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

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1959-1968

SCLI Memoir by - Tony Hood - SCLI National Service 1960 - 1962

Tony Hood - 1961

Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry

Achmer - Soltau - Putlos - Batman - Officers Mess - All memories of long ago.

by Tony Hood.

1939-2013 RIP.

Tony Hood 2004

THE BEATNIKS PHOTO

Or how I nearly got myself killed.

On going for my call up medical I was asked what regiment would I like to join I put down for the Parachute Regiment, so imagine my delight when I received my call up papers, a few weeks later, telling me to report to the Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry at Bodmin.

Bodmin Barracks (Reg Horn)
Draft 62 Bodmin
So 10 weeks training and 2 weeks leave later found me on the way to Osnabruck with the rest of the 62nd Draft, around 70 men.

Shoulder Flash -12 Bde

On arrival I was put into Charlie Company ( Bad Move ) it wasn’t long before I fell foul of C.S.M. Lynas-Gray a big man , he must have been all of 6ft 6 tall, and with a chest like a barrel. His nickname was the Bear We hated each other with a passion, I used to go out of my way to wind him up, nothing serious to put me on a charge, ( altho’ he did have me up before him once, but that’s another story ).

Presentation of New Colours to SCLI - 17 May 1962 Europa Point Gibraltar - CSM Lynas Gray, centre.

One occasion springs to mind, it was a Friday and in that day’s newspaper was a photo of a couple of beatniks, now for those of you who don’t know or can’t remember who or what they were, I can best describe them as an amalgamation of hippies, punks, grunge and goths, only with longer, lanker dirty looking hair, now this photo in the paper was a full size page, and as it was C.O.s inspection the next morning, I thought what better way to rile Lynas than to have them smack dab in the middle of my spread of pin-ups on the wall above my bed space. I knew ( or hoped ) the C.O would not be too put out about it, as he was a true gent and quite tolerant, his name by the way was Hine-Haycock. The other lads in the room thought I was going one step too far, but I thought what the hell, they can’t kill me for it.

Lt.Col. W. Hine-Haycock Commanding Officer of the Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry (1959/1962)

Saturday morning arrived, Sgt, Evans came round on a pre inspection tour, he advised me to take the photo down, well to be honest I couldn’t do that and lose face in front of the other lads. So with bated breath I waited for the C.O and his entourage to come thru’ the door, I didn’t have too long to wait, nobody noticed at first, they were to busy inspecting the laid out kit and contents of the lockers, then it was my turn, my heart was beating a bit faster than normal now, the Col. was looking at my kit on my bed , but Lynas who was standing behind the Col. was staring at this photo his face was bright red any minute now I thought steam is going to come out of his ears, he then glared at me, I thought I shouldn’t have done it. I’ve gone over the top, but whatever was going to be said or done I had the satisfaction of knowing I had got to Lynas in a big, big way, the procession moved on to the next couple of beds, out of the corner of my eye I could see that Lynas was still glowering at me, in fact I don’t think he took his eyes off me until they left the room.

I assume they carried on and inspected the rest of the block, however we were all putting our kit away, the door burst open and there he stood 6ft 6 of pure unbridled rage, I thought he really was going to kill me, however he strode into the room ripped the photo off the wall, called me all the names under the sun and a few more I’d never heard before, and swore that what ever he did he was going to make my life unbearable, I very nearly said to him "Temper, Temper", but thought better of it. Needless to say shortly after that instance I thought I had better get out of C. Coy. So I got myself an interview with the Company Commander Maj. Mathews to ask for a transfer to M.T Coy. No such luck, no vacancies, but if I was interested his batman was getting demobbed and that he would need a replacement, so it was shortly after that I moved out to H.Q. Coy. And worked alongside the out going batman ( his name escapes me ) with him showing me the ropes. What a peaceful life I had from there on.

I settled down to the rigours of army life, and the days passed quite quickly, quite a lazy life being a batman ( I don’t know what it was like to be a married officers batman, I think they had a lot more to do ) I had a couple of hours cleaning the Majors kit etc. and unless the Officers Mess had a Regimental Night on, where we would be roped in as waiters, from about 11 or 12 o’clock the rest of the day was my own, there was no fatigues or parades to attend. We couldn’t go off camp of course, but we found plenty of places to hide away and keep out of view, a favourite of mine was to sit in the barbers shop and read the magazines or take a paperback to read, that was OK as long as somebody was there having a hair cut, if anyone came in wanting a hair cut I’d say I’m in no hurry have yours done first, of course if the place was empty I’d sit in the chair and chat to Brian the Barber, if an officer or NCO came in he’d make out he had just finished cutting mine and I’d leave and go back later.

