I WANT TO BE IN THE INTELLIGENCE CORPS
Paul Croxson’s military (?) career.
I was approaching 18 and National Service loomed as it did for
all of us males. Since I was studying for my Entrance Exam to
the Library Association I asked for ‘deferment’ in order to take
my exams and it was granted –surprisingly easily. In the
meantime I received my call up papers and attended the medical,
confident that I would fail since I still suffered the
after-effects of polio – at school “Excused Games” was one of
the more kindly meant nicknames: I had lousy eyesight (“Four
Eyes”) and not a muscle in sight – ideal material for a
librarian in fact. So desperate were they for recruits that I
passed grade IIIF. And, yes, they did ask us to cough. At the
following interview with an overweight and elderly officer
(later, also to interview John Fortey), I was asked what
regiment I wanted to join.
The Intelligence Corps” was my reply.
“Don’t be stupid/ridiculous, you can’t do that” was the scornful
“Yes you can, Sir” I said, “My friend Brian
Bolton( I Corps, Field Security in Austria) did it and said that I could too if I asked”.
Oh, the naiveté of the lad.
“I’ll put you down for a Clerk” said the Officer and dismissed me.
The call to service arrived. ‘Report to No.5 Training Battalion,
Royal Army Service Corps, Blenheim Barracks, Farnborough’ on Thursday ….
I was to find that Call-up was always on a Thursday fortnightly.
Brown fibre imitation leather attaché case in hand, I turned up as instructed at
Farnborough North Station, walked out to the forecourt and the
screaming and shouting began. Were these lunatics real, striding
around in their immaculate uniforms like hyped up sheepdogs?
Once at the barracks we rushed like ants around in a panic not
daring to offend and call down the wrath of these devils
incarnate. We collected our uniforms, BD’s, berets, drawers –
jungle green, two pairs of boots etc. we were petrified of
dropping anything. Staggering down the lines we went with a
mattress balanced precariously on our head whilst at the same
time trying to control the pillow-cases and bedding under our
arms. Having survived 7 years at a pseudo Public School I had been
bullied by experts but these boys were really good.
We were introduced to the weird arcane practice of folding the
sheets and blankets to make a solid biscuit – like object that
no one would relate to sleeping (what was it called – a
bed-block?) The drill corporals demonstrated the technique and
as we desperately tried to copy them they would dash our
creations to the ground and we would start again – and again and
again. We also learned how to lay out in a precise pattern all
of our worldly possessions all beautifully - well eventually -
‘squared off’, shirts, socks, shoe brushes; the whole bloody
lot. All our civvy possessions had been confiscated earlier and
sent home, all with the intention of making it difficult to
abscond or ‘go AWOL’ as we soon learned it was called in
And then our army numbers – each of us was given a unique number
which we were told would be ‘found engraven on our hearts’ when
we died. The ‘last four’, as they were known, would be our
short-form reference number for the rest of time and had to be
marked on all our possessions. Mine were - ‘5134’.
The most bizarre act was having to produce one’s own identity
tags (wonderfully useful when identifying the dead ) which from that moment on
would be worn at all times (including when dead) until demob
when you had the pleasure of finally ripping them off. There
were just a couple of sets of letter dies and a few hammers and
each disc had to be laboriously punched out, letter by letter.
Of course you had to wait patiently for your turn to use the
most common letters. We learned the advantage of short surnames
and why everyone suddenly became “C of E”. You try stamping out
‘Jehovah’s Witness’ on a little metal disc the size of an old
We dressed in our uniform for the very first time. It was
shapeless (and so were we), heavy, hairy and incredibly
uncomfortable. What a sight we were!
Exhausted, we finally
lay on our beds at about 3.30 am, desperate for a few moments of
sleep before the satanic drill corporal (Corporal Cargill, I can
still recall his name), ‘bandbox fresh’ woke us screaming like a
dervish from the Mad Mahdi’s army. It was not long before we
learned that it was better to lay our kit out on our beds the
night before and sleep on the floor which we had already
‘bulled’ to perfection with an extraordinary tool. It was called
a bumper from distant memory.
This went on for two appalling weeks. We learned to press our
uniforms with the one iron supplied (one smart-arse had brought
his own) and wetted brown paper. We ‘blancoed’ our webbing in a
colour that had been thought necessary if hiding in the Indian
Kush or the plains (this is not a joke) of South Africa and to
polish brasses until they almost made your eyes ache to look at
them . But still nothing was good enough! “Your Brasses are
filthy. Take this man’s name” even though you (and the NCO and
Officer) knew the poor blighter had been up damned near all
night polishing away. What was so incredible was that we also
had to purchase all of these cleaning materials out of our own
We learned to ‘bull our boots’ after we had hammered in the
regulation 13 studs into each sole. (Why could the manufacturer
not do this job properly)? This bulling required that all of
those pimples that had been expensively impressed into the
leather had to be removed. A technique had been designed over
the years by which Kiwi or Cherry Blossom boot polish was ladled
all over the bits that had to shine, toe caps and heels and was
then set fire to. It was then burnished with the back of the
spoon (the same one as was used to eat the disgusting food).
Finally, using a yellow duster and spit polishing in small
circles it was worked up to a mirror like gloss. None met the
approval of the drill staff first time round who threw them
around the room destroying all the painstaking work. This went
on for seeming hours so it must have given them enormous
pleasure. We were permanently exhausted. They treated us with
total contempt seemingly unaware of the contempt and loathing
that we felt for them. They appeared to forget that
our’s was the real world and that we
would one day go back to it. The system was sick..
THE FOOD WAS AWFUL. They could even ruin mince. We were warned
by the old soldiers around us not to drink the tea. “It’s full
of bromide” we were told and you won’t be able to ‘get it up’.
In those days virginity was not reserved for the under twelve's
and most of us, though we would never admit it, still had to
experience what the tea would supposedly destroy. We were soon
drinking 2 or 3 pint mugs of it.
We learned how to salute officers but NOT corporals and
sergeants, even though they seemed far more important; how to
‘advance and retire in threes; to quick and slow march and to do
funny things with rifles that had absolutely no connection with
their ability to kill. We were becoming “Trained Soldiers”,
honed to become killing machines – well Clerks or Drivers, more
likely. We marched to and from the dining hall clutching our
‘irons’ and our pint pots in our left hands behind our backs.
It was a welcome release to undergo some sort of psychometric
examination, answering some fifty questions in ’X’ minutes. At
last I was in my natural element and I could watch those
bastards who had scorned me for being so physically incompetent
suffer. Long live the Swat. At last he has his day!
The bulk of the questions were unbelievably simple; “what comes
next? 1.2.3.? and so on. Some of my new ‘Oppos’
(lots of new words to learn) struggled, much to my pleasure.
Anyway, I answered them all and still had time to go back and
check my answers thoroughly. After all, we had been told that
our answers would decide our futures for the next two years.
