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

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1959-1968

A YEAR WITH 1 SCLI JULY 1967 - JULY 1968

SCLI - Never Heard of It!

By Mike Rescorle

Foreword by Webmaster.

Mike Rescorle is one of the soldiers that rose from Private to high rank and is recorded along with others on High Rank Page - his service reads like this, 11 May 1965 Attested Redruth Recruiting Office, May 1965 arrived IJLB Oswestry aged 15 badged SCLI, March 1967 passed out of IJLB as JCSM, April 1967 arrived LI Brigade Depot, Shrewsbury, July 1967 arrived 1 SCLI Gravesend aged 17, August 1967 promoted LCpl aged 17, October 1968 Cpl (1LI Ballykinler) aged 19, June 1970 Sgt (1LI Lemgo) aged 20, March 1975 - June 1976 RMA Sandhurst (commissioned into the LI Nov 1975), June 1976 posted to 2LI in Lemgo as Lt (OC Recce), November 1977 Capt (2LI Lemgo), September 1981 Major (Coy Comd 2LI South Armagh) aged 31 (Mentioned in Despatches), October 1982 - December 1983 Staff College Camberley, June 1991 Lt Col (CO 5LI Shrewsbury) aged 41


Why did I join the army? The truth is, I do not really know. My father served with No 6 Army Commando in the Second World War and various members of the family had served with and some had died serving in the DCLI. All were privates or lance corporals that volunteered or were called up in time of war. Professional soldiering was not in my family probably because so many were farmers and exempt military service.

The first hint that I would join up came while I was visiting the Royal Cornwall Show in June 1964. I bumped into one of the SCLI recruiting NCOs - one of the Tune brothers I think - and after being enticed to play with some weapons was persuaded to attend the recruiting office in Redruth. There I took some tests and was told all about the SCLI in Berlin. I knew all about Berlin but what was the SCLI? Sounded good, but I had never heard of it!

I attended the recruiting office several times during my last year at school and took the entry test a second time achieving a much better pass. Attempts were made to persuade me to take a trade or join a corps, but there was one thing I was certain of - I wanted to join the infantry. “OK” they said, “in that case you will have to become a junior leader”. A what? Anyway, no other type of employment caught my imagination, so on 11 May 1965 I set off for Oswestry aged 15 to join the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion. I did not have a clue what I was letting myself in for but the brochures and recruiting blurbs made it sound fun.

Shrewsbury

During my 2 years at Oswestry I bumped into several SCLI personnel including Lieutenant Taylor who was my platoon commander in Z (Recruit) Company, Sergeant Dan Kellow who was my weapons instructor and WO2 Joe Knight - he with the hat on the back of his head - was CSM B Company.

Oswestry was followed by a short Light Infantry conversion course - LI drill et al - at Shrewsbury. The CO at the time was Lieutenant Colonel Salisbury-Trelawney SCLI; the platoon commander of Anzio platoon was Lieutenant John Marsham KSLI, who now runs the LI office in Shropshire, and the platoon sergeant was Terry Mallet SCLI. I will never forget Terry’s idea of fun, push-ups night and day. The demo section and liaison officer were all from 1 SCLI so characters such as Captain Simon Rudd-Clarke, Corporal Jack Ovenden (ex 22 SAS) and Lance Corporal Chris Mathews (later RSM 1LI) gave us an insight into regimental life.

Only 18 recruits passed out from Anzio Platoon and because other regiments had sexier postings - 1 KOYLI was in Berlin and 1 KSLI in Singapore - only 2 of us chose 1 SCLI, Colin Lavers and myself. Colin was from Plymouth and achieved Best Recruit by a country mile. Sadly, he was killed in a road traffic accident during 1LI’s trip to Kenya in 1969. Colin was an excellent soldier who would have risen to high rank.

Gravesend

My delight at being posted to the regiment was offset by the name of the destination - where and what was Gravesend? There were no computers in those days so we were unable to surf the net to research the place. Dressed in best kit and carrying our worldly possessions in regulation issued kit bags and suitcases, Colin and I jumped on a train and headed for a place no one had ever heard of. By the time we had fought our way through the London Underground and walked up to Milton Barracks, our best kit was anything but - the detachable No2 shirt collar was stained with sweat and the stud left a red mark on the back of our necks.

