particular concern, I attended the Army Recruiting Office in July 1955 and
duly registered for National Service. I was the youngest of four boys. My
father had served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, one brother
had been in the Royal Corp of Military Police and the other two served in
the Royal Navy. In October of the same year, I was instructed to report to
Merebrooke Training Camp, Malvern, Worcestershire - it was now my turn to
contribute to the cause.
When the day came for me to leave, my tearful mother ensured I was fully
laden with the necessities associated with such a venture; two changes of
clothing, a cake and a £2 postal order. I sailed from the Isle of Wight,
and after changing trains in London I found my way to a long carriage full
of fresh, pimply youths, all destined for the same fate.
We arrived in due course to be met by the tallest, smartest soldier I had
ever seen. He impressed me a great deal. His boots reflected the
surroundings and had it been sunny I am quite sure we would have been
blinded by their reflection. He spoke so quietly and with a slight accent
I could not identify. I knew deep down he must have been important,
because he had a white painted single chevron on each arm. He welcomed us
on behalf of the staff and invited us to get on the back of a covered army
lorry. Whilst someone had thoughtfully provided a knotted rope to assist
us with this activity, it could only be reached if you were six foot, six
inches tall. I only found out later it was to help you get out.
We set off with a jolt and after about twenty minutes, we stopped with an
even greater one. The back was dropped with an abrupt clang, and the
former immaculate handsome friendly soldier we had met earlier was utterly
transformed. To this day I recall with great wonderment what could have
happened to him during the journey.
He was obsessed with the speed of disembarking from this vehicle, his
voice was like a gorilla with a migraine, he ran about like a whirling
dervish and I feared for his safety. His eyes bulged, veins stood out in
his neck, and we were all incapable of moving. That was until an even
larger couple came on the scene. These caused me to be concerned, both had
peaked caps that they could hardly see out from under, and both had
The 'smaller' of the two had a short stick with a silver knob, and he had
a small crown on each shoulder. I could not read his name on his pocket.
It was the small plastic label still popular with some officers who cannot
remember their names to this day. I could make out the word 'O.l.C.' so I
guessed that would be his nickname to his friends. This was a position I
never achieved in the six weeks I was under his patronage.
The other was
decorated in a grander way. He carried a long stick, hinged and with
polished brass fittings. During my stay in training its use confused me.
It was either below your nostril in a vertical position, with the threat
of it being poked upwards at the slightest provocation, or tucked safely
below the armpit of the carrier, level with the ground. The galloping
horses on his wrist indicated he was the Regimental Sergeant Major, R.S.M.
Every person, even officers would be concerned for their well-being in his
We were invited
to form up in three ranks, a movement completely foreign to us all.
However, this was achieved with great difficulty, and we were then marched
away to a wooden building. Inside, we were allocated a bench seat, and
told to sit quietly on our hands. There followed a mighty roar of "SHUN!".
Some with Army Cadet Service experience leapt up, which upset the delicate
balance of the benches so that the remainder ended up in an jumbled heap
on the floor. Incredibly, a few remained completely non-plussed, although
the scene was generally one of absolute chaos.
The Lance Corporal who met us (we soon found out, whilst not really
important, he had a considerably amount of power over us) stood there, a
delicate shade of puce. The visitors for whom the order had been given,
were 'O.l.C' and his close friend the R.S.M. They made the point that it
was early days: Things would improve. The Major welcomed us and said how
lucky we were to be soldiers to serve in the army in general, and the
Royal Engineers in particular.
The R.S.M. took over, and obviously on the assumption that we were deaf,
continued to deliver a tirade of instructions at the speed of a machine
gun, which literally went over my head. We were told the number we had
been given was personal to each of us. In my case this was 23185992. This
took so long to learn, but as we all know, never to be forgotten.
The first day over, we were accommodated in a very long hut with bedding
already provided. We each signed for the bedding and a set of mess cans,
knife, fork and spoon. To complete the ensemble was the largest mug I have
ever seen. You could nearly do your washing, laundry and have a drinking
supply for a week.
The locker between each bed was to be shared by two recruits. We were made
to "fall in" outside of our hut, and marched to the cookhouse. This was a
huge building, and we were given a hot plate with a tray with about six
compartments. This was held in front of your body, just below the level of
each pot, manned by a various array of cooks.