ON DETACHMENT AT LANGELEBEN – JULY 1957 MIKE
At the beginning of November 1956, most of the February 1956
Army intake to the Joint Services School for Linguists left the
former naval air station at Crail near St. Andrews in Scotland
on the gruelling overnight journey to the Intelligence Corps
depot at Maresfield. Having completed our nine months course in
Russian we then had to endure a desperately uncomfortable winter
in wooden huts, coping with ‘bull’ and fatigues in a ‘you’ve had
it cushy’ regime, before those who had desperately volunteered
for a posting made it in March 1957 via Harwich and the Hook of
Holland to No.1 Wireless Regiment at Birgelen.
What luxurious barracks they were after the
privations of Maresfield with central heating, integral ablution
facilities, constant hot water for baths and showers, good food
and plates that didn’t have to be carried away and washed up in
filthy galvanised iron tubs. Although we were technically ‘Joskins’
- Just Overseas Skins -, we possessed the rather more formidable
cachet of also being ‘Peachy’, by having less than six months to
do. We were very quickly introduced to our duties by a Russian
speaking Australian Captain from the Royal Tank Regiment and
settled down to the comfortable routine of monitoring, operating
a shift system, which after every five days gave three days off,
which were used almost universally for exploring Holland,
where hitch-hiking was a doddle, living was cheap and travel for
NATO servicemen on the excellent railway network was half-price.
Then for some unknown reason, because I was
not actually a particularly proficient voice op, I was selected
at the beginning of July to go with a few others on detachment
for three/four weeks to 101 Wireless Troop at Langeleben. With
so much information filtering back about its hedonistic
delights, I jumped at the chance. Having adopted Royal Signals
flashes and badges, the advance party of four travelled by train
to Brunswick with instructions to install themselves at
Langeleben, then pick up a radio truck plus generator and drive
out towards the East German border to find a suitable location
for good reception. The following Saturday at the crack of dawn,
three of us drove out of the camp at Birgelen in an open Austin
Champ, picked up the autobahn somewhere near Duisberg and
eventually arrived in the centre of Brunswick around 4pm with a
thimbleful of fuel left in the tank. As I could speak some
German I was instructed to accost two passing uniformed members
of the newly formed Bundeswehr, to seek directions to the
barracks of the East Surreys. They saluted me smartly before
pointing the way and amazingly on a Saturday afternoon, we found
a duty storeman to man the pump and fill our tank. Three
quarters of an hour later we arrived at Langeleben. Our advance
party had been accommodated in a large tent next to the MT shed
but not being a Boy Scout by inclination, I managed to find
within the L shaped hutted complex a spare berth in the drivers’
room, which they were quite happy for me to occupy.
Primitive the camp was but amply
compensated for by the cameraderie that existed within the unit.
I was particularly amazed to overhear an I Corps 2nd Lieutenant
put the question to a signalman, one lunchtime in the dining
hall/NAAFI/recreation room/ hairdressing salon: ‘Give me one
good reason why I should lend you five bob?’
We very quickly experienced the exhilaration of the ten minute
evening run at breakneck speed down through the woods to
Königslutter in the back of a three-tonner, surely the tarmac
equivalent of white water rafting or the Cresta Run, to be
deposited unceremoniously outside Schumanns with the rest of the
revellers plus the camp dog, all eager for refreshment and
‘Spanner’ was a dog of uncertain pedigree but had a prodigious
capacity for beer and on entering the bar each evening was
presented with a bowl of the local brew and truly it is the only
time that I ever saw a dog weave and totter slowly from side to
side on its four legs as it crossed the room later in the
evening. After fifty years I can dimly recall pretty girls, a
massive jukebox pumping out Elvis Presley and Little Richard
with Earl Bostic’s caustic version of ‘Flamingo’ lately coming
to mind and in the wee small hours the duty driver tooting the
horn of the pick-up truck, parked dangerously on the bend
outside the pub. On one occasion half-way back to the camp,
there was a frenzied shout of: ‘We’ve left the f……ing dog
behind!’ Furious banging on the roof of the cab eventually
resulted in a rapid return run to Schumanns, the knocking up of
the landlord, and the retrieval of ‘Spanner’ who was lying
comatose under a table in the bar. Following the return to camp
there was the traditional 2am fry-up over the still glowing
solid fuel cooking range.
Our advance party had informed us that
there was good news and even better news.
The good news was that they had found the
perfect spot overlooking the border for the radio wagon, which
was now parked sedately amid shrubbery outside the beer garden
of the Elmhaus Gasthof just off the Schoningen road.
