|The road to Langeleben|
|Dr Major (Ret )ME Braham REME - Military Engineer and Academic:|
JOINNG THE ARMY
Weighed down by this mountain from the Quartermasters Store, he struggled to return to his accommodation, along the way he passed two elderly soldiers wearing Sam Browne shoulder straps, with rows of medal ribbons on their chests were standing on a nearby verandah. A terrifying scream was emitted by the first of these saying ‘Come here Laddie.’ He stopped in his tracks to be again addressed ‘Who are you then?’ He replied ‘Michael Braham Sir’. ‘Do you know who you are talking to Michael’ he replied, ‘No Sir’ said Michael. He replied ‘. ‘This is the School Commandant, Colonel Fane Gladwyn, and I am the Regimental Sergeant Major Cross of the Irish Guards’. What a reception committee, the petrified soldier was then dismissed and told to double away to his lines.
September 1960 – AAS Carlisle
On arrival back in his room he found out what the large sheet of brown paper on the bottom of his bed, it was to parcel up all his civilian clothes and post them home as civvies were not allowed for the first twelve months whilst serving in Junior Company. His new jeans, his second hand jacket, new towel, socks, vests and underpants, all of which mother had been specially purchased for my leaving home. As his mother would say, ‘you are not leaving home wearing those clothes, what if you finished up in hospital?’ Little did he know but worse was to follow, as he was marched to the camp barber, ‘Sweeny Todd’, for a regimental short, back and sides. He informed young Michael what was under the beret he could keep, but that on the outside was his. The hair style in those days for cool young men was a ‘Tony Curtis’ with a ‘Duck’s arse’ at the back, all of this ‘Brylcreamed’, but all that then remained was a white shiny head with a pair of unsupported ears sticking out of the oversized beret. The humiliation of it all, but worse was to follow over the forthcoming weeks.
Next morning after first parade the new intake of apprentices were assembled in the camp cinema for a welcome chat from the Commandant. Although they were seated in the cinema they were not immune from the all seeing eye of the Company Sergeant Major, who when satisfied that all were correctly seated, present and correct, handed the assembled company over to the Regimental Sergeant Major, with more shouting and words of command, followed by the command, ‘Sit to attention’. None of them really knew what all this meant, so they sat very still and said nothing, so as not to incur the wrath of this gruesome twosome. This was greeted by the appearance of the Commandant, a very tall slightly stooped Scots Guards Officer. He looked the epitamony of an Army Officer, Sam Brown cross straps and shoes highly polished and he was wearing all his medals, we all sat in awe of this leader of men, standing on the stage in front of us, legs apart, hands behind his back, in his entire entire splendor.
‘Gentlemen’, he addressed them, ‘Welcome to Hadrian’s Camp Carlisle, your home for the next three years’. He carried on extolling the virtues of army life, and how lucky we all were to have been given this wonderful opportunity to succeed in the Army, as the technical leaders of the future. From where we were all sitting they did not feel at all fortunate, as they sat there in awe of this Commandant, wondering where all this was leading to. Could they really put up with all these orders, haircuts and shouting for the next three years? He told all that the proportion in Carlisle with socially transmitted diseases was seven percent higher than the national average, and that we should avoid sexual contact with the local wenches. This horrified these virgin soldiers because few if any had yet had the opportunity to explore these female delights.
There was at that time a young lady that they were all later to meet at the Bus Station as they waited for the last bus back to camp at 10.20pm, her name was Marjory Plant and she and other young ladies would hang round this area, where any the young soldiers would congregate waiting for the last bus back to camp, she was a kind generous girl, who had introduced many of these lost souls to the first grope of womanhood in their fumblings of youth. She was given the name somewhat cruelly by the squad as ‘Seven Percent’, after the Commandant’s introduction, all of them were petrified of actually having sex with her. To drive down any vain and unbecoming sexual urges that they may have, between themselves with the local wenches, the cookhouse tea was laced with bromide. So the only sexual contact that any of these young lads had, was playing with themselves and the bed spring symphony, as they wondered what the hell they had let themselves in for, after lights out in their barrack rooms. Besides the worst that this could do, they were told, was hairs on the palms of your hands…And so they took a chance, and checked their hands every day…
The next of transition to soldier was a Medical examination by Medical Officers, obviously an extra double-check on the civilian doctors to make sure the new recruits were free of any hidden medical problem the civilian doctors had somehow missed or covered up. And so he found himself in a long line-up of fellows in various stages of undress, many of them, like himself, showing signs of being ill-at-ease. I was just too damned modest for my own good. There was no valid reason why I should have been this way since he had showered so many times in the company of a lot of other naked bodies(male, of course) after football matches and games.
