I loved aeroplanes and was in the air cadets, so it seemed a natural progression to join the Royal Air Force.
So at the ripe old age of sixteen and a half I took the Queens Shilling and signed up for nine years service.
Fingers and Thumbs
At first I studied to be an aeroplane mechanic and learnt all about the bits that keep an aircraft up in the air and let it land safely … nuts and bolts and wire locking .. but the spanners and I didn’t gel …I was all fingers and thumbs, (and often butter fingers at that…) so after a while I released that this was not for me.
I discussed my predicament with one of my former school teachers, who said that I should go for a trade that would always be in demand, and have a civilian qualifications. He thought that Mechanical, Medical, Builder or Catering were the better ones to go for, not the highest paying, but I’d never be out of work.
My Grandmother suggested that I tried nursing as I seemed to have the right temperament for it, and it fit the recommendations for something always in demand and gaining a civilian qualification – so I gave it a go!
The RAF nursing services gave a good rounded training in service hospitals which had a higher staff to patient ratio than what was found in the NHS at the time, and we has smaller classes and an apprentice style training in those days. We were put to work on the wards after a four week basic nursing introduction period, (where we learnt to make beds, perform bed baths and warm bedpans) with a new ward allocation every 12 weeks.
It was all exiting stuff and I really enjoyed the role.
Around this time I found that I needed to have some form of transport and had an in come that was burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought a motorbike to zoom all over the UK on, visiting places and exploring new areas. My first bike was a 2 stroke Suzuki 250 twin, it was fast and noisy, and all mine!
My Mother was horrified and tore me off a strip when I first bought it as she associated it with ‘mods and rockers’, ‘hells angels’ and high speed death, but the very next month she tore me off a strip again that I hadn’t used it to come home and visit her.
I could never win!
Mr and Ms Smith
Part of the training was to gain experience in sexually transmitted diseases, so I was sent off to Bristol for a two week period to learn how to take samples, case histories and identify common illnesses of the private areas.
It was at this time in the late 1970’s that I met my very first transsexual.
The STD clinic was set up so that boys looked after boys and girls looked after girls. There were two waiting rooms with treatment rooms for the boys and girls, with a central lab where we tested all the samples.
This particular day I had been taking samples from one of the many ‘Mr Smith’ characters we seemed to get and was asked to help one of the female nurses to help take a sample from a ‘Miss Smith’ on the girls side. This happened every now and then when they thought that I would gain some educational benefit from the examination, or practice my record taking.
We entered the treatment room and there was a lady who looked very sophisticated, well dressed and very stylish. (Think ‘young Joanna Lumley’ and you get the picture). I started to take her history, and she said she was a professional escort and had several partners a week with regular unprotected intercourse, and that she was getting a discharge now and had had this before etc etc.
This was in the days long before AIDs and HIV, Hep C et al, where we were most concerned about Syphilis, Gonorrhea and spread of non-specific urethritis.
At this point the nurse with me asked me to take the sample and I was a little confused, as I was not expecting to take a sample from a woman, but that all became clear when she lifted her dress.(!) She was totally passable and I had spent 30 minutes getting her history with no inclination that she was Transgender.
It was a ‘the world stands still’ moment and I sat there stunned with a million questions ready to bust forth… but then I did my professional procedure and thanked her for her time.
I sat and relived the interview, her looks and voice were perfect and nothing that I could see gave her away, even though was ‘in the same trade’ so to speak.
I was in awe and jealous, and had lost my opportunity to sit and chat to her by circumstances and fate.
Yet another lesson gained to late through hindsight.
To put this into perspective, this was in the 1970’s. There was no internet buying of hormones, no gender identity clinics, no laser hair removal, no quick trip to Thailand or Poland for breast and face operations. This woman was just so amazingly convincing even by today’s standards.
Bits of Metal
After my nurse training I was put to work on the surgical ward and intensive care unit. That summer we had a skirmish that involved a conflict on the other side of the world that was soon resolved but it kept the medical services busy for over a year, long after peace broke out.
Our hospital was the main receiving unit for all the casualties and we had a wide range of injuries flown in in waves every few days.
