The Military Memoirs of John Tenniswood
John is known and remembered by all "A" Company 1DCLI veterans of the 1954 Bermuda posting as the Garrison Pay Sergeant. All of us at some time or another would have seen and spoken to him at Pay Parades, but few would have been aware that he had a varied history in the British Army, before his posting to Prospect Garrison and as we shall learn, after his return to the UK in November 1955. John Tenniswood today in 2008 resides in London. In mid 2006 he was the first "Old DCLI'ian" to respond to this site editor's Regimental web and Blog page developments. Since then he continues to be an active participant and regular leading contributor to the many Light Infantry web and blog pages that describe and record the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry "A" Company Detachment (1DCLI) to Prospect Garrison, Devonshire Bermuda 1954-1957. John's Memoirs reflect upon his interesting journey through many famous Regiments of the British Army including his time at Prospect , where he finally wore the famous green beret of the Duke's. John will keep us entertained with his lively recall of events of those somewhat confusing days of his early enlistment before being drafted to board the HMT Empire Clyde on February 19th 1954 - destined for the Caribbean. Many 'Old Soldiers' of 1DCLI have been in contact with John - and vice versa, to share memories of those halcyon days of our youth.
The following words and opinions are John's alone - as autobiographer he needs no assistance - as you'll soon read. If you have need to make inquiry or comment please contact the Editor - who also served in Bermuda with "A" Company 1DCLI. John's wit and candour and that of many of his former regimental comrades from that past era of the '50's can be read and commented upon in the 'Wise & Wicked' Blog pages and many other similar pages that share fellowship with fellow Light Infantrymen. 100's of photographs of the 1954-1957 1DCLI detachment to Bermuda can be viewed on the "A" Company website.
SOME MINOR 'WRAPPING' PROBLEMS ARE EVIDENT (25th OCT 2008)
I enlisted at Manchester in November 1952 as a regular soldier a month before my 18th birthday and thus was able to pre-empt call up for National Service and able to choose my arm of service. I had been an NCO in the Army Cadet Force (Sherwood Foresters) for a couple of years and gained what would turn out to be a useful experience. For example I already had a Marksmans badge for 303 rifle shooting and was familiar with the Sten Sub machine gun and foot drill etc.
My choice of service was the Royal Armoured Corps and so in November 1952, I took the train to Catterick and joined 68th Training Regiment RAC. So began basic training in Oates Troop (the Capt Scott one ), C Squadron, 68th Training Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps.
Training stories of the period have been repeated so many times in memoirs and only differ slightly in everyone’s memories of the period. In the Armoured Corps we did not do rifle drill or marching for long distances. Didn’t do bayonets either. We did revolvers which were hopelessly inaccurate and Stens (ditto) but as helpfully and frequently explained to recruits in the case of revolvers they were only really intended to shoot oneself if trapped in a burning tank. Very motivational. Revolvers were changed to Browning 9mm Automatics when posted to a regiment.
There was some weapon training with rifle and Bren (naming parts) 1937 Mk 1 Czech Bren shown lhs, Canadian manufacture , courtesy Wikipedia, and there must have been at least some rifle shooting because I classified Marksman as I did every year while I was in the army. We were also taken to the tank gunnery ranges and treated to the sight an Energa (grenade and rifle launcher shown lower lhs) armoured piercing grenade fired at a tank hulk and it was described in great detail the effect on the crew of molton metal flying around just before the tanks ammunition blew up. We used to joke that these old sweats (the instructors) were working for the Russians, or were "shell shock" cases having been in WW11. Some were a bit strange. Instructors at the RAC training regiments at that time were I recall, all regulars drawn from any number of cavalry regiments or from any of the 8 Royal Tank Regiments and were "badged" accordingly. Our corporal (like all the others, were wearing WW11 medals) was from 4th Hussars. Our Troop Sgt was 17/21st Lancers and the troop officer was 5th Dragoon Guards. We troopers were Royal Armoured Corps with yellow and red shoulder flashes saying so and wore the "Wanking Spanner" RAC cap badge of mailed fist surrounded by forked lightening. A badge that was at that time (since WW11) only used in training regiments. Basic training was pretty standard stuff for the first few weeks but I think considerably less physically strenuous than that of Infantry but nevertheless quite harsh and impersonal. Gradually our berets were shrunk,carefully moulded and pulled down both sides (for headphones it was said) in true tanker style and in drill at the command halt the left foot had a strange dragging movement (because of spurs we were told). I have forgotten why.
Permanent staff on pay parade for example had learned the strange dragging halt which was called the tank park shuffle. There was always this cavalry vs RTR thing in the background with underlying hostility between NCO's from cavalry regiments (donkey wallopers) and those from Royal Tank Regiments. Different I think to recruits into the family regimental atmosphere of an Infantry Battalion. Training at their Regimental Depot which was no doubt strict and hard but with an underlying atmosphere and indoctrination of regimental history and pride. These attitudes would no doubt be instilled in the RAC when recruits from the Training Regiments were badged and sent to a regiment.
