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Author Topic: Post WW2 “Peace Time Conscription” National Service Memories 1948 to 1963  (Read 26811 times)

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Barry 5X

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“My First Story” written by Derek John Bean

Not for the faint hearted, those with a nervous disposition or the squeamish and don’t have nightmares.  True facts as best remembered with not too many names mentioned.

PART 3 (& Final Part)

Back Home

Back at Old Park it’s much the same as Canterbury, but without so much discipline; with lots of picket duties and parades.  They do say that our RSM “Chalky White” a man, smaller than me has the loudest voice in the British army, you can hear him shouting two parade grounds away - I quite believe it.  There is more free time now, allowed home weekends on a pass, providing that you’re not on duty and you can afford it.  We very often swap places so others can go on a weekend.  A good crowd of chaps even club round for spending money.  Christmas arrives, a very special occasion for the family, brother getting married on Boxing Day, and with my first Christmas at home for a while, should be some party.  They tell me I had a few sherbets, can’t remember much.  Back at camp, its gets very cold, with being on high ground, with a few snow drills, not use to it after the tropics.  I’ve been told of a short cut back to camp, by getting off at Kearsney Station, then after a short walk, clamber up some high banks at the back of the camp, brush yourself down and Bobs your uncle - saves a lot of time.  Usually get back by midnight, giving me enough time, preparing for early morning parade.  I am picked as part of a squad for Assault Pioneers, with a Corporal and about 10 men (not so violent has it sounds, looking up the history) the job was more dangerous years ago, you were first in line of fire.  It entails preparation of campsites, by cutting down unwanted growth, digging latrines and tidying up etc.  We are given local areas to practice on; don’t know why I am doing this, with only a few more months to do.  This becomes a good skive with an easy going Corporal and not to many parades, spend a lot of time in the nearby café - and why not!

Floods of 1952 Lower Halstow

February comes and so do the floods of 52, you know what that means “oh dear, end of skive”.  Before we know, it’s down to Invicta barracks Maidstone, in some of the hardest work I’ve ever experienced, which I suffer, along with others later.  It means after a quick breakfast, taking haversack rations and leaving camp at 07.30hrs in army lorries.  Issued with wellies we spend all day filling and stacking sandbags for the sea wall defences in very atrocious weather conditions.  We form chain gangs, so everybody has their fair share of work, getting back to base at 18.00hrs well and truly knackered, and facing horrible food, this is a nightmare.  To make things even worse, my work place “Lower Halstow” is only 4 miles away from home but can’t get there, how frustrating.  After a dreaded week or so of this its back to normal, but not for me; I go down with a rupture, and finish up at Shorncliffe camp hospital with an oversize, you know what, tender has hell, with leg up for a week until the swelling goes down.  At least the food is decent.  I have visitors from home, my mother and a friend.  I also get another not so welcome visitor every morning, by way of a matron, a Captain of large stature arid stern ways.  On her morning rounds, she will have me standing in all my glory for inspection of you know what - not much privacy these days.  As I slowly improve, I’m told to take up some sort of hobby, and given a choice of puzzles reading or embroidery, I go for the latter.  After time I become quite an expert; good enough to show my samples.  After five weeks I’m back to Old Park, but only for a while. 

We are on the move again, this time it’s Wemyss Barracks Canterbury - the old Cavalry barracks - a stone throw away from Howe at Canterbury.  I get back with my old churns; the Assault Pioneers - on our old skives again.  I go in front of the C/O, along with the rest of the squad.  What have we done wrong have they caught up with us at last?  To our surprise we have been picked for (believe or not) The Royal Tournament, Earls Court in June - on general duties.  Can only surmise, that’s why they kept us together, but can’t see the connection.  Being Coronation year, we feel quite honoured and proud to do this “For Queen and Country”.  I have found myself a good mate, one of many who is a Lance Corporal.  We spend a lot of time down town in a certain café - then the inevitable happens, a girl appears on the scene quite a good looker – who is going to be the lucky one, to take her out?  She has already made her mind up “Me”.  Love at first sight, she has certainly made the right choice, and then again could need glasses.  My mate Glenn wishes me luck, hopes we still stay friends, which we do for the rest of our military service - he must feel a bit envious.  I fix a date with Pamela for the evening (The Marlowe theatre) to see a live show.  Can’t even remember too much about it - afterwards back to the Vauxhall pub, opposite the barracks to meet her folks, they seem to accept me, I stayed with her for some time. 

We have got a celebrity in our barrack room; an Andrew Ray, son of the comedian Ted, a very nice chap, he is to be a PO “Potential Officer” - has to mix with the other ranks, as part of his training.

After saying goodbye to Pam and friends, it’s off to Earls Court.  We arrive amongst lots of army personal, not knowing what to expect.  Introduced to one of the organisers, and shown to our quarters.  Not exactly the Savoy, with beds and lockers disarranged everywhere, and partitioned off in sections.  There must be hundreds of men here.  We find our quarters and settle down.  Told there is a meal waiting in the army mess with three meals a day, and same as the public, find it excellent.  Not that I will see much of it; being out most of the time.  The only problem will be the tuning in of the instruments, alright if you have earplugs.   But its only during daylight hours, we have to put up with it – can’t be helped.  Still don’t know our tasks yet - the Corporal finds out, to our disbelief; its cleaning all the toilets ”Big deal” turns out to be another bigger skive - much better than the first.  We start cleaning just after breakfast, usually finished by midday, rest of the day off.  Nobody keeps tabs on us these days and the Corporal couldn’t care less, not like the early training days, with all the discipline.  Seen plenty of distinguished personal, Princess Elizabeth, very shortly to be the Queen, Princess Margaret and Monty and others.

