Memories in his own words by Paul Caruana Part Three

Described by a local news paper as “Truro’s very own Mr Nice guy, who was the driving force and lynchpin behind the popular Truro Day”, Paul Caruana was born and bred in Truro where he still lives today. Following a period of service with the RAF, Paul returned to his beloved city, where he has been involved in community projects ever since. He was presented with a certificate at the Cornwall Council Civic Awards in recognition of his service to the city of Truro.

Remaining at Cranwell for my Professional Supply training was really a 6 month stroll! I had been a Supplier for 17 years, so there was very little to learn. The same went for my 5 ex-SNCO colleagues. It was relaxed, fun and pressure free. The added bonus was that my wife and daughters were able to join me which made life quite “normal”. That period of my life was quite uneventful except for one thing. A friend of my wife had “issues” and shared all of her woes with her. She told my wife that I had apparently been overheard talking about her “affair” whilst in our T Bar. Furthermore, she told her that the news had got back to her husband and they had had a major fall out ! I didn’t have a clue about what she was talking about, so approached her husband to plead my innocence. I met him, explained what had allegedly happened and he stood there staring at me in disbelief! He didn’t have a clue what I was on about! His wife had made the whole thing up and made the mistake of using my name as the person to blame! Strange people !

I was tasked to organise a weekend away. A vote decided that we would go Pot Holing and Horse Trekking in the Yorkshire Moors. The thought of squeezing into a hole, not knowing what I would face, filled me with dread! Have you seen the size of my backside? It would need a very large pothole to accommodate it! How fortunate was I when, after a major storm, it was deemed unsafe to go pot holing – phew! The horse riding went ahead and would provide me with a memory for life. I was at the rear of the group when the horses got spooked and galloped off. The young man in front of me wasn’t at all confident on a horse. As we gained even more speed, his saddle slipped and he was at 45 degrees to the horse, screaming out for his mother! I wet myself laughing at his misfortune!

Professional training over, we all looked forward to our first postings. I was last to hear. Caruana, RAF Stafford! It’s a wind up?! Nope! Oh no, not again! I had served my penance there in 1977 and dreaded the thought of going back! Little did I know that it was to be two years of bliss! I worked directly for the Station Commander, one Group Captain Nigel Griffiths. What a lovely man and a good human being. He made me feel at home and we got on like a house on fire. My job was to arrange, organise and oversee all of the VIP visits. That ranged from local dignitaries, high ranking officers to MPs and Royalty. The real bonus was that time for my refereeing and fishing was available and I could make the most of it.

Rank has its part to play in how some people act and react to different scenarios. Some handle it well, others not so. One day, I had to phone a good friend who had just been promoted to Sqn Ldr. Good morning ****, congratulations on your promotion. “Let’s get one thing clear, you will call me sir when you communicate with me in the future”. What an absolute asshole! Needless to say, that friendship ceased. Rank could certainly go to some people’s heads!

One of my additional tasks was to take the Minutes of the plethora of meetings I had to attend. It certainly taught me about what people find important when attending meetings. I would give my draft minutes to the Sqn Ldr who would change them to his version of events. He would pass them to the Wg Cdr, who would change them to his version. The final draft would go to the Stn Cdr who would change them to what he wanted to see. When reading the Minutes of the last meeting out to all attendees, they often bore no relation whatsoever to what was actually said in the original meeting! Why did I bother? It was, to be honest, great experience.

The one big thing that this job taught me, was that even VIPs can be “normal” people. I often shared a car with them and soon learnt that they led normal lives. Family, friends, hobbies, holidays, food and other simple pleasures were enjoyed by all of them. Inverted snobbery is often the problem when assessing the lives these people lead. My mind set was changed, even though one or two were stereo typical in how I thought VIPs supposedly lived. Treat everybody as equals but with due respect – a lesson for life.

My refereeing career took off. I was officiating some fabulous games and it was was only a matter of time before I actually made the top list. Or was it? Each society I joined had their own pecking order and, invariably, as the new boy, I was near the bottom of it. I had to accept that would be the way for the rest of my refereeing career. Despite that, I loved refereeing and would continue doing so undeterred. I was deeply involved in teaching new referees the art and that was very rewarding.

