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This is a true story that concerns one of the main conrtibutors of the messageboard sites,we all know of guys being volunteered for Batman duties to our Officers,Well this guy in 49 Bty came to us from Junior Leaders he was very bright and crafty (he still is)he hated the jobbut seemed to be very good at it,the Officer was Major Mclarren Reid BK 49 BTY, SOME OF YOU MAY REMEMBER HE BATTED FOR THE OTHER SIDE,This terrified the young Gunner who told the Bk he didnt want to do the duties anymore when asked why the first thing he thought of was to say ive been doing the duty for 8 weeks and never been oaid to this he was given a handfull of Deutchmarks and this pleased the young Gunner who actually used the same excuse many more times the memory of the BK never seemed to improve a few clues to the 49 Gunner he came to us at the same time as Lofty Myatt Barry Hands,he played the Bugle on parades and he Fenced for the Regt, He was also a very keen sailor,?????
Many of you will remember Capt. De-Sallis....I remember him looking a dead-ringer for Larry Grayson (oh shut that door!!)..sorry David no pun intended. He seemed an odd sort of guy somehow I could never work him out,mind you I didn't try. He asked me if I would do batman for him in Africa which I did only while we was there then I jacked it in on arriving back in Cyprus.All of a sudden dear old Digger Watson who was TSM then asked me if I would do batman for him well you know my answer to that. I think that is the more reason why him and me never got on,he thought I was a soft touch and tried it on. He got a shock when I said a straight no telling him that only officers had batmen.
Derek, just to add somewhat to your post; despite being named as a Bty Buger on the nominal roll, I never played the bugle on parades! I couldn't get a proper tune (consistently) out of one to save my life even though I was taught in Boys Service to play one. I was in the Band in Junior Leaders but I was the Cymbalist . "Swamp Stomper" (Mclaren-Reid) terrified me because of all the stories you barstewards delighted in telling me and, yes, I did keep my back to the wall all the time I was in his company in his room in the Officers mess! . I remember the cries of; "ETCHALL! I'm going to F**k you Etchall!" that rang around the Bty many a weekend night after a session in the Bty club and poor old Pete Etchall racing around the rooms looking for a hiding place . I eventually lost my illustrious post of Batman to the BK, when he came back to the Mess one day, unexpectedly, and caught me lying on his bed; reading his car mags and swigging his Dubonnet! He just said quietly, "I think you should report back to the Bty, don't you?" And I was away before he could change his mind . Always regreted the loss of the extra pay though . Came in handy when we were broke didn't it
Derek, you mentioned that I was a keen sailor! Well it was only dingy sailing on the Mohnasee (spellimg?). I got into it because I used to babysit for Capt Chris Haughton from time to time - that was until he left me holding the baby quite literally for three days once . Anyway, we would go most weekends and sometimes during the week if we had a regatta to sail in.
One time, we went on a Wednesday afternoon for an R.A. challenge cup thing and, as usual we went in Capt Haughton's car. He had an MGB GT. Because it was a Wednesday we were running a bit late and when we got there Chris found that he had left a couple of bits of important kit behind. Being part of the organising team, there was no way he could go back to Lippy so he asked me if I could drive? I told him that I had been taught to drive in Junior Leaders but omitted to tell him I had failed my test . I had been itching to get a cabby in his car for ages . So he threw the keys to me and told me to make haste and he would cover my races for me, till I got back.
Everything was going great until I spotted a switch on the dash that wasn't marked up as anything special. Well, you know what they say about curiosity and the cat? So I casually stretched out my hand and flicked it on. JEEEEsus H...it was only a frigging electric overdrive. This car went from 50mph to 90mph in the blink of an eye. I was thrust back into my seat like a jet had been ignited under my arse. I was terrified to take my hands off the steering wheel but at 90 odd mph I had to or risk hitting something, and when I finally plucked up the courage and flicked the switch off, nothing happened! I didn't know that, like modern cruise control, you had to touch the brake to disengage it.
Lucky for me, I found out before I did actually hit anything and slowed to a more reasonable speed. The return to the Mohnasee was delayed by a few minutes while I went to the Bty block to change my skiddies. By the time I did get back, I only took part in one race and lost it miserably because I was still shook up from the incident. Didn't make much difference though as we were comprehensively beaten by then anyway. Chris Haughton, if, by any chance you're reading this? YOU SHOULD HAVE MARKED THE BLOODY SWITCH UP!
Great stories lads keep 'em coming it is amazing how certain situations stay in the old grey matter. I like the over-drive one David I can imagine the "skiddies" working overtime hahahaha!!!
I think the one task I hated was doing guard duties. It was the bull*t that came with it.
One cold January night after an early evening meal we mounted outside the battery for the BOS inspection at 1700.
If you survived that without an extra things were going well. We marched down to RHQ and formed up next to the MI room under cover. Names of the OO meant nothing to me until Scouse Melvin marched on. Never knew much about him but all I knew he could make life difficult for us young soldiers most of us that night got extras. I drew the short straw and got the 2-4 stag on the main gate. During my gate stag I must have nodded off because later on I had a dent in my postman's hat, I had lent back in the sentry box. Never did exchange that hat when I went to Plymouth a few months later it was rammed to the bottom of my kit bag and flattened. Later we had to parade with the Marines for Armistice parade the booties had to wear their pith helmets so we had to discard our green lids and put on our postman hats. The sight was comic every one had bent hats in the end they went to Larkhill and borrowed enough for the parade.
Eyup Jack just ask me who got the most "Stickman" besides Jim Buttimore hahahaha!! Martin will tell you lol lol. I hardly did any stags as I thought the extra bulling work would pay off and it did for me. My main guard duties were for the Govt. House Guard....of which most people have heard about. I often wonder how much I would be worth if I had done Makarios when he used to visit the Govt. House for talks with the heirachy I had only been a few feet away........ohhhhhh sugar I should have I could have been a millionaire by now....... I know what you meant about Scouse Melvin he had that look about him somehow that he would shop his own mother.
"Scabby" Melvin was my first BSM in 49 Bty. He got the nickname from the pockmarks left over from a bad case of juvenile acne. He was a decent BSM, as far as I remember but he always had a smile that raised the hairs on the back of my neck as a young lad. Really creepy!
I remember the fashion of Slashing the peaks of the Caps forage (ala Guardsman type). That is until Officers and senior NCOs got wise and started to rip them out of the cap and throwing them away whilst handing out 3 extra guards. People looked so stupid standing there with the hat on less the peak .
That sentry box at Churchill Bks, Lippy was where I perfected the art of sleeping whilst standing up. I could get twenty minutes kip out of every 30 during a two hour, dead man's stag. I also developed the secret art of the crafty smoke.
Yes David that sums it up about Scouse Melvin.... I suppose those who knew him well would have said he was a good bloke underneath. As you rightly said he came across very creepy. I also like that bit about pinching kipping time on stag and no doubt you read my bit about Yorkie Wainwright on Govt. House Guard with the f.ag stuck in his rifle still lit when either the Orderly Officer was on the prowl or the Guard Commander. Can anyone imagine say being on guard outside the Palace and a sentry standing there with a lighted f.ag stuck in the end of the rifle? blood and sand!!!! left! right! left! right! would have been the order of the day.......this was a similar situation. Good old Yorkie........
Hahahaha the peak caps.........I had a cap badge and it had a wheel on it which turned round.......now I have no idea to this day how I came to get that I would more or less swear that I was issued with that badge because I never lost one so I didn't need to go to the stores to get another one. I got ball- locked (it wouldn't let me say b.ollocked) on parade once for wearing it and I tried to explain but that was a waste of time naturally I think the guy who had a go at me was jealous.
No doubt you guys will remember the old cycle chains in the BD trousers......they did look smart though I can never understand why they didn't allow them. Of course today being PC they would deem to be an offensive weapon. The REDCAPS would pull anyone for wearing them and they would be stood in front of you wearing the self same thing .....do as I say, not as I do..................
Prew re the weights in the old BD trousers;;Our dear friend Tony Heal Actually encouraged us to put sort of weights in;;as he hated to see unsmart bottoms of trousers;;and your remarks about the MPs;Many arguements was had with them at St Pancras stn when going on leave especially the new lance jacks who thought they knew it all as we say happy days when you look back;; If you look onto my photos on this board you will see a photo of a select few from 68 again who were picked by Tony Heal as Regt Police at the annual Bisley Comp;;We thought we were the Bees Knees or (Dogs B***cks)at the time and BD bottoms were not untidy as our leader remarked--What a wonderfull man he was--you always knew where you stood with him--Not like the ones who followed him as BSMs;;;Power crazy plonkers-No wonder they where not liked;;
Yes Nobby I agree Tony Heal had his own way of doing things and he was a fair guy and like anyone else in authority if you crossed them,then you stood the consequences. I was a "goody two shoes" and you know I hardly ever got ball locked either on the square or off it. My trumpet is being blown here hehehehehe.......I took notice of my father who served in the RAF during the war years. When he knew I was joining up he just said to me,"all you need to do is keep your head down and keep smart do as you are told and you will not go wrong. Now look where that led me.......playing a game of golf on the internet getting 2 under par for the course and getting ridiculed by someone called Nobby 915....I rest my case.
