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The Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry
6 October 1959 - 10 July 1968

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1959-1968

23707994 Don (Mac) McFarlane..

 

 

Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry

23707994 Don (Mac) McFarlane

23707994 Don (Mac) McFarlane. - Rank on discharge Sergeant, company and orderly room clerk.
Served with the Battalion in Osnabruck, Gibraltar, Berlin and Gravesend. Depot LI Brigade Shrewsbury 63-64, HQ BAOR 60/61.

Training at Regimental Depot DCLI, Victoria Barracks, Bodmin 1959.

Welcome to the home of “The Screaming Skull”, Regimental Sergeant Major Harold Royffe MBE. The first time he saw me, he put me in jail - I can’t remember what for. I think it was just to put me in my place. His drill sessions were legendary (“That is not your fiancee’s backside you are caressing, it is a rifle - now hit it hard!”). The night before we were due to embark for the battalion in Osnabruck, some bright spark felled the flagpole on the square with an axe. Harold had us up all night, demanding a confession which he didn’t get and, I suspect, never expected.
Outside Victoria Barracks, there is a triangle of grass with a monument to DCLI dead. This is where Harold Royffe lives now - his ashes are scattered there. Tread softly here, or he will have you.

DCLI Recruit April 1959

We are in the live grenade throwing trenches on the range and it’s my turn to throw. The young Corporal arming the grenades hands me one and I note a slight tremor in his hand. Who can blame him, he is surrounded by cases and cases of HE! Nervous though he may be now, he will one day become the Regimental Sergeant Major of the first battalion SCLI.
.
“Prepare to throw!” commands Sergeant Tony Basham, and I grasp the pin. “Throw!” he says, I pull the pin and draw my arm back to throw. Unfortunately, I drop the now live grenade and Tony and I both bend to pick it up at the same time, we cannon into each other and we now have seconds to live. “Stay!” says Basham firmly, picks up the grenade and drops it just over the rim of the trench in the nick of time. “Down” and the thing explodes with a noise I do not want to hear again, showering us with earth. “I’m not going to charge you” says Basham, “I’m bloody well going to murder you!”, but I was gone!

The barrack room bully is a cowboy from Camborne who never makes it through to the end of training. His favourite trick is to come in pissed as a rat, charge down the aisle and throw himself on his bed. He never does this again after I remove all the springs and stretch a blanket over the empty space.

Live firing the Bren gun on the ranges. Somebody turns up the drum sights on Terry Cundy’s gun and he is lobbing shells over the butts, endangering innocent sheep fifteen hundred yards away!

While we are training the old .303 is superceded by the FN 7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle. If you put one in my hand now, 48 years on, I will take it apart, clean it and put it together again - blindfolded. Light infantry training tends to stay with you.

OSNABRUCK 1959

I have arrived at Os as part of the first all-regular draft to join the battalion. Because I can read and write I have been designated Charlie Company Clerk. I am assured that this is a cushy number, but what they don’t tell me is that you do all the things the others do like parades, guard duty, PE tests, exercises etc, then you get to be a clerk, in your spare time.
Three weeks on, Company Sergeant Major Ben Dunster is whingeing about his tea, as usual. It is not strong enough, not sweet enough and not hot enough.
That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m going to fix him once and for all. I boil his mug until it glows, fill it halfway up with sugar, pour boiling hot, super strength tea on it and top it off with red hot milk.
I place it on a tray because it is literally too hot to touch and place it by his right hand. I leave hastily and wait gleefully for the storm to break.
Silence, then “McFarlane - get in here now!”. I double in, smirking.
“That is the finest cup of tea I’ve ever tasted!” beams Ben..
I retire, totally defeated.

 

Osnabruck 1960. Foreground Brian Gendall, McFarlane, Terry Collett. Terry Cundy and Pte De Sarum in truck. Cannot identify other two.

The Company Commander of Charlie is already carving a niche for himself and will eventually command the battalion. Eccentric he may be, but he leads from the front.
He has a small imperfection - a tic in his left eye. Under stress the eye blinks rapidly and you should move out - fast.
A sprog has arrived from the depot and has immediately been put on a fizzer, as is the custom with new recruits to the company. An old hand marks his card. “If the OC winks at you, just wink back - you can’t go wrong!”.
OC’s Orders. “Prisoner and escort, quick march, ‘eft ‘ight, ‘eft ‘ight, ‘eft ‘ight, mark time, HALT!” It being impossible to halt due to the floor being highly polished, they all ended up in a heap against the wall (you could always tell who’d been on escort duty - they had a flat nose for weeks).
“Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline” etc etc. The OC’s eye blinked furiously and, so help me, the sprog winked back! He was on kitchen fatigues for so long he got really good at it and they made him a regimental cook.
Lieutenant Colonel Ian Guy Mathews - God rest him.
Note: This account differs slightly from that of Pete Slade (see “On a Charge!”) but at least it proves that it actually did happen - I made out the charge sheet!

