Long Service and Good Conduct?

Chapter Five


The Charles McLeod, LST & 40 Division Battle School Kure Japan; towards Korea

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION 5th Jan 2007

HIROSHIMA - 4 YEARS ON

 

The presumed centre blast, a church in Hiroshima visited by Bill Griffiths with his mind on the horrors of another conflict across the Straits of Korea.

 

 

 

 

 

In what seemed no time at all, and of course with us having to get below deck to start getting all our kit ready to disembark, we were alongside the jetty and the gang planks were being lowered ready for disembarkation. We said cheerio to some of the crew, but most were too busy with their duties, tying up ropes, dropping anchors and downing tots of rum. Well not really, but I bet they would have done given half the chance.

There were lorries waiting on the quayside to take us to our next destination which was the 40 Div Battle School in Kure, which had originally been set up in 1946 by the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, which consisted of some 45,000 British, Australian, Indian and New Zealand forces.

The camp now at this stage was a stepping stone to Korea, a place for last minute battle training and getting kitted out ready for active service. We were however not to be deprived of our bit of fun. There were a few hilarious moments to be had here. One of these was only a few days after we got there, when one of my lads, a chap named Cecil Goode feeling a bit sorry for himself, and a bit worried about what was to come, took off to the NAAFI and got himself really plastered. Now Cecil was quite a biggish chap, and was prone to laying out anyone who upset him in any way. He had a way with his fist’s that in some ways reminded me of Swallow Martin. Remember him and Dabber Davies? Suffice it to say, that it was not long before Cecil was upset and ready to take on all comers for whatever reason at all. I had no option but to intervene, and in no time at all he was ready to stick one on me. At this point and because we were officially on active service, I had to deal with this in a military fashion, and therefore told him he was going to be charged with being drunk, abusive, and insubordination to a superior officer. (That being me of course.) Now, I didn’t really want to do this, but, I got hold of two Lance Corporals, one in front, and one behind Cecil and promptly marched him off at Light Infantry pace, (140 plus to the minute) to the Guard Room where I requested the Guard Commander to lock him up. "Sorry" said the Guard Commander, " Full up", "What do mean, Full Up", I said, "I want this man put away for the night to avoid further trouble.". " Full up" the Guard Commander repeated. " All hell is let loose here in this camp, you will see for yourself after a few days". He then went on to explain that the cells in the Guard Room were full of guys who were trying every trick in the book to get themselves arrested with a view to getting themselves put away to avoid being sent off to Korea. "You will just have to take him back to the billet and keep him under ‘House Arrest" I was told.I thought to myself, this was going to be some difficult task knowing just how troublesome Cecil could be when well oiled. I could just see bodies lying all over the place if I couldn’t control this Hereford Bull. Oh I forgot to mention that Cecil came from my home town, Hereford. And as a result of this we normally got on quite well together. Anyway, I duly marched him from the Guard room back to the billet, probably quicker than when I took him there. On arrival at the billet, I dismissed the two L/Cpls, and took Cecil to one side. "Look here Cecil, and take that bloody stupid smile off your face," I said, to which he spluttered,

" You should see your own face, you couldn’t even get me put away". " Listen" I said, "You might be bigger than me, and you might think you have got away with it, but take it from me, if you don’t behave and shut up, then I will just have to shut you up. And believe me, with the state you are in I don’t think I would have much trouble in doing just that." I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be, so I stood well back and mentally measured the distance from my boot to his crutch. At this point my memory took me back to an occasion whilst at Kneller Hall. It wasn’t quite funny at the time, but now on reflection I suppose it was. It was one morning when we were getting our rooms ready for inspection. We had lino flooring in the Nissen huts where we were accommodated, and it was our duty to keep our own little bed space clean and tidy.

In the space opposite me was a Scots chap, Jock McCulloch. A real little bundle of solid muscle from Glasgow. Unwittingly I plonked my wet mop against the bottom of his bed right on top of the floor he had just so carefully polished. "You wee bastard" he shouted, "just look what you have done" "OK" I said, "Keep your shirt on". It was like showing a red rag to a bull. He just flew across the room and promptly popped one on the end of my chin, knocking me right over my bed and on to the floor the other side. He rushed round and stood over me, his fists clenched ready to make more of it. I raised myself up on one arm and said, " Sorry Jock, I didn’t realise you had finished your bed space."

"You will be sorry if you don’t get up quick and polish my bed space until it’s the best in the room. And don’t call me ‘Jock’ Call me Private McCulloch, Understand?" Well, I was not in the mood to do battle with this guy. He was like a little bull terrier and had obviously been brought up in the rough areas of Glasgow. Not a guy to take second place I would have thought. So I said sorry once again and set to, repairing the damage I had done, whilst he stood over me fists clenched ready to take further action if it was needed.