Drill, Bulling kit, Weapon training (sten and revolver), Freezing huts, Coke stove (very little coke) (but neighboring hut chairs burned well). Hungry a lot...toast and marge on stove top at night when we had fuel, Catterick winter- arctic conditions, Bloody cold all the time, Cold water for ablutions, sometimes none when taps froze, Impressions, Muster parade 6.30am dark and freezing weather. Background howling of Centurian Tank (View Video link) engines warming up on the tank park, Fear of being chosen for "regimental scrubbing" for being declared "Unshaven, Filthy" etc etc by the Squadron Sgt Major. (His cap badge, the skull & crossbones of 17/21st. Lancers seemed very appropriate). To be selected by him meant being marched away stripped and thrown into shower cubicle and scrubbed with yard brushes. This to be carried out by his goons (the regimental police, the allegedly steak fed boxing team). The National papers at the time were trying to get stories of harsh treatment at Catterick after someone had spilled the beans and the suicide rate was getting out of hand. Guard commanders were encouraged to discreetly give reporters a hard time (away from cameras) if they were caught (alone) hanging about the camp gates. One I recall was arrested for "acting suspiciously" and put in a cell overnight until the Orderly Officer had time to deal with the matter"
Suicides were I recall, fairly common at that time and recruits were forbidden to speak to anyone under threat of almost a firing squad if one talked to the press. Desertions and AWOL were frequent. It all sounds grim and it was rather "Memories are made of this". After muster parade (still dark) marching to Squadron office to hear Part 1 and Part 11 Orders read out. Watching drafts march away in FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) to join regiments in FARELF (Far Eastern land Forces) Korea, Hong Kong, MELF (Middle East Land forces), Egypt, Libya, Cyreniaca, Tunisia, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) Germany etc.
Catterick did not train light cavalry (armoured cars). These I remember were 67th Training Regt in Carlisle. Some armoured car units would also be in Malaya and theatres where heavy tanks were not based. Most postings to tank regiments however were to BAOR and MELF. Apart from muster parade the troop was entirely in the hands of the troop corporal and rarely saw the Sgt and even less the troop officer who only occasional languidly drifted through the lines trailed by the inevitable black labrador. He attended the passing out parade. Don’t think he ever actually addressed us but just wandered about occasionally. After basic training soldiers were selected for training as tank crew or drivers of soft skinned vehicles 3 ton Bedford trucks (WW11 vintage with the square front bonnet). Tank crew were trained in 2 jobs Signaller/Gunner, Driver /Signaller etc. There was also some selection for "Assault Troop" who were given infantry training as their supposed role on active service was to rescue tank crew from stranded tanks on the battlefield.
The latter was not considered to be an attractive employment and seemed to be selected from and composed of the alleged hard men (recovered deserters?). Graduates of Colchester? Perhaps just my impression but I cannot imagine why anyone would volunteer for Assault Troop and none were happy bunnies as I remember. The intakes were a mixture of national servicemen and regulars. I can’t remember the proportions of each. So far as I can remember there was no distinction between the two other than pay. After basic training (4 weeks), (having paid the required bribe to the leave clerk for an entitled leave pass and rail warrant) the first 48 hour pass to go home and after this I returned to Catterick and was put on a Signallers course which entailed travelling around Yorkshire in a 15cwt truck doing messaqes to other 15cwt trucks on a faulty 19 set using the old phonetic
aphabet; able; baker; charlie; dog; easy; fox etc etc. Depending on the instructors our radio contacts were sometimes only parked alongside ourselves in a transport cafe car park. I was also confusing (for me) enrolled on a B4 Drivers course at the same time as the Signallers course and provided with a leather surcoat to prove it (mind you, we needed these - no heaters). I think it was a problem with the number of vehicles available at any one time.
My intake was gradually dispersed to their selected trade training sections and ultimately of course they disappeared one by one or as members of a Draft when posted out to their badged regiment. This illustrates a difference between the atmosphere and motivation of trainees. Infantry recruits would be from the beginning indoctrinated into their Regimental ethos and would after training be posted en bloc to that regiment although split into the various Companies. I imagine the recruits into Corps such as REME and Artillery and Signals with central basic and trade training would also be similar to RAC. The would be gunners and drivers began training on Centurians and spend much time on the training areas (mud like the Somme Battlefield) or on the gunnery ranges at Warcop in Cumbria (photo above left). In a suspiciously short time and little practice I was given a pass on the drivers course (and never officially drove an army vehicle again for over 2 years). Removed also from signallers course and promoted L/Cpl. Clearly not intended for tank crew which suited me very well being a comfort loving soul. Obviously I had been spotted for a brilliant military career. Hmm!
