THE LANGELEBEN ‘FORUM’
IS VERY ACTIVE BUT HAS ONE MAJOR FAULT. CONTRIBUTORS ARE
INCAPABLE OF KEEPING TO THE SUBJECT IN QUESTION, THE
FOLLOWING EXTRACTS, RELATING IN THEORY TO ‘THE HISTORY
OF LANGELEBEN’, WILL GIVE YOU A FLAVOUR
I would not be put off about
the Langeleben project as I am sure you would
get stories to tell although in the main they
would be about nights out etc. as I do not think
there is too much to say about our work.
(This has proved to be
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I was mainly on DF and the
only thing of note that I can remember is one
midnight shift at Räbke (the DF outstation)
being tasked with a particular group with five
outstations. However, I found another one. As
you know, all steerage was done by morse and I
told Langeleben of this via the One Time Pad and
steered it back to them but no one back there
could hear it. Anyway I got my bearings and
submitted them and that was that. Later next day
I was awoken from my sleep and told to report to
the Wagons and was grilled by Joe Makepeace and
the I Corps 2nd Lt whose name I forget and more
or less was told I had made it up as they could
not understand how I could hear something at
Räbke and that Langeleben could not pick up.
They seemingly did not appreciate skip distance
etc. A couple of days later I had to see them
again and they actually said they were sorry as
my outstation had been confirmed from other
sources. It was a unit that had been 'lost'.
On a lighter note I remember one night coming
back to camp in the 3 tonner and jumping off the
truck went straight into a dustbin which was
half full of rubbish so maybe that was the right
place for me.
I was around Langeleben from the beginning of
1955 to Feb 56 and I cannot remember like you. I
think it must be the alcoholic blur. From the
photos, I do remember Sergeant Tommy (he was a
dog. Ed). He was quite a character. Chased the
deer, although they were ten times his size. How
long was he at Langeleben? I remember we took
him out with us on one occasion and lost him. He
turned up a couple of days later. Whilst on the
subject of people going missing, does anyone
remember the Water Wagon driver going AWOL? Have
been looking for some photos from Langy and came
across my pay statement from Feb 1956 issued by
Reading Pay Office. Pay was £2.11.0 per week
which was double what I started on in March,
2004, 25 bob. Not a bad increase over two years.
I have just remembered another little story. One
Sunday afternoon, three or four of us were
having a drink (as usual) at a farmers home when
all of a sudden there was a thumping on the
door. The farmer went to see who it was and
there stood his brother, having just come from
East Germany with his family on a horse and
cart. What a party we had that night.
There was a chap who went Awol after
going out with me to Braunsweig. I was questioned
furiously as to his possible whereabouts in case he had
gone over the border by the C.O Jim Prescott. He came
back 3 days later with an extraordinary story of being
locked up in a windmill by this girl we had met and with
whom he had gone off - the last I had seen of him. I now
believe that there was a windmill museum around so it
could have been true.
I had forgotten the dog but remembered the bloody deer
clattering around the place. Never completely tame, was
he/she. Did we ever know its sex or was that too
I was on B watch with Bob Wells. I recall hearing modern
jazz for the first time there. There was a Gerry
Mulligan record "Knights of the Turntable" and an MJQ
too. Best of all was a Dave Brubeck. ‘Jazz goes to
College’ perhaps. Pete Ellis was learning the trumpet at
the time too. And Elvis in the Deutsches Haus after
drinking at Schumanns where it was cheaper. A fellow
I.Corps chap Jeff Penney hung out there a lot with me
too and he was more than passingly friendly with the
landlady and, if I drank enough, I could fancy the girl
with the magnificent bust and the eyes that looked in
two different directions. However, very disconcerting if
It was about June 56 when I got to Langeleben for the
first time .One thing does come to mind. Sitting in the
cookhouse one lunch time at a window overlooking the R
Vans Ernie Cooper suddenly shot out of his chair and we
saw him dashing down to the R Vans. When he got back we
asked what was wrong and he said one of the R Van
windows was open and he had been able to read the morse
as someone had put a speaker on. I do not remember who
the watch Cpl was but Ernie certainly gave him a b'ing.
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Did anyone record or recall the
temperatures? I have this vague recollection of it
dropping to -30deg one day and some smartyboots saying
that when it reached 32 it was the same in centigrade
and fahrenheit 7
My first winter was when it was’ tents only’; we all
lived in our pyjamas with our BD's on top, arctic issue
sweaters and those 15th hand leather jackets. You only
forgot to tie your boots to the ridge pole of the tent
once. Otherwise you woke up to find them frozen to the
earth and the sweaty interior turned to ice. Oh those
lovely Canadian lumberjack boots!
This way of dressing went on for weeks - we NEVER
undressed and it needed to be a crisis before you used
the toilets otherwise you hung on until you got into K.
How many are there of us left who did the tent bit?
I remember carrying the ever- present brown bowl full of
'hot' water and finding it covered with a thin layer of
ice when I reached my tent.
The story in the blue book about the cracked engine
block rung a bell. There were some days when something
in the suspension just turned to lard.
7 It is actually at -40deg
I only lived in a tent for a week
or so at Langeleben whilst waiting for a space to become
vacant in the accommodation block. As you know we only
had two buildings, one for admin, cookhouse etc and the
other for living in. At Dannenberg all we had was tents.
As far as I know Joe Makepeace (A very popular I Corps
Sgt. who unfortunately died) was married but I do not
know anything else regarding his service.
Yes I remember Pete Ellis, Bob
Wells and Mick Stubbings very well. I have a photo
somewhere about of Pete playing his trumpet. Talking
about all the music at that time I seem to remember
Charlie Parker as well. Also I was surprised to have
played for me on British Forces Network, 'Don't Roll
those Bloodshot Eyes at me'. Some of the guys arranged
With regard to the temperature, I seem to remember that
vehicles had to be drained if they were left standing
over a certain length of time. I certainly remember
-20deg. Do you remember guys going out in civilian
clothes with pyjamas underneath which caused the local
lasses to scream when they showed below their trousers
whilst rocking and rolling.
Paul, I cannot remember the I Corps guy on my watch as I
was not too long on watch at Langy. Capt Jim Prescott
put me in charge of stores. This meant I went to
Braunsweig 5 times a week with a GSO driver, including
Saturdays. This was OK as I could play snooker. I met a
guy from the East Surreys who was a good player and we
had some good games, even though the cues had no tips.
You have really got me going!.
Incidentally, I have found my demob papers and my no.
was 5405 and I was demobbed on 9.3.56
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Did you ever play snooker with
the I corps chap who was a real hustler. He had played
his way through Uni and could take on just about anyone.
Am I dreaming or did we not get a snooker table in the
cookhouse when they built the first hut? That reminds me
of something else now. After the dreaded scouse another
cook arrived who was suddenly whisked away under escort.
He had TB and could have given it to all of us! At least
that's what they said. He could have given it to the
cockroaches and done us all a favour. The place was
infested with them.
Yes, Charlie Parker too, so there must have been at
least 4 records in the collection. There are several
pictures in the 55's with Ivor Whitton in them. He was
I. Corps and a good friend. I missed him when he went as
he was the only other tennis player on the Camp.
Those bloody pyjamas. Thinking back, we must have ponged
a bit, never taking them off and no baths. We tucked
them in to our socks under our BD’s or civvies when we
hit the ‘Town’, Did we ever take them off in the
Another good mate was Cpl Bill Taylor, he is in lots of
photos of the period too - again I Corps. How about
Eddie Potts? The worst drinker in history, I reckon, but
despite this handicap he still insisted on trying to
learn. Every Friday night when not on watch he'd go out
come back, go to his 'pit'; go to sleep; wake up and
puke his guts out. AND always in my bedspace. He was a
skinny chap dark hair and sallow - and married I think.
Someone else I had forgotten until now!
There was a snooker table in the
admin block at the opposite end to the cookhouse and it
only just managed to fit into the room which meant some
shots were very hard to play.
Funny thing memory! I can
vaguely remember coming in through the door of the new
Admin block. The bathroom less plumbing came first on
the left then the I corps office, the stores and then
the cookhouse. That, initially, was the only building.
Ignoring the old MT shed and cookhouse. Am I right in
thinking that the CO Jim Prescott had an office in there
My memory is not half as good as
yours however your comments stir mine a little and
things come back to me. I was fortunate to get out of
tents and sleep in the stores. I remember my bed being
in the corner with the weekly cigarette ration and the
box of ammunition being under it. A further point,
people on sick parade had to come on the wagon with me
to Braunsweig. During the time under canvas, there were
very few who went to the MO, however, after the huts
were erected with heating, people went virtually every
day. I suppose the cold killed the bugs as well.
Did you ever play cards for cigs instead of money? In
our school, you were not allowed to play with woodbines
as the baccy used to come out during the game and
therefore only the paper was left at the end. Did you
never go on the bath run to Helmstedt on a Wednesday
I have read your memories particularly with regard to
the VW visit. I was on that trip too and was amazed at
the size of the place and the speed that the vehicles
came off the line and how they tested them inside the
building. Coming from Coventry, that was the car centre
for the UK at that time, I was very impressed.
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You are absolutely
right about being sick. In the 15 months there I didn't
have a day's sickness and to think we used to trot down
to town for a few beers all 5km of it and often back
Funny you should mention the
bath run to Helmstedt. That
very nearly got me in to the most serious trouble. As
you know we I Corps always wore RS flashes and badges
Somehow, one of the MP's who became quite friendly had
been asking quite innocent questions and how, I don't
know he guessed that I wasn't R.Sigs and so I was left
with no alternative, as I saw it. but to tell him I
thought confidentially that I was I Corps. The bastard
went all ‘regimental’ and questions were asked and I
honestly thought that a trip to Bielefeld was on the cards. Fortunately it all
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Re the VW trip we must have been together. Do you
remember the office corridor 1/3 mile long, I recall,
and dead straight, ideal for lovers of perspective. Did
you go on the Hannover Messe trip too? The size and
scope of that in a country said to have lost the War and
, sweets had only just come off
I don't know about you but the time in
opened my eyes to the possible truth
about Great (?)
I could draw you a picture of that store room with the
two pistols on a shelf next to the bed. I think they
were for the officers to fight off the Russians.
Woodbines? Can't recall anything
except Players Navy Cut and Senior Service. Am I
dreaming or did they also come in tins of 50?
to say how really impressed I am at the stories and
memories you are managing to drag out, we ‘60s lads had
it cushy compared to you, but I have no doubt at all
that it is all true, it’s just the sort of thing you
just can’t make up. Also Tom touched on the snooker
table previously, undoubtedly it was the same table we
had in the NAAFI, albeit with a few more tears in the
baize. We have all been around long enough to know that
when the chips are down, you just have to get on with
it. We did in
, and in
There you go again Paul, stirring up memories.
Yes I remember the pistols and that brings back
the time a fox, just outside the fence, was
sitting and not moving, we thought he must be
ill or something. Lt Jenkins, (do you remember
him), got one of the pistols and a couple of
rounds to put the poor mite out of his misery.
We must have been on the same trip to
VW, it was an amazing
place considering it was only 10 years after the
end of the War. Another thing I could not get my
head round was the fact that a butchers shop had
all its different meats on display whereas back
in 'blighty' you asked for some meat and the
butcher disappeared into the back and came out
with the piece cut. You had no choice.
English butcher would probably come back with a piece of
de-frosted lambs liver out of a tin!
Lt Jenkins. Do I remember him! I've already bored
everyone with the story of the sledge that we built,
mainly due to Jimmy Dean and which Jenkins drove around
the town whilst we threw out sweets to the kids. I have
the photos to prove this to our disbelieving youngsters.
I also litigiously suggested that he may well have been
responsible for the complete lack of coffee in the camp.
The ONLY thing the Germans did not have. Someone fairly
senior seemed to be involved or was it you as Storeman?
Do you remember bringing back a tin of Nescafe in the
forlorn hope of bribing yourself into some young
Fraulein's knickers. Or were
you one of those who got his hands on one of those five
girls who would go with a squaddie?
Oh, and Yes! I had the first steak of my life in
I couldn't believe it. It was bigger than some Sunday
joints our family of 6 had sat round.
The second was a disaster. I saw the word 'steak' (in
German of course) and ordered it. Hell’s Bells.
it turned up raw, AS WAS THE
EGG! That has just put me off my supper – just writing
Hell Paul, we'll be here all night at this rate.
I remember the Reindeer at Xmas very well as I was
involved in its build.
Good PR exercise. I vaguely remember the coffee
Whilst hunting for the photos, I came across a Gala Bier
mat and on the back is the name and address of Margrit
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A funny thing happened
about 12 months after I had been demobbed. I had a visit
from an ex Langeleben driver (cannot remember his name
but he lived in Leicester) whilst I lived with my
Coventry. He turned up on the doorstep and guess
who he had with him. Yes
Margrit Sukale. What a lovely surprise.
Regarding cigarettes, although I never smoked I remember
that most brands came in round tins of 50 apart from
Balkan Sobrane which came in a flat tin of 25s.
Tom, you've done it again.
Balkan Sobranies - with their black paper and gold tips,
no dinner dance at the tennis club or the youth club was
complete without a pack, UNLESS you wanted to cut a real
dash and be a bit a bit of a lad and then it was
Abdullah no 7's. You could get them in all different
colour papers and on top of that they were OVAL. Like
all Turkish ciggies they stank! When
I dare think back we must have looked King-sized prats
with our suede shoes, hair dripping with Brylcreem*,
yellow socks and white scarves.
But then the girls all tried to look like Tony Curtis'
first wife or Doris Day and had beehive hair do's (there
were stories of them having nests of fleas and God knows
what else in them), but worse were those pieces of body
armour that would cut off the circulation to your hands
should you ever get past 2nd base, I can't recall what
they were called - 'panty girdles'? At least they did
have the benefit of a glimpse of stocking and, hold your
No more of this, Mike might get too excited and expire
on us and I can't afford a wreath this week.
* Have a look at Teddy Boy
Lee in the photos and you will see what I mean!
Wallowing in nostalgia and the subtle aroma of Balkan
Sobranies I had a look at the internet Ebay yesterday
and found a copy of Gerry Mulligan 'Nights at the
Turntable'. I HAD to buy it, supposedly in "a good
condition". I'll enjoy playing that when it arrives and
will be thinking of that little room in that hut. I
think the Brubeck was 'Jazz goes to College' but as for
the Charlie Parker
perhaps I didn't rate it, I certainly cannot
recall its name. There is no way I am going to buy those
awful early Presleys though, which we (not me!) must
have worn nearly smooth.
Now there's a name. Paul, you have a good memory. Which
hostelry had the juke box with a small dance
floor. Was it Deutsches Haus
or Schumanns? Also which one had the cupboard behind the
bar which contained more cigs than I had under my bed in
the stores. The only thing
was that they cost more than a bob for twenty.
Here is another question for you. Didn't we have a
courier service going to an American
base. I think it went in the jeep with driver,
corporal with bag and guard with empty
sten gun. The Yanks coming
back were a different kettle of fish they were armed to
the hilt. Did you go on any trip to the American Base
at ? I cannot remember where,
think that I would rather like to follow up on our
friend8 who went over the wire. Under the freedom of
information Act they will have to tell me something. I
will also go to the Public records Office. The Stasi
records, I believe, are also open for investigation now
but I don't know if access is possible from the
. Any ideas Can I have any information on him that you
might have or should we let him rest in peace IF he is
Yes they were all voice ops (in
) as far as I am aware. I don't know what they were up
to as I couldn't speak their lingo or read their
newspapers (Pravda I think it was!)
