Recollections of National Service with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
6 February 1954 to February 1956.
My initial memory of Bodmin Barracks was, after being kitted out and 'burning' our boots, we had to run from the Barracks up to Bodmin Monument and back again, until the boots were worn in. After a painful period, while the blisters on my feet healed, those boots fitted like gloves and lasted me for the rest of my National Service.
After taking the initial 'Intelligence Test', I was selected for officer training and in spite of my protests that I did not want to be an officer (having worked in a Bank, I had seen how large Officers' Mess bills were in relation to a National Service, Second Lieutenant's income!) I was sent off on an Officers' Training course at the KOYLI Barracks at Strensall, six miles north of York. As someone used to the mild climate of Cornwall, the cold of Yorkshire came as a shock. Sometimes we had to melt snow to wash and shave in, as the water pipes were frozen up. On one occasion, several of us were put on a charge (under Section 40- 'Conduct Prejudicial.....') for 'failing to shave'. Fortunately, the CO believed us when we said that the stubble on our faces was the result of trying to shave in such cold water and we were exonerated! One special test of obedience to discipline on that course, was known as 'Sh-t Creek'. We were marched to a bridge over an open sewer and given the instruction, "Left Wheel", whereupon we had to jump off the bridge into some five feet of sewage.
We then had to travel a considerable way along this before we were allowed to scramble out, up the slimy bank. All this time we had to keep our rifles dry. After we marched back to barracks, we were very relieved to discover that there was hot water in the showers! Even so, the smell seemed to linger around us for some time afterwards.
We used to have Church Parades to York Minster and as other Regiments marched a slower pace than the Light Infantry, we had to wait for a signal before we set off at 140ppm, so as to arrive outside York Minster at the same time as they did. On one occasion, we had a break from the rigorous training, when we went to play a game of Rugby at Catterick Camp, on a snow covered pitch. Even though our team lost the match, we all returned to Strensall feeling refreshed.
Eventually, we went to the final WOSB at Aldershot and I was interviewed by a senior officer, who listened to my argument as to why I did not wish to become an officer. I was really chuffed when he agreed that I could return to Bodmin as a Private. I was even more chuffed with this result, when I found out that of those who became officers, many were posted to other than Light Infantry Regiments and had to re-learn the Drills.
Shortly after my return to Bodmin, I was posted to 'A' Company, 1 DCLI in Bermuda. I could not believe my luck! We spent a couple of days in Goodge Street Transit Centre, London with its many steps down to disused underground train tunnels. There was a lift but that was for use by officers only. The tunnels were lined with row upon row of three tiered bunks, which provided accommodation for several thousand soldiers. I heard that there was a serious fire there some years later, which led to the closure of the Centre. We were then driven to Heathrow Airport, to fly to Bermuda by BOAC Stratocruiser, via Shannon and Gander, Newfoundland, airports. The Stratocruiser was a real luxury plane and I was lucky enough to be one of those to be seated downstairs in the 'Bar Lounge' for the entire journey. I well remember the blast of hot air that hit us, as the door of the plane was opened at Kindley Airport. We had arrived!
The first exercise that I went on in Bermuda was 'Operation Tiddy Oggy' ,which helped us to get to know the Island- and gave us our first taste of water melons, straight off the field! Shortly afterwards, I was selected as a driver and after driving a variety of vehicles including Austin K4 one tonners, Bedford QL, Morris Commercial Ambulance and a Land Rover, I was made C.O's Driver- first to Major Williams and then to Major Marsh. As C.O's driver I would often be out of barracks, with the CO, at meal times and the Cookhouse would be closed, by the time I returned. However, Major Marsh was very considerate and would arrange for me to eat at Government House or the USAF Base at Kindley etc., or if this was not possible, Mrs. Marsh would cook us both something, when we returned. She made a delicious Spanish omlette!
The sea was never very far away and we were often able to enjoy swimming, boat trips and fishing. Shark fishing was a great sport but I remember one occasion, when my line had to be cut, as a Moray Eel had taken the bait - definitely not something to bring in to the boat, even though it was not that large a specimen!
