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.
For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.
The first night is horrible, strange surroundings, strange people, strange noises, strange smells. Each barrack room has an A/T Lance Corporal or A/T Corporal in charge and the 3 rooms that make up the Squadron have an A/T Sergeant. They are not your friends! (A/T is Apprentice Tradesman – I started off at The Army Apprentices School, later renamed The Army Apprentices College, in Harrogate, Yorkshire)
That’s a good thing.
It means that we, the great unwashed, all 120 of us, have a common enemy, and that’s what good army training and discipline is all about. You are broken down, your persona is crushed, and you are built back up again. Deep inside you retain your personality to sustain the hard times and to use outside of army life but for the really hard times you need to leave it all behind and do what you have to do for Queen and Country, and I really do believe that! It is not an easy thing to understand if you have not experienced it!
The first 3 months starts off with a familiar pattern, 4 periods in the morning and 4 in the afternoon:
Drill, drill, PT, drill, Trade and Education
With Breakfast, Dinner, Tea and a night of kit cleaning, room cleaning and homework to intersperse.
One day each week we had a change:
Drill, drill, PT, drill, PAY, Trade and Education.
We were paid £2.12.06d a week but were only allowed to draw £1 one week and 10/- (ten shillings or £0.5) the next. If you needed to buy boot polish and brasso on a 10/- week you had to give up smoking! We all had to open a Post Office savings account and any left over money (commonly called credits) was given to you before you went on leave.
With lots of young men together, working hard, vying for position in the hierarchy, it was inevitable that swearing was part and parcel of daily life. So much so that, when I went home for Christmas, I said the F word in conversation with Mum for the first and last time of my life. She registered it with her eyes but did not comment!
The 3 years at Harrogate passed with varying degrees of horror, enjoyment, laughter and terror. Some fell by the wayside, some were pushed, some jumped. After the first term, if you wished to leave, you had to apply to buy yourself out of the army. I think it cost £40, quite a sum then!
As with many gung ho young men I applied to go to war and for my first posting asked for Aden, which had been a Crown colony but was in the process of being handed back, later to become South Yemen.
Back came the reply “posted to 15 Signal Regiment” – Aden here I come!
Not so fast – 3 Squadron, 15 Signal Regiment was being relocated to Bahrain.
October 1967 saw me in London, getting drenched through, in my suit and tie (as you did!) prior to my first ever flight of 13 hours in a turbo prop Britannia, via Istanbul. I landed in Muharraq at 3am to a temperature of 85°.
So, there I was, a real soldier, 3,200 miles from home, no television, no mobile phones.
I wrote to Mum and Dad less than I should have. The letters obviously meant a great deal because Mum kept them for many years afterwards.
We had to book telephone calls a week in advance and they had to take place between specific times, in the evening, because international lines were few and far between and very costly to use. You were given a ¼ hour slot. If the lines were down you lost it! Very often there was a terrible delay in transmission and inevitably an echo. Great times!
I did eventually get to Aden to help dismantle some equipment and deliver it to Bahrain but didn’t stay long enough to get a medal. Shucks! It was, however, a unique experience.
After 9 months I was allowed leave for a month. I could choose to fly back to UK or go to Mombasa, Kenya. I chose to go home and I’m still not sure that I made the right decision!
This first trip home after so long away set the boundaries for my family relationships for ever. I got used to lack of close contact, I couldn’t phone often and my letter writing has never been regular, even to girl friends!
To this day I do not have an urgent need to keep in constant touch with family. I know and cherish that they are special, I know that I love them dearly and that they love me. I have fantastic memories that I cling to. When I speak to or see any of them I pick up from where I left off and it is as though it were only yesterday that we last met.
(what was your name again?!!!!)
To an infantryman, who joins a Regiment where he may well serve the whole of his career with the same 600-800 men, the Regiment serves as his second family. In many cases it is the only family! They know each other, look after each other, cry together and die together!