National Service

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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 27 Feb 2019, 04:55

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The main gate at Gatow. The sign for ‘A’ Company confused us because they were never at Gatow. Perhaps that was a different plan.

Once in Berlin we were taken to our billets in Mercedes buses. We had a longer ride than the infantry companies, they were in Brooke Barracks at Spandau, we were kept separate from the battalion on Gatow Aerodrome up the Kladow road out of Berlin. Gatow under the Nazis had been a training centre for Luftwaffe fighter pilots and all the accommodation was first class, small rooms sleeping about six, plenty of toilets, showers and baths and the whole place was clean, light, airy and very well built. I noticed one strange thing about the toilet bowls, anything you deposited landed on a ledge and sat there until you flushed it away. I found out later that this was because the Germans liked to be able to examine their stool as a health check. We were definitely in a foreign country!

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Our cookhouse at Gatow, directly over the road from the barracks block. Anti Tank platoon has loaded the grub up and is ready to move out on a scheme. Austin 3 tonner towing the 17pdr. You get a good idea of how low the profile of the gun was.

We had a cookhouse just across the road and a hangar down on the airfield for the guns and transport. We couldn’t believe our luck especially when we found out that the whole place was heated from a central boiler house. All there was time for was a wash, a quick meal and then to bed, I crashed out and went straight to sleep but was soon awoken by the sound of gunfire! We went outside and in the sky down the road saw tracer flying up into the air and the flash of explosions, we thought that this was it and the Russians had decided to take over. Major Cross, our OC came out of the office and told us that it was nothing to worry about. He said it was pay night at the big Russian camp over the border in the Zone. They were paid half in money and half in ammunition and this was their way of letting off steam. Personally I never believed it, I thought it was the Russkies letting us know that they knew we had arrived and this was their way of welcoming us. Anyway, there was nothing we could do about it and so we went back to bed.
The following day we started the process of settling in to our billets, sorting out the guns and stores and generally getting our bearings. We found that we didn’t have our beloved Stuarts for towing vehicles, when we needed them we could order 3 ton 4X4 Austin trucks from battalion.

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What we had lost, a Stuart gun tower with a 17pdr in the desert. Not one of ours but the same machinery.

When the Germans had built the airfield they had planted pine woods on all the areas not needed for any other purpose. This was for camouflage but the result by the time we got there was that apart from the airstrip itself about half a mile away down the road, the whole place was a pine forest and the buildings were in clearings in a forest, it was very pleasant. The rooms were well lit with two large windows in each and all you could see outside was trees. We noticed that there were two sets of windows, one opening inwards and one out with a six inch gap between. When we got into the German winter of 1955 we found out what they were for! However, this was almost spring, the sun was shining, we were well fed, had plenty to do and had no problems at all.
We soon found out that there was an RAF contingent who actually used the place as an airfield. The main airport was at Templehof in the American Sector and the French had one as well, I forget the name. We soon struck up acquaintances with the RAF blokes and I made firm friends with one or two. I can remember Smudge Smith and Slim Seaton, a little tubby lad who came from Doncaster. They had connections that were to lead to many happy days later on.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 28 Feb 2019, 04:31

About half a mile down the road from the billets was the airfield and our hangar. This was an enormous space and we were allocated one end of it for the guns and some adjacent rooms for storage. The machine gunners and the mortar platoon kept their bren gun carriers there as well and on a slack day we had great fun driving the carriers round on the concrete apron. We didn’t keep the stores for the guns down there, Bert had his little kingdom at the billets.

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Bert and I sat in the woods at Gatow reflecting on how far away demob was.

We played with guns in the sunshine on the apron with a view right out over the airfield to the border of the Zone. If the weather was bad we had plenty of room for gun drill under cover. One curious thing we noted was that the hangars had never been re-painted since the war and all the notices were in German and gothic script. Words like ‘rauchen streng verboten’ and ‘luftschutzraum’ soon entered our vocabulary. We were told we were under constant observation from the Russian side but this didn’t worry us one bit, after all, they had been on our side during the war and we couldn’t imagine having to fight them.

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One of our 17pdrs sheeted up in the hangar at Gatow. This picture gives me a bit of a problem because if you look over the top of this gun to the far gun against the wall it’s a BAT 150! When I wrote the memoir I was convinced that we didn’t have them in Berlin but I am obviously wrong. I can’t re-write the story because if I did I would be telling lies. The only thing I can think is that we had the BAT so we could train on it but that the really secret bit, the ammunition, was the thing that wasn’t allowed in the divided city.
Some inkling of this attitude must have been present in the minds of our lords and masters because we soon had a round of what can only be described as indoctrination lectures. Bearded men in uniforms with no badges or insignia came and told us all about the Russians. They reckoned there were very few Russians in Berlin and that most of the troops were Mongolian on the grounds that they were less likely to defect. We were told how stupid they were, they didn’t understand toilets and washed fish in them, they couldn’t change light bulbs and were substandard in general and untrustworthy. We had to be ready at all times to take up arms against them and defend the Berliners from the ultimate take-over which was what the Russians wanted. Back in the billets we agreed that this bloke must have thought we were stupid. We never saw any Mongolians and if they were so sub standard how had they managed to take Berlin before us? This sort of attitude where we got the impression that the powers that be had a very low opinion of our intelligence was very common. They forgot that many of us had good educations and civilian skills they couldn’t aspire to. I have also wondered since whether part of the antipathy to NS men that surfaced occasionally was rooted in envy because they knew that we had a better deal than the regular soldiers, we had a way out!
Next we had lectures on dangers to avoid in the city, bath tub brandy, nasty women and Russian spies who would try to get vital information out of us. The nearest thing we had to vital information was how many guns we had and seeing as they could count them every day as we cleaned and drilled we didn’t think they would be expending too much espionage effort on us. On the whole I think we were resentful because we thought we were being patronised and told a lot of bull. Whoever had authorised this sort of treatment for us was definitely out of touch and furthermore, must have thought we were substandard as well. One legend that arose from this propaganda effort was that if you wanted a home posting all you had to do was leave a copy of the Daily Worker lying about in the billet. The DW was of course the official publication of the British Communist Party. I never saw this happen but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true.
(Years later of course I realised that at the time I was in Berlin it was a hotbed of intelligence activity. It was of course this paranoia that was surfacing in our lives but we had no knowledge, only a healthy suspicion.)
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 01 Mar 2019, 06:40

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20327, the gun I was on all through my service. It’s cleaned and ready for inspection with the breech open. We knew every inch of this gun intimately, our instructors would have been proud of us.

It didn’t take us long to settle down to a routine much the same as Colchester. Life was occupied with cleaning and maintaining the guns, gun drill, some parades but not many and lectures on the mechanics of the guns and ammunition and tactics. I was very interested and got Richie to win a 17pdr manual for me. I just about learned it by heart, I was always asking him questions and helped him many a time to do tests and adjustments to the guns which officially I wasn’t required to know anything about. I didn’t realise it but I was getting to be the company expert on the 17pdr. Come to think, the brass weren’t so daft because when billets were allocated I found myself in a room with two corporals, Ken Collins and Ronnie Dean, and a lance-corporal Chris Byrne, all regulars, that is, signed on for at least seven years and they treated me as an equal.

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Opening the trails up into the firing position. The large spades on the ends swung down and dug into the ground to absorb the recoil. The gun weighed 3 tons but was very well balanced, one man could lift the trails and move the gun.

The battalion at Spandau didn’t leave us alone, we were required to attend for regimental parades about once a week. These were supervised by the Regimental Sergeant Major who was a fearsome man! I can’t remember his name, we all referred to him as Tara. I remember that at that time I was convinced that we were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Oboe, it took me a while to realise that he was actually called Rodgers. (Charlie Oboe was radio speak for CO

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Cleaning the bore with a brush on the end of heavy sectional rods. This was a daily routine to make sure there was no rust or dirt in the barrel. Once again I see evidence I was wrong, if you look over Johno’s right shoulder you can see the end of the barrel of the BAT. Unmistakeable because the towing eye was on the barrel. The border to the Russian Zone is the left horizon, we were under constant observation.

Our trips down to Brooke Barracks helped orient us and we got an idea in which direction the bright lights lay. The road to Spandau followed the side of the River Havel which, at this point, opened out into the Havel See which was a large open stretch of water, it reminded me of Windermere in the Lake District. In Spandau I was struck by one very forbidding building which looked like a brick imitation of a castle and was surrounded by several fences, one of which was electrified. I soon found out that this was Spandau Gaol and that the prisoners inside were Rudolph Hess, Albert Speer, Walther Funk and Admiral Erich Raeder. Later we were to get more closely acquainted.
One of the reasons I was called down to Spandau was to do an intelligence test. We all had to take the exam and it was a piece of cake. I did it and thought no more about it. Later, Major Cross sent for me and told me that I had got top marks and had qualified for a WOSB, a War Office Selection Board. He said that if I took it up I would be sent back to UK to Aldershot, given the test and failed because of my working class background and regional accent. I would then almost certainly be re-deployed back home. He apologised for this and said he didn’t agree with the selection process but wanted me to have a clear idea of what would happen to me. He asked me what I wanted to do because this was one of the few occasions when the army gave you a choice. I told him I’d rather stay with the guns and the lads I knew, I was very happy serving under him and had no desire to become an officer. He told me it was a sensible decision, dismissed me and the following morning I looked at company orders and found I had been promoted to Lance Corporal! (acting/unpaid) Looking back Major Cross had decided I was a bright lad and wanted to keep me, he always treated me with respect and it was appreciated.
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Re: National Service

Post by Whyperion » 01 Mar 2019, 17:38

Plenty to note and reply to.
One bizarre segment of our indoctrination was a lecture by the Regimental Padre who explained to us that the admonition “Thou shalt not kill” which we had all learned in the Ten Commandments didn’t apply if the target was foreign
This is something that has peturbed, for example, Jewish Rabbis (are there any other types of Rabbi?), in both the analysis of the historical Judah/Israel Kingdoms and the present day. I suppose Buddist teachings have the same problems when it comes to the survival of the tribe, for want of a better simplification.

Meanwhile noted today reports of The British Army and the clean-up of Salisbury and surrounding Wiltshire following the Novichock Incident. I am not a great fan of the over-hysterial in the media of things like 'armed forces day' but I hope some of the lads get regimental medals or better pulblic recognition at the end of the year as I am sure it has been an experience they would not have anticipated on signing-up and not one without risks. Interesting in that seeing as the government has privatised just about everything that SERCO or similar outsourcing companies appear not have been used in this analysis and decontamination - was the potential financial cost too high ( a corporal's kings shilling I assume is relatively cheap ) or the politicial sensitivity a choice factor? In passing - and I know it is difficult if not legally impossible to get financial recompense from another soverign state - I wonder - given Pendle's private 'litter wardens' if Salisbury city council could not take some action- even if token- against the disposal of the container, never mind the contents, against the 2 or 3 persons implicated , maybe the evidence is not quite strong enough for a proof on that.

