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Changing subjects at Cambridge (Part 1)


National service
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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That was really a good experience. It's a bit of a shock to start with when you're doing your basic training but then I went to Royal Air Force, Jurby, in the Isle of Man, for officer training, and that's quite strenuous, lots of sort of romping around and drilling and nobody's terribly polite, you're just squaddies, but there was time to get to know the Isle of Man a little, which is a very interesting island, and then the sort of field exercises involved 24 exercises on Snaefell. And so that was strenuous but really quite fun and then I went to Royal Air Force, Debden, to do some signals to do some signals training, which was interesting. I didn't really - I was mainly doing radar there but then I got posted to Royal Air Force Wunstorf in Germany, near Hanover, which was in a radio servicing flight so, in fact, I knew nothing at all about the radios, I'd never seen or handled one of the radios whose repair and servicing I was supposed to be supervising, but that seemed to be no great setback. In fact, there were plenty of expert technicians and I had to deal with the paperwork and so on, but Wunstorf was an interesting place because it had been a German Luftwaffe Air Force station, and unlike in Britain at the time, if you were doing national service there, then you had a lot of people who'd been officers during the war and the officers' mess had a genuine Royal Air Force atmosphere, which I don't think it would have done if one had been in an air force base in Britain. So I really got to enjoy the life and really was enjoying it very well so that when my Flight Lieutenant said would I like to stay, to sort of take a permanent commission rather than leave at the end of two years, I still wanted to go on to university, the answer was no, but it didn't seem an odd question. It seemed like a nice alternative to have and so I was able to travel a good deal in Germany. I bought a car which gave me endless trouble, it was - I didn't buy it very well, I think I bought it from a fellow officer on the Air Force base. It proved to be a mistake, but drove down to - drove a good deal through Germany. And on another occasion we went down by train to Munich and enjoyed the beer halls in Munich and then on to, to Salzburg. And I just happened to be going through Salzburg at the, the time of the Salzburg Festival and in those days it wasn't so well attended as now. So I went and said, anything doing for this evening? and they had the Marriage of Figaro with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Irmgard Seefried and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, under the direction of von Karajan, so that was quite a good evening just to drop into, as it were, and then on to Vienna where I got to know the, the museum, that wonderful museum, the Kunsthistorisches Museum with the wonderful Bruegel paintings and so on. So I really had some good breaks in Germany and was learning a little bit of German also, so that was really two interesting years by way of a break and then when that finished, I went back to Paris for a couple of months and spent a little bit more time in Paris which I enjoyed and then went up to St John's College in Cambridge in - in 1958, and so that's obviously when one entered into a very different atmosphere, the atmosphere of Cambridge in the late 1950s.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009