Working on the Tools

September 1, 2020 by


Working on the tools

After writing 164 tales mostly about old east Leeds I’m running out of new things to say about the old area, but I’m sure there must be some of you out there who can add a tale to the site. If you think you have a tale that might suit the purpose of the site please email it to me at peter_wood@talktalk.net

In the meantime I hope ‘Working on the Tools’ will make you smile.

Working on the Tools.
In the engineering we called working down at the sharp end where the real work gets done as ‘working on the shop floor’ and we had our iconic tales to tell. Miners call it ‘working at the coal face’ and teachers ‘working at the chalk face’ When I joined the building services section of a local council I found their tradesmen called it ‘working on the tools’. And they had a goldmine of great tales to tell too, mostly about jobs gone wrong with disastrous consequences. .
There are ‘brickie’s tales, joiner’s tales, roofer’s tales and probably best of all, probably due to their working environment being concerned with excrement: the plumber’s tales. There is something intrinsically humorous about people coming into contact with excrement. Take Ray’s experiences as an apprentice plumber. His first job, straight from school, happened to fall in that bitter winter of 1962/63 when the country was frozen for months on end, including a bank of about ten well used toilets at his new place of work. Those toilets were banked up so high that users had needed to pile bricks across the top of the pedestals topped off with a board in order to get more in. Well; when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go! The foreman told Ray to take a shovel and scoop out each frozen bowl in one solid lump and to lay each lump at the side of its pedestal while he thawed out the pipes with a blow lamp. When the water was flowing again he had to break up the piles and flush them away
You can imagine as a baptism of fire that takes some beating but his first job at the Council came close. His first job there was to free a blocked urinal at Morley Town Hall. Being unsure how to go about this job Ray rang his boss for advice.
‘Go down into the cellar,’ said his boss, ‘there you will find the bottom of the waste pipe – there will be a ‘U’ bend and a locknut, unlock the nut and clear the bend, it’ll probably be blocked with match sticks.’
Ray went down into the cellar and located the ‘U’ bend. To undo the nut he needed to stand directly underneath it and reach up. When it came free so did the contents of a two inch diameter pipe four stories high filled with urine, right onto his head.
Much later on another job for the Council Ray had to replace a w.c. pan. It was just before lunch by the time he had removed the old pan; it was then that he realised that the replacement pan he had brought along with him was the wrong size. Ray apologised to the lady of the house. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Ray, I’ve brought the wrong size pan; I’ll have to nip back to the stores and get the correct one. Will you be OK for half an hour?’ The lady said her husband came home for a sandwich at lunch time but that it would be alright. Unfortunately, when Ray returned with the new pan they had already made a deposit into the hole.
Finally, Ray, now in charge of a gang was advised by his lads that they refused to work in a certain house because it was so dirty and smelled terrible.
‘Course you will – we can’t pick and choose where we work,’ said Ray, ‘follow me.’ With that he walked into the house, slipped on a pile of dog excrement on the bottom step and measured his length up the stairs coming into contact with another pile on virtually every step; he was covered in the stuff. He reckons he ripped out the stair carpet himself and waked out of the house
Enough of Ray – another plumber replacing a complex of pipes realized he needed an elbow joint from the old pipes to use on the new pipes but it was tight and he couldn’t get it off cold so he heated it up with his blow torch until it was red hot that enabled it to expands and free itself. Unfortunately when it came free it fell onto the bathroom carpet and began to burn it, he tried to pick it up with his pliers but it was awkward to grasp and it was making a hole right through the carpet now, so he panicked and tried to pick it up with his hand but of course it was really hot. ‘Ouch!’ he had to drop it; it began to burn another hole, he tried to pick it up again. ‘Ouch!’ he dropped it again and it began to burn a third hole; he picked it up again, ‘Ouch!’ a forth hole. He finished up with eight holes in the bathroom carpet and then it got away with him down the stairs and made a burn on every step of the stair carpet. The tenant complained that she had 26 mysterious burns in her carpets – how could this have happened? She demanded and got a new carpet from the Council.
Still on the subject of carpets, a joiner this time, screwing in a new threshold near to the door was horrified to see a weft of the carpet had wrapped itself around his drill-bit and had pulled a ladder all way across the lounge carpet – virtually cutting it in half. Yet another carpet tale was that of a lad cleaning a chimney. He found himself with a shovel full of hot ash and no bucket. Instead of taking the shovel to the bucket he rested the hot shovel on the carpet while he went seeking the bucket. You can imagine what happened to the carpet. Another joiner needing to ease a door removed the door and rested it along the back of the settee in order to plane a shaving off. Unfortunately he removed a shaving off the back of the settee at the same time.
Mind you sometimes visits highlighted bizarre habits by the tenants as well as ‘clangers’ by the tradesmen. For instance one lady called for a tiler to replace her fireplace tiles, which she said had just dropped off. When he attended it transpired she was burning old railway sleepers. She would stand a chair with its back facing the fireplace and balance a sleeper with one end on the chair back and the other in the fire itself, as the end of the sleeper burned away she would just feed it further into the fire.
The same lady called for a plumber complaining her bathroom carpet was wet: damaged by a leaking pipe. She was after a new carpet from the council but she had been seen getting the same old carpet, dripping wet, out of a skip.
While in the process of studying glazers at work I recall another weird occurrence. We had arrived to refit a small bathroom window, we had the new window already manufactures and on the van. While we were there removing and fitting the small bathroom window it was noticeable that the lounge window had no glass in it at all! The inhabitants were sitting unconcernedly watching TV on a bitter cold day with just a piece of dirty plastic flapping in the window aperture. The lounge window had evidently been dispatched by a hurled dustbin and not by fair-means, so they would have to wait a replacement for that window.
Putting a bath in is a plumber’s job but boarding in the bath is a joiner’s job. There was an old tradesman joiner who would say to his lads, ‘Never let a hammer head come close to a bath edge, hammers and baths are a lethal combination.’ We are talking here about the old cast iron baths covered in white enamel: if the hard surface of a hammer head comes into contact with the roll over edge of the bath a thick chunk of enamel would flake away right down to the cast iron. On this particular day the old tradesman came back from lunch and saw a huge chip out of the bath edge. He went ballistic but none of the lads would own up to being the culprit. He considered his options – as the bath had already been plumbed in the cost to remove and replace it with a new bath was really ‘big money’. So against his own better judgement the old lad decided to attempt a ‘bodge up’. He bought a tin of enamel touch up paint and secreted it on the job, at the same time masking the offending bath edge from prying eyes with a piece of ply. Each day he proceeded to apply a layer of paint in an effort to try and build it up to the original thickness. It was a painstaking task which had to be completed to perfection as he knew the Clerk of Works would inspect the work and he was a real ‘hawk eye’ at any kind of a cover up; if he suspected any impropriety he would insist on the whole job being stripped out and replaced.
On the day of the initial inspection the masking job wasn’t great but considering the old saying: ‘A blind man would be pleased to see it.’ The old tradesman thought he’d take a chance; he crossed his fingers and removed the plywood. The Clark of Works went straight to it. ‘What’s this,’ he said, ‘it’s had a touch!’ The old joiner feigned surprise and ran his fingers along the damaged edge, ‘Well I never, I haven’t noticed that before, it must have been like that when it came,’ he said.
The Clerk of Works wasn’t happy, he pointed to the damage and then put up his finger, ‘It’s had a touch he repeated,’ but as he spoke he slowly walked on. The old joiner thinking perhaps he’d got away with it continued to improve his work with a further layer each day for he knew there would be a final inspection. Unfortunately he couldn’t find the pot one morning when he arrived. He went to the bathroom and there was the Clark of Works holding up the pot of enamel in triumph. ‘You’re nicked,’ he said ‘strip it out and gerit replaced.’ So all the old boy’s work had been for nowt and his credibility had taken a knock too all because a hammer came too close to a bath edge.
When the lads were working on site they would get up to all sorts of pranks; like nailing the cabin door shut while their mates were having their snap then blocking the chimney with a slate so that those inside almost choked to death on the smoke. The site toilet would be a hastily constructed hut over a manhole direct to the sewer. To complete the job they would secure a couple of boards across to form a makeshift seat and this would serve as the ‘thunder box’ as the lads called it. They tell the story that while a lad was already using this contraption they jammed the door shut, nailed a shaft to each side and raising the whole lot off the manhole ran around with it like a sedan chair with the lad still inside.
Things tended to go missing from those building sites ‘big time’. It was a regular occurrence for ladders to disappear from one side of the building site while the lads were working at the other. More spectacular was the case of a bricklayer grinding out between bricks for pointing with a hand held grinder which was being powered by a compressor located around the other side of the building. He was amazed when the grinder was ripped out of his hand and away out of sight around the corner of the building. He raced around the corner just in time to see the compressor disappearing up the road on the back of a ‘gyppo’ pick up with the hand grinder bouncing along the road behind, still attached with its pipes.
Then there was the case of the cement mixer – brand new – never been used, it was left outside the cabin while the lads had their lunch, when they came out it had disappeared never to be seen again. It never mixed a bucket of concrete in anger for the Council.
Best of all was the disappearing engine. The vans were kept in a depot compound overnight secured by a fourteen foot high wall. On the particular morning in question a guy couldn’t get his van to start so he asked his mate to give him a tow start – still no joy, so they looked under the bonnet and there was no engine there at all! Take about ‘my engine’s missing’ this engine was really missing. But how did they manage to remove a 1,600 cc diesel engine and get it over a fourteen foot high wall without anyone seeing or hearing anything? And there were houses all around the depot.
Finally, a roofer’s tale to finish with; this roofer was working on an old lady’s bungalow roof when he lost his footing: he went clean through the roof and the ceiling to arrive amidst a cloud of rubble onto the settee next to where the lady was sitting having a cup of tea. Quite unabashed and quick as a flash he said, ‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this you know.’



GREAT NEWS FOLK

August 12, 2020 by

Great News

Great News Folk: Our readers will be happy to learn that Audrey Sanderson (Ausie Pom) has just sent me an e-mail, She’s still alive and kicking. Audrey: an Ellerby Lane School former pupil now living In Australia has written many tales on this site but we have not heard from her for a long time and feared for her wellbeing.
Less happy news is the demise of Bernie Finn who wrote tales from Victoria School.

GLORIA’S TALE & THE VAGARIES OF THE 61/62 BUS ROUTE

August 1, 2020 by


As Gloria’s tale Mrs Gloria Hislop (nee Blakey ) depends on quality rather than quantity it has given me the chance to air the vagaries of the present No 62 bus route too.

GLORIA’S TALE
About eight of us from school [presumably Ellerby Lane School?] used to go to the cinema once a week, twice if you had enough spending money left. It was about 9d to get in. We used to make a B-line for the Easy Road Cinema. We always sat a couple of rows from the front. You not only came home with a stiff neck from looking up at the screen but also with a stiff bum for sitting too long. The girls weren’t so bad at sitting but the lads were always getting the usherette shining her torch on us, it was either crunching sweet papers rattling bags of crisps, talking or the lads putting their feet up on the row in front.
Eventually they got sick of us and told us to get out and not to come back. So then we ventured further to the Princess Cinema which was about a shilling to get in and on this particular night one of the lads decided he wasn’t, going to pay so he decided to climb in through the toilet window but he got stuck and fell backwards into a dustbin so we got banned from there too. From there we went to the Star cinema, talk about luxury, plush seats, it was about one and Six to get in there, so we stayed a while until we got banned from there and

THE STAR CINEMA

moved on to the Shaftsbury Cinema, got banned from there and moved onto the Regal Cinema at Crossgates, stayed there for a while then it all fell apart as we were older by then and almost ready to leave school.
They were great days and times not like now, violent. My daughter is in the police force and the tales she tells are unbelievable.

