Wow, 35 years since that awful newsflash the Herald of Free Enterprise rolled over on departure from Zeebrugge. I was in JHQ Rheindahlen at the time, and following the awful news, we were making rapid response trips to Belgium because there was a lot of military personnel or their families involved. There was an awful lot of tragic stories that came out of that disaster. So many lives needlessly lost. One of my memories was of a neighbour a couple of doors away from me had his brother over, the brother had survived the disaster and been complicit in the rescue of others, he went home,to Hungerford, received as a hero then became a victim of the Hungerford massacre later that year. Some time later that same month the IRA bombed my camp, a mere 100 metres from my married quarter, my children were asleep when the bomb went off. The windows were blown in and the window frames and glass landed on top of the boys beds, they didn’t even wake up. Janice, my wife at the time was carrying a tray with cups of tea with some biscuits across the living room floor, she was toppled but happily uninjured, but our nightcap was destroyed, I was on the phone to my sister Christine, when the bomb went off. I will never forget the fear and confusion in that moment. My sister said something like “what the #*# was that, then I put the phone down on her., Janice was quite cool and said I’m OK. I checked the children, Hayley was crying, not hurt just frightened, Nick and James were asleep and wondered what the fuss was about. My neighbour who’s name has been long forgotten, knocked my door and said, come on mate we need to go and help. So off we went to E mess where the car bomb containing around 300lb of explosive had exploded. The bomb destroyed EMess, which was a multi national officers mess. Sadly two German waitresses were killed, the building was flattened but the damage was only half as bad as it might have been. Because the sleeping unit of the IRA had parked the Volvo 460 the wrong way around so the blast was directed away from, and not toward the building. Aren’t memories of your working life quite boring?
Col Doug Swanson
HQ BAOR had become something of a legend in its own time with a population working there from Army to RAF to UK Civilians to Local Employed Civilians and Members of NATO in HQ Northag plus the Mixed Services Order of Wartime Refugees. It was certainly the Largest British Garrison and Headquarters in West Germany. Self sufficient in almost every aspect of life from work and recreation to accommodation and entertainment, spiritual and medical care supported by shops and other such amenities. One could say it was possible to spend an entire tour there without going out into the local environments. But who would want for such a life? The history and amenities on site are listed at an annex to this personal recollection.
Our move was not well timed with only a few weeks to Christmas and made more challenging as no quarters were available; plus, a significant change in climate from Mill Hill. Fortunately, the site planners had anticipated such circumstances as ours and we were accommodated in Cassels House, a hostel for families awaiting quarters. The rooms were fine, as was the food and life was reasonably comfortable, if boring for our partners and families. Once the huge NAAFI shop, just along the road had been explored, that was about it. There were plenty of walks with foot and cycle paths alongside most roads and the two cinemas and theatre for evenings out. Sports grounds abounded and forced the whole impression of a spacious and well-tended village/town. We belonged to F Mess one of the four officers’ messes. They were A, B, E and F plus an RAF Mess and Number One Civilian Mess. “A” Mess was for Colonels and up and F Mess a mix of Military and civilians and B and E for Military. There were 3 junior schools and one secondary one.
The JHQ Building dominated the scene with many incorrect, and derogatory, rumours of what it was like to work there. As a family we were looking forward to joining a magnificently diverse community in surroundings that provided so many opportunities to enjoy our days at our new posting. The thought of working in a building that held so many people and had 11 kilometres of corridors did not worry me, as surely there were plenty of opportunities to learn and get help when stuck with unfamiliar aspects of staff work. Our boss was Col Jack Ashworth, a Lancastrian who had never lost his accent, which did cause a degree of humour from his senior colleagues. Yet, Jack was an absolutely brilliant writer and thinker. None made fun of that side of him! Me? Yes, I could laugh whist enjoying our daily cigarettes and coffee. Jack and his wife Joyce were excellent and generous hosts. Ian Winfield was the other Major in our branch and Charlie Dixon the Staff Captain. In support we had a warrant officer – Q Johnson and then Q Hamblett, two corporals – Cpls Bushell and Briggs -and a civilian Clerk Typist – Marcia – who had their own office as did each of us officers with the size of them decided by one’s rank. We shared a corridor with the Chaplains, as was often to case in large HQs – Postal and Padres in here! One of the padres was a long-term pal and hero of mine. Robin Roe, MC had played rugby for Ireland and the British Lions along with his fellow padre – Gerry Murphy. Robin was a prop and Gerry the fly half – so plenty humour there! We spent many hours together with Army rugby in Germany, them in their distinctive green Irish blazers.
