Jim has asked me to divide this article and the photos that accompany it, into three sections. All ranks quoted are as at the date that we served together. This first part takes me to my marriage in September 1960, moving out of Barracks and acquiring our first Married Quarter Hiring at South Harrow.
The second will be my two unaccompanied tours, firstly to Borneo via Tidworth 1965 / 66 and then to Muscat and Oman 1971 / 72.
In the third and final part, besides the sometimes inevitable “No MQs available”, I will try to recall various Exercises and my last 12 months of Service at South Cerney.
Part One: Engaged in Training
In the 1950s leaving home for the very first time could be an upsetting experience, having to find your way in the great outdoors, varied from being Single, Engaged as I was in March 1959 and the ultimate to being: Married – unaccompanied. It all results in leaving home.
Fortunately for me, being called for National Service followed a few years with the Boy Scouts, several separate weeks spent living under canvas in local fields, was extended in 1953 to 10 days at The World Scout Jamboree in South Devon. My call-up papers arrived in 1958 and warrants for train travel to our local Army Recruiting Office in Redruth, followed by a medical at the DCLI barracks at Bodmin, all concluded by Christmas and then the actual call-up to Fleet, Hampshire to arrive 31 March 1959, now with the pay rates of a 6 year regular to look forward to at £3.5s.0d ( £3.25p) per week, although my Mother was concerned – Dad took it all in his stride having been with the DCLI during WW 2, for myself, I was engaged to be married and hoping to see something of the world.
1 TRRE, Cove – Mar 5 to May 59
6 weeks of Basic Training to be an M Tradesman in The Royal Engineers was quite a shock to my system, the time simply flew by. I can`t quite say that boys were turned into men – we were on a steep learning curve. In a soldier like fashion, we all lined up and received firstly, two armfuls of bedding, then two armfuls of assorted uniform, including a part stuffed kit bag over our shoulder and then two armfuls of equipment. First, we had to learn to march with the left hand behind our back, tightly clutching KFS and mug, three times a day, to and from the dining room.
Once 108 training party had formed up, we then learned to march with both arms swinging – our feet were supposed to match, strictly as opposites – we were told! Blancoeing became not a pale green mess but an art-work, surrounded by gleaming brasses! Brown paper was used for ironing – oh what tricks we had to learn! That ginger-haired Training Corporal was not going to take the place of my parents – no matter what names he called me.
I met several other “soon to be Posties” and our barrack-room life was; much improved with the arrival of Bob “Scouse” Williams, who upon re-enlisting, gave us the inside knowledge of toe-cap polishing with a spoon – aah bliss! I still found my boots outside the window as being “Not good enough“. Change parades were an absolute pain – outside in your: 1) Pyjamas – outside in your: 2) PE kit – : 3) Full equipment – etc etc., with bed spaces, left immaculate, probably following immediately after each other are now just faint memories!
PTS Training at Mill Hill – Jun 50 to Aug 59
Travelling across Southern England by train as a fully trained soldier, firstly to Gunsite Camp and then later on to the PTS training section, up; in the top right-hand corner of the Middlesex Regimental Barracks at Mill Hill NW.7, was accomplished without mishap. Although our accommodation was the same 2 story red brick-built buildings that partially exist today, in the 1960s we were upstairs as shown in the 1960 Admin Day photo, in the second photo it can be seen that the blocks were in the form of a ” J “, leading from the present block by the WOs & Sgts Mess, across the top and then down the whole length of the road opposite the Gymnasium, towards the ” Coronation Street Married Quarters “.
The top veranda was wide enough to take the bed of any soldier deemed requiring such treatment – usually carried out because said soldier, always placed in the recovery position, was beyond help when being moved anyway, cold showers were the other option – if assessed by majority vote, not a punishment as such – but a very good method of sorting out rotten apples! Our accommodation block was later demolished to make way for the WRAC accommodation in 1961 / 62 – which spread across the football pitch that we had been able to enjoy.
