The inside story of (WO2) Bill Griffiths begins on a fateful day in May 1946 when the MP on the gates of the KSLI Guard Room at Copthorne Barracks Shrewsbury, demands recognition as "Sir" and tests the responses of this giant of a man who, while small in stature and still growing, will begin a Military adventure spanning almost 4 decades until his discharge in 1984. Any former soldier of the post WW2 era will relate to this humorous tale of mischief, devilment and typical Army conduct and challenge.
(The Korea 40 yrs medal is actually a commemorative medal wrongly mounted). Bill Griffiths was very strongly persuaded by the Editor to supply photographs of Medals and Citations earned during his service.
(COMMEMORATIVE MEDALS) AMBASSADOR FOR PEACE MEDAL, SYGMAN REE MEDAL KOREA, HONG KONG SERVICE MEDAL
Chapter One - You are here now.
UNPUBLISHED AS AT 7th Feb '07
BILL GRIFFITHS INVITES YOU TO BLOG POST & COMMENT YOUR REPLIES AND INTEREST TO HIS STORY ON:-
WE HOPE THAT OLD MATES AND OLD FRIENDS WILL RECOGNISE THEMSELVES IN THESE AMUSING CHAPTERS OF BILL'S BOOK AND DEVELOP A SERIES OF 'CONVERSATIONS' ON THE SPECIAL BLOG PAGE. WHO KNOWS? HOW MANY MORE LONG FORGOTTEN FRIENDSHIPS WILL BE RENEWED AND MEMORIES REVIVED FOR "THE GOOD OLD DAYS"
Certificate which accompanied peace Medal (shown above) when presented to me by General Lee Sang-Hoon on the occasion of my Re-visit to Korea in April 2001
Shropshire Light Infantry Memorial, Shrewsbury
Departure of the KSLI from Copthorne during the Boer War. The 'iron gates' in Bill's story. See also Header above.
Les Wright senior boy, Jack Waring, Archie Moulds at Copthorne Barracks Shrewsbury 1946. Archie was the one at my very first dinner.
Archie Moulds, boy soldier mate of Author Bill Griffiths at Copthorne and later, Korea, with Editor Derek Lovemore at Te Anau, New Zealand in February 2007. The long hand of Army mateship travelled for over 60 years and half the planet away to a little town in Fiordland NZ. A remarkable crossing of interests made possible by the Internet and technology.
Band Boys Copthorne Barracks Shrewsbury 1946. Back: Left to right Bunny Harrison Jack Waring. Front: John Byfield, ‘Donkey’ DeLooze, Paul Collet.
Copthorne July 1946, Me and my little clarinet
Private Arthur "Nick" Carter, who kitted out Bill Griffiths in May 1946.
Photo: The Barracks, Copthorne circa 1948
Private Arthur (Nick) Carter served in the KSLI for 50 years from 1901-1951. He saw active service during the Boer War in South Africa and also in France during the First World War. On his left arm he is wearing ten good conduct stripes, the most ever awarded to anyone in the British Army. When he was discharged in 1951 he was the oldest serving soldier and had remained a private soldier from his own choice. Talking to Private Carter is the Earl of Povis, who was Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire. To his left is Major General Grover, and on the far right is Lt. Col. Shaw-Ball. After Private Carter was discharged, he lived in a rented room opposite his old Barracks.
My Father, Private Bill Griffiths. Royal Welch Regiment 1915
My Father Sgt Bill Griffiths Home Guard circa 1939
Band & Bugles Copthorne 1947 Front Row; 1st left. Jeep Longley 4th, Scrubber 6th, Bugle Major Curnow (who nearly got us lost in London) far right, Brother Bob (CO's Bugler).2nd row; far right, Dabber Davies who carried the instrument too big for him. CLICK to enlarge.
Group Picture in Hereford October 1952 after return from Korea. Front from lhs; Bill Griffiths, Fred Pocknel, Cecil Goode, Stan ?
Back Row; from lhs ? (this guy was killed later in Germany demonstrating firing a mortar), Paul Collett, and Brother Bob.
(Below) KSLI returning to Hereford after Korean War service, circa 1952
Me 1946 Mount Camp Shrewsbury Digging for Victory ???
Read on with ready laughter on your lips and follow the amusing, mischievous antics of the rookie soldier and learn of the early determination of this unusual man, who has set many unusual military records. Bill Griffiths today (in Dec. 2006) is 76 years of age and lives in Hereford with wife Nancy of 54 years. Bill accumulated 38 years of continuous service with the British Army. He can be contacted through the Editor of this website.
Adventures on 6 HMTroopships, 1 Aircraft Carrier, and 1 LST are published elsewhere.
It was May 28th 1946, sometime in the late morning and there I was looking up at the biggest pair of iron gates I had ever seen. Standing in front of them was the most enormous soldier, a giant compared to my little four foot ten inch frame. I was only fifteen years old, and had arrived at the Army Barracks in Copthorne, Shrewsbury to join the Army. (Reference photo above circa 1900 Boer War era, a little before Bill's time!).