**********************************************
WOW! Let’s get on the 62 bus after that but thanks for a great tale, Glo.

THE VAGARIES OF THE NUMBER 61/62 BUS ROUTE.
This month’s tale concerns the number 61/62 bus routes. This may only appeal to dyed in the wool old East Leedsers so I do apologise if you are not conversant with the area

Here is a picture of a number 62 bus passing East End Park, it’s an old AEC. Thanks to those old camera snappers who took the trouble to record the mundane things in our past. It was a long circular route- shared by the number 61 and the number 62. The number 62 went around clockwise and the number 61 anticlockwise. I’m going to relate the route anticlockwise from Eastgate and then draw a sketch.
Eastgate, Duke Street, East Street, Cross Green Lane, Eastpark Parade, Ivy Street, Lupton Avenue, Hudson Road, Compton Roads, Stanley Road, Harehills Road, Sheepscar, Meanwood Road, Blackman Lane, Woodhouse Lane, The Headrow, and return to Eastgate,

Sketch of bus route. ‘click’ to enlarge
How do I remember this old route? Because I’m an old ‘saddo’ and an old saddo who nostalgically walked the route on foot a few years ago.
My old mate: the late lamented Eric Allen, loved that route and as a school boy if he saw our favourite ‘clippy’ Alma was on duty he would hop on the bus and travel all the way round. Alma, also of show stoppers fame would let him ring the bell and if the grumpy old inspector got on she would palm him a penny ticket which would see him OK until the inspector got off.
Fast forward to today. While on my current forays around the area I keep seeing a single decker No 62 bus cropping up all over the place i.e. Flax Place, Lavender Walk, I even saw one coming down Easy Road surely that was the job of the number 64? You could catch a number 63 or 64 from Eastgate too. The 63 came by way of York Road and the 64 by way of Hunslet, They both crossed at the coal stathe at the bottom of Easy Road. Seemingly the 63 and 64 have disappeared and the 62 does the job of the lot. This intrigued me and I thought I’ll get to the bottom of this, ‘saddo’ again, so I obtained a route time table from the bus station and this is what I found out: The new 62 bus route is as follows: It starts from the bus station and goes: St Peter’s Street, Marsh Lane, Mill Street, Flax Place, Richmond St, Bow St, East St, Accommodation Rd, Knowsthorpe Cres, Cross Green Lane, Pontefract Ln, Park Parade, East Park Rd, Pontefract lane, Lavender Walk, Upper Accommodation Rd, Dial St, Easy Rd,
Cross Green lane, South Accommodation Rd, A 61, South Accommodation Rd, East St, Marsh Lane, Richmond St, Flax Place, Saxton Place, Marsh lane, York St, St peter’s St, and back to Leeds City bus station. So in a way it is still a circular too but a much shorter one than of yore.
Pontefract lane twice how does that work? I challenge old East Leedsers to work out this route in their minds eye. And I’ll include a sketch of it in next month’s ‘blog’. Apologies once again for being a ‘saddo’ but it is East Leeds memories when all’s said and done!


Current no 62 single decker passing Saxton Garden Flats
If you think about it, it is a tidy little anticlockwise route that takes in our three areas of East Leeds: Cross Green, East End Park and Richmond Hill, it can bring you home from town or take you into town and it does not need a clockwise partner.

I Knew the Greatest Generation

July 1, 2020 by


I knew the Greatest Generation, particularly in war time. I was not of that generation but I lived among them and at school I was taught by them.

‘The Greatest generation’ is a tag well-earned as they lived through two world wars and a depression. They were unsinkable and that probably owes some credence by the fact they followed another great generation; the late Victorians.

They lived through mostly austere times of blackouts and gas lighting. I recall evenings in front of coal fires darning socks and making clip rugs, we were under rationing restrictions until 1954; we ate many rissoles and Woolten pies. But there was usually much home-made music mainly the upright piano and people giving a song. I suppose there must have been the debilitating illnesses and phobias we hear so much about today but I never heard them mentioned then. Looking back this was one of the things I admired most about them: they ‘just gor on wi it’

There was much gallows humour and wartime cartoons. Usually at the expense of the Kaiser, Hitler and Mussolini but one I remember in particularly was the famous cartoon ‘Go find a better oil’. This was two Tommie’s hiding in a shell hole with bombs and bullets sailing overhead and one says, ‘This isn’t a very nice oil’ and the other says, ‘Well if you can find a better ‘oil go gerr in it!’

 When the lads came home on leave from the Army Navy Air Force or Marines there would be as a great party atmosphere. As a child I would get thrown up in the air as would be some of the ladies. Those who were not drafted into the armed forces were plucked out of soft occupations and made to do war work as were many single women who were bussed to the huge munition factories dotted around the area. Old guys or the disabled were given the job of air raid warden and fire watching. I believed it gave some older guys a new lease of life to be doing a useful job for the country; ‘Put that light out’ and of course others were drafted into the Home Guard (dad’s army)

Although there were many turbans curlers and pinafores in evidence the ladies glammed up well with bright red gash lipstick, peroxide blond hair and wraparound coats with tight belts which made them bait for the Yanks who were said to be, overpaid, oversexed and over here. If a boy wanted to cut another boy in the school yard he would shout, ‘Your mam goes with Yanks.’ But the Yanks liked the girls and the girls liked the glamorously attired big spending Yanks This caused consternation to our lads who had been fighting in foreign theatres for two years on their own in their less glamorous uniforms. But we could not have done without them. 90% of the time in the battle of the sexes the guy is the villain this was in the other 10%.

I recall nights in the air raid shelter, the Battle of Britain, D Day, the opening of the concentration camps and the original VE Day. We had three bonfires that year: one for VE Day, One for VJ Day and one for Guy Faulk’s Night, but chumps were getting a bit scarce by that time. To be honest I remember a night a short time later when the blackout was lifted and all the lights went on again more than the actual VE Day.
At the end of the war it was probably time for the Greatest Generation to take a back seat and hand over to our generation. Our generation is the Generation in between that ‘Greatest Generation’ and the present generation?

My Grandfather had been in the Boer War and The First Great War and my father had been in Egypt with Lawrence of Arabia but now it was our generation’s turn. I was drafted into The Army of Occupation in Germany (BAOR) to serve in: Minden, Detmold and Monchengladbach. I found the folk from that country to be no different to us. The Nazi generation was not their generation but they had to live with the stigma of it. Every time there is a victory milestone anniversary for us to celebrate it makes me cringe to think that they are inversely reminded of their bitterness their defeats: D Day, VE Day and especially the shame of the opening of the concentration camps. Theirs is the shame of living those defeats over and over again. Yet apart from the obvious atrocious Nazi politics which of course we must never forget, their fighting forces have nothing to be ashamed of. Germany is a large country but not a massive country and they took on the rest of the world and they were actually winning at half time. If they had not overstretched themselves by taking on Russia and then committing suicide by bringing the USA in to the war, who knows?

At least I am glad that Anglia Merkel at last now celebrates VE Day in Germany as the day Germany was liberated from the Nazis. And we should be happy that the war had a finite end. The ideological wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya Iraq, Yemen and The Congo do not seem to offer the combatants that privilege.

 Just a thought: Germany is now an economically powerful nation and friendlier towards us than some of the other European nations who were on the same side as us in the Second World War. They resist further rearmament and without them the European Union would fold; and it’s a little remembered fact that we declared war on them (justifiably of course after the invasion of Poland) it was not Germany who declared war on us! The Nazi generation is no more the responsibility of their present generation than slavery is of our generation, we are all products of out time, so perhaps it’s time for us to stop reminding them of the war and letting THEM ‘ger on wi it’.

Press on Regardless but not Rewardless

June 1, 2020 by

PRESS ON REGARDLESS, but not rewardless!

By Val Milner: Ex Ellerby Lane Pupil, Director of the iconic Ellerby Lane School Film: Brought to Justice. And member of the Show stoppers Dance troop.

 

Val tells us of her ordeal in the 1950s with Polio.

In 1949 when I was a couple of months short of my 11th birthday I contracted the virus disease of Acute Poliomyelitis (Infantile Paralysis) and became one of the polio statistics of that year. The annual general report of the Registrar General says in 1949 there was a total of 5,918 cases in England and Wales, of which 5,439 were paralytic and 479 non -paralytic. In a dreadful way I suppose we were fortunate there was ‘only’ 657 deaths, it could have been so much worse.

I’d enjoyed a happy seaside holiday with my mum, aunty and cousin, but back home in Leeds 9
I started to feel unwell. In one scary incident my legs gave way as I walked to the toilet – outside lav, of course. Laid out on the pavement I couldn’t get up until a concerned neighbour saw and helped me. Things got worse reaching a stage of headaches, aching muscles and hardly able to move my legs or even sit up by myself, my daytime hours spent laid out on the settee. Thank God for the creation of the NHS which began only the previous year on 5th July 1948.
What would we have done without it.

We were registered with a doctor’s practice at Richmond Hill. My mother’s most vivid recollection of that time was coming into my room during the night to check on me. I was awake and pointed into the darkness telling her to look at ‘that lovely bright light’ at the bottom of my bed.

The doctor visited again on the Saturday morning, immediately returning to his surgery to phone a specialist to come see me on a domiciliary home visit, only to be back within minutes with the news that an ambulance was on its way. The specialist had heard enough to diagnose Infantile Paralysis.

I stayed in Seacroft Isolation Hospital until danger of infection had passed, my parents told it was unlikely I would ever walk again, which thankfully was to prove wrong. The diagnosis was confirmed by the virus being isolated by a sample of my celebrospinal fluid taken by lumbar puncture.
Polio meant isolation from the outside world; no known medicine to cure us; no vaccine. The miracle is no-one among family, friends and neighbours came down with it, but they must have been in a state, anxious at the turn of events.

How fortunate then that eventual transfer to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield for a stay of several months saw my gradual progression from bed-patient to wheelchair (wheelchair races forbidden), 2 walking sticks, 1 stick, then none, profiting from great nursing and physiotherapy. In hospital I learnt to swim. In hospital ‘school’ was a teacher coming into our ward attempting to teach girls of different ages. I liked to join in their songs, my favourite Hope the Hermit – ‘a hermit wise and good’ who lived ‘in a blithe green wood!’ I still like it.
All the children from my class at Ellerby Lane School sent me individual get well letters – I wish I still had them! Family and friends were greatly missed but my parents came for the hour long visiting time on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and my mother came for the only other visiting hour – Tuesday evening after work, but there were lots to keep me occupied in between.

Our very own kindly and long-suffering Sister Johnson was in charge and when I was recovered sufficiently as an up-patient she was soft enough to allow me to dress up in a white coat and with stethoscope round my neck parade around the ward ‘helping’ but NOT when matron was around – she ruled with an iron fist concerned primarily that patients, staff, fixtures and fittings daily passed muster. Matron’s entrance was preceded by a flurry of nurses’ whispered warnings -she’s here! – then her booming voice, “Good morning, gels!”

We gels had our film star photo collections, sing-alongs, read and swapped comics and mags and best of all, when as up-patients, freedom, as we played on the grass outside the ward. One nurse was considered a friend for life for saying I had a look of British film star Patricia Roc – would you believe!
Friday night was film night, and once a group of volunteer amateur entertainers came in to give us a concert which we thoroughly enjoyed. I am ashamed to say, however, that one of the highlights immortalized in my diary was ‘big girl (as in ‘large’) slipped when dancing’.

