Tom Benson Creative Writer and Artist
Tom Benson           Creative Writer                                      and Artist

Chapter 3 - Beyond The Basics

Loughborough

Sunday, 4th January 1970

In the sure knowledge that it was going to be a long day, I had decided to set off from Glasgow early, and only because I did I was able to catch the first available train to Loughborough. With a change of trains at York, I found myself in Loughborough at 2pm, and I remembered the NCO's last piece of advice to anybody going there.

‘Get a taxi from the station, it's worth the money and it's less hassle.’

When the taxi driver was given the destination he assured me that I was going to a particularly nice part of the local area. Geographically, he told me that Loughborough was almost centrally situated midway between Nottingham, to the north, and Leicester to the south. The town itself he said was probably most famous for its university.

We passed through a hamlet called Quorn. It was a picturesque village, unspoiled and clean. There appeared to be more countryside than buildings and within a couple of miles there was only countryside. As the road narrowed the quaint village of Woodhouse Eaves appeared. The area was picture postcard stuff.

It looked as if we were turning right to drive through the high hedgerow, because due to the height of the hedgerows lining the roads there was little or no warning about the turning for the camp. 

The entrance road was narrow and only about 200 yards long, but clearly at the end of it could be seen a red and white barrier, and just to the left of the barrier the signpost painted in the colours of the Royal Signals. The sign itself was painted in the bands of light blue, dark green and dark blue - the Corps colours which represented communications over Land, Sea and Air.

Emblazoned across the sign in white were the words:

                                                 ‘224 SIGNAL SQUADRON

                                                     GARATS HAY CAMP

                                                      LOUGHBOROUGH’

 Having satisfied the duty personnel in the small guard room that I was a freshly trained member of their Corps, I was assisted by a young soldier to show me my accommodation. There was a white name card on the room door with eight names listed on it and the course number. I made a mental note that the room across the corridor was a six-man room, had the same course number on it and six names listed.

When I got into the room and looked around it I could see that there were eight sets of beds and lockers, and two of the beds already had bedding and baggage on them.  That was a good sign, I already had company.

The guy that had helped with the baggage offered to give a hand to collect my bedding from the SQMS (Squadron Quartermaster’s Stores). I’d only experienced the carrying of bedding a couple of times, but I knew to accept his help without question.

My volunteer assistant didn’t have much to say, except that it was a great camp and nothing like Catterick. He also told me that he had lasted four months in training before it all became too much. He was spending three weeks working in the Guardroom before heading off to Catterick to be trained as a Driver.

*

  One of the lessons that I learned during my early training was a casual piece of advice given by one of the NCO's. It was during the cold nights out in the woods on exercise.

Cpl Smith had said, ‘Try and get comfortable as quickly as possible when out on field exercises.’ As I was deciding which bed-space to use I decided that my aim would always be to get comfortable as quickly as possible, irrespective of circumstances.

Once my bed was made up, the next task was to get unpacked and get the locker laid out in a neat and tidy fashion. There was no reason why I shouldn't continue with a regime of neatness. It was in my nature, but Basic Training had honed it.

Prior to setting out my locker I did a quick check to ensure it was clean and there was nothing left by the previous occupant. It was clean enough but the previous owner had left some small change and two coat hangers. Another new policy was born.

This seemed like a good time to practice, so without further ado, I quickly went around the room and made a check of all the other lockers. That netted me seven more coat hangers and some more loose change.

The camp was a delight to walk around and I found myself thinking about my time at Catterick. I still couldn’t quite believe that I had made it through those few weeks.  My stroll around the camp took me to the NAAFI, dining hall, gymnasium, parade square, assault course, Training Wing (which was inside a security compound) and the Headquarters building, which as far as I was concerned just about covered everything.

One of the things that caught my attention was the number of aerials around the place. It wasn’t just the number of them, it was also the size and variety of some of them. Strange I thought, that I hadn’t noticed them from the road on the way in.

I returned to the block and met the owners of the other two sets of bedding.  Introductions were made and I found out that both of them had up until a couple of days before, been on a Radio Technicians course.

I was eager to know about Radio Technician training, because it had been one of my trade options, but I wanted to operate radios - not repair them. The two guys told me that they had managed to keep up with the training in some areas, but felt lost in others. When given the chance to Trade Reallocate (TRA), they both chose to attend training at Loughborough to become Spec Op (Special Operator Radio).

The Radio Tech course was to last twelve months, and these two blokes had lasted through nine months of the training before it all got too much. I couldn’t imagine making so much effort and then not making the grade. They had travelled from Catterick at lunchtime and arrived in Loughborough just before me. They both seemed happy to have moved on.

The tall, slim, dark one went by the name of Dave Simpson. He wore glasses, and had a 'boffin' look about him. He was from the West Country, and from the little that I had seen and heard from him he had a tremendous sense of humour which would be nice in an eight-man room.

The other guy was Chris Cusick. He stood about 5' 10'', three inches shorter than Chris, but with his short-cropped blonde hair, dark tan and air of confidence, he gave the impression that he was on edge, waiting for something to happen. 

Andy Munro arrived at about 5pm, and it was nice to see somebody I’d known in basic training. Of our intake, there had been guys who chose Driver, Electrician Driver, Radio Operator, Radio Relay Operator, Radio Telegraphist, and Lineman, but nobody chose to go for training as a technician. Only the two of us opted for Spec Op.

There was time for brief introductions, collection of bedding, then all four of us went over to the dining hall just in time for the evening meal. First impressions of the cookhouse were that it was small, well laid out and very smart, just like the appearance of the rest of this camp. Upmarket compared to Catterick. 

By 11pm we welcomed the arrival of Mark McAllindon, Ross Campbell and Ken Rowan.

*

Monday,  5th January 1970

During the course of the day, almost all of our remaining fellow students arrived. By the evening we were still short of two bodies. We knew from the cards in the accommodation that there were meant to be 14 students on our course, due to start at 9am the next day. This was giving the trainees ample time to sort out their administration.

*

Tuesday,  6th January 1970

When we arrived back at our accommodation after a leisurely breakfast we found that one of the names on the door card had been scored out in red marker pen. It seemed that one of the 14 men listed for our course had already decided that this particular course was no longer on his list of things to do. 

At 08:30 we assembled in a small briefing room in the Squadron Headquarters (SHQ) building. The upstairs of SHQ served as a small Military Training Wing. Only three people addressed our small group and the main points of the briefing were not lost on any of us.

The high security classification we were told, included the training compound and all of the information learned therein. We were also warned about the  severity of the penalties should anybody decide to discuss the place, it's contents, or the training. This was already beginning to sound quite interesting.

