(This is the beginning of Jim's reminiscences. When he sent it to me some years ago it was in meticulous typescript; I scanned it using OCR (don't ask) and it worked well but mistook some letters for others and sometimes started a new line where none was needed. Some may have slipped through my editing so please excuse it:)
I was 18 on the 8th duy of December,l947,having left school at the end of July.
On Wednesday, 18 October, a friendly Scottish life office agreed to pay me £160 p.a. to
visit their principal office in the City from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, Monday
to Friday. I began to study to become an actuary.
On my 18ft birthday, I became eligible for National Service but had applied for its
deferment on account of my actuarial studies. However, before that had been granted,I
was invited to Bromyard Avenue by the Ministry of Labour and National Service. There,
I believe I was found to be grade 1 and that the colour of my hair and eyes was brown.
Almost exactly four years later, in November 1951, the Minisfry again invited meto Bromyard Avenue. I do not know whether this second invitation was due to concern about the King's health, the crisis in Korea or to the misapprehension of the men from the Ministry that I needed some new distraction to counter the depression from which they
thought I must be suffering due to the continued failure of the actuarial examiners to
recognise the latent talent behind my otherwise wholly inadequate answers to their questions.
Conversations with my contemporaries had suggested that life in the RAF was less uncongenial than that in the Army. Accordingly, I applied for service in the former.
To my surprise, the staff at Bromyard Avenue determined that I was grade 3, that the
colour of my hair, about which I had done nothing, was auburn and that my eyes had
turned green. None of this impressed the RAF who told me, unnecessarily, not to think of
the Navy. They thought that possibly the Army might not want me either.
They were wrong. The Army must have been desperate. Noting my address, they
presumed I would join the Beds & Herts. Unaware of my decline from 1 to 3, I had made
no research into the Army but I had learnt that one should avoid the infanfry and not be
beguiled by the term 'light'. The only alternative that occurred to me was the Royal
Corps of Signals, in which my schoolfriend and colleague had served during his period of
National Service. So, a few weeks later,I received a 3d class ticket dated 3d January,
1952 from King's Cross to Richmond with the helpful advice of the times of two suitable
trains. I would in any event have selected the later train but this also allowed me to catch
my normal morning train and travel with my normal morning companions, except that I
had to get out at King's Cross instead of carrying on to Moorgate.
Armed only with the recommended brown paper and string, I stood on the
platform and sadly watched the train disappear into the tunnel on its way to Angel. I then
made my way to find the tain to Darlington. I remember nothing of the journey, of
Darlington station or of the now unrepeatable journey to Richmond. On arrival there, I
was one of many, presumably equally apprehensive, who were chivvied into trucks by
khaki-clad lads who delighted in telling us that we were already late.
How I was kitted and allocated to 16 Troop to be trained, basically, by Cpl. Jukes,
I have long since happily forgotten. I suppose that at that time, I was given my army
number and told that it was essential that I remembered it at all times. To assist this I split
it into two sections of four digits, a useful exercise for subsequently remembering 4-digit
PINs but this practice probably began earlier with the then alpha-numeric telephone numbers, such as ROYaI 3411 and WHltehall l2l2. However, this division into two groups of four conflicted with having to recall, on demand, what the Army considered the most significant of the eight digits, the 'last thlree'.
Then there were the boots; two pairs, one to be 'best' and the other pair for everyday use. The comfortable pair had a smooth leather surface and was therefore promptly promoted 'best'. The other pair required too much effort to get a smooth surface, although of a deeper black. Black-hearted, too, for aggrieved at being passed over? one boot attacked my heel, viciously, raising a painful blister. I endured this in return for the easier polishing of the other pair.
A1l my webbing equipment had been blancoed buff. The Signals used khaki green. Changing the colour was an unpleasant task.
Apart from the mess hall being on the ground floor of the building in which the troop was accommodated, I do not recall anything about the meals other than the deep tank of very hot water in which we had to clean our cutlery after meals. It was essential to keep a tight hold on this as the water vapour above the surface made it impossible to see
the bottom of the tank and hence the dropped item. To say the least, it would have been
uncomfortable to try to retrieve it.
Right at the start, Cpl. Jukes told us that he had not yet produced the best troop at the passing-out parade at the end of the four weeks of basic training. He intended to achieve that with us. I knew that with me in his troop, he had no chance but perhaps selfishly,I kept this knowledge to myself.
We were also told that during this four-week period, we were confined to the camp. I had no idea where the camp's perimeter was or its exit(s) and since I suspected that there was probably very little in the immediate surroundings to entice one to go outside, this restriction seemed more psychological than practical. The promised 48-hour pass at the
end of the period was another matter. Would I have sufficient money for a return ticket to King's Cross and would the period between the journeys make it all worthwhile? On the other hand, there was no foreseeable alternative; I knew no-one in the north of England. As there were more immediate concerns,I decided to defer consideration of this one.
At some stage, the troop underwent a written intelligence test supervised by a sergeant from the Royal Army Education Corps whom I thought I had seen sometime in the past (when else?) I completed the test with about 10 minutes to spare and spent the time seeing whether I agreed with my answers.
