With leave over, I stupidly took a late train back to Barnard Castle and with all train connections late; I arrived at Barnard Castle early evening. In the company of dozen or more stragglers, we made our way to the new camp that housed the regiment, its name Barford Camp. Along with six others from (S) Company I was put on O.C’s. Orders for being late back to camp. The following morning, CSM Kershaw gave us the once over, and then double marched us in front of a temporary OC. The O.C whose name I can not remember quite fairly told us all not to be late back to camp ever again or there would be trouble and thankfully he gave us no punishment. My old friend CSM Kershaw, double marched us back outside and said in no uncertain terms. “ If it wasn’t for the fact of me leaving the battalion, I would make your lives a misery.” That was him all over, there was no need to put the six of us on Company Orders, he could have gave us all a good blasting and left it at that, but not CSM Kershaw. Thankfully, a few days later, he left the battalion to take up a post as an RSM in a territorial unit some where in Lancashire. On behalf of my fellow comrades it was good riddance, because no one at that particular time, wanted too see him ever again.
Now that National Service was coming to an end, all the companies of the regiment had a big shake up. All the National Servicemen, who were not in Headquarter Company, were put in (C) Company and nearly all the regular soldiers moved out. Most billets were occupied by the same draft of lads, who entered the forces at the same time or a month later and in most cases, various mates tried like hell to get in the same billets. I was once again in the same billet as Eric Shaw and Jim Prince, the two Manchester lads who I met on my first day in the army. Also in the billet were Geoff Stubbs, Les Lowther and Brian Sergeant, all Barrow lads, Keith Thompson from Ulverston, Alfie Kennish a regular soldier from the Isle of Man and another lad from Manchester named Grundy. I am really sorry, I can’t remember the other lads names, who shared the billet, I only wish I could put a name to a face. The reason Alfie Kennish was in the same billet was because he had just come back to the battalion, after doing six months in the army prison at Colchester, for being A.W.O. L. He had not been abroad with the regiment and I don’t think they knew what to do with him, but he was an amusing lad and we all liked him.
With CSM Kershaw gone another CSM and Sergeant, were assigned to the revamped (C) Company, their names were CSM Driver and Sergeant Wood. CSM Driver must have been at the Preston Training Depot, while the battalion was abroad, because for the first few weeks of him taking over, he was obsessed with checking our lockers. He always wanted to see, if ones knife fork and spoon were in their correct places, followed by your lather brush, toothbrush, button stick and button brush. He never seemed interested in our welfare, just the lockers and after awhile when we knew his likes and dislikes it became a formality. Eventually after a month, we only ever saw the CSM at musters. He certainly wasn’t a Kershaw, but I preferred him to Kershaw, because of keeping more or less a low profile, whereas CSM Kershaw wanted to know about everything in his Company and to the detriment of everyone, he certainly did. As for Sergeant Wood, he didn’t seem to like being in charge of the now shrinking force of National Servicemen, because he had aspirations for promotion and to obtain this he wanted to be with the regular soldiers, but overall he was okay.
During the first month to six weeks with all the regiment stationed at Barford camp, the battalion was smartened up with extra sessions of drilling etc. All bad habits picked up while abroad were quickly erased under the close scrutiny of RSM Garner. This is how the Army works and to be quite honest, they are perfectly correct, because if discipline etc falls down, we have all failed and I assure you it didn’t fall down. The Billets at Barford Camp, were pre-war brick built and each housed twelve soldiers and two NCOs. Barnard Castle is very close to the moors and as the dark nights drew in, it got very cold. Everyone in the billet always made certain the coal buckets were filled to the brim every evening, because most evenings were spent crowded round the stove to keep warm. The bread pinched from the cookhouse would be toasted and devoured, while listening to the endless tales and jokes being told. Alfie Kennish would run to the naafi each night, in all weathers, but only if someone bought him a crunchie, which we usually did, because he was worth it. Les Lowther, as well as being a professional rugby league player, was also a very good dancer and had won rock and roll competitions prior to coming into the army. At that time in 1961,a new dance swept the country, it was named The Twist and we were all eager to learn it. The beds in the billet were pushed back and Les proceeded to teach anyone who wanted to learn, how to do the twist. What a good laugh we had at each others expense, but after a lot of practice and Mickey taking, we could do it and do you know what, I still can.