Taking showers with a lot of other guys was one thing, but when it came down to an examination from head to foot of every orifice on the body was another matter altogether. Worst of all, there was no privacy whatsoever. You stood there stark naked in full view of other naked bodies while the medical officer took a close look at your genitals, probing in and about the pubic hair, in search of crabs and other species of insect life and parasites And then horrors of horrors, you had to bend over and pull your buttock cheeks apart while he scrutinized your asshole for piles. I was never so embarrassed in all my life, especially with the other guys standing there waiting their turn, looking on. Bent over and with his cheeks apart I fought back the strong urge to ask the doctor, just to be smart, if he could see the midnight train coming.
Yeah, it was a traumatic experience, something I hoped I'd never have to go through again. Little did I know but that there were many more such intrusions of my modesty awaiting me in the years ahead. As for the above examination, a story swept through the barracks concerning a certain local yokel from somewhere out in the county who was so dumb, that when the doctor asked him to bend over and pull his cheeks apart he did as he was instructed, but instead of pulling the cheeks of his ass apart, he pulled on the cheeks of his face. He was rejected right then and there as mentally unfit. At the time, they actually believed that it really did happen. It did not of course happen as it was just another one of the many unlikely stories that made the rounds every so often.
I came out from the final medical examination with an A1 category. From here on in he figured everything would be clear sailing. How wrong could he be? There was still one more embarrassing hurdle to make, and that was the ‘short-arm inspection’. Even up until the final moments before the humbling moment, I still thought that a short-arm inspection was nothing but a figment of some wise guy's wild imagination, a myth, a joke played on all young and naive fellows like myself. If there was anybody more gullible than me, I still hadn't come across him. I had always thought of short-arm inspections as falling into the class of the kind of trick played on a guy where you send him for a left-handed monkey wrench, or a sky hook, or a bucket of steam, stuff like that. But now he was about to learn the awful truth. No such prank as there appeared somebody in a white coat handling my genitals to see if I had V.D. The only thing that had ever touched my Willy was my right hand; could you really catch V.D. from masturbation he thought?
So there he was, standing in another long line-up, and he asked the guy behind him what this one was all about, since all had just had their medical examination. "Short-arm inspection," he replied. The doctor is going to handle your jewels to see if you have a dose of the clap. ‘Short arm inspection’! He exclaimed with rising panic. Oh my God! No, it can't be! But it was, as he was soon to find out. The line of loose-trousered men shuffled slowly along the dusty corridor to enter an opening in the wallboard partition. As he rounded the corner he beheld a long table behind which two medical Corpsmen, a Staff Sergeant called Stan Vickers and a Corporal were doing exactly what he was afraid they'd be doing. They were handling the genitals of every man in the long line-up, skinning the foreskin back as they scrutinized the organ for signs of VD. He broke into a sweat and damn near keeled over in a dead faint. In front of this lineup the school matron a Lieutenant Colonel in the QARRANC, had an office window net curtains drawn back in order to get a good bird’s eye view of the spectacle of 120 young men displaying their genitals. She was a motherly like creature, big bosoms and a good Irish Catholic girl, in different circumstances this scene might have been erotic, but not in these circumstances it was terrifying. Bloody pervert he thought as he stood there in all his glory… ‘Cough’ said the medic as he damn near choked himself.
He knew he had nothing like 'blue balls' or clap or syphilis, or for that matter, crabs, so why should he be so uptight? The only thing he had to be concerned about was getting one of those involuntary erections young and virile lads like him were prone to coming on when he least wanted one, especially with matron watching. He had to think about anything that would take my mind off what was about to take place. He let my mind flit between funerals, church services, old people, trains, cows, anything at all that would take my mind off what he was about to have to face. And then, he was, at the point where he had to drop my trousers and expose his privates. Gritting his teeth, he stood there praying the damn thing between his legs wouldn't start rising, and before he knew it, it was all over. The vision of the camp Matron with big tits and in her starched uniform ogling him was to haunt him many times in the future. He was sure he saw a glimpse of a smile on her face, or perhaps it was a grimace, as they pulled back his foreskin….
