While the Company’s major Armed Forces association is with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), we also have close ties with the Royal Naval Defence School of Marine Engineering (HMS SULTAN) and the RAF’s No 4 School of Technical Training at St Athan, near Cardiff. After trying to arrange a mutually convenient date for a Court visit for a number of years, we finally agreed a date in mid-June. Unfortunately, on the date agreed, only three members of the Court were available to travel to South Wales and so the Master, Deputy Master (accompanied by the “Deputy Mistress”) and the Master’s Steward made the trip westwards along 170 miles of the M4.
After a brief stop for much needed bacon sandwiches, just after entering the Principality, the party arrived at the Ministry Of Defence St Athan Guardroom at 11.00am where we were met by Chief Technician Pete Hague and escorted to the Training Squadron offices. Wing Commander Paul Regan, the Commanding Officer of No 4 SOTT who the Company has entertained in Apothecaries’ Hall, was absent from St Athan on the day of our visit. As a consequence, we were generously welcomed by the Officer Commanding of the training squadron – Squadron Leader Middleditch – and introduced to a group of his staff. Squadron Leader Middleditch then gave us an interesting and informative presentation on the role of RAF (and now MOD) St Athan with particular reference to the technical training aspects of the role. He finished by mentioning the proposal to move both REME and RAF technical training to RAF Lynham, in Wiltshire, in 2015. Should this move take place, the next Court visit could involve a somewhat shorter trip down the M4.
Following the briefing the group was photographed with our hosts by Di Gibson. In the photograph below are (from the left): Assistant Nic Somers (the Master’s Steward), Chief Tech Peter Hague (the Training Coordinator and our escort for the day), the Master, Sqn Ldr Middleditch, Past Master Peter Gibson (the Deputy Master) and the Station Warrant Officer.
The party then retired to the Junior Ranks Mess where some more members of the training staff joined the group, and treated us to an enormous buffet lunch.
After lunch we were taken to meet some of the trainees undertaking practical metal work, both basic and advanced. We were most impressed by the comprehensive range of equipment available to the students and the extremely high quality of practical work being achieved. Some of the students were newly out of basic training and were learning the fundamental skills of their chosen trade. Their enthusiasm was obvious to us and, without exception, they were happy to engage with us and explain what they were up to. We then moved on to meet the members of an advanced course. These were older airmen who had been in the RAF for about 4 years and who had returned to St Athan to enhance their practical skills. The standards of turning and metal machining were clearly of an extremely high standard – skills that are very necessary when parts for aircraft have to be manufactured from scratch in a combat zone.
While in the training workshop, we took the opportunity to discuss the Turners’ Cup, awarded to the best student on the advanced course, and it became clear that St Athan very much valued the award of the cup and the small monetary prize that went with it.
At the end of the day we returned to the Training Squadron offices for a final cup of tea (and excellent biscuits) followed by farewells from the staff. It had been a splendid, albeit rather short, visit but long enough for us to recognise the high standards being maintained and the enthusiasm of both staff and students.