For my sins, I became the Officer i/c Angling. The station had access to its own stretch of the Trent & Mersey canal and it was absolute bliss! A mile of pristine canal to use and I made the most of it. As part of my duty, I had to look after the Sea Anglers, not something I had a real interest in. “Boss, it’s the RAF Championship next week at Bridlington, please come along and enjoy the day”. Unwisely, I agreed. We arrived at the port and a Force 6 gale stopped us from going out until it dropped to a Force 5. Phew! There was to be little respite. Within no time, the wind dropped but the sea was, to put it mildly, rough! Out we went and I made it to the outer harbour when my stomach told me that this was going to be a bad idea. Too late to change my mind, I was ill. When I say ill, I mean 6 hours of it! I went green! One strange thing did happen though. I did manage to stand up for an hour and caught a 10lb cod! My first ever landing. It was to be the only fish landed on our boat all day. On arrival back to port, I was asked if I wanted to weigh in. Thanks, but no thanks, I just wanted to get home. Little did I know that, had I weighed in, I would have been the RAF Sea Angling Champion! Your final position would be based on the % of the overall boat weight caught. I had 100% of ours. Others had caught lots of fish but so did their fellow anglers in the same boat. I would have been the Champion if only I had weighed in! If only….

A second Sea Angling fishy story springs to mind. On a beautiful Summer’s day, we had a day out at Aberystwyth. A mate called Al had bought 100s of pounds of new equipment and was sat at the back of the boat, fishing. He fell asleep and his rod went “twang” and flew off the back of the boat ! He was, to say the least, distraught! An hour or so later, I hook into a big fish. After quite a battle, I land it, and to his great relief, I had hooked into Al’s fishing rod and landed the fish that he had caught! What were the chances of that happening in 80ft of sea water? What a Great outcome!
I actually wrote to the Angling Times about the incident and they printed it in their magazine. Fishy stories…

I had a lovely RAF Married Quarter to live in. On the edge of the station, no fencing and access to open countryside. Life was, indeed, bliss. We were to meet two amazing Foreign Exchange Officers and had them as neighbours. Ralpf Pfeiffer, our German Exchange Officer, became a lifelong friend and Geno was the Italian Exchange Officer. Both real characters, we had an amazing time socialising with them. I was beginning to enjoy this “Officer Lark” and thought then that I would enjoy the 17 years of service I had left to do. Little did I know then that life would have its twists and turns…

RAF Stafford, despite my initial reservations, was the ideal first tour for me. Working directly for the Stn Cdr gave me an insight into the workings of a very busy Unit, its operating and staffing issues, and the plethora of other everyday matters that affect it. The good thing was that the Stn Cdr trusted me to deliver and even sought advice on occasions. The one personal issue I had was that some of the Sqn Ldrs and Wg Cdrs thought I had too close a relationship with the Stn Cdr and occasionally reminded me that “I was only a Flying Officer”. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir…

My social life was fabulous. If there was a downside, it was the never-ending formal lunches that I had to attend when hosting our VIP guests. With formal dining in nights, my waistline needed some attention and sorting out! Dining in nights were, shall we say, fun! Some of the talents of the junior Officers were amazing! Some of their frolics were too! On one evening, they decided to have a cycle race up and down the corridors. Just to add to the “fun”, one very young Officer thought it would hilarious to get a long-handled mop and poke it through the wheels as the cyclists sped up the corridor! Just how nobody broke a neck is beyond me! Another was when one individual thought it would be fun to slap his lemon meringue pie on the head of the individual next to him. That started a chain reaction and yes, my bald head was duly covered in lemon meringue!

My refereeing career was still going strong and I had an unusual experience. I had to go to Wolverhampton Prison to referee the inmates against a local side. I was “advised” on how best to handle the possibility of something out of the ordinary happening. The best way was to take a packet of fags for the inmates and to be as “normal” as I could. On arriving I was checked over and allowed in. The clunk of heavy prison doors closing behind me was scary! I changed with the prisoners and some of the staff who also played in the team. It was no time at all before I heard that inevitable question – “hey mate, got any fags av ya? Sheepishly, I got my packet out and they disappeared quickly! The game itself was, shall we say, different. Telling off one of the inmates for foul play was amusing. The prison warden winked at me and said “he’s in for murder”! Gulp! The game was played in relatively good spirit and the inmates knew that, to cause trouble on the pitch, would have repercussions. They behaved!

