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Chapter 9
 

SOME GOLDEN MEMORIES OF MY LANGELEBEN YEARS
By Dennis Weir

Introduction

Since I arrived in Langeleben in 1968 as an 18 year old signalman and left in 1983 on promotion to W01, with an appearance in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in the pipeline, one could safely say that Langeleben played a very major part in my 37 year Regular Army career.  But I do, of course, exaggerate when I suggest that I was in Langeleben from 1968 to 1983.  My service there was not continuous, but it did span a total of eight years, all of which are filled with golden memories.

(Note – I apologize for the quality of the photos.  They were taken long before digital cameras arrived)

 1968 at 225 Signal Squadron

The scene which greeted the small group of us who arrived in Königslutter on 10 January 1968 could have been taken from the front of any quality Christmas card.  As we made our way from the Bahnhof, through the town and then up through the forest to the camp, we were enchanted and amazed by the winter wonderland which surrounded us.  It was certainly a far cry from the weather of Singapore which some of us had only recently left behind.

 Having arrived at Langeleben, the next thing which impressed us enormously was the quality of the soldiers’ accommodation.  Allocated a bed space in a five man room in Block 8, I was delighted with my built-in wardrobes and particularly pleased with the green upholstered headrest at the top of my bed.  Sinks and a drying cupboard ‘en-suite’ were something unheard of in standard soldiers’ accommodation of the 1960’s.  The shower room was first class and the modern bathrooms with their designer shaped bathtubs were almost too much to believe.

 I was not given too much time to settle into my new luxury accommodation, as, within an hour of arrival, I was given my marching orders to report to the Naafi bar, preparatory to departure on my first night out in Königslutter.  At eighteen years of age, I was very much ‘the new kid on the block’, but had served in Singapore with older hands like Pete Westwell, Rock Mead and Max Wilson and they were all keen to show me what awaited me in Germany.

 I will never forget that first night in Grosser Schumann’s, not least as it marked my first steps on the road to becoming a reasonably accomplished German linguist.  I had done three years German at school to O-Level standard and was quickly amazing the Schumann’s barmaid with my very precise school boy German.  I have to admit that she soon became more bored than impressed, as it took me about ten minutes to formulate the most simple sentence.  I learned a lesson from that experience over the next few months, sacrificing accuracy for speed to gain a colloquial knowledge of the language, before reapplying myself to the grammar to polish up my act.  The other lesson, that I learnt that night, was that German Pilsener is easier to drink in large quantities than English beer, but no less strong! It was then a somewhat jaded and hung over Signalman Weir who paraded outside SSM Blackburn’s office at 225 Signal Squadron at 0830 on 11 January. 

I was a Class 2 Spec Op during this first tour in Langeleben and my first few months’ employment was spent doing HF collection in setroom.  I recall that there were usually three of us on the non-voice HF team.  I believe my supervisor was Cpl Terry Welsh.  I cannot recall which nets we were supposed to cover, but I do remember that there was a siemens printer in one corner of the setroom which was used to task the 13 Sigs controlled HF DF baseline.  I am convinced that every task, that I ever submitted, came back with the same very general result ‘General Area SW Luckenwalde, East Germany’.

 We shared that setroom with the VHF voice team and those ‘Russian Linguists’ were like demigods in my young impressionable eyes.  I remember one of the them was a Royal Signals voice op called Ernie Dixon who used to log his traffic in black fountain pen! Another of them was an Int Corps,Corporal called Mick Shayle who was also something of a folk singer, as I recall.  Other linguists there at the time were Cpl Bill Hogg, who is still a close friend to this day, Cpl Pete Waller and WO1 Pete Radnedge who, I recall was in charge of transcription.

Ernie Dixon’s other claim to fame was that he was, I believe, the very first Moufflon Major – the man responsible for handling Trotzky, on formal parades.

     225                                 trotsky
Ernie Dixon parades with the Moufflon                       Trotsky looking for a banana or a cigarette butt.

Much has been reported about Trotzky, but those of us who knew him personally – though not of course in the biblical sense – would point out that he was not a Moufflon, but just a common or garden ram.  He was also an evil tempered beast and morning waste burning in the middle of ‘his’ compound could be a hairy experience. Finally there remain some grave doubts about his sexuality - when Ken Wilford and I took him across to the antenna field early one morning to give him a run amongst the goats, which were housed there, he reserved his amorous interest solely for the billy goats!

 The real live moufflon did not survive for long, possibly due to his aggressive habits and possibly due to the fact that he was fed on a diet of bananas and cigarette butts, but the legend of the moufflon survives to this day.  245 Signal Squadron of 14th Signal Regiment, which traces its history back to 1 Squadron 14th Signal Regiment and from there back to 225 Signal Squadron, maintains the moufflon emblem as its official insignia.