The camp at Barford was very similar to the camps built during the war, in the surrounding area of Moor Tarn Lane on Walney Island. They were built to house soldiers during the Second World War and consequently when hostilities ceased, they were vacated. Before the local authorities could do anything about it, local people who had been living in crowded rooms with their in-laws moved into the vacated army huts and they became known as squatters. This word squatter, because of total ignorance at the time, became a dirty word, especially among schoolchildren.
Consequently the children of squatters huts nearby, started to come to various new schools, as in my case Vickerstown Junior School. I was only seven at the time and ashamedly for the next few years along with the rest of the school, treat the squatter children as though they were lepers, the only friends they had was a fellow squatter. The clothes they wore, through no fault of their own, were of a tatty nature, because most of the squatter children were members of big families and their clothes must have been handed down. There is no doubt, these children endured an awful time in those post war years. I am sure to this present day, those children of squatter families, will not have forgotten and most certainly not forgiven, what happened to them in their supposedly happy schooldays over fifty years ago. If it means anything to any of you now, here is one ignoramus saying sorry.
Soldiering, U.K. style continued with the usual route marches of fifteen or twenty miles in full kit and rifle. The only drawback being, sometimes you were given a board to carry as well, which read “Caution Marching Troops.” One man carried the board twenty yards in front of the column and one man carried a board twenty yards behind the last man. The back man who carried the board had the worst job, because if someone was suffering with blisters or a strain, the man carrying the board had still to be twenty yards behind. Quite a few times, one would arrive back at the camp half an hour after the main column and late for meals, because of the struggling person, but its all in the game as that struggling person could have been you
The schemes and war games were a doddle now, because gone were the days when everything seemed so vague. The places most used for these schemes were Bowes Moor and Hammersley Forest and it was the latter of the two we and my fellow companions preferred. Sometimes we dug a hole the length of ones body by a foot deep and line it with your poncho and stay the night in attacking or defending positions. If by chance there were a barn near at hand, then we would sleep among the hay and contrary to what people say it can be very cold among the hay. The first job in making camp was to light a fire and get the grub and brew going and everyone agreed in unison, this was the priority which had been learned while abroad. A few Territorial Officers were joining the Battalion on short commissions and they always expressed their surprise in seeing us cooking our food on the open fire, saying the Territorial soldiers would go down to the nearest shops for pies and sandwiches, than cook meals over a fire! We earned a lot of respect from those new Officers and I must say they were a lot more amiable than the Sandhurst Infantry Officers were. Nearly all officers come to infantry battalions direct from Sandhurst, all unfortunately with an air of superiority about them. I don’t want to undermine the ex-Sandhurst officers, because they knew what they were doing and how to go about it, but a little it of flexibility wouldn’t have gone a miss
Our Company had nearly all been to the Cameroons and as I had written earlier were mostly National Servicemen. During all the National Service years, the servicemen proved themselves to be, quite competent soldiers, who could be relied on to give their best of 100%both in smartness and drill. The regular soldier, because of their laid back approach, were never near as good and there was no doubt, the NS were better sportsmen, because they dominated all the battalion sports teams. Again I don’t want to undermine the regular soldiers, because there was some grand lads among them, who were first class in every way and what is paramount to the British Army, they were very good soldiers.
When the battalion, were paid a visit by a Field Marshall or a General, the guard of honour was provided by our company, who were mainly National Servicemen. During my time at Barford Camp, there was three Guards of honour and I along with Les Lowther, were on all three. The drilling movements had to be done to perfection and this was achieved by plenty of practice under the close scrutiny of CSM Driver. All kit to be worn on the guard of honour, had to be bulled up more shinier than ever before, each member of the guard, had his uniform better tailored to suit his build. Usually the General would turn up looking quite sloppy and after inspecting us, would say, “This is the best guard of honour, he had ever seen.” This of course was bullshit, but nevertheless, along with CSM Driver, we were pleased he said it.