Now now Mr Prewitt-You are getting a bit grumpy in your old age(HeHeeeeeeeeee)calm down dear it was only a bit of P""""" taking; if you cant take a joke// you will be known in the future as That Grumpy old Barsteward!!!;Have a good good Xmas with the family and a Happy New year to Pauline and old Grumpy-Byeeee
If I didn't know that guy called Nobby I would have been over there before now and swapped all your irons for putters......now that to a golf MAD!! sports person is like red rag to a bull..........Oooopppppsssssss sorry I mentioned the word "BULL"........Memories eh? can't take them away from us no matter how they try........Have fun and that goes for EVERYONE...........
I have made this thread a sticky to stop it being lost amongst all the others but I would appreciate it if you could start using the other thread only to keep all the stories together. Cheers lads I knew you would understand..... keep it up, I will get a book out out of it yet LOL
The ‘Empire Pride’ docked at Pusan in Korea on the 8th of December 1953 (my Dad’s birthday). I was still below the minimum age for Active Service (19), ‘though just by several days. I’d originally been told that I’d be sent to Kure in Japan until I reached 19, but that somehow slipped through the cracks.
We were in Pusan for only a few days, during which we were kitted out with winter clothing, some of which had already been issued in Plymouth. All I can really remember of our time there was that it seemed to be utter chaos. I recall standing in a queue to get into a large marquee, getting handed the kit, going out the other end and selling bits of it to waiting Koreans, then back into the queue for more. There seemed to be little or no control over this. There’s also a memory about an attempt by somebody to set fire to one of our accommodation tents one night; I’ve no idea who or why.
From Pusan we were put on a train for the journey north to our base. I think the trip took about three days and was memorable because the train had wooden seats, was unheated, had no windows and seemed to stop every few miles and sit waiting for ages before moving off again. We then boarded a fleet of US Army ‘Duece And A Half’ trucks to take us to our base camp at the foot of a large hill called Kamak San.
Each Battery had its own geographically separate camp. 179 and 87 Batteries were straddled either side of a hill, several hundred yards apart, whilst 68 Battery and RHQ were some few miles away. We were billeted in large ‘Mug’ tents, twelve to a tent, with standard issue steel beds on wooden duckboards. Two pot-bellied oil stoves sitting in the middle of the tent provided heating, the chimneys exiting through a metal collar set into the canvas roof. The diesel oil fuel was contained in an upturned jerrican on a trestle outside and fed in via a rubber tube. There was a metered valve controlling the drip of fuel into the stove, and Standing Orders decreed that the setting must not be above number 3, but this was generally considered inadequate to get a good fire going, so setting the meters to the maximum 10 tended to be the norm, and a watch kept out for duty Officers and NCOs. The threatened punishment was removal of the stoves if caught. It was soon discovered that petrol was a much better fuel and was used whenever it could be obtained, although strictly against orders on the grounds of safety. Many a time I’ve seen the chimneys in our tent red hot right up to the roof of the tent, and we spent a lot of time adjusting and readjusting the fuel flow to avoid the tent going up in flames. I can remember at least two other tents burning to the ground, so it was a very real risk.
Lighting was provided by a field generator, which was very temperamental and continually broke down, so candles were kept to hand for emergencies. It was all very basic and sort of hit-and-miss, but luxury compared to the conditions that would have existed before the ceasefire was arranged. We were still technically on Active Service, but there was no actual fighting any more. Our biggest threat was protecting ourselves from the thousands of North Korean prisoners of war who had just been released and were trying to get back home. They’d been set free and just told to go home, had been given no food or money and so had to live by their wits as best they could. Our camp was targeted many times, and these guys would even find their way into our tents and steal from our bedsides.
For the first few weeks after arrival we had several incidents of trigger-happy sentries loosing off rounds during the night. We used to sometimes walk from our lines the short distance to 87 Bty, where they showed the occasional film at night. We were always very mindful to tell our sentry what time to expect us back and not to start shooting. As an added precaution, we made a lot of noise as we approached our camp after the show.
On one occasion, the Battery sent a 3-Tonner load of us to scavenge some Quonset huts from a US Army camp after the Americans abandoned it. The party was commanded by Sergeant Fred ‘Legs’ Amison and, after arrival and settling ourselves into one of the huts as a base, Legs gave me a Dixie and told me to go down to a nearby stream and fill it so we could have a cup of tea. It was very dark and I was gingerly edging my way down a short path to the stream when I got the fright of my life when I was suddenly brought up short by something stuck into my chest. It turned out to be the muzzle of a rifle held by a black GI sentry who hissed ‘Whistle, Man, there are Gooks about.’ and disappeared into the night. The North Koreans were known as Gooks. When I reported back to Legs he immediately ordered both doors to the hut to be nailed shut until the morning. We never actually saw any of these guys heading towards North Korea, as they tended to lie up by day and travel under cover of darkness.
Korean winters are very cold and really severe. 40-gallon drums of diesel oil were known to freeze solid, and we had to run vehicle engines throughout the night to prevent them freezing, patrolling sentries ensuring engines were kept running. One of our lads obtained a puppy from somewhere, which managed to get out of the tent during the night but couldn’t find its way back in. We found its frozen body at the door in the morning. We’d named it ‘Skoshie’, the Korean word for small. When we formed up on parade we spent the first few minutes running on the spot and slapping each other on the back. Our Troop Sergeant Major, ‘Crasher’ Hayes, had a straggly moustache and used to appear with small icicles hanging from it. He was a rough old character, not very well educated, who used to bluster and bully us along. He’d force his big gut against you again and again until you’d make to retaliate, whereupon he’d accuse you of assaulting a superior officer and start pushing you around. His favourite expression when inspecting troops was ‘You’re filfy dirty!’ and he said to me one time ‘You’re not filfy dirty McDougall – you’re fucking manky! If I threw you against a wall you’d stick!’ We had a guy called Wheatley who wore heavy horn rimmed glasses, and ‘Crasher’ used to threaten to take his glasses off and throw them to the Chinks, or sometimes to throw them down the toilet, which was a large, evil-smelling, deep, communal pit.
The Battery Sergeant Major was Buck Taylor, who sported a huge mutton chop moustache, which was clearly visible from the rear. He used to give me a hard time, but mellowed towards me when I drew a rear view cartoon of him using a urinal with the caption ‘The only man in the Battery who knows what he’s doing’, which he proudly pinned up to the pole in the Battery Office tent. He used to point to it whenever any officer would question his decisions. He didn’t care much for officers in general, and took a dislike to the Battery Commander of 87 Battery who was in the habit of driving past Buck’s office in excess of the 5mph speed limit and causing clouds of dust. Buck had a deep trench dug across the track, which stopped the BC’s Jeep the next time it came through and broke its axle.
Much of the winter was spent simply trying to stay warm, with the usual routine of maintenance and training. One of the acquired Quonset huts became the Battery Canteen, where we’d repair for a few beers and singsong most nights. The beer was Japanese Asahi Beer that came in bottles, which were very often frozen solid and I’ve seen guys breaking the glass off and licking the beer like a lollipop. I used to open the crown caps with my teeth, for show, as did a few others. At the time of writing I still have my own teeth, which is a wonder, really.
I continued to be pretty much a marked man and did my share of ‘Jankers’ in Korea. In particular, I spent many hours in the evenings and at weekends scouring for rocks and breaking them up to provide hard standing for the car park in front of the Officers’ Mess. I say I was marked, but perhaps I brought a lot of it on myself with my cavalier attitude at the time. There was an occasion when the Regimental Sergeants’ Mess at RHQ held a social gathering, for which each Battery Mess had to contribute some furniture and bar stock. On the morning after the do, I was in a small party sent with a 15-cwt truck to recover 179 Battery’s stuff and bring it back. During the journey back, I was in the back of the truck with Pete Barber and we managed to empty a Drambuie bottle of its contents by the time we got back to base. We must have been drunk out of our minds, and I can vaguely remember staggering across the parade ground whilst the Guard was mounting.
Either by accident or design, I found myself out of harm’s way for some weeks when I was sent out as part of a party to dig an Observation Post on our prepared defensive positions. Sergeant ‘Pongo’ Perks from Birmingham was in charge, and the others were Pete Barber, Ben Moore and Geordie Leadbetter, all of them National Servicemen. The ground was rock solid and we used lots of Plastic Explosive in our work. ‘Pongo’ was an easygoing man who peculiarly used to swap his chicken meat for our chicken skins. The area we were working in was pretty remote, but there was an MSR (Main Supply Route, a hard packed earthen road) roadside canteen within walking distance, run by the Women’s Voluntary Service, which we visited a couple of times. The first time we went there it was Burns’ Night and, when one of the good ladies asked if it was anyone’s birthday that day, I cheekily put my hand up and was rewarded with a bottle of whisky; not really my birthday, of course.
The Korean countryside around our Battery camp consisted of lots of small hills close together, which I got to know very intimately as one of the members of the Regimental Cross Country Team. I recall we acquitted ourselves quite well at the Divisional Championships, but were no match for a team of Koreans, some of whom we discovered later were Olympic runners. These Koreans were known as KATCOMs, Koreans Attached To The Commonwealth Division, and I think every unit had their share of them on attachment. They were all small men, very strong and most had a good sense of humour. They nearly all had names starting with Pak, and morning roll call was quite an entertainment, until ‘Crasher’ renamed them all Pak1, Pak2 and so on. They used to excel at a pastime whereby you’d join right hands, put your left arms behind your back, stand feet astride with the insides of the right feet touching, and try to unbalance one another and force the moving of the left foot. You’d imagine that height would be an advantage here, but we could never beat those wee guys.
