Draft History Project

| HOME | COVER | CONTENTS | FOREWORD | CH 1 | CH 2 | CH 3 | CH 4 | CH 5 | CH 6 | CH 7 | CH 8 | CH 9 | CH 10 | CH 11 | PHOTO'S |
Chapter 4

This is a picture of an Eddystone 730/4 HF (200 khz - 30 Mhz) receiver used in the 60's. I only used it in training (thankfully) as it was a fairly unstable bit of kit which kept drifting off frequency. It was also inaccurate. During training I couldn't find an outstation which had changed frequency, but I was able to listen to my neighbours' output (we were all listening to the same tape) as he had his volume turned up so high.


Images of other equipment used can be seen on the BVA (Birgelen Veterans Association) site. During my time at Langeleben we mainly used 'Astra' VHF receivers (there were no HF targets). Unfortunately I can't find an image of the set, but it incorporated a spectrum display on the front of the receiver so you could see RF activity in relation to the frequency band you were looking at - consequently ops were able to locate activity much quicker.

The following is mainly about experiences at 13 Sigs, (Birgelen) but it may give you background to further information in relation to workings at Langeleben.

The DF equipment I was familiar with in the 60's and was in use at 13 Sigs was Telefunken PST396 - basically a HF receiver, the output from which was attached to an oscilloscope, around which was a compass rose.  All the equipment was housed in a green cabinet about 6' high, with a sloping desk half way down where you could see the o'scope display, and at which the op sat. Whenever the target was active a line/trace would appear across the 'scope signifying the direction of the signal being received. There was a moveable ruler which was placed alongside the trace, and the bearing could be read off the compass rose. 

marlene rabke

DF operators were steered on to tasks by DF Control at 13 Sigs (the DF baseline stretched from S. Germany to N. Germany) by use of morse code and a one time pad. There was a procedure in use so that frequency, station ident etc could be passed by decoding this one time pad and other procedures used to indicate the type of activity the target was involved in so that the DF operator could take the bearing of the correct target.  ie Control would send an 'a' continuously when the target was active in procedure (Qsa imi), 'y' when he went off the air, and other characters to indicate if he was in calls, type of traffic etc. All DF ops had been employed in the main setroom so were generally familiar with the tasks they were targeting (as described in earlier posts). DF results were relayed back to control again using the OTP (one time pad). The morse link was replaced by printer in the early 70's and the DF equipment was also changed/upgraded at that time.

Again I'm not sure of the system in use at Langeleben/Rabke in the 50's 60's, but there was no DF available to the setroom when I arrived there in '73.

I have a vague recollection of control at 13 Sigs being tasked from Langy in the late 60's (using morse/one time pad) - they would send the details to us, we would tune to the target and then task the DF network, sending the results back to Langy on completion. There were vehicles fitted out for VHF DF purposes at Langy, but these were used only on exercise, and were tasked by the main mobile complex, where the intercept was done. As explained in JR's history, the main task in the 70's was Comsec against our own/Allied Forces. Occasionally there were forays up and down the East/West border when the other side was exercising, but these were often unproductive as they went quiet as we moved into location. It was during such an exercise (at the end) that a game of football was organised against a local German town side - the football field was up against the East German border and the sentries in the watchtowers were able to watch the game.

On another, a cinema was rigged up in the forest we happened to be in at the time (bed sheet strung between two trees/no popcorn). The film was 'Willard' about a boy who kept rats and trained them to kill people - we did not sleep well that night, especially as one of us (Keith Mooney?) realised that his bar of chocolate had been 'nibbled' while we watched the show!!

I've kept notes since my DF course at Bletchley in the 60's and today is the first time I've looked at them since - just knew they would come in handy, although it has now been brought to my attention by my first wife (the reference keeps her on her toes) that the attic requires cleaning.



By Paul Cook a Lieutenant (MT Officer) in the Royal Signals whilst at Langeleben

I spent 18 months at Birgelen on operations and was quite used to working with the I corps, I used to sail in R Sigs. regattas with an I corps corporal from Langeleben although I cannot remember his name.

I was at Langeleben for 18 months between June 1961 and January 1963 and was MTO, not on operations. I had been at Birgelen for a year and replaced Hugh Deynham at Langeleben.It is fair to say that officers at Birgelen did not want to be posted to Langeleben but, once there, did not want to leave. It was said that those who went to the East (Langeleben) went native within a few months!

My social life revolved around my girlfriend who was a primary school teacher at the QDQ's and I spent most of my spare time at Wolfenbuettel. Many of the OR's and a few officers were N.Service, as I was before getting a short service commission. Some could not wait to leave others took the opportunity to travel in Germany, probably more so than the regulars, who would be returning to Germany again in the future.


mt   tg60

When I arrived, after an MT course at Bordon, there was an imminent CIV and the Plant Records had not been updated for a year. We completed the records with the help of a selection of pens. We passed the inspection but had to send one ‘basket case’ truck, I remember, to Birgelen on a 'secret' mission.

The officers at the time were Norman Gallyer OC, Capt Smith 2i/c, Lt Allan Blackwell-Jones, an I Corps Lt. and 3 linguists, all captains. Jim Burke Para who is on one of the website photos at the admin inspection in 1962. Jim Bittles RA and (?) Flower. These three used to listen to tapes of VHF intercepts in the Officers dining room.

I remember during the Cuban missile crisis one Russian senior officer speaking to his wife from the field saying 'run the bath, we are coming home tomorrow', which indicated that the crisis was passing!

At one time we had Royal Navy spec ops and being far from the sea on top of a hill they were dressed in R Signals uniforms. One of them committed some misdemeanour and was sentenced to a few days detention. We did not have a guardroom, apart from the MSO hut at the entrance, and he was sent to the QDG's (Queen’s Dragoon Guards) at Wolfenbuttel. We received an anguished call from the QDG's, “he is laying out bellbottoms”! We said “don't worry and don't ask questions”!

We had two civilian German drivers who drove the two water trucks between Konigslutter and Langeleben. I had the bright idea of using the pumps on the trucks to wash down our vehicles, which was fine for a time, but I forgot that it can get cold on top of a hill in winter! One night they froze solid and we had a Board of Enquiry. I was fined £10 which was several days’ pay at the time. I set up a ski lift in the field over the road. We used the winch on a Bedford and a rope over a pulley at the bottom of the hill. It worked fine until the rope broke.....We had a visit from some officers from a neighbouring tank regiment and were told that ‘their signal security was very good’. The OC got permission from the Colonel to intercept and within a morning we knew all about their exercise!


As recalled by Chris Rundle

A group of us National Servicemen arrived in Langeleben in the summer of 1958 - all to be demobbed a year later.  We had learnt Russian together at the Joint Services School for Linguists at Crail, in Fife, and had reached there by different routes. In my case I had done basic training, “square bashing” as we called it, with the Buffs in Canterbury. I had then been transferred to the Intelligence Corps at Maresfield, Sussex, where I completed a Field Security Course. I was on home leave prior to being posted to a unit in Germany (BAOR) when I got a telegram recalling me immediately to Maresfield.  There I was told that I was to go to Crail instead. “It’s a feather in your cap,” said the Sergeant Major.

I had actually been quite keen to put into practice the skills acquired during my Field Security course. One exercise which had particularly appealed to me had involved going to the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells and trailing a number of “suspects”.  In the middle of it I had bumped into my old geography master, and was at a loss to explain to him what I was doing as my “suspect” disappeared round the next corner. Another exercise had involved orienteering in Ashdown Forest.  As I could read a map pretty well thanks to my time in the school CCF, I was put in charge of one squad.  We failed to identify many of the landmarks, but decided not to hang around and marched triumphantly back into camp well before the others.  We never received any comeback.  Perhaps the missed landmarks didn’t actually exist?  Back in the classroom one of the things we learnt about was “orbat”, the order of battle of military units. The chain of command went Army, Corps, Division, Brigade, Battalion, and to remember it I invented my own sort of acronym, “acidbuggers”. Another part of our training was to give ten-minute talks.  Mine was on the history of the cinema - slightly potted!

Anyway, an order was an order so I hurriedly repacked my kit - full battledress - and travelled up to Scotland, recalling as I did so the interview I had had for the Russian course some time earlier. Rather cheekily I suppose, I had told the officers sitting on the board in the War Office that I thought I would be better employed learning Russian than doing other jobs in the army - to which they replied sternly that it was for them to judge!  I thought I had probably blown it. 

After Crail, an isolated camp built on a disused airfield overlooking the North Sea eminently suitable for linguists with long wordlists to learn each evening, we went south to Cheltenham to be trained as Voice Ops at GCHQ.  There I remembered that during the interview I had for some reason been asked how musical I was. The reason now became clear: anyone aspiring to a musical career was not selected for the course because of the damage that wireless operating might do to their hearing. (We were constantly turning the volume up to try to distinguish weak signals among the atmospherics, and I can’t say it did my hearing any good.)       

After Cheltenham we went briefly to Maresfield on transit before being posted to the Royal Signals regiment at Munchen Gladbach in Germany, not far from the Dutch border.  Soon afterwards some of us were posted on to Langeleben, one of its detachments. I don’t remember much about the journey there except that as our troop train picked its way through the sidings at Hannover we were jeered by a number of German railway workers. One can hardly blame them: they may have seen service in the war, which had ended only 13 years before, or just been reacting to the memory of allied bombing of German targets.  But, remarkably, that was the only time I met with any hostility.  And when I visited Berlin as a student a few years later I was impressed by the open-mindedness of the German students who showed us round.

My memories of Langeleben, which was classified as a “forward intercept station”, are mostly quite fond; one tends to forget the hours of tedium or frustration for young men stuck at the end of nowhere close to the East German frontier. Our work was mainly a routine.  On most days we would listen in as Soviet radio operators switched on and, using call signs taken from the names of birds, established communication with each other.  “Eagle I am Hawk. How do you hear me?”  “Hawk I am Eagle. Perfectly.”  At the end of the day they would ask for permission to switch off.  “Swan I am Crane. May we switch off?” “Crane I am Swan. Switch off.”  The letters we wrote down most frequently in our logs were KS, short for the Russian Kak Slyshno, “how do you hear me?”  But every now and then there was a Soviet army exercise and we would be swamped with work, hastily jotting down conversations and sequences of figures as well as making tape recordings on enormous reels. The figures would often be repeated by the Russian operators, read back, and corrected if there was a mistake. All that would be laboriously noted down.

Then there was the day when there was an international scare over Berlin. With one of my friends, I happened to be out for a walk in the woods near the camp when we heard the camp siren.  We decided to pretend we had been too far away to hear it.  But an hour or two later we had to return to camp to report for duty.  There we found the whole unit mustered for parade and about to do a practice evacuation. We hurriedly changed into uniform and grabbed some of our kit before being driven away in army trucks. After a time we stopped and there was a kit inspection, and as we two had not had time to pack essentials for the night we received what was known as a right bollocking.

