A child of the Army of the Rhine

Read all about this young man pointing in the right direction. You will laugh. Money back guarantee!

Broadsides

Viersen. It must have been a small agricultural village at one time. Set in vast acres of open fields of sugar beet and potatoes which ran all the way to the Dutch boarder. It became a satellite village, or a town, to Monchen Gladbach but I suspect it retained its primary agricultural nature until the coming of the railways. A major permanent way was built across the fields to the south east of the village, with sidings and sheds and workshops and a very handsome bahnhof. The rail line ran all the way into Belgium and Holland and North to the industrial Rhur. It was undoubtedly this that attracted the attention of the occupying British forces at the end of the second world war. It became, with its easy rail access to the ports at Antwerp and Ostend, the perfect place to locate a forward supply depot for the Army…

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Handfasting – a poem

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handfasting_(Neopaganism)

Handfasting was very prevalent in the Hebrides, the Inner, and Outer, islands off the west coast of Scotland.

I had the unique privilege of living on St Kilda, a remote archipelago, some 45 miles West North West of North Uist, for several periods, mostly 6 weeks at a time. Stays sometimes proved to be longer, because access is always determined by the weather! In total, I spent some 8 months of my life there.

St Kilda has a strange hold on all who set foot there, rather akin to desert fever for anyone who has experienced true desert.

I follow a page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/St.KildaHebrides/ , on Facebook, dedicated to St Kilda, and, as part of advice being offered to a would be visitor, came across this poem written by Andrew Lane in 2009.

I do not know Andrew but, from what I’ve seen and read, feel that we would get on very well. He is a musician, so this may well have been written to perform. In any case, I hope that you find the poem at least a little interesting, especially those who may know nothing about the Scots, or their unique language.

Andrew has a lovely “lived in” face, and someone commented that it was obviously the result of someone’s advice:

“Smile a lot when you are young so that when you grow older, your wrinkles will all be in the right place”

THE HAND-FASTING

Oh, lassie, place your hand on mine, and Alastair will fetch the twine
And bind us at the wrist for aye, for this shall be our wedding day.

Bring the lassies from the wheel
To spin themselves a proper reel.
Bring the laddies from the loom
To weave a dance beside the groom.

Lassie, place your hand on mine, and Alastair will fetch the twine
And bind us at the wrist for aye, for this shall be our wedding day.

Bring the stoddart from the braes
And leave the hoggie to its ways.
Bring the fisher from the shore;
This man will be a boy no more.

Lassie, place your hand on mine, and Alastair will fetch the twine
And bind us at the wrist for aye, for this shall be our wedding day.

Set your creels upon the ling
And bow the fiddles till they sing.
Take the whistle from your poke
And pipe a tune for dancing folk.

Lassie, place your hand on mine, and Alastair will fetch the twine
And bind us at the wrist for aye, for this shall be our wedding day.

Set the bellyrive aboot,
And spread the meat upon the cloot.
Place the whisky pig beside
And you shall see the hand-fast tied.

Lassie, place your hand on mine, and Alastair will fetch the twine
And bind us at the wrist for aye, for this shall be our wedding day.

Stoddart – a herdsman. Hoggie – a young sheep. Bellyrive – a feast.
Cloot – cloth. Whisky pig – a whisky jar.

©Andrew Lane July 2009

 

The little sods from the !st Monchen Gladbach Scout Troop

Read this fantastic story of Scouting of yesteryear told by John. He is now retired, both from stealing from the Tuck Shop, and from his legal duties. He can still sing the old scouting songs though!

Broadsides

scouts-threeIt must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.

They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening…

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The Pleasures of Facebook – A photograph from WWII

This amazing story from Broadsides deserves a read. It stirred memories of my own experiences in Gibraltar.