A necessary aside or three! Robin and I had served in HQ 1st British Corps together, but now in Rheindahlen, he was the senior Chaplain and an Honorary Chaplain to Her Majesty. One of the requirements of this appointment was to attend one of the annual garden parties at Buckingham Palace. Robin never attended and would receive an annual reprimand from the Lord Chamberlain. Many years later I was working on loan to The Post Office as Head Postmaster in Aldershot and was invited to attend the oldest Venison Dinner in the Country at Farnham Castle. After drinks with Virginia Bottomley and her husband, we sat down to dinner. Opposite me was the Bishop of Guildford. In conversation, he said he had an ex-military vicar working for him in Merrow – Robin Roe. On discovering that I knew Robin well he suggested I phone Robin on Monday morning and say, “I was speaking with your Bishop last evening and he was telling me that your service yesterday was apparently well below par”. Now I had not seen Robin of about 10 years. When I rang and recited the message his immediate reply was “Swanson you b*st*rd!!”, after which we had a good chat.
A third important event involved Robin. When I left 16 Para Brigade it was at relatively short notice, and we had not had our youngest daughter christened – and we had wanted a Para padre to run the service. Now Samantha was approaching boarding school age and really needed to be christened. I asked Robin if he would do the honours. He told me as Senior Chaplain he did not have a church. But hang on for him to make a phone call. He called one of the Garrison Chaplains and arranged to borrow his church for an hour on a Sunday afternoon. And we had a christening organised – pals in the right jobs!!
Back to domestics and us settled into Cassels House along with a few other families and likely to be there until after Christmas. No bad thing as several fellow stayers were excellent company, especially the Humphries family. Colin was a captain in the Catering Corps and in charge of the Northag soldiers dining hall and Food member of the F Officers’ Mess as well as being a truly brilliant chef himself. So, Christmas and New Year passed with plenty of fun and survival in our forced home with our two elder daughters joining us from school in England travelling on their own from Darlington. After Christmas, it was back to school in England for them and into a school near home for our youngest daughter.
Now well settled at work and doing much writing about issues that needed resolving and keeping our plans up to date whilst getting into the garrison and available sports. The two years before Rheindahlen my rugby was with Mill Hill first XV and basketball, athletics and squash with our Depot teams. Age was advancing and my legs slowing gradually, so decided to play Second XV for Rheindahlen Rhinos. Funnily enough, five other ex-Army or RAF players decided the same which meant we had a mighty experienced Second XV that on the day could beat the First XV. That day was always Boxing Day when the over 30s played against those younger players. For the three years we were there I captained a successful and most sociable and watchable team. Army sporting facilities were excellent, although the RAF gym had better weight training kit. Luckily, they did not have a discus thrower which meant for two summers on Wednesday afternoons I became a Squadron Leader and a member of RAF Rheindahlen. Our Army Athletics team won the Army championships one year as well. Basketball was a real mix of people most who did not know each other. It was on the bus travelling to Dusseldorf to play that I learned that another team member, Billy Stark, had spent part of his youth in Castle Douglas. He turned out the be my best pal from starting school days and was a Warrant Officer in our Corps. Small world – again!
During events with the RAF, I met a fellow Scot and we both thought we had met previously – it turned out that I went to school in Perth with his brothers. This led to invitations to the RAF’s Mess parties that were legend, especially their Rosenmontag event when they brought a Bavarian Band and entertainers up from Bavaria for the evening. The RAF Officers’ Mess had the most brilliant shop at the back and run by the mess. It was certainly the place to buy perfume and attractive objects to decorate one’s shelves.
Into a quarter in Essex Drive just a short walk from the Big House and even nearer the main NAAFI shop that sold pretty much everything for families and singlies. Quarters there were run by the RAF and their excellent management and change overs. Cleanliness was absolute to the Flight Sergeant doing the handover wearing his white gloves. In the summer my old pal Dick Platt was due to arrive and had asked me to take over his quarter prior to him and family arriving. On attending the handover found it was a civilian who was leaving and handing over under the eye of the RAF team. I found the quarter totally unacceptable – dirty, untidy and in need of a thorough clean. The RAF Team agreed so we arranged another take over date a week later. Hardly any changes after the week. The RAF Team immediately asked the civilian to leave telling him he would be billed for cleaning and repairs. And it was fixed. And so, Dick and Doug were reunited as a fine and enjoyable working team and the Platt family lived near us again just like we were for 3 years in Herford with 4th Division. With Charlie Dixon as the Staff Captain and Col Jack in charge we did make a formidable team and life was good. The Royal Engineers HQ, under Maj Gen Barry Pollard, The Chief Engineer BAOR, (photo shows Gen Barry being “sailed” out of the HQ on his departure) in the next corridor were good friends and our senior boss Brig Mike Matthews, who had served in 16 Para Bde when I was there. He was a great leader. As well as good fun and a challenging succeeder.