I am not quite sure whether I trembled with cold or fright, but this burly looking Military Policeman boomed out, "What do you want laddie" ? "I’ve come to join the Army" was my reply. "You’re not big enough," he shouted at me. Now I knew it was fright that was affecting me. He not only looked like a giant but shouted like one as well. "I’ve got some papers", I said, and he bawled out "SIR". "Beg your pardon" I said, I was quite polite you see, although this big fellow was frightening me. "SIR" he shouted at me again, "you call me Sir when you speak to me, if you are going to be a soldier", then he burst into a fit of laughter, " you call me Sir, do you understand laddie"? " Yes" , "Sir," I added quickly. I quickly reflected on what had brought all this about. A friend of mine who had been a fellow chorister at the Hereford Cathedral had already joined the army as a boy soldier in the K.S.L.I. I was quite jealous of his smart uniform. There were also two other friends of mine, about the same age, who had also joined the army as drummer boys in the Scots Guards. They used to parade up and down our street with a real Guards swagger, and they too made me feel that this could also be the life for me. After all, ever since I was born, there had been talk of nothing else but war, and the need for a great-armed force in Britain.
From September 1930, Hitler’s Nazis had grown in strength and power, until in September 1939 as a result of his invasion of Poland, it was necessary for the British to vote on conscription, and to declare war on Germany. Many of the older lads that I knew had already been called up. My elder brother Bob, had volunteered and had already undergone his basic training at the very Barracks in front of which I now stood. He had been posted to the Regiment for which I had volunteered, the ‘Kings Shropshire Light Infantry’ and was now serving with the Regiment's second battalion in the Middle East, the first battalion being in Palestine.
" What’s the matter laddie", it was the voice of the big chap again, booming out like a clap of thunder. "Missing your mother already"? he bellowed. "No" I said, then quickly remembered the ‘Call me Sir’, "No SIR" I said. I was very soon brought back to reality, no more time for dreaming. "Then move yourself" he said "report to the Guard Room". He pointed to a part of the building behind him, and told me to get a move on, and walk like a soldier. At this point I thought I was going to be at least a little bit on the right side of things, having spent some time in our School branch of the Officer Cadet Training Corps, so I straightened myself up to my full height of ‘four foot ten inches’ plus a little bit, and marched off towards the door to which I had been directed.
When I got there, I noticed a large full length mirror outside the door, I glanced at it quickly, and couldn’t help noticing that my small frame only appeared in the very lower part of it, and wondered if all the other soldiers were going to be as big as the one at the main gate. Either that or some fool had put up the mirror too high. I walked into the room, the door was open, and there behind a desk was another soldier, he had one stripe on his arm, I knew of course that he was a Lance Corporal, already my brief experience in the OTC was going to be of some help, or at least I hoped it would. Then I remembered the "call me Sir’"episode outside the gate, and I must confess to being somewhat confused. "Well", shouted the corporal, "I’ve been told to report to you Sir, I’ve come to join the Army, and here are the papers I was given at the recruiting office in Hereford."
"Don’t call me Sir, I’m Corporal to you, understand ?" He took the papers from me and told me to stand against the wall on one side of the room and wait. My head started to spin a little, and once again my mind flashed back to the day I had walked into the Recruiting Office, a poky little room above a church hall. There I had told the recruiting officer that I wanted to join the Army. He had told me I was too young, unless I wanted to join as a Junior Bandsman. I told him that was what I wanted to do. I could not do this without the permission of my parents I was told. I was given a form and told to get it signed by my parents before I could go any further. This was no problem as my father was a veteran from the First World War, and a firm believer in discipline, especially the type that could be instilled in the army. My mother was not too happy about it, but Dad had said, "If he makes his bed, he’s got to lie in it, anyway, it will be good for him".
So, next time I walked into the recruiting office I took the oath, swore my allegiance to the King, was given the Kings shilling, an advance on my first weeks pay as a soldier, a ticket to go by train to Shrewsbury, and told to report to Copthorne Barracks, the Depot of the KSLI, I was to be enlisted directly into the Regiment, and was allocated a Regimental number, 4042838, this was to be one of the very few to be allocated before the numbering system was changed and Regimental numbers as such were discontinued.
"You laddie, I’m talking to you," shouted the Corporal. I came to with a start, this chap shouted louder than the one at the gate. "Sorry Sir" I said, "I didn’t hear you." "What’s the matter, are you deaf? And I’ve told you, don’t call me Sir, call me Corporal." I knew I would have to stop daydreaming or I would be in trouble before I even started my career. "This is Boy Wright" said the Corporal. " He is the senior boy, and he will take you to your barrack room." Standing next to me was a tall lad, a bit older than me I would have thought, but quite a lot taller. I hadn’t even seen him come into the room, so far away was I with my reflections on the run up to the situation as it was now.
Once outside the Guard Room and on the way to the billets, Wright said "My name's Les what’s yours"? "Bill, I said, and I already have a friend here," "Yes I know, Paul told us you were coming," he said. Paul was the school pal of mine who had joined up just a couple of months before.
We arrived at the barrack room, which seemed to be full of people; I suppose there must have been about fifteen or twenty of them. The beds were bunk beds, very close together, and I soon found out that there were some twenty odd people to a room. The first couple of hours flew by, there seemed to be so much going on. I was shown where I was to sleep, the top bunk in about the middle of the room. There were two big black iron stoves, one at each end of the room, and I quickly realised that the most senior boys had picked the prime positions nearest the stoves ready for the winter. I could already see that to get on well I would have to keep my wits about me.