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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 02 Mar 2019, 02:54

Promotion made no difference at all to my life. The rank of Lance Corporal is the worst in the army, you haven’t enough authority to be a real NCO but there is a perceptible barrier between you and your mates. Ted Lancaster helped me a lot to make the transition from the ranks and on the whole, it caused me no problems. Up to the rank of sergeant we all mixed together anyway, it wasn’t until you got three stripes that you were admitted to the sergeants mess and mixed with all the senior NCO’s. Talking about the sergeant’s mess reminds me of Ted’s party trick. If he was in the mess, weather conditions were right and he had taken a few beers on board, he would do his party piece. I was privileged to witness it first at Colchester. Ted would straighten himself up and march out of the mess on to the parade ground. Choosing his moment he would shout “Moon! Moon in!” and the moon would vanish behind a cloud. Then, “Moon! Moon out!” and out it would come again to roars of applause from the audience. Ted would then march of in full regimental manner and likely as not collapse into the arms of his comrades. Great stuff!
One of the advantages about being detached from Battalion was that we didn’t have to do guard duty at the entrance to the airfield as this was manned by the RAF Regiment and civilian security. However, we soon found that we had to make up by doing other guard duties in the Sector. The first we encountered was Border Patrol. About eight of us were given two Austin Champs and a German security policeman who knew the route and could speak English. The Austin Champ was the British Army Jeep, Jeep by the way was the Yank’s corruption of the designation of their standard small transport which was originally General Purpose Vehicle, abbreviated to GP and corrupted to Jeep. Ours was a heavier vehicle than the American one and had a Rolls Royce engine, the particular ones we had also had a Telefunken radio in the back which we could use to contact the Military Police HQ as we went round the border.
Our job was to patrol the border with the Russian Zone where it ran alongside the perimeter of the British Sector. This was largely in open country but occasionally the border passed through a village. In those days it was partly fenced and guarded on the Russian side by Volks Polizei or VOPOS for short. In many places like villages, there was no physical barrier, just a white line painted down the middle of the road.
At intervals along the route there were Military Police Telephone (MPT’s) which we knew were tapped and monitored by the Russians but this didn’t bother us because all it told them was where we were and they knew that anyway because the whole of the border was lined with watch towers manned by VOPOS who could see where we were and reported back. Usually we used the MPT’s to report in but occasionally used the Telefunken instead just to keep the VOPOS on their toes. We were told that the radios were special and scrambled the signal and that the Russians hadn’t cracked it yet. I think this may have been correct because this facility enabled us to have a bit of fun with the VOPOS.
At one point on the border we had to go into the Eiskeller, an appendix shaped exclave of the border which we used to call the Cabbage Patch because that was the main crop growing there. The entrance was a narrow gap in the wire and it was fenced all round and ringed with watch towers. The VOPOS were always a bit nervous about the Cabbage Patch and we used to wind them up by reporting in on the Telefunken when we entered. I should mention that unless it was a really bad night, we didn’t show any lights at all. The Rolls Royce engines were very quiet and if the conditions were just right we could trickle slowly round the Eiskeller without being spotted, there was a lot of cover. On the way out we would call in from the MPT at the entrance but speak very quickly. The result was that the VOPOS thought we were just going in.
We would trickle quietly off down the track and then stop to see what happened. After a while a searchlight would stab the darkness, then another until the whole place was bathed in light. One memorable night the we thought the VOPOS must have been really wound up because they started firing so we decided to scapa. Off we went like hell down the border in the dark, it was a very rough track because it followed the line of the border fence regardless of the terrain so there were lots of blind summits even though the track was usually straight. Cresting one of these we found a bed in the middle of the track, we swerved to avoid it and narrowly missed going through the fence. The VOPOS had sprung a trap on us. I should mention here that as far as fire power was concerned, we were at a definite disadvantage because all the time we were in Berlin and no matter what we were guarding we were never given live ammunition. I often wondered about this, who did they think we were going to shoot?
We found out later that our encounter with the VOPOS wasn’t the first time it had happened. The story was that one Champ had gone through the fence and stuck half way in the Zone and the back half in the sector. The patrol was instructed to withdraw 100 yards from the border, take cover and wait for the cavalry. This seemed like a bloody good idea so off they went. Remember, the Russians were our bogey men at this time and nothing would have surprised us. Having said this, they gave the lads a hell of a surprise! After about 10 minutes they heard a large vehicle crashing through the undergrowth on the Russian side of the border. A tracked vehicle hove into view, a gang of men jumped out and did a quick and efficient job of cutting the Champ along the border line. They hooked on to the front end and by the time the MP’s arrived with a REME breakdown crew, all they had left was half a champ and the Telefunken! There was no problem about this, evidently incidents such as this were quite common. All our Allies had done was apply the concept of the border literally and had taken what they regarded as theirs. The MP’s gave the patrol another Champ and away they went to complete their stag. (A period on guard was always called a stag, don’t ask me why!)
At intervals along the border on our side there were huts manned by German Security Police, these were almost all ex-Wehrmacht and were, as a group of men, wonderful blokes. We used to have coffee with them and ask them about the war, what we couldn’t understand was how they had managed to lose. When we asked them the response was always the same, “It was Hitler!” Remember that nine years before they had been fighting us and then had all the traumas of reconstruction to contend with. We were the race who had bombed them to hell and back and killed their families, friends and comrades. I had been bombed personally during the war and my father and grandfather had fought them in the Great War, grandad Challenger being killed. What intrigued me was that I felt no animosity, neither did they, true, there were occasional ones who kept quiet but on the whole the attitude was that it hadn’t been our idea to go to war so why should we fall out?
[In June 2009 the Eiskeller surfaced again. I was contacted by a lady who made programmes for the BBC who wanted to do a programme about it and had found my memoirs on the internet. By a funny coincidence I had a call the same day from my mate Robert Aram who told me he had been reminded of me a couple of weeks previously because he had heard an interview on the BBC morning news programme, ‘Today’, in which someone had recounted my Olympic Stadium ghost story (we’ll come to that later!) and he’d decided that someone else had read my memoir. This triggered him to read the Berlin story again and he said there was another coincidence, on a visit to Berlin in 1978 he and his wife Margaret had visited the Eiskeller and realised that I had been there as well. He told me that when they were there it had houses built on it, there were none in 1955. I told him that coincidence was alive and well because I had been approached that very morning by the lady from the BBC. Funny how these things happen isn’t it…]
There was one village on the route where the border ran down the middle of the main road which was cobbled (I have a vague memory this was Kladow but might be wrong). There was a white line but actually there was no need for this because our side was cobbles and the Russian side was grass. We were always warned not to stray across the line, it was only narrow. The MP’s told us they slipped up one night when it was raining, they skidded slightly and put two wheels over the line. A machine gun opened up immediately on a fixed line and shot both tyres out. We had no doubt that this was true and always drove very carefully down the street.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 03 Mar 2019, 06:31

We were part of the Berlin Independent Brigade and BIB HQ was at the Olympic Stadium which was built for the games in 1936. (The shoulder flash for the BIB was a red circle on a black background, colloquially known as the Flaming Arsehole. Sorry about that but you need to know…) At regular intervals we had to provide a guard. Like Border Patrol, this wasn’t ceremonial but a proper security guard. As 23050525 L/Cpl. (acting) Graham. S. I was designated Guard Commander and I went to the stadium with about six men during summer 1955. It was a simple task, we had to have two men out in the stadium at all times who did two hours on and four hours off. Everyone did two stags and I had to be awake at all times. We had a guard room with beds, a toilet, a telephone and brewing up facilities. We took our grub with us and looked after ourselves. Occasionally an officer would look in on us but most nights we never saw anyone.

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Our guardroom at the East Gate of the Olympic Stadium, HQ of the Berlin Independent Brigade.

This particular night it was very muggy and there was thunder about. Berlin had spectacular summer storms in summer and I loved them, I’ve always liked thunder and lightning and can never remember being frightened, probably because my mother used to tell me it was ‘God’s coal man delivering’. Round about midnight we had a big storm, no rain at first but massive lightning bolts and claps of thunder. I was stood in the doorway of the guard room watching the display when I heard the sound of running feet. One of the lads who had been on stag burst past me and dived under a bed at the far end of the room. We had a hell of a job to get him out and I sent another lad out to replace him and look for his rifle which he had abandoned. We got a cup of tea down him and eventually managed to elicit the fact that he had been attacked by a green monster 40 feet high!

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The Olympic Stadium in 1936. It was almost unchanged when we were there.

There was nothing in standing orders about this so I got a torch, took another lad with me and fully armed we sallied forth to see if we could find anything (but remember, no live ammo!). We knew approximately where the bloke had been when he was ‘attacked’ so we went there first. We were in the main stadium and it was a very impressive piece of architecture. The BIB used it for parades and I always had funny feelings when I was there, I had read about the 1936 Games and how Hitler had ignored Jesse Owens the black US runner when he took the Gold Medal in the 100 metre sprint. We made our way up to the far end where there was a podium flanked by high stone walls. We stood there, probably in Hitler’s footsteps, pondering the problem while the thunder crashed around us. It had started to rain and we were on the verge of giving up when suddenly, the bloke that was with me grabbed my sleeve and said “Christ, he was right!” He was pointing behind us and in the pitch dark I could see nothing. I have to admit I was getting a bit edgy when there was another flash of lightning and all was revealed. At the back of the podium there were two bronze statues, one of a wrestler and I think the other was a discus thrower. They were green with verdigris and when the lightning flashed they were thrown up in sharp relief. Because the lightning was flashing across the sky the shadows moved on the statues and they really did seem to move. We watched for a while and saw some very convincing examples of moving monsters, I’m not sure about the forty feet high but we had an explanation. We had already found the victim’s rifle where he had dropped it when he ran.
We went back to the guard room and explained to the lad who had been frightened what had happened. I took him back to his post and held him there while it happened again. Once he had seen the phenomenon for what it was he was all right but ashamed of the trouble he had caused. I left him there to reflect on life and went back to the guardroom together with his replacement. I had a word with the rest of the lads and we all decided to keep quiet about it. It was a serious matter actually, he had abandoned his post, lost his bondook (rifle) and by rights I should have charged him. By not charging him I was laying myself open to a charge myself, the lads knew this and it didn’t do my stock any harm at all when the word got round that I’d used my head. I talked to Ted afterwards and he said I’d done exactly the right thing. All in all it was a good example of how we used whatever latitude there was to temper the blind army rule that orders were to be obeyed at all times.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 04 Mar 2019, 04:47

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Spandau Gaol. You can see the line of the electric fence outside the main wall with the watchtowers. The main entrance is on the right. All demolished now.