My first impressions of Milton Barracks were not good. For a start, the place looked run down and depressing; I was not to be disappointed on that score! Secondly, I felt like a complete red ass anyway but when I saw the post corporal’s regimental number (LCpl Smythe I think), I felt I had no right to be there. The number was senior to my father’s who’d joined the army 1943!

Posted to A Company under command of John Corringham with Ray Hall as CSM, I settled in quickly but the routine was a shock. After two years in training establishments where every minute of every day was taken up with some activity or other, regimental life seemed slow. There was the occasional muster but training programmes were a rarity.

Exercise Unison

There was little time to moan about the slower pace of life because we were soon briefed for administrative duties on Exercise Unison - the MOD’s showcase defence sales event at Sandhurst. As with Gravesend, administrative duties did not have a good ring about it, and again, I was not disappointed. The regiment was to be rent-a-fatigue-party for everything from erecting tents to guard duties.

Along with about half of A Company one of my first assignments was extremely boring but mildly amusing - pretending to be senior officers to rehearse reception at Old College. Everyone was ordered to equip themselves with a suitcase - army issue empty type - and to parade near the QM’s block. Once there everyone was issued with an identity - this was often an unpronounceable name belonging to a senior officer from countries most had never heard of. Then it was into a posh limo for the quick trip to Old College to be met by a young WRAC officer and escorted to a room. Now, under different circumstances this could have been a 17-year-old private soldiers greatest fantasy, but alas the commissioned birds did not have eyes for the heathen soldiery and everyone was kicked out the back door to repeat the exercise over and over again. If this is regimental soldiering I thought, they can stuff it!

At this point I had been in the battalion for a little over 2 weeks and in all honesty, I was disillusioned. It was not a great start to adult service. It was not soldiering. It was not challenging. All that was about to change.

Bear with me while I digress slightly from the narrative to tell you about my early knowledge of the military rank system and my early career expectations. In 1967 I had no proper understanding of military rank; despite 2 years junior service I did not understand the difference between officers and NCOs. I was not even sure how officers were recruited and trained. Why didn’t they train with the lads? I had no idea how long it took to be promoted to the various NCO ranks. Despite this, from the very first day at Oswestry I had set my heart on completing 22 years service before returning to Cornwall and helping out on the farm. My initial expectations of achieving rank, if any, were of making sergeant and leaving with a pension. So, what’s the point of all this mumbo jumbo? Well, after just 2 weeks of regimental life I was sent on the potential NCOs cadre held over the middle weekend of Exercise Unison.

Command tasks were part of every junior leaders life so the cadre was pretty straightforward stuff. However, it was daunting to be mixed in with guys who had completed as much as 10 years service in such places as Aden, Berlin et all. I have never seen my report from that weekend but on Monday’s Part 1 Orders my name was on a list of newly promoted LCpls. I remember laying in bed that night feeling chuffed to bits but confused; if I’d made LCpl at 17 sergeant was maybe too low a target! Whatever, life now became challenging.

Red Arsed Lance Jack

The very next day I was appointed NCO in charge of a marquee erection team with a section of grumpy, elderly privates who had erected more marquees than I’d had NAAFI breaks. Were they prepared to share their experience and knowledge with some red arsed lance jack - with acne? NO WAY. Had 2 years at Oswestry taught me how to erect a marquee? NOPE. At this point I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I would have swapped all the Brigade of Guards run drill sessions and junior leader bullshit for one single lesson in how to erect a bleedin marquee without making a tit of myself.

Thankfully, someone (I cannot remember who otherwise I would record his name here with promises of copious amounts of free ale for life) realised that unless he stepped in Corporal Fred Beattie (Ex Marine Commando) or Ray Hall would give us a right royal bollocking. He showed the rest what to do while I made myself look important and organised the NAAFI break.

Unison could not end soon enough for me and I was glad to return to Gravesend (I cannot believe I just wrote that) before heading down to Cornwall for some leave.