 In the early Spring of that, my first year in Langeleben, the Squadron was visited by a ‘Recruiting Team’ from the Language School in UK whose task was to identify suitable candidates for Russian Language training.  All those spec ops and analysts, who were interested in undergoing such training, were given an aptitude test, followed by a brief interview.  I believe a total of eight of us were selected and some of those, namely Mick Green, Robbie Seaword, Pete Westwell, Ken Wilford and Rock Mead remain good friends to this day. 

 We were to depart for the language training in UK at the end of August, but before that there was much to be enjoyed in Langeleben and the surrounding area.

 I did not spend too much time doing the spec op thing on shift, which is just as well, as I suspect that we were producing very little of value, that was not being covered at Birgelin or by the US sites elsewhere.  By the time Spring had arrived and the snow had melted, I was moved to a very ‘cushy’ little job as the courier.  My daily task was to bag-up the classified material for dispatch to our customers and deliver it to the post office at Wolfenbuettel for onward movement through the RE Postal and Courier system.  I would then return with the in-coming courier, book it into the register and distribute it.  My supervisor on this task was a genial Staff Sergeant from the Isle of Man by the name of Bill (Wingnut) Irving.  He left me very much to my own devices and I was able to manage my own time freely.  I even had my own office! I have lovely memories of long Naafi breaks at Northampton Barracks, Wolfenbuettel and pleasant daily drives through the Reitlingstal, usually being chauffeured by Ken Wilford.

 Socially, life in Königslutter could hardly have been better.  By this time I had left the big boys to their heavy drinking habits and graduated to a younger ‘trendier’ group which was mixture of German ‘boys and girls’, including Georgie Berg, whom we still see to this day,  and the likes of Phil Cork, Ken Wilford and myself.  It was a very pleasant and effective way to learn the German language and something of the German way of life.  There was a good disco in Königslutter, and an even better one still in Helmstedt.  We would spend late evenings playing ‘Chicago’ dice in Ferdie’s place on the Marktplatz  (The same family now owns the Café am Markt), before climbing into the late night transport back to camp.  Other bars which took a lot of our hard earned Deutschmarks were the Amtsgericht, Grosse Schumanns (Zur Traube), Kleine Schumanns, Sabrina’s and the Deutsches Haus, not to mention the Middle Gezzie in Lelm.

 My regular evening excursions to Königslutter ‘to improve my German’ very nearly got me jailed in the Spring of 1968 in what I will always remember as the ‘Case of the German Flag’. 

 When a German national flag disappeared overnight from a flagpole outside the Kinderheim suspicion fell, not surprisingly, on the British soldiers of the neighbouring Langeleben Camp. When the authorities then approached the ‘powers that be’ in the Camp, some very high quality detective work was undertaken by the Sergeant Major.  He quickly established that only three soldiers had booked out of camp that night so the culprit must be one of them.  The three accused were Steve Keal, Max Wilson and I.  We made fruitless attempts to point out to the Sergeant Major that only an idiot would formally book out of camp with the nefarious intention of stealing a flag from the Kinderheim, since there was a perfectly accessible enormous hole in the back fence.  We were ‘banged to rights’, the evidence was irrefutable (despite a thorough search of our rooms and lockers producing no tangible evidence) and we were to be formally charged at 0830 the following morning.  This is when the law of the jungle thankfully clicked in.  Those readers who served at Langeleben at that time will remember that Steve Keal was a ‘big lad’ with a temperament just occasionally disposed to violence (though only when severely provoked, you understand). Max Wilson was no lightweight either.  Steve and Max, stoutly supported by all eleven stone of my good self, conducted our own investigation into who might have stolen the flag.  Friends and allies within the camp pointed fingers at one or two likely candidates and some ‘brisk and vigorous’ questioning by Steve and Max soon produced a confession.  A subsequent search of a locker produced the tangible evidence and two members of B Troop (no further names are required) spent the next seven days in a small uninviting room in the Wolfenbuettel Northampton Barracks guard room. Our good names were cleared and we did, of course, receive an apology from the Sergeant Major………well not really !!!!!!

 A more enjoyable and memorable highlight of that first year in Langeleben was an adventurous training sailing trip from Kiel.  At that time in Langeleben, there was a dear old Cavalry Major whose name I believe was Major Airey.  He took a group of about six of us out on the Royal Signals yacht, Petasus, and we spent a pleasant week touring the Danish islands.  I believe Chris Molesley, now resident in New Zealand, was one of the other spec ops on that trip.

 Other sporting activity in 1968 in Langeleben was for me limited to a very odd appearance in goal for the Squadron, when the regular keeper, Lou Disney REME, was not available.  We also played at least one game of Rugby away to the Gunners at Hildesheim and I recall a young Corporal Vernon Merrick playing at scrum-half that day. The Langeleben gym offered good badminton and table-tennis facilities and I recall that Dave Twigg helped us integrate further into the local community by arranging for us to be thrashed by the locals on a regular basis.