The COs of our 3 Postal & Courier Regiments were Douglas Harper in Hannover, Len Calcutt in Dusseldorf and Lawrie Watkins in SHAPE. When Col Jack was away on duty or leave, I would stand in for him. This was fun going to the Heads of Arms and Services meetings under Brig Mike Matthews, the DQMG, was really entertaining and enlightening. At one of the meeting Mike informed the meeting that there had been some trouble at the Euro Bar on last Friday evening. This bar was behind the HQ and a good place to meet up with Posties for a beer or two after work on a Friday. At the meeting Mike asked if any of the Colonels and Brigadiers there who went to the Euro Bar. Only Mike and I raised our hands. He told us that there was an opportunity missed to socialise and thank our staff as well as stop trouble brewing unnecessarily!!
On an evening in the summer of 1978, we were at home in our quarter when the door was knocked with a sense of urgency. A young Military Police NCO told us there was an IRA Bomb in the NAAFI car park some 80 yards from our house. Get all your doors and windows open and then evacuate the area to the far end of the street. This we did with a bit of concern as our daughter, Sam was at the cinema on the far side of the garrison. As we assembled at the end of the street, we were told to make our way to the Visiting Officers’ Mess where we would get food and some kind of accommodation for the night if needed. On arrival at the mess, we phoned Dick Platt who was staying in B Mess at the other end of garrison and arranged for him to collect Samantha from the cinema and take her back to his room. In the meantime, the mess was starting feeding and organising beds for mums with children and blankets for the rest of us. The manager, who was a retired Gunner Major, needed little encouragement to start accepting chits at his bar as in most folks’ haste to evacuate we had brought no cash. It was a pretty good evening in the Mess that around 11pm drew to a close when we were told there had been a controlled explosion and we could go home. Apparently, the bomb should have exploded the day before during shopping hours but had failed. We phoned Dick and as we arrived home he arrived with Samantha. A different evening that was a fine example of the Army, RAF and Civilians jointly managing a very difficult, sensitive, and dangerous situation very well.
An RAF Police Officer recorded his find thus –
On my second day in Germany, I spotted such a model in that colour, brand new, parked in the NAAFI car park. My heart was lost. I peered into it, got on my hands and knees to inspect its underside, stroked the smooth bodywork, tried to door handle to see if it was locked (it was), and gazed at it for many minutes lost in my dreams. That same evening the entire area was cordoned off when it was discovered that the car contained 500 lbs of high explosive, it had been planted there several days before by the IRA but had failed to explode. Earlier that week, eight military barracks from Monchengladbach to Herford had already been bombed in a coordinated attack, this one was planned to be the “spectacular”, but its detonator failed to function. I’ve never been a fan of the BMW since!
In F Mess we had a truly mixed community with Army, Civil Servants Teachers and members of other small organisations. This made it clear that the balance of civilians to Army had grown and another civilian mess was needed. F Officers’ Mess was the one selected to become Number Two Civilian Mess. The military members of the mess would be moved to A, B or C Messes and civilians in either of those messes moved to either Number One or Number Two Civilian Messes. I was entertainments member of F Mess at the time and, in accordance with Army Regulations, was chosen as the officer to auction of all the property of the Mess after we had tried to return presentation items. The auction evening turned out to be a huge success both socially and financially. The front rows at the auction consisted almost entirely of American Officers keen to grab some British history. I thought I would never sell the 24 bundles of 6 each of table place mats. That proved easy – if time consuming. The proceeds from the sale went into mess funds to make sure we cleared all debts before the remaining significant sum was passed to the three other Officers’ Messes and Numbers One and Two Civilian Messes in proportion to the number of members of F Mess who joined them. In the meantime, we did have a final F Mess Summer Ball that was a huge success. Just a snippet off the menu was the 13 Sea Food Starters of the meal thanks to my pal Colin Humphries and his team of Chefs.