Apart from the theory of an East German girl being
involved, I have no idea why Brian went over the wall. I
certainly had no suspicions about it happening. I was
having a beer with him only hours before he went.
Brian Patchett summer 1963
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of the few photos showing Brian Patchett before his
Funny you talking about the
carved wooden eagle. I was just looking at a photo last
week with it in. I had forgotten just how large it was.
It must have weighed a ton. It would take more than a
handful of squaddies to shift that. I believe it was
hung on the wall when Gatow was a Luftwaffe station. The
photo was taken when Hughie Green (there's a name from
the past) came to record one of his television shows
there. If you remember he caused a stir because he flew
his own plane from the west and did not have flight
clearance from the East Germans and they sent up a
fighter to escort him down in
. He went down into low cloud and lost them and Gatow
'talked him in' from their radar. We were listening in
to all this. He was sh**ing himself.
yes, that's correct, the BStU normally only disclose
your personal files (if found), otherwise only bona-fide
researchers are allowed access to the files. You would
need a good reference or contact to get this permission.
The Germans are pretty hot on Data Protection.
Presumably Mr. P. received a new identity when he
defected, so it would be mighty difficult to trace him,
even if he has remained in the FRG. Details might be
contained in his Stasi file, if it has been found. The
reply to the question from Allason MP in Hansard is
interesting. What interest had Allason in Brian Patchett?
He might have some additional details if you contacted
Interesting idea to contact Allason.
His interest is that he used to make a very good living
by writing on MI6 who used him as a conduit. He was also
closely connected to Chapman Pincher. He claimed, quite
rightly, to be an intelligence expert. He blotted his
copybook rather badly whilst an MP and has dropped out
of the public eye and has presumably lost his MI6
connections. I have met him - he was one of our
customers so I could try him.
and so on did not adopt new names or personalities hence
my thought of the telephone directory.
I would genuinely like to follow this up, particularly
in view of the lie by ‘Fatty’ Nicholas Soames. I forgot
to mention that Allason wrote as Nigel West.
He sued and lost when described as "a conniving little
shit" The Judge deciding that this was NOT a slur on his
name. What a reputation!!!!!
Just returning after a long absence, jogged by
JR who I've met elsewhere and we swopped a story
or two. I'm so glad that Paul is still here, his
memories are mine.
I served from jan 1953 to jan 1956, mostly at
and Birgelen with a short cold winter spell at
Langeleben which I think was the winter of
1955/56, as a signalman, not the I Corps.
Yes it was the tented camp at this time, very
rarely getting undressed for a wash, putting
pyjamas over your work clothes to go to bed,
sleeping if your lucky with night temps I should
imagine down to -20F or less.
Duty shifts in the vans with electric foot
warmers, unless the generator broke down which
was often, all this meant was no lights, no
work, The food was cooked on solid fuel so we
did eat and drink.
I had my first and only taste of venison at
Langeleben, No it
didn't fall off the back of a lorry but was
knocked down by someone somewhere on the forest
road. The cook made a great job of it, he was
also very good with sauces,
I never did know his name. Our NAAFI was
the local pub, Frau Grahn I think ran it .I've
seen other interpretations of the name. She
served a wonderful Steak, mit Egg and chips.
Herr Schmidt rings a bell but..........
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We were often on the few pairs of ski's,
trekking through the forest, not many suitable
slopes, there was one, through the trees that
ended up at the track at the bottom with a
ditch, of course I tried jumping over the ditch,
just as well the snow was a couple of feet
thick, I was head first in it.
One pastime was following deer and wild boar
tracks but we never followed the wild boar ones
into the thickest and darkest parts, very scary.
The odd break was had in
rooms in a city barracks and we took trips into
the town, I remember the great steel gates
hiding off some streets, I often wondered why. (you
are not old enough. Ed)
We did have a very enjoyable night in a club,
listening to some great live Jazz I think it
was, I didn't drink much at the time but I think
as the entrance was free the drinks were
Oh we had a bath/shower there!
No. not in the club, Back at the City
I remember very few names, only one, Harry
Kitson we went through the three years together,
not exactly as best mates as he was always on a
different shift both at Birgelen and Langy but I
kept in touch until his death some years ago.
Having said I remember few names, many mentioned
of the 1950's do sound familier. I also did
another short winter spell at Nordholtz, it
wasn't called that then, but
thats another story.
I remember the venison episode too, Fred. I
can't remember who was the
driver but I can tell you that the
butcher was the water cart driver who also did a
nice line in shoe repairs, using thorns instead
of nails. Those shoes I am wearing in the photo
to which Mr Dave takes un/reasonable exception
were repaired by him with this method and lasted
for years. He must have made the sauce as Scouse
the cook couldn't even make gravy.
I can almost feel the cold now. As you say, we
wore our pyjamas under our denims for literally
weeks (6?) and do you remember those Jungle
green underpants with those strings on?
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I recall being warned by an 'old soldier' not to
leave my boots on the tent floor. I soon found
out why. Overnight they simply froze to the
floor and I rapidly learned to hang them from
the ridge pole. It well beat -20deg. One night
the suspension or brake fluid (or something)
froze in the 3 tonner and was just like lard.
Carrying those brown basins full of hot water on
the ice and down the catwalk to the tent very
carefully meant that it was cold before you got
'home'. If you rushed you spilled the damned
It was Frau Grahn who fed us. Everything was
with Kartoffeln und Speigel eier. (I apologise
for my German, I haven't used it for years and
will have to work on it a bit for next month.
Noch ein bier bitte,
is a good start). Herr Schmidt was the 'Herr
Ober' at the Deutscheshaus, the Friday and
Saturday haunt with the juke box. Elvis was just
making the big time.
Those bloody skis. There were 4 so-called pairs
I recall. We just about knew they needed waxing.
Trying to get the clips to stay on the welt of
our boots and around the heel was impossible.
That is why all the photos there are show us
stationary. I reckon! I know precisely where you
mean re the ditch. I ducked out and fell over
before reaching it. I retired from competitive
skiing then, swearing never to try them again.
Adding this to never ever sleeping in a tent and
never climbing a mountain for "fun". I have been
better at keeping these than my first wedding
I recall walking back one night, all alone, (and
broke) from Schumann's and hearing the boar
snuffling alongside. Scared? I was petrified. I
would have preferred it to have been the
Yes, we did have the use of the apartment in
for baths and, if you dig back, I wrote about
the walled street AND someone, believe it or
not, posted a photo of it. Worthy of a dig
around for it in the album.
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The jazz club
you mention was where I had the unfortunate
paybook episode which resulted in my military
career coming to an end before it had really
photo of the tent I am the one on the left wielding the
stick, the one on ski's. I
think my name is on there. There is also another I put
on with three/four of us at Braunswieg railway station,
again I think I am named, the smallest of the group, the
rest are now strangers. Hey, I was the good looking one.
True that we remember ‘certain happenings’ and ‘people’
but not ‘names’, well that is how it seems now; it was
always first name terms anyway.
I do remember a couple of older lads
(Corporals Fitt and Trebilcock. Ed) who stuck
together and had dodgy friends down in the village, well
maybe dodgy women, they spent a lot of time down there,
one of them was a bit "gross".
I think one of the reasons I didn't get out with folks
much, drinking and wenching etc was that I was married
and sending home spare cash or was it the other way
round I kept the spare cash but the bulk of it went
two are having a right old carry-on about the fifties.
Do you not recognise me standing on Fred's right in the
picture of the four skiers.
The dog’s name was Tommy. What about the guys who forgot
to tuck their 'jamas' in their socks when 'dancing' to
the juke box and giving the local lasses something to
laugh about? Fred, you have really started something.
I knew about the 7,10
and 12 Guards Divisions, all Armoured from
memory and all part of the 3rd shock. I can't
remember the 8th. Where did they fit in the
grand order of things (order of battle).
found an 8 Guards Army sitting in the Fulda Gap which
looks very much in the American zone. Is that the one?
I take exception to your reference to ‘drunken
ramblings’. Much to my disgust but a medical must, I am
as sober as a Methodist preacher! If I try hard I can
taste the beloved Laphroaig on my tongue but then
reality says, ' Pillock '. At times such as Birthdays or
Anniversaries or similar I confess to the occasional
pint of Titanic but that is all and very few and far
between. So, what ever my ramblings may be they ain't
In hindsight, the last time I was drunk was to celebrate
Keith Robinson's promotion to Sgt at Birgelin,
Circa 1969, when someone who
shall remain nameless, spiked my drinks.
have missed the original mention of 8 Guards as over the
last few days thinking of 3 Shock and 24 Guards etc I
thought why has no one mentioned 8 Guards and it seems
as though someone did but looking back I still cannot
see where. Age?
Mike I thought in the past you said you only reached the
rank of Cpl so how did you celebrate the promotion of
He was one of my troop who I had put up for Sgt and the
day he got promoted we were on morning shift so went
straight down to the Sgt's Mess at lunch time where I
introduced him to the mess and he got the obligatory
rounds etc. I did however make sure that he did not
drink much himself and made sure that he left the Mess
in a sober state did you then hijack him for another
The last I heard from Keith was many years ago when he
sent me photographs etc from the time he was part of the
Royal Signals who provided the Guard at
I may be wrong but I think it was Val his wife who was I
Corps who persuaded him to leave the Army. If you know
where he is would like to get in touch with him again.
I applaud your sobriety, but your reference to
Methodist preachers, Mike, is a bit out of date.
Relatively few of my brother and sister
Methodist preachers are teetotal. Like you, we
enjoy the odd tipple!
Sorry to take so long to reply but have had a
hectic time as my 94 year old mother in law is
not too well at the moment. No I am not a
Geordie, I got
transferred up here by Courtaulds in 1976 to
sort out a computer installation. Ended up
marrying a Geordie Lass so had to stay here.
Never regreted it. Do not worry, my memory is
just the same, cannot remember names from 50+
years ago. Can you remember when you went to
Langeleben (not Langy), it must have been winter
of end 54/begin of 55. Skiing was just across
the road from GUARD ROOM, I remember my first
time was at midnight under a full moon. Keep in
touch, Keith. P.S. I am from
originally, when I did NS 54/6.
you have trouble keeping those damned skis on your boots
as I did Keith? I went to Langeleben in April 1955 so
you seriously outrank me.
from "Skiing" we used to walk those woods following deer
and wild boar tracks and I seem to remember getting to a
point where we could see over the border, without
looking at a map I think it was Manhiem and tanks on
manouvres over there.
have now see, the
range of subjects covered and digressed from is
formidable. The great mystery though is why there were
more than 5000 visits to the site when someone asked
“who remembered the I.Corps?” The answer was “A lot of
us”, judging from the 153 messages to date from members
and several hundred names mentioned.
may it give pleasure and amusement but, above all,
enable us, as we sink into our dotage, to keep in touch.
Sadly for many reasons, not least health and old age we
cannot all get to the re-unions.
GETTING THERE by KEITH MASON, RAF
The journey to
Germany started at Liverpool Street Station where a
train waited for us. The train was made up of the most
clapped out dilapidated carriages British Railways could
Good enough for
mere National Servicemen, I'm sure the establishment
thought, "toughen the buggars up a bit" This train
wound it's way slowly to Parkstone Quay at Harwich where
a troopship waited. Conditions on board were cramped and
the crossing rarely smooth, the worst vessel being the
Vienna. This was said to have a flat bottom and even
small waves tossed it about like a cork.
were in bunk beds with little space. Everyone was sick
on the two occasions I travelled on this boat. Dustbins
were provided but overflowed onto the floor. The whole
ship stank of sick. How they ever cleaned it for the
return journey I will never know. Still again "good
enough for our lads" the top brass must have thought.
In Holland what a
relief to find clean modern trains waiting for us. These
were paid for we were told by a grateful Dutch
government. The trains were better than even the best in
Mainland Britain. They even had dining cars where decent
food was served.
The final part of
the journey to Winterberg was in the back of a Magirus
Truck or, if you were lucky, in a VW Kombi.
During the three
years or so in Germany I made the trip about 5 times
each way. Every time was stressful, tiring and one was
ordered about like cattle. It was certainly one of the
less attractive elements of a posting to Germany.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE SHIPS USED ON THE HARWICH/HOOK ROUTE
SS EMPIRE WANSBECK
click to enlarge
Built in 1943 it was originally named the “Linz”
and was owned by North German Lloyd. It became a war
prize in 1946 Completed her last Hook - Harwich
crossing 26th Sep.1961 1962 sold to Kavounides
Shipping, Piraeus, renamed ESPEROS and rebuilt as a
passenger/car ferry. Used on the Venice - Rhodes service
Later laid up near Perama until 1980 when she was towed
to Gandia, Spain where she was scrapped. The “Empire
Wansbeck” was the smallest of the three and in normal
conditions was not a bad ship to travel on. Get a
rough sea and it would bob about like a cork.
click to enlarge
Built 1921. In 1941 it was bought from the London and
North Eastern Railway and became a hospital ship and troopship.The SS VIENNA was withdrawn from service in
July 1960 and was towed to Ghent two months later, where
she was scrapped. SS VIENNA was a name to strike fear in
to the hearts of strong men when it was the one they
were to travel on. It could turn a smooth sea into a
typhoon struck ocean.
HMT EMPIRE PARKESTON
click to enlarge
Henry, 1946 purchased from Canadian Government and
renamed Empire oping. Later that
year she was towed to La Spezia, Italy where she arrived
on 20th Feb.1962 fand broken up.Largest of the
three, the H.M.T. “Empire Parkeston” and was probably
the best boat to travel on. It was big enough to
withstand all but the worst of the sea conditions
SIGNALMAN GARNSWORTHY G.H. 22910203
I was at Langeleben in its early days. When I see the photo on
the top of the ‘Listening Post’ I gasp with amazement. I
just can’t believe the primitive conditions that we had
to endure could become such a palatial Camp. No NAAFI in
my days! Even though it is 54 years since I was last at
Langeleben as a National Serviceman I still have some
very treasured memories of my time in the Camp and of
the friendships that I made. I am still in contact with
three mates who served with me, Stuart Pitson, Alf
Smart, and Roy Sparrow. Sadly, the fourth mate I kept in
contact with Harry Kitson died some years ago.
I started my Basic
Training in August 1953 at Vimy Lines Catterick and
began Operator Special Training at Garats hay Camp.
In February 1954 I
was posted to No.1 Wireless Regt.
and was posted to langeleben in August 1954, returning
to the Regt. Which, by then, had moved to Munchen
I went in as a
signalman and came out as a signalman as I kept refusing
promotion. I have a laugh now at my testimonial which
reads “……….. Shows no willingness to lead others” as I
eventually became the Headmaster of a large Primary
School. I rest my case for refusing.
click to enlarge
When I was first
posted to Langeleben it was summer and idyllic but when
winter came conditions became harsher as can be seen in
the photos. I slept in the large marquee. At the height
of winter we would put 4 blankets on our beds, folded
double, our greatcoats and then a groundsheet which you
shook well in the mornings after snow had fallen
overnight. Luckily we did not have to do Guard Duty –
Displaced Persons did Guard day and night. One night a
shot rang out. No! It was not the Russians but one of
the Guards shooting a deer. There was venison on the
menu for a few days!
click to enlarge
entertainment in those early days of was either a trip
to Königslutter or to the cinema at the Royal Welch
Regt. Barracks in
where I sometimes saw and spoke to soldiers from my own
South Wales village. We also spent a lot of
time at the Inn just above the Camp, mainly drinking and eating. The
main order was “Eine Cutlet mit eier mit brote” (sic) or
some such German. No NAAFI for us in those days. The
latrine was at one end of the field – a large hole and
planks to sit on!! Sometimes to trudge across in the
snow, which meant dressing up in boots, greatcoat, etc.
if you were having a lie –in, was a chore. Once, I just
lifted the marquee flap and began relieving myself. At
that moment a National Service 2nd. Lt, whose
name I can’t remember, came bounding round the corner,
turned his back and said “I wish you wouldn’t do that.