At teatime all the boys were paraded outside, and I was told that we were to march to the Mess hall for our tea. At this stage I had not been issued with any kit so I was lent a mug and ‘eating irons’ (knife fork and spoon) "By the left quick march", we were off. "Squad Halt." We were there. We filed into the mess hall and I remember to this day what a horrid smell. It didn’t smell anything like my Mum's kitchen. Les came up to me and commented that I had carried out the drill movements correctly, and I told him that I had learned a little whilst I was in the school cadets. He was suitably impressed and I think that gave me a good start.
We got to the food counter and I held out my plate, imitating those in front of me. A piece of toast was thrown onto my plate; Toast! it was more like a piece of cardboard. Next I was told by the scruffy looking individual behind the counter to hold my plate next to the great big saucepan on the counter. Bang! he planted a spoonful of some sort of mixture on top of my piece of cardboard.
Next I followed suit by holding my mug under a big urn to have it filled with some sort of liquid which I was told was tea, it didn’t look like tea, it didn’t taste like tea, and to this day I can’t believe it was tea. We all sat round big trestle tables, and I looked at this mess on my plate. I remember thinking I can’t eat this, opposite me I could see a pair of eyes focussed on my plate. "Aren’t you going to eat it?" said the owner of those hungry looking eyes. He was a big lad, Archie Moulds, one of the biggest lads in the group, "I don’t think I can" I said, hardly were the words out of my mouth and my plate was whisked from under my nose and in seconds the contents had disappeared down Archie’s throat. No wonder he was such a big lad. I wondered if I would ever grow that big, and if so, would I have to eat the same as he did.
Later that evening after meeting some of the lads and chatting to my mate Paul, who filled me in with some of the things to watch out for, it was time for bed. Lights had to be out at nine o'clock, everyone had to be in bed and no noise. I couldn’t believe it when I found we did not have sheets. Just three blankets, a mattress, which was in three pieces, called biscuits filled with straw I think, as hard as nails and so uncomfortable.
I wondered how anyone could get to sleep. I was later to find out that the life I was about lead would not only enable me to sleep anywhere and on anything, but I would also learn to eat almost anything that those chaps they called cooks! put in front of me. Goodness knows what the present day soldier would do, if presented with the stuff those guys produced. Cardboard toast, plastic eggs for breakfast, fatty streaky bacon swimming in fat, kippers with more bones than flesh, the list is endless, and by the way, the plate of Goo!! that Archie scoffed for me I later learned was the ‘cooks’ version of Welsh rarebit. I don’t know where they dreamed that one up, but it is no wonder they later introduced trained cooks of the Army Catering Corps. Mind you, they also learned the skills of producing plastic eggs, and the sandwiches they provided when we had to eat out of camp were something you wouldn’t even find in a railway buffet.
So, out went the lights, and I was set for my first night of army life. Well, the noises that went on all night were incredible. Snoring, sniffing, other noises that I could only put down to the after effects of the Welsh rarebit, these, plus the hairy itchy blankets, kept me awake for most of the night. In fact, I think I was glad when dawn broke. Dawn! six o'clock and we had to rise to the sound of a bugle, and some horrible little corporal shouting his head off, "Come on now, out of it, hands off your c***’s, on with your socks. I had never heard that expression before, but that was just start to what I was to learn.
Everyone leapt out of bed, and what a sight. I had never seen such a dishevelled looking bunch of people in all my life. They were all getting dressed in shorts and vests, this was the dress for the first parade of the day. ‘Muster Parade’ when the roll was called to make sure everyone was present, and no absentees. The duty Sergeant called out names, the owner of which had to shout out ‘SIR’ to acknowledge his presence. This done, the command "Fall out" was given, and we all had to double back to our billet and prepare to carry out our morning ablutions.
The washroom was some forty yards away, and I joined the other chaps to get washed and ready for breakfast. Breakfast! I wondered what to expect after the so-called meal that had been presented, no! not presented, thrown at me the evening before. I was soon to find out, because after washing, in cold water, I might add, because the heating was not switched on until October, it was back to the billet, make the beds, and that meant placing the three ‘biscuits’ one on top of the other, and folding the three blankets each one exactly the same, those being placed on top of the biscuits.
All this done, we were paraded outside again, complete with mugs and eating irons, and duly marched off to the Mess hall. That smell again, it had changed a bit from the previous evening, but now if anything, it was worse. I got to the counter and was thrown an egg, it was supposed to be fried, but it was swimming in a great big pan of fat, and bore no resemblance to eggs that I had seen before. The next pan contained strips of streaky bacon, again swimming in fat that smelled as though it must have been used for weeks. A piece of this was landed on my plate to join the egg that was now slithering round my plate as though it wanted to escape. A piece of bread, not fresh, from a stack at the end of the counter, and that was breakfast. Oh! another mug of that murky water to wash it all down. By now I was already hungry, having missed the meal the evening before. I looked across the table, and I caught Archie eyeing up my plate, and I thought for a minute he was going to pounce, so I plucked up courage and got this my first army breakfast down me. Archie looked most upset, but I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would have done, perhaps because I was starving. The meal over, we were once again marched back to the billet where everyone proceeded to tidy the room, and put all their kit away in the boxes provided. This had to be done quickly as we then had to prepare for the next activity of the day.