Korea was a great experience for us all. Being on Active Service was very different from soldiering in barracks, and much more enjoyable. Living together thousands of miles from home for a long period developed the very strong bonds of comradeship and boys became men overnight.
Shortly after our arrival in Korea a group of us were allowed to go to a big NAAFI Club some miles away. About six or seven of us set off in a 15cwt truck driven by Lance Bombardier ‘Scouse’ Hall. Being impatient to get to our destination we began shouting to ‘Scouse’ to put his feet down. This he duly did, lost control and turned the vehicle over down a steep drop into a paddy field. I remember thinking my time had come before I passed out, and came to lying at the side of the road with someone tucking a blanket round me and offering me a cigarette.
It turned out I’d been struck in the chest with the loose spare wheel of the truck, suffering several bruised ribs. I was taken to a Canadian Military Hospital to recover and it was several days before I was able to breathe without a great deal of pain. Once on the mend I was invited to play Blackjack with some of the other patients. When I said I was unfamiliar with the game and had never played it before they offered to teach me. I soon recognised it as similar to Pontoon and finished up winning all their money. Card games would feature again quite a lot in later years.
PS - Sorry about the layout, I copied this direct from another source.
Our time in Korea soon came to an end and, on 31st December 1954 we embarked on a Troopship for Hong Kong. All I remember of that trip is the fact that there were two infantry battalions aboard, one Scottish and one Irish; they posted sentries at the entrances to the wet canteen to limit access only to those of either race.
We were stationed at Kam Tin in the New Territories, about forty minutes’ drive from Kowloon, billeted in Quonset huts. We slept under mosquito nets and had ceiling fans for cooling. A favourite trick was to catch one of the many huge, black stag beetles flying about and throw it into the moving fan blades, where it would be spun round before rocketing out fast to land on some luckless squaddie.
Stag beetles featured again when we took the shortcut to the Garrison Cinema across the adjacent RAF airfield. There always seemed to be millions of them flying about there, and it was standard drill to pull your jacket over your head as a shield, and run like the clappers to the other side. Once across, you would generally have to wait in a queue for the pictures, and this is when another trick came into play. Stag beetles tend to land suddenly and with some force, which could be quite alarming, particularly if your mind was sort of switched off, so you’d spot a likely victim, sneak up quietly on him and tap him firmly on the back, whereupon he’d usually jump a mile. It was always good for a laugh. Soldiers are always taking the mickey out of each other in such ways, and it is generally well accepted.
Our way of life in Hong Kong was very cushy compared to anything we’d ever experienced before. Every soldier had the services of an unofficial Chinese batman, who would do all your kit for about HK$3 per week, there being 12 to the £1 in those days. This would include washing and starching uniforms, polishing boots and blancoeing webbing equipment. The Chinese boys would do additional tasks for extra payment, and I opted to have a cup of tea brought to me at Reveille. Some guys even had themselves shaved in bed, but I thought this was going a bit too far. Of course, if you were picked up on parade for anything you couldn’t blame it on your boy, so it obviously wasn’t a perfect arrangement, but it certainly made life much easier, and made more time available for socialising.
The Indian Dhobi Wallahs featured large in our lives. They operated the camp laundry as well as providing tea and wads for the squaddies. They even came on exercise with us, usually waiting for us at our supposedly ‘secret’ destinations.. Later I was to find them following us into the Libyan Desert whilst on exercise from Cyprus, and again they were always waiting with tea and wads wherever we ended up. In barracks they were always waiting at the edge of the square late at night, knowing that soldiers would be hungry after a night’s boozing at the local hostelries. It didn’t matter if you hadn’t any money; you could always have it on tick.
The toilets in the camp were basically a collection of buckets with communal seats, situated close together inside a large corrugated hut at one end of the camp. It stank to high heaven and the bogs had to be regularly emptied and flushed out with disinfectant. This task fell to local Chinese women but the Army, deeming this work to be unsuitable for women, decreed that the manual toilets would be demolished and replaced with modern flushing facilities. This was seen as taking work away from the locals and led to demonstrations and riots until the order was rescinded. The excrement removed from the toilets was taken to a ‘bank’ at Yuen Long, a town about four or five miles away, known to the lads as ‘Shit City’ on account of being able to smell it from miles away.
We didn’t often get to go down to Hong Kong and Kowloon, but I remember one weekend spent there with some of my mates. We stayed at the YMCA in Kowloon, very close to the Star Ferry, which can still be used as a base to this day, providing cheap accommodation at a prime location, so long as you can accept hostel living. I believe standards have improved now, it’s more like a hotel and they even have family accommodation. Anyway, after our weekend there we were told off by BSM Buck Taylor, who said he’d seen us drunk and digging up the tramlines with our noses, an exaggeration, of course, but we certainly got drunk and had a good time. I remember a pub called the ‘Red Lion’ in Kowloon, much frequented by soldiers and famous for its bat-wing, Western saloon style doors.
We soon ran out of money during the weekend and found ourselves in the China Fleet Club on Hong Kong Island, with just enough money for a beer between four of us. Lance Bombardier Arthur Gomersall from Bradford was with us, a tough Yorkshireman who did a bit of boxing and was known as ‘Punchy’. Arthur said, ‘I’ll be back in a minute’ and disappeared, to reappear soon afterwards saying, ‘What are you going to have?’ and waving some notes at us. It turned out he’d gone to the loo and mugged some luckless matelot. We proceeded to drink ourselves stupid, and my next memory is of just two of us remaining, myself and a small, quiet Bombardier called Ted Harrison. How he made it to his rank I never understood, for he was very timid and quiet, and you could hardly hear him when he spoke.
He’d obviously had enough to drink and started to pour his beer on the floor, where it splashed onto the white gaiters of a Marine at the next table, who jumped to his feet and started to threaten Ted. Of course, I rose to intervene and defend my mate, and found myself on the floor looking at a circle of white-gaitered boots that had suddenly appeared from nowhere. We soon decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made our way meekly back to the YMCA.
It was in Hong Kong that my Army career took a dramatic turn. Up until this point I’d been content to lead the life of ‘Jack-The-Lad’, trying to stay out of trouble in the pursuit of my own pleasure with the lads. Someone came to me one day and told me I was wanted at the Battery Office. This usually meant I was in trouble, and I set off trying to think why I’d been sent for. On arrival at the Battery Office, BSM ‘Buck’ Taylor tossed a sheet of paper at me and instructed me to read it, which I did, with complete disbelief and incredulity. My memory is pretty poor, but I can still remember reading the words, ‘This is to recommend 22823294 Gunner McDougall JS to be Local Acting Unpaid Lance-Bombardier with effect from 1 April 1955.’ I suppose I stood there gaping at it until Buck said ‘Well, do you think you can do it?’ I replied that I would try and Buck said “You bloody well better!”
Suffice to say that I soon discovered the advantages of holding rank, got my second stripe within two months and never really looked back, although I was still very immature in many ways and relied on a good deal of luck to survive. For example, soon after getting my first stripe I was sent to take charge of a Guard on our guns in a barracks on Nathan Road in Kowloon, where they were being prepared for the Queen’s Birthday Parade. Having posted a sentry, I took the rest of the lads out for a drink, staggering back just in time to head off the Orderly Officer on his way to turn out the Guard.
On the training side, I spent some time with an OP (Observation Post) Party, memorable for tramping over steep hills with Infantrymen and getting very little sleep. A more enjoyable duty was being posted with a safety party to keep stray junks and other boats from entering the impact zone whilst our guns were doing firing practice into the sea, happy, lazy hours just sunbathing.
This was to be our first posting to West Germany as it then was and was to last for five years. We were allocated a Quarter at 5 Conzestrasse, a small cul-de-sac near the barracks reserved for Warrant Officers. Our next door neighbour was RQMS Colin Young, the BSM who had disowned me on the trooper to Cyprus. Colin was probably everything I am not; a small, very quiet man who seemed to spend most of his time in the garden; I maintained it was just to get away from his nagging wife. He was a very indecisive person and it was a mystery to me how he’d achieved his rank.
My BSM in 49 Battery in Lippstadt was Vincent ‘Scouse’ Melvin, a single man with an acute drink problem. He had very bad facial skin and, although respected, was referred to as ‘Scabby’ by the lads. He was a very experienced soldier who didn’t tolerate fools gladly and could be quite tactless, regardless of who he was talking to. I learned such a lot from ‘Scouse’. It came as a great surprise to us all when he met and eventually married Angela, one of the NAAFI girls. Married life quietened him down somewhat, but only a little. I well remember being warned by Helen to be home in time for our Christmas dinner at 1 o’clock soon after the marriage. I was dropping ‘Scouse’ off at his Quarter when he invited me in for a seasonal drink, insisting it would only be the one. Hours later I got home to a lot of justifiable abuse from Helen. ‘Scouse’ left us on Posting as an RQMS to Manorbier in Wales. A short time later he was found sitting dead in a layby on his way to work. It is assumed he felt a heart attack coming on and pulled over.