It makes such awful yellow stains on the snow” and
walked away. Christmas at the Camp he arranged a
Dinner/Dance in Königslutter at which I danced with his
Wife who was deaf. At the end of the dance she
congratulated me on my sense of rhythm for she was able
to follow me even though she couldn’t hear the music.
The Major also arranged a visit to the Volkswagen
factory at Wolfsburg.
click to enlarge
conditions under which we lived and carried out our
duties I still have happy and lasting memories of the
camp. During the rain, snow mud and freezing conditions
whilst I was there I never caught a cold – mind you, the
fact that at that time I ate raw onions as you would an
apple. As soon as I returned to a centrally heated
barracks I went down with the Flu.
During my last
month or so at the Camp, diggers moved in and started to
dig out the foundations for the Camp in which so many
signalmen later enjoyed a ‘cushy’ life.
HARRY BENNETT OPSPEC 1949-53
I was particularly interested in copy of the item from
'Shutter Telegraph (whatever that is) and title of
Langeleben unit. i.e. 101 Wireless Troop and of Lt
The enclosed photograph of the unit sign was taken of
this unit at Hildesheim where I spent most of my time
and which, at one time, was called Detachment 1 Wireless
Lt Baldwin I recall at Hildesheim and accompanying him
on a recce to a site near Dannenberg. A site we later
used two or three times with a mobile unit from
Hildesheim. We also ranged as far as Gottingen. I
believe the initial visit to Langeleben was by this
I did not make this first visit in 1951 but was
there later for a couple of weeks and returned to
Hildesheim. In 1952 I again visited Langeleben and found
work under way constructing concrete bases for our ridge
tents. I did send some photos to our late secretary
Frank Mitchell, when I first made contact, of tents
being erected. (that's what should have been happening).
At this time, the Camp consisted of personnel from
Hildesheim and Munster (1 Wireless Regt). My main
recollection of Langeleben is of "mud, tea and food
tasting of wood smoke, trips to the NAAFI at Helmstedt
for a bath and to see a film and spending lonely nights
in a trailer a few miles from Camp in a very isolated
spot. Really creepy). I was very glad to return to
Hildesheim for the winter.
Looking forward to receiving further issues of the
Yours Harry Bennett
JOHN FORTEY’S RECOLLECTIONS
I was a police cadet (office boy)
in the traffic branch at Scotland Yard before I joined
up. Cadets could then apply to be called up at 17 1/2 to
come out at 19 1/2 to rejoin the police. I decided to do
this but signed on for 3 years so that I could have some
choice of regiment. I chose the I Corps or the
Worcestershire Regt. My interview was at the Arsenal in
Hyde Park, a brick hut, where I was met by an officer in
blazer and tie and a sergeant who was shouting at a ‘squaddie’
who was sweeping. The Officer explained that the ‘squaddie’
had only a few days left ‘to do’ and wasn't very
interested in military matters.
Even at 17 I could see the questions coming, ie ‘do you
play sport; hockey?’, ‘do you speak a language?’ I had
spent a month with a family in France and failed O level
French. Have you travelled abroad much?’ I had. With the
school, twice, and I had spent my10th birthday in
Rotterdam, I was in! I then went to go through the
formalities at a recruiting office in Croydon. A very
fat Brigadier, obviously retired and wanting to enhance
his pension, signed me up. On my return, my police boss,
a Welsh PC demanded to see the forms. He was a natural
Welsh rebel, one of Owen Glendower's finest, but a
smashing fellow. A shout of disgust! The Brigadier had
spelt Intelligence with only one ‘l’. I hadn't noticed -
English not being my strong subject, (along with all the
other academic subjects). I still have the form. I was
in, and at 17years and six months I arrived at
Maresfield. Why should England tremble for its safety?
My squad in basic training ended in X. It was a mixed
National Service and regular squad. We started on 20th
Dec 54. Jo Adams and Bill Taylor were about 4 squads
ahead of us. We did 4 weeks basic training; 6 weeks
Corps training; 4 weeks FS (Field Security.ed) training
and then we went to GCHQ for our final ‘Sigint’
training. I and our group went to GCHQ and stayed at the
Milverton Hotel. We had to wear civvies the whole time
and were paid £7 per week during our months stay. It was
great. We tried to get to every pub in Cheltenham but
after a week, Ray Hornabrook and I found girlfriends
instead. We had completed the FS course before going to
GCHQ. We, as I expect you (correct ed.), were classified
as B1 trade, which brought in extra cash, but those who
later went to Loughborough did 6 weeks and came out as
B3 with less money. Whilst having breakfast each morning
in the hotel we used to quietly take the ‘micky’ out of
a group on the next table, one was RAF, the tie and
blazer gave that away, and the other two seemed a bit ‘boffinish’.
On arrival in Germany, there he was, Rex Evanson, our
Captain was one of the two boffins. Fortunately, I don't
think he had noticed.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
We spent 4 weeks there, a rail strike held us up and we
finally arrived in Germany the 2nd week in June 55 I had
applied for, Austria, Cyprus, GCHQ and lastly Germany.
Well I should have known better. Germany it was! We were
told that we were going to Munster and it may even have
been in transit that we were actually sent to Birgelen.
I was still 17 when I arrived in Germany. I would never
have gone to Langeleben had it not been that I had gone
on leave with a friend in Austria, didn't want to hand
my kit into stores and had put it in the attic on top of
a beer barrel that Taffy Price and Bob Jones had left
there. No one EVER went up there, except that on this
occasion a Major Stuart did whilst on a ‘CO's
I got back to Birgelen late at night from leave to be
greeted with, ‘Oh you have 3 guard duties in the next
week, you're on a charge because of your kit and Rex
wants to see you first thing’. Dear Rex gave me the
option of staying and facing the charges or going to
Langeleben the next day. Langy got it and I am so
pleased that it did.
I was at Langeleben from Feb 57 until June 57. Peter
Wright, of our group was also there for a very short
Photos, I did send some to Fred Searle (he Birgelen website ed) and they were published, but then some were
taken off, I don't know why. I can give you some names,
I am in the front on the 1st of the group with the
bottle and I am with Colin Davidson coming up from the
truck after a ‘midty’ Back to the photo of ‘A’ Watch l
to r, Bill Bowles,Peter Stewart, Jock Cummins, Gordon
Cooper, "Brad???" Brian Thompson.With the bottle to the
front, l to r, Dave Packer, Dave Everitt, Jack Hesketh,
Martin (Lower??) aka Screwball
Bill Taylor, Frank Wyman, Tris England .
Bottle in Packer's untrustworthy hand, me, Dave Packer, Dave
Everitt, Screwball, Frank Wyman, Bill Taylor, Tris
England. I do have more photos of
people but mainly in Birgelen, Ray Hornabrook, Guy
Peters, Dereck James, Jock Duncan, Alan Lawson, and a
group of, Keith Richardson, Jimmy Cardle, Ian McGhee,
Ian Willock, Dereck James and Brian Harrington. As
well as a few others. I don't know if
you knew them but Bob Jones and Roy Smith have died
The ones I am on, unrecognisable, are the 57 Admin.
Inspection. I was in the jeep with Scouse Nolan when
Co.l Lonnan was inspecting the MSO guard. I was really
miffed because the Captain, I forget his name, wouldn't
let me have a gun and I knew there was a revolver around
somewhere and I had got a holster. When we, Scouse and
I, stopped in Little Schumanns before escorting the
unshaven Brig to the camp, the locals were horrified
that, as escorts, we were not allowed guns. I do have
photos of a group of I Corps at the Gasthouse when Joe
Adams sent us a bottle of Whisky with his replacement,
Jonnie Reece. On this occasion, for the first, and last,
time he offered to stand in for whoever was on duty that
we could all enjoy yourselves. After a few beers and the whisky most
of us caught the truck into 'Slutter. The duty man was
not up to it and failed to return to duty. His
replacement at 4.00am also found himself unable to participate in military
duties. I was on at 8am next morning, and did turn up to find Bill Taylor and
Jonnie in the ops truck. Jonnie was in a bad temper as
he had been on duty from about 5.30 the previous evening
until I turned up at 8.
Please give my kindest regards to Bill Taylor when you next
chat. I was also a regular but only made corporal, but
then I had "coaxed" the orderly room clerk into showing
me my confidential report held by the RSM. It read "An
individualist, not a leader of men."
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CHRIS GREGORY’S RECOLLECTIONS
I arrived at Langeleben about October 1954 in time to
see an Officer having a snowball. What a change!
Next thing, I was ordered by Sgt Taylor to be an escort
for a driver who had lost a tyre. Sgt Taylor was a
regular who mustered out shortly after Xmas 54.
He was a Catholic like me and married a lady who
had a fish and chip shop in Kemptown,
, which is my home town.
I find the following photograph fascinating for a number
of reasons. The chap on the left is Cpl Mike Bailey. We
shared a tent until his unfortunate departure
accompanied by Military and Civil Police. I think it is
Ernie Cooper with the pickaxe on his shoulder. Next to
him, looking an absolute pillock, I am embarrassed to
say, is me and then it is Chris Gregory doing his well
known rendition of "I am a teapot short and stout". I
asked Chris if he could remember what we were doing but
he could not! Is that possibly an ammunition box that we
were burying or dis-interring. Ed
Other names I still recall are Captain Prescott who was
the OC. He was followed by Capt. Sedden who became OC in
the summer 1955. I also recall Jim Middleton, he was the
Company Clerk. Later he was to become the editor of the
Scottish Daily Express. I can remember John Rogers. He
was in the party that set up the camp sometime in1951. I
met up with him again in the 90's.
Living conditions were basic under canvas but it was a
healthy life. In winter temperatures would drop to 28
deg of frost. Once a week we would go into Königslutter
to have our showers. It was nice to stay in
on our time off 9.
Langeleben were allocated a room in the infantry
barracks there so that they could have a bath, play
tennis and see a bit of night-life.
I recall the Christmas Midnight Mass in 1954. We
Catholics were ushered up to the front. Then, following
the service, I was on the 4-8 shift
and Sgt Taylor came round with rum at about 0730 hours.
Everybody had their Christmas lunch - unlike
where there was an epidemic of barrack room damages.I
went on leave some time around March but was lucky to
come back again for the rest of my time until Oct 1955.
I saw a guard mounting at the barracks, possibly in
Wolfenbuttel, (I am not sure that is where it was), by
the SWABS (South Wales Borderers). They were very smart,
who replaced them. The reason we went there was for a
Naafi, shop and cinema.
There was a regular truck in the evening if I
remember correctly. I recall Corporal
Trebilcock, he was a long
serving regular. Camp gossip was that he had been court
martialled for running naked round the married quarters
and that he had undergone punishment detail on the
infamous Hill in the Military Prison therel. There was
an unknown officer who wore ‘Green Howard’ shoulder
flashes. The talk was that he went over the East German
border regularly. In those days it was relatively easy
to cross over.
Yes, I too remember the venison in the summer -a driver
had knocked it down and had been persuaded to go back
and pick it up. One of the D.Ps (Displaced Persons) cut
it up and cooked it. It was very nice!
to meet up with John Rogers, who had first set up the
Camp in 1951, in the 90's. I was working at
Brooklands and, when going up to the bar for lunch one
Thursday, for some unknown reason came out with some
Russian morse -QSA imi or Guhor (I did not learn
Russian and only ever had one live message which, when
translated, meant that an operator had dropped his
pencil). John picked it up (the
morse not the pencil) and started questioning me
and it all came out.
As an officer, he remembered being hailed with
"good night Sir" from the various haystacks in the field
where various members of the unit were with their
girlfriends, as he went to his billet at Frau Grahn’s.
In the early days the camp was buzzed by a MIG jet
fighter I also recall.
(No one else has mentioned this! Ed.)
on DF work, one night I spent an entire 5pm -12 shift
without a single bearing even on BFN (British Forces
Network Radio Service) - the same thing happened at
Dannenburg about a day later, Why, I don’t know. In
summer 55 there was a camp trip to the VW factory in
Wolfburg. We learned, from memory, that some workers
were on £ 20 per week, more than a
car worker at that time; an illustration of the German
SOME PERSONAL MEMORIES OF LANGELEBEN
Geoff Buckley 1958
I must admit to having
pondered long and hard as to whether I would or even
should participate in the “History of Langeleben”, for a
number of reasons.
National Servicemen may have been in the majority
for the first ten or twelve years, but after that it was
an entirely Regular Army.
Certainly National Service was an entirely
different culture, and perhaps we were amateurs, but
that was the nature of the business.
The Regular Army brought something very
different, and at a camp like Langeleben, it would have
been a stark change from those early years.Nevertheless, we also witnessed and contributed
to a significant number of changes, but we saw it from
an entirely different perspective, and the time scale
made it that way.
My posting to 101Wireless
Troop (latterly 2 Squadron), lasted for some
fourteen/fifteen months, February ’58 to May ’59, during
which time I was a member of ‘D’ Watch throughout.
I did play for the Troop & Squadron football
team, as regularly as shifts would allow.
On the ‘lighter’ side I also enjoyed playing for
‘D’ Watch Dynamos, but having said that there were some
of those games I was glad to even survive!
However, I was a ‘730 day’
National Serviceman, and I probably had the reputation
of being a ‘days to do’ fanatic, of simply waiting for
23.59 each night, in order to cross yet another day off
the calendar! It might have been so different, but
I was the third member of the
family to join the Signals.
My uncle (he had lost his father at the beginning
of Passchendaele in 1917) served with the Corps in WW2.
He had taken a signals van (maybe even a 1942
QLR) across to
Normandy on ‘D’ Day+1, and gained a sudden and growing respect
for the RMP when they were narrowly prevented from
driving straight into a German Panzer roadblock. He was in the same van when they were crossing
the Rhine the following March and again
I understand all the crew survived. Six years later he was advising my elder brother
to try for the Royal Signals, and he finished up as a
Wireless Technician in Egypt
By 1956 my brother was giving me similar advice, and
look where it took me!
Actually, what happened was
that a young, gorgeous looking gal arrived in the office
soon after I passed the NS medical.
A little time later and I was taking that gal
out, and, just three months after that, I received my
calling up papers for Catterick!
My personal feelings as to National Service could
only be described as ‘rock bottom’.
The transfer from Catterick to
the newly opened camp at Garats Hay was brilliant – a
quick run down to the A6 when ‘hitching’ was still safe
and I was in Derby in no-time at all.
The regular London/Manchester ‘blood-wagon’ on a
Monday evening was absolutely superb.
With a little more planning I avoided the
December posting and spent Christmas at home with Father
Christmas, the kind of Father Christmas you cannot
Come January 1958 and it was
time for the rock-and–roll Vienna from Harwich to the Hook of Holland
and the Blue Train!
There was only time to lay my kit out in the locker, and I was on Orders – a posting
to 101 Wireless Troop.
Another quick run down to the WRVS to order some
flowers for my ‘Father Christmas’ on Valentines Day and
I was back on the train again.
The journey was unforgettable, and I was in the
company of a couple of ‘old soldiers’ who had obviously
taken advice from other even ‘older soldiers’.
I was made privy to parts of Hanover that I would certainly have never seen otherwise and I
very quickly became used to those “Out of Bounds” and
“Strictly out of Bounds to British Armed Services” signs
that flashed by. I will admit to being somewhat “stressed”, but I just
hung-on for dear life!