Broadsides

I belong to this group on Facebook, Gibraltar Old photos 2 it’s called. It a nostalgia group whose members, mostly from Gibraltar,  post old photographs of life on and around and about the Rock. I lived there once and have many happy and treasured memories upon which I once contributed a piece to the site, some years ago, about being a boy in 1950’s Gibraltar. You can read it here. I still contribute to the site now and then, and to that purpose I was searching google for a film poster of a movie, made in Gibraltar in the early ‘60’s, staring Terry Thomas and called “Operation Snatch”. You need to be a bit careful what you type into google at times!

evacuation-happy-to-be-home
In my search I stumbled across this lovely old photograph the caption of which read “Gibraltar families returning to Gibraltar in 1945 after five years of evacuation…

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My life #14 – A late Valentine

images-3

Not just a little late, but over 45 years since I first wrote this in a Valentine’s card. I can’t find the copy I wrote at the time but I have remembered it for all these years. Don’t know what that says about me!

It was sent to my long term, off and on, teenage, and into my twenties, girlfriend whom I shall love for ever!

If you don’t see my name, look at it acrostically.

Prolific enterprises turn eventually recumbent. My attribution turns to hieroglyphics, excogitate what’s said!

I was rather pleased with it at the time!

My life #13 – Two fingers and a small vibrator

I was going to call this “Two fingers, a small vibrator, and warm breath on my Willy”, but I thought that might excite some of my readers too much!

Too late! I’ve said it now, and I wholeheartedly apologise to the excitable blogger who likes a lot of cake. He is now lying panting under his desk and will need a large, stiff one to recuperate. I think his choice is Whisky!

I’m sure that all you ladies will agree that there can never be true equality. After all, you have to put up with menstruation, the pain of childbirth and discomfort of breast feeding, with mammograms, cervical smears, menopause, not to mention makeup, hairdo’s, high heels. The list goes on and on.

How can you possibly understand the trials of man flu, the worries of whether our tackle conforms to “average”, whether we could, if we wished, grow a beard or mustache, how to compete with Mr. Grey?

No! There can never be true equality.

I seem to have strayed from my original line of thought, so please bear with me while I give myself a severe talking to!

Right!

A couple of days ago I went to the doctors for a regular appointment and, being a man of a certain age, I was going for a check up of my parts.

By parts I mean PRIVATE parts. You know, the bits down there…………!

Now, it’s not the first time, and it will most definitely not be the last.

I no longer feel totally embarrassed, wanting to hide in a corner, nor do I think “Is s/he comparing me with others?” I do, however, make doubly, triply, quadrupley, sure that I am 100% clean, smell reasonably nice, and that my underwear is colourful enough.

This time I was being checked for sensitivity of the stomach and bowel, any testicular abnormalities, and for prostate irregularities. I’d already had blood and urine test results so was not overly concerned that there were going to be anything nasty to discover.

The doctor was superb and warmed his hands before touching anything. He handled my testicles as if they were the eggs of the last bird on earth. He was very gentle when he found that my prostate was slightly enlarged (which I already knew), but smooth. He gently cleaned up afterwards and I almost expected him to pat my bottom before telling me I could get dressed again.

As I walked away, with a smile on my face, I thought, “Damn – I forgot to take a selfie!”

On a previous check up I had been seen by his wife! Not just a random “Please let my wife feel your balls” kind of appointment. She really is a doctor too!

That experience was vastly different.

I think she was auditioning for the role of a juggler! I’m convinced that she used a pool cue to check my prostate, and the large end at that! When it came to pulling my pants back up, it was obvious that she had failed to wipe away any excess lubricant!

So, that’s the two fingers sorted!

Now we go back in time to the very first really intimate examination I can recall. I forget what age I was, but I was in the Army and, I think, probably in my late 20’s. I was suffering from quite severe hemorrhoids and had been referred to an Army hospital.

The consultant explained what he was going to do and that I would feel a slight vibration, but it should not hurt.

I did – and it didn’t!

I rather felt that, as he inserted the proctoscope and filled it with air, he really ought to have shouted out Wey Hey!

That covers the small vibrator!

There were many times when I had my testicles cupped in a doctor’s hand and was asked to “cough”! That was standard practice when I was a child, and during Army medicals. I was never quite sure what that was supposed to check!

I well remember the very first time I had my testicles fully checked as an adult. This particular doctor was a rather strange individual with a very unusual name. He was very good and had been my doctor of choice for some time. I had eventually plucked up the courage to ask him to check my testicles because I was concerned about tenderness.

He told me that he was going to kneel down in front of me, as that was the best position for him to check me thoroughly. What followed was a little disconcerting. As he gently tested me for any abnormalities I could feel his gentle breathing. It felt very close! I did totally the wrong thing and looked down, only to look straight into his smiling eyes!!!!!