Our most important guard duty was at Spandau Gaol. The Four Powers took it in turn to do this guard and I think we were there for a week. We took over from the Americans and I think the Russians followed us, in turn the French had a go. The first thing that struck us about Spandau was that it was a grim, cheerless place. There was a red brick perimeter wall surmounted with a walkway and watch towers with mock castellated tops. Outside the walls was a series of fences, I think there were three and the middle one was electrified. This fence did its share in keeping the local cat population to a reasonable level, there was a flash and a yowl several times while we were there. The prison buildings themselves were inside the perimeter and we never went in there. There was a courtyard, part of which was in our view and we used to see the prisoners walking about deep in conversation (no doubt working out where they went wrong!) and tending their small gardens. As I remember, there were four inmates at that time, Rudolph Hess, Albert Speer, Walther Funk and Admiral Erich Raeder who was released in September 1955 shortly after we provided the guard. (I have since read that Baldur Von Schirach was in the gaol as well but funnily enough I can’t ever remember him being mentioned.) We saw little of the warders but I think they were mainly British. The chief warder was a bloke called Harry Smart and he was a nasty piece of work. The rumour was that he had narrowly escaped trouble in the English prison system and had been sent to Spandau to get him out of the way. I can believe it, I met him one or two times and had no reason to doubt any of the stories about him. The word we got was that Hess was mad, Albert Speer was crooked and Admiral Raeder was a gent. Nothing I have learned since has done anything to alter these assessments. The word also told us that Harry Smart used to persecute Hess. He had a garden and just as one of his flowers was going to bloom, it got broken mysteriously during the night. All this was rumour but I believed it all and still do. It fitted well with the gaol, the most miserable atmosphere I have ever encountered in my life and my personal experience of Harry Smart. They tell me that Spandau Gaol has been demolished, good riddance. I remember very clearly that ‘Unchained Melody’ sung by June Valli was top of the American Forces Network charts once while we were there. Another memorable encounter was when I was in the main entrance passage on guard one afternoon and a side door opened to allow a well-dressed man and two warders to walk across the passage and through a matching door on the other side. One of the warders asked me to open the door so I did and the three passed within a couple of feet of me. Erich Raeder, for it was he, nodded to me and said thank you in English. As he did so he looked me straight in the eye and I’ll tell you this for nothing, he was a leader and I trusted him. Don’t ask me how I know that, I just do, he was an extraordinary man and I’ll argue against anyone who disagrees with me!
One other thing about Spandau was that it was the first time we came into contact with the Yanks. We had a handing over ceremony and they were all bulled up in smart tailored uniforms, white cravats and chrome plated steel helmets. We looked scruffy in comparison but give them their due, they left us their spare rations and goodies including magazines and the quarters were spotless after they left.
We spent almost all our stags on the walls and in the watch towers because our main duty was to guard the perimeter. It was strange watching the traffic on one side of the wall as Spandau got about its business and when you looked over the other side it was like a grave. I often thought how funny life was, these had been some of the most powerful men in the world and young Stanley in the air raid shelter was one of the most powerless. Fate decreed that I should help guard them and I could walk away at the end of the week. The bloke I felt most sorry for was Raeder. I got the impression he was one of the old school and a good naval officer. Somehow I couldn’t level this with him being a war criminal, still, I wasn’t one of the judges, my job was to carry out the court’s orders. So that was all right wasn’t it?
One other funny guard duty came up just once. I was given six men and we were taken to a large house in the diplomatic quarter of Berlin during the bitter winter of 1955. The funny thing about this guard was that I had to spend most of my time outside with the sentries. It was bone-aching cold. We all had pyjamas on under our battledress and a greatcoat on top of all that but we were still freezing. I spoke to the officer in charge and asked whether we could halve the length of the stag and sleeping time so as we got in the warm before we actually seized up. He came out and after sampling the temperature gave me permission to organise the watches as I saw fit. In the end we went on to 30 minutes on and an hour off, this meant no sleep but at least we kept reasonably warm. Once again, I did this in consultation with the lads so every one was involved and happy. The thing I remember clearly about this guard was the quality of the food, we were on officer’s rations, and had a big porcelain tiled stove built into the wall of the room. It had an incredibly small firebox but kept the room lovely and warm. We didn’t even have to tend the fire, a servant came in every three hours and stoked up. We were never told who we were guarding or why we were there, I decided that it was either a diplomatic job or the spooks, whichever, it was none of our business. Years later an ex-MP told me that the VIP was Princess Margaret. Even on this duty we were walking round with empty mags the whole time. We got the impression that they didn’t trust us with guns! Perhaps it made the officers feel more comfortable. From what we have learned now about young lads guarding military installations in the UK they all have live ammunition. Remember, we had the Russkies to contend with at the height of the Cold War. Very hard to understand.
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Re: National Service

Post by PanBiker » 04 Mar 2019, 10:51

No live rounds, wouldn't have happened during the war Stanley. My dad recounted what he considered to be the most inane regulation the Army came up with during WWII. Any vessel plying between the UK and Iceland carrying troops had to have guard posted. This consisted of a round metal guard station welded to the deck, a guide rope was provided to aid in transferring the guard from the top of the hold stairs to the duty position. The guard was inspected before deployment, and was searched for contraband items such as matches and fags that could give the position of the ship away. He had to have boots that you could see your face in and demonstrate that he had one round up the spout before taking up position. The guard station had an 18" wash step with a small drain at the bottom which usually meant that in inclement weather (prevalent in the North Atlantic) it was at least partially full with a combination of seawater and vomit from the previous guards. Boots, BD, greatcoat, tin hat and SMLE with one up the spout, two hours, summer or winter, waiting for the torpedo that you were expected to stop with one .303 round.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 05 Mar 2019, 04:47

Quite, and not at Deepcut either from what we learn..... Times change....

If there was one thing the army really liked it was a bit of pomp and ceremony. Every now and again a circumstance would crop up where the Regiment got an excuse to get everyone on the square in best BD with the band playing and march us round like silly buggers. Not only this but they made us practice for weeks beforehand. I remember once when we were paraded at Spandau and after several men had collapsed with the cold, the MO sent word out that the parade had to be cancelled. That was the day when Tara demonstrated to us that if we dug our iron shod heels in we could march perfectly safely on sheet ice. There was one small problem, he went flat on his back, a sweet moment! These occasions were private ones like the Queens Birthday and Regimental Anniversaries of famous battles. The QB parade was a Brigade affair and took place at the Olympic Stadium, we used to call it the Nuremberg Rally. I enjoyed the band and the marches but hated all the crap that went with it. I know they were instilling a sense of pride in the Regiment etc. but it didn’t cut any ice with me. My Australian genes poking through I suspect.
We did have one big public parade in the French Sector, I think some general was going home or something and all four powers paraded for him. It was funny seeing the different troops on parade. The Russians were plain and deadly serious, the Yanks all had chrome plated helmets and did a lot of fancy rifle drill, we were relatively drably dressed but fairly smart on parade, the French were an undisciplined shower. Their drill was only so so and when they were stood easy they all leaned their rifles against the nearest object and lit up! All childish stuff but we talked about it afterwards and came to the conclusion that on the day’s showing, the Russkies were the ones we’d least like to be up against in a fight.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Shortly after we settled in at Gatow we all got permanent passes, any time we were off duty we could go off the camp, all we had to do was get back before 02:00hrs, I have an idea we were allowed to wear civvies later as well. A truck ran a shuttle service down to Brooke Barracks and all we had to do was climb on board, book out at the main gate and we were free. I should mention Ginger here. He was the German Security guard on the main gate and was always on in the evenings, he was a good bloke, he’d wave you through with a legless mate or give a hand with any minor wounds so we could go back to Support Co looking respectable. He was another old Wehrmacht man and just the sort of bloke I would have shared a slit trench with.

Image

Ginger the ex-Wehrmacht security guard on the main gate. A good man who looked after us well.

[A word about the term ‘slit trench’. Many years later I was in a position where I was writing a supporting letter for a friend of mine who had applied for the position of Dean at Carleton College in Northfield MN. I used the phrase slit trench and it was pointed out to me that in the American Army this had an entirely different connotation, it was a latrine trench! I took advice and did a quick edit, it became ‘share a fox-hole’.]
The first place we explored was Spandau. Most of the bars sold either Barenbier or Schultheiss. The Schultheiss sign was a fat burgher with a stein surrounded by a red neon ring. We used to call it ‘The Sign of the Flaming Arsehole’ because that was the nickname for the BIB shoulder flash, a red circle denoting our situation of being permanently surrounded by Russians. It took a while to get used to the small glasses, the sticks they used to wipe the froth off the beer and the fact they didn’t take money off you but put a pencil mark on the beer mat and charged you when you were going or when they thought you’d had


enough. This was to get us into serious trouble later! We found out about bock bier and became addicted to bockwurst. Give the Germans their due, they understand sausages!
We also learned that if you were in a bar late at night and the barman wanted to get rid of you for any reason he would give you a free drink, a good slug of Escorial Green. This was a very potent herbal schnapps, up to 120 proof spirit which tasted nice and slipped down easily but had devastating effects if you were already tanked up on beer. I looked into this recently and the green colour is due to natural chlorophyll in the drink and this is why it was in stone bottles because exposure to the light beached it. It isn’t a true Absinthe but is very closely related to it. If you want a nice after dinner liqueur by all means try it, it’s a very pleasant drink but on no account mix it with other drinks! It was the barman’s version of a Mickey Finn. There is also the possibility that in Berlin in those days it was home-made like the bathtub brandy and even more dangerous.
Spandau was interesting at first but as the novelty of being in a foreign environment started to wear thin, we started looking further afield. There was a good public transport system in Berlin and we used it. We soon discovered the delights of the Reichskanzler Platz or ‘Gobblers Gulch’ as we knew it. Evidently it got this name because German ladies would give you oral sex for 50 pfennig, I hasten to say I have no personal knowledge of this. If I remember rightly this was where the main NAAFI club was (‘Navy Army and Air Force Institute). Many years later while waiting for a flight in an American Airport I fell into conversation with a lady who was a cashier at the NAAFI club and we decided that we must have met each other there all those years ago and only the other day while talking to Kath Brown, wife of my butcher, I found that later on she had served in Berlin and also knew about the club. It’s a small world! Berlin at this time was a desperately poor city and there was a shortage of almost everything, I used to ask mother to send me the small two ounce tins of Nescafe, you could get a watch or a bottle of brandy for one of these. The camera I used in Berlin was a swap for two tins of Nescafe and later when I got home I was told what a good lens it had. There were hundreds of night clubs and our favourite drink was beer or rum and coke, we were one of the main sources of income for these places and were welcomed everywhere. There were floor shows and novelty acts, some of them bordering on risqué but none, at least in the high class joints, pornographic or explicit.