Our arrival at Hanover Station and the platform for the Berlin
train did not improve my sense of well being in any way.
This was especially the case when we were ordered to
stand back for the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) marching
on to the train, armed to the teeth with every kind of
weapon I had only seen before at the cinema. There was no let-up when we endeavoured to get
off (or should I say, fall-off) the train at some
‘middle-of-nowhere’ station I was informed was
Konigslutter. Yet another nightmare! Mountains, and
mountains of snow being blown in a terrifying blizzard,
the like of which I had not seen since the High Peak of
Derbyshire in 1947.That was all before we somehow got
off the station and by some piece of amazing luck, found
that 3 tonner waiting for us.
The only good thing on the journey to the Camp
was that we simply could not see anything outside. And
this was only my introduction to Langeleben, and NOTHING
could have prepared me for what was to follow.
The date was 6th February 1958 and the first words spoken to us were that
Manchester United had crashed at Munich Airport
and many of football’s legends had been killed or
Duncan Edwards and Roger Byrne, these were young
footballers I idolised, and so many, many more.
Glum faces greeted us everywhere when we walked
down the top corridor for the first time that night.
The second words spoken to us
told us that there was no running water on camp, it was
However, they had kindly collected some snow in
mess tins on the radiators that were still working. Our
new colleagues told us that we were on OC’s Parade at
09.00 hours, and that best BD’s will be worn!
I was to become a member of
‘D’ Watch, and ‘Rusty’ Rosson was Watch Corporal.
Our billets were the last two rooms either side
at the end of the top corridor. The remainder of 6th
February and the first hours of the 7th can
only be described as a nightmare, but it was still only
the beginning. The induction programme, starting with
the harrowing ritual of “Gripping”, began the following
morning when my ‘new colleagues’ presented me to the
camp and breakfast.
My uniform could have been 1942 vintage, but I was obviously the ‘newest’,
‘reddest’ ‘thing’, ever to be unearthed at Langeleben.
The newest of newboys; the joskin of all joskins,
Such a high group number was unheard of; could such a
Indeed, in such a ‘white-hot’ unit I could
immediately be used to thaw out the whole camp. Fifty
years ago next month, and I remember it as if it were
yesterday. I suffered for what seemed to be an eternity. It could
only have been for a few days but it was painful.
However, I was already planning; planning for the
arrival of a ‘thing’ newer than a 5710!
There may well have been a
case for thinking that was sufficient an introduction to
‘D’ Watch and the vans, but my first ‘midty’, was also
something special.I was on Watch, and that was exactly
what I was doing, sitting in a corner of the van,
watching, listening and hopefully, learning. Everything
was going great until, suddenly, the whole Watch was in
Derek Hill at the Rabke Outstation was reporting that
there were possible movements and then came huge flashes
of light and the sound of guns - big guns.
And this was my very first ‘midty’, and, yes, I
had already been told where the trenches had been dug
last time, and, yes, they had told me it was a totally
useless exercise, and yes, the word was ‘expendable'!
I had never before heard the sound of genuine
heavy artillery or seen the sky light up the horizon
above trees – it was terrifying, at least for me!
Suddenly this was the 3RD SHOCK ARMY and I was remembering much of what the Garats
Hay Instructors and ‘I’ Corps had told us about
Hungary and Budapest and the word ‘annihilation’ sprang to mind!
Despite the excitement I was
informed that, as the new boy, I should learn the
location and layout of the Cookhouse as it had been
decided that 3rd Shock Army had merely begun
Winter Manoeuvres and that I should be ready to feel the
world move. What they did not tell me was that it meant
that I would see the Cookhouse floor, tables and
hotplates move, or rather the Langeleben carpet of
It was a sight not to be missed and once seen,
Actually, standing on the hotplate, lifting the
boiler lid and then scooping the cockroaches off the top
of the hot water with a huge ladle was another gem.
And the Lord protect any cook who forgot to cover
the food left out for us!
Sad to say, it did happen occasionally.
Amazingly, settling down to do
the normal job for which we had been trained, seemed to
be the major relaxation at Langeleben.
Once inside either the vans or (later) the Set
Room and we were in a quiet, calm and orderly
environment that seemed entirely at odds with the rest
of the camp. However, when the Groups went down at 23.59
and the search for them began, the competition to find
them and see them all up and running was, to put it
Now and again should another Operator report “Did
you know your Group is up and running, strength 5,
on….”, then there was either blood on the wall or total
humiliation, or both.
By the time we came off that
first midty shift, bless ‘em, the British Army had
responded by going on manoeuvres and the surrounding
woods were alive with British armour and artillery.
And that continued for the next week as REME
Recovery vehicles were put to the test of trying to pull
them out. An afternoon watching those guys at work was really
something and the language made Langeleben sound more
like a monastery than an army camp.
Langeleben’s greatest assets,
which could never be ignored at this time, were the Camp
ablutions and latrines. These magnificent examples of
BAOR peace time civil engineering construction, have
already been the subject of many descriptions and one
can only look back and wonder that we survived.
The architect was obviously early First World
War, probably 1915, and the builders followed the plans
to the letter. If that assumption is incorrect, I can
only guess it was a throw back from the Second Boer War!
A visit to the ‘honey buckets’
was a genuine test of speed and ingenuity, particularly
in summer. Then speed was the key.
The ‘poetry’ on the walls and doors, may not have
been the work of future Poet Laureates but it had to be
seen to be believed, although I could never quite
understand how anyone could ever have stood the
conditions long enough to write all that verse in that
For the majority it was an achievement just to read one
short verse, very quickly, and flee. As it said, “It’s
no good standing on the seat, the crabs in here can jump
The watchful eyes at the
windows facing the road, awaited the arrival of Honey
Bucket Joe and his horse and cart, as around 09.00 every
weekday morning it was every man for himself, each time
a honey bucket was changed.
Where we were extremely
fortunate were the truly different characters of the
lads with whom we shared the job and the billets. Derek
(Shag) Hill who made me a Frank Sinatra fan in a matter
of weeks and even had me listening to Julie London and
Benny Goodman (remember Sing, Sing, Sing?). There was
John Whittaker, who was totally inseparable from
a golf club anywhere outside the vans, but also played
Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Strauss and was to
introduce us to Anna Maria Alberghetti, the beautiful young opera star
singing modern love songs.
Big Jim Hazeldine, the old soldier of the billet
who possessed such a dry sense of humour in the vans,
but was full of chat and fun when, with Mick Hatton and
Johnny Cash we walked through the woods, climbing trees
and just as quick falling out of them, especially in the
Perhaps we were not always laughing, but wherever we
were there was always remarkably good humour.
I remember we even put ‘D’
Watch “on Parade”, for fun, as can be seen in the
‘Gallery 1958/59’ (along with many other photos relating
to this article).
Derek Hill ‘borrowed’ Bob Graham’s ‘blue’s’ and
we had a great time, although I guess Bob did not
appreciate either the commands or the drill, never mind
‘Watch Corporals’ were key men, and we were lucky
with Rusty Rosson and Bob Graham, or perhaps it was just
me that was lucky. Rusty was I/C when I first arrived and I am sure
it is obvious it was a very happy and amiable group of
Neither NCO’s had to shout or rave to get the job done, they
clearly had the respect of the lads, discipline appeared
to be self imposed and everyone seemed happy to get on
with the job in hand.
Rusty was great on Watch, but he did not seem to
appreciate my lack of enthusiasm for the Konigslutter
night air, or the beer. I was a disappointment. Of
course, if it was just for effect, and for the benefit
of the lads on the Watch, he was one helluva guy.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Christmas 1958 was a real
worked hard to build the ‘D’ Watch Bar,
There was absolutely no doubt
- ‘D’ Watch had the Christmas Eve midty.
Bob Graham was I/C now and he laid down the
was to be misunderstanding all operators would be ‘fit
for purpose’. Christmas Eve arrived and everything was
I really was never much of a drinker at any time,
so when the football team joined the Catering Corps,
REME and Drivers element of the team, I happily went
along with Bill Griffiths of the Pay Corps, and we all
had a fine evening. Inevitably Bob did the rounds for
supper, I was missing, and he came looking. I must admit
it was the first and last time I have ever taken an ice
cold shower, fully dressed, on Christmas Eve or any
other Eve for that matter.
But, I did report for Watch, on time and ‘fit for
purpose’, if anything, more fit for purpose than usual!
Thanks Bob, you were certainly a good friend that night
and did me a great favour – typical of that Langeleben
I enjoyed the best football of
my life in 58/59, and quite remarkably trained and
stayed fit in spite of the shifts.
And Yes, I too was (and still am) immensely proud
to have played in front of
finest goalkeeper, Gordon Banks.
I was also thrilled with the team’s performance
and we certainly showed the locals that the Langeleben
lads could certainly play.
I was sorry to miss the Hartz
weekends, but I desperately wanted to play football.
I was sorry to be so unsociable and not go down
town in an evening unless it was a celebration, but I
did have to write to my Father Christmas every day, and
that included getting up early at 14.00 on Sleeping
Day.Sleeping Day was fine in winter, dreadful in summer,
‘cos like many of the lads, I got eaten alive by those
damned Horse Flies – I swear they were as big as Wasps,
at least they felt like that.
The original Cinema, I think,
was upgraded sometime in 1958, and while a significant
improvement, it did not make any difference in winter
when fog in the
prevented the movement of all films.
The US Army stepped in to loan us some of theirs,
and with much anticipation we thought we were in for a
good night. To say it was a disappointment was the
understatement of the year as reflected in the
gesticulations in the light of the projector.
One personal memory I have is
missing a 1 to 5 shift before going on leave, and
bumping into Jack Hesketh who was about to run the new
film through to make sure all was well.
As the truck was not due till 16.00, and I was
ready, he suggested I join him – “Gunfight at the OK
Corral”. When I arrived back from leave the film had
become a ‘Langeleben Legend’.
The Incineration Area had been transformed and
re-named the ‘OK Corral’.
Instead of Parades, ‘D’ Watch was now staging
And if it had not been for Jack, I would not have seen
of course, but like all of it, it was timeless, it was
harmless, it was National Service (for many of us), and
it was certainly LANGELEBEN.
Where does one begin or end,
with so many memories? After we lost Spanner we went to
the Dogs home at Helmstedt and came back with Prinz.
We were custodians of Prinz for quite some time,
and the stories of that super little dog and the SSM’s
inspections would need a book on its own.There was the
trip to Celle and an old Luftwaffe Airfield to collect
the new aerial and then the saga of its erection which
would I am sure bring forth tears of mirth, frustration
and sheer fear for life and limb. Then there was the
transfer of two Cooks (?) from
and the total change of menu to Curry with everything at
There were those of us reduced to bread and jam and
beans, and the threats of revenge emerging were truly
What about our mates on the other Watch’s, what on earth
could we do with a ‘curry sarni’ from the midty supper.
Fortunately, someone whispered words of
endearment, just in time, and the ‘chip butty’ and
‘fried egg sarni’ were saved.
While I see from other items
that the little Eddystone receiver was not rated very
highly, some of the equipment it replaced in the vans in
1958, was really becoming old and worn out.
I think that for a number of us it was considered
a great step forward from WW2.
There were sad times of
There were some serious road accidents, one in
particular where the driver was not found until the
morning and his injuries were quite horrific.
Dreadful as it seems but we actually lost one
member of the Catering Corps to Diabetes, and that did
cause considerable reaction from everyone on the Camp,
before reassurance was given.
The annual trip to the range
in1958 was more a trip to the Music Hall, it was a
laugh, or to put it in context, it was a scream from
start to finish.
I honestly believe we were more a threat to each
other, than the targets at which we were supposed to be
were left safe and ready for use in 1959.
3rd Shock Army, think yourself
And I never did find the back sight that fell off
my rifle half way through the afternoon!
Nevertheless, we were at
Langeleben to do a job, and I sincerely hope and trust
we did a good job.
We certainly took it very seriously – in the
place and position we were in, we would have been
foolish to do otherwise.
I was lucky in that I received my ‘wake-up call’
on my very first midty at Langeleben, the sound of the
big guns and continuous flashes of light that lit up the
night sky. I
very quickly understood why we were there, and I never
needed a second reminder.
But it was a very young team
that would never let the worries of the world take away
their love of life!
There were not many facilities in camp at that
time, so we made our own and from where I was they were
in keeping with the time and the culture.
The lads had a drink down town to let off steam,
but nothing more.
We had a basic camp in a
wonderful area and environment and we enjoyed what we
had. Perhaps because it was small and there were not
many of us, with Signals Operators/Drivers, REME,
Catering Corps, and even Pay Corps, we were all billeted
together and we shared what little we possessed. While I
was there I certainly made the most of what we had.
I enjoyed the job, the company, the woods, the
walks, and the football.
I had 730 days to cross off, and cross’em off I
I was demobbed, went home, and
fourteen months later I married my very own, special,
I really did have the best of
both worlds, and still do, but I never forgot the lads
of Langeleben, or Langeleben Camp.
Then, one evening five years ago I had a
tremendous surprise when my youngest son rang and said
he had found Langeleben on the Internet. I spent fifteen
months there waiting to get away, and fifty years
remembering – there must have been something very
special to make that kind of impression!
And of all people, I am truly grateful for that
THANK YOU GENTLEMEN, ONE AND
IT COULD ONLY HAPPEN AT LANGELEBEN
posted to Langeleben following a three year stint at
Berlin Gatow around 1963 into the MT Section, the MT
then, was about ten persons strong of which maybe five
were junior NCOs The MTO was
the SSM which was a grand arrangement and everything
worked like clockwork, but, like a lot of things,
somebody on the outside down at the Regiment was
wondering how they could upset the apple cart. So ‘Lo
and Behold’ the next thing we knew at Langeleben was the
arrival of not one but two SNCOs; one being Royal
Signals and the other REME (both
sergeants). This was a good recipe for a disaster! They
hadn’t been there very long before the fun and games
started with both of them trying to assert their
authority on how the section should be run. This
eventually ended up with school boy type arguments with
caps on (this sort of made it official) and this sort of
behaviour went on for a couple of weeks and it wasn’t
going unnoticed by the drivers and junior NCOs or the
SSM. The morale of the MT Section was quickly going
downhill and something finally had to give when the two
sergeants nearly came to blows. Somehow, this incident
got back to the notice of the MTO who then decided that
enough was enough. The REME sergeant was sent back to
the Regiment as surplus to requirement and the Royal
Signals sergeant was taken out of MT and told to find
something to keep himself ‘occupied’. In effect, he
didn’t have a job and so what he did (and this is a true
story which can be verified by other MT members) he went
and built an aviary for budgies next to the JRs club
and, apart from the odd officer/sergeants’ duties, that
was how he filled in his time. In the meantime the MT
Section returned to its normal self with everybody once
again going about their daily chores quite happily.
finished at Langeleben in 1966 and returned to civvy
street all the better for my
experience in the army and even more so for my
experience at Langeleben. The people that I met - most
of them became friends for life. One can’t put a price
on that sort of friendship.
KEITH KERBY’S RECOLLECTIONS
A FEW MEMORIES OF A NATIONALSERVICEMAN
name is Keith Kerby .I was born in 1935, and, as a
result, I had to do 2 years National Service when I
reached the age of eighteen. Not being a miner nor
having any other reason to delay my conscription, I was
'called up' on the 4th March, 1954 and given the Army
Number of 23010244 and the Rank of Signalman. My demob
number was 5405 which meant I was in till 9th March,
beginning of March, 1954, I travelled by train to
Catterick. This in itself was an adventure as I had
travelled further north than Burton on
Trent on my own. I remember arriving at Ripon and being
collected by 'lorry' and taken to Catterick. The
following day we were 'kitted out'. Then started the
routine of 'square bashing' and the process of learning
to polish one’s boots, press your uniform and make your
bed. This was no problem for me as I had been taught
these tasks from an early age, by my
parents, however, some guys had a problem as they
had never had to do such tasks for themselves. A lot of
time was spent learning to march together. Our Drill
Sergeant had been reported on in the National Press due
to his 'strictness' and therefore had something to
'live' up to. On one occasion I happened to laugh whilst
'stood to attention' and as a result I was made to stand
in front of the squad and give a laughing demonstration.
