The Open Door

Buller Barracks: Ron Large

Further to the article by Clem Hindmarch in the June 2011 issue of The Open Door.

Clem’s reference to both Buller and Yeovil Barracks certainly awoke memories of both places, although being on the permanent staff I probably witnessed a different side of Buller than Clem.

BULLER BARRACKS In Aldershot was the home of 1st Training Battalion RASC in the 1950s. It consisted of:- HQ Coy: - MT Coy: - HTT Troop (Known as the ‘Donkey Wallopers’), - POC Coy: (Potential Officer Cadets) and Officer Cadet Coy: There was also an attachment of REME.

Having joined the RASC in 1954 at the tender age of seventeen, I spent the usualtwo weeks at Blenheim Barracks learning how to march, press my uniform, bull my boots etc. etc. Then it was off to Yeovil, and those long wooden huts, for six weeks driver training. I well remember the guard house mentioned by Clem it seemed to be staffed by those with a permanent chip on their shoulder who felt they should give hell to all who passed through, they would always find reason to send you back to your hut to put more shine on your boots, re-press your trousers, one poor devil was even sent back to clean his teeth as it was alleged his breath smelt. They never seemed to run out of reasons. A ‘helpful’ RP told us how we could get out of camp without passing through the guardroom. Should have smelt a rat! But we fell for it, Three of us sneaked out over the fields one evening and spent a while in the local pub testing the strength of the local cider. Bad move. While trying to get back into barracks we were met by the large frame of the Provo Sergeant in civvies who felt it was his ‘duty’ to confiscate the dozen bottles we had taken back with us, surprise surprise. He then let us off!! Telling us how lucky we were that he was in a good mood. It was only next day when we had sobered up did we realise we had been set up. I suppose in the end we got off lightly.

After mastering the three-ton Austin trucks and passing the driving test, followed by a fair amount of weapon training we were dispersed far and wide. I wanted to go to Air Despatch, so of course I landed up back in Aldershot at 1st Training Battalion, Buller Barracks, on a potential NCO Course (No. 55). Did they ever send anybody where they wanted to go? I don’t think I impressed apart from my ability to strip down and re-assemble a bren gun quicker than the Corporal instructor, which really didn’t put me in his good books

Fast-forward about eighteen months.

Following a spell in Cambridge Military Hospital. I found myself back at Aldershot in MT Coy: Buller Barracks in the spring of 1956.

One evening while reading daily orders I noticed there was a vacancy for a temporary clerk to the RSM. I don’t know if the shrapnel the medics removed from my backside had left me with brain damage, or it was the meat pie I had in the Jock Club, but I did what no sane soldier should ever do, I volunteered.

On Monday morning I reported as instructed to the RSM just as the Sally Army van arrived (tea, coffee sandwiches etc) With some trepidation I knocked at the RSM’s office door, “Enter”, came the booming voice. “You my temporary clerk?”, “Yes sir”, I squeaked. “Do you drink tea?”, “Er yes sir”. He gave me sixpence, go get two teas. He said, “make sure they are hot and I don’t want sugar”. On returning with the said refreshment, the RSM told me to sit down, he then explained my duties in a very matter-of-fact way, he also asked me where I was from, what I had done in the army, how I got on at school, what work I had done since leaving school. This was not the reception I had expected. I quickly realised that RSMs actually have a human side.

I got on quite well with the RSM, apart from the occasion he caught me chatting up his young teenage daughter, I even managed to get a stripe!! My duties included collating daily Battalion strength for the Adjutant and drawing up guard duty rosters for the Sergeants. Suddenly I found myself very popular with senior NCOs!!

The offices of the RSM and the POC coy were just a few doors apart. As Clem was to experience, the RSM would often receive a salute from the unwary. He usually just said, “thank you”, called them back and explained, “you do not salute a flat hat unless it is accompanied by pips or crown up here” – slapping them on the shoulder.

He was a very experienced WO1 who showed great compassion, he understood most National Servicemen did not want to be there, and tried to make allowances. He had particular sympathy with the POCs who did not get to the cadet stage, he said telling your family and friends you failed to make the grade is a very difficult and embarrassing thing to have to do, particularly as many had come from Oxbridge, Eaton or Harrow etc: and it was assumed they would walk the selection process and the following training.