Passchendaele - First Battle 12 October 1917, Second Battle 26th October to 10th November 1917

October 1967 was the 50th Anniversary of the first battle of Passchendaele where First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh battalion DCLI fought so bravely. Only those regiments that lost more than 1,000 killed were invited to attend and 1 SCLI sent a section led by Bugle Major Jerry Hill, which consisted mostly of buglers with some company representatives. I remember thinking that this was more like it - some overseas travel (my first trip out of the UK) and something to get my teeth into. The week passed quickly and my overriding memories of Belgium are of a biting cold wind, the stillness of the air, the crisp sound of the bugles and the drone of a DC3 as it showered everyone with poppies.

More Experience

After returning to Gravesend and shortly before I started the 8 week JNCOs cadre, Gus Rashleigh, the outstanding character of A Company, decided to take me under his wing. To this day I am not sure why; maybe he felt sorry for me for all the stick I was getting or whether he was just broke! Gus’s strategy was well rehearsed and delivered in a crisp manner “‘Mick, we’re gonna get pissed in record time”. You have to admit that as a mission statement it’s pretty unambiguous; budding Staff College DS please note.

Gus set a cracking pace from the guardroom and after reaching the town centre dived into a pub and ordered two pints of bitter and a packet of fags. I had seen Gus buy some smokes at our FUP back in the NAAFI, so his order was a little confusing. All became clear when the landlord pulled the ale and nipped round the back to grab the fags - Gus knocked back his pint and bolted for the door. I may not have been able to erect marquees but I did have enough common sense to know when I was in the shit. I just managed to disturb the froth on my pint before following him headlong into the street.

The pub-crawl continued. Gus‘s cavernous belly, which as many will remember had an enormous skull-and-cross bones tattoo, was barely half full. Mine was already bloated. He did promise to slow down his intake - 3 slurps per pint instead of 2 I think - but I was done and headed for home. I cannot remember getting onto bed but I do recall waking up next to one of those blackened coke fires with a packet of stale half finished bag of fish and chips on the floor - and a sore head!

The remaining months of 1967 were taken up with the JNCOs cadre where the likes of Rupert Smith, who won an MM in Northern Ireland in 1972 and Nobby Walls, who went on to become QM 1LI, were trained by Terry mallet, more push-ups, and Dave Knapton. The year came to a close when ‘A’ Company Group, which included the Mortar and Recce Platoons, went on Christmas leave before heading off to Canada.

Canada

The trip to Bordon in Ontario was my first journey by aircraft and I remember being excited about travelling across the Atlantic. It was also pleasing to be returning to Canada where my maternal great-grandparents, grandparents and mother had lived for many years before returning to the UK just before the Second World War.

The journey turned out to be quite an event. The trip to Lyneham was by coach and as was the norm in the 60s everyone was dressed in No2s carrying overnight gear in kidney pouches. Who wrote that little SOP? As ever, RAF flights took off just after sparrows fart so the company was in the departure lounge by 4am. The Britannia took off without a hitch and it was soon well out over the Atlantic. I think I was asleep when the smoke started to fill the aircraft and there was some chatter and mild panic when visibility was reduced to a few feet. The plane then banked sharply and although it was not obvious at the time, had already turned back to Ireland. There was silence as everyone tried to fathom out what was going on, but all became clear when the Captain announced that one of the four engines had caught fire and he was heading back to Shannon to take advantage of a tail wind.

The plane was repaired and for the second day in a row, everyone paraded at an ungodly hour, still dressed in the same set of No2s, only for departure to be delayed due to icing on the wings. The second attempt to cross the pond was more successful and the old propeller driven kite landed at Gander Newfoundland for a pit stop. It was the first time I had experienced extreme cold and I recall the air taking my breath away. No2 Dress was totally unsuited to hanging around in those temperatures - the short walk to the terminal was testing! After refuelling the plane took off and landed in Ontario where it was dark and bitterly cold.

The officers and NCOs of ‘A’ Company Group spent 4 weeks at Bordon attending the Canadian Winter Warfare Instructors Course. It was great fun. Snow is a rarity in Cornwall, so it was literally a whole new experience to see so much of the stuff. To much time has elapsed for me to recall the details of the course but I do remember; the horror of frost bite being brought alive with graphic photos of past injuries; hilarious first attempts at walking on snow shoes; being taught to build lean-to shelters of logs and pine leaves with nothing more than the regulation issued sleeping bag and a small fire to ward of wildlife and freezing temperatures.