Our Branch officers below Col rank were moved to B Officers’ Mess and soon after the garrison Commander sent for me and asked me to take on the role of President of the Mess Committee. This was a fine extra job, as long as things went smoothly. There was of course a challenge. Our four living in Legal Corps Officers over indulged one evening and caused quite a rumpus as well as damaging some of the Mess property. Time to set them straight!! They all in later years recalled with me their impression of the biggest b*ll*cking of their careers – remembered with affection. After the severe telling off I said they would pay for all damage, apologise to the mess and employees and buy me a beer there and then!! We all remained good pals for many years – even until today with one of them living not far away and another prosecuting one of our Postal Warrant Officers for theft taking it easy on me as defending officer at a Court Martial in Dusseldorf. It is true that what goes around does come around in life.
As a major working in the HQ, I was liable for a Headquarters Duty Officer Roster that was no great burden as there were so many of us – so probably every second month. The role involved sleeping in the Duty Officer’s room and dealing with any BAOR wide compassionate issues or security threats to the HQ. In support, there was a Guard Commander and a guard of 8 soldiers (I think) and the Joint Movements Duty Team. These were super well-trained Army and RAF Movers who could get individuals or families home to the UK at great speed from quarter to home location in the UK using all means including helicopters trains, planes, and military vehicles in the UK. There was always 3 or 4 or more of these on each duty. There was also the most secure part of the building to be observed. This was the Intelligence and Security Wing that had security locks on the door and was protected by Intruder Alarms. If the alarm went off it indicated that someone was in the room – and should not be there. Actions were to issue arms and ammunition to some of the Guard and send them with the Guard Commander to investigate by opening the alarmed door with the code that I gave him. After about 30 minutes the Sergeant returned saying he could not get the door to unlock. I called out the Int and Security duty person who turned up and went with the Guard Commander to the Wing. He dialled the combinations, stood back, kicked the door handle, and opened the door! Local knowledge working again. On investigating why the alarm had gone off they found that the painters who had been redecorating the wing had left a ladder propped against the wall and it had fallen to the floor triggering the intruder alarm. Stranger things have started wars??
Speaking of wars, we did go to war at regular times of year, but on exercises as most military units do. However, we did not deploy to the field but moved underground to the cellars below the HQ. Here we had a couple of rooms and operated on war footings there for up to 2 weeks at a time spending most of the time in full NBC kit. My task would be mostly to run the night shift and attend meetings then and deal with exercise issues that related to our trade – and we were always written in with some dire tasks. All signals relating to the exercise were prefixed with “Exercise, Exercise”. When this was forgotten it could have amusing impacts. On one exercise a TA colleague from Royal Mail, with an Irish accent, forgot the prefix and had to task a helicopter for an immediate Courier run. The result was a very senior officer about to go on a trip by helicopter was turfed off his booked helicopter and it was allocated to the higher priority of a Courier trip that only existed on paper! Of course, we did not sleep in the cellars but went home, often in our NBC kit and often by bicycle. Some of our civilian pals laughed at this but were soon silenced when asked if they had NBC suits for the real thing, or an evacuation plan for their families and themselves. Those of us in uniform did have a written plan.
We did, of course have a memorable visit from a TA Party on their Annual two-week Camp. The exact people involved escape me after all the time since. However, there were 8 or 10 officers and a few soldiers who would do many tasks that benefitted from outside eyes and brains. The things they did were on the lines of doing a couple of studies for us, auditing the Command Account, completing annual surveys etc, etc. On the Saturday evening we had them round our quarter for a bite to eat and a bit of Army socialising. Dick and Sheila Platt joined, and I do know that Ken Barker and Paul Forrester were part of the visitors. We had a truly exceptional evening and I vividly remember Ken sitting in our fireplace singing his rugby songs and telling jokes. All excellent bonhomie and genuine friendship and respect. On the following Wednesday evening the TA took us and partners to a schloss for dinner – that is self, Dick and Col Jack. The restaurant was due to close on Wednesdays, but these men, temporarily in uniform, convinced the owners to open and have our dinner in a grand hall with a huge log fire behind us. I often think that too many regulars forget the scale of the positions, back at Royal Mail, held by these volunteers and what an enormous contribution they had made over the years to the way our Service operated.
One final word or two about the GPO people who served in the TA. We had a visitor from a Royal Signals Unit who was their Honorary Colonel. His civvy job was Operations Controller with Northwest Region. I seemed to be his host for quite a few days. One fault that he had was that he said he didn’t smoke. What he meant was he did not purchase cigarettes! However, he told me he had Commanded the Royal Signals GROUP. This title stuck in my mind. This seemed a good tile for our TA Headquarters. Several years later I was able to change the establishments of our TA and place most into four Regiments with a few Squadrons allocated to support our regular units. The title of Commander TA had rested with Commandant of Mill Hill. This was easy to change and the one TA Colonel on our books became Commander 1 Postal and Courier Group RE (V), improving his status and then some. When we joined The RLC at Grantham they envied this and changed their organisation into a group. But it had to be 2 Group as we had One Group!!
