When I left school (don’t worry, this won’t take long) I decided against treading the hallowed halls of academia and chose instead to embark upon a career in agriculture. I was working on a farm in Surrey when, on the 1st of November 1953, I was honoured with an invitation from the Queen (via Her Majesty’s Dept. of Labour and National Service) to participate in a course of training leading to membership of her esteemed fighting forces. I was deeply touched! For although Her Majesty without doubt valued my work in the fields of England, it would appear that she was in greater need of my services in the fields of conflict, so not wishing to offend Royal Protocol by declining her gracious invitation, I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity of proving my allegiance to Her Majesty and my loyalty to my country, after all, the prospect of an army billet was infinitely more attractive than that of an army prison.
However, I had always been of a somewhat retiring disposition, and my sense of loyalty waned dramatically as those last few days of freedom sped by, for I suddenly realised that, while heroics were all very well on the cinema screen where they belonged, this was to be the real thing, and not by the wildest stretch of the imagination could I see myself as a hero.
Fortunately I was not to be put to that test, and although I didn’t return home with a chest full of medals, citations for bravery and a knighthood, I had during my military career been given a lusty kick up the status pupillaris and landed with both feet firmly in the adult world — a far cry indeed from ploughing the fields and scattering and pulling cows tits.
As in Clem Hindmarch’s wonderful letter in the previous issue of The Open Door, and to whom I send belated congratulations on finally catching up with his elusive pip, I also had initially expressed a preference for the RAF and therefore found myself in the Royal Army Service Corps at Yeovil in Somerset surrounded by lorries which of course were never meant to fly, (although I did give it my best shot a couple of times during training but to no avail), so having always wanted to go aloft, I and about a dozen others applied for the AD training course with 47 Company at Watchfield. Clem was one of our gang and I remember him well, but as I have already intimated, I was the sort of guy who could get lost in a crowd of two so I’ll forgive him if he doesn't remember me.
By now however, I had acquired a modicum of self confidence and began to nurture aspirations of promotion — C.I.G.S. would have been nice, but they didn’t think I could make it in less than two years so I gave up the idea and they dumped me in Egypt instead. After four months sweeping the sand into pretty patterns around the tents of Fanara, we were beginning to wonder if our AD training had all been a waste of time, but the great day finally dawned when they took a small but dedicated group of us aside and implored us to decamp to Kahawa in Kenya to help resolve the Mau problem, and at long last we found ourselves to be doing something worthwhile.
It was grueling work dropping at 16,000ft over the Aberdares and Mount Kenya and at times the turbulence was appalling, but despite being battered from one side of the fuselage to the other like shuttlecocks, floating in mid air one second and sprawling all over the floor on top of each other the next, we hurled ourselves into our work with hitherto unknown abandon and all ops were carried out smoothly and without incident or necessity for heroics. Mind you, we did have the assistance of four grand chaps, Sqn. Ldr. Mulkern pilot, Master Navigator Jakeman, Sgt Jones Signaller and of course our own Sgt Steve Vessey, without whom our perilous task would have been a little more difficult to accomplish.
We were a close-knit and sobrietous little group who worked well together, played well together and in fact did everything together (well perhaps not everything), and the camaraderie was such that I have yet to experience its equal. During my service I had of course amassed a fortune in credits, but a month before I was due to be demobbed I blew it all on a holiday at Mombasa and arrived home in a state of abject penury, yet oddly enough I had this sneaking feeling that I was a far richer person at the end of those two years than I was at the beginning. Thus my army days passed in blissful servitude, and I must confess that as I walked out through the camp gates at Bordon for very the last time, there was a fleeting moment when I thought of turning back and signing on again.
And that, to put it in a very small nutshell, was the expurgated and therefore brief saga of my part in keeping the flag flying. It only remains for me to say that it would be wonderful to hear from any of the Palaeolithic wrinkles who were once the pure and unblemished youth of Old England, and who I once knew so well at Watchfield, in Egypt and in Kenya from 1954 to 1955.
By the way Clem, did you sign on again when your time was up?Open Door Contents