Pinderfields was designated as an emergency hospital in 1939, 20 overflow huts were built on adjacent farmland to nurse battle casualties of the Second World War. At the end of the hostilities the huts remained in use as general nursing facilities. Girls Ward I, my ward, was one of these long huts heated by a solid fuel stove with a tall iron chimney going up through the roof. During the cold winter months I developed nasty chilblains – the first and last time I’ve ever had them. At the end of the ward was a large cream coloured machine, an iron lung respirator encasing a young polio patient, its regular rhythm a constant background sound.

Readjusting to life back at Ellerby Lane School was not easy. When hospital was left behind one of their instructions was for me to wear trousers at school to ‘keep your legs warm’ or as mum would say, ‘Watch that circulation’. Ellerby Lane was accommodating, but we are talking about 1950 when trousers were not the norm for girls, not a good feeling to be different from the rest. For a time I was allowed 2 swimming lessons a week (at Joseph Street Baths). I seem to recall the steamy water was a ghastly dark green colour.
Generally though, any awkwardness felt by me or by anyone else gradually faded away, and good weather meant that I could go back to wearing skirts. Life was returning to normal.

My hospital repertoire of folksy songs was augmented at music lessons when our class gathered in the hall with lovely Mr. W. J. Banwell instructing and playing the piano. We performed songs ranging from quiet remorseful ballads such as Barbara Allan to rendering a rousing version of ‘On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at. Barbara Allan seemed to be a favourite song of teacher ‘Chuck’ Holmes because when we were singing it he would sometimes leave his classroom, a few steps from the hall door, then stand there listening.

It took a while for me to catch up on school subjects, but I always say how lucky to be at Ellerby Lane during that time. We started Spanish language lessons which came in handy at Christmas when mixing a verse or two in Spanish to O come, all ye faithful or Silent Night at doors when my mates and I were out carol singing – it has been known to intrigue the household within and we were often spared the hefty kick on the door that signalled dismissal. And, of course, there was the innovation of film appreciation lessons learning about how films are made, culminating in 1953 in being let loose to make our own film reported in local newspapers and beyond. Heady stuff! One thing that did bug me about school was having my PT (physical training) efforts constantly registered as ‘Fair’ on school reports, which I thought was anything but fair, but better I suppose than a ‘Tries hard’.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that polio figures began to improve dramatically due to the effects of the vaccine campaign, and nowadays, according to a British Polio Fellowship Report, it is estimated that 120,000 of our population still live with the after effects of polio.
What d’you know – I’m still a statistic……………


END

Great tale, Val. We are very lucky to have a contributor that remembers so clearly right back to the start of our great NHS.   ‘Oh Matron!’

and for the record, I too thought you looked a bit like Patricia Roc. And I bet all you Ellerby Lane School colleagues will be happy Mr Banwell and ‘Chuck Holmes’ are remembered. 

Linda’s Tale

May 1, 2020 by

 Thought a few memories of St Hilda’s School might trigger similar memories…….
I started school when I was three years old , during the difficult days of the second world war and when it was nearly impossible for schools to get much in the way of paper and pencils or art stuff etc. That didn’t matter in the infant’s class run by, I think, Miss Maitland. I think I should mention that we called all the teachers Miss not knowing if they were married or not. In that first class we had various toys including a metal-framed see-saw with canvas seats and it used to shift across the wooden floorboards in all directions depending on how vigorously it was being used. We queued each day up for a spoonful of cod liver oil followed quickly with another of orange juice and then our bottle of milk…kept us healthy to some extent I guess when food was in short supply.
The next class was Miss Powell’s and she was quite strict and we were taught to read and write and basic numbers. Her room had a fireplace and in the winter there was a fire lit. In the alcove alongside the fire was a glass-fronted cupboard displaying books and toys including the most wonderful humming top. Every time she opened that cupboard I hoped the top would come out but it never did. Did anyone get to play with it?
Then to Mrs. Duckworth’s class where we learnt our multiplication tables. Which I still know!! Her hair always looked the same. Did anyone ever find out if it really was a wig? She was very strict and gave up to six strokes of her ruler for misbehaviour. I got two strokes once but can’t remember what I’d done to justify it. All through these early days we had to use our writing paper carefully. We started the writing at the left hand edge and used the whole width, from top to bottom. Muddly I think. Pencils got shorter as term progressed….
I don’t remember a great deal about Miss Fewster’s class. But we were ten or so by that time.. she was a kindly person. I must have been concentrating on something one day when she said,”Don’t scowl so Linda”. I still do that..the facial lines prove it.
Playground games were skipping ropes, ball games, taws and conkers and whip and top in the winter but we liked to decorate the top face of the top with coloured chalks and they weren’t easy to come by so they were used right until we couldn’t hold them when they got too tiny. Also in the winter we made slides in the snow. Winters were colder then. I remember wonderful ice patterns on my bedroom window (inside) quite frequently. The winter of 1947 was very cold for months and the snow was deep and was swept off pavements into the road, and it was piled up enough to make igloo type dens inside.
I had school dinners, and I enjoyed them, in particular the thick gravy(my mum never made thick gravy) and the school dinner ladies were really nice, Mrs Sheard and Mrs Cole..they didn’t mind me having extra gravy.
Mostly very happy days for me and I remember fellow pupils. They were mostly good to know. Wonder how many remember me.
Hope you’ll be able to pass on some of these snippets if you feel you can, they may trigger memories in others. Please give my best wishes to old fellow pupils and hope they are faring ok in these difficult times.

Linda is the fourth girl from the left on bottom row of girls.

‘Click’ on picture to enlarge

A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre

April 1, 2020 by

A Lifetime’s Happy Relationship with the Leeds City Centre.
As life moves remorsefully on so does ones demands for the delights of the city centre. I aim to divide these demands into the evolving phases of ‘going down to town.’
My earliest memory of ‘town’ was of being taken at my mother’s hand at the tender age of about three or four years old. It was wartime and there had been some bomb damage. The huge Burton’s tailoring outlet on Briggate had been on fire and I could see through into the interior where a mannequin had not been removed it was all blackened and blistered and I thought it was a real person. That vision has stayed with me for almost eighty years and one must flinch for those children in the war zones today who are seeing such sights for real.

My next memory is a happier one. We had been under blackout restrictions for the duration of the war but in 1945 we had ‘VE Day’ (victory in Europe) and on one particular day all the lights in the centre of Leeds were to be switched on together. I was taken down to see the event by members of the family, the idea was to get to City Square but the crowds were so dense, shoulder to shoulder down Vicar Lane and Briggate, we never got past the Corn Exchange and as it was such a crush public transport was not able to run we had to walk all the way home but what a sight when all the lights went on together I had never seen a neon sign before it was well worth the long walk home.

The next phase in my relationship with the city centre was of being ‘taken to town’ for treats by my lovely aunties. They would do a bit of fashion shopping and then we would go for a meal in one of the restaurants, I recall Atkinson’s on Eastgate, Hitchin’s, Collinson’s Betty’s Scofield’s Mathias Robinson’s Marshall and Snelgrove’s, all the large department stores had a café some even had an orchestra. These trips usually ended up with a visit to one of the city centre cinemas there were many: The Paramount/Odeon, Ritz (ABC), majestic/Scala (they played the same film), Tower, Assembly Rooms, Gourmont, Tattler, Gaumont and the News theatre which showed the news and mostly cartoons. There was a wonderful selection. Once again I have a lasting memory of a film on one of those, film going occasions about a ventriloquist and his dummy and the dummy gradually took over.

Moving to schooldays we would often be bussed to town to take in a symphony concert at the Town Hall or the Belgrave Hall or for things like road safety demonstrations. Sometimes a friend and I would catch the number 61 bus which stopped outside the Leeds Central Public Library and we would haunt the shelves for early science fiction books: H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne and in particular I remember our favourite: The Angry Planet by John Keir Cross about a trip to Mars. Around the end of the 1940s I managed to get selected for trials with the Leeds City Boys football team which were held at Oldfield Lane but for the first four or five weeks the ground was frozen hard so we could not play instead a whole group of us went back down into Leeds and had pea soup in Lewis’s department Store (magically we remained friends for life) This was not the John Lewis Store that is newly in the centre of Leeds, It was a huge four or five story store on the Headrow, which often had exhibitions, I remember Mussolini’s armoured car being on display and another time there was thousands of budgies in cages. Lewis’s also had a boy’s club who wore badges and went on trips. It was the centre point we all made for. It was a bit like Grace Brothers in ‘Are You being served?’ but the staff were rather more normal. It was said that at the time it was the largest department store in Yorkshire. It’s a beautiful building and still there but the ground floor is shared by a number of outlets: Sainsbury’s, Argos, TK. Max, Home Sense etc.
lewis's
For the next phase I’m going to say, theatre going. There were four major theatres in central Leeds in the 1950s: The Grand Theatre, The Theatre Royal the City Varieties (The Verts) and The Empire. They all held pantomimes around Christmas time. The Grand was probably the ‘glossiest’ with its high class décor including the beautiful crystal chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling. I recall the smell of expensive cigar smoke and a usual chorus line of tulip haired girls ‘sunbeams’ The Theatre Royal usually showed repertory company plays, it was only five pence for the opening night on Mondays and was usually attended by gaggles of girls of our age which dominated our attention.
The ‘Verts’ was the risqué one which showed nude tableaus. The artists had to stay still which they said made it classical but ‘if they move it’s rude’ We used to flock in to see Phyllis Dixie who did her act behind a union Jack and Jane with her dachshund, who had a cartoon strip in one of the daily tabloids and did her act behind strategically held feathers. The Empire was our favourite; we would queue down King Edward Street every Friday night to see pop stars of the day perform: Frankie Lane, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steel, Billy Daniels, Billy Exstein, Jonny Ray, Alma Cogan, Lita Rosa, Ronnie Hilton, Dickie Valentine etc. They all wore smart Barathia suits in those days. We never saw Elvis Pressley he never performed in England but we did see the Beatles perform at the Queen’s Hall; an old tram shed in Swinegate, around 1963/64. Incidentally they had some of their equipment nicked while they were performing.

Of course the favourite phase of all was the teenage years of dance and booze. I have related the pubs of central Leeds elsewhere on this site so I will concentrate on the dancing years here, wonderful nights under the glitter ball at The Scala, The Majestic, The Mecca, 101, Mark Altman’s, The Central School of Dancing. Of course preceded by a lubrication in the: King Charles, The Vine, The Horse and Trumpet, The General Elliot, The Piccadilly bar or wherever you met up with your mates. (The Astoria, Capital, and the public baths had great dances too but they were outside the city centre.)

The final phase of my relationship with the Leeds City Centre is occurring right now in the present. In retirement I park up a couple of miles out of town and wander down on foot untidily clad in boots and anorak with my knapsack on my back, the shirt and tie is long discarded to the wardrobe. The Trinity Centre and The John Lewis Centre are far too rich for my apparel now, I’m sure the commissionaire would have a fit if I dared to enter Harvey Nicks dressed like this but I’m comfortable in The Merion Centre, The St John’s Centre the Pound Shops and the Pound Bakeries and I go enter one of the beautiful central squares: City Square, Park Square, Queens Square, Blenheim Square or perhaps the Parish Church Gardens and unzip my haversack and enjoy my flask of coffee and whatever goodies I have acquired at the shops along the way and I’m as happy with the good old Central Leeds as I have ever been and the cycle is complete.