 So the Spring of 1968 turned into Summer and was a non-stop cycle of Deutsch, Drinking, Dice and Dancing – interrupted only occasionally by some limited work in the tech block.  Even military training was a pleasure that year, as it was all completed on the shores of the Moellner See in Schleswig-Holstein, as part of the Squadron’s annual Summer Camp.

 I am fairly sure that I never deployed on any form of mobile operation/exercise out of Langeleben during that first tour. (Note –some cynical old mates will claim that that fact set a pattern for all the subsequent years of my service at Langeleben -That is not strictly true).

 Those of us selected to return to UK for language training were becoming reluctant to leave Langeleben, but our motivation for a UK tour was given an extra impetus when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia on the night before our scheduled departure.

 1969-1972 at 225 Signal Squadron

 My fellow newly trained linguists and I returned from UK to Langeleben in August 1969.   We half expected to pick up on the same ‘life of Reilly’ which we had left behind the previous August, but this was not to be the case for several reasons.

 More than half of us had got married during our UK language courses and, whilst we initially returned to Germany unaccompanied, we were soon busy finding private accommodation in Wolfenbuettel – but more of that later.

 We were now all ‘linguists’ and thus highly employable on shift work in the block.  No more sinecures like courier duties – we were now on 24 hour shift work.

 There had been a regime change amongst the personnel who ran the operations in the tech block.  Most significantly WO2 Lyn Baker Int Corps had left and had been replaced by WO2 (Supvr Radio) Ian (Stroppy) Wilson.  Now, I would not wish to speak badly of dear old Stroppy, but am obliged to identify that his style of leadership was different to that which I had experienced in Langeleben in 1968 and he did not seem to have too much sympathy or appreciation for this newly arrived bunch of Royal Signals Voice Ops (Note – we were still Spec Ops with a language at that point, as the new trade had not been introduced.)

We did manage to engineer some time off during that early Autumn of 1969 and we revisited old haunts and old friends in Königslutter, but reality soon set in and the search for married accommodation in Wolfenbuettel intensified. 

 I recall that only Pete Westwell had the seniority and points to get a married quarter straightaway.  The rest of us were obliged to find private accommodation, the standard of which varied enormously and was, to a great extent, a matter of luck.

 My wife Jennifer and I found a perfectly acceptable modern, albeit small flat, It was a bed-sit with a bed that folded out of the wall and had a tiny kitchen and even tinier shower/toilet but it was warm, cheap and, perhaps most importantly, only 20 minutes walk away from the quarters and thus the transport pick-up and drop-off points.  Jennifer appreciated the fact that it was only half an hour’s walk from the Naafi.  None of us had a car in those days.

 Other couples who were friends of ours, like John and Judith Neal and Robbie and Sue Seaword had tiny adjoining flats in a rambling old house in Halschtersche Strasse – try saying that after a gallon of pils. That house was a long cold walk away from the transport and the Naafi.

 Mick Green, on the other hand, landed squarely on his feet with regard to the quality of the private accommodation which he and his wife Lin were able to occupy.  They were lucky enough to house-sit for an affluent couple who were in the habit of spending the long cold German winter in Tenerife.  It was a lovely house and the whole gang of us spent a brilliant 1969 Christmas Eve there.

 I remember that Christmas of 1969 for a number of reasons; some positive and some negative.  On the down side, I was involved in a potentially serious accident in the Reitlingstal when the Morris Traveller, taking us off the mid-shift, encountered the 39 seater bus, bringing in the day workers.  The driver, John Jeremiah, managed to avoid the bus, but not the roadside ditch and it is still a source of amazement to me that my co-passenger, Colin May, managed to get out of the back of that two door vehicle, before I did, although I was sitting in the front!

 The other factor which might have spoiled my first married Christmas in Germany, had I let it, involved promotion. The powers that be had finally seen fit to recognise the linguistic achievements of our group of signalmen by awarding us all our first stripe with effect from 24 December.  All that is, except me, because mine was held back for a further week, by dear old Stroppy Wilson (or so I am led to believe) – ‘to teach me some humility’.

 On the plus side, it was a brilliant Christmas.  We were all relatively newly wed.  We had no kids.  We did not have lots of cash, but we had sufficient to allow us to party and we were a great team of mates.  It was cold, indeed very cold.  I recall on Boxing Day walking ten minutes to a pub in Wolfenbuettel in a temperature of 29 degrees below - That is cold, nostril freezingly, specs frostingly cold!

 There were of course no interruptions to the shift cycle over Christmas and New Year and on into the remainder of that winter and I consider myself fortunate that I only had to walk twenty minutes to catch the shift bus on those very icy winters nights.

 By the time that cold Winter of 69/70 ended we had all gathered together enough points to be allocated married quarters and were soon established in Danziger Strasse, Samlandweg, Schweidnitzer Strasse and the like.  An amazing coincidence is the fact that the married quarter flat which Jennifer and I occupied for the next two years, in Danziger Strasse, is the very same one which is now occupied privately by John and Ingrid Richardson.

