Evenings and weekends or full time job?
Author guest post from Louise Wilkinson.
The thing with interviews is that everything that the person says is recorded, and more often than not, people say things that in time, they may be concerned about, for whatever reason This happened to me on two occasions when I interviewed three separate Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) officers, at different times about their lives as pilots in the AAF.
The first pilot was a man who had joined the AAF after his National Service had ended. For his civilian job he worked in the laboratory of the Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) on Teesside, often working different shifts which he felt interfered with his part-time job in the AAF. His solution to this problem was to give up his proper job and become a full time auxiliary, something of course which was not allowed, but he did it anyway!! He told me “we were working five days a week and flying Saturdays, Sundays and Thursday nights. We were shattered, drinking like idiots, partying and after six months of this I decided something had got to give, so we gave our jobs up.”
One of his friends, a man who I interviewed the following month, again joined the AAF on completion of his National Service and told me that “we didn’t enjoy our jobs so that’s why we joined, I nearly got the sack from ICI for taking too much time off to fly.” He was employed as a researcher by ICI. Both men easily met the conditions of service which stated that they needed to attend for twelve weekends and also fifteen days at annual camp. They also had to complete one hundred hours of non-continuous training.
The third interviewee gave several reasons for volunteering: “volunteering gave me the opportunity to visit other countries, to be with my friends, to receive pay from the AAF and from ICI and that meant that my life was like a holiday.” All three men noted that access to flying and aircraft as well as the social side of squadron life were attractions to volunteering. Socialising and drinking seemed to be a key factor in the decision to volunteer. One of the men told me, everybody used to get sloshed. But there was a certain code of behaviour in the mess. It wasn’t loutish behaviour. Everybody had too much to drink. I must admit that. We always used to end up at the officer’s mess, unless there was a special dance on or a party, you never go down to the mess early doors. You would either go down the Oddies, the Odd Fellows that the local pub; they had a cocktail bar upstairs. Then you would end up down in Stockton. We would go to the Maison and the Palais, the dance halls that were there, and then you would end up back, sometimes in time for the last drink at the Oddies, and then head back to the mess around eleven o’ clock. That’s why we ended up drinking until two o’ clock; we never got there till at least eleven.
Another told me we had one or two sergeant pilots on the squadron and of course we had a different mess from them, but all of the squadron were treated as equals. The mess was relatively formal. Everybody behaved in a pleasant way, you were expected to conform to certain basic rules, and you never talked about sex, religion or politics in the mess. You had to eat with the right knife and fork. It was not like the RAF. We had formal dining-ins where you had to get all dressed up and toast the Queen, but it always finished up in a drunken state with mess games and wrecking the joint. Being an auxiliary there was a certain element of disregard for the regulars. There was lots of horseplay; there was very little formality.
Other activities of the officers caused consternation among local Stockton residents. For example,
“in the Vane Arms there used to be a big brass, like one of those Eastern, I don’t know what you would call it, not an urn but like one of them forty thieves jars, wider and made of brass, and they used to pinch it. It was on the stairs, halfway up, and they used to come back, one of the officers who had a car, and it would always be taken back, because the staff knew where it had gone. Then as a punishment, they would put one of the lads inside it, and they would bash on the side of it, and it was called the brass band buggery box. The din was deafening if you were inside, it would make you go deaf.”
Antics of this kind were reminiscent of the high-jinks that were common place in the officers’ mess, but were seen as rather loutish and irresponsible by local residents, but those members of the Auxiliary Air Force saw it all as good fun.
Interestingly enough I listened to the recordings that I had taken of the three interviews, typed them up word for word and sent a copy of them to each of the three men. Two of the three men got in touch with me and asked me to take out of the transcripts anything to do with drinking and poor behaviour. I can’t say that I was surprised when this happened, but it just shows that even in interviews people aren’t aware of the impression that they give when they talk honestly about their lives and experiences.
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