Staggering out, in answer to the question ‘how many did you get
done’ I happily replied ‘the whole f……g lot’. By this time we
had learned that it was a requirement of Army Life to interpose
the dreaded “F Word” before every … well everywhere you could
and then double it.
After two weeks we were allowed to see the real world. If
Farnborough and Aldershot were the real world - we saw it.
Out through the Guard Room we
went in our best uniforms, gleaming. We had been told that we
had to march in, halt and give our number etc. I marched in
immaculately, and halted; well not exactly by the rule book as
my feet went from under me and I was flat on my back. The
Guardroom floor had been ‘bulIed’ as had been everything.
Laughing, the Regt. Police threw me out into freedom. I cannot
remember what we did that night but we anxiously kept an eye on
the clock. 23.59 Cinderella-like. One chap didn’t make it back
on time, claiming he ‘had got lost’ and was immediately
back-squadded, a fate only slightly better than ‘death’.
On our first week-end home on leave we furiously cut plywood to
keep our ammunition pouches and backpacks square; we sanded our
cap badges almost smooth with the finest of emery paper, trying
to avoid the slightest scratch and we hammered our belt brasses
flat. We wanted to look like real ‘old soldiers’!
Against all odds, with two exceptions - the Farnborough ‘runner
and a Glaswegian who had ‘worked his ticket’ by constantly
wetting his bed - we had made it through basic training. We
lined up in our billet to learn our fates. Two were to be drill
instructors having had a head start by being in the Army Cadet
Force. Most were destined for Willems Barracks to be trained to
become clerks, others storemen or drivers. One was sent to a
special unit supposedly suffering from malnutrition despite
surviving the rigours of Basic Training. There were just two of
us left, unwanted and seemingly unloved - Bob Matthias and
myself. Cpl Cargill claimed to have no idea of our fates and
told us to keep our heads down and out of sight but’ keep an eye
on ‘Daily Orders.’ Was it part 1 or part 2 we had to watch?.
Corporal Cargill, over the following days, showed signs of being
human, especially if offered a cigarette or two. Several days
later our names appeared. We were summoned to the Orderly Office
where we received our orders to collect a packed meal and to
collect our travel warrants and make our way to Haywards Heath
the following day. We had no idea what fate awaited us. (Who
recalls singing ‘Do not forsake me Oh my Darling’)? The next day
we were off to Farnborough Nth, then Waterloo and Victoria; (we
were dressed in what was known as FSMO, full service marching
order and carrying our bulging kitbags), and our doorstep
sandwiches, finally we arrived at Haywards Heath in Sussex, north of Brighton.
Two soldiers and a 20cwt were waiting in the forecourt and we
were ordered to get in and then we saw clearly their flashes for
the first time. Very dark green with black letters - until quite
close it was impossible to see the magic words ”Intelligence
Corps”. We had made it into the Intelligence Corps and were
at Maresfield then home of the l.Corps' depot.
It was on the edge of a wood, which later we were
to find weirdly contained a number of Russian artillery pieces.
We learned our way around. That ’lot at the bottom’ were ‘Linguists’.
( Oh how I envied them). Those with the white epaulettes were Officer
Cadets. Several of them would disappear nearly every night for the fleshpots of Brighton
in an ancient, hardly altered Daimler or Rolls Royce hearse.
God! They had style. If you peeped through that window – it was
the Museum - you could see the Russian uniforms and rifles. This
was more like it!
Our accommodation was very basic, cement block rooms each with a
cast iron stove in the centre, eight, I think, to a room.
Alan Bennett, later, was to describe it as ‘the foulest camp he had ever been
in’. We met our fellow soldiers. For the first time we were to
come face to face with the ‘Regular’ until then a mythical bird.
He would serve for a minimum of three years possibly serving for
up to a total of twenty two. Some would have voluntarily signed
on for 22 years without the option to leave. Escape for them
would only come through buying themselves out.
We were a right mixture. Paul Sisley, grandson of the impressionist
painter, much older than the rest of us had signed up for 22
years without the option. Newman, a 3 year man, had been a cub
reporter with the Chorley Citizen (or was it the News?). No
conversation with him could start without the gripping words
“when I was with the Chorley Citizen).; it became a joke line
adopted by us all with what we thought was a Lancashire accent
based on what we had heard on the BBC Light programme. There was
Dennis Rodgers straight from Uni. A linguist who lived in
Bromley and two from Manchester-ish also from university, one
with an M.Sc. in Chemistry. He would
cause total chaos with his inability to co-ordinate his arms and
legs when marching. Even in the back row he would wreck every
movement. ‘Right or left wheeling’ his arms and legs
were always in the wrong place. Most
extraordinary of all, there was Dennis Hamilton, formerly a
prefect from my school. Many a time he had given me ’50
lines'. The last time I had seen him was standing God-like on the
school platform when I was a mere 3rd. former. Now we
were equals except that he was a qualified Chartered Accountant
and 24 yrs..
We filled in questionnaires, one on our language ability.
Originally I had claimed ‘very good French’
and ‘good Spanish’ but in the company
of these graduates I mentally cringed at my daring. God knows
how I missed ever being tested.
Our training, which lasted between three and four months, was quite
interesting starting with what was called ‘Corps Training. We
learned all about ‘Orders of Battle’ the lifeblood of military
intelligence. The training staff were so different from those in the RASC.
Sergeant Mackay, our Corps course instructor, was to invariably address us
He had been one of the first to enter Belsen and blamed his lack of hair on that.
Looking at the photograph of the Depot staff it is surprising just how many had served in
the War and had the medals to prove it!
We learned to drill and actually got to fire both rifles and sten guns having
been told that we would ‘never need to use them’, our weapon was
to be a revolver. WE learned about 4 X 2s and pull-throughs.
Passing the course, having been constantly in fear of that
punishment beloved by the Army ‘back squadding’, we were finally
able to wear our I Corps badge and flashes. No longer was I
potential ‘Clerk’ material in the RASC. We moved on to Field
Security Training and, during this time, we were the recipients
of much strange data - such as how many mobile bath houses there
were in a Red Army Motorised Rifle Division (not many); the
difference in a Russian ‘Army’ as compared with the British
Army. I think we knew more about the Russian Army than the
British. We each had to give a lecture to the whole course on a
subject of our own choice - my first public speaking engagement, I spoke appallingly on
‘Trades Unions’. But, the most stimulating part of our training
was undoubtedly the interrogator's course, which also involved
men from the dreaded SAS, although we didn't realise it at the
time. We were simply told they were sergeants from a Territorial
Army/Reservist section coming back for annual training, which
was partly true..