 Our contact with Langeleben was now purely for work purposes.  We seldom got a chance to visit Königslutter.  It was too far to take taxis from Wolfenbuettel and, anyway, we were building a new circle of friends and contacts in the Braunschweig area.  Notwithstanding that, I believe that memories of being a ‘pad’ in Wolfenbuettel or Braunschweig are relevant to the history of Langeleben, as we were still very much part of the fabric of the camp and the unit.

 One of best and most positive moves I ever made was to join Post SV Blau-Gelb Rugby Club.  Robbie Seaword and I had become keen regular Rugby players during our long language course in the UK and were keen to play more often than the odd fixture available for 225 Signal Squadron.  We heard that there was a German club in Braunschweig and made it our business to track down its location and committee.  In the event this was easier than we expected, as the club’s ground and bar were in the Southern suburbs of Braunschweig on a direct bus route from Wolfenbuettel, indeed not very far from the Officers’ and Seniors Married Quarters in Boelsche Strasse and Kopernikus Strasse respectively.  The German members of the Rugby Club made us very welcome and were always ready to give us a lift home.  As the British membership expanded over subsequent years, they were also known to drive to Langeleben to pick up players.  Robbie and I played regularly for Blau-Gelb as did Graham Atkinson, a technician corporal, who I believe was later commissioned.  He was a superb player, much better than the journeymen ‘triers’ who were Robbie and I.  Mick Green would also play for the club from time to time, as would John Neal and even Peter Welch. I made many good German friends during those early seventies years, playing Rugby in Braunschweig and those friendships were to be very successfully resurrected in the early eighties when I returned to Langeleben – but more of that later.

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Young Weir playing Scrum Half for 225 against Braunschweig in 1971

Friday nights and Sunday lunchtimes in Wolfenbuettel were spent in the ‘Schultheiss’ which was later to become an Italian restaurant/bar called La Toscana.  We used the Schultheiss and the Tankies used the Danziger Eck.  This unwritten rule kept the fighting down to a minimum.

 Friday nights were poker nights in the Schultheiss, or at least they were for those with the nerves and funds to gamble.  I would simply sit there in amazement   and, in some cases, shock and horror at the sums of money which would change hands.  Names which come to mind from that period are Steve Hodgson, who was a particularly proficient poker player, Ian Ellinor, who also knew what he was doing. and a cook lance corporal, called Scouse, who might have been better off staying at home.

 Sunday domino games were far less severe as far as money was concerned, but they did tend to last a little too long, resulting in many a Sunday lunch being given to the proverbial dog.  I even remember one incident when one individual, who was married to a German girl, suffered the embarrassment of her bringing in his Sunday lunch on a tray and plonking it angrily in front of him in the pub.  I was always careful to get home reasonably close to deadline after that.

 A further positive social development in Wolfenbuettel in 1970 was the setting up of the Wolfenbuettel Garrison Theatre Club.  The driving force behind this was the Paymaster of 17/21st Lancers who was called Dick Pincott (apologies for spelling after all these years). It was an interesting, if not unexpected phenomenon, that virtually all the Lancers members of the Theatre Club were officers, whilst the Langeleben, 225 Signal Squadron membership, was predominantly  made up of Wolfenbuettel based Junior NCO’s and their wives. Two notable exceptions to this were WO1 John Lovatt, MBE and SSgt Pete Welch, both absolutely top notch characters, as were their wives, Ann and Wendy. Whatever! The social mixture in that theatre club, with Mick Green and myself as the barmen, worked very well and we enjoyed two very fine years as members, the highlight of which was a production of ‘Simon and Laura’ in the Lessing Theater in Wolfenbuettel. I wonder if Sue Seaword can still remember her one line – ‘Dinner is served’.

 dw2

Behind the bar of the Theatre Club (drinking the profits)

 More discerning readers will have noted that I have, thus far, devoted most of this account of the period 1969-1972 to the social and sporting side of life and said very little about operations both in and deployed from Langeleben.

 We did go on shift on a regular basis – Evenings, Days, Mids, Sleep Day and Day Off was the system we worked.  The turn around between Evenings and Days was particularly hard, as we had to travel home to Wolfenbuettel between the shifts.  The Days/Mids switch around was equally tiring for the same reason.  But we soldiered on and managed to catch a few hours sleep on the midshift to lighten the load on our minds and bodies.  Yes, we did sleep on mids, believe it or not, but we always ensured that at least one of the four of us remained awake, just in case 3 Shock Army tried to take us by surprise.

 By this time we were just about all JNCO’s and doing Orderly Corporal was another pain, if you were a shiftworker. It was Squadron policy that you could not do this duty and work a shift at the same time.  This meant of course, that every duty fell on your day off, effectively on your weekend.  I remember trying to explain to SSM Gordon Penman that it might be considered unfair that my duty was always on my ‘weekend’, whilst day workers only did a weekend duty every six months or so.  Gordon Penman, God bless him, consulted the duty roster, looked at me quizzically and announced, in his strong Geordie accent – ‘Why Corporal Weir, your next Duty is on a Thursday, that is not a weekend’.  I tried once more to explain why Thursday could be seen as a shift worker’s Sunday, but this was all too much for him to grasp.