 

Click to enlarge

 

Clerks Course 13/1960 School of Infantry Warminster. (How many of these regiments are left?) McFarlane 4th from left back row.


School of Infantry, Warminster, Clerks Course 13 of 1960. There are five Scots, Coldstream and Welsh woodentops on the course who sit around bulling their boots and reciting battle honours in their spare time. They always win the Commanding Officer’s stick on Guard duty and we are sick of hearing them boast about it. I am the one selected to change things so I am secretly bulled to a highly polished shine all over, carried out and placed on the square before guard mounting. Sure enough, the Orderly Officer cannot decide between me and the Coldstreamer. He looks in our hair, up our noses, at our nails, everywhere. Finally, he has a bright idea and tells the Guardsman to show the soles of his boots. Sure enough, the insteps are polished to an impressive shine. However, when he sees mine it’s no contest - the entire soles of my boots are bulled to perfection and my studs shine like stars in the night sky. And that’s how we won the stick and stuffed the woodentops! ( Just to rub it in I came first on the course as well).

Back in Os the battalion is on exercise. I assume that company clerks are exempt, but I am soooo.......wrong. Charlie Company storemen, clerks, regimental cooks, sick, excused boots - we’re all out there digging holes in the frozen ground. The Company gets the order to advance and we fill in our trenches, move a hundred yards and dig in again. Then we do it all again and again - all night. The rest of the battalion is snug in their original trenches, half-cut on issue rum.
Dawn breaks and the exercise is over. We are all relieved to see the three-tonners arrive to take us back to barracks. However, Charlie Company is ordered to load their kit on to the wagons, except for personal weapons. I have a bad feeling about this and, sure enough, we fall in to see the trucks take off for home.
“By the left, quick march!” And we are marching in the wake of the three-tonners, seven miles back to camp. I am asked by the sympathetic CSM how I feel, and I tell him I’m knackered and the sooner we get back to barracks, the better. “Right, we’ll soon fix that for you” he says jovially. “Company, break into double time, DOUBLE MARCH!” And off we go, in a cloud of steam and resentment.
We march into barracks. “Heads up, bags of swagger, lads” we are told and, unbelievably, we respond. We march past Company HQ, left wheel on to the square and drill for fifteen minutes. As we dismiss, there is a small, twisted smile on every man’s lips.
Charlie Company - nutters from the top down. And proud of it.

The storemen in Charlie company are a couple of wise Cornish National Servicemen called Gendall and Collett. The aforementioned issue rum is kept in the stores in gallon stone jars and is only issued in extreme weather conditions on exercise. It was exactly the same rum as issued by the tot to the Royal Navy. The stone jars always contained a thick, sticky residue after the rum was dispensed and, if this was topped up with water and left for a few weeks the resultant brew was still pretty lethal. I am told that, given several glasses of this nectar, I chased the storemen round the block with a pick helve, demanding more. I don’t believe it, but then I don’t remember it, either.

I first met George Gunn in Os when I was on jankers - so was he. I got jankers again a month later and there was George again. He was a big, athletic, good natured chap from Camborne, a true gentle giant. The strange thing about him was that he was always on jankers, and I mean always. Every time I committed some misdemeanour and got CB, or jankers, there was George. They used to let him play rugby regularly (he was a star) but for the rest of the time nobody had to ask where George was - he was on jankers. I never found out why.

By this time we have lots of lads up from Zummerset and they do speak strange, some of ‘em. Having acquired my first stripe, I speak very severely to one of them and he comes out with the immortal line “Don’t charge I, Corporal, just bollock I!”.

GIBRALTAR

Within twenty four hours of arriving in Gib, I am in jail, clapped in irons. Unknown to me the guy with whom I go out for a few beers is a kleptomaniac who cannot keep his hands off other people’s property and when I’m not looking, he steals a screwdriver and a pair of pliers from a workman, who hollers for the law, and we are both carted off to civvy nick.
My first visitor in the cell is none other than Regimental Sergeant Major A.V. Worster and he is not impressed. In fact, he speaks very severely to me and our relationip gets off to a bad start, from which it never quite recovers. It doesn’t help that I cannot even be charged because, of course, I am found not guilty in the civilian court.
I would here mention Mrs Worster, who was a constant source of guidance, encouragement and kindness to all the young battalion wives and their children. Our second daughter, Susan, was born in Gib and fully intends to vist, one day.

Gibraltar 1962. Barbary ape waiting to get into my married quarter at Calpe and steal food from the fridge.