There are 2 complementary tickets each to see the show - a dilemma.  Do I send them home or to the girlfriend, hard decision?  It has to be the family, never been able to afford such a treat.  I can see the show at any time.  Most days its touring London with a mate I’ve befriended, neither of us have seen the City before, so we make the most of it, getting home late or staying out all night “that’s how it was”.  Even get a bit of extra money for expenses - even been approached by the ladies of the night, “no chance” not on our army pay.  Mother turns up with her friend on Thursday afternoon to see the show unfortunately I’m not there - very disappointing for all concerned - I’ve got the days all wrong “how stupid of me”.  Everybody is presented with a certificate, signed by one of the top men and something I still cherish to this day.  Time passes by very quickly, before long making tracks back to Canterbury, knowing army life will soon be behind me.  It is now June, nothing much happening, biding my time and still taking Pam out.  Just roaming around - don’t know what the outcome to this romance is likely to be, haven’t put much thought into it, might want my freedom after demob.

Demob

It’s up in front of the Commanding Officer, who’s trying to talk me into doing another 12 months or more, instead of the compulsory three years in the Territorials, which means 2 weeks camping every year.  I go for the latter, which most do.  I only do two camps, as it gets abolished the following year, thank God. I might have gone for an army career if it hadn’t been for that loud mouth Lance Corporal.

The last night comes, and it’s off to one of many pubs for a good night farewell celebration drink, bearing in mind we are still in the army.  Mustn’t go over the top but many do.  In the morning, we hand in our uniforms, but keep everything else with kit-bag, for what good it all is.  Given our Military service record along with pay and travel pass we say our farewells.  It’s a special goodbye to Pam, and I tell her I will keep in touch with a letter, which I never did “Wot a cad”.  Something I regretted for a long time after.  Finished up spending most of the time down the pub, making me the man I am today.

The local Territorials are stationed at the drill hail in the same place as the Cadets.  The troubles are, this is totally different to what I’m used to.  This is the Royal Artillery, I Mean Big Anti-Aircraft Guns “Big Bangs”.  Our first camp starts in August - to Bude, not looking forward to this much.  I am now with Johnny Town’s lot “the experts” bound to put me right.

Back to the Paper Mill

I go back into the mill, hasn’t changed much and don’t intend to stay this time, and on that theme, I shall finish off my story.  Hope you haven’t found it too boring or too long. 

To sum it all up; not “like Father like son” (I don’t think I was cut out for the Papermaking industry) I left in 1955, after a bust up with the Machine Foreman.  I did feel better for it.  Dad finished up with 51 years in the Mills - the longest serving member.  He was presented with £250 Cheque when he retired, mega money in those days, enough to buy a caravan. 

My National Service days was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’m glad I done it.  It was very hard times mixed with good moments, seeing other Countries and places certainly opened my eyes and with so many good mates.  Made a man of me.

THAT’ S ALL FOR NOW FOLKS


Barry 5X

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“My First Story” written by Derek John Bean

Not for the faint hearted, those with a nervous disposition or the squeamish and don’t have nightmares.  True facts as best remembered with not too many names mentioned.

PART 2

National Service - End of Basic Training

Time marches on, and it’s soon passing out parade; by now we are a fine body of well-trained men, ready to show off our skills, in front of our parents and the whole wide World.  My family never came to the passing out, which was a shame.  We say our farewells, have a group photo of the Platoon taken, won’t see the lads together anymore, given ten days well-earned leave, told to report back to Canterbury, ready for joining the rest of the men at Dover, when we get back.  I get home in my proud smart uniform and shining boots you can see your face in “Wonderful”.  Family apologises for not being at the passing out parade, Mother never too well these days.  I’ve had sense enough to save a bit of money for my keep, but they still insist on a whip round for my spending money.  I visit friends, but spend most of the time resting.  I get back to Canterbury (no welcoming this time) and walk back to camp and report to the guard house.  Next day with our kit bags, we are on our way to Dover in lorries.  We travel like cattle and eventually arrive at Western Heights, a temporary rest camp, only it’s not to be – “calm before the storm”.  We are only there for a week or so and then we here the bad news - It will soon be “Salisbury Plain” on the biggest manoeuvres since the war.  They will be called “Hammer and Tongs and Surprise Packet”.

Hammer and Tongs and Surprise Packet

We now prepare ourselves for almost the real thing, without the proper enemy.  Full Battle order, “that’s carrying everything on your back, except the kitchen sink, including a spade to dig in with”.  We set off in a fleet of lorries, “with seats”, to Colchester with a few stops for haversack rations on route.  We arrive half dead surrounded by dozens of tents.  It’s time again to sample our first army food under canvas, can’t describe how bad.  To make things worse, only cold water to wash our mess tins, which we use for washing, shaving and eating out of.  Time to make my bed, which is in the straw barn along with the paliase (which has to be stuffed with straw) and one rough, blanket each, we pitch our tents and settle down for the night.