 I wrote earlier in my account that I could not recall ever deploying on exercise from Langeleben during my 1968 tour.  This was all to change during the 1969-1972 period, as we linguists were designated as members of the crews of 225 Signal Squadron’s VHF DF vehicles.

 Most of our deployments would be non-tactical to pre-recced sites along the Inner German Border where we would try to use our new expensive Telegon equipment to good intelligence effect.  In reality, I only ever remember getting decent results against the HQ 3 Shock Army and 47 GTD VHF morse nets which used to blast out at about strength 10’s for hours on end. Any signal weaker than that was largely inaudible on our 40 foot mast mounted Adcock antenna, and, even if we could hear something, the quality of the bearing was mediocre to say the least.

 dw3

The VHF DF vehicles

 (L-R Ian Ellinor, Rock Mead, Chris Mosely, Mike Rogers, Clive Sanders and Dennis (Buddy Holly) Weir)

 I remember one amusing incident from one such deployment along the IGB to a small village called Eischott.  As the crew linguist, I always worked long days and was thus stood down by 1800hrs.  On one November evening, I completed my shift and headed for the village to complete my ablutions and to enjoy a currywurst, washed down with something appropriate.  I left at the Det, my Det Commander, Jock Robertson and a Spec Op by the name of Eddy Bellerby.  When I emerged from the local Gasthaus several beers and several hours later, a thick fog had descended over that part of Lower Saxony.  Now those of you with even the same basic knowledge of DF principles, as I have, will know that the ideal site for a DF detachment is in the middle of a large open space.  A single landrover and its supporting trailer are not easy to find in the middle of a large open space when that space is covered by the thickest fog in Christendom and it was some considerable time before Eddy Bellerby finally heard my desperate cries for help, as I wandered around in ever decreasing circles, occasionally falling into water-filled ditches.

 My favourite and, without doubt, most often recounted ‘exercise’ story concerns the 1970 World Cup.  (Aplogies in advance to all those of you who have heard it a hundred times before). 

 HQ 1 BR Corps had cleverly timed Ex SUMMER SALES to take place at exactly the same time as the 1970 Mexico World Cup.  Clive Sanders, Stu Birchall and I formed the crew of a VHF detachment and were deployed to the Oderwald feature South West of Wolfenbuettel. 

 SUMMER SALES was of course a tactical exercise, so the instruction was that there were to be no illicit trips to pubs to catch up with the football.  We stuck this out for a week or so until the Sunday of the England v Germany quarter final match came around.  We still had no intention of breaking any exercise rules, but that Sunday morning we got into conversation with some German lads who were out for a walk in the woods.  They convinced us that a trip to the village to watch the match could be accomplished without any problem, as they would pick us up in their vehicle and drop us back to our detachment immediately after the game.

 At the appointed time, we were duly picked up by our new German friends and ferried to the local pub in the village of Gross Steimke. The pub was extremely busy, but Clive and I were made very welcome and, having stashed our rifles under a nearby table, we found ourselves sitting at the bar, awaiting kick-off.  England were 2-0 up at half time and the beers were on me.  I was being extremely generous and expansive, but all that disappeared to nothing when England eventually lost 3-2.  No matter we were among friends and the beers continued to flow.  We left the bar and adjourned to a table in the corner of the pub, where we were surrounded by a large group of uniformed German firemen.

 I was just on the point of swapping my combat jacket for a fire brigade tunic when the door opened and in walked Stroppy Wilson, the SSM, the Adjutant (Tom Swann as I recall) and the OC.  Without seeing us in the corner, they made their way to the bar and ordered a round of beers, settling down on to bar stools for a session.  This was, of course to be our saving grace.  They could hardly charge us for doing exactly what they were doing.  Eventually we were spotted by the SSM who quietly came across to the table and suggested that it might be a good idea for us to leave.  We acknowledged the wisdom of this advice and left for the pub next door with our new German friends.  (I crept back into the first pub half an hour later to retrieve our guns !!!!).  An unforgettable incident, but one which our careers survived, as both Clive and I were promoted to full Corporal shortly after that.

 For Jennifer and me the undoubted highlight of our tour in 225 Signal Squadron was the birth of our daughter Stephanie in April 1971, but even that deeply personal event could not avoid the ‘Stroppy’ factor.  Being something of a barrack room lawyer, I had pointed out to Stroppy that I was not obliged to work night shifts during the last weeks of my wife’s confinement.  This did not please him one bit, but he accepted it and put me on days.  Jenny was admitted routinely to BMH Hanover on a Monday morning check-up visit as it was envisaged that the birth was due within the next couple of days. I made the mistake of mentioning this to Stroppy and he promptly banged me on to two mid shifts with the rationale that Jenny was now in safe hands and my presence at home was no longer required.  Thus it was, that I was actually on nights at Langeleben when our daughter came into this world. 