I was present when John Pover and RSM Worster had their famous shouting match after Vic caught John giving a rather good impression of him. I reckon if Pover lost it was only on points!

Gibraltar was a great posting - sunshine, fishing, water ski-ing, swimming (what better duty than lifeguard on the beaches?)

 

Gibraltar 1961 South Barracks. I know all these guys like it was yesterday but I can't remember any names. Help!

I was on the Amalgamation Parade in Gib - I still have the original programme if anyone wants a copy. The whole parade was very impressive and went off like clockwork. It was an honour and a privilege to be present.
I came to Gib on the Devonshire and left by RAF Comet. The wind was in the wrong direction when we left and the aircraft nearly stood on it’s tail to clear the mountains, leaving my stomach far below!

GRAVESEND

The Regimental Sergeant Major is on his way to the office. He marches at precisely one hundred and forty paces to the minute, and he is at peace with the world. Here comes a new young officer, also happy with his situation on this fine morning. The RSM puts up a meticulous, inch perfect salute. “Good morning, Sergeant Major!” the young officer cries.
The RSM stops dead, thunderstruck. In a doom-laden voice he intones “Sir, what did you just say?”
The young man repeats his greeting in a now faltering voice.
RSM - “Sir, there are several Sergeant Majors in this battalion, in fact they are quite common. However, there is only one Regimental Sergeant Major, and I AM HE!. You may address me as Regimental Sergeant Major, or Mr”. The voice rises to a crescendo “DO YOU UNDERSTAND, SIR!”
“Yes, Mr Regimental Sergeant Major, Sir”. The young officer totters off, his morning ruined, and the RSM continues on his serene way.

The Drill Manual decrees that Light Infantry Regiments will march at 140 paces to the minute. If you marched at this pace behind the Band and Bugles of the SCLI you would be left far behind, and run over by the company behind you. We had a Drill Sergeant once who insisted on the “two-three” pause between drill movements. When he looked up the battalion had gone!

Voss, Norway 1967.

Elements of the battalion have gone on winter warfare training to Norway and, as I am now “spare” having given notice to leave the army, I have been designated Officers/Sergeants Mess barman for the duration of the exercises. This is a bit like putting the cat in charge of the canary, but I do my duty, as always. This is a very accommodating bar - it closes about four in the morning and opens again about NAAFI break for “liveners”, so I do get some sleep. However, a certain officer (who shall be nameless), famous for producing vast drafts of documents about nothing in particular, finds out that I am not doing anything (much!) during the day and I find myself pounding a typewriter in my “spare” time. Of course I eventually fall fast asleep over said typewriter and find myself on a fizzer. I explain the circumstances to the CO and I am admonished. However, the bar now closes at midnight sharp and does not open again until lunchtime and I am still producing reams of useless paper for Major............., who wonders why he has become even more unpopular.

Battalion Orderly Sergeant Gravesend

Back in Gravesend I still have time to spare so I am sent on an exercise with 2 Para in Scotland. The object is to “yomp” (or is it “tab”) across the Highlands in a straight line from Aberdeen to the West Coast. This means, if a mountain gets in the way, you go up this side and down the other. This is not my scene at all (I’m a clerk for goodness sake!) but I don’t have a choice, so I’m off to Aldershot. Although a “pedestrian” with a funny colour beret I am treated with great respect by these elite soldiers, especially when they find I can handle a tankard with the best of them.
So it’s off to Scotland on the night train and disembark with full kit (Para, not Light infantry) and I worry about keeping up with these guys. However, my fears are groundless. Apparently, they are all under notice like myself, and we’re here for an idyllic swan across the Highlands - mountains are not on the itineray. There follows a week which I will remember for the rest of my life. The weather was glorious, with sunset at 2300 hrs, and we lived off the fat of the land, literally. Trout from the lochs, rabbit stew, venison steaks- the crofters, when they saw the uniforms would not take a penny for anything, and we enjoyed many a fine dram to boot. I was even more popular when the boys found out I’d been a cook in the Merchant Navy and carried various goodies like Oxo cubes (used to make even compo rations taste good).
We had a problem in that one of the lads slipped when fording a mountain stream and injured his back, we thought severely. We improvised a travois from a sheet of curved corrugated iron and brought him out to the nearest town, ten miles away, at the double. The poor chap was in agony all the way, in spite of the medic (Para-medic?) who administered morphine at regular intervals. On arrival at the emergency department of the town hospital, the doctor felt around for a bit, muttered “Och,aye” and pressed something firmly. The Para stopped screaming, got up off the couch and we all got on with the “exercise”. A fitting end to my army career.

Copyright Text & Images: Don McFarlane

Berlin 1965

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