In October 1965 I volunteered for a drill course at the Guards’ Depot at Caterham. It was a unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the incessant bull and it gave me a great respect for the Brigade of Guards and the way the instructors conducted themselves. It was unheard of for a student to achieve a grading without attending the final Passout Parade, but I achieved it. During a games night in the Sergeants’ Mess I suffered a broken ankle playing one of the rougher games, this just three days before the parade. Lying on my bed I was surprised to receive a visit from the Senior Drill Sergeant, who eventually got round to suggesting that I shouldn’t mention that the accident had happened in his Mess. Sensing his disquiet and anxiety I enquired if I’d still get my grading; I was given a ‘B’ grading (‘A’ was the highest grade and generally thought to be impossible to achieve). I drove happily back to Lippstadt with my right ankle still in plaster.
In 1966 I was appointed Battery Sergeant Major of 68 Battery, so embarking on the most rewarding and enjoyable period of my Army career. There’s nothing quite like being the BSM of a unit of up to 200 soldiers, responsible to the Battery Commander for all matters of discipline. The BC was David Whiter, a diminutive man and a great officer, very interested in his soldiers, their families and their welfare. We had an excellent group of young NCOs, several of whom quickly made the grade to Sergeant, prompting them to be referred to as ‘the boy wonders’. Jimmy Green was the Battery Guide (the other Warrant Officer in the Battery) and I couldn’t have asked for better support. He had exceptionally high military standards and I initially sensed that for a time he was sizing me up to assess my worth. I must have measured up to his expectations as we enjoyed an excellent three years together.
It was a beautiful day when we docked in Famagusta in Cyprus. Buses took all the families to their Quarters or hirings; Quarters for all those who had sufficient points to qualify for one, private hirings for the others, including ourselves. We were one of the last to get off and so had the opportunity to see the nice villas and other properties allocated to the families. Eventually it was our turn as the bus drew up at a pretty villa in Justinian Street. We were glad to arrive and couldn’t wait to get inside and make ourselves at home. Joy turned to horror when we went into the kitchen and opened a drawer to see hundreds of cockroaches scurrying about! We tried hard to eliminate them over the period we stayed there but seemed to be fighting a losing battle. I routinely carried a rolled up newspaper whenever we went out, quietly opening the door on return, switching on the light and killing as many as I could before they scurried away. Cockroaches were to feature again later in another hiring when Helen woke one night with two huge ones running down her back.
We moved around several different properties in Famagusta during our two years in Cyprus, including a period when, to save money, we shared a house with Tom, Sally and their kids Jackie and Pat. The owner was called Savvas and he also owned the adjoining taverna, which was very handy! We lived in one small place where the builder had created as much space as possible with novelties such as a bed that folded up into a recess in the wall (for some reason Jimmy was afraid of that). Another property opposite a large orange grove had the Greek landlord Odysseus and his family living in a shack at the back of the house. They were in the habit of eating late outside in the open and quite often would lift Jimmy out from his bedroom window to join them.
The Eoka troubles for union with Greece were still rumbling along at that time, and although some sort of truce had been called, we were still required to be on standby and carry out patrols. The first months after arrival were hectic as we got to grips with gaining an intimate knowledge our areas of operations. The Regiment was responsible for a huge area of countryside and every soldier was required to be able to draw from memory a map of the whole Regimental area, showing locations and names of towns, villages, roads and strategic points, and have a good knowledge of the populations, ethnic make-up and names of the Muktars (head men). We still hadn’t been issued with our summer KD (Khaki Drill) dress and I still remember the evils of wearing our khaki flannel shirts, itchy and soaked in sweat, whilst slogging away throughout the hot summer.
The troubles soon passed and we settled into the familiar routine of life in barracks, basically starting early and finishing at lunch time during the hot summer months. A favourite Sunday routine was to picnic at Boghaz Beach together with Ginger and Jean Hargreaves. We’d get there mid-morning and had our Sunday roast dinner there, courtesy of pre-prepared meals in our pressure cookers. We generally had the whole beach more or less to ourselves, although occasionally a few young local Greeks would be a bit of a nuisance. They were not at all used to mixing freely with the local girls and the sight of bikini clad foreign women on a beach or in the water was a bit too much for them.
Ginger and Jean had no children, nor much of a liking for them, but they were always very fond of Jimmy, who would usually ride in their car with them. We frequently visited each other’s houses, when Ginger and I would leave the ladies and listen to jazz records, both of us dancing about simulating playing the instruments.
Our daughter Sheena was born in the British Military Hospital in Dhekelia on the 24th of September 1961. I had personally never wished for a daughter, believing they were liable to be more troublesome than boys when they got to their teens. In truth, Sheena was probably less of a problem than either Jimmy or John. She was certainly a very contented baby. My pal ‘Ginger’ Hargreaves christened her ‘Black Fred’ before she was born and would wind Jimmy up about it. Jimmy was fiercely defensive and protective of his wee sister. On the troopship home from Cyprus Helen and I once returned to the cabin to find Sheena hidden in her cot under a pile of pillows which Jimmy had put there to try to stop her climbing out and hurting herself.
Sheena married and was later divorced from John Mooney from Greenock, before marrying her present husband Paul Green, also from Greenock. They have a daughter, Emma 18, and currently live near us in Largs. We consequently see much more of them than the rest of the family and are able to socialise and holiday with them more. It would be nice to be able to share more time with Jimmy & John and their children but geographical distances do create certain difficulties.
Social life was very good in Cyprus. The only nightspot in Famagusta, the ‘Spitfire’, was out of bounds and, although we occasionally travelled the 20-odd miles to Dhekelia to attend a Sergeants’ Mess function, we basically socialised with a round of Saturday night parties at our homes, taking turn to act as hosts. Alcohol was duty free and very cheap and everybody would bring a bottle.
Although a lot of basic gunnery and infantry training took place in barracks in Cyprus, the Regiment carried out many exercises in the Libyan desert.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Cyprus after that trip as I’d as usual missed the family and was looking forward to the reunion with Helen, Jimmy and Sheena. I always said that getting back off long exercises was like a second honeymoon (not that we’d ever had a first one!). As I approached our home there was Jimmy playing at the gate. I called to him as I approached, expecting him to display a degree of excitement at my return, but he merely glanced up, replied ‘ Hi Dad’ and carried on with his task, leaving me not a little crest-fallen.
Cyprus was mostly an enjoyable experience for me; soldiers are always happiest overseas where they are free of the social distractions of the UK and are thrown together much more. Helen had more of a rough time of it, having to look after two children during the very hot summers, living without air conditioning and having to cook on a calor gas stove. She was very thin after our Cyprus tour, and no wonder. Cyprus would have been much more bearable with air conditioning and satellite television.
Libya was then an Arab Kingdom ruled by King Idris. Exercises in Libya would generally last for about six weeks or so. On one exercise 49 Battery set up camp a few miles from the town of Barce, about 50 miles east of Benghazi. We were warned about the presence of deadly scorpions and advised to take basic precautions such as keeping a good lookout for them and shaking out sleeping bags before getting into them. Sergeant Johnny Humble devised his own cunning plan and elected not to sleep in his bivouac tent, preferring to put his camp bed on top of a table outside, well clear of the ground and therefore scorpion proof. He certainly survived the night unbitten but wasn’t at all pleased to find his tent and all his belongings had been stolen during the night, All that remained were a few tent pegs with the remains of cut guy ropes attached to them!
Five other Sergeants and I got permission to visit Barce to buy some basic fresh foodstuffs to supplement our tinned Army Compo rations. This involved a hair-raising drive down a very twisty road in a Land Rover driven by REME Sgt Eric Boulton, who always drove flat out. We were all screaming for him to slow down but it made no difference. Arriving in one piece we separated into two groups, each with a list of items to buy.
All went well until someone (not me, I can’t remember who) tried to sell some packets of cigarettes he had brought with him. In no time at all a large group of grasping boys had surrounded us, pushing and shoving and trying to snatch the cigarettes. I was sitting in the Land Rover and, as the crowd rapidly increased and got more and more animated, I realised the danger, drove up alongside and shouted for my mates to get in. I then drove quickly along the narrow street, picked up the other group and headed out of the town, pursued by the screaming mob. A donkey wandered across our path and I tried to avoid it but clipped its hindquarters and spun it round onto its back. Looking back I was glad to see it get to its feet again.
Sadly, Barce was almost totally flattened by an earthquake a year later in February 1963, with the loss of 300 lives. Reconstruction has since taken place and the town is now called Al Marj.
Several visits and expeditions were organised during tours of Libya, including a group of hardy volunteers who went hundreds of miles deep into the desert to the Tibesti Mountains. I generally just wanted to relax in base camp most of the time, although I did go on a trip to the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene. Apart from the magnificent ruins the thing I remember most is the Arab women digging around trying to find old Roman coins to sell to tourists. They didn’t like me photographing them, apparently believing the camera to be The Evil Eye.
On another exercise to Libya we were camped just outside Tobruk and I took the opportunity to pay several visits to the military cemeteries in the area, mainly the British Commonwealth Cemetery, which was always a very moving experience. The cemetery was very well maintained and the neat rows of headstones made me imagine the dead soldiers on eternal parade. The German cemetery and memorial is totally different, being more of a very heavy, stark mausoleum of a place. I was told that this was because all the bodies were in a single grave covered over with concrete to prevent them being dug up and desecrated; I don’t know whether or not this is true.
