My Memoirs

The Life & Times of a lad from South Parade

South Parade was a street, like many others in the 50’s and 60’s in Hull, situated on Anlaby Road, more or less opposite where Hull Royal Infirmary is now.  Our street was made up of run down homes, some situated in the actual street and most in terraces made up of probably 8-10 homes what were called ‘sham fours’, ie two bedrooms, a kitchen, a front room plus a small back yard which housed the outside toilet and a back yard door which led to an alleyway to the  street.   As I was born in 1946 most of these properties did not have electricity but just gas and running cold water.   The only heating in these houses was the coal fire in the front room, no heating upstairs, this fire was kept well alight otherwise it became very cold indeed.   As we had no electricity we had no sockets or lighting upstairs so we had to use candles.   In the front room was a central gas light which had a mantle and was a devil to light and was left to mother to do.   Often the mantle blew a hole and required to be changed so it was off to the corner shop for a replacement.   Also, if it was windy we all had to enter the house using the back door because gusts of wind sometimes blew the mantle out.   It was always easy to gain access to the house, (1 Harold’s Terrace) as our door key was kept on a piece of string which hung behind the letter box.   Most people used this method and we never got burgled, (we had nothing worth stealing anyhow).   I believe you could go out for the day and leave the house unlocked, no problem.   No wheelie bins in them days but an aluminium dustbin left in the back yard.   The binmen used to carry it out on one shoulder to the dustcart and ofter the bin contained the ashes from the coal fire and must have been quite a weight.   Binmen worked in all weathers and never seemed to complain even when the bin developed a hole and the contents fell out all over the floor.   As I said I was born in 1946 and lived in this house until 1957, with my brother, when I reached the age of 11.   Also in the house was my father, mother, brother and later my sister Kay.   Bath night in Harold’s Terrace was something of an experience as the ‘tin bath’ which was left hanging from a nail in the back yard was carried into the kitchen area.   All manner of kettles and pans were used to boil enough water on the gas stove as we had no other means of heating the water, no bathroom, no central heating, no electric lights or sockets.   This obviously meant no television just a Rediffusion radio in the corner, a situation which the younger generation cannot fathom out.   This situation continued until I was 11 years of age when we moved, (flitted) to a modern flat in Vauxhall Grove, near Hessle Road, in 1957.   Back to bath night, when enough was boiled it was decided who would go in first.   It was deemed that the cleanest would go first as the water was not changed from person to person.   Also it was ‘in the bath, get washed and out’, no messing about.   Sometimes my brother and I were sent to Madely Street baths as a bit of a treat.
How many of you still remember the man calling, often on Saturday mornings to collect a few shillings.  Mother told us that he was the insurance man but many years later we established that he was really the 'Tally Man' and mother had to pay back what she had borrowed after obtaining what was called a 'Club Check'.  This was a voucher which most people in our situation obtained, probably twice a year and was used to get me and my brother new clothes from particular shops on Hessle Road.  We usually got kitted out with new socks, underwear, plimsoles and short trousers and god help you if you got them dirty.  We did not think this situation was strange as everyone was in the same boat, ie short of money.  We seemed to go from week to week struggling but eventually we got through it.  I also remember that when the tallyman knocked and mother had no spare money she used to tell us to keep quiet until he had gone.
This situation did not seem strange to me at all.   Most families in the street appeared to be in the same boat as ourselves.   Later in life I realised that it was our mother (Olive) who held everything together.   How many young people of today could, or would live like we did.   Clothes were patched up on a regular basis, no throwaway society in them days.   Clothes were handed down to younger children and shoes, (often with holes in the soles) were fitted  with cardboard and it was a bit of a devil when it rained as your socks became very wet indeed.   Also we all knew most of our neighbours and the odd ones out were the well off ones and stood out like a sore thumb.   As this period is some 60-70 years ago some names are still remembered, the McNairs who had a small black & white television, probably a 9 or 12 inch screen and Mrs McNair allowed some of the kids in the street to sit in front of it to watch kids tv until Mr McNair came in from work then it was ‘everybody out’.   Other names which come to mind  are the Morrods, Spencer, Elsom and a woman in our terrace called Zilla who was deaf.   An old lady loved next door to ourselves but we never ever saw her.   The terrace was often full of washing on lines.   Monday seemed to be ‘wash day’ and mother often made a booking at the washhouse which was situated at the bottom of Regent Str, (Hessle Road end).   All washing was transported to the washhouse on a pram or tansad and was generally in a dollytub and mother used to wash everything by hand in hot water which was provided.   After washing it was all placed in long driers and then brought home sometimes pushing the pram through deep snow.   Can you imagine washing all your bedding etc by hand, (no washing machines as this time was before the ‘coin ops or Bendix) lugging it all home and then having to prepare the evening meal in time for father to get home from work.   At this time dad worked as a steel erector and at least he brought in a weekly wage however he liked his beer, often on a daily basis.   Dads drinking seemed normal to me as the pubs were always full, especially at nights and we often used to climb up and look through the windows at the drinkers before being ‘sent on our way’ by the irate landlord.   We later learned that most of dads wages did actually go into the coffers of Hull Brewery Ales and mother did a marvellous job and struggled, sometimes daily, to put food on the table.   She must have spent many a day worrying where the next meal would come from and crying into her pinny or handkerchief.   She never ever let us see her crying but hid this from us all and it wasn’t until later in life that this was discovered.   I do remember going to the local pub with a large jug for beer as an errand for some old people who could not leave their house.   We must have been classed as poor because at time my brother and I used to have ‘free school dinners’ which was deemed to be a bit of a stigma.   At week-ends we used to have to go to Villa Place school for our free meal but to be fair, lots of other kids were in the same boat as ourselves.
In Hull in 1947 it was one of the hardest winters on record history and the temperature dropped well below freezing.   As I was still a baby I was probably kept in my pram to keep warm.  In the old days when growing up all the winters were pretty bad and very cold.  You have probably heard the adage, ‘mam he has pulled the coats off me in bed’, to be told ‘don’t call them coats, call them covers’.   Going up the winding staircase to bed was sometimes a bit of a night-mare as it was so cold, damp and dark.   The windows often froze over and ice formed inside, remember we had no fitted carpets at all, (they hadn’t been invented yet).
When we  moved out of South Parade the property was eventually demolished along with the whole street by non other than ‘Sam Allon’ in their distinctive yellow painted lorries and dozers.   It seemed that Sam Allon got all the contracts in Hull and I believe he razed Bean Street, Regent Street, Campbell Street, Day Street, Walker Street and many more to the ground and he must have made an absolute fortune out of Hull City Council.   A lot of families moved out to estates dotted around Hull but we moved to a top floor flat in Vauxhall Grove.   This was in 1957 and it was a 2 bed flat and it was like going into another world.   Can you imagine electric lighting in all the rooms, a proper kitchen, a bathroom with an immersion heater which meant hot water and as much as we liked.  Decent carpets and better furniture seemed to appear from nowhere.   My brother and I also had our own bedroom and our own single bed  with sheets and blankets.   People may not understand this but my father and an uncle moved our furniture etc by hand-cart, no vans then, one Saturday morning whilst we were sent off to ABC Minors pictures.  The act of moving was called ‘flitting’ and those people who moved to avoid paying debts etc moved under the adage ‘a moonlight flit’.  We really loved this flat and I remember having several baths, one after another as dad used to say we were not clean enough, get back in, he did have a sense of humour at times.   As we now had electricity we had a television installed.  It was a Bush TV, black and white picture and made out of white or cream plastic and we loved it however programmes only started after school with Children’s Hour.  Most kids went to bed around 8pm and we were no different.  As we had now joined the living, things definitely changed, it was more enjoyable in that flat, mother baked break & hot cakes and the smell was wonderful.
The only place to shop in those days was to go ‘on road’, ie, Hessle Road as you could buy almost anything there rather than go into the town centre.  We did not always use public transport to get about but walked to our destination.
Now I was  11 years old I had to go to ‘big school’, ie Boulevard High School.  A  lot of the infant schools in the area sent their ‘boys’ to Boulevard after 11+ exams had been taken.   I remember taking mine one Saturday morning at Brunswich Avenue school.  I remember mother saying to me, ‘if you have to go to Riley High, how am I going to afford to pay for your uniform’.  On entering the classroom all the desks had a plant in plant pots on them, a sheet of white paper and a stick of charcoal.   I had never seen charcoal in my life never mind used it and we were expected to create a drawing of the bloody plant.   It was a disaster as the charcoal stick kept breaking and I smudged the paper.   I never went to Riley High after all but started at Boulevard and really never took to school life.   I used to ‘twag’ a lot with my mate Johnny Normington.   The only name I remember in my class was Roy Wilkinson who was a very tall lad, wore glasses who always sat in the front desk.   As he was very tall when sat at his desk his feet used to stick out in front of him and the teacher used to tell him to retract them his desk used to rise up into the air.  The only teacher I remember was Stan Adams.   He was the deputy head and a pure tyrant and I honestly believed he enjoyed giving us the cane, he really laid it on.
We also, as children growing up as best we could we often went through phases of either collecting things or doing what the Americans had just brought out.  It seemed that as soon as the Yanks had it we got it.  I remember hoola-hoops, yo-yos and many other things that now escape my memory.  One thing I do remember was what we called 'bogies'.  In other parts of the United Kingdom they either called them 'trollies' or 'go-carts'.  We started by obtaining a decent length of wood or plank, a wooden box to act as the seat and most importantly a good set of pram wheels.  The word went out that we needed these items and we gradually obtained them and started to build or bogie.  It had to be the best bogie in the street and we were very proud of it.  As we had no electricity at home we could not drill any holes in the plank for the nut and bolt which housed the steering device so dad put our poker into the fire and burnt a hole.   Lots of banging and clattering later, straightening nails, we had our bogie .