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Oh Dear! Temporally on hold for Coronavirus.

Wandering Down from East Leeds to the City Centre Today

March 1, 2020 by

Wandering down from East Leeds to the city centre today
In the old days we would either walk down to Leeds City Centre from Cross Green lane or catch the 61 bus to town and the number 62 home from Eastgate. It was two old pence from St Hilda’s School or one and a half old pence if you walked down and caught it from the Cross Green Pub. The 62 bus still runs on Cross Green Lane today but it is usually a single decker I haven’t seen a number 61at all? Unless you were in a hurry you usually walked down as I am going to do today. I’m going to invite you old East Leeds exiles to walk with me. I’ll start at the point where the old St Hilda’s School used to be. The site is now under construction as a huge block of flats you wouldn’t have thought the site was big enough for flats this size

Just beyond there we come to St Hilda’s Vestry which now seems to be an oasis to help people in need

Next up is ‘The Navvy’ I know it was built in 1899 but I’d love to find out about more about the ‘navvies who built it, where they lived and how long it took to cut I don’t know if any trains still run on there but I bet it would be worth a fortune for landfill.

Next; we come to that which used to be the St Hilda’s Men’s Club. We played billiards down stairs and they had whist drives upstairs. Mr Fred Skerry, the Verger of St Hilda’s Church lived in a flat inside the club with his wife Florrie. They were a lovely couple, Fred was an old soldier. One of his jobs was to ring the church bell, three threes and a nine at seven thirty in the morning and at seven thirty on a night. The bell was a common denominator that all our mams used to tell us it was time to come home on an evening. The Cross Green Lane post office was directly opposite the church and when it got a new post master he was nearly blown out of bed the first time Fred rang the bell. It is said he stood it for a week and then he accosted Fred as he left the church one morning and said, ‘If that bell rings again tomorrow morning I’ll throttle you’, So Fred pulled himself to his full height, he was over six foot, and said, ‘Well you had better get on with it now sir for by hell or high water that bell will ring tomorrow.’ with that he saluted the post master and marched off. They don’t make ‘em like Fred anymore.
Now the club is just a dilapidated builder’s yard

Alongside the club were a row of about five or six shops The first was: Hick the cobbler, if you went to pick your footwear up even a couple of months after you had left them he would still say,’ they’re next job on love.’ Then there was Fletchers – the demon barber, Britton’s fish and chip shop – queues a mile long on Friday dinner but they couldn’t half move ‘em on not like today when it’ takes ten minutes to make you an expresso coffee. Then there was Newby’s later Oldcorne’s, newsagents, Mechem – a decorator. And if I recall correctly, Margery Naylor’s shop, she was a dressmaker. Now there are just a few new houses standing in their place.

Next, on the left side of the road we come to the previous site of Bridgewater Place, originally we knew it as the ‘Nurse’s Home but later it became colloquially known as ‘Mulligan’s Mansions’. Folklore had many a yarn to spin about the infamous Mulligan’s Mansions.

 

Next on the left is the Cross Green Pub now an American Diner

At the bottom of Easy Road, now houses, was the coal stathe.

And opposite ‘The Captain’s Table’ café used to be Bill Benn’s bike shop

Just a slight detour to take in that which used to be the ‘Ginnel’ but now without the necessity of having to allow the ‘Paddy Train’ to pass overhead is now open to the sky.

Continuing on East Street we now come to an old sewing shop now converted into a new non-conformist church which has sprung up called, ‘Love World’.

Then on To that which I call ‘The Grand Canyon,’ which are high blocks of flats which have grown up between The site of the Old Ellerby lane School and the site of the old Black Dog pub. The wind whistles through there on days that are not even windy. We’ll have to button our coats up while we walk through here which makes a warm day a cold day. Heaven help those who have a north facing flat.
The beautiful St Saviour’s Church can still be seen through the middle

Now, onto the old St Saviour’s School – now flats, and beyond was The Red House Nursery now demolished as are and the fondly remembered old, red brick, East Streets Flats. Even now when I turn the corner I expect to see them.

Further along East Street and looking to the right. Mount St Mary’s College comes into view across the old ‘Paddy’s Park’.

 

Remember the round tower of Robert Mart’s Printers. That is flats now too.

Here now is the old Northern Veneers building. Flats with a pent house on top

And onto Leeds Parish Church is now grandly named Leeds Minster

And just another little detour to take in Brussels Street and view the last resting place of our dear old iconic Market District Boys Club

Enter Leeds bus station now like an Airport concourse, Arrivals and departures flashing up in lights – I’m impressed, it’s fine.

Through Leeds Kirkgate Market – less stalls than before but still vibrant

 

Are we going to the Mecca Ballroom, in The County Arcade where Jimmy Saville held sway with his tartan hair?

Nah! Here’s Albion Place, we’ll go to the Scala Ballroom instead, it was always my favourite, anyway.

Now I’m going to have my flask of coffee in lovely Queens Square before I walk all the way back.

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;Click’ to enlarge

 

Bull

February 14, 2020 by

Bull
Carrying on from our traumatic introduction into the army

Parade, we were soon to learn, consisted of running outside and forming into three lines. This charade was to be repeated many times in the duration of each day, each time dressed in different apparel. Indeed, some times, we would be ordered outside in full BD (battle dress) but even before we were marched off we would be told they wanted us dressed otherwise. ‘Fall out, back here in two minutes in PT. kit, last one back is cleaning the stones with a razor tonight!’ The stones referred to were the urinals and no one really fancied the job. This meant we would all make a headlong dash for the doorway so as not to be the last one back. Now, unfortunately, Blanford Camp must have at sometime, been a hospital sanatorium and the spiders in which we were housed – the wards. Between each ward covered gangways had been built to allow dry passage from one ward to another, the glass sides of these passageways had long gone but the corrugated housings were still in position about five feet from the ground. One such gangway bisected our billet from the parade point, and never failed to take the scalps of at least a couple of fleeing squaddies who neglected to duck. The doorway itself would usually account for another couple as it would only allow access to one at a time and the first two usually arrived simultaneously. This meant if you kept a cool head and carefully negotiated the prostrate bodies, you could normally avoid coming last. You were not out of the wood even when arriving at your bed-space in good time, there were the odd moments when mad panic would seize you, when for instance, small items of equipment would not come immediately to hand. I can vividly remember hearing the poor lad who had the next bed saying, quite sincerely, when he thought no one within earshot: ‘Please God, let me find my bayonet frog’.

Anyway, that first morning, before we even had chance to ‘parade’ two lance Jacks entered the room: ‘I’m Corporal Young,’ exclaimed the first, a slight fair haired lad about eighteen years old. ‘I wear mine up here!’ he snarled pointing to his lonely white stripe. ‘And this is Corporal Newton,’ he pointed to his colleague. ‘Stand up straight for your platoon sergeant: Sergeant Wakefield.’ The entourage parted and a short dapper gentleman swept through, spitting out the words as he came: ‘I’m Sergeant Wakefield and I’m a bastard! (He never understated) I’ve got you for the next six weeks and you’ve got me.’ He spat out the well-rehearsed speech, which was his lot repeat every six weeks. The performance included the slight lifting of the left side of his mouth to enhance his meanness.
One was forced to admire the immaculate turn out of these guys. There was one corporal on the camp, who had actually hammered the brass eyelets on his boots until they were flat, highly polished and about a half inch in diameter. I suppose they had plenty of time to do this kind of thing or it was more likely that some luckless recruit who had fallen foul of them had been the one to apply the ‘elbow-grease’. These three gentlemen, into whose charge we were to be committed, were collectively known as, ‘drill pigs’
This introduction heralded the start of six weeks of intense activity. They marched us about at such short notice that we had time for neither homesickness nor rebellion. One dare not even attend the toilet by day in case the ‘pigs’ appeared unexpected and called for an instant rig out change. If you were not present to hear the order as it was delivered, you had no chance of being ready in time to parade. If one was late for parade then a nasty job was in store for you – but consider the ignominy of the squad actually being marched off before you appeared, then you would have to attempt to join the squad while they were already drilling on the square. The consequences were too terrible to contemplate. So terrible in fact, I never saw it to happen. For the first couple of weeks I imagined I was in some sort of terrible dream from which I would soon eventually wake.

On that first morning we were kitted out with: Three Battle dresses, a best, a second best and a third best (the latter was second-hand working gear) and a set of khaki fatigues for the even dirtier jobs we were to encounter. Two pairs of boots, two berets, one great coat, two pairs of green drawers cellular (we called them: drawers Dracula) two pairs of PT shorts and vests – one red and one white, two pairs of blue and white striped pyjamas and various other bits and pieces. The enhancement of this kit was to be the object of out attention every spare moment when were not required on parade. We were advised on the type of cleaning and packing out materials we would need to bring our kit up to the required standard, these we had to purchase from the NAAFI stores at our own expense. Our own personal effects and the clothing we had arrived in, was bundled up into a sad brown paper parcel and returned through the post. Perhaps our mams would shed a little tear when those parcels arrived home?

Long into the future, those who never knew national service first hand will listen in disbelief to the things we had to do to that kit. For instance, the boots issued to us were like the workingmen’s boots of the period; entirely covered in thousands of tiny raised irregularities, which were probably designed to make the boots stronger, we were told that these irregularities had to be completely removed so that the boots were smooth and shiny as glass. However, the only way to achieve this result, we were told, was: firstly, to take a teaspoon and hold it over a candle until red hot and then smooth out the irregularities. Once these were out, we had then to melt the boot polish onto the smooth surface before commencing to polish away by the ‘spit and slaver’ method. This meant rubbing endlessly in little circular movements until the boots shone like patent leather. To add to our chagrin, we were advised that this method was illegal as it damaged War Department property, so the result had to be achieved without them seeing it to be done. Thereafter we were left to light our candles and smooth away when they were away and extinguish them on their approach. Bizarre!
Battle dress tunics were real swine to bring up to scratch too: they were required to have six pleats ironed into the backs and six more in the fronts – four nine inches long, four six inches long and four three inches long and they needed to be sharpened with the aid of steam and brown paper too. God preserve you if you were unlucky enough to make a scorch mark, then you would have to rub away with a silver coin to try and get rid of it. And bearing in mind most of us had never handled an iron in our lives before we found it quite daunting. We clubbed together to buy an iron but never bothered to get around to buying a plug, we just poked the bare wires into the wall socket. A dangerous manoeuvre certainly but you had got to a point of not worrying too much about it, if you went up in the air, at least you would be out of this nightmare, so it was just about fifty-fifty which was worse.
The whole of our packs and webbing had to be covered by a disgusting substance called ‘Blanco’. Some of the items issued to us had been used before and already had Blanco on but always the wrong colour. You had to scrub this off before you could start to apply our light green shade of Blanco; ‘scrubbing off’ was harder that ‘putting on’. The insides of all our packs had to be pushed out square, aided by the insertion of cardboard which we had to scrounge from boxes thrown out by the NAAFI. The brass buckles, which liberally adorned our packs and webbing, had to be sandpapered smooth until without blemish and then polished with ‘Brasso’ If you happened to get brass polish onto the Blanco it resulted in an awful mess and you needed to ‘scrub up’ and start again. The only items we were not allowed to polish with Brasso, were our bayonets. Evidently the Geneva Convention, states: it’s OK to stab someone but you must not give them blood poisoning. Berets, what a marvellous palaver we had with those. When issued to us they were about the size of dustbin lids but the chic way to wear them was shrunk to half their size and moulded into shape so they fitted jauntily on just the front of the head. The method of achieving this result was to submerge the beret alternately in hot and then cold water. After this had been repeated many times the beret while still wet was placed on the head and moulded into the correct shape by hand. It was then retained on the head until it dried into shape. After such sessions lads could be seen all over the billet with dripping berets, the liberated blue dye running in rivulets down their faces. I suppose these little knacks and wrinkles had been passed down from recruit to recruit from time immemorial like schoolyard games.
We had to lay out all this gear for inspection in a very precise manner: PT vests had to be folded exactly eight inches across and placed in our lockers, red on top of white. Pyjamas folded with stripes matching, socks rolled to a specific diameter. On top of the locker went the packs and webbing, with the water bottle cork hanging down exactly in the centre. The blankets and sheets from the bed had to be made up into a ‘blanket box’ the size and straightness of the lines of the box became the object of much minute scrutiny on inspection nights. Some lads were so worried about having their blanket box perfect for the morning’s inspection they would make it up the night before and place it on the floor, choosing to sleep without either sheets or blankets for fear they would not be able to have it right for inspection the next day. In addition to attending to our personal kit we also had communal duties within the billet: Cleaning the toilets and washbasins, polishing the floors – we had appliances called ‘bumpers’ for polishing the floors; they were like huge heavy mops. Lads who had been on bumper duties did not take kindly to others walking on their pristine floor in their hob nailed boots. We also had to tidy up the outside area daily and scrape the brush handles with razor blades. There was a tale going around that one squaddie, who had transgressed in some minor way, was made to empty one fire bucket full of water into another, empty bucket, using only a teaspoon! The necessity of all of this was to teach us discipline, but was commonly known to one and all as BULL.