This next parade was to be physical training (PT). Les was quite pleased that he was going to miss this because he was under instructions to take me to the Quartermaster's Stores to have me issued with all my army kit. On arrival at the Quartermaster's store, I was surprised to see what I considered to be quite an old chap behind the counter. He had lots of stripes upside down on one sleeve, and I was told that these were known as service stripes, and represented numbers of years service, and this chap I was told was one of the oldest serving private soldiers in the British Army. Nick Carter was his name, but here was another chap who had to be called ‘Sir’ out of respect for his age and experience.
He proceeded to throw equipment and clothing onto the counter, which I was told to stuff quickly into the kit bag, which was the first item given to me. The old boy kept muttering about how small I was and ‘how was he supposed to kit out midgets, from the kit available to him’ . But he continued to find stuff from all corners of the store, and kept on throwing it onto the counter, and I kept stuffing it into my kit bag. I thought, how the hell am I going to carry all this lot? and he hadn’t finished yet. He had got to the stage of finding a uniform for me. He looked puzzled. "We don’t have battledress to fit midgets" he said. "How tall are you"? "Four foot ten" I replied. I gathered from his conversation with another chap in the store that there was nothing anywhere near my size, and that I would have to be taken to the regimental tailor who would have to conjure up something for me. In a funny sort of way, I felt quite pleased with myself, here I was, not even one whole day in the army, and it seemed as though I was one up on their system, but to be fair, I suppose I was extra small, and I recalled how my choirmaster Sir Percy Hull, had always called me midget!!
Would I grow? and if so, how much, and how soon?
Well, I eventually got a uniform that had been specially made up for me and I was quite proud to put it on for the first time. I quickly learned from the other chaps about how to iron the uniform, and all sorts of other little tricks to keep all the other kit up to the standard required for the daily inspections, which were carried out by the corporals in charge of us, and more so for the weekly inspection which was carried out every Saturday morning by the Company Commander, who was a very likeable Major, who we affectionately called ‘Daddy’ Keyworth, though not to his face of course.
I had also had my first interview with the Bandmaster, who, after looking at my size, decided that I should be given one of the smallest instruments to play, this being the E flat clarinet. There was one smaller, the piccolo, but that had already been allocated to my mate Paul. I had been having music lessons on the piano, and of course had to study music whilst being a Hereford Cathedral chorister, so I made fairly rapid progress on the clarinet, and this was to be to my advantage much later in my career.
Days and weeks went by, and I was becoming used to the army life. Discipline was very strict, and I knew now why my father was so keen, this discipline was instilling in everyone a sense of self-respect, and a very strong respect for fellow comrades. There were of course a few exceptions to this, like the time one of the chaps who was a lot bigger than me, started pushing me around for no apparent reason other than the fact that I suppose he just wanted to show off, and show the other guys what a tough guy he was.
It always appeared to me that the so-called tough guys always seemed to be tough when they picked on the little fellow. What this chap didn’t realise was that being a small guy I had come up against this sort of situation many times before, and had learned how to deal with the situation the hard way. I didn’t want to fight, but I felt the time had come to show that I just was not going to be pushed around, so I let him have his way for a few minutes until he thought he was on top of the situation, and then I hit him. He reeled back, and then in a fit of temper, just flew at me. This was just the way it always seemed to be, and, as my father had taught me, the best form of defence was attack. So as he came towards me I just hit him again. The force behind his coming at me just gave my punch greater power, and he felt the full impact of my fist. He came at me again, so to cut the story short, and not turn the story into a boxing commentary, I knocked hell out of him. By this time of course every one in the room had gathered around, and I think they were quite surprised at the way I handled myself. It ended up with the other chap getting a sound beating, and eventually some of the other chaps pulled me away from him and stopped the fight. The outcome of this was that as a result of what happened that day, I found that I gained quite a lot of respect from the other lads, and even more so from the guy who I had given a pasting. He in fact was to become one of my best pals, and many a time later in our careers, he was right by my side when we got into troublesome situations.
The time had come when I was to be allowed out of camp for the first time. It was generally accepted that quite a few weeks before a new recruit was allowed out, but now my turn had come, and I was looking forward to it. I put on my best uniform, neatly pressed, my best boots, polished, I thought to perfection. ‘Bulled’ they called it, with lots of ‘spit and polish'. I made my way to the Guard Room, where I was told we had to report to ‘book out’. This I did, and to my horror, the Regimental Policeman that was on duty was the one who had been on the gate the day that I arrived at the camp some weeks before.
"What do you want laddie" he roared. His voice hadn’t changed, but inside the guardroom it sounded even louder than it had done outside. "I’ve come to book out, Sir" I replied. "Where do you think you’re going?" he asked, "Just for a walk to town", "Sir" I quickly added. "What", he said, "not dressed like that, when you go out of these gates you have to be smart, you need to iron your uniform, and get your boots bulled up properly" "But I’ve done that" I said. I had forgotten the ‘Sir’ and he pounced on me straight away. "Don’t give me any of your cheek laddie, get inside here" He led me to a room with an iron gate just like a prison cell, told me to get inside, then locked the gate behind me.