For 24 hours a small group of us would play the part of captured
terrorists and be questioned one by one by these thugs. There were few
restraints apart from the fact that we all knew that after the
24 hours roles would be reversed, with us having the advantage
of various little tips we might have picked up. They were quite
kind to us! As part of the questioning however one chap was made
to stand naked next to a very hot coal stove. After a while,
getting bored with this, they decided to put him outside on the
veranda to cool off. This was in the early hours of an October
morning. As they bundled him outside he realised that moving
from a brightly lit room into almost total darkness meant that
for a few seconds they would effectively be blind and, knowing
they couldn't shoot him, he promptly ran away.
The umpire, who was present throughout to make sure no one was actually
killed, decided that he had escaped but, being without clothing
or shelter, would have died quickly from exposure. He was
relegated to playing a corpse, which was much more restful than
being mistreated by lunatics. Now, when fictional interrogations
are shown on television, I'm amused to see how often the basic
rules that we were taught are broken.
The protagonists frequently face each other across narrow and
flimsy tables. We were told repeatedly to use a table too wide
to reach across and too heavy to overturn.
I heard a good
story a few months later. On this occasion the SAS sergeants
were to be interrogated first and the Intelligence Corps
trainees went into town (Haywards Heath presumably), lifted them
and took them back to the camp. There they did all the usual
things, probably half drowning the poor sods in water-filled oil
drums; stripped to underpants on all fours, hands and feet in
fire buckets full of icy water etc. but, as my informant said,
"these guys were good and we couldn't crack their cover". After
about an hour of this a phone call came through: "This is Sgt
J..es of 21 SAS, where the fuck have you guys been?
We're still waiting to be snatched." The trainees
had kidnapped a bunch of complete strangers who obviously
couldn't break cover because they didn't have a 'secret'
identity to reveal. Of course this didn't go down too well with
the press and public, especially as not too long before, during
a NATO exercise in the highlands, Intelligence Corps
interrogators had mistreated a group of Belgian pilots by
hanging them in chains in a deserted barn. A similar farce
happened to me personally when doing that delicate manoeuvre
known as section attacks in the Ashdown Forest.
Having crawled hidden and camouflaged, suddenly we sprung to
our feet screaming and firing blanks and hurled ourselves at
this hill top only to find three ladies pick-nicking. They were
shaken and very un-amused. I think that there was another
apology written to cover this.
By the end of
October 1954, our training was complete and we were ready to be
posted, qualified in all aspects of Field Security; masters of
the art of interrogation. We were given our postings. Most were
to go to Germany and Cyprus, others to exotic places like Vienna
and Trieste. These lucky blighters would also become sergeants the moment
they reached their new postings. Quite a few of us (perhaps a
quarter), however, were told that we had been selected for
training in MI8. Even more training and a Spy! Hurrah! No one
would tell us what MI8 was. ‘Sorry’ we were told ‘it’s secret’.
We were filled with a mixture of fear and excitement.
We were shipped to Reservoir Barracks, then the home of the Gloucester Regt. After
Maresfield the billets were verging on luxury. Life was getting
better and better. We were treated as being a bit special by the
Glosters who had been told that we were on a gas training
course. Many of them had recently returned from Korea,
disillusioned and very bloody minded.
We learned about frequencies and wavelengths; skip distances.
Low, high and very high frequency (VHF) became our very bread and butter. We
moved on to the principles of cryptography and cipher breaking.
Most days started with doing the Daily Telegraph crossword to
‘wake up our minds’. It was great fun and the elderly portly
WOII who was our only teacher was marvellous. Life was pretty
good. We finally started to learn about callsigns and radio
networks. We now knew that MI8 was all about Signals
Intelligence or Sigint as we came to know it. We had finally
been introduced to the science of ‘Traffic Analysis. We were free
every evening to go into Gloucester or to the NAAFI for a drink. Every morning started with doing
the Telegraph crossword. This was supposedly preparation for the
cryptography part of the course. Vigenere’s cipher, Playfair
(said to have been developed by Babbage). We learned simple
mono-alphabetic substitution ciphers, homophones. ‘Frequency
analysis’ the number of times letters occurred in a standard
piece of text, was child’s play. e.t.a. and so on.
(Well at least it is in English!) We were learning the secrets of traffic analysis.
Since under international law Governments did not spy on other Governments
what we were being trained to do was illegal. The slightest hint
of what we did and death stared us in the face! Not a word was
said about ‘Enigma’. Winterbottom had still to blow the gaff.
His book ‘The Ultra Secret was not to be published until the
summer of 1974 and then finally Bletchley Park and its staff could reveal its secrets.
Our last exercise before we were let loose on the Red Army was to reconstruct the
Italian Army order of battle at the time of the invasion of the foot of Italy from
radio intercepts. We were ready to hit the road.
Back to ‘bloody Maresfield’ we went.
It was not only miserable and uncomfortable but by then damned cold.
We went out stealing coke. For the record may I point out that the stuff we pinched
was processed coal and not cocaine? The one good thing about MI8
was that there were very few postings; Germany, Austria, Cyprus, GCHQ and the War Office.
Since Cypruswas the one place I didn’t want to go, guess where my fate lay.
Cyprus it was to be! Suddenly to my joy, I was smitten with
Blepharitis, a small price to pay to avoid Cyprus, and ended up in Tidworth Military
Hospital with just my small pack. I was there long enough to avoid Cyprus,
parading around in white shirt and red tie under my B.D., very much the wounded soldier.
Back to ‘bloody Maresfield’ again in time to join in with the next
course who were already there for posting. This time I got GCHQ and that suited me.
Off I went with Geoff Humphries to another ‘black hole’
We had no idea what went on inside GCHQ or even what those 4 letters meant.
Geoff was to become a great mate and for several months we
shared a room in Montpelier Spa Hotel which, despite its grand
name, was only a Civil Service Hostel. We were paid £7 which
covered our food and lodging there. We all nearly starved, so
bad was the food! Geoff had been a high flying Cambridge
mathematician and had been nurtured throughout his National
Service in preparation for GCHQ. He hated it. He wanted to be a
real soldier before undertaking the excitement of a career as an
actuary. There we were; a Cambridge
‘First’ and me with my 5 O levels and the Entrance Exam of the
Library Association in one of the most secret places in the UK.
So much for my expectations of becoming an ace cryptographer or of nights
tracing the movements of the Russians; I was posted to the GCHQ
Orderly Room! The bastard recruiting officer had finally won. I
was a Clerk but with the highest trade rating that could be
achieved and after six months of intensive training. I did learn
about ’Imprest systems’ since I did the payroll working out how
many pound notes (not many) shillings and sixpences etc we would
need. There was, though, an enormous perk. Not only were we
responsible for GCHQ we also looked after, administratively, 4
chaps who worked at the Post Office Research Establishment at
Dollis Hill and others who were at the War Office and a couple
serving in MI1 in Metropole House just off Trafalgar Square.
Dennis Potter (writer of the Singing Detective etc.) was to bring them to life in his
play ‘Lipstick on my Collar’, having served in the I Corps there
himself. I learned to find my way through the maze of tunnels
under Whitehall. Every week-end I had a pass back to London.