This next move was to the Dental Office certainly, and as far as he was concerned it was one of the greater crises. Anything to do with his teeth, and his muscles turned into jelly. In other words, when it came to an appointment with the dentist he was nothing short of a coward. Dentists he feared with an unholy terror. He would much rather face an operation, even without anesthesia than have a dentist drill or pull my teeth. The phobia he had about dental work started way back from the school dentist, we all suspected was out to hurt us as much as he could, that he loved to hear children cry. Judging from the screams and wails that echoed through the wall to our classroom whenever he was at work, he must have really been having a good time.
This experience put the fear of dentists in a generation of kids than any doctor or strap-inclined teacher ever did. So it was only natural that on my second or third day in the army when I was motioned to the dreaded throne of pain I had to call on every last shred of courage that was in me to walk those dozen or so steps to that chair. Frankly I was scared shitless and couldn't back out of it, so I put on a false front to the others behind me and sat in the padded chair to face the tortures of the damned. After a few tension- filled minutes in the chair, merely an examination as it turned out, no greater sigh of relief had ever escaped from my lips as it did when the dental examination was completed. All the dentist did was mark on a chart repairs that would be needed one day to bring his teeth to accepted standards.
Now with the unpleasant part of his budding army service over and done with, I hiked on down to the Quartermaster stores to pick up my clothing issue, webbing, packs, gas-mask, etc., and of course, the steel helmet. He never felt prouder as he did then, his arms full of army issue kit, hurrying up the creaky wooden spider block to his assigned bed space... He dumped the heap on the bed, he had never seen so much clothing, and he began getting into the raiment known as khaki. And what a hilarious session it was that afternoon! With more than a hundred guys doing the same, the barrack rooms became a shrieking funhouse. Good-natured kidding was going on all the time. Never had he heard such shouts of laughter and outrageous comments as they were slowly transformed into reasonable facsimiles of what should have been soldiers.
Putting the uniform on was no problem. Getting the webbing together, how-ever, was another matter. You'd think it was a Chinese puzzle by the way we struggled with it, watching the successful ones to see how they did it. And once we had everything together and our uniforms on, we couldn't help but feel somewhat self-conscious. Though all of them were strangers to each other, it didn't matter, they all laughed at each other, made rude but good-natured comments as though we'd known each other all our lives.
The only negative aspect of his first days in the army, as he said earlier, was the lousy food. Every time the bugler blew, "Come to the cookhouse door, boys, and come to the cookhouse door", He didn't respond with the same degree of enthusiasm as he did a month or so along in his training. By that time they had become pretty well adjusted to what the cooks served them. By that time, the quality and the menu had vastly improved. Or so it seemed. For hours of intensive physical exertions in the course of training can do wonders to a man's appetite and one doesn't become as choosy or critical of what was set before him at the cook house table. They were always as hungry as bears and would have eaten anything set in front of them.
The 60c Intake Army Apprentice’s School Carlisle
Their beds were adorned with a bed block, made up of the four issued blankets, and two sheets folded into a twenty one inch display. Some days this routine was added to by laying all army kit out on the bed, displaying their personal army number, so this was the morning routine between breakfast and muster parade which started at 8.00am for 23834216 Apprentice Tradesman Braham.
Someone in the room had brought a record player and two long playing records, these were ‘Buddy Holly and the Chirping Crickets’ and ‘Eddie Cochran’s Greatest Hits’. These were played incessantly throughout the long winter nights as the bulled their boots, cleaned their brasses and buttons, blancoed endless piles of webbing, and stamped and painted their regimental number on all their equipment, and pressed their clothing. Over the months this training went on they all became completely conversant with all the words on these records, more than 55 years later he still remembers them all, and smile when on occasionally I hear them. Thieving was rife so you ensured that all your belongings were well and truly secured with indelible unique markings of 23834216.
