Memories of an aging Postie
Well here I am looking out of my office at the trees and listening to the familiar sounds of thunderflash, blank ammunition and the left right left of a group of marching soldiers with their arms shoulder high.
Funny many years ago I was outside doing the marching here in Farnborough with my arms shoulder high, but now I have the elaborate job title of HQ E-in-C, SO2 Accreditation.
Having joined Junior Leaders Royal Engineers at Dover during that cold winter of January 1963 I undertook two and a half years of training to be a Combat Engineer I then came here to Farnborough to complete my watermanship on Hawley Lake doing bridging and ferrying during the hot summer of 1966. We had some fun in our wooden huts trying to dry our uniform for the next morning after yet another fall into the lake. Having completed my B3 Combat Engineer I was posted to the trade I had selected and arrived at Mill Hill, HPCCD RE at the end of that summer.
Many things return to me about my time in the Depot, PTS with Eddie Botto delightful shifts, earlies to lates, lates to nights then back to earlies, what fun and the best day was always Thursday when, not being allowed to go to bed at the end of night shift due to the weekly inspection from a certain Major who had just transferred into the RE, yes it was Major Dunkeld. He had such a way of endearing himself to us young Sappers but we did get to do a guard of honour for the Queen during my first stay there. Even the weekly inspection had its up side as we went down Kellys Corner during the inspection for Tea and toast which was always delicious. My fellow soldiers were all characters, Jim Walton, Legs Diamond and many went on to higher things. One Geordie Baker who, although not a Postal Engineer was employed souly to do guards on the RP staff. A man who could sink 9 or ten pints of Newcastle Brown Ale before going on duty on the gate in the Depot only to see little green men during the night making faces at him from the woods across the road.
Our daily schedules around the London Stations in our J Vans picking up and dropping off the mail, it was fun at times, however on the build up to Christmas the schedule time was the same but the load tripled, and more, so it was hard work, however we always knew the best place for a cuppa and a pie en route. I even got to do escort for a couple of diplomatic courier runs. In those days we used to do runs to the Area HQs such as Chester and we had a reserved compartment on the train for ourselves and the classified mail.
Eventually I was reprieved and became the Barman in the Sergeants Mess for a while under the guidance of Dick O Reilly, a character and absolute gentleman who worked in the mess for many years and helped me through some difficult times. There I saw how my betters behaved and was determined to become a Senior Rank eventually. Again the mess was filled with many characters, not all good and some strange but by and large a good bunch of guys.
My first posting was to Libya under Major Brown and Staff Sergeant Jeff Chandler. What an experience that was. Having married on the Saturday and flying to Benghazi on the Monday life was a little strained at first and in those days of course a soldier was not recognised as married until they were 21 so was not entitled to married quarters. Jeff had excellent handwriting and he loved writing notes, it was amusing as you would pass him on your way to your desk in the FPO wishing him good morning. On arrival at your desk was one of his notes in copper plate writing asking you to go and see him so you had to walk all the way back. Due to be there for three years I was home after thirteen months due to the Arab Israeli war in June 1967 when the Libyans decided we had helped the Israelis and therefore attacked us. The married soldiers were flown home but I stayed with the singlies to protect the area as I was not recognised as being married. It was an interesting time for us all. We brought in Civilians of all nationalities to the camp for safety and as ours was the only vehicle allowed out of camp, as we had to collect the mail from the airport daily, we were used by intelligence to let them know what was happening outside.
On return to Mill Hill I was posted to the Orderly Room under Bill Twigg and started as the Leave Clerk. That was another eye opener and my fellow clerks included Donovan, Beedle and Ferguson. I always remember Bill, a nice Chief clerk and a friendly bloke but lacking a bit in compassion. I remember a Sapper being called to the Orderly Room as there was a death in his family. When he put his head through the hatch asking what he was there for, Bill replied “Your brothers dead where do you want your travel warrant made out to?” The young lad slid down the wall and collapsed on the floor having fainted. Bill could not understand the reaction. We went on to have many more laughs together.
Gaining a bit of promotion I was finally posted to SHAPE in Belgium under the command at first of Ian Winfield, I had the honour to become his SSM later in life in Bulford. What a great attitude he had and he was an outstanding man. I will always remember taking his mail through to him in his office once at which point he told me to throw it in the bin. When I asked the reasoning behind this he stated that if there was anything urgent they would phone him and he could deal with on the phone, not a man of letters. Later he was replaced by RNRP James, again one of our outstanding characters and one with connections everywhere who organised many, many things. His chief clerk spent more time organising rugby tours and trips to the UK for SHAPE personnel than military work. An enduring view of him was during the time when letter bombs were being received he had an unexpected packet on his desk. The procedure was to call the SHAPE police and they would deal with it. No, not his way I always remember him stood by his desk holding his brief case in front of his face and trying to open the packet with a ruler. Another time he had some explaining to do as he had organised one of his weekend charter flights to UK for SHAPE personnel and had to explain on Monday morning why half the secretaries in SHAPE were not at their desk but stuck in Luxembourg due to fog at Brussels airport. The poor Chief Clerk had a very busy Monday morning organising coaches to bring them back asp.