 Shortly after the birth (ten days actually), I departed for UK on my A1 Spec Op course along with my best pal, Mick Green.  Jenny was not impressed at being left alone with a ten day old baby, but thankfully survived the experience and emerged stronger for it.

Most of our gang became parents during that tour in Langeleben and Wolfenbuttel and we were all kept fairly busy with assorted parental duties, such as pushing prams, baby sitting and changing nappies. 

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A proud dad on his way to the Toc H for the Sunday papers

But we still found time to maintain our social and sporting commitments; at the Theatre Club, on the Rugby pitch and in the Schultheiss bar. We even went to work on weekdays, although I believe I had graduated to day working transcriber by this time.

 It was a remarkable couple of years, during which I learned to drive, honed my German and Russian skills, earned my first and second stripes and last but not least became a dad.  Many wonderful friendships were forged in the face of the adversity, represented by private accommodation, Stroppy, cold damp DF detachments and endless trips up and down the Reitlingstal.  Many of those friendships remain close to this day particularly with Mick Green, John Neal and Robbie Seaword.  Many others remain in touch via Christmas card, or the odd appearance at Langeleben Reunions.  They all have a place in our fondest memories – even dear old Stroppy.

 I left Langeleben on posting to Berlin in June 1972, shortly after Leeds United finally managed to win an FA Cup.  I was to return seven years later, but those experiences can form a whole ‘nother’ chapter, as our American friends would say.

 1979-1983 in 1 Squadron, 14th Signal Regiment(EW)

I returned to Langeleben in August 1979 as a newly promoted WO2 (EWOp).   Although I was obviously aware that 225 Signal Squadron was no more and that I was now part of the Army’s new EW Regiment, nothing much seemed to have altered in the routine of Langeleben.  We still manned the setroom on a 24 hrs / 365 days per year basis.  We still had the same VHF DF detachments, although we had acquired some more VHF intercept vehicles and 70ft masts.  Constant references were made to ‘The Regiment’ and to ‘Scheuen’, but not a great deal seemed to have changed.  True, we were expected to travel to Scheuen occasionally, if only to play Rugby or to attend Mess Meetings, but in general we were initially left to get on with our old task of watching the Russian hordes across the IGB.  I was now employed once again as a Russian voice transcriber, working days at the same desk which I had vacated as a Corporal seven years earlier.

 My status was now ‘married unaccompanied’ and I soon settled into a very comfortable life in the Sergeants’ Mess, where we were ‘organized’ and ‘commanded’ by Ilona Hauxwell, the Mess Manageress, and ‘pampered’ and ‘spoilt’ by Emmy Sturm, the chambermaid. 

 The mess was full of people with a similar ‘married unaccompanied’ status to my own.  My room neighbours included WO2 Tony Buttery, WO2 Neil Dye, WO2 Dave Liddell, SSgt Mick Sposito, WO1 Pete Smith, SSgt Garry Haynes and my dear old mate WO2 Arthur Henderson, with whom I enjoyed many a good ‘run ashore’ to the bright lights of Königslutter. Later we would be joined in the Sgts Mess by that great character Arthur Verity and by my fellow Russian Interpreter John Richardson (Note – John reports extensively on this period of Langeleben in his contribution at Ch 8 of this History Project)

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Laurie Storey, Arthur Henderson and Pete Smith prepare to leave a snowy Langeleben behind and go home for Christmas 1980

 Whilst Ilona Hauxwell ensures that they do in fact leave

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1 Squadron, Sgts Mess had a huge membership, including at least fifteen Warrant Officers.  The man responsible for holding the whole of this ‘multi-ego’ Sgts Mess together was the Squadron Sergeant Major, WO2 Bernie Neillings, and he did so very effectively.  I have served with many good sergeant majors, who were newcomers to the world of Sigint and EW, but none was better at handling us than Bernie.  He was enormously popular with all ranks of the Squadron, not because he was slack, but because he was fair, yet firm and understood the foibles of those weird Sigint specialists. It is tremendous news that he has now begun to attend Langeleben Reunions – no-one is more worthy of membership of our Branch.

 Yes, life in the Langeleben Sergeants’ Mess was a very nice existence in the early eighties.  I was lucky enough to have one of the larger rooms.  The food was tremendous and those of us, who lived in, did not have far to go to get a beer. 

 We made regular excursions to Königslutter and I could often be found in Braunschweig at the weekends with my Rugby pals.   I had resurrected my connections at Blau-Gelb Rugby Club and was now the Head Coach.

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This picture shows the Blau-Gelb team in probably 1982.  Second from the right in the front row (kneeling) is Captain Roy Pugh  Int Corps, a former OC Alpha Troop and a wonderful man who was sadly killed in the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook disaster.

