Part Two : From T.A. to L.O.A in War Zones
HQ AER & Training Centre at Mill Hill ( again) – Jan 60 to Aug 65
Shortly after I arrived Maj Fancourt left and Maj Don London arrived as our new OC, this heralded a modernisation of the work load of Training the “TA Postmen”, S/Sgt Neil Lamb (Lammy) was replaced by S/Sgt Daryl (Taffy) Lloyd, he in turn again by S/Sgt Reg Grimes. WO 2 Jack Rouse arrived as SSM, one of the PTS training staff had previously covered Regimental Training for the AER “ TA “ Postmen.
L/Cpl John Patience was still the RP at the Guardroom, he received his local weekly newspaper from Nairn, which we all read avidly – together with a food parcel, which was also shared around, as we all did, after all these were still National Service days for most of the lads in our accommodation block, I had turned down a wage of £1.2s 6d (£1.12.5p). Having said that, they were also deferred for Professional / University reasons and certainly no slouches when it came to office work, of which there was plenty and even more to come when TA recruiting began in earnest. Roy Stringer (PIB) was from Brighton and invited Dave Smith (1st two – front right on the Admin photo) home for my Stag Weekend and 21st birthday in August 1960, we toured The Lanes etc and had a great weekend. Ken Smith (PIB) was from Plymouth and we travelled home together a couple of times. So although there was a great sense of frustration from those forced to do their two years of NS, largely they got on with it and certainly from the ones that I served with and lived in with, made the most of it.
Returning to duty in October 1960, I was offered a MQ Hiring at South Harrow and worked out the bus routes to / from Mill Hill Broadway, change for Bittacy Hill / Mill Hill East – these same National Service guys were on the ball with a bit of decorating and moving bits and pieces, so as a house warming evening it was beer and pasties all round and I was no longer “Living-In“. Later when I bought my first car after passing my driving test with WO 1 Jack Bullen in the summer of 1962, I was so glad to have Cpl Les Patterson REME (MT at Mill Hill) as a next-door neighbour, up to that point I had paid half my bus fare for a lift with Sgt Cliff Leach (PIB), I had even tried a moped and then a scooter, until I came off that in the wet one morning.
Stoking up the Black Stove daily at Mill Hill, stood me in good stead during the winter of 1962 / 63, it started snowing on Boxing Day, our new daughter Lorrinda was not quite 3 weeks old and Marj and I decided to keep the coal fire going in our sitting room, moving our bed and cot in there for about 3 months, the snow was so bad that we had to fetch our own coal, that certainly gave my little Morris extra grip.
With the increased levels of TA members, we took on a fuller role at HQ AER and began visiting our TA Units at summer camp, such as delivering transport from Ashford, Kent to Lancaster after work one Friday – to be there for training from Saturday onwards, we did our normal Admin and Pay over the weekend and back in the office on Tuesday, we also went to Wyke Regis, Weymouth. In the meantime 14 day camps, based on Mill Hill and then out to support at FPOs at TA Camps across UK continued, the weeks flew by. HQ AER, with the arrival of HPD RE from Gunsite and the demolishing of our wooden huts, was moved to the red brick building by the Guardroom, Capt Bob Bennett had now become OC, it was here in March 1964 that Cpl Brian Green, L/Cpl Scotland and Spr Robson shared the proceeds of the TA payroll, I feel very lucky that I was in RMH Millbank at the time and not offered a fourth share of the robbery.
As the last of our NS went home, they were replaced by such regulars as Pete Askew, Don Calder, Alan Springett, also WRAC clerks – by the end of my tour we had moved yet again to be above 104 PURE and the camp FPO, right next to the WOs and Sgts Mess.
5 Inf bde PURE, Tidworth / Borneo – Aug 65 to Dec 67
I was promoted to Sgt on posting, arriving at Jellalabad Bks Tidworth, I was quite surprised at a sense of isolation as the only Postie in the Brigade WOs & Sgts Mess, up until this point I had not served with anyone else. Now I was surrounded by R Signals, RMP, RCT, REME etc – Senior Rank representatives of all the Units that make up a Brigade Headquarters. Our OC was Capt Frank Lea with whom I found a very easy working relationship and baby sat at Ludgershall for them on many evenings. I saw Sgt Reg Peacock at the office but he was married and we left him behind, to be replaced on posting by Sgt Bill Skeel, when in November we set off via Singapore for Sibu, Sarawak.