But discipline at the camp was generally not strict, allowing us to concentrate on our work and to relax in our free time.  We worked shifts, the longest of which, from midnight to 8am, was referred to as the “midty”.  Supervision was fairly minimal.  We handed in logs and tapes after each shift and rarely had any comeback on them.  Sergeant Y, a regular, was responsible for drawing up rosters and various other management tasks.  As you entered the operations block the first room on the right housed Captain B, a linguist himself, who presumably had first sight of interesting material before it was sent off for analysis.  If there was little going on during a night shift I would read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Russian, in preparation for my future university studies.  At the same time I would be searching the airwaves, going up and down the bandwidths - “knobbing” as we called it, though that now suggests a different kind of activity. I remember once tuning in to a concert of classical music from Leipzig, a place which seemed impossibly far away the other side of the frontier. The air in the operations room was fetid.  There was no natural light, and one could not wait to get out at the end one’s shift.  But in its own way the work was absorbing: we were listening to real Russians talking just the other side of the frontier.  I was aware of a courier run to a nearby American unit, and on one occasion found myself talking to one of the Americans there on the phone. As for Mercury Grass, I was well aware of it as a codeword but had no idea of its significance. The “need to know” principle applied.

The informality of life at Langeleben can be illustrated by the manner in which I was promoted to the giddy height of Lance Corporal, the most that we National Service Voice Ops could aspire to.  I can’t remember who informed me.  But I had to go to the stores to ask for a stripe and sew it on my tunic myself.  I am ham-fisted, and the result was far from smart.  Next morning the sergeant asked me what that thing was on my arm.  I explained - he had obviously not heard of my promotion. He told me to get the thing sewn on properly.  I can’t remember who finally did that, but I do remember that the sergeant in charge of the stores, a regular, was always helpful.  Among other things, when I came back off leave a day early in the spring of 1959 he found me a bed and locker without any fuss. (I had been to the Ardennes, in Belgium, to practice my French and see the country. If you were not going back to the UK for your leave the army provided a ticket as far as Liège.)

Promotion meant very little except extra pay.  In those days we assembled for pay parade once a week in the room that doubled up as dining room and assembly hall and smelt of stale cabbage.  By the time I left Langeleben I had probably saved a few hundred pounds from my meagre wages, thanks to the lack of shops and other facilities in the vicinity.    

Organised recreational opportunities were pretty minimal. But Langeleben fielded a football team which took part in the local league and the welfare officer, Captain W, had got some skis for the unit.  Before trying them out locally on the woodland tracks outside the camp a few of us were sent on a week’s “operational training” in the Harz Mountains.  We stayed in a ski hut, ate tinned food, and were instructed by a Scottish sergeant who had experience from the Cairngorms.  His favourite command was to adopt the “vertical shag position” once we had pointed ourselves downhill.  Luckily there were no broken legs.  We went back to the Harz Mountains a couple of times to watch ski-jumping championships.  It was a picture postcard setting.  Sometimes we would walk to the local towns and villages on our days off and once I took the train to the border town of Helmstedt, where one of the other linguists from my Russian course, Steve Dorner, was now based.  His job was to travel on the British military train which went daily from Brunswick (Braunschweig) to Berlin via Helmstedt and East German territory.  When I got to Helmstedt the place was stiff with Military Police. My instinctive reaction amused Steve, who was used to working with them.  Konigslutter, just a few miles from the camp, was of course the main place to go for a drink in the evenings. I remember once getting impatient waiting for the truck back home and trudging back up the hill. It was actually quite a stretch. I didn’t try it again.

There was a film show once a week.  Although I went to most of them, the only one I can remember is Peyton Place, because of the effect it had on one sex-starved individual who was heard to shout “Drop her on your cock!” We seemed to be back to the basics of basic training, where a former Borstal inmate had asked us on the first day if we had “had our oats”. Other leisure moments were spent more innocently lying on our beds, known in the army jargon as “pits”, reading, listening to music or engaging in barrack room banter.  The cynicism of the latter, which exceeded even the attitude prevalent at my minor boarding school, had a lasting effect.  As for the music, one of the hit songs to be heard on the British Forces Network was Connie Francis’s Carolina Moon, a wistful number which struck a chord with people far away from family and friends.  There was also, of course, plenty of Elvis Presley, while one of my workmates was repeatedly humming Frank Sinatra.  By the time I arrived the unit had acquired a small library and in it I discovered a copy of the Diaries of Virginia Woolf, which laid bare my shameful ignorance of world literature. I wrote down a long list of works to read once I was demobbed.

As we were in Langeleben only one year, we could not be sure how many things that happened were new or already routine - the skis had apparently been there some time - but I remember a notice going round about the opera house in Braunschweig and I went to an opera there with a couple of my mates, driven both ways by army transport as part of the unit’s welfare effort. We saw an unforgettable performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

In my day the accommodation at Langeleben was satisfactory, if sparse.  The washing and toilet facilities were adequate, the huts well heated in the winter.  The food was unimaginative and not a patch on that at Crail, where we had had a lot of fresh salads from the surrounding farms.  Used to school food, I did not particularly care, except that the oily chips which were part of our staple diet had a bad effect on some of our stomachs. At mid-morning the NAAFI used to call in at the camp with some very popular ham rolls.

Notwithstanding the chips, I remember health in the camp as being generally good - the air was crisp and bracing.  But during my time in Langeleben one of the Catering Corps personnel whose billet was close to mine became ill and suddenly died.  Whether better medical facilities would have saved his life I don’t know. I remember seeing his coffin being carried away by men from the unit. The poor guy had always looked overweight, but no-one had seen this coming.

Boredom was the main reason why I accepted a challenge to climb the radio mast (out of bounds of course). Coming back down was certainly worse than going up. To keep fit I frequently went for walks or runs in the surrounding forest, once coming across a satanic-looking wild boar. Whereas Maresfield and Crail had boasted rugger teams, in Langeleben there was, as already mentioned, little scope for sports other than football and ski-ing.  But a friend of mine who was brought up with horses did some riding at stables fairly nearby and when he asked me if I could ride I foolishly said yes, having reached the cantering stage back in Wiltshire.  I soon found myself mounted on a huge steed with a mile of German plain in front of it.  For the first, and last, time in my life I galloped.

Throughout National Service, we all had a “bolshy” attitude.  We were doing what we did under sufferance.  In retrospect I might have been more grateful to officers such as Capt B and Capt W for their hands-off attitude and for arranging for us to go ski-ing, visit the opera in Braunschweig, see film shows, etc. I remember that on Christmas Day 1958 the army tradition was observed of the officers serving Christmas dinner to the other ranks.  Capt B entered into the spirit of the thing. 

Like many National Servicemen, I was demobbed a couple of weeks before my two years were up.  We were put on the night ship from Hook of Holland to Harwich, and I arrived on my parents’ doorstep next morning.  My father was at work and my mother was doing her weekly charitable work at a hospital, not having expected me so early in the day.  As I sat on the doorstep I didn’t really care. There would be stories to tell but how to explain the uniqueness of Langeleben, without giving away secrets?  We had of course been just a small part of the effort to monitor the activities of Soviet forces in Germany - principally, in our case, the 3rd Shock Army with its HQ in Magdeburg.  At times I envied my father, who as an Intelligence Officer with the 43d Wessex Division had been in a “teeth arm” unit during the Second World War. (It was the first British unit to cross the river Seine after the Normandy landings, and he was one of the first to enter the Belsen concentration camp - don’t believe those American films!) But we had contributed in our own way to the peace which was maintained thereafter.  As for all that secrecy, when I faced an oral exam on going up to Cambridge a couple of months later one of the first questions was, in translation, “So you were listening in?”  The examiner had placed his hands on his ears, imitating headphones.  My answer, in translation, was “One should not say so.”

Now, after all those years, there is some fascination in discovering in more detail what we were all up to in Langeleben at various times in its history.

(Christopher Rundle’s memoirs,” From Colwyn Bay to Kabul: An Unexpected Journey”, contain a chapter on his National Service, including time at Langeleben. The book can be obtained by contacting the publishers on their website www.thememoirclub.co.uk, or email memoirclub@email.msn.com


23361827 Lloyd W R (Bill)57/01.

I see that the experiences of being called up, and Basic Training, etc. have been well covered with other articles, and rather than repeat, (and bore) too many readers, I thought it would be preferable just to mention the salient points that come to mind, of what I can remember after all these years.

CATTERICK CAMP. Having to report to Vimy Lines, and 3 Troop, with Cpl. Sixsmith as instructor, I am sure was an experience similar to that of all new arrivals at that time. The Corporal, and his assistant were Gods.

SPORT. Day one, established if there were any soccer, rugby or other sportsmen in our batch. No luck there with our lot.

GUARD DUTY. How was it that after a night on Duty, one arrived back at your bed space to be told that in your unwashed/unshaven state, you were expected to be out on parade in less than 5 minutes? Why was it that when your appearance was queried about by an inspecting sergeant, the excuse of 'Guard Duty' was unacceptable?

TOILET CLEANING. My luck to have ended up in charge of the barrack room toilets which must be spotless for tomorrow's inspection. Trying to keep half the toilets unused whilst being on permanent cleaning duty for the remaining toilets was a challenge. I was scarred for life.

THE PSSS MAN. After a month of arms drill, it was necessary to replace the 'out loud' '123' by a more subtle method. So, someone in the back row is ordered to say 'psss' in a whisper in place of '123'. All goes well until the passing out parade, when the Sergeant Major goes berserk whenever he hears a 'psss'. The Cpl. Says keep using it as, without it, we won't slope arms in unison and the S.M runs round trying to locate the ‘psss’ man.

YOUR NAME. There was no way the Troop Officer could remember all the names of the Troop, so if the Inspecting Officer was to stop and ask the name of anyone on the Passing Out Parade, the Troop Officer would say, “Smith, sir, and he is a carpenter”. You did NOT argue!

ELECTRICIAN IN THE HOUSE. Just drifting off to sleep when this cry came from the Cpls. Quarters. If not answered quickly, you would regret it. So, a volunteer got out of bed, and switched off the light in the Cpl's room.

SHOW US HOW. My mistake was to have confessed to having been in the school Cadet Force. So, when we were crawling on our stomachs in the snow or mud, it was suggested that I give them the benefit of my experience. More cleaning for me that night.

GARAT'S HAY. The 'new barracks' were under construction, but for 5 months we were in the war-time Nissen Huts which were experienced by all those Spec. Ops up until June 1957. It was a cold winter, and the 'snow lay on the ground'. The coal fire stoves that had to be kept lit; the limited washing facilities, are remembered.

'FLU OUTBREAK'. I think it was the flu that had hit the Midlands. We all had to go on a 'gargling' parade; mugs filled with some throat gargling mixture, and spit it out on parade. Unique, I always thought.

EARTHQUAKE. In addition, there was an earthquake nearby. An omen of things to come?

NEW BARRACKS. In May or June 1957, all moved over to the new barracks. Central heating, clean, hot water. A different world!

SERGEANT'S REVENGE. We should have spotted it. New Barracks, plenty of duties to be done. Full turnout, all hoping to avoid the worst job that we could spot from afar. “Fall out all those excused boots”; “those in the choir”; ” those on leave this weekend” and so on. A goodly squad soon built up, hoping that they had avoided the obvious... no such luck, this was the party selected....aching hands, and a few bruises later, we were the wiser.

5 MILE RUN. I think it was 5 miles. Compulsory, to ensure the fitness of everyone, and all had to go on it, including the C.O. Soon worked out that if we hid behind a wall on the way out, we could rejoin the runners on their return. Got away with it.

QUORN HUNT. It started from the yard outside the Officer's Mess, under a tree. The orderlies went round with a silver tray and drink was provided to all on horseback. We, the poor relations watched how the other half lived. Meantime about two dozen hounds sniffed and licked us, and cocked a leg on anything that looked like a tree stump. The anti hunt brigade, (yes, even back then) enticed as many hounds away to the nearest Nissen Hut, and impounded them. Only as the horn sounded when ready to move off were the hounds released in view of the noise that they were making.