It is now August and quite chilly, next morning we wash and shave in the water from our water carrier, taken from the Jerry cans on site.  It’s now time for our lumpy porridge and greasy eggs and bacon, served up in our mess tin (just been used for washing and shaving) washed down with a mug of tea “isn’t it exciting”.  One good thing, we are not getting the inspections now.  A few days of this, then we are ready for the big march to “Buckenham Tofts” Thetford or no man’s land as we call it, (about 22 miles).  We are split into groups of about thirty, to form platoons, my not so shining black boots now are checked for tightness and comfort, and away we go in full battle order (shovel the lot) for our all night march “What a challenge”.  I’m with different lads now, after a while, we can march at ease, and do some singing going along, makes the time go by.  We stop at a small village called Newton after about 8 miles, for a break and foot inspection; I have no blisters, but still a long way to go.

Off we go again, every mile is getting harder and longer, some are beginning to fall back me included, with bad feet.  Then in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night we are told to dig in, this is digging waist high trenches called foxholes, in a wood.  Somebody has been here before by the disturbed earth.  This is my sleeping quarters for the rest of the night.  I try to sleep in all my clothing, including my now dirty, not so shiny boots; they are the orders for the night.  By the light of day, we see a stream, ideal for washing and shaving, a fire is got going, and a breakfast is rustled up.  We fill in the trenches and then there’s another foot inspection.  A few are really suffering, those who can make it are patched up to continue the march - others too bad go on by lorry.  With only a few more miles most want to finish including me (All to do with the macho image).  We arrive at our base camp quite proud of ourselves, for the achievement.

This will be Command Headquarters, where all the decisions are made.  Most of the battalion are here somewhere; this will be our refuge for a few days so we can unwind and take it a bit easy.  There is a NAAFI, where we buy snacks and sweets.  A nasty incident happens to me and I get stung by wasps; seems to be thousands of them, hanging round the swill bins, have to report to the MO.  After our recuperating, the King and Country needs us again; back to “Surprise Packet and Hammer and Tongs”.  We are taken to Wiltshire by lorries and then with some marching, to an isolated place near Devizes, and again it’s dig in.  This is what we’ll be doing, roughing it for the rest of the time here, on Salisbury Plain.  Its October now, all fog and frost, no cover at night, just bivouacs; we rarely take our clobber off.  The worse experience is wading across the Avon Kennet canal, in full gear up to your necks, on a cold foggy evening, then having to leave all your clothes on till next day.  Another time bombarded with flower bags, dropped from enemy jets.  We are all hoping that this playing soldier’s malarkey will soon end.

Moving on from this boring inhuman existence, we come more to reality, back to our starting point Colchester and after 3 months the finish of the manoeuvres.  Soon back at Western Heights, time for relaxing with proper beds, and a shower “Beautiful what bliss” first time for ages.  We get our pay, and fourteen days leave “or so we think” - unbeknown to us, it will be short lived.  After a week, we receive a telegram from Army headquarters; report back to base, don’t know what it’s all about - only to be told it’s off to Cyprus.

Cyprus and Egypt

Along with kit bag, we make tracks to Dover Priory for Plymouth docks, to our dismay when we get there what’s confronting us are two Aircraft Carriers the Illustrious and Ark Royal (not exactly pleasure liners which I find out later).  Packed in like sardines - 800 in each boat, with the constant smell of diesel along with the poor food, seasickness is rife.  The only relief we get, are the hammocks, which stay stationary while everything else moves.  Latrines are on deck, single huts with scanty curtains with not a lot of privacy.  The next horrendous torture is the Bay of Biscay, in November on a very stormy night - never been keen on the sea since.  We still have our parades and lectures.  After about three weeks, we arrive at Cyprus with flotilla; we soon have our feet on dry land.  The most noticeable thing is the warm sunshine, after cold Britain, and the blue of the sea, like a paradise island.  We march to our destination, a place called Limassol, and everything is serene and natural - I have always wanted to go back there, but never have (maybe when my boat comes in which I hope is not an aircraft carrier).  We once again spend a few leisurely days, even march down to the sea, past the orange and lemon groves for a swim, some in the nude, “no costumes” others in their khaki pants thought this was too good to be true.  After the luxury, again we are uprooted, this time it’s the Suez Canal Zone, much different kettle of fish.

The short distance is completed in no time.  The fascination when we get to Port Said, is the very young children in the sea, diving for coins, thrown from the boats in the crystal clear Med.  Once again its slog time, to transit camp - a temporary abode.  It’s back to tents and paliases, morning parades and allotted work.  There is a certain amount of hostility going on around us and we are put on full alert, with constant guard duty.  We have all our inoculations on top of those already had back in Blighty, which knocks us for six; they use the same needle over and over again.  But we do have 24 hours to get over the effects.  Also our first sex lesson, and a talk on sexual transmitted diseases “Bit of a laugh” when we are confined to camp all the time out here.  Temperatures are up in the seventies, and this is December.  Definitely won’t be home for Christmas.  Pay-day arrives “something special” an extra 7s 6d overseas allowance, paid in piastre’s and our free weekly 200 cigarettes (Capstan full strength) - only the best.  I use to smoke a lot those days, out of sheer boredom.  All we do in our spare time, is play cards - can’t afford money -all spent in the NAAFI.  So it has to be fags, most of the time, lots of them.  If you are lucky, you can finish up with hundreds.  Our mosquito net has to be up by lamps out at 22.30 hrs otherwise you’re in trouble