The one thing my wife found difficult to handle, was the wives of some of the senior officers who “wore” their husband’s rank when out socialising. There was a seniority order, and some let you know it. Christine was anybody’s and everybody’s friend unless you upset her. Rank conscious wives weren’t her favourite people! She had one friend that had a very embarrassing personal problem. I soon learned not to stand by her during our social gatherings. Her problem? She broke wind, rather loudly, and couldn’t control it. Poor lady!

The Stn Cdr lived opposite our house and often popped in with a brace of pheasant or such like. That was until he would knock on the door and say, “have you still got them? I need them for another mate”. He did pay me the ultimate compliment one day. “Paul, whether it’s the station cleaners or the Air Marshalls, you get on with them all and that’s what I like most about you”. I had learnt, through life experiences, that everybody deserves respect until they let you down that is. Even today, I talk to the tramps that transit through Sunny Corner and will talk to anybody that wants a chat! “Everybody has a story” is a line that my other half, Jayne, uses. She is right and I have had some amazing, often very personal, conversations with complete strangers. A problem shared, is a problem halved….yep !

Gp Capt Nigel Griffiths was posted and Gp Capt Bob Dixon took over his post. Our initial meeting went like this – “Paul, I need to trust you, your experience and knowledge fully. Don’t let me down and we’ll get on well”. We did. He was an ex-Movements Officer and was as down to earth as you could get. It was 18 months into my tour and a posting wouldn’t be too far off. My parting “gift” to RAF Stafford was the building of its own, albeit small, fishing lake. The Royal Engineers needed a project, I suggested a lake and, hey ho, it was done!

My farewell to Stafford was emotional. I was “Dined out” and had to make a speech. I had made so many friends, life had been good, and I was sad to be leaving the place I never really wanted to be in. The next tour was to be that holiday camp called RAF Chivenor in North Devon. Almost back to God’s own land I thought, and I so looked forward to going there. I thought I would phone the current incumbent to chat things over. It went like this…” high mate, I have received my posting and I’m due to arrive in a month”. You must be mistaken; I’m not going anywhere and haven’t heard a thing. Mmmm….clearly a communication breakdown somewhere along the line. Needless to say, I was was due to go there and take over his post as the Officer i/c Supply Control amd Accounting Flight (SCAF). He wasn’t best pleased as he had made quite a life on the Unit as a wind surfer and didn’t want to leave.

My last ever tour was beckoning….

Arriving at RAF Chivenor was, literally, a breath of fresh air. Sited just North of Barnstaple, on the coast of North Devon, it was in a fabulous location. The station was the home of the RAF Hawk aircraft and No 202 Sqn RAF Search and Rescue helicopters. It was, until early 1992, unfenced, open and had direct access to the surrounding river and beaches. It was the perfect posting for me and my young(ish) family. We were able to move straight into our Officers’ Married Quarter (MQ) which was sited about 50 mtrs from the river! I had never been in such a well sited, modern MQ. Little did I know then that it would be our last one, ever!

Leaving Stafford as a Flying Officer, I arrived as a Flight Lieutenant. The OC Supply at the time, Sqn Ldr Bill (Sticky) Glue decided that he couldn’t have a Flying Officer as the OC SCAF, so he made a phone call and, hey presto, Flt Lt P A Caruana RAF arrived! Bill Glue was my sort of boss. Direct, commanding, fun, serious, not so serious and he enjoyed life! He looked after his staff and that was so important. He was so in touch with the “real world” and he was very clearly a well liked and respected boss. A shame he wasn’t to be there for too much longer, as he was soon posted and replaced by an equally engaging, likeable and friendly Sqn Ldr – Alistair (Jock) Wheeldon who had an equally lovely wife and two kids.

Unfortunately for Alistair, he was diagnosed with MS(?) and struggled to walk at times. He would ride his bike rather than walk and that could be problematical as his sense of balance wasn’t the best. The one and only time I really lost the plot was when he fell off his bike and two young airmen laughed at him. Boy, did I rip into them! It was all I could do not to kick their asses there and then! Due to his health issues, I often found myself as Acting OC Supply Sqn, a task I enjoyed and relished.