The better news was that the generator had
broken down and was currently being towed back to Birgelen for
repair or replacement and therefore we would be without power
and unable to work for about three days. It truly was an idyllic
spot, accessed by a long straight tree lined avenue and fifty
years on nothing much has changed.
There we stayed, reading, sunbathing,
chatting with the locals, smoking NAAFI Rothmans, Woodbines or
Sobranie Black Russians and drinking beer in the pub garden,
relieved in shifts from time to time by a shuttle run from the
camp. There were boxes of emergency rations and a stove, so we
were able to prepare simple meals and brew up. On the night
shift we slept in the wagon, with flares going up over the other
side of the border – somewhat disconcerting, particularly as our
vehicle had a flat battery and in an emergency would be firmly
rooted to the spot. We even had a visit from an Allied Control
Commission patrol in their naval type uniforms and supplied them
with cups of tea.
Eventually the generator, which had to be
painfully hand cranked, re-appeared and we were able to do some
work. A fortnight or so later the adventure came to an abrupt
end. Early one Saturday morning two of us were being driven in
an Austin 1 tonner to the Elmhaus to relieve the night shift. As
we came round the bend and down the hill to the Rabke
crossroads, an offside wheelhub connected, possibly as the
result of a burst front tyre, with that of the Rabke 3-tonner
coming slowly up the hill in the other direction. We tore out a
concrete post and ended up against a tree buried deep in the
woods on the opposite side of the road, while the other vehicle
had done a sickly 90 degree turn to port and was stranded like a
wounded buffalo in the middle of the road, with its steering
system totally wrecked and spewing out water, oil or brake
fluid. Miraculously injuries were confined to bruises and
scratches, although I still have the scar on my forehead where I
connected with the windscreen. I think a passing German motorist
must have alerted the camp and eventually some very antagonistic
Military Police turned up, together with a heavy recovery
vehicle from Helmstedt and we were ferried back to camp.
Abrasive and unsympathetic interviews with the redcaps followed
and statements were taken but unfortunately it marked the
premature end of our detachment, as about one third of the
camp’s vehicles had effectively been incapacitated. A day or so
later we were dropped off at Königslutter station, changed
trains at Hannover and eventually got back to Birgelen.
We pushed on towards our demob date at the end of August and the
night before our departure had a monumental celebration at the
Burg Hotel in Wassenburg. Mid-way through the following morning
as we were in the last throes of packing, a runner came looking
for Private Miller with an immediate summons to a Regimental
Court of Enquiry. As was the custom of those days, we had all
ceremoniously ‘distressed’ our equipment – best boots had been
reduced to something akin to miners’ footwear, with the rest of
our equipment showing very little evidence of either blanco or
Brasso and I was therefore somewhat apprehensive as I hurried
across to the Regimental Headquarters. The RSM did a double take
as he marched me in before the CO and the enquiry panel to give
my account of how £350 of damage – or thereabouts – had been
caused to two Army vehicles. Struggling to remember the contents
of my statement and being still somewhat jaded from the previous
night’s proceedings, I stumbled through my evidence conscious
all the time that if the enquiry was at all protracted, I was
going to miss the demob truck to the station. I was dismissed
just in time to make it to Dalheim and I never did find out the
result of the enquiry.
There is however a very sad postscript to
this tale, which I only found out about in 2003. Our driver, a
L/Cpl in the Signals, was some time later a very sick ‘flu’
patient and was being taken to hospital on a stretcher in an
Army ambulance, which in the prevailing wintry conditions was
involved in a serious accident. He was severely injured,
suffering spinal damage and died some months afterwards. Not all
beer and skittles at Langeleben.
LANGELEBEN - THE 1960s
ANOTHER EXCERPT FROM THE HISTORY by John Richardson
The 1960s saw
a hardening of Cold War attitudes culminating in the building of
the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Langeleben was of course party
to all this; sometimes rather too close for some peoples'
comfort, such as the time it was realized that Soviet tanks from
26 GTD were moving towards Helmstedt, or the buzzing of the
Räbke DF site by a hostile helicopter.
On a more
personal level, Jim H...... recalls the sight of grown men in
tears on hearing the MoD announcement that National Service was
to be extended in certain key deficiency trades! The last
National Serviceman, Bob C......., left Langy in 1963.