He left me in there for what seemed like an eternity. I suppose it must have been an hour or so. Then he came and let me out, saying, "Get back to your billet, it’s too late to go out now, and next time, get yourself smartened up, do you understand?" "Yes sir" I said and hurried away back to my billet thinking to myself, one day somehow or other, I’ll get my own back on that guy. Once back in my room, I told the other chaps what had happened and they told me that this the way most new recruits were treated. It seemed to be just a way of the Regimental Policemen asserting their authority, and indeed it did make it’s mark, because everyone made that extra special effort to make sure that their appearance was absolutely perfect.
During the next few months there to be quite a few things that went on which were to stick in my memory, some of them quite funny. For instance, we had a new Lance Corporal posted in to the company. He was in the Pioneer Corps, and was regularly on duty as Orderly Corporal. One of his duties was to make sure everyone was out of bed in the mornings as soon as the bugle had sounded Reveille. He was a horrible little man, and nobody liked him. He used to come into our room shouting his head off, even though we were all out of bed. There was a rule that the ‘boy’s accommodation' was out of bounds to senior soldiers other than the NCO’s who were directly responsible for them. So we thought we would teach this pioneer fellow a lesson.
One night after ‘light’s out’ one of the lads partly opened the door to the billet, and carefully balanced a fire bucket full of water on the door and the doorframe. Next morning, everyone was up before the bugle, ready dressed for the early morning roll call parade. We waited, and no sooner had the bugle sounded its first note, in charged the pioneer, he had started to shout "Get up" before he actually got to the door, and then there was an almighty crash as the bucket hit him. It was a direct hit, and as it hit him we all ran past out to the parade area. We could hear him cursing and swearing, threatening to have us all hung drawn and quartered. He came running out to the parade area, dripping wet, and demanding to know who was responsible. At this point the Duty Sergeant intervened and wanted to know what was going on. The pioneer told him what had happened. But the Duty Sergeant pointed out that he should not have been entering the boys rooms, and that he better go and get dried out. Off went the pioneer, muttering under his breath all sorts of threats. When he was out of earshot, the Sergeant called the roll, and when that was completed, he just said "Well done lads, fall out". It was pretty obvious that he had the same opinion of the pioneer as we did. Needless to say we had no more problems with the pioneer, in fact he seemed to steer well clear of our area all together.
As a result of this episode, it was decided that it was necessary to have an N.C.O. put in charge of the boys. This was duly done, and a Lance Corporal named Moffat was moved into our billet. He was quite a nice chap, but nevertheless strict. He was entertaining in lots of ways, he told us stories of his escapades whilst serving in Italy, one of which led to him being nicknamed ‘Nuff Nuff’. It concerned a young Italian girl to whom he had become attached, and she so he told us, spoke with a lisp. When he became over amorous she, when she thought he had enough, with her lisp plus her Italian accent, would say, "Nuff Nuff". He told us this story many times, and we could conjure up pictures of him in this situation. We openly called him by his new nickname, and he did not really seem to mind that much. It probably reminded him of the good times he had enjoyed.
The morning muster parade had now been discontinued for us; it was felt not to be necessary now that there was an N.C.O. present to see that we were all accounted for. We still had to be out of bed as soon as the bugle sounded, but ‘Nuff Nuff’ liked to have a ‘lie in’. We would try to stay in bed for an extra little time, but ‘Nuff Nuff’ would shout from his bed for us to get up. When nobody moved he would leap out, and within a matter of seconds he would tip the nearest four or five beds right over, the occupants crashing to the floor. We used to make this a bit of a challenge, and see how long we could stay in bed before he got to us. He was pretty nimble, and as many as ten beds were known to tumble at any one time. He then would calmly jump back into his bed, and demand that someone bring him back a bacon sandwich for his breakfast. This we always did, because we thought it would be better for us if we did. Generally this was the case, although one morning, whoever it was that got his sandwich, decided to play a practical joke, his bacon was absolutely plastered with mustard, and when we returned to the billet, everyone waited to see what happened. You should have seen his face as he took his first bite. He roared, went red in the face, and spat a mouthful of mustard out on to the floor. "You little bastards" he cried, "I’ll have your guts for garters".This was a good old army expression, which we were to hear many times in the coming years. "Get that mess cleaned up," he shouted, and someone dared to say that it was only a joke. "I’ll give you joke," he bellowed. "Get dressed in your P.T. kit, we are going out for a joke run".
This guy was fit. He was a member of the battalion football team, and also a battalion boxer. Well he got us all paraded outside, and said, "O.K. jokers, by the left double march". He led us out of the barracks at some hell of a pace, we had a job to keep up with him, but he threatened to keep us at it all day if we didn’t keep up. We were very soon thinking what a stupid idea it was to try to put one over on ‘Nuff Nuff’.