I was very fortunate to be surrounded by staff I already knew and many others that were to become friends over my two-year tour there. Many of the SNCOs there I had served with or knew through sport over the years and that made settling in so much easier. One was a local man, Sgt Graham Still, a Redruth man and a great rugby player. Graham was to leave us for 4 months when I arranged an exchange tour in New Zealand for him. The easy way to make a friend for life!

One of my(lots) of secondary duties was as the Station Energy Efficiency Officer and boy, did I make my mark! We were tasked with saving at least 10% of our energy costs. My task was to educate people about just what your index finger can do when it comes to saving energy. I toured the station at lunch times and after 5pm to see what the current state of play was. Flabbergasted, I was amazed to see that virtually nobody bothered to switch lights off or the heating. That became my mission in life, and it was to prove to be very successful. The down side for my family was that I applied the same rules at home, as I still do today ! “It’s like Blackpool Illuminations here” is one phrase I was to use all too often and still do!

As the Fire Safety Officer, I organised a fire drill and liaised with the Stn Fire Section as to how best make it look real. The plot was to use the Sqn Tea Bar after it had been vacated. They got in through the back door, set off a smoke bomb and phoned me to let me know that “things were ready”. I called the young airman (Busby) into my office and said “Buzzers, are you sure you turned the cooker off in the T bar when you finished ?”. Yes sir. “I’ve just received a call to say that there was some smoke there, go and check it out now please”. Yes sir. Well, it was a Captain Mannering moment! In absolute panic and in the highest, squeakiest voice you can imagine, he came running back in shouting “Fire, Fire”. It took everything I had to stop myself from wetting myself, it was that funny!

Aother young man I became friends with, and still am, was a young airman called Mario. He was a likeable rogue, cheeky with it and had a sense of humour that was lost on most people. A quick-witted Geordie, he was always in some sort of trouble. I would have to read the riot act to him and then laugh at his antics! He came in one day and said “Boss, you’re like a Dad to me, thank you”. Mario was just one of many of my surrogate kids! Being human was so much more important than just being the boss, a moral that would hold me in good stead for the rest of my life.

Those who know me well, will know that I love a good wind up ! Being the boss afforded me the opportunity to indulge myself! Blue files meant serious business. Having one open on your desk, when calling somebody in for a chat, was cause for concern. Postings were always a big issue as there were some not so popular places to get posted to. One young airman bugged me for months about where his footballing skills would take him to next. He knew exactly where he was going, or so he thought! Blue file open, I called him in. “Your posting is through”. He smiled in anticipation as he was going to the London area, he thought. You’re off to Bennecula in the Outer Hebrides. He never said a word and just burst into tears! What a rotten person was I? Lols

Fishing was to play a big part in my life, especially as my wife enjoyed it too. The kids came along under duress, but always enjoyed the outings. Ilfracombe Pier was to become a regular haunt, as were the Station Angling Club’s boat trips. Time off for a sport you love is just ace! Rugby refereeing was also going well. The only downside was the travelling from North Devon to anywhere. Little did I know then that my refereeing career was entering the beginning of the end of it.

One of my hairiest moments at Chivenor was making acquaintances with an Army Helicopter Pilot who was operating out of the Station. “We’re off over the Devon coastline today, come along, you’ll love it”. Wow! Yes please! I’d love it! Wrong! He was a mad man! Going over a steep cliff, we are suddenly heading full speed towards the sea below! Shit, this is it! Eyes closed, I’m not sure how he pulled it out of the steep drop, but he did. Never again I thought! My one regret was turning down an offer to share a flight in an RAF Hawk. I don’t have a strong stomach, often suffer from motion sickness and remembered that Army Pilot’s antics! A glutton for punishment? Not me!

In 1992, the RAF decided it was contracting and were after volunteers to go. I had 16 years left to do, it was well paid, a great future ahead of me and not something I wanted to consider. Security for my family was paramount. That was until a friend phoned me and quoted the figures they were offering if you went voluntarily. Pension at age 40, a substantial pay off and you could make it even bigger if you traded off some of your pension. Add to that a voluntary pay off and you can imagine why it suddenly became attractive!

It took me very little time to think about applying for voluntary redundancy. I spoke at length with my family and we all agreed that it would suit us to take the offer and return home to Cornwall. My daughters and my wife had become disenchanted with saying cheerio to their friends every 18 months or so and wanted to put roots down. Decision made, the application went in and was accepted. Civvi Street here we come! Flt Lt P A Caruana RAF Retired