12 WIRELESS SQUADRON BAVARIA. PROMOTION. Promoted to L/Cpl. (Acting, unpaid). Necessary to keep in order the two others with me on the 'ship' from Harwich, and rail journey to Munich. Used the 1st Class toilets, much to the discomfort of the indigenous population. Lost my spectacles and case, only to have them returned to me a month later; the only clue for the finder being the Surname, and reference to BFPO 36. Full marks to all involved. Felt guilty about the toilet invasion on the train to Munich.

BARRACKS TO DIE FOR. Yes the new barracks at Garat's Hay were great, but, here we were in ex German Mountaineer Troops', pre war, solid, winter proof, with central heating, double glazing barracks, with daily cleaning staff for the corridors and toilets. (Catterick toilet scars begin to heal at this news.) Paradise. And five minutes from the nearest 'refreshments', with the local cinema in the barracks, or the village. Austria was not far away, and Italy only a train ride away. One could have been tempted to sign on for life, but there was a rumour about how long this posting would last.

ARMISTICE PARADE 11/11/ 57. Bussed over to the British War Memorial site at Miesbach for a Remembrance Service. The whole squadron, (not on duty) paraded in best uniform, (and in the snow) with the highlight being at 11am precisely, when the Sergeant would fire a revolver. 11am came. Silence The revolver would not fire. Good job the Russians didn't hear about this.

THE END. Sure enough, the transfer of personnel started in mid 1958, and after a brief stay at Birgelen, I was on the move again to a place called Langeleben.

LANGELEBEN. After 12 Wireless, what had I come to?? Wooden buildings, guards in strange uniforms on the gate, who didn't speak English, and a very 'relaxed' approach to everything. Posted to C watch... or was it D Watch? No cleaning staff, and the cinema in the Naafi, with your chair piled up on the nearest table.

REGIMENTAL MORNINGS. What were they for? I don't remember doing any serious work. The photos on the Gallery Website, and my own collection show 'skivers' every time.

YOUR TURN FOR THE TOAST. Now cooking was not a gift. At home, Mother had seen to it that I knew where the kitchen was, but that was it. I had difficulty with a tin of beans as a Boy Scout. So to be told at 2am that it was my turn for making the toast, and collect the tea urn was a challenge. Fortunately, the duty cook got the tea urn ok, but my toast left much to be desired. I was never asked to make the toast again.

KEEP QUIET. Half asleep returning to bed after being on watch one night, I found that someone had let off a fire extinguisher, and the corridor was covered in foam. As I walked on, I noticed that the Sergeant's room door was open, and that the light was on. So, being a true scout, I put my head round the door, just to mention what I had seen. I was immediately 'impounded' and 'grilled' for an hour, on firstly, 'why had I done it?', and if not me, 'who had I seen running away?'. The fact that I had just come off watch, was no excuse.

VISITORS. The shift system made it more than likely that the person that you wanted to see was always there when you weren't.

THE PADRE. Met him once on a visit. I wanted to discuss the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was only interested as to the opening time of the NAAFI.

THE BARBER. Always seemed to be about when we were on our 'Day Off', so always avoided him.

THE TAILOR. The height of fashion then was 'drain pipe' trousers, and we paid to have our civilian trousers 'taken in'. They ended up so tight that we could hardly get them on. A visiting civilian tailor obliged.

BRUCKSTRASSE. I have left the best 'til last. Only recently has a photo referring to this address been added to the gallery. There is an oblique reference in other articles in the Project, but who didn't at least go and 'look'.


THE END. Demob happy, demob chart being ticked off in the count down, and transfer to Birgelen. Goodbye to all the 'mates' you met, and shared an experience with that will be with you for the rest of your life. A final interview with the CO at Birgelen, who asks...”would you like to stay on in the army. Train, ship and train home, and back to Civvy Street.


Another Instalment from John Richardson

Money vs Equipment. The first thing that must be said is that 225 Signal Squadron, and it’s successor, 14th Signal Regiment, (unlike 13th Signal Regiment, which was paid for and equipped by GCHQ), was an Army unit, the Army financed the unit and it’s equipment. When it came to deciding between a new tank, or a new intercept complex, we naturally came off second best. When 13th Signal Regiment equipped Dannenberg with new state-of-the art VHF intercept radios, the old (steam) ones were given to Langeleben. (Well at least now we didn’t have to strip the setroom of radios to go out on exercise!). Our 3/4-ton Land Rovers had all seen better days, when I arrived in 1982 there were still a couple of right-hand-drive vehicles in use. The “new” one-tonne Land Rovers that we received in 1983/4 had been rejected by the Artillery as too underpowered to tow guns, (so we filled them up with heavy radio equipment and put a steel plate in them to keep them stable!). When we went to the Gulf in 1990 we were loaned four Hummel jammer vehicles by the Bundeswehr, as our old Bedfords were too slow and unreliable. This parsimonious attitude continued all the time I served there.

Division of Effort .  The role of the unit was to provide Commander, 1st British Corps with tactical EW support. For admin purposes the Soviet Army did not use trunk systems, but in the 1960s-1990s used morse and teleprinter, and later radio relay networks. The analysis of these communications systems gave much information for strategic intelligence, but for tactical purposes was of little use. Thus, 13th Signal Regiment, as the theatre strategic signal intelligence regiment carried on the analysis of callsigns, frequencies, DF, RFP etc. The morse and printer nets in East Germany were clearly audible in Birgelen (skywave skip distance). Langeleben covered VHF tactical voice communications in north-western East Germany . Morse was rarely taken, even though the local VHF morse nets were blasting out.

Setroom. The setroom was only viewed as a training facility by the Regiment. The fact that we produced tactical intelligence was only a secondary task.

Intercept flow-chart. The procedure was as follows, the pilot operator in the set room scanned the VHF spectrum for Soviet Military voice comms. Above his VHF set was an oscilloscope which displayed a section of the VHF spectrum. When a transmission was made, then a “spike” would appear above the line and when the transmission ended, then the spike disappeared. The operator turned his knob until the spike was in the centre of the oscilloscope screen. The pilot would listen to it and decide if it was worth taking. If this was so, then he would pass it to one of the other 3 ops on the shift. He then started recording the net, on 7” reel magnetic tape, later tape cassettes, logging each transmission until about 20 minutes “take” was on the reel. This was then passed through to the transcription section, where a full transcript (not translation) was produced in triplicate, this took anything from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on difficulty or audio level. The tapes would be stored for a couple of months, before being wiped and re-used. The completed logs were passed to the duty reporter who wrote a report (or more if necessary) on the activity, which was sent to all interested parties (1 BR Corps, HQ BAOR, GCHQ et al). The second copy went through to the commcen for semi-processing, where an operator (usually on the mid shift) would punch up the log as a perforated tape for transmission over the teleprinter link to databases in Birgelen and Cheltenham .

OP(EW).  From 1972 voice operators were a separate trade from AnSI, called “Operator (Electronic Warfare) and was open to both AnSIs and Spec Ops. Int Corps Op(EW)s were obliged to learn morse. I had learnt the morse code as an Army Cadet, now I had to report to the duty Radio Supervisor at Birgelen every afternoon to draw morse training tapes, and do an hour’s morse. Before departing for the fleshpots of Cheltenham I had to pass a morse test at 12 wpm.

The voice part of the course lasted six months, I had the advantage of an “A” Level in Russian, so it was mainly a question of learning new vocabulary. After the six months had passed, we moved to Loughborough for three months “Conversion Course”. The Spec Ops did a shortened An(SI) course, and the Int Corps did morse and radio theory. I finished up taking morse by hand at about 23 wpm, blocks, figures, and plain text.

For this we were rewarded with “T” (Technician) rates of pay. (An(SI) and Spec Ops were only “A” trades).

At the completion of the course in 1976 everybody else was posted to 225 Signal Sqn at Langeleben, which was being built-up for the formation of 14 Signal Regt in 1977. The only soldier on the entire course who was posted to 13 Sigs was me (don’t ask me why). 

Training cycle. Soviet Army conscripts were called-up for two years service, the call-up taking place twice a year, in May and November. The training cycle ran for six months, before repeating itself. The new recruits arrived in theatre, and carried out their basic training, drill, weapon training, then the motor rifle troops built up from section battle drills, platoon battle drills, company battle drills, battalion battle drills, regimental exercises, through to divisional exercises.

The other arms (tank troops, artillery, pontoon bridging troops, anti-aircraft, missile troops etc.) carried out their special-to-arm training. After six months the time-expired men left and the new conscripts arrived. For us this meant that April-May and October-November were extremely quiet periods, March and September usually the busiest times of year.

VHF voice intercept.  The VHF spectrum between 20-50 MHz was scanned by the voice operator. Our rotatable antenna was permanently at 70°, as just about everything we got came from the LHTA. The first priority on picking up a Russian voice net was to decide a) is it military or civil. At some times (high sun-spot activity, for example) taxis in Moscow or Leningrad could be heard. b) if military, what type of activity? low-level tactical training, column movement, tank driver training, artillery?.

Artillery was our bread and butter. A Soviet motor rifle battalion has a mortar battery. A regiment has a self-propelled artillery battalion, a division has an artillery regiment, with guns, multiple-barrelled rocket launchers and a missile battalion, an army has an artillery brigade with guns, multiple-barrelled rocket launcher brigade, SCUD missile brigade, and the Front had an artillery brigade. It is the same for anti-aircraft artillery/missile troops. GSFG as a Front, with 19 Divisions, and 76 Regiments had an abundance of artillery. The artillery ranges in the Letzlinger Heide and at Altengrabow were almost daily in use. The day began early with taking the meteorological data before firing began, and then from about 0800 to 1300 the artillery would practice sending firing orders or sometimes live firing. The units and their weapons were well identified, of interest for us was if the weapon parameters had changed (range, charge numbers, elevations, expenditures) which might indicate a new type of gun.

Training areas.  Langeleben’s raison d’etre was the proximity of the largest troop training area in East Germany , the Letzlinger Heide Training Area (LHTA), to the north of Magdeburg . The names of features (partly Russian, partly German) were well known to the ops. The artillery ranges and tank training areas were all easily heard from Langeleben. Most of the divisions of 3 Shock Army or 2 Guards Tank Army were regular visitors here.

TRA/PRA.  The training areas of East Germany were obviously out of bounds to the western Military Liason Missions (BRIXMIS, USMLM, MMFL) and this was indicated on a map of the GDR as “Permanently Restricted Areas” (PRA). When a major exercise was expected the Soviet authorities declared additional “Temporary Restricted Areas” for the duration of the exercise. This news was usually greeted with resignation, as we knew we would be busy. Similarly:

River Closure.  The LHTA is cut through by the River Elbe. At certain points, Kehnert, Sandau, Havelberg, the Soviets carried out forced river crossings, which were of especial interest for BAOR (defending the Weser, or even the Rhine ). When a crossing was imminent, then the Elbe would be closed to river traffic for a certain period, 24 hours or so. This happened every weekend in September, I seem to remember.

The Squadron Organisation

1977-1982:   SHQ (OC, 2IC, SSM, Orderly Room Sgt, Clerks, Pay Clerk, LAD REME, Stores, cooks)

A Troop (Intercept Operators, in four shifts. The shifts were numbered W1 W2 X1 and X2, on exercise they formed two intercept troops Whisky and X-Ray).

