This article was first published in 2007, in 'First & Last', the Journal of the 81st Entry of RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices. Some words and phrases will be unknown to many of my readers. A glossary is attached giving explanation of some of the terms found in the story.
I had played the bugle when in the army cadets at school, and when I joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice I hoped to continue my musical career, but now as a trumpeter there being no buglers in the RAF.
Trumpeters at RAF Halton played reveille, lights out, fall in, and all other applicable military trumpet calls, on the long stemmed cavalry trumpet, which I found much more difficult to master than the bugle. There was also the fact trumpet practice was held every evening, which became an added gradient on the steep learning curve in becoming a trained armament fitter via the RAF Apprenticeship scheme. I had further calls on my limited time with fatigues, and the never ending tasks of polishing my kit and the floor of the barrack room. After a month or two of attending trumpet practice evenings I threw in the towel; obviously I wasn't the right stuff for an RAF Aircraft Apprentice trumpeter, who at the time I was at Halton used to play Reveille and the Last Post at The Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sundays.
However, after about a year at Halton my interest in playing an instrument was re kindled by my mate Spanner, a fellow armourer in the 81st Entry.
Spanner had heard a recording of Bix Beiderbecke and been so captivated he acquired a cornet and was now learning to play. I decided to take a leaf from his book and obtain a cornet myself.
In my barrack room was a member of the RAF Halton Military Band. I can't remember his name so I shall refer to him as "Bob". He played the euphonium, was excused boots, was working his ticket, and belonged to the 80th Entry, although none of that necessarily made him a bad person. I asked him if he knew where I could get a cornet, and Bob said to leave it to him. True to his word about a week later he turned up with a beautiful gleaming brass cornet.
"Five quid to you, Jack, and I'll include music lessons."
Now £5 was a hefty sum of money in the mid 1950's but I was thrifty and careful with my money. Some might call me tight-fisted -- my brother does -- but I refute that statement. Just because Silas Marner and Ebenezer Scrooge are my role models doesn't make me POSB.
I examined the instrument carefully. It bore the name Boosey and Hawks, which I knew was a company well respected for the wind, woodwind, and brass instruments they made. Bob pointed out the valves must have been recently renewed as they were untarnished, and all in all the horn seemed a bargain for the asking price. I slapped hands with Bob and sealed the deal, then handed over the cash and took the cornet away to the drying room to see what quality of sound I could produce.
I practiced, with a sock in the bell mouth, after being told "put a sock in it", and worked on my triple tonguing technique, which proved quite useful in later life.
The next Saturday, after the morning parade and the room and kit inspection had taken place, I was looking forward to an afternoon of Egyptian PT when into the room strode a posse of people headed by our Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Royds. 'Emma', as he was known to us apprentices, was accompanied by an RAF Policeman, a sergeant of the Buckinghamshire Constabulary, and another uniformed man whose insignia I couldn't make out from where I was standing. The posse formed a circle around Bob, whose bed space was about three along from mine. I could see he was being questioned but couldn't hear about what, but I did hear Bob mention my name.
In a trice I was surrounded by the posse.
"Where is the cornet you bought from Apprentice Bob?" 'Emma' Royds asked me.