A little later, we were taken to a more practical test, in a different building, I think. Here, each of us was placed in front of a table, the top of which was divided into a number of sections, within each of which was a jumble of metal parts. These, apparently, could be assembled to make a useful tool. The jumble in the top left hand section suggested an adjustable spanner but I failed to get the parts to confirm this. None of the other collections gave any hint as to what they might have produced and, thinking it unlikely that playing with them would induce them of themselves to come together appropriately, I did not bother. Instead, there being nothing else to do. I re-arranged each jumble more neatly within its own section. I did not foresee the slight embarrassment this would cause me. At the end of the allotted period, the supervising NCO inspected what each of us had achieved and then ordered the others to dismantle whatever it was each had mantled. Naturally, the parts resumed something like their original jumble, for which the NCO berated them for not neatly arranging the parts as I had done.
Subsequently, we each were interviewed by Personnel Selection Officers. Mine was a major who after the usual courtesies, said "You do not seem to be cut out for the Signals". I agreed, despite thinking that he would have been even more accurate had he said 'army' instead of 'signals'. I admitted that I had not thought about the Intelligence Corps. Unaware of the Corps' existence, I asked what they did and received the surprising response "I don't know, something cloak and dagger, I think." January in bleak Catterick made the cloak attractive but I was not so keen about the dagger. However, I said I would try it.He then presumed I would apply for a commission. After a brief and rapid internal discussion, I again said 'yes' and was pleased when he said that I was not fit enough at present but the matter would be reconsidered after about three months.
Fortunately, it was never mentioned again; it seemed too much like hard work.
For some periods of our training, Cpl. Jukes was relieved by a Scotsman, Cpl. Vaness whose period of full time National Service was coming to its end. He was a much more competent instructor and although assisting Jukes, unwittingly exposed the wide gap in their abilities. During the afternoon of my second Wednesday at Catterick, Jukes was taking us for rifle drill when a messenger approached him. After a brief chat, Jukes ordered me out of the squad and I was told that I was being transferred the next morning. I felt that Jukes' chances of 'best troop', although still slight, were nevertheless considerably enhanced by my removal. It is quite likely that he thought so, too.
On our way to the barrack block, the messenger told me that I would be awakened early and that to make it clear who was to be awakened in the room, I should put one of my two white towels over the foot of my bed. At the time, this seemed sensible but in practice proved unnecessary. The guard's well studded boots on the hard polished concrete floor made so much noise, even had he tried to be quiet, that he awoke everybody. The others were by no means pleased.
Transfer to the Intelligence Corps
Eventually we reached Uckfield which was as far as our Movement order took us. On getting out of the train, I was surprised to see the platform crowded with lads in khaki and, also surprising, none of them was moving, very different from Richmond two weeks earlier. There was nobody waiting to collect us so we waited and after a while, it was suggested that someone ring the camp to say that we had arrived at the station. This proved, initially, easier said than done. The local phone book revealed that that part of Sussex was liberally sprinkled with Army camps. Which one was supposed to be expecting us? Almost all the other Movement orders,like our own, went only as far as Uckfield. However, one lad found that the name of the camp had been added to his order. So, Maresfield Park camp was rung and an immediate truck promised. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, a truck pulled up and the driver apparently asked, "You lot for Maresfield?" "Hop in the back then."
Having been near the front of the train, we were at the farther end of the station. It is not surprising therefore that I was the last to climb into the truck. On arrival at the camp,I contrived somehow to be among the last to get off.
The jouraey from the station to the camp took a bit longer than a couple of minutes. The truck which collected us was returning from Uckfield where it had been delivering rations to the married families. The truck sent to collect us passed us on its way to the now deserted station, much to the driver's annoynce who thought himself the victim of a hoax.
Twilight was somewhat advanced by the time we reached Maresfield. I was near the back of the single file conducted by Cpl Barlow to the row of trainee huts. Naturally, I was among those approaching the last, apparently empty hut. One or two of the early entrants through the door in the in the middle had gone into the right hand part of the hut but shortly before I reached the hut, the right hand half was fuIl. On entering the left half I saw why the others had gone to the right. In front of the neatly boxed blankets etc., all in the approved army fashion on the first bed to my right, there was a card proclaiming that this was the_bed of Cpl. Stubbs, D. I took a bed on the opposite side, near the stove. When Cpl Stubbs, D. arrived to find the end of his solitude, he gave us the good news. He was due to be demobbed in about six weeks. The whole of the permanent staff from the OC (a Major Wilkins; at that time, the camp commandant was Lt Col. Pine- Coffin) down were falling over backwards trying to get him to sign on as a regular. The consequence for us was that for the Saturday morning hut inspections, we needed merely to keep the hut clean,neat and tidy instead of the greater exertions required of the occupants of other huts. Inspection of his hut would be not much more than a token visit.
The bad news for those of us from the Signals and like places, was that of the colour of blanco for webbing equipment at the School of Military Intelligence was buff. So khaki green had to go. I enjoyed this exercise no more than I had the reverse at Catterick. Some, of course, were fortunate in having come from another buff training establishment.
The next morning, Cpl. Barlow introduced himself as our basic training instuctor.
He informed us that because we had come from a number of different training establishments, our basic taining would have to start again. We objected that we were all fully experienced half basic trained soldiers but to no avail. There was no mention of our being confined to the camp for the period of our basic training. Indeed, from what followed, the clear indication was that we weren't. Unless specifically assigned to a duty, our time was our own from 12.30 p.m. Saturday until midnight Sunday. For those who wished to visit London, the best way back to the camp was by the train for Brighton which left Victoria some time after 10 p.m. At Haywards Heath s]tation, there would be a doubledecker Southdown 'bus waiting to take us back to the cnmp. Provided we were on this obus, we would be deemed to be back by midnight even thiugh the 'bus might arrive later. He (Cpl. Barlow) advised that to ensure a seat on the 'bus, a ticket should be purchased before leaving the camp on Saturday. So it was that I did not need to write to my parents to tell them of my new address. During my period at Maresfield before being sent elsewhere, there was only one weekend when I did not go home.