The ops wagon
had by now given way to a permanent
ops block, comprising a number of sectioned off areas, one of
them containing wall to wall electronic equipment. This
windowless dungeon was known as 'the sweat box', and in the days
before compulsory fitness tests, a few shifts in that hell-hole
during warmer months ensured that few people became overweight!
to the American site at Bahdorf (today occupied by the French
Forces) were undertaken in an olive green VW Beetle, driven by
regular and conscript members of the MT, either hell-bent on
beating the record for the fastest round trip, or wishing to
terminate their service prematurely!
was killed or even injured, thinks Jim H......, is a testimony
to the excellent driving skills of the MT.
highlight of the 1960s as far as the inmates were concerned was
the building of long- overdue modern accommodation.
Camp' was built in 1963-4, 2 Squadron, 13 Signal Regiment were
in occupation of what must have been the showpiece barracks of
BAOR. The modern single men's' accommodation is still far better
than that which many soldiers today occupy. Each accommodation
block contained four x four-man rooms, six x NCOs single bunks,
with self contained bathrooms, showers, toilets and drying
and Sergeants' Messes, the only two storey building on camp,
shared a kitchen, but had separate dining rooms and single rooms
for the living-in personnel.
The NAAFI was
light and spacious, with bar, canteen and recreation rooms.
superbly-equipped gymnasium was also provided.
offices were housed in a commodious single storey building, with
the SSM's office on the corner enjoying a view over most of the
A water tank
was provided in the centre of the camp, which was very quickly
turned into a swimming pool - a most popular facility in summer
- and one made use of for ducking Squadron members on birthdays, demob parties, barbecues etc.
To round off the effect, the remaining open spaces were grassed over and
landscaped, creating a real jewel of a camp in a picturesque setting.
The camp also
acquired a name, that of Anderson Barracks after the then Signal
Officer in Chief, Major-General Anderson. However, although this
name appears in official documents, the camp, as before and
after has always just been referred to as 'LANGELEBEN CAMP' or
just plain 'LANGY'!
In 1967 13th
Signal Regiment was reorganized. Those serving with 2 Squadron
at LANGELEBEN were given the option of returning to Birgelen,
transferring to 223 Signal Squadron at Winchester, or remaining
at Langy and joining the new incumbent unit - 225 Signal
225 had had a
chequered history as the 1st British Corps mobile EW squadron.
The Squadron was formed in 1958, serving at Birgelen from June
1958 to June 1964, when it moved to Scharfoldendorf, on the "Ith"
feature south of Hannover. The Squadron took over the dual role of manning the Langy
setroom and retained its mobile role for 1st Corps.
As the garage
space at Langy was so limited, most of the Squadron's vehicles
were housed with the local armoured reconnaissance regiment at
Wolfenbüttel. When Bill F..
moved up from 'Scharf' the regiment
was the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars, and remarks were heard that
this was an education for both sides. Bill lost count of the
number of radios he repaired by changing the green issue
batteries for 'Ever Readies' but it stood him in good stead for
at least one St. Patrick's day in their NAAFI.
with them many things, not all of them bad. One artefact is the
Scharfoldendorf Bell, which used to grace the guardroom at
Scharf, then later outside the Langy Officers' Mess. It now
stands outside the WOs' and Sgts' Mess in Celle. Its gleaming appearance is a tribute to the many
'janker-wallahs' who have polished it over the years!
After his visit to the Königslutter re-union 2007 all the way
from Australia Richie sent a couple of memories, one of which was typical
Cuban missile crisis when at a time of heightened tension, it
was agreed that the site at Langeleben would exchange
information with our US neighbours at USM 43K BAHRDORF on a two hourly basis (normally
we sent courier items daily). This co-operation had been ongoing
since the ear4ly 50’s. (Courier
trips were fought over since not only was it great fun but we
got a decent meal for a change. I had my first EVER steak there!
On one occasion the material was
securely packaged as usual - sealed in a metal box and then
secured inside a green VW Beetle which was then driven at high
speed to Bahrdorf by a member of the MT accompanied by an Int
Corps shift worker, whose attire was the light green fatigues
known as ‘denims’ in which we lived and slept, Approximately 2
hours later a US military vehicle plus driver and accompanied by
2 heavily armed MPs with immaculately polished boots and shining
helmets arrived at Langeleben and presented us with an
impressive secure container which contained (wait for it) a
RECEIPT for the material we had sent them 2 hours previously!
As Editor may I add some comments on the courier ‘business’?
Typical of the British Army was the fact that during the
Fifties the courier team consisted of a driver (usually
mad in my experience) and a member of the Intelligence Corps.