Sergeant Pete Annette came to me one day and asked me if I could get the use of a Land Rover next day for something he had in mind. Next morning I told Battery Sergeant Major Alan Coulter I wanted to visit the military cemetery at Tobruk and he let me have the use of a vehicle. Pete drove to the NAAFI Bulk Issue Store at Tobruk, went in, gave a fictitious name and a fictitious unit, and said they were on exercise from the UK, we had 1,200 men and we wanted cigarettes for them. The clerk did a calculation and said we could only have 40,000 cigarettes over the counter. Pete signed his fictitious name for them, and then we drove 90 miles along the coast to Derna where we sold them to a local Arab for double the purchase price. Pete explained that as long as the bill was paid within 24 hours the NAAFI wouldn’t send out an invoice, so nobody would be any the wiser.
The BSM smelled a rat when we got back to camp late but I explained that we’d broken down. Unfortunately, we’d had to use the two spare jerricans of petrol all vehicles carried and were unable to refill them until next morning. Alan simply went to the vehicle, tapped the jerricans with his pipe and promptly gave me five extra duties for lying. As we had planned another trip the next day I had to use some of our profits to bribe Alan to let me start the extra punishment duties a day later. Fearful of getting caught, I sent all my share of the profits back to Helen in Cyprus for safe keeping; it was a tidy amount and almost paid for our first car, a brand new Ford Anglia.
Prior to going to Korea, we were stationed at Crownhill Barracks in Plymouth for a few weeks, where we were kitted out with winter weather gear, had all our jabs and took our Embarkation Leave. All I can really remember from that period is some good pub-crawls. On returning to barracks after one night out, my mate and I were surprised to see some whisky left in a bottle under my bed, when we thought we’d emptied it before going out. Of course, someone had urinated into the bottle,, but we drank it believing it was whisky, and enjoyed it nevertheless!
We now moved into a one bedroom Quarter on Lambhay Hill in the shadow of the walls of the Royal Citadel. It was a very old upstairs flat and probably a former barrack room as it featured a rifle rack and webbing pegs and shelf in the bedroom, but we loved it; it was our home and fully furnished, right down to a mustard spoon. It was also where our firstborn Jimmy arrived on the scene. Jimmy was later to marry and divorce Beverley before marrying second wife Nerys from the small Welsh town of Llanidloes. They have two children, Kayleigh 21 and Jamie 18, and live in Heytesbury near Warminster in Wiltshire. Jimmy served 22 years as a regular soldier, finishing as an instructor in the Army Physical Training Corps. He is currently working in Dubai.
We’d been married for six years by then and had been trying for a child without success. Deciding to get ourselves checked out medically I went to the MO and asked him to arrange specialist tests. He made an appointment for me but said that most wives became pregnant very soon after couples decided to get checked out. Sure enough, Helen became pregnant almost immediately, so the appointment was never kept. I can only assume that there had been some sort of mental blockage thing preventing conception and the decision to check things caused some sort of relaxation to occur.
Jimmy was born at 5/2 Lambhay Hill the 24th of March 1958. There was a midwife, a nurse and an old Welsh lady from downstairs present and they just sort of ignored me as I hung about and set up a tape recorder. Helen was very good throughout the labour, no screaming as I recall. Jimmy came into the world face first and I recognised him for a McDougall as soon as he appeared. He weighed in at a paltry 5lbs 4 ozs, causing the midwife to exclaim ‘He’s just a tiny little scrap!’ Jimmy was baptised in the grandly named ‘Royal Chapel of Saint-Katherine-Upon-The-Hoe Within The Royal Citadel’; quite a mouthful.
Helen and I were both absolutely delighted to be parents at long last, and kept going to Jimmy’s cot to make sure he was still breathing. He soon afterwards started constant crying and we were obviously quite worried when it wouldn’t stop. Helen had been breast feeding up to now and we got to wondering if perhaps it wasn’t enough for him. I phoned the midwife and asked her if we could give him a bottle and she said it would be OK to give him some evaporated milk but to water it down. No sooner had Jimmy gulped the bottle down than he fell fast asleep and didn’t wake for ages. The poor wee bugger must have been starving!
About a year later we moved to a ground floor Quarter in the next block, number 4/1, where Helen could watch him from the window as he sat outside in his pram. Mother visited us briefly and was able to see her new grandson before she died shortly afterwards. Jimmy displayed a fascination for cars and, even at a very early age, could identify a few different cars with their owners. The Regiment was soon under notice to move to Cyprus and we got permission to take Helen’s sister Jean with us. She’d been in hospital with tuberculosis for some time and it was felt that the climate in Cyprus would suit her better than the damp weather typical of the West of Scotland. The three of us had some good social outings to the pubs in the nearby Barbican area before we headed overseas.
It was at this time that Helen’s brother Tom arrived unannounced with his wife Sally. He was apparently on leave from the Merchant navy and had decided to visit us. We were pleased to see them, of course, and gave them the use of our bedroom whilst we slept on a bed settee in the living room. Next morning Tom sheepishly informed me that Sally had wet the bed; it transpired that her waters had broken and she was about to give birth to their first child Jackie, who was born a short time later. When I asked Tom what his future plans were it transpired that he hadn’t any, apart from he wasn’t going back to sea and had no particular job in mind. I suggested he could do worse than think about the Army, took him for a tour of the Royal Citadel Barracks and within a day or two he’d signed on for 22 years. They went on to have three more children, Pat, Tommy and Tammy.
The Regiment’s time in Plymouth was spent mainly training on and around Dartmoor, and a cold, miserable place it was. It was the time that National Service was coming to an end and 42 Regiment was then the only all regular unit in the Army. We were also the first to be kitted out with the new military Service Dress which replaced the old battledress. Another first was that we were issued with the new SLR (Self Loading Rifle). A welcome diversion was when I met up again with John Maynard, who had left the service at the end of his engagement and had just re-enlisted. On re-joining the Army he had to come back in at his substantive rank of Bombardier (he’d only been an Acting Sergeant). In the meantime I’d been promoted to Sergeant myself and so out-ranked him. I spotted him coming across the parade ground and, as he came towards me with outstretched hand, it gave me great pleasure to greet him with ‘Hello, Bombardier!’ Revenge is truly sweet!
One interesting event was the unexpected arrival of Dad one day, who just turned up out of the blue, as was his wont. I can’t remember how long he stayed but it was probably a week or two. He was in a pretty scruffy state and I took him quietly apart one day and reminded him of how I remembered him after he came home from the Army, always smart and wouldn’t go out the door without polishing his shoes. A day or two later I was surprised to bump into him on Royal Parade in the city centre, wearing a sandwich-board advertising some café or other. That was just about OK, but it all came to a head when a Bombardier suggested I should get a grip of my father as he was making a nuisance of himself, saying he’d get his Sergeant son to sort out anyone annoying him. I’d had enough; he was on the next train out of Plymouth.
All this lovely life came to an abrupt halt when I was sent home to UK to do a Signals course at the School of Artillery, Larkhill, but at least it enabled Helen and me to spend some time together. She came down to see me and I remember picking her up from Salisbury Station and taking her to Bulford on the bus to spend the weekend in the ‘Rose & Crown’ pub. During the trip to Bulford, the bus stopped and the Conductor called out to enquire if anyone owned a brown suitcase, which turned out to be Helen’s. It had apparently been spotted falling off the bus platform by the driver of a following taxi, who gathered it all together and pursued the bus to return it to the owner. We often talked in later years about all our worldly goods being in one suitcase at that time.
We managed to find some rented accommodation in a Mrs Crumbler’s attic room in Salisbury. She was always telling us not to put tea leaves down the drain, and the only heating we had was to light the gas oven and sit at the open door for warmth. I used to take the first morning bus to Larkhill, but getting to the bus stop on time was hazardous, as we had no means of telling the time. One morning I was standing at the bus stop and asked a passing railway worker the time, to be told it was 4:30 in the morning, whereupon I went home, back to bed, overslept and missed the bus.
It was the intention that I should re-join 42 Regiment in Hong Kong at the conclusion of my course, so Helen and I were both very excited at the thought of the coming adventure. We went through all the preliminary procedures of inoculations and everything else, only to be told at the eleventh hour that the regiment was being posted back to UK and I was to proceed after my course to Court-y-Gollen Camp, Crickhowell, near Abergavenney in South Wales.
The only other abiding memory from those days was leaving Mrs Crumbler’s. We were still very poor then and decided to do a ‘moonlit flit’, i.e. leave without paying. On the appointed early morning we gathered up our bits and pieces and started creeping down the stairs, where we were startled to bump into Mr Crumbler on one of the landings. He was a nice, quiet, downtrodden man who just looked at us and said, ‘You’re going, then?’ to which we mumbled ‘Yes’ and scarpered as quick as we could. And so we left, only to realise that I’d left my cleaning kit behind; as neither of us was willing to go back for it, it got left there.
On arrival at Court-y-Gollen Camp, I discovered that there were only a handful of soldiers there to handle whatever needed to be done, one of whom was an alcoholic Quartermaster Sergeant known as ‘Waxy’, probably on account of his waxed moustache. He used to go to bed with a bottle of rum below the bed, most of which he would consume during the night. I found myself looking after the ration store amongst other duties, and can recall once giving a load of surplus bacon to the landlord of ‘The Swan’ public house on the main street in Abergavenney, in return for which I had several free pints of draught cider.