Support troop (Transcribers, reporters, technicians, ops bureau, Sqn ops/plans)

O Troop (YoS, Radio ops, data telegraphists)

D Troop (Spec Ops with DF dets)

In 1983 the organisation was changed to reflect the Squadron’s organisation when on deployment:

1983-1985         SHQ Troop (Squadron Command Post, Squadron Probe, SQMS, LAD)

W Troop (Intercept troop with radio vehicles, 4 x DF vehicles)

X Troop (Ditto)

Y Troop (Ditto) (On deployment belonged to 2 Sqn but was based at Langeleben for training))

(V Troop formed up in 1986 as part of 2 Sqn at Celle)

An Intercept complex was formed from three land rovers backed up at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, and the space between covered with a large canopy. Here a table was provided where the complex commander the OC (days)/Supervisor Radio (nights)) and the duty analyst sat. In two of the land rovers were found two intercept positions, the back door was removed and the operators could talk to the OC.  The third Land Rover was the comms vehicle, where the DF controller (DFC) and the data telegraphist with teleprinter link to RCP sat. A shift lasted 12 hours 0600-1800 hours and 1800-0600 hours. If the exercise lasted over a week, then the shifts would swap over. Close to the complex would be the radio technician’s workshop vehicle, where he could carry out minor repairs. The cookhouse truck (chuck wagon) was a short distance away, the troop cook magicked three hot meals a day and always had a brew ready. I always found the grub good and hot. (On one exercise the cook wondered where all the bodies were coming from, then realised that the Germans from the Bundeswehr intercept unit over the way were joining our queue as our food was far better than their rations!) The food was a mixture of tinned composite rations, and after a few days we would get fresh rations (to move the bowels). On the last night of a major exercise the cook would put on a speciality night (steak, Italian, Greek etc.) and as we were by now non-tactical the guitars would be brought out for a sing-song and smoking concert!

The two intercept complexes were located with one forward and one back, with, say, the forward complex on the Elm and the back complex on the Deister west of Hannover . Typical exercise play saw the forward complex retiring after a couple of days to the Teutoburger Wald west of the Weser , then after a couple of days the complex on the Deister would retire further westwards. Co-located with the forward complex was the Squadron Command Post where the OC sat with his two watchkeepers operating the radios (one on the Regimental Command Net, and one controlling the Squadron Command Net), and if we were fully deployed, next door, the Jammer Control vehicle, too.

The Squadron Probe Vehicle, when not deployed, was also based here. The Probe was a mini intercept complex, a vehicle with two intercept positions and a radio transmitter, towing a mast. This could be deployed to test reception in an area before a full complex moved in, or could go out to look into areas which the complex could not hear, or support other units (Bundeswehr, US forces).

Co-located with the rear complex were the SQMS and the stores, together with the REME LAD.

In barracks the troops carried out two week training cycles. Two weeks manning the setroom, two weeks language training, two weeks military training/vehicle maintenance. The troop carrying out mil training was on standby for rapid deployment. If, for instance, a division moved into the northern LHTA, then Operation FLAGPOLE could be declared, and the troop, (or often the Probe) could deploy up the inner German border, say, to the Dannenberg Salient with its DF baseline. And of course there were the British exercises, for which EW support (often as Enemy) were in great demand, so we usually had a troop out in the busy periods. Space was limited at Langeleben, the only vehicles which remained here were the Yeoman’s radio vehicles, the SQMS’s lorry and the MT lorry, the 40-seater bus “the white elephant”, and the PRI minibus. All the other Squadron vehicles were garaged at Wolfenbüttel.

Life in Camp.  Married soldiers lived in quarters in Wolfenbüttel, SNCOs and Officers in Braunschweig. The single/unaccompanied troops lived on camp. The facilities in the camp at this time were good. The accommodation was beginning to show its age, and the drainage/water supply systems were continually being repaired. Nevertheless, the single accommodation was still good for that time. Birgelen, for example, still had eight-man barrack rooms, and the RHQ at Scheuen accommodated soldiers in caravans. A launderette with industrial washing machines (tokens could be bought at the PRI) was in constant use. The cinema was now only used for training films or presentations. Throughout BAOR the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) television could be received by just about all units, except Langeleben and Helmstedt, so the programmes were video-taped in Wolfenbüttel and played a day later on a cable system installed by the technicians. The well-equipped gymnasium was busy into the evenings. Social life revolved round the messes or the NAAFI.  


OFF DUTY Braunschweig was the magnet for a big night out. Bruch Straße was always a source of interest, especially after a three-week exercise. The Jolly Joker Disco was a favourite. In Königslutter there was a disco in the Amtsgericht, which burnt down in ?1985. The “Lord” pub was a favourite with the troops, the SNCOs drank in the “Kaiserschenke”, the MT in the “Sportklause”. In 1983 the “King George” (English pub) opened and was an  immediate hit with the troops. On Saturday nights there was a disco in the “Königshof” Hotel, but it was more expensive.


Gordon Peacock, Intelligence Corps. A Russian speaking Voice Op.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

St Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store.

Tennessee Ernie Ford’s mournful song Sixteen tons became a hit early in 1956. It was still being played in August that year, and seemed entirely appropriate background music as the rookie soldiers of 14 Section, 199 Battery, 68 Regiment Royal Artillery, Oswestry, sat bulling their boots or struggled to iron their kit into squares nine inches by nine. Whilst we had not exactly sold our souls, we knew that for the next 730 days the army owned us. Very quickly charts appeared on locker doors showing how many days had been done and how many had still to be endured.  Those of a mathematical turn of mind calculated complicated “chuff factors”: the larger the factor, the less time one had to serve.

  I became 23330351 Gunner Peacock P G on Thursday 9 August 1956, though strictly I had become subject to military discipline on receiving the official call-up letter a week or so before.  I spent the Thursday morning sorting photographs, and reflecting that the way of life they depicted was about to disappear for good. After dinner, for which I had little appetite, I took the train to Oswestry.  On the way we picked up parties of youths with faces as glum as mine. The first order we all received was to write home to our mothers. This order was not issued out of concern for our mothers, but so that the army would not be deluged with telephone calls from mothers wanting to know what had happened to their sons.  All these letters were gathered up by the lance-bombardier in charge of us, and the addressee’s name on each carefully scrutinized.  Anyone found writing to his girlfriend rather than his mother was given a right bollocking.

 After two weeks at Oswestry I was sent to Tonfanau near Towyn, overlooking Cardigan Bay .  Many years later I went to see if anything remained of the camp but, after serving as a temporary home for Vietnamese refugees, it had all been cleared away.  While at Tonfanau I was groomed with others for “Wosbee”, the War Office Selection Board for officer training.   This involved several days at a centre in England .  Part of the selection process was negotiating obstacles cunningly designed so that each one would break your arm or leg if you misjudged your passage through it.  My natural caution, combined with my inability to do sums, ensured that I failed.

Some time in October 1956 I was sent on to 34 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment at Sheerness in Kent .  This was a dreadful place.  Accommodation was an ancient naval barracks, cold and bleak, with sanitation that rarely worked.  About the only redeem-ing feature was the view across the Thames estuary.  This was the time of the Suez crisis and the Anglo-French campaign against Egypt . A high-ranking officer addressed the regiment and he stressed the need to give Johnny foreigner a bloody nose. Guns were painted desert yellow.  Z-reservists appeared among us. These were men who had completed National Service, and had returned (so they thought) to civilian life. They were not well pleased to find themselves back in uniform.

 The crisis eventually passed; guns were painted green again; Z-reservists disappeared; and I found a job in the battery office. It happened this way. To get a 48-hour pass you had to apply in writing to the Commanding Officer. To increase my chances of success I used my best Chancery script. This was noticed, and I was given the very important job of maintaining the haircut register for the battery.  I got on well with the sergeant in charge of the battery office.  He was a mild mannered, reasonable man, and I often wondered why he had become a regular soldier at all since he so obviously hated the job. I once went on escort duty with him to bring back a prisoner from police custody in Harlow . The prisoner was a poor National Serviceman like myself, who had done ‘a runner’. The sergeant signed for him and said: “Shall I handcuff you, or are you going to behave?” Naturally the lad said he would behave, and all three of us travelled in a civilized manner back to Sheerness. This was very trusting of the sergeant since allowing a prisoner to escape was a serious offence.

  Christmas day 1956 was a very low point.  Apart from a solitary walk along the sea wall, I spent much of it in bed trying to keep warm.  Early in 1957 however things took a turn for the better.  A call was issued for trainee medical orderlies.  I took two smart paces forward on parade and presented myself.  To my astonishment I was rejected on the grounds that I was about to be transferred to the Joint Services School for Linguists at Crail. Of this I had known nothing at all, but I received the news with delight.  I was now a quarter of the way through my two years, with the prospect of spending the rest of my time in much more congenial surroundings.

  And so it turned out.  Not every irksome thing disappeared.  There were still parades and guard duties, kit to be polished and barrack rooms to be cleaned.  But none of these were allowed to encroach on the main function of JSSL: to teach us Russian.  And teach us Russian, they did.  Teaching was of a high standard, much of it by native Russians who for various reasons had been forced to flee the Soviet Union .  We became quite attached to them, especially “Sorok-odeen”.  Why we called him “Sorok-odeen” (which simply means “forty-one” in Russian) I cannot remember, but it was perhaps because of his tendency to include this number in his Russian dictations, of which there were many.  In 2006 my old barrack room was still standing, albeit as a store for chicken and pig feed.  On clear nights the flashing light of the Isle of May lighthouse cast a faint glow on the wall opposite my bed.

  JSSL had a cultural life of its own.  Two books of Russian songs were produced under the title Samovar (a sort of Russian teapot).  There was a lot of singing, organized and unorganised.  As late as 1997, when a group of us met at Green’s Restaurant in London for a meal, the words came flooding back: words of songs like Metelitsa (Snowstorm), Na Zavodye (The Factory), and the sad history of a rebel of Tsarist times Stenka Razin. Most of us, far from hating the Russians, rather liked what we knew of them.  Some went on to make Russian studies an academic career.  I often wondered, when we were singing Russian songs, if somewhere in the Soviet Union groups of Russian conscripts on English courses were singing D’ye Ken John Peel or The Lass of Richmond Hill.

  It was while I was at JSSL that a family death occurred.  I had many criticisms of the army, but its response on this occasion was compassionate and prompt.  I was called out of class to be given the news, was served a cup of tea in the guardhouse, and within an hour was on a train home.  The Russian course move forward so relentlessly that a week away from it was a serious problem.  I was very apprehensive of falling behind and being RTU’d.  Happily that didn’t happen.

At the end of September 1957 we received our certificates of competence in spoken and written Russian and were posted to the Government Communications Head-quarters in Cheltenham .  Cheltenham was a gentlemanly kind of existence.  We wore civilian clothes, we stayed in the Milverton Hotel, and we had every weekend off.  We learned to understand Russian not as heard in the classroom but as heard over crackly radios. Some of the tapes played to us were of radio communications between tank commanders during the Russian assault on Budapest at the time of the Hungarian uprising.  I remember one tape in particular, of a tank commander ordering Ogon po tsepnii most!  Ogon po tsepnii most!  (Fire on the suspension bridge!  Fire on the suspension bridge!)  I had marks deducted for not knowing the Russian for “suspension”. 