During this period of training I was selected to attend
Trade Training, at Loughborough, for an Operator
Special. The only thing I knew about that trade was it
had something to do with the receiving of high speed
morse. After the 'passing out
parade', I was sent off down to Loughborough to complete
6 months trade training. Still, it was a lot nearer my
not remember too much about Garats Hay however I do
remember the Nissan Huts which we had to live with the
paving slab floors and central stove.
here that I had to learn all about
morse code and learn to receive it at high speed
- over twenty words a minute I think. I was fortunate to
meet up with a guy from
who was based at Garats Hay. He used to go home to
most week-ends, on his motor cycle. The only problem was
that he was a speedway rider and it was quite hair
raising being a pillon
passenger with him. Still it was worth a free lift now
and again as I couldn't afford public transport on 25
shillings a week. Upon completing the Trade Training, I
was posted to
at the beginning of October, 1954.
a home leave, I travelled down to Harwich and embarked
on the troopship Empire Parkstone to the Hook of Holland
from where we caught the train to
. I do not remember to much
about my life at Nelson Barracks in
however I do remember playing scrum half to John Brown,
on one occasion, only
to be changed at half time. John was an excellent rugby
player who played for the British Lions. During my time
, I remember that we were not looked on favourably by
some of the locals, this was evident when one looked in
a shop window whilst a local was there, they would
glance at you and walk
I was told this was due to the Allies bombing a number
of churches in the area10 . This is rather ironic as my
home town of
was flattened by the Luftwaffe and the Cathedral was
made derelict, and remains so today. I had sat on my
bedroom window sill and counted over 400 German Planes
during the blitz raid.
included a spell in the office which I found a bit
boring. I then went on to Operating doing shift work on
a four day cycle. Day 1 was 8am to 1pm followed by
midnight to 8am. Day 2 was
5pm to midnight. Day 3 was 8am to 1pm general duties
followed by going back Operating
1pm to 5pm. After the day 3 shift, the time was your own
through day 4 until starting again at 8am day 1.
Sometimes we would get caught with a practice fire alarm
on our sleeping day 2, which was rather annoying.
. There was another version.
It seems that Hitler was made less than welcome
when he paid his first visit to Munster -
a very Catholic City
Concerned about security, he built a large number
of barracks in the town as we well knew. This attracted
a great deal of Allied bombing, hence the poor reception
we later received.
midnight to eight shift, at the beginning of 1955, there
was a major panic due to the groups we were observing,
changing their 'call signs' from three characters to
famous change from B type to E type callsigns. Ed).
After some hours, one of the Operators recognised the
group he usually followed,
however it had a four character call sign. This was the
lead for others
look for their group with a similar call sign.
beginning of 1955, I had two weeks leave back home before
being posted to Langeleben. I always remember when we
had a leave or was getting
, breakfast was at an early 6am instead of
later time. One image that I have remembered about the
leave was, upon travelling through
on my way back to
, the train passed a frozen lake which had lights in the
trees and people in National Costume were skating on the
lake. It was picture postcard stuff.
travelled down to Langeleben with a few other guys via
Braunswieg and arrived at the camp to find that our
accommodation was tents. Just imagine having to spend
winter in a tent. The floors were 'duck' boards and
there was no running water so we had to get our shaving
water in a bowl from the cook house. This was the only
‘building’ on the site and all water was stored there
after being collected from Konigslutter by tanker a
number of times a week. The toilet was some planks over
a hole with a tin roof and a piece of sacking to
separate each compartment.
was Langeleben, with a group of 90 guys on a very important
mission living in such conditions, in a field surrounded
by trees. The spirit of all concerned was great and I
never came across any conflict. The wireless room was
back to back with four shifts providing 24 hour cover.
social life there was consisted of either going by bus
to a cinema in Braunsweig or going into Konigslutter and
spending the evening 'supping' at one of the local beer
houses. A truck would call late evening at all of the
bars to collect those that wished to return to camp by
23.59 that evening. The people of Konigslutter were very
friendly and made us very welcome.
remember on one occasion a number of us were invited to
a farmer’s home one Sunday afternoon to have a couple of
drinks. During the afternoon, there was a sudden banging
on the farm door and the farmer went and opened the door
his brother on the doorstep, with his family in a cart
drawn by a horse. They had just crossed the Border from
. What a party we had that day. Another recreation was
skiing in the fields opposite the camp.
mid '55, a wooden building was erected to house various
services the camp needed, such as canteen and stores.
This was the start of constructing a more permanent camp
and led on to the building of huts for living
in readiness for the winter of 55/6.
spent the first half of 1955 on shift work in the
Wireless Wagons which as you can imagine, was rather
cramped. On one occasion, I stood in for a guy at the DF
Station at Rabke. This was quite an experience as it was
approximately 4 miles from camp and you were on your own
in a small wireless trailer in a field, quite close to
the border. The guys who did
it regularly, deserved a medal. However, my one night
was quite enough for me. To defend ones’ self, there was
a Lee Enfield rifle with 5 rounds of ammunition. There
was a problem though as the rifle's bolt was rusty and
someone had tried to take the bullets out of their cases
as could be seen from was plier marks on the rounds. In
the early morning of my shift, I heard a noise outside
the trailer and taking a look, found the farmer working
in the field. Quite hairy really after a long night and
nothing to defend myself with! I was very pleased when
the jeep arrived to take me back to camp.
in 1955, I was approached by the OC, Capt Jim Prescott,
to take over responsibility of the Stores. This had the
advantage of getting off shift work,
however it did mean that I would have to do Guard Duty
occasionally. The main duties of the Storeman were to go
to Braunsweig five times a week (Mon, Tues,
Thurs, Fri & Sat) to collect
Rations etc from the East Surrey Regiment Barracks in a
truck driven by a member of the GSO (German Service
also give a lift to anyone that required to attend 'sick
parade'. Strange to relate that more personnel went sick
when the huts with central heating were built than when
living under canvas. My living accommodation was in the
the camps cigarette stock was kept under my bed with the
ammunition box. This box contained just over 100 rounds.
When Capt Prescott was carrying out an inventory check
to hand over to his successor, he came up to me in the
canteen saying that the ammunition was 5 rounds short. I
asked him if he had included
5 rounds at the DF station. He had not, panic over.
Another task that I had a couple of times was to act as
guard to the courier that went to an American camp by
jeep. There were three of us in the jeep, the Courier,
Driver and Guard. The Guard had an empty sten gun, a lot
of use that was. When the Americans returned the favour,
they were armed to the hilt. When on guard duty
overnight, the patrolling of the camp was carried out by
the MSO (Mixed Service Organisation) thank goodness, and
therefore one usually got some sleep.
at Langeleben was good despite the conditions, so much
so that when I had drawn a leave back home in 'blighty'
over Christmas 1955, I
decided to stay on camp. The comradeship amongst the
guys on camp was great. In early February, 1956, due to
coming to the end of my two years National Service, I
went to the new camp at Birgelen from where I was to be
'demobbed'. This was the complete opposite of what I had
been used to over the previous twelve months as it was a
brand new barracks with every facility. This was the
home of No 1 Wireless Regiment.
22nd February, 1956, I had an early breakfast and
travelled to the Hook of Holland by train and caught the
Empire Parkstone to Harwich where I disembarked on the
23rd February, 1955 from where I travelled by train to
Coventry. With fourteen days leave, I was officially
demobbed on the 9th March, 1956.
of people did not like their National Service because
they were against it from the start. I went in with the
attitude that we had to do it so one might just as well
make the most of it. I think it did me some good and I
am sure it helped me to have a very good career within
the Courtaulds Group for 44 years, twenty five of which
was in a number of managerial positions. Langeleben had
a large part to play in my career as I learnt how to
work as part of a team
RANDOM MEMORIES FROM VARIOUS
Not everyone wanted to make a full
contribution but in various conversations snippets came
out which I felt well worth recording
Are there any
memories that come to mind regarding
Well, about 1976, our postie, Cpl Jock Fraser,
was sent on a 'Rat Catchers Course' which he
On his return to Langeleben the OC, Maj Mike Clowser of the
Intelligence Corps called him in for an interview and
asked why he had managed to score 95% on the practical
part of the course, but failed completely on the theory.
"Thought I was supposed to catch the bloody things, not write letters to
them" Jock replied
Neil Mapp was dying for a pee one night whilst on
exercise. Due to bad weather he didn't venture too far
from the operational area and ended up peeing on to a
mains distribution board. He said his stay in BMH
Hannover was comfortable, but was quite disappointed
when the swelling eventually subsided and everything
returned to its' normal length!!
LEARNING THE MORSE CODE
Fred Sanderson’s introduction to the Morse Code was of
course at Catterick.
did quite well as a trainee winning a prize of a
fountain pen and propelling pencil, I mucked it up
though, so surprised was I that I marched up to the
front to collect the prize and saluted without my beret
on. Oh I'll never forget that; no wonder I never got
Yes some did have a start; training in the Merchant
Marine rings a bell and didn’t some of them learn Morse
Code in the scouts?”
Asked if it was possible to identify a particular
operator (Warsaw Pact) from the way he sent, the answer
was definitely “YES”. Many were conventional but there
were a goodly few that were recognizable by their
characteristics. This could be anything from the way, or
even the number of 'Stutter V's they sent, to their
actual transmission techniques. “Think of it as
listening to a voice"." You can easily recognise one
from another and so it was with their morse
Equally, when they sent QST and went into voice or
plain text, if you were familiar with the group you
could recognise the operator. In a way they almost
became friends, not quite as we never knew them but they
were still ‘familiars’. ‘In the same way you could
listen to RM. what have you and distinguish one operator
from another by his particular transmission
characteristics. Admittedly this was not the normal,
more the exception but the longer you perceived with a
particular group, the more you recognised their
techniques, whether it be voice or morse’. The official
name for this was MOCA (Morse Operator Characteristic
Analysis). And don't forget RFP (Radio Finger Printing).
Various types of bug keys or side swipes were used,
especially with units in the field as I am led to
believe, strapped to the thigh of course as all morse
keys would be.
OP SPECS - TO BE KNOWN LATER AS SPEC OPS.
Spec Ops were trained to send morse on a straight morse
key up to 12 wpm – the only time he says that he,
personally, saw this skill being used was on the DF net
at 13 Sigs.
These were replaced by printers circa 1970.
DF operators at 13 could use a bug key, but only
after displaying competence.
A straight morse key – up and down movement is
needed to create letters/code.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
A paddle morse key – this can be thought of as two
straight keys side by side with
the movement being horizontal rather than vertical. Dots
could be sent using either side, depending upon the
morse character required.
Holding a bug key to the left sends continuous
dots, but dashes still
have to be sent individually by moving the key to right.
The speed of dots is governed by adjusting the circular
weight seen here at left end of main spindle.
There are bugs with fully
automatic dashes as well as dots.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Fingerprinting (RFP) is still in use, but to the best of
Derek’s knowledge was never used at Langeleben in his
time. The ability of Ops to recognize the ‘fist’, or
keying characteristics, of various operators due to
their familiarity of cover, was a skill particularly
useful when call sign/procedure keys had changed and
nets were identified by these characteristics, or link
activity. (It was this that made it possible to get back
on track when the big changeover from ‘B’ to ‘E’ type
callsigns took place in the mid-fifties.
There was speculation that ‘Bloc’
operators were using a machine based on a typewriter for
sending morse, which was why some of them were so fast
and so perfect. Derek had never heard of anything
further to substantiate this rumour.
at Garats Hay, according to Derek, was taught by a form
of brain washing. It began by listening to a tape which
listed a number of phonetic characters followed by the
sound of the code that it represented; eg
‘alpha’ dit dah (repeated twice)
‘bravo’ dah dit dit dit (repeated
was repeated for about 5 letters, then ‘we were given a
run of the morse characters only, sent randomly at about
5 words per minute in blocks of 5, and only 20 blocks
were sent. The next 5 characters were then given
followed by the same exercise above, then we were given
a run of the 10 characters sent randomly, only this time
it would be for 40 blocks.
This continued until all letters
were being sent random order in 5 letter blocks for an
interminable length of time (especially if you were a
smoker). If the instructor was feeling liverish then the
break came at the end of the lesson (40 mins), however
double lessons were not uncommon. The same procedure was
carried out to learn figures’.
were increased weekly by either 1 or 2 wpm, with tests
being conducted every Friday, when those ops less
proficient were either back squadded, or sent back to
Catterick to be given another trade. The test was split
into three parts – blocks, plain language and figures
and scores had to be less than 10 mistakes in each part
before you were allowed to progress to faster speeds. It
was recognized that if you could reach 12 wpm (classed
as a barrier exam) then you would have few problems
reaching far higher speeds. To pass out as an A3 Spec Op
you had to show ability to read morse at 18-20-18 in the
He had been on posts where 30wpm
was the minimum requirement.
Relatively easy to reach when Cpl
Bob Wells is standing over you like the wrath of God.
Typewriters were introduced in the
late 60’s which made transcription much easier and
higher speeds more attainable. Occasionally trainees
were given tapes where letters and figures were mixed up
– this was called ‘psycho’ and I’ve come across nets
where this was used (slowly thankfully).
Picking up on Mike’s ability to recognize some
WP operators with whom he had become familiar; Dave
Thomas told “I spent much of my time listening in to the
Germans both the Police and the Boarder Guards. Their
procedures tended to be less secure than the Russians,
and they would sometimes introduce their own
idiosyncrasies. A fairly common one was AS MN (wait a
minute). Another was
. … … . -” Which obviously came out as a
stream of dots with two dashes, and translated as AS
ESSEN, it was always sent between seven and eight in the
evening by a particular subordinate station to it’s
control, which meant after the monthly call sign change
we had a pretty good indication of whom we were
listening to; and this helped to build up the new
Dave Thomas explained that
learning morse, it took nine months or so to train an
Op. spec./ spec op. but the ‘Russkies’ were dealing with
lads just off the farm and only doing National Service
for a year or so, a totally different problem. The
shortcut training involved dividing the morse code into
opposites; dash and dot, e.g. ‘a’ is the opposite of ‘n’
‘b’ to ‘v’ and so on, e,i,s,h,5 all dots, t,m,o, so
trainees were soon up to twelve words per minute. This
is the first 'barrier' and with constant practice speed
increased easily to the twenties and beyond.
Mike Hudson told us:-
‘You could identify certain
operators purely by the characteristics they used. The
way they sent, even the speed they sent and other things
also came into play. This proved useful in the build up
to the invasion of
, when certain operators
who you knew were with 'A' suddenly came to light
elsewhere. In early '68 when I was still at Langeleben,
unknown ' satellite' groups suddenly started to appear
and QST or QST imi (go to speech or can I go to speech)
became more prevalent. Like most of my peers, my
knowledge of Russian was limited to numbers and certain
phrases so basically I knew now't of what was said. We
relied on feed back from the I. Corps for that. What we
could say, however, is that Ivan Ivanovitch, if
recognizable form his morse, was the speaker.
Don't get the idea that this was a regular thing, it
wasn't uncommon but certainly not a daily event. The
vast percentage of time was spent transcribing page
after page of 5 digit text or just routine ‘comms’.