We eventually got back to camp absolutely knackered, with ‘Nuff Nuff’ looking really pleased with himself. We thought the worst was over, but oh no! "Right you lot, into the showers, now! Get a move on," he shouted." But its freezing cold" someone dared to say, "That’s O.K." said he, "You’ll just have to put more mustard on your bacon to keep you warm won’t you? Now get in there and shut up". The water was really freezing, and he kept us under there for ages. Nobody ever tried to pull a fast one on ‘Nuff Nuff again. He had stamped his authority on us in some order. ‘Nuff Nuff’ didn’t hold this against us. He had taken his revenge, and that was it, forgotten. He entered us into the football league in Shrewsbury, and proceeded to train us all as footballers. We all did the training, and the best of us actually played in the team. We all got a chance to play at some time or other, and we did pretty well with his coaching. His training included many early morning runs on the lines of the one following the mustard sandwich episode, followed by those icy showers to which by now we had become quite used to. We still didn’t like them, but accepted it as part of our training.
One morning while ‘Nuff Nuff’ was on leave, we were taken out for our morning run by another Corporal. A fellow named ‘Jeep’ Longley. We assumed he was nicknamed Jeep because he had a face like the back of one. He was a big fellow, and always appeared to be more vicious than the rest of the N.C.O’s. Maybe it was because he was such a big chap, and his manner always seemed to be more strict and officious.
"Nuff Nuff’ had obviously briefed him on what we were to do, because when we were out running, he really put us through our paces. We were by now quite fit, and the routine was not quite so painful as it had been when we started. But this particular morning, ‘Jeep’ took us on a route, which led us down by the river. It was quite a cold morning, though by the time we had reached this point we were quite warm. ‘Jeep’ cried out "Halt" We thought, great, we are going to have short rest. Not a bit of it, "Right you lot, into the river" We all looked at him in disbelief, "Come on get a move on" he bawled". One lad, it may have been ‘Conk’ Williams, it doesn’t really matter who it was, said, "I’m not going in there, if you want me in there you’ll have to throw me in". I’ve never seen a big bloke move so fast. Like a streak of lightning, ‘Jeep’ had caught hold of this lad and ‘Splash’ in he went. It didn’t take many seconds for the rest of us to follow, although we waded in fairly gently, not wanting to suffer the same fate as the ‘first’ in. ‘Jeep’ didn’t keep us in the water too long, but it was plenty long enough. Once out, we were at the double again on our way back to camp, dripping wet and wishing that ‘Nuff Nuff’ had not gone on leave. Back at camp, ‘Jeep’ made us take off our wet kit, and would you believe it, jump under the cold showers. As if we hadn’t had enough for one day. Anyway it was all good fun really, looking back on it, and it didn’t do us any harm. In fact it taught us I suppose to appreciate the finer things in life.
The sort of life we were leading now became quite routine, and nobody really complained of what we had previously thought was hardship. After all, we were being fed, even though it was sometimes doubtful as to what it was we were being given to eat. We were clothed, we had a roof over our heads, and we were being paid. Paid?. Yes, we were receiving the princely sum of ten shillings and sixpence a week. The equivalent of fifty pence in today’s money. But we were not allowed to draw the whole weeks wage. We were restricted to only two shillings and sixpence each week, the remainder was kept in credit for us, and paid to us when we went on leave. Periods of leave were granted not on a regular basis, but determined by good conduct, smart appearance, and overall performance as soldiers, for which points were awarded, and when enough points were accumulated, it was possible to have special leave granted for periods of thirty six, forty eight or seventy two hours. A seventy-two hour leave pass was really something. It meant leaving camp at midday on a Friday and returning on a Sunday evening. Sometimes we were given free rail travel, but on other occasions we had to get out on the road and thumb a lift. There were a few of us from the Hereford area, and we used to enjoy travelling together. We would always have to travel in uniform, and we were quite proud to do so.
One of our lads, Dabber Davies, was a bit of a prankster, and would take great delight in leaning out of the carriage window when we stopped at a station and shout, "All change", people could be seen leaping out of the train and dashing in all directions. We of course at the time thought it was hilarious, but in retrospect, how could this be considered as ‘Good Conduct’?
It must have been about the summer of 1947, when things began to look up a bit. General Montgomery wanted changes to the way the British squaddie was being treated. We were given sheets and pyjamas to add comfort to our previously outdated sleeping arrangements. We couldn’t believe our luck. So much so, that one night, just after we had been issued with this new ‘uniform’! We all got dressed up in pyjamas; best boots, gaiters belts and hats, and at about midnight paraded outside our billet. In those days, part of our weekly routine was to have regular further education lessons, which were given by trained education staff, who held the rank of sergeant or above. One of these chaps was billeted some distance away from us, and it was he that was to be the target for this little exercise. There we were, goodness knows what we looked like, but ‘Les’, the senior boy bawled out, "Quick march". Our boots were studded and we were marching on a concrete path, we stamped our feet as hard as we could, and marched towards the education sergeant’s quarters. The din must have been heard miles away in the still of the night. As we arrived outside the sergeant’s quarters, Les ordered, "Squad Halt!" The crashing of some twenty odd pairs of studded boots must have sounded like a clap of thunder. Les dashed up to the sergeant’s door, and hammered on it as hard as he could. Out came the most startled looking chap, he must have thought the war had started again. He took one look at us, you should have seen his face, and it was something you could never forget. "What the bloody hell is going on?" he shouted. Les calmly saluted, and said, "We are reporting to you for ‘Night School’ Sir". The sergeant exploded, "You bloody idiots, I’ll have you all locked up, you’re a bunch of bloody raving lunatics, get out of my sight, Get Out, Get Out of it" he bellowed. We didn’t need any second bidding. We all turned and ran like hell, back to our billet and into bed, trying to act desperately as though we had done nothing wrong. We fully expected a visit from the Duty Officer, but the Education Sergeant must have seen the funny side of things, because there were no repercussions, other than being given a verbal going over the next time we reported for lessons.
