By 23664986 Sapper Manning GR
The recent demolition of Inglis Barracks at Mill Hill brought back many memories of my first arrival in Inglis Barracks.
In August 1959 I reported to 1 Training Regiment Royal Engineers, Farnborough, for my basic training. I had originally joined the Sappers, as a 17- year old, to be trained as a welder (my trade before joining up), but it was discovered that I was colour blind and therefore was unable to continue in that trade, so I was ‘sold’ the idea of becoming a ‘Postal Worker’. There were two of us in this category, Jimmy McNicholas being the other.
After our six-weeks basic training, plus two weeks ‘cook house’ duties (annual admin inspection was due), we were duly given our posting order to Home Postal Depot, Gunsite Camp, with a rail warrant to Shepherds Bush, London.
On alighting at Shepherds Bush underground station we were advised by the ticket collector to go back down to the platform and get a train to White City, which we duly did. Our next problem was to find our way to Gunsite Camp!
The underground staff at White City were very helpful with this; ‘turn right out from the station, go 200 yards until you come to Du Cane Road, turn left, walk down this road, past Hammersmith Hospital until you come to Wormwood Scrubs Prison and then follow the little road between the prison and the hospital and you will arrive at the camp’.
Some 30 minutes later, on a boiling hot mid September day, we duly arrived at the camp gates wearing battle dress uniform and FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) and carrying full kit bags!!
(As an aside, this small roadway is where the lorry was parked that George Blake used to aid escape from Wormwood Scrubs).
Upon checking in at the Guard Room we were directed to the orderly room by the RP staff – who somehow neglected to tell us that that it was forbidden to walk along the headquarters veranda to the orderly room!! After a sound ticking off we were duly sent back to the guard room whereupon we were directed to go around the NAAFI Block to reach the orderly room!! When eventually reporting in we were told that we would have to go to Inglis Barracks, Mill Hill for our Trade Training.
Luckily the next day a vehicle was going to the workshops at Mill Hill for repair and we were given space on this. This vehicle was a clapped-out WWII TCV (Troop Carrying Vehicle) driven by Cpl Graham Warwick, (the Silver Fox), which kept breaking down every few miles or so, including whilst crossing the North Circular Road, which blocked the traffic in both directions until we managed to push it to the side and get it started again.
We were due to report to the RE AER (P) (Army Emergency Reserve) (Postal)) Training Centre huts in Inglis Barracks and our driver, in his wisdom, decided to go into the barracks via the back gate off Partingdale Lane but the vehicle finally gave up outside the married quarters in Frith Lane, we were then directed to continue on foot for the remainder of the way carrying our full equipment through the area of the married quarters!!
Eventually Jimmy Mac and I reported into AER HQ, whose responsibilities also included the administration of the training school. Sergeant Neil Lamb was the Chief Clerk and I believe that Major Sidney Fancourt was the OC. We were told that the next course wasn’t due to start for another two weeks and in the meantime we would be put to work in the cookhouse! After a couple of days cleaning cooking utensils in the Tin Bash Room and having already spent two weeks after finishing basic training peeling potatoes we were, to say the least, a little cheesed off, so Jimmy Mac and I asked if we could go on leave for a few days. Much to our surprise this request was granted!!
On reporting back to Mill Hill the remaining Postal Trainees had now arrived and we started our B3 Postal Worker Course. Our instructors were Sergeants Lofty Edwards, Joe Barclay and Len (Wipp- Warp) Goodall – so called because when taking drill he would call the marching time as ‘Wipp, Warp’ instead of calling the normal ‘Left, Right.
B3 PTS Course Mill Hill September 1959
Front Row: 4th from right Sgt Joe Barclay (Instructor), far end George Hume
Back Row L to R: Dave Bowers, Geoff Manning, Derek Watt, 6th Jimmy McNicholas, 7th Derek Swindell
Inglis Barracks in 1959, was in the main, occupied by the Middlesex Regiment with the RE Postal AER HQ, the Postal Training School, and the Brigade Postal Units (PURE), namely, 16 Para PURE, 19 Inf Bde PURE, and 1 Gds Bde PURE sharing the barracks. The bottom, wooden hutted camp, was occupied by10 Command Workshops REME.
Inglis Barracks consisted of three main barrack blocks A, B and C. A and B Blocks were the domain of the Middlesex Regiment with C block occupied by the Royal Engineers. C Block was demolished in 1960/1 to make way for new WRAC accommodation blocks and admin area.
The AER huts where somewhere in the region of the WRAC Sergeants’ Mess. The PTS huts where in the area of the Medical Centre and the Brigade PURE’s were located part-way down the hill from the Training School and overlooking the building which was to become the new HPD Sorting Office.