Major Firbanks batman came back from a course and was wearing parachute wings on his battledress I asked him where he got them and said he’d been on a months course with the S.A.S. I thought to myself I’d like to have some wings on my tunic, that’ll impress the girls back home. Now I ought to explain here that I am NOT a Bruce Willis type of guy, just an ordinary chap that wants to live an ordinary life. I had no idea what the S.A.S. was or did, I thought they were just infantry men with parachute training, if I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have got an interview with C.O. however, I did, to be told that I could go if I signed on for six years as a regular, I turned it down as I was never that fond of army food. It was just as well as I wouldn’t have lasted 5 mins.

 

The Mad Majors little joke.

The Place, Osnabruck.
The time, April/May, 1960.

7,8,9 Platoons C Coy, were scheduled to spend a day on the rifle range, for classification, the weather was dry with a very watery sun, we were, as usual dressed in denim fatigues, just about thick enough to keep us reasonable warm. The morning passed quite well, it turned out that most of us were destined to be marksmen, due to the fact that you made sure that you had a mate in the ‘Butts’ who knew that he was operating the target you were going to shoot on, he also knew your detail number, when it was our turn to shoot we deliberately shot over the target into the bank, after each shot (or when your mate thought you had) he would use his marker to say you had an inner or outer bull, after the customary 5 shots the targets were lowered, and that was when your buddy jabbed a sharp pencil 5 times through the bull, never too close to make it obvious, just enough to make sure you had enough points to put you on top pay, also everybody wanted those crossed rifles on the sleeve of their best BD,s funnily enough a pencil hole made approx. a 8.5/9mm hole, just about the same size as a 7.62 round after it had passed through the target. I don’t know if the NCO’s or Officers knew what was going on, but nothing was ever said to us.

I seem to have got side tracked from the Mad Majors joke, so to get back to it, the afternoon passed with the usual gristly stew for dinner, shooting over, we were all waiting for the last detail to finish packing up in the butts, but instead of the three tonners coming to take us back to camp, a solitary Austin Champ showed up with the Major on board whereby the driver started handing out wrapped sandwiches ( yes you guessed it they were corned beef) the Major announced that we were not going back to a nice warm barrack room but we were going to spend it in a cosy trench, of our own making, and just to add to the fun we were going to march to the training area six miles away, oh! How we laughed, such joy.

Pete Slade and Tony Hood - Germany 1960

We fell in on the road in threes, and off we went, it wasn’t too bad after 5 minutes as we had warmed up a bit then, we were dressed in denim, remember, and the sun was going down and a chill was setting in. On reaching the training area, a small wooded hill, the NCO’s came round issued us with spades and detailed pairs to dig a trench there , another pair here and so on until everybody was scattered over the hill. Well, Reg and me were wising up to this mans army, and we knew that if we searched around we could find a filled in trench that had been dug before, we found a nice soft patch of sandy soil about 100yds away and it didn’t take long to shovel it all out and get in the trench for a well earned smoke, we were contemplating whether we were going to get fed again or at least get a mug of hot tea. Nobody had realised that morning just what Major Mathews had in store for us, so, of course we hadn’t brought extra rations or warmer clothing for that matter, the sun had gone down and it was getting a lot colder. A shout went out “everybody fall in on the road, with your rifles” there was quite a lot of moaning and groaning, when we reached the road/dirt track and found there was no truck there bringing us a hot meal.

L to R - Dave Williams, Reg Horn, Pete Slade - (ah1)

Double march, oh boy did we enjoy that, we went about half a mile and there was our beloved Major on the doorstep of a pub, very few had brought money with them thinking we were spending a day on the ranges, but not to worry the Major was loaning whatever any body wanted, “pay me back on pay day, lads”. It didn’t take long to get tanked up especially when Lynas-Gray brought the rum ration around, he was more than generous with it, as I recall, those that wanted to drink the rotgut had a least half a pint poured out for them.

Lynas was going around offering out smokes as, by now all the smokers were running short nobody having planned to bring more than one pack with them ( in fact I bought a packet of German cigs. the first time I had tried them, God, they tore your throat out I thought I had swallowed stinging nettles). Everybody was saying what a great Major they had and there weren’t many CSM’s would keep you topped up up with liqueur like Lynas did , ( if only we knew what was in their devious minds) I can’t remember what time we fell out of there. But I do know that 90% of the lads were a bit wobbly on there feet,( I think a few of them had just found out the effects of drinking on an empty stomach )which is just the thing the Major was hoping for, and guess what ,the NCO’s didn’t march us back to the training area, but just a gentle stroll, for some reason it didn’t seem as cold now.

