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The ‘favoured few’ back together again

Three former Wairarapa students of the Regular Force Cadet School [RFCS] in Waiouru reunited for the second time since graduating in 1976, recreating a photo of the trio that has seen them turn from boys to men.

Keith Permain, Mark Conroy and Tony Orchard met in Wellington recently to celebrate 75 years since the establishment of the RFSC in 1948.

The school – known as ‘the club’ by cadets – offered education, trade training and apprenticeships to over 5000 young New Zealanders – often as young as 15 – in the 43 years it operated.

It was a prestigious institution, Permain explained.

“With the RFSC, only 3 per cent of applicants ever got in and we ended up getting nicknamed, ‘the favoured few’.”

Cadets underwent an initial three months of basic soldier training, including weapons, map reading and field craft.

It gave the students “premier military training before we became fully fledged soldiers”, Orchard, who was a former Kuranui College student, said. “There was a lot of classroom stuff, and there was a lot of marching and drill.”

“Our sports teams competed in secondary school competitions because of our age. We were all a similar age to those at senior school age, albeit we were working in the army at the time and having military training, learning how to fire weapons and march and mess around with all sorts of things.”

Following completion of basic training, cadets moved into a more specialised unit or corps.

“I was in the medical corps, so the second year I was there I worked in the hospital in Waiouru quite a lot, and then I graduated into the Army Medical Corp where I saw my 20 years out,” Permain said.

Orchard transitioned to automotive parts, helping to maintain military vehicles, “which was great for me because I loved all things mechanical and cars and trucks and what have you.”

Reflecting on his experience in the RFCS and his subsequent career in the army, Orchard said it taught him “how to relate to people.”

“You get out there and you meet people and you enjoy new challenges and you enjoy meeting new people and working and doing new different things.”

The reunions are an opportunity to “catch up with people you haven’t seen for years” and reflect on the good times, Permain said.

“It’s like yesterday. We were just young boys, but it’s a common bond.”

“The conversations virtually carry on from the last time you saw that person”, Orchard said.

“You go through things in military life that no others experience, and we had a lot of laughs and lots of fun, and we had some tough times, but the conversation just carries on.”

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