On promotion I was was badged to 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards but retained on permanent staff at Catterick and told I would remain there until they came back from an overseas tour when they would form a new training regiment which was the new plan and the 66th 67th and 68th Trg Regiments would be replaced by line regiments which would each do a tour as a training regiment in turn. This was really bad news to me as it looked as if I would spend my entire 3 year enlistment at Catterick. Hardly seeing the world. I had signed on for 21 years with a 3 year option to leave. 5 DG had been in Korea in 1952 and at that time were I think in Egypt but were designated to become a training regiment at Catterick.
Talking about dragoons I was then dragooned to work in the Squadron pay office which for a comfort loving lad like me was just fine and ultimately led to my freedom from Catterick. It was comfortable in the office with a stove and plentiful coke for fuel and frequent brew ups. Heaven! Additional duties though for L/Cpls were fairly frequent guard duties; supervision of fatigue parties or defaulters such as hosing down tanks after trainee drivers had strayed off the marked pathways through the mud bogged them down and REME had recovered them. (View a You Tube example of modern day vehicle recovery). A supervisory job much too grand for the old sweats, the Trainer full corporals. Leisure time was spent in frustrating trips to the Catterick Camp centre Naafi Club with the impossible hope that one could meet a WRAC or WRAF girl. (the hormones were very active). They must have been out numbered by men by about 10,000 to 1. Also Camp Centre was infected with Redcaps who seemed to be practicing on harassing just about everyone. Otherwise we had a Corporals Club - sort of glorified Naafi. It was not a good time for me and I was getting a bit concerned about my career and severely bored with Catterick.
The RAC Training Regiments were tasked to provide in addition to their own quarter guard at camp gates (there was always a good supply of detainees) and a guard at a Catterick Military Hospital Mental Ward. Also a Guard at some remote ex POW camp on the moors somewhere which was an ammo store I think. There were also requirements occasionally for escort duties which meant a Junior NCO and a trooper being sent to collect usually from a police station or MP unit soldiers who were awol. This meant taking trains to perhaps (and most likely) Glasgow or London (48 hour) rail warrants and ration allowance armed with a pair of handcuffs to bring the poor soul back. The form was to handcuff the prisoner to the trooper so that the NCO could stand well back in case of trouble - say for example they jumped out of the window somehow?
The Cuckoos Nest
Catterick Military hospital had a large mental facility. The inmates (patients) were mad, shell shocked or trying to work their ticket (the latter were I think the most violent). The mental wards were "secure" which is why it need a full guard similar to a normal guard mounting. This guard had a L/Cpl as guard commander and the usual complement and was mounted in the same way as normal guard, i.e Parade, inspection with webbing, revolver (pistol drill on guard mounting) and holster etc. Also armed with pick axe handles. Outside the ward was an anteroom (Guard Room) and the ward itself had a cell type door with peephole and was always double locked. Size of a barrack room hut about twenty beds. The guard was briefed by an RAMC senior NCO with the following warnings.
DO not under any circumstances unlock the door
DO not under any circumstances look though the peep hole
It was pointed out that the peephole had no glass and at some point a sentry had his eyes poked out by an inmate thrusting a wire through the hole. ("God knows how these bastards get hold of stuff") we were told .
In the event of a major uproar, riot or fire etc the plan was that we had to alert the RAMC wait until RAMC personnel arrived THEN the door would be opened, they would rush in and we would stand by to use the pickaxe handles to pacify any rush to escape. "hit them on the collar bone or shins". Real Florence Nightingale stuff.
Back to camp:
The Pay Office was run by a Pay Sgt RAPC and 4 RAC L/Cpls including myself who was included from about April 1953. I knew nothing about accounting and spent a lot of time inefficiently sticking amendment slips into various manuals and directives and making tea. The Pay Sgt didn’t seem to do anything at all. Food for thought? The Officer in charge was a ROIII (Retired Officer class 3) Lt Col who must have been at least 70, (ex Indian Army and deaf) was part time and had his own little office where he slept a lot, signed stuff as required and appeared on Pay Parade. He seem ancient and decrepit at the time (about my age now I suppose). He would also accompany one of us L/Cpls to collect the cash pay on pay day from a bank in Richmond. The land rover driver was from the MT section and the L/Cpl would be fully armed with a sten gun (no ammunition). We would sometimes arrive at the bank with similar teams from other units and hang around outside the bank smoking and looking foolish with our empty weaponry while our officers collected the cash. A rare opportunity to leer at anything female. Returning to camp we would do pay parade and I could do a lot of shouting at the recruits if it was my turn. As explained in the previous chapter there were numerous regimental duties heaped upon the Lance Cpls. I was not at all happy with my prospects and the Pay Sgt (con man) asked me if I would like to go on a course with the Pay Corps, six months and guaranteed promotion to Sgt at the end of it. Perhaps he wanted to get rid of me.