Peter Shoreland added some asides:-
‘I have this view that 'they' or 'them', meaning the
Warsaw Pact countries, were fresh ‘orf’ Daddies farm,
whatever army they were in, yet somebody taught them
morse code in a very short time. They had no problem
knocking out endless “dah-dits” for many a long hour at
a very nifty rate. Alright, we used to swear, rant and
rave about the method, but our TG ops had to have an
eight month course, and spec op was longer. So, what was
their secret beyond 'opposites' training?’ .
‘Training radio ops for the Ghana shipping lines to PMG
2 took close on a year, but most British ships had PMG2
ops who were not even seventeen, the s.s. Oriana had a
radio op who was 16 and seven months, so, what were
their secret tuition methods? It would not be feasible
to spend a third of the conscripts’ time just in morse
training, not to mention training to work out the
Talking about machines resulted in
another contribution from Peter Shoreland.
‘The GNT machines used in the
telecoms industry used punched tape and the number of
characters was calculated in ‘bauds per minute’. This is
a printer transmission rate which roughly equated to the
morse ‘words per minute’. (WPM). On merchant ships the
radio officer would punch up the tapes and when ‘comms’
were established the GNT would be switched on and the
traffic sent, perhaps ten or twenty messages at a time
before ‘QSL’or agree how many to receive before
acknowledging them. When the Russian operators were
going well they would each send a letter of the ‘Q’
code. taking it in turns, making Direction Finding (DF)
more difficult. Their Merchant Navy operators were even
slicker, (the Cuban missile crisis was evidence of this)
and it was all done with the dreaded bug. Various types
of bug keys or side swipes were used, (especially with
units in the field as I am led to believe), strapped to
the thigh as, of course, all morse keys would be.
Printers (like facsimile) can be easily be identified
by the lilting rattle with a distinctive mark and space
transmission method. Various organisations 'went to
printer' just to get rid of large amounts of traffic,
the International link communication systems in the
middle east(ILC).The modern form of telegram, date time
originator addressee and the subject etc and body of
message, just like a radio ops work aboard ship. Many
from 9 pigs (sic) will remember boring hours listening
to these for originators like '
As radio communications became more sophisticated
so did the requirement to send more information at
higher speeds. Interception also needed to evolve and
consider more than just voice and morse. In its early
stages this area of work was know by the generic term
NOMO, an abbreviation for Non Morse transmissions.
In its simplest form, electronic communication is
achieved by keying (Morse) or switching a carrier wave.
One of the most common systems of non Morse was Murry
Code. This used a five unit sequence of marks or spaces
to represent figures or letters of the alphabet. In fact
it required seven and a half units to send one
character, but the first one and a half were used to
indicate the start of a character, and one to complete
When used on a teleprinter it was known as ‘radio
tele-typewriting’ or ‘RTTY’ in military jargon. Being
mechanical devices, both the transmitting and receiving
equipments needed to be compatible and set to the same
speeds. Initially the standard baud speed equated to 66
words per minute, a vast improvement on the more normal
20 words per minute for Morse. Attempts were made to
increase the 66 wpm to 100 wpm and although the radio
equipment was quite capable of handling this, the
teleprinters of the early to mid ‘60s, relying as they
did on keys flying, and carriages going forwards and
back tended to jam frequently.
As a means of establishing communications between
stations, transmitting operators would send a series of
test tapes. Radio procedures dictated what these tapes
should contain, and invariably they would be a sentence
using each letter of the alphabet at least once, and all
ten digits, so that every key was activated. This would
be followed by several lines of RYRYRY. Sending R used
“space mark space mark space” and Y used “mark space
mark space mark” thus it allowed the receiving station
to accurately adjust his equipment. It also produced a
very distinctive sound, and someone listening for a
station, although they could not “read” the characters,
could identify the sequence of call-signs, sentence and
RYR’s. As soon as communications were established, or at
a prearranged time, transmission of traffic would
commence, then all that could be distinguished would be
a stream of marks and spaces.
A teleprinter page was capable of taking 69
characters on each line, and this was fully used for
plain language text, however, when sending blocks of
five letter or figure cipher, then ten blocks would be
sent in each line, (when writing Morse, five blocks per
line are written.
An early method of reading
intercepted RTTY was by pen and ink. A blank tape would
be passed through a machine, in the rest (or space)
position the pen would register a line to the left of
the tape, on receipt of a mark the pen would spring
across the tape registering a blip then return to the
rest position. In this way the marks and spaces of each
Murry code character could be recorded and subsequently
read. Operators could learn to read these characters,
and with one person reading and the other writing,
speeds in excess of 25 wpm could be achieved. Another
method was to read and type the result. This method of
interception was effective, but required miles and miles
of paper tape, which could become unwieldy. A
development on pen and ink, was the punched tape method.
This employed a blank perforated tape being passed over
a sprocket (governing the speed of travel) and having
holes (or chads) punched in it. A punched hole indicated
a mark had been sent. Each character could use up to
five marks so the tape could have up to five holes
across, two to the left of the line of sprocket holes,
three to the right. If we use the example of R and Y
above, the punched tape characters would be - R blank
hole blank hole blank, and Y hole blank hole blank
hole.As with the pen and ink, operators could learn to
read these punched tapes, and again often reached speeds
of 25 wpm. Tapes could also be fed through tape readers
and provided the machine was compatible with the
original transmitter would produce a typed reproduction
of what had been sent.
David Thomas, an ex - Boy soldier, served at
Langeleben from November 63 to April 66, 2 Sqn 13 Sig
Regt. He went on to complete 22 years service, finishing
up as WO11 (Yeoman of Signals) at RMA Sandhurst
HUMOUR IN UNIFORM
friend of mine Alf Cooper whilst he was at Langeleben as
a Capt. told me the following.
The swimming pool had been emptied for cleaning and Alf
who is very artistic decided he would paint a Mouflon
Head on the floor of the tank.
He was lying face down in the tank with chalk in both
hands making a sweeping motion to get the right sweep of
the horns when a voice from above said "excuse me sir,
but shouldn't you wait for it to be filled with water
before you try to swim?" It was one of the cooks.
MEMORIES ON ARMY LIFE
referred to his life in Vimy Lines at 11th Sigs. during
his basic training.
‘It was run by an Irish Drill
Corporal named Paddy Doyle and a Sgt McCarthy.
After being woken at circa 0300 several times, having
my kit thrown around the barrack room and my 'Best'
boots out of the window, we were on the second floor,
threatened with Sodomy with a pace stick and similar
pleasures, I suddenly realised the error of my ways and
signed on for 9 years instead of my original 3. I found
this to be the making of the man and have NEVER looked
back. It taught me SO MUCH; personal pride, to think on
my feet and the ability to make decisions. Once I left
11 Sigs and went to 224 Sig Squadron, things improved
but when I joined 225 it was more like employment and
not playing soldiers and those days, not my school
years, were the ’Best Days of My Life’. I believe in
strong discipline and always have and always will. I
accept that not everyone needed the threats but some did
and had benefited”.
He went on to say:-
“When I was in my very early
Teens, possibly a pre-teen, a group of us were walking
along the towpath of the canal in Shelton, Stoke -on
-Trent and 'skimming' duckers. All of a sudden a hand
grasped my collar and I was in the grip of the ' Water
Bailiff ' He lectured me, put the fear of God into me,
threatened to take me to Stoke Police station and have
me locked up and to tell my Parents. if ever he caught
me again, Needless to say he did none of these things
because I had learned my lesson.
and similar are not the experiences I went through. They
were out and out bullies -
sadistic people and that I do not condone. What I
had was a version of the Water Bailiff, a short, sharp
shock to make you realize whatever it was you needed to
realize and that also worked”
did not then, and do not now, consider what I
to be vindictive, bullying or ow't
He went on to tell that he joined
the Royal Signals in 1963, intending to be a Radio Op,
as earlier he had been in the communications section of
his local Civil Defence Corps, (which he absolutely
was actually good training for the Army, as a certain
sense of discipline and personal pride was instilled.
Then to Catterick, 11 Signals where
“Out of the youth came the man”. Then came 'The
Job Interviews'. Basically you were given an
intelligence and aptitude test, somewhat on a par with
Mensa, (which incidentally I am a member of) but on a
lesser scale. The powers that be decided, in their
infinite wisdom, that I should become a Special Operator
and sent me off to Garats Hey. I was happy as it was
only about 60 miles from home , as it was”.
”Unfortunately, due to a bout of
Glandular Fever, I missed the 'Pass Out' and never got
to be 'Right Hand Marker'. I did, however, on my release
seek out both Cpl Kelly and Sgt McCarthy
and thank them for everything they had done and they
were as nice as pie”.
224 Sigs, which after 11 Sigs was
heaven. My Instructor was a Scottish Cpl named Rab
Aitken and he was GOOD. He cared, about the job, about
people and so got the best out of them. so, as an A3
Spec Op, I was detailed for 225 Signal Squadron,
Scharfoldendorf and then moved with them in 1967 to
Langeleben. You have to understand that Scharfoldendorf
was for me and others THE posting, although I did not
know it at the time. WO2 Gobby Blease was the SSM and
that is the worst I can say about it and he wasn't all
“When it came to the move to Langeleben,
were not that
many who were happy to go, I being one.
Scharfoldendorf was a unique posting and 'C' Troop was
more like a family. However, came the day and off we
went and arrived at “Butlins”. Sadly greatcoats, not
Redcoats but, billets not barrack rooms with a proper
bed, not a metal monster, with a bedhead that pulled
down and gave access to a personal items storage area;
individual lighting and even a carpet on the floor. The
only fault in the whole place was that Marlene had yet
to come to the NAAFI.
was now 225 Signal Squadron, the BELL was hung (which
together with the Moufflon seems to hold a special place in the hearts of ex - Scharfoldendorf members.
He went on
“Ye Gods, I can even remember being
a little wary of Tom (Neal) initially at Birgelen; he
was strict but fair. He did not appreciate fools and, so
long as you worked as you should and even showed
initiative, he was quite encouraging without sounding
like an S&M merchant, I believe that discipline is an
integral part of life, so long as it is applied
is not a view held by everyone, I would add. Ed)
“Yes, some like me did have a
start with morse training; the Merchant Marine rings a
bell and did some of them learn Morse Code in the
In reply,Tom Neal added,
think I went through my service with the same attitude
to discipline and, in fact, at the Barrow re-union, a
couple of people I had not seen since the 60s sought me
out and made similar comments. I made a point of never
shouting at anyone unless I was taking drill and even
then I never swore and still got good results. Most of
the Drill Instructors during recruit training just put
on an act although some of them let it go to their heads
and it must be remembered that a lot of them were also
of a National Service Special Operator
by 219 'Skip'
1958 - 60
For me the
1950’s were exciting years. In rapid succession I left school
with a handful of GCE’s, started work at the Norwich Union,
discovered girls, learned to row, bought my first motorbike (a
350cc ex-WD Royal Enfield), and had my first real love affair
with a 40 year old divorcee named Jennifer. Life was changing
rapidly - TV, Rock and Roll, coffee bars, Teddy Boys, etc etc.
Everything was fine.
Only one cloud
lurked on the horizon…….
Now and again
I became aware that one of my mates had disappeared from the
scene. “Been called up” I was told.
Enquiries as to what that meant resulted in such an
earful of horror stories that I soon stopped asking. Heroes
returning from this adventure confirmed these tales with first
hand descriptions of pain and torture. Surely they could not be
true? During the middle 1950's National Service conscription age
was increased by 6 months each year, so I was pushing 20 by the
time I started to worry. Perhaps they would do away with
conscription before my turn came.
envelope marked “O.H.M.S”, which landed on our doormat in mid
1958, contained my invitation to do my bit for the defence of
the realm. Was it really 40 years ago? I cannot help looking
back on with the distinct feeling that of all the events in our
lives – those mentioned above included plus subsequent
marriages, divorces, births and deaths – National Service was
the one that we remember most clearly. During those 24 months
new skills were learned, adventures were
experienced, and strong friendships formed.
horror and disruption to careers I don't think many of us would
have missed it for the world, and we have been better men and
citizens through the self-discipline and values we learned. I
don’t think our nearest and dearest, although they humour
us, can understand the reasons behind
the nostalgia, humour and reunions. Apart from the odd comedy
film I have seen no real attempt to document the detail of Army
National Service life, and feel obliged to attempt to commit to
paper my own memories of those remarkable times.
of donating two years of one’s life was not given to everyone.
First you had to prove that you were fit for service, and more
importantly did not have any problem which could get worse and
qualify you for a disability pension later in life! Flat feet or
even a simple perforated eardrum was enough to bar a chap from
service, and it was not unknown for a reluctant recruit to
operate on himself with paper clip down the ear! Those of us who
were too scared to do this were summoned to a medical
examination on an appointed day in a large Hall in
. This was a foretaste of the ignominies we were to suffer -
parading around the room naked, having various bits of our
bodies measured or examined by a succession of people in white
coats. “Step on here…
over…..Read this…..Cough…Fill this… The last instruction
referred to a half-pint beer mug into which we were expected to
pass a specimen. Some couldn’t and had to drink plenty of water
and wait for nature to work. A few had to urgently request a
second mug! (I’ve often wondered if those mugs went back to the
bar after these sessions).
One of the
Whitecoats looked at me from a few paces distance,
then called over two others to have a
look. After whispered discussion he asked, “did
you know you’ve got one tit bigger than the other?” I put this
down to the fact that my rowing activities had developed my
chest unevenly, and resisted the temptation to comment that the
biggest tits were the ones wearing white coats! Although it had
its humorous side the whole process was quite degrading and we
were relieved to get our clothes back on and slip away to regain
our dignity. There was now nothing left to do but wait to hear
the result of the examination, with very mixed feelings about
what result to hope for! Perhaps uneven tits could get me out of
I passed, and
was requested to take part in the next stage of the game. This
took the form of a brief interview during which any preferences
for a particular arm of the service were listened to and noted.
This was a vital part of the procedure to ensure that you were
not accidentally allocated to something you would like. I chose
the Army on the basis that a place in the Navy or RAF was only
guaranteed if one signed up for 3 years. I chose Royal Armoured
Corps, Royal Engineers and Royal Corps of Transport, to further
my interest in all things mechanical. An aptitude test was also
given. Hoping to avoid a desk job I tried to influence the
result by deliberately giving the wrong answer to any question
which seemed to look for office skills, but doing my best in
anything which appeared to lean towards dexterity or mechanical
obviously studied my preferences they decided to surprise me by
allocating me to Royal Signals, and I received orders to report
to Catterick Garrison on 18th October 1958. The invitation
enclosed a 3rd Class Rail Warrant and some advice on what to
take. The list was so short that you knew this was to be no
luxury cruise! The big day approached. My father was a
hairdresser who specialised in short-back-and-sides fashion
statements. He always thought my hair was too long and with
great glee administered a really short crop on me with the view
“then they’ll leave you alone”. He was wrong.
arrived and I packed my tiny suitcase. When I left for the bus
stop my father was in his shop and mum was cleaning the hearth.