On Thursday afternoon after lunch, the ritual of Pay Parade took place, usually in one of the drill sheds, or on good weather days the edge of the parade ground. The Company was marched to the appointed place and told to line up alphabetically in descending order from A to Z. The Paymaster, with two unlucky witnesses who were selected at random, was sat at a six foot table, and the Aquitance Rolls were laid out on the table. These Rolls detailed the weekly pay entitlement of each soldier, which was for these recruits was one pound, eight shillings and sixpence per week, or £1.42.5 in today’s currency. The total sum that was permitted to be paid out weekly was 10 shillings (50p), the rest of the money 18/6 (92.5P) was saved in a peculiar saving scheme called credits. These credits were paid out at the end of term, plus their ration allowance, prior to going home on leave. This farce commenced with one of the witnesses called out the soldier’s surname, whereupon the soldier came to attention, and marched forward to the Pay Master and came to a halt in front of the table, and saluted. Sometimes to further confuse these young men, the CSM would do it backwards from Z to A.
The soldier then handed over his AB64 Part One (Pay book), from his left hand breast pocket, whilst stating his number rank and name. The paying officer then paid out the ten shillings, entering this sum in the pay book and Aquitance Roll, witnessed by his unfortunate sidekicks, whereupon the grateful soldier called out; ‘Pay and Pay Book Correct, Sir’. Again saluted and carried out an about turn and marched to the next table. This weekly pay money was always in coinage to enable this second part of this dated ritual to be transacted. A representative of the Sergeant Major, usually a Corporal from the bedding store, would then say something like ‘Barrack Damages 1/6, your haircut from the barber 1 shilling, you owe me two shillings and sixpence?’, and so without any further discussion they meekly did as they were told and paid back this money. The indignity of it all was paying for this short back and sides, that was referred to as a haircut, but there could be no discussion to this daylight robbery as this was The Pay Parade. The words of that old barrack room ballad came to mind.
‘They say that in the Army the pay is very fine, they give you thirty shillings, and take back twenty nine’. How very true this was to prove! Bullying at that time was particularly rife, with the older boys of the senior intakes asserting their authority, in all areas of school life. From money lending, cigarette barons, protection rackets, all these at extortionate rates of return, failure to pay up promptly on time usually ended up in a beating or some other form of thuggery. These senior apprentices also handed out their kit for cleaning but there was little anyone could do to help these unfortunate recruits. Each person had to devise their own way of dealing with this bullying; mine was to join the Company Boxing team, and School rugby team. There he improved his own survival skills and sometimes gave out better than he got.
He also secretly pledged to avenge this abuse, by meeting up with the worst offenders in his future Army Career, and rewarding them in kind. In this ‘dogs eat dog’ world of the military, the name of the game was survival of the fittest, so they all quickly learned to look after themselves.
After basic training was over the daily routine changed from regimental bullshit, to a daily routine of education and trade training, interspersed with sport and fitness training. At the end of the first term all sat the Army Second Class education test, a prerequisite for promotion up to Corporal. This consisted of Mathematics, English, Physics, Engineering Drawing and Workshop technology, most passed, but those who did not were given additional help and coaching to get through by a very helpful team of Royal Army Education Corps, National Service Sergeants. These guys were usually graduates filling in their time to complete their two years subscription. During the rest of the first year all went on to complete Army First Class education, needed for promotion up to Warrant Officer. The rest of the time was spent on Technical training that included endless hours of bench fitting, filing, fitting, drilling, screw cutting, reaming tapping metals and materials. This was followed turning, milling and grinding of metals until proficient in all aspects of machine shop manufacture and repair. Finally they all passed onto the welding and hot metal working, where they mastered welding, forging, brazing and metal reclamation in preparation for our future roles as engineers of the Army. Trade training continued through the second year, with basic electrics, vehicle electrics, engines and transmission systems, hydraulics and diesel systems, whilst those who had not yet completed their Army Education continued with the required subjects, the rest carried our City and Guilds Craft certificate, and for those who could achieve the higher mathematics they were allowed to sit City and Guilds Full Technician Certificate. This began to sort the wheat from the chaff, and those who succeeded were selected for promotion to Lance Corporal. For those that achieved this peerage, the quality of life improved greatly. No longer part of the masses living in the barrack room, but a personal bunk at the end of the room, privacy at last.