During the week I; worked in civilian clothes whist living in
a Civil Service hostel surrounded by young lady clerks - with a
bit of lust some were quite attractive. Geoff found his first
girlfriend who was to become his first Wife at the hostel. I
didn’t think life could ever get better.
“Croxson” said Major Bickerstaffe, the CO (and by then quite a friend, as we
shared an office), “they want you back at Maresfield”.
“When” I asked? “Monday”.
Back I went, packed up my ever-diminishing pile of bits and pieces and staggered
back to sunny Sussex. This time I was shoved unceremoniously into
‘Linguists Wing’ where, in earlier days, I had longed to go. A
hut to myself! Life was on the ‘up’ again. Soon I would be on a
Russian course. ‘Bodmin – perhaps Cambridge - here I come!’
But this was the ARMY..“Croxson, you are i/c Bathhouse” I was told when I reported to
the Orderly Room. They had called me back from GCHQ, Cheltenham
just for that? Unbelievable! But true! I had to clean the
toilets (as did Alan Bennett), baths, showers and the floor
twice a day. When this was finished I had to
draw from the stores …”Scythes, grass cutting, for the use of -one”, together with a
whetstone and cut the surrounding grass. How the mighty are fallen.
In all honesty there wasn’t a job for me. Why on earth had they moved me?
“How about helping Jimmie Edwards (then a famous comedian) on his farm? The
I Corps was, it appeared, a pool of cheap labour readily
available to him. When I found out it was lifting potatoes I
remembered about volunteering and declined gracefully. His farm
was at Piltdown just down the road and then, the Piltdown
Man was still believed in.
We had a GOC inspection and didn’t my toilets shine, despite the lack of
proper cleaning materials. “Hide yourself away somewhere until it’s all over”
I was told. “It’s a pleasure!” I muttered under my voice.
Out of the blue came a posting to No.1 Wireless Regt Germany. Again, I was off.
Again I packed my ever-diminishing pile of uniform, as usual, my laundry had not
been returned and headed for Liverpool St. and Harwich. There were then two troop ships ploughing across
the North Sea and when it was announced that we were on the
‘Empire Parkestone’ there were groans from all of the ‘Old
Soldiers’ who knew her and her vices only too well Others, to
show their worldliness, claimed that she was a ‘fookin sight
better than the Wansbeck, which ploughed away, night after
night, in the opposite direction.
We arrived at the Hook of Holland - for most of us, our first time abroad and
boarded the Blue Train, run solely for the military, that was to take us into Germany.
Holland was boring even in those days and then … we were in the dreaded Germany,
full of Germans who had been our enemies for so much of our lives.
The women seemed to wear funny hats and the station staff
looked like the S.S with their high peaked helmets. We saw our
first policeman wearing a coal scuttle! Was it my imagination or
was there a shortage of men?
As a South Londoner I thought that I knew a bit about bombing but, this was
something on a scale I could not believe. By 1955 the rubble
had been cleared but there were still vast open spaces.
We saw Cologne (which we had to learn was Koln). Couldn’t the bloody Germans spell?
Then somehow we were in Munster.
Two things stand out in the brief time I was there.
Firstly I was set to work in this large room and daily was given a pile of log-sheets.
No-one explained what I should do with them – anyway
as they were Polish or Hungarian Police networks I wasn’t adding
much to the defence of the Realm. As a result I have no doubts I
was considered useless and therefore suitable material for the
Langeleben Penal Battalion.
And the second. Apart from a
brief stop-over in Maresfield I had been away from military life
for 6 months! In that time I had worn uniform for no more than 2
weeks and then just denims. Then came the shock of a Guard Duty!
Quite a lot of kit was borrowed but I
must still have looked an absolute heap, even by I Corps
standards. Certainly there was no chance of my being ‘Stickman’.
To be honest, standing outside the gate that night and wandering
aimlessly around, I was scared; even more so when a drunk came
up and started haranguing me. Despite being armed to the teeth
with my ammunition-less Lee Enfield 303 I called out the guard.
In no time the German police were there and a few well aimed
blows and profuse apologies resolved the problem.
One of the chaps who came over with me had a degree in German and so we
soon found our way around Munster. The windows were brimful of goods in painful comparison with
post-war Britain. Rationing there had finally ended only the year before! For
some extraordinary reason which I still have not fathomed only
Nescafe was scarce. We all bought a brass model of the Cathedral
for Mum and a Steiner for Dad. The barracks were superb and we
were introduced to treble glazing when ‘double’ did not exist in England.
Rumour had it that they were built for the S.S. The shadow of
an Eagle which had been ripped from the wall could still be seen.
Very shortly after I arrived the whole Regiment then moved to Munchen
Gladbach as we called it in those days. (I recall nothing of the
preparations for it and, when it happened, it was a complete
shock) All we knew about M-G was that we were near Holland and that
the Germans spoke a very funny version of German called
‘Plat-Deutsch. Anything would have fooled me at that stage.
Suddenly I was on the move again, I had hardly unpacked. I was posted to
Langeleben with no notice, as usual. Horror stories of the place
were legion. I think that there were just two of us and we
metaphorically huddled together for comfort. From one RTO
(Regimental Transport Officer - was that what they were called?)
to the next we were passed until, by some miracle, we were at
Königslutter and the welcome sight of a British Army 3 tonner.
The driver had brought along ‘Scouse’ the cook for company. We
had met before! He greeted me like a long-lost friend – God help
me, and I then knew that life was going to be bad. He could not
cook anything safely other than jam butty fritters, which I adored.
Supper was waiting for us and, although the main course escapes
me the sweet was definitely rice pudding. Before dying from food
poisoning I congratulated Scouse on having gone a bit ‘haute
Cuisine’ with the nutmeg on the pudding. He looked puzzled.
Suddenly, understanding lit up his almost toothless face. “That
wasn’t fookin nutmeg, it was fookin
rust from the fookin roof!” He staggered off, giggling to
himself. There we were in this corrugated tin shack with no
front door and that was the cookhouse.
(Whilst on night shifts we would break in to the larder and make
ourselves enormous bacon sandwiches) and tea in buckets for the
Nearly every night it seemed, a Corporal (Fitt?) staggered in with a brown
enamel bowl in his hands which he filled with hot water and then
proceeded to wash his crown jewels with great care whilst at the
same time regaling us with his sexual exploits. I was still a
virgin and could only wonder. Later, like all the rest, I would
sign my name in the book at the PAC shed and draw my ration of
contraceptives. By doing this, should I catch venereal disease
despite watching the horror film shown to all recruits, I would
not be Court Martialled. Sadly, never used them in ’battle’
After my first supper I was taken to my billet down this row of perilous
duckboards. It was a bloody tent. No one had warned me!