This taught me a lesson, always to assess the situation fully before committing myself to a possible round of fisticuffs. There I was, day dreaming again. Stop dreaming Bill, back to the present, don’t forget you are dealing with the Hereford Bull, don’t let him catch you off your guard. If Cecil was going to make anything of this then I would have to put him out of action the best way possible. It was quite strange, because everyone else had seemed to have disappeared at this stage. Possibly I thought because they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of Cecil’s fist, or to be witness to what might take place and have to give evidence which would have not been in

my favour. Feeling quite confident that I had the matter under control , albeit that if I got myself into a fight with a drunken private soldier, I would be liable for a possible Court Martial, I said, "Come on now Goode" I deliberately called him by his surname to assert my authority, "You won’t get away with this. Whatever happens you will be charged, and if you make matters worse I’ll make your life hell believe me". This seemed to stop him in his tracks. He looked at me as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Nobody had stood up to him before like this. Most people had either turned away quickly, or had been flattened. He looked around and saw that there were just the two of us there. "OK" he said, "I don’t want to cause any more trouble now, especially as we are soon off to Korea". "Right" I said, " You are confined to your billet, OK? And that means no sneaking of to the NAAFI for more beer. Got It? " Yes, OK " he said, and turned sheepishly away and made his way to the ‘bog’ where I am sure he was going to be just a little bit ill. Well, I hoped so anyway, that might just help to keep him quiet. This also gave me a little time to reflect on what could have been a messy end to my eventual qualification for the LS&GC. As a point of interest I have seen Cecil many times over the years here in Hereford, and it has always been he, who has brought up the subject saying, "You remember that time you tried to have me locked up and the Guard room was full?" He would then break into fits of laughter almost to the point of bringing tears to his eyes, and even after all these years, he has found it to be a most hilarious thing to have happened. Following this incident I never had any trouble with Cecil, and really from nobody else. I think that they were all so very surprised to see me unscathed, no scars or visible bruises, and in fact totally in charge of the situation. This was to hold me in good stead for the rest of the trip, because I was going to have to be a lot more forceful in handling the lads from now on, and I think they had got the message.

The next few days rolled by with no trouble, and little else worthy of writing about, except, that is, perhaps to put on record another incident that could have been somewhat of a disaster. The nearest small village was a place called Hiro, only a small village with a few shops and local, well, I don’t know, I suppose you could call them Hotels, that is if you had a very vivid imagination. Not that I went in any of them to find out, but I was told this by others who had. And they all had very wicked and contented smiles on their faces. Maybe the readers imagination can go to work on this!!! Also on the outskirts of the village was a massive big services club. If I remember correctly called ‘The Anzac Club’. As the name implies, it was run by the Australians???? All Commonwealth Forces were allowed to use it, and it was really a great big boozer. Beer, beer, and more beer. It was all Japanese beer, just two different brands. ‘Kirin’ and ‘Asahi’. It was OK and it had all the usual effects of putting you to sleep, as well as making you quite ill. If you had enough of course, and we all found out what enough was.

There was no bar as such in the Club. Just a cashiers desk at the entrance where you could buy tickets, each one entitling you to a pint of beer, which would be brought to your table by a waiter. It was something like a shilling a pint. I can’t remember exactly but that’s near enough for now. We used to go in to the Club, and each of us would buy enough tickets for a round, hand them to the waiter and get on with the drinking. The only problem here being the number of you in a group. If there were eight of you, then that would mean eight pints, a bad head the next morning probably a very upset stomach to go with it. The Bandmaster decided that we should do our bit by putting on some entertainment for the troops, and ordered that we as the dance band should play in the club one evening. The date was duly decided and off we went one evening, set up and started playing. At first everything went well, everyone really enjoying the music, and when the beer started to take effect some of the Aussies and New Zealand guys started to dance with each other as well. I don’t know which one of the band it was, but if I had known at the time he might have ended his evening locked up in the clink, because he risked his life by actually wolf whistling at the guys dancing. This they didn’t like at all, and came up to the stage quite menacingly, and believe me, there were some pretty big rough looking guys amongst them. I don’t know what their mothers gave them for breakfast, but hell, it made them pretty big. We were all quite small guys in comparison, me especially, as I was the smallest of the lot, although I had grown since I joined up. I was now a full five foot two, …. and a little bit. The little bit, being when the studs in my boots were still quite new and not worn away. I was playing the saxophone at the time and tried to carry on as if nothing had happened, when one of these big Aussies came up and poured his beer into the bell end of my saxophone. Well! I didn't quite know what to do, but I did know that he was one hell of a big guy, and so were all his mates. So I just stopped playing for a second, thanked him for the beer and said I would start sucking instead of blowing as soon as we had finished the next number.

He and his mates fortunately for us, saw the funny side of it and went back to their tables. I and the rest of the band took a deep breath and vowed never to try anything like that again. Thinking back on that situation now conjures up all types of outcome, none of which I am sure would have been pleasant. The next morning I was very pleased that after putting the Bandmaster in the picture, we were not called on again to play at the Club, using the excuse that our instruments had to be packed away ready for the next part of our journey, which was to Pusan in South Korea. We still had not been told how we were to get there. We just had to wait for the next available ship travelling that way.