Anyway it was back to our trenches with the order to Stand To, They had to be joking there was no way we were going to be able to stay awake, Reg and I said to hell with it lets get some shuteye, which we did, I slept like a log, but then , I never have had any trouble sleeping , in fact they reckon I could sleep on a clothes line, I remember on another scheme I slept standing up for two hours, but again that’s another story.

Daybreak, the shout go’s up “ fill in your trenches and fall in on the road” when Reg and I fell in we found out that during the night the Mad Major had gone around the positions and charged all those he found asleep, only a about six of us got away with it Reg and me included, I think the fact that we had moved up the hill may have had some thing to do with why we weren’t found. Those that went on a charge found them selves confined to barracks and on fatigues for around a fortnight. The Major and Lynas weren’t quite so popular after that. In fact I became so desperate to get out of C Coy. after Reg found a way of getting himself posted to Signals Coy. I volunteered to become the Majors batman, the theory being if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. At least it got me out of C Coy. And into H.Q. Coy. Which was a far more kushti ( to borrow a phrase from Del Boy ) existence , I then went on to become an Officers Barman. Boy! Was that an easier life. More on that another time.

Long John’s Jump.


Mercer Barracks, Osnabruck, 1960


The Barracks are situated on the outskirts of the town, to get into the town it was a short walk down the concrete tank road, maybe a few hundred yards, then a right turn down a unmade stony track, at the bottom of this lay the suburb of Dodesheide, this is where we caught a bus into the town itself, only a short ride away, more importantly just by the bus stop lay a pub called the ‘Das Kliene Mann’ or the DAB, as it was better known, this was always our first and last port of call of our forays into Osnabruck.

On this particular evening we, about five or six of us that night, decided we would go to the British Forces dance held at the very large N.A.A.F.I. Complex in the town, usually a good time was had by all, I think her name was Heidi, No, now that’s not really true, I just made that up in case you were getting bored.

This story really lies around the DAB pub, on our way down the stony track, towards the end a new house was being built, the outer walls were up and roofing timbers were in place, German houses have a very steep roof pitch (it had to do with the weight of snow or something like that) at the top of the roof was a pole and fastened to this was a large wreath, we were told later that it was tradition that the owner or builder of the house would buy a beer for the workers each day as long as that wreath was there. On going down that track, (my memory is a bit hazy here, I can’t remember who wanted that wreath to put up over his bed space, it may have been Mickey Mount or John Turner ) but anyway it is of no importance, the main thing was that it was wanted, and it was decided to obtain this trophy on our return later that night.

Return we did, in the early hours I believe, a bit the worse for wear, no, I’ll amend that, a lot the worse for wear, during the course of the evening we had been joined by a tall thin chap, well over six foot in height, I only knew him as Long John, he was a Bristolian, and quite a character. It was now quite dark and we could just make out the wreath on it’s pole. I don’t
know why we all had to go into the house, (maybe the beer had something to do with it, I’ve noticed on a few occasions, that when you’ve had one or two, you tend to do silly things) anyway, we’re in the house and it’s nearly pitch black inside, we grope around and find a ladder, the stairwells are open but no staircases installed, in a procession we all went up the ladders, with Long John bringing up the rear, up and up we go , whoever was in the lead got to the top, climbed thru’ the roofing, up the pole, retrieved the wreath and threw it to the ground outside.

So now it’s about turn and everybody down, it’s now Long John in the lead, suddenly there’s a scream and one hell of a thud, silence for a split second and then the profanities started, someone said “Long Johns fallen off the ladder,” we all quickly got down to the ground floor to find him rolling around in the dirt and cement dust, when he had stopped swearing and had
calmed down a bit, he told us he hadn’t noticed how many flights he had gone up, and on the way down when he thought he was back on the ground he stepped off the ladder not realising he was still one floor up. He was badly bruised and had hurt his leg and shoulder, we now had to half carry and half drag him back to camp, not an easy task when you have had a skin
full, the wreath was also collected. This was tossed over the wire fence near the Officers Mess to be retrieved once we had got past the guard room, which was our next obstacle, some how we had to explain the condition of Long John, on the struggle up the stony path, the best we could come up with was ‘ we had found him being attacked by two German youths, and they had run away when they saw us approaching ‘ ( it didn’t explain why he was covered in cement dust, but it seemed nobody queried that ) The duty corporal swallowed it and the medical officer was called who promptly had Long John transferred to the sick bay, where he was treated for a broken collar bone and fractured ankle.