There’s the warm breath!

 If you’ve read this far I do hope that you have not been offended. There is a little humour in all of these situations but the main point, for both men and women, is that we have to check ourselves, and be professionally checked, at regular intervals.

If you’ve neglected self checks, or checks by your doctor, or hospital, sort it out now. It could save your life!

My life #12 – My blog before blogs

When I first joined the Army, in September 1964, I started a journal, of sorts, that I called “Special thoughts and feelings”. I would lie in bed at night and write myself into another world, well away from the stresses and strains of Army training.

I jotted down a few poems, a few thoughts, a few hopes, a few dreams.

I listed the words to “House of the rising sun”, and made a list of songs that I could play on guitar.

unspecified-25I rewrote the collection on Sunday 19th March 1967 and retitled it “Private poems and prose by Pete + thoughts in words in writing”. Unfortunately, at that time, I omitted some of my earlier work, thinking it unworthy of record, or not wanting to be held to account. I regret that!

The book I used for the rewrite was a hardcover indexed book issued by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, S.O.BOOK 345.

unspecified-24 I made the mistake of writing CONFIDENTIAL , in red, at the top and bottom of the book.

Because I was in a job that dealt with matters confidential, and higher, the next time I went through Customs I was stopped, and held for some considerable time, while the book was scrutinized in depth!

At that time I was madly in love with Susan. I had been since the age of 14 when she had moved to my nearest village, when her father became Head of a nearby Secondary School. I recall that she had previously lived in Preston, Lancashire.

A lot of content, therefore, revolved around thoughts of Susan.

unspecified-26 I intend, over time, to share the content of this “Blog before Blogs were invented”.

I shall record the entries exactly as they were written, but may add comments viewed from a “few” years distance!

There are odd scraps of paper in the book with some complete, some incomplete, and some “what on earth is this meant to be” scribblings. There’s also a “work of art”.

There is one particular poem, titled “Or is it?” that I should have copyrighted. The first line is “Walk in the air……….” I’m sure I could have argued the case for some rights to “The Snowman” song!

Having whetted your appetite, I’m not holding myself to any timetable.

My life#11 – The Army – Northern Ireland

“The Army” series, came about through my Niece, Penny, 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!

After my initial burst, as documented  in the previous few “The Army” posts, I was asked about my time in Northern Ireland.

This is the result. It was written in 2011.

For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.

A bit about our time in Northern Ireland – Omagh, County Tyrone

[This is our particular experience. Procedures were constantly changing depending on the risk at the time, hostile activity, whether families accompanied or not and the length of tour.]

Prior to going we had to register our car with NI plates. This is done via DVLA who have special arrangements to ensure that there is not a “block” of numbers that are all forces!

We were told which ferry to use and numbers of military personnel, per ferry, were restricted.

Military personnel did not acknowledge each other on the ferry, even if they were well known to each other.

We were given a choice of 2 routes to use within NI and were not allowed to deviate. This ensured that the routes could be swept by military personnel at all times. (Panel vans were often used with one way vision rear windows). We had a specific time in which to complete the journey.

If we encountered any military check point, at any time, I had to show my ID card below the window line such that it could be seen by the soldier but not by anyone else.

On entering the barracks, all cars proceeded through a chicane of blast walls so that any risk was minimised. (Omagh barracks had a car bomb driven in and detonated shortly before we arrived!) We were checked by a single soldier close by with a second soldier covering him from a distance.

Once into Lisanelly Barracks we were given the keys to our house and, later that day, our belongings and furniture arrived.

Some houses, on one particular side of the camp, were left empty, because they had been damaged by fire bombs thrown over the perimeter wall. These were probably incidents performed by youngsters. Nice thought!

I had to regularly go into town to the bank, often carrying large sums of money. I wore civilian clothes and always tried to be discrete and to talk as little as possible. That’s fine until one of the cashiers says, at the top of her voice, “Are you from the Barracks then?”

When parking the car, I tried to ensure that I could view it from a distance with as few obstructions as possible. This helped when it came to returning to it. I could check for anything suspicious whilst approaching and I became very adept at tying my shoelaces and doing press-ups very quickly without too many people noticing. It became routine to do this and to check under the seats before getting in. I still check round my car but now for tyres and bumps!