My own day job consisted of monitoring personnel matters for our Posties in Germany and SHAPE, ensuring postings were fair and that annual reports were completed and processed on time for the various promotion boards. Apart from this I looked after the operational planning for our Service and ensured that equipment tables provided units with all the kit they needed for peacetime and operational events. Most of these were straight forward except the acquisition of correct and sufficient vehicles for our role as sole carriers of messages and letters in times of emergency and radio silence. The subject of 65 war reserve ½ ton Land Rovers for 1 Regiment seemed to haunt me – especially on discovering that the Equipment Frequency Forecast that should have secured cover had been filed instead of being signed and submitted before I arrived. We had lost the cover! This is where the Big Headquarters came to my aid as a walk down “Ordinance Mile” (It was so long!) found me in the room with the very expert on the subject. His help enabled me to apply again for the vehicle cover and to go to London to successfully meet the B Vehicle Liability Committee.
Another problem that had been in my mind for 4 or 5 years since I was in Herford with 4th Division. Our mail had originally been moved around the Command by a night train service called the Postal Bag Tender calling at some garrison stations on the route between Monchengladbach and Hannover. The journey operated each way 6 days a week. Sometime early in 1969 it was decided to cease the trains and use a road bound vehicle service between Dusseldorf and Herford making the return journey over the same night. This must have saved a good deal of money. This decision became public at a time when Maj Don London, our DADPCC at HQ 1st British Corps HQ, was on leave. As his regular stand in at such times it was my job to attend the Brigadier AQs monthly meeting and brief the Heads of Arms and Services. Sometimes the Corps Commander attended. This meeting was one of those, so Lt Gen Sir Mervyn Butler (Tubby) was there. We knew each other fairly well as he was an old wartime Paratrooper. The replacement vehicle for the trains was to be a set of old 39-seater buses with all seats removed and a secure cage built in to hold the Courier Mail. There was the most uncomfortable seat available for the Courier. When I conveyed all this to the meeting General Tubby said, “Sounds like Fred Karno’s Army, Doug!”. I certainly agreed with him. I had argued long and hard and unsuccessfully to have our staff officers bid for proper vehicles, even to the extent of making Col Alex Seaton sit on the Courier’s seat during a visit to us in Herford. He admitted it was not very comfortable, but did nothing about it, despite my suggestion that they acquired some of the redundant passenger seats from the RAF’s Hastings aircraft.
Here we were 5/6 years later, and nothing done. Searching for trucks was not my expertise, nor did anyone in the HQ know much about it. Brochures of several Bedford trucks were studied and things proper to the task were added like a radio, proper heating and comfortable passenger seats. The Bedford TK 1630 seemed to suit best – and the title has stuck in my head ever since. Of course, by the time of my arrival in HQ BAOR the converted coaches were well into the second time around on their milometers and several had been written off through wear and tear. With help from my Ordinance pals the case to change to the civilian trucks was assembled and forwarded through the proper channels to MoD. After a visit to and a grilling by the B Vehicle Liability Committee we had the authority for purchase. At the meeting one of the members asked me how the old buses were. I replied, “Beyond knackered”. Which clearly summed up their state. We should always respect our Soldiers and ensure they have the very best affordable kit for their tasks! An interesting fact here. I was about half-way through writing the case when I had to leave my office to attend a meeting. On my return I found the case complete. Col Jack had come into my office and was unable to resist the temptation to finish it. We had it typed and it read so well I submitted it – and it worked! A real joint effort.
Mention of Col Jack’s writing ability I remember one tough day for him. Not long after my arrival he returned from an interview with the Chief of Staff looking down hearted. He told me he was to be Chairman of The Rheindahlen Saddle Club, just like Alex Seaton before him. One thing the Club needed was new stables and a general tidy up of their site. He was really daunted by this. Over the mandatory cigarette and a coffee, we discussed what he should do. Turning the job down was not an option. He agreed that he would NOT purchase jodhpurs and riding boots. Discussing the task of rebuilding I pointed out that fund raising and getting support with the work came within his strength – yes, writing. He went away and prepared a list of charities inside and without the Army that might cough up some money. Meantime I popped round to see a pal in Engineer Branch to find out what their Mobile Civilian Artisan Group could do. The outcome was more money than needed for the project and the Royal Engineers Team would arrange the work force and purchase materials. On the Grand Opening Day Col Jack was to the front as our Commander in Chief opened the new built stables. Just goes to show that we need to make full use of whatever skills we have to our best advantage.