One of the problems young soldiers encountered at Inglis Barracks was that if we wanted to leave barracks we had to book out via the Middlesex Guard Room. As we had been in the Army for less than 6 months we, in 1959, had to wear uniform both on and outside barracks, therefore, when leaving barracks we were subjected to a rigorous inspection by the Regimental Police staff before being allowed to leave!! If I recall rightly our own Sapper on the RP staff, John Patience, was not much better than the Middlesex RP’s!!
This is nearly the end of my memories of Mill Hill as on finishing our class work we would have to go to do our practical test in the sorting office that was: ‘sorting 1000 letters in one hour with only a permitted 10 mis-sorts’. This entailed a move back to Gunsite Camp. Apart from attending B2 and B1 courses and a few other short visits I did not return to Inglis Barracks until 1974.
The Home Postal Depot Sorting Office was located in an old warehouse in Gorse Lane, Park Royal, North Acton some 15 minutes’ drive away along the A40 from Gunsite Camp. This is where the TCVs, as previously mentioned, came in as they were used to ferry us to and from the camp to our place of work, and back again for meal breaks.
My first impressions of the ‘Sorting Office’ was certainly on eye opener – bags of surface parcel and surface mail destined for all parts of the world, stacked from floor to ceiling. No containerisation in those days. Germany mails were moved to Liverpool Street station on a daily basis to connect with the Troop Train. Other mails were taken to the London Docks for loading onto ships. If you were unfortunate enough to be mail guard on one of these you could wait many hours at the docks to be unloaded!!
This was also the place where I was really introduced to girls! Being a country boy from the North of Essex I had not come across this number of young girls working in one place – quite an eye opener for someone not used to the ways of the world! The girls, members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, were mainly employed on letter sorting duties. They lived in barracks in Richmond Park and were bussed in daily to work.
Although, as trainees, we were mainly employed in sorting parcels and surface packets during this final period of our training but we all duly passed our sorting test and we became fully fledged B3 Postal Workers and allocated to a permanent section, in my case, SO3. Frank (Ginger) Conlon was the Section Sergeant and Mick Berry was the section Corporal. The three sections worked the Sorting Office on 24/7 shift pattern. 12 weeks on weekly alternative on an early or late shift to be followed by a straight run of six weeks on night shift. The night shifts were fine after the first week when you became attuned to the sleep pattern and it was always the busiest.
New members of the section were usually tasked with Mail Guard duties. This entailed riding in the back of a Bedford RL truck visiting all the main London rail stations and sorting offices to collect mail labelled for Home Postal Depot or HPD. You were in trouble you if you had picked up a bag not addressed as such!! Riding in the back of the truck was to ensure that no mail was ‘lost’ on the way back to the sorting office as the trucks were soft top vehicles and had no rear doors to secure the mail. If you were brave enough you would ride in the front with the driver until just before reaching the sorting office when you would jump out and get into the back for the last mile or so. Before doing this you would check to see who the Orderly Sergeant was as one or two of them would make a point of going out to check the routes!!
After 6 months in the army we were entitled to a Permanent Pass which allowed young soldiers to wear civilian clothes both inside and outside of camp. To be given this it was necessary to parade outside the orderly room to be inspected in our civilian clothes to ensure that they came up to an acceptable standard! Approval was given by RSM John Corrigan and the Pass would be duly signed by the Adjutant, Major Bert Peasley.
Although we were working shift work we still had to do a fair share of Guard Duty at Gunsite. One of the duty points was the Main Gate from where you had a view of the nurse’s quarters at Hammersmith Hospital. You always kept an eye on this in case a careless nurse forgot to close her curtains! I never spotted anything, but one or two said they did, but I am not too sure about that! Another duty was patrolling the parameter fence and the old gun sites, very often you come across a couple that had missed their way to the cookhouse and had ended in the area of the gunsites!!
During my time in Gunsite a few of us were selected to trial the new uniform, (now known as No 2 Dress) to replace the Battle Dress, great: no need to blanco belts and gaiters or to polish brasses. This entailed being measured for a suit, wearing it for duty at all times and parading outside the Quartermaster Stores once a month for the uniforms to be checked to see how they stood up to wear and tear.
During the summer of 1960 I was posted to 19 Inf Bde PURE and that was my last period of working at Home Postal Depot until 1974! Looking back, I realise how lucky I was on being ‘sold’ the idea of joining RE Postal as I had some very good postings and I think a reasonable successful career throughout my service with REPCS.