Prior to our course getting underway we were told, that one student had called into his local Army Careers Office to say that he no longer wished to serve his country. Another had phoned SHQ at Loughborough. The course would get underway with 12 students. We were told that on average, only four students passed the nine-month course.

 

*

Within the first couple of days, we were totally amazed at the amount of information being thrown at us. Fortunately, the system only allowed us to know as much as was absolutely necessary about the following week's training. It was agreed by Dave and Chris that, what was being referred to as ‘basic electronics’ theory would not have been out of place on the syllabus of the technician course. I was suddenly very glad not to have opted for the Radio Technicians course. Andy agreed.

Morse code was something that I had always associated with war movies, secret agents and to a lesser degree the Scout movement. Typing required a little more dexterity than a couple of us could manage, but we had been told that we would get the hang of it and that was good enough for us.

These instructors knew what they were talking about. Some of the days were so interesting that the time flew by, and the training was enjoyable, but there were times when it felt like somebody was turning back the clock. Regularly.

At the end of the first week, we were told that we were no longer confined to camp. We would be allowed to go out over the weekend, so, as would be expected, morale was high. I had no interest in heading home for the weekend. Glasgow could wait. 

Ross Campbell said he intended going home to Glasgow. Mark McAllindon, also a Glaswegian said it was too far to travel, for what would amount to a visit of a day and a half. Ken Rowan, a ginger-haired lad with glasses and a serious issue with acne sat quietly listening. He said that he was going home at every opportunity. He was from Lincoln, so would get home easily in a short time. I wasn’t too keen on him.

*

Friday, 9th January 1970

Andy Munro asked me if I'd like to go to Nottingham with him for our first free week-end, but as tempting as the offer was, I declined. I told him I simply wanted some time on my own and he happily suggested that there would be other weekends. 

My sole intention for my first free weekend was to relax.

I wrote a letter to my parents, then I wrote to Eva, a girl who was four years younger than me, but had stolen my heart when I was still at junior school. We had never been any more than childhood friends, but when I left home she asked me if we could write, and I agreed. I didn’t drink alcohol at this time so I finished my Friday night by going to the NAAFI for a sandwich and a brew.

The cafeteria and the bar were adjoining and whilst I enjoyed my own company I looked around and noted that there were several people on their own. It didn’t strike me as strange until later when I was back in my room. It was the end of my first week of training, so for me to be on my own didn’t seem unusual. When I had looked around the ‘loners’ in the NAAFI, they didn’t look like any of the new intake. I thought it strange.

*

Friday, 16th January 1970

At lunchtime, I was once again asked by Andy if I’d like to join him for a weekend in Nottingham, and on this occasion I accepted. There would be other weekends to be on my own.

During Basic Training at Catterick I had seen a photo of Louise, Andy’s 16-year-old sister. It had been a black and white image taken in a photo booth, but I remembered she had shoulder length dark hair and beautiful eyes.

As we headed to Nottingham on the bus, I was looking forward to seeing Louise in the flesh, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. She had plenty of flesh and in all the right places. She was every bit as pretty as her photo had promised, she stood 5' 7'' and was very well-built for a 16 year old girl.

Her ample chest ensured that she stood out from the competition in more ways than one, as she well knew. I never did find out if she wore a mini skirt that day because Andy was bringing me home for the weekend, but I appreciated the gesture. From the moment we were introduced she constantly caught my eye. It wasn’t hard because I couldn’t stop looking at her.

Apart from Louise the other members of the family were Andy’s mum and dad and his 15 year old brother Phil. The weekend went well, and until that visit to Nottingham I had no experience of drinking alcohol. I went to a local disco with Andy and Louise and had a couple of pints of the local ale. I reckoned that if I took it easy I would come to no harm. Naive or what?

*

Monday 19th January 1970

             Ross Campbell didn’t return from his trip to Glasgow until 07:30. Following our second week-end of freedom we all applied ourselves with renewed vigour to the training. We were told that with the exception of a rare weekend guard duty we would have no week-end restrictions so we were happy. 

Ross spent most of the day trying to fight the urge to sleep. He was taken to one side and one of the instructors had a quiet word. Afterwards Ross confided in me that he had been told to stay local on some weekends because the travelling would affect him. He told me he would continue to head home to Glasgow. The advice had been free.

My only experience of alcohol was my couple of pints with Andy when in Nottingham. Unlike some of the other trainees I didn’t spend my nights in the bar. Due to the nature of the course we were unable to do much in the way of revision in the evenings, and a couple of the guys dealt with the pressure by having a few drinks.

It was one evening in the NAAFI cafeteria that Pete Long, a 24-year-old, came up the idea of using the gymnasium in the evening. He had spent all his early working life in the building trade and a lot of his free time as a civilian had been spent in the local gym, so he was no stranger to the environment.

Thanks to Pete, and the back-up of the Squadron PTI, a group of six of us started regularly attending the gym in the evenings. The trade training we had all begun to realise was never going to get easier, only slightly harder, but the evenings in the gym saw some of us playing badminton, weight-training, boxing, and learning to use the trampoline. The boxing to be more accurate was ‘sparring’ with Pete, but it was a good work-out.

 

*

By my third visit to Nottingham with Andy, my relationship with Louise blossomed from idle chat to romance; or at least that’s what I thought. Andy went his own way with his other mates whenever we went out.

The first time I wandered off with Louise and we found ourselves on the bench in the shadows of a local sports pavilion I worried about my lack of sexual experience. I thought I might embarrass myself. Had I known more about my teenage sweetheart I wouldn’t have been worried. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. It was after all, the man who was about to lose his virginity on this occasion. To Louise, I was another conquest. 

I spent most weekends taking the short trip to Nottingham, sometimes taking my girl out to spend money on her and other times just happy to be away from training. At that time I didn’t know that Louise figured that all men should be ‘used’. I would find that out and other things, later. Much later.

*

In February I got a pay rise. It was in April, as I started my fourth month of training that I got another pay rise. I thought life could not get any better than this. Up until February I’d been paid £15, but then it went to £20. At the end of April it went up to £30. I was rich. As a trainee, my pay was matched to which level I’d attained, but it was also based on my age.

In my office job back in Glasgow, I had gone from £4 per week when I started, to a princely £5 per week at the end of two years in 1969. It was actually average for an unqualified office junior in that type of work at that time. Office slave labour rates.

My pay during basic training at Catterick was less than £3 per week. The rises would be, on completion of basic training, on reaching 17-and-a-half years of age, completing each level of trade training, and reaching 18-years-old. Each stage would arrive very slowly for me, but the pay rises could be substantial.

*

Friday, 22nd May 1970

An imbalance had occurred in my world at some indeterminate time in May, but it was to be brought clearly to my notice. Although I felt I had been working as hard, if not harder than ever, I became one of the students that was to attend extra trade training in the evenings.

