Fond Memories

Every so often, I read a story that drags me back  too many years.

This is one that just did it for me:-

As an an Army-born brat, my  initial reaction was that junior officers will be junior officers.  I would not want them to be anything else, given the excellent  job that they will do for my country in their future years of service. They would not, in my opinion, be able to do that  vital job for the rest of us unless they were  heid-banger inclined  in the first place. I could, of course, be biased.

Then, I spotted that they were launching their flares at each other from kayaks in the swimming pool of  the barracks at Bovington Camp. Having, obviously, slightly mind-boggled about that scenario, I went straight back  for more than 50 years.

In 1959, Dad was Officer Commanding Royal Engineers (Southern Command), based at Wilton. His duties seemed to mean  that there was never enough time for us boys to hang together.

One Friday, he asked me if I would like to go to the Tank Museum at Bovington. I was an avid reader of ‘The Eagle’. Why would I not want to get close up and personal with tanks, having pored over exploded views thereof so many times?

Off we went and I had a magic day. Crawling in and out of WW1 tanks, both male and female. Bouncing around in various armoured vehicles. Absolutely no idea if Dad stuck around for all of my frenzy. For all I know, he might have nipped off to the Mess for a quick snifter while I lost myself in the joy.

Whatever! Eventually, he called time and we went back to the car for the drive home. Dad was in mufti

Exiting the gates, he turned left towards Wiltshire and home. 500 yards down the road were two obvious servicemen, also in mufti, who were hitchhiking.

You need to know that Bovington was also a base for Junior Leaders.

Dad assumed they were on a weekend pass and picked them up. They settled in the back and, after about 5 miles, divulged that they were on a 24 hour initiative test and were supposed to get as far from the camp as they could, under their own steam and without  using any money or any form of powered transport.

Dad stopped the car and reached across me to the glove shelf of our Hillman Minx (MGE 976) to pick up his RE colonel’s cap. I will probably never again see people snapping to attention whilst seated. It still resonates.

He offered them the option of handing them in straight away or a second chance of driving them back to the gates to start again without comment. They chose the latter.

I’m fairly certain that my Dad was a nice guy.

15 thoughts on “Fond Memories”

  1. “Heid-banger inclined” people are the very last kind that we need in our armed forces. I would have thought that our long list of military screw ups would have made that lesson clear. We should be weeding such folk out at the training stage….which is what I hope happens here.

  2. It is all very well saying they broke the rules. But to me that is showing initiative. In real life in a war anything goes. they would do anything to get where they needed to be and who would blame them?
    Of course the only stupid thing they did was to open their mouths to your father!
    Had they kept their traps shut, they would have got away with it! So many condemn themselves out of their own mouths. I realise that is a pretty immoral attitude, but they are training to be soldiers not lawyers!

    Rather reminds me of the exercises in the Brecon Beacons. There they take the recruits out all over 30 miles or so and they have three days to get back to camp without being seen by the general public who are asked to report them in if seen. One lady in the neighbourhood caused a superb scandal. She spotted some toothsome lad in one of her ditches whilst out walking the dog. She captured him, took him home and did a deal with him, no report if he played nice! Two days later she released him from her bedroom and took him by land rover back to Sennybridge, (where the camp is situated) dumped him on the outskirts, said a fond farewell and failed to make a phone call. Of course, the army may never of have known about it but the whole neighbourhood was laughing for weeks, Probably the hardest work the guy ever did for two days!!!

  3. Janus, Dad did indeed end up relatively brassish but only after having had his potential officering talents recognised by a grateful late King George VI in the torrid depths of WWII.

    Dad was the son of a master baker. Youngest by about eleven years of eight siblings and born in a second floor, two bedroom tenement flat in Balfour Street in Leith, home of Hibernian Football Club. That last and unfortunate locational fact is probably the only one for which I will never forgive him.

    First of his family to go to Uni and he chose the right one. In an initially reserved occupation (teacher) but signed up straight away. A trooper in the RA who manned an AA gun to defend Wembley Stadium – I eventually forgave him that one.

    Commissioned and transferred to the Sappers. At war end, they offered him rapid promotion to the top in the Education Corps but he stuck with the Royal Engineers and progressed modestly therein.

    So yes, I had lots of schools but they were not service, Too young in Germany and Singapore, state in Scotland and public preparatory in England. In 1960, they civilianised Dad’s job and he took the bowler, despite being offered another EdCorp optout. Had he not done that, I would probably have ended up at Haileybury and Imperial Service College and, in due course, in the Army.