Check Point 9 Suez

Soon we are on the move again, this lime, Port Suez; further south, nearer the equator so much hotter, without too many details, where lots of the troubles are.  We are issued with KD (khaki drill) shorts and putties (i.e.  strips of cloth) wound round legs for protection.  By now we are looking like the locals.  Once again it is straw paliases, tents and hurricane lamps.  We are not too far from Suez town, with the mud and straw houses; with goats and sheep, all living in together - quite smelly I should think.  Most of the time its guard duties and parades.  Finally, we are split up into groups of about twenty, and sent to various posts; ours is an outpost called Check Point 9 on the main desert road out of Suez.  Our job to check all vehicles for weapons smuggled in or out - they have been taking pot-shots at the British. 

One day we are honoured by the presence of King Farouk and Queen Farina, with the cavalcade of ladies and bodyguards, when they pass through, what do we do now in this situation?  Just do our job and hope for the best, it all works out OK.  We live on the food brought up from the camp, bit like school dinners only worse.  There is no fresh water, the filtration plants are getting blown up, we have to use 2 tablets for our water carrier; one for sterilising, the other for taking the taste away, still not very nice, and warm with it.  Christmas comes and so do the food parcels from home, but not mine.  At Christmas time it is customary for the Officers and NCO’s to wait on the other ranks.  The turkey, veggies and pud, come up prepared by the Sergeant and Corporal - very nice too - best for a long time.  With a few crackers and cards, it does look like Christmas, but without the booze.  Then it’s back to business as usual.

There is a small mountain close by, which we use for our exercise period, after a time, it’s like how Hillary felt when he reached the summit.  This mountain could be seen from Suez Town, nearly always shroud by mist and electrical storms - never thought we would by climbing it.  After a time, another unit relieves us, and it’s back to camp.  It is well into the New Year and time for moving again.  This time its our final posting out here; a place called Tel el Kebir;  a very large ordnance depot, biggest in the Middle East or even further afield, anything from small arms, to tanks, the lot.  We join our Regiment and form a Division, with two other groups, The Inniskilling Fusiliers and The Border Regiment, under General G Erskine.  Commander in Chief, Middle East Forces “who I meet later”.  The main purpose of the exercise being here, are the manning of 20 search Lights surrounding the perimeter ½ mile apart, numbered 1 to 20 also a trip wire and all night jeep patrol “worse than Fort Knox”.  After a time you get to know the various lights, many are like candles others very bright and the vicinity also helps.  Some near the Ladies quarters “I wouldn’t like that” and the kitchens and such like.  Others areas are of no such importance but the likely place for a break in. 

There is a notorious villain, who goes under the name of Peg Leg (with a price on his head) whose been breaking in over some time.  We have been offered a bottle of scotch, whoever catches him “dead or alive” bit like the Wild West.  At first we all thought it was some sort of joke, to keep us on our guard, but it’s no joke, never did catch him not as far as I know.  The usual watch is six men and a Lance Corporal, doing four days and nights, with army Compo rations, comprising of tins of dry biscuits, sausages beans and rice, cooked on a Primus stove.  The Jerry cans for the water – we’re still using the two tablets.  We split up into twos, doing 2hrs on 4hrs off day and night; find it very difficult to sleep, owing to the heat.  The camp also has a night watch, which entails two men lying in the desert all night with haversack rations between the searchlights with a fairy pistol and a Sten gun.  It does get very cold in the desert at night, also a lot of creepy crawlies, including deadly scorpions.  I woke up one morning to see one of these horrors on my net.  I learnt to shake my boots out every morning, a favourite place for scorpions.  I still do it to this day.  The chaps collect these pests, put them in a circle of flames, and watch them fight to the death, a bit barbaric I think, but been going on for years.  On one of the searchlights you here the constant wailing from the local Mosques, I remember this one being No.  7.  No fourteen was the best, it had everything, even managed to scrounge from the kitchen. 

Away from the lights, it was forced marches.  One day it was Fayid with the large Royal Air force base, about 5 miles away.  The Brylcreem boys were always taking the mickey out of us, about our walking everywhere; they were nearly always driven.  On our marches, we did not know what was lurking round the corner.  Other times it was jeep patrol, the driver with an Officer, was a maniac, who would drive at breakneck speed, along unfamiliar roads and places, must have done Ninety, what an experience, I only done it the once, and lived to tell the tale.  At daytime the temperature reaches way over a hundred, have not seen any rain since I’ve been here.  Sand storms are frequent; these are blinding, and often blow your tent away.  Some of the Arabs are still taking pot-shots at us from the villages, which has to be dealt with, the houses where the sniping is coming from are flattened, makes me wonder why we do this, not even our Country. 

British do move out years later.  There is an inlet canal part of the Nile, called The Sweet Water Canal, not a very appropriate name, where all the locals wash swim and laundry and other unmentionables.  I have seen many carcasses of animals floating by.  They do say if any foreigner falls in, they will be plagued by some diseases, don’t know if there’s any truth in this rubbish.  VD is rife; the locals seem immune to it.  Women seem to do all the work, a bit like Britain “I had to get that one in”.  You see them on both banks of the canal, pulling the maize and melon barges.  I have not so good news from home, Mother telling me she has heart troubles, and feeling poorly.  Hopeless trying to get compassionate leave, have the worry of it now, that’s all I need at present only hope her health improves.

