What’s it all about…?
I asked recently for ideas for Blog Posts, and got a few really good questions, but by far the best came from @DaugtherofLir (really, where DO people come up with these Twitter names?) – who is of a naval affiliation.
It went something like this “What is it about the RAF lifestyle that appeals? Honour, duty, the sense of protecting someone/thing? Girly uniform?” (I think that the last question is where a Navy bias comes in…but anyway…)
What is it about the lifestyle? Why did I join? Why do I stay in?
Well I can say right away that it isn’t the “Girly Uniform”…
But for the rest? Honour? Protecting someone? Duty? These are all lofty ideals. And all very worthy reasons for anyone doing anything.
Honour particularly is important in my line of work – albeit I feel that honour is about living up to all that people have done before. I am a big fan of history – and in particular some of the lesser know personalities that have helped shaped the Royal Air Force of today, in times past – and specially in the Battle of Britain. I don’t think it is possible to under-estimate the debt we owe to those “few”, in those summer months of 1940…but also I think that the members of Bomber Command later in the war – when they lead the fight against the Nazi’s – fighting and dying in higher attrition rates than the trenches of World War I also deserve a mention.
But it is not just honour that I am in the RAF…there is a certain amount of family tradition – mine is a military family – my Grandfather fought in the East Yorks and North Staffs Regiments in the First World War and my father served in the RAF for the partition of India and in Suez…my brother (who is now reading this and is probably a little embarrassed) was also in the RAF. I would like to think that what I have done, am doing now, and will do in the future honours them all in some way. However, that is a bit too easy isn’t it. I do it ‘cos everyone else has done it…nah, sorry I’m not letting myself off THAT easily!
Protecting someone? Oddly that is not something I had ever thought about before. As you may know I joined the RAF in the depth of the Cold War when there was a danger and a threat (albeit one that would never logically be realised) of attack against us, and that threat has changed to become a more insidious threat, but certainly not…I might by nature of what I do “Defend and Protect the nation” but, no. That has never even raised it’s head before – I mean how can little old ME protect the whole country? Against the Soviet threat of Nuclear war? If it WAS the fact that Jnr Tech RAFairman was fixing radars at RAF Coningsby in 1989, then, well, I would like to take the credit, but I don’t think that Gorbachev woke up one morning and said “Ohhh bugger, RAFairman is there now, let’s pack it in lads…sod all this world communism and that Red Empire thing. Let’s embrace free market capitalism, ‘cos we can’t beat them now…” Nope. Not gonna happen.
No. And despite my flippancy there is a real, and serious, answer. And it’s a bit deeper than I first thought about.
It’s got to do with honour though…honour and belonging.
You see, I deeply believe that we human being are fundamentally good people. We want to do good and although there are a few bad apples in there (well more than bad apples – I mean I don’t think Hitler or Saddam can be classed as just bad apples) but people are good. They want to be with other people and most importantly they want to be part of something.
And I believe that’s what we’ve lost in our society today. I am maybe looking back, with rose tinted glasses, on a past that never really existed, but, well, I think we have become fragmented and individualistic. For all the methods of communication we now have, we still don’t actually talk and listen to each other as much as we should. I have lived in this house for almost exactly a month now – and so far I have said hello to just one of my neighbours and waved at another. Would our parents or grandparents have said the same? I seriously doubt it.
They had communities and societies that they belonged too. Nowadays we are too busy for those things – we (and I do this too so I am having a pop at myself here too!) do our social networking online rather than face to face. Maybe that’s why social networking sites are so popular? I dunno…but the plain fact is we are a social animal.
We want to be with other people. We want – need – to interact with others. And for me the best, the very best way of doing that is in the Royal Air Force.
You can accuse me of being institutionalised, but I really think that people thrive when there is a structure for our lives. It offers a community and a society that is proud of itself. And rightly so. Its previous members did amazing and fantastic things. They built a strong tradition and proud heritage for us today. And we continue that – and in doing so we honour them. It asks a lot of us – like it did of them; service before self – putting ourselves in harms way, being separated from families for extended periods, doing work that is dangerous and onerous…but it offers such rewards.
To be part of that tradition; a small part of something that is bigger than the sum of those parts. To be part of the whisper that is the history of the RAF. That whisper will always be there, and I will be part of it once I have gone, even in a small and unnamed way. But I’ll have shared the same uniform and cap badge as my father. Worn clothes similar to my heroes like George “Grumpy” Unwin and Willie “Tirpitz” Tait. Been able to walk in their footsteps. To be able to say to them, “I am doing my best to do as you did. You built this tradition with your blood and sweat…but I am keeping it going for you.”
It might sound a bit lofty and a bit pretentious of me. If it does, well I’m sorry. But I am in the RAF because of the other people that are in it and have been in it and will be in it. And I am doing my best to make sure that the tradition continues. And that makes me feel good. It makes me want to stay. And I tell you what; it’ll be the biggest thing I miss when I do eventually leave the RAF. That sense of belonging to something that is bigger than just me…