Whilst on the subject of pub trophies I have reproduced a photo of my trophy, no story really surrounds it, it had been on the wall of the DAB pub for a week or two, which caught my eye and thought it would look good over my bed, it was a piece of oak about one and a half inch thick and sign written ( in German ) advertising a Beer Fest. The problem was, how to get it out, I decided the best way was to be brazen about it, so after a few stiffeners in town, after getting off the bus at Dodesheide, walk into the DAB take it off the wall and walk out. I waited until the barmaids were busy serving and then did the dirty deed, to my utter amazement none of the staff saw me, if it hadn’t been for some of the squaddies in there that
night who twigged what I was doing and either smiled, winked or gave me the thumbs up I would have said I was invisible. I kept that trophy on my barrack room wall for around 7 months, on leaving Germany for Plymouth it was packed in with my civvy clothes, and on reaching Seaton Barracks, Plymouth was put up on my wall, you wouldn’t believe that within three days of that someone took a shine to it and it disappeared never to be seen again. Just goes to show that you can’t trust anybody. If it’s not nailed down somebody will half inch it. Life just ain’t fair.

 

Another Day, Another Scheme……. But the same ol’ Major. ( distinctly sadistic ).

Still in Germany, near a small village called Achmer, ( if I remember correctly ) . The Mad Major had us running all over the countryside practicing section attacks, I sure all ex-infantry men will remember those, the weather wasn’t too bad as it was the end of summer 1960. The first night we had the luxury of sleeping in a bivouac, ( I don’t mean we all slept in one bivouac, we all had one between two of us ) my buddy for this scheme was Colin Smart who hailed from Bristol.

In the early evening I slipped away down the road to a farmhouse we passed earlier, thankfully not too far away, and conversed with the German farmer, by means of making clucking noises and flapping my arms up and down that I wanted some eggs, I, of course knew no German whatsoever, apart from be able to order beers which is the first thing 99% all squaddies learn upon arriving in the aforementioned country, it took a little while for me to get across to this farmer that I didn’t actually want to buy the eggs, what I wanted to do was swap them for a large tin of marmalade, that some how had found it’s way into my possession from the cookhouse, what was difficult was after I had got it across to him what was proposed, he wanted to know what was in the tin, well, I mean to say, how do you explain what marmalade is if you can’t speak each others language, ( I made a mental note there and then that I was only going to borrow tins of peaches from the cookhouse in the future ) .

Tony Hood and Michael Conway (ah2)

The farmer disappeared into his house and came back with a tin opener and demonstrated that he wanted to open the can, now that was all very well for him, but it left me with a dilemma in as much, that if he or his wife ( I’m guessing he had one as I never saw her ) decided that they didn’t like marmalade, there was no way I could swap it with another farmer if the occasion arose, in the end I had no option but to agree, I need not have worried as he was over the moon once he had stuck his finger in and scooped out a large dollop and tasted it, in fact not only did he give me 10eggs he also cut off a large chunk of cheese, it certainly wasn’t cheddar, the colour of it was a deep yellow, crumbly and very dry ( I think he must have kept it in a barn for a couple of years ). Anyway back to the bivouac area and out with mess tins and the solid fuel burners (remember those?) Colin and I then whipped up a cheese omelette and shared with a few of the other guys who had been casting envious glances our way, (Jamie Oliver, eat your heart out).

L to R - West, Colin Smart, Spencer. (ah3)

Oh dear it seems I’ve got myself side tracked again, so back to the Mad Major and his devious and sadistic ways. The second day we marched to a new training area ( still doing section attacks ) . As mid -after noon approached we found our selves on the banks of a large pond, where we were told to dig in, having done so, we awaited for the evening meal truck to arrive, can you guess what we got? Yup! Stew. Around six in the evening C.S.M Lynas-Gray came around all the positions with a large stone jar and no it wasn’t the Company Rum Ration, in it was mosquito repellent “rub this into any exposed skin, lads” it was beginning to dawn on us why we were going to spend the night next to a pond. We splashed it all over us, literally it wasn’t long before the mozzies started to have their evening meals, we put our tin hats on, with our camouflage nets over the top and tucked into our shirt collars, it didn’t do any good those vampire mosquito’s still got past our defences after licking off the repellent, it was a very long unpleasant night, in the morning I don’t think there was an inch of skin on anybody that didn’t have a bite on it, in fact Roger Chillcott ( or it might have been Roger Taplow ) suffered anaphylactic shock his face was twice the size it was the previous night. He was quickly rushed off to hospital in an Austin Champ, where he made a full recovery.