Public houses featured prominently in our lives in those days – I just wish I could remember all their names. There were ‘The Six Bells’, ‘The Bridge End Inn’, ‘The Red Lion’, ‘The Britannia’ and ‘The Bear Hotel’ in Crickhowell. ‘The Bear’ was a posh place that we didn’t frequent at all, not a place for the common soldiery. There was also ‘The Bell’ at Glangwrynny and a wonderful place a mile or two out of Crickhowell called the ‘Nant-y-Fen’ (as far as I can remember), which was basically a small sort of farmhousey room with a very tiny bar upon which stood an enamel jug full of rough cider, the only drink you could get there. As the jug emptied, the landlady would disappear into the back of the premises and refill it. It was strong stuff, costing seven old pence (about 3p) a pint, and three pints of it was usually quite sufficient to get you drunk.
It was at ‘The Six Bells’ that we first met a local couple, Ken and Flo Ware, with whom we became very good friends. Ken was small, mousy and very quiet local man, whilst Flo was the opposite, a noisy, boisterous, life and soul of the party type from Liverpool. Flo came to our attention when she did a handstand against the pub wall and seemed quite unconcerned about her skirts falling round her head. They invited us to their home at closing time that evening, and we made many visits to their home during our time there. Many years later, in 1990, we did a motoring tour of old haunts and had the pleasure of visiting them again and talking about old times. Calling again in 1999 we were saddened to learn that they’d both passed away.
An event that sticks in the mind was the time a fair came to Crickhowell, which coincided with Helen and I having a fall-out over something. I went out and got drunk on my own and finished up at the local fair. Helen, wishing to show me that she didn’t care, appeared and agreed to go on one of the rides with a fellow who asked her. At this, I boarded the ride and, after telling the lad that I was the lady’s husband, threatened him with death if he didn’t disappear, which he hastily did.
Another event was the time that an old comrade of mine from Korea, Taffy Jones, visited whilst we were out and, the landlady Mrs Gwillym let him in to wait for us. He found my wages that I’d put in a drawer and stole them. The end of that came when Jonah was eventually traced and came before the courts in Hereford, where I had to appear as a witness against him. He was found guilty, but I have no memory of the sentence imposed upon him.
Another incident involved Helen whilst she was working in a local factory. She received a phone call from a man one day, who said he admired her very much and wanted her to pose for him to take photographs. She hung up on him, much to my disappointment, as I would have preferred her to make an appointment with him and catch him out.
Our favourite pub in Crickhowell was The Corn Exchange, situated on a corner, where we often ended up before heading for home. Our Battery Clerk Bill Draisey, an old sweat, used to frequent this watering hole, and we often, at the end of the evening, played games to decide what spirits shorts we’d order to drink, Bill moving his pointing finger along the rows of bottles, whilst I’d keep my back turned and call Bill to stop at a random moment – a good way of getting drunk quickly! Bill always addressed Helen as Mrs McTush.
We lived in two different places during our time in Crickhowell. One was an upstairs room in a property in the High Street, where John and Shirley Maynard lived in a room next door to us. Everything was fairly basic, we had to share a kitchen and a bathroom with both the Maynards and the landlady and her husband. We had to put a shilling in the meter before we could have a bath, use the cooker or the electric heater in our room. We frequently socialised with the Maynards, visiting each other from time to time, and the thing that stands out is the way John insisted on me addressing him as Sergeant; he obviously found it difficult to relax the military protocols. The other digs we lived in were a couple of rooms owned by an old lady, Mrs Gwillym, who also lived there.
John was a big influence on my Army career and I learned a lot from him. He was quite an austere, strict, humourless character, who nevertheless tried to mix socially but never quite mastered the art. He was mean and very selfish; no doubt a legacy of a harsh upbringing, but a first class soldier and NCO. He was always very smartly turned out and demanded high standards from his subordinates, but he was failing in the common touch and, although generating respect from others, soldiers found it hard to like him. John could smoke a cigarette in front of his men who had none, and reason that it was their own fault if they were without, failing to understand the positive man-management benefits of being more understanding. John eventually became a Warrant Officer, and a very good one, but never made it to Regimental Sergeant Major, a rank he could and should have made had he shown just a bit more humanity in his approach to others.
John kept in touch with me after leaving the Army, mainly through requests to provide him with a reference every time he wanted to take over the position of landlord of a new pub. He’d gone into the licensed trade, much to my surprise, as he seemed less suited to that calling than anyone I knew. I suppose it was the prospect of earning big money that was the lure, and I’m sure he would have had everything running like clockwork, but I just couldn’t imagine him socialising as Mine Host. I called in to see him once in a pub in Leicester, where we chatted amicably for quite some time, but no offer of a drink was forthcoming – that was typical of John. I waited a few minutes before ordering a drink for both of us. We lost touch for a while until a notice I placed on Channel 4 Television’s Old Comrades Teletext page was spotted by someone who told John about it. We then met up again in 1996 at a Battery Reunion in Walsall. Later that year John & Shirley visited us in Dunoon for a few days. He died suddenly just before Christmas that year.
Discipline in the Regiment was at an all-time low during this time, for whatever reason I’m unable to say. Town Patrols were in force every weekend and there was a night when Helen and I went to a dance in Abergavenny Town Hall. At the end of the evening I was well drunk, went to the toilet and took a long time to reappear. Helen panicked and contacted the Town Patrol, who literally picked me up and took Helen and I back to our digs in Crickhowell. Luckily for me Bill Draisey was the NCO in charge, so I wasn’t reported or punished, but Bill advised me next day to ‘educate Mrs McTush’.
The indiscipline was widely reported in the local Press, particularly the South Wales Echo, and it wasn’t long before calls were being made to get the Regiment moved away somewhere else; and so it was back to Plymouth, to the Royal Citadel Barracks on Plymouth Hoe.
Helen has two reasons to remember the posting to Wales. Firstly, she experienced her first pub when I took her to ‘The George’ in Abergavenny; at that time women were generally barred from most pubs back in Greenock. She’s probably forgotten wearing my blues dress hat and loudly urging the pub pianist to play ‘Scotland The Brave’. Secondly, we were allocated our very first married accommodation in Abergavenny. Number 3 Temporary Dwelling was basically a large hut with two bedrooms and a stove for heating, but to us it was Heaven!
A short time after enlistment I was sent to a Reception Unit at Oswestry in Shropshire. It was a strange environment to find myself in, and at first it seemed interesting in that everything was very different to what I’d hitherto been used. I don’t recall being frightened or overawed at the discipline forced upon us – it was much, much worse later on once I got to a Training Regiment – but I found myself one wet, dark morning marking time outside the Cookhouse, with my head shaved and my mess tins and knife, fork & spoon in my hand behind my back, and found myself wondering ‘What the Hell am I doing here?’ It seemed to me at the time that I wanted out of it and I started planning to run away.
AWOL (Absence Without Leave)
My first attempt at flight was a disaster. Having shinned over a wall I stuck my thumb up to hitch a lift from passing traffic, only to find the car that stopped was full of Police, who promptly returned me to the Army. I went up on orders and was sentenced to 7 Days CB (Confined to Barracks) for my trouble. I continued with my plan to leave and started selling bits of my kit to my roommates. One or two were very kind and just gave me whatever money they could spare. I took what kit I had left and set off again. I can’t remember how I got there, but I ended up at my Aunt Peg’s in Bradford, who tried to persuade me to go back and give myself up, but I was determined on my course of action and, leaving my kitbag with Aunt Peg, I set off on a ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire in Southern Ireland, where Mother had gone to live recently after leaving Dad and running off with Pat McKernan.
They both met me on arrival and made me feel very welcome. Prior to leaving England I’d written to Helen asking her to join me in Dublin, and she came over within a few days. Life was tough for us all at that time. Pat had a job somewhere and my Mother worked part time as a cleaner in a club, but what came in wasn’t enough to keep us all. Helen and I both smoked and Mum used to bring home all the dog ends from the ashtrays at the club where she worked. She’d tip them all out on to the table and we’d sort them all out together, splitting the dog ends and separating out the useable tobacco from the cigarette papers and the black, burnt bits. We used what we saved to roll our own cigarettes.
Helen managed to get a job as a waitress in the Palm Grove café on Dublin’s famous O’Connell Street, which was OK until she asked for a sausage roll with her lunch one Friday, thus betraying to the other girls that she was not a Catholic. This started some rather unpleasant treatment from them, causing Helen to leave shortly afterwards. I tried to find work myself, but it wasn’t easy to get a job in Dublin in those days. I even went for an interview with an officer in Dublin Castle to see if I could join their Army, which seems crazy looking back on it, but I guess we must have been getting pretty desperate. I eventually got taken on shovelling coke in a railway coal yard, with the biggest shovel I’d ever seen in my life, and it was only a few hours later that I had to be taken home on a truck after I’d racked my back to the point where I couldn’t stand up. It took ages to get better.
Circumstances convinced me to go back and give myself up to the Army, which I did as soon as I recovered, turning myself in at Bradford Police Station. Helen was with me, but they wouldn’t allow us to say goodbye, nor was she allowed to visit me whilst I was in custody there, so she returned to Greenock. The Police took me to Halifax and handed me over to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment to await escort back to my unit.