Definitely an offer not to be refused he said. I agreed (without I point out, reading the small print - there wasn’t any). It was arranged very casually without further involvement by myself. I had supposed that on completion of the course (IF - and I don’t think I imagined that I would pass) I would return to an RAC unit as Pay Sgt. in some glamourous posting. (Hong Kong?). There is no logical reason why I should have thought that and it was not true. I don’t suppose I gave much thought to anything much at that age except where and when would I find a girl friend. It just seemed a good idea at the time to get away from Catterick.
My life was was directed remotely by orders pinned outside the Squadron Office Part One and Part 2 Orders. So as directed by Orders on the notice board (and without a word from anyone), on the required day at the required time and in FSMO (Field Service Marching Order); kitbag and my case, I collected my Rail Warrants and by some miracle of logistics there was a land rover to take me to the Station - amazing. So this course, it was for 6 months commencing in in Devizes which was the training centre of RAPC including basic training for their intakes. This accounting course was followed by some weeks at one's own Regimental Pay Office (in my case the RPO of the Royal Armoured Corps in Stockbridge Hampshire, then back to Devizes, then to the Officers Pay office in Manchester, then back to Devizes for final exams and postings to units.
So one day I arrived at Devizes (aerial view Devizes in 2006) station and there was the Bedford QL with an RASC driver (apparently every week day there was a sort of shuttle taxi service) waiting for draft or individuals for the RAPC CAMP or the Depot of the Wiltshire Regiment which was also in the town and on the way to the RAPC centre. I imagine these drivers spent their entire National Service on taxi runs like this.
Checking in at the guard room (I was obviously expected and ticked off a list by the guard commander). I joined other members of the course billeted in one room of a "Spider Block" This was sheer comfort to me after the primitive world of huts at Catterick. One could even get to the ablutions without going outside and crikey - central heating! The details of the actual accounting course I will not reveal here (partly because I didn’t understand most of it and remembered little of it). Meeting the other 12 or so members of the course I found that all the others were some years older than me and from a variety of units, some from overseas stations. The camp had been an American hospital during the war and at some stage a POW camp for Germans. I was interested in observing the military training of intakes of RAPC National Servicemen. It seemed pretty tough to me and I was interested to note that the Training Corporals and Sgts were mostly National Servicemen themselves and had never left Devizes. All pretty smart though. (Nasty little devils I thought, with a twinge of conscience).
The first part of the course was spent at Devizes and I understood little. I think I was a bit thick and hopefully a late developer. However trying to keep awake one hot afternoon I was gazing through the classroom window which overlooked the civilian tailors shop in which his daughter also worked. There followed an exciting incident. One day I received a folded note saying "does the lance corporal with the castles on his collar want a date?"
YIPEE IT WAS ME ME ME AND MY COLLAR DOGS (Inniskilling Castle). Date we did and we wrestled happily but frustratingly all that summer on the downs overlooking Devizes town. She must have been the arm wresting champion of Wiltshire. It occurred to me later that this may have been a regular event for the tailors daughter but no matter. It was the Summer of Love. 1953 style.
Another memory is going to Swindon with someone from the course and walking back to Devizes at night. Must have been 20 miles. After some weeks the course spilt up and we went to our respective Regimental Pay Offices to observe how the equivalent of head office worked, in my case it was to RPO Royal Armoured Course Stockbridge Hampshire. This was the RAPC centre which received and controlled payment details of every unit in the RAC and kept individual accounts for each soldier, like a bank. Boring boring boring and pining for the tailors daughter back in Devizes. Worried that she might be seduced by one of the 300 odd sex mad recruits she was altering battledresses for. Who was doing the measuring? I fretted. Was it her dad?
At Stockbridge I was left pretty well to my own devices. Never spoke or was spoken to by an officer. I wandered about from department to department at will trying to understand what was going on or at least trying to be interested. Sent for and received correspondence course in dancing - Lesson one The Foxtrot. Cut out paper footprints to be laid on the floor. Clumping around in boots and gaiters humming a supposed rythm. Not really successful and never did lesson two. Luckily I had my own room.
More on Dancing. I came from a tiny Derbyshire village in which the entire male population worked in an ICI quarry. My parents were stewards of the ICI club which was the sole centre of entertainment. Entertainment for quarrymen consisted of drinking many many pints every day being much dehydrated by ingesting slaked lime at work in the kilns. Occasionally there would be a dance in one of the clubrooms. Just about everyone attended except the men of the village who stayed in the bar next door. The old, the young children, sometimes village National Servicemen on leave and teenagers danced to a band of piano, sax, drums and accordion. The floor was covered with soap powder to assist smooth foot movement and the dances were Palais Glide, Valleta, Military Two Step, Gay Gordons, Quickstep etc etc. "Refreshments at interval" - Potted meat or fish Paste sandwiches. - Yummee. I could just about manage the Palais Glide which at least meant sweatily clutching the waist of a girl on each side or if unlucky an old lady who had muscled in at the last moment. Understandably I was never chosen for the ladies excuse me. Occasionally the festivities would be interrupted by the arrival of terrifying farm lads from the nearby villages riding in on their
BSA Bantams (1948 version shown lhs) like 120cc Hells Angels or occasionally on a Fordson or Ferguson tractor. These farm lads were not interested in the slightest in dancing but having consumed large amounts of beer washed down by rum & coke always stayed in the entrance hall and savagely fought each other, village against village. They only came for the fighting. Much blood, broken glass and vomit. Sometimes my father with a posse of large quarrymen would be called from next door to pacify and eject the fighters but it was normal just to let them fight it out unless they started pestering the dancers. There was actually quite a lot of drunkenness and violence in those days.