The third year was mainly equipment based learning, where we familiarized ourselves on the various military vehicles followed by driver training, and during the last month of the course this was dedicated to military training, field craft, weapon training and lots of range work, and of course more drill, this time with weapons. During the summer break at the end of year three we all had six weeks leave, but the first two weeks of this was expected to be spent on a military course. At the end of year two he was detached to the Army Outward Bound School in North Wales. There they were taught outdoor survival, rock climbing, organizing outdoor expeditions through the mountains of Snowdonia National Park. The country side there was very reminiscent of my childhood days in South Armagh, and he therefore excelled at this outdoor adventure training. More importantly it marked him out as a future leader in military terms, and promoted to apprentice Corporal.
At the end of July 1963 the passing out parade took place when 84 finished the apprenticeship out of the original intake of 115 that had started the course. Some had been back squaded for failing modules of the course, two had been killed in road traffic accidents, one committed suicide, one had drowned, and other poor unfortunates discharged as being unfit for military service for a variety of reasons, some were Walter Mitty characters, who did not know fact from fiction, and others were just exhibitionists, flashers and wankers, which was not encouraged in public. For those who completed this apprenticeship most were to go on to become Senior NCOs, most became Warrant Officers and Artificer Sergeant Majors, six of them gained commissions as Engineering Officers. Four of these achieved the rank of Major of which two stayed on to become Lieutenant Colonels. All in all the life blood of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the technical arm of the Army. Not bad for this collection of under qualified urchins that had mustered three years earlier, those that had survived this induction were a self assured, well educated and self sufficient tradesman ready to face the rigors of whatever the Army had to throw at them.
The following year he completed parachute selection course in Aldershot and RAF Brize Norton, upon completion he was offered a posting to 9 Parachute Squadron of the Royal Engineers at Church Crookham. However as these year three students had not yet been allocated to a Corps, this posting was in the balance, his first choice of Corps had been REME, and he had requested a posting to 13 Signal Regiment Workshop REME, in BFPO 40 in Germany, where his older brother Patrick was stationed. In early July 1963 they were reunited in Birglen in Germany, where he was greeted by Patrick and his then girl friend Bridget Masterson (later to be Pat’s wife), who was a Army nurse with the regiment. That night as they sat together in the cookhouse playing regimental bingo, they won DM60, which they shared between them. Welcome to Germany he thought.
Germany and Langeleben
13 Signal Regiment were stationed at Birglen on the Dutch border as part of the British contribution to NATO. The regiment kept an electronic watch on the Soviet Union’s massive army across the interzone border of a desolate and divided Germany, which was poised to cross the border from its garrisons in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Opposing BOAR on the North German Plain was the crack 3rd Shock Army, with its headquarters in Magdeburg. North of Magdeburg was the largest military training area in Eastern Germany, the Letzlinger Heide, which before 1945 was linked to Luneburger Heide to form Germanys Largest Troop Training Area. As the nearest point was only 5 kilometres from the border, the fear was of a surprise attack which could be launched against the West from the large scale Soviet manoeuvres on the Heide.
2 Squadron, 13 Signal Regiment was the nearest NATO asset at to these Soviet Forces at Langeleben to monitor the movement of this mighty Army that threatened the Western civilisation. Langeleben was a hamlet situated nine hundred feet up in an Elm Forrest on the foothills of the Harz Mountains, overlooking the border between Braunschweig and Helmstedt. The site had been originally used by the RAF to control the planes that broke the Soviet siege on Berlin during 1948- 49 Berlin Airlift. There they left a solitary shed with a power source in the top left hand corner of the site, which was to become the MT garage and repair centre that Michael’s workplace from between 1963 – 67. Langeleben lay on the East facing slopes of the Elm. The hamlet was made up of the County Children’s Home, the Kinderheim, a forester’s cottage and a country pub, the Waldswirtschaft, after 1985 this became an old people’s home. Apart from these few buildings was the ruins of an old Hunting Lodge, that had been used by the Dukes of Brunswick, where Frederick the Great was once a regular guest.
All was well for sometime in these sleepy hollows of Germany, until all three of Braham family found themselves in Headquarters Squadron of 13 Signal Regiment, where the Sergeant Major was WO2 Chippy Woods. The unique difference being that Patrick was Royal Signals, Bridget was WRAC and Michael was REME. This latter post nominal titles being very important when detailing them for duty on Squadron Orders, one day he read that Braham had been detailed for guard duty. As he was Braham REME, he assumed that this was not referring to him, and therefore failed to turn up for guard duty. Next morning on orders, he was informed by the Sergeant Major that he was a trouble maker, and posted to 2 Squadron in Langeleben. This was to be the nicest punishment that was ever administered by this lovely man, and made Michael a very happy soldier in the years to follow. Detached from the 13 Signal Regiment to 2 Squadron in Langeleben to replace a REME National Service Corporal whose name was Allan Heyes.