The food is still atrocious, finishing up in the swill bins, causing millions of flies and before long there is a dysentery outbreak, with hundreds going down sick - I am a lucky one.  Its like the plaque, most of the latrines are out of bounds, all the sick are isolated.  This is when I do my first (Jankers) Fatigues, I’m caught coming out of a “no go latrine area” by (you would never believe it) a Padre “A man of the cloth”.  I get reported, and in the next morning I’m up in front of the C/O.  I plead guilty, no other way, nearly always the same result, and get Seven days.  I have to parade every morning, and evening in smart battle order, that’s a full pack and a rifle all spotless.  Nearly all day is spent in the cookhouse, washing greasy pots and pans - very unpleasant.  Good job not many eating these days “sick joke”.

The outbreak of dysentery is now over and we have our drill parades just the same.  Getting ready for the big day, when the General will be popping in to pay us a visit.  It’s bull time - if it moves salute it, if not, paint it.  Everything is spotless, even white wash the kerb stone.  We stand, what seems like ages, brasses shining, and my not so shiny boots now, at the ready.  Some are passing out with the heat.  At last the staff car arrives, all the top brass are there.  We are brought smartly to attention, they do a quick walk through the ranks and he talks to a few, me included, asking my name and where I live, and any complaints, answer “Yes” the food”.  By now it’s all been tidied up for the .day, It doesn’t get any better.  The local Arabs do our Dobie “laundry” for a pittance, in their own traditional way, dating back years, with their kind of soap, and elbow grease, rubbed on a stone.  Still comes up white, “or should I say khaki”.  Also the local Del Boy, with his armful of watches and dirty postcards, always doing a good trade, the watches aren’t bad either “well we are human after all”.

It’s now back to school time to do our exams, all for our extra 7s/6d a week.  This is part general knowledge, part military, never been much good at exams; I only just pass this one.  Its goes on my military record; Third Class Certificate passed.  The hardest bit is yet to come, we are taken to a rifle range, ready for what is called a Donkey Derby, and you are given a Bren gun, and at a distance of 400yards, lying down fire at a target.  Then running up to the 300 mark firing from the hip.  Next 100, it’s the shoulder with temperatures of over a hundred, and the gun weighing seventeen pounds without the magazine, you’re absolutely knackered, more for the macho man.  I wait for my results and to my surprise I’m a first class shot, could have something to do with my army cadet days - done quite a bit of rifle firing in them days; another stamp on my record.  I get my extra few bob (7/6d) - don’t sound much, but can do a lot with it.  I’m called a few names by some of the lads, like dead eyed dick, and a few I can’t repeat (all luck on the day).  By now I must be a stone lighter, don’t know if it’s the weather the constant exercise or even the food.

By now we are getting into the routine of things, knowing the best searchlights, shuffling around, trying to find your best friends’ and finding out that going to Chapel on Sunday’s get you out of a multitude of sins.  All outside places are out of bounds, which is a shame really; don’t see much of the outside world, only at the end of a light beam.  One of the chaps has sneaked down to the local village, and “fraternised” with one of the Chiefs Daughters.  Don’t know how he got out in the first place.  There was an identity parade with no outcome “surprise”- but he did finish up visiting the MO for ages with you know what - got his just dessert.  Most of our free time is spent in the NAAFI where we can get an ice cold bottle or two of Stella lager, quite strong stuff.  There is a Provo Sergeant, who’s not a pleasant man, who would shop his own grandmother if he had the chance.  His job is policing the place, keeping us out of mischief.  Problem is, against all regulations, he is nearly always drunk.  He came to our tent one night, we had no nets up, and playing cards for money after “lamps out” which was a very serious offence.  We were put on a charge, but it was soon dropped because of no proper evidence, and in his condition ‘what luck”.

Back to UK

Rumours are flying around, that we are soon going back to Blighty.  The problems now are the troubles in Kenya with the Mau-Mau, this might put the dampers on any hope of going home; we can only keep our fingers crossed.  The situation gets worse; certain ones from the Division will have to go.  It turns out to be the intakes after mine; can’t help feeling sorry for them, but glad for others.

Its home at last; find they had it very hard in Kenya with the jungle fighting and a few casualties.  I have been saving up my pennies, so I can buy myself something nice, while out here.  Now’s the time, a lovely watch I’ve seen on the Arabs arm; a 17-jewel gold plated, with crystal numerals, very up market - so I decide to buy.  I manage to bargain his price down a bit, still much cheaper than the UK - I am now a much poorer man, but a proud owner (I had the watch stolen my first week in civvy street, at the swimming baths).  We take to lorries for Port Said transit camp, waiting for our transport home, nobody knows what it will be at the moment.  We march to the jetty, to be confronted by a luxury liner, the SS “New Australia”, one of the boats used for emigration from Britain, dining the late forties.  We are treated like First Class passengers, with all the comforts, but still do our parades and lectures, in case we forget that we are still soldiers.  It’s a nice smooth crossing coming back, with no complaints this time.  We go through Customs search, no problem with the watch.  Be surprised what they try to smuggle through, have heard of somebody trying to get a Sten gun into the country by means of having different parts all over his body and kit, puts the shudders up you just thinking about it.  The train arrives back at Dover, this time its Old Park Barracks standing proud high on the horizon. 