One year Claire was due to fly in, from school, on 12th July. Because this is the day for Orange Marches, to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne, we had to get special permission to leave the barracks to collect her from the airport. On the way we found that the motorway was closed because of a security alert and we were diverted onto side roads. Unfortunately, we ended up in the middle of an Orangemen convoy of cars with no way of avoiding them. We were stuck in the middle for some considerable time. Very unsettling! If you have ever heard of the saying “sixpence, half a crown” this was definitely such a time. (Ask a friend!)

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We were able to travel within specific areas. Other areas were a definite no go. Armagh for example was, and is, a hot bed IRA area. Our main operational area (I was with 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets) was the Strabane/Castelderg area on the border with Eire.

We sometimes went to Gortin glen, a really lovely area close to Omagh, and we felt almost normal at such times and were able to almost forget the circumstances of our restricted life. We also enjoyed going to the North coast and blew away the cobwebs at the Devils Causeway.

Always, at the back of our minds, were the unspoken thoughts and concerns that lots of people, who looked and behaved exactly as everyone else, would quite like to kill us or anyone else who did not fit in to their ways.

We were warned on arrival that opposite the entrance to the barracks was an office block which was constantly manned with people who were taking photographs and notes of all arrivals and departures. I suppose that intelligence gathering is a vital part of any war!

Erica “signed on” in NI and was given a fictitious address to use. However, she found it very difficult to cope with friendly ladies asking what she had been doing, where she lived, what she wanted to do. She met a young man on several visits and he appeared to realise she was a soldiers wife, she believed he was an ex policeman but neither could be open and honest.

During our time there Erica had to go to hospital in Belfast. Belfast was not a nice place to visit. She was driven by a young lady driver, was a little disturbed by the pistol on the seat beside her, and not entirely happy with all of the road blocks and paramilitary types between her and the hospital. Belfast had bunkers on the tops of blocks of flats. Most were IRA bunkers!

Our House was alongside the Helipad – a very large area where the helicopters were stored, serviced, took off and landed, apart from the Chinooks. They landed on the sports fields. Consequently, we were always aware if something big was happening. We saw the bomb disposal teams coming and going, the stores being loaded and unloaded. One night, a particularly low flying heli lifted our garden shed and deposited it 3 gardens down!

WO2

As a Warrant Officer I had to take turns to man the Operations room during the night. This involved handling communications by radio, telephone and teleprinter and acting as the link between the barracks and all patrols. It was stressful at times, especially if there was “contact” with any hostiles. You could detect the edginess, the fear and the adrenaline over the radio but felt almost helpless in that you were unable to see or hear what was happening because the radio procedure on contact was “Contact. Wait out”………………………… What the hell was happening, they were too occupied to let you know!

A lot of the equipment that is used by soldiers is dangerous. Guns, explosives, helicopters, large vehicles, bayonets, heavy objects.

In my tour of Northern Ireland more soldiers were killed and injured by accidents than by hostile action. This is probably true of all deaths in NI but don’t quote me on that.

We had a major helicopter crash  where, miraculously, only one soldier was killed. One poor young lad was very seriously injured and burned. He crawled away from the crash site and was not found immediately. Amongst other horrific injuries he lost his sight and has been a resident of St Dunstans ever since.

One young Corporal was married to an absolutely stunningly pretty and highly intelligent girl. They were a lovely couple. He became insecure and could not understand why she had chosen to marry him. He attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He survived and appeared to recover fully. However, the second time round he made sure and shot himself through the roof of his mouth. What a tragic waste.

Despite all this, life went on. People got married, children were born, relatives died, gardens were created and thrived, church, shopping, parties, all of life carried on.

Whilst writing this I am brought to tears! What a tragic waste of life but how privileged I am to have experienced what the majority cannot even contemplate and how fortunate I am to have had Erica beside me.

Pause for thought

What is the difference between a bunch of lads, noisy, brash, slightly offensive, standing on a street corner and a troop of lads patrolling the streets in NI or Afghanistan?