  1958 dawned. I had completed three-quarters of my 730 days. We travelled by crowded troop ship from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, then by train into Germany .  My small party was bound for Braunschweig in Lower Saxony .  We peered repeatedly through the carriage window into the darkness, anxious not to be carried past our destination into East Germany .  At Braunschweig rain was falling in sheets.  A tram rattled by.  Its destination board, Zum Krematorium, gave us a grim laugh.  An army truck eventually came to meet us. We threw our kit into the back, clambered up ourselves, and the truck took off into the night.  After about half an hour we stopped briefly in a small town (which I later learned was Konigslutter) to take on board some extra passengers who had clearly been enjoying a very good night out.  Another ten minutes brought us to what seemed to me just a clearing in a forest, but this was Langeleben, an outpost of 1 Wireless Regiment Royal Signals which was to be my home until the end of my service.


  Morning revealed a desolate scene: a few wooden huts amid a confusion of mud, duckboards, army vehicles and abandoned equipment.  Our working accommodation was four 3-ton army trucks pushed back to back.  From here ceaseless watch was kept on the radio traffic of Soviet forces across the East German border, just a few miles down the road.  Had they ever decided to start rolling across the North German Plain they would have been on our doorstep in a matter of minutes.  Happily they didn’t.  On night watches we looked forward to 0100 when wads of toast thickly spread with pilchards or rubbery cheese were brought in to us.  Sanitation at Langeleben was of the chemical variety, emptied at intervals by a German civilian known to all as “Honeybucket”.

  In spite of many drawbacks I enjoyed my months at Langeleben.  Yes, “enjoyed” is not too strong a word. There were many pleasant forest tracks to follow; the “Gazzy” (Gasthaus) up the road served good beer; a 45 minute walk brought you to Königslutter, usually abbreviated to “Slutter”; while Goslar and the Harz Mountains were within easy reach. Once a week the cookhouse was pressed into service as a cinema. It was there that I saw my first Quatermass film.


 We started a music group consisting of descant, alto and tenor Blockflöten.  It is a tribute to the tolerant atmosphere of Langeleben that I can’t remember any of our neighbours ever banging on the wall to get us to stop!  I bought a camera.  I read a lot.  I translated some Russian short stories, laboriously writing out the translations in an exercise book (which I still have).  But the best thing of all about Langeleben was that the military authorities seemed to have forgotten we were there.  Everyone was keen to keep it that way, and to do nothing that would attract attention.   The winter of early 1958 was bitterly cold, increasing our sense of isolation.  Then the snow melted, and each day the forest acquired a few more patches of green until it was teeming with new life.  As spring turned to summer, I used a week’s leave to see more of North Germany , and to visit the Brussels Exhibition. It was an odd sensation to wander through the Soviet Union pavilion, my attempts to engage staff in Russian conversation no doubt revealing me unmistakeably as an I-Corps man on leave!


The end was now in sight.  I had begun National Service to the strains of Tennessee Ford’s Sixteen tons.  It was appropriate that I should leave it just as Perry Como’s Magic moments reached the charts.  I was free!

I spent barely six months at Langeleben.  Strangely these six months remain in the memory every bit as clearly – perhaps more clearly – than the three years I had spent at Cambridge before being called up.  Having been a student for most of my life until then, Langeleben could be regarded as my first “proper job”.  Furthermore, given the difficulties the West had in getting intelligence about Soviet intentions, Sigint was a vitally important job.   Our nearness to the Iron Curtain was a constant reminder that it was for real.  In the mid-fifties young men and women had fewer opportunities to travel outside the UK than they do now, so the experience of living in Germany for an extended period was a bonus, even though much of it was spent within the Langeleben perimeter fence.

Like many men (it was exclusively men in those days!) who had learned Russian in the services I discovered that Russian was a marketable commodity.  My return to civilian life coincided with a huge expansion of Russian studies in schools and universities, and many new opportunities for employment.  The Joint Services School for Linguists was an extraordinary – and extraordinarily successful – venture in language teaching of which the country can be proud.  Shall we see its like again?  Somehow I doubt it.

The work

Strangely, I can’t recall much of interest about this.  In fact, reading the Forum contributions from the morse specialists, I begin to think that they had the more demanding job.  I made it my main priority to switch the tape recorder on as soon a transmission was identified as Russian, and then start scribbling.  None of us, I believe, could write Russian fast enough to get down more than a tiny fraction of a long transmission.  The best that I could manage was to get the call-signs down and, if there was a lull in the transmission, fill in the gaps with any significant words that I could remember.  At least that might alert whoever subsequently scanned the message pads that something interesting was going on.  If you heard the words pereiti na kliouch (go over to morse) you rushed next door and alerted the morse-ops. 

My very first duty shift was a disaster.  The take up reel on the recorder wasn’t working properly, and several yards of tape spilled onto the floor without my noticing.  Just my luck, I thought, for World War III to start on my shift.  Nobody thought it a big deal however, so I salvaged what could be salvaged and returned to twiddling the dials.


I read classics at King’s.  Both Latin and Greek, as you know, are highly inflected languages, so were a good preparation for learning Russian.

Post-Langeleben career

Nothing spectacular.  After two years with Shropshire County Library, I spent five years with St Andrews University Library, where I introduced a measure of consistency in the cataloguing of Russian language books (up to my arrival notable by its absence) and helped to build up the Russian language collections.  One of the people I met there was John Erickson, author of The Soviet High Command, a member of academic staff at St Andrews at that time.  I have heard it said that John’s knowledge of the Soviet high command was so comprehensive that Russian generals would ring him up to find out what was going on in their patch.  Probably apocryphal, but a good story!  Paul Dukes, another JSSL contemporary, subsequently became professor of Russian history at Aberdeen .

I made a little pin money by publishing a translation of some works of Lenin and Krupskaya on Soviet libraries.  It was quickly remaindered.  A little more pin money came from work as a translator–abstractor for Library Science Abstracts.

Unexpectedly, I found myself often called upon to help the biology department with translations of Russian language scientific material.  (This was before Robert Maxwell had made his name in cover-to-cover translations).  St Andrews was strong in marine biology, and at that time there was a lot of relevant material being produced in the Soviet Union .  Of course I was not familiar with the technical language, but I would sit down with the academic concerned and we would work it out together.  Usually they were only interested in one or two paragraphs, so I got some useful practice, and they were saved the expense of a professional translation. 

When the new University of Stirling was founded in 1966 I was appointed as the second member of the library staff.  At that point the university was a field with cows in it.  I had the privilege of watching it grow into a major academic institution. 

I took early retirement from Stirling in 1989, but went back the next day to join the newly instituted Japanese language course.  Twenty-four hopeful students were present at the inaugural lecture.  Four years later only four of us were left to take, and happily pass, the final examination of whom I was one.  At school in the early fifties I was taught Latin and Greek by a very talented man who had been on the joint services Japanese language course during WWII, so in a way my wheel has gone full circle.




I still have my enlistment notice calling me up for service in the Royal Signals and requiring me to present myself on 15th August 1957 to No. 7 Training Regt., Vimy Lines, Catterick Camp. At that time I was one month away from my 22nd birthday, having been deferred for 3 years to take a university degree in modern languages.

The train from Kings Cross was full of very subdued young men, some sporting extremely long hair soon to be shorn.  On arrival at our destination there was a vociferous reception committee inviting us to direct ourselves at unprintable speed to the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Royal Scots Greys or the Royal Signals.

Towards the end of our training there was an outbreak of Asian flu; many recruits became very ill and after recovery had to restart their training from scratch.  I began feeling ill on my way home for the end-of-training 72 hour leave and once home fell victim to the virus.  As a result I had to send a telegram to Catterick followed post-haste by a doctor's certificate.  I had visions of military policemen turning up on my doorstep but fortunately I was able to return to Catterick under my own steam after a week.  There followed a dispiriting period in a holding troop awaiting posting.

I had applied to go on the Russian course at Crail and imagine my amazement when I was earmarked to spend my national service as a driver!  Our troop sergeant, Sgt. Sixsmith, although a tough scouse disciplinarian, supported me immediately and sorted out the cock-up.

Looking back, one moment of relief from the daily grind stood out.  One night while on guard duty we were delighted to be able to shine our torches on a particularly obnoxious NCO pressed up against a NAAFI girl by the NAAFI building; he begged us not to split on him.  We did not and as a result he became much more amenable towards us.


Finally I received the go-ahead to travel to Crail in Fife, where the reason for my delay was soon evident; a course was well under way so I not only joined this until the end, but then completed the whole of the next course.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Crail.  As I already had A-Level GCE Russian, I eventually joined a special class which also included lads with degrees in Russian.  Our main instructor was a delightful former cavalry officer with a wicked sense of humour, who conducted his lessons in Russian and also gave me conversation practice in his quarters in the evenings.  His name was Yevgyeny Galko.

When the new course started the fresh intake arrived.  This was when I first made the acquaintance of Jim Kelly, who was to be a good friend of mine until beyond the end of my service.  Jim arrived together with another chap from York, I believe, and they caused much disbelief and hilarity by asserting that they couldn't possibly share a barrack room with the rest of us because they were in the Intelligence Corps and we might learn classified information.  Needless to say, they finished up sharing our accommodation.  Jim was later involved in an incident one night when he and some RAF lads were spotted by the duty guards raiding the cook-house.  He came hurtling into the barrack room and dived into his bed fully dressed.  Unfortunately he was quickly followed by the guard detail who uncovered their prey; the RAF lads were also caught in their quarters.  The punishments could not have been more unequal.  The RAF boys were simply confined to barracks for a fortnight, whereas poor Jim was sent to serve his sentence at a highland regiment where he had great fun painting coal white then black again and having his Russian books, which he optimistically took with him, kicked across the room with the comment “ye won't be needing them here laddie”  When he finally returned to Crail we had already departed for Cheltenham.  Jim had to prolong his stay at Crail in order to finish his course, but our paths were to cross again.

Two more extraordinary characters were a chap called Bryant and the Corporal of the Horse.  Bryant was an incredible lad who, I believe, came from Portsmouth where he had attended art college.  The crazy thing was that although he was completely unsuitable for the army, he had signed on for 3 years.  He really was the absent-minded professor type living in a world of his own.  Academically brilliant as he was, he could never get to grips with reality.  He turned up for parade one morning with his small pack full of books sticking out all over the place and further books under both arms.  I feared for him when I saw the huge shape of the Horse approaching.  In complete contrast to what I was expecting. Horse stood in front of Bryant and said “Bryant, Foyle's are looking for a man like you”.  Great! I was also destined to meet the likeable, engaging Bryant many times again.

There was plenty opportunity for sport, which, if I remember rightly, took place on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays.  I played football a few times for the camp team in one of the local Fife leagues, but we were lousy.  I also ran in the cross-country races, winning once and always coming in the first six, who won the not inconsiderable prize of a free fry-up in the NAAFI.  I am ashamed to admit, however, that one weekend I joined a group of army and air force layabouts to play snooker and darts.  When Horse discovered us, he was not amused by our assertion that we were participating in sporting activities.

 I had two sets of boxing gloves with me, and those of us who had experience as amateur boxers used to stage impromptu bouts, mainly in the RAF barrack-rooms, where they had some good performers.  The Army was represented by Jim Kelly and me.