A couple more memorable days in the HQ. Our Director Brig Jack Bridge was due to make his first official visit to HQ BAOR and this would necessitate an interview with The Commander in Chief and a social function one evening. We thought that a dinner in A Mess might suffice, but then there were plenty of these. Col Jack was keen to have an event including wives. A cocktail party somewhere seemed a reasonable solution. Mulling over such an evening I recalled the dinner nights that I organised as PMC of our Mill Hill Mess. Always have a small group or a string quartet playing in the background. With info from my Engineer pal, I was soon on the phone to WO1 Sleep of the Royal Engineers Band (Unofficial) Germany based in Hameln. The cocktail party in the visiting Officers Mess, with a Palm Court Quartet led by WO1 Sleep, made it a standout evening that year. Col Jack was well congratulated on his imagination and hospitality skills.
One final significant day in this tale was the unveiling of Terrence Cuneo’s painting to commemorate the First International Air Mail from Great Britain to Germany on 1st March 1919 and celebrating the 60th Anniversary. The plane had landed at Cologne, so that seemed the place to hold a small elite luncheon at The Belgium Officers’ Club that was renowned for its excellence in meals and hospitality. Dick Platt would organise this – and he sure did. There were 18 of us at the lunch, including Terrence Cuneo and Brig Jack Bridge (who had both flown over from London for the event), plus Brig Mike Matthews and a few other Heads of Services from HQ BAOR. Dick and I were bookends at the table. The meal was an absolute delight drawing many compliments from the guests. I do remember the starter – Sweetbreads. When in the office Dick read the menu to us. Col Jack asked what sweetbreads were and Dick replied “B*ll*cks, Colonel. Dick later admitted that he had always wanted to say that to Col Jack. After most had gone, we sat in the bar and had a beer or two before our London bound guests left to catch their plane back. Terry Cuneo, who had signed most of the guests’ menus said to me “Come on, Doug, I’ll sign your menu for you. You are a rugby player – yes”. Quick as a flash he draws his mouse kicking a rugby ball at the posts and signs it. It still hangs on the wall in my study.
A couple more stories for the record. One of my previous bosses General Sir Frank King arrives as Commander in Chief. We all knew he was in post but had not seen nor heard from him. One morning when Col Jack was away visiting Berlin my phone rings and it is Lt Col Dick Mundell a well know rugby player and mow Military Assistant to the CinC. He informed me that the General wanted to see the senior Postal Officer in the building in his office NOW! I quickly made my way up to the C in C’s suite. Dick Mundell quickly ushered me into the General’s office saying “Major Swainson, General”. The General corrected him and told him to remember – Swanson. In this huge room with a view out over the parade ground and lawns I just stood in front of the desk. I asked the General what the problem was. This he replied showing me a long box about a meter long and narrow. His Sergeant had tried to post it that morning and had been told it was too big to go by mail. Casting my expert eye over the parcel I said it looked a bit like a golf club. Dead right he replied, and I remembered the maximum size for parcels – less than 6 feet in length and girth. Well, that is okay, General, I’ll get it posted for you I said. “Is that it” I asked. “No” he replied. “Sit down and have a coffee”. So, we had a good chat about my view of life in the Headquarters and all the facilities that are available. He asked about Val and our girls. I mentioned that we were really happy here and Val was doing a bit of earning running a hairdressing business from our spare bedroom. This resulted in monthly visits of a lady in a big black limousine to have her hair done and a blether with Val. Lady King and the General had been very kind to us when he was Brigade Commander in Minden when we were underage and not entitled to a quarter. He not only allocated a quarter to us – that we would not be moved out of – but also arranged for a free supply of coke for our boiler any time we wanted it by telling the Quartermaster. It would come from the coke mountain on camp. With Val doing hair Lady King was her favourite customer – but not the most senior. That was Baroness Jean Hughes-Morgan, the wife of another kind acquaintance, Brig Sir David Hughes-Morgan, at 1st British Corps and now Head Legal Officer in the Command.