The question on all the squaddies lips was how did the Mad Major know we were going any where near a mosquito laden pond, he obviously knew, for why else would he have brought the repellent from camp. We had been with C Coy. and Major Mathews long enough to know that he wasn’t going to give us an easy ride, did it make us better soldiers? I don’t know, but it made us all wonder what he was going to throw at us next.

My Life As An Officers Mess Barman

(Or how to get yourself a cushy job.)

I’m still in Osnabruck as Major Matthews batman, the time is somewhere around February/March 1961. A vacancy occurs for a barman in the Officers Mess, now, as I have an affinity to anything alcoholic, that was a job that appealed to me to me , I thought to myself ‘how do I detach myself from the Mad Major’ I decided to take the blunt approach and tell him I don’t want to be a batman anymore, but hey! I’m dealing with a nutter . After a few days thought , it had to be the direct approach, so I waited until he had , had a few bevvies or so in the Mess ( not a common occurrence ) I cornered him and said I would like to apply for the barman’s job , his reply was, to my amazement “ that’s a bloody good idea , ’cos you must be the laziest soldier I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across” well I never asked to be in this mans army, all I wanted was an easy passage.

Selections went forwarded, my name came out at the top of the list ( I suspect the Major had something to do with that) he wanted to dump me as much as I wanted to dump him.

O.K. now I’m a barman and taking instructions from L/Cpl Collins, a really nice guy , hails from Cornwall ( I forget exactly where ) time trundles on and before I knew it my mentor is being demobbed, I’m called before the C.O. and asked if I would take over the responsibilities of running the bar, I wasn’t too keen until he said ( Of course we shall have to make you up to L/Cpl ) and the pay increases as well, how could I refuse. Little ol’ me, a Lance Jack, who would have thought it. My older brother who was in the Royal Engineers for his National Service only came out as an ordinary ‘sapper’ we had an arrangement before his call up, that I would send him a pound every week ( not a lot in today’s currency but in those days you could have a damn good night out on a pound ) and when it was my turn he would do the same for me, Hey, for once in my army life I had money to burn.

For a while time became humdrum, keeping the bar stocked, ordering new stock, booking out drinks to officers ( drinks were not paid for at the time of ordering, but by entering on to a log and then presented to them at the end of the month as their bar bill, God help you if they were booked with a bill for with one more drink than they had ordered, they knew exactly to the last drink what they had , had in the last month. I sometimes thought that they had little notebooks in which they jotted down how much they drank each night.

We were then posted to Plymouth for regrouping and given leave , after a year away from my civvy mates I lived it up with them , boozing , pulling the birds, not that I any success, not with my army haircut, there was me, with my short back and sides, and everybody else with DA’s and Tony Curtiss hairstyles, they were putting on the style, me, I was out of it. Didn’t have a chance.

Just a story you may find slightly amusing. When we heard that we were going to be posted to Gib. after a month of regrouping at Plymouth, we thought, as Officers Mess staff, we could make ourselves a few bob out of this, by taking back cheap cigs. and sell at a profit in U.K. Mickey Mount who was in charge of and responsible for the Officers Mess silver, suggested we stash it in the crates the silver were to be packed in, we all thought it brilliant , our pay for weeks was spent buying 200 packs of cigs, no going out or over the NAAFI. So, we eventually arrived in Plymouth, where we were told by Mick that all the crates of silver were in a bonded warehouse awaiting movement directly to Gib. so none of us made a penny out of that little scam. still we never had to buy any smokes in Gib for about 3 months.

Right, now we’re off to Gib. No problems crossing the Bay of Biscay everyone said it was a pig and we would all be seasick, it was a cinch, no prob’s, flat as a mill pond. After three days there is the Rock standing proud out of the crystal blue sea, a huge lump of limestone, that only a short while later I was not only going to see the outside of, but also I was going to see the interior of as well, although’ I didn’t know it at the time.

We were taken to our new accommodation by the obligatory 3 tonners, we were placed on the southern extremity at Europa Point, our rooms were around a small square and consisted of about 6 two man rooms, this square looked out over the bay facing Algeciras I was fortunate to have a room to myself, because of the stripe I suppose, however I was later joined by my very good mate Reg Horn, he came out to Gib. about a month before on the Signals advance party, and when we arrived he had been staying at South Barracks, which was situated in he later joined H.Q Coy. And we shared my room together.

A few months passed. 2nd lieutenant Brian Callaghan,( one of the lads off camp ) who was in our intake at Bodmin but left to go on an Officers Training Course after passing out. He later rejoined the battalion. He was heavily into potholing and caving before call up, now, those of you who have been to Gib. probably visited Upper St Michaels Cave, about halfway up the Rock. The Caves are all catwalked and lit by electric lights to show off the various rock formations in the same fashion as Cheddar and Wookey Hole, about 100yds below St Michaels is another system of caves, called, would you believe Lower St Michaels, this cave was closed off to the public by a large steel gate the key was kept at the Officer Mess by the custodian, who was, yep, Brian.

