft Apprentice Prayer.
The Chairman said that it was our custom to have two toasts at this point:- Gentlemen of the 51st, please raise your glasses to - "OUR GUESTS". We also remember those who have gone on their final postings most recently:- Ginge Ward, Bob Edwards, Ted Costick and Lawrie Gillard - "ABSENT FRIENDS".
Ladies and Gentlemen, a few words from me might be appropriate before we close the hangar doors and put the lights out on our last reunion. I hope that you all have a glass of 'bubbly', so please don’t be in a hurry to drink it as I wish to propose two toasts.and welcome to the 23rd and final reunion of the 51st Entry Aircraft Apprentice Association (sad, but inevitable.)The 16 old boys here tonight - including one of our Cranwell members.
The 51st Entry of RAF Aircraft Apprentices was formed on the 21st August 1945 - a date that we are unlikely to forget. Little did we realise then what effect the next 3 years would have on our future lives. Now we know, and can look back on the past 70 years and be thankful. So by the way of celebration, let us drink to - "THE 51st ENTRY".
Over the years, many of us met up at the Halton Triennial Reunions, but it was not until 20th June 1991 that we held our first Entry Reunion at the Rose & Crown in Tring, after attending the Passing Out Parade of the 151st Entry - this happened thanks to the research carried out by Dinger Bell & Ken Savage. Following the success of this gathering - 48 of us attended - the intrepid duo decided that the 51st Entry should have it's own Association and meet regularly. Dinger proposed this - while mounted on a bomb trolley at the 1992 Triennial Reunion at Halton - and it was endorsed by the 48 members of the Entry present. From that day, the 51st Entry RAF Aircraft Apprentice Association was formed, with Dinger as Chairman, Ken as Secretary and Ben, who took two paces forward, as Treasurer. It was also proposed that Warrant Officer 'Boggy' Marsh be the first Honorary Member of the Association, and when we found him, Flt Sgt 'Chiefy' Thomas, the 'C' Squadron Discip SNCO, was also made an Honorary member, and both attended reunions.
Many members have been involved in the various projects which are attributed to the 51st Entry Association, including:-
Dinger Bell & Ken Savage - whose inspiration it was to form the Association. Between them they managed to locate all but 25 of the 189 Halton members of the Entry. Sadly Dinger died after 9 years in the Chair, having set an example which Don Ellis and I have done our best to follow. Ken is still our Secretary. He is the focal point for personnel matters and keeps our Membership List up-to-date.
Ben Mitchell volunteered to be our Treasurer from the start. He is not only a meticulous bookkeeper, but also a dedicated Reunion organiser, our Book and Newsletter compiler and editor.
By way of thanking these stalwarts, would you please raise your glasses and drink a toast to - "OUR FOUNDING MEMBERS - DINGER, KEN AND BEN".
“252 boys arrived at Wendover railway station on 21st August 1945, of whom 63 were destined for the No.1 Radio School at Cranwell. They set off on the long march to No.1 Wing, and as they were ‘marching’ along, looked up and saw a Lockheed P38 Lighting fly overhead, still with its black and white D-Day stripes.”
This year, 60 years to the very day on 21st August, 51 members of the 51st, including four from the Cranwell group and Jack Smith, who made the journey over from Perth with his wife Joan, gathered at the Holiday Inn at Aston Clinton. They were accompanied by 54 wives, sons, daughters and one grandson, who all came along to see where their husbands, dads and grandad spent their youth. Amongst our number was Rita Bell, the widow of our first Chairman Dinger Bell, whom we invited along to be our guest for the weekend, and the Guest of Honour was Chiefy (Roy) Thomas, accompanied by his wife Mary. Chiefy, now 88, was the ‘C’ Squadron disciplinary Flight Sergeant throughout our time at Halton and was also defender of ‘his boys’. At the time we may not have relished his ‘watch over us’, but in the long term his discipline helped mould us into what we are today and we were therefore delighted that he could join us in our celebrations. Throughout the day we were escorted by Min Larkin, Barrie Nancarrow and Peter West from the HAAA.
After a wet Friday and dismal Saturday, we were greeted with blue skies on Sunday morning and so it continued throughout the day. We boarded three coaches outside the hotel, complete with walking sticks, hearing aids etc, and the first destination was the Apprentice Tribute outside Schools, where Rita Bell spread Dinger’s ashes on the two newly prepared rose beds to the background of a piped lament played by Keith Youlden, bandmaster of the Golden Oldies. The spreading of ashes around the Tribute is becoming a regular occurrence, so the HAAA decided to prepare the rose beds for future ashes, and Rita was pleased to know that Dinger was their first ‘arrival’.