 The annual Christmas Draw was always a spectacular success, as each year’s President of the Draw Committee attempted to outdo his predecessor.  I remember Geoff Cromack winning a car in 1979 when Pete Derrick was PDC and then promptly winning a couple of very high value prizes the following year, when I was PDC.

 Even the routine Mess social functions were classics and one particular night brings to mind an anecdote which I hope my best friend will forgive me for recounting.

 It was a ‘Golden Oldies’ disco night and the DJ, a squaddie from Hildesheim, was giving away prizes for people who could quickly identify bands from the opening bars of their hits.  I had already won one prize, so decided to give someone else a chance when the DJ put on ‘Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes’.  Mick Green’s wife, Lin, immediately began to shout at him that it was ‘Jefferson Aeroplane’ and that he should rush up and claim the prize.  I was still quietly pointing out that it was, in fact, Edison Lighthouse, as Mick jumped to his feet, rushed across the dance floor, stumbled and drove all of his considerable sixteen stone frame into the disco equipment.  The ensuing light show, as gas filled tubes and multi-coloured light bulbs exploded, was the optical highlight of the evening. It was also the end of the evening as the disco equipment was a complete write off.  I still like to remind Mick and, indeed, Lin when I see her, that it was, in fact, Edison Lighthouse.

 Another on-going highlight of mess life in Langeleben were the very frequent games of ‘Bridge’ I am still convinced that Shug Murphy and I and/or Brian Boyle and I, won enough draw tickets off Vern Merrick and his poor unfortunate partner, Pete Derrick,  (Pete was unfortunate because Vern never knew when to say ‘pass’) to have won every prize in every annual draw. 

 Once again, I seem to be devoting all of my reminiscences to social events, rather than to the work we carried out in Langeleben, so let me now describe the evolution of Exercises SOUR MASH and WHITE LIGHTNING which were to keep me in gainful, rewarding and interesting employment for about two and a half years.  

 Military exercises can simulate most things, but one of the things that was particularly hard to do was to simulate the voice traffic which we would have encountered in 1 Squadron, 14 Signal Regiment, if the Russians had ever crossed the IGB in a major act of aggression. 

 At some stage, probably in 1979, some of the 1 Squadron hierarchy, including, I suspect, Vern Merrick and possibly Chris Harrison, came up with the idea of using some of the Squadron’s Russian linguists to ‘play act’ some typical military voice traffic on to cassette.  Their original idea was Ex LOVELY SPEAKER and I believe it consisted of something like 12 cassettes, all recorded in a monotone, with no animation or feeling whatsoever, by Sgt Jos Medcalfe.  Out of LOVELY SPEAKER evolved the first iteration of SOUR MASH and in January 1980 I was tasked to turn SOUR MASH into an exercise that would last a week. 

 The production team consisted of SSGT Geoff Cromack and myself and we spent the best part of three months writing hundreds of scripted traffic logs, reflecting a major incursion across the border by 3 Shock Army.  Then came the time to commit all this traffic to magnetic tape.  Having experienced the monotonous, flat, unanimated traffic of LOVELY SPEAKER we decided that we must make an effort to inject some life into the scenario, so we called in help from all the other linguists, such as Brian Ward, Vern Merrick, Pete Derrick, Pete Manger and last but not least Robbie Seaword.  Robbie would turn up for recording sessions with a hold-all which contained, a piece of vacuum hose, a kettle, a bucket and sundry other bits and pieces.  He would then have the rest of us in complete stitches, as he used all these various bits of equipment to produce a different voice signature for each callsign as it became active. Simple, but brilliantly effective and I am sure the intercept operators were grateful for his efforts.

 When we had completed SOUR MASH and run it as a Regimental exercise on two occasions, I thought my days as a playwright were over.  In September 1981 I returned to Beaconsfield for six months to complete my Russian studies to Interpreter level, but as soon as I returned to Langeleben, I was tasked, this time alongside WO2 Alex Gaw, to write Ex WHITE LIGHTNING which was to be an even greater expansion of SOUR MASH.  Alex and I worked together on this project for a further year and the end result was an exercise which consisted of 3200 C-90 cassettes.  I believe the cassettes are still in a cupboard somewhere in 14 Signal Regiment registry.

Just so those who studied Russian at Bodmin or Crail can make a comparison, my initial language course, to what in those days was known as colloquial level, was 10 Months in Cheltenham. That was the level required to deploy to Germany (Langeleben or Berlin)as a Voice Op.

The full interpreters' course at Beaconsfield was 18 months, starting from scratch.  Because I had done well on the 10 month initial course and had later done the Linguist exam (sort of two thirds of Interpreter level) through private study, they let me just do the last six months of the interpreter course at Beaconsfield.  Transcribers tended to be those who had passed the interpreters course.

