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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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!)

watermark-php

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

My life#9 – The Army – (A précis of 28 years)

“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!

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”.

 

And so Penny, in no particular order, some points that I consider may be pertinent to your project and my apologies for anything you consider in too bad taste.

The Army have always had a call out procedure for rapid deployment. In Germany, during The Cold War, we always had to have our kit packed and ready to go at a moments notice. There were regular tests of this and no thought was given to what effect this had on families (quite naturally as the Russians would not have given notice!). We were called out and did not know where we were going or for how long. Rumours were rife amongst the families and they soon got to know of any injury or death that occurred. (No mobile phones, no iPads, Laptops, WiFi then)

Exercises, training, and detachments away from home are always difficult. It is fairly easy for most soldiers as they change into squaddie mode, get on with the job, and do not do a great deal of thinking, if any, about what they’ve left behind. For the families it is quite different. They are abandoned, in a foreign country, with strange money, strange language etc even though the “powers that be” set up Wives Clubs and the like.

I remember, vividly, taking Claire to the airport at the start of her second term at boarding school. I had to push her, crying, into the departure lounge and watch her disappear in tears. My natural inclination was to hug her and take her back home. It still hurts!

Many more boarding school memories. All of them painful. However, Claire’s education would have been so disjointed had she not decided to attend Ockbrook.

Boarding Schools tend to be very class based establishments and it was only the fact that I was in the highest paid trade group that enabled us to afford to send Claire. She would have experienced quite a large amount of “us and them” as youngsters can be worse than adults in that respect! The majority of non commissioned service families had to accept education at Service schools and a move of school every time their father was posted.

There were a lot of mistaken beliefs that Army families had all sorts of freebies and benefits. In fact, there was quite a bit of hardship, especially amongst the lower ranks. At one stage, in Germany, all Corporals and below were on benefits because they were so poorly paid. If you imagine a young wife, in a foreign country, often with young children, no family nearby, no mobile phones, not even a home phone, no computers, no English language television (Claire used to watch Sesame Street in German!), no credit cards, husband away on exercise, you may begin to understand how difficult it could be.

When we first married the means of getting personal possessions around the world was called MFO (Military Freight Organisation). Everything had to fit into standard size boxes, 1m x 05 x 0.5. We started off with 5 boxes. The quarter (house or flat) at that stage came with everything you needed to live. Furniture, bedding, crockery, cutlery, kitchen ware, brushes, mops etc. You had one room with a square of carpet, and a few mats. In later years you were given 2 carpets and, later still, they started to fit carpets. If you were a Warrant Officer, or Officer, you had a bookcase! We had to store away anything that we did not wish to use and, very much later we could stipulate that we have an unfurnished quarter that came with carpets and cooker.

After a year and a half we moved with 10 boxes. Next time 22. White goods had to be crated and normally ended up being damaged. The process of packing up was extra stressful. One room of the flat or house gradually filled with boxes and you had fewer and fewer things to live your life. Meanwhile the house had to be prepared for “march out” where it was inspected and had to be handed over in perfect condition. Any deviation from perfect had to be paid for – decoration needed, stains on carpets, bedding, damages of any kind. (Imagine trying to restore your cooker/hob to pristine condition. Not only did we try, we succeeded.)

Meanwhile, back with the mother and child (ren). The family had to move. If there was no quarter available in the new post then there were 2 options. Either, the soldier moved to his new post and family stayed in old quarter until one was available, or, family went to mother’s until new quarter available. More stressful separation!

Moving a family by plane, boat or car, with sufficient clothes and supplies to last until you have set up home again is no mean feat. Babies and small children do not find travel exciting and stress ensues. Feeds, nappies, wipes, prams, pushchairs, clothes, drinks, all have to be catered for. A customs official wanting to look in every case, bag, and box whilst your baby turns purple, being desperately in need of a nappy change, and having endured a bumpy landing, is not the way to start a new posting! (We know from bitter experience. First in to customs, last out……with a 6 week old baby.)

Army humour is unique and tends to stem from the unspoken thought that you may not be around long and that you have to make the most of what you have now. The classic story that lots of individuals claim to have witnessed, or said, following an explosion.

“Help me, I’ve lost my leg!”

“No you haven’t mate, it’s over there………”

A regular question from one to another when an exercise or tour of duty away from home is coming to an end.

“What’s the second thing you’re going to do when you get home?”