We always got on very well with the RAF boys, but I personally found the Navy students insufferably snotty and self-important.  Their one redeeming feature was their commanding officer Admiral Maitland Mackill-Crichton.  He was a delightful man who, when responding to a salute, always added a verbal greeting.  He had a fine war record which I hadn't realised until I read his obituary.  I came across him in civvy street when I needed a translation from Turkish; his name had been given to me by the Head of Translations at Standard Telephones & Cables.  I spoke to him over the telephone, mentioned Crail and found him as courteous as ever.  I seem to remember that while at Crail I heard that he also worked as an official naval interpreter for Finnish.  I am sure that he would have been disgusted at the behaviour of the naval students .  Jim Kelly and I had to admonish them on the local bus.  They had been lolling about with their feet on the seats and talking down to the conductress as if she were a serf.  Maybe they felt superior because they were to be commissioned as midshipmen if they passed the course.

On two occasions I managed to see some Scottish professional football – East Fife v Celtic in Leven and Hearts v Hibs in Edinburgh.

My main memory of the East Fife match was of Celtic supporters peeing where they stood on the terraces, whereas Hearts-Hibs was a wonderful game which ended 5-4.

There was also much non-sporting entertainment.  Dances were held at the camp and at a hall in town, well attended by local girls.  The combination of eightsome reals and booze produced some giddy results.

I attended my first Burns Night which was organized by the local gay, who fancied a rugby league footballer in the RAF.  The latter was not overwhelmed by this show of affection, especially when our host insisted on proving to us that he had nothing on under his kilt.  As the only army man present I was given to read out my “Sodger Laddie” contribution.

On one occasion we were the exclusive invitees to a dance put on by nurses from a hospital some distance away.  I can't remember where it was, only that we had hired a coach.  Girls and a well-stocked bar made for a great night.

 I can remember visiting The Ship at Anstruther and spending some agreeable evenings at the nearest watering hole to the camp, The Balcombie.  The local bobby sometimes came to chuck us out and then had a lock-in for a few bevvies himself.  There was also a pub called The Golf where one of our number, a vicar's son, boozed and played dominoes with the locals.

One day one of the officer cadets appeared in our canteen.  His punishment for being caught peeing up one of the petrol pumps at the local garage was to dine with us; didn't say much for us, did it?

It was while I was at Crail that I signed on for an extra year, thus committing myself to 3 years from the date of signature, meaning that the 4 months already served would not count.  Jim Kelly first put the idea into my head, but I was mainly influenced by the near certainty of a posting to Germany where, in addition to using my Russian, I would also be able to spend more time in the country whose language I had studied at university.

My final exam at Crail yielded a result of 81%, which meant I would be going on to Cheltenham for a further 3 month course as a member of the Intelligence Corps.  Apparently a meeting was held for all those going to Cheltenham to make arrangements for their arrival there.  For some reason I was unaware of this, which led to some very embarrassing consequences for me as described below.  Before going on to Cheltenham we had a very long leave, rather like college students.


On arrival at Cheltenham station on the allotted day, I was surprised and worried to find no reception committee.  After waiting a very long time I made desperate enquiries about the whereabouts of military premises.  I finished up in some army establishment where I had to be specific about what I was seeking.  After many phone calls I was directed to the hotel where all the lads were quartered.  The following day at our first meeting with the powers-that-be I was upbraided for divulging our secret existence to another branch of the military; not a very good start to my I-Corps career.

We spent 3 months under the auspices of GCHQ, the best part of which was only having to wear civvies.  The course itself was pretty boring, lots of repetitive listening and translating, with strong accent placed on numbers.  One of the instructors was a very pleasant sergeant called O'Nions.  There was also an Oxford graduate in English who helped me to choose a suitable author for the thesis of my former German girlfriend.  He suggested E.M Forster's Passage to India, which proved to be a good choice, as she subsequently passed.

The couple who owned the hotel where we were staying were a miserable pair who denied all responsibility when we contracted food poisoning from one of their meals.  There was a steady stream of diarrhoea-ridden bods to the bogs all night and although we officially complained to our superiors nothing was done about it.

I invited one of my mates to join me on a long weekend to my home in West Ham.  We managed to hitch-hike most of the way and had a good time in the East End.  I have forgotten his surname and would love to get in touch with him again.  When we were at Crail we spent a few days at his home in Wigan, visiting, in his words, “Wigan's loveliest ballroom”.  He had been in the East Lancs regiment and did a mean imitation of George Formby, singing without ukelele accompaniment.  His Christan name was Derek and he also introduced me to the famous Wigan Pier.

I don't remember much else about Cheltenham apart from spending many nights at a place called the Buttery Bar and drinking lots of scrumpy; and so to Maresfield.


We went to Maresfield, home of the Intelligence Corps, prior to our departure for Germany.   I couldn't get out of the place quickly enough.  It was a right dump – dead birds to dispose of in the barrack rooms, fires which didn't work, senior NCOs who felt we should be stifled with bull and discipline and be obliged to walk like ramrods about the camp.  Whilst there I did a weekend guard duty during which we were hauled out in the middle of the night for inspection by senior NCOs reeking of booze.  I often wondered why we were allowed to be on guard without the necessary fire power to deal with intruders.  From here we moved on to 1 Wireless  Regiment at Birgelen in Germany.

BIRGELEN – 1 Wireless Regiment

I wasn't here for too long, thank heavens.  It was too much like the real army, with a sergeant-major who thrived on discipline.  It was joked that he may have been a party to the creation of the rule book.  Mind you, I didn't do too badly.  I managed to get a 72 hour pass to go to Frankfurt am Main to visit an old flame of mine from my period at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University.  I was also able to visit Mönchengladbach a couple of times and take a bus to an outlying village where I walked into a local Gasthaus and was invited to join a committee discussion about football.  I had been warned not to wander too far from the camp because we were apparently heartily disliked by the local population because of the treatment meted out by British troops when they crossed the border into Germany.  I must admit that I didn't come across such antipathy when talking to the locals.  Perhaps they hid it from me because I spoke their lingo.

In walking distance from the camp was the Dutch border where there was a boozer which we used to frequent.  One day we were all ordered onto the parade ground for an identity parade.  The Sergeant-Major, accompanied by the landlord of the aforementioned boozer, said we were there to establish who was the bastard “who had removed this bloke's shit-house door”.  No identification could be made.

We were given the opportunity to express our preference for where we would like to go on detachment, either RAF Gatow Berlin or Königslutter am Elm in Lower Saxony, not far from the border-crossing point at Helmstedt.  Being a Londoner, I didn't fancy another large city, so I opted for Königslutter.   I was also attracted by letters I received from mates already there lauding its wild-west living style.  I was delighted when my choice of option was agreed.

Langeleben Detachment, Kőnigslutter am Elm

I was picked up at Brunswick station by driver Taffy Summers, who was to become a good friend.  He was smiling when I met him and I enjoyed his happy-go-lucky attitude over the next 2½  years.  It was a very welcome introduction to Langeleben and indicative of the happy time I was to spend there.

After the regiment Langeleben proved to be quite an eye-opener; some 7 kilometers from K/L in the Elm forest the camp, although rough and ready, was in idyllic surroundings. I quickly settled into the watch routine and was billeted with Rusty Rosson's 'B' watch.  Other watch corporals throughout my stay were Jim Husband, Mick Harris, Sid Melvin and Ossie Brandon.

Guardhouse, canteen and offices Ernie Callaghan in the middle with me extreme right Big Dunc and I

Our OC was Major McIntyre and the Sergeant-Major Taffy Williams.  I can also recall Sgt. Robertson from Edinburgh and another Scot in charge of stores, WOII Casells from Edinburgh.

On the Intelligence Corps side we had from the outset Sgt. Davenport, Staff Sgt. David York and the man I really admired, W.O.1 Phil Lewis.  The latter was not only a fine linguist, but also an excellent comms man with an extensive technical and operational knowledge.  He was also very fair, helpful and approachable.  The I-Corps officer in charge when I arrived was Captain Backhouse who was very supportive of his men and, as I will mention later, surprisingly supported us in an escapade which could have found us in deep water.  I cannot recall the name of Captain Backhouse’s successor, but I do remember Captain Conibear, who came to us from Cyprus.  He was a very good sportsman and suggested that after demob a good meeting place would be the prospect of Whitby in Wapping, East London, my father’s birthplace.

The job could be boring when nothing was happening but exciting and absorbing when all hell was let loose during an exercise.  One session or rather double session, I remember, started at 5pm and went on uninterrupted until 8am the next morning.  Almost as soon as I came on duty I was hit by a major exercise involving the Russian and East German armies.  I was due to be relieved at midnight by a senior N.C.O. who had a tryst with a nurse at the Kinderheim just up the road from us.  However, he asked if I would mind it if he relieved me a little later.  Unfortunately, a little later never materialised and I was still at my post in the morning when Major McIntyre appeared behind me having just arrived from his home in Brunswick.  At that time I was installed in the separate room opposite the I-Corps room and I was astonished when Major McIntyre ordered me to go to another radio in the main set room in order to try out the efficiency of a new aerial.  Twice I protested because the Russian was still coming thick and fast, but eventually, under the threat of a court martial, I transferred.  When Phil Lewis arrived he asked me what the hell I was doing in the set room.  When I explained what had happened he stormed off to see the Major.  What transpired, I don’t know.

Phil then wanted to know where my relief was and I said I didn’t know; perhaps he was ill.  I believe a very hot reception awaited a certain N.C.O.  Fortunately the O.C. assumed that I was on the night shift.  The amount of paper produced on that shift was phenomenal.  I even had Field Marshall Malinovsky on air!

On another occasion a Russian Sergeant Chef went AWOL and was heading towards the border.  His superiors were going ape.  The last I heard of him was that he had been spotted in a village having a “Butterbrot”.  I dread what happened to the poor sod when he was caught.

On the all-night shift it was customary for two men to go to the cookhouse and make tea and cheese-on-toast for everybody on duty.  When it was my turn I was accompanied by Ron (Roger) Bannister.  We couldn’t seem to get the mix of tea and water right and finished up continuously adding water and tea until we produced about 50 gallons of the stuff; a bad night for the I-Corps which gave rise to great hilarity throughout the camp.

Next to the Kinderheim there was a small Gasthaus presided over by one Frau Grahn.  This place was a sore temptation before a mid-tee because not only was she a great cook, but also served a delicious and extremely strong beer.  Hitting the night air after a session there was not conducive to a concentrated effort in the set room.

At the end of each day we sent our intercepts to the Yanks at Bahrdorf.  They used to come quite often to Königslutter at weekends to enjoy our superior night life.  They normally went to Helmstedt which wasn’t nearly so interesting.

I can remember them spending a boozy night with us at Langeleben.  Rusty Rosson got the keys to our small NAAFI from Jim Husband and we proceeded to wassail all night.

Some time later, Rusty and I made a return visit to Bahrdorf and spent all night in their bar.  Rusty drank the lot of them under the table and my last sighting of him was standing at the bar immaculate in suit and trilby hat conversing with bottles and glasses with prone bodies flaked out on chairs and floors.  I managed to find my way out of the camp and vaguely remember stumbling across a Gasthaus from whence I managed to call a taxi.

Once we also had a visit from Wolfenbüttel; I can’t remember whether it was the Dragoons or Lancers.  We had a terrific session in the Corporals’ Club which culminated in some dangerous games involving darts.  I am afraid that on this occasion I received my first jankers.  Sergeant Robertson caught me staggering over the place and after an exchange of pleasantries I was charged and punished with a week confined to barracks with all that this entailed.

My first jankers’ was a long time before the second.  I had been to Helmstedt for an evening with a Scot called Sandy who was a product of Fettes public school and a much better bloke than Tony Blair.  We missed the last train back to K/L and spent the night on a park bench.  Having taken the first train out next morning I went straight to bed and missed the start of my morning shift.  Staff Sergeant David Yorke found me in bed and put me on a charge and one week’s jankers was the result.