To assist at the Middlesex Guardroom we had one RP, in those days L/Cpl John Patience. At the end of our training day if we wished to leave camp, firstly we had to have a pass, then we were minutely inspected – especially for the creases around the bottoms of our uniform trousers for any tell-tale signs of our gaiters still showing – I`d like a pound for all that were turned away, whether by John or his Middlesex colleagues.
We also had to take our turn on Fire Piquet and Guard Duties, as well as Dining Room duties – usually peeling spuds/washing saucepans as defaulters, the shared dining room was on the site of the present NAAFI shop – halfway down the hill through the Married Quarters below the gymnasium.
I qualified as a Postal Operator on my B.3 course on 6 Aug 1959, under the guidance of Sgt Joe Barclay, 229 PTS consisted of 6 National Service and 6 Regulars, of the 4 of us to complete our full career, 3 of us gained the rank of WO1.
HPD RE, Gunsite Camp – Aug 59 to Jan 60
Many “Older Posties” will be familiar with the shape and structures, hidden behind Wormwood Scrubs Prison and The Hammersmith Hospital, not very far from the BBC offices of Wood Lane and the market areas of Shepherds Bush West London, so I will not dwell on it, save to say it was just about square, with THE SQUARE in the middle of that. Entering from a narrow road between these towering neighbors, passing below the Nurses quarters, the road swung into the left-hand corner by the Guardroom. Two hours on and four off was helped along by the twitching curtains high above our sentry posts.
The Offices were to the right and beyond that our Junior Ranks Accommodation extending up the right-hand side, the Dining Room over in the right corner, the WOs and Sgts Mess was in front of you, the Officers` Mess at the very top, with the MT lines up in the top right-hand corner. The name Gunsite signified it`s part in the wartime protection of London, amongst passing visitors were Gurkha soldiers and Indian Army, staff of The Horse of The Year Show at White City, as well as TA Paras dropping onto The Scrubs – between the camp and the main Paddington Railway line, at the far end of the Soccer pitches that occupied that remaining green part of West London.
Our road transport to the Sorting Depot at Gorst Road, left from outside of the Dining Room for each of the 3 shifts, returning for the main meal breaks, the winter of 1959 was particularly bad for London Smog, on more than one occasion we had to abandon the return trip, due to no visibility. WO 2 Gordon Fudge as WO i/c SO 1, the fastest man on a WRAC-powered parcel skip, when time permitted the night shift a bit of light relief, Cpl Johnny Cobb was on duty when I asked for permission to catch a slightly earlier Christmas Eve train home to Cornwall, I had been the London station clearance night courier all that week and as usual the couriers worked different hours to the rest of the night shift, there were always trains to meet and all the regular drivers knew the short cuts around London, I can tell you that on a Christmas visit two years ago, they are not all there now! Other regular courier runs were to Heathrow and Gatwick airports with the Air Mail despatches.
With the Christmas rush long gone, I was allowed to catch the 5.30 am stopper from Paddington to Penzance, if I had gone back to Gunsite, had my breakfast etc and caught the 10.30 express; I would have been at home 20 minutes later. Some more names on SO1 were; Sgt Harry Kirk, John and his wife to be – Betty Jackson, Jim Brady, Dinger Bell, Nigel de Sandfort-Shortel, and Scouse Williams, most of the remainder were NS, my apologies if I have forgotten any other regulars.
” Wakey-Wakey “- bearing in mind we were working 24/7 – should (perhaps) have been constrained for those not long in bed! Some mornings, the pleading worked and the Orderly Sgt left us in peace – it depended on who he was, – Hissing Sid or The Ripe Apple, no names no pack drills!! Soon after I came back from Christmas Leave, I was told to report to WO 1 (RSM) (Jay Cee) John Corrigan
“Can you read and write Laddie? Yes, sir. Righto, you will report to SSgt Lamb at Mill Hill tomorrow morning, March Out!”