Staggering down the duckboards in almost total darkness I was
amazed to hear a woman’s voice coming from a tent and it wasn’t
on the radio. As a lance corporal it seemed that I warranted a
half share in a tent. I shared with Mick Bailey, who was later
to be arrested and accused of rape which surely he had NEVER
committed. For the first few days I went round in a total daze.
How would I survive?
Having been introduced to the toilets there was no way I could use them!
Another corrugated iron shack, just planks with holes for a seat
and below you the stinking mess that stayed until the honey
wagon came along. The only privacy available - a tattered bit of
sacking which just reached to your knees.
Mind you, it wasn’t long before I, like the rest, could cope
with the stench and, in many ways, it was a social meeting place for us.
When the honeywagon came to
drain them everyone steered clear, it was seriously unpleasant.
We worked in three wagons perched ends to ends. I learned of the Langeleben
watch system which was considered infinitely superior to that at
the Regt. And it was. We did have to work one all- night shift (mid till 8) which was hard
work. Instead of measly Polish Police radio traffic, suddenly it
was the real thing - Russians at last.
Like every new boy I fell for the same trick. Suddenly, at about 4am one night
there was heavy gunfire. “Oh God, the Russians are coming” It
was only a tank gunnery range just over the border which kept
the Voice Ops of the I Corps busy I was to play the same trick
on newcomers myself later.
Not long before my arrival the Russians had changed from B type callsigns
to E type, and at the same time changing all the frequencies.
Suddenly no one including B Watch, knew who was who or where they were.
Our major pre-occupation was
call sign recovery and thanks to some clever recognition from
the Op Specs and DF we were slowly rebuilding the networks. Was
this the precursor to the invasion that we were all trained to
expect? Fortunately it wasn’t since, in the case of an
anticipated attack, the drivers cooks and storemen were to draw
rifles and ammunition from the stores, proceed up the road and
hold back the hoards. Could we really have relied on Scouse and
drunken Robbo the killer driver?
Langeleben life in the early 50’s was at best primitive. No showers or
baths existed. One washed, shaved and
cleaned teeth in the same brown enamel bowl, filled up in the
cookhouse and then taken back to the tent. Blessed were the very
few who had electric razors. We lived in our shapeless denims. I
could have said ‘and slept’ since in Winter
that was exactly what we did with our pyjamas on underneath our
denims. Our lowest temperature was 28deg. We were issued with
so-called Army arctic clothing - a woollen hat, heavy woollen
sweater, a leather sleeveless jacket probably a relic of the 2nd
world war and … if you were very lucky Canadian army lumberjack
boots. These were handed down and were cherished. The bowls of
water were, by the time you had skidded and slipped down the
duckboards, full of cold water, at least - what you had not spilled.
But we were happy; after all, we were the ‘Hardmen of Langeleben’
and the Army loves its hardmen!
If we needed it, we could go on the weekly run to the Helmstedt Military
Police Station at the border for a bath or even into
Königslutter. I used Helmstedt as it gave an opportunity to
visit a NAAFI. It was there that I committed what was at the
time a serious security breach. I Corps chaps took off their
shoulder flashes and cap badges whilst serving at Langeleben,
possibly to avoid the risk of being kidnapped, the border a mere
6 miles away. I bumped into an old colleague in the MP’s who
said “I thought you were in the I Corps”. Whilst I was fumbling
for a reply, he suddenly turned very ‘regimental and I felt
forced to tell him that I was still I Corps but in ‘disguise’.
In no time it was around the MP’s. ‘There are I Corps in Langeleben,
under cover’. The MP’s were of course, used to I. Corps
but those in Field Security which they reasonably presumed I was.
Nothing happened but I was scared stiff at the time.
It was not until the late 55’s that we had much in the way of entertainment
other then the gramophone. (I think it was pre-record players).
I think that there were perhaps ½ a dozen records - all modern
jazz and to hear Jerry Mulligan playing ‘Knights of the
Turntable’ still brings back memories. I bought a copy only last
year. The MJQ I loved. Dave Brubeck was a class act. What was
it? ‘Jazz goes to College. The early Elvis Presley’s were played
to near death at the Deutsches Haus in Königslutter.
(I promise you I didn’t know who he was). Langeleben had
just the one hostelry which doubled up as the Sergeants’ and
Officers’ Mess, Frau Grahn’s. It was nearby, and the food was
good and cheap. I’ve just remembered again, Pete Ellis trying to
learn the trumpet!
Cigarettes, our lifeline were disposed of for essential German Marks by
standing nonchalantly at the bar in Schumann’s with a bulging
pocket. In no time at all some German would sidle up and whisper
"Sie haben Zigaretten zu verkaufen?"
A quick nod, and a joint (not as we nowadays understand the word)
survey to see if all was clear and
then money and tobacco changed hands, the parties to the
transaction separated quietly and quickly. Money was needed for
food and beer. Camp food, both Cookhouse-supplied and that
purchased from the Church of Scotland wagon to supplement and
vary the diet still left hungry young men in need of good old
fried potatoes, eggs and bacon, washed down with glasses of beer
or Steinhager (a gin-like potent liquid) – when ‘flush’ even a
steak. For this we would go into the nearby Gasthaus and order
Spiegel eier und gebraten mit ein bißchen speck, bitte"
(the German for fried eggs being "mirror eggs". We wolfed down
this lovely food, with that strange black bread and really
enjoyed it. Those dear ‘old’ ladies who ran the Church of
Scotland wagon were wonderful, the only British non-military we
One had to be careful, though, in possessing the foreign notes and coinage.
Technically it was an offence but if proper application was made
and one took part of pay in German Marks and had this entered in
the Pay Book it covered all future illicit gains. The loss of my
paybook part 2 and the following reprimand I received has no
In October 1955 we moved to huts and we missed our tents. We had a bath,
just one for over 60 of us. Our health suffered and suddenly we
were reporting ‘sick’ and catching colds. It was the end of an
When the first of the huts was built, it housed the
cookhouse and a snooker table and a dart board. One I Corps chap
took more than a few bob off the ‘Signals’ who on the whole did
not expect ‘I Corps’ to do anything so
useful or clever as playing snooker. How wrong they were! He had
played to almost semi pro financing his way through University.
As a geologist, he went on, I believe, to work for Shell. Robbo
the driver who had spent time in Bielefeld
played darts with viciously pointed 6” nails – deadly accurate.
Unfortunately, they made exceedingly large holes in the board
and were banned.
On 5th May 1955 a long-awaited event occurred. Germany
was given its independence and became a Sovereign Power and
would join NATO. Until then British troops had been the
Occupying Power and the Germans were very conscious of this
despite the low profile. When the day came all British troops
were confined to Barracks for several days and I well recall the
young Germans hanging on the fence shouting and being very
threatening. It also led to the only trouble that we ever had in
my time when Ernie Casteldine and someone else were badly beaten
up on the way back to Camp. Quite something as Ernie
was a wrestling ‘possible’ for the 1956 Olympic Games.
