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Chapter 2
 
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 true. Ed)

Rabke CLICK TO ENLARGE

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.

T.N

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. Double.
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 technical?
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 drunk!
P.C

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.

T.N.
 Snow Tents CLICK TO ENLARGE

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
 
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.

P.C.
 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.

T.N

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 it.
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

K.K

 Bill Taylor CLICK TO ENLARGE

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 freezing Winter???
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!

P.C

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.
T.N

 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 too?
P.C

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 afternoon?
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.

K.K

 Helmstedt CLICK TO ENLARGE

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 again.

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 blew over.

VW Factory CLICK TO ENLARGE

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 in UK , sweets had only just come off rationing.
I don't know about you but the time in
Germany opened my eyes to the possible truth about Great (?) Britain .
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?
P.C

I have 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 Northern Ireland , and in Rhodesia
D.T

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.
K.K

The English butcher would probably come back with a piece of New Zealand 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 Germany 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 about it..
P.C

Bloody 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 problems.
Whilst hunting for the photos, I came across a Gala Bier mat and on the back is the name and address of Margrit Sukale.

Bier Mat    Bier Mat CLICK TO ENLARGE

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 parents in Coventry. He turned up on the doorstep and guess who he had with him. Yes Margrit Sukale. What a lovely surprise.
K.K

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.
T.N

Oh, 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 breath, suspenders.
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.
P.C

Gerry Mulligan eh. 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, too drunk.
K.K

I 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 UK . Any ideas Can I have any information on him that you might have or should we let him rest in peace IF he is still alive?
P.C

Yes they were all voice ops (in Gatow , Berlin ) 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.
D.B

8   Brian Patchett summer 1963

Old Boot CLICK TO ENLARGE

One of the few photos showing Brian Patchett before his departure east.Ed

Hi Gerry,
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 E Germany . 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.
D.B

Paul: 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.
J.R

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 him?
P.C

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.
Burgess, Mclean 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!!!!!
P.C

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 Munster 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..........

Skiing CLICK TO ENLARGE


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 Brunswick 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 expensive.
Oh we had a bath/shower there!  No. not in the club, Back at the City camp.
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.
F.S.

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?

 Icy Wagons CLICK TO ENLARGE


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 stuff.
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 vows.
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 Russkies.
Yes, we did have the use of the apartment in Braunschweig/ Brunswick 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.


3 skiers
CLICK TO ENLARGE

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 started!
P.C

On the 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 home. F.S

You 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.
K.K

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).

I found an 8 Guards Army sitting in the Fulda Gap which looks very much in the American zone. Is that the one?
P.C

Dewi, 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 drunken.
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.
M.H

I must 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? 
M.H

Now Mike I thought in the past you said you only reached the rank of Cpl so how did you celebrate the promotion of Keith Robinson?
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 session?
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 Buckingham Palace .
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.
T.N

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! 
G.S

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 Coventry originally, when I did NS 54/6.
K.K

Did 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.
P.C

Apart 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. 
F.S

THE FORUM

As you 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.

Long 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 find.

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. 

The passengers 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

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.

SS VIENNA. 

SS Vienna 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

HMT Empire Parkeston click to enlarge

Ex- Prince 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. Munster and was posted to langeleben in August 1954, returning to the Regt. Which, by then, had moved to Munchen Gladbach.

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.

1954  1954 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!

1954 click to enlarge

Our only entertainment in those early days of was either a trip to Königslutter or to the cinema at the Royal Welch Regt. Barracks in Brunswick 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.

1954 click to enlarge

Despite the 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 Baldwin.

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 Regt.

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 Hildesheim mobile.

 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 'Listening Post'.

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 Inspection’.

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 time.

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."

John Fortey    John Fortey    John Fortey 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, Brighton , 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

ahp006

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.

ahp009

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 Brunswick on our time off 9.