L to R - Mickey Mount, "Russ" Conway, Tony Hood, Reg Horn and ?. Taken at Gibraltar 1962 (Credit: Tony Hood)

He mentioned to Reg and me that he was going up there one day and would we like to tag along, off we went, this cave whilst it is lit by lights for about two thirds of it’s length, there was no concrete to walk on, you had to climb the permanent ropes and generally clamber around, there was no tight squeezes in the main cave altho’ there were plenty offshoots and pots, it was very impressive especially the ‘ Great Lake ‘ it was possible to get around this lake by walking on a three inch ledge,from there on you had to rely on your helmet lights as this section was unlit. When we were back on the surface Brian said there was a weeks course we could go on to become guides for the Lower Cave, we jumped at the chance. There’s a notice in the Upper Cave stating that small groups of no more than 6 could be taken around, providing they were prepared to get a bit dirty, there was also a phone No. for contact and to arrange a time. If you are ever in Gib. phone that No. you won’t be disappointed. Reg and I spent most of our off duty time crawling around the different caves and squeezing ourselves down impossibly tight looking holes, after demob I did join a local caving club, but caving in the U.K. is much different to caving on (or should that be in ) Gib. there the underground temperature is a constant 65 degrees, over here, any thing from freezing to mildly cold, plus, not once did I ever go into a dry system every one was wet and very muddy.

Legend has it that 200 years or so ago, two army officers went into a cave ( the Rock is honeycombed with them ) looking for the undiscovered passage that links Gib. to the Atlas Mountains, Morocco this is the so called route the Barbary Apes used to maintain their numbers on the Rock. ( total rubbish, of course ) these two officers were never seen again, if you ask me I think they probably deserted.

The head waiter in the Mess was L/cpl John Turner and we were going to a Tramps Night at the Corporals Mess one night, as we came out past the entrance of the Officers Mess Lieutenant Rudd-Clarke was just going in , he stopped, asked us where were we going, we told him, he said you must come in the Mess and have a drink, John and I looked at each other, did we hear him right? It was unheard of for an N.C.O. to drink with the Officers let alone in their Mess, not even their wives could go in unless it was Ladies Night. He wasn’t joking so in we went, there was no need to introduce us to those present as we met them every day, we had pint in there and then left before tho C.O came in, he was due in at some time that night.

We went along to our own Mess, I can remember the early part of the evening but I don’t remember the latter part or how we got ‘home’, I do remember the horrific hangover the next morning, I was on duty as well, and had to be on call until midnight, it was a very long day. John was all right as he was off and could stay in bed all day if he wanted. We did one day on and one day off, no parades or inspections, in fact nobody bothered us at all, we could do pretty much as we wanted.

Tramps ! L to R - Tony Hood, Lt Rudd-Clark, John Turner.

After we had been on Gib. For a couple of months the C.O. gave the order that our best B.D. could have the trousers tapered to, I think it was18 inches, and to leave off wearing gaiters, the alterations to be carried out by the camp tailor, well Reg and I had been brought up in the teddy boy era, neither of us wanted to have 18 inches of khaki flapping around our ankles so we took ours down to a tailor in Gib Town, and had them pegged to 14 inches, knowing that we would never have to go on a parade or even wear them. Not a wise decision on my part, the day finally arrived when we were due to fly home for demob, the day before I was told to report to the C.O.s office in my best B.D. ( shirt sleeve order ) I didn’t give the trousers much thought as I dressed and off I went, on the way thru’ the camp I saw the R.S.M. was striding towards me, well, I tried to look cool, smartened my walk up a bit and looked straight ahead, we passed, no problem I thought, Then “ you, laddy, come here,” I turned went back, yes Sir I replied trying to still look cool, “ have your trousers shrunk” No Sir I’ve got big feet and they make the trousers look tight, it was the only thing I could think of “Don’t be flippant with me lad” he wasn’t born yesterday was he?

Shoulder Flash: Gibraltar Garrison

It ended up with me being on C.O.s Orders at 10.30 the next morning, for having destroyed army property and being lippy with a superior, I just didn’t have the heart to upset him any further by telling I couldn’t make it as I had a plane to catch at 10 o’clock. I spent the flight and subsequent train journey to Bodmin wondering if I was going to be sent back or whether I would be charged at Bodmin. I needn’t have worried I didn’t hear another word. And that, if you have had the patience to read this far is where I will leave this tale.