Makes you feel so good to be home at last.

To be continued ..... 

Barry 5X

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Conscription between 1939 and 1948 was called National Service, but it is usually referred to as “War Service” or “Military Service”.  National Service as a “Peacetime Conscription” was introduced by the National Service Act 1948 which stated that from 1 January 1949, healthy males between 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the Armed Forces for 18 months, and then remain on the reserve list for four years.  In 1950 due to the Korean War, the service period was extended to two years with the reserve period being reduced by six months.  National Service ended gradually from 1957 for those born on or after 1 October 1939, however conscription continued for those whose call up had been delayed for any reason.  The last National Servicemen left the Armed Forces in May 1963.  As for being called a “Peacetime Conscription” National Service personnel were used in combat operations in Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Korea and in the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis.

Basically, after WW2 young teenage boys knew that they were most likely to undergo National Service in the armed forces when they reached 18.

This topic is an opportunity for those who experienced life after 1945 and into the 1950’s who were destined for National Service; to detail not only their memories of conscription but how they approached the future which would be temporarily interrupted by the mandatory National Service commitment.

Born in 1944 and as a teenager I was dreading the thought of national service having heard so many sorry tales from those who had experienced it, however, thankfully I didn't need to do it as it was stopped before I was old enough.

Last year, my brother in law presented me with 15 (A4) typed pages of his life story written 10 years ago when he was aged 70.  This details his life in Sittingbourne from age 12 until just after his “demob” after national service.  The story is in "written as spoken" English and captures his experience in the Army cadets in Sittingbourne. His first job at the paper mill and national service experience in Suez.  On his return to the UK he was involved with flood relief in 1952 at Lower Halstow.

I have decided to place the essay “Derek J Bean - My First Story” on the forum as I feel it gives a personal, sometimes sad, but amusing historical account through memories of a young Sittingbourne lad just after the war; leaving school, starting work, and preparing for and experiencing national service.

Hopefully this will generate more memories and experiences of life in Kent after WW2 as young men – who are now in their 70 and 80’s.




“My First Story” written by Derek John Bean

Not for the faint hearted, those with a nervous disposition or the squeamish and don’t have nightmares.  True facts as best remembered with not too many names mentioned.

PART 1

2003 aged 70

I was sitting in my armchair, trying to watch television and dozing off at the same time - I put it down to the tablets I’m taking, and not my age.  That’s my excuse and I am sticking by it.  I thought that I must stay awake for the next programme coming on, which is Lads Army, all about young National Servicemen of the forties and fifties, I being one of those poor unfortunate mortals in the dark days of that era made me sit up and take notice.  I have always been interested in anything military, especially old war films “Not the John Wayne types, I may hasten to say” but the good old fashioned British Bulldog breed type.  This gave me the inspiration to write something about myself of that time.

Starting at the latter part of my schooldays, I went to Holy Trinity, Sittingbourne 200 yards from my home, needless to say I was always late and the last one in, punctuality has never been my good point, even late at the Register Office when I got hitched.  Anyway back at school I was never a whiz kid or brain of Britain, but did have fair knowledge of history and geography, not exactly subjects for top careers.  The latter could be handy for navigating the globe.

The one thing I was being useful and making progress at, was the Buffs Army Cadets.  My old mate Johnny Town, “no longer with us” died of a heart attack in 1974 age 41 “God bless him” came round my house one evening to tell me he had just joined the cadets as a drummer; you had to be thirteen, I was only twelve.  But desperate to be the same as him I put my age up, I’m sure the officer didn’t believe me, anyway I was soon a proud drummer boy.  That was the start of something big.  I soon became Leading Tipper, that’s Lead Drummer in band lingo and soon rose through the ranks and after two years of keen dedication soon became a sergeant, and stayed on till the ripe old age of seventeen - must have been the oldest young cadet in the Country.

Back at school - I left at fifteen in 1948.  It is now time for my first job, got mixed feelings about this, but the thought of some money in my pocket sounds great.  I have already been in front of the Headmaster, a Mr Catt, a very good teacher and gentleman discussing my future with the jobs sent up from the Labour Exchange - “no seafaring or navigational jobs here”.  None really appeal to me, so it’s “make up your mind time” - could do that in those days.  But my Father has other ideas, having spent twenty odd years in both of the Bowater Paper mills.  It does seem like everybody works in the mills these days including my brothers and sisters; well it is the biggest wage packet around with a handsome bonus every Christmas.  So I decide to take the job, don’t have much choice at the moment.

The Sittingbourne Bowater Paper Mills

My first day starts at 7.30am I catch the so many minutes past Seven at the special bus stop up the road, direct to the Mill gates, now I am getting really nervous - Butterflies in the stomach, “more like bats”.  I am directed to the place of work; the Cutter House - all new boys start here.  When I get to the work place it looks like something out of Dickens workshops.  With its primitive machinery a large guillotine about 3 metres wide, which with a touch of a switch, automatically cuts craft wrappers for the finished paper reels - nasty if your limbs are in the way.  Our job is to bundle up on to a truck, for the factory floor.  Seeing the funny side of all this, is the static electricity generated by the friction of the cut wrappers, making your hair stand up on end (l had a bit more hair in them days) also creating several inches of sparks out of your fingers.  I am introduced to my two work mates, who show me the ropes, and where to put the sparks, usually on the other person’s anatomy somewhere, all in good fun.