The answer, of course, is “Take my boots off”

The transition back from squaddie to husband and father is not always a smooth one. The smelly, dirty individual, arriving at the front door is intent on getting clean, getting fed and getting to bed. The child (ren) want to tell Daddy all about what they’ve done, how they’ve grown, stories to be told. The wife wants to tell her husband all about what has happened while he’s been away, she needs a few odd jobs sorted and does not appreciate all the dirty washing and dirty stains on carpets, seats etc.

While away, even for a short time, each partner moves into a solitary lifestyle and copes as best they can. Back together, they must re learn, each time, how to live as a family again. Apart, the wife may be a very effective head of family, taking independent decisions, sorting out problems, coping with crises. Together she takes on the role of allowing the husband to take those decisions, sort those problems and handle the crises. This can often create very real resentment that their own life has been yet again disturbed. This is not a mould for everyone because everyone handles their own situation in their own particular way.

We always made a home as soon as possible after arriving in a house. We put up pictures, we used our own possessions right from the start. We even carried a huge carpet around a few homes. We made a garden whenever we could, nearly always from scratch. We spent a deal of money over the years on these and on curtains, nets, cushions, furniture that fitted one house but not the next, anything to make our nest more homely.

 

I think it is probably time to call a halt now. I’m sure that there is lots more I could say. I consider myself extremely fortunate that, not only did I have an interesting, fulfilling, and at times, exciting career, I had, and have, a supportive wife and daughter to help me along.

 

General thoughts:

 

  • Army life is often an unreal existence. Soldiers are trained to react instantly without questioning and consequences are left for later
  • Mental health problems, alcohol problems, violent behaviour, are all more prevalent amongst service personnel, particularly army
  • A lot of young (and older) men and women see, and experience, things in army life that they would prefer not to
  • Winston Churchill suffered from “black dog” bouts of depression. Could it be as a result of all the horrors he witnessed as a soldier in India, the Sudan and South Africa and as a correspondent in warfare?
  • Is modern reporting a help or hindrance to modern soldiering? We have a Rambo type hero worship and exposure of extremely vulnerable young people. Perhaps we do need more exposure so that more people can see the futility of fighting!
  • As a nation we hide death away and we have tended to pretend that disability and mutilation do not really exist. We are now (I originally wrote “being confronted with”) being reminded daily that limbless and disfigured individuals are part of life, as are mental health problems, abuse problems and the like, and that death is very much a part of life. (Though we are still not very good at it!)

My life#8 – The Army – (Quick March through many years)

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.

This entry splutters to a halt, because I had started to include more than my Niece required. So, to give myself hints for extending this into more substantial record, I added a few reminders to myself. I will put more meat onto the bullet points (honestly!).

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

I always moved as an individual and so, (if I wished), was able to reinvent myself every 2 or 3 years. Of course, I met people I’d served with before and some I served with several times. A few remained friends, and you kept a lookout for where they were and what they were doing, but there were always new faces, new places, and new tasks to master.

As a single soldier you didn’t see much outside of the barracks. For one thing we were not paid very well. Sometimes it was not very safe to wander around. In later years, with a little bit of rank, and thus more money, we were able to venture out into the big wide world.

My Best man and I, when we were single, and Corporals, used to go to the Mess on a Saturday night, stay until the bar closed, walk downtown (Herford, Germany), tour various bars until the last one closed, then go to the railway station and catch the first train to wherever it was going. We then spent Sunday morning sightseeing before returning to camp. We ended up in Köln (Cologne) quite often. What a fantastic Cathedral!

Cpl

Tours to Bahrain, Herford -Germany, back to Bahrain, Catterick, Blandford Forum, Catterick, Gibraltar, Bünde – Germany, Benbecula – Outer Hebrides, Wildenrath and Osnabrück – Germany, Cyprus, Herford – Germany, Dover, Omah – N. Ireland followed and passed sometimes very quickly, sometimes very slowly.

Along the way I pinched my best civilian friend’s girlfriend and married her.

I travelled back from Gibraltar to get married. Dead easy for me, as I was abroad I couldn’t arrange anything except the honeymoon!

I arranged to borrow a friend’s flat for 2 weeks and on the strength of that Erica flew back with me. Another flat for 2 weeks. Not a friend, but the chef from the Sergeants Mess who had heard me saying we had nowhere to go!