On Monday, having returned from home with a pair of shoes, I reported with my very sorely blistered heel, had it lanced, a dressing applied and was excused boots. I was told to report again the following morning for a fresh dressing. This process continued for a while and as my heel healed, I daily expected to be told to go back to wearing boots. This did not happen and there seemed to be no hint that it ever would. So I decided to resume boots and quickly became liable for guard duty.
This did not happen often but I remember particularly one occasion when the last tour fell to me. Normally, apart from resulting in a long and weary day, this had the advantage of having some useful activity in arousing various people such as the catering staff of the various messes, the officers' batmen, the Orderly Sergeant, etc.. However, when my predecessor awakened me he said that there were a few flakes of snow in the air. And so there were ! But, at first gradually, these few increased, and increasingly so. When the arousing time cnme - the tiire table was such that the guard had to walk (probably one should have marched) back and forth 3 or 4 inches depth, and was still falling enthusiastically. This enthusiasm was not shared by the guard.
One morning, we were gathered in one room of the basic training hut, waiting
unusually for our instructor to arrive, when Sgt Asplin entered and told us that the King had died. Regrettably, I can remember nothing else about that day.
Cpl. Stubbs, D. was our weapons training instructor. A later day, in the same room he was instructing us on the Bren gun (or LMG). For us, he demonstrated the First IA (Immediate Action) when the gun stops firing. This has probably occurred because the magazine has emptied so all the gunner need do is replace the presumed empty magazine with a full one. Then it was our turn to were fire it. There were, on the floor, four Bren guns, each with a magazine on it and another beside it. All eight magazines were of course empty. The first detail of four lay down on the floor and each raised the butt of his gun into the firing position. When our instructor said, "Gun stops firing", each one of the detail put down butt of his gun, knocked off the empty magazine and put on the fresh one. Our corporal-was disappointed and told them they all had failed by not resuming firing. The first detail were followed by the second, also of four, who to my surprise (this seems to have been an uncommonly frequent occurrence), did no better than the first four. I was in the third detail.
At "Gun stops firing" I put down the butt of my Bren, knocked off the magazine (successfully - another surprise) put the replacement on the gun, then took up the butt into the firing position. I can still remember the barely suppressed amusement in Derek Stubbs' voice as the exclaimed, "Killer Mcleish is the first to get it right!"
In addition to the courses, parades, guard duties, etc. we had some other forms of amusement provided for us. Every Saturday morning, we were taken somewhere by truck to counter an imaginary invader. I forget the name of this recurring operation (was it 'Knock-out'?). once, we were taken to the beach at Eastbourne to repel a phantom landing force. Having charged it, apparently unsuccessfully, we then became it and made an equally unsuccessful invasion. During all this, one of our party lost the bolt of his rifle and we had to spend some time searching for it.
On Wednesday afternoons, once winter gave way to spring, cross country runs were organised. On the first of these, I expected to return at least five minutes after the penultimate runner but was (Yes! You have guessed it) surprised to find myself finishing somewhere about the middle of the pack. It was, however, possible to avoid these runs if one could find some equivalent alternative. There was a beagle pack in the vicinity which apparently met every Wednesday afternoon. A group suggested following the beagles to which the OC assented and the group were taken each Wednesday by army truck to go beagling. Maurice Cooper-Stanton found a nearby golf club and proposed playing a round of golf. The OC was apparently even more impressed by this.
I do not remember much about the FS course, which lasted about six weeks, including a brief excursion to Norfolk. It was rather more enjoyable than the previous courses, except that I gave an unimpressive ten minute talk on the City of London. At the end of the course, we were graded from A to F (for Failed). Those graded F were returned to the unit from which they had come. I was graded E(pp) (probationary period) which might best be explained as just failing to fail. I had, of course, no intention of failing; I certainly did not want to return to the bleak misery of Catterick.
Again we were rewarded with a 48hour pass. On return to the camp, if not the last this time, I was among the last four or five to collect kit. Another search for beds revealed that all the huts in the taining area were full. So, perforce, we had to try the permanent staff huts. We found one unoccupied but equipped with beds and bedding and promptly moved in. Next morning, we were not aroused. We went to breakfast and then returned quietly to our anonymous hut. I have no doubt that the CSM knew where we were but provided we were discreet, we would not be disturbed. And there we waited for our postings. FARELF which would mean Hong Kong or Singapore for I Corps national servicemen was probably most desirable, MELF i.e. Egypt, totally unwished for. When the postings appeared, they were chosen, with one exception, in alphabetical order of those who had successfully completed our FS course. The first three were for BAOR, the next fourteen for BTA and the next two and the exception for BETFOR. Everyone knew BAOR and BTA (British Army Of the Rhine and British Troops Austia), but what or where was BETFOR? CSM Balfe was disappointed when we asked, but told us Trieste (British Element Trieste FORce). My two companions were Robin Smith, an Old Alleynian who had been one of the others from Catterick with me and Tom Strang who was a plumber from Edinburgh.
On Thursday 12ft June, we started our 7 days embarkation leave.