I am not proud of my jankers, but I was encouraged to learn that many of my mates who were successful career-soldiers had a whole list of similar misdemeanours behind them.  Perhaps it is a rite of passage which is an integral part of an army career.

Our nights down town usually followed a familiar pattern; we started out at Eisdiele, went on to Deutsches Haus and finished up at Big Schumann’s after a possible quickie in Little Schumann’s.  The truck would pick up those at Big Schumann’s who were ready to go back to camp.  Others would avail themselves of the two local taxi services provided by Herren Winkler and Keller or walk the 7kms back.  I often felt sorry for Winkler and Keller having to put up with the drunks hammering on their windows in the early hours of the morning, but comforted myself with the knowledge that they were well paid for their nocturnal excursions.

On some occasions I walked all the way back to Langeleben.  Once, having left my then girlfriend (later to become my wife) at about 3am, I had first of all, on exiting the outskirts of Langeleben, to pass on one side the local cemetery and on the other the famous mad-house.  Having successfully negotiated these, I was constantly aware of noises from the Elm Forest which stretched all the way to the camp and beyond.  The forest was full of scuffling sounds which in my inebriated state suggested the local wild boar.  Nothing emerged from the Elm, but my most frightening experience was yet to come.  As I turned a bend in the road, I seemed to be confronted by two rows of moon-men coming towards me, one file on each side of the road.  They were wearing helmets apart from the two leaders who each had small pin-point lights in front of them.  It turned out to be the Panzer Grenadiers of the Bundeswehr on night manoeuvres.  I don’t know who was the more surprised.  I said “gute Nacht”, and the cigarette-smoking officers in their forage caps responded.  They probably thought it was another of those nutters from Langeleben.

As I also spoke German I was often involved in activities involving the local population.   On one occasion the signals lads were going to install a DF station near Uelzen.  I went along to help with discussions between ourselves and the local council and farmers.  We had a captain in charge together with the then Corporal Rusty Rosson as the real leader.  I also recall the lineman, a Bristolian called Del Reynolds.

Before installation we had our parley with the farmers and the council.  The former were trying to screw us on area and payment.  We stood our ground and referred to previous discussions and agreements as a result of which the council members very fairly said: “die britische Seite hat Recht”, meaning we were in the right.  When we commenced erection under the guidance of our captain, everything kept falling down.  In the end Rusty suggested to the captain that he bugger off so that we could complete before nightfall.  The captain readily agreed with obvious relief and we proceeded to finish the job.  I then had to go to the Gasthaus where our lads would be staying to discuss various subjects, such as food, ablutions, washing etc.  Mine host and his wife were asked not to allow booze tabs.  What a hope!  Within a short time bar bills were rocketing.

Unsurprisingly some of my most vivid and hilarious reflections involved “Rusty” Rosson.

The German Panzer Grenadiers in Brunswick invited four of us at a time to celebrate Advent.  I went with Rusty, Cliff Bradburn and one other whom I can’t remember.  The invitation had been extended by Hauptmann Koch (Captain Cook!) via our camp’s German secretary.  First impressions were that the evening might be a wet blanket.  We sat down to a dinner with the recruits, some of whom read poems and made a few jokes about their RSM.  At 10pm, they were all ushered off to their pits and we thought that was that.  However Hauptmann Koch said he had been informed by our camp secretary that “you lads enjoy a drink”, and that he was proposing to open the Corporals’ Club for an all-night bender.  We had a great time and we ourselves contributed to crates of beer and some schnapps.  There was sadly one unfortunate incident when an old civilian helper who was an ex Afrika Corps soldier made a disparaging remark about the British Army, which caused Cliff Bradburn to threaten physical retribution.  Hauptmann Koch saved the situation by ushering the old geyser out of the way.

On our way back to camp I can recall us dropping off several Germans to their quarters in different parts of Brunswick.  On our return Rusty and I finished up in the billiards room opposite the stores; we managed to knock over a pile of skis and had a very angry visit from the Quartermaster W.O.II Jock Cassells, who ordered us to our beds before leaving.  However, we stayed put and finished up sleeping on the floor after a few drunken games.  When we woke up we found that Rusty had singed his shirt and trousers through lying against a radiator.  When W.O.II Cassells came upon us again we claimed we had no memory of his earlier visit and got away with it. 

At one stage we had an Australian Officer on the camp.  He was in the set room one day when Rusty failed to turn up for duty, having had a very heavy session the night before.  Somebody was sent to fetch him and when he eventually turned up still slightly the worse for wear he informed the peeved Aussie that “when you have been in this man’s army as long as I have you can tell me what to do”.  Amazingly he got away with it.

One morning I went early to breakfast and became aware of a solitary figure sitting down in a reverie.  It turned out to be Jim Kelly, with whom I was able to resume our friendship. 

I was really pleased to find out that the camp had a football team which played in the local German League.  In order to do this we had to become the 3rd team of Viktoria Königslutter, playing in the second division.  Occasionally some of our lads were invited to play for the 2nd or 1st teams and on one occasion I had two of their 1st XI play for us on a Wednesday afternoon against another signals unit which was camping at Langeleben.  One was a cousin of Dagmar and the other was a young lad I used to chat to down town; their names were Jürgen Kühne and Klaus Schütte, and the latter visited us in the UK after my demob.

I captained the team for the best part of two seasons at the end of each of which we finished as runners up.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to be promoted because we were the 3rd XI.  This was a pity, because when we played friendlies against teams from the higher division, we usually acquitted ourselves quite well.

We used to turn up at matches in our football kit and on our way back to camp there was the mandatory stop at Eisdiele no matter what state we were in.  The people there were always happy to see us even when we covered the floor in mud.

Throughout the whole of those two years we experienced only one unsavoury incident.  At the height of winter with snow on the ground, we played an away match at Süpplingenburg.  The referee was a local man from Königslutter who hitched a lift on our coach.  We were in great form that day and won 7-1, sustained at half-time by a tot of rum each from our coach Sgt. Ken Hurrell.  When we scored our 4th or 5th goal their centre-forward, instead of kicking off, ran away with the ball into a nearby copse.  I ran after him and remonstrated with him urging him to return to the game.  This led to an on-field battle in which Taffy Summers and Archie Loney played prominent rolls in response to the attacks on us.  I was sent off the field without having received or aimed a punch, apparently guilty of chasing the bloke down.  The game was restarted and we got our 2 points.

The following week we had another away match.  The referee asked if there was a ‘Hayes’ in the team and when I presented myself he informed me that I was banned for 3 months due to the shenanigans of the previous week.  I was incensed at this injustice and contacted the hierarchy at Viktoria Königslutter, who backed me up 100% and gave me an excellent letter of support to take to the appeal hearing which took place at Helmstedt.

I travelled to Helmstedt with Taffy Summers, the driver and my girlfriend Dagmar.  Unbelievably Süpplingenburg turned up mob-handed with the complete team plus management.  Their performance was contemptible, complaining that the referee had travelled on our bus and was thus biased in our favour and that we had been on the rum at half-time.  The referee, who was also in attendance, was a really genuine honest bloke who was in tears at the disgusting attack on his character.  I think that Süpplingenburg shot themselves in the foot with their appalling approach and I was completely exonerated by the appeals panel and given permission to play again forthwith.  Comment was made on violence not being expected from the ‘motherland of football’ and they wished me all the best.  This was the second time I had been impressed with the impartiality and fairness of German arbitration.

When we were playing friendlies, we were more welcome the nearer we came to the border.  I vividly remember one match when a heavy snowfall looked like causing a cancellation.  We turned up with a full complement of players and reserves, but the locals were 3 men short, including a goalkeeper.  We let them have our reserve keeper and a couple of outfield players and had a great time well appreciated by our hosts.

Langeleben Football Team 1959  Langeleben Football Team 1960  Jim Kelly and I 1960 

Posting to American Army

I was very surprised to suddenly find myself selected to go on a Russian course to the American army in Heilbronn am Neckar.  There were five of us including two others from Langeleben, one ex-artillery and the other ex-infantry, a sergeant and wait for it …. Bryant, who was obviously chosen as a challenge for the Yanks, who became as mystified as our lot over this enigma!

I had to report to the Regiment first and then travel by train with fellow linguists to Heilbronn.  In a way, I was quite relieved to be having a break from the wild west atmosphere of Langeleben and was hoping to spend three months of relative tranquillity in my new environment.  What a hope! On the first evening in the Enlisted men’s Club I had 8 beers on my table within the first half hour of my being recognised as a ‘limey’ from my uniform.  This set a precedent for the next three months.

Very often I used to work through the night and this was always preceded by “roll-call” in the Enlisted Men’s Club at 4pm so that we were all well oiled before the night shift.  During the afternoon I was often passed by Americans with the message “don’t forget the roll-call”.

It was quite eye-opening to encounter the facilities on offer at the American camp.  In addition to the normal chow in the canteen there was another location offering an excellent selection of food for sale, much more upmarket than our NAAFI.  A dry-cleaning establishment was also available.

On one occasion at late-night chow, after a particularly lengthy “roll-call”, an American and I exchanged uniforms hoping that the swap wouldn’t be noticed.  Some hope!  The comments came in thick and fast the following day.

Every evening the flag ceremony took place.  Everybody had to halt, come to attention and salute the flag.  If we were hatless, we simply came to attention, whereas Americans, however attired, saluted regardless.  Our failure to do this was commented upon, so we asked the resident British Liaison Major what we should do; he advised us to salute, which we did.

The Russian course was run by a civilian and was attended by those who had been at the initial course at Monterey, California.  They were often referred to as the Monterey Maries by other regiments.  They were of many ethnic origins with a preponderance of German and Spanish backgrounds, the latter from all over South America.

Christmas celebrations took place in the new year due to a congested programme and consisted of being given a German beer mug and being invited to fill it up as often as we liked free of charge.  I woke up in bed wondering how I had got there.  Apparently I “had been resting” prior to being helped back to the barrack room.  This tardy festive celebration had been held in the Enlisted Men’s Club, which put on a very good cabaret at weekends.  One week I was astonished to see Helen Shapiro top of the bill.  In addition to the deadly “roll-calls” there were dime and nickel night towards the end of each month when the Americans were virtually broke.  These concessions enabled the men to buy all their beer for a nickel or a dime a glass; naturally we Brits were also allowed to join in.  The Americans were paid monthly and received much more than we did.  While based with them we were paid fortnightly.  Believe it or not we borrowed from each other because we often got paid as the profligate Yanks were running out of dosh.  For our part we never had enough to cover our entertainment requirements so a healthy reciprocity prevailed; perhaps that should be unhealthy bearing in mind what the money was being spent on.

We were lucky to be in Heilbronn to witness and take part in Fasching, the annual Shrovetide carnival.  This involved 3 days of energetic partying as only the Germans can.  My abiding memory of this period was all-night knees-ups at the NSU Hall in Neckarsulm. There were a number of bands in different rooms and an inexhaustible supply of beer.  The girls wore masks and the dancing was frenetic.  I was with a group of Americans from our camp and we were enjoying ourselves so much that we overstayed our absence and thus rendered ourselves AWOL.  We decided to climb over the wire fence and jump down the other side.  Unfortunately we were quickly nabbed by the guard and MPs, and had to surrender our ID cards.  When I was summoned next morning my ID was returned to me because as a guest I wasn’t subject to any curfew and could have returned unhindered through the main gate.  In my befuddled state I had forgotten this.  What a prat!  My comrades in crime were less fortunate and spent a short period in the stockade.  We might have got away with it if one of our number, a lad of Italian origin called Palmerin, hadn’t shouted from the top of the fence that he couldn’t bring himself to jump.  In retrospect I could see his point, for when I landed one of my feet went down what looked like a rabbit hole.  The top sergeant who returned my ID card did so reluctantly, suggesting that I might like to get an American haircut.