This necessitated an all day rail journey across Germany from Monchengladbach in the west to Konigslutter near to the East German border; he arrived there late in the evening, with instructions to ring for transport on arrival. This done, he telephoned the Duty Corporal, and said ‘Craftsman Braham reporting for duty, Can you please send some transport to collect me?’ Corporal Hammond being keen had misunderstood and passed the message to the Operations Officer, that a Captain Braham needed collection from the station. This misinformation resulted in Captain Dan Bailey getting dressed in his best uniform and turning out in his own car to collect me from the Station. On arrival he addressed me as I was a soldier in uniform waiting there,
‘Was there an officer on the last train with you?’ ‘No sir’, was the reply, ‘And who are you then?’ ‘Craftsman Braham reporting for duty’, he replied. ‘Get into the car’ he said. There was a deadly silence as he was driven to his new posting by the Orderly Officer.
At the time Michael arrived at 2 Squadron this desolate outstation in 1963, new chalet style accommodation were being built to make the camp a permanent fixture. This rebuild was to Langeleben made the camp the most modern military accommodation in the whole of BAOR.
In its primitive state the unit was a small one, with the MT Troop being run by a Corporal, where Michael was responsible for maintenance of vehicles and generators? After life in the Regimental Workshop where there was as many chiefs as Indians, this independence was total bliss; there were no parades, guard duties or interference from those above.
The Officer Commanding then was Major Heyes, and the Sergeant Major was WO2 (SSM) Crompton. Their role was an administrative one, and as Major Heyes had three cars, one for himself, one for his wife, and one for their nanny, he needed Michael’s skills to look after his personal fleet. This relationship quickly led to Michael being promoted to Corporal, which was a prerequisite to carry out the mandatory road worthiness inspection on all civilian cars owned by those in the Squadron, and so he eventually became one of this Corporal mafia. These were the MT Corporal, Jim Rooney and Ted Appleby, Cook Cpl, Johnny Hudson, Pay Cpl, Pete Cooper, Chief Clerk, Cpl Martin McHale, and himself. Between they controlled the day to day running of the Squadron. Michael’s best mate, Ken Vipond was in charge of vehicle servicing, the latter two being referred to as the Black Hand gang.
Guard duties were carried out by Polish and Russian MSO (Misplaced Persons Organisation), speaking Polish, Russian and a little German. They neither spoke nor understood English and lived in their own eccentric world, locked on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Often they would turn up for work in a tired and hung over state. But they were always loyal to their British masters, and were grateful for their employment. They answered to names such as Morowsky, Khrushchev and the Head Guard was Wolynkiewicz, whether these were their real name or otherwise was not really known. But by and large they were a happy bunch, who’s like and loyalty will not be seen again within the British Army. There was also a little man called Joe who disposed of all the camp waste in the back of a little Renault 4 van, it was rumoured that he was a low level spy for his masters in the East, but he was tolerated, and closely monitored. There were other civilian workers who carried out various duties around the camp, one of whom was Richard Blume the civil labour clerk, he had reputedly been a Captain in the SS during WW2, and he always insisted on sitting in the front seat of the civil labour transport, which delivered the civilian staff to and from work, from the surrounding area, this happened every morning and evening. The grounds men were Herr Konig and Herr Willi Schlott both of whom were total rascals and came from the nearby village of Lelm. Last but not least was a wonderful lady called Frau Gratz, who for a couple of Deutschmarks per week washed and ironed the personal laundry. An absolute angel who carried out this invaluable task, she treated us all as her boys!
Langeleben Camp 1965
On completion of this new camp in 1965, it became a show piece of all of BAOR, up to then the camp had always been referred to as ‘Langey’ that was staffed by workers who got on with the job.
There then arrived a proliferation of Senior NCOs, dressed in clean uniforms and Dress Hats to assume appointments that had been carried out by the Corporals. Amongst these was Sergeant Smith as MT Sgt, Sergeant Ripley REME to be Michael’s boss. The Corporal Clerk suddenly had an Administrative Officer in charge of him, whose name was Captain Needham. This influx of authority did not have a proper job between them; they only interfered in all areas of Camp life, as they tried to make a job for themselves. Initially they were totally ineffective, and added little to the smooth running of the Squadron; they interfered, looking important and did little work at all.