This was not my only contact with Sir Frank. He selected me for his cricket team in the Garrison evening League. I would be his opening bowler and he was the wicket keeper. One evening after a game I asked him why it was that when I bowled, he would take a couple of steps backwards. Was that because I was so fast? In a very typical General King response he told me not to be so daft. It was because I was so inaccurate, he needed just a bit longer to catch the ball. Fast and furious he told me, but sometimes on the wicket and other balls were not hit for many runs; and that was what he wanted. We served together briefly in Northern Ireland in 1972 when he was GOC there. On Direct Rule the Government needed direct and secure transits for highly classified documents. The Royal Signals had offered a two-day transit time. My offer to William Whitelaw’s Personal Assistant was same day or overnight. Same day was up to 7 pm posting for delivery that night. We had a Courier on the last flight from Heathrow returning to UK on the last of the day from Belfast. One afternoon the call came through to me that the Courier that evening would need to be escorted to the GOC’s residence and one of my unit to be the Courier back to London. The Courier that evening was ex-WO 1 Ross Jardine – an old pal from Herford days. We had to get a Military Police escort to take him to the Bosses Residence to a General who was waiting impatiently for the urgent and sensitive papers. The stand in Courier task happened several times going to MoD or Downing Street and even to me having to make the journey.
Dick Platt was responsible for all mail matters and was a true expert having served with The Post Office Investigation Branch for some years. It was a real treat to listen to Dick interrogating a suspect criminal. After a spate of reported non deliveries of parcels to a senior officer in Dusseldorf, Dick decided to investigate. The alleged non recipient was confronted with photographs of the items, reported missing, hanging on the washing line at his quarter! Wow! Dick had a huge brain and was well able to complete both The Times and Telegraph crosswords before morning coffee!
One day Dick was mulling over an issue of the waiting times at our local Forces Post Office for mail for the HQ that had many listed Registered and Courier Service items to be signed for. Remembering what I had done with a similar problem in Northern Ireland with the HQ Post Orderly having to wait for all our inbound mails to be sorted to get at the HQ items. NI had one BFPO number – 801 for all mail arriving in the province. Also remembering some difficulties in the past with numbers used by our Directorate I mulled over what looked different from 801. I decided 825 would do the job and we allocated that to HQ Northern Ireland. This meant the complete dispatch arriving in Lisburn for BFPO 825 could be given to the HQ Post Orderly. Dick decided that HQ BAOR would change from BFPO 40 to BFPO 140. It worked!!
A final, almost confession, but done for the good of the Service. Lt Col Len Calcutt had come to see Col Jack with a hugely positive offer from the Commerzbank in Dusseldorf where the Command Post Office money was held and used to pay our monthly debt to The GPO for stock sales. Len had been asked to visit the bank and the Manager advised him thar for a long time the balance in our account had not dropped below Dm 1m. His advice was for it to be placed on deposit and earn monthly interest. Col Jack had not agreed to the proposition. Poor Len was dismayed and then some. I told him to go back to Dusseldorf and phone me the next week when Col jack would be on leave. In the meantime, I would speak with our Directorate in London and get their agreement to the proposal. This I duly did and was told to get Len to take up the offer and for him to arrange to transfer the monthly interest to the Depot Accounts Branch Number 9 Account. And that was that!
Well, I could digress for more pages and tell snippet stories of meetings, dinners, celebrations, and sporting events. I just hope that I have given you the flavour of what we thought was a brilliant and enjoyable family tour with the most interesting and rewarding place to work and live. The concept of a Joint Headquarters in a purpose-built conurbation certainly gave us all that we wanted in terms of good family time, an eclectic mix of folks and events that most enjoyed and talked about for long times. Strange to say that Dick and I were to go to Mill Hill afterwards on promotion to join Rolph James’ team at Mill Hill for the celebrations of the Centenary of our Service in 1982 with Dick in charge of the Courier Wing and myself looking after Training Wing and as Second in Command to Rolph and spend much time as PMC of our Splendid Home Mess.
The history of the build and what was there at Rheindahlem
In 1952 work began on the British Forces Maintenance Area West of the Rhine part of the project included the construction of a joint (Army/RAF) headquarters for BAOR in Rheindahlen. Colonel H Grattan (late RE) was appointed Chief Engineer (CE) of this project, the plan was to construct:
- a main office block 300yds long by 180yds wide with three storeys providing 2,000 offices.
- 65 barracks blocks
- over 1,100 married quarters, all heated by district heating.
- three infant and one secondary schools
- three churches
- two cinemas
- a theatre
- a swimming pool to Olympic standards
- sports fields
- two gymnasiums
- a NAAFI building and shops
- five officers’ messes with single quarters
- officers’ club
- five dining halls,
- clubs for warrant officers and sergeants and for other ranks
- and two MoD civilian staff messes with single quarters
The complex was designed to accommodate over 7,000 British and Allied service personnel and a civilian population (mostly German) of about 2,500 for ancillary services: a township approaching a population of 10,000.
