Part Three (and last) : Exercising on Alt for Retirement
Ex FPO – Berlin & Brussels – 1967
L/Cpl Chippy Carpenter and I went from Tidworth, to celebrate The Berlin Tattoo and then British Week Brussels, WO i/c Maurice Timmins and his guys made us welcome and looked after us very well, even Capt Sullivan The Irish Guards Admin Officer for the whole trip, was pleased with our service, the tattoo was marred for us on the opening night when the Helicopter lifting a huge Union Jack Flag suspended beneath it high above the Olympic Stadium, got caught in a gust of wind and dropped the flag for safety reasons, killing a peanut vendor, in the otherwise empty end above the entrance gates, as all of the assembled Military personnel were in the centre of the stadium, ready to begin when all of the stadium lights came on.
Moving the Bands, Guardsmen and Admin etc down to Brussels was completed by train and we then moved into Belgian National Service accommodation, consisting of iron bunk beds with straw mattresses, the food was awful but Capt Sullivan was unmoved until we Posties started taking orders for outside food to be brought back to camp, when we went on our mail runs! Things were brought to a head when `Tony Armstrong-Jones, representing Princess Margaret became involved – A Guardsman truthfully answered his question about their conditions – he contacted the Breweries involved in the Pub displays “ Down-town ”, very quickly a “ Thank-you buffet-style effort “ was arranged and all the dust settled.
Ex FPO – Mourmilon le Grande, France from Celle – Aug 70
What a slog it was going from Celle to near Reims in convoy – we had a French Police escort for the final few hours, I think that was worse after 30 / 40 mph all day, now in the dark, everything was segregated into speed groups and all our Landrovers were asked to keep up with their motorcycles and off we chased with eyes on matchsticks.
Next morning first things first, we found the local Post Office, when I went in, there were no vehicles around us, I came out and asked my Driver to reverse, he did so over the front wheel of the local policeman’s scooter, which had not been there a moment before – we had the best day of the exercise in his company while we scrounged enough money to pay for his wheel repairs, never moving from the Village Square until after lunch-time, where a licensed Café was very conveniently situated next door to the repair shop. The Postal arrangements and the deliveries France / Hohne worked very well to / from the R.A. Regiments` base.
One excursion was to the nearby Cathedral at Reims followed by a tour and taste of the local Champagne cellar. The day before leaving, there was an international soccer match between our parent RA Regt and the local French garrison, from memory (I have the highlights on silent cine film) I think it was a 3 – 3 draw. The military band, organised for the event, would not have gone down well on Horse Guards Parade!! One would hope that they were recruits that part of my film would still bring plenty of amusement upon viewing. Thankfully I negotiated a “Free run” home, just in time for the August Bank Holiday weekend.
All Arms Drill Course, Guards Depot, Pirbright – Jan to Mar 71
With the UK Post Office on strike, the only way to keep in touch with my family back in Celle was by the telephone (no mobiles in those days), so each Saturday morning we had a chance to say hello, except for one – The Commandants Drill Parade. I was a Staff Sgt at the time and The Guards have no equivalent rank, much to the frustration of their training staff. Apart from the usual: left turn / right turn, arms drill, burial party (that was unusual), etc etc, with words of command lost to the frequent noise of the nearby railway line, surely one of the busiest in England, we had to learn to march to music for this once-a-course Saturday special, the Married Quarters occupants barely twitched a curtain as the familiar music once again filled their homes, as we prepared for The Big One.
Saturday began with flurries of snow, we sheltered in the drill sheds on the side of the square, the Guards Depot trainees fell in and soon it was our turn, sure enough the snow stopped, just as our Welsh Guards Sgt foretold!! The band was already formed up and drum beat by drum beat we were all ready for “His nibs”, confident that when the music started – you can only hit that drum just so fast and surely we could keep up with – 2 drummers?, my sympathies went out to the WO1 RA about to become RSM of the Junior Leaders Depot in Scotland, although he was to be a figurehead, with instructors performing all training duties, as RSM he had to have completed this course, at 40+ and a little overweight, his shirt collar gradually changed colour as his sweat began to run – no different this day.
