50 years of service
On June 26, 1972, a 17-year-old Alan Croft appeared in the Adelaide Defence Force Recruiting Centre, wearing his best pressed suit and shoes shined.
Here, he took the Australian Defence Force oath and affirmation to well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors, according to law, as a member of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Five decades on, Squadron Leader Croft will celebrates 50 years of service in the Royal Australian Air Force on Sunday.
Squadron Leader Croft always harboured an inquisitive fascination for aeroplanes and aircraft.
So, at the age of 17, with no intention of furthering his schooling, young Alan began researching careers in the Australian Defence Force.
“My father was in the Royal Australian Air Force,” Squadron Leader Croft said.
“And I have always been impressed by aeroplanes, aircraft and ships.
“So it was a case of, at the age of 17, I didn’t seem to be going anywhere at school, and when I looked at joining up, it was a toss-up between the Air Force and the Navy.
“The reason I joined the Air Force, initially, was because I was under the age of 18; I needed parental consent.
“Neither my mother nor father would let me join the Navy, so it was the Air Force.”
So to follow in his father’s footsteps, Alan Croft enlisted non-commissioned into the Royal Australian Air Force as an aircraft electrician.
HE NEVER LOOKED BACK.
Squadron Leader Croft has called many places home following postings to Wagga Wagga, Laverton, Richmond, East Sale, and Adelaide.
Even though he has spent most of his career, over 15 years, at RAAF Base Edinburgh in Adelaide and where he currently owns a home, when asked where his favourite posting is, Squadron Leader Croft says he “really likes Gippsland”.
“I’d say I have spent about 13-14 years total in Sale,” he told the Gippsland Times.
“So, I am a reservist at the moment, and I prefer to work in Sale for the Aviation Academy.
“It’s what I know, I know the area, I’ve got a lot of friends here, and I actually really like Gippsland.”
While having never been deployed overseas operationally with the RAAF, Squadron Leader Croft spent a month in the Philippines teaching trained development to the armed forces at the Philippine Army Staff College in 2001.
During a posting here in Sale, Squadron Leader Croft also spent time in New Zealand on an HS748.
In his early 20s, Squadron Leader Croft spent his time flying across Australia, working on aeroplanes as an electrician.
On one occasion, during a flight from Laverton to Edinburgh, Alan said, “about 15 minutes out of Laverton, we heard a noise that sounded the same as a piece of cardboard placed in the spokes of a pushbike”.
“The pilot looked out of the window and noticed smoke and sparks coming out of the starboard engine. Much swearing and radio transmissions took place.
“The engine was shut down, and we returned to Laverton”.
After landing safely on the tarmac, Squadron Leader Croft said, “I was the first out and almost kissed the runway; I was so relieved”.
Hanging up the flying goggles and keeping both feet firmly on the ground, Squadron Leader Croft was posted to the RAAF research unit in Adelaide, then to Wagga Wagga as an instructor at the RAAF School of Technical Training.
During his five years as an instructor at Wagga, Squadron Leader Croft discovered a love for teaching, which led him to complete a Bachelor of Teaching and Education, qualifying to commission as an Education Officer.
At 46 years of age, Alan Croft attended Officer Training School at East Sale RAAF base, graduating as a commissioned officer on September 6, 2001.
He has been a Training Systems Officer for 21 years.
Commissioning and reaching the rank of Squadron Leader has been Alan’s greatest personal achievement in his 50 years with the RAAF.
Transferring from an Airman to Officer wasn’t without its challenges, primarily due to the different roles of the Officer force compared to those of the Airman force.
“I commissioned from Flight Sergent, and I was in charge of a section of 90 people,” Squadron Leader Croft said.
“As an Officer, there is a different strategic level of supervision.
“You are actually operating at a different strategic role than you are as an Airman.”
“It was also difficult at OTS at 46 having to deal with 18-year-olds,” he added while laughing.
In 50 years, Squadron Leader Croft has collected a myriad of colourful, treasured memories, cheekily grinning from ear to ear, telling, “many he cannot say.”
“One moment I treasure was in 1978 when I saw Sir Richard Williams, the father of the Air Force,” he said.
“He was to parade here in Sale to watch the Central Flying School and the School of Air Navigation receive their Queen’s colours.
“I saw the Queen’s aeroplane out in Adelaide; we had to tow the stairs away from her aeroplane.
“I also saw Prince Charles and Princess Diana come into Adelaide.”
Reminiscing and sharing treasured memories from the past 50 years, Squadron Leader Croft expressed his shock at “just how small the Queen is.”
“When the Queen was out here in 1977, I was on a Dakota from Sale, and we flew to Canberra, and we had the opportunity to stand on the hanger roofs and watch the Queen depart,” he said.
“She was with then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and then opposition leader Gough Whitlam, both of who were over six foot three.
“So the Queen was this tiny figure between two giants of men.”
The Australian Defence Force has endured an inordinate amount of change over the past 50 years, and Squadron Leader Croft has, as required, adapted, learned and grown.
Squadron Leader Croft has continued to well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors, according to law, as a member of the Royal Australian Air Force, as promised, as a boy of 17.