I pick up my first wages £3 17s 6d, that’s £3 board and keep 17s 6d for me which is good for today’s standards, should last me the week.  Beer at 2 Shillings a pint (that’s about 10 pence today) Fags at 5d for Twenty.  Afford to go down the pub, but not quite old enough yet to do so.  I stick to my Cadets and roaming the Streets and a crafty fag - no computers or television those days.  After a few months I have managed to save enough money for a deposit on a new bike on HP.  Father had to be guarantor, 5 shillings a week at Curry’s for two years.  Now I can cycle to work.  I even go home at Lunch time, takes 15 minutes either way - I was fit in those days.  Don’t leave long at home; still better then looking at machinery.  Apart from the bus and bike, there is an alternative way of travelling to work - by way of the Bogey – a Light steam train which runs between the two Mills for about 3 miles, used for transporting materials.  Not meant for the public officially but it’s done me some good turns, on cold wet days, and when I’ve missed the bus.  This train is now called The Sittingbourne Light Railway, a tourist attraction.
 
I am now sixteen and the start of shift work on the machine floor with the noise, sweat and tears - the latter for taking the job in the first place.  Never been too enthusiastic about it and the thought of another Fifty years make me cringe.  I am assigned to No 4 machine.  There are six of these monsters in the factory, each a massive 75 - 100 yds. in length, with 2 Main ends (The Wet and Dry).  I am put on the Wet end as Press Boy once again “all the new Boys start here”.  This is where the paper is made, a mixture of pulp water and alum running on top of a copper gauze wire mesh at a speed of up to 1200 ft.  a minute; complicated to explain but fascinating to watch.  This goes through a Couch roll with thousands of very tiny holes which presses, sucks, and filters out most of the water.  In time this roller gets blocked and has to be removed so it can be drilled out - a job for overtime involving a dozen men. 

My job is to watch the sheet to see if it breaks.  When it does, it runs up onto the Doctor roll blade, situated above the Couch.  At that speed it soon builds up in to a load of hot wet paper pulp, so you have your eyes peeled all the time.  My Machine man whose job it is to make sure everything is running smoothly, with not too many breaks, and a multitude of other troubles - no wonder he gets up-tight.  On his bad days, he takes it out on me, by throwing the break paper onto the floor, and not in the truck.  Can be as many as twenty breaks in one shift - “Wot a nice fellow”.  I also have the job on the 6-2 shift of cleaning and polishing all the brass bits, and keeping the large rollers greased.  My handsome older brother has just started on No.  3 machine as “Press Boy”, but not for long as he is soon promoted to “No.  2 boy Dry End”, but does not stay long in the factory.  I think its interfering with his love life.  At least he’s out in the fresh air - got more sense than me.  By now I am really getting cheesed off with the job, hoping something better will turn up. 

Time for me to move on, I am promoted to “No. 2 boy Dry End”.  This is the finishing part of the machine; the sheet has now passed through many layers of dry felts and rollers.  It is now wound into large reels, some weighing 5 tons.  My job is to remove the reels from the machine by means of up and down pulley chains, working a small hydraulic crane on a gantry, lowered down onto a four-wheeled trolley, pushed on rails to the next stage, which is the Calendar house.  This is where the reels are rewound and all the breaks and rubbish taken out.  They are then passed on to the final stage, which is the “Reelers” where they are cut to various sizes to the customers’ requirements.  This is where my wrappers from the Cutter house come into play.
 
My other job is stomping down the sheet which runs down a pit when it breaks from the Wet end, and then putting the sheet back on.  The paper is gathered by the Poacher man below who takes it to the poacher which is a fierce looking machine, with large rotating blades which cuts up the thick wrappers and paper taken from the machines.  Men have been known to be dragged in, with fatal results.  I have now been on the job for almost three years, hoping it will get better but it never seems to.

Never mind, I am coming up to Eighteenth birthday, time maybe for my National Service or other things on the horizon, so have to stick it out till such times.  Before long I am waiting for that all-important letter from the War Department to drop on my door mat that will decide my fate for the next two years.  Is my bit of army experience in the Cadets going to make any difference to my career in the real army?  Looking forward to finding out, can’t be many lads out there thinking on those terms.  Quite the opposite I should think, must be dreading the thought of leaving home and family.  Johnny Town had his calling up papers weeks ago and now doing his training at Didcot as a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery.  Won’t hear or see him for a while.

National Service

My 18th comes and goes, don’t hear nothing much, surely they haven’t forgotten me. (just joking).  I realise later they only send out letters every three months.  Then one day in June out of the blue, it arrives headed OHMS date stamped Chatham.  I open up hurriedly in front of Mother and Sister; father was in bed after doing nights.  Got to report to “Chatham Town Hall Recruitment Office, for interview and medical (train pass issued)”.  I know this part of town very well, not far from the Social club, spent a few good evenings there (anyway that’s another story).  I spiv myself up in my Sunday best and off to Chatham I jolly well go.  Tell them all they want to know, including my cadet history, and a bit added on for luck - “Well you never know”.  I pass my medical with flying colours and they tell me a letter will be in the post.  Sure enough, the letter arrives in a few days, got to report to the Buffs (The Royal East Kent’s) New Infantry Barracks Canterbury, better known as Howe Barracks - hasn’t been built long.  Got to report by 11.15 hrs a fortnight Tuesday, have to show this letter to Bowater’s so they keep the job open for me.  I am hoping for better things in the future, have to wait and see.  I gather what few friends I have got down the mill to have a farewell drink in the club house NOW I am all ready and raring to go.