This 6 weeks course took all of us straight back to basic training, some rooms even had curtains folded to 4 inch pleats and ironed to stay that way, never to be pulled by night, best boots placed on top of the clothes chest at the foot of the bed, ash tray upside down in the centre of the bedside table, waste paper basket – immaculate I lost over a stone, plus all the hairs from both legs and never got into that uniform again once I returned to Germany, that`s Guards Depot tailoring for you!
Ex FPO – Exercise Harebell, Jutland Denmark – Apr / May 71
How privileged I was to see the Allies original liberation of 4 May 1945, recreated on the 26th anniversary in the town of Haderslev. That evening the Allies had liberated this little Danish town, just 54 kms from the German border, as they passed by from house to house a lighted candle appeared in a window, this was repeated in 1971, window by window, including all the windows of our host Barracks, from top to bottom, one-by-one, a spectacle that remains long in my memory.
At the briefing session at 3 Royal Anglian Regt in Paderborn, we had been tipped off that Scotch would be a very good Barter in Denmark and so it turned out, Black Label changed hands at around £ 13.00 a bottle, compared to our duty-free allowance price back in Celle.
Our Postal arrangements were simple and straightforward with Spr McNulty at the wheel, mails were exchanged at Haderslev PT, weighing and enclosing our Air Mails at 16.15 each day, via the train to Copenhagen, we collected our inward mails at 8.15 am. In fact we got on so well with the PO Staff that we were both socially invited out to two staff homes, additionally the Danish host Coy took us to Legoland for a day excursion, now of course sold by the tonne in Toy Shops worldwide.
West Rhine Sqn, Rheindahlen – Oct 72 to Nov 74
With a population of around 23,000 people, it is no wonder that Rheindahlen was known as “Little England”, on camp we had the use of 2 cinemas, a theatre, an Olympic sized swimming pool, 8 primary schools and 2 secondary schools. There were 8 soccer pitches for Army use, plus those for the RAF and other Services stationed there, the biggest NAAFI shop in the World – with a smaller one down in South West Extension. Life was always going to be busy anywhere near The Big House, as HQ BAOR was affectionately known, add to that, HQ RAF Germany was by the garrison church.
My Mess accommodation was at Ayrshire Barracks, there were only about a dozen living in, one daily highlight was assembling in the TV lounge to watch Sesame Street on German W3 at 6.0 pm in English, woe betides if our evening meal was late; such were the demands of a simple mess life – a TV show. Meanwhile the Garrison Mess strength was such, that all meetings were staggered to get everyone in, socially there were German Bars nearby for well attended Unit get-togethers.
Capt Bill Whiting handed WRS over to Capt Bernard Miles during my tour, Pat Marshall was WO i/c FPO Rheindahlen with Ted Ottoway as his WO2 in the Sorting Office, Dennis Sweeney ran the FPO in the depths of The Big House – Frank (Tex) Metexas was his Counter Clerk and I was WO i/c the Shopping Centre FPO in Trenchard Road with Bill Popples and Heidi Seeman on the counter, surrounded by Military and German Shops, the Malcolm Club (RAF) and WRVS lounges, opposite our very own Garrison BP Garage – when I eventually moved into a MQ in South West Extension, it was a 40 minute walk to the FPO.
The Christmas rush was so busy that we were allowed to move next door into The Malcolm Club, extra Counter Clerks loaned from Pat, Lady Tuzo was a regular customer, recognisable the first time as being accompanied by her husbands` RAF Sgt Driver, I cannot recall Gen Sir Harry coming in, although we all met him, when he opened the new buildings at the main Office. Lady Tuzo was very nice and very complimentary on how well we coped, whilst standing in line, loaded down with her parcels. Another surprise I had whilst on the counter myself, was to take a Deposit into a National Savings account, opened in the village where I went to school, I recognised the name as being a lad at school with me, his wife was as surprised as I was – and so we schoolboys met for the first time since 1948. Maj Dennis (Stroller) Streatfield was in The Big House PCS branch with S.Sgt Jack Griffiths, a sunday morning Soccer Team was organised – to be formed from the FPO staff in and around BFPO 40, which we called The Rheindahlen Rejects. We had to use “Guest players” such as Chris Goodwin and John Peters from time to time, but the usual run-out consisted of these, that I can remember.