Back to my course.
After Stockbridge I met up with with the course again in Manchester to spend 3 weeks at the Officers Pay office. We were billeted in Ashton under Lyne? at the Depot of the Manchester Regt and travelled each day by truck to the office in Manchester. Now autumn and getting miserable. But now only 18 miles from my home in the Derbyshire Peak District and could get home at weekends. Fantasized about practicing my fox trot at and flashing my collar dogs, brass 5DG epaulet badges and carefully and illegally bleached shirt and tie. Irresistible. I had been away from any regimental influence for some time so who was to check me? No guard duties no parades, no officers, no senior NCO’s - who cared? Invisible.
Most abiding memory of Manchester getting drunk with some from the course in a pub in Oldham. Everyone singing and a cackling old lady showing me a condom with 5 fingers. Met a girl in the pub who took me home to tiny back to back terraced house, met the family, ate pork pie and pickles, and they let me sleep downstairs in a chair. "ee It were right grand it were." She seemed to have several large brothers keeping watch. Perhaps they were miners as there was a half sack of coal in the hearth. Woken very early (it was dark) by factory whistles and the ladies went to work in clogs and curlers and I walked to Ashton under Lyne in time for breakfast.
Back to Devizes for final stage, exams and postings. Early December 1953, tailor's daughter engaged to local turnip basher and I think they needed to get married quickly. Passed course (God they must have been desperate) and sewed on the Sgts Stripes and horror upon horror removed my RAC badge and sewed on Royal Army Pay Corps. Could I ever face being seen again in public in uniform? Then more horror I was posted to 5 Base Ordnance Depot, Tel el Kebir Egypt. This was by repute a truly awful place. A huge store camp on the desert surrounded by barbed wire and by then severely hostile locals. (The Battle of Tel el Kebir in Sept 1882 - Minor skirmishes between British and Egyptian forces took place at Zagazig and Kassassin, but it was the battle at Tel-el-Kebir (strategically placed between Alexandria, the Suez Canal and Cairo) that proved decisive. Here, the Egyptian army had prepared defences consisting of a number of deep ditches and embankments constructed out of the desert sand. The desert around Tel-el-Kebir was extremely flat, so any approach by the British would easily be spotted. As a result, the British decided to march across the desert by night and attack the Egyptian positions at dawn).
So I went on embarkation leave which included Christmas and 19th Birthday. January 1954 still on leave received telegram from War Office. "Posting MELF cancelled remain leave until (?) February and then report depot for posting Draft DTEBD A Coy Ist Bn Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry embarking Bermuda. Where? Father went on about the Chindits which didn’t seem right so I went to the public library in Buxton to look it up. And so on a starlit and frosty Derbyshire morning with snow crunching underfoot I headed for the bus stop to catch the first bus to town and the rail station. In an almost unheard of demonstration of what passes for affection for a North Derbyshire man of his generation, my father walked with me and even carried my kit bag. Probably hoping not to be seen.
ALDERSHOT: A statue of the first Duke of Wellington mounted on his horse, Copenhagen, is situated on Round Hill behind the Royal Garrison Church. The statue is 30 feet high, 26 feet from nose to tail, over 22 feet in girth, weighs 40 tons and is intricately detailed including musculature and veins. It was designed and built by Matthew Cotes Wyatt who used recycled bronze from cannons that were captured at the Battle of Waterloo. It took thirty men over three years to finish the project.
I arrived at Ash Vale near Aldershot which was the transit depot of the RAPC. There I met a WO1 who was also heading for the West Indies on the same DRAFT. We were issued with stencils and white paint for putting our draft number and destination on luggage. The following day we entrained for London and the underground transit depot at Goodge Street. I was astonished that such a place existed. During WW11. This and several others had been deep bomb proof shelters for barracks and various headquarters and were literally underground railway tunnels. Goodge Street had been the wartime headquarters of General Eisenhower. It was huge with accommodation for several hundred troops and included a hospital and catering facilities. The entrance was a small door and stairway with 2 Red Caps outside (to prevent escapes?) The place was packed with drafts of all description including Canadian troops en route from Germany and going home. I don‘t know why their journey included London. The beds were stacked bunks and at night the noise of underground trains in adjacent tunnels could be heard. I think we spent 2 nights there and then on the morning of the third day on instructions by the tannoy we emerged to find coaches waiting to take us to a station where we embarked on a troop train heading for Liverpool (or was it some carriages attached to normal train?)