Living in such close proximity to each other twenty-four hours every day laid bare all our foibles, personalities, our strengths and weaknesses and a great affinity developed within our ranks. There were the hard cases, the softies, the flappers and those who were unflappable. There were comedians, scruffy beggars and those who immediately looked born to wear a uniform. We had our petty squabbles, even a punch up or two but we presented a united front to authority and to outsiders. What a grand bunch of lads they were! There names still come readily to mind: Yates, Tingay, Mills, Mullis, Bott, Morgan, Smith, Neil. Each of us soon had our own tailored nicknames. One, which comes readily to mind, was Souton. He was a lad from Bedford and one of the best but the fact he had a somewhat cultivate way of speaking quickly earned him the handle: ‘The Duke of Bedford’. One night I remember Stoddard, another grand lad, he was from Manchester and slept in the bed opposite mine; he was hopeless at bulling his kit, the harder he tried the worse it looked. On this particular night, he was flapping about like an old hen and getting all flustered when he came out with a statement that rocked me back on my heels a bit: ‘There’s only one thing that keeps me going; Woody doesn’t seem to worry and his kit is worse than mine!’ And there was I thinking my kit was great. It was my turn to do a bit of worrying.
Last thing at night when the lights had been turned out and we could bull no longer, we would converse from our ‘pits’ on more pleasant subjects, such as what we would do to Corporal Young if we met him on a dark night in ‘civvy street’ or in the unlikely event of us obtaining our own stripes. It was not frowned upon so much if you had a punch up with someone of your own rank but you could not punch a corporal if you were only a private. That would land you in deep trouble. We talked about sex too but not often, they put something in the tea to control such disruptive drives. One night in the middle of our bulling an NCO arrived and without any preliminaries just switched out the lights and departed. Silence followed for several moments until someone stated, quite unnecessarily of course, ‘He’s turned the lights out!’ Mullis, one of the better comedians, replied, quick as a flash, ‘Cor! So he has, I thought it was just me having a long blink.’
We were allowed ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon for our NAAFI breaks, during these breaks the juke box in the NAAFI would blare out, time after time, a contemporary popular song called: The Three Stars. This was a record in memoriam to three stars: The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens who had recently lost their lives in an air crash. Great fifties ballads seemed to epitomise those national service years, in my stint, we sang along to such great songs as: Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper, Rave On, Buddy Holly, Little Star, The Elegants. Strangely, the NCOs always treated NAAFI breaks as sacrosanct, even when we were not framing on the square and had been lambasted right left and centre we were still allowed our NAFFI break. Perhaps it was because they wanted a break too? I remember an occasion, much later, when I was attached to an airborne reconnaissance unit in Germany: a camouflage manoeuvre scheme was in operation aimed at seeing how well the tanks and guns could be hidden. When the photographs were developed, you couldn’t see an item of hardware but there ‘plain as day’ sat in the middle of a farm yard, was a good old NAFFI van and a line of lads queuing up with their mugs at the ready.
The bulk of our daily programme of instruction concentrated mainly on drill and rifle drill; hour after hour in the blazing sun, we pounded the gravel, swinging our arms and legs like wooden dolls. The drill pigs liked to have a name to bellow out, so if you were extra tall or in my case a bit rotund you were easily recognizable and they learned your name early, so if a dozen of us were making the same mistake in the drill, more often than not it would be my name on the end of a lambasting. Of course having your name constantly balled out across the square gave you iconic status with your mates in the billet.
Eventually, the khaki shirts and trousers rubbed great wheals in our armpits and crotches and the rubber buttons of the drawers Dracula left imprints of their four buttonholes in our sweating stomachs. We dug our heels into concrete until they bruised, soon the grey socks that had been issued to us began to disintegrate and darning became another major occupation. We learned how to salute as a squad on the square but you dreaded the day when you would have to do it for real on your own. We considered officers a bit too ‘God like’ to encounter at the moment – we were still afraid of corporals! If you saw a peaked cap approaching you would think: ‘crikey I’m going to have to do some saluting here if I’m not careful’ and you would nip in between the huts if you had chance. You were really relieved if the peaked hat turned out to be a warrant office – we didn’t have to salute warrant officers but no doubt he’d tell you off for something else you were doing wrong.
Everything was done to screams of; two-three this, two-three that. Up-two-three- down-two-three. We took it to extremes when we were out of earshot: in the canteen for instance, to encompass eating and drinking. Mugs-up-two-three drink-two-three down two-three or into bed-two-three sleep-two-three etc. The studs and heel-plates of our boots always made downhill gradients a hazard. We had such a gradient on our marches down to the cookhouse. We would be marched as a squad down to the cookhouse several times a day. The left arm would be held rigid holding our pot mugs and the other arm cranking up and down like a windmill as usual, as the hill become steeper many a mug met its end on the concrete as the owners boots flayed the air. The mug invariably ‘kopt for it,’ you hardly ever escaped with just a bruised bum. On one occasion I saw the line of men in front of me bobbing up and down at a certain point as we negotiated the hill; when I reached that point myself I saw a luckless lad had slipped and the well loved pig; Corporal Young, was standing beside him shouting: ‘Trample on him – trample on him’, as each subsequent marcher arrived.

So, to the cookhouse itself. Every army cookhouse I ever entered had its own distinctive smell. It was sort of a dinner mixed with grease smell, it would filter up the concrete corridors where we would wait in idle anticipation for them to allow us to enter the cookhouse proper, casually observing the graffiti on the wall: ‘Killroy was here,’ or ‘I was here before Killroy,’ etc. On Sundays, the familiar strains of Family Favourites would filter up those passageway, to accompany the smell of food and you would be reminded of your mates back home just about to roll out of the boozer to enjoy their Yorkshire puddings. That is not to say the cookhouses were dirty, there were always plenty of ‘fatigue wallers’ to keep them pristine clean but quite often there were cockroach infestations. On one occasion, after observing a strange hole in my meat pie, I removed the top to find a beauty nestling snugly between meat and crust. Ever since, I have treated holes in pies with suspicion.
It would be unfair too, to say we ever went hungry, at Blandford, there was certainly no shortage of food: dehydrated potatoes could be had by the mountain and being hungry lads, we used to really dig in. One poor lad, Smithy, he was thin as a rail and having trouble with constipation. Probably, the shock of being in the army had upset his system. After four weeks, he had not yet managed to go to the toilet. There was nothing wrong with his appetite though, day after day he would shovel away mountains of those horrible dehydrated spuds. We used to grab him and press his stomach. ‘This is impossible,’ we would say. ‘Where can it all be going – it must be going somewhere?’ Then he would become panicky and say: ‘God, what am I going to do?’ I think in the end they had to feed him something up his back passage, then he couldn’t stop going. In fact, I see he’s not on the group photograph; he must have still been going then.
Incidentally, they had a nasty but effective way of stopping people reporting sick unless they really were sick. Before one could report to the MO it was necessary for them to pack the whole of their gear into those beautifully bulled up packs, which invariably ruined them. This made all potential malingerers think twice. To return to the cookhouse: each day a duty officer would appear along with a colour sergeant and ask, ‘Any complaints?’ It was unheard of for anyone to say, ‘Yes’ but one day, egged on by his mates, a lad stood up and said: ‘Yes sir, maggots in my meat.’ The sergeant stamped over, face livid as raw liver, he looked at the meat, which was indeed maggot infested under its sickly covering of brown gravy; picking up the offending piece he pronged it straight into his own mouth, screaming; ‘The meat’s alright, nothing could live at the ‘eat this is cooked at!’ The poor lad didn’t even get a reimbursement on the piece he’d lost.
Came the night of our first kit inspection. All our carefully bulled kit was laid out on the beds or in the lockers to comply with a diagram. Corporal Newton carried out the inspection. He was in full BD. with the red and navy blue Southern Areas flashes on his shoulders; we were not allowed such flashes yet, being only ‘sproggs’. He looked most impressive. We stood to rigid attention while Newton made his round, poking about with his stick and make disparaging remarks. If he found a mug bearing even the slightest sign of a tea, he would throw it into the air, shouting, ‘Filthy’. Then the owner would have to replace it at his own expense. When he reached my locker, he twirled his stick around inside, scattering my beautiful ironed and folded clothes, muttering as he did: ‘Shit order, a disgrace,’ etc. I suppose I felt trampled on and probably blushed scarlet but I needn’t have worried too much when he got to the next bloke, he just opened the window and chucked all his stuff out. After a while you stopped taking their insults personally, you knew nobody was going to laugh at you, everyone was in the same boat, it would probably be their turn for a lambasting next time. The sooner one accepted not to baulk authority the better. There was always something worse in store for dissenters. One of the words we all feared to hear was: relegation. This could occur if one did not conform to authority, were unreceptive, or did not progress well enough under instruction. Relegation meant being back squadded for two weeks to join up with the next intake to come in. This would mean you lost your mates and had to do eight weeks initial training instead of six and no one wanted to contemplate that. The threat of relegation was enough to achieve the total cooperation of the majority.
Worse than relegation, was a nasty little carry-on, colloquially known as ‘jankers’. If an NCO put you on jankers, it entailed you having to parade at the guardhouse several times a day, in all manner of different apparel, where the guard commander would give you all sorts of nastier than nasty jobs. Of course, the culprit would also be confined to barracks (CB). This didn’t mean too much to us in those first six weeks as we were rarely let out anyway. Worse even than jankers, was being confined to the guardhouse, commonly know as ‘nick’. I saw a few lads who had been given ‘nick’; usually they were ones who had gone absent without leave (AWOL) or trying to work their passage out of the army. Life looked a real hell for them in there. The lavatory pedestal had a tap placed directly above it so that it doubled as their washbasin. The confinees would have their sleep disturbed by being awakened every hour on the hour all through the night and made to go to the toilet. To make him feel even more uncomfortable his bootlaces, belts and buttons were removed from his dress and he would be paraded around the camp at the double between two burly MPs with everything flapping about and boots slobbering off due to lack of laces. Talk about being degrading! For the worst cases of all, there were the central army prisons at Colchester and Shepston-Mallet. What went on behind those closed doors I hate to think? There was a rumour that the guards would throw a quantity of lighter flints through the cell doors and the prisoner had to find them all before he could eat. Isn’t that the mythical way to keep a vampire in his tomb: throw a handful of poppy seeds around his grave, which he feels he must count before he could go out to eat too?
No request was ever made to us either verbally or written; it was always: ‘This will be done,’ or ‘personnel will do this.’ It was all done in pursuit of discipline and in hindsight, those NCOs did a marvellous job; they got a grip on us from day one and never relaxed enough for us to even question what we were doing or indeed to be homesick. It has a sobering effect today, when we have our feathers ruffled to look back on those times and remember, when they said. ‘Jump’ we didn’t question it, it was a matter of ‘how high?’ and in six weeks it turned us from potential prima donnas into men!