Looking steely eyed – well, as near to it as you could – you
were driven through these narrow lanes at breakneck speed
nursing your sten gun ready to fight off whoever was likely to
attack you. The only problem was that we were never issued with
any ammunition! Ever since then I have looked upon ‘Armed
Guards’ with some suspicion.
We used to have to wrap up the bundles of those green log sheets
and put them into an envelope. This was then made into a parcel
with string and 13/14 knots each of which was sealed with
sealing wax. The magic words “secret XXXXX” were written on the
package which was then re-packaged and sealed just like an
ordinary letter and addressed
”GCHQ”; “NSA” whatever.Ed
story which Richie thought was very amusing and which could
never have happened in the days of National Service commissioned
officers. Capt Dan Bailey did a stint at Langeleben some time
between 1963 -1967 and was for a time billeted in the Naafi
quarters close to the gymnasium. A shift worker on the '5 to
Mid' took a phone call to the effect that 'a Capt Graham' had
arrived at Braunschweig station and required transport to
Langeleben. At that time in the evening the duty driver was
unavailable (usually delivering squaddies to and from the local
and other members of the MT were non compus mentus.
The enterprising shift worker decided that Capt Bailey would be
only too delighted to pick up a fellow officer so he was roused
from his slumbers and dispatched to the Bahnhof in Braunschweig.
Imagine his amazement when he was greeted by Craftsman Braham
(at the reunion recently) who in his inimitable Irish brogue
said "Thanks very much, Sir".
on a purely personal note, Richie said that he thoroughly
enjoyed his time and the job(s)
‘I did in my 2
stints in Langeleben circa March 61 to April 62; then July 63 to
May 67. Work could be very hectic during the
oppositions' exercise periods and one felt a great sense of
achievement in seeing this work translated into the End Product
Reports which went to the International Agencies. Having spent
the last 18 months of my military career visiting the former
Soviet Union and Central Asia plus the Baltic republics and
seeing, in various places, rotting military hardware and nuclear
subs rusting at anchor because the authorities could not afford
the electricity, he had to wonder whether the whole thing i.e.
the Cold War was just a total facade perpetrated by the arms
industries on both sides of the divide. There is no doubt that
the FSU and its allies had the capabilities to inflict huge
damage on the West BUT did it have the INTENT’.
ROBBIE MCCALLUM’S RECOLLECTIONS.
I arrived at Langeleben under something of a cloud. Well, for
me, it was meant to be something of a punishment posting. Not
that I was a bad lad I had just managed to get off on the wrong
foot from the start. This continued as I got off the train at
the wrong station and found myself at Königslutter East. A kind
taxi driver took me up to the Camp whilst the driver was still
waiting for me at the right station. The Adjutant Lt. Aitkin, a
big lad, wasn’t at all happy! (I even dated his daughter for a
while but that is another story to come later).
This so-called punishment posting turned
out to be the best of my Army career.
There was the lovely journey to work in
Wolfenbuttel which was a pleasure and so was going into town
where I met the love of my life but she unfortunately was
already engaged. Females there were though in plenty and being
single and with my own car I was always being asked to make up a
‘foursome’ with some of the Wives and their sisters and friends
who came out to stay. Being a complete gentleman, how could I
My passion was sport and I certainly had
plenty of this with the great Langeleben football team – ‘Brummie’
Andrews, Ian Ellinor, David Whittaker, ‘Gypo’ Brookes just to
name a few. We won the ‘Minor Units Cup’ and with Langeleben
being such a small unit this was a fantastic achievement! I also
played for the local Helmstedt Hockey team where I was so well
liked that they said they intended buying me out of the Army and
finding me a job locally should a posting come through for me
from REME records. Even Our C.O. played for the same team and he
asked REME records if I could stay on. Alas, back came the
Funny moments? There were a lot of them.
One day I got chatting on the phone to the
lady at the Wolfenbuttel telephone exchange and I got round to
asking her out and she asked me back to lunch at her Parents’
house. You can imagine my surprise and that of Capt. Atkins,
when I walked in through the door. (Thanks Wendy). Mind you, I
got my ‘Corporal’ soon after that. Graeme Atkinson (who was
later to become Yeoman) and myself were ‘waitering’ at the
Sergeants’/ Officers’ Mess one evening when they were holding a
Dinner/Dance. After helping out with the left-overs and a lot of
wine we though it would be a good idea to be in first for
breakfast. We got our sleeping bags and camped out in the
Cookhouse. We never made breakfast.