There must have been a good number but oddly I cannot remember whether they were DCLI . It was A Company of this Battalion that I was to be attached. I seem to recall reading that DCLI were entrained from their depot in Bodmin direct to Liverpool. So It was probable that the troops on our drafts from Googe Street were supporting arms to DCLI and heading for various destinations and units. The Bn was to be split up en route with A Coy to be disembarked at Bermuda, the main Bn to Garrison Jamaica and another Company to British Honduras.
The Corps troops could also have been heading for other units in the Caribbean. I was curiously disinterested, overwhelmed with it all, or not particularly observant at that stage as I remember so little detail. So we entered the door in the side on this ship and were somehow directed to our cabins. Having stowed our kit and I met my cabin mates I at some stage late afternoon went on deck and joined the crowded rails waiting for cast off. Eventually we did so to the sound of the DCLI band playing Auld Lang Syne. A few people waved hankies at the quayside. It think it was raining. I remember seeing the famous Liver Building as we slid past.
The epic voyage of HMT Empire Clyde is well documented on the "A" Company 1DCLI website so I will not attempt to add to it other than a curious fact that at no stage did I meet or was introduced to anyone from DCLI until on my own initiative and in the last days of the voyage I made enquiries as to the location of the pay documents which were beginning to seem important and I was becoming a little anxious, was I on the right ship ? Stranger things had happened.
Once again I was invisible. and probably feeling a bit lonely and apprehensive. I was eventually directed to a DCLI private who admitted to having the pay documents in a cardboard box and admitted to be the pay clerk. With typical Cornish suspicion he let me have a peep. Persuaded that I was his new boss he seemed relieved as he obviously knew even less about pay that I did. (Bugger, I was hoping for better than this and already wishing I had paid more attention on the pay course). In the remaining hours on board he stuck to me like a leech and sometimes even let me rummage through the box. Had a lovely trip but very very rough and fewer and fewer people turned up for meals. Luckily I was not affected by sickness except once catching a bit of inward bound spray of it on the head while leaning over the windward rail.
Land Ho! Everyone rushing to the rails as this low skyline came into view and slid past. Eventually we came to a stop (heaved to?), (got to watch the maritime language with these Cornish sea dogs reading this) and anchored and many small boats came out, not native canoes, this was not Mutiny on the Bounty and there were no naked native girls trying to clamber on board. This probably much to the surprise and dismay of many of my shipmates who would only have had a fleeting acquaintance with Geography . This was long before the general population had access to overseas holidays. At least I had looked Bermuda up in the library. These were very smart yachts and powerboats. The occupants waved, the soldiery waved back often with 2 fingers. (Sketch by anonymous artist. Mullet Bay, St Georges. c1920. 28 x 19.5cm. This well executed watercolour shows a farmhouse on Banjo Island with typical Bermuda chimney and oval watertank. The vessel beyond was the Priscilla, an American schooner which was one of the largest boats in the Newport Bermuda Yacht Race of 1907. She was 80 feet long. Her subsequent career was short lived. After a single voyage to the Turks and Caicos Islands carrying salt, she arrived back on her Bermuda moorings only to spring a leak in her planking in 1911. In the scene above she was obviously not sea worthy, being gradually destroyed by insects and the weather. Her ribs remain to this day): Courtesy Anthony Pettit
A Coy was getting ready for a big welcoming parade late that afternoon and it was expected that the population and media would be out in force. The light began to fade and a rumour began to circulate that all was not well. Someone had screwed up. Then it was announced, the ship could not get into the harbour and alongside the quay. The lads were getting restless. Eventually after dark a steam vessel (lighter) The Chauncey M Dephew came alongside and we were loaded onto her to the jeers of the troops remaining on board and we landed in Hamilton Bermuda.
No parade. Bussed to Prospect Camp which was a large series of 2 story Victorian barrack block with verandahs. Probably a replica of army barracks throughout the British Empire. It was dark. All seemed confusion but no doubt someone knew what they were doing as we were bedded down somehow. There must have been some sort of advance party although I never met any member of it.
The first morning. The single Sgts had been billeted in the top floor of a barrack overlooking the parade ground and from the rear we could see the sea and a ship passing by. A Sgt's Mess had been designated and the night before we found that an enterprising local supplier had fully stocked the bar. A Company had gone to town to have their parade and eventually marched into camp. I later located my man and as no one in what was to be the orderly room was remotely interested we (me and the private clutching the cardboard box) began to look for a suitable office (it was like that in the first few days). We found an empty barrack block and began to settle in on the top floor (a room with a view) foraging for a couple of chairs and a table, (and a pen?). There were piles of kit everywhere. I suppose we must have begun to make progress towards paying folk and my Man Friday went to capture an officer to at least take an interest. He could make himself understood. I was still treated with great suspicion by DCLI being a stranger and worse, a foreign devil from east of Cornwall.