In an effort to restore good relations between the British and the Germans it
was decided to build a sledge and to give out little presents to
the children. Fortunately we had Jimmy Dean,
a Graduate of Hornsey School of Art. He always carried his
toolbox wherever he went and laboriously we converted the Jeep
into a sledge and built a reindeer. It was a great success and
certainly did no harm to our standing in the town as we drove
round in it with Lt Jenkins dressed as Father Christmas
It would be easy to get the impression that life at Langeleben consisted of
work, drink and sleep in varying proportions. I cannot for the
life of me remember any sort of library but others do – perhaps
something came along later. As an inveterate reader, I cannot
imagine life totally without books. We certainly had no TV but
there was access to BFN (British Forces Network) radio. There was
the odd outing to Braunschweig garrison to see an English language
film and I did venture once to a German cinema and was amazed at
the sex that was freely shown. 2nd/Lt Roddy
Braithwaite tried his best and started German lessons but with
the Watch system continuity was impossible. I signed up (at the
Army’s expense) for a correspondence course for the Foreign
Office with the idea of getting back to GCHQ but that fell by
the wayside. Someone (probably Braithwaite) organized a trip to
the Braunschweig Opera House which seemingly had escaped the
bombing, and we saw/listened to Rigoletto. Our seats were those
with what is known as “restricted view”. Only by leaning across
the next two seats was I able to see anything. From then until
only recently Opera has been a ‘no no’ in my life.
This brings me inexorably to Stuart Brisley. His reputation preceded him.
We, B Watch, were in the huts by then and Jimmy Dean was in our room,
a graduate of, from memory the Hornsey School of Art. I was
warned that when they met all sorts of violence would break out
and it did! Although it was a wrestling bout they must have
inflicted serious pain on each other, then, suddenly stopping,
they then carried on as if nothing had happened. Jimmy Dean was
the main creator of the Christmas sledge.
Stuart was an arts graduate, from Guildford School of Art.
A corporal (not bad for a National Serviceman), he was posted to Langeleben as the
storeman and was to become a good friend; very useful when
keeping up my stock of cigarettes. Unfortunately he became a
serious drinker and it got to the point at one time when he had
Upon demob I kept very much in touch with him whilst he was a post graduate
at the Royal College of Art. I remember him getting his first
commission – to paint a ‘Wimpy’ hamburger - which he did, being
Stuart, only, too realistically. Not surprisingly it was never
used despite submitting several versions as the ‘damned thing’
got staler and staler. We drifted apart; he got divorced from
his gorgeous Wife.
Nowadays, he is regarded as the Godfather of British performance art,
obtaining notoriety during the 60’s and seventies. As Wikipedia
says ‘his work dealt with challenging the human body in a
physical, psychological manner, and often used faeces as the
subject or a material in the construction of his work. He has
been a prolific writer, painter, performer, educator and
contributor to the British Arts scene and was involved in
setting up the UK Museum of Ordure’. I haven’t yet dared to look
at the website, let alone visit it.
He was appointed Professor of Media Fine Art Graduate Studies at the
Slade School of Art. London University and is unique in that he was/is the only staff member to be
appointed by the students alone. Five of his works are exhibited
in the Tate modern which gives an idea of his standing in the art world.
He studied in Munich and he was, during the ‘avant garde’ period, big, as
they say, In Germany.
I learned a lot from him, not least, about ‘Cranach the painter’. He dragged
me along to the Braunschweig Art Gallery to see his works –
one of the biggest collections in the World.
Sadly we went our own ways. I last saw him when he exhibited at the ICA
Gallery in the Mall. He looked exactly the same. I went up to
him, said ‘Hello’ but he did not even recognize me and claimed
even not to remember me or his time at Langeleben. His
exhibition consisted of the contents of a dustbin which he had
assiduously collected and sorted out. It was laid out on long
tables. Apart from the smell which was pretty unpleasant I
remember the ordinariness of it all. Hundreds of used teabags in
very neat rows still come to mind..
From my photos and a chat with Nobby Clarke (seen here up the mast) we also walked quite a bit.
Callow youths that we were, the beauty that surrounded us was
never appreciated. After all, unless one went to Frau Grahn’s or
the pub to the left it was Königslutter or drought – no Naafi or
bar in those days!
We had an outing to the VW factory at Wolfsburg
which opened our eyes. I had been to Ford’s Dagenham and others
were from the Midlands. We had seen nothing like it. The fact that we were told that
post war recovery of the factory was due entirely to a British
soldier did not give any comfort nor did the fact that British
car manufacturers, when offered the factory under the War
Reparations had turned it down as unworkable and un saleable!
We worked hard and, I think, very well, often succeeding before either the Regt
or NSA controlled US units. We had scares when we thought ‘This
is IT’.I recall rushing up to the Elbe
with Capt. Wallace when the Russians started moving. I saw my
first Russian soldiers on the far bank. They closed the Autobahn
another time and we worked without a break for several shifts.
Leaving with a great deal of sadness - hard to believe that 720 days had
passed - I set off back to Birgelen still drunk from a
stupendous demob party. Even by my low standards I looked an
absolute mess. I had removed my Signals flashes but had lost my
I. Corps flashes and cap badge. My final interview was with an
Officer “I suppose, (looking at my record) there is no point in
asking you if you want to stay in, is there?” If he had said
‘please’ I might have done so. I actually loved the work. He
wrote up my good conduct report, I recall ‘conscientious’ and
‘studious’. He had never seen me before and wrote ‘Signalman’
instead of ‘L/cpl’ and put me in the Royal Signals. I crossed
them out! There’s a limit to what I will take!
READING THE HISTORY
- Ron Berg’s
memory is awoken
We were contemporaries at 1 Wireless but did not see much of each other
as you were at 101 when I was at HQ and vice versa. I've been
reading your history of Langeleben and the wider aspects of Y
service and found it very interesting and have to admit that
I've learned a lot that I didn't pick up in the service. Your
message on the website welcomes additional contributions, but
preferably concerning the later years.
I think you'll have to wait until a few more retire and
have the time to surf but if you can put up with my disjointed
ramblings I'll add my two penn'th.
Nothing new really, just padding to what you already
I've just read your personal
contribution1 and found so many similarities with the situation
I was in. Not being keen on trench warfare I volunteered
for three years so that I could choose where I went.
I asked for the Education Corps or Intelligence Corps
but, not being an actual or prospective graduate, I was told
that that was impossible. I completed the written tests well
inside the time limit and a few days later received a letter
telling me to report to the HQ of Western Command for an
The HQ occupied a very imposing building on the banks of the River Dee in
Chester. I walked down the long drive to the large front door
and presented my letter to the sergeant on duty.