At the age of 15, in 1961, we all left school and entered the real world and it dawned on me that I now had to work for a living.  On the final Friday of school all those who were leaving that day we all went round the different classes which we had been in to say goodbye to some of the teachers.   On the following Monday morning I started work at a small engineering company on Cleveland Street called Scrutons, (it is now called Dappat and is still there).   I used to cycle from Hessle Road to Cleveland Str in all weathers to be there by 7.30am.   My first job in the mornings was to start a fire in a brazier which all the men used to sir round during their tea and dinner breaks.  Sometimes the wood was wet which made lighting this fire difficult and the smoke used to be awful and fill the shed etc.   The foreman, Alf Grimmer used to come running in to both find me and tell me off, he was a difficult man to work for and I did not understand him really.   I worked from 7.30am – 4.30pm Monday to Friday for the princely sum of £2.56p after tax and out of that I received 10 shillings back from my mother.   My brother Graham who was 2 years younger than me left school in 1963 and started working as a butcher’s boy on Hessle Road and took home far more than me in wages as I was deemed to be an apprentice.   How did I get my first and in fact my second job ?   No interviews, no writing off loads of letters to companies etc but it seemed that your father sorted it all out for you and all you had to do was turn up on the day in your brand new boots & overalls.  As I said, I left school on the Friday and started work on the following Monday morning at 7.30am.   I never stayed long with this company as my dad moved me to a firm on North Dock Walls at the end of Queens Gardens called Scotney’s Ltd.   I was not the only apprentice here but as I was the last one in I became the ‘tea boy’ and went to the shops & post office for the office staff.  The tea was brewed by a pensioner in a grotty upstairs room which was always full of smoke and domino boards.   Most of the men had their own seats and dare anyone to sit in  them.  The pensioner brewed the tea in what was known as a ‘baby boiler ‘ thing and I later discovered that a baby boiler was used by most housewives to boil flannelette nappies – you live and learn.   Oh by the way at this new firm I was on more money but not a lot.