Sgt

Then nothing, but we managed to get a place in a hostel that the army had taken on. Optimistically called the Mediterranean Hotel, it was perched on the shore at the end of the runway. We had a room that, when we arrived, had one single bed, a 4 foot high table with 3 legs, no curtains, a bathroom with dubious facilities and everyone else there were privates in the infantry battalion.

Because I was a Sergeant no one spoke to me or to Erica. The language and night time activities were entertaining – not!

As soon as we could, we moved in to a civilian flat. We had to pay key money to an “agent” whose office was an alleyway half way down Main Street. The flat cost £14 per week and money was very tight.

IT IS AT THIS STAGE THAT I HAVE TO STOP MYSELF FROM WRITING MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND DO A BIT OF A PRECIS OF WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED!

Bullet points to continue the story……

  • We managed to produce a rather scrummy little baby girl
  • Attitudes to exercises, separation
  • Living apart, living together
  • Rejoining real life
  • Attitude to injury, death
  • Have you ever shot anyone?
  • Taking our world with us
  • MFO
  • Them and us
  • Houses and flats
  • The class element played a part in general Army life and it could be awkward in some situations. Young Officers often thought a great deal of themselves but were, for the most part, absolutely useless! It was the job of every Senior NCO to support and educate them and to help them progress and become useful leaders. I always found it immensely satisfying to happen across a good officer later whom I had had a part in training. The mutual respect it generated could not be bought.
  • Truly alone – getting my own back – Monarchs
  • I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

To follow – “The precis of Army life” and “A wife’s view”

 

My life#7 – The Army -First 3 years (very briefly)

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!

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_of_Aden

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°.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muharraq

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!

My life#6 – The Army -First days

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 Jimmyand 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.

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and later, The Army Apprentices College.

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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)

My life#5 – Journey to school 1953 to 1964 and first motorbikes

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Photo – Pinterest

To get to school I first had to cycle to the nearest village, a mile and a half away. I had the timing perfected and, as long as I left home at 8.10am, I could be sure to catch the bus at 8.19am.  Most days!

HSCP
Infants and Primary School
NHS
Secondary School

I could normally see the bus slowly approaching as I came into the village. There, at a run, I left my bike to park itself, in a shed, behind the Methodist Chapel  and ran across the road to the bus stop.

The bus to the nearest town took 20 minutes, and, then, there was a walk through town to school. None of the Mum’s school run in those days!

If it snowed heavily, the narrow road to the village became blocked very easily. In such conditions, everyone who was travelling by car carried a shovel, or spade. A few of us riding bikes would return home and then return to the blockage with our spades.

I remember with some fondness, the great community spirit on these occasions. Don’t get me wrong, there was not a host of people all stuck at the same snowdrift, just a few, because not many people travelled that road!

So, there we were, my sister and I, a neighbour from a quarter of a mile away, and a local smallholder. We all set to, digging through the snowdrift. We eventually dug through, making a track big enough to get a car through, and moved on to the next drift. There would be a series of drifts within a 200 yard stretch, then a blissfully free section before we hit more drifts. Eventually, we reached the crossroads, and we knew that from thereon the road would be clear.

On one occasion, just as we had broken through the last drift, a Council snow plough appeared from the opposite direction and turned into our road. The blade was set about a foot above the road surface, and extended to a width of about 10 feet. All our hard work was destroyed and the road was, once again blocked,  covered by a  foot of snow all over! I think the adults said “Oh dear!”

There was never a question of giving up and going home because it was too cold, too difficult, or dangerous. We just assumed that we must make every effort to get to school, and we did!

Bus fare obviously changed over time but there was a fairly long period of time where prices (and wages) seemed to be constant. I remember my Dad, who was a farm labourer, earned £9 per week for quite some time.

The bus fare at that stage was 5 pence ha’penny each way, no return tickets available!  that is 5.5 old pennies, just over 2 pence today. I was given a shilling each day and allowed to spend the 1 penny change. Bliss!

You could go into the biscuit shop and buy a bag of broken biscuits, or into the sweet shop and buy 4 chews for a penny. Alternatives were liquorice root and, if you’ve never tried it, don’t knock it! (google the image!)

I did cycle to school a few times. Must have been mad!

Once I reached 16 I was able to ride motorbikes, firstly an NSU Quickly, basically a heavy bike with an engine, later, a Lambretta 125cc scooter, then Dad’s Ambassador 225cc motorbike.