Having said this, I had a memorable experience in one of the clubs one night. We were sat at a table right on the ring side, all the acts took place on the dance floor. I had my back to the floor and we’d settled in to the first or second beer when I noticed that nobody was listening to what I was saying. I swivelled round and got the surprise of my life, there was a naked woman on a white horse right behind me! The horse had felt boots on its feet, I suppose to give it a grip on the polished floor, so it was dead silent when it walked. The look on my face must have been a picture and the lady evidently recognised a virgin when she saw one because she slipped down off the horse, gave me a peck on the cheek, murmured “Liebchen” and ran off the floor. I had seen my first naked woman and liked it. They had to restrain me, I was certain she had fallen madly in love with me but after a couple of what the Germans called ‘cognac’ but had never seen brandy, I recovered my poise. Every young lad should have experiences like this, very formative!
I’d heard about Berlin in the 1930’s and there was a lot of that feeling around. I got the impression that there were different strata of population, one of them kept normal hours and worked to keep the city going. Another operated at night and was dedicated to either servicing the night life or participating in it. There was a flourishing black market and we were constantly being touted by men and women who wanted to know what we did. They were looking for the people who had access to stores because this was the biggest source of black market goods. Remember the city was virtually under siege. The underworld was very close to the surface.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 06 Mar 2019, 04:51

Internally, the city was open between sectors, this was before the Wall which wasn’t built until August 1961. We had free access to the Russian sector and used to go down Stalin Allee which was like a wild west film set because the street was lined with an imposing facade of buildings but they were very shallow, all there was behind them was mountains of rubble. Even the ‘‘free sectors’ were bomb damaged but a lot of rebuilding had started. All rebuilding in the Russian Sector was state run and they did it for effect not utility. Funnily enough some of the best stocked shops in the city were on the Stalin Allee, the best was GUM the state run store, you could buy all sorts of western and Russian goods there but only for hard currency, Deutschmarks, Dollars or Sterling. I suppose they took Francs as well but we always discounted the French for some reason. The sales ladies knew inexperienced young men when they saw them and used to hold up incredibly exotic items of lady’s underwear just to see us blush. We had a hard front but underneath we were all little lads in a toffee shop.

Image

Ken Collins, Ginger Burton and SG on the day we went to Tiergarten.

Ken Collins and I went to the Russian War Memorial one day. This was the original cemetery built in the rubble field at Tiergarten in 1945. It was a long walk after travelling on the ‘S’ Bahn and a bus but eventually we got to this landscaped area with two plinths marking the entrance. We were in uniform and were taken round by a Russian Army officer who spoke excellent English. He had a bad limp and told us he was wounded as he entered Berlin three days after the death of Hitler. He showed us the cemetery which was beautiful, there was a grassed area with green banks either side and a white domed building at the far end. We went in and the roof was a beautiful blue with gold stars on it. He told us some of the numbers and I remember being staggered by the loss of Russian lives. On the way out he pointed to the tanks on the plinths at the entrance and told us the crews were still inside them, they had simply welded the hatches down and used them as markers.

Image

One of the T34 tanks at the entrance to the Tiergarten war memorial. Thanks to Mike Peel for letting me use his wonderful image.

We went into his office and had a very good coffee with him and he told us what the last days in Berlin were like. He had mates who had been in the great counter-attack on Guderian and the Panzers in front of Moscow and we could have listened to him all day. In the end we thanked him, wished him well and started to walk back into Berlin. We hadn’t gone far when it started to rain and a large black car pulled up and gave us a lift. Nothing was said but I think we were travelling courtesy of Joe Stalin and he dropped us at the check point back into the British sector. There was a sequel to this. A few days later we were interviewed by a bloke who was obviously a spook who wanted to know why we were being chauffeured around by the Russians. Our arrival at Check Point Charlie had been noted! Of course, as the years went by we learned more about secret service activities in Berlin at the time we were there. Spying was big industry and we had no idea what was going on. I only have to read one of Len Deighton’s or John le Carre’s books about Berlin to be instantly transported back to 1955. Another thing that became clearer as the years went by was that Russia lost over 30 million killed in WWII. They bled Germany white and gave us enough time to get the Second Front together. Funny, but that isn’t a figure you hear quoted a lot. We had no idea that one of the reasons why the Russians pushed so hard for Berlin was to get their hands on an atomic research facility which was rumoured to be in the Spandau Citadel which also researched nerve gases.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 07 Mar 2019, 04:20

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My new home, 99 Colne Road, Sough.

In October 1955 I got 14 days leave and went home. The fascinating thing about this was that home had moved! While I was away, father had finished at GGA, they had sold the house in Napier Road and bought a mixed grocery and greengrocery shop at Sough near Earby in the West Riding of Yorkshire. I landed in Harwich early in the morning and after a tedious journey by train I arrived at Colne and after making enquiries, got a bus to Earby. When I got on the bus I asked for a ticket to Sough but pronounced it as ‘sow’ as in the other place name I knew, Slough. The conductor put me straight, it was pronounced ‘Suff’! I got to 99 Colne Road Sough (since re-numbered to 299 Colne Road, Earby) and arrived home just in time to go down to the Conservative Club for the a Chamber of Trade shindig. We were in such a rush that I had no time to change and in those days you had to travel in uniform, because of this they asked me to make the draw for the raffle. I picked mother’s ticket out for the first prize, it was three bags of coal! Eric Preston the coal merchant made much of this when they announced who had won, it was my first introduction to the local brand of humour. I soaked up as much of the atmosphere as I could but in no time at all it was time to leave and go back to Berlin. I had a conversation with father about his eyesight, it appeared that he was going blind and I promised him that in July 1956 I would come home and help with the shop. Dorothy was still at home helping in the shop but was engaged to be married to Bill Kinsey a Stockport lad who was a dental technician, Leslie was going to school at Ermysted’s Grammar in Skipton and wasn’t old enough to help. I got the impression that there was something about the sudden move to Sough that nobody was telling me but time was limited, it was obvious that whatever it was it was a sore point so I left it alone.
After an uneventful but interesting journey I was back at Gatow with my mates. I was an old hand now and took more notice of the sights on the train journey and noted the acres of bomb damage and signs of reconstruction already in progress. It seemed to me that they were quicker off the mark in West Germany than we were at home. I knew very little at the time about the Marshall Plan and the politics that were driving Europe. As usual, all the blinds came down as we crossed the border into the Russian Zone.
I mentioned earlier that I had met two RAF lads shortly after arriving at Gatow. Smudge Smith was a sergeant and Slim Seaton was an artificer. We started boozing together in the NAAFI and I met Gerde, Smudge’s German wife and Gertie who was very close to Slim and had a son Timmy. They kept mentioning the Yacht Club and I discovered from them that the various branches of the British Forces in Berlin had got together and renovated Hermann Goering’s old boat house on the Havel See near the camp. Even more impressive, they had commandeered the German Olympic boats from 1936 and had them all down there for the members to sail. I found I was eligible and joined straight away. This was in Summer 1955 and I spent all my spare time down there after that except in winter when all the boats were drawn out of the water.

The British Berlin Yacht Club was a marvellous place. It was run by a Colonel from BIB HQ and I suppose funding came from whatever source the Brigade had for subsidising leisure activities for the troops. For some reason, other ranks (OR’s) were allowed to join and I have an idea that there was some sort of a fiddle with the RAF because they kept a launch down there which we used for pleasure trips but which was actually meant to be for Air Sea Rescue, Slim was the coxswain and Smudge the skipper.

Image

Smudge Smith and Timmy, Gertie’s son, outside the sail store at the yacht club.

Image

Slim Seaton at the wheel of the RAF rescue launch on the Havel See.

Come to think, I never saw any other squaddies down there and with hindsight I suspect that Smudge fiddled my entry. Whatever, it was great, we had Olympics, Pirates, Stars and some bigger yachts, all commandeered off the enemy. The Olympics, Pirates and Stars were the German Olympic boats from 1936 so I suppose we were sailing round in yachting history. I started taking lessons and soon had my skipper’s ticket for Pirates. I never went any further, I just sailed Pirates single-handed every opportunity I had in all weathers and water conditions. My boat was the last to be hauled out for the winter, indeed the last time I sailed in 1955 there was ice on the thwarts and the sail froze when we hung it up to dry. Even though the club was not sailing, there was a bar run by a little German homosexual called Erich and it was open all winter.

Image

Erich outside the door of the bar at the yacht club.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 08 Mar 2019, 05:16