In 1963 at the age of 17 I had the great idea that engineering was not for me and I should join either the army or the air force.  So it was off to the recruiting office in town where I sat a number of exams etc and was accepted into the Royal Engineers.   On hearing I had signed up my father went spare but I did persevere and eventually travelled to Cove in Hampshire under the guideance through London from another older chap from Hull.   Guess what, 1963 was one of the worst winters in Britain on record and was similar to that experienced by people in 1947 and was absolutely freezing.   Army training was an absolutely different experience for me and I never thought people had to go through all this.  On entering the camp after getting off the lorry people were shouting all sorts of orders at us, some of which I didn’t understand we were shown into a large room with some 30 beds in it and designated a ‘bed space’.  

I was given the next but last bed on the right of this room.   The end bed was given to an older lad who was a re-enlistment and was from Liverpool, he was called Ted Smith.   On my left was a Geordie from Murton Colliery and he was called George Walton who I found very difficult to understand.   He reminded me of Plug out of the Beano comic but a great guy.   Ted Smith who knew the score helped us through training, ie how to bull our boots which were stiff and heavy and reminded me of divers boots.  It was said that the only thing that fitted us in them days were your boot laces and tie, nothing else.   We learned to stand in a bath half full of cold water, in our boots, to try to soften them then stuffed them full of paper overnight. 

We were issued with what was called a ‘battledress’ uniform which stank when ironed, fumes actually came off the material.  From my records I read that I started training at Cove in late 1963 and then left for Germany to my first unit in July 1964.   During training I was receiving some £7+ per week, much more than working as an apprentice in Hull.  My biggest problem was that the army made us all send money home rather than left us keep it all to ourselves.   During a leave period I asked how much savings I had accumulated.  My mother told me that the money I had been sending home through an allowance book each week had been spent by my father, probably in the pub and nothing had been saved.   On my return to training at Cove it was obvious that all my mates had new clothes etc bought with their savings.  It was not until I reached my first unit that I was able to stop the allowance, my dad was not very happy about it at all.   I also remember coming home on leave on one occasion and went into the Eagle pub where dad used to drink and the landlord, Laurie Rice who was a gentleman, had a word with me saying that unfortunately I owed him X number of pounds.  It turned out that dad had bought some of his mates beer on the understanding that I was coming home on leave and that I was loaded and would pay the outstanding tab – I stopped this arrangement immediately.

So my life is up to about 1964 and I am a fully fledged serving soldier in Germany but still only 17 year of age.   I was, after training, posted to 40 Advanced Engineer Stores Regiment, (40 AESR), which was in Willich near Dusseldorf as a storeman.   

As I landed at Dusseldorf  airport I looked around and said to myself ‘those people are Germans’, silly I know but I will never ever forget thinking that.   After settling in I was put to work in the Quartermasters department working with/for  an Irish chap called Ssgt Paddy Madden, one of life’s gentlemen.   He was a lot older than me, probably in his forties and he taught me a lot, however I had to teach him mathematics as he could not pass  his Class 1 education course in order for him to be promoted.   To him maths were an absolute mystery, like ourselves learning Algebra or Latin at school.  He just could not grasp some of it but we eventually we got there and he passed.  He  used to take me  to his married quarter, meeting his wife and family and feed me.  He also used to tell me off for drinking too much as in Willich we had nothing to do, no television, no radio or newspapers.   I also, for the princely sum of 5 marks, used to babysit for his mate who was in the REME.  It was alright as the baby used to sleep most of the night anyway.   On one occasion when I arrived his wife said, ‘help yourself to a sandwich whilst we are out’.  I made myself a huge bacon banjo and Paddy later told me that I had eaten his mates breakfast.   Paddy eventually got me a plumb job as the ‘bedding store-man, a job which I really loved as I was excused all guard duties, had my own bedroom and more or less did what I liked as long as my work was completed during the day.  I even had the German cleaner come in every morning to make my bed and do some dusting.   Willich was a place you either loved or hated, a bit like marmite.   The depot where we worked was huge but the actual barracks where we lived and slept was quite small with very little facilities hence most of us took to drink in the NAAFI which opened at 7pm and closed at 10pm.  Between each accommodation block was grass which we used in the summer for sunbathing purposes.  One story goes that a cook who overdid things whilst trying to obtain a tan, smothered himself in something from the cookhouse and the eventual screams could be heard for miles as the medics had to take him away using a six foot trestle table as he could not be touched, never saw him again.  Every unit had characters and Willich was no exception.  A Scottish lad who carried a ‘chitty’, (a piece of paper) which allowed him to have alcohol in his billet, (everyone else was banned from this practice).   Pop Ledsham must have been in his late 30’s and he stank to heaven with body odour.   He lived in the bottom room of the billet and I remember him walking down the centre of the barracks towards the front door and all I could hear was his medals jangling, (he must have had at least 2 rows full).   Sapper De Pass was another one who comes to mind.  He was a black chap, probably from Trinidad or somewhere like that and the sergeants couldn’t do a thing with him.  He acted stupid but was more than likely quite clever.  He once asked if he could go post a letter and after given permission got on his bike and cycled some 15-20 miles away which took him all day with all and sundry looking for him.  When questioned he stated that ‘he had been given permission.   Eddie Cooney was once sentenced to ‘jail time’, to be spent in the guardroom.  The story was that at night he used to climb out of his cell window and go visit his German girlfriend.  No one said anything as he was known as a very good boxer and were probably quite scared of him.  Another character in 21 Squadron, a yorkshireman, who lived in Pop Ledsham’s room never slept in his bed but used a six foot trestle table instead.   I had a very good friend at Willich called Mally Priestly who was from Nottingham and it was him who eventually convinced me to change trades and become a Clerk RE.  In Willich we had a green Commer Mini Bus which was driven by Stan Judkins who I never ever saw in uniform.  Trips were arranged, ie to Amstel Breweries, Amsterdam and several football matches.   I once went on a trip to the brewery, got absolutely pissed and on the return journey to the camp everyone was sick all over the van which did not please Stan as he was booked to take the married pads wives to the NAAFI shop in the morning.   Apparently he had to swill the van out in the morning and then collected the ladies with a very wet and damp van.