Three people on my course were already attending a two-hour typing session on three nights a week. When I was taken in for a chat with the Chief Instructor, Major Reid, it was suggested that I should join the others on extra training. This directly affected the regular sessions in the gym, because two of the other lads on extra training were members of the group that worked-out with us in the gym.

On the up side, I was told that I was one of the best on the course at receiving morse code. Surely not, I remember thinking - me above average at something. Wow. I wasn’t brilliant at sending with my little morse key, but I was getting there.

When it came to transcribing morse code by hand I was totally at ease as the speeds were increased. I could listen and write the results of the blips and beeps at about 35 words per minute. My natural handwriting style was copperplate which was the natural style to use for such a task.

My issue like the other guys, was one of dexterity, or more accurately, lack of it. Earphones on my head and typewriter at the ready I always started well, but by the time I’d been typing the incoming code for more than 15 minutes my brain turned to mush.

I told myself that there would be drawbacks. I had made it through Catterick. I would make it through this. The money might not help, but it was a nice bonus. I was able to write and tell my mother to stop sending me some money every week. I knew it was money she could ill afford.

*

Friday, 5th June 1970

            ‘Ossie' Oswald was taken out of training at the end of the day having failed his second progress test in a row. He was added to the staff in the guardroom. Whilst he had done all he could, including extra training sessions, he was falling too far behind on more than one subject. There was to be a Military Proficiency Course (MPC), organised in the camp sometime in August. It was suggested that he could attend if he wished, and since it meant a useful qualification, he agreed.

Being taken out of training was hard enough on Ossie and the temporary position in the guardroom suited him well enough. That was easy. The hardest thing to bear was having to move into a different room, in a different accommodation block.

All of us on the course were feeling the strain at the point when Ossie left and his removal from training did temporarily spur some people on to greater effort. I was amongst them and so was my best mate, Andy Munro. Like me, he was able to type, but not at the required speed.

*

Friday, 12th June 1970

Andy was interviewed and told that even with extra training he was not making headway. Instead of hanging around in Loughborough, he requested TRA to be a Driver. I reminded him that there were other radio trades, but he said he would be content to do something easy. It seemed he was physically fit, but the fight had been knocked out of him mentally. He went home for the weekend and the following week set off to Catterick to commence his new course.

During the period of uncertainty, rather than go to Nottingham for the weekend, I was intent on spending my weekends at Loughborough to do extra training. I was giving it the best effort I could. There were certain areas of the training which could only be covered within the Training Wing, which was in the compound and therefore totally out of bounds over the weekend. Unfortunately for me and two other guys, it was these areas that were creating the most problems for us.

It came as no surprise when we were joined by two more students after the regular progress tests. The tests had started at the end of the first four weeks, continued every four weeks since then and seemed to rattle the confidence of even the best of the students. 

*

Friday, 17th July 1970

The Chief Instructor sent for me, and Pete Long. If I was honest with myself I had known for some time that my days were numbered. I had given everything I had and managed at one stage to get back on level with the programme. Typing speed once again became a barrier for me as the training intensified. An interview on a Friday became one of those things that nobody ever wanted to be involved in. On a rare occasion a student would be relegated to the next course, but our issues were quite clearly not going to be improved by taking us back a couple of weeks in training.

As had happened with Ossie and others, we were offered the opportunity to attend the MPC which would be starting within a couple of weeks. It meant that I would leave Loughborough with at least one qualification, so I accepted without hesitation.

Pete Long had seen the way things were shaping up and he’d prepared a course of action that nobody else had even begun to suspect. Within a matter of 48 hours the paperwork was processed to allow him to DbyP. It was going to cost Dave £100 to pay for his own discharge, but, being switched on to opportunity - he had secured himself a new position. One week after leaving, Pete started work with a local fitness centre.

*

Monday, 3rd August 1970

The MPC was planned to take up the first two weeks of August and it involved all the personnel from our course and the next course after ours. The difficulty of becoming a Spec Op was made clear to us when the MPC started and we assembled at SHQ.

Between the two Spec Op training courses there should have been 28 students in attendance. Due to the numbers that had failed and moved on, there were only 16 of us.

For any of us to get the chance to gain this qualification, it was an opportunity not to be missed. The MPC qualification would later be recognised as an aid to gaining promotion irrespective of trade.

The subjects included physical fitness, weapon handling, NBC, map reading, first aid, drill, and an assortment of individual sessions to test initiative. One part of the course that everybody was looking forward to was a 24-hour Escape and Evasion exercise. 

Training was completed on the same subjects that we had all done in basic training, but it was only after the first two days that we realised why we were enjoying it so much. We were going a little deeper into all the subjects, and we were being spoken to like people with more than one brain cell. We were expected to know a certain amount. 

Week one came to a less than perfect finish because of one man not paying attention to the instructors. Alan ‘Jonah’ Jones, one of the guys who was doing well on our course, didn't listen closely enough during the death-slide demonstration. The death-slide itself was the final obstacle on the assault course.

For Jonah, as he was aptly called, it was the final obstacle during his stay in Loughborough. His body swung from side to side as he began the rapid descent down the rope. Unfortunately, he misjudged the point of impact and he landed awkwardly. Amidst much screaming and swearing, he was stretchered away to the Medical Centre, then to the local hospital. Following Xrays, it was discovered that he had dislocated his left shoulder and fractured his left leg.

He was advised not to book himself on any ski-ing holidays. Jonah decided not to return to training at Loughborough, because it would have meant starting all over again which he couldn’t face.

Some weeks later, Jonah put his typing ability to good use. He left hospital and got himself enrolled on a Clerk’s Course. He passed with flying colours and was then posted to 9th Signal Regiment in Cyprus. A bitter blow - I don’t think so!

The remainder of us completed the MPC. Those who were still able to continue with Spec Op training did so, whilst a few of us left and headed back to Catterick.

*

               Catterick Garrison

               Sunday, 16th August 1970

Continuation Training Troop, or CT Troop as it was known, was a good move for some people. Unfortunately for others it was a particularly un-nerving experience. CT Troop, by the nature of its existence could have people based in any one of three locations.

The locations were: Helles Barracks in Catterick, Burneston Barracks in  Scarborough, or Drip Bridge Camp in Stirling, Scotland. CT Troop was a sort of purgatory, a no-man’s land for soldiers who were between jobs.

This troop was a stopping place for soldiers who were through one course and waiting to go on another. It was also for soldiers who had failed a course and hadn't been counselled on their next options. There were also soldiers who were recovering from injuries and waiting for their next trade course to start. 

When Ossie and I arrived on that Sunday afternoon there was bedding laid out for us in an eight-man room. Our names were on name-tags placed on the locker doors, and only three other bed-spaces in the room were occupied.

