How I joined the RAF (and other stories)
As previously mentioned in my bio, I was born into the RAF as the third child of an RAF MTD (Mechanical Transport Driver) and his lovely wife Mrs MTD. As this was back in the dark distant past (umm, well not THAT distant, honest!) lots of RAF personnel were stationed in West Germany (as it was back then in the Cold War days before the Berlin Wall came down) and at the time my dad was based at RAF Wildenrath, near Dusseldorf, close to the borders of Belgium and Holland.
I was born in the British Military Hospital Wegberg that used to be there, and whenever people hear this I usually get asked: “So, you’re German then?” No, I’m not – it was a British Hospital on a British Military base in Germany – a little slice of British soil, and I have a British birth certificate. “Don’t you have dual-nationality” unfortunately, no. I’d quite like that to be honest, especially in the current economic climate – Germany seems pretty tough, and that Angela Merkel is switched on!
As happens in the military my dad was posted every few years (3 years in my dad’s case) and no matter how hard he tried to get a sunshine tour in either Cyprus or Hong Kong, all we ever got was UK or Germany, so up until I was 14 I spent half of my life in Germany and half in the UK. And looking back on it, it was a brilliant childhood and made me who I am today
At the time though it got a bit tough, leaving friends and homes behind, having to start again at an age when I was still trying to figure myself out, let alone new people. I have a really vivid memory of when my dad was based at RAF Gutersloh, we used to live on a military housing estate (aka the “Patch”) in a little town called Harsewinkel. The patch was right next to the Claas combine harvester factory, right on the edge of town, loads of space, great place to live, I made friends there that I still have today, no matter how many years or miles between us.
When we came to leave there it was devastating, I was 13 at the time and can clearly remember being sat in the back of the car as we drove away, there was the most amazing sunset – one of those where the rays of the sun beam through gaps in the clouds. I was in tears; my mum was in tears, my brothers, and even my dad I think. In fact I’m nearly in tears remembering now! We had the radio on in the car and Jan Hammers “Crockett’s Theme” track was on. Anyone remember that? From Miami Vice? It just fitted so well with the sunset and the mood of the car. I’ve just googled it and it still brings it back!
Skipping forward a few years, when I was doing my GCSE’s the RAF moved us again, slap bang in the middle of them. Out of the 9 GCSE’s I was due to sit, some of the classes clashed so I ended up having to drop 2 subjects and the times when I had no classes were spent in the library on study time L So, thanks to the RAF I only too 7 GCSE’s. Gutted! In fact, I blamed the RAF for ruining my life, so much so that I told the boyfriend I had at the time that I couldn’t be his girlfriend because he was planning to join the RAF and I wanted nothing to do with the military at all. Full stop. Never!
I took my GCSE’s and went to 6th form (until I decided academia was not for me) and after half-heartedly trying to decide what I wanted to do for a career, I found myself working in a photographic/art equipment sales shop, having applied for the job in their art department. As time went on I spent more time up the front end selling cameras and started to develop (get the pun there?!) an interest in photography.
Fast forward once more, after various jobs in clothes shops, tacky sea front gift shops, and cleaning in a nuclear power station (yes, really!), and a very brief spell in the Army (loooong story I’ll save for another day – suffice to say it ended in a fractured pelvis!!) I decided that I was to become a photographer for real, not just a hobby. Upon looking into it I realised that it would involve years at college with no money, followed by years as a studio assistant on almost no money, and then (once I’d spent lots of money buying camera equipment) I could go it on my own and earn a little money until I built up my customer base and got established. That all sounded like hard work to me.
And then I discovered RAF Photographer (on a Job Centre noticeboard – true story!). 9 weeks basic training marching up and down and learning one end of a SA80 rifle from the other, followed 7 months basic photographer training, then off to a unit, where the RAF would provide the cameras and the customers, as well as accommodation and good food, well, food anyways. It was a no brainer.
So here I am, more than 14 years later, loving my life in the RAF. Who’d have thought it eh, considering at the age of 16 I was convinced the RAF had ruined my life. They didn’t ruin it in the end, just made it more of a challenge, and all I did between leaving school and joining the RAF has made me appreciate the awesome job I’ve got!