He directed me to a number of prefabricated huts at the
rear of the building, one of which housed an FS section and an S
I B unit. Inside the office a lieutenant and a sergeant were
sitting on desks and a W R A C lady was apparently making tea.
I was interviewed by the lieutenant who asked what school I had attended, whether I could
drive and how many brothers and sisters I had.
He couldn't think of any more questions so the interview
ended in less than five minutes.
I must have given the right answers as I was called back
to the recruiting office to swear allegiance to the queen and
everybody wearing stripes or a flat hat.
The recruiting officer obviously wasn't familiar with
travel in the South East. He sent me on the slow train, stopping
at every station (pre- Beeching2) between Victoria and Uckfield.
I arrived at about 6 p.m. and got the best meal I ever had at Maresfield.
The ordinary servings had finished and the cooks and R
P's were dining rather well so I was invited to join them.
My training at ICC differed slightly from yours.
As a regular I had to do four weeks basic before
going on to corps training and met such memorable
characters as Cpl John Morrison and Sergeant Cow ("I'll drive ye
into th groond like a tent peg!"), both Scots. One advantage I
had over the National Service transferees was that I didn't have
the fear of the dreaded RTU3 every time I read daily orders.
Some apparently ideal I Corps material was rejected; we
thought that maybe they failed the security vetting.
I was in Squad 8, '54 and I think you must have been
there somewhere near the same time.
I didn't do a FS course as the August MI8 course was
You mentioned guard duties.
At Maresfield the two men on the two hour ‘stag’ patrolled the
camp carrying pickhelves.
I was told by a later recruit that when the IRA problems
first started the guards were allowed to patrol in gym shoes so
that any intruders wouldn't here them coming!
I found my first guard duty very disappointing.
I had often heard people talk about the beautiful sound
of a spring dawn chorus. As a townie I'd never heard it so, on a
4.30 to 6.30 shift in early May I was agog with anticipation.
The dawn came and not a sound! I think the entire avian
population had signed the Official Secrets Act or gone to
Brighton for the holidays.
I wonder if you have given your unpleasant RASC drill instructor the
wrong name. There was a Corporal Malcolm Cargill at Maresfield4
in July - September '54 who was involved with basic training.
He was also at Munster for a while.
I remember the Rolls Royce hearse being used for outings.
I was told that it cost £65 and 13 blokes put in a fiver
each to buy it. The engine timing wasn't too good - it always
seemed to back fire when they changed gear passing the orderly room.
Your going into hospital reminded me of the inhumane 'sick parade' rules.
If you wanted to see a doctor you had to get up extra
early, pack all your kit except your small pack, take your kit
and bedding to the stores and then report to the Medical
Reception Station with your small pack containing pyjamas, spare
socks, washing kit,
gym kit and various other odds and ends.
I was susceptible to migraine when I was younger and
managed to develop one on a hot June day.
We were due to go on the Sten range in the afternoon and
I told the weapons instructor that I wouldn't be safe with a
Sten and 28 rounds when I couldn't see properly in the sunlight
and had a banging headache. He agreed, but the only way I could
avoid it was to go sick.
There was no way I had the strength to follow the rules
so I headed straight to MRS.
That hill has never seemed so long.
Anyway, they kept me in hospital for two days and I
avoided a day of 'tactics' in the pouring rain. The highlight of
my stay there was the CO's inspection when we were ordered to
'lie to attention'.
You say Alan Bennett was at Maresfield5. When was that?
I wonder if you remember an entertainment6 put on by the FS
instructors that summer?
One of the items was a chap doing a spoof nature lecture
and had beautiful pictures and recordings of 'birds' seen and
heard around ICC .
The ones I can remember were the Treble Chevroned Red Sash,
Green Crested Tara and the Screaming Arpee.
The caricature of RSM Miller, seconded from the Irish
Guards, was particularly memorable.
The 'history' covered the use of civilian ops in WW2.
I did my MI8 course at the Gloucester Regiment barracks and the
chap running the course, WO 1 Tom (?) Shelton told us the
following story against himself.
He was involved in traffic analysis during the war and at
one time was getting very annoyed with the state of some of the
message forms (I've forgotten the proper name) he was having to
deal with. He complained to his section head because call signs
etc. were not in the correct boxes. He was put in his place
quite smartly when told that the operator was doing a damn fine
job in the circumstances.
He was blind, and still turning in a good workload,
After completing MI8 training, Alan Lawson, Ivor Whitton and myself were
sent to Munster in October '54. We carried the regulation FSMO
(mentioned in Paul's notes) except that we were given pistol
holsters, even though we were never likely to be issued with pistols.
They were very handy, though, to carry a knife, fork and
spoon ready for breakfast at the Hook of Holland.
Our first glimpse of Nelson Barracks was the guard room with the German
eagle over the entrance. (Picture in Birgelenvets gallery).
The next morning we were interviewed by RSM Barnes, who
briefed us on life in Munster, relations with the civilian
population, the standard of behaviour expected of us and details
of the P.A.C. in case we ever needed it. We were also told that
our webbing was the wrong colour for a signals regiment. We had
the onerous task of removing all the beautiful buff 'blanco'
that had been carefully applied over the previous six months and
applying the dull green greasy stuff the signals used.
Then to explore the barracks.
Very solidly built, they were obviously expected to be used by
the Wehrmacht for many years.
The accommodation was warm and comfortable. Washing
facilities good. The showers were designed, in the German
tradition of brotherhood and cleanliness, to accommodate about
30 men at a time in one large room.
The only problem was that the hot water system couldn't cope in
winter, so we were limited to a one hour slot each evening for each
block. No chance of privacy. The recreation block housed the
dining rooms, NAAFI and a WVS club which usually had two permanent staff.
They organised entertainment and outings for the troops.
As expected, the gymnasium was very impressive.
The officers mess was located in a large house across the
road from the barracks and just down the road was an athletics
ground and the Munster Brewery.
It was said that if the wind was blowing the right way on
a warm evening the sentries could get drunk breathing in the
The I Corps troop didn't take time out of the working day for fitness
training, but had a PT parade before breakfast one day each
week. They also had a very good basketball team.
That is, very good compared to other British zone
They made the mistake of inviting a team from our US colleagues
for a game. The opposing team turned out to be full timers
dedicated to the sport and, though I can't remember the final score,
I know we lost by a considerable margin.
The extra mural facilities available were the AKC cinema, Toc H (an
establishment run, I think, by the C of E providing a cafe,
library, rest rooms etc., 'Die Brucke' (the bridge) a centre set
up to foster anglo German relations and of course 'Den Weissen
Lamm'. There is a mention in the history of some animosity
towards the British but this was by no means universal.
I was in the 'Lamm' one evening with a group of I Corps
who were singing away and enjoying themselves.
In a well behaved manner, I must add!
Across the bar was a group of students from Munster
University, also singing merrily.