The weather had been fine and the morning of Thursday 26h June promised an even better day. It seemed a pity to be leaving Sussex in such glory. We were, all twenty of us, taken to Haywards Heath station to catch one of the fast tains from Brighton to Victoria. Our Movement Order, designated by four letters, the last being 'O' (the Orders for the other two parties making up off twenty had the same first three letters but ended with 'M' and 'N' for BAOR and BTA respectively) required us to report to the RTO at Liverpool St. station at6.30 p.m. At Victoria, we had plenty of time before then. Robin Smith suggested we spend it comfortably in his family's flat in Orchard Square, behind Oxford Sfeet. We went there by taxi. In the flat,I felt uncomfortable in studded boots. I chiefly remember that we listened to a record (a 78, of course) of Charles Trenet singing 'La Mer'. When the time came, we went to Liverpool Street also by taxi and reported to the RTO in good time. He directed us to platform 11 for the train to Parkeston Quay (now,I believe, demoted to Harwich International).
In the transit shed at the Quay, we were made somewhat conspicuous by the absence of a formation badge on our sleeves. We were constantly being exhorted to 'get some service in'. But we had already completed almost a quarter of our commitment.
There, we had to change sterling for BAFVs British Armed Forces Vouchers), real money for just pieces of paper. Those for BETFOR could convert some money for 500 lire. I had no idea of the exchange rate and wondered whether I had enough for 500 lire. When I examined my BAFVs and 500 lire, I found that the latter was equivalent to 5s.10d (29p). The exchange rate was 1740 lire to £1, atwhich it remained throughout and some years after my national service.
As I mounted the gangway to the ship ('Empire Parkeston', I think - the other possibilities were 'Empire Wansbeck' and 'Vienna'),I worried that my kitbag might tumble off the large pack and fall between the ship and the dockside into the water. Fortunately, it didn't.
The weather being settled, the sea was also and slept even better than I did. We were roused shortly before we docked at The Hook. So far, we had had no indication how we would get to Trieste. We had merely followed each stage as it was set before us. We now looked around the hold for notices which might tell us. All we found were time tables of four variously coloured trains on none of which was Trieste mentioned. Three of the trains went to destinations clearly in Germany. The fourth, the White train and the latest to leave, at 10.30 a.m., equally clearly was destined for Austria. That, I was sure, would be our train. Various groups called forward for disembarkation and when the three for BAOR were called by the designation of their Movement Order, LlCpl. Rees gathered up his thirteen companions for BTA saying "That's us". When some disagreed, he insisted that the last letter called was quite definitely 'N' and we all went up on deck. It was far too early for the White train: he obviously wanted to be out of the hold and in the fresh air.
The hold was practically empty when at last it was time for us to climb up, out and off. We found an empty compartment toward the front of the train and settled in. Soon after, the train moved smoothly out of the station. Now,I really felt abroad for the first time. The sun was shining and the orange-red bricks and tiles of the Dutch houses with their gleaming picture windows gave the journey a holiday-like atrnosphere.
I am sure that we changed from electric to steam before we reached the German border, where, of course, the locomotive was changed again. The contrast outside was sharp. The Dutch towns and countryside had appeared lively and cheerful but Germany, even under a bright sun, was depressing and lifeless, seemingly under a grey dust, all the way to Cologne.
The weather had been fine and the morning of Thursday 26h June promised an
even better day. It seemed a pity to be leaving Sussex in such glory. We were, all twenty of us, taken to Haywards Heath station to catch one of the fast trains from Brighton to Victoria. Our Movement Order, designated by four letters, the last being 'O' (the Orders for the other two parties making up off twenty had the same first three letters but ended
with 'M' and 'N' for BAOR and BTA respectively) required us to report to the RTO at Liverpool St. station at6.30 p.m. At Victoria, we had plenty of time before then. Robin Smith suggested we spend it comfortably in his family's flat in Orchard Square, behind Oxford Streeet. We went there by taxi. In the flat,I felt uncomfortable in studded boots. I
chiefly remember that we listened to a record (a 78, of course) of Charles Trenet singing 'La Mer'. When the time came, we went to Liverpool Street also by taxi and reported to the RTO in good time. He directed us to platform 11 for the train to Parkeston Quay (now,I believe, demoted to Harwich International).
In the transit shed at the Quay, we were made somewhat conspicuous by the absence of a formation badge on our sleeves. We were constantly being exhorted to 'get some service in'. But we had already completed almost a quarter of our commitment.
There, we had to change sterling for BAFVs British Armed Forces Vouchers), real money for just pieces of paper. Those for BETFOR could convert some money for 500 lire. I had no idea of the exchange rate and wondered whether I had enough for 500 lire. When I examined my BAFVs and 500 lire, I found that the latter was equivalent to 5s.10d (29p). The exchange rate was 1740 lire to £1, at which it remained throughout and some years after my national service.
As I mounted the gangway to the ship ('Empire Parkeston', I think - the other possibilities were 'Empire Wansbeck' and 'Vienna'),I worried that my kitbag might tumble off the large pack and fall between the ship and the dockside into the water.
Fortunately, it didn't.
(This is a fairly short bit; with a bit more foresight I could have tacked it on to the lastbit. There's part.t 11 to come)
The weather being settled, the sea was also and slept even better than I did. We were roused shortly before we docked at The Hook. So far, we had had no indication how we would get to Trieste. We had merely followed each stage as it was set before us.
We now looked around the hold for notices which might tell us. All we found were time tables of four variously coloured trains on none of which was Trieste mentioned.