The Greatcoat

The day dawned which was to be perhaps the hottest day of all in that blazing summer of
1959. This was the day chosen for the fitting of our greatcoats. We had been issued with these coats at the start but they more or less just fitted where they touched. To ensure the fitting was correct it was necessary for us to wear everything we would be expected to wear on a winter’s day underneath. This included: vest, shirt, tie, pullover, BD blouse, the whole issue, and bearing in mind this happened to be the hottest day in the middle of that which turned out to be the hottest summer of the decade. We were marched off to a drill square near to where the tailor’s shop was located and paraded in three lines, totally unprotected from the blazing sun, which shone remorselessly down upon us.
After a while, a trio of inspectors appeared in the ranks. First, came a sergeant bearing a stick that had two ninety-degree pointers sticking out at a prescribed distance from the ground. The idea was, that when his stick touched the ground the bottom of your greatcoat must come within the tolerance of these two pointers to be of acceptable length. Behind the sergeant strode a toffee nosed subaltern and bringing up the rear was the camp tailor. As the trio proceeded along the line, the sergeant would test coats for length with his stick and the subleton would tweak about with the material, uttering statements like: ‘In a bit here sergeant, out a bit there.’ etc. I sensed he would be shocked when he reached me as the coat I had been supplied with in order to accommodate my girth finished up near my ankles. I was not disappointed. He took one disbelieving look at me and squeaked, ‘Oh my God sergeant look at this man! Leave him there, we’ll come back to him later.’
‘Stand fast that man,’ snarled the sergeant.
With that, they moved along the rest of the lines and our platoon was moved off – all but me that is, I had to stand fast on my own under the blazing sun while another platoon was marched on of which I then became a part. Down the ranks they came again until they reached me for a second time. ‘My God it gets worse! Stand him fast sergeant,’ moaned the officer again. That platoon was marched off and still I stood: sweat oozing out of every pore – becoming part of a third line-up. Not until that platoon had been inspected and marched away too, leaving me a solitary melting blob, did they decided to see what could be done for me. By this time I had been standing for over an hour in all that gear in that which must have been a hundred degrees in the sun, I felt like a wet dishcloth. Finally, they planned the best course of action to begin the mammoth task of altering the coat. It was like Gulliver and the Lilliputian tailors. Over the next few weeks I had to pay many visits to the tailor who would chop and sew, chop and sew until at last he could do no more. I would never look smart in any greatcoat, I was all the wrong shape but at least it was presentable. Then came the climax of it all – we paraded again with our fitted greatcoats. This time it was a different inspection officer and sergeant. When they reached my position in the line the officer said, ‘Change this man’s coat sergeant, it’s the wrong shade!’ This time, at the end of the inspection I didn’t hang around, I chose to melt away ‘like a phantom in the night’.

One Saturday morning they said we were to have our ‘jabs’ and that after we’d had them, bulling our kit apart, we could have the rest of the weekend to ourselves, we wouldn’t be asked to parade or anything. We thought they were being kind to us at last but they knew what they were doing. After we’d had the three or four inoculations, which would cover us for the various active postings, we sat about on our ‘pits’ bulling gear and talking away pleasantly about going to the NAAFI etc. After a while guys started to keel over onto their backs. By mid afternoon movement had completely ceased, we were all spark out and just about remained so until we were due back in action on Monday morning, Those jabs were certainly powerful medicine. The NCOs knew what they were about, saying we could have it easy, even they couldn’t have got us up on our feet for drilling that weekend.
By now, we had been in two weeks and another intake arrived. They were the ‘sproggs’ now, their numbers were higher than ours and didn’t we let them know with taunts of: ‘Git some time in!’ One weekend we were actually allowed off camp for a few hours. However, we were told we must wear full BD, ties, berets, and the lot. Moreover, on pain of death, we were told not remove any item of clothing while off the camp. Dorset is a beautiful county and Bournemouth being reasonable close, a group of us decided to spend our day at the seaside. In the 1950s, folk were generally benevolent towards national service men, they knew we didn’t have much money and that we were doing our bit for the country, so thumbing lifts was quite easy, if drivers saw a lad in uniform they would usually pull up for him. Some lads thumbed home and back all over the country on 48 or even 36 hour passes. Though it was a bit dodgy relying on travelling back to camp by this method for if you failed to find a lift, which would have you back for 6.00 am on Monday morning you would be marked as AWOL and in the guardhouse. Anyway, that particular Sunday we managed to make our way to Bournemouth alright but it wasn’t very pleasant sitting on the beach, with the sun still blazing down on us wearing all that gear. We were too afraid to remove a stitch in case there was a ‘plain-clothes’ NCO spy on the beach.

During those first few weeks, in addition to the PT and drill, we learned to shoot on the rifle range and hack out the compressed bullets from the sand behind the rifle butts: all still beneath the blazing sun. We learned how to strip a machine gun and use a respirator (gasmask), which incidentally proved their worth in the toilets after the lads had been out on the beer..
Pay parade was one of the first occasions when one realised that perhaps a little progress had been made. All the recruits at various stages of their training were paid out together in a large hut. It also followed that all the pigs that trained all the recruits were there too, the pay hut swarmed with them, it was their opportunity to compete for who could make the most cutting remarks to demean the performance of recruits from other NCO’s platoons. Seemingly, it provided a bit of light entertainment for them. To spice it up there was also a competition going on between the training NCOs as to which of them, would, at the end of the six weeks, have trained the champion platoon. There was plenty of opportunity for snide remarks with all the saluting and stamping about that went with pay parade.
For some pay parade and its accompaniments proved quite an ordeal, especially as it was all for twenty five bob, or fifteen if you were married and had to send money home. Even then, a pig would be standing guarding the exit; trying to relieve you of the little you had just been given for the corps magazine. One lad found it such an ordeal he had arranged for all his pay to be paid straight into the bank and he lived on spends provided by his dad, who later turned up to visit him in a Rolls Royce.

After the assault course I’m knackered  but still smiling

The Demise of Corporal Young.
Because we had completed a few years of industrial training and a few years of further education we believed, in our wisdom, that we were distained for better things than the army: we believed national service was a waste of time. REME intakes were usually composed of young men around the age of twenty-one whom having completed an apprenticeship were eager to get on with their careers. As conscripts in peacetime, we were brainwashed by the media to be resentful just as out mates called up before us had been. We were in a culture of resentment and didn’t the paparazzi have a field day playing it up with tales of how qualified young adults were having to dig officer’s gardens or perhaps run errands for an officer’s wife. What few of us realised at the time, was that although national service, as the name implies, was derived to develop a trained pool of personnel, ready to serve the nation in times of future conflict: it would be we, as individuals, who would be by far the greater beneficiaries in our training for life.
In those, ‘the longest six weeks’ a comradeship developed in that barrack room which would not have blossomed in six years of normal civilian life. We even began to take pride in the 2nd Platoon ‘C’ Company. We took pride in the flashes on our shoulders REME and a swagger became apparent in our bearing, a swagger which could not been forced but born out of being young men, fit and in their prime. You knew they wouldn’t break you now and perhaps, just a little, for the first time you started to enjoy.

The demise of Corporal Young

One night, just before lights out, Corporal Young staggered into the room – he was obviously the worse for drink. Somebody had given him a black eye. It was a beauty!
We ceased our bulling and pondered with affection on the dealer of the blow, Young had done well to keep us in check up to that point. He had entered the service as a regular at the age of eighteen after being a boy soldier – ‘child soldiers’ as we called them. He was only eighteen now, perhaps three years younger than most of us, which is a wide gulf to tackle at that age. He had to be admired for the way he had handled us up to that point but tonight the poor lad was drunk and it was obvious he was battling an inferiority complex. He pointed to his eye and said, ‘Don’t get any ideas, another corporal did this. I’m going to get a grip on you lot!’ With that, he tried to put his foot up on the end of someone’s bed and in doing so fell flat on his back. We didn’t see Young anymore. It was a shame for him really, I suppose he’d lost credibility and they moved him on. We had a new corporal after that, Clarke, he was the one who polished the eyelets of his boots and was older and if it were possible, even nastier than Young