I was quite taken aback to witness the segregation which was then prevalent in the American Army.  On one occasion I walked into a pub not far from the camp and found it full of black soldiers.  I instantly realised the score and withdrew.

Meanwhile, Bryant was entertaining the Americans, who were fascinated by him.  He used to stand on a table and recite whole tracts of Shakespeare from memory, playing the various characters.

We were all quite sorry when our three months came to an end.  We had listened to a lot of Russian, taken part in a lot of extra-curricular activity and been very hospitably looked after by the Americans.

Return to the Regiment

We didn’t have to stay long at Birgelen.  I can remember the irrepressible Bryant being told by a Welsh sergeant to get the relevant grammar book and go away to learn Polish in three weeks.  He probably did.  I was delighted to learn that I would be returning to Langeleben.


In Tom Hickman’s excellent book The Call-up, a History of National Service, he states that “a posting to Germany became generally seen as safe and comfortable, if dull”.  He obviously never came across anybody who had served at Langeleben.

The first thing I learned on my return was that during my absence the German Panzergrenadiers had put on a Manöverball at Lutterspring and issued invitations to the local talent.  Some of our lads got in uninvited and umbrage was taken at them dancing with the Königslutter girls.  A bit of a barney ensued when the gatecrashers were asked to leave the premises.  It finished up with the Germans summoning our military police from Helmstedt, who, in the resultant mayhem were given a series of false names. The situation was not helped by the Mps also being under the influence.

I also heard that there had been an alcohol-fuelled bust-up during a 3-3 draw at Schwarzweiss Uhri.  Apparently the alcohol had been consumed by the hosts before the match.  At least I couldn t be blamed for that one.

Shortly after my return, I met the girl who was to become my wife, the then Dagmar Deutschmann.  Within two weeks of getting to know her the camp organised a dance at “50 Pfennig’s”.  Our cooks put on an excellent buffet and the evening was a great success until after we left when the Military Police paid another visit to arrest our Bristolian lineman Del Reynolds for causing an affray.  I believe they just kept him overnight before returning him to the Langeleben asylum.

Buffet & Dance 50 Pfennigs 1959 

Spending Christmas at Langeleben was for me much better than being at home.  Over and above the inevitable junkets, we use to have a competition for the best decorated barrack room.  I have a photo of our winning offering which demonstrates the high quality of the imaginative renderings on offer.  B watch won that year.

'B' Watch Christmas 1959 
The winning barrack room, Christmas 1959 for 'B' Watch

Bryant appeared on the horizon a couple more times.  He was very briefly at Langeleben before being sent out of desperation to Berlin, where he caused a great rumpus by being in hot water with the military police for making a visit to the eastern sector; I am not fully aware of the details.  He did write to me from Berlin informing me that he had taken an interest in the Finno-Ugrian group of languages, i.e. Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian.  He sent me his word for the week – the Estonian for piss-pot.  I didn’t make a note of it.

As I remember Königslutter with great affection and am so happy to go back there as often as possible, both we and the locals made sure that misbehaving Brits and locals would never spoil the mutual friendship which engendered the memorial celebrated last year.

We did have occasions where some of our lads damaged property and made a nuisance of themselves.  In these cases they were docked money to pay for the damage so that restitution could be made.

The football matches mentioned earlier had nothing to do with Anglo-German relations.  Such nonsense can occur between two German or British teams.  However, we did experience one anti-British incident which we felt we had to respond to.  A pleasant, unusually inoffensive Glaswegian, Jock Muir, was walking alone through town late at night when he was set upon by a group of locals with their girlfriends.  He was very badly beaten, so some of us decided to do something about it.

A large number of us went down town one night suitably dressed in fatigues and boots.  I remember that Archie Loney and Del Reynolds featured prominently in these proceedings and Jock Muir accompanied us to identify any of his attackers.  We visited every watering hole in town including Belz, where we also formed two ranks outside the cinema to vet the cinema-goers as they came out.  We were unable to come across any of the yobs involved, but our actions that evening persuaded them to keep well out of the way for some time.  Through our close links with some of the local female population we had quickly established who the perpetrators were, and we were very amused some time later when we saw one of them alight one evening from the Volkswagen workers’ coach from Wolfsburg and run a mile on seeing us. He was the brother of one of the girls we knew and realised he had been spotted.  No more attacks took place.

Not long after these events I was in a car with Major McIntyre and two senior NCOs from Birgelen travelling to our DF station at Kaltenkirchen.  Major McIntyre had heard of our response and said that he would like to court martial those responsible; I denied any knowledge of these actions and nothing further was heard.  Captain Backhouse throughly approved of our action.

On Wednesday afternoons the footballers sometimes trained at the local ground where we played our home matches.  Once, on returning to camp, we found all the senior NCOs, including CSM Taffy Williams, completely drunk and pushing each other around in wheelbarrows; we really enjoyed that.

I first went out with Dagmar in April 1959 and we married in September 1960.  After a number of stag parties with different shifts, and a session with the civvy labour, one more booze-up was arranged for the night before the actual wedding.  This is called the ‘Polterabend’, i.e. the evening for making a noisy racket.  It involves anybody who wants to turn up at the bride’s house helping themselves to the booze and food provided and chucking china against the outside wall.  The putative bride and groom then have to sweep up the smashed crockery.  I must admit that after a long succession of sweep-ups, I was beginning to get a sense-of-humour failure.  The house at Driebe 15 was invaded by successive shifts from Langeleben and when we thought the last vestiges of drunken humanity had disappeared, Sid Hicken turned up all on his own to hoover up the bacchanalian remnants.  What a night.

Dagmar had decided that she would like a military wedding, so I had to wear best blues.  I was in the I-Corps as a short-term regular but had no best blues, so I borrowed Rusty Rosson’s.  They fitted!  Rusty had organised a guard of honour, but unfortunately our medic, Doc Clarke, got so drunk at the Polterabend that he spent the day of the church wedding in a drunken stupor in a deckchair in the yard behind Dagmar’s house amongst the chickens and next to the midden.  Rusty, the Guard Commander, turned up with a black eye.  It reminded me of the time when Burberry visited the camp to sell their clobber.  Rusty bought a suit which by the evening after purchase had the jacket ripped out.

Guard of Honour 
Guard of Honour

In Germany there are two parts to a marriage.  On the day before the church ceremony the bride and groom go with their witnesses to the town hall where the marriage certificates are formally signed.  The certificate of marriage must then be taken to the Kaiserdom ceremony the following day and presented to the vicar at the threshold to the cathedral.  I forgot to take it, but the vicar grinned and said that he believed us when we informed him that we had indeed already married.

All the guests walked behind us to the cathedral in pairs.  Although there is no such thing as a best man in Germany, we wanted one anyway and Ernie Callaghan accepted our invitation to fill that position.  He was also responsible for bringing out my 12 year old youngest brother Keith, who was my sole family member at the wedding, and also returning him home.  During several weeks in K/L my brother must have found the atmosphere contagious.  He asked me for money so that he could ask out a local 16 year old girl, he had playing card lessons in the Eisdiele from Tim Donovan and obtained a special dispensation to fish in the local “Anstaltsteich” (the asylum pond).  

On leaving the cathedral we adhered to local customs by throwing a supply of sweets to the local children who had gathered outside for that purpose.

Our reception was held at the Gasthaus “die Bruecke”.  I think I can say with conviction that a great time was had by one and all.  We not only had the lads from Langeleben and the German relatives there, but also some Yanks from Bahrdorf and some RAF lads who were camping at Langy for a while.  We were even infiltrated by a couple  of nutters from the local ‘Anstalt”.

Music was provided by the dance band of either the Dragoon Guards or the Lancers; I cannot remember which of them was in Wolfenbuettel at the time.  They were supposed to play until midnight but asked if they could carry on at a negotiated fee.  We had been plying them with free booze, so they had really got into the swing of things.  They played on until the early hours of the morning.  One of the highlights of the night was an old German auntie pushing out her false teeth to Jock Stirling on the dance floor to prevent him from making any amorous advances.

One week after our wedding we attended the wedding of Taffy and Inge Summers.  Their reception also took place at “Die Bruecke”.

Wedding of Taffy and Inge Summers 1960
Wedding of Taffy and Inge Summers 24th September 1960

Shortly after the wedding Dagmar and I went to the UK to attend my brother Brian’s wedding, where I was best man.  By then I didn’t have long to serve, so when I returned to Langy Dagmar stayed behind in the UK to look for accommodation for us.

During the 1960’s, within a matter of months, I went from private to sergeant.  This was obviously not due to any military prowess on my part, but mainly on account of the Russian work being sent to GCHQ.  Bets were being taken on me signing on for longer service and even the Education Officer who came from Wolfenbüttel dangled the possibility of a commission in front of me.  I decided to leave and wish I hadn’t.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the army and found the work absorbing, Königslutter a great posting and the comradeship of great value.  If I hadn’t have got married I would probably have stayed on.  Pity I didn’t consult Dagmar at the time; afterwards she told me she would have loved the life; but I would not have been at Langeleben all the time, would I?

For me there couldn’t have been a greater contrast between that first silent train journey from Kings Cross to Catterick and the sad farewell from Langy.  Fortunately I was encouraged to divest myself of my uniform at Langy so managed to avoid any guard duty at Birgelen and Maresfield.  The RSM at Birgelen was really peed off and told me quite forcibly that Langeleben wasn’t the real army.  Thank heavens for that say I, but we had a great time and the standard of work we all achieved was highly thought of – and that was the main thing.

Eis Diele and D Watch 


Jim Kelly had become a Lance-Corporal and he and Rusty Rosson visited Dagmar and me at my first Christmas back in civvy street.  When I later went on business to Manchester, I went to Jim’s home in Didsbury only to find out that he had emigrated to Wellington, New Zealand.  When Frank Mitchell tried to contact him with a view to him joining the Langeleben Reunion Club he established that Jim had married in New Zealand and, very sadly, had died at an early age.

Rusty visited us again in Barking, Essex, but this time with his girlfriend Eileen, whom he later married.

During a recent phone call to Rusty to verify certain facts he reminded me of the most important event of my 2 ½  years in Langeleben.  One night I heard a weird signal on a voice channel.  I asked Rusty what the hell it was and he enlisted the help of Mick Harris.  Between the pair of them they eventually identified what was to be known as Mercury Grass. They played the sound back to a signal generator which allowed the tuning of other frequencies.  They then moved up and down the band slowly and obtained clear voice.  Prints were taken of data on adjacent channels and the breakthrough was made.  Everything was then passed onto the regiment.

What an appropriate way to end this story!  In spite of all the high jinks we more than justified our existence.


End of chapter 4

Last updated 03 February 2011


| HOME | COVER | CONTENTS | FOREWORD | CH 1 | CH 2 | CH 3 | CH 4 | CH 5 | CH 6 | CH 7 | CH 8 | CH 9 | CH 10 | CH 11 | PHOTO'S |