After a few more goodbyes I catch the something past 10 for Canterbury, get talking to some of the lads in the carriage, all with long faces and destined for the same place, all gloom and doom.  We arrive at Canterbury just before 11 o’clock.  A smart Corporal at the barrier confronts us and tells us to muster outside for roll call.  Most look bewildered and horrified, thinking what have they done to deserve this.  We are bundled into army lorries which I am sure these were used at D-Day.  I remember one of the tailboards being dodgy, and the driver telling us to be careful.  We arrive in one piece.  On the parade ground once again the orders, everybody off and form three ranks.  This reminds me when I use to give the orders, a lot different now.  We are marched to the mess room for the first taste of army food; today for quickness it’s “Pom” a powdered potato for those who don’t know” and sausages, a poor man’s “bangers and mash” and a mug of tea.  Not too bad considering it does get much worse later on in training.  Once again its muster outside again, this time we are marched to the Quartermasters stores for kitting out, not exactly Saville Row, you will be lucky if anything fits.  From socks to shirts, everything is khaki, even the pants.  We collect our army issue brushes, button stick, Blanco etc., and kit bag which has to be stencilled with your Army Number.  22504474 - I am just a number now.  When everybody’s ready we are taken to our allocated billets, about ten to a room.  Looks nice and spotless and that’s how it has to stay.

It is introduction time, got a few rather important people in our company; a top London Councillors son, and a large shop manager, to name just a few.   The door bursts open, with a smart Corporal yelling orders and frightening the life out of some telling us to make the most of the day as tomorrow you start your training.  Reveille 06.30, breakfast 07.15 and note that the NAAFI is now open.  You can buy most of your requirements here this will be our haven for the next few weeks.  I look on the notice board at room orders, only one radio allowed at any one time and no music after lights out at 22.30.  Bedtime comes, lights out, nobody can get settled, no Mothers to tuck them in bed, after a time there is a certain amount of crying , makes the rest of us very uneasy.  First time I have heard grown lads cry.

The night passes with not a lot of sleep, before you know it, the bugler sounds Reveille closely followed by the corporal, yelling everybody up, pulling the bed cloths of those still in bed – a good start for first morning.  We make our way to the ablutions; a place to wash - even got hot water, apart from the queue, no problems.  Next move is the mess room, to the same breakfast, nearly always porridge or cornflakes eggs and bacon, but not too bad considering.  Back in the room we clean and tidy and smarten ourselves up for parade at 0900hrs even talking the lingo now.  Bugle sounds assembly and out we go once again orders get fell in, tallest to the back shortest at the front.  At 5ft 4ins I’m the dwarf of them all, could even pass me as Regimental mascot.  This is the time we all dread, a trip to the barbers, to be sheared just like sheep, don’t affect me much, never had a lot in the first place.  But to some a real nightmare 1/2 inch left all over, to be done every fortnight without fail “A bit much”.  We are then shown by a Lance Corporal, how to lay out our bedding and kit, all squared up at a certain size for every morning inspection.  Heaven help us if it is not - soon finishes up all over the place, to be started again. 

Bit like my paper making days “no justice in this world”, the humiliation we get from the NCO’s is criminal, to say the least.  The Corporal every morning on the parade ground will stand with his face inches from your chin looking for any stray whiskers you may have missed.  If he finds any which he normally does its back to square one, this can go on for ages, until he is satisfied.  The same with brasses and boots, and anything else not up to it.  Looks like we would be spending all our spare time cleaning kits, polishing brasses and bulling our boots so you can see your face in them.  This is done by heating a spoon handle over a lighted candle, pressed over toecaps in a circular motion with lashings of blacking, and a bit of spit and polish - in time they look like glass.

There are forty recruits in our Platoon, which is called “Oudernarde” named after a famous battle of the Crimea war.  This includes four NCO’s and one officer.  From now on its foot slogging and arms drill, almost till you drop, with all the insults and humiliation they can throw at you.  The discipline is very strict with plenty of fatigues.  I have been very lucky so far.  They have even got an “awkward squad” - that’s for those with two left feet, who are singled out from the rest of the Squad.  This is where my cadets have come in handy. 

Things start looking up; we get measured up for new uniforms for walking out.  We haven’t been allowed outside of camp for 3 weeks.  In the meantime, the councillor’s son has been writing home about the army conditions.  His father comes down in his roller, to sort out the C/O and the establishment, thinking his son should be treated better, obviously to no avail - “what a shame”.  He does finish up being quite a character, one of the boys, and very good soldier, volunteering for Korea. 

At last we are allowed out, providing you’re not on guard duty, and with 7s and 6d army pay, not exactly going to paint the town red.  It’s now time for weapons lectures, which I think I’ve got a good knowledge of.  This particular day it’s learning about and stripping the Bren gun.  Me being a big head, and a know all, soon gets my comeuppance.  The lance corporal is soon telling me to forget all I’ve learnt.  This is a man army not boys, which was very hurtful, and something I never forgot.  I think I knew more than him.

To be continued ..... 

 

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