So much for it being a ‘Punishment Posting’, actually it turned
out to be the best ever as far as I was concerned. I met some
fantastic mates. Bob Kay and Ron Mason I still see to this day
and I still see the woman who was the love of my life. She has
been over to see us from Königslutter and there is still a great
friendship after all of those years. We met up again at the last
BRIAN KEIGHTLEY RECALLS HIS TIME AT LANGELEBEN
I joined up as a Regular in Sept '55 and
did my square bashing at Gallowgate Camp up in Richmond. That’s
when I first met Tom Neal. Since I could already read morse at
speeds in excess of 15 words a minute and knew how to use D/F
equipment and had requested the job of a Spec Op (my uncle was
one during the war) I was a bit of a rare bird. One other chap
in our intake by the name of Tony Oram (came from Balham) was in
the same position. We both had learnt our trade at sea, he in
the Merchant Navy and me on a trawler out of Grimsby, my home
Did my trade training at Garats Hay with the rest of the lads
and I seem to remember that Tom used to come home with me at
weekends as his family were serving abroad. We had a chance to
pick our postings of Austria, Cyprus or Germany. We nearly all
Off we went to 1 Wireless Regt. at Birgelen but I didn't last
there very long. Don't know if my reputation regarding the D/F
thing had followed me but after a matter of weeks I was taken
(by SSM Boston) down the road to the local outstation at Effeld(?)
and given a few days of intensive instructions. I was pleased as
I seemed to spend all my time in the setroom on the group RMBB
00201 which churned out five letter groups at a rate of knots
(that brings back memories for me too. Ed). I seem to remember
that it was the only group where you had help resetting your
carbon papers!! After a few shifts down the road I was posted up
to RAF Handorf just outside of Munster and spent a few happy
months there until someone realised that we had an extra D/F Op
which meant our shifts, although erratic, were less than at the
It was between Christmas and New Year '56 when the door of our
billet was opened with a hell of a crash and there stood SSM
Boston. This guy was beginning to haunt me or so I thought.
“Pack your kit Sig. Keightley, you're coming with me” he said,
or shouted; he never seemed to converse in an ordinary tone,
even on the phone! I did not dare ask ‘where to?’ so I got my
gear together at speed - as we could do in those days! Within an
hour we were off, the Cpl i/c of our detachment was down the hut
so, by the time he got back, I'd gone. I got into the back of a
jeep with the SSM and a driver and off we went. I plucked up
enough courage to ask where we were going and I was told ‘101
Wireless Troop!’ I had no idea who the hell they were but he did
condescend to tell me that ‘our destination was Langeleben’.
After what seemed a life time we finally arrived at the place I
was to call ‘home’ 'till Sept '58.
Yep, the first few nights were in tents but, strange to say, the
cold never bothered me. After several trips to Norway Coast,
Iceland and the White Sea in winter before I joined up it just
seemed about the same. I managed to get hold of a pair of
mutlooks (eskimo boots) and had long johns sent from home which
made life quite bearable! Within a day of my arriving I was
ensconced at Rabke and also promoted to L/Cpl (paid) but I never
did find out why. The only time that I ventured into the
R/Wagons was to stand in for the shift Cpl who had gone on leave
or who wasn't available. A good job that it was only for a short
while as I hadn't got a clue as to how things worked! I remember
a few of the names of A Watch, where are you Geoff Pearce, Eggy
Beavers, Jock Cunnion and Len Hill? I remember those lads from
over 50 years ago!!
I found the social life down town was very much to my liking.
When home spent all my time at local dance halls so I spent my
time in town at the D/Haus. Had a long liaison with a young lady
called Eva who lived halfway down Shoppenstederstrasse (can't
really spell it like that can they?) About that time I met Pete
Ellis with whom I keep in touch to this day. Also, I remember
the evening when we thought the Reds were about to invade and we
all got ready to leg it! The sad time when one of the drivers
lost both legs going to Rabke, I believe he was from Northern
Ireland; it shook us all up. Spent more than a few
evenings/nights down Rabke thinking that I was surrounded by the
enemy and bunged those five rounds in the mag of that trusty
303!! Remember other long 5 to mids when female company used to
visit me from 'slutter, all that way on a bloody bike!!
Refused Christmas leave and probably had the best time of my
life, the pics of Rabke hut and A watch bar are from my
collection. Strange thing, when I finally went on leave, I did a
couple of days at the Regt on D/F Control and went on leave with
a bloody heavy bit of radio kit to deliver to Garats Hay and was
given two extra days. On my return I went straight back to Langy,
but never did find out who I had to thank for that!
I finished off my service at Langy, as I say, in Sept '58 and
got sent to Saighton Camp in Chester for demob.