Forces – flowers – fairies – fun… Flippin ´eck, what did you think I was going to say? I´ll put you in the Olympics for jumping to conclusions. Aged just eighteen in 1967 I signed on to serve my Queen and country in the Royal Air Force. Fighting fit after eight weeks brutal basic training, the following four months were fearful, firmly fixed in a classroom learning about aircraft radios: few… I mean phew!


Flowers – 1967 saw the famous ´Summer of Love´, and flower-power was all the rage. Fortunately I was posted to the sunny south coast of England and the actual RAF Station, Thorney Island was fantastic. Arriving in May I found the place was thoughtfully filled with pink and while Almond-blossomed trees on the main part of the camp, although I was soon sent ´Up The Line´ to work on the formidable Hercules aircraft. Not many flowers there but I did find some…


Fairies! My fellow airmen at work were a fantastic bunch of lads and I was immediately branded a ´fairy´ due to my trade´s light workload – basically black box changing if and when the aircraft landed with a fault. The antithesis of we fairies were the ´Heavies´, either airframes or engines who strutted their stuff brandishing mean-looking tools and muscles. Meanwhile we fairies drank coffee and played cards in the crew room (aka the coffee bar with the radio blaring out the hits of the day). From this firm foundation I was able to travel with the very versatile Hercs all over the world. Although I was groundcrew aircraft handling and flight servicing are always welcome on trips abroad so I was able to visit places like New York, Bermuda and The Maldives courtesy of Her Majesty as well as the regular forces bases around the world.


Fleshpots – as The Beatles warbled ´All You Need is Love´, I endorsed that wish dahn sarf as I soon got closer to the female sex. Hayling Island, Portsmouth, Southampton, Chichester and Bognor Regis provided great sources of entertainment: hospitals need nurses, the GPO needed telephonists. and holiday camps needed workers – and holidaymakers. In the middle of all this was our RAF station with around 2,000 young men and very few women, indeed Thorney Island was known by the local girls as ´Horney Island´: harsh but true….


Finally – a full and frank admission. I have been known to use the real F word myself on occasions. I was actually brought up with a scant knowledge of hard core swearing, only audible from my Dad if he hit his finger with the hammer and a mild ´damn´ or ´bugger´ was heard – hardly offensive. But on that bitterly cold day in January 1967 I joined one hundred and twenty other innocents. We were quickly and dutifully shorn short, shouted (no, make that screamed) at, and fearfully and roundly abused for eight hard weeks by mean moody drill instructors. A week´s camping in February´s snow sorted out the men from the boys as we somehow became fighting fit servicemen who could march, salute and run ´til we dropped. One of the few downsides was that my previously choirboy language ( I had been one a few years earlier) took a savage turn for the worst. Living, eating, sleeping, breathing and speaking in an all-male environment for two months meant certain ominous changes to my everyday chatter.


After the welcome passing-out parade at the culmination of the basic training we were allowed home for a very brief period of rejoicing, as Churchill once described, before starting another different direction of our training. Back safely at my parents´ house for a long weekend it wasn´t long before my new crude vocabulary was exposed. At the Sunday dinner table I happened to be discussing how hard a particular Corporal had been on us – and the F word was used to describe his disgust as he swore viciously at us.


Everything went quiet for a moment. Dad was always hard of hearing (I inherited that) and didn’t catch it, still smiling – but my Mum and two sisters did hear and looked suitably appalled. My little brother spluttered over his roast chicken trying unsuccessfully not to laugh – but the damage was done and I had to apologise. Of course, by this time with the everyday working life in the Forces such language became mundane, and I served five years before happily leaving to return to civilian life. Here I found I had to curb my bad habits and it took some effort to avoid using such profanities, and today I think I am more or less in control to not embarrass myself in public.


There is one more aspect of such language I would like to explain. Many years after my five years service, in 2011 I decided to write a book * about my RAF adventures, and to my amazement this has led me to pastures new. As a direct result my old friends and I meet up every year at that same Thorney Island, now an army base in a reunion at the Sailing Club, an old haunt of ours. In my book which recounts many stories of those halcyon days as an SAC (Senior Aircraftman to you) the F word is necessary in print to report direct speech as it occurred. But how to do this without causing offence did pose a problem.


Formula – years before I had read a very funny book about a young man doing his Army National Service back in the 1950s. The same problem I have outlined occurred in this book, but was cleverly circumvented by swapping several crucial letters. A good example was telling somebody to ´Fugg off´ or a question such as ´What the fuggin´ hell are you doing?´ – nuance, i.e .only a slight change of spelling but introducing a more comical version in print which still conveyed the message: fait accompli.


Finally – that´s my story and I´m sticking to it ffs (false format shock)


*Fairy Tales of an SAC, John McGregor Woodfield Publishing 2011