My escort arrived the next day, a big, fat Sergeant by the name of Joe Massara, who looked just like King Farouk who was on the Egyptian throne at the time. Joe pushed his big gut against me, forcing me into a corner of the cell. He kept calling me Dillinger and threatened to tear my head off if I even thought of trying to escape his custody during the journey back to Oswestry. Apart from that he was reasonably kind, buying me cups of tea and something to eat on the journey. There is an amusing sequel to this, when our paths crossed again some years later, by which time I had been promoted to Sergeant-Major whilst Joe had remained a Sergeant. He was serving behind the bar in a Sergeants’ Mess marquee at a training camp in Reinsehlen in Germany. He didn’t recognise me, and I teased him a bit until asking him if the name Dillinger meant anything to him, when the penny dropped and it all came back to him. We had a good laugh about it, so no hard feelings.
Back with the Army after 81 days on the run, I anticipated being charged with Desertion and getting sentenced to at least 112 days in the military prison in Colchester, commonly known as the ‘Glasshouse’. Imagine my complete surprise when I was charged with Absence Without Leave and not Desertion. What I didn’t realise at the time was the subtle difference between the two charges. A soldier cannot be charged with Desertion unless it can be proved that he had no intention of returning and, if he retains his equipment, that can be evidence of an intention to return, so keeping my kitbag at Aunt Peg’s may have saved me from a long stretch in prison. On the other hand, maybe my youth and inexperience were the deciding factors. In the event, I was sentenced to undergo 28 days Detention, which I served in the Guardroom at Kimnel Park Camp, Rhyl. I remember feeling that I could have leaned over and kissed the Commanding Officer when he passed sentence, such was my joy and relief!
Detention in those days was hard by any standard. Everything was done at the double and life was a hectic round of being shouted at all the time, getting drilled on the parade ground, doing fatigues around the barracks, doing senseless tasks in my ‘spare’ time (such as treating a lump of coal with khaki Blanco, then washing it off and doing it again with white Blanco, etc), strict kit inspections every morning by the RSM and every evening after Guard Mount by the Orderly Officer, and so it went on. We were rationed to two cigarettes a day, which had to be smoked in front of the Provost Staff, after lunch and after dinner, five minutes allowed to smoke each cigarette.
In our cells at night we were able to pass small items between the cells via the holes in the partition walls where the central heating pipes ran between cells, and we would occasionally manage to get the odd cigarette to share, but mostly we had to resort to smoking improvised fags made by plucking the wool from the blankets and rolling it in newspaper or toilet paper. I recall asking Helen to smuggle me in some tobacco and cigarette papers by hiding them at the bottom of a tin of Duraglit metal polish. This duly managed to get past the security checks, but she’d not thought to wrap the goods to protect them from the permeation of the oily Duraglit, so the fags I was able to roll tasted absolutely foul!
Hard as the regime was, I managed to keep my nose clean and earned four days remission of sentence for good behaviour, so only served 24 days inside. I emerged fit as a fiddle, and with a real, heart-felt determination that they’d never get me inside again. The tough conditions were a real incentive to behave myself in the future, and that lack of such toughness is, I believe, what’s wrong with our prison service today.
After my detention, I was put on a training course and passed out as a qualified Signaller and posted to 42 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, stationed in Essen-Kupferdreh in what was then West Germany. This was an exciting time for me and I remember I couldn’t wait to be let loose in the town so as to practice my school German on someone, which I can’t remember as being particularly successful, probably due in some part to shyness or lack of confidence. As a matter of fact, during my next tour of duty in Germany years later, I learned more of the language from German television than I had ever learned at school.
In those days the troops in Germany were paid in BAFS, British Armed Forces Special Vouchers, which was a scrip issue at the time due to rampant inflation in Germany after the war. They could only be spent in barracks and came in note form only – no coinage. I think the lowest denomination was the threepenny note (3d). Pay was automatically given in BAFS unless a previous request was made to the Paymaster for Deutschmarks or a mixture of Marks and BAFS.
All the new boys were well warned about the strong German beers and advised to take it easy, which didn’t stop me getting absolutely drunk in the NAAFI canteen on our first night there. I can recall talking to someone and being suddenly aware of a hush in the canteen. A big fellow was standing on a table and had apparently been singing when my loud talk interrupted him. ‘I don’t like you!’ he said, to which I apparently replied, ‘I don’t particularly like you either!’ The rest of the night is a blank, but I was told my companions managed to smooth things over and get me back to my billet in one piece.
Standing in the cookhouse queue at lunchtime next day, I received a tap on the shoulder and looked round to see this huge guy next to me. ‘Still want to fight me?’ he asked – an invitation I hastily declined, apologising for being the worse for drink and making a fool of myself. This guy was really big, and a very hard man. Jim Kelly was his name, and a sequel to this is that he was sent to a Canadian Corrective Centre in Korea for 56 days Detention and came back a chastened, broken man whose hair had literally turned white due to the harsh treatment meted out to him. The place had gained some notoriety for actually killing some guy who collapsed whilst drilling in the hot summer with his packs full of bricks.
42 Regiment promptly put me on an advanced Signals Course, in which I came out with top marks. I was therefore more than a little disgruntled when the top five students were promoted to Lance Bombardier, with the exception of me. I expect looking back that my absence and detention were behind the decision, but I didn’t see it that way, and I lost all interest in getting on, and developed a large chip on my shoulder, which took years to shift. As a result, I became a bad boy and got myself into many unnecessary scrapes and minor breaches of discipline. Most of my short time in Essen-Kupferdreh was spent on ‘Jankers’, or Confined to Barracks to give it its proper name. CB was really tough in those days, the worst part being parading behind the Guard every evening in best dress and full FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) to be inspected by the Orderly Officer of the day. These junior officers were wont to summarily issue you with several more days CB, and I often despaired of ever getting free of it.
My mates used to rally round and help me with my kit, but it didn’t really matter how well I was turned out, it was never good enough. I don’t recall how I got off ‘Jankers’ in the end, but it was a depressing experience, which I had no wish to repeat, but in fact I was given ‘Jankers’ several more times over the course of the following year. Although always unpleasant, they didn’t depress me the way they had in Germany (maybe I just got more used to them).
In case anyon's wondering, the foregoing articles are copied directly from a short book I've written about my life experiences.
It was written primarily for family use, so hopefully you'll make allowance for the occasional digression from Army matters.
I hope you'll have enjoyed them nevertheless!
So, back to Blighty and a posting to the back-of-beyond town of Pembroke Dock, south-west Wales, known sometimes as ‘Little England Beyond Wales’ It always felt we’d never arrive whenever we travelled to Pembroke Dock from Scotland. We lived in a Married Quarter at 48 Stranraer Road, within walking distance of the old barracks. During one period of leave I worked as a bin man for the local Council, much to the amusement of a few Army mates. I also took jobs as a labourer on a building site for a while, as well as humping mail bags around for the Post Office at Christmas, so I suppose money must have been tight.
We soon became familiar with the local training areas of the Brecon Beacons and Sennybridge, where we invariable got thoroughly drenched and always arrived back very tired and weary, usually having to manhandle the guns into position through heavy bog; not just the gun crews but everyone else as well, one gun at a time until all six were in action. On live firing exercises there was time for some relaxation until firing had finished, but on dry exercises it was common for the order ‘Prepare to move!’ to be given very soon after coming into action; very demoralising as well as tiring.
Pembroke Dock was the birthplace of our third and last child John, who was born in the local Cottage Hospital. He was a bit of a problem child right from the start, cried a lot, wet the bed a lot and was slow to start speaking. On the plus side he was a right wee comedian and kept us all laughing with his funny ways. When he was 18 and in the Army he developed a really serious problem when his kidneys suddenly failed, leading to years of pain and dialysis and several failed transplants. His latest transplant has been a success for well over a year now and hopefully will enable him to lead an enjoyable life for many years to come. After Sheena was born Helen and I had agreed that two children were enough and decided not to have any more. I’ve often wondered whether the disappointment of a third pregnancy somehow manifested itself in John’s later problems.
John married and later divorced Glynis, an older Greenock girl with two children from a previous relationship, a pleasant person but not really fitted to deal with John’s health problems. John later married Donna, a nurse from Milngavie, who was much more able and willing to provide John with the loving care he badly needed. They have a small son, Jack 7, and live about 60 miles from us in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire.
Three other memorable events occurred during our posting to Pembroke Dock. Firstly, Helen accidently set the kitchen on fire when she forgot she had a chip pan on, grabbed the kids and ran out into the street. Jock Newman kindly gave me a hand to clean up and re-decorate. Also, I was promoted to Sergeant Major after I’d been left as a Sergeant in charge of six guns firing live ammunition when one of the guns fired a round well short of where it should have landed, leading to a ‘Stand Fast’ situation whilst independent Gunnery Staff investigated the incident. I managed to cover up things before they arrived and got away with a warning, but on return to barracks I requested an interview with the Battery Commander and said that I should not be left in charge of live firing again unless I was promoted.
Finally, my Dad turned up suddenly, wet through and frozen to the marrow, having got a lift from Haverfordwest after missing his stop on the last train. I ran him a bath and, shocked to see his emaciated body, I called a doctor and got him into hospital, where he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He only stayed a few days before discharging himself. After a few days I told him he couldn’t stay with us as Helen couldn’t cope with him as well as three children, and he should be in hospital anyway. He understood and asked me to let him stay the night and then take him back to Bradford the next day. He asked me to take him out for a drink that night, Jock Newman and Tom joined us and I asked them not to drink too fast or too much as Dad was very ill and not up to it. I might as well have saved my breath as Dad proceeded to drink the three of us under the table.