It was around this time that our 2nd battalion had returned home from their duties in the Sudan and the 1st was due back from Palestine. It was planned that the two battalions were to be amalgamated, and that there would in future be just one battalion. There was limited accommodation in the barracks, so it was necessary for some of us to be moved to another military camp. This was a place called Mount Camp. It was a hutted camp, consisting of some dozen or so wooden huts, a cookhouse which was very basic, and a couple of wartime Nissen huts, which were constructed of sheets of corrugated iron, which served as washrooms, showers, and toilets.
These were commonly referred to as ‘The Ablutions’. They were at one end of the camp, and some distance from the living quarters, so, if was cold, raining, or snowing, it was not a very pleasant trip to attend ones ‘Ablutions’! It must have been one of the first times that I went for an early morning wash, and remember quite clearly thinking how primitive everything was. In the middle of the hut were two galvanised troughs with a water pipe running along the top, from which taps were suspended at intervals of about two feet on alternate sides of the trough. On arrival at the washroom, you would just have to find a vacant tap, and wash as quickly as possible. There was no hot water, so you made sure you got washed as quickly as possible.
It was this particular morning, when I stood next to an older soldier named Brown. He had been in the army for some time, and was I gathered, looking forward to getting out of it. He looked down at me and said, "How long have you signed on for"? I replied, "Nine years". He slowly unscrewed his razor, took out the blade and held it out to me. "Here" he said, "Go and cut your throat, you might as well. You poor little sod. You must be bloody mad". He put his blade back in the razor. But he made me really wonder if I had made some great mistake. I washed quickly. I was towards the end of one of the troughs, and it was not a pleasant sight watching everyone else’s waste come floating down in front of me. I made a special effort after that to get to the washroom early so that I could gain the prime position at the head of the trough. I also vowed that I would not listen to anyone else’s opinions on army life and it’s pros and cons. My Dad's words rang in my ears, "he makes his bed, and he lies in it". I was to remember those words for many years to come.
We had got to the stage where it was a little easier to obtain leave passes to go home for the weekends now that the Regiment was all together in Shrewsbury, and brother Bob and I used to look forward to going home together. Dad was very proud of his two soldier sons, and we always wore our uniforms with pride. We both joined the Hereford Military Club, where of course Dad and his brother Jim were members, and whilst on weekend leave we spent most of our evenings there, chatting to all the old soldiers, and listening to some of their tales.
The Bandmaster had told me that I had been selected to go to the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall in the October of 1947. This he said was because I had progressed well and was considered worthy of the chance to receive twelve months professional musical training at the school. My mate Paul had also been selected, so we were both grateful for the introduction to music we had both received whilst in the Hereford Cathedral choir, which we were sure had helped us.
We were still billeted in Mount Camp, and I was really looking forward to getting away from there. But there were still some months to go before that time came. We were by now proficient enough to actually take part in some Band concerts, which were generally given in the local park in Shrewsbury. We looked forward to these and enjoyed the public appearances. We also took part in parades with the marching band, and as a result came into contact a lot more with the senior bandsmen. This resulted in a few escapades, which are worthy of mention. Like for instance, when Lance Corporal Dabber Davies got a bit too tough on us, or so we thought. So one day when he was out of camp for some reason or other, we took his bed and all his kit from his billet, and stuck it up on the roof of the hut. When he came back, he could be heard from a mile away. He cursed and swore, and it was some time before he actually found out that his belongings were on the roof. Well, he got them all down with some help from his pals, and then proceeded to blame one of our lads called ‘Swallow’ Martin. Why he picked on him we didn’t know, but he decided that Swallow should be taught a lesson, and told him to report to the Gym, where boxing gloves would be worn for the ‘lesson’. We of course all trundled down to the Gym, worried for poor old Swallow, although he didn’t seem at all worried. He was quite a big lad, but had always seemed gentle enough. In came Dabber, two pairs of gloves, and once on, proceeded to square up to Swallow. Talk about a surprise, Swallow just let Dabber spar and thrust at him for a little while, then he held Dabber at arms length with his left arm, then produced a ‘right’ that was worthy of any potential boxing champion. Poor old Dabber collapsed in a heap, and Swallow walked calmly away; from then on, he was re-nicknamed ‘Killer’ Martin, and was seen to enact exactly the same performance many times in the boxing ring at the gym.
