In the summer of 1963 some 200 young men marched off Henderson Parade Square to the strains of “Auld Lang Syne”. The 96th Entry had graduated. On Saturday 1st November 2003 the Holiday Inn at Aston Clinton saw a gathering of 50 of those erstwhile young men, accompanied by 30 partners, celebrate 40 years since that momentous occasion.
In the ensuing years waistlines have thickened, hairlines have thinned (in some cases disappearing altogether) and the fresh complexions of youth have given way to the gnarled, wrinkled and often bearded visages of middle age. Just as well that we wore nametags, as identification of most of the faces was impossible.
The proceedings began with a display of memorabilia – group photographs from 1960, Graduation Dinner menu and the like. This was followed by a buffet lunch during which those far-off years of activities and pranks were aired, often for the first time in 40 years. It was during this time that the wives discovered things about their husbands that had lain dormant for almost half a century.
The talk was of blushing fountains at Trafalgar Square (see separate story linked to from the Windows page), sledding down Mansion Hill on improvised sleds (ablution duckboards and NAAFI tea trays being only two examples of the ingenuity of Lord Trenchard’s lads. The snow at the beginning of 1963 lay thicker over the Parade Square than Paddy Meehan’s brogue. There was talk of individual experiences with Snowdrops, SWOs and the myriad of “anti-Apprentii” predators that thrived at Halton.
The reminiscing continued over dinner and a steady supply of alcohol lubricated the vocal chords. The 96th may have lost their first flush of youth (and several more flushes en-route) but their ability to dispose of beer and wine remained undiminished. It was way past midnight before the last vestiges of the 96th found their way to their pits.
Sunday morning dawned wet and windy. After breakfast a succession of cars conveyed the revellers to St George’s Church. The original church was destroyed by fire (Holy Smoke?) just before the arrival of the 96th. Well at least we could not be blamed for that. The Entry had the honour (although it wasn’t seen that way in 1963) of supplying the pomp for the Consecration Service for the new church. It was also the first entry to hold its Graduation Dedication Service in the new church. So St George’s Church has a special place in the annals of the 96th (also covered by separate stories on this site).
We were met by Min Larkin who gave us a brief presentation of the Window project. The 96th have reserved a panel and the process of designing a suitable window is now underway.
The next item on the agenda was a visit to the Museum. With no band, pipe or tin, to measure our steps across Main Point and up the Hill, we did not so much march as amble up to what we knew as 1 & 2 Wings Parade Ground. The biggest surprise was that we all made it without having to stop for breath. Somehow the Hill didn’t seem quite so long or quite as steep as we remembered it. Mind you, we were unencumbered with sidepacks full of APs and notebooks.
Henderson Gym was where we received our weekly pay – shillings, 2 – I seem to remember being a common amount. Again we were hosted by Min Larkin. There was something of interest for everyone in the displays. The 96th boasted some Dental Technician Apprentices within its ranks and those who had made the trip looked wistfully at the dental paraphernalia that formed part of the medical exhibits.
All too soon the Reunion came to an end. At dinner the previous evening it was agreed that we should meet up every 2 years and so we eagerly anticipate the next one in 2005. In the meantime we look forward to meeting at the Triennial in September 2004. The 96th are grateful to Min Larkin for the time and trouble he took in hosting the Sunday events. Most of all, our thanks go to Merv Kelly, his wife, Pat and Gordon Sherratt and his wife, Anne, for getting everything set up for this Reunion. They have managed to trace a total of 88 members of the Entry, no mean feat in itself. Hopefully the next get-together will see even more of the 96th exchanging stories from 1960 to 1963.
Gerry (Johnny) Law