  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 Munster 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.

ahp005

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, unlike the East Surreys 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 in Cyprus 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! I was 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.) 

ahp007

Whilst 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 UK car worker at that time; an illustration of the German economic miracle.

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 that’s life.

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 imagine!

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 seriously injured. 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 frozen solid. 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, a “5710”. Such a high group number was unheard of; could such a ‘red-a.se’ existed. 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 uproar. 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 cockroaches’ move! It was a sight not to be missed and once seen, never forgotten. 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 mildly, exhilarating. 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 environment. 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 six feet”.

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 snow. 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 the turnout.

‘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 lads. 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.

langy04    mh 15a  CLICK TO ENLARGE

Christmas 1958 was a real belter!  We 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 rules.  There was to be misunderstanding all operators would be ‘fit for purpose’. Christmas Eve arrived and everything was going splendidly.  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 character again.

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 England’s 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 UK 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 gunfights.  And if it had not been for Jack, I would not have seen it.  Trivial, 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 Cyprus and the total change of menu to Curry with everything at every meal.  There were those of us reduced to bread and jam and beans, and the threats of revenge emerging were truly vicious.  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 course.  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 aiming.  They were left safe and ready for use in 1959.  3rd Shock Army, think yourself remarkably lucky!   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 did.  Every last one.

 I was demobbed, went home, and fourteen months later I married my very own, special, Father Christmas.

 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 opportunity. 

THANK YOU GENTLEMEN, ONE AND ALL.

 

IT COULD ONLY HAPPEN AT LANGELEBEN 

I was 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.

I 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.
Ken Vipond.

KEITH KERBY’S RECOLLECTIONS

A FEW MEMORIES OF A NATIONALSERVICEMAN

My 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, 1956.  

INITIAL TRAINING.

At the beginning of March, 1954, I travelled by train to Catterick. This in itself was an adventure as I had not  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 home in Coventry .

TRADE TRAINING.

I do 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.

It was 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 Coventry who was based at Garats Hay. He used to go home to Coventry 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 Munster , West Germany at the beginning of October, 1954.

After 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 Munster . I do not remember to much about my life at Nelson Barracks in Munster 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 at Munster , 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 away. 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 Coventry 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.

My duties at Munster 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.

 10 . 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.

On one 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 four. (the 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 to look for their group with a similar call sign.

At the 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 demobbed from Munster , breakfast was at an early 6am instead of the later time. One image that I have remembered about the leave was, upon travelling through Holland   on my way back to Munster , 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.

I 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.

This 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 two wagons back to back with four shifts providing 24 hour cover.

What 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.

I 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 to find his brother on the doorstep, with his family in a cart drawn by a horse. They had just crossed the Border from East Germany . What a party we had that day. Another recreation was skiing in the fields opposite the camp.

During 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 accommodation in readiness for the winter of 55/6.

complex CLICK TO ENLARGE

I 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.

Later 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 Organisation). We would 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 stores and 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 the 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.

Life 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.

On the 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.

My conclusion.

A lot 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 MEMBERS

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 ‘225’?  Well, about 1976, our postie, Cpl Jock Fraser, was sent on a 'Rat Catchers Course' which he subsequently failed.

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!!

DEREK FOWLER

LEARNING THE MORSE CODE

Fred Sanderson’s introduction to the Morse Code was of course at Catterick. I 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 promotion.
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 transmissions.
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.

straight key CLICK TO ENLARGE

A straight morse key – up and down movement is needed to create letters/code.

paddle key 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 and dashes 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.

key CLICK TO ENLARGE

 Radio 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.

 Morse 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 twice)

 This 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’.

 Speeds 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 three parts.

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 picture

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 Czechoslovakia , 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 day/night frequencies.  

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 '
odessa silint night etc.’

 

RTTY

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 it.

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

A 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.
Tom Neal


MORE RANDOM MEMORIES ON ARMY LIFE

Reminiscing, Mike Hudson 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.
 Deepcote 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”
 I did not then, and do not now, consider what I experienced  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 loved).