After my 2 years plus at Willich I was moved to the Far East with 54 Field Sqn RE in Singapore.   I initially left Germany to go on leave before reporting to Kitchener Barracks in Chatham in order to sort out my passport and travel details etc.   On my day of travel I was very excited but the army always got you out of bed many hours before you actually needed to and I travelled to London by train to a movements centre where the whole flight was bussed to the airport.   The flight was by Eagle Airways (civilian crew) and took some 23-24 hours with 2 or 3 stops on the way.   During the flight a ‘Rodney’ (slang for officer) announced that all men had to ensure that we had shaved before landing in Singapore.  What a clown he turned out to be as all our shaving kit etc was in suitcases in the hold.  It turned out that we actually landed around midnight so who the hell was bothered about what we looked like, we must have looked like a right bloody mess.   Only 2 of the flight were destined to go to 54 Squadron and we arrived at Gillman Barracks, knackered and a little bewildered.   We quickly drew emergency bedding and got our heads down for a little sleep only to be woken a few hours later to be told, ‘breakfast’ then down to Morris Lines on a 10 ton truck.   We soon realised that in the Far East everybody started work  early in the mornings but finished work quite early in the day as it became quite hot.   After breakfast we all, that is the lads who were going to Morris Lines, clambered onto these 10 ton tipper lorries and were taken to our place of work, ie ‘the lines’.   The drivers of these lorries were absolute madmen and drove like maniacs and we had to hang on for dear life to the amusement of the regulars.  Arriving at the lines everyone leapt off  and went on parade forming up in their different troops, ie, HQ & Stores, Mt Tp, Workshops Tp and Plant Tp.  I was soon allocated a job in HQ & Stores Tp.   Myself and the other chap then reported to the offices and were ushered in front of the 2IC (a Captain) who demonstrated using a piece of wooden dowel how a condom should be used.  As I stood there I wondered what the hell I had got myself  into and what was to come.   
Sew Sew Tailor

We then drew OG’s (olive greens uniforms), took them to the tailors and then spent the next four days off to acclimatise down at the swimming pool reporting to the lifeguard who ensured we did not get sunstroke etc.   We could only go into the pool wearing a teashirt & trunks and it was really enjoyable.   Later on we found out that we were described as ‘looking like milkbottles’.  I was also allocated a bedspace and told exactly where I was going to work each day in HQ & Stores Troop.   Gillman Barracks was built on a hill and our block was called ‘G’ Block situated at the top of the hill.   We did not work full days as we would in the UK but had so many half days, played lots of sport etc and went swimming.   We soon got into a routine and I must say that my tour of Singapore was the best posting ever and I enjoyed every moment of it.   The food in the canteen was the best ever I tasted during my whole time in the army and could not be beaten.   In ‘G’ Block we had what was known as a ‘char-wallah’ who provided the whole block with teas, coffee & soup etc and we paid the bill at the end of the week when we were paid.

We also had a ‘boot boy’ who came in very early in the mornings and polished our boots/shoes and our RE brasses for a nominal fee.  It was said he had a marvellous memory and never forgot if he had been paid or not.  
Boot Boy

In my troop I used to work for a Ssgt Meyerhoff who was quite a decent bloke.   I remember Lcpl Jock Marshall, Taff Howells and 2 others whose names escape me.   We never ever did any hard work and at times it was quite boring.   It was probably at this time that I realised that I wanted to be a ‘clerk’ and work in the office.  I approached the chief clerk and he accepted me immediately and I set to work learning the job.  I suppose working as a clerk was right up my street and I did enjoy going to work each day rather that going into the stores where nothing ever happened.  Names I remember were Jock Cross, John (Jock) Adamson, Charlie Quinn and Jim Parker.   People came and went into the Squadron on a regular basis and I must have worked under several sergeant majors, commanding officers and second-in- commands.   One CO who stands out as a character was Major Driscoll who was ‘different’.   I was often sent to his office in order to ‘tie up his boot laces’ as he didn’t want to have to bend down to tie them as it would crease his trousers.  I was always scared in case the bloody laces broke, ha ha.