Three of the trains went to destinations clearly in Germany. The fourth, the White tain and the latest to leave, at 10.30 a.m., equally clearly was destined for Austria. That, I was sure, would be our train.
Various groups called forward for disembarkation and when the three for BAOR were called by the designation of their Movement Order, LlCpl. Rees gathered up his thirteen companions for BTA saying "That's us". When some disagreed, he insisted that the last letter called was quite definitely 'N' and we all went up on deck. It was far too early for the White train: he obviously wanted to be out of the hold and in the fresh air.
The hold was practically empty when at last it was time for us to climb up, out and off. We found an empty compartment toward the front of the train and settled in.
Soon after, the train moved smoothly out of the station. Now,I really felt abroad for the first time.
The sun was shining and the orange-red bricks and tiles of the Dutch houses with their gleaming picture windows gave the journey a holiday-like atmosphere.
I am sure that we changed from electric to steam before we reached the German border, where, of course, the locomotive was changed again. The contrast outside was sharp. The Dutch towns and countryside had appeared lively and cheerful but Germany, even under a bright sun, was depressing and lifeless, seemingly under a grey dust, all the way to Cologne
The Incompetent National Serviceman Part 2
There, the train made a tour around much of the cathedral before crossing over to the right bank of the Rhine. As we reached the Mittel Rhein, the aspect changed again. The vine-clad slopes, topped with castles in various states of disrepair, the half-timbered buildings of places like Nieder Lahnstein and above (?) all, the traffic and the myriad suns dancing on the Rhine restored the holiday feel.
Dusk was falling when we reached Wiesbaden and turned off the Rhine to go up the Main. We slept through Bavaria and were awakened as we approached the Ausfrian border. Here, there was another change of locomotive. We were at breakfast when passing Salzburg. The train halted for a short while at Mallnitz, four or five tracks from the station platform on which a line of children was seated. Noticing our military train, they burst into singing, in English, "My bonny lies over the ocean".
The train climbed above valleys of green fields and scattered buildings, all cheerful under the bright sun and blue sky. Disappearing into tunnels, we emerged into another valley or on occasion the same valley but at a different level, having spiralled inside the mountain.
At Spittal, the train stopped and the khaki-kilted Cameronians (or were they Cameron Highlanders ?), returning from leave, departed. Shortly after the train restarted, the Conductor, a WO I, slid back the door of our compartnent and having ascertained that we were for BETFOR, told us that in about 20 minutes the train would be stopping at Villach where we would have to alight. He did not know how we were to get to Trieste but was sure that we would find out at the station. And we did. As soon as we were off the train,a corporal approached us and told us that there was a 'bus with a trailer outside the station and ordered us to put our kit into the trailer and then return to help him with the mail bags. The trailer was a surprise; it was glazed and seated like the 'bus. However, on our way to it, a sergeant came up to us telling us to get on the 'bus with all our kit as there would be plenty of room for it because there were not many fravelling. As George Orwell might have said, three stripes are better than two, so we boarded the 'bus and did nothing about the mail bags. They were probably put in the trailer by some lads returning from leave, for we did not see the corporal again. The sergeant took the front seat and we set off. Somehow, we seemednow to be more in touch with "abroad".
At Thorl Maglern, we reached the frontier with Italy. Over the border (down Italy way), the 'bus stopped for half an hour at Tarvisio, where a bottle of beer, which I did not like (it tasted artificial) cost 60 lire. Then we fravelled down the narrow winding valley of the Fella, through Pontebba, Chiusaforte, Resiutta and Ospedaletto. The valley
gradually broadened and then we were on the north Italian plain, stopping for another 30 minutes at Tricesimo. I avoided the beer.
After going round what seemed to be the outskirts of Udine, we could see to our right the hull of a ship under construction at Monfalcone.
We halted at the Sistiana Blockpost where we entered Zone A of the Free Territory of Trieste (FTT or, in Italian TLT) which was administered by Allied Military Government (AMG) and occupied by British (BETFOR) and US (TRUST, i.e. Trieste US Troops)
forces under the command of Major-General Sir John Winterton. He occupied Duino Castle.
The coast road, then the main road to the city, rose above the castle and made a 90 degree turn to the left. Suddenly, there was the Adriatic, stretching out to the south, deep blue under the clear blue sky. Ahead, in the distance, over the water was the hazy city. Sun on the shining sea prolonged the quasi-holiday mood as we passed Grignano and Miramare Castle. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Castle had been home to the tragic Maximilian who was thrust by Napoleon III on Mexico to be its emperor and, La France perfide, callously abandoned to a Mexican execution. Now, the castle was occupied by the TRUST commander.
Past Miramare, the holiday feeling was heightened by the sight of the Triestini enjoying the Saturday afternoon sunshine, strolling on the coastal promenade at Barcola.
Under the bridge taking the railway over to the right, we entered the city, passing the station in Piazza della Liberta, then into via Ghega and bearing to the right the bus came round the end of the Old Port where the sea became visibie again. On we went, over the Grand Canal, passing Piazza dell'Unita to our left and, on our other side Molo Audace and the Pescheria. From the Riva 3 Novembre we turned left to go up the short curved Via Duca D'Aosta into Via dell'Universita where, in modern parlance, the .bus terminated, outside 'Q' Movements.
The sergeant there told us to change our BAFVs for lire and whilst we were doing so, he would ring for transport. The other passengers had already disappeared into one or other of the two trucks which had been waiting for them.