I cannot remember the details but we must somehow have got the act together. After week one we were discovered and evicted. We were occupying an office designated for the Garrison Adjutant and were outside the DCLI lines. (Thought it was quiet). I had my first fussy fit down at the orderly room and first set to with the CSM Jock Massie who checked me out, fixed me with his evil eye and having checked me for wearing my beret in the RAC style had to agree that the Pay Department could not just wander about like the Flying Dutchman, cursed forever to move around as custodians of a cardboard box.
I remember the last time I had encountered a vertically challenged and threatening Sgt Major, who was Squadron Sgt Major Tippet; he of the muster parade at Catterick with his skull & crossbones cap badge and storm trooper regimental police. Shudder! I was beginning to emerge from what seemed a long long time as an invisible and almost independent man, a lone ranger, stretching way back to Catterick. There were consequences almost immediately. Good! I was found a little office. Bad! they took away my PrIvate Soldier. Outrage who was going to do the work?
Bermuda from February 1954
I had lost my pay clerk. What was going on ? Our Pay Sgt at Catterick didn’t do a stroke and he had 4 L/Cpls. Admittedly there were 3 Squadrons to look after. So I had a little office just opposite the orderly room and I was able to cope with the rigours of paying the DCLI company. (Must have paid some attention to the course then or learned very fast?). But dark clouds were looming. It was discovered that there had only been some temporary arrangement to pay the Garrison HQ staff. To support the DCLI Company there was a mini army formation.
Excluding Officers: A tiny Ordance Depot (WO11, Sgt, Cpl, 2 Privates), RASC MT Section (Sgt, Cpl, 3 Drivers), RAMC (WO1, Sgt, L/Cpl. 3 Privates, 1 RASC Driver, RASC (WO11, S/Sgt/Sgt/ Cpl/ L/Cpl), RE WO11 (Clerk of works), REME (S/Sgt), Education Corps (Sgt).
Some departments had civilian staff secretaries etc but these were paid by RASC at HQ. I was summoned one day to Garrison HQ where the Garrison Adjutant a Major X informed me that forthwith I would be required to pay the HQ Military Staff; Audit his Imprest Account and pay the officers civilian servants (maids) and pay the Portuguese bootmaker Mr Manuel Piques (what a memory) who had a cobblers shop on Orange Valley Road. Fuck this for a game of soldiers I thought as I scuttled snivelling back to the DCLI Lines. And so started a squabble between DCLI and Garrison HQ over the ownership of me. I was piggy in the middle and it was not very pleasant sometimes (if either could find me). Jock Massie said "bollocks" or word to that effect . "You are in my Company, tell them to piss off"
It was claimed (rightly) that I was on the strength of A Coy 1DCLI (JT 4th from lhs seated 2nd row in A Coy group photo circa 1954) and came under its sole command. They were effectively telling me to tell HQ to fuck off. Not a very practical solution from my humble position. So to emphasise 1DCLI control and demonstrate that I could not be spared I was placed in charge of the Garrison Cinema. I was then able to commandeer an RASC truck and driver almost at will to go to town to "change the movie" and chat up the girls in the film distribution office, call for a coffee and swan about for a bit. RASC had a separate motor pool to DCLI in command of Sgt. Joe Erith. DCLI sort of lost the battle about owning me entirely when the HQ bods went up the chain to ask the Brigadier to adjudicate. He let HQ borrow me but confirmed that I "belonged" to DCLI. Also the HQ military staff were not many. Paying the maids was not onerous and it meant visiting the officers married quarters on one (entire ?) day a week to pay 6 people (time for a nap in the afternoon) or down to the army swimming place on the North Shore. "Where have you been Sgt ? "I’ve been out paying civvy maids sir" "er oh alright carry on"
All of this although sometimes difficult, provided me with an opportunity to become almost invisible again. ( It was obvious that was becoming dangerously vulnerable). Mostly none of them actually knew or cared what I was doing most of the time. The Company would be usually happy If I turned up on Thursday with a cash requisition and breakdown requirements. One of the 2 LT.s would be detailed to come to the bank in town and later we would do the pay parade. We did the same again for Garrison HQ until sensibly a truce was drawn and we collected both sets of cash on the one visit.
