An officer is never wrong…
Just a quick post, as I was reminded of this incident last night from a Twitter message to me from a follower who told me a relative of his had once also been at Coningsby.
Back in the day – when people arrived at Coningsby – they had to do a weeks worth of “gash jobs” the so called “SWO’s Marines”. This was basically doing any jobs around the station that was no dedicated manpower to fill. It was fair, it was simple, and you were based in the Guardroom where you were delegated a task as it came in. I remember my task was acting as an assistant to the Housing Officer when it came to laying carpets in Married Quarters.
The guardroom is a busy place. Passes and permits were issued there and it was the major focal point for people arriving at the station. In addition people on “duties” were based there – the Orderly Corporal, Orderly Sergeant and Orderly Officer. The job of these people was basically to be a focal point for problems and issues arrising “out of hours”. Things like dealing with problems in the Blocks, minor discipline problems, anything all the way through to being some of the first on the scene if there was a crash or if the “balloon went up” (this WAS the Cold War!).
One of the less difficult tasks, but one that was a tradition – and one still kept up – is that the RAF Ensign outside the Station Headquarters was raised and lowered by the duty team. The Sergeant would blow a whistle, everyone about would halt, turn and face the Ensign and stand at attention as the flag was lowered and the Orderly Officer would salute. Once the flag was down, the Sgt blows the whistle with two blasts and people continue on their way. It’s just a quick 30 second ceremony (but one where some embarrassing problems can arise – but THAT’S a subject for a future blog!) but at that time at Coningsby it was done in the morning at 8am to raise the ensign, and at either 6pm (in summer) or 5pm (winter) to lower it.
Anyway, I was sitting in the office on this particular afternoon at about 4pm on a drab February afternoon. When a rather flustered looking Flight Lieutenant burst into the guardroom.
“I’m here” he gasped.
“Yes you are, Sir” said the Guardroom Sgt “But WHY are you here?”
“For the Flag! Where’s the Orderly Sgt?”
The guardroom staff looked quizzically at each other.
“Sir,” said the sergeant in a rather soft – some would have said condescending – voice “Sir, the Ensign isn’t lowered until 5pm today. It’s only 3:58, Sir.” (Some-how he made the last “Sir” sound like a real insult.)
The Flight Lieutenant looked at his watch. Realisation dawned. He’d got the time wrong. But he was now faced with being the only officer in a room of about 6-7 lower ranks – including me – a fresh-faced Junior Technician, straight out of training, all gawping at the way he had burst into the room.
He sighed and gave his wrist a waggle, shaking the watch. He tapped it once or twice.
“Aaaaaaaah” he said in a desperate bid to save the last bit of dignity and respect that he could, “My watch is still on German time…”