We took a fresh look around Catterick Camp.  When all was said and done we had only ever seen the place as trainees during basic training.  It was refreshing to walk around without any of the previous pressures.

*

Monday, 17th August 1970

During our initial interviews we discovered that there were nine other members of CT Troop and they were at Scarborough. The CT Troop lines were situated in the central ground floor corridor of the same block that we had lived in during basic training.

A Driving Course was about to get underway along the road in 24th Signal Regiment, at Vimy Barracks. It was only a few hundred yards from Helles Barracks, so it was decided that I could be enrolled. I wanted to work with radios and didn’t want to drive as my main trade, but it would be another useful qualification. Our radios were large and would be fitted inside vehicles after all.

On the evening I went out for a drink with Ossie. Whilst I was prepared to take whatever was thrown at me, my mate Ossie had a different attitude. He had agreed to go on the driving course too when interviewed. As we sat in a bar in Richmond, our local market town, he confessed to me that his military career was over. He simply wanted to fork out some money and get away from the whole scene. Within 72 hours Ossie had paid his dues and was a civilian again. There were so many guys disappearing from the system, I started to wonder if it was me that had the issues by hanging on.

*

Monday, 24th August 1970

When I arrived in 24th Signal Regiment I was looking forward to the thought of learning to drive, because it was something that I didn't see myself doing for at least a couple of years. The first two days were spent in a classroom.  We had to learn about the Highway Code, military driving documents, accident procedures, and mechanical theory.

In the compound there were eight Land Rovers parked, already fitted up with ‘L’ plates. The members of the course were paired off and each pair were allocated to an instructor.

Cpl Jeff Sanderson was overseeing the daily vehicle checks being done on the Land Rovers. He was one of the biggest guys I’d seen since I’d joined and I wondered how he would do on a run.

Jeff’s two trainees were to be me, and John Gregory. John already had a license but he wanted to be a Driver by trade so had to do the course to allow him to progress to Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV). If he satisfied the instructor he would only be with us for a day. It didn’t follow that having a licence meant you were a good driver.

John drove the vehicle the four miles to the Driver Training Nursery, which was a small part of the Military Training Area. The Nursery was set aside for drivers to learn in the early stages whether it be Land Rovers, HGV’s or armoured vehicles like tanks.

There were various road signs set up and proper road markings laid out at the junctions. These things didn’t make it realistic. What made it realistic was that the simple roadways had a steady flow of traffic, made up of military cars, Land Rovers, 4 tonners and 10 tonners, and tanks.

John was content to sit in the back and enjoy the ride when we got to the Nursery. I was told to get behind the wheel and we spent about an hour to allow me to get acquainted with the basics. Fortunately, I took to driving quicker than I took to typing.

Cpl Sanderson said: “Faulkner, if you can get us to my favourite cafe without killing us, we’ll have a break.”

I drove us out of the Nursery and headed the few miles into the Yorkshire Dales and the market town of Leyburn. It was while the three of us were sitting having a brew that our instructor was able to confirm his suspicions.

“Have you ever spent much time cycling,” Jeff asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “Until I joined the Army I’d been cycling regularly since I was about 8-years-old.

He said: “I can usually spot somebody who’s spent time in the saddle, because there is no sudden swerving, or braking. In your case for example, you read the road well, so every movement is controlled.”

I was delighted to hear such a thing, but knew I would still have a lot to learn, and a lot of work to do before my test. I had to be careful. I wasn’t accustomed to good news. After our morning break I took my directions from Jeff and we covered a lot of miles. We stopped at Northallerton for our lunch break. John drove us around the countryside and market towns through the afternoon.

On the second day, John was along for the ride and by the third day he left us to start his HGV course. I was on my own with the instructor and piling on the miles to get in as much driving experience as I could.

We drove all over the countryside which I enjoyed, and then we made the regular trip to Darlington, the largest market town in the area. It was during one of my days out that Jeff told me he’d put me forward for my driving test. He explained that he wanted me to continue through the following week and I’d be on test on the Friday. As soon as he told me, I was reminded of all the bad news I’d heard on a Friday.

On my second week, Jeff suggested we make a day of it, so we headed out to Scarborough on the east coast. It was a fun drive for me and there was plenty to learn when it came to other road users. We had fish and chips for lunch that day which seemed a bit surreal. When I saw the speed that Jeff’s meal disappeared I could see where his extra weight came from.

Each day for the first three days we headed off for the day, but on Thursday we stayed local and I put in a lot of practise at parking.

*

Friday, 4th September 1970

I went out with Jeff for an hour for some last minute practise and then had a break before I set off on my driving test at 09:30hrs. By 12:30hrs, I had passed my test. I was so pleased, because if I’d managed nothing else, I’d broken the spell of bad-news-Fridays. I was given 48-hour pass, so instead of heading home to Glasgow, I went south to visit Louise in Nottingham.

Instead of taking a bus to Richmond, and then another to Darlington to catch a train, I packed a bag, donned my best uniform and hitch-hiked. I got a lift almost immediately from Catterick Camp Centre and then when I reached the A1 South, I got a lift within about 15 minutes. I was in Nottingham an hour faster than I would have been if I’d used the public transport method. It also saved me a fair bit of cash.

Andy was in the south of England somewhere on a special driving course so he had phoned to tell his folks he wouldn’t be home at the weekend. My disappointment at not catching up with my mate was nullified when I thought about spending the weekend with Louise.

We had a great weekend together. We spent most of the Friday evening at the local disco and then the latter part at the sports pavilion in the moonlight. On the Saturday we went into the city and I treated her to a new outfit, including purple hot-pants and knee-high stiletto boots. Suffice to say I hitch-hiked back to Catterick on the Sunday evening, tired, but satisfied.

*

Monday, 7th September 1970

I reported to CT Troop lines in Helles Barracks and was interviewed by the Troop Commander. We discussed my options with regard to my choice of trade and I told him that I wanted to be trained as a Radio Relay Operator. It seemed that I had missed the first week of the latest course, but he said I could be enrolled on the course that started in October.

There were only four of us in CT Troop at Catterick, but there were a few more guys out at the old barracks in Scarborough. The next morning we were all herded into a Bedford truck with our kit and headed for the coast.

*

Scarborough

             Cpl Dave Sampson and Lance Corporal (LCpl) Alex Banyard were the two NCO's in charge at Burneston Barracks. Cpl Sampson, as befitting the sound of his name, was a large man. He was 6 foot in height, weighed about 14 stone and since leaving his native Leeds had served his country faithfully for 15 years.

In his career, Dave had served in Oman, Germany, Cyprus and Hong Kong then came back to the UK to be an Adventure Training Instructor. Although qualified for promotion to sergeant, and recommended twice by his Troop Officers he preferred things the way they were.