As I wrote earlier, Les Lowther was also on the guard of honour and in my opinion at that period of time, he was the smartest soldier in the regiment. All his equipment was absolutely immaculate and Les spent time and effort making sure it was kept in that condition. Each Company in turn had to do weekly guard duties and at the very least, each man was expected to do three guards, which comprised of two 12 hour and one 24 hour guard. On the 24-hour guard duty, seven men reported for the mounting of the guard ceremony and the smartest of the seven would be picked out as stick man. He would then, instead of doing guard duty, would be company runner for the Commanding Officer for the rest of the day. So obviously everyone strove to be stick man, but if you had the misfortune to have Les Lowther on your guard rota, there was no chance at all, because Les, was always picked out. The three times I was picked out as stick man, Les Lowther was not on the same rota, but I borrowed a few items of his best equipment and it paid dividends. Many lads in the billet, who normally had no chance of being stick man, would be stood on a boot box and systematically their gear would be checked. We always tried through borrowing better equipment, make the lad in question, a good candidate for stick man. When our Company did its turn of Guard duties at Barford Camp, nearly all stick men came from our billet. I can only put this down to comradeship of the highest order and Les Lowther’s equipment.
While in the Cameroons, waiting to join my platoon after Major Nash had left for England; I was put in a tent that housed some (HQ) personnel. In this tent there was one particular lad named Grimshaw, a fellow national Serviceman, who was a stonemason in civilian life. From the moment I first stepped foot in that tent we just did not get on, we differed on every subject known. I can never remember agreeing with Grimshaw once, nothing physical, just verbal and obviously there was no love lost between us, when I left the tent to join my platoon, one week later. When back in England at Barford Camp, one weekend Grimshaw who was married with a small child decided for some unknown reason not to go home. On the Saturday night after visiting the town, Grimshaw on his return back to camp on his own, was run over by an unknown vehicle and killed. The lads in his billet were totally devastated and his close friends such as Pat Hindley were allowed to go to Grimshaw’s funeral in a South Lancashire town. I was really sorry this had happened to Grimshaw, because although we didn’t get on, I still respected him for sticking to his own principles.
The food at Barford Camp was not too bad, but one had to try and wangle being some where near the cookhouse when the bugle sounded, because the first in the queue get the best. It would be quite amusing after the bugle was blown, because from being a deserted area it would be a mass of hungry soldiers in a matter of seconds, where they all came from, God only knows.
I only went into the town of Barnard Castle on the odd occasion, because of being a National Serviceman; I had no money spare. The wage we were receiving for our last six months in the army, was about two pounds fifty pence, in present terms. So you the reader can understand it didn’t give any National Servicemen much to play about with, but we got by. When lads are in the same predicament, as we all were those days, it is surprising how generous they become to each other. As the saying goes, “That’s what friends are for!”
The majority of National Servicemen if not on duty, went home at weekends, whereas the regular soldier, if he didn’t have married quarters stayed in the camp. The town of Barnard Castle was such an awkward place to reach, but luckily sometimes a special train was put on to take intending travelling soldiers, as far as Preston. The Barrow and District lads would get off at Carnforth and catch a connection to Barrow. I used the special troop train quite often before going abroad, but I only used it about twice on the battalion return from Africa. This was, because of my friend Brian Dempster, buying a car and then I accompanied him whenever he went home. The waiting room on Carnforth station had a large wooden table that had been marked out for matchbox rugby. Many a game was played on that table as we waited for our connections either for home or back to Barnard Castle as indeed others before me had. Whoever scribed those lines, on the table in Carnforth station waiting room, I wish to say, on behalf of the many hundreds of soldiers who used it, thanks a lot.
The train I dreaded most was the 8.10pm out of Barrow on a Sunday night. This was the last train out of Barrow to Preston, for soldiers to catch a train up and down the country, in order to be back at their respective camps before reveille. Due to National Service coming to an end, the lads using the special troop train was diminishing every month, because of demob etc. Thankfully, because of Brian Dempster buying a car, as I wrote earlier, whenever Brian went home, I along with fellow Barrovian passengers, Brian Sergeant and the Billy Kell, went with him. Brian Sergeant and I were in the same billet and he was quite a character and very popular with everyone. Billy Kell who was his friend looked on Brian as his hero and in his spare time would always be in the vicinity of him and Brian to his credit did look after him. I had and still have, tremendous respect for Brian Dempster, a very loyal no nonsense type of man, who could be relied upon 100%. He proved a good friend to me, not just in England, but in the Cameroons as well and for this, I will never forget. Our favourite saying was, “I’ve got mine,” and we both know what that means.