The Landrover, when it eventually arrived, initially took us back the way we had just come but then turned right into Via Milano, crossed Via Josue Carducci and into Via del Coroneo. We briefly stopped to let the sergeant (was his name Burton ? why cannot I remember it ?) off he telling us that the driver knew where to drop us. A little farther up we reached our destination at no.2l. The porter opened the lift for us and on the 3rd and top floor, we were met by the Duty sergean, Sgt. Paul Twomey. He greeted us saying that our arival had not been expected until the following day. We were conducted to the Corporals' Mess on the floor below. And so were we admitted to Trieste Security Office.
There was some bad news. A number of the corporals were away in Grado on passes but had left their beds fully laid out for inspection on Saturday morning. This was not an inviting prospect but my memory suggests that this in fact did not persist for long.
More persistent was that the required shade of blanco was khaki green. Mindful that I would eventually return to buff at Maresfield, the large and small packs, pouches, etc. turned green on only those parts which showed when displayed on top of a cupboard. Fortunately, they were able to remain parti-coloured for the rest of their existence and never received any additional coats of blanco. The belt and anklets web had to change completely, and to accept an occasional fresh application. These transformations were effected on Sunday.
On the previous evening, I was allocated a bed in a room occupied by three corporals, 'Sam' Gage and David Morris, both Old Etonians, and Gerald 'Jack' Cockroft from 625 Four Lane Ends, Bradford.
Feeling weary after the travelling, I made ready for bed and was just about to enter it when 'Jack' Cockroft rushed into the room, declaring "The Yugoslavs have invaded and we have to evacuate immediately". So I arose, redressed and only when I again was fully clothed did he reveal that it was a hoax. I do not think that he said "E uno
scherzo!". I would not have understood it if he had.
On Sunday evening, the Mess was filled by the return of the sun-seekers from the beach at Grado. At Trieste, the coast is rocky and there was no sandy beach at Barcola or Grignano.
We entered the Office itself, on the floor above, on Monday morning and were assigned to the filing room, Card lndex, supervised by Sgt. Mike Rogers. At that time, the OC was Major H.M.de B.Romilly, known as "Puggy". There had been a very recent change in 2i/c, Capt.RM.Richards replacing Capt. Dickson who, although no longer with TSO, had not yet left Trieste. This was regarded by the Corporals' Mess as a change for the better. No-one, apparently, had a good word for Capt. Dickson. The other officers were Capt.A.L.A.Mifsud and Capt. Gimblett (no initials because I do not remember, but am almost certain it was not "H"; at this period, 'H' opened the btting for Somerset). The latter officer was not in Via
del Coroneo but had his office in Via San Nicolo, with Sgt David J. Caswell, of Biggleswade who had signed on for three years. With regard to other ranks, the establishment for TSO was l7 sergeants and 27 corporals.
Capt. Richards informed me that I need not worry about the 'probationary period'. This was useful information as it enabled me to continue to forget about i
As the name suggests, TSO was an office and kept office hours but adjusted by the need of a long midday break in summer to avoid the uncomfortable build up of heat after 12 noon. So the start was earlier and the finish later. We worked only the mornings of Saturday and Wednesday. There was a short minor duty on Wednesday afternoons.
The military government had political advisers, British and American. The British polad was one of the recipients of some of our reports so I visited that office at least daily. The Orient Express which, I believe, went in those days only as far as Belgrade, called at Trieste on Wednesday afternoon carrying, amongst others, the Queen's Messenger. An
official of the British Polad met him at the station and exchanged bags. On one occasion in the past, when the official was waiting for the train's arrival, a shot was fired. It is not certain that the person had any particular target in mind but the shot had gone somewhat in the direction of the official. It was decided that in future the official should have a bodyguard, to be provided by TSO. So, every Wednesday afternoon, one of TSO's NCOs, in civilian clothes weighed down by a fully loaded small but heavy Browning automatic would accompany the man from the British polad to meet the Queen's Messenger on the Orient Express. Apart from being offered a dram of whisky on one occasion, nothing ever happened,
The reception desk at the entrance to TSO on the third floor was manned by two members of the Venezia Giulia Police Force (VGPF). It must have been the very best job in the force, albeit with little or no prospects for promotion. One of them was tall and slim and known as 'Spike' (I never enquired). The other, shorter and a little more plump, was 'Pugliese', presumably he was from Apulia (Puglia). Spike's principal role seemed to be the liaison officer between the bar (tattoria) next door and those of us requiring, during the day, a caffe latte, price 60 lire. 60 lire was also the cost of a pannino con prosciutto (ham roll) at the Bar 'AI Viale' or of a cassata of Zampolli's, than which I have tasted none better , or, indeed, as good and to which I was introduced by Paul Ryan.
Zampolli's gelateria, near the AKC, was a little farther up and on the other side from the Bar 'Al Viale' in the Viale XX Settembre. Incidentally, for ice-creams, we were
supposed to confine ourselves to gelati Motta, the Italian equivalent of Walls' (who also incidentally, also made sausages - I doubt whether this was a Motta sideline - which I have never actually sampled.) ln the evenings, it was pleasant to sit at one of the tables outside the bar and watch the people strolling up and down; the Viale XX Settembre was one of the principal sites for the daily passeggiata.
