South West Region

Going Back in Time

Going Back in Time

Annual camps with over 200 cadets, delaying a Wing Commander so cadets could eat their chips in peace, being interviewed in a pub for promotion by a Regional Commandant are some of the vivid memories of retired Wing Commander John Mandeville, who lives in Stroud.

John joined the RAF in 1948 and completed basic training at RAF Padgate. During a lesson on ranks and badges he recalls being told that it was unlikely that he would ever see anyone above the rank of Wing Commander, unless on a big parade. That proved far from the case, as being posted to HQ (Unit) Transport Command Bushy Park at the start of the Berlin Airlift, he was regularly bumping into the Air Marshal and Air Commodores, serving in the Command Signals Section and Air Staff Registry.

After his National Service John immediately joined 3506 FCU Sqn (County of Northampton) Royal Auxiliary Air Force. As a local government officer he moved to Gloucestershire in 1954 from his home town, Kettering. Keen to stay in the R.Aux.AF he contacted the CO of 662 Air Observation Unit at RAF Colerne. “ I was taken straight in as I was a ‘ Secretarial man’ – unusual for a flying unit. Familiar with RAF procedures he was able to get admin work done quickly and then fly with the Squadron Austers and Chipmunks. “We landed and took off from any grass fields, although sometimes I had to be picked up by a land rover to make the aircraft lighter for a short take-off”.

When 662 Squadron disbanded duties were transferred to the newly formed Army Air Corps John moved on to 3507 FCU (County of Somerset) R.Aux.AF. This too was disbanded with most other R Aux AF units in 1958.

During his service John had come into contact with the ATC, particularly with cadets attending Colerne for air experience flights, and wishing to continue his interest in aviation offered his services to 1329 (Stroud) Squadron, located in an old hut near the centre of Stroud.

The CO was Flt Lt Ray Bingham, an ex RAF Navigator, who was also an ex cadet of the unit, together with Eric Viles, who later became OC Bristol Wing. With his vast experience Ray soon became a Gloucestershire Wing Staff Officer with John succeeding him at 1329.

John recalls a visit to 1329 by the then Wing Commander, Robert Evans, Headmaster of Wycliffe College. (The college had an ATC unit). On this occasion the Wing Commander had travelled by bus from Stonehouse and realising that one or two cadets may visit a chip shop before boarding the same bus home, John put in delaying tactics and persuaded the guest to accept a lift home in his car.

1329 became a centre for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Of note Ken Roberts was one of the first ATC cadets to receive the Gold Award. He is still active in the unit with long service as an officer.

Summer Camps saw large numbers of cadets from all parts of the country join together. The officers spent a lot of time sorting out the various tasks for the week on the Saturday night. In those days long discussions ensued as to seniority!   Meanwhile the cadets settled in filling in the large Harris blocks. 303 drill rifles were in racks near to door.

In the late sixties, without any warning, and with few staff, John received instructions to take on additional responsibility for 1245 Cirencester Squadron and its Tetbury Detached Flight, both of which were in difficulties. Sadly Cirencester suffered demise but Tetbury, which operated from a cupboard in Sir William Romney’s School in Long Street, recovered and was eventually allocated a hut in the new school in Lowfield Road. This was opened by Brian Trubshaw, of Concorde fame. 1245 Cirencester reformed recently.

In 1970 John became a Gloucestershire Wing Staff Officer. After a short period as Public Relations Officer he became the Wing Training Officer, running courses at RAF Innsworth, which continued after amalgamation with Bristol Wing. As part of the duties he gained experience visiting other units and reporting to the Commanding Officer, Wg. Cdr. Gerald Williams.

As a staff officer John commanded more than thirty Easter and Annual Camps in the UK, Cyprus, Germany, Malta and Gibraltar.

He also conducted the IACE visit to Sweden in 1975 and was very proud of the British cadets, all of whom had flying scholarships. The Americans, however, not only had their own Piper Cubs – their fathers twin engine Cessnas!

Glos Wing Staff officers who served with John were Peter Whitmore (2362), Peter Skerman, Frank Bailey (649 and Adventure Training), Geoff Harmsworth. Rev. Mike Barnard also of 625 Gliding School. John recalls Mike just had time to put his cassock over his flying suit

for Evensong after a weekend at South Cerney. He became Corps Chaplain. Another Squadron Chaplain, Eric Evans became Dean of Gloucester and later Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

John says “In August 1981 the Regional Commandant Gp Capt Barnard and the then Wing Admin Officer, George Wherry ‘invited’ me to a pub lunch to discuss whether I would be prepared to consider taking over the Wing as soon as Gerald’s term ended in October. The amalgamation of the Wings was still in its infancy but I accepted the challenge as I felt I had good relations with quite a number of officers in the South through responsibilities at Summer Camps and Training exercises”

Changes occurred in natural progression. Wing Staff Officers Harold Taviner, Jim Williams, Bill Evans – all vastly experienced reached retirement and were succeeded by Ian Todd, Brian Wensley, Frank Gibbs, and David Tudor who joined Ken Davies and Geoff Harmsworth.

During the period of his office there were also many changes in the Corps itself, one of which included the introduction of girl cadets and female officers. This was the subject of discussion at the Wing Commanders’ Conference at Headquarters Air Cadets and the appointment of two female leaders of the Corps would have been beyond their comprehension. John was always a supporter, noting the success of the Girls Venture Corps associated with 614 (Lydney) Squadron.

There were recruiting problems, with officers and cadets, the most disappointing was the disbandment of 37F (City of Bristol) Squadron for many years commanded by the doughty George Onslow.

Generally speaking his four year tenure saw many “unexpected”   loyalties from the Bristol end which, together with the Glos area he greatly appreciated. He always expressed his admiration of the time given by adult staff and committees and support given by wives and families (including his wife, Gill) who many times found their own arrangements disrupted.

John always believed it was right to step down from the ATC at the then retirement age of fifty-five to allow promotion of younger officers and in 1985 handed over to Ian Todd. Unusually he did not wish to accept the offers of future involvement after retirement, saying “Most people like a ‘pat on the back’ but there is a tendency to feel that everything they did was fine for the organisation and this may inhibit progress by the successor”

The final chapter of his service involved a Review of the Wing and Parade of the Air Training Corps Banner at RAF Innsworth on Sunday 20th October 1985. The Reviewing Officer was Air Commodore P V Mayall FBIM RF AOC Air Cadets and Commandant of the ATC.

Later John received letters of appreciation “from on high” and within the Wing and was particularly pleased that it had been noted that he had successfully completed the difficult task of furthering the amalgamation of the two Wings given him on his appointment.

A Wing Farewell Party/Presentation by 180 officers and cadets and attended by Group Captain K Goodwin, Regional Commandant, made a fitting finale to a 37 year RAF and ATC career of a very modest man, who quietly developed hundreds of cadets and staff, some of whom are still serving today.

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