After some months working as a clerk I was sent again to see the Co and I fully expected to again ‘tie his laces’ but this time. As I stood in front of him and the SSM behind me he said he was going to ‘Promote’ me to Lcpl.   I heard what he was saying but honestly though he was referring to someone else and I looked behind me to see who was there and who the Co was on about.   The SSM (Smith) said ‘look to your front lad’, he is on about you’.   I was absolutely gobsmacked, could not believe it and I was not too popular in the office as I believed most, if not all of the clerks were far more qualified than me.   At this time I must explain that Jock Cross, who was the Lcpl in the office was always being ‘busted’ and it turned out that I had been awarded his stripe.
People often ask me how and when I learned to drive.  After I had been  made a Lcpl in Singapore I copped for a guard duty at Morris Lines and unfortunately it was a Sunday.  I hated doing guards on Sundays as the day dragged as there was not a lot to do all day.  One of the lads suggested that there was a SWB (Short Wheeled Base) Landrover in the MT whose speedo was buggered and that we could amuse ourselves driving round the yard for a couple of hours as no one ever came to check on us except the Duty Officer who only ever came once.  I told him I could not drive so he put the vehicle onto the square and said, 'there you go, you can't hit anyone now'.  I simply drove up and down the square changing the gears and learning how to use the clutch.  I never forgot all that and when I was posted to Osnabruck I bought and old Austin 1100 and drove round the barracks doing exactly what I did in Singapore until I felt confident enough to ask my mate Ssgt Ted Wilson, who was the examiner for a driving test.  I really could not fail this as we played football together plus we were good mates.  I still remember asking his to include a motorbike licence on the 'pink slip' and he said, 'don't push your luck'.
A well known character in the squadron was one Albert Finney who was from Scotland.   He was a small man, about 5’6”, thin in stature, scruffy and walked like Charlie Chaplin.   One of his party pieces was to go into downtown Singapore, always on his own, as Albert was something of a loner, wearing a white tuxedo jacket, white shirt with a tie, black trousers and patent leather black shoes.   The story goes that Albert used to pretend to be an officer and regularly duped other young officers from other units/regiments who took to him storytelling and invited him back to their officer’s messes.  His downfall came on one occasion when he got really drunk and passed out in a strange officers mess.  His pockets were searched and it was discovered that he was not an officer at all but a private soldier, ie a Sapper.   I cannot remember what his punishment was for this but we all had a good laugh.  He often went into Singapore, (solo) and stayed out all night.   Once he was obviously late for parade etc so jumped into a taxi, still in his tuxedo etc and arrived when were all on parade, got out of the cab and shouted to the SSM (WO2 GIT Smith) to kindly pay the cabbie as he had run out of funds.  Albert’s feet did not touch and he was quickly dispatched to the guardroom, a regular occurrence for him.  One day he was on OC’s Orders for some misdemeanour or other and us clerks, if we listened carefully, could hear all that went on along the landing.  On this time the OC jailed Albert who reply was ‘you cannot jail Albert’.   Another time whilst were on exercise driving up the east coast of Malaya the convoy came to an abrupt halt and someone was sent up to the front to find out what was the problem.  It turned out that Albert had stopped the whole convoy in his one ton water wagon, got out of his vehicle and was shepherding  a family of ducks across the road saying ‘come along brothers’, yes once again he was in bother.
During my tour of Singapore many things happened and I cannot remember them all, however I do remember this one quite clearly.  We regularly got a whole weekend off and one time I was laid on my bed feeling sorry for myself as I had no money when I heard this strange distinctive northern voice, ‘has any-one seen our kid’.   As I laid there I thought to myself, ‘I know that voice but no it cannot be’.   It turned out that it was my brother Graham who was in the Merchant Navy and had docked in Singapore.  I asked him how he had found me, ‘easy he said’, ‘jumped into a taxi and told the driver you were in the Royal Engineers and he dropped me off  at Gillman Barracks’.   He was then taken by the guard to the WO/Sgt’s Mess, just walked in and asked if anyone knew me.   To just walk into the WO/Sgt’s Mess was a ‘no no’ and the RSM was not very pleased.   Luckily someone in the mess knew me and pointed Graham to ‘G’ Block where he found me.   After getting over my surprise Graham took me and my mate, John (Jock) Adamson into downtown Singapore for a few beers.   It turned out that Graham missed his ferry back to his ship so we found him a spare bed for the night.   In the morning we found out that he had been visited by a thief in the night who took all his money, shoes, trousers and shirt.   Graham eventually returned to his ship wearing old clothes and flip-flops and was in trouble with his Captain.

Everyone who was posted to the Far East and 54 Squadron had to go on a detachment for about 3-4 months.  I was selected to go to Borneo and I soon realised that it was ‘active service’.   This meant that we often had to carry rifles everywhere and at times sleep with it, quite uncomfortable I can tell you.   We flew out of Singapore to Kuching on a RAF aircraft called an Argosy.  On arrival we were billeted in a tin shack, a previous brothel called ‘Peace House’.  We all lived in the upper floor of this building as the place was full of rats, believe me I have never ever seen rats as big as these.   
I was in a four man room which had very little furniture, in fact all we had was a bed, a mosquito net and a soldiers box for our personal belongings.   

We all worked some miles away in a compound and part of my job was to ensure that the outboard motors we kept were sent to REME for repairs and re-issued to the SAS, as and when required.

At least once a week a beat up landrover swung into our compound and we could give the driver our order for either bottles of rum, whiskey, brandy and vodka.   At one time I was consuming at least 75% of a bottle, my favourite was Martell Brandy.   The drink was very cheap as there was no tax etc.   We also had a small bar downstairs which was run by Luke Walsh and Tony ?.

On my return to Singapore  it was obvious that I could not afford to drink bottles of brandy etc and had to return to beer.  Besides that everything changed anyhow as Brenda & my son Ian came out to join me.  

I and my mate Jock Adamson found a little house, (a private hiring) on the Thompson Gardens Estate, 33 Jalan Chegar.  I remember going to the pay office in Gillman Barracks to collect what was known as ‘disturbance allowance’ something which all married accompanied soldiers knew about.   As I stood in front of the paymaster he started counting out hundreds of dollars and placing them into neat little piles on his desk in front of him.  He then looked up at me and said, ‘alright, did you manage to count all that’, ‘sign here please’.  I asked him why and the pay sergeant, who I knew anyhow, Sgt Bromley, said, ‘if you don’t sign you cannot have the money’   I quickly signed for the money and it was stuffed into a brown envelope and I got out of the pay office as fast as I could and counted the money later.  If I remember there was well over 700 dollars, a lot of money in them days.  I used the cash to pay my new landlord, an Indian doctor, a month’s rent in advance, buy things for the house plus me and Jock Adamson treat ourselves to a good night out.  I remember one of the things I bought with the money was a lovely radiogram from a shop in Sembawang.  It was German made and was smashed by the british dockers on our return to England, the bastards.   I loved that little house and within hours of Brenda arriving local traders started knocking at the front door offering their custom, ie, a television, groceries and ladies who made clothes from an old Littlewoods catalogue, you just picked out what you wanted, they measured you and within days you were wearing it.   The grocer was a funny little Chinese man who brought your order, put everything away in our cupboards and the fridge, we paid him monthly.  We also had to employ what was known as ‘an armour’ (check spelling) who was a woman who did all the washing and ironing plus babysat sometimes.  