One weekend I went home with another Barrow lad named Lew Mickleback, who had a 500cc Triumph Thunderbird motorbike. Very rarely anyone used crash helmets those days and with our berets pulled down over our ears, we were no exception. It was one of the most hair raising experiences I have ever endured, the speed he rode was truly frightening and certainly not for me. Thank God it was my first and last journey home with Lew, because this was normally Les Lowthers lift home and I know speed didn’t bother him, for prior to going into the army, he was a similar rider to Lew Mickleback; both mad. Geoff Stubbs also bought himself a small motorbike and he made a couple of journeys to and from Barnard Castle, until he broke his leg at home, after being hit by a car while out walking. Geoff had to spend his last few months until his eventual demob, at Chester Military Hospital and unluckily for Geoff, that was delayed a couple of months until his leg got better. Also another good friend of mine, Jim Stacey, broke his leg in an accident while on leave and therefore was not with us for demob. I presume he must have been at Chester Military Hospital as well, because regrettably I never saw Jim again.
During October 1961 my brother Frank married June Gordon at St George’s church in Barrow. I obtained from the Company O.C a seventy-two hour pass, to attend the wedding, because I was Frank’s best man. As often on numerous occasions, I hitch hiked home and in those days as long as you were in uniform people would stop for you. It was surprising, the number of people doing the picking up, had either been in the forces or had some relative who had and even though sometimes the pick up was only for a couple of miles, it was most appreciated by one and all. It was also about his time that I became engaged to the girl with the beautiful eyes, Valerie Winn. With Valerie’s father Walter still in hospital, the engagement was just a quiet affair and it was just as well, because unlike the present day engagements, we could not afford it.
I played rugby union for Vickers Sports Club, prior to being called up and now with the regiment back in England, I started to play for the battalion rugby team. When I first began to play for the battalion, there were a few professionals in the side and it gave me quite an amount of personal satisfaction, too play alongside such good players. The fixtures were excellent, we played against Darlington RUFC, the 8th and 24th Signals, who like us contained professional players. Having beaten the 24th Signals in the Army cup, the team traveled to Edinburgh, where we were beaten by a very good Kings Own Scottish Borders team. We twice annihilated a team from H.M.S. Cumberland and also a Royal Air Force XV. The Preston Training Depot we beat home and away, playing for the Preston team was a big Fijian, who had an outstanding game. I have never seen such a massive head on anyone’s shoulders in all my life; he looked and played quite fierce.
The highlight of my time with the Kings Own Royal Border rugby team, came when we toured and played the Parachute Regiments at Aldershot, where we stayed for a week in one of their Regiment’s barracks. Our team was down too play, Numbers 1 and 3 Parachute Regiments and the Paras Royal Horse Artillery. On reaching their barracks, we were met and given a lecture about the Parachute Regiments, by a Major. He finished off his lecture by saying, when blood runs, it means nothing to the Parachute Regiments, but I want you all, to enjoy your stay with us. I thought God, what are these games going to be like. As it happened we won the first two games quite comfortably, with only a little bit of aggro involved. The last match involved playing No3 Paras and playing at fullback was the major who gave the introduction lecture. This indeed, was the toughest match with no quarter asked and no quarter given. It was during the second half of the game, that Les Lowther kicked a very high up and under towards the full back playing Major. As he ran in position to catch the ball, Les was in full flight reminiscent of a steam train and ferociously crash tackled the Major. He just flew into the air like a rag doll and crashed to the ground with a thump, as I watched the Major being carried off, the words of blood means nothing to the Parachute Regiment echoed in my ears. We also won the match quite convincingly
It was while down at Aldershot, we visited the Biggest naafi in the U.K. and it was also the first time, I had seen racial abuse. In the bar of the naafi, there were three black British Soldiers in civilian dress, drinking quietly on their own and certainly not bothering anyone. Then without cause, a group of Paras also dressed in civilian clothing started being obnoxious to the three black soldiers. Every time one of the Paras finished drinking his beer, they would smash their empty glass at the feet of the black soldiers. This went on for about half an hour, until one of the black soldiers left the room and returning with the Military Police, who arrested two of the picked out ringleaders, in what I can only describe as a very hostile situation. As the black soldiers prepare to leave the room, they had to run through a gauntlet of soldiers, throwing pints of beer over them.