At the end of my tour I was returned to UK as Chief Clerk of Directorate in High Holborn with the Brigadier being Seaton, he was followed by Larry Bennett, now there was a gentleman and so easy to get on with. The Colonel was Jack Ashworth followed later by Joe Holmes, another gentleman, it was a pleasure to work with Larry and Joe and I learnt a lot. A young Staff captain started as well, Tweedie Brown, I will always remember he would come out with huge words us mere clerks had to look in the dictionary to understand and in the end we had a board on which we wrote the word of the week. One of his best was Pedantic Priapism. A friend I made was the Brigadiers driver and later a clerk himself, Graham Meacher.
I was then lined up to open the first FPO in Iran but trouble erupted and things were put on hold, of course it never happened. I was finally sent to Hong Kong for two delightful years during which I undertook detachments to Thailand and Nepal, what a good time that was, pool parties and fun although the work was hard in RAF Kai Tak but we played hard as well.
Finishing there I was posted to Germany and had two good tours, one in Hannover and the other in Osnabruck. I met many interesting people and had some good OCs with many call outs and living in the back of a land rover or a barn.
On return to UK I suddenly decided to become more of a soldier and when Dave Gladwin, the SSM retired from 21 PC Sqn I volunteered to become the Sergeant Major. A post I thoroughly enjoyed. We had many memorable training days on Salisbury Plains and we supported 19 Inf Bde in Colchester, among others, and many times I led our land rover convoy to Colchester then over to Germany for exercise. Always with at least one empty trailer to bring back the orange hand bags, as crates of Herforders were affectionately known as. A nightmare I will never forget is when we were returning home from an exercise, as we were a very mobile brigade and mostly land rovers we had to assemble on the outskirts of Hamburg in a rest stop. The German Police on bikes and in cars would then race us through the centre of Hamburg at 50 mph on a Saturday afternoon with nothing more than 10 feet between vehicles and ignoring all traffic lights and rights of way to avoid demonstrations from Green Peace.
As I said earlier my OC was Ian Winfield and he was great to work for as he left me alone to train the lads as I pleased as long as we met our exercise commitments. We had competitions with other members of 19 Inf Bde, to see who could have the most realistic Urban Cam. We had land rover covers painted like brick walls and under which we could cam a land rover in seconds. We added windows and even window boxes but the ultimate was when the Sigs produced polystyrene cows all around their site. We also trialled motor bike couriers, a memorable sight was one early morning standing outside the tent watching one of my bike couriers riding through camp oblivious to the fact that his pannier bag was on fire and his classified mail was going up in flames.
I then went with the Intelligence Corps to become a Resistance to Interrogation instructor followed by a course with 22 SAS in Hereford to become a Combat Survival Instructor. I also took my Joint Service Mountain Expedition Leader qualifications. A very intense time but it enabled me to broaden the training for the lads.
Just before Christmas in 85 I was offered, and accepted the post of RSM of 2 Regt in Cirencester with Col Mike Browne as the CO. Another good time was had here with further exercises to Germany and many characters going through the Squadrons.
Eventually I was commissioned in May 87 and sent back to the Depot for a while where I took the role of Accountant prior to posting to the Falklands. An everlasting memory there was standing behind a bar b q in July, wearing parkas and gloves cooking burgers in a force 8 gale and snow but determined that as it was summer at home we would have a bar b q as well. There was also the fun we had meeting the Tri Star as the newbies arrived and in September we stood at the bottom of the steps singing Christmas Caroles to those who would be there for Christmas knowing we would be gone. I also made good friends with fellow Engineers from 8 Fd Sqn who persuaded their latest and youngest officer to attempt a land speed record on a sail board with wheels down the main runway. He of course realised half way down and travelling and some considerable speed that there was no way of stopping the machine. He recovered fairly quickly and does not even have a limp now.
On returning to the Depot once more I was made the training officer, a post I loved and in which we carried out some different and more unusual military training, returning to my favourite haunt of Salisbury Plains instead of the usual Folkestone training area.
It was during this tour that Mill Hill had its saddest day and was blown up and we lost a man.
Eventually I decided enough was enough after 27 years and became a civvy moving to the North East of Scotland to start a guest house and walking holiday business. We were visited by several posties including Graham Meacher. I took groups up into the Cairngorms for treks and walks which was great fun but unfortunately there was no money in it so had to get a proper job despite my wife’s efforts, who ran an excellent boarding house. I also wore the kilt at this point having become part of the local Cadet Force I wore the Gordon Highlander cap badge.
After a couple of false starts I was taken on by the manager of a Somerfield supermarket as Personnel and Training manager. I knew nothing about retail but then neither did the manager who took me on; he was a retired officer having just left the Royal Marines. So we had huge fun trying to make a large supermarket work, the area manager, an old retailer despaired of us, neither of us could get passionate about a tin of beans or a new range of breakfast cereal. We did okay really and certainly had laughs, neither of us understanding the local dialect.
I then became involved in NVQs and Apprenticeships and had several jobs in that field, including working with Grampian Country Pork on a pig farm to enable me to write their training manual. I finally returned to the South of England as an assessor and verifier working for a few Work Based Learning companies before becoming the Apprenticeship manager for South Thames College in London.
That’s where we come to the circle again as I recently gave that up and have been taken on as the SO2 Accreditation where I use my military and civilian experience to try and map civilian Apprenticeships into the Royal Engineer trades so that the lads get a civilian qualification from their training and have something to go into civilian life with.
So here I sit looking out of the window listening to the sound of thunder flash and blanks and the marching of the troops. I have a treasure trove of memories and can say I have met some real characters during my time, Funny how things work out, but I am still loving it and enjoying every thunderflash that goes off.