Midway through the course time was found to visit the regiments’ sister outfit, the Hamilton Light Infantry - a militia regiment just down the road. It was a great success. The trip to Niagara Falls was fantastic but very cold and on return everyone spent the night drinking themselves into oblivion. My final recollection before I went to bed was seeing Lt Fox sitting cross-legged on the regimental piano belting out some ballad or other.

On completion of the course the company travelled across Canada to join the remainder of the company group for a further 2 months training in Wainwright. If someone asked you to traverse two thirds of Canada by train you would probably get excited and rightly so - it’s a beautiful country. Well, in places!! A word of advice to all budding trans-Canadian travellers; do not travel from Bordon to Wainwright in March. For one thing it is as flat as a pancake and for another the snow makes the scenery pretty dull. The journey took two and half days and I recall pressing my nose to the window aching to see some of that fantastic scenery. Alas, all I saw for the whole of the first day and the morning of the second was - conifer trees. That changed when somewhere north of the Great Lakes the trees disappeared and suddenly there it was - prairie. There was no warning, no even a sign to say we were leaving the comfort of the forest - just miles and bleedin miles of prairie stretching into infinity.

Still it was entertaining at times. The NCOs caboose was at the rear of the train and it was quite a walk forward to the restaurant. On day two a group of us weaved our way forward and sat in the restaurant but no lunch arrived. ”Oh”, said the cabin staff ”we have passed Saskatoon and gone through a time zone. Put your clocks back one hour”. No-one moved and the next hour was spent discussing just how small Blighty really was. Another novelty was the seating. At night the seats turned into 4 man bunks with curtains draped across the front for privacy - it was very cosy. There were women in many of the neighbouring bunks so there was much giggling and nighttime movement!

Wainwright was a tremendous experience. After getting the soldiers up to a basic level of expertise, including living and fighting in ten men groups, the company set off on a exercises involving long hikes pulling 750 pound pulks. These carried all the essentials for survival such as a tent and cooking materials. I have to say that being in the 2 men pulling team roped up like a Husky, or at the tail end guiding the pulk, was not one of the more memorable experiences of my military career! Everyone became adept at running around and fighting on snowshoes but it was always strange to take them off at the end of each day only to sink up to the thighs in deep snow.

It was bitterly cold at times and even getting about the camp involved buddy buddy stops every 30 seconds to check for frostbite - the time it took for exposed flesh to freeze. Any white patches of skin were warmed up by applying the wool patch on the back of our gauntlets (wool never freezes). During one exercise the temperature dropped alarmingly and the wind chill factor was so high - 1500 I think - movement outside of the tents was prohibited.

While it was dangerous there were some light-hearted moments. Everyone carried a heavy bergens as well as a weapon so if they fell over, which was pretty frequent, they found themselves flat on their backs in 3-4 feet of snow with their feet, which were still strapped in snow shoes,up in the air. Easy peasy you say, just put your hands down and lever yourself up. Lever yourself on what - soft snow? Picture a turtle on its back and you have an image of just how difficult it was to get up. It often took the help of 2 others to extricate someone and the whole affair became even more hilarious when the helpers fell on top! Imagine all this taking place during the final stages of a platoon attack and you have a ready made scene for the next Carry On movie! Towards the end of the trip the exercise was taking place in snow that had been on the ground for several weeks. What’s the problem with that? Well, snow was melted for drinking and cooking but as it was contaminated it gave everyone the runs. Again, imagine running about in 3 layers of clothing and being taken short!

For me, the best part of living in the artic conditions was at night; you could hear a pin drop. Occasionally the silence was broken by the sound of a wolf howling - it was probably a coyote but wolf sounds more macho. Night patrols and ambushes were also fun; the snow crunched under snowshoes and with the moon reflecting off the snow it was almost like day.

All to quickly the trip to Canada came to an end and the company headed back to wet and windy Gravesend. Soon after arrival there was a Scale A parade to see Lt Col Matthews towed out of barracks and replaced by Lt Col Frith. The nomadic existence continued almost immediately.