In May, 1955, we had a very welcome leave, under canvas, on Ports Island, in the Sound. During one trip out in the Company boat, we were astounded to see a Manta Ray, which had come over the Reef, underneath our boat. Fortunately, it swam on without taking any notice of us, or upsetting the boat.
I was lucky to have a 'Jolly' on board the 'A' Class Submarine 'Astute' for a few days, when she was involved with ' working up' exercises for a new Canadian destroyer/cruiser-the 'St. Laurent'. After the strict uniform of the Regiment, it was an eye-opener to spend my time on the submarine in PE kit. Captain Lascelles was a relative of the Queen and a real character. One of his specialities was doing a 'Stern Dive', which was as much a shock to the system as it sounds! On one occasion he took the submarine down to 600 feet, when the pressure outside caused the water to come in around the rivets in the hull, like a jet from a hosepipe!
One night, we were detailed to go into Hamilton, with the fire pump trailer to help the local Fire Brigade to fight a fire in the Library Building. We spent the rest of the night trying to put out the flames and to save any books that we could. Just before daylight, a large fire engine came in from the US airforce base at Kindley. Eventually, the fire was put out, by which time the building had been gutted. I can remember how disappointed we were in the newspaper reports the following day, which carried glowing references to the efforts of the local Fire Brigade and the 'magnificent' support that they had had from Kindley Airforce Base-but made no mention of the contribution of the DCLI. On another occasion, I was summoned to report urgently to the Company Office, with the Land Rover. When I arrived, the Fire Officer ordered me to hitch up the fire pump trailer, which was kept in the garage adjoining the Company Office, as there was a fire at Brigadier Rice-Evans' house. Whilst I was doing this, the Fire Officer commandeered a foam fire extinguisher and threw it in the back of the Land Rover. As we drove off, the foam extinguisher went off and started to spray foam all over the inside of the Land Rover - and us! The Fire Officer told me to ignore it and keep driving. When we arrived at the Brigadier's house, the fire was out, but it took a great deal of elbow grease to get the Land Rover clean again.
In October 1955, Sid Pender and I were able to take leave and fly over to New York and Akron, Ohio, where we were treated to a superb holiday with Sid's Aunt Annie and Uncle Dick and met many other Cornish emigrants over there. I don't think that I have ever tasted better pasties. We flew home in January by BOAC Constellation- a much more cramped and less luxurious aircraft than the Stratocruiser- and returned to snow at Bodmin Barracks.
After being discharged 'A1' from the army, I returned to working in the Bank. Within two weeks, I suffered a deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism. At the time, my Consultant was completely baffled by what had caused it. With what is now known about DVT, I suspect that it was probably the immobility during the long flight home from Bermuda. I was lucky enough to survive this and returned to the Bank after three months. After the really enjoyable outdoor life of the previous two years, I found getting used to working indoors again very frustrating. However, I persisted and eventually took early retirement from the job of Bank Accountant, when I was fifty years old.
After this, I was fortunate enough to get a job as a technician and a driver at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station, in Cornwall, where I spent several very happy years. There were three hundred staff there and the atmosphere was very reminiscent of the DCLI, with great friendships and everyone prepared to 'muck in'. (No 1 aerial at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station)
I married in 1960 and my wife and I now have two lovely daughters and two lively grandsons, so there is never a dull moment, in retirement.
(Barry's two grandsons, Alex left and Sam right, keeping Grandpa on his toes!)
Barry has been re-united via email with a Bermuda Army Mate - Reg Pearce (see photo below) - so here's hoping for more photos to add to our growing "A" Company Bermuda memorabilia.
More reminiscences of Barry Cornish 19th March 2007.
My weapons training was carried out at Strensall Barracks, with live firing taking place on a very cold Strensall Common, where I was taught to maintain and fire the following Light Infantry weapons - Mk4 Lee Enfield 303 rifle, Sten gun, Bren gun, Hand Grenades (using both 3 and 8 second fuses),Energa Grenade Launcher, 2" mortars and Bazooka rocket Launcher.