 Our street was occupied by other British families and I soon discovered that if I was to register with the NAAFI I could have 30+ cans of Tiger Beer delivered, free each month just by phoning a certain number.   Singapore was and probably still is a wonderful place to live and the life style for ourselves was much higher and better than in the UK or BAOR.

Eventually my tour was up and we had to return to England and I was posted to Tidworth in Hampshire.   I was now a Lcpl Clerk RE and I once again met my old mate Mally Priestley who I knew from Willich.   We were clerks in 3 Division Engineers  working in RHQ, right under the nose of one of the worst bastard RSM’s in the whole of the British Army called WO1 LFT Wilson.   Most week-ends the lads in the unit used to travel home to whole corners of the country by coaches leaving on Friday night after work and returning late on the following Sunday night.  Because the RSM was such a bastard someone quite often used to throw a milk bottle or two though the windows of his house and immediately on Monday morning joiners and a workforce were summoned to replace the glass and clean the mess up.   Nobody ever admitted the offence but secretly we were all very pleased that it happened.   We always seemed to be on parades in our best uniforms etc and on one occasion it poured with rain and the bastard kept us all on the square doing drill, we were soaked.   The RSM also insisted that we did not have sideburns and these were shaved off at the top of the ear, we looked like prisoners.   A circular appeared from the Commanding Officer, aimed at officers, that their hair should be kept longer than normal, this was duly photo-copied and posted all round the unit.
Brenda and our then 2 boys, Ian and Sean moved into a married quarter called 1 Zouch Close, Nth Tidworth.  This was an ex officer’s quarter, no central heating but a coal fire in the living room which heated the water.   Mally Priestley used to come round sometimes and always managed to cadge a ‘jam sandwhich’, his favourite.   It was at Tidworth that I learned about growing tomatoes.   Out shopping one day in the High Street, the grocer had a sign out saying ‘grow your own tomatoes’.   He duly sold me 2 or 3 plants and a booklet.   I cadged an old ammunition box, filled it with soil and hey presto they grew providing me with far more than I needed.   To this day I still don’t like the taste of them.
One story I heard was that Albert Finney who was in 54 Squadron in Singers also served in Tidworth and on being banned from the local pub had one of his mates place a very large ashtray containing human waste under one of the armed bandits.  The smell became rather bad and no one could understand where it was coming from and this lasted for months until eventually it was discovered.  Another story about Albert, (believe me he was worth knowing) was that he went home to Scotland on leave and on his return, travelling on the overnight train to London, he and his mate dragged and stashed a dead stag into the guards van and being well pissed, found seats and immediately got their heads down whilst the authorities spent all night attempting to find the culprits.  Once again Albert was in trouble.

Before I forget.  Whilst a clerk in Osnabruck I often had to type out charge sheets etc for the lads who were going on OC’s Orders, ie those who were in a bit of trouble.  The OC then, a Captain Thornton who actually looked like Garth and was probably just as big but a very nice man to work for was overheard shouting to the SSM at the time, ‘OK lets march the guilty bastards in and get this over with’.  It was only his sense of humour and it was well known in the army that if you were on OC’s Orders it was your duty to prove your innocence as very few came out ‘not guilty’.
Whilst playing football one day for the Squadron a ‘runner’ turned up and informed our coach that myself and Mally Priestley, (both clerks) had to return to the Chief Clerk at RHQ, still in our football kit, without getting a shower and changed to see the Commanding Officer.  We wondered what the hell we had done wrong and neither of us could come up with anything at all.  On standing in front of the CO he informed us that both of us had been promoted to full Cpl and to date I have never ever known a stranger way of being promoted.  The RSM was waiting for us when we came out of the CO’s office, he congratulated us both then told us to get our stripes onto our uniforms asp, (he really was a complete bastard).  It was a good feeling to be promoted as it meant more money and a move to a Squadron, ie 34 Field Squadron and away from that bloody RSM.

I spent some 2 years at Tidworth, it wasn’t  too bad, no guard duties but lots of parades.  It was however a ‘Strat Reserve’ unit and soldiers could be mobilised anywhere in the world at a moments notice.  One time 10 Field Squadron where bussed out to a military airfield somewhere carrying full kit etc.  This was a usual thing and happened quite often but on this occasion they never came back but ended up in Canada for a couple of months on exercise.  Our offices were then attacked by several wives and children who wanted to know what was going on and how were they going to be paid and why didn’t their husbands tell them – in fairness the husbands didn’t know anything.

After Tidworth it was back to Germany and the dreaded Osnabruck or as it was commonly known  ‘the Traz’.  My next few years would not be my happiest in my army career.   I should have know something was wrong as the Cpl I was replacing thanked me for turning up and stated  ‘I cannot get out of here fast enough’, the Chief Clerk, WO2 Matt Sayers turned out to be another right bastard in my life and made it his life’s work to make my time there a complete misery and I took to the drink.  One day the CC left for lunch and left all his office keys still in his desk drawer.  Obviously I had a quick peep in his desk drawer as I had noticed he was always looking down into it.   What I found was porn magazines which he used to read all day long.  On his return from lunch I gave him his keys but said nothing.  His face was a picture and he must have realised his secret was out.  My job in that office was to organise all the other clerks and do all the paperwork required for the Courts Martial Centre which was in Roberts Barracks.   I honestly believe the most cases  I had on my two desks was sixteen and some of them made very good reading.   One case was of a Ssgt who served in one of the Squadrons and it turned out he managed to get really pissed in the WOs & Sgts Mess and on his was home in his car stopped at one of the traffic lights and immediately fell asleep until woken by the RMPs and duly charged with drink driving.   One sad incident in Osnabruck was the death of  a daughter of one of the Cpl’s in 39 Field Squadron.  It turned out that the mobile van which used to go onto the estates selling food and veg etc reversed over this poor girl killing her immediately.  Four Cpl’s including myself immediately volunteered to carry her coffin at her funeral, a very sad day all round.