To occupy our time before then, Brigade exercised us to make sure of our role, we knew what ours was – Sigs were OK back in camp, 4 miles down the road, parked in a wood was a very different matter – sorry no coms!. On Wednesdays we just had enough in the Unit for a soccer team, leaving a duty-clerk behind, we enjoyed ourselves, it was certainly team-spirit building, besides that we went on carefully constructed map reading exercises, ensuring there was a pub lunch at the half way stop.
We were to be called HQ Mid West Brigade once we arrived, being the advance party, Capt Lea and I flew from Changi to Sibu, via Kuching in a wave-hopping “Bristol Frightener” ( I think that’s nearly the right spelling !) With 19 Bde occupying all of the Airfield Camp accommodation until the MV Auby arrived with our main party, one off / one on – so that we could move in, in the interim we were put into air conditioned hotels in down-town Sibu ! Once the FPO lock stock and barrel was ours and the Auby was at the dock, the exchange was made, our 12 months unaccompanied tour had begun.
The working day was until 6.30 am to 3.0 pm unless our mail plane was late, it was considered to be too hot after that, at Sibu we felt reasonably safe from the Malaysian / Indonesian war that we were on the fringes of, however our Unit detachment at Simmangang received his mail via the local bus service as it was too dangerous for military convoys to go up and down on a frequent basis.
In Sibu town the resident Regiment was a KOSB Regt and on New Years Eve the Bde Mess was invited down for Hogmanay celebrations, as the popular Postie (I hope we all were, wherever we served) I was treated very well. Another social occasion that we enjoyed was a Mess outing to see“ The Sound of Music“, for a small town in the middle of nowhere, it boasted 3 modern hotels, a cinema with air-con, an Olympic sized swimming pool, which we made much use of with transport almost every day.
Christmas morning saw the traditional serving of tea laced with rum by those Mess members not on duty, we followed this with a Sports Day, our Mess versus The Officers Mess, in the Tug-of-War we managed to tie our end of the rope around the bumper of a strategically placed Land Rover and duly pulled the Officers through the mud hole that was the entrance to the MT lines. Whilst the Brigadier ensured all got ready for the Christmas Lunch, it was my turn to go the Airport to collect the inward Air Mail, I was allowed to tell the Brig. that the UK connection at Changi had missed that morning, so there was no Mail on Christmas Day, I successfully dodged the flying Tiger beer cans as I beat a retreat!
After Christmas R & R leave was available and once again the Auby put in a regular appearance, 2 days to cross to Singapore – unnerving to watch a Western Movie on the open deck under the starry skies when the ship is rolling along. Onto the night sleeper train to Kuala Lumpur – don`t confuse this with anything you may have been on in the Western World – 40 mph top speed, curtains for privacy for your tiered wooden slatted beds, arranged lengthways down both sides of the rail-coach, with newly joining passengers twitching them to see if yours is empty, I don`t think many of us slept much – maybe we had had a drink to calm our nerves and we didn`t know about it anyway! Changing trains at KL we finally reached Georgetown Penang, for the NAAFI`s very own Sandycroft Leave Centre, the bar hours were very well organised – 10.0 am to 3.0 pm, then that one shut and the other opened 3.0 pm to 10.0 pm. When I returned to duty I went to another detachment on Labuan Island so that Bill Skeel could go for his R & R, they had their FPO and accommodation in a private house on the edge of the Military camp.
In August 1966 Malaysia and Indonesia signed a peace treaty, as a result we were given just 3 few weeks to pack up and get out! What we, as a Brigade could not shift, we buried. The Auby duly arrived and RSM Simpson made me the Orderly Sgt on my birthday, just to keep an eye on me as we sailed down river, then on towards Singapore, we stayed in Nee Soon Transit camp for 3 weeks whilst Brittania Airways organised some aircraft for us, we waived goodbye to the Brig, his chief of staff, half of the Sigs Sqn and so on, only 2 days later it was our turn to wave to them in Kuwait – they had broken down half-way home. Capt Lea was replaced by Capt Colin Pawson, a rally enthusiast, so as his volunteer navigator, I took on some interesting duties in 1967! Brigade life resumed and we exercised all over UK, especially remembered is the wettest I have ever been in South Wales and a chance to see Sunderland play Notts Forest when we visited Otterburn Ranges, slipping up over Carter Bar and crossed the border for a cup of Scottish Tea in Jedburgh. The daily mail runs to / from Newcastle were augmented with the collection of freshly baked pies, the pick-up was in Gateshead, duly authorised of course. The Pies were for eating after the evening film show and paid for by the PRI, needless to say the driver / courier had one each for going, as well as a pease-pudding sandwich!