“Bye” we all said – we were never a family to go over the top
with emotional farewells! British Rail steamed me towards
– I had never been so far away from home before. Each time we
stopped more worried looking young men with small suitcases got
on, until by the last leg of the journey the whole train seemed
full of nothing else. A few got talking but most of us seemed to
be alone with our own thoughts. Quite a few of the lads were
obviously Teddy Boys, with “D.A.” haircuts. They were in for a
from the train at Catterick Bridge Station. Here we met our
first NCO, who shouted at us, somehow
got us lined up in three ranks, and marched us off to a waiting
fleet of Khaki lorries. The rest of the journey was a jolting
blur as we hung onto the frame supporting the canvas roof as the
convoy swerved and jolted along the Yorkshire lanes, through
and into the Barracks just as it was getting dusk. Intake 58-20
moved fast, and the exact sequence of events now becomes a
e were trooped into the Barber’s shop. This seemed mainly
staffed by midgets standing on boxes – a weird sight. Dad’s
prediction was wrong and they gave me an even shorter’back-and-sides#,
leaving what looked like a scruffy, frayed doormat on top. I
felt sorriest for the Teddy boys – some looked close to tears as
their oiled DA tresses tumbled to the floor.
e waited for an
eternity outside an Admin block. Most recruits were in jackets
or blazers and it was a freezing October evening. A kindly
Sergeant enquired whether anyone felt cold. One brave soul said
he was, and to our amusement he was invited to run to a distant
point and back, which he did with an
embarrassed grin. On his return the kindly Sergeant
underwent a startling metamorphosis - he puffed up his chest,
turned purple, and exploded “Do it again and this time bleeding
RUN!!!” Three circuits later the panting wretch was allowed to
stop. The spell wore off and the Sergeant became kindly again.
“Anybody else feeling cold?” he enquired with a charming smile.
“No, Sergeant” we chorused. This
was our first experience of real fear of a human being. We had
entered a world so totally alien – the regime on which Army
basic training was based. No one who did not experience it could
really appreciate this and may not understand why the next few
weeks were such a shock.
After various forms were filled in and checks made we were
marched to the Quartermasters Stores and shuffled along the
counter as a bewildering heap of brown hairy garments, straps,
boots and metal objects were put into our arms. As they gave
them to us a cacophony of NCO s shouted things like “Drawers
cellular green pairs
- three” in the quaint reversed manner with which
we were to become as familiar as a chair easy padded arm! On
reaching the end we had to sign for the items we had collected
in complete good faith – none of us had a clue what we had got,
or what they were for. We carried these piles to a large
redbrick building known as Vimy Barracks, and were allocated to
various rooms and beds. Depositing our possessions we were told
to grab our mugs, knives, forks and spoons, assemble outside in
three ranks, and were marched to our first dose of Army food.
Having not eaten since breakfast I was starving. The fare was
not at all like Mum’s cooking, and distinctly inferior to school
dinners. However I had been brought up rather strictly to eat
what was put in front of me – something I have always secretly
thanked my parents for. I pigged down my supper and helped clear
up a few other people’s plates.
Back in the
barrack room we were shown by our Drill Instructor how to make
our beds and put our kit out for inspection. This gave us a
chance to see what goodies had been issued to us and surmise
what each item was for. The blankets and sheets had to be folded
to exact dimensions and formed into a kind of sandwich and
wrapped by the thin green bedcover into what was called a “bedpack”.
This, with the pillows, was carefully laid at the head of the
bed. (Later, some took to inserting cardboard to improve the
shape – a symptom of forces mentality called “Bullshit”. Further
examples will be described later).
Army beds were single iron models with wire and springs
supporting a thin mattress. These were arranged about 2 feet
apart along each side of the room, alternately “head to toe” to
maximise the space between neighbouring mouths for reason of
hygiene. Besides this generous and jealously guarded “bedspace”
each recruit was allocated a locker, in which clothes and other
effects were arranged in a certain fixed way. On top of the
locker was displayed the “Topkit” – Greatpack, Smallpack and
Ammunition Pouches, stuffed with cardboard and screwed up paper
to retain their shape.
Other items of kit – Mess-tins, Housewife (repair kit), boots,
toilet articles, KFS (knife fork and
spoon), socks, underwear, etc had to be arranged upon the bed in
an exact pattern. We were shown how to assemble the straps
(“Webbing”) which joined various things together for wearing
about our persons, then how to take it to pieces for “Blanco”
and “Brasso” treatment. This was to become a daily or weekly
routine for the rest of the two years.
What a busy evening – there was still no time to talk or make
acquaintances, adding to the feeling of loneliness we were all
going through. Suddenly the lights were put out and someone
bawled “In your pits in 2 minutes.” There followed a silent
frenzy of activity while kit was stowed in lockers, beds made,
and we undressed and got into bed. Although my head was
spinning, I was able to ignore the sobbing noises from some of
my roommates and was soon asleep. My ability to sleep anywhere,
anytime, was to become a useful attribute, envied by many!
It was still dark when I awoke. God, what a dream that had been!
I imagined I was tucked up in my little bed in my family home in
, waiting for Mum or Dad to bring me my cup of tea and start
nagging me to get up……
Boots crashing down a stone corridor jolted me out of that. The
door burst open and somebody marched around the room banging on
the iron bedsteads with the butt of a rifle. Another mad, silent
scramble to get up, wash & shave, make beds, dress in our
strange new clothes and “fall in outside in three ranks” to be
marched to the cookhouse for breakfast. Nobody was allowed to
walk anywhere – we had to be marched in a tidy group and shouted
Breakfast has always been my favourite meal, and the Army ones
were no exception. Scrambled powdered egg, bacon or Sausage,
beans or tinned tomatoes, fried bread, washed down with a pint
mug of tea made with condensed milk. Heaven!
On the first day we had to parcel our civilian clothes and hand
them in for sending home.
e were now real “Joskins” (slang meaning Just Come In) and
quickly learned how to cope with dressing in our khaki denims,
boots, gaiters, beret, belt, Ammo pouches,
e changed several times each day, into battledress, greatcoats,
large and/or small packs depending on the whim of the Drill
Instructors (“DI’s”) – it seemed that their choice was based
upon the pure logic that if the next activity of the day
involved standing about in a frost we had to take off as many
things as possible. If it comprised a two-mile sprint we wore as
much as possible.
word is the one we dreaded more than any other, and the one
aspect of service life we would most like to forget. It was
really a form of punishment of the innocent.
Every change of attire, including changing into or out of PT kit
in the gym changing room, was done under the pressure of shouted
threats that the last two finished and back in rank would be on
“fatigues” that evening. This was the Army way of a) speeding up
our tired bodies and b) getting dirty jobs done. Fatigues
comprised such mind improving tasks as peeling potatoes, picking
up gravel from the barrack square (which was later scattered
again) or cleaning public areas. Some quickly learned several
shortcuts in the dressing process, such as pre-knotted ties,
thus managing to avoid this fate as often as possible. I once
left the gym wearing a pair of boots at least two
sizes too big, and spent a quite
uncomfortable half hour on the square afterwards. Later I was
able to trace and swap back with their owner, who had near
crippled himself crammed into my size 7’s. However, we both felt
it was worth the pain to avoid the inevitable penalty if we had
tarried to resolve the mix-up in the changing room.
A worse incident occurred one morning, when standing on morning
parade I realised that the rest of my troop had PT kit under
their arms and I did not. Having visions of an evening in the
cookhouse I came up with a cunning plan. As soon as we received
the command to “fall out” I ran quickly into the barracks,
intending to grab my kit and catch up with the troop as they
were marching to the gym. Trouble was, in my haste I entered the
wrong barrack room, went to the fifth locker from the door and
opened it. I was still staring incredulously at the space where
my PT kit should be when the real owner of the locker hit me! By
the time I got to the right room I was last changed at the gym
and you can guess the rest. Now I had a fat lip to go with the
The army has two types of kit.
Firstly, there’s the hairy, dull, shapeless heap of crumpled
crap which is issued to you.Then there’s the shiny, tailored,
pressed and in every way immaculate uniform you are expected to
turn up on parade with. Much of the “leisure” time during basic
training was spent turning sow’s ears into silk purses, and
during the remainder of our service many happy hours were spent
maintaining this standard. At first this “Bull” seemed totally
unnecessary, but led, inexorably, to a sense of pride in all but
a few hard men who refused to do anything but the minimum.
Much ingenuity and tips handed down through the generations were
used to transform various items. The berets we were given were
shapeless and far too big – mine actually touched my right
shoulder! These had to be dipped alternatively into hot and cold
water until they shrank into neat, compact headgear, and shaped
into a more individual style. Boots were covered in heavy
pimples. With the handle of a spoon heated in a candle flame,
each individual pimple on the toe-cap and heel was flattened,
then spit and polish, applied in a
small circular movement, was used to build up a deep shine.
Battledress was singed with a hot iron, and the scorched areas
rubbed with a half-crown coin to remove the shine, leaving a
much less hairy garment, which would take and retain a crease.
Some applied starch or shaving soap to the inside of creases
making them semi-permanent. Individual attempts to outbull
everyone else were not always successful - I recall one chap who
sprayed his beret with starch to improve its shape. Next parade
it rained and his headgear disappeared under a thin layer of
foam! The back of the jacket featured carefully measured “3-6-9”
inch long pleats going upwards from the waistband, and the
sleeves were given a sharp crease down the front from shoulder
The barrack-rooms were filled with the smells of candle wax, and
singed leather and cloth for many nights until all was in order.
Brasses on belts were immaculately tended – rough areas inside
buckles smoothed, and slides hammered flat to improve their
appearance. The Mercury (“Jimmy”) cap badge – the only two-piece
badge in the British Army we were proudly told – incorporated a
heavily embossed crown, which was difficult to shine. This was
given a highlight using emery cloth and brasso. All webbing was
“Blanco’d” regularly with a light green paste applied with a
brush in the room set aside for this purpose, and brasses
carefully polished when the drying- room had done its work.
They say a soldier never forgets his army number. This is not
surprising – one of the first jobs I remember was to stencil,
punch, stamp or write my Army number
on every article of kit I owned! Thank goodness for most
purposes this was abbreviated to the “
ast Three” and I became affectionately known to the Army as 219
and everyone else as “Skip”
The final object of our loving attention was, of course, our
.303 rifle. This 9lb piece of wood
and steel had to be maintained in immaculate condition, even
though most of them were older than we were. If necessary they
were banged on the concrete floor to loosen the butt-plate so as
to make a satisfying clink during drill movements. We never had
to fire these particular weapons – I wonder how accurate they
would have been after the rough treatment they received?
Get on Parade!
Attennah - HAH!…..Slowpah -
HARMS!……..Open Ordah - MAH!……Roit - DRESS". Morning Parade was
the culmination of all the work done the previous evening. The
whole Squadron stood in three well spaced rows and waited while
the inspecting officer and his acolytes walked along each rank.
Eyes watered as we stared into the early morning sun, with the
studs of our boots sticking to the hoar frost coating the
ground. Each soldier’s knees turned to jelly as he was
scrutinised up and down, front and back.“Eyes
front that man”
“Did you have trouble wiping your arse today? Get your hair cut”
“Why haven’t you shaved this morning?”
"Take that man's name - he' a bloody disgrace!"
Initial confidence in one's turnout slowly evaporated as the
party got nearer. Whatever you'd missed or taken a chance on
seemed to have a flashing arrow pointing to it, and they always
seemed to notice. It was a nice feeling when they passed you by
without comment. Once due ceremony and punishments had been
handed out it was a relief to be ordered back to close order,
turned to the left in threes, marched off the square and allowed
to fall-out for our first lesson of the day.The drill wasn’t too
bad, but I remember with horror the times we were taken into the
drill shed (out of the sight of any passing officer?), and made
to stand on one leg with rifle in outstretched hands. The first
few to drop their arms of put the other foot down were balled
out and put on fatigues.
Food and Drink
God bless the Catering Corps. Mealtimes were a wonderful respite
from the hardships of the day, and about the only real chance of
We were always ravenously hungry. We shuffled along the counter,
holding out plates for portions to be dolloped onto them. It was
your own lookout to concentrate so as to avoid getting custard
on your steak and kidney pud if you held the plate out too long.
During the meal each table was visited by the Orderly Sergeant
with his cheery ”Any complaints?”
Complaints were rarely made and even more rarely taken
seriously. At tea one could fill up the odd empty corner with
bread and jam – always a choice of green plum or red plum. Both
tasted exactly the same and nothing like plum. One thing I do
recall is that ACC pastry cooks were always brilliant and the
cakes and puddings were superb.
were issued with enormous china mugs, which held a pint and
needed two hands to lift when full. Army tea was made in an urn
with condensed milk and left a kind of reddish scum in your mug.
It was addictive, and we often lingered over a second mug when
This was despite rumours (never dispelled) that it
was laced with bromide to take away our animal desires and give
us less to be homesick about. It, or something else, certainly
was effective and we suffered a distinct absence of feelings in
the conjugals during these early weeks. Of course we had no
female company to really test out these theories. (it
was several weeks later when one of my room mates cried out
delightedly from his bed one morning
“I’ve got one!”, and we all gathered round to look with
Leaving any cookhouse involved one final peril – the
This was a series of deep troughs of hot water in which our mugs
and eating irons had to be washed. Woe
betide anyone who dropped a fork into the steriliser,
which was particularly scalding in temperature. To retrieve the
fork you had to hold an arm under a cold tap until it was numb,
then you could plunge it quickly in and do the job.
During the first few weeks there wasn’t much time or energy left
over to strike up any real friendships. The man in the adjoining
bed wasn’t the one normally next in line on the
and he wasn’t the man you sat next to in the cookhouse.
Parts of the training were hard, painful or degrading. We were
shouted at, on the go from dawn to late evening. We were
constantly hungry, cold, damp, and exhausted. There was no
comfort, privacy or peace. Any weakness or failure was derided
and earned even more unpleasant experiences. Thinking was
discouraged, and past skills had no value. Self-confidence was
eroded and one’s very personality seemed to disappear into a sea
of khaki. Consequently most people, apart from the real
extrovert hard men, had periods of deep loneliness, normally
just after lights-out. I had never seen grown men cry before. At
times I felt like joining in, but I had been brought up not to
do such things!
We coped, and I suppose dealing with these problems was no worse
than going to boarding school, and made men of us. One recruit
in our block did try to get out the hard way – he stood on a
lavatory seat, tied his braces round his neck and a convenient
pipe, and jumped. Fortunately? The
braces stretched and his feet touched the floor. His screams of
frustration awoke some neighbours and he was rescued. He was
invalided out of the service. Our DI, breaking the news to us
the next day, told us in future to use our general-purpose
lanyard for the purpose, as it was much stronger! Another
coloured recruit had a wound in the sole of his foot and was
“Excused Boots” so could not take part in normal activities. His
story was that he was undergoing a tribal punishment and a curse
was preventing the wound from healing. In actual fact he used to
sit on his bed every evening and reopen the wound with a knife.
He disappeared back to
, but strangely nobody seemed to envy him.
During 1958 a British Rock star (Terry Dene) was called up and
was discharged as unfit after a few days because he was very
unhappy. He immediately lost several million fans and he was
destroyed by the Press.
Elvis Presley, on the other hand, went through his Army
service with pride and became well respected by every National
personalities re-emerged, self-respect was regained and
friendships were made. Things settled down to a routine and
things weren’t so bad. We now had a common enemy – the Army – to
bind us together. “Roll on death, Demob is too far away” became
The Army has
certain rules, which are often kept secret so they can surprise
you with them. Despite being very fit – I had just finished a
very active rowing season – I was suddenly informed, after two
weeks’ training, that being 5 feet eight inches tall I should
weigh a minimum of 9 stones. I was a mere 8½ so was not fit to
be a soldier and had to be sent on a Physical Development
Course. I had to pack my kit, hand bedding etc back to the
Quartermaster’s stores, and say cheerio to my new friends. A
lorry took me and a few other misfits off to Imphal Barracks, on
the A19 south of
. What were we in for now?