Salisbury Plain

The battalion was off to Norway in June and as a warm up the new CO decided to put us through our paces on Salisbury Plain. Again, the years have blurred my memory, but I do remember a long, cold, dull trip by 4 tonner, endless yomps followed by digging yet another defensive position and one amusing incident. I awoke one morning and poked my head above the slit trench. As I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes I caught sight of a figure sat on a bank close by “Who the f…. are you I asked”. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m only the new CO”. Gulp!!!

Norway

The trip to Norway to participate in what was I think the first fully integrated NATO exercise, was another first for most of the battalion - 8 weeks living in a tactical environment. A far cry from the normal 5-day exercise everyone was accustomed to. The preparatory exercise was at Thetford and I will never forget the briefing in the gym where the second-in-command, Wushy Waight ubiquitous cricket stump in hand, tried to convince the battalion that Thetford was in fact just like Norway; everyone had to imagine that certain roads were rivers and flat terrain was in fact 15,000 foot mountains. Piece of cake!

On arrival at Thetford A Company moved into a tented area to complete the flag-waving bit, which in real life was meant to frighten the Russian Bear and persuade him not to cross the Norwegian border. I remember thinking, since when do flags frighten bears? Thereafter, it moved to tactical positions and spent the next week moving alongside roads that were rivers, crossing rivers that were roads and digging in on the side of mountains looking remarkably like flat English countryside. Clear as mud!

The trip to Norway was courtesy of the Royal Navy - a 5-day sail aboard the commando carrier HMS Bulwark - to the land of the midnight sun. Life aboard was another totally new experience; toilets were heads, the cookhouse was a galley and periodically everyone was given a strange but potent liquid to drink! Some managed to get their hands on more than the regulation ration and paid for it with sore heads the next day! Just before the arrival in Balls Fiord about 120 miles inside the Arctic Circle, platoons took part in landing craft drills and I was really excited at the prospect of doing a D-Day style assault. Alas, it was not to be. The craft merely sailed to the shingle beach where carrying full fighting order - and suitcases - everyone had to walk the best part of a mile to waiting US Army Deuce-and-a-halve trucks. What an anti climax!

The 8 weeks in Norway were great fun and I learnt a lot about our partners in NATO. Some examples; Norwegians test firing platoon weapons and tank co-axel machine guns at stand-to (there was a troop of Norwegian tanks on the company position, so that little practise had to stop); Italian 24 hour ration packs with a sachet of red wine (they were very popular); US field bath units with saunas and US soldiers getting a clean set of fatigues as they came out - we did not. Other memories; Cherry Troop 1 RHA doing early morning runs through the forest in regulation issued PT kit while Major David Hancock, now OC A Company, had everyone stood-to in shell scrapes; the incessant rain; lying in an FUP close to a stinking rack of drying fish for hours.

Vesting Day

As soon as the battalion returned from Norway, the style and pace of life changed yet again; bulling boots and pressing No 2s was the order of the day in readiness for Vesting Day. The parade took place on grass so there was no footfall to keep in step; everyone had to listen to the drum. The battalion marched on as 1 SCLI and after an inspection and some sword waving, marched off, changed collar dogs and marched back on as 1LI. Other than that I really cannot remember much about it except a sense of sadness about the loss of the county names. It was another huge anti climax - I didn’t feel any different and I cannot remember anyone batting an eyelid about the name change. 1LI moved to Ballykinler a month later where life went on as if nothing had changed.

Look Back

Looking back on my year with 1 SCLI my overriding thoughts are of what a year! There was the low point of living in Gravesend, crap barracks and the dullness of Exercise Unison. However, A Company spent over 6 months out of barracks (no-one had heard of Overstretch in those days) and what with leave the company was hardly ever there. The gods were smiling on us or maybe someone in the MOD had seen Milton Barracks and took pity on the battalion.

For my part, I had been promoted much earlier that I could ever have imagined - on reflection I think it was too early but the experience was invaluable and after taking so much stick I had developed a very thick skin! I had visited Belgium, Canada and Norway. I was still only 18. I had the time of my life.

Thank you to everyone for their patience while I made so many mistakes and grew up - quickly.

Lt Col (Retd) Michael Rescorle
Camborne
Cornwall

 



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