Jock came with me for company when I took him back to his digs in Bradford the following day. After seeing him settled in we said our goodbyes and set off back home, not knowing but suspecting I’d never see him alive again. We were on our way home through the night when the news came on the radio that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Shortly after we’d taken Dad to Bradford the woman where he was living told him to leave. Dad went to stay with his sister Mary in Gibshill in Greenock. On January the 17th 1964 Mary came downstairs at 6:10 am to find Dad sitting dead in an armchair; he’d apparently gone downstairs to make himself a cup of tea.
What an excellent read, Big Jim - so very well put together!!
One, or two, of the names you mentioned stirred early memories - thank you!!
Nice one Jim
The family of John Maynard (RIP) would like it to be known that some of the comments made about him on this board were not accurate and of a personal nature. Unfortunately he is not here to comment, so we felt it necessary to respond. Our dad was neither mean or selfish.
As for not being "mine host" John & Shirley were publicans for 16 years and were a very successful team.
We think some of your opinions might have been better kept in your private memoirs Jim.
I was a very good Friend of your dad and he and I would have had many lovely stories to tell you. I dont think anyone would have a bad word to say about him but sometimes our military humour is not all it should be. I know he and Jim were great friends. Take care
hi Jim Mcdougal
my name is Phil ware and i am the son of ken and flo ware from crickhowell, i stumbled across this lovely post from you about my parents.
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
i would love to chat more to you about those days in Crickhowell
I spent three weeks, or so, attached to RA HQ 2nd Inf Division HQ at Hilden early in 1950. I was duty clerk one Sunday morning when the CRA Brigadier R.W. Jelf entered our accommodation and requested the office to be opened. I arose from my pit wearing only my 'drawers cellular' and did so - (the office being directly across the corridor), - returning to the room to get dressed more appropriately!. I went back to the office and sent him a couple of signals.
Some months later back with 42, during CRA's inspection, Brig. Jelf spoke to me in the Regimental Office - he avoided mention of our earlier "brief encounter")! A nice bloke, but everybody seemed to go crackers when his visit was on the horison. As I recall, any US equipment was placed under guard in a nearby field until his departure!
JIM what a great read your posts are! So many familiar places and names from the past. Lhambay Hill, Pembroke Dock, Famagusta.
I see that Scouse Melvin's name has been mentioned on posts a few times.
Scouse was a wonderful character. In Lippstadt I was 15 and ready to go off to Jnr Ldrs. I had a Sunday paper round and Scouse Melvin's House was on my route. He had recently married Angela, a girl in the NAAFI. I always delivered to Scouse's house last because he insisted I had Sunday dinner with them. They spoilt me rotten. When the day came for me to depart for Jnr Leaders he presented me with a beautifully crafted cut throat razor and leather strop contained in a wooden case. It was another 3 years before I grew enough facial Hair to use it.
Of course those that served with him might have a different view. To me he was a kind and lovely man.
Ralph, great to hear from you again!
Scouse was a great character alright, but also a very fine soldier. He was my BSM in Lippy and I learned so much about soldiering from him.
He was in the habit of setting himself on fire when drunk and didn't take too kindly to me placing a bucket of water, a bucket of sand and a stirrup pump between our camp beds when we shared a bivvy on exercise!
The lads called him "Scabby" behind his back and could be critical of him at times but I witnessed an occasion when Scouse was being given a hard time by some lads from another Battery; the 49 lads very quickly surrounded Scouse and the others hastily backed off.
I know what you mean about Scouse and Angela's hospitality. One Xmas in Lippy I'd gone to the Mess for a pint and Helen warned me not to miss our Christmas dinner at home an hour later. I had a card to deliver to Scouse and of course he insisted I stay and have a drink (Just one, Jimmy!"). I think I got home about three or four hours later in time to dine off cold shoulder and hot tongue!
A great man, sadly missed. If you're in touch with Angela please give her our fondest regards.
I remember one time probably around 1966 when we were on exercise somewhere in Germany and the BQMS,Ron "Ticker"Vincent,acquired some apples from a local and the boys of the ACC cooked up some delicious apple pie. Later that evening as I was tucked up in my sleeping bag I felt the urgent call of nature and noticed quite a few of the other lads making their way in a hurry toward the woods with a shovel in hand. Unfortunately try as I may I could not undo the zip on my sleeping bag and despite my best efforts to control my bowels nature took its course. I did eventually get out of my bag to clean myself up,and asked a few of the lads if they could lend me a pair of combat trousers as for some reason I only had the pair I was wearing. You can imagine the replies when I told them the reason and for that reason I must have been the only squaddie who spent the rest of the exercise in the command post wearing a pair of jeans. I believe that Jimmy was E troop sgt.at the time so he might remember. I know that Tich Myers constantly reminds me of it whenever we get together.Not one of my better memories!!
Hello Jim, I remember Pete Barber well. We went thru basic training together in Wales Then right thru to Kure Japan, we were in a transit barracks there for some time. A magic time, also lots of trouble, it seemed to follow Pete around. He was married at 18 and had a son called Carl. The last time I was with Pete (and some others)was in the Gun, a pub in Woolwich. I was put on a charge in Woolwich with 3 days to go,but managed to slip away in the turmoil there!!
I managed to get in touch with Peter Burk a few years ago, he lived in the same town as Pete and they were mates. Unfortunately he told me that Pete Barber had passed away at about 42 years of age. He owned a pub up north and collapsed from a heart attacke, hopefully he had a pint in his hand at the time, miss him, but have some good memories.
Ivan, good to see you on board mate.
When I saw your photo with Pete Barber I recognized you straight off...
You me and Peter Burk climbed over the mountains at the back of our position and waded through a stream to get to Saga Mak village...(I forget what for?)it was some years ago...When I was in contact with Peter Burk he told me you had done quite well in the Regiment? Also ,,what happened to Billy Baker, any info? He had 1 stripe when I left for Kure, Japan..
Jim. In the photo with Pete Barber you both look very dapper. The suits look American style.
Ivan, my memory isn't what it was, I'm afraid and, sad to say, I just cannot remember either you or Billy Baker, although I do remember Pete Burke and the trip over Kamak San! I also remember Pete was also from Rochdale.
As a matter of fact, earlier this year I dropped my wife and sister off at Boundary Mill in Colne and drove to Rochdale to try to locate Pete. His former home had been replaced with modern houses and the few people I spoke to couldn't help. I couldn't even find a wee local shop to make enquiries.
Happy days, tinged with sadness.
PS - Can you give me any contact info for Pete?
Am sending some photo's off to Chris Dunham, it may jog your memory...I have regular blank spots myself!
I managed to find Pete Burk after a long search thru Telecom, every so often I would contact the British Legion and ask them if any of there members were Burks, had some funny reply's. One fine day I made up my mind to give it one last try, I remember he lived around Rochdale. Picked three telephone numbers and he was the first one I tried that day. We talked for hours over old times, had to re-mortgage the house to pay the bill ( I live in Auckland New zealand)
We have been in contact for a few years now and used to catch up every few months, unfortunatly I have lost contact with him again, I hope he is OK.
I used to work in Covent Garden Market, London, Pete told me he had gone there to find me soon after demob, but I had already immigrated to NZ by that time! Chances missed.
I will give you his info and phone contact.
Peter Burk. (no E)
52 Bridgesield St.
Ph: 0044 1706671096.
Thanks, Ivan, I haven't tried to contact Pete yet but I will.
Interesting that you live in Auckland. My niece and her family also live there, probably of no interest to you but you never know; they would, I'm sure, be delighted, to see or hear from you.
Raymond & Noreen Wells, 4 Hector Place, Rotorua 3210 Mob: 07407-066130
Ivan, that phone number for Pete just gives 'unavailable' tone.
I tried many times on that number but with the same result as you. I know he was not in good health and had lost a leg due to bad circulation. I can't think of anything to do to check up on him? I have photo's of his family that he was proud of, one of his sons was representing England in the olympics, wrestling or judo I think.I have no way of contacting them....
He used to write quite often and we used to phone and chat over old times.I always told him that when I take a trip back home we would have a meet and down a few!!! I don't think that will happen now.
Ivan, I'll send a postcard to the address you gave, fingers crossed!
starting mid January, I will be copying all the post on here to a folder on my PC and then save to a DVD.
Thanks for that...Be Lucky....Ivan.
Ivan, I went to the address on Tuesday last, one of a row of 5 small cottages; no joy, nobody home, neighbours couldn't help, nobody recognised the name Burk, one neighbour remembered an occupant dying some time ago but couldn't say when. Looks like our old friend and comrade Pete has passed on. RIP I
don't have a photo of Pete to post.
Hello Jim....Thanks for trying to contact Pete, unfortunately I did think that would be the case, sad result I think...I have some photo's of the lads in Korea, also Peter Burk....I will send them onto the Forum, I'm sure you will recognise some of them.
Be lucky thru the New Year, all the best to You and Yours....
I doubt you remembering me as i didn't a distinquished military career. but i remember you were one of 3 brothers from Bolton
Lofty Mtatt and Barry Hands i also remember. I left the army in April 1969.
In 1975 I emigrated to South Africa and then In 1976 I emigrated to Rhodesia. I am now living in Johannesburg where I have been since 1989.
I would welcome any correspondence from anyone who was in 49 battery the same time as me.