The RSM sometimes conducted sword drill for Officer Cadets. I recall on one occasion him bawling across the square, “If you lot carry on swinging your swords like that you will end up in the WRACs”. Being ignorant of such things it took me a while to work it out.!!

When the regular RSMs clerk returned to duty I was given the job of driving Senior Officers in a Humber Super Snipe staff car. I spent most of my time in one place or another waiting to drive officers to various parts of Aldershot and surrounding area spending a great deal of time in the Jock Club supping tea or coke, I kept off the meat pies just in case.!!!!

On one occasion I was instructed to report to 16th Independent Para: Brigade Headquarters, collect three officers, take two to Mons Barracks and the third to the Officer Cadet Coy office at Buller Barracks. After dropping off a Colonel and Captain at Mons, I delivered the third officer, a Major, to Officer Cadet Coy. Where he was the Officer Commanding. On the way he asked how I managed to get a soft post driving the Humber, I replied, tongue-in-cheek, I thought the RSM had put in a good word for me, or it was a means of preventing me upsetting young officers, even I wouldn’t have the nerve to criticise senior Officers, wWould I? (I had developed a reputation for challenging orders, but that’s another story) He seemed to see the funny side of my comments, and said “You sound like me twenty years ago”. I told him that although staff car driving was a cushy number, it was also boring in that I spent a lot of time just waiting around. He struck me as an officer, who cared about others, as he got out of the car he asked me if I needed a chitty for a late meal.

About ten days later I was informed I was to be transferred to Officer Cadet Coy and to report to the Cadet Coy office at 10.00 hours the following day for ‘interview’!!!

On arrival the CSM (A man who lived and breathed drill), formally the CSM at POC Coy, informed me I was to be a replacement for a Corporal who had been demobbed. He failed to mention the poor chap had been discharged from the army on medical grounds following a nervous breakdown.

At the appointed hour I was marched into the Major’s office by the CSM. Sstanding in front of the OC, I waited for what seemed an eternity while he turned over several sheets of paper in a file. He said, speaking quite slowly, Corporal Large, you appear to be a pain in the arse, you disobey orders, have no respect for rank, and you say what others dare not think. He then slowly lifted his head and looked me straight in the eye. Not knowing what he expected I replied, “thank you sir. On reflection, I suppose it was not the best thing to say under the circumstances. The CSM had a coughing fit, and was sent out to get a glass of water while the OC pointed out his comments were not meant to be a compliment. To my surprise he then said, However your record shows you have demonstrated courage and leadership beyond your years. I have just the task for you”. He went on to say that I would be responsible for running the Cadets’ Mess, and taking responsibility for the junior members of the permanent staff, who had in recent weeks suffered a “lack of leadership”. This included the mess staff, clerks in the coy office and CQMS stores. With a slight smile he said I am sure this will relieve you of your boredom. (I was to find that was a massive understatement) He then promoted me to full Corporal.

He made a point of telling me that I had no responsibility for the Officer Cadets adding, “however if you cannot resist the temptation of offering them advice, (as if I would) remember to address them as ‘Sir’. The CSM, now recovered, marched me out, by now he was not a very happy man. He said, “don’t you ever do that to me again”, or words to that, effect!!!

I was to remain at Officer Cadet Company for just over twelve months. At times rewarding, often very frustrating, constantly at loggerheads with the CSM, and having to deal with National Service privates who really didn’t want to be there? It was a somewhat lonely job. But I didn’t let the buggers get me down. In fact the experience taught me a great deal about people management, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time. Little wonder the last chap had a nervous breakdown.

Certainly a lot of my short army career was to say the least ‘unusual’. But when I left, I was able to hold my head high, knowing I had done my best. All the lads on the permanent staff shook my hand and wished me well. The biggest complement came from the Officer Commanding who said, “I knew you were the man for the job. Well done and thank you”. As for the CSM, he refused my hand, turned and walked away in silence.

As Clem said, it really is strange how some things stay with you. At the age of 75 I can still remember living in South London during the Second World War, the air raid shelters, the blitz, bombs, rockets and those bloody doodlebugs. I also remember most of my army days, but not what I had for lunch yesterday!!!!

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