It was early in 1958 that the British Government decided they could not run military
operations with any degree of efficiency unless they recruited me into one of the
armed services. It was thus that I received a letter summoning me to attend an
interview in Manchester with a view to being conscripted into Her Majesty's Army or
possibly Navy or indeed Air Force. The tone of the letter somehow seemed to
suggest that snubbing this invitation wasn't an option open to me.
I was one of twenty four young men from all over Britain and from a variety of
backgrounds who found ourselves billeted in one large barrack room. I remember a
gentleman farmer from Scotland, a painter and decorator from Liverpool and best
of all, one John Hess from near London who declared that he was a 'clapper boy.'
No one but him seemed to know what this was, but we had all paid attention to the
lectures on V.D.
A soldier should never volunteer; number one rule in my 'Surviving Conscription'
mode. Despite this I found myself sent to Melton Mowbray enrolled on a dog
handling course. My parents had a dog by the name of Scamp,
Shortly after returning to H.Q. I, along with hundreds of other bewildered looking
soldiers from various regiments, was sent to Southampton to board the T.T. Dunera
Once settled in my new camp I was introduced to my dog, 'Johnnie' army number
5B75. (Oh yes every living thing in the British army simply had to have a number.)
I spent my first Christmas away from family and friends on this posting in 1958. The
commissioned officers served our xmas dinners, turkey, roasted potatoes, and over
cooked vegetables followed by xmas pudding and mince pies. The white wine that
was served was truly abysmal and resembled a not too classy white wine vinegar,
undrinkable to most of us. One chap seemed to enjoy quaffing it and ended up with
several glasses which were donated by the more discerning drinkers. The next
morning we found this individual sleeping it off in a monsoon ditch oblivious of the
trail of ants tramping to and fro across his body.
I had happy thoughts as 1959 arrived, “ I'll be out of this army NEXT YEAR !!” Life
seemed suddenly better, I wasn't to know that events of the next few months would
have such a profound influence on the rest of my life. Early in January several dog
handlers, myself included, were sent on a cross country jog with our canine buddies.
Johnnie started off with energy and enthusiasm in abundance, pulling on his lead
and dragging me for over a mile. He settled down after that and was content to
amble along at my more sedate pace for another two miles stopping every so often
to cock his leg
That journey, Limassol to Nicosia alone in the back of an army ambulance, saw me
moaning and puking with motion sickness. It was far worse than the ten day trip
from Southampton to Limassol but mercifully far shorter. (Why do people say 'South
Hampton', surely with only one 'H' it should be South Ampton, people don't say
During my short stay in this new hospital I had a radio request played for me, I had
asked them to play 'Claire de Lune' by Debussy for all the Mancunians stationed in
Cyprus. They played the music but added that Mancunians were people from the
Isle of Man! Dear Lord, and they say that the standard of education has declined
since those days.!!
Once discharged from hospital I had to report to headquarters and await my next
posting. There was no opportunity to train as a physical training instructor, as after
qualifying I would have less than six months to serve, so they sent me to Kensington
Palace Barracks, Church Street, Kensington, an elite posting. So elite that even we
national service military police were issued with 'number one uniforms' in navy blue
with red caps and regular black shoes, not boots and gaiters. These were used on
'special duties', lord mayor's parades, funerals for dignitaries, any palace function
where we were deemed useful and other events as necessary. Boy this was a
wonderful posting no error with lots of perks such as free tickets to shows, film
premiers, radio recordings and Mayoral soirees. We also had live music in the
corporals club each Wednesday when they bussed in female nurses from several
London hospitals. I think out commanding officer missed his vocation as he would
have made a first class pimp!
When I first arrived in Chester we were stationed in The Castle in the heart of the
City overlooking the beautiful river Dee. We had fewer duties to perform at my new
posting but had one very interesting one. We had to spend the odd weekend at
Altcar camp and shooting range near Formby, a little north of Liverpool. The
territorial army and cadets would gather at this camp for weekend training, and our
role was simply to keep the peace. This was a sinecure but it did supply some
lighter moments. A group of teenage lads, army cadets from Manchester, was
spending two nights sleeping in one of the Nissen huts....
To many growing up in today's modern world the idea of getting a
letter and being told you have to join the army is unbelievable.
Here's Tommy Rawcliffe with his reflections on this period of his