More than 300 former Royal Australian Air Force apprentices gathered in Wagga on Friday night for the start of their weekend-long reunion from intake years as far back as 1948.
The former apprentices were sent to live, work and learn about aircraft maintenance at Wagga's RAAF base from all over Australia and New Zealand, with most arriving as 15 and 16-year-old boys.
John McBay, from Sale in Victoria was in the fourth intake of apprentices, having been stationed at Wagga from 1950 to 1952.
Mr McBay said the conditions on the base were "fairly primitive" with more than 21 boys living in each hut and open showers out in a tin shed.
"I had my first beer at the Farmers Home Hotel in Wagga after I graduated as an apprentice," he said.
"I didn't get drunk, I just asked for one beer and I didn't like it."
The Aircare All Apprentices Reunion also included a celebration dinner at The Range function centre, tour of the Temora Aviation Museum and the RAAF base Wagga and Heritage Museum, with the former apprentices to take part in the Wagga Baylis Street Anzac Day march.
The apprentices will be the at the front of the march as the first group behind the official party.
As many of the apprentices drove in to Wagga, they were able to see decommissioned examples of the aircraft they worked on, such as the Mirage fighter and F111 fighter-bomber on display at the gates of the base at Forest Hill.
RAAF Apprentices Association president Dutchy Holland, who joined as an apprentice in 1973, said the reunion was run every other year by the Aircare Benevolent Association for former Wagga Air Force service members.
"We were all 15 and 16-year-olds when we joined the RAAF and they were our formative years," he said.
"We pretty much went from children to young adults.
"I came from the Gold Coast so Wagga was two things to me: cold and quiet."
The RAAF apprentice program took in new recruits every year from 1948 to 1993.
Historian, author and 1980 RAAF Wagga apprentice, Dr Tony Brady said female apprentices were first taken in an about 1990.
"From 1948 to now, if you look at the training that [apprentices] have had in all fields of avionics and where people have ended up in industry, you will wind that these people are in the leading positions in manufacturing and technology," he said.
"Among the apprentices you will find leaders of industries."
Some apprentices returned to Wagga as instructors for newer intakes of recruits, while others continued their military service, which varied from nine to 15 years depending on when they signed up, around Australia or the world.
Greg Cornell, who was an apprentice in 1959 to 61, said Wagga left a lasting impact on him.
"I got associated with a family in Wagga and used to help them out on their property," he said.
"Years after my first marriage, I married the daughter in that family. Even though she and I are divorced now, I still keep in company with that family."
Mr Cornell failed in his later attempt to become a pilot and transferred to the Army and served in the armoured corps with Centurion tanks.
"I was one of two people who served in Vietnam across two armed services," he said.
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