Erich was a lovely little bloke and many a time in winter I was the only customer and I would sit with him in front of the stove toasting bockwurst, drinking beer and practising my German (which I later found to be what they call Plattdeutch or Low German which was a variation of High German spoken widely inside Germany and in neighbouring countries.) Erich was a bit cagey when talking about his past. He knew a lot about the place and about the days when Goering had it and years later it dawned on me that he could easily have worked for the Reichsmarshall!
There was a large boathouse with a roller shutter and a veranda above the door. On the veranda was mounted the biggest pair of prismatic binoculars you have ever seen in you life, if I was to guess I would say the magnification was about 100x and the object lens over 100mm across, serious optical power! Erich said they were gunnery binoculars off a German battleship and they had been their in Goering’s time. The quality and magnification was brilliant, you could watch couples making love on the opposite shore at Wannsee (or was it Tegelsee) and see everything that was happening on the water.
I remember one day in Spring 1956 someone dropped the handle of the roller shutter in the water. After about half an hour fishing for it I decided this was the wrong way to go about it so I stripped off, dropped in and swam down to the bottom. I soon found the handle but saw something else in there. I went back to the top and asked one of the lads to get a basket and a piece of rope. We weighted the basket with a lump of iron and lowered it down and in I went again. It was only about twelve feet deep and I was able to fill the basket with what was lying there. After about an hours work I had all the bottles up on the side, that’s right, the lake bed was littered with bottles, many with their corks in. We opened a fair number before we found one that smelled OK. We had a drink of it, it was red wine, and it was good. I had no knowledge of wine at that time and wouldn’t have known the difference between plonk and Grand Vin but knowing what I do now I suspect we were drinking a very valuable bottle of wine and probably one of Hermann Goering’s! I don’t know where the rest of the bottles went or what was in them but have often thought that Erich might have supplemented his wage that week! There was another little surprise in the lake bad in the boathouse. At the back I found a small wooden chest and of course immediately thought of valuables. When we got it up we found it was a bit more serious that that, it was a box of detonators! Her Majesty had done a good job of educating me about explosives and I knew that there was nothing more unstable than old fuses and detonators. We decided we’d better consult the Colonel and when he came down he was worried in case finding these munitions would mean that the club would be closed down while a proper search was made to make sure it was safe. This was the last thing anybody wanted so I suggested he went up to Gatow and got hold of Ted Lancaster because he’d know what to do. Half an hour later Ted turned up with a small piece of 808, a detonator and some fuse. We found a wooden box, put the fuses in it with the explosive, fused it up and took it out into the Havel See in the RAF rescue launch. We floated the box in the water, Ted lit the fuse and we left the scene. About five minutes later there was a very satisfactory small explosion, a water spout and everyone retired to the bar for a drink on the house.
The Colonel had been watching my sailing and early in the summer of 1955 invited me to sail for the club in an international regatta to be hosted by the French yacht club at I think, Tegelsee. This of course meant that I was sailing for England! I don’t want to give the impression I went overboard about this but it looked like a good day out and one or two mates came to cheer me on. I think it was Ronnie Dean and Ken Collins. It was a two day event, Slim towed the boats over there with the RAF launch and we went over each day by coach.
I had to race twice, once on each day. The first day was so so, I came in fifth out of a field of about 15 competitors in the Pirate class. Nothing to write home about but I certainly hadn’t disgraced myself. We had a good drink in the bar and retired home ready for the next day. The following day there was a hell of a wind, the Havel See could produce some serious squalls, especially if there was thunder about, I have a picture in my photograph album of a Star which was dismasted about the same time. The water didn’t build into a swell as badly as in a sea way but could get up to very considerable waves and these weren’t regular, they came at you from all sides and were very choppy. The wind wasn’t steady but very squally and these sudden gusts always came from a different direction. For a while there was some doubt as to whether we would race at all but eventually the umpires decided we could go ahead but were all warned to be very careful. It’s an interesting commentary on attitudes towards safety that nobody even dreamed about wearing a flotation jacket. I wasn’t afraid at all, I could swim well and really enjoyed hard weather sailing, I reckon it improved my chances.
We started and if anything conditions got worse, we had to do two circuits of the course and after the first half I was lying third and several boats had dropped out. What mattered was that the two boats which were leading had been behind me the day before so all I had to do was hold position and I would be the winner. This wasn’t good enough for me, I have to admit I had the red mist! I really pushed on and had one or two lucky escapes but it was as bad for the others as it was for me and I was gaining on them. I reckoned I was going to come in second. Great stuff until I over-cooked it.
On the next to the last turn, a wave and a gust of wind hit me at the same time and drove me on to the buoy. One of the rules was that if you touched a mark you were disqualified, this had been hammered home by the Colonel time after time together with the virtues of honesty and sportsmanship so I let the boat drop off down wind and sailed in to the club house where I was met at the jetty by the Colonel, no doubt to congratulate me on a brave try. I was in for a shock.
“What the f*****g hell do you think you are doing Corporal!” was what he actually said. I was gob smacked, “Sorry Sir I broke the rules and touched the buoy so I disqualified myself.” “F**k the rules, you were winning!!” He was absolutely beside himself with rage and I could see terrible trouble looming ahead. I could see the effort he was making as he regained control. He gave me a hand to tie up the boat and stow the sail and then he turned to me and apologised, “Sorry lad, that was unforgivable of me, you did well and you would have won, I got carried away.” I told him I understood and was not best pleased myself but I was OK and thought the best thing to do was write it off to chance. With that we went into the clubhouse and the Colonel bought me a beer.
I went and sat with Ken and Ronnie and told them about the incident. Other people had noticed and several came over and commiserated with me, and it soon became obvious that being honest about the rules hadn’t done us any harm. The Colonel started to thaw out and wanted to buy another round of beers but Ronnie decided that as I was the hero of the hour I should have some champagne, it was very cheap in those days. Off he went to the bar and came back with a bottle and four glasses. As we drank the champagne, Ken looked around us and said it was obvious we were drinking the right wine as every one in the room was on it, he supposed it must be cheap. Then a couple of people toasted us and thanked us for the wine. I think the penny dropped with us all at the same moment. The French Yacht Club, like the Berlin bars, only asked for the money as you were going out so Ronnie hadn’t realised that due to his bad German, he had bought champagne for every one in the bar! More people came across and shook our hands, Ronnie was stunned but quite enjoying the attention. Ken and I were trying to work out how much we owed and how we could get out of it. The Colonel wasn’t saying anything and rose to his feet, he had evidently decided that the more distance there was between him and us the better it would be.
Rescue was at hand and from a most unexpected quarter, the crowd parted and a young woman bore down on us. She grasped my head, kissed me full on the lips and said how impressed she was with my sportsmanship, all this in the most marvellous French accent. Then she kissed the Colonel who turned bright red and she followed up with Ken and Ronnie while thanking them for the champagne. I was sat there in shock because I had recognised who it was! I had been kissed by Brigitte Bardot! I swear this is true, we had no idea she would be there but evidently she was in Berlin and the French Officers had decided it would be nice thing to take her to the club to present the prizes.
We all sat down stunned and looked at each other, including the Colonel. The first words came from him, he leaned over the table and told Ronnie not to worry about the drinks bill. It had been a genuine mistake and as it had done so much for international relations he would see it was paid from regimental funds! He set off for the bar to receive the envious congratulations of his brother officers and we set about making the drinks bill a bit bigger. Later in the afternoon I got Brigitte’s autograph on a BAFV (British Armed Forces Voucher, used in the NAFFI instead of German currency.) ten bob note. I haven’t seen it for years but it was useful evidence when we got back to the billet and told of our good fortune. 53 years later I can still recall that kiss and La Bardot. I don’t know what it was that she had but I can assure you it was magical. The other thing I remember is that she looked as good walking away as she did when coming towards you! I saw a photo of her a couple of months ago and the years have not been kind to her but I can still see the fresh young woman who gave us such pleasure, and saved us so much money, all those years ago on the banks of the Havel. A great memory and I have lost count of the number of times I have told the story.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 09 Mar 2019, 04:45

In contrast, I have one very unpleasant memory of the BBYC. I was in the bar one night having a few drinks with Smudge and Slim. Harry Smart the Head Warder from Spandau was in there, he was also a member of the club. He was an occasional visitor and not really very welcome. This particular evening he had a load on, he was fresh when he arrived with his driver and had steadily got worse. At one point he turned to me and asked what I was staring at. I wasn’t even aware I was looking at him and was about to say something when I got a dig in the back from Smudge. “Keep quiet!” I did just that but Harry was out for trouble and started to goad me, I knew he wanted me to lose my temper, I also knew that in a rough house I was outclassed. I had the sense to just stand there and take it until he lost patience and turned away. Smudge and Slim hustled me away out through the back door and we all breathed a sigh of relief. “Well done” said Smudge, “I’ve seen him do that before and it’s always with young blokes. He’s a bloody psychopath and there are no winners in that situation.” I knew he was right but to this day I can remember Harry Smart and he was evil and I still hate him. I find it very easy to believe the rumours we got about him persecuting Rudolph Hess and contributing to his eventual complete breakdown.
Slim regularly turned up at the club with a German lass called Gertie and her young son, Timmy. I don’t know what her history was but she had gone through the war in Berlin and I’ll bet she had had a hard time. They were obviously in love and it was no surprise when we had an engagement party in the RAF sergeant’s mess.

Image

Gertie and Timmy with Slim's personal transport.

They married later in 1956 but I was away home by then. I visited Slim in Doncaster a few years later but all I can remember about it is that we were both horribly sick after drinking brandy on top of shellfish. I have been told since that this is a dangerous mixture and can well believe it.

Image

Gerde and Renate her daughter at the yacht club.

More about the club later but looking back I was incredibly lucky to have been able to have such a satisfying experience, learn something new and mix with some very good people. Some of the officers were a bit snooty but the rest were OK especially after the great Tegelsee adventure. Every time there was a visitor and I was present I was given a beer and asked to tell the story again, neither I or the Colonel ever tired of it.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 10 Mar 2019, 04:54

Berlin wasn’t all fun and games at the yacht club. Apart from constant training and maintenance of the guns there was serious work to be done like war games in the Grunewald, a large wooded area across the Havel from Gatow where we went to practise our fighting skills. For some strange military reason these were always known as ‘schemes’, I never figured that one out. They were very realistic and we used to enjoy them. We used Austin 3 ton 4X4 wagons to haul the guns in Berlin, not quite as handy on bad ground as the Stuarts but in four wheel drive they would usually get us where we wanted to go because Berlin is mostly sandy well-drained soil. We had a regular driver from our own battalion transport section but I can’t recall his name.

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17pdr and 3 ton truck in the Grunewald.

We had one big scheme during the winter of 1955 and it was memorable mainly for the cold. We dug the guns in and then dug slit trenches and stayed in them all night. We were white with frost and I can’t ever remember being as miserable as we were that night. I remember at one point I decided I wanted to pee and went behind a haystack nearby, I had just started when a voice came from under my feet, “Do you mind!” it was one of the mortar crews, they had hidden themselves so well under the haystack they were invisible and I was peeing in their trench! One other thing sticks in my mind about that night, Ted Lancaster told us to get some twiggy branches and lay them over the top of the trench to keep the worst of the frost off us, we took his advice and were surprised how effective it was. I think that this was where I invented one of my favourite descriptive phrases to describe your opinion of a person, the acid test is “Would you share a slit trench with this person?” Of course, my memory may have been at fault, I might have picked it up from someone else, not a bad way to do an assessment though.

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Acting Lance Corporal Graham, gun commander in the Grunewald. Joey Ives is taking the mickey to the right. A cheeky Birkenhead lad and totally reliable.

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Not one of our guns but this is an Oxford towing vehicle and a 17pdr at Sennerlager in the Zone.
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Re: National Service

Post by PanBiker » 10 Mar 2019, 11:03

Stanley wrote:
10 Mar 2019, 04:54
For some strange military reason these were always known as ‘schemes’, I never figured that one out.
Known also to my dad 15 years earlier in WWII and he didn't know either. He commented bitterly in his diary though as they usually involved a 30 mile outward route march. Overnight Bivvy in the mountains or on the tundra in Iceland and then the same back again. After two and a half years and the Brits being relieved by the Yanks it ensured he came back to the UK medically D3 from his previous A1 when he arrived.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 11 Mar 2019, 04:26

Often referred to by us as 'playing silly buggers' Ian.