If he accepted the promotion he would be posted to a unit to work at his trade. To Dave’s way of thinking, if he accepted promotion beyond the rank of corporal then there would just be too much responsibility and stress coming his way. He wore his two stripes proudly, and in the firm belief that he would much rather be a happy, hard-working corporal. He didn’t want to be an over-worked, stressed out sergeant. 

Alex Banyard was from Leith. A good-looking young man with only about six years service. He was tall and slim, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Apart from his looks, I found out later that he would have appealed to Adolf Hitler for other reasons.

Alex was only 11-stone in weight, which was well distributed and he was very proud of his even suntan which covered his body from head to foot. At 24-years-old, Alex was 11 years younger than Dave. He was also one of the most vain men I’ve ever met.

Where the older man had seen something of the world, Alex had only served in Germany. It was thanks to his prowess on the slopes that he had spent the majority of his time away from his regiment ski-ing. To astound the soldiers in his unit, he then landed the position as an Adventure Training Instructor.

I found out in idle chat that Alex had failed a Radio Operator course so had opted to do a driving course. He was posted to Germany as a driver by trade. Once in Germany he went on a ski-ing course for beginners. He was apparently ‘a natural’and within months, he represented his regiment and then at a later date, represented the Army.

Dave Sampson was prepared to work with him, but he didn’t seem to like him. 

*

Following the brief introduction by the two NCO’s who ran the place, I was sent with my companions to the accommodation block to organise our bed-spaces. The rooms were all eight-man rooms and I set myself up in a room where there were four other guys.

I was joined by Ken (Geordie) Robinson from Newcastle. We’d met while on the driving course and like me, he would soon be heading back to become a Radio Relay Operator. We got our spaces organised and then walked down to the seafront to find a bar. It took us about 30 minutes to walk but it was a pleasant day, made more pleasant by the thought of a couple of cold beers.

As we set off we discussed Burneston Barracks and how quiet it was. It had a large archway entrance which opened onto the parade square, lined on all sides by red brick buildings. It looked like CT Troop were the only people in residence.

When we arrived back at the barracks in the late afternoon there were two guys there. We all made our introductions. One of the guys was a Scouser by the name of Alan Smart. As soon as I heard his accent it reminded me of Scouse Sherry, but I wasn’t about to treat every Scouser like him. As it turned out, Alan was a really nice guy, and a laugh.

The other lad was a Londoner called Dougie Rose. After laughing at how quiet we thought it was, they explained that this was a reasonable place to hang out for a few weeks. Dougie had been in CT for a month. Two weeks of it had been spent at Scarborough, so he was very much the man in the know.

He explained that the Barracks had actually been turned over to the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reservists (TAVR) many years before. The place was empty except for two or three nights a week. Apart from the accommodation block that we were in, there were another three blocks. One was for female soldiers, one for regular soldiers that might require short stay accommodation and the third block was for the TAVR.

The cookhouse was only big enough to seat about 150 people, which in comparison to what we’d seen before made it quite cosy. Apart from the TAVR part-timers doing their drill session once or twice a week, the only time the parade ground felt the pressure of feet was when the other inhabitants, like us, were walking to the main gate, or staggering back from town later. 

 

During our unofficial briefing we learned of The Silver Grid, the best place in town to pick up girls. If you picked up the wrong type of girl; you picked up other things. The guys named pubs and discos, but ‘the Grid’ ws apparently the place to be. About half an hour after a pleasant meal in the cookhouse, the group of four of us went down town, just to make sure that Ken and I felt properly welcomed to the detachment.

*

Irrespective of the remainder of the day there was a morning routine at Scarborough. Except for weekends, every day started with a three-mile run, going out from the main entrance uphill, to run down beside the golf course, North Cliff and a half a mile of sand. There was then a gentle jog back up to the barracks.

Just prior to the jog up from the beach we had to do the obligatory dip into the sea, at least up to waist height. Why? For no other reason than LCpl Banyard was a sadistic bastard. Immediately after the run, it was clean up and breakfast, then a detailed briefing to back up the information on the notice board.

  One of the permanent staff at Scarborough was LCpl Chas Hutchinson, a driver by trade. Due to an injury incurred on exercise in Germany, Chas had been allowed to spend his last two years service at Scarborough. It meant a position was covered, and he would have to do very little to stay in uniform and earn his wages.

A lot of the days at Scarborough at this time were one-day trips, which were enjoyed by most of us. The main theme seemed to be, keep the troops occupied. Activities included: rock climbing, abseiling, hiking, canoeing and swimming. There was a distinct absence of military training.

I was one of the few people the instructors had ever met who was not keen on any type of water sport. It was during an outing on the North Yorkshire Moors that they found that I was quite good with a map and compass so it evened the score a bit.

A weekly trek for the small band of men at Burneston Barracks was a 20-mile hike across the moors. We all packed a Bergen with overnight gear, some water, rations and a tiny hexamine cooker.

We were briefed that from a fair distance we would see R.A.F. Fylingdales, the Early Warning Station. It was to be a welcome sight because it was both a landmark and a guide as to when lunch-time would be. The site was made up of what looked like three massive golf balls sitting in a tight line out in the middle of nowhere. Inside the balls were radar dishes. It all dated back to the days of the ‘Cold War’, but was still in use.

It took us about four hours before we got close to the radar site. At a small track junction we turned west to find a small dip with a clear stream running by. After eating and drinking a leisurely lunch we set off to our final destination, which although only a further five or six miles, it felt a lot more trekking over the moors.

I was keeping a constant check on my map and we were still over a mile away when I spotted the green Bedford truck parked near a small bridge. I checked the map again and realised Chas must have arrived at our location early. 

As we got closer, we saw that beside the Bedford was a neat line of bivouacs. Perhaps what gladdened our hearts and made the last couple of miles easier to bear was the other sight. There was a village with a pub, just visible about two miles away, over the hill from the bivouac site.

Though unable to take part in the actual walk across the moors, Chas Hutchinson would set off in the Bedford an hour or so after the hikers. Such was the location used to camp for the night, it still took nearly an hour to reach it by road. He would arrive and set up the ten small tents single-handed. Apparently nothing gave him greater pleasure than knowing that there was somebody at the detachment with an injury because that meant the injured party went out with him in the truck.

When we arrived at the overnight camp-site we dropped off our Bergens and headed off to the pub for a bite to eat and a couple of beers. We then walked back and crawled into tents and sleeping bags. In the morning, we made our own breakfast, then everybody collapsed the site and it was all aboard for a relatively comfortable ride home.

*

Saturday, 19th September 1970      

On the previous day, I had been given a short list of courses that I could go on.  They were mainly to do with adventure training or recreation, but there were also a couple of trade course dates. There were two dates for Radio Relay courses. One was 28th September and the other was 26th October.

