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‘CHINLING’ - OUT OF THE COLD, INTO THE FOLD

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I must admit to always having a slightly guilty conscience whenever I browse the RAFLing website. The reason for this has been that the sum total of information about one neglected part of our organisation is a small, slightly out of focus photograph of Chinese course No 2 at RAF Worth Matravers in 1953, which was hidden among the plethora of information about the other languages. Yet these former RAF Chinese linguists were the forerunners of our organisation, ‘The First Nation’ as they would be called to use a Canadian colloquialism. In total 17 Mandarin Course and 2 Cantonese courses were conducted before being discontinued in 1961. This is not intended in any way as a criticism of the website, the simple answer is that we just did not have more information or material so were unable to elaborate on these stalwarts.

To a certain extent, this is not surprising, as the Association was formed in 1996 by two former RAF Russian-trained linguists who met up at the closing-down ceremony at Royal Air Force North Luffenham, where the last Joint Services Language School specialising in ‘Eastern Bloc’ languages, namely Russian, Polish, German and Czech had been located. They contacted some of their former colleagues and two years later RAFLing was formed. The majority of linguists had understandably been posted to Germany and had spent many years there, mainly at RAF Gatow in Berlin. There were only about 150-175 in the trade who quickly got to know each other, and they formed the nucleus of RAFLing. As you can judge by this excellent website, RAFLing has grown and prospered.

Many of the Chinese linguists have also kept in touch with each other and have had some enjoyable reunions, but apart from the odd occasion such as plaque ceremonies, this group has been pretty much a separate entity.
The RAFLing Committee thought it was high time that this situation was rectified.
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Hence ‘CHINLING’, a new section of the RAFLing website which the RAFLing Committee hopes will grow, with information supplied by former RAF Chinese linguists. From a grammatical point of view, I should refrain from using the word ‘former’, as the survivors are still Chinese trained linguists, many now exceptionally well qualified in the language, but are not now members of the RAF.

I was delighted therefore when my request for more information and course photographs, either official or personal, taken by other course members resulted in a wealth of information about the Chinese linguists and courses sent to me by some of them. Notable among there were Keith Scott, John Henty, Dan Gradwell, Peter Bernasconi and Terry Joyes. My thanks go to all of you. Keith together with Reginald Hunt and Geoffrey Russell, co-wrote the extremely interesting and enlightening book “Mandarin Blue” detailing their history with stories from other members. The book was given a very favourable review by John Partridge, a few years ago and he has given me permission to reproduce it elsewhere in this section. Information from the book has enabled me to significantly increase my knowledge of the organisation as well as answer many questions regarding the names and dates of JSSLs including the ‘Eastern Bloc’ language training camps.
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I would like also to thank John Henty who has provided a brief introduction to the history of Chinese linguists, Dan Gradwell, for photographs and course information, and Terry Joyes, who enlightened us all a few years ago with his memoirs in episodes of ‘Mandarin Moments’ which appeared in our RAFLing Magazine, an update of which will appear here shortly.
While I realise that the National Service commitment in the UK ceased for anyone born after September 1939, this means that even the youngest will now be fast approaching or have already passed the venerable age of 80, I do not think that this lessens their importance in any way or that it is too late to add this information to the website. RAFLing as well as being a social forum, is also a history of all linguist training carried out by the RAF.
I know that few of the courses had an official photograph taken, (this applies also to the Eastern Bloc language courses), so I am hoping that if any of you have any personal photographs and information about other members of your course, you will send them to me and I will arrange for them to be included on our website. I am also on the lookout for stories, news, views and anecdotes to make the site a place to look for every time you go online. This can only happen with your help, so please start digging around in your old ‘artefacts’ boxes.

We all wish you venerable men a long-overdue ‘Huanying’ – welcome 3

Alan Robson
3rd March 2016