Some of the injured I cared for then are still in full time care today nearly 40 years after the event.
It’s terrifying to see what devastation a small single piece of metal can do to every aspect a persons life.
I was posted to several bases in the UK and did some detachments to a couple of overseas bases too. One summer I was sent to work for the Red Arrows as their medical cover and found myself in heaven!
Sleek red shiny aeroplanes, and lots of them and my own landrover ambulance.
I had a great time there and enjoyed the job immensely. The aircraft were all prepped early in the morning, then the pilots were all briefed on the days events before taking off for what ever shows they were performing that day.
I saw them off by sitting next to the fire tender at mid point on the runway and when all had gone we went back to watch telly for the day till they all came home. A quick check to see everyone was fine then it was off home for tea!
I had a two year posting to the northern Isles of Shetland, which after my hospital work was a totally new world. I had a whole island to look after for emergency care and found it a wonderful challenge.
The base was very small, and we had a great social life. I was a focal point for many of the events out side of the base as I never drink and had an ambulance … so was often called on by the local policeman to run down to the local bars to pick up some overindulged individuals and bring them home.
Part of the social life was the annual 'Station Review', were each of the base departments put on little sketches. I was drafted into the Electrical teams sketch as they did a take off of Chirs De-Burg’s song ‘Delisha’ and needed a ‘stripper'. Needless to say I had a great time.
Commuting back and forth to Shetland was a 14hour drive and I made the most of it and dressed the whole time I drove each way.
On one journey I had been driving for some time and needed some fuel. It was about 2am in the middle of Scottish nowhere and I pulled over, filled up with fuel then paid. I moved the car to use the bathroom, only to find that I had locked the keys in the car !
I tried all ways to get the car open and then resorted to picking up a brick and smashing a small window to get in.
I had just stuck the window when a police car cruised in and they stopped right next to me, asking what I was doing.
So, here I am, in a pink and gray cowl dress, brown bob wig, gray tights and matching heels, breaking into a car at 2am in front of two board scots police officers, who politely ask me for some identification and insurance.
I passed them my paper work and said that I was on my way to work and had been ‘practicing for a role’, hence my outfit and pointed to the keys in my car explaining why I had broke the window.
The discussions were all fine and friendly, and I was just about to drive away when the blue lights came on the car and I was asked to ‘step into the back for a chat’. My heart went into overtime, and I started to think the worst.
They took all my details down and took and official statement from me about my journeys up and down from Shetland, including my RAF id number, and explained that they were looking into some of assaults on women that had been linked to someone regularly driving up and back from Scotland.
So I fit that profile. After about half an hour I was free to go but they said that they would follow up their enquires with the RAF to verify my story.
After a few months anxious waiting I had heard nothing from the police and forgot about it. My two years in Shetland came to an end and I was soon on the move again. My next base was in the south west of London where a joint service rehabilitation unit was located. This had various service personnel who were recovering from injuries and medical conditions that impaired mobility. My job was help the clients manage their daily physiotherapy and fitness regimes according to their specific requirements.
During this time I had a surprise visit from the ‘special investigation branch’ of the RAF police regarding the incident where I had been caught dressed by civilian police in Scotland. It was an intense day where I was searched and questioned about how I was dressed, was I gay, did I have any relationships etc etc. I answered as honestly as I thought I should, and seemed to pacify the officer. I was not perused in any further investigations, but I thought that after 11 years service it best that I leave while I was still ahead.
Again, as this was now the early 1980’s and there wasa zero tolerance to anything not 100% macho and stiff upper lip in the British Forces at that time, and any thing else was subject to a dishonourable discharge.
Pastures New with Pandora
On leaving the RAF after eleven years service I took a position in London at a Neurological intensive care unit, which cared for patients with brain injuries and illnesses. The team on the unit were a great hard working bunch, and we all had great fun working together.
I had moved into in a house in West London with a TG friend who traveled away from home a lot and wanted a housemate to keep the place clean and secure.
I let Pandora out of the box me and started to dress full time, loving being me for the first time in my life.