HQ BAOR moved from Bad Oeynhausen to its new JHQ at Rheindahlen in October 1954, centralising headquarters functions which at this time were scattered in several towns in Northern Germany. It was originally the HQ of the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), Second Allied Tactical Air Force (2ATAF), British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and Royal Air Force Germany (RAFG). In those days Rheindahlen was populated with British, American, German, Dutch, Belgian, Australian and Canadian military personnel (and in many cases also their families).
In appearance JHQ Rheindahlen was more like a medium-size town than a military base, consisting mostly of administrative buildings, living quarters, schools, shops and other areas typical of civilian towns. For much of its existence there was no security perimeter (though buildings with an actual military function were fenced and guarded), but now it is fenced in with check points at the three exits.
24200553 Spr Andrews Sir! I signed up at the Army Careers Office, Mayflower Street Plymouth 15th April 1970, skint homeless (that’s another story) and very scared. What had I just done? I was sent un-capbadged to a Personnel Selection Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, where I remained for about a week. Where, we unsuspecting boys, were taught the rudimentaries of drill and military life. My main memories of this short pit stop on the way to my military career, was our likeable Staff Sergeant who’s left hand was missing (from a grenade incident allegedly). He was a bit of a father figure which, I had not had for 10 years. There were about 40 of us as I recall, first stop was the barbers shop, where we were shorn and ridiculed before our newfound comrades. During our first 2 days, it became obvious that one of our party was quite effeminate, I think it was either the 2nd or 3rd night that some of the members of the party of recruits , beat the poor lad senseless. He was hospitalised and was not heard of again. I felt very badly for the victim and very wary of the bullies that carried out the attack, though I only had suspicions of who they were.
All too soon I arrived at 1 Training Regiment, Southwood Camp Cove, Hampshire. First memories were of trying to carry my entire issue of kit, mattress and china mug, around the drill square (I saw what happened to recruits that tried to walk across it!) to my new home, a 6 feet by 8 feet area in a room where there were about 20 other bed spaces. Each recruit claimed A metal locker, a small metal bedside locker and a bed which had removable heavy metal feet at each corner, a very effective weapon I discovered. I will not dwell on too much the finer detail of my stay at Southwood Camp, as all, that read this compelling tale, will have probably experienced the same or similar. My basic training included all the normal rigours of being transformed from quivering nervous boyhood into the fine specimen of a fighting man that I failed to become. Though I was 2 inches taller and 3 stone heavier when I left 12 weeks later. Most of the first 6 weeks were spent, being beasted for 18 hours a day, cleaning and polishing everything that didn’t breath and kissing the arse of everything that did. after the pass out parade we were granted the freedom to leave camp. This was when I was introduced to alcohol a friend that would remain with me for the rest of my military career, though as we all discover at some point, not a friend at all. The following 6 weeks were spent relatively enjoyably, learning the craft of being a Royal Engineer. Special memories were building improvised bridges, and blowing up tree stumps with tnt and plastic explosives, creating booby traps and learning to Drive at Church Crookham. Unfortunately I got kicked off my driving course, because I couldn’t see over the (bonnet mounted) spare wheel of the Land rover. This meant that I could no longer pursue my 6 week dream of becoming a driver radio operator. This shattered dream was soon to be re-shaped in my interview with the PSO (Personnel Selection Officer). This pleasant Retired Officer relaxed me and introduced me to my natural calling. He asked what I would like to do following my failure to get my drivers licence. I dunno Sir! ” Well lad, there is a shortage of Postal and Courier Operators, could that interest you?” I had never heard of such an organisation, but I wasn’t very worldly wise, and told him of my ignorance. He then went on to tell me that the HPCCD RE Depot was located in the very affluent and residential area of North of London at a place called Mill Hill, The (Inglis) Barracks were quite modern, and the Depot close by was a 24 hour 365 day a year, forces mail processing centre. I have to say, he wasn’t selling it to me. He then went on, to tell me that, Any part of the World where there was a British military presence, there would also be a Postal and Courier presence, Well, this was getting a bit more interesting. Then he let out the best kept secret, which guaranteed a sale, and is possibly the reason that 90% of my colleagues joined Postal. He said Inglis Barracks is home to approximately 300 members of the WRAC and around 40 Royal Engineer males!
I met my first proper girlfriend (Susan Taylor) at Cove, the daughter of a Police Inspector employed at the Farnborough Airport, he got us tickets to go to the 1970 Airshow, where I saw the first flight of Concord. She was a stunning girl and broke my heart when she ditched me after training ended. This was an emotion that I was to experience about 300 more times in the next 3 years. Thank you Inglis Barracks, and Mill Hill, though all is now history, you created memories that still make me blush.