During early 1955 we went out of Berlin to Sennerlager in the zone for a big exercise. We didn’t take our guns, we were given 17pdr’s and Oxford tracked towing vehicles when we got down there. While we were out on this exercise I had another strange experience which resulted in a good story, but it wasn’t funny at the time. By this time I had my own gun crew by virtue of my single stripe.
We had almost finished the exercise when one of our officers came and gave me a piece of paper with a map reference on it. “Take your crew and dig in at this reference.” I looked at the reference and saw immediately that it was wrong. I tried to point this out to the officer but he rounded on me and told me that if I questioned his orders he would have my stripe and see I never got one again. So, I looked round to see if I could find Ted Lancaster, if ever I needed him it was now, but he wasn’t about so I had to give up and set off.
We had a REME driver based at Sennerlager who knew the district. I told him the map reference and after looking at the map he asked me if I was sure I had the order right. I told him I was but I didn’t think any one else would agree, had he got enough fuel? He said he had and so off we went. We drove for hours in the dark and found the exact spot. Quiet as mice we dug the gun in, sent the towing vehicle back into the woods, camouflaged the gun and settled down to a brew, some C Rations and a kip for what was left of the night.
Next morning dawned bright, clear and sunny, it was a joy to be alive. By then all the lads knew the score and we awaited with interest the next act in the drama. At about 07:30 a butler opened the front door of the house we were facing, he took one look at the muzzle of the large gun pointing directly at him and beat a hasty retreat, it must have brought back bad memories of the Eastern Front! The door opened a crack again and we could see a succession of faces peeping out and ducking inside. After a decent interval the door opened wide and the butler strode out across the lawn. He was dressed in black trousers and a black and white striped waistcoat. He spoke very good English and enquired who was the senior officer. I stepped forward and he said that his master would be grateful if I would join him in the house for a cup of coffee. This sounded like a good idea to me and I went with him, enquired how many there were and told me he would see that coffee and rolls were taken out to them. I should explain that we had dug in on the edge of the fine lawn in front of the house, most of the gun pit was in a flower bed and shrubbery. Lovely cover actually, a brilliant gun position.
I was taken into a very fine room where a small, sharp man sat at a table. He gave me coffee and then asked me if I could offer any explanation why he had a 17pdr dug in on his lawn facing the front of his house! I explained everything and showed him the order and the map. He consulted with his butler and they pored over the map. From what I could gather from the muttered German conversation he was asking his butler what his interpretation of my orders was and the butler couldn’t see any alternative. I got a definite impression that it wasn’t the first time they had studied a map together. They finished the conversation and the small man turned to me. By now I was pretty sure I was looking at a couple of military men who knew their business and if I wasn’t mistaken, the small one was, or had been, pretty bloody senior.
He handed me the map and the piece of paper and told me he could find no fault in my interpretation of my orders. He also told me not to let anybody have the order, no matter who asked for it and I could quote him as authority for so doing. He told me that as long as I held that piece of evidence I was fireproof. He also said he would contact my superiors and get the matter sorted out, in the mean time if I took my men went round to the kitchen they would given breakfast and access to washroom facilities. He came out later to look at the gun and noted with pleasure that we had cut the turfs neatly and stacked them. He made one surprising remark, he said that he had always been of the opinion that the British had got the 17pdr right by keeping it simple. He thought it had advantages over the 88mm and what a pity it hadn’t been slightly larger calibre! It was quite obvious that he had forgotten more about anti-tank guns than I would ever know and I told him that from what I had learned the 88mm was probably the finest piece of field artillery ever invented. He agreed and said that right through the war they knew they had a weapon that could knock out any enemy tank but in his opinion they should have had a more simple version like the 17pdr as the profile of the 88mm was too high and not as easy to conceal. With that, he went back to the house and we settled back and waited to see what happened. I wasn’t looking forward to the next couple of hours and the more I thought about it the more convinced I became that his advice about keeping hold of the order had been sound.
After about an hour and a half a jeep came roaring up the drive and a captain with red tabs on his collar which denoted he was a staff officer jumped out and stormed across the lawn towards us. The bloke was livid! He lined us up and started to give us the biggest dressing down we had ever had in our lives when a staff car pulled up in the drive. This time it was a lieutenant colonel, red tabs as well. He came across just as the Captain was ordering me to hand over my bit of paper. Before things could go any further, the small man came out of the house and politely greeted the two officers. What struck me was the fact they both stood to attention when talking to him. They evidently knew who he was and he was way above their pay grade!
The small man asked me for the order and the map, I looked at him when he said this but he promised me I would have them back. He then showed the two officers the order with the map reference and they compared it with the map. He told them in no uncertain terms that the gun commander had no alternative and had followed his orders to the letter. He further informed them that whoever issued the order was at fault and that he had advised me to refuse to hand the order over to any one. “It is his order and he must keep it, further I shall ask to be kept informed about the disposition of this matter and wish these men’s commanding officer to be told that his men behaved correctly and with great courtesy.” The lieutenant colonel gave me an old-fashioned look and told me to get the gun out and fill the pit. The small man said not to bother, his gardeners would reinstate the lawn.
The colonel took me on one side and told me he’d never seen a man have so much luck. I was to forget that anything had happened and apart from my commanding officer having a word with me, the incident was over. He turned away and then looked back at me, “I’m sure you realise you have met a very great soldier today corporal.” I asked him who it was but he wouldn’t tell me. To this day I don’t know who the man was but he was a gentleman and very fair. We heard nothing about the incident until we got back to Gatow when I was called in to see Major Cross. He told me he was glad it had turned out so well and he was very pleased with me and the crew. I asked him who the small man was but he said he couldn’t tell me, I’m sure he knew but had been told not to give me the information. Major Cross asked for the piece of paper and promised it would be safe with him, it went straight into the safe. It was fairly obvious to me that the Lieutenant who gave me the order was being protected against any further consequences and that in order to do this we had to be protected as well. I have to admit I could have walked on water when I came out of his office. (I always had an idea that the man was Heinz Guderian but he died in 1954 and if my memory is correct this happened in 1955 so it couldn’t have been him. Whoever he was, he was impressive!) There was one other incident at Sennerlager, I broke my glasses and missed out on the last three days of the exercises while they were repaired.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 12 Mar 2019, 06:32

Image

A German 88mm flak/anti-tank gun. You can see the difference in the height of the profile. A lot harder to hide than a 17pdr but I have to admit the Wehrmacht seemed to manage OK!

Shortly afterwards we had some real war games, we went to Putlos on the Danish coast for a really good shoot! Before this took place we went right through the guns and inspected everything. I should explain that we kept the same guns all the time except when we went to Sennerlager. I was still on the same 17pdr I had first started on in Colchester, its barrel number was 20327. When we tested the air pressures in the Buffer Recuperating System we found that they were all down a bit. This wasn’t a problem as we topped them up on a regular basis to 600psi with bottles of compressed air charged to about 3,000psi which we kept in the stores. It became a problem when we went to draw a full bottle and found we hadn’t got one. The central depot had borrowed ours and never replaced them. There was no time to get replacements by the usual channels so Rich and I were sent off in a 15cwt Bedford truck into the back streets of Berlin where we found a small factory which could charge the bottles for us, they could only get up to about 2,500psi but Rich said this was enough. We gave them the bottles and retired to a bar where we drank coffee, ate bockwurst and smoked until a lad came across and told us they were ready. Problem solved and a nice morning out. We had occasion to revisit this small engineering works later, have patience, all will become clear.

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Getting ready to move out to Putlos. There’s that pesky BAT again hitched up behind a 3 tonner outside the cookhouse! The Bren Gun Carrier top right was the machine gunner’s personal transport.

We loaded the guns and all our tackle on to a train and set off for the coast. It wasn’t a large party as we were simply going to fire the guns, there was only Anti Tank Platoon and our officer who was Lieutenant Oulton. Major Cross turned up later to watch us firing but I think he did that because he enjoyed the guns as much as we did, I doubt if he would have admitted it but I suspect he had a soft spot for anti tank. Putlos lies on the Baltic coast about 30 miles east of Kiel and it was the old Panzerschiessschule (Tank gunnery school) established by the Wehrmacht. The ranges faced out to sea so any stray rounds went flying off into the Baltic. This was a necessary precaution with the 17pdrs or any other high velocity weapon because, being solid shot, the rounds could ricochet for miles. They had a tracer in the back of the round and you could watch them skipping off the ocean until they were lost to sight. The local town was Oldenburg and we had some free time there to seek out the bars and other sinks of iniquity. I fell in love with at least one barmaid!

Image

The Lad at Putlos. Looking at this picture I can see how far I’d progressed. Two years ago I was leaving school, now I’m a trained gunner, gun commander and a totally different bloke. By the way, you aren’t mistaken. I was off duty and wearing an old shirt with no stripes on it.

We had a whale of a time, everyone got a chance to lay the gun and fire at the derelict tanks down on the ranges. First, we had to zero the sights, they hadn’t been adjusted since Larkhill. We did this optically by unscrewing the muzzle brake and using cross wires on the engraved lines on the muzzle. This centre was sighted through the firing pin hole on the breech block and ensured that the barrel was perfectly aligned with the target. Once you had this right you set the range on the gun sight to zero and adjusted the alignment of the telescope until it too was pointing at the same spot. Once this was done, the muzzle brake was screwed back on, locked with the large locking ring and then we check fired the gun by aiming at a large canvas target marked out in squares. If you had it all right the shot hole coincided with the aiming point, if not a few minor adjustments and check rounds got you spot on target. There was one laugh that day. We had zeroed and check fired and were watching the other guns go through the same process. As it was late in the day the last gun ran out of APCBC ammunition (Armour Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Capped) but we had a few rounds of HE (High Explosive) available for practice. Lt. Oulton decided it would be all right to use these for target practice as the fuse wouldn’t act until the round had passed through the canvas. They fired and I don’t know how far the round went beyond the target but it wasn’t far enough! There was a hell of an explosion, a cloud of smoke and when it cleared the target was nowhere to be seen. They decided to use the rest of the HE on some targets about 600 yards away on the dunes just to check whether they had got the sights lined up OK, I think it was Chris Byrne’s crew. He gave the order to fire two rounds at a white rock and it was only when they hit it with the first round that the gun layer reported that it had been a sheep! That did it, we packed up for the day.
In case any one is reckoning up the cost of all this profligate use of ammo, you have to remember that what we were firing was ex-WWII ammunition. There was plenty about and the guns were going to be obsolete soon anyway so we fired as much as we wanted, Ted told us a story about this.
After the war, the government was desperate for protein to feed the country. Some agronomist came up with the idea that as peanuts were one of the richest protein foods available, it would be a good idea to grow them in Africa. They called it the Groundnut Scheme. There was a shortage of agricultural tractors but we had plenty of spare tanks left over from the war so it was decided to disarm these and send them out to use as tractors to cultivate the land for the peanuts. They must have been running behind schedule because a lot of the tanks were sent out with their armament intact. The rumour was that Colonel Nasser was buying these tanks and shipping them to Egypt and the reason for this was that he had realised that all the ammunition he would ever need for them was stored in dumps in the Western Desert, part of the aftermath of the campaign against Rommel. Ted told us that we sent men out into the desert to find these dumps and blow them up. There were two main problems, one was finding the dumps, the desert sand was always shifting and most of them were covered up, the other was getting the ammunition to explode when you found it. Fixed ammunition, that is rounds where the projectile is part of the cartridge as opposed to separate projectiles and propellant charges, is so safe that it was no good simply placing a demolition charge in the centre of a pile of ammunition boxes, all that it did was explode one or two and scatter the others. The trick was to find a pile of ‘flimsies’ which were thin steel square containers of petrol. You piled these with the ammunition and ignited the lot with a small charge, the resulting fire brewed the Ammo up and eventually it would all go off together. I asked Ted how he knew about this and he went all shy on me. The Cheshires had been out in Egypt in 52/53 and I have an idea that Ted was one of the men who had made clandestine trips into the desert. I don’t think that Nasser would have been very pleased so the whole thing would be kept quiet. I have no evidence of this, just my assessment of Ted and his story but I don’t think I am a million miles from the truth.

[As I post this I realise that the eagle eyed amongst you might have spotted a problem with my description of the use of HE in the Zeroing process. HE is a smaller propellant charge and so the trajectory is different than the high velocity solid shot rounds. The explanation for this is that if you go back to the pic of the breech of the 17pdr earlier you will note that the range drum on the telescope mount has three scales on it to allow for the difference between APCBC, HE and another round, APSVDS (Armour Piercing Super Velocity Discarding Sabot) I think we meet that one later on. You use the scale that corresponds with the ammunition you are firing and theoretically this commentates and the gun will be accurate.]
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 13 Mar 2019, 04:14

Image

Chris Byrne’s 17pdr firing at Putlos. Notice how the recoil has moved the barrel back on the buffer recuperating system. Forgive the blur, the concussion shook everything including the snapper!

Having sorted the sights out we settled down to some serious firing and gun drill. Looking back, it’s a wonder we didn’t all go deaf. When a 17pdr fires there is a terrific crack and concussion, we had no ear protection and used to go back at night half deaf and with a ringing noise in our ears. I don’t think any one ever thought about this at the time, I never heard it mentioned. Various people turned up to watch us at work, Major Cross came up from Gatow and one group of interested observers was a group of Americans who were firing on the same range as us. They had guns which were very similar to the German 88mm but far more complicated, I have an idea the bore was 89mm, one up on the Wehrmacht.. They doubled as anti-aircraft guns and had director and range-finding equipment in a van which travelled with the gun. We watched them firing and weren’t very impressed, they seemed slow and not all that accurate despite having full instrumentation.