DEMOB. 14th MARCH 1962

The two years have passed, and what we thought was going to be a lifetime seemed to be gone before we knew it. After eight months in the very pleasant warmth of the Gibraltar sunshine, we were on the apron of the runway waiting to board, the plane, it was a Britannia Turbo Prop. Can’t be many of those left flying nowadays

.

Gibraltar Airport - Homeward Bound (Reg Horn)

First man on, Yep, my mate Reg Horn. All we had in the form of kit was our best B.D. which we were wearing and our K.F.S. (knife, fork and spoon) everything else had been handed into the Company Stores, at the time we didn’t quite know what the weather was like back in England, we knew it wasn’t going to be what we had been accustomed to, had we known what the actual conditions were like we would have fought tooth and nail to keep our greatcoats.

After an uneventful flight we landed at Gatwick, the plane doors opened, and the blast of cold air that came in would have given a polar bear hypothermia, the ground on the edges of the runway was at least a foot deep in undisturbed snow. We had landed in the worst snowfall England had had since 1947 (I was 5 then and can just recall it) but at least trains were running, unlike today it ‘must have been the right type of snow’ we were put on a train to Paddington and there we learnt that we were going to be split into two groups, around twenty of us were going to Bodmin, the rest were to be demobbed from Taunton, it was never explained to us the reason why. We were all put on the same train to the West Country.

Just before we reached Taunton most of us went around as many of the carriages as possible to say goodbye to the many friends as we could, some we never saw again, but the memories of them never fade.

The train continued on to Bodmin. As we got further into the West Country the Snow fall was getting deeper and deeper by the time we arrived at our destination it was more than two foot six deep with drifts rising to anything up to six foot ,the time was now around nine in the evening, it was only a short walk to the camp, we presented our selves to the Duty Corporal in the guardroom, to be told they didn’t have any notification of our arrival. He called the Officer of the Day ( Capt. “Punchy” Rowe) who confirmed that statement. We were told by him that he had no knowledge of us and that the Depot was closing down, all stores had been moved to Shrewsbury, there were only a handful of recruits there to finish their basic training, after that the S.C.L.I would not receive any more intakes at Bodmin.

Well, that was all very well, but where was the hot meal we were all expecting, no luck there, there were only two cooks on the camp, and they were both off duty. We had a normal cooked breakfast before we left Gib. On the plane we had a light meal (salad) and some of us managed to get a curly edged British Rail sandwich on Paddington Station, after that nothing, so we were getting a tiny bit peckish. The best “Punchy “could come up with was that he would raid the Officers Mess petty cash and give us a hand out to go back down into Bodmin (not far) and get our selves some fish and chips, so we dropped off our civvy cases and headed down town, I seem to recall that the first chippy we reached was called The Kings Head or something like that, in we trooped only to find that to our dismay it wasn’t really a chip shop, now, it’s considered rude to walk out and not avail yourself of the hosts hospitality, so we stayed a while and imbibed the local brew, all too soon it was chucking out time, ( no staying in a pub until Midnight in those days). We did find ourselves a chippy but only just in time before they closed, after satisfying the inner man we made our way back to camp.

We were then told that there were no spare beds left on camp everything had gone to Shrewsbury, but they had gone around all the recruits and taken a blanket off each one. Fantastic, we were given a empty barrack room, and told to make the best of it, after all we were seasoned soldiers, in 1962 barrack rooms did not have central heating, just a coke stove in this room and that had not been lit. someone did suggest opening a window to warm it up a bit ( how is it, no matter where you are in a group, there is always a comedian) anyway there was nothing for it but to make the best of our predicament and to take off our boots and jackets wrap our selves in our blankets (two each) and try and get some kip on the hard floor, I didn’t have a problem with that. It wasn’t the best nights sleep I’ve ever had, but during the last two years the army had taught me to make the best of what you have.

Next morning wash, shave and down to the cookhouse, oh boy was that a breakfast or not? I went around twice, as did most of the rest of us. With our stomachs satisfied we had to hang around till 10.30 when we were told to report on the square. So what to do with our spare hour or so. The best we could come up with was to let the new recruits know what lay in store for them when they reached the Battalion. Well I mean, you gotta have a laugh now and again, and the stories they were told about inituation rites they would have to go through was far beyond any sane persons mind, one of the more printable tales that I recall, was that they would be tied up, trousers taken down, lighter fuel sprayed on their dangly bits, and then have a box of matches shaken in their ears. Funny to us but not so funny to the fresh recruits, I swear that some of them were ready to buy themselves out.