Naturally this led to a power struggle within the MT, with Sergeants Smith and Ripley having a conflict as to who was in charge. The outcome for Smith was that he was removed from the MT Troop, after which he was employed to build an Avery and stocked it with bird life. He became known as the ‘birdman on Langeleben’, and played no further part in the running of the Squadron. Ripley was also outcast and shipped back to the Regiment and posted out, never to be seen again. Captain Needham on the other hand was more persistent, and attempted to interfere in other areas of the camp including the MT and REME. This led to a heated discussion between all concerned where Captain Needham was reminded that his area of influence was administrative and not technical, he reluctantly withdrew to the Squadron office to interfere with the Pay and Clerks job descriptions. Jobs for the Boys….
Sport was popular with regular football, hockey and occasional cricket matches being organised. The Squadron had a football team registered to play in the German League which played as the Konigslutter third team. This team was good, winning most of its matches, but in 1965 conflict with a one armed football referee whilst playing Grasleben, the team captain Peter Cooper had words where he questioned the referee’s parentage. This resulted in the whole team being sent off, and their German football passes being withdrawn, so that was the end of Konigslutter third team playing in the Land league. Michael then started playing rugby for the Braunswieg Blau Gelb on Saturday afternoons. This team plated in the North German league, which included teams from Hamburg, Hannover, Bremen and others as far south as Kassel. Rugby as a sport was in its infancy in Germany and they did not really relish being tackled or receiving a hand off, the British players scoring lots of points for them, this led to them being suitably rewarded in hospitality, as a means of repayment.
1966 saw a resurgence in football interest with the World Cup being played that year. There was no television on the camp and as the final was being played between Germany and England. Michael and Ken Vipond booked into the nearby village of Lelm to watch the game on television, in black and white, in Frau Wesel’s Gastatte. Beer at that time cost one Deutschmark for half a litre, and the exchange rate was DM 11.20 to the pound, so on a weekly pocket money on DM20, this did not go too far. To supplement their income and drinking and dining out, a black market existed with the landlord who gave DM10 allowance for a carton of 200 duty free cigarettes, and a similar amount for a bottle of whiskey. As neither of them smoked or drank spirits, this arrangement worked very well. There was also a scheme where HM Customs and Excise gave out free tins of 50 cigarettes to the forces, these having been seized as contraband; the irony was that these cigarettes were also then sold onto the villagers on the black market. In the excitement of the occasion the two guys had a wager for a 50 litre barrel of beer, with the other locals in the pub, that England would win the World Cup Final. Madness perhaps, but the occasion demanded it. Those immortal words of the football commentator, ‘they think that is all over, but it is now’, as England finally won the day followed by one memorable celebration, between the people from Lelm and the two Brits, and they all drank their barrel of beer together.
These final words also spelt the beginning of the end for the Squadron, the writing was on the wall, and in late 1966 13th Signal Regiment was reorganised. Other covetous eyes were set on this perfect camp. Those serving with 2 Squadron were posted back to the Regiment, and the camp was handed over to 225 Signal Squadron, this Squadron had a chequered career as the mobile unit having travelled around Germany for the previous eight years looking for a home. With them came all the military hierarchy that comes with a new military unit, changing it to a proper war like unit with camouflage nets and mobile radio stations and command posts. This was the end of that wonderful military outpost, where the residents never carried out exercises or manoeuvres in forests of Germany, never had to do guard duty, and never even seen a personal weapon let alone fire one. The camp changed its name to Anderson Barracks which brought to an end this very happy period in this beautiful part of Germany. Michael and his young pregnant bride returned to the Regiment in Birglen, to find that all his former REME colleagues, and the Workshop closed. He was posted later in 1967 to the newly independent country of Malaysia, after more than four years with the Regiment most of which was spent in Langeleben.
Rejoining the real Army after four years in this Shangri-La was a be a real shock, where life became a series of Noddy Suits, Camouflage nets, wearing full webbing and carrying weapons at all times. Welcome back to the real Army.....
This was my Langeleben story, a place to remember with great affection and happy memories.