There were however, 2 pay parades every Thursday. If spotted by the Garrison Adj it would be "Oh there you are Tennisracket still with us then?" I would wince and determine to disallow as many of his expenses as possible when writing up his Imprest Account. This always made him furious. "No sir you cannot call whisky office expenses". The land rover by the way had been supplied with the words DCLI Burmuda (sic) stencilled on the door which was I thought very embarrassing. I had got the DCLI pay routine pretty well organized, much adding up though (no calculators) and irritating adjustment slips coming in as people got promoted etc. But strangely no regimental duties at first. (Sketch above left by Elizabeth Gray 1950s Horseshoe Bay from Above (34cms x 54) Matching the previous watercolour. Miss Gray’s work was a popular with tourists for the quality of her seas and foliage) Courtesy Anthony Pettit
The squabble went on though to the point that the CO of DCLI said he wanted me to wear LI chevrons and Green LI Beret (with RAPC badge) I am not sure whether this was legal or at all effective but our new CO was an ex SAS war hero. (So who was arguing?) he was just making a point. My attitude sometimes though was fuck the lot of you. Who cares. My overwhelming problem is still where and when am I going to have sex?
Settling in at the Garrison Sgt's Mess (the first Sgt's Mess I had been in) Blimey! waitress service at meals (served by the buxom Rosie - perhaps this was the same Rosie who got her tits out for the DCLI lads at some dive in town as reported by Swanny). Although she did stab the Catering Corps Cpl in the groin (who cooked for the Sgts) he tried to get them out for her.This incident was delicately hushed up. No stitches required but God knows how he explained it to his wife.
For the first few weeks the single Sgts were supplemented by the Garrison HQ Sgts whose wives came out some weeks later. DCLI A Company wives had accompanied their husbands on the Troopship. The RASC in particular joined with the actual single guys in various licentious behaviour in forays to town bars and night clubs. (Photo right: Fred Thomas DCLI (RIP) (before the missus came out, Pedlar Palmer DCLI relaxing and looking almost happy, Can’t remember name Sgt RE, Me looking nearly grown up with Chesterfield at the port, Stan Harris Local Bookie and Civvy mess groupy - he bought the booze). The drinking culture was something of a shock to me who Although no stranger to the occasional piss up found the almost constant heavy drinking took some getting used to. Also the booze was so cheap. (Rum was much cheaper than the 7Up mixer or coke). Also we quickly found that the Local Overseas Allowance had been set for an American cost of living so we were pretty well off. It was rumoured that Garrison HQ brass had negotiated (fiddled) the allowance for themselves so the benefits trickled down as it were. Gradually the 3 "youngsters" sorted themselves out all under 22 - Me Aged 19, Barry Nichols RAMC National Serviceman 22, and Nobby Clark RASC (21). The DCLI singletons were C/Sgt Palmer and Charlie Seabourne. Both older than us. Pedlar Palmer seemed positively ancient (probably in his 40's) and he seemed to spend all his leisure time in the mess. Eventually the 5 of us were each allocated a room in the HQ area on a 1st floor veranda. So we 3 hunted unsuccessfully as a pack, sounds wonderfully feral and we did get around the night spots a lot. In late 1954 we invited some Canadian nurses to a Garrison Dance.
Lurve had arrived for me and this had a profound effect on my military ambition and later progress. In the picture thats me in the No 3 Dress whites and The Girlfriend to my right. Before this we did have some riotous times with beach parties, mess nights (after tombola (Bingo) and the wives had taken their prisoners home). Poor devils. They would have been just as well in Bodmin or Aldershot . To be married in Bermuda? Sitting in humid married quarters with mosquitoes and the noise of those fucking crickets and toads (real toads not the wives) No Telly. Argggh
So the first year passed and at the end of it I was seriously diverted from the army and wanting to get married to a girl who was (a) 3 years older than me and (b) Ending a 2 year nursing contract in bermuda and due to go back to Canada (c) Had a long term bloke in Canada and was more or less on a promised. Resistant to any idea of marrying a young guy in the British Army with an uncertain future. Couldn’t imagine her in married quarters. No chance Eventually she had to go back to Canada and we arranged to meet in New York in the summer of 1955 which we did for a week. Sign of the times - she stayed at the YWCA and I stayed at the United Services Club on 34th Street. All very chaste. That was the last I heard from her.
Back to work - no interest in anything much and decided to quit the army at the end of my 3 year stint and gave notice which I later rescinded too late to stay in Bermuda. But strangely I wanted to leave by then. So returned to UK in Nov 1955. BOAC Stratocruiser, the only soldier on the flight and cabin staff upgraded me and plied me with booze. On waking we had landed and looking thorough the window saw a snow blizzard and what was apparently an eskimo looking up. We had landed at Gander in Newfoundland for refueling. I emerged from the plane to a what would seem a primitive terminal nowadays and bizarely was offered a drink by Stewart Granger who was waiting for connection to the States. How weird was that? Next day landed at what was then called London Airport and went home on leave. As it happened I remained in the army for another 3 years.
A Coy DCLI was a unique unit in a rare and enviable posting in an era of the cold war when the British Army was huge and had huge commitments world wide with shooting wars or conflicts going on in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, British Guyana and peacekeeping in so many other parts of the world. We were very lucky. Bermuda was a unique experience enjoyed by very few and we were very privileged I think.