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An American anti tank gun at Putlos. Like the 88mm it was a flak gun as well and had all the complications that went with the dual role. We weren’t very impressed. They seemed to waste a lot of time shouting commands at each other!

There must have been some discussion in the Officer’s Mess about this because on the last day, Major Cross announced that we had been challenged to a shoot by the Americans. The rules were very simple, the winner would be the crew that got the most hits on a tank at 1000 yards in a minute. He picked my gun because I still had Mick Burgess as gun layer and he was recognised as the best we had. We thought this was a great idea and did a bit of extra practice that evening. I asked Ted how much ready use ammo we should have with the gun and he said 25 rounds. I thought he was a bit over the top with this estimate of our speed but on the day he was right. One other thing he told me was that we should check the buffer system pressures because in order to further impress the Americans, Major Cross had got us a consignment of APSVDS. APSVDS was the most powerful anti tank ammunition the army had. It was brought in late in WW2 to give the 17pdrs a better chance of knocking out the latest German tanks, the Tiger. It had a different propellant than the ordinary Waltham Abbey Modified Tubular cordite which pushed the buffer system to the limit. If I remember rightly the recoil was about 27” and the scale mounted alongside the breech only went up to 30”. The projectile was different as well, it was a solid bar of tungsten carbide, one of the hardest substances known, about 2¼” thick and 9” long. This core was mounted in an aluminium casing shaped like an egg-timer which engaged with the rifling in the bore. It was split in three places and as soon as the round left the muzzle the sabots split off and left the central core to fly on its way. Hence the name of the ammunition, Armour Piercing Super Velocity Discarding Sabot. We soon found out it was wonderful stuff, no tracer but a very flat trajectory and supremely accurate. I should mention that there were three scales on the range drum of the gun sight, one for HE which was lower velocity, one for the standard APCB and the other for APSVDS.

Image

Came the day and we were the centre of attention as we prepared to fire first. I think we fired 18 rounds in the minute and Mick only missed with one, the first. The Yanks only hit the target three times and I think they fired nine rounds. Simplicity paid off, we loaded and fired like a machine gun, when the gun recoiled it automatically ejected the spent case and when you rammed the next one up the spout it tripped the breech which was a sliding block and closed automatically. All Mick had to do was check his aim and pull the firing lever every time he heard the word ‘ready’ and felt a tap on his shoulder. I asked Mick afterwards whether we could have done any more and he reckoned we could have fired the whole 25 but he was pacing himself and making absolutely certain he was on target before firing. The other thing that was very noticeable was that there was a definite difference between us and the Yanks in the lag between firing and the round arriving on target 1,000 yards away. Our APSVDS cracked like a whip and the strike was almost instantaneous. I’ve seen reports that it wasn’t as accurate as APCBC but we had no problems that day and the Americans were most impressed when they saw holes blown through 8” of sloping armour! The paint on our barrel blistered.
Major Cross was extremely pleased, I don’t know how much he had bet on the outcome but we had free beer that night. The Yanks had a go at firing our gun and we blew off a couple of rounds with theirs. We had no doubt which gun we preferred and on the quiet I think the Yanks had the same opinion. One thing that struck me at Putlos was a stone memorial near the admin buildings. The German inscription translated as ‘Oberstleutnant (Lt. Colonel) Herbert Baumgart first commander of the Panzer gunnery school (at Putlos) 1935-1938. Killed on the night of 7/8 September 1939 near Biscpiec in (what was then) South Poland'. Notice that he died before WW2 officially started. He must have been one of the first Wehrmacht casualties.

Image

The memorial to the Kommandant at Putlos.
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Re: National Service

Post by Tripps » 13 Mar 2019, 11:35

Stanley wrote:
13 Mar 2019, 04:14
It had a different propellant than the ordinary Waltham Abbey Modified Tubular cordite
That rang a bell. I went there last summer to a re enactment thingy. with my son and his family who live quite nearby. Royal Gunpowder Mills

Some of the participants took it all a bit seriously for me. Want watching I'd say. :smile:
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 14 Mar 2019, 03:51

I think I get into WAMT later on......

All the excitement over, we cleaned the guns, went back to Berlin and dropped back into the day to day routine, nothing wrong with that, we all had plenty to do and enjoyed most of the work. When we got back Ted got some of us up in the stores one day and gave us a lecture on the construction of the 17pdr fixed ammunition that had never been sanctioned by the War Office. He had won a live round and brought it back to Gatow. I asked him how he had done it, he said we ought to know because it had been up the spout of 20327 all the way back! I suppose the last place any one would look would be in the breech of a sheeted-up gun! It was perfectly safe because we never left the firing pin mechanism on the gun if it was not being used.
Ted’s lecture consisted of attacking the round with a screwdriver and chisel and separating the solid shot from the brass case. He removed the tracer from the base of the round and then he tipped the propellant, Waltham Abbey Modified Tubular cordite (WAMT for short) out on to a sheet. Then he removed the primer, emptied that and fired the percussion cap with a hammer and nail. He then demonstrated how safe WAMT was by setting fire to a piece with a match. It looked like the round liquorice sticks in liquorice all-sorts but was matt black and had holes through the middle to make it burn more quickly. The speed of combustion governed the velocity of the round of course. After a bit of experiment we found that if you took some tobacco out of the end of a cigarette you could slip a piece of WAMT down inside the paper, it was exactly the right size. Pack a bit of tobacco on top to hide it and you had a perfect surprise fag for one of your mates. It was a sight to see when someone’s fag started to burn with a large orange flame shortly after lighting it! We didn’t do it too often as it was a bit dangerous even for us. Ted’s lecture might have been unorthodox but we all knew a hell of a lot more about ammunition afterwards. Ted said that during the war they used cordite for lighting fires to brew up.

Image

Rich Richards, REME fitter at Putlos.

There’s one more Putlos story. Just before we came away Rich and I went down the range with a sack one evening and collected any bits of the tungsten carbide core from the APSVDS we could find. When we got back to Berlin we made another trip to the back street engineering works where we had got the air bottles filled. The owner was very pleased to see us and even more pleased when he saw what we had brought him. Tungsten carbide is one of the hardest materials known to man and it was the Germans who invented the technique of putting carbide tips on lathe cutting tools to give more efficient cutting speeds. These were unobtainable in Germany after the war and the material we took him was ideal for cutting into pieces with a diamond saw and brazing onto mild steel shanks to make the equivalent of the German Wimet tools. Rich and I were in pocket and financing excursions into Berlin was no problem for the next few weeks!
Not long after this we had a series of tests, each gun commander had to give a supervised lecture to his crew on the buffer recuperating mechanism. This was a fiendishly complicated subject and the blokes who should have been OK were the regulars who had been on the gunnery course at Larkhill. National Servicemen were not sent because I suppose the army thought it was a waste of time and money, you’d no sooner taught them than you lost them to Civvy street. I had no problems at all, I had done nothing but study the 17pdr since the day I first met one, they fascinated me. All the lectures were watched by a couple of officers. There were no marks but each lecturer was assessed and had an interview afterwards. From the remarks of my mates I gather that some of these were fairly abrasive! It came my turn but when I went in Major Cross made no mention of my performance but asked me how I felt about doing the same lecture to some men from another regiment. I told him it was OK by me, I didn’t care who I gave it to.
Shortly afterwards I was told I’d be giving the talk to a group of officers and NCO’s from the First Battalion, The Black Watch. They had just replaced the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Berlin having come straight from service in Korea. The problem was they had been using the BAT out there and knew nothing about the 17pdr. I should explain that because the BAT was cutting edge technology it wasn’t allowed in Berlin in case the Russians captured one so I was starting from scratch. I remember being asked how long I needed to get the principles across to them and I said I didn’t know, I had no experience but suspected that some would never get hold of it. Came the day down at Wavell Barracks and I had them all morning, after lunch they spent about an hour and a half questioning me and that was that. Major Cross observed together with some other Black Watch officers and after the lecture he told me I had done well and I came back with him in his jeep and forgot the whole thing. I had some leg-pulling from my mates but on the whole they were glad I had done it as they weren’t too clued up about it.
After about a fortnight there was another summons to Major Cross’s office. I knew something funny was going on when he asked me to sit down and have a smoke. He ran through my army record and told me that I should give serious thought to signing on for 22 years! He soon realised that I wasn’t keen on this and switched to another subject. He said he was a bit embarrassed by the fact that a National Service Lance Corporal had run rings round his regular corporals in 17pdr knowledge because the Black Watch had requested a secondment from him of an experienced anti tank gunner to teach their A/T platoon the 17pdr, this included the NCO’s and officers! Would I be prepared to do it? I didn’t even hesitate but agreed and said I’d be glad to go as long as I was properly supported down there and could come back to Gatow afterwards. I could see problems arising when I had to tell officers what to do. He told me I would be officially headquarters staff and would be directly under the Adjutant and the RSM of the BW and as soon as I had them up to scratch I was to come home. This was about January 1956, I remember there was snow on the ground for the first two or three weeks. I should say now that even though there had been no inkling about it, I was made up to full corporal and substantive lance corporal on the 6th of March 1956. This pleased me no end because very few NS men ever got this far. So, sometime round about the beginning of February I moved my stuff down to the Black Watch and started a very interesting time! With hindsight the whole of the lecture process had been an evaluation, first by Major Cross and then by the Black Watch, of my performance. They had evidently decided I would do. I’ve often wondered why they didn’t bring Larkhill instructors in to do the job. Sometimes the army is like God, it moves in mysterious ways.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 15 Mar 2019, 05:11

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The guardroom at Wavell Barracks, Spandau. You can see the imperial eagle on the pillar to the left. No swastika!