10.30 finds us on the parade ground, ready to hand our kit in and get changed into civvies, get our rail passes and back to civilian life. It didn’t work out like that, we were told by Punchy that as he had no authorisation to release us, and to give him time to get in touch with H.Q. at Taunton, we could speed up the recruits training by going up onto Millpool Ranges and acting as the butts party on their final classification rifle shooting. Now considering the temperature, and the fact that we were dressed in only our B.D.s ( where were the great coats that we had kept and never used in two years? (Probably hanging up in a sub tropical store) typical army planning.

Millpool Ranges were up on the edge of Bodmin Moor exposed to the weather and elements, not the best place to be on a very cold wintry morning, I’m sure we wanted to be up on those moors as much as a drowning man wants a drink of water. We had no choice in the matter. We had been told we were going and that was the end of the matter, a three tonner pulls up we were all given shovels and told to climb into the back, the A class roads were passable but when we turned off to get up on the moors that was a different matter, I must give the driver some credit here, he did get us about two miles down this C class road until we got to the hill, That was something else, as I recall it wasn’t a particulary steep hill, but given that it had not been cleared of snow, he tried ,but it wasn’t long before the back wheels were spinning and he had lost traction, so there we were, stuck fast.

We hear the cab door open, and Punchy is standing at the back of the truck , “ right lads all out and push” Now to be fair we hadn’t come into this mans army yesterday, we knew that if we got that truck to the top of that hill we were going to be on those ranges for the rest of the day shovelling snow and operating the targets, not something that appealed to any of us, so were we going to push? Like hell we were, everybody was hanging on and holding the truck back and then the comedian that was with us thought it would be rather amusing if instead of pulling the truck back, whilst the rear wheels were spinning on the snow we applied a little sideways force, it worked a treat that truck went into the hedge quicker than an ice cream melts in a microwave.

Punchy wasn’t best pleased, but we had only made a rod for our own backs, as we now had to get that three tonner back on the road, so it was all hands to the shovels and with a lot of exertion and branches torn off the road side hedges we eventually managed to get the damned thing back onto the road, Punchy, by now had given hope of ever reaching the ranges decided to turn the truck around and go back to Bodmin, it was no easy matter turning that truck around in that narrow road but after a lot of pushing and pulling it was managed, we were about to climb into the back, when Punchy announced it would be better if we walked back to the main road whilst he and his driver would go on and wait for us, some people just didn’t appreciate us and the help we had given on retrieving government property from a ditch.

We were now back in camp and heading for the cookhouse for our dinner, were we happy when we found that there was no choice, only stew, as this was prepared assuming that we would be eating it up on the ranges. We would have , if we had not rung the changes. So what to do now? Guess we’ll just have to go and antagonise the recruits again, altho’ I did manage to sell my best boots, beret, and tie, which was all very “peachy” now that’s an expression that I haven’t used or thought of in many a year, it means happy, on top of the world, demob is in sight, nobody can “jar me off” the opposite of peachy, I would like to know if these expressions are still in use in the Infantry Battalions of today or have they died out like National Service. Is there an ex-infantryman out there that can tell me.

At four o’clock that afternoon we were called together and told to change into our civvy clothes, hand in our B.D.s and collect our rail warrants in time to catch the four thirty train out of Bodmin, that, believe it or not was the quickest clothes change Iever made.

All too soon, as I stood on the station platform, It struck me that I was going to say goodbye to friends and mates I had laughed and been miserable with over the last two years, together we had been through a lot, and come out the other side laughing and knowing that as far as friendships were formed none could be as strong as the bonds we had forged. So that was the end of my life as a soldier, it was back to Civvy Street, and after a welcome home party laid on by family and friends, two weeks or so to get acclimatised to pleasing myself what time I got up in the morning, where I went and doing what I wanted to do, I eased myself back into my old job as a panel beater. I am often asked “if I could go back in time, would I do it all over again and did I enjoy the experience” Thinking hard about it, I am not sure, whilst I would certainly not want to miss all those very good mates I shared those two years with, perhaps I was lucky to have such people around , or did the army have something to do with it by forging us into a team so that we were there to help each other out, when the going got a bit heavy.

On re- reading these tales through, I think I may have created the feeling that National Service was a breeze, believe me it wasn’t, there were many hard times when you were bored, wet, cold hungry and far from home, but as the years roll by those bad times don’t seem as bad and the memories fade leaving only happy and good times behind. My only regret is not keeping in touch with all those friends from my past.

So if you know me or even think you do, click onto the hyperlink and say Hi.


Copyright Text and Pictures: Tony Hood and Reg Horn.

Contact: Tony Hood

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