Another episode was when a senior soldier named Harry, tried a bit of bullying that we were just not going to accept. Our triumph over Dabber had given us the confidence to retaliate and show that we were not going to take things lying down. We were still in Mount Camp, and at that time, outside the wooden huts at intervals there were sets of fire fighting equipment, which consisted of a large wooden cross fixed firmly in the ground, from which were suspended buckets of water and sand, and a stirrup pump.Pretty basic by today’s standards, but the wooden cross was to play a good part the way in which we were going to deal with Harry. He was a big chap, so it was decided that several of us were needed to deal with him. We waited for the right opportunity, and it arrived one evening. There was Harry, sauntering along the path outside one of the huts with one of the ‘fire points’ conveniently opposite. About ten of us dashed outside led by Archie, who was our biggest lad. We grabbed hold of Harry and dragged him towards the fire point. One of the lads had removed the pump and buckets leaving a perfect set up for ‘The Treatment’.
A couple of the chaps had produced some lengths of rope, and proceeded to tie Harry’s arms to the cross member, whilst someone else secured his body to the upright post. Poor Harry was screaming all sorts of abuse at us, threatening forms of retribution, which cannot be described without using foul language. The knots were tied, and we walked away leaving Harry fuming and cursing even more profusely. It was quite noticeable that none of his fellow senior soldiers came to his rescue, in fact we heard some of them in one of the huts laughing and saying something like, "That will teach the silly old fool, serves him right". Some time went past before it was decided to go and see whether it was safe to approach Harry, and see if he had had enough, and was not going to try bullying us again. It was quite obvious that we had won the day, because Harry had become suddenly quiet and passive. We promised to release him only if he left us alone. He agreed, he didn’treally have much option did he? He got up after the ropes were taken off, and walked off muttering under his breath, but obviously accepting defeat. We replaced the pump and buckets and retreated to our billets with one more success notched up. We laughed at this incident for many months after that, and Harry must surely have thought about it afterwards and smiled inwardly.
Time was flying by now, and the time was approaching when I should be sent off to ‘Kneller Hall’. We, as a bunch of new recruits were learning that there was a lot of fun to be had, and that there was no point in moaning and groaning if things didn’t go our way all of the time. We learned to laugh and see the funny side of things.
I can remember very well packing my kit ready to go off on the next stage of my career. The time had come to go to the School of Music, which was in Twickenham. This as far as I was concerned was London. I had never been down that far before, and was quite excited at the prospect of this. I walked up the path from my billet, kit bag over my shoulder, and shouting cheerio to the rest of the lads. As I walked I passed the fenced off area where the coal was kept under lock and key, and I couldn’t help laughing about the story brother Bob had told me about this very same compound. It was when he was undergoing his initial training, and he, and another chap had been put on ‘fatigues’ as punishment. It seems that Bob and his mate had got up late one morning and had not shaved before the first parade.
When the inspecting Officer got to Bob he looked at his face and said, "Have you shaved this morning Griffiths?" Bob, not wanting to be anything but honest, replied, "No Sir". "Take his name Corporal" shouted the officer to the duty corporal. Poor Bob was obviously in for trouble. The officer then walked straight past his mate, who was wearing just as much of a beard as Bob, but was not noticed. When the parade was dismissed, Bob turned to his mate and said, "How the hell did you get away with that, you’ve got more of a hairy face than I have". "Don’t know," said his mate, laughing, "I’m just lucky I suppose." A little later on they both had to stand at their beds for a room inspection, where each soldier was responsible for keeping his own little area spotlessly clean. The same Officer was carrying out the room inspection. He passed Bob with no comment, but when he came to Bob’s mate, he looked under the bed and said, "what’s that?" He looked and saw a little piece of fluff. "It’s a piece of fluff sir." "A piece of fluff! what’s your name?" shouted the officer. "Wallbridge Sir" replied Bob’s mate. "Take his name Corporal". Poor Bob nearly burst out laughing, but managed to restrain himself.
The outcome of this was that Bob and Wallbridge were taken to the coal compound, where a little Corporal gave them a shovel each and barked, "See all that coal there, get shovelling and move it further a field". And away he went leaving them to it. "Well, better get on with it" said Bob. And they proceeded to shovel quite a few tons of coal over the fence into the field over the other side of the fence. They had been at it for about two or three hours, sweating and with aching arms and backs, when the Corporal returned. He went absolutely stark raving mad. "What the bloody hell do you think you two are playing at" he bawled. Bob replied, "You said you wanted the coal moved into the field, and that’s what we’ve done". "You stupid bloody idiots" he cried, " I said further a field, and up against the fence I meant. Not over the bloody thing". "Now just get over there and shovel the whole lot back, and make it dammed quick, otherwise I’ll have you both locked up, you’re a couple of bloody nutcases". And off he stormed leaving them to get on with the return journey for the coal. I kept on walking, laughing to myself about poor old Bob and his mate, and thought to myself that I better keep my ears open when orders were being given to me in the future.
Outside the Guard Room I stood waiting for the transport, which was to take me to the station for my journey to London and the School of Music for the next stage of my career. I looked across and saw a platoon of soldiers marching across the barrack square, and little did I realize that it was to be some thirty eight years later before I was to set foot on that very parade ground again for my very last parade in uniform, and to be presented with a medal for Efficiency and Good Conduct with the Territorial Army.
WE ARE CONTINUALLY ADDING TO BILL'S STORY.....GO TO CHAPTER 2