The two groups settled into a pattern of singing in turn
and enjoying one another's company. Sitting near us were three
elderly (to us) German business men who said they were wine
merchants. At the end of the evening when we were ready to
leave, one of the wine merchants said that he had enjoyed himself
so much that he would settle the bill for both the students and the
It was quite a lot and surprised us all.
Another place of recreation was the Aa See, a large lake set in a park
not too far from the barracks. I was able to walk across it in
the depths of winter, and in the spring kayaks and other water
sports were available. one of our number, Gus, went for a swim
after a drink one night and when he got back to the bank his
uniform was missing.
He had to jog back to barracks in his underwear and was put on a
charge for being improperly dressed.
The uniform was returned later, it had been a prank
rather than a theft.
One sort of relaxed duty we had to do from time to time was the 'secret
waste detail'. This was a high tech operation which involved
a corporal and two others taking material to be disposed of into a
spare room. Each individual document had to be separated, crumpled,
not too tightly, into a ball and placed in a sack. When they had a
good number of sacks they proceeded to the incinerator, which was a
steel oven, about 6 foot cube, set in concrete in an open space
behind the ops block, and in which the documents were burnt.
The ashes had to be raked and pulverised and then
rebagged for disposal. It wasn't an unpleasant duty as we were
able to read signals and documents we wouldn't normally have
access to. Needless to say, the job always took longer than
I didn't realize, when suffering the privations of Maresfield and
Langeleben, that the experience would scar me for life.
I still shave with my towel over my left shoulder because
there was nowhere clean and dry to leave it in the washrooms at
those camps. I remember well having to reserve a time slot for a
bath at 101.
I arrived at 101 in the early summer of '56 and happy memories included
erdbeer mit sahne or spiegelei mit schnitzel (depending on the
time of day) at Frau Grahn's, the fresh country air and the
relaxed attitude to dress code at work.
HQ thought we got a bit too relaxed.
I remember one beautiful summer morning jogging down to
the wagons (to work) dressed in my PT kit only to be bellowed at
by a rather stern SSM who had arrived overnight from Birgelen.
He asked me politely where I was going and when I told him he
suggested, equally politely, that I should return to my room and
dress correctly for the occasion.
Things tightened up for a while but did not upset anyone
too much. I found the work itself interesting but not too
demanding and, not being on a 'watch', was able to work mornings
and evenings and keep the afternoons free.
It was quite a busy summer what with the Cold War, Suez and later
Hungary. Did the 'young Socialists' have their summer camp in
the field across the road when you where there?7
They did in '56 and for the duration of the camp there
was a mysterious tent, well apart from the others but very close
to the wire opposite the wagons.
No youngsters were ever seen near it and the general
feeling was that the occupants were listening to our 'chat'.
About the same time we were observed by 'lost' Soxmis
patrols. Bill Taylor followed one of them but did not make
contact. One night we had communication problems with Räbke.
Next day Pete Ellis followed the line through and in the
woods found the line down, clamp marks on the cable and deep
tyre marks where a vehicle had obviously been parked for some
During the Hungarian invasion
someone chartered a plane to fly along the border and drop
propaganda leaflets on the Russians.
They must have got the weather wrong because quite a few
dropped in the woods near Langeleben. As mentioned elsewhere we
were all on emergency stand-by.
At the same time the CO came up from Birgelen to give us
a pep talk. He told us that we would be expected to do our duty
if the ‘balloon went up’, and Reminded us of 101Troop’s glorious
history. They had
worked up to the last minute in Greece, carrying their radio
sets on their backs as they retreated, and I think he said they
were wiped out in Crete.
We started to believe things were getting serious!
I was very interested to read the
account of the memorable pay parade when everyone contributed to
the cost of the cracked engine block. (I missed that so I
suppose I owe someone a quid.) The background to that event is
as follows. Three
wagons were being delivered from HQ and were driven over two
days through absolutely atrocious winter conditions.
One of the wagons was continually overheating and the
radiator was refilled several times.
The wagons arrived at Langeleben on Christmas Eve or the
day before and were parked up.
The drivers, obviously completely 'shattered', went off
for food and rest. I
was one of the guard commanders over the Christmas holiday and
one of the duties was to check that any vehicle radiators not
filled with antifreeze were drained.
I, and probably the other guard commanders, did the
proper inspection and every vehicle had the 'A' for antifreeze
hanging on the radiator.
No one had realised the rogue vehicle had been refilled
with just water. We
soon found out on the day after the holiday when the engine was
started and the sound of the cylinder block going brought every
one out of the huts.
A thing worth remembering is the
good relations between the American and the British Y service
both at Langeleben and Birgelin.
We had frequent exchange visits and Joe Makepeace in
particular seemed to spend a lot of time on detachment to the US
zone. While I was at
101 we had a visit from an American, Capt. Dooley, who thanked
us for all our efforts and was very complimentary about the
quality of our work. I heard later that when he was advised on
anything new, or when a decision was required, his stock
question was "What are the British doing about it?".
Some memorable characters:-
Captain Clague Quine, the OC before Capt. Davidson.
He had the interests of the troops very much to heart.
I think the snooker table was installed in the
accommodation block during his time. (I had the misfortune to
occupy the bed next to the partition wall of the snooker room
for a while. It was
quite peaceful until the last recreation truck came in from 'slutter
each night, then things changed!) He organised a trip to the VW
factory at Wolfsburg in the summer of '56 and was also keen on
improving anglo-german relations.
He spent his leaves touring Germany in an ex WD Humber,
towing a small horse box which had been converted into a very
The two 'Tug' Wilsons, don't know their first names but they seemed to
spend a lot of time and money together in the corners of various
bars. I think it was
Christmas Eve 1956 (freezing cold, icy roads) I was on the
returning post/ration truck when we picked up a couple of all
night revellers from Konigslutter.
One of them was the taller 'Tug'.
We weren't far away from camp when he suddenly decided
that he would do a handstand on the tailboard.
No one could stop him and amazingly he succeeded and got
back in safely. He
tried again and all went well until he said, "I can do it on one
hand" and immediately disappeared.
Fortunately we were on the last hill up to camp, not
travelling too quickly, and he was not hurt.
We also had a ballet dancer doing national service. He used to do his bar
exercises in the washroom before anyone else was up.
I can’t remember his name and I wonder if he ever became
I think I've rambled enough.
Paul Croxson who served at the same time.
A report published in1963 by Sir Richard
Beeching on modernising the UK rail network
Being ‘Returned to Unit’ hung over the
head of every N.S recruit to the
I. Corps, even worse than being back-squadded.
It was Cpl Corkhill at Blenheim Barracks. You were right!
was there twice. When initially joining the I. Corps and after
failing WOSB (which Michael Frayn passed which rankled with
Bennett for a long time
was called ‘Cloak & Dagger, if my memory serves me. It was part
of the 1954 ‘Corps Day’
Very much so. WE could not understand why
they were allowed there so close to the fence