We then congregated in St George’s Church for a service that included an address by Taff John, about those far off days of apprentice training. Ken Savage, having liaised with the HAAA over the order of service, produced an excellent service booklet. The service was conducted by Padre Adrian Gatrill and the organist was Margaret Evett. Ken read the lesson and we were pleased to see that Pablo Morrison, who is now wheelchair bound, was in church to share the occasion with us. After the church service, we formed up and were led by the pipes and drums of the Golden Oldies, with our own Frank Howard on the mace, the short distance to the Tribute for photographic opportunities.
The coaches then conveyed us to No.1 Wing for lunch in the Airmen’s Mess. (No, we did not march up the hill - although this was suggested!!) It was originally arranged that we would have lunch in the Officers Mess, but this was switched to the Airmen’s Mess, with the assurance that the food would be better. The Airmen’s Mess, outside 15 Block, looks from the front exactly as it did 60 years ago, but inside it is very different - bright, clean, airy and the cold buffet was excellent, with a wide range of cold and hot drinks on offer. After lunch, everyone including wives, sons and daughters, other than those with excused boots and marching chits, fell in behind the Golden Oldies outside the cookhouse by 15 Block, with Frank Howard again on the mace. The walking wounded made their way to the Henderson Gym (the Trenchard Museum) while the ‘parade’ marched along the road to 11 Block, left wheeled onto the square, along past SHQ, left wheeled again along 2 Wing and marched past the saluting base where Chiefy Thomas took the salute while the marching contingent gave him a creditable ‘eyes right’.
The march ended at the Trenchard Museum where Ken Savage made a presentation of ex-WO Fred (Boggy) Marsh’s pace stick, bible and photograph to the museum Curator, Francis Shanford. Boggy was the No.1 Wing Flight Sergeant when we arrived at Halton in August 1945 and was promoted to WO in February 1947, taking over from WO Bill Bond. At that time, Bill Bond presented Boggy with a bible, which will now be an exhibit in the museum. Boggy died in July this year at the ripe old age of 93, and his son, Tony, presented the items for the museum to Ken at Boggy’s funeral. We lingered for a while looking at the photographs, workshop test pieces, memorabilia and the locker and kit layouts. While this was going on, the Golden Oldies were playing outside the open windows and as we left they played a rather moving “Will ye no come back again?” and “We’re no awa’ tae bide awa’”. We had already come back again, and on the basis of not being awa’ tae bide awa’, perhaps we should look forward to another commemoration. Even with the miracles of modern medical science, we don’t think we’ll manage the centenary - but 70 years on? Who can tell? Maybe the 60th Anniversary of our Passing Out in 2008?
We then departed for the Officers Mess - Halton House - where our host for the day, Min Larkin, gave the gathering a brief history of the building and allowed us time to wander around the ground floor and gardens. A fitting end to our day at the Camp.
It was then back to the hotel, for a quick wash and brush up before John McLaren piped us in to dinner, and the evening celebrations began.
While the raffle tickets were being sold by the usual team of Jean, Ruth, Esther and Hazel, Sam and Margaret Bugg were selling the 51st book “Post War Brats At Large”, with both tables doing a roaring trade. A ‘special’ prize donated by the Pine Lodge Hotel was won by Jack Wetherell. During the course of the evening, the election of a new Chairman to replace Don Ellis, who sadly died in July, took place. Ken conducted the election and there was only one nominee, Sam Bugg, who was proposed by Chris Brill and seconded by Taff John. The vote was unanimous and Sam was elected Chairman to great acclaim by the gathering. At the end of the evening, there was one final event when completely to his surprise, Ben Mitchell was presented with a cheque on behalf of the Entry by Ray Belsham and Ken Savage in appreciation for all the work he has done in his role as Treasurer, reunion organiser and newsletter editor over the past 13 years. Jean was presented with a bouquet of flowers for putting up with all the time that Ben spends on 51st matters! This had been proposed by our late Chairman Don Ellis, who wrote letters to all the Entry (except Ben), and the presentation was made on Don’s behalf. This all came as a complete surprise to Ben, who thought he knew exactly what was going on behind the scenes, but Ray and Ken, and the rest of the Entry, had kept this from him. So ended a great weekend, with grateful thanks to Min Larkin and his team from the HAAA who helped with the organisation for the day. Everything went according to plan, the sun shone and nobody fell by the wayside during the long and tiring day. We said our farewells on Monday morning, with some meeting up again at Bromsgrove on 8th October for the ‘usual’ annual reunion.
As all members that were on parade on that day will know, many many photographs were taken, and for the benefit of those who were unable to attend, maybe the Secretary can prevail upon Members who took photographs to send him prints and from them make up an album which could be displayed at future reunions. Five have been already selected and included in the website.
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|Passing out Parade||Tribute to Apprentice Scheme||Home Page||Honorary Members|
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