Colonel Jim Anderson TD
In his excellent account of our Brigadiers, Doug Swanson starts the piece about Brigadier John Norris Drew by saying “The earliest that most of us will remember…” The whole article brought back many memories to me, particularly as I go back a bit further. But let’s start at the beginning. As a National Service Sapper, and one who had already completed a BIII Field Engineering Course, I reported to the Home Postal Depot at Gunsite Camp in June 1957. The Admin Inspection was due. I found that my new abode was picturesquely located on the edge of Wormwood Scrubs between the prison and Hammersmith Hospital. The OC was Lt Col Tubby Reading and the RSM was John Corrigan. The officer deputed to ensure my barrack room was up to scratch for the inspection was 2Lt Dennis Streatfield. I was told I would be there until the next Postal Training School (PTS) Course commenced at Mill Hill and, in the meantime I was assigned to the early shift at the sorting office which, at that time, was at Gorst Road in Acton, about fifteen minutes drive away. On the day of the Admin Inspection I was on packet sorting and was instructed to label up the fitting with the brightest coloured labels because “that would look good.” Just as well the inspecting officer didn’t look too closely!
A few weeks later I moved to Inglis Barracks to be trained at the PTS. At Mill Hill the Admin Inspection was due and Major John Long had been sent there to make sure all was well. He decided to interview someone from the PTS and Sapper Anderson was duly nominated and marched in by Staff Sgt McCabe. A couple of minutes later the ‘phone rang and John commenced what was obviously the start of a long personal conversation. I was still standing to attention and was relieved to hear a whisper in my ear that roughly said, “For xxxx sake faint or we will never get out of here.” I duly dropped to my knees, was carried out, and the interview never resumed.
Having completed PTS I was posted to the Directorate of Army Postal Services (DAPS) and spent the next eighteen months in Room 213 of the old Post Office Headquarters Building in St Martins le Grand. When I arrived the Admin Inspection was due – but that’s another story. But it does bring me back to Doug’s words because, at that time, the (part time) Director was Brigadier Kenneth Holmes CB, CBE, who coupled this with a full time Directorship in the Post Office. Brig Ken was a very astute operator who was never slow to tell his superiors they had got it wrong. He did not suffer fools gladly – indeed there were times when I don’t think he suffered anyone gladly. But those times were very much the exception and he sticks in my mind as a very approachable and amiable person who would take an interest in you and what you were doing no matter how lowly your position. For those interested he subsequently wrote a book “Operation Overlord: The sea-borne invasion of North-West Europe, 1944-1945: a history of the work of the British Army Postal Service.”
But back to DAPS. The senior full time officer (I use the term “full time” loosely) was Col Norris Drew and the other officers at that time were Lt Col Leslie Smith, Majors Alex Seaton and Joe Holmes and Captain Jack Ashworth. The Chief Clerk was WOII Eric Huxley and the other regular NCOs were Sgt Yorkie Hannan and Cpl. Arnold Jackson. They, in turn were supported by a number of National Service “volunteers” who were there to do as they were told. I was nominally locations clerk but was also co-opted to assist in project development. In that role I was involved in the planning for the first courier takeover from Royal Signals with the run to HQ BAOR. The route was from the War Office to Harwich by train from Liverpool Street, and then across the North Sea to the Hook of Holland with onward routing by train. Something tells me that on the first night the couriers missed the onward connection at the Hook but the detail escapes me. (OK but it was over fifty years ago.) But that was the start of Courier being added to our work and our title. One of my lesser successes was in connection with opening the first FPO at RAF Gan in the Maldives. Well, how was I to know it was so humid that stamps in books would all be stuck together before they could be sold?
So how else did we spend our time at DAPS? Well a good part of the day for one of us would be spent on making and serving coffee and tea and washing up afterwards. Often there were glasses to be washed as well but that only happened about five times a week! I can confirm that what Doug wrote about Norris Drew’s daily routine was broadly accurate with one important exception. Unless he had a better offer, at noon he would have his lunch, which was soup and a roll that we were required to purchase from the restaurant (or was it a canteen in those days?) on the fifth floor. The way up and down was by lift that was operated by an attendant and controlled with a rope. Going up was always smooth but coming down the driver always managed to bounce the lift, which invariably caused soup spillage. I always suspected there was a competition amongst the liftmen to see who could bounce it the most. However, I had obviously had some hygiene training, even that long ago, because I don’t think I ever resorted to tipping what had spilt onto the tray back in the bowl even though this left a rather small portion on some occasions. I do confess, however, to carrying the roll in my pocket to stop it getting soggy.
Of course, at that time, all the officers were on short service commissions and there was always the possibility they would have to return to their parent office in their Post Office substantive rank. If my memory serves me correctly Norris Drew was an APC1, Joe Holmes an Overseer from Penrith, Jack Ashworth a Clerical Officer from the NW Regional Office and Alex Seaton a P&TO from Liverpool. It just happened that, at that time, my old Dad was Head Postmaster Liverpool which caused colleagues to claim I received certain privileges. Of course, I couldn’t possibly comment.
There is much more I could write about life at that time. The professional footballers who were called up for National Service, about Inglis Barracks when the Middlesex Regiment was still there with RSM Kendrick who regarded the whole complex of Middlesex, RE, and REME as coming within his domain. And just to whet appetites there were the WRAC dances at Richmond Park. But I think I should save that for another time – if the price is right.