Recollections of Maurice L Howard
I was conscripted into National Service on the 4th August 1949, at Cove, Farnborough as I thought and remember as 262 party and was later re-designated 49.15 party, we were in the’ spider’ at the bottom of the passageway and backing onto the railway to Southampton. My number was 22167942.
Being ‘Postal’ after the ‘basic training’ of 4 weeks I was posted to the Army Post Office in Knightsbridge London and 8 Lennox Gdns became my home for 4 weeks, further foot training was the order of the day and we undertook the ‘slow march’ within the sorting office complex supplementing this training at the Chelsea and Horse Guards Barracks.
Our mess was in Belgrave Square, and here I must tell you a little story of about 5 Sappers who after crossing over Brompton Road were approached by a Troop of Household Cavaly, in awe they were transfixed by such a sight, not realising their posture and their requirement to give the officer a salute, well with all that braide who was the officer the leading guy (officer) bringing his hand up to bring his troop to a halt and exhalting ‘Don’t you lot salute officers then?’ Well I ask you? What pertinance!
We were moved to Victoria and Eaton Place until 9th December when on draft we moved to Liverpool and embarked on the Empire Pride – destination unknown in those days – we slipped our moorings in the late afternoon early evening to the strains of ‘Now is the Hour’ by the company of the whole ship, we sailed down the Mersey and into the Irish Sea on the morning of the 10th December, at about 0500 hrs we were bidden over the Tannoy System – those guys wishing to see the last of the U.K. and say their farewells should come up on deck now as the English Coast was fast dissapearing into the merk of a British winter.
Later that day in the Bay of Biscay we were to loose the use of one of the ships engines and so we limped down to Gibraltar at reduced speed. On arrival at Gib. a maintenance crew came on board and repaired the engine. That evening leaving Gib. and entering the Med. we were met by a horrendous storm, the bow of the ship dipping into the waves that were multi story high, the stern coming out of the water and the screw whirring to a crescendo and then crashing back into the water, the ship taking on water down the hatches where the troops quarters were awash, kit being washed from one side of the accommodation and of course the sea sickriess-ofthe guys was to be seen, as we approached Valletta, Malta to be advised over the Tannoy tbat we had experienced the worst storm tbe ship had ever encountered.
We layed-to in Valletta Harbour to have the ship repaired, we sailed a few days later for Suez and I will never understand why we didn’t put into Tobruk and dissembark then, we arrived at Port Said to the announcement that the master of the ship required a clean ship and that we should all dissembark into the Transit Camp there, my first night on foreign soil, not a very happy chappy? What with all the rumours and leg pulling going on I now realise.
In reverse the following day we re-embarked leaving Port Said, the water like a mill pond a reflection of the ship mirrored on the sea we headed at last for Tobruk, but no, the engine decided to pack-up again and we entered stormy conditions again, the ‘Pride’ not being able to enter the natural harbour of Tobruk, it was back to Valletta again where we were allowed shore leave and a few pounds ‘credits’ from our pay, and of course now Christmas Day aboard the ‘Pride’ our eventual dissembarking at Tobruk 28/29 December 1949.
Our arrival at Tobruk amongst all the sunken shipping was a sight to behold, it was said that you could walk across the harbour without getting your feet wet, I would perceive that could have been quite true, we were allocated 10 ton lorry’s in which to climb aboard and commence the next stage of our journey heading into the desert, observing all the brewed-up armour we soon became accustomed to the sight and the novelty of our interest soon disappeared. To arrive at Derna, negotiating the hairpin bends of the Derna Pass, that evening in transit we settled in for the night to reboard our vehicles for the next stage of the journey the following morning which was to take us up the West Pass of Derna, we were struck in awe as we travelled this road that on the other side of the waddy that a road at one time had existed, this road had been blasted out ofexistance for about 3/4 of a mile and laying in the bottom of the waddy(valley) there was all this brewed-up armour laying about. (I learned only last year, while playing bowls and talking to an ‘old soldier’, that the armour was in fact German) to exit this mountain range we arrived at a pass with a pinnacle of rock to the right of the road to enter a plain, the lorry followed a curving right hand bend for about a 1/3 of a mile and there lay this Panzer with its gun still trained on the pass we had just a few moments before travelled through.
We arrived at Benghazi APO (S/247) to the announcement from the Orderly Corporal that we were not wanted at that place and time and that he refused to take us on strength, because of an A5 proforma sextuplet that he would have to prepare just for 2 days, well who could blame him, I wouldn’t either. A note for my record book shows that the homeward journey on the ‘Devonshire’ took just 7 days and was uneventful. Where the outward jouney had taken 21/22 days.
After performing my 3 years with the N/S reserve and about 7 years later I re-enlisted into the T&AVR (Postal and Courier) for which I undertook 13 years with the Reserve and received a Medal of Proficiency, performing duties in Mill Hill Barracks, Dusseldorf, SHAPE at Mons and NATO in Brussels. Our exercises were always of interest and the use of helicopters for Courier work became the norm. providing a network of services to our forces in Germany and the Low Countries and all those countries associated with NATO. I resigned with the rank Sergeant and am now currently – A Life Member of Royal Engineers Association. I attended the 5Oth Anniversary of National Service Royal Engineers at Brompton Barracks where about 4,000 men were ‘On Parade’ I hope that in my attending I somehow represented those who were unable to attend and be’On Parade’ What a splendid Corps! ! !
More recently and last year it has been my honour to observe in our Nominal Roll of the Posthorn that Mr John Corrigan is now a member of the association John as WO II of No 9 L. of C. greeted us at Benghazi APO our correspondence shows and confirms that he had on just one or two accasions had been chased across the Libyan Desert by Rommel.
In March/April 1950 the occasion of 48/15 party embarking for de-mob and a vacancy occuring in the Postal Orderly Room, I volunteered for the post, no I couldn’t type and I had no experience of book keeping or knowledge of filing systems, and under his guidance and instruction I persevered and I have been doing secretarial work ever since now being secretary of my local Bowling Club, thanks to John his kind of discipline has remained with me the whole of my life and it is to his honour that I owe him this kind of respect.