 ‘It 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 from Catterick Hospital, seek out both Cpl Kelly and Sgt McCarthy and thank them for everything they had done and they were as nice as pie”.                                                                   
“Then to 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 that bad”                                                     
When it came to the move to Langeleben,  there 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.
 Langeleben 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. Ed).

 He went on to say,

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 correctly”. (This 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 scouts?”

In reply,Tom Neal added,

 “I 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 National Servicemen.

 

SPEC OP
Memories of a National Service Special Operator

by  219 'Skip'

1958 - 60

Skip

INTRODUCTION

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.

The brown 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.

Despite the 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. 

THE MEDICAL

The privilege 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 Norwich . 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… Bend 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 this nightmare.

Call Up

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 knowledge.

Having 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.

The 18th 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 Yorkshire – 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 shock!

W e alighted 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 Richmond and into the Barracks just as it was getting dusk. Intake 58-20 had arrived

Things now moved fast, and the exact sequence of events now becomes a trifle hazy. W 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.

W 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!

Squarebashing Begins

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 Norfolk , 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 at incessantly.

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. W 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, lanyards. W 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.

Fatigues

This  F” 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 funny haircut.

Kit

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 to cuff.

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 “ L 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 Enfield .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!

"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 social activities.

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.

We 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 we could. 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 envy.)

Leaving any cookhouse involved one final peril – the Wash-Rinse-and-Sterilise!

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.

Homesickness

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 Parade Square 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 Civvy Street , 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 Serviceman.

Very gradually 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 our motto.

Weeded out!

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 York . What were we in for now?  

Skip

The Health Farm

York 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.

Drill and 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 Catterick.

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Baghdad L ines

I got back to Catterick in time to join the next intake, and was put into 12 troop, accommodated in Baghdad 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.

These 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 L/Cpl Clarke.

Training 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.

During the 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 locker. However, L / 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!  W 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.

Playing Soldiers

Besides drill, 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.

W e practiced dismantling, assembling and firing from the hip a small piece of black pipe with a handle called the Sten .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. W 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.

W e got to actually fire the Sten and the .303 L 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 Signalmen! 

Passing Out Parade

Our drill 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.

Catterick 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.

Finally we 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.

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My room mates

Trade Training

Garats Hay 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 Bletchley Park 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 writing).

Corporals Jim Bisset and Terry L 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. W 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 Beacon Hill 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 Norwich 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 know L 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!

Another fun aspect of life was the occasional Guard duty. This took place at the Garats Hay camp, the Guardroom being in the beautiful old house. W 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 courtyard. W 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 response!’

One was 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 L 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 don’t like L amb very much.

Thursday night was “Bull Night”. Barrack rooms and ablutions had to be spotlessly clean and shiny. W 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. L 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!

People

Everybody from 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 W illiams, Pete Benstead.  Most of these appear in the pics below.

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L -R Jermy, Tong, Gilchrist, W illiams, George ? and me

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Back Row Jermy, Sheehan, Spindlow, Grimshaw, Spiers, Gerearts

Front row ?? , W ood, W illiams, Benstead

After six months at W oodhouse we were coming to the end of our training. W 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. W 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 W ireless Regiment in Germany , or to 9th Signal Regt in Cyprus . Germany was considered a “Home” posting, which meant no free passes home for leave. W e talked this over and decided that single men amongst us would volunteer for Cyprus , and the married ones for Germany , where they would get a couple of home leaves.  Almost predictably just about the opposite happened.

Culmination of 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 Birgelen , West Germany . We packed our kit and travelled, via L ondon and Harwich, across the channel by “sick-tub” troopship, then by train from Hook of Holland to Dalheim station, where we were picked up by the inevitable army lorry. W 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.

Empire Parkeston

End of chapter 2

Last updated 22 October 2009

 

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