I was hoping I could delay going on my course because I’d gotten wind of a mini-expedition that CT Troop might be doing. I wanted to be a part of it, but it would mean missing the first trade training dates. I had the weekend to think it over.

It was a warm evening with a light breeze. I had been out on my own having a beer and a walk along the promenade. I found I still enjoyed my own company on occasion. I was walking back up to the barracks when I heard a band playing in Peasholme Park.

I wandered into the park and saw the guys were dressed in black tie and tails. People would wander through the park, go out in the rowing boats, or the Indian canoes, or just sit on the various levels of steps to listen to whoever was performing. The musicians were playing from a bandstand situated right at the edge of the boating lake. 

There were probably about 100 people sitting enjoying the sunshine and the music. Mostly they were couples or families but there were a few individuals. Up until that time I thought about listening for a moment and then moving on, but I spotted a pretty, dark-haired girl sitting on her own up high on the steps

Her hair was long and dark and she was wearing a pale green blouse and dark green miniskirt. From the angle I approached I was able to appreciate her shapely legs before I met her gaze. Her face matched the rest of her. 

I said: “Would you mind if I sat here?”

“Please do,” she answered in a friendly tone and smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“My name’s Jim,”

“Pleased to meet you Jim,” she said and smiled again before turning to listen to the band. I realised that she had intentionally not introduced herself.  I was still thinking about how to deal with that when the band paused briefly then started another tune.

I said: “I’m glad I stopped by now,” I turned to my pretty companion. “I like pop music, but I’m also a Glenn Miller fan, and these guys play his music well.”

“Do you know this one?” she said and turned to face me, her eyebrows raised.

“Unless I’m mistaken it’s, ‘Little Brown Jug,” I answered confidently.

“I’m impressed,” she said. “I thought you were bluffing.” We fell silent for a moment and listened as the band played. “My name is Charlotte by the way.”

“I’m delighted to meet you Charlotte,” I said formally. The name suited her. 

We talked about music at first and I was able to drop in the title of more Glen Miller music before we moved onto other things. She told me that she was hoping to go to university to study music. She attended school in Knaresborough. I told her briefly about my situation and she produced her lovely smile again. She didn’t look like a schoolgirl.

I was pleased that I had made a generous comment about the band, because as I discovered in conversation, the chap at the front with the little baton was Charlotte’s dad. Charlotte was 16-years-old, although she looked older. We chatted for about half an hour and I enjoyed her company. I could have listened to her and looked at her all day.

The musicians completed their afternoon repertoire, took a bow and left the stand. The bandmaster looked directly up at us and inclined his head to the area to the left of where we were sitting. In response, Charlotte waved to him.

She said: “I’ve enjoyed your company Jim, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to go.”

“I don’t suppose we could arrange to meet again,” I said, but knew I was dreaming even as I said the words.

“It would be nice, but with your plans in mind, I don’t think there is much chance of it.” She smiled sweetly. “I’ll remember our short meeting. Take care.”

I walked with her up the path to where a large black car was waiting for her.

“Bye Charlotte,” I said, trying to memorise her face.

“Bye Jim,” she said, “and it was really nice talking to you.”

She got into the large black limousine with her father, waved and was gone. I’ve often wondered if she ever thought back to our chat. For me, it’s as clear as yesterday.

*

The small group of us that formed CT Troop had days away to different places. On more than one occasion we were driven back to Catterick to assist on some exercise or course and we would spend the day away. On one particular week we spent two days working on the firing ranges for a Royal Signals Staff Sergeants Course.

If I had done nothing else I had made another couple of good mates, increased my fitness, and my capacity for drinking. I spent three weekends in Nottingham visiting Louise, and we continued to write to each other at least twice a week. On my second last day at Scarborough I bought Louise a gold chain and locket. I would visit her again soon.   

*

Stirling

Tuesday, 13th October 1970

Drip Bridge Camp was a disgusting looking place, mainly consisting of large Nissen huts, which were each capable of housing forty men, if double bunks were used.  The camp it seemed was normally used by various charities, probation services and other official organisations to send unwanted, uncontrollable youths. They would be based there so that they could go out adventure training and on other outings that might stretch their limited vocabulary, and test any benevolence to their fellow man. 

Every morning we started with a three mile run through the nearby fields and woods, and then it was shower, change of clothes, breakfast and briefing. It was the standard CT Troop start to the day.

Credit had to be given to Lt Coleman. He had the fortnight at Stirling planned in such a way that apart from the early morning routine, there was very little similarity from one day to the next. What impressed us most was that we would get the weekend off at the midway point. Unknown to us of course, we would need it, both to recuperate from week one, and to prepare for week two.

The first week was interesting, and for the most part it was hard work, but fun. It included rock climbing, abseiling, (what goes up, must come down), emergency drills and first aid in adventure training conditions, canoeing, and a whole day on the various methods of crossing a river. I knew I would never forget that river for as long as I lived.

*

As I was only a 30-minute train ride from Glasgow, I decided to head off to see the family. I walked the couple of miles to Stirling Station.

I had an uneventful weekend in Glasgow, spending some time in my mother’s company to catch up with how things were going. I realised not much had changed and went out on the Friday and Saturday evenings with my dad for a drink. It served to prove to me what a mind-numbing existence I would have had if I didn’t try to do something about it. It was still early days for me in the military, but I was glad I had joined.

*

The second week in Stirling saw us lucky lads living on and amongst the lovely Grampian Mountains. During a four day trek from the main road where the transport dropped us off we managed to reach the peaks of Ben More, Ben Vorlich and Ben Lawers. We learned a lot about distance; and covering it on foot.

It wasn't so much the constant hard work of following the mountain tracks, when there was one, it seemed to be the back-breaking effort of doing it with a very heavy Bergen. The little expedition was self-contained, so when the transport left us, we had to be sure that we had food, some water (there was plenty of the fresh variety), spare clothing, tents, ropes and various other pieces of equipment. 

The appearance of Cpl Dave Sampson and LCpl Alex Banyard from Scarborough was enough to make some of the lads a bit apprehensive about the need for so many instructors. I reckoned their presence on the expedition had to be a bonus. I figured that it would mean the equipment could be evenly distributed with some in their direction. Okay, so I figured wrong.

Kev Mann was a Londoner who continually told everybody how he detested the Scottish race. It was inevitable that he was going to be have plenty to say whilst the team were trekking across the picturesque countryside.

Kev gave me verbal abuse the moment he realised where I was from, but at least it was done in a good-natured way. I returned the favour; in spades. By constantly giving each other some verbal grief we entertained everybody else.

It was a regular occurrence so the instructors waited for their moment. Whilst the constant battle of words was going on, the two of us were continuing with the task of setting up our campfires, which was what every individual was doing. It was evening.