Roberts Barracks had 2 regiments stationed in it, 25 Engineer Regiment and 23 Engineer Regiment.  Each regiment had a complement of 3 squadrons plus an RHQ Sqn and they all had their own bars.  Some were dumps but some had made a very big effort to look smart and welcoming and all served a good selection of beers and spirits at a very cheap rate.  If for instance if you ordered a whisky & coke you always were given a double measure and this was as cheap as a pint of bitter.   I will always remember 39 Field Squadron’s bar as one lad, a very good artist, had painted all the walls with scenes from outer space.   Another bad night was when I was at home in my quarter in Belm Powe and the duty driver was banging on my door telling me that I had to come into the barracks to sort a problem out.  It turned out that a lad had had a bad car crash, he hit a tree, killing his wife.  I then had to initiate a ‘casevac proceedure’ and inform his and her next of kin of what had happened.   I believe from memory that the family were from the Blackburn area of England.  This took me all night without sleep.  The story also goes that after a few months of this incident the lad whose wife was killed walked into one of the bars with another women on his arm, someone rose from his seat and immediately knocked this lad out and left the bar saying nothing.

Whilst in our flat in Belm Powe we were lucky to have the services of a marvellous babysitter form 39 Fld Sqn, Roberts Bks.  He loved to babysit as he was married, from the Wakefield area, had children of his own but refused to have his wife and family in quarters.  When he babysat he used to stay overnight, have Sunday lunch with us and sometimes went for a pint in the local.  He said it was a break from 'barracks life' which I can understand.  His claim to fame was that he was very well endowed in the willy area and after football in the showers used to wave it all over the place putting us all to shame.  One night in the HQ Sqn club in Roberts Bks it came out in conversation and Brenda appeared to be very fascinated and on our return home she could not take her eyes off this lads groin and eventually I had to tell her to stop.  Later I explained it all to him and luckily he took it all in good humour and yes he did babysit again.
One of Osnabruck’s nice guys was the Assistant Adjutant, WO1 Sid Scammell who wore a syrup (a wig) but everyone knew his secret but said nothing.  He used to run/organise a 5 a-side football league and I really enjoyed that.  Osnabruck was the sort of posting that you either liked or hated and it seemed that something was always going on, good and bad.   As I write this load of nonsense I keep remembering snippets of things I should have included earlier like when I was just out of training a group of us was sent on an education course and it was decided that four of us would travel in Geordie Raynor’s old car.   I cannot remember what make it was but it was black, we all had to push start it in the mornings as the battery was knackered, the windscreen wipers did not work so Geordie had a piece of string tied to them so that when he tugged the rope he could operate the wiper across the screen, but only on his side.  Also he adjusted the screen washers so that when he pushed a plunger on the dashboard it sprayed people standing in bus stops then waited for them all to put their hands out to see if it was raining.  One day we had stopped at traffic lights and a lady, on a bike, (a german ladies bike with a little basket on the front) came alongside us.   One of the lads pulled his window down and said to her, ‘would you like me to put my ..... in your .... (very rude)’, to which she calmly said ‘no thank I am English’.   The car was very quickly put into gear and away and we spent days worrying if she had reported us to the police, she had not.

After Osnabruck I was glad to get away and I was posted to Longmoor in Hampshire for the last 18 months of my service.  On arrival I reported to the guardroom and was asked which unit I was joining.  I told them I was posted to 37 Engineer regiment and they all laughed and said, ‘they are not here, they are in Northern Ireland’.   My heart sank as I did not fancy going there but as luck would have it I was told I was joining 33 Field Squadron as the replacement Cpl Clerk and that I could not go to Ireland as I knew nobody and it would be too dangerous, they sent the Lcpl instead who actually wanted to go, problem sorted.  When they all eventually came back the office settled down and it was quite a happy place to be even though Longmoor was rather dull and nothing ever happened there, quite a ‘backwater’.   I joined the soccer team and worked hard in training.  We did four mornings per week either on a long run or gym work and one evening each week for light training.   When I was away in the mornings I used to get to work at about 9.30am and the office staff used to applaud when I entered the office.  I became so fit that I couldn’t drink more than 2 pints of bitter before I was drunk and when I went to bed I slept like a baby.  Eventually came the day when I left the army and funny enough I became quite emotional about going.  Had I made the right decision ? I was so confused and when I made that last walk down the corridor, a civilian, I knew I had made the wrong decision.   Good mates are very hard to find and the army, although it had its odd balls and characters dotted about, was full of them.   We dragged ourselves through 18 weeks of intensive training at Farnborough during the worst winter for decades, promised ourselves we would meet again, we never did, helped each other like brothers to complete tasks and endured long dark nights doing guard duties carrying nothing but a bloody ‘pick axe handle’.
However it was too late, I had signed off and I had to go.   I looked back at the unit and everyone was busy getting on with their lives.   I was one soldier in a thousand and it became obvious that I was just a number, I could be replaced and most certainly was.   I was though taking my memories with me and no one can take them away.

