This, and subsequent “The Army” entries, came about through my Niece requesting some information on my Army days. She was doing some sort of project that required a “behind the scenes” view of military life, so I started to jot things down.
I got a little carried away!
I suppose that this became the precursor to my blog, so I have Penny to thank for that!
I am offering these jottings exactly as originally presented, the only changes being the introduction of badges, where appropriate, and occasional comments, shown in blue.
I joined the Army in 1964, at the age of 16. As I was under the age of majority I had to have my parents’ permission to do so.
Despite the image of the Swinging Sixties you must remember that the majority of youth was unsophisticated, untraveled and, despite what they believed, very naïve. We had not benefitted, or, perhaps, we had not been ruined, by exposure to mass media!
I had been inspired to join the Army by Ivan, my sister Janet’s husband. He had served in the Royal Signals and appeared to me to be tall, strong, and self assured. He did not directly influence me but had, unknowingly, sowed the seed that led me to join the Combined Cadet Force at school and, subsequently, the Royal Corps of Signals.
Selection was by interview and test and, because I had a modicum of intelligence, (that sounds very pompous and demeaning), I came out in the top percentile and could thus choose from the highest grade of careers. My first choice was Royal Signals technician and second choice was RAOC Ammunition Technician. Thank goodness I got my first choice, as the majority of Ammo Techs (bomb disposal), at that time, had a very short career indeed! (Think Northern Ireland)
One of the reasons for joining the Army was to get away from school. I had no idea what I wanted to do and thought the Army would give me a bit of thinking time. It did, 28 years worth!
You may imagine my dismay when I discovered that, far from getting away from school, I was to attend college for 3 years!
Originally called the Army Apprentices School.
and later, The Army Apprentices College.
What a culture shock!
On 15 September 1964 I travelled up to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, dressed in suit and tie, as you did then! I carried a single small bag containing my few possessions, amongst them a sewing kit made by Pauline, my younger sister (I still have it). At the railway station I, together with a myriad of unknown individuals, was herded onto a bus and taken to Hildebrand Barracks, our home for the next 3 months whilst we undertook our basic training.
I had previously been to cadet camps, and had even spent 2 weeks with the Royal Signals in Bϋnde, Germany, but this was something quite different!
We were immediately given a number, our regimental number. It was, is, and forever shall be 8 digits long and I’m sure that it will be the last thing that I ever forget!
More gifts followed in rapid succession, too quick to comprehend, as we were herded from one place to another.
You’re in 2 Troop, you’re in Scott Squadron, you’re in Spider C (8 legged wooden accommodation blocks)
You are size small, what size shoes? what’s your regimental number? Suitcase 1, Kit bag 1,boots leather pairs 2, laces leather 2, trousers denim 2, jackets denim 2, shirts khaki flannel 3, shirts cotton collar detached 2, collars cotton detached 4, studs front 1, studs back 1, ties knitted 1, underpants cotton 3, socks woollen grey 4, vests cotton 3, underpants long 2, brushes polish small 1, brushes brasso 1, brushes polish large 1, button stick 1, knife 1, fork 1, spoon 1, mug 1 pint 1, housewife 1 (an army sewing and darning kit), jersey woollen v neck 1, braces 1, SIGN HERE. Pack it away, follow me! Dump it down there. Follow me! All shouted aggressively. We soon learned when to reply and when to keep quiet!
Mattress 1, mattress cover 1, blankets 3, blankets U/S 1 (unserviceable with a corner cut off, for under the bottom sheet) , pillows 2, pillowslips 2, sheets 2, mats bedside 1, SIGN HERE. Pick it up. Follow me!
Here’s your bedspace, in a barrack room that stretches into the distance. Half an hour to pack all your kit away, make your bed and change into kit that doesn’t fit then pack all your civilian kit into your bag and store it away. That’s the last you see of it until Christmas. [I can’t remember what happened to the used civilian clothes we took off – I rather suspect that they were packed away as they were!]
Of course, the bed is not made correctly, you haven’t packed your locker according to the picture that was hidden in the locker drawer and the whole room is like a pigsty – you ‘orrible lot!
You still haven’t had time to remember anyone’s name and, anyway, there are at least 10 people that you can’t even begin to understand. Geordie, Irish, both North and South, Liverpudlian, Norfolk, Devon and one from Galashiels – it took me an age to fathom that!
Exit Peter Matthews, Enter A/T Matthews P (apprentice tradesman)