Passing Out

We drilled on, we bulled on, and the jukebox in the NAAFI still blared out with The Three Stars and still the sun blazed down upon us. Finally, it reached the end of July and our turn to pass out. Three platoons had started their basic training at Blandford on the 18th of June 1959. Two platoons were national service, the third: number one platoon was made up of lads wishing to make a career of the regular army. They needed to be visibly keen and enthusiastic to be accepted into the corps, we on the other hand only needed to keep our noses clean and survive two years. The potential regulars passed out as champion platoon. The final passing out parade was a high profile affair; parents were invited to see what the army had made of their sons. A brigadier or perhaps even a general would make the inspection and take the salute, there was to be a pipe band – the whole works. The most ragged half dozen of the squad would be left off the parade to make it look better. I think I would have been disappointed to have missed the final parade in the end. The lads not chosen were issued with dusters and busied themselves around dusting the last specks of dust from the rest of us. One dare not bend down once in our best uniform for fear of damaging the creases. And the boots. Oh those boots! It was the first time we had actually worn those glassy boots and we had to protect them at all costs, everyone was walking around gingerly, eying each other in case another boot came too close. It was worse than having corns. If someone inadvertently stood on your toe it was the end, the whole polished toecap was likely to come away in a solid shell. In fact, throughout your army career, you always dreaded the time when your best boots had to go to the cobblers. I’m sure they used to give the toecap a bash with the hammer just for kicks.
The brigadier was a gentleman: high-ranking officers usually were, he didn’t inspect us too closely. It was a good job he didn’t inspect one of my mates, Eric, too closely on his passing out parade, for he tells the tale of the time when he was actually lined up on his passing out parade waiting for the officer’s inspection. He looked down at his rifle (we had to call them rifles, they didn’t like us calling them guns) and saw to his absolute horror that the ‘bolt’ was missing. The bolt is the mechanism, which pushes the bullets into the breach ready for firing. We always had to keep the bolt and the rifle separate just in case a rifle was stolen, it could not be operated without the bolt. For a soldier to go on parade without a bolt in his rifle was a fate worse than death: a soldier with an inoperative weapon is useless. Eric was on tenterhooks in case it was spotted by the inspecting officer. When he got away with that one, his next worry was: ‘If it’s not in my rifle – where is it?’ to actually lose a rifle bolt warranted as an even worse punishment. Thankfully for Eric it wasn’t permanently lost.
As we marched past the saluting platform on our passing out parade a Scottish pipe-band played Scotland the Brave and our corps march: Lilliburlero. We hadn’t asked to be here but you felt the power of the uniform and those who had worn it with such distinction before you. It brought a swagger to our stride; we were just like proper soldiers. It was a great feeling!
The night before the passing out parade, we had our final billet block inspection. Lockers, kit, beds, the room and ablutions themselves had to be immaculate. We had shaved the brush handles down with razor blades and polished the fire buckets; the lot. It was to be the pinnacle of all our bulling. The whole entourage carried out the inspection: officer, sergeant and the two corporals. There followed the usual cynical comments but to be fair most of us were just about up to the standard even they couldn’t fault. Yet, when they reached Taffy Morgan’s bed at the end of the room a huge bellow of rage went up. I couldn’t believe my eyes; there displayed in all prominence on the top of his locker was a pint pop bottle. Goodness knows why it hadn’t noticed it before – we had been through the whole place with a fine toothcomb, not a speck of dust anywhere, and yet here was a great ruddy pop bottle. Well, they countenanced this as so outrageous that the officer believed Taffy was trying to be funny or even trying to work his passage (they were totally over the top of course) but they lambasted old Taffy. They pulled everything
he had to pieces and then decided he had a dirty neck. Taffy was ordered to march to the ablutions and get it washed. The terrible part of it was, as poor Taffy left the room to visit the washroom he turned the wrong way, which gave the pigs further bullets to fire, in that after six weeks he still didn’t know the way to the ablutions. It was no wonder he had a mucky neck!
The final inspection and parade over we had the traditional last night booze up with the drill pigs. This was supposed to be the chance you got to punch your least favourite drill pig. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. They all turned out to be alright guys, who just wore a shell of obnoxious veneer in order to keep on top of us for those hectic six weeks. In the fullness of time we realise what a great job they did. Before we left I made an appointment to see the MO (medical officer) because there was a rumour that anyone overweight would not get a posting to the Far East and I saw the army as my best chance of seeing something of the world. I thought with all that marching and exercising I must have shot down the scale and that I would be able to be upgraded to ‘grade one’. I hadn’t lost a single pound!
The next morning we smelt Blandford cookhouse for the last time and were ferried to Blandford Forum Station, there to be railed to our next destination for trade training. Some of us were going to the same camp but to the majority we had to say our goodbyes. We vowed to meet up for regular reunions but it never happened. Yet, should I ever have the opportunity, I’d rather meet up and have a night out with that gang who shared those: ‘the longest six weeks’, than be invited to a slap up meal with royalty.

always: ‘This will be done,’ or ‘personnel will do this.’ It was all done in pursuit of discipline and in hindsight, those NCOs did a marvellous job; they got a grip on us from day one and never relaxed enough for us to even question what we were doing or indeed to be homesick. It has a sobering effect today, when we have our feathers ruffled to look back on those times and remember, when they said. ‘Jump’ we didn’t question it, it was a matter of ‘how high?’ and in six weeks it turned us from potential prima donnas into men!

The Greatcoat

The day dawned which was to be perhaps the hottest day of all in that blazing summer of
1959. This was the day chosen for the fitting of our greatcoats. We had been issued with these coats at the start but they more or less just fitted where they touched. To ensure the fitting was correct it was necessary for us to wear everything we would be expected to wear on a winter’s day underneath. This included: vest, shirt, tie, pullover, BD blouse, the whole issue, and bearing in mind this happened to be the hottest day in the middle of that which turned out to be the hottest summer of the decade. We were marched off to a drill square near to where the tailor’s shop was located and paraded in three lines, totally unprotected from the blazing sun, which shone remorselessly down upon us.
After a while, a trio of inspectors appeared in the ranks. First, came a sergeant bearing a stick that had two ninety-degree pointers sticking out at a prescribed distance from the ground. The idea was, that when his stick touched the ground the bottom of your greatcoat must come within the tolerance of these two pointers to be of acceptable length. Behind the sergeant strode a toffee nosed subaltern and bringing up the rear was the camp tailor. As the trio proceeded along the line, the sergeant would test coats for length with his stick and the subleton would tweak about with the material, uttering statements like: ‘In a bit here sergeant, out a bit there.’ etc. I sensed he would be shocked when he reached me as the coat I had been supplied with in order to accommodate my girth finished up near my ankles. I was not disappointed. He took one disbelieving look at me and squeaked, ‘Oh my God sergeant look at this man! Leave him there, we’ll come back to him later.’
‘Stand fast that man,’ snarled the sergeant.
With that, they moved along the rest of the lines and our platoon was moved off – all but me that is, I had to stand fast on my own under the blazing sun while another platoon was marched on of which I then became a part. Down the ranks they came again until they reached me for a second time. ‘My God it gets worse! Stand him fast sergeant,’ moaned the officer again. That platoon was marched off and still I stood: sweat oozing out of every pore – becoming part of a third line-up. Not until that platoon had been inspected and marched away too, leaving me a solitary melting blob, did they decided to see what could be done for me. By this time I had been standing for over an hour in all that gear in that which must have been a hundred degrees in the sun, I felt like a wet dishcloth. Finally, they planned the best course of action to begin the mammoth task of altering the coat. It was like Gulliver and the Lilliputian tailors. Over the next few weeks I had to pay many visits to the tailor who would chop and sew, chop and sew until at last he could do no more. I would never look smart in any greatcoat, I was all the wrong shape but at least it was presentable. Then came the climax of it all – we paraded again with our fitted greatcoats. This time it was a different inspection officer and sergeant. When they reached my position in the line the officer said, ‘Change this man’s coat sergeant, it’s the wrong shade!’ This time, at the end of the inspection I didn’t hang around, I chose to melt away ‘like a phantom in the night’.

One Saturday morning they said we were to have our ‘jabs’ and that after we’d had them, bulling our kit apart, we could have the rest of the weekend to ourselves, we wouldn’t be asked to parade or anything. We thought they were being kind to us at last but they knew what they were doing. After we’d had the three or four inoculations, which would cover us for the various active postings, we sat about on our ‘pits’ bulling gear and talking away pleasantly about going to the NAAFI etc. After a while guys started to keel over onto their backs. By mid afternoon movement had completely ceased, we were all spark out and just about remained so until we were due back in action on Monday morning, Those jabs were certainly powerful medicine. The NCOs knew what they were about, saying we could have it easy, even they couldn’t have got us up on our feet for drilling that weekend.
By now, we had been in two weeks and another intake arrived. They were the ‘sproggs’ now, their numbers were higher than ours and didn’t we let them know with taunts of: ‘Git some time in!’ One weekend we were actually allowed off camp for a few hours. However, we were told we must wear full BD, ties, berets, and the lot. Moreover, on pain of death, we were told not remove any item of clothing while off the camp. Dorset is a beautiful county and Bournemouth being reasonable close, a group of us decided to spend our day at the seaside. In the 1950s, folk were generally benevolent towards national service men, they knew we didn’t have much money and that we were doing our bit for the country, so thumbing lifts was quite easy, if drivers saw a lad in uniform they would usually pull up for him. Some lads thumbed home and back all over the country on 48 or even 36 hour passes. Though it was a bit dodgy relying on travelling back to camp by this method for if you failed to find a lift, which would have you back for 6.00 am on Monday morning you would be marked as AWOL and in the guardhouse. Anyway, that particular Sunday we managed to make our way to Bournemouth alright but it wasn’t very pleasant sitting on the beach, with the sun still blazing down on us wearing all that gear. We were too afraid to remove a stitch in case there was a ‘plain-clothes’ NCO spy on the beach.
During those first few weeks, in addition to the PT and drill, we learned to shoot on the rifle range and hack out the compressed bullets from the sand behind the rifle butts: all still beneath the blazing sun. We learned how to strip a machine gun and use a respirator (gasmask), which incidentally proved their worth in the toilets after the lads had been out on the beer..
Pay parade was one of the first occasions when one realised that perhaps a little progress had been made. All the recruits at various stages of their training were paid out together in a large hut. It also followed that all the pigs that trained all the recruits were there too, the pay hut swarmed with them, it was their opportunity to compete for who could make the most cutting remarks to demean the performance of recruits from other NCO’s platoons. Seemingly, it provided a bit of light entertainment for them. To spice it up there was also a competition going on between the training NCOs as to which of them, would, at the end of the six weeks, have trained the champion platoon. There was plenty of opportunity for snide remarks with all the saluting and stamping about that went with pay parade.
For some pay parade and its accompaniments proved quite an ordeal, especially as it was all for twenty five bob, or fifteen if you were married and had to send money home. Even then, a pig would be standing guarding the exit; trying to relieve you of the little you had just been given for the corps magazine. One lad found it such an ordeal he had arranged for all his pay to be paid straight into the bank and he lived on spends provided by his dad, who later turned up to visit him in a Rolls Royce.
After the assault course

The Demise of Corporal Young.
Because we had completed a few years of industrial training and a few years of further education we believed, in our wisdom, that we were distained for better things than the army: we believed national service was a waste of time. REME intakes were usually composed of young men around the age of twenty-one whom having completed an apprenticeship were eager to get on with their careers. As conscripts in peacetime, we were brainwashed by the media to be resentful just as out mates called up before us had been. We were in a culture of resentment and didn’t the paparazzi have a field day playing it up with tales of how qualified young adults were having to dig officer’s gardens or perhaps run errands for an officer’s wife. What few of us realised at the time, was that although national service, as the name implies, was derived to develop a trained pool of personnel, ready to serve the nation in times of future conflict: it would be we, as individuals, who would be by far the greater beneficiaries in our training for life.
In those, ‘the longest six weeks’ a comradeship developed in that barrack room which would not have blossomed in six years of normal civilian life. We even began to take pride in the 2nd Platoon ‘C’ Company. We took pride in the flashes on our shoulders REME and a swagger became apparent in our bearing, a swagger which could not been forced but born out of being young men, fit and in their prime. You knew they wouldn’t break you now and perhaps, just a little, for the first time you started to enjoy.