On the Saturday after my arrival in TSO, Capt. Dickson had his departure party for the Office. His limited imagination stretched only as far as a case of gin and a few bottles of soft drinks. I have never liked gin, thinking it not so much a drink as a rather unsuccessful perfume. So I had one spirit glass of a soft drink and then found there was none left. So I took a full glass of gin and to avoid any possible but well-meaning attempts to top it up by those unsteadily abandoning sobriety, took nothing out of it. At some stage, our two VGPF led most of the party in singing what I initially thought was a local traditional song but later discovered to be one of Italy's popular songs of the time, 'Papere e Papaveri' It took a little while for the tune, a little watered down, I think, to reach Britain where it was given some embarrassingly dreadful words (I suppose, though, 'Ducks and Poppies' might not seem all that much better) and an even more trite title 'Poppa Picolino'.
Jack Cockroft had been out delivering our reports, etc. to other units and offices about the town and returned just in time to avoid missing the last of the gin. Bemoaning the fact that he had had only one glass, and by this time it was very obvious that all our comrades had had considerably more, he happily accepted my full glass in exchange for his empty one. The corporals had only to tumble down the stairs to the floor below. I do not know how the sergeants managed the return to their mess, which was on the sixth floor at no.6.
After two weeks and because 'Rocky' Boultbee wanted a change, I was put in charge of the duplicator room. Under my command were two Gestetners, a Velos stapler, paper, tubes of ink and boxes and boxes and boxes of American staples of only a few of which fitted the Velos. At the same time, I took over from Jack Cockroft the twice daily delivery of our reports, etc. to a small number of other units, offices etc. This was quite a pleasant task: I was driven in one of our vehicles by one of our drivers, all of whom were local civilians. At first the vehicle was a Landrover, then it descended to a Jeep and finally the small van known as a PU.
All the regular recipients were in and around the centre of the city. Jack taught me to refer to each office by its location, so for instance, when going to the office of the RNLO, I would tell the driver 'Lloyd Triestino' and he would drive me to the palace on the corner of the Piazza dell'Unita. There were one or two rare variants. On one occasion I delivered to a(n) RN cruiser moored at the passenger jetty opposite the piazza. Another single visit was to an office at Passeggio Sant'Andrea 23. We went to the New Port area and drove up and down the Passeggio a few times but could find no number 23 or anything near it. My driver then stopped and asked someone and we learned that when the New Port was constructed, it cut into the Passeggio creating two unconnected sections. No.23 was in the other section and we had to go into the very cente of Trieste and out again to reach it. I seem to remember that no.23 was almost isolated and the area round about it relatively bare of buildings. By 1986, this had been reversed; the buildings seemed to be relatively bare of space about them.
About a month after our arrival, Robin, Tom and myself were set a short test. I remember only the first question, "Who is Josip Broz?" Because I did not know the answer then, I have never forgotten since that he was Tito. We all passed the test and each was awarded two stripes.
I believe that we were entitled to one 48-hour pass per month. During my time in TSO, I took advantage of this only once. I was by no means alone in this. The actual occupants of both the corporals' and sergeants' messes were National Servicemen with only one or two regulars, like David Caswell, who had signed on for three years. All the other regulars were married and lived with their families in married quarters. This circumstance combined with our being virtually isolated from all other BETFOR units and our situation near the very centre of Trieste allowed our entitlement to slip from our minds. Life was vry congenial and the occasional duty, on the floor above, not much of a burden.
Soon after Robin, Tom and I were made up to corporals. The Army Welfare Unit arranged weekend visits to Venice. We took advantage of this and were joined by three or four North Staffs. privates. Somehow, I was elected i/c although I suspect that Tom's army number was lower than mine (Robin's was 16 higher). We tavelled by train in uniform, which made passports unnecessary. On arrival, we were met by a guide who took us to the pensione where we were to stay. It was near Santa Mada della Salute, on Giudecca. There, we changed into civilian clothes and would not resume our uniforms until it was time to return to Trieste. During part of the next two days, the guide took us to St. Marks, the Doges' Palace and other places of interest including Ca' Rezzonrco, where Robert Browning died. On one of our 'free' periods, we went across to the Lido but I was not much impressed by it.
The AWU also had a box for some performances at the Teatro Verdi. This was advertised on the BFN (British Forces Network) and applications were invited from interested groups in units. A group would be selected by lot to have the use of the box for a particular performance. A group from TSO, about six of us, I think, were fortunate on two occasions, both in the following year, 1953, although we were the first to be picked on only one of these. This was for a performance of 'La Traviata' in which Renata Tebaldi sang Violetta. On the other occasion, we had been selected as reserve but the unfortunate winners could not attend as they were put on duty that evening. I have aalways suspected that this was a piece of malevolence by a senior NCO responsible for organising duties. The performance they missed and we enjoyed, was by a British touring ballet company whose principal ballerina was Mona Ingoldsby (but billed, for Italian reasons, as Monica).
The Americans also had their own local radio station (AFN, of course). The building above our garage was occupied by a detachment of the US military police. Their windows above the yard between the buildings faced north so that, unshuttered, they could be kept wide open in summer. It was therefore not difficult to hear AFN broadcasts.
We became over-familiar with 'The Blue Tango' and with the news provided by 'AP, UP and INS'. The US troops were constantly being exhorted to relax.
Our windows which overlooked the yard, of course, faced south. So, in summer they too were kept wide open during the day. They were doubled and both opened inwards to enable the wooden shutters outside to be closed. The louvres were adjusted to let in some light and restrict some of the sun's heat. There were occasional heavy storms
resulting in a torrent of water running down the Via del Coroneo. In summer, they did not last long and soon after the sun resumed its sway, there was no evidence of the storm's visit. Thunderstorms at night provided an almost constant flickering light as the lightning played on the tops of the surrounding hills.