Ken had gone for the ‘soft option’ of putting a few small stones around in a circle and then used a hexamine block (fire-lighter) as an accelerant.

I, on the other hand had sliced into the turf, then folded it back leaving about a six inch square, which I then dug out to a depth of about six inches. I pulled all the soil up to make a small windbreak around the hole.  I was at the stage of building some small stones around it when Kev started the next verbal battle.

Rather than use a fire-lighter, I had gathered some dry materials to try and do the job properly which really got Kev going, so much so that he wasn't aware of the instructors sitting a few yards away, watching and listening. 

Kev said: “Proper little bloody boy scout you are Jim. I suppose you’re at home out here in the fucking wilderness.” The southern accent was heavily laid on.

I said: “If we’re going to be out here we might as well have a go at doing the thing properly. We can save the hexamine blocks for when we really need them.”

“We might as well have a go at doing the thing properly.” Ken mimicked.

Like the other lads nearby; I laughed. This totally infuriated Ken and he burst forth with a string of expletives. This caused even more laughter from everybody else.

Cpl Sampson said: “Right you two, we've heard enough out of you today.” He looked around and then continued. “Mann, I'd like you to go and get me a mug of fresh water… from the top of that waterfall.”

“Fuck-,” Kev said as he looked into the distance. “It’s fucking miles away-,”

“It’s about a mile away Kev,” I interrupted looking up from my map. What I couldn’t tell from a quick glance at the map, was that the distance to the top was a climb of three hundred feet from the base, which made it quite a challenge.

Dave Sampson handed over his Army issue, heavy white china mug.

“I want it filled from the top of the waterfall. Now let’s see what you’re made of.”

When Kev realised that the NCO was serious, his grin was replaced with a look of abject horror. He accepted the mug and hesitatingly set off through the patches of bog, trying to avoid getting dirty, which was going to be difficult.

As Kev started out, my laughter could have been heard in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was so loud and infectious that every man in the small area started laughing. Alex Briars, being a Jock himself and having listened to Kev and me all day, decided he would kill two birds with one stone. I saw him wink at Dave Sampson.

“Faulkner,” Alex Briars said, “because you think it's so funny, on behalf of the Scots I want you to get me a mug of fresh water from the top of the same waterfall.”

Unlike Kev, when I accepted the NCO’s white china mug and set off I was still laughing.

“Sure thing,” I said, “one mug of fresh Scottish mountain stream coming up.”

Knowing that by the time the challenge was over I was going to be covered in muck I went for the shortest possible route to the base of the distant and high looking waterfall. I jogged until the ground was too uneven and then I walked.

When I passed Kev with about 300 yards to go to the base of the waterfall I had already sunk into the smelly clinging mud twice. I shouted some obscenities at Kev just for good measure, and in the sure knowledge that the guys back at the base camp wouldn’t hear me.

Having taken his time, it was at that point that Ken lost his footing and went down into the mire for the first time. He went in up to his knees in the damp, smelly, clinging bog, cursing and swearing.

He muttered something about binoculars and I knew he was worried that somebody would be watching us. He slipped knee-deep again and became very angry.

As I started clambering up the steep, slippery rocks that formed the side of the waterfall I looked back expecting to see Kev a few yards behind me. He wasn’t there.

For Kev the fun was over, so he went as far as the base of the waterfall, filled the mug, then walked slowly and despondently back to the camp site, covered in bog mud.

Whilst I climbed I was composing some new insults. When I saw him on his way back I was delighted. I no longer felt the clinging muck I had picked up on the way.

It had never actually been a race, or even a contest, but in my way of looking at it … I’d won. During the climb to the top, I never worried about what the people back at the small base camp might say. I was enjoying myself.

If I could have focused on them I would have seen them all sitting, drinking nice hot cups of tea, watching my progress. If I had been able to listen to them I would have heard some very complimentary comments from the NCO’s. These things were related to me later by a couple of the lads.

I reached the top of the waterfall and took a few minutes to catch my breath, then looked down at the camp site. For the first time I realised just how far away it was. The moment wasn't lost on me. Just to make damn sure they knew I had made it, I shouted some profanities. I made a conscious effort to garble the words so that the NCO’s names wouldn’t be clearly understood.

A couple of the tiny, distant creatures in brightly coloured kagools waved, so only then did I make a show of reaching down and filling up the white mug. I then I held it aloft. There was the distant sound of something that might have been a word or two and some loud cheering. I headed back down. I was triumphant.

By the time I was half way to the bottom I had lost most of my cargo but I wasn't too worried about it. On the way up I had sampled the water and found it to be as clear as tap water. When I reached the bottom, I turned away from the site and topped up the mug. There was no urgency and I walked from the base of the waterfall at a reasonable pace, so as not to lose too much of the water.

When I reached the small group of tents I looked an absolute mess but I was still carrying my trophy. The lads were all laughing and cheering and a couple of the instructors clapped. I handed over the mug of clear water to Alex Briars who tasted it and nodded his approval.

Alex Briars said: “Hey Mann,”

Kev looked across from his campfire and shook his head at me.

“Soldier material,” Alex Briars said, and as he spoke he jabbed a thumb in my general direction. 

As usual, I laughed. I went to my camp-fire, sorted my brew kit and got changed into some dry clean clothes. When changed and with a hot brew in my hands I went to sit with Kev for a chat, and a laugh. He told me quietly that I was a fucking nutcase.

When all things were considered, we enjoyed the expedition into the mountains, but we were glad to get back to civilisation for a few beers on the Friday night. The Troop Commander was impressed that we had all put in maximum effort; except Kev of course.

*

 

Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire

Monday, 26th October 1970

Some of us had one day in Helles Barracks in CT Troop lines to get clothing cleaned up and sorted out, then it was back on the move for me and a couple of others. Whilst in Scotland a message had come through to confirm attendance on the next Radio Relay Operator course.

Taff Baines, Kev Mann and I were all on the list. On the Sunday we returned to Catterick and before the start of the course, the next day, the three of us helped each other on the short journey from one camp to the other.

Within two trips we managed to get all our baggage up to 8 Signal Regiment in Vimy Barracks. The barracks was home to both 24 Signal Regiment and 8 Signal Regiment. I was living in the block next to the one I was in whilst on my driving course.

It was only on the day that the course assembled that I realised we had been joined by one of the lads that had been on my Spec Op course, Dave Briars.

“Hi Dave,” I said. We shook hands. “You didn’t make it then mate?”

“Nah,” he said. “It was fucking awful towards the end.” He smiled and shook his head. “I managed to keep up until the end of August, but even after extra training I failed a progress test, so I was relegated to the next course.”

“I take it things didn’t go well,” I said, seeing him still grinning.

“I failed the final fucking progress test again and I was left with the choice of leaving the Army or taking on another trade.”