Jim Brokenbrow, Jack Griffiths, John Jackett, Gerry Maguire, Ted Ottoway, Dennis Streatfield, Dennis Sweeney, Fred Toker, Graham Warden, and Barry Wilding. Capt Tweedie Brown usually reffed for us, Pat Marshall carried a wet sponge and a large hip-flask, his daughter Jane the tray of oranges for half-time. Our fame must have spread, we were challenged by 8 Command at Duss, see photo, also Cpl `Eck Horsborough invited us to a weekend match in Brunsum Belgium.
8 CPCCD RE Dusseldorf – Jan 77 to Mar 80
No married quarters were available so it was once again into Mess accommodation in HQ Rhine Area, one soon got used to the roar of the Airport next door, very soon our company was much enlivened with the arrival of S/Sgt Dick Inkpen, I mention him particularly as he Barbara and boys eventually lived a couple of doors away, I was very sad in May 1984 to be told that he had collapsed and died on the COs cross-country run at Mill Hill. The whole family having spent their Easter break with us in Cornwall, just a few days earlier, his photo – probably the last one taken – pasty and pint in each hand – exemplified his attitude to living life to the full, the fact that he died whilst RSM of Mill Hill and at the back of the run encouraging the last man, says it all for me.
HQ Rhine Area was straight in front of you as you came into camp, with the WRAC block and Officers Mess to your left, the Wos & Sgts Mess to your right and then the road turned to the right beside the sports field, looking at the Airport through the trees as you made your way past all the accommodation blocks, the gym and finally the “sharp end “.
Lt Col Len Calcutt was CO, Majors John Cobb and then Andy Murray looked after the Sorting Office end of things, RSMs were Ernie Tomlin and then Bob Davidson, WO1 Len Perkins and myself looked after The Depot and ERS alternately, Lt Nick Wand had just arrived at ERS, WO2 Jack Griffiths was keeping my chair warm and then he went over to HQ to be the Chief Clerk. We dined Ernie out, together with WO2 Brian Lowe and Sgt Alf Manship on 12 Oct 1979. Alt beer seems peculiar to the Rhine areas of Germany, the Old Town area of Dusseldorf in particular was a wonderful mishmash of street cafes and bars, often frequented by both ERS and WRS senior ranks, with Pete Cussons and George Nicholson travelling miles to join us on some evening excursions.
ERS – 11 FPOs to Audit, Survey and administrate, ranging from RAF stations to one-man Army camp FPOs, as far down as Emblem Belgium, we dreaded a late afternoon phone call “ We can`t balance! “ Quarterly Postal Surveys were fine, all built in to our weekly schedule, for which an early start was understandable – about 4.30 am for a surprise call on WO 2 Fergy Ferguson and his team at Emblem, I don`t know where they came from but their bacon sarnies were second to none, certainly making that early start worthwhile – if it was simply 20 mins up the Autobahn to Krefeld then breakfast was much more civilised. My coldest car drive ever, occurred when our unit Mini windscreen shattered on my way back from Belgium, it was summer, after clearing away all of the glass, I opened the passenger side rear window to allow the air to escape – only those who have had this experience will realise how cold it can be. Account Audits were usually carried out at midday, to save disruption to customers.
“Duss” – being the next smaller to HPD RE in size of workload, took some looking after. The Depot staffing had to supply 18 morning Courier runs, carrying Air Mail and UK Newspapers as well as Classified and Surface mails from 6 containers per week, most times 2 a day in Nov / Dec in the Christmas build-up. Afternoon courier runs were slightly less, add to that 3 night TRS runs – Mails Branch staff, Civilian Sorters, AV 7 and Newspaper Clerks, RLE and FCO offices, random Customs checks by the BFS – you start to get an idea of where the requirement of 83 daily staff came from.
Capt Andy Quinn and Dick Inkpen organised a Unit day at our MT lines at Scotton Barracks, with Volley ball, Darts, Rallying and of course a Bar B Que. It proved to be a great day out and very well attended.
Grobbendonk, Belgium – Now come on, a great many of us must have been down there surely? – I went twice, according to my little red book. Photos were not allowed but almost anything else was, it was a great tribute to Postal that HQ Rhine Area took on board, several of our Training NCOs to add to their Admin Inspection Team. Brig Moore later came to Cornwall on retirement from the Army and he had to handle the considerable public tributes and donations following the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster, working for Penwith District Council at Penzance.