The Beaconsfield course was accepted by the Institute of Linguist to be degree level.

Mentioning my old friend, Alex Gaw, brings back memories of many pleasant Wednesday sports afternoons spent on the Golf Course in Braunschweig.  This was a beautiful course which, being located close to the main railway sidings, had suffered severe damage during WW2.  Its saviours were, or so the story goes, a bunch of British officers who were stationed nearby after the war and called in the Sappers to repair the damage.   However true that story may be, we were always made extremely welcome by the members and staff of that Golf Club.  Some of our golfers were not at all bad – Alex Gaw could play reasonably respectably, as could Bernie Neillings and Vern Merrick, but most of us were happy to get close to 100 for 18 holes and I have an undying memory of our late friend, Drew Duncan, taking 14 air shots before he made contact with the ball on the first tee.

 Apart from the job satisfaction of the SOUR MASH and WHITE LIGHTNING series of exercises, the highlight of my second tour in Langeleben, was without doubt, Ex BEACHCOMBER. 

 I cannot claim credit for the original concept of BEACHCOMBER, only for its implementation. Credit for the original concept must go in the first place to the Commanding Officer of 14th Signal Regiment who decreed that in the Summer of 1981 each Troop Commander was to take his troops away from their static locations to do ‘something different’.  A second, large share of the credit goes to the then OC Alpha Troop, 1 Squadron, Captain Ian Henderson who suggested that I might like to find a project in Germany where the Troop could do something to support the environment and strengthen Anglo-German relations.

 Thus was formulated the idea to contact a holiday resort on the German coast which might appreciate some extra man-power to clean up its beaches.  Through contacts in my second home in Germany, Dannenberg, I was put in touch with the tourist authorities in Cuxhaven on the North Sea coast, who invited me to visit the resort to discuss the project.  Within minutes of arriving in the town, I took a stroll on the beach and it immediately became clear that there is not much scope for cleaning a German beach.  The Germans do not have dirty beaches.  The Germans do not scatter litter everywhere and the Germans do not let their dogs do what dogs do on beaches in England.

 To cut a long story short, my first discussions with the council soon made it clear that there was valuable work to be done, but more in the areas of re-delineating  forest tracks, reinforcing the banks of ponds and doing some basic repairs to dykes.

 During the years 1981-1984 Alpha Troop deployed four times to Cuxhaven; on each occasion for two weeks. During each of these weeks a team of about ten soldiers would work mornings under the supervision of professional environmentalists to carry out the projects described above.  In the afternoons they would visit local military units, or do something mildly strenuous like hiking 10 kms across the mudflats from Cuxhaven to the magical island of Neuwerk.  In the evenings they would party !

 I could write a whole book on BEACHCOMBER and John Richardson devotes a lot of his ‘living history’ (cf Ch 8) to this theme, as he was fortunate enough to take over this project from me when I was finally posted out of Langeleben in 1983.  Suffice it for me to say that I personally enjoyed each and every day spent in Cuxhaven and still remember, the project, the people of the town and all those Alpha Troop soldiers who took part, with a huge degree of affection.

 In the Autumn of 1982 my wife, Jennifer, returned to Germany when our daughter began boarding school and we moved into quarters in Ginsterweg, Braunschweig.  My carefree days of living in the Langeleben Sergeants’ came to an end, as I resumed family responsibilities and the daily commute through the Reitlingstal to the top of the Elm.

 Living in Ginsterweg was a delight. The Braunschweig Golf Course was a mere seven iron from the bottom of our garden and the Rugby Club, of which I was still head coach, was walking distance away in Mascherode Strasse.

  Living in the suburbs of a city meant that we had good pubs and restaurants on our doorstep. Most importantly, we had excellent neighbours in the form of Colin and Lynn May, Roger and Pat Manser, and of course my old drinking buddy and still very close friend, John Neal, with his lovely wife Angelika.

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John Neal partying in Ginsterweg with Thomas Koch from Blau-Gelb Rugby

 Summary

That last year in quarters in Braunschweig completed the wonderful journey that had been my service in Langeleben.  Over a period of 15 years I had lived in as a single soldier and again briefly as a married unaccompanied soldier.  I had lived in quarters in Wolfenbuettel before being posted out to Berlin and had returned seven years later to live in Langeleben once again as a married unaccompanied warrant officer.  Finally, I was able to enjoy accompanied married life again in quarters in Braunschweig.

 Langeleben was kind to me and very good for my career. I left on promotion to Warrant Officer Class One and was invited to Buckingham Palace the following year to be invested as a Member of the Order of the British Empire[1] 

I made many good friends and will always be grateful to them for their comradeship, encouragement and of course for their mickey-taking.  I hope to continue to see many of these friends at meetings of the Royal Signals Association Langeleben Reunion Branch for many years to come.

[1] This was put in at the Editor’s request since it is something of which, we as a whole, should be proud.

 
End of Chapter 9

Last updated 27 March 2008

 

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