    Jazz, sorry for any confusion. By ‘heid-banger’, I meant to convey the ability to relax hard, fast and, occasionally, spectacularly inappropriately after coping with a stressful tour of conscientious and dedicated service to our nation. I can only speak about the junior officers that I hero-worshipped when I was an Army brat. That’s just how I remember what I believed to be the good ones.

    CO, did I or Dad complain about them breaking rules or about their morality? As you say, it was only their own stupidity which condemned them to have to restart. It’s a bit like that scene in the ‘Great Escape’

    Thank you for your implied suggestion that lawyers do not have an immoral attitude when in training. Not a common view, in my opinion.

    Cracking tale from the Brecon Beacons!

  4. JM, My father too was brought up in a Leith Tenement his father was a plumber at Henry Robb’s shipyard later with the Gas Board. Pre war he attended Leith Academy but never went to university. He joined the Auxiliary Airforce, City of Edinburgh 606 Squadron and became a radio operator (trailing lengths of copper aerial wire behind Hawker Harts). At the outbreak of WW2 he was called up and served 3 tours in bomber Command first on Wellingtons then Halifaxs. He was a sergeant on call up but was commissioned at some stage, received the DFM and DFC ( the DFM obviously prior to being commissioned) and stayed in the RAF after the war, becoming a Wing Commander before ‘resigning’ in 1965 due to an alcohol problem which eventually destroyed the family and killed him. I think the alcohol was down to the RAF rather than the war, the military has a drinking culture which mixed with the general bullshit can have deleterious effect on the weaker brethren.

  5. Hi jazz

    So that’s a snap then as our Dads ended up with equivalent ranks, having started on the same rung of the ladder,

    Forgive any perceived flippancy before I get to what I think is the important point of your post. That alcohol thing was all too prevalent in service families. I knew too many fellow brats who suffered from the fact that their parents had easy access to cheap drink. It was not just the ready scrawl on the mess bill for the father – the long hours of bridge parties and other social events, which invariably involved gin, were no better for the service wives.

    Mrs M and I were relatively lucky. Her Dad (RN) and her Mum were always abstemious and my Dad and Mum managed to cope. Mrs M’s uncle and his wife ( both RAF who got spliced during the war) did not. He blew his brains out in the late 1950’s and she drank herself into an asylum.

    Are you sure about your Dad being in 606 squadron? I have always thought that the City of Embra squadron was 603.

  6. Hi Janus.Some things matter, gadfly it however you might wish.

    In 1984, Mrs M and I bought a main door flat in Comely Bank Avenue, Embra.

    On our first day in possession, our neighbour to the south rang the bell and invited us round for bracing (and mindboggingly large) G&T’s.

    His name was David Ross. His wife, who put Wagner’s Brunhilde to shame, was Marcia. Both dead before the Millenium, whichever side of the 2000 v 2001 debate you choose.

    I started work in or about 1971. David had retired as a senior executive of McVities biscuits six years before, What riveted me was that his war had been served as a pilot in 603. His tales were as epic as his gins.

    Embra 603

    617 were indeed the Dambusters squadron. Relevance to the debate?

  7. Moving on, I’m about to totally immerse myself in the BBC2 recording of the Bayreuth 2016 ‘Siegfried’.

    Favourite of the ‘Ring’. Never been keen on ‘Rheingold’, Love most of Act !!! of ‘Walkure’ but get a bit depressed at the close. Get utterly despondent for ‘Gotterdamerung’. I blame Wotan. And Hagen. And Wagner.

    Reasonable journey up the Rhine, to be fair.

    We’re away to St Johnstone in the next round of the League Cup, despite being a seeded team. Allegedly.

    Rangers are at home to the mighty Peterhead. How did that happen?

    When I think about it, I know exactly how it happened.

  8. JM quite right it was 603 squadron. My father was an honorary member of the Mess at RAF Turnhouse after leaving the service in 1965 I recall driving him home (on my provisional licence) a few times. Your description of the perils of booze in the military is deadly accurate, the whole culture, particularly overseas, revolved around alcohol.

  9. JM/Jazz, thanks for sharing your real life military tales. This is one of the great things about this place that there is room for all sorts of expression. Thanks again for an interesting read.

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