In general, this training went off without incident but on two occasions, all did not go according to plan. On the first, we were lined up by the sergeant instructor and picked out one by one to fire the Sten gun. This was a very basic automatic weapon and had to be fired in short bursts to prevent it overheating. One trainee forgot to release the trigger and the sergeant shouted to him to cease fire, whereupon, he turned around saying, "Pardon sergeant?" His finger was still on the trigger and he emptied the magazine over our heads, as we all dived to the ground. Very fortunately, no one was injured. On the second occasion, we were throwing hand grenades from a slit trench, at a target on the ground in front of us. One of the trainees threw the grenade straight up in the air and it landed back in the trench, beside the sergeant! As luck would have it, it had an 8 second fuse and with great presence of mind, he picked it up and hurled it out of the trench, whereupon it went off harmlessly.
When we were on one exercise in Bermuda, we slept in our sleeping bags in the open air on Warwick range where there were many holes in the ground made by land crabs. We tried to block as many holes as we could find, with empty drinks bottles but this did not stop many of these creatures coming out at night and one of our platoon had to be taken to the Military Hospital suffering from a lacerated back, after he was attacked by one.
Whilst we were in Bermuda, the England cricket team came to play a friendly match against the Islanders. I spent a very hot and dusty day towing a gang mower behind an old Land Rover to prepare the pitch. Unfortunately, because of other duties, I did not get to see the match! Our Land Rover developed an intermittent, but very disconcerting, fault whereby it would start to vibrate violently, when being driven above 15 mph. The only way to stop this was to brake to a halt. On restarting, the fault would not reappear but as many of the bolts on the vehicle had been loosened, it had to go in to the REME workshops for them to be checked and retightened. In spite of carrying out many trial runs with the REME engineers, the cause of this remained unsolved and so it was reported to the Land Rover factory. They had not experienced anything like this before and so sent out two engineers to investigate. They eventually traced the fault to worn 'Tufnell' bushes in the steering damper, which was sited in a chassis crossmember. After these were replaced, the Land Rover went on to give excellent service. When one of our vehicles needed servicing or repair, it was the practice for the driver to accompany it in to the REME workshops. I really enjoyed these visits, during which I learned a great deal about the mechanics of vehicles.
After I was demobbed and returned to Banking, I bought a 1938 Ford 8, which I intended to service myself. It needed a service, which involved 30 greasing points, and an oil and filter change etc. every 1000 miles. The Manager of the Bank branch, where I worked at the time, was rather eccentric and extremely strict. In fact he was nicknamed by his staff, 'Harpic', as they reckoned that he was 'clean round the bend'! One of his peculiarities was to hold a hand and fingernail inspection of all the staff, before we started work, every morning. After carrying out the first service on my car, I failed this inspection badly and incurred the Manager's wrath, whereupon I had to stop servicing my own cars, until I discovered barrier cream and Swarfega.
In 1960, I was working in the Bank in Wellington, Somerset. In those days, the A38, the main road from Cornwall to the North, ran through the centre of the town. On my way home after work I was walking along the High Street, when the driver of a cattle lorry sounded his horn and pulled up beside me shouting, "Hi! Corny". He turned out to be Reg Coryn, who had served with me in Bermuda. I had not seen him for four years and I asked him how he had recognised me from behind." I would know your walk anywhere," he said, "After all the times I marched behind you!" It was then that I realised how often we would march in alphabetical order, especially on pay parades. It was great to see him again and catch up on news. He was still living in Cornwall and had a successful cattle haulage business of his own.
photos above: Top left "A" Company Prospect Garrison signage
flanked by Smudge Smith and Barry Cornish. Upper top right shows Duty
Driver Barry Cornish, April 1955, including Reg Pearce (centre rear),
Sam Broad (left) and Smudge Smith to the right. Photo 2nd down
lhs shows Barry and Mates exercising with Energa anti tank rifle
grenade fired from .303 Enfield Mk IV rifle. Above lhs shows Prospect
Barracks Guardroom and (to rhs) The Square taken from the high verandah
of the Band Quarters at the northern end. Lower left shows Barry
Cornish and Mates pretending to weed the lawn in front of the Guard
Room. Above centre shows new mo'cycle and above right a public
invitation to the 1DCLI Band on parade.
Coloured postcard scans above show various views of Bermuda, captions attached
B/W photo immediate centre above: Private Barry Cornish and 1 tonner circa 1954.
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