On posting to Hannover, just before Christmas 1967, I took delivery of a left hand drive Ford Anglia, I had to have white, the only colour available – the reason being that 3 weeks later they unveiled the Ford Escort!
RAF Salalah, Muscat & Oman – Nov 71 to Aug 72
Moving from Celle, to the dusty heat of the Persian Gulf was quite a cultural shock, although I had had some dealings with the RAF in Rheindahlen, to join a WOs and Sgts Mess where the SWO was king, despite the presence of a WO1 R.A. – was something else. Built at the end of the M.1 – our name for the Sultans` escape road, should he ever be under threat whilst at his Summer Palace, the only tarmac stretch of road for miles around, the local foothills seemed just outside the station perimeter but in fact they were 7 miles away. When the Green Archer radar system picked up an aerial threat to our RAF Station, the siren sounded the alarm – if in the open you had to get down one of the many underground bunkers, if inside a concrete building to stay put and sit on the floor against a wall – until the all-clear sounded.
Friday is the local “ Sunday” and so all farewell parties were organised on the 1st Thursday evening in the month. The “Maas Salaam” of July 1972 will long be remembered by me, because it was the first occasion that the Arab Terrorists, secreted in those foothills, actually landed 3 rounds inside the RAF perimeter, injuring several personnel. Their subsequent arrival back in UK for treatment led to the admission by the MOD, of the true identity of The British Army Training Team, assisting The Sultan in his Dhofar province.
The mail system in to Salalah from UK was via Cyprus, we had a fresh fruit & veg re-supply twice a week by RAF Hercules and that usually brought the Parcel mails, otherwise we had a scheduled daily link from RAF Masirah. All planes arrived at a designated space between rows of oil drums, on difficult days they never switched their engines off and no one stayed longer than necessary on our blacked-out base, all roads and paths had whitewashed stones at their sides to help show the way at night. RAF Air movement staff answered to the name: Yimkin Airways (Maybe), “Will there be a flight with mail on for me today? Yimki!”
Medical facilities on camp were provided by RAMC personnel on a 4 month stint in the shape of an FST, I got on very well with our Mess Medics and largely did with the 2 Officers – one Lt Col Surgeon was actually a TA Officer and a great guy – except when some re-wrapping had gone on back at Broken Packets section at Mill Hill, I had sorted his monthly magazine in that days post and he collared me in the Wobbly Wheel all ranks club that evening, he hit me over the head with his magazine and then threw it at me:
“Where`s my Bloody Playboy, John?” I picked up the Parish News from the floor, “Well Colonel, what do you think the Padre made of opening his wrapper!!”
The mortuary refrigeration plant for the FST was next to our Mess, we all knew what that sound meant.
Joe Brown & the Bruvvers came to entertain us in May, they performed and left again that same afternoon for the safety of RAF Masirah. Cpl Mick Herriven or myself went to Masirah weekly for Courier exchanges, they also had an all-ranks club “The Crazy Horse”, S/Sgt Brian Rowney was there, then later Eddie Stuart and Cpl Bob Moonie. Thursday afternoons were quite often spent at The Indian Club, the scrub runway and camp roads were kept tidy by an Engineer Squadron, the Plant was largely operated by men from India and Pakistan, they produced a wonderful assortment of Curries for invited guests, 2 years later Jack Griffiths was also invited to lunch. S/Sgt John Harwood took over from me in August 1972, after leave I was heading for Rheindahlen.
HQ Ghurka Cantonment, Dharan Nepal – Feb 76 to Apr 76
Please read our Posthorn issue 15 of March 2005, for previously described details of this short detachment to BFPO 4.