“That is fucking awful,” I said, and meant it. “How many of our original course made it to the end?”

“Fucking four of them!” Dave said and laughed. “Four guys passed, out of fourteen starters.”

I winked. “I think we should be safe here mate.”

“I fucking hope so,” Dave said, and it was then that I remembered he was one of the guys that never cursed when I was at Loughborough. How things had changed.

I said: “We can go into Richmond one evening and catch up over a few beers.”

“I’ll fucking drink to that,” he said. We both laughed.

*

As with most military courses, the early lessons are on theory and this one was no different. The Radio Relay Instructor was Sgt Terry Morrison who had been a Radio Relay Op for 12 years before becoming an instructor. He had been teaching the subject for the last two so he knew what he was talking about.

It amused us because at least once a day Sgt Morrison would make comments about how things differed in working units.

“Right gentlemen,” he’d say, “this is the way we do it here in the training wing, but you’ll be shown plenty of short cuts when you’re in a working unit.”

Sgt Morrison knew his subject well and he enjoyed talking about it. Fortunately for us, he enjoyed teaching it and his greatest satisfaction came from seeing us do well in progress tests. I finally felt comfortable being tested at something.

‘Working unit’ was the general description for the Squadrons or Regiments in which we would serve as trained soldiers. The terminology originated from the fact that when a soldier arrived at one of these places he had completed his initial training and would then be going on to do his job; his trade.

Training we were constantly told, never ceased in working units, but every man was expected to be capable of performing his trade on arrival. In 1970 the Royal Signals had units and soldiers all over the world including: the Middle East, British Honduras (Belize), Canada, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Gibralter, West Germany, Berlin (the walled-city still then within East Germany), Holland, Begium, Northern Ireland, Outer Hebrides, and last but not least all over Great Britain.

In the early part of our Radio Relay training all students had to fill in a ‘dream sheet’, or to give it it's official term, a Preference Posting Proforma. The dream sheet title came about because almost everybody would put in for somewhere exotic, and there were very few vacancies.  Few people actually got their first choice of unit.

Apart from Sgt Morrison there were other instructors that dealt with us and these instructors had all served in more than one unit, which meant there was a lot of information to be had from them about the various units.

The vast majority of these guys were of the opinion that the first posting should be treated as a bit of an apprenticeship, and the best place to serve that apprenticeship was one of the main Signals units in Germany. 

Most of the lads knew they would end up in one of these places anyway, but it didn't stop them applying for Hong Kong, Cyprus and Canada. They did after all have three preferences to list on the dream sheet.

Among the main units to ask for were,1st Armoured Division HQ and Signal Regiment in Verden, 7 Signal Regiment in Herford, 16 Signal Regiment in Krefeld and 28 Signal Regiment, also in Krefeld. The attraction of both ‘16 Sigs’ and ‘28 Sigs’ was that Krefeld was a German town, but situated very close to the Dutch border. Apart from being able to visit Holland, it meant soldiers were situated closer to the ferry ports. Trips back to the UK would be so much easier.

*

Over the period of the Radio Relay course, I managed to get away from Catterick and down to Nottingham to see Louise for four weekends out of the eight weeks.

It was at the first one of these week-end visits that I saw Andy for the first time since leaving Loughborough. He had some news about the way things turned out for a couple of our fellow students who’d failed the Spec Op course. It agreed with what Dave had told me.

Andy himself was now established as a Staff Car driver. He had been on evasive driving techniques and other types of specialist driving courses and was enjoying himself. He was able to tell me that one of the guys had transferred to the Parachute Regiment, another had headed back to Scotland on transfer to a Highland Infantry regiment and two others had bought themselves out.

We agreed we would probably never see any of the successful candidates again. The trade training for Spec Op was so secretive it seemed impossible that we would see somebody in a location where the job was practised. As I looked across the room at Louise I had other things on my mind. I had a weekend to enjoy.

With only one and a half weeks of the training still to go, the majority of us knew that we had passed our progress tests. I stood out in more than one area, thanks mainly to the in-depth training I had received during my time at Loughborough. It was the same for Dave Briars and while on a break sometimes we would reminisce about just how hard the course at Loughborough had been.

  We were both grateful that our time at our first trade-training unit had not been wasted. Even Sgt Morrison told us both quietly that he’d noticed the difference in how quickly we accepted some of the theory.

In areas like antenna and propagation, wavelengths and frequencies, it felt like reading a book I’d read before. Some of the lads on the course had come unstuck with certain aspects of this training, but it wasn’t quite in the same league as the Spec. Op. course. It was a formality for most of them to continue with the extra equipment handling that they had to learn and they would all pass.

Apart from the various radios, we also learned about types of cable, generator sets and batteries. There was a lot of maintenance to know, apart from working on the radios. As we reached the sixth week of training, it was a time for watching the notice board, because every day there were small groups of names being listed alongside the unit and location they were posted. Training here had been quite good but it was now waiting time for us. We would all know by Wednesday of the last week where we would serve our apprenticeship.  

The final names went on the Notice Board in the Training Wing. I knew I was among the final postings so I ignored the others to locate my own details.

‘Signalman Faulkner, J. - posted to: 260 Signal Squadron (SAM), Shoeburyness. Length of tour: 36 months. Reporting date: 040171’

As we had been told by some of the instructors, some of the men posted to a unit in Germany, like 7 Sigs, 16 Sigs, or 22 Sigs could find themselves on a circuit of this type of unit.

A man could start with one of the main Signal Regiments in Germany and then be posted from one large regiment to another, and this could easily go on for 15 years, possibly longer. The average tour, or posting with a Signal Regiment would be three years, so having enjoyed his first tour a soldier might ask to go to another unit in another part of Germany.

Occasionally there would be courses that people would have to attend back in the UK and there would be the odd trip back on leave, so it wasn't considered a prison sentence when somebody found out that they had a three-year tour in Germany.

One of the main attractions of a posting to somewhere like Belgium, Holland or Germany was that there was a higher rate of pay, and a new car could be bought tax-free. 

Unlike a lot of other lads I wanted to stay in the U.K. for my first posting. I felt that I had been through enough in training, and just wanted life to settle down a bit. There was also the thought of not seeing Louise for a few months. At least I knew I could get to Nottingham from anywhere in the U.K. Money was never a problem for me now since I had received another pay rise on my 18th birthday.

There was the thought of getting accustomed to a totally different culture and a different currency, quite apart from the military culture with which I was still trying to get to grips.  No, I decided I would be glad to stay in the UK for a short while. All I had to do was find out where Shoeburyness was. I had never heard of it. Could it be in Scotland?

I had completed basic training and basic trade training so I was ready; or was I?

                                                 ***

          Updates

Tuesday 6th June 2017

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