Forty years a serviceman

Dad was “invalided out of the Navy” in 1962. Whether or not this was the correct term for his discharge, it was the term used by our family. It sounded strange to the ears of a child, the word “invalid” was one that went with wheelchairs and strange motor cars. Dad didn’t seem anything like an invalid, as I imagined it, instead he was just someone with severe asthma.

Trained as a radio and radar technician, his naval experience did not lend itself readily to civilian life. He worked briefly for Curry’s, a job he left after being reprimanded for finding a screwdriver and fixing the radio of an old lady who had had brought it to the shop, instead of selling her a new set. Then he went to Westland Helicopters for a few months, where the office job in which he was employed left him feeling constantly bored.

Eventually, he found a job with Airwork Services. He was again a radio and radar technician. He was again working on the naval aircraft with which he was familiar. He was again back at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, where he had served in his service days.

Dad loved the work he did, and especially loved it as a civilian. A naval officer once stepped into the hangar and rebuked the men for their failure to salute. He quickly became aware that the blue overalled men were civilians when they told him where to go.

Airwork was a civilian contractor, but there seemed to be a grey area where civilians functioned as defence force personnel. Both during his time with Airwork, and during his time with FR Aviation, who gained the contract at Yeovilton, Dad seemed to operate in a role that while not military, was not entirely civilian either.

There were regular “detachment,” groups of the men sent to support aircraft participating in Royal Naval or NATO operations. The air bases at Lossiemouth, Leuchars, Kinross, Macrihanish were familiar to Dad. There were frequent exercises based in Gibraltar, sometimes in Sardinia, sometimes even across the Atlantic. I remember him once spending three weeks at a United States’ Naval base on the Florida Keys.

The oddest moment of all came during the First Gulf War. Dad was fifty-four, his workmates of a similar vintage. The Royal Air Force was short of ground crew so civilians from Yeovilton were asked to fly out. Their destination was probably Cyprus, but the war ended when they had reached Sicily.

Dad was made redundant in 1992. There was no longer a call for his services. Having been invalided out of a job in 1962, he had continued to do it for another thirty years.

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