Google facts
  • There is an almost even split between the number of British troops killed in combat situations and the number killed in non-combat situations – that is, in accidents, friendly fire incidents or from natural causes.
  • The IRA killed almost twice the number of British soldiers in one year (1972) as Iraqi insurgents have killed over more than three years.

My life#10 – The Army – A wife’s view

“The Army” series, came about through my Niece, Penny, 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!

My wife was also asked for her views and this is what she wrote

For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.

Dear Penny

Peter seems to be writing his autobiography for you so, as I “only” had 20 years experience of coping with separation, I have tackled it in a different way.

To put my feelings into context, separation in all its forms is extremely hard, but I learned to use coping strategies and also became almost a different person i.e. putting on armour or another character to deal with house moves and arrogant officials.

The whole experience has made me a different, stronger, and more confident person, at least on the surface. You learn to hide your vulnerabilities to enable you to succeed.

The other factor is that I have a wonderfully supportive, and very loving husband who endured my tears of temper and frustration, and many bouts of haranguing, against the almost incomprehensible military system.

I also had a very loving family who sustained Claire and I with letters, phone calls, visits, and parcels. Sadly many have now passed away or, like Mum, moved into a world not accessible to us, although still with us. We owe them a huge debt.

Effects of Separation

Feelings of Isolation

A move to a strange country with a different language is a huge challenge but add into the mix the addition of a 3 month old baby and a husband who went away 3 days after arrival makes the situation very difficult.

Exercise is a military term for practising war manoeuvres and is not without its dangers. There are deaths and injuries but during our time there was no communication with families and so the rumour mill was rife which added to anxiety levels.

I also suffered from severe post natal depression and the “cure” advised by the Doctor was to get out with my baby and walk. This I did religiously almost obsessively and never had a weight problem.

I also missed my family. It wasn’t easy to phone then. No mobile phone to hand or even a land line for many years.

Anxiety

Separation increases feelings of anxiety so every small cough sniffle from the baby intensifies the normal fears of the new mother. This carries on when the child is older and away at school and causes feelings of helplessness.

Integration

I am neither an extrovert nor social person so to make friends was a challenge. As Claire went to kindergarten, and school, friendships formed via the school gate, but only one has remained a long standing friendship. I would enjoy talking to people, but I had nothing in common with most, plus the Army is quite a hierarchical society and I was betwixt and between officers and the rest. I spoke and acted like an Officer’s wife but Peter was not an officer. I ended up doing my own thing which proved very useful once I was in a managerial position.

I made a valiant effort at first to attend the “Wives Club” and became the Secretary etc but once Claire was at Boarding School I stopped going.

Hardship and fears

External stressful situations intensified the feeling of loss during separations. These included terrorist threats in Germany and Cyprus. These were very real, and resulted in the threat alert being raised to red, and lock down situations in the housing areas. The children were guarded on school buses and sentries were posted at all school entrances. Cars were thoroughly checked before driving away.

You will have seen this on news reports but we were subjected to these scenarios for years.

Ireland of course was extremely tense and we lived inside a fortified camp. You had to be very aware when you went to town but it is extremely difficult to disguise the fact that you are English.

Life appeared normal but once you returned to the UK you realised how great the tensions had become.

The Hebrides although a glorious place, and in many ways a wonderful posting, during the extreme weather the hardship was intense. Power cuts were frequent, and lengthy and, as the house was heated by electricity, as was cooking, this was a huge problem. Peter would ensure that we had paraffin for our heater before going to St Kilda but as he was away for 6/8 weeks at a time stocks could run out and if the weather was severe it was both impossible to travel for supplies or, in the worst case scenarios, for the supplies to reach the islands.

Boarding School

This is an area of great anguish and so I will only reveal superficial feelings.

Anger, huge loss, desperation and sorrow are some of the feelings. Guilt is perhaps the greatest and I am not sure I have forgiven myself. School is only referred to fleetingly now as it brings back too many painful memories for all of us.

It was necessary for Claire’s education due to Peter’s many postings but was a very painful experience that Claire will not discuss.

I have to be honest and say my initial scribbling were more open and frank but I found that it had distressed me immensely so I have curtailed the official report. I suppose that is the real effect of separation – effects go deep and never really disappear, they are only hidden under a myriad of self protection

Love Erica