Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
As an alumni of the RAF College, Cranwell, I looked forward to reading this book with considerable anticipation, especially as the author contacted me for information whilst researching his subject matter. Having now had the opportunity to review the book I find it to be somewhat akin to the proverbial Curate’s Egg, good in parts. Roger Annett was a member of No 81 Entry that arrived at Cranwell in September 1959. This Entry was the first to embark on a newly devised syllabus at the College, which involved selected Entry members studying for external degrees in addition to undergoing the service related officer training, which included flying training to ‘Wings’ standard on the newly introduced Jet Provost trainer. The thinking behind this policy was that the RAF needed to attract high quality potential career officers by offering the chance of getting a degree from their time in training in the same way as a university. The cadets now spent three long years at Cranwell, a considerably longer time in training than their direct entry colleagues would spend. There was no formal flying training until the start of the second year, just air experience in the Chipmunk. The author has chosen to describe his Entry’s experience of their three years at Cranwell in forensically minute detail.
Given the passage of years, this must have taken a huge amount of research amongst the surviving Entry members. The first 306 pages of the book’s 346 pages of text are dedicated specifically to 81 Entry’s activities. He refers to his fellow Entry members only by their first or nick names so it is very difficult to work out who they are, even for me as a cadet only a year behind them, and impossible for anyone without inside knowledge. The exception is the writer of the forward, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sandy Wilson, a former Entry member. The narrative is all in the present tense, an unusual format for what is essentially a history book. Interspersed within the text are boxes with descriptions of other College related events and personalities, in italic script. The illustrations are all black and white and include reproductions of commercial advertisements from the 1960s ranging from Hunting Percival’s Jet Provost advertisement to Bates the hatter and Poulson and Scone, the shoemaker, both suppliers to the RAF College cadets. It is a pity that no colour has been used as there are many colour photos available of that period.
Whilst the author’s descriptions of the minutae of 81 Entry’s cadet life in the early 1960s might interest some researchers I feel it does not do justice to the broader sweep of the one hundred years of the College’s existence and the many changes that have occurred to the way it does its business. The last forty six pages cover the many changes to the training conducted at Cranwell that have taken place following the realisation that a three year degree course combined with officer and flying training was a step too far, thus heralding the end of the traditional Cranwell Flight Cadet. The book concludes with a description of what the College does today, along with a typical current graduation ceremony, witnessed by one of those members of 81 Entry who keep appearing. Today, all those recruited into the RAF, commissioned or non-commissioned, undertake their initial training at the RAF College.
A Centenary Celebration ? In my view, not really, more a description of College life in extreme detail over a relatively short time – 1959 to 1962 – with an updating to the present day. There are one or two errors of fact, the Q code for a controlled descent through cloud based on transmitted DF bearings was a QGH, not a QDH; 89 Entry, who arrived in September 1963 on the three year course could not have graduated in 1964. The text is clear and easily readable, the illustrations a bit disappointing and the book’s main appeal may be to those surviving members of 81 Entry, providing they are not put off by the relatively high RRP of £30.