I didn’t enjoy what I witnessed and I am sure it must have happened on previous occasions, because after the three black soldiers had left the room, everything seemed as though nothing had happened. The whole affair was absolutely bloody disgusting and I don’t ever want to see anything like it again in my life.
My time playing for the regiment got me off most afternoon duties for about three months, and during this time, Les Lowther, by teaching me sprint training, quickened me up considerably and I kicked twenty goals and scored six tries between September and January. During that time, lads being demobbed were forever weakening the team, until eventually it was our turn. The players I can recall who played in the battalion team were, Les Lowther, Derek Hornby, Ken Tighe, Joss Kenley, Dave Rawes Pat Hindley, Brian Sergeant, Derek Lydon, Jackson Eve, Alan Welsh, Bignall, Wilson, Lieutenant Farrell and Captain Kier. I am sorry, that I can not remember the other members of the team. Three other lads beside myself, who played in the team, were all billeted in the same tent at Sante Coffee in the Cameroons. It is a privilege and indeed it gives me great pleasure to write their names, Dave Rawes, Jackson Eve and Alan Welsh. There was one officer who played for the team named Captain Kier, who was incidentally the oldest player, but a very respected one at that, both on and off the field. I am quite sure he won’t remember me now, but I certainly remember him.
The RSM of the battalion, were a man named Garner, whose presence on the barrack square straightened everyone up that little bit more rigid, but he was a rugby fanatic through and through and because of this Les and I got on very well with him. This was to the envy of CSM Driver, whose eyes nearly popped out, when he came into the RSM’s office and saw Les and I talking casually with the RSM. I will say this for RSM Garner, he was a fine man and if a few more of the Senior NCO’s had taken a leaf out of his book, they would have gained the respect that RSM Garner enjoyed. It was a great pity; I never had the pleasure of meeting the RSM after demob, because to me, he was a gentleman of the first order.
While on a 24-hour guard duty at Humbleton Camp, during my first four months in the army and prior to going abroad. There were two men in the cells awaiting court martial, one was a very white faced man named Brooks, who had gone missing from the old Border Regiment in Berlin and had crossed over into the Russian sector of East Berlin. A few years later he was handed back over to the West; hence Brooks ended back to his now amalgamated battalion and later was dishonourably discharged. The other man in the cells, was a huge man of considerable strength named Stewart and definitely a man not to tangle with. He had a scar on his lip and I mention this, because every time he spoke, you seemed to be looking at his scar. This day we had to escort Brooks and Stewart to the shower block and the duty Sergeant who I think was Sergeant Machin, gave each one of the escort guard a pick axe handle.
They were then both marched down to the showers, when outside, Brooks quietly walked in, but not Stewart. He said to the Sergeant, “ if any of these bastards come in here with me, I’m off and them fuckers won’t stop me!” The Sergeant panicked and replied, “Don’t do that, go in on your own and we will wait for you out here.” This defused the situation, as Stewart looked quite fierce and I am sure a club on the head wouldn’t have stopped him. It was ironical, that when Stewart came out of army nick, he was promoted to Provost Corporal in the Regimental Police. To get back to rugby, now back in England after being abroad, Corporal Stewart was sent down to do rugby training by RSM Garner. On seeing Stewart turn up for training we were all a little bit apprehensive about him, but as it happens, he was as green as grass about rugby. During the course of a practice match Stewart picked up a loose ball and started to run. As Les Lowther and I ran in to tackle, he took one look at the incoming traffic and threw the ball over his head. On seeing him do this, was an open invitation to pile in and needless to say that was the end of Corporal Stewart and his venture into rugby.
The only time I never gave 100% at rugby, was a hurriedly arranged game the day before demob, when we played the 8th Signals at Catterick. Les Lowther and I were not too happy about playing, but we had no option. I just could not get myself motivated with demob so near, because if we had sustained a bad injury, such as a broken limb etc, we would have had to stay in the army until it was right. It was quite understandable how we felt, but I know it was a bit unfair on our fellow teammates and incidentally we lost the match.
Captain Kier sent for Les Lowther and I, prior to demob and thanked us for the effort we had put in while playing for the battalion and then he awarded us with regimental colours of which I am quite proud of and certainly very honoured to have. I look back on my days with the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment rugby team, with pride and happy memories.