Dead or Alive?

I always thought, when I was young, I wouldn’t live to forty.

My Mother said I wouldn’t do if I was always naughty!

Yet here I am, a pensioner, exceeding expectation

and, now that I’ve passed 69, I look back with elation. 

 

I never thought that I would be a great success in life.

I only wished to have a job, and, maybe, take a wife.

Well, some successes came along, as husband, and as Dad

and very nicely my whole life has left me rather glad.

 

My Mum, of course, was always right; she often told me so!

Her all surrounding love was great , it gave a warming glow.

She’s now long gone, and so has Dad, and even my big sister.

But memories they linger on, and my, how we have missed her.

 

So, when I wake up each new day I thank my lucky stars.

I’m happy with my wrinkles, and with my many scars.

My Mum was right. She always was, as I’ve already said,

but wait a bit! I just woke up. Well, bugger me – I’m dead!

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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Traffic Warden Hancock and the Union

A great tale about Traffic Wardens here, and it’s not The Beatles Lovely Rita.

Broadsides

jk3Traffic wardens can be rather grumpy sods.  It’s a job that attracts the grumpy.   In the early days, and it probably still is the case, they were employed by Police Authorities.   Which is almost certainly why they adopted the blue military style uniform.    Being grumpy sods they often had more grievances than the norm.   And therefore, for trade unions, they were fairly easy to recruit and to unionise.   Trade unions also attract the grumpy sods of the world.  they also, of course, attract committed labour activists, good socialists and defenders of the working class.  Like me.  But there are quite a lot of grumpy sods in the unions as well.  The employers of the traffic wardens, usually local Chief Constables, were not quite used to dealing with uniformed grumpy trade unionists making grumpy demands.  Relationships were therefore often quite fractious.

Traffic warden Hancock was the very essence of the grumpy…

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My life #14 – A late Valentine

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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 #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#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”