Actually, my first motorcycle experience was at the age of 14, after dark, on my Dad’s 98cc James. I would sneak it from behind an old garage at the side of the road, freewheel it down the road until out of sight and hearing, then start it up and go for a jolly.

All was fine until one day I decided to go and visit a girl in a village about 4 miles away by narrow, twisty country roads. It was raining, and I misjudged a tight left hand bend, ending up in a heap in a ditch.

The bike had a bent footrest and the chain had come off but, other than that seemed OK. My body was not quite so lucky, my right thumb was broken, I had multiple abrasions and my clothes were rather the worse for wear.

Somehow I managed to kick the bent bits into their right places, and forced the chain back on to the sprockets. I then had to ride home. I did it, and it hurt! A lot!

When I arrived back home I tried to make the bike appear to be totally normal and then pondered how to pass off my injuries and appearance.

Dad, bless him, half pretended to believe my story that I had fallen down the steps at the front of the house. The details of what happened next are rather vague in my memory. Somehow, I ended up the following day, going to school with my right thumb in a splint! What kudos that pain brought!

I never did manage to get together with that girl! Maureen Stonehewer – if only you knew!

(To find out a little more about me, follow #My life below)

My life #4 – What’s in a name?

My big sister and little sister have always called me PETE. Unless, of course, I was being naughty or annoying, in which case I was PETER, spoken in the severest tone.

Mum and Dad also switched between the two versions. Dad would often call me “LAD”, and I liked that, especially in my fifties!

Throughout Infants and Junior school I was invariably PETE.

On the first day of secondary school (6th grade in USA), during a break in all the administrative tasks, the more outgoing amongst us (not me then!) decided that we should all get to know one another. Many had nicknames that they had been known by before. Others, like me, just had their given names.

It was decided that those without nicknames should be newly christened. There were the obvious names, Ginge for a redhead, Shorty for the unfortunate smallest boy, Earl for a boy named Lee, and I got POLLY, because someone noticed that I had a large nose!

It never bothered me that I was known as POLLY all throughout my 5 years at that school. It was an affectionate name and never used with malice. I wore the name, and my big nose, with pride!

I left school and joined the army, and acquired a number to go with my name. This was one of the very first things to assault my senses and we all had to memorise our number and be able to quote it instantly, normally in the format:

“24022702 A/T Matthews. P. Sir!”

This was repeated many times in the first few weeks, and became second nature. Without this magic password I could not get fed, get clothing, see a doctor, a dentist, and, most importantly, get paid each week.

After the first couple of days it seemed obligatory that everyone should have a nickname. I didn’t mention my name of POLLY. I thought it was time to move on. This time I was awarded the name of PROF. This was apparently due to the fact that:

  1. I had no accent and spoke with “received pronunciation”
  2. I had a better education than was the norm for those joining the army at that time.

As my service progressed the name PROF gradually diminished in use and I became PETE, or PETER again.

Here I digress a little. It is necessary!

All my life I have carried various items in my trouser (and other) pockets. As a small boy I would always have a handkerchief, a comb, a penknife, probably a bit of string, sometimes a conker. To this day I still carry a handkerchief, and a spare, in case of crying ladies (or gentlemen), or for stemming the flow of blood, or cleaning spectacles. I also carry a comb (it’s an Alfa Romeo one if you must know), but the knife is hidden away in a drawer at home as it is illegal to carry most knives! (thoughts inevitably turn to American gun laws!!!!!).

In the army, of course, when on active duty, or on exercise, I carried various necessary items in pockets, in pouches, and in packs. There was weapon, bayonet, ammunition, respirator, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) warfare clothing, spare clothing, sleeping bag, rations, portable cooker, mess tins, etcetera, etcetera. Depending on the task and circumstances the load was lighter, or heavier, and, of course, you always went for the least equipment required to fulfill the task. At all times I carried my weapon, ammunition, respirator, and NBC kit, clasp knife, First Field Dressing and steel helmet.

Being an electronic engineer I always managed to find space for a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a roll of insulation tape and various odds and ends, and being a practical type I always had a couple of chocolate bars, some plasters, some mints etc. I gained a reputation as the “go to” person if someone required something obscure. Chalk, aspirin, throat pastilles, nails, cable ties, you name it, I could quite often produce it!

For some reason, I cannot understand, I acquired another nickname – POCKETS PETE!

