18 Intake Leghorns 1964
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Chris Coulthard - Clarke wrote in his book ‘From the Ground Up’, that the Apprentice Scheme was implemented in 1948 with four objectives:
To put RAAF Technical Training on a sound basis
To provide the RAAF with the most highly trained & qualified technicians
To recruit the best type of youths, and
To provide qualifications for employment after discharge.
A 5th objective was added in the late 50s - To provide a source of applicants for advancement to commissioned ranks.
In 1948, the 1st apprentice intake – ANZACS – marched into Forest Hill (then known as Allonville). 15 Years later, the RAAF recruiting teams were interviewing several thousand 15-16 yr olds for the 18th Intake. By this time, the recruitment process was quite sophisticated. Not only were we selected on the basis of academic potential but the psychological testing alone ensured the selection of boys who had initiative, sound values and social skills – foundational stones for leadership.
And so, on 16 Jan 1964, around 150 of us descended on Forest Hill as the 18th Intake including four Kiwis Ron Edwards, Barry Matena, Garry Heap and Barry Payne.
Our first full day, under the articulate guidance of the fearful and much respected WOFF Dexter Dutton, left no-one in any doubt as to what we had let ourselves in for.
AVM Weller once said that putting this many 15-16 yr olds from different backgrounds, being away from home for the first time and subjecting them to considerable restriction in the name of discipline would seem a recipe for failure. But, as with every other Intake, we bonded closely using our sporting abilities and competitiveness – and a couple of fire-hose fights – as a pressure relief valve. And for many of us, the friendships formed during our apprenticeship became friendships for life.
143 Leghorns graduated in 1966. Around seven of our Intake didn’t make it to graduation for one reason or another but two of that group subsequently did well for themselves. Mal Thiele made it to WOFF well before the rest of us and Robert Antonio is currently the CEO of the multi-million dollar McLean Farms in QLD.
Wing Commander Rodney Noble, CO RAAFSTT said at the time of our graduation:
“Graduation Day has come at last after two-and-a-half years of very hard work. Your course of 143 is the largest ever to graduate, and your training record has been amongst the best. Active in all sports, you played a prominent part in the winning of the Apprentice Inter-Service Summer Sports in March this year (1966). I am also pleased with the number of civic services you performed including the voluntary first aid work in the City of Wagga Wagga. This is all part of your development not only into first class tradesmen, but also first-class airmen and citizens.
To complete your training, you will be going to operating units during a period of exciting expansion. You can make a valuable contribution and also ensure a very successful career, by working hard, thinking straight, and maintaining high standards of conduct. Set your sights high, and aim at rapid promotion, and later a commission.
The poet Horace said: ‘Carpe Diem - seize the Day.’ For you this means: ’Grasp every opportunity.’ Good luck from all members of the School.”
Such was the skill in the Apprentice recruitment process to recruit the best type of youths and such was the quality of training at Wagga, that a significant number of us served more than 20 years and, by merit, achieved senior NCO/Warrant Officer rank. A few of our colleagues, in that time, transferred to aircrew and flew as Flight Engineers, Loadmasters and Crewmen. A number of our Intake took a commission, most serving as Engineering Officers including a Flight Test Engineer but others transferred to Aircrew as pilots, to Air Traffic Control and a couple served in the Intelligence Community. Several achieved command positions sharing information, insights, observations and opinions with more senior officers around issues relating to strategy formulation. The 18th Intake certainly achieved the core objectives to provide the RAAF with the most highly trained and qualified technicians and to provide a source of applicants to commissioned rank.
We are but one of forty-six RAAF Engineering Apprentice Intakes and what we’ve talked about is equally applicable to all of the 46 Intakes. Think of the high achievers like AVM Don Tidd (10 Intake), AVM Mac Weller (12 Intake), AVM McDonald (33 Intake), ACDRE Bob Kee (3 Intake), GP CAPT Bob Bartram (3 Intake) just to name a few.
But as we look back on OUR time and achievements as apprentices in Wagga; As we look back on our time and achievements in service and as we look back on our time and achievements in civilian life, we can ask the question of how the architects of the RAAF Apprentice Scheme would see our contribution to their objectives. I have no hesitation in saying that the report card for 18 Intake – Leghorns would be stamped, “JOB WELL DONE, FELLAS – OBJECTIVES ACCOMPLISHED”.
Tom Smith 18 Intake Leghorn
We marched and marched
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