The Black Watch HQ was at Wavell Barracks and I remember that it was more Lichfield than Gatow! It must have been a Wehrmacht barracks at one time because there was an imperial eagle on a pillar at the main entrance and if you looked carefully you could see the faint remnants of the swastika that had crowned it originally. I had definitely come down in the world as regards accommodation. I was in a room with the lads of Anti-Tank and we were with the main battalion, another minus. Unlike Gatow, we were in an urban area very close to Brooke Barracks, I’d lost the woods and the space. There was a completely different atmosphere with the BW, anybody who has see the film Tunes of Glory will have a very good idea of the feeling. The lads were great but the atmosphere was, I’m having difficulty finding a word but I think the nearest thing is, feudal. The positive side is that I wasn’t expected to drill with the men. My job was to teach them the 17pdr as fast as possible. The BW CO sent for me and asked me how I was going to go about it. I said that I supposed the best way was how I was taught, learn the parts of the gun, then the drill, then the characteristics as opposed to the BAT and in between all this, lots of gun drill. He brought in the officers then and told them what we were going to do. I had a Lieutenant and two Second Lieutenants.
We started straight away full time, the platoon did nothing else because I think the decision had been taken to get them up to speed in the shortest possible time. I had no problems with the men and the NCO’s, it was the officers who gave me grief. Their attitude was that, as one of the Other Ranks, I couldn’t possibly communicate on their level and teach them anything. They particularly disliked being taught at the same time as the men and wanted me to do separate courses for them. I had a word with the Platoon Sergeant and he took me along to see the RSM. Now this bloke was impressive, as I remember it he was not a tall man but was definitely a nine foot gorilla. I should explain if you aren’t familiar with the concept that there is an old joke where a man meets his mate at the bus-stop and he’s got a nine foot gorilla on a lead. He asked him what he’s doing with it and his mate said he was taking it home for a pet. “Where’s it going to sleep!” His mate smiled and said “Don’t be daft, a nine foot gorilla sleeps exactly where it wants to!” I have this theory that now and then you encounter a nine foot gorilla in real life, trouble is they don’t always look like nine foot gorillas. The trick is to recognise them straight away!
The RSM heard me out and asked me to wait outside. After a while the sergeant came out and told me we were to leave it with the RSM. Nothing happened for a couple of days, it transpired afterwards that the RSM was quietly checking up on my story and no doubt having a word with the CO. Then the storm broke, the RSM turned up at my first class which was gun drill and delivered a lecture to all present which was obviously a coded message to the Officers. The gist of it was that in matters concerning the 17pdr anything I said carried the authority of himself, the CO and God, in that order. I think this was for the benefit of the men, I have an idea the officers had already had the word. He said that speed was essential and if I told people to jump, they had to jump! The RSM started to turn up unexpectedly, particularly for gun drill, and used to take me to task for not pushing his men hard enough. It all went well from then on. I think I was doing a good job and they were definitely taking it in. Before long their gun drill was as good as ours and I could swap any of them to any job. I remember one morning the RSM came down just as we were warming up, a favourite way of doing this was to push the guns round like a wheelbarrow, even though they weighed three tons, they were well balanced and it was quite possible to push them on the double on smooth ground. This particular morning he turned up just as his men, officers and all, were doubling round the parade ground with the guns. He didn’t say anything but he looked at me, winked and walked away, I think even he was impressed.
I got on well with the lads largely because when I was first pitched in with them I levelled with them and told them I was scared to death, particularly of them, they were a bunch of real hard cases who had seen proper action in Korea. This broke the ice and they looked after me wonderfully. There was a bit of banter from some of the other platoons at first but my lads made it quite clear that Sassenach Bastard I may be but I was their Sassenach bastard and everyone else had to keep their hands off! It got to the stage where they used to dress me up in the kilt and take me down Berlin. In case anybody wants to know I can give the definitive version of the Queens Regulations as regards the Highland Regiments, the kilt and underwear! It was simple, nothing was to be worn beneath the kilt. It was still winter in Berlin and there was snow on the ground. I was amazed how warm the kilt was. True, your knees could get a bit parky but the rest of you was fine. Things got a bit dodgy if you slipped on the ice but there were compensations, the frauleins were fascinated and all wanted to know what was behind the sporran! Another thing I learned was how to wash and iron a kilt, you simply put it on a strong hanger and place it under a cold shower of water for about half an hour, then leave it to dry naturally. The weight of the water in the cloth pulls the kilt into shape and sharpens the creases, nobody ever let an iron touch their kilt. Our Black Watch OC Company saw me in the kilt one night and commented on the fact he’d never seen anyone who was Cheshire Regiment at the top and Black Watch below. One night when we were coming back in after an evening in the flesh pots the Guard Commander on the gate stopped us and was working up a fine head of steam about me being improperly dressed. He was interrupted by the arrival of the CO and his adjutant and the bottom line is that he said I was a guest of the regiment and as far as he was concerned there was no problem. Nevertheless I thought I might be in trouble but I never heard anything more about it and later, when I got back to Gatow, the OC BW Support Company sent Major Cross an official message which appeared on Part II orders to the effect that in recognition of services rendered he was authorised by the CO First Battalion the Black Watch to permit Cpl. Graham S. to wear the Black Watch kilt on social occasions.
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Re: National Service

Post by Wendyf » 15 Mar 2019, 09:36

Reading that made me think of my dad's experience in WW2. He was an RAF Regiment ground gunner out in the Middle East and got top marks on a small arms training course in Amman which resulted in him being taken on as an instructor. He had to be made up to Sergeant which must have been quite something for a 22 year old Bradford lad who had left school at 14. Two of the lads on his first training course were also taken on as instructors and they remained lifelong friends.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 15 Mar 2019, 10:03

Don't they look young.......
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 16 Mar 2019, 03:52

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SG exercising his right to wear the kilt at a friend’s wedding.

Many years later I told this story to a lady called Brigid Pailthorpe. She came from a military family and whilst she never questioned my veracity I could see she was worried by the story because in principle, it could never have happened. She knew a man called Jock Moncrieff who had been Intelligence Officer with the BW in Berlin and she told him about it. He said he couldn’t remember it but that weekend he met the old CO of the Battalion at church and mentioned it to him. He remembered it but thought I was dead as the last he heard of me I was being carted away on a stretcher. (See below for the explanation for that) He sent me a message that he was impressed I had bought a kilt and would be wearing it at a wedding the following month. At the wedding the bloke who had been intelligence officer was one of the guests and he had a word with me. He said my kilt was one of the best he had ever seen and wanted to know where I had got it. It turned out he was Scottish aristocracy and Brigid was most impressed to find out I had been telling the truth. It just goes to show, tell a lie and sooner or later it will find you out!
I’d been down there just short of two months and I think it would be at the end of April. Things were going well, the lads were shaping up fine and I was looking forward to getting back to Gatow and the last three months of my service. I had finished for the day and decided to go to the NAAFI early in the evening and have a cup of tea and a meat pie. After half an hour with the lads I went back to the barracks and don’t remember much after that. I can remember going along corridors and everybody staring at me. It turned out afterwards I had vomited all over the place and they all thought I was drunk. Eventually my mates found me, called the MO, packed my small kit up and I was carted off to hospital. I can’t remember much for a while but came to eventually in an isolation ward in Hanover down in the Zone! The Docs told me what they thought had happened, they were pretty sure that I had had the biggest dose of food poisoning they had ever seen but weren’t sure as I hadn’t passed anything from either end since they had received me. Just to be sure, they were treating me as infectious until I passed my first stool and I was isolated in my own small ward. This bowel movement wasn’t helped by the fact that I wasn’t allowed anything but weak tea and one biscuit, four times a day and as much water as I could drink. They had me on medication as well but what really mattered was some firm evidence.
After over a week they started to get impatient. I had a lavatory in my room but the lid was closed and there was a bed pan on top covered with a white cloth. I was under strict instructions to use that because the first thing I passed would have all the bugs in that had attacked me. After ten days they started dosing me and giving me strange sticky drinks. After a couple of days of this the nurse came in one morning and gave me a glass with about a quarter of a pint of an oily liquid with black flecks floating round in it. I looked at it and asked what it was, she said it was a last resort and if that didn’t shift me they would use dynamite! I woke up during the night feeling very strange. I lay in bed for a while wondering what I should do, I thought I was ill again. Suddenly it dawned on me that the strange feeling was the urge to relieve myself, it was that long since it had happened I had forgotten what it felt like. I retired to the closet and had complete success. I waited until the morning and when the nurse came in with a cup of tea I pointed to the closet. She went, gave a squeal of delight (honest!) ran out and came back with two doctors who examined the object, congratulated me and bore it off to test it. More importantly they told the nurse I could be put on a very light diet. She brought me a bowl of porridge and I think it was the best thing I have ever tasted in my life.
A few days later they told me the results, the bottom line was that it was a miracle I was alive. That NAFFI meat pie had had every organism in it that they knew including botulism. The Doctor told me that there was one good thing about it, he said that I had antibodies for just about every form of food poisoning and that in future, when everyone was falling like flies, I’d simply have slightly loose bowels. They gradually got me back on to a full diet and I started to put weight on. I think I was in hospital for about six weeks and when I got back to Gatow I had very little time to do, I could let myself get demob happy! I was on light duties and spent a lot of time at the boat club sailing when the weather was good and sitting in the bar eating bockwurst with Erich when it wasn’t, it was just like a holiday. I had no desire to go down Berlin, I was quite content with my mates and the boats.
In later years I have pondered a lot on this lucky escape. How come I had fought off such a deadly infection. The doctors told me that when I was brought to them they didn’t expect me to survive. Could it be that there was something in my theories about building a good physique, eating good grub and being exposed to plenty of infections as a child? Whatever, I had survived. All I had to do now was look after myself and get my strength back.
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Re: National Service

Post by Stanley » 17 Mar 2019, 04:41

My discharge papers came through. I was to leave the Regiment on the 31st of July and go straight home on 14 days terminal leave. On the 29th of July I was ordered to parade on CO’s Orders at Spandau Barracks. Colonel Rogers told me he wanted me to sign on for seven years, if I did he would make me up to sergeant immediately and promised I would be a Colour Sergeant within twelve months subject to good conduct. I told him there were pressing matters to be attended to at home and I wanted out. He said if I changed my mind the offer still stood and I was to contact him direct via the depot at Chester. I have little doubt I did the right thing by leaving but I’ve often wondered where I would have ended up if I’d stayed on.
I marched out, packed and set off on the sweetest journey of my life, I’d done my National Service, I had gained two stripes, a marksman’s badge, my skipper’s ticket for Pirates and a lot of useful information about killing tanks and people and I was free! The downside is that I was leaving my mates, my beloved guns and strangely enough, a very secure environment. Truth to tell, natural cynic though I was, I had been partially institutionalised and now had to make the transition back into the real world. It was going to be a big one as I had a completely fresh start, a new environment in Yorkshire, a new home and a family that was rapidly changing. All I took with me was my kit, some mementoes, my last pay packet and, hold it lads, my virginity!
The young man that got on to the Blue Train in Berlin and set off for demobilisation leave in England had changed a lot in two years. Army service is a pain in the neck but I really do believe that the sharp dose of discipline and exposure to a completely different world had done me good. I’m not saying that the army was good for everyone, some blokes couldn’t stand it and were actually damaged, but most of us were improved I think, given the chance I’d do it all over again. Remember that at that time we really did believe that we were doing a useful job. It’s difficult now to understand just how fragile the world was in the late 50’s. Central Germany was a melting pot and no one then knew what was going to come out of it. Since then I’ve seen the Wall go up and come down and the re-unification of Germany. At the time, all Thatcher could talk about was the downfall of socialism! She was too thick to understand that the regime she hated in Russia wasn’t socialism, it was despotism, exactly what she wanted in this country. The really important thing was that Germany had taken another step in the long march from a scattered bunch of tribes in central Europe to a democratic state. Personally, I wish them luck, my time in Germany was never marred once by any antagonism and I speak as a bloke who lost his grandfather in the Great War and nearly lost his dad as well. I couldn’t have voiced these sentiments as clearly in 1956 but I sensed the truth behind them. I know that Berlin isn’t Germany but it was a good place to be and I can still feel that special feeling of belonging to a great city. I liked the Berliners as well, they had suffered much but survived and that makes people special. The one thing I was convinced about then and still am now over fifty years later is that we should never have been fighting them.
However, it’s July 1956 and I have my own long march to attend to. Civvy Street beckoned and I was about ready to take it on.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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