The Health Farm
was, to me,
a dream. The whole place was run by PT Instructors, and compared
to the DI’s we had become accustomed to these guys were
comparatively very friendly – especially our NCO, Staff Sergeant
Martindale. I was quite fit and needed no encouragement to take
part in the activities here.
other forms of Bull were minimised. Instead we spent 99 per cent
of our time in PT kit. The day was a long series of sporting
activities – soccer, touch rugby, cross-country, assault courses
and indoor games and exercises in the gymnasium.
Every hour we had to run to the cookhouse where we thin
ones were given a pint of milk and a spoonful of malt extract.
The fat ones just had a glass of water! At mealtimes a similar
injustice prevailed – Meat and veg for the lightweights, and
salad and fruit for the others.
We really were
a mixed bunch of weeds and wobblies! I recall one man named
Speed who although of normal stature had insufficient strength
to hold a rifle. Doing weightlifting exercises in the gym for
him involved using the bar with no
weights on. Amazingly we noted in the shower that he was
enormously well endowed in the marital region and we think we
could see where all his strength went! Each day we were weighed.
Most made steady progress towards their target weights. Within
two weeks I had gained a stone of sheer muscle and felt great.
During a visit to the City I took the opportunity to treat
myself to a “crewcut” to eliminate the disfigurement wreaked by
the Army barber. Time to go back to
I got back to
Catterick in time to join the next intake, and was put into 12
troop, accommodated in
lines. Instead of a red brick building like Vimy, this was a
line of old, wooden “spider” blocks allegedly already condemned
as unfit for human habitation at the end of WW2.
comprised two parallel barrack rooms connected by an ablution
block to form the letter H. Each of the two rooms contained
twenty or so beds in the usual head to toe arrangement. There
was a cast-iron stove in the centre, and a DI’s bunk room in one
corner. Glass was missing from several windows. The weather was
very cold, and it is no exaggeration to say that in the mornings
our breath had made a frosty patch on the blankets near our
mouths! We were in
the tender care of a couple of sadists named Cpl Hutchinson and
resumed, but I was now an Old Soldier by comparison. I was
spared many of the troop activities during the first fortnight,
such as indoctrination’s, injections and the like as I had
already had them. I spent many hours looking after the barrack
room and punching 3 dog tags for everyone in the troop. (They
were not issued, but had to be made and stored in readiness for
any active service). These dog tags were metal discs on which
was laboriously punched the individual’s name, number and
religion. As I made them I made quite a few mistakes and threw
away the discards. Little did I realise that all discs had to be
accounted for, and I had to pay for the replacements.
first few days we had some visitors. First
came a very friendly guy who took details of which Sunday
newspapers we wanted, and the cash to pay for them. Needless to
say, we never got the papers! Next was a man who helped us fill
in applications to join the British Legion, and relieved us of
the first year’s subs. Again, there was no subsequent trace that
we had ever joined. We formed the firm opinion that these
swindles were sanctioned by the DI’s, and resolved, one day, to
return and do things to whoever was responsible for these
swindles, but we never had the time.
One other bad
memory – mother sent me a food parcel. Food was forbidden in the
barrack room, so I took care to conceal it at the bottom of my
/ Cpl Clarke spotted it and confiscated it. Each evening from
then on I was called into his little room and forced to stand to
attention and watch him eat one of my cakes!
hat a bastard that man was. And we learned that letters with
money enclosed never arrived – they say that the postroom
orderlies used to use a compass needle to detect the metal strip
in the notes.
we had many other soldierly skills to take on board. We spent
many hours perfecting the technique of loading a clip of wooden
rounds into our rifles, and pretending to fire them at imaginary
things in various positions like standing, kneeling or laying in
mud. I'm not sure why, but mud seemed to be compulsory and there
must have been something in Queen's Regulations forbidding
soldiers from laying down somewhere dry.
dismantling, assembling and firing from the hip a small piece of
black pipe with a handle called the Sten .
This was an automatic rifle which had a mind of its own and was
renowned for not being able to hit a barn from the inside. It
had an aperture just near the little finger of your left hand
from which spent bullet cases were ejected.
e were constantly reminded not to let our left fingers stray
into the hole, where they would be chopped off by the
reciprocating firing hammer.
e got to
actually fire the Sten and the .303
ee Enfield rifle on the firing range. Some of us actually hit
what we were aiming at occasionally, but I don’t think the enemy
would have been in too much danger from a squad of Royal
Passing Out Parade
sessions became more intense during our final week – we were
getting quite competent and no longer had to call out the
timing. The resulting silence made the noises made by boots,
hands and rifles more intense. Mistakes became scarce, and the
DI’s were more encouraging and seemed to take a pride in their
troop, with an air of rivalry between them. After many
rehearsals Passing Out day arrived. Kit was specially bulled and
we enjoyed the pomp of parading and marching
in best uniform, with bayonets fixed, to the music
of The Band of the Royal Signals. After inspection and due
ceremony we marched off the square to the Signals March “Begone
dull care” which seemed to sum up our feelings and became a tune
we would never forget. I don’t think even the most reluctant
recruit could have failed to feel some sense of pride that day –
we were real Soldiers now, ready for anything.
played one final trick on us – we were marched into the barber
shop for a final haircut! Somehow they found enough fuzz on my
head to trim. Whilst in the chair each was asked what trade we
had been allocated. “Spec Op” I volunteered. “You’ll need War
Office Flashes” the midget said, relieving me of several
shillings for two pairs (one for each uniform) of coloured cloth
badges. Guess what was to be the first thing issued to us when
we got to our next camp! The Army seemed determined not to let
us keep too much of our hard-earned thirty bob per week pay.
assembled with full kit on the square, grouped by trade.
Compared with the large squads of Wireless Ops, Drivers and
others, the band of potential Special Operators seemed small.
Nobody knew any more than me about our future, but we could only
conclude that we were left-over oddballs. When headcounts were
correct we embarked on lorries and
said a not so sorry farewell to Catterick Garrison.
My room mates
Camp is in Woodhouse, near Loughborough, in Leicestershire. This
lovely place became our home for the next 26 weeks. The old
camp, with its nissen huts, was used for training, and the more
modern accommodation buildings were alongside Beaumanor Hall,
about a mile away. Beaumanor was a WW2 Intercept base, which
took enemy Enigma messages for relay to
for codebreaking. More about it later.
“Home”, to us, was the upper floor of a two-story barrack block
named Cherat. Others I recall were named Sarafand and Forest
Moor – I believe after wartime Intercept Stations. Each day we
were marched in three ranks from one camp to the other in the
morning, back and forth again for lunch, and then marched “Home”
in the evening. Good exercise and we must have been responsible
for much of the wear on the road surface.
On day 1 after
parade our new intake was assembled in one of the training huts.
We were told that we would now be part of MI8, and each then had
to sign the Official Secrets Act (with dire warnings of what
would happen to us if we ever told tales!) It was then explained
to us that we were to become skilled in the taking of high-speed
Morse code messages from various enemies. We had to be fast and
thorough, as it would not be possible, of course, to ask the
sender to slow down or repeat anything we missed. Horrors! When
I was still at school I had joined the Norwich Amateur Radio
Club with a view to becoming a “Ham”. I had to give up that idea
as I had found it impossible to learn the Morse code! So what
use was I going to be to the Army in this role? But I need not
have worried – the Army has its own way to teach you things. We
were given a message pad, a pencil, and a pair of headphones,
which plugged into a jack below the desk. We put the ‘phones on,
and the instructor started his tape recorder.
Dit Dah came
the noise, then a lengthy silence, then a voice said “A”. This
was repeated a few times. Then the noise changed to Dah Dit, and
the usual silence was followed by the voice saying “N”. After a
few repeats, the Dit Dahs and Dah Dits were mixed up randomly,
and we had to write down the right letter before the voice told
us. Exciting, eh? Gradually the silences got shorter so we had
to react more quickly. After a few hours of this we would
obviously never forget the code for “A” or “N” ever again.
Following a break we went through the same ritual with “V” and
“B” – again the opposites of Dit Dit Dit Dah and Dah Dit Dit Dit.
When we had these sussed they were mixed with the “A”’s and “N”’s.
We now knew one 10th of the morse
code alphabet! Over the ensuing days we gradually learned the
rest of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation in the same way.
At the same time we had to learn how to write in a special way
so that when we reached high speeds our fast writing would be
efficient and clear. For instance our “U” had a square shape so
that it would not look like a “V” when written quickly. (Most of
us still, after 40 years, still have this strange style of
Bisset and Terry
oud were our main instructors. Jim was a bit of a drinker, and
often came in suffering from an obvious hangover. He used to
switch on the recorded morse and then
go to sleep for a while.
e were mostly played morse from reels
of paper tape. But this was of course too perfect, so at times
they sent us morse by key, and taught
us to read “FSK” tapes. Gradually our errors diminished and the
speed was increased. As the weeks and months passed regular
tests monitored our performance, and the pressure increased.
Life at Garats Hay
We didn’t do
Morse training all day of course. There was still plenty of time
for drill and PE. A memorable feature was the Assault Course
that lurked behind Garats Hay. Apart from several rope climbs
and things to jump over or run along there were a couple of
really terrifying obstacles. One of these was and enormous rope
swing between two 20 foot high platforms, the tops of which
seemed about the size of Mum’s kitchen table. Landing on the far
side with studded boots on was tricky. The final obstacle was
really scary. The first time we met this we were assembled
before a flight of wide steps that had a bush behind them. The
first man ran up the steps as directed. As he cleared the bush
he we heard a scream, followed by a thud. The next man did
exactly the same thing. As this scene was repeated some of us
kept creeping to the back of the queue! When it was my turn I
bravely ran up the steps, leapt over the bush, and screamed. The
“bush” turned out to be the top of a medium sized tree, and
there was a long drop into a sandpit below. The landing took the
breath out of you! There remained the mystery of why the steps
were so wide. This was explained many weeks later when we were
put into teams and had to get around the course carrying a
section of telegraph pole. Tricky and painful, but good for
developing teamwork!. The tree jump
was performed by standing side by side holding the pole to our
chests, then screaming “Geronimo” or something as we ran
together up the steps and jumped. very
difficult not to bang your chin on the pole on landing.
Periods of the
inevitable drill, the occasional visit to
for exercises, and weekend leave relieved the absolute mind
blowing boredom of the Morse practice. I managed to get home
most weekends, hitch hiking home to
and then returning to camp on Sunday by train. I met a lot of
very nice people on these journeys, and because we were in
uniform always received friendly assistance. These journeys were
not without little adventures – once I had to take decisive
action at a set of traffic lights to escape from the car of an
unbelievably drunk driver. Another time I travelled on the back
of a lorry loaded with scaffold poles. Every time the driver
braked the load shifted forward and my space got smaller. I
prayed fervently that he wouldn’t have to do an emergency stop!
Not being able
to afford going home every weekend, we had a chance to get to
oughborough quite well. Then it was a quiet market town on the
A6. I remember the Carillon, the Curzon Cinema, and a student
named Valerie Kerr who I went out with a few times. Happy days!
One of the
hazards of the training was “Morse Madness”. Apparently victims
began to hear morse inside their
heads, especially when trying to sleep. This eventually caused a
mental breakdown, and sufferers were sent away for treatment and
reassignment to other duties. I thought I had it one night, but
then realised that everyone could hear the
morse. It turned out to be George, a keen bugger in
another room who had rigged up a morse
key and buzzer so he could practice in his spare time. Needless
to say he was duly dealt with!
aspect of life was the occasional Guard duty. This took place at
the Garats Hay camp, the Guardroom being in the beautiful old
e slept, fully clothed and clutching our rifles, as the Officer
in charge of security loved to creep in and steal rifle bolts if
he got the chance. During the 2 hour stint of Guard Duty one
soldier patrolled near the big entrance gate, only letting in
people who could be identified. He was in turn protected by
another soldier who stood in a sentry box the other side of the
hen an officer approached he was supposed to step out of the box
and slope arms. One guy forgot to take that step and put his
bayonet through the roof instead – the officer had to help him
pull it out! In another incident the aforementioned Security
Officer decided to test the guard by stealthily climbing over
the gate. The guard saw fingers atop the gate, panicked, and
smashed them with his rifle-butt. As they took the officer away
for treatment he commended the guard for being so observant, but
commented ‘“Halt - who goes there?” would have been an adequate
considered unfit for normal duties the day after Guard or the
even more tedious Fire Picket duty. This, by no means, meant one
could rest – far from it. Instead we had to report to the
cookhouse for fatigues, and spent the day peeling potatoes or,
worse still, on the dreaded “Tinbash”. I still remember the
hopelessness of trying to clean 4 foot by 3 baking trays with
cold water and a distinct lack of Fairy
iquid. By the end of the day you were filthy, exhausted, and
smelling of grease. Returning in such a state one evening one
Gorbals chap named Gilchrist refused to clean up and got into
bed just as he was. After some debate he was “encouraged” by
Mike Jermy into the showers, where we all set about him with
brooms until he was glowing and clean. I once was given the task
of getting inside a spherical boiler which was half filled with
cold, half-cooked mutton chops and gallons of slimy fat, which I
had to handball into a bucket and dump. You can imagine what a
state I was in at the end of the task, and why to this day I
amb very much.
was “Bull Night”. Barrack rooms and ablutions had to be
spotlessly clean and shiny.
e used to polish the floor with a “bumper”, and then spread
blankets everywhere overnight to prevent any damage until after
Friday morning’s inspection.
ast men out in the morning had to back out, taking up the
blankets as they went. I recall one week when the camp had a
visit from the Blood Donor Team, and we heard a rumour that
those who gave blood would be excused Bull. They were not short
of volunteers that Thursday! However we were disappointed to
find that the rumour was just that!
the era will remember Provost Cpl Symes, and will have had some
sort of run in with him. Mine came when during a weekend leave I
decided to bleach my tie so it would make me look like an old
soldier. To my horror when I retrieved it from Mum’s airing
cupboard it fell to pieces. I managed to get back to camp
without being spotted by any MP’s, but despite walking into the
guardroom with my chin on my chest Cpl Symes noticed and gave me
a right bollocking. They will also remember Dennis, the NAAFI
manager. He was the first man I ever saw wearing make-up and
acting in such a camp manner!
Six months in
a barrack room with the same few people resulted in some
life-long friendships – I am still in touch with Mike Jermy,
Derek Spindlow, John Tong, Dennis Crane and Mike
illiams, Pete Benstead.
Most of these appear in the pics below.
illiams, George ?
Back Row Jermy, Sheehan, Spindlow, Grimshaw, Spiers, Gerearts
Front row ?? ,
oodhouse we were coming to the end of our training.
e were now proficient at taking Morse of all kinds, and our
minds were put to learning how to recognise the “fist” (sending
style) of operators of different nationalities. Many countries
use similar wireless procedures and more subtle listening was
the only way to tell a Russian from a German.
e paid a visit to the setroom at Beaumanor Hall to sit beside
the civilian Spec Ops to see how the job was done.
Goodbye to Blighty.
At the end of
the course our next stop would be either to 1
ireless Regiment in
, or to 9th Signal Regt in
was considered a “Home” posting, which meant no free passes home
e talked this over and decided that single men amongst us would
, and the married ones for
, where they would get a couple of home leaves.
Almost predictably just about the opposite happened.
our training was the A3 test, taking Morse-code without faults
at 20 groups per minute. I seemed to pass mine without any
problem. For some reason Johnny Tong and I
were “forward squadded” and sent off two weeks early to1
Wireless Regiment in
. We packed our kit and travelled, via
and Harwich, across the channel by “sick-tub” troopship, then by
Hook of Holland
to Dalheim station, where we were picked up by the inevitable
e had to marvel at the efficiency of the system that gets people
who haven’t a clue where they are going from one place to
another – we were just like a couple of parcels in the post.