I have, of course, been called many other things during my life but I’ll pass over most of those. During army service MATTHEWS, CORPORAL, SERGEANT, STAFF, Q, SIR, MR VICE, and in the early days YOU ‘ORRIBLE LITTLE MAN!

On leaving the army I reverted to PETER, but my little sister still calls me PETE!

There are still those around who would greet me with POLLY or PROF if we were to meet.

The best names ever, I’ve left until last, they are DADDY, and DAD!

My Life #3-Recycling newspaper!

I suddenly had this horrible thought. (Here I must warn readers that I am renowned amongst my close friends for openly discussing bodily functions.)

Having said, in My Life #2, that our house did not have a bathroom, I suddenly remembered that some, if not all, of my American readers will have read that as “there was no loo/toilet/lavatory”. Shock, horror. What on earth did they do?

What I omitted to say was that the lavatory, as we called it, was out of the back door and turn right. It wasn’t quite an outside loo, but it may as well have been, as it was situated in an open porch, with the coal shed forming the third side.

We definitely did not linger! The cistern was a high level one that froze in winter. The toilet had a wooden seat. The door had gaps at the top and bottom, presumably for ventilation. This was most definitely not required.

On the back of the door was a large nail sticking out some 2 inches. This, of course was for the newspaper, cut into small squares. Younger readers may need to ask someone why! When I was old enough to handle scissors safely, this task fell to me.

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Later we had the luxury of Izal toilet roll, a bit like fine sandpaper on one side and shiny on the other!

 

 

The coal shed was filled to the brim during Summer months when the coal was at its cheapest. It varied in price according to the quality and size of the lumps. The cheapest form was “nutty slack” which was mostly coal dust, but with very small pieces within it, taken from the bottom of the extensive coal piles at the merchants. This was only of use once the fire was burning fiercely.

Fire lighting was a skill that needed to be learned by all the family. Sometimes embers were still alight in the morning so this made the job slightly less irksome. It also made it more dangerous, as the ash still had to be collected and emptied from the base of the fire. Normally the fire lighting task fell to Mum.

To start a fire we used sticks, chopped from a stock of logs we kept in the coal shed. To supplement the sticks we also all had to learn to roll newspaper and plait it into firelighters. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you can learn here: https://youtu.be/a0_Pxiq5cTI .

In later years, when we had a television, we sometimes lit a fire in the “front room” by carrying burning coals, on a small shovel, through the house. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say about that?

Don’t get too cosy sitting by the fire. The rest of the house, in Winter, was freezing, sometimes literally! We woke to ice patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. Very pretty, but not conducive to getting out of bed.

If you needed to go to the loo during the night there was no nearby “convenience”. Under the bed could be found a chamber pot – Yes, REALLY! Emptying? Another job for Mum.

There were fireplaces in the two large bedrooms but these were reserved for times when someone was really ill, or dying. In the bottom of the wardrobe in Mum and Dad’s bedroom were a bedpan, and a “bottle”, a means of having a wee whilst lying down. These had been obtained when Dad had a serious accident at work, and was bed bound for several weeks. This is not a true memory as I was too young to register the fact. It is an implanted memory!

I can’t remember a lot of toys. I don’t think we had many. We played mostly outside, and used whatever was at hand. Dad was expert at making bikes out of old bits and pieces, trolleys for giving youngsters a riding platform, sledges, stilts. You name it, he made it. Where he found the time I have no idea.

We even had the top section of a trap (as in pony and trap) that became a ship, a shop, a lorry, or anything else that our imaginations could conjure up. (I had my first, very innocent, sexual experience in that trap, with a girl called Cynthia!) Later on we learned the skills to make our own bikes, sledges, huts, and so on. If I could freeze my life in any particular time I think it would be here!

We had a very large garden, as I’ve mentioned. For many years it was not accessible to vehicles. I remember that, several times, Dad brought a tractor from work, and accessed the garden from an adjoining field so he could plough and harrow to get rid of large sandstone blocks.

Eventually he brought a tractor, with blade and digger attachments, and carved out a driveway from the road into our garden. This was no mean feat, what with all the sandstone, and it also required quite a steep cutting. Another tractor, and trailer, carried away all the spoil. After completion, it took some skill to drive a car onto the property, as the surface was uneven bare rock, and the initial entry angle was close to 45 degrees.

No badges this time! See Here