It would be very wrong not to mention the fact that we had the opportunity one day to take a day trip to Hiroshima where the atomic bomb had been dropped. We witnessed many terrible scenes of ruin, incapacity and degradation. It was a horrific experience, and although this book is meant to highlight the fun side of soldiering, it is only fair to point out that all aspects of soldiering had to be endured.

Back in camp again, we had to report to the medical centre to get all our inoculations up to date. There was one for Typhoid, one for Tetanus, another one for Yellow Fever, and I think one dreamt up by the medics for entertainment, because as the lads went through the centre, arms on hips, receiving jabs to both arms, and some of the bigger tough lads fainting at the sight of a needle, the medics just laughed and carried on jabbing.  We were warned not to go drinking as the effects of alcohol might aggravate the side effects of the jabs. Did we listen? Of course not, we were old soldiers, or so we thought, and of course we knew best, so off we went and set about doing our bit to help increase the profits in our NAAFI bar. Oh boy, were we sorry. The pain got worse, and we all seemed to get great big painful lumps under our arms. It was awful and we weren’t clever old soldiers now. Time went by and the pain eased. We were told to get ready to go to the docks to board the ship for our move to Pusan. There was a lot of speculation as to what kind of ship I would travel on this time. Perhaps something even better than the aircraft Carrier, who could tell? I would just have to wait and see together with the rest of the group.

We had been told that it was a ship called the Charles Macleod. Not a very exciting name, no pre-fix of Queen, or Princess, or Royal, no, just The Charles...Macleod.  When we eventually got to the docks we couldn’t see a ship at all. There was at one side of the docks, a small dirty brown, or even Khaki boat which appeared to have big doors at one end, very similar to the ferry boats that could be seen at Dover. I got down from the truck telling all the lads to sit and wait whilst I found out where we were headed. The Bandmaster had arrived in a different vehicle, and I found him talking to some guys further down the yard. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard them saying we were to board the vessel at the other end of the docks. They were pointing at this mucky little brown thing. It didn’t look big enough to sail across the stretch of water we had seen on the Maps. I ran back to the truck, telling the lads that we were to travel on the thing we saw earlier. What? There’s not enough room on there for ‘Scrubber’ never mind all us lot said someone.

‘Scrubber’, by the way was the nickname for the Bandmaster. He had earned this name because when rehearsing certain pieces of music that he didn’t like, or even found possibly difficult to conduct! He would say, "Scrub that bit, and go to so and so" then go on a bit further and again, " Scrub that". So eventually someone came up with the name ‘Scrubber’ and it stuck. Well, here we were, there was the ship. SHIP? It looked more like an overgrown barge to us, but I suppose to it’s crew, it was home,... Bless em! And they were would you believe, soldiers, yes soldiers, not Sailors. They belonged to the Royal Army Service Corps. I just hoped that they knew what they were doing and had plenty of experience at sea. There was no alternative but to obey orders and get aboard, load the equipment and hope for the best. Soon it was time to set sail, and I was not at all happy with being taken to sea in a cardboard box by a crew of squaddies, and believe me, I was not on my own. It wasn’t long before we were several miles out sea, and already the ship was bobbing up and down and swaying what I thought was very dangerously from side to side. It wasn’t very long before several of the guys were hanging over the side getting rid of the last meal they ate. I was OK at this stage, but my turn was come a little later. I seem to recollect that it took about three and a half days to get somewhere close to Korean waters, but, when we were almost there, we hit the tail end of a Typhoon, and the ship was soon being tossed about like a cork in a bath full of puppies. Yes, I know , a stupid expression, but at a time like this, I am reliving an experience of what I considered a matter of life or death, and this is no time to worry about that.

Soon there were senior members of the crew on deck, as we were, feeling that if this bucket was going to sink, then it would be better watching it from above. They told us quite openly that they were worried that if the heavy vehicles below decks broke away from their shackles there was no hope of this thing ever making it into port. The boat was now being tossed up in the air, only to come crashing down again on it’s flat bottom with a thud that was enough to frighten the most hardened seaman I would imagine, then being tossed from side to side as well, making it a very frightening experience indeed. In fact, I don’t think I have ever been so frightened in my life, not at any time in the whole my career in the army. Well, I am here, living proof that old ‘Charlie Macleod’ made it, and after about twenty four hours riding out the storm, it eventually made it into the harbour at Pusan. The crew, as well as all our lads disembarked as quick as possible, everyone looking as though they had just jumped up out of their graves.

I vowed that I would never set foot on a boat like that again, even if it meant forfeiting the coveted Long Service Medal .

The strangest thing was though, that in 1979 whilst serving with the TAVR, I served a short attachment to the RASC Water Transport Division in Portsmouth. And what do you think was tied up at their docks. Yes, you've guessed, the jolly old ‘Charles Macleod’. I could hardly believe my eyes. There was no-one there who had served on it whilst out in Korea, and they just laughed when I told them of my personal experience on it, and if they thought for one minute that they would get to go aboard, they had another think coming. I already had my LS&GC by this time, so I could tell them all to get stuffed, and believe me, I would have done, no matter what rank they were.

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