7 Jul 77 – The Queens jubilee was celebrated in style by us all, with street parties in Kalkumer Str and other MQ areas, Ernie and a unit working party turned the gym into a fabulous evening occasion and the date was truly celebrated.
1 May 79 – 8 CPCCD RE became 3 PC Regt RE, we put on an even better show again led by Ernie – with fellow committee members Mick Pickard, Paul “Lofty” Brooks, Alec Fensome, Fred Wright and Sgt Di Waddington WRAC, this time we went to The Rhinestern Penta Hotel, coaches were laid on from all the MQs, 3 PC Regt got off to a flying start.
12 Jan 80 – New Year Dance, my last Unit function in BAOR was at the same hotel, this time the comperes were – Mick Buckley, Jimmy Craig, Jim Brady and Pete Golightly. In March, Mick Kimberley and I held a combined farewell party in the Mess, the list is too long of who were there, it was a great night and we have the photos to prove it.
In March 1980 moving back to Mess life at South Cerney UK from Duss meant a joint leaving party with Mick & Lynn Kimberley, pictured at the bar –WO 1 (RSM) 3 PC Regt Bob Davidson, Rhine Area RSM Dave Robinson R.A Mick Kimberley, Len Cook (RE Long service), Terry Hughes, Mick Buckley and Graham Stewart.
2 PC Regt, South Cerney Glos – Apr 80 to Mar 81
Taking the opportunity to serve my last 12 months in UK, with interviews and civilian based courses towards retirement stretching in front of me, I joined Lt Col Peter Westcott and Maj Geoff Manning, with Barry Wilding as SSM. As RSM 2 PC Regt, WO i/c UK Postal Inspections and base accountant for all Ex FPOs worldwide, I was hardly there, on reflection it is not surprising that it was not repeated for another WO to do the same, in fact The Falklands War was just a few months away.
2 PC was also fragmented in other ways, our Sqns were all over – Hong Kong, Cyprus and Northern Ireland, with nearby Bulford our only UK based men, besides our handful of UK Couriers and Postal Inspection team based with us at `Cerney.
Barry and I went at the end of May as advance party to Monmouth, to organise Map Reading through The Forest of Dean, rafting and paddling on the River Wye, Soccer matches – in fact “A week In The Country”. The first week of June was very pleasant weather, ideal to spend under canvas and on the water for our Mill Hill visitors.
Postal Inspections all over the UK as well as sorting out any Postal problems for UK based Military Units and Organisations, gave me the opportunity to visit Catterick Garrison. Whereas Tidworth had been 11 Barracks, one after each other at the side of a straight road from end to end, Catterick was built around a crossroads, with Barracks in each direction from there, luckily the local GPO was just at the crossroads and I had arranged to make this my first stop and had notes to hand, as I fanned out to those Units / Regts requiring my Pre-Admin report on that visit. My week long programme was mapped out as, starting from `Cerney, up through Lincolnshire, across The Humber and so up into Yorkshire, usually managing 4 / 5 inspections per day. The next programme would be – lets say, to the South and so on, to avoid the inspection staff going over the same ground.
South Cerney was the site of a wartime airfield and was still used by the local RAF Glider club, the perimeter road made an ideal BFT circuit.
The RCT were host Unit and ran The Messes, the old Nissan huts were used as pre-flight check areas before reporting to RAF Lyneham or Brize Norton, both fairly close by, for Units about to go on Overseas Exercise and so on. The lovely Cotswold town of Cirencester was close by and to go north, the option was the Fosse Way across the Cotswolds and up through Stow-on-the-Wold and so on – a lovely area of Central England.
For me, it was the opposite direction, south to the M.4 and on to Bristol and then the M.5 to Exeter and then the A.30 – home to Cornwall.
I am very grateful to the following members and wives of the Postal and Courier Section of the Corps of Royal Engineers, for differing amounts of input to these articles and who have very kindly allowed me to include their memories of our overlapping service periods together.
Derek and Muriel Ewen
John and Betty Jackson
Barbara Stevenson (formerly Mrs RJ Inkpen)
Graham and Rita Warden