In everyone’s lifetime, especially in  the army, you meet thousands of different people, at school, at work and during one’s retirement.   Some I class as characters who I shall never forget no matter what.  They had joined the army just like myself, signed for either 6 or 9 years and were just getting on with it until their time came to say goodbye.  It was amazing where they all came from in the United Kingdom.  I remember John (Jock) Tyrrell came from the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland.  When he travelled home on leave from Germany he used to say it took him nearly 3 days going overland.   Others I met where absolute bastards and I suppose it was in their nature to be so.  Some seemed to have a ‘chip’ on their shoulders for some reason or other and it was hard work getting through to them.   These people are no longer in my life so I can just forget them but it was odd that out of the thousands of lads that I met I could more or less place them into different categories.   I often wonder what kind of employment some of these bastards did when they left the army or in fact why did they join up in the first place.

On the other hand  I have met some really smashing lads all over the world, away from home and families etc.  Some stand out for miles and I will never forget them and I now thank them for entering my life and enriching it.   Three men really do stand out for me.   As far as I am concerned they a life’s gents, kind, forgiving, courteous and just great to have known.  They are Bill Eden, Hank Lawrence and Richard  Hakeney.   If I ever asked anyone of them for assistance I know that they would drop everything and ensure that my problems would be solved, I am absolutely sure of that.  Hank in particular spent many an hour helping me set up a website so that I could contact old friends, even today if I have a problem all I have to do is ask and he will attempt to sort it out, he never moans about it.  He also helped me through ‘a dark period’ I had even though he had problems of his own.   Bill Eden, although now living in New Zealand can be contacted by Skype and we have many an hour chatting about old times.  Richard lives quite near to me in Hull.  I once had a problem with my TV so I phoned him asking for help, he was round at my house within hours and sorted it all out.   If you met any of these me it would take only moments for you to understand exactly what I mean.  Their charisma would shine through immediately and as far as I am concerned they are ‘Stars’.   If the world was full of these types of men it would be a far better place and not full of idiots going round killing innocent people.  Thank you gentlemen for all you have done for me and I will never cease telling everyone that it is/was a pleasure to have met you all.

I honestly forgot to mention what we did as kids in South Parade in the early 1950’s.  We spent a lot of time outside playing lots of games.  I remember playing ‘block’. ‘rialio’,’cowboys and indians’, football and cricket.  I am still trying to figure out what was rialio.   The girls had their own games such as skipping, doing handstands against the wall and hopscotch.  The girls used to mark out a grid, often in the road, (very few cars in those days) often using cheap ornaments or figures that were obtained from either Hull Fair or local cheap shops that were made of chalk.  The girls, whilst playing their games they used to sing songs that rhymed or were chanted.   When they were skipping the ropes they used were huge and sometimes they played, ‘double ropes’.   Usually on Saturday mornings we all went to ABC minors on Ferensway and if you were quite crafty someone would sneak through to the sidedoor and open it to let those in who had no money.  We were often caught in the act and had to run and hide all over the cinema.  Bonfire night was another event we all looked forward to and we went on ‘raids’ to other bonfires in nearby streets to either set it alight or pinch the wood.  Another trick was to scrape a large copper penny on the red brick walls,  usually our school, buff it up to bring it to a marvellous shine.  If you look at the walls of the local schools you can still find these marks.  Westerns I still remember are or where Hoppalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger & Tonto, Roy Rogers and not forgetting Flash Gordon.

I recently met someone from our distant past who was our babysitter in South Parade, she was called Gwen Palmer.   She was a lovely and kind and never told us off.  The story goes that Gwen used to go through mothers make-up bag, without her permission.   She reminded me of other families in the street and our terrace.  Some names are now just a distant blur but I remember the Jessops, the Graingers who had a fruit & veg shop, the Danbys, Joyce Ahmed, Betty Spencer, the Elsoms, Mrs Hunt and Zilla.
One story goes that Zilla, who lived in our terrace was deaf and dumb, (not a phrase to be used today).  One day she lit the fire which had a small oven attached to one side of it without realising that her cat had crept into it to keep warm and have a snooze.  She then went shopping, as she was deaf she could not hear the cat’s cries and on her return, yes the cat was cooked.   Betty Spencer’s husband was a fisherman and after a particularly good trip away had electricity installed in the house, remember we were all gas.  The wiring was attached to the ceilings and then skimmed over with plaster which was rather thin.  Come Christmas time everybody put up their trimmings and tree etc and whilst Betty’s sister was helping her to hang the trimmings pushed a drawing pin into the ceiling but unfortunately straight into the electric wires and the shock threw her across the room but luckily she survived.
The terrace was always full of washing and many an argument was started due to us kids playing football etc.   Mrs Hunt had a small corner shop in the street and mother quite often had to get groceries etc on ‘tick’ settling the bill when she was paid.  If you did not settle up quickly your name went into the front window on a black list for all to see.  Mrs Hunt organised a yearly bus trip to the coast, usually Withernsea using Blue-Bird coaches from Hedon.  We always had our photos taken whilst standing at the rear of the bus dressed in our Sunday best.  We never ever went round Withernsea but stayed on the beach whilst father headed for the Spread Eagle pub for the day.  I am sure we all really enjoyed the day and the sea air.  I also remember Mrs Elsom who lived on  the corner of our terrace.  Her husband was a milkman and they eventually moved away to East Hull.  Her party trick was to get all us lads to urinate into an enamel bowl and the pee was then washed and rubbed into our knees and this got the dirt out.  Don’t forget we all wore short trousers in them days.

I am going to end my little story at this point, the year would be 1974/75 and I have left the army and settled into civilian life.  If I have forgotten anyone I can only say how sorry I am,  but in time I may add to this effort as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it.  I hope parts of it have made you chuckle a bit and you enjoy its read.  Thank You.
PS: Some of the names mentioned in this story have been dragged from the back of my memory bank and are either true of fiction.  Anyone hoping to sue me for lots of money then please think again as I am skint.

1 comment:

  1. Howard,
    Enjoyed the read especially the 54 memories. Noted Geordie Armstrong in the Charwallahs. And Albert Finney of course who I hear was later thrown off the second floor of "G" block after interfering with a young Sapper inappropriately. armstong and Finney long since deceased.


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