One night, just before lights out, Corporal Young staggered into the room – he was obviously the worse for drink. Somebody had given him a black eye. It was a beauty!
We ceased our bulling and pondered with affection on the dealer of the blow, Young had done well to keep us in check up to that point. He had entered the service as a regular at the age of eighteen after being a boy soldier – ‘child soldiers’ as we called them. He was only eighteen now, perhaps three years younger than most of us, which is a wide gulf to tackle at that age. He had to be admired for the way he had handled us up to that point but tonight the poor lad was drunk and it was obvious he was battling an inferiority complex. He pointed to his eye and said, ‘Don’t get any ideas, another corporal did this. I’m going to get a grip on you lot!’ With that, he tried to put his foot up on the end of someone’s bed and in doing so fell flat on his back. We didn’t see Young anymore. It was a shame for him really, I suppose he’d lost credibility and they moved him on. We had a new corporal after that, Clarke, he was the one who polished the eyelets of his boots and was older and if it were possible, even nastier than Young

Passing Out

We drilled on, we bulled on, and the jukebox in the NAAFI still blared out with The Three Stars and still the sun blazed down upon us. Finally, it reached the end of July and our turn to pass out. Three platoons had started their basic training at Blandford on the 18th of June 1959. Two platoons were national service, the third: number one platoon was made up of lads wishing to make a career of the regular army. They needed to be visibly keen and enthusiastic to be accepted into the corps, we on the other hand only needed to keep our noses clean and survive two years. The potential regulars passed out as champion platoon. The final passing out parade was a high profile affair; parents were invited to see what the army had made of their sons. A brigadier or perhaps even a general would make the inspection and take the salute, there was to be a pipe band – the whole works. The most ragged half dozen of the squad would be left off the parade to make it look better. I think I would have been disappointed to have missed the final parade in the end. The lads not chosen were issued with dusters and busied themselves around dusting the last specks of dust from the rest of us. One dare not bend down once in our best uniform for fear of damaging the creases. And the boots. Oh those boots! It was the first time we had actually worn those glassy boots and we had to protect them at all costs, everyone was walking around gingerly, eying each other in case another boot came too close. It was worse than having corns. If someone inadvertently stood on your toe it was the end, the whole polished toecap was likely to come away in a solid shell. In fact, throughout your army career, you always dreaded the time when your best boots had to go to the cobblers. I’m sure they used to give the toecap a bash with the hammer just for kicks.
The brigadier was a gentleman: high-ranking officers usually were, he didn’t inspect us too closely. It was a good job he didn’t inspect one of my mates, Eric, too closely on his passing out parade, for he tells the tale of the time when he was actually lined up on his passing out parade waiting for the officer’s inspection. He looked down at his rifle (we had to call them rifles, they didn’t like us calling them guns) and saw to his absolute horror that the ‘bolt’ was missing. The bolt is the mechanism, which pushes the bullets into the breach ready for firing. We always had to keep the bolt and the rifle separate just in case a rifle was stolen, it could not be operated without the bolt. For a soldier to go on parade without a bolt in his rifle was a fate worse than death: a soldier with an inoperative weapon is useless. Eric was on tenterhooks in case it was spotted by the inspecting officer. When he got away with that one, his next worry was: ‘If it’s not in my rifle – where is it?’ to actually lose a rifle bolt warranted as an even worse punishment. Thankfully for Eric it wasn’t permanently lost.
As we marched past the saluting platform on our passing out parade a Scottish pipe-band played Scotland the Brave and our corps march: Lilliburlero. We hadn’t asked to be here but you felt the power of the uniform and those who had worn it with such distinction before you. It brought a swagger to our stride; we were just like proper soldiers. It was a great feeling!
The night before the passing out parade, we had our final billet block inspection. Lockers, kit, beds, the room and ablutions themselves had to be immaculate. We had shaved the brush handles down with razor blades and polished the fire buckets; the lot. It was to be the pinnacle of all our bulling. The whole entourage carried out the inspection: officer, sergeant and the two corporals. There followed the usual cynical comments but to be fair most of us were just about up to the standard even they couldn’t fault. Yet, when they reached Taffy Morgan’s bed at the end of the room a huge bellow of rage went up. I couldn’t believe my eyes; there displayed in all prominence on the top of his locker was a pint pop bottle. Goodness knows why it hadn’t noticed it before – we had been through the whole place with a fine toothcomb, not a speck of dust anywhere, and yet here was a great ruddy pop bottle. Well, they countenanced this as so outrageous that the officer believed Taffy was trying to be funny or even trying to work his passage (they were totally over the top of course) but they lambasted old Taffy. They pulled everything
he had to pieces and then decided he had a dirty neck. Taffy was ordered to march to the ablutions and get it washed. The terrible part of it was, as poor Taffy left the room to visit the washroom he turned the wrong way, which gave the pigs further bullets to fire, in that after six weeks he still didn’t know the way to the ablutions. It was no wonder he had a mucky neck!
The final inspection and parade over we had the traditional last night booze up with the drill pigs. This was supposed to be the chance you got to punch your least favourite drill pig. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. They all turned out to be alright guys, who just wore a shell of obnoxious veneer in order to keep on top of us for those hectic six weeks. In the fullness of time we realise what a great job they did. Before we left I made an appointment to see the MO (medical officer) because there was a rumour that anyone overweight would not get a posting to the Far East and I saw the army as my best chance of seeing something of the world. I thought with all that marching and exercising I must have shot down the scale and that I would be able to be upgraded to ‘grade one’. I hadn’t lost a single pound!
The next morning we smelt Blandford cookhouse for the last time and were ferried to Blandford Forum Station, there to be railed to our next destination for trade training. Some of us were going to the same camp but to the majority we had to say our goodbyes. We vowed to meet up for regular reunions but it never happened. Yet, should I ever have the opportunity, I’d rather meet up and have a night out with that gang who shared those: ‘the longest six weeks’, than be invited to a slap up meal with royalty.

What Were You in, Then?

February 1, 2020 by

What Were You In, Then?
When you are a bit long in the tooth like ‘yours truly’ and you meet up with another guy who seems to be about your age and you strike up a conversation after the niceties, the weather etc. the question invariable seems to come around to the question: ‘Did you do National Service?’ If the answer is in the affirmative the next question is, ‘What were you in, then?’ Quite a few will answer RAF, a lesser number, The Royal Navy and the vast majority would answer: the Army, as the army conscripted far more than the other two put together, if the guy answered: the army the next question would be, ‘what Mob were you in?’ Most would have been in the many infantry regiments, the Guards or one of the corps. The next question would be, ‘Where did you get to?’
There were three million of us conscripted between 1947 and 1963, There were some nasty little skirmishes in Malaya, (kikuyu), Kenya (Mau-Mau) , Cyprus (EOKA) and all out wars in Korea and at Suez. Not to mention those who contracted radiation poisoning from the nuclear bomb tests at Christmas Island. Over three million of us were conscripted and over three hundred died.
But there were some great postings: Hong Kong, Singapore, Aden, for most of us it was a home posting or BAOR Germany and the ‘cold War’ which thankfully never got going in earnest. In the main we had a great time although we didn’t always realise it until we were out. This is how it all unfolded.
Call up
The first indication that Her Majesty was going to require your services was when a brown envelope dropped through your letter box containing a questionnaire to be completed regarding your personal details, trade and qualifications and requesting your preferred arm of the service. Having recently completed an engineering apprenticeship, I decided to apply for the army and the corps of REME. (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers). I had been pre-warned by mates who had already travelled this course that I would probably be drafted to something entirely different. Soon after followed a medical at a suburban school: the old naked line-up, breath in, breath out, cough, the whole issue. They said I was too fat so I would be grade two but that was it. I was in.
A few weeks later and another brown envelope popped through the letterbox, I was to report on Thursday the 18th of June 1959 to Number One Training Battalion REME at Craddock Barracks, Blandford Dorset. My initial reaction was that I was chuffed to have secured my first choice: the REME

. There were a couple of weeks to go before I was due at Blandford, so I had time to tender my notice at work and enjoy a period of winding down, totally unprepared for that which was to come.

Thursday was always national service intake day. British Rail carriages would carry a liberal sprinkling of apprehensive young men carrying brown paper parcels. We had been warned not to bring suitcases, as they were not easily returnable through the post. For many lads that Thursday morning train was to be the buffer between two entirely different ways of life. It was also to be one’s last chance for the luxury of abstract thought; soon one would be channelled into considerations of more importance: how to survive the next five minutes for instance. But for the moment the last few words from home were perhaps still the ones ringing in your ears: ‘It’ll make man of you son!’
Certainly, things wouldn’t be the same for a while for either the lad or the ones left behind. Homes would be a little quieter for the parting and for the lads; well…For one thing Christian names would be out. From now on your handle would probably represent your place of origin or your accent: Scouse, Jock, Taffy, Geordie, Yorky etc. And that was just what your friends called you; the NCOs (corporals and sergeants) would call you something much nastier than that.
A great positive about the army is: it’s difficult to be lonely. It was even difficult to be lonely on the way into the army. All those lads with the little brown paper parcels, in all those railway carriages, seemed to be conglomerating together to reach those terrible, southern garrison towns. Blandford Training Camp.
At Blandford Forum Station we spilled from the gate and beheld our first glimpse of things to come: a fully fledges lance corporal. He was dressed in that which we came to know as: ‘shirtsleeve order’. He was pulled in at the waist with a tight belt with just a little bulge above at the front and a little bulge below behind. At the top, a tiny beret was perched on the front of his head and at the bottom; he wore gatered trousers and very shiny boots. In army terms, this was known as being ‘bulled up’. The highlight of it all and by far his most important attribute was positioned on a band across his upper arm: one brilliantly white washed chevron. This for the time being put him on a par with God.
He didn’t bother to speak, a sharp flick of his head was enough to tell us that he wished us to climb into the back of this enormous truck he had with him. I couldn’t even get my foot high enough to reach the foot hole in the tailgate. A disgusted look was all I got from the corporal but luckily willing hands from the other lads ungraciously bundled me onto the floor of the truck amongst them. We were instantly mates – you were never short of mates in the army!
Blandford Camp: even today I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach at the sight of: white washed stones, polished fire hoses, huts with wooden verandas – their red fire buckets residing resplendently on hooks. Surprisingly, I experience the opposite sensation: excitement, at the sight of an army convoy on the move – where are they off to? I want to be part of it and relive the camaraderie of an exercise. The gate adjacent to the guardhouse will likely be blocked by a white horizontal pole, which will be sourly raised by the ‘red caps’ Military Police – (the monkeys) from time to time to admit the unfortunate. These: the infamous guardhouses, are designed to keep those in the camp who would rather be out and those out who might wish to get in – possibly to pinch guns and ammunition from the armoury. It seems that just before our intake, the IRA had made a raid on some army camp or other and pinched some ordnance. This gave ‘old sweats’ the opportunity to put the wind up we poor ‘sproggs’, who were possibly performing guard duties for the very first time. Returning to the gate, well oiled from a night on the town, they would break out into Irish accents and audible whisper things like: ‘Pass the bomb Paddy’ etc.
Once inside the camp, our first stop was the barbers. ‘Anything that shows below the band of a beret is mine,’ said the barber and proceeded to shear us. Generally, we were still being treated semi-humanely up to this point; they even gave us a cup of tea. Looking through the window whilst drinking that cup of tea, I saw a clockwork man – or that’s what it seemed to me. He was marching along all on his own; nobody else was in sight, yet his arms were swinging at ninety degrees to his body. He was almost cutting himself in half with the momentum of his swagger and really giving the gravel some stick with his boot heels. At the time, I thought that he must be some sort of prisoner.
Then it was time for them to lead us off to the huts, which we were to call home for the next (the longest) six weeks.
The huts were set in groups called ‘spiders’, this was because several billets of sleeping accommodation radiated off a central ablution facility like the legs of a spider. Each billet contained about thirty beds and on each bed was laid out a multitude of mysterious items: webbing, pouches, belts, tin hat, water bottle and an unrecognisable miscellany of bits and pieces. This turned out to be all the equipment a recruit would need to complete his basic training that was not dependent on the size of the individual. ‘Lights out at ten,’ we were warned, and more or less left in peace. As yet, although the surroundings were strange our captors seemed reasonably human. Beware the storm to come!

If we thought the world we had left for sleep on that first night was strange the world we were rudely awakened to next morning was totally alien. The method of waking us up, it seemed, was to throw a metal bucket bouncing and clanking down the centre of the room. While we sat up in our beds staring sleepily in disbelief at the bucket, the follow up arrived in the form of an enormous moustachioed corporal, who came clomping down the central aisle in huge boots, his green cape, dripping wet from the rain. He enforcing the point that he wanted us to get up by lifting the foot end of each of the beds into the air and then letting them crash down onto the floor. He accompanied this sadistic act with a rage contorted face, a dripping moustache and the words: ‘Git your feet on the floooor you ‘orrible gits!’ Outside on parade in five minutes.
We Were In!

Continued in a fortnight I’ll tell you how we went on