The summer of 1953 was not as good as that of the previous year. However, our unit did play some cricket against other army units. Somehow, TSO had acquired three wicketkeepers. One match, played on tarmac (a parade ground at Rossetti barracks?) to which I, accompanied by Geoff Simmons and Mike Wood, went as scorer, we had only ten players in the team. I now have no idea how this had happened. Our ninth wicket fell at the end of an over and I was elected our 11th man. I stopped scoring, literally. The end I went to was, of course, now the non-striker's. The first ball of the next over bowled David Piper. We had batted frst, so we had the disadvantage of one poor fielder in our eleven. We lost.
In the late summer or early autumn of 1952,we had a change of OC. Major Romilly was succeeded by Major Tom Carew. An early installation in his office was a small glass tank complete with water and two goldfish. However, night alone in the office seemed to give the fish an ambition to explore the office by flight. A daily succession of dead fish on the floor led to the tank's disappearance. Instead, he later acquired a small dog, although there was a rumour that the dog had adopted him.
In the flrst week of December, Part I Orders were posted ordering four of us to report to 'Q' Movements for our return to Maresfield for demobilisation. Ian Murdoch and Tom Strang, on the grounds that they had been temporary acting sergeants for less than six months, demoted themselves to corporal. This was to avoid all possibility of being made Orderly Sergeant for a week at the depot.
Before our departure, a meeting of the Sergeants' Mess was held to determine, amongst other things, who should replace Ian Murdoch and myself in our bar appointments. Schilizzi, who presumably found Part I Orders insufficiently interesting to read, proposed that I continue in my role (whatever it was). I thanked him for his kind words but pointed out that I would not be able to carry out the duties (whatever they were) so would have to decline the nomination.
In compensation for the loss of that office, I was, as I feared, made Orderly Sergeant the morning after we reached the Iintelligence Corps Depot at Maresfield. The RSM was a WO I from the Irish Guards (was his name Miller?). He thought that the stripes on my sleeves were a little too low and ordered me to correct this. So I wore the other BD instead.
The week ran from Wednesday to Wednesday, the orderly Sergeant being distinguished by a red sash. He had his own small office, complete wlth bed and bedding. He ate at the Sergeants' Mess where the food was dreadful. One of the duties was to visit the ORs' mess at mealtimes to receive any complaints about their food, which was in fact considerably better.
On the last Wednesday, I was as usual in the ORs' mess at breakfast time when the Signals Regiment Orlderly Sergeant (there was a Signals detachment also based at Maresfield) suggested that perhaps I ought to have been outside calling the roll for the NCOs' parade. I had completely forgotten this, the Orderly Sergeant's last task of his week. Looking out of the window, I agreed with him but said it was now too late to do anything about it. In any event I had no roll of names to call from. No-one, not even the formidable RSM said anything about this to me. If it had been mentioned, I thought of saying that probably everybody else who should have been present was there because no-one, including myself, could have known previously that I would not be.
After breakfast the next morning we were taken to Uckfield station. On boarding the train, we from TSO had a compartment to ourselves. My companions then
began to talk about the interviews they had had with the Depot's OC, still Major Wilkins.
He had tried to persuade each of them to stay on in the Army. I listened to them, quietly amused. They then asked me about my interview. I had not had one; Major Willins evidently thought that the Army would be well rid of the incompetent national serviceman.
(I'm not sure how this was missed from Jim's piece but it deserves to be seen. The Intelligence Corps has never had a great reputation for military drills and I can vouch that Jim's anecdote presents a true picture HD)
"Early in December 1952 it became time for Sam Gage (who was later to inherit his father’s title and became Viscount Gage of Castle Island) to return to Maresfield for demob. A leaving party was held in the corporals’ mess for him on the eve of his departure, to which Major Carew was invited. Towards the end of the party, a dispute arose between them as to the extent of Sam's inebriation. The OC claimed that Sam could not walk a straight line but Sam maintained that he could.
Somehow a wager developed and the major agreed to Sam's generous requirement that if he could walk straight, the OC would cancel all parades for the following month. So, a chalk line was drawn straight across the centre of the room. We all watched Sam proceed from one end of the line to the other, possibly without hesitation but certainly without deviation. Our OC kept his word; there were no parades for the next month.
These parades were held in a cleared area in our garage, a sensibly discreet
location for them. On one occasion, however, our OC thought that we ought to show the world (or a bit of it) what a smart unit we were. So that morning, he had our sergeant major RQMS Smith march us out of the garage and, the traffic being held up, across the Via del Coroneo to the piazza in front of the Palace of Justice. The OC, RQMS and another officer accompanied us across the road but stayed at the corner as we marched across in front of the palace, putting the Brigade of Guards to shame.
Presumably, as we approached the half-way point, the OC thought we had gone far enough and told the RQMS to bring us back. Unfortunately, no-one had appreciated the noise produced by Lambrettas, Vespas and Apes (the commercial version of a Vespa; maybe it was thought that our fine performance would have brought all these to an impressed halt. Anyway, about the last third of us heard the order 'About Turn' correctly and did so, no doubt with some panache. The middle third heard something, interpreted it as 'Mark Time' and did so. We, at the front, heard nothing and continued marching, smartly until the RQMS caught us up. Nothing was said, by anyone: we were all too crestfallen. We never entertained the Triestini with a repeat performance."