Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Self indulgence alert!!!   The grey drab mists of November have finally descended on deepest Kent and on days like this, my mood seems to match the weather.   So I feel a bit grey, drab and misty eyed this morning and my mind has once again gone back 50 years to the grey drab days of my National Service spent largely in the military outpost of Barker Barracks, Paderborn, West Germany - BFPO 16.   The more recent photo above shows one of the main HQ blocks, where I spent a lot of my time and, beyond, one of the barrack blocks, in which I also spent much of my time.  It looks much greener now than it did back then. 

By 22nd November, 1961, I had completed 657 days of my conscripted 731 (one of the years was a leap year) and so I had `only` 74 days to go before being released back into a changed world.   And by then my time in the 10th Royal Hussars had taken on something of a settled pattern.   I had `got some in,` I had become a frighteningly efficient fighting unit, I had come to terms with `good order and military discipline` and I like to think I had become part of the fixture of the `Regimental family.`

So there was a danger, I suppose, that I was getting used to it, becoming a little comfortable with life, more confident in myself and my place in the military scheme of things.   After all, I had reached the dizzy heights of substantive lance-corporal, my National Service weekly pay had, thanks to getting married, rocketed to something like 21/6d  (£1.20.)  I had successfully negotiated trials and tribulations such as that summer`s Guidon Parade for the presentation by the Duke of Gloucester of new regimental colours and a spell on Luneburg Heath where the regiment was practicing its gunnery techniques.

I had long since mastered my evening role as a projectionist in the AKC Globe Cinema which paid quite handsomely and so, as well as salting some of it away in readiness for my demob,  it also allowed me to indulge in the liquid refreshment on offer at the nearby Fritz`s `restaurant` where, in good company, hours were whiled away consuming bowls of oxtail soup, lovingly prepared by Fritz`s comely daughters, and downing steins of Paderborner Export.  

So life, despite its conscriptive nature and its military eccentricities, became passably agreeable, which is perhaps easier to recognise with the hindsight of these 50 years than ever it seemed at the time.   But with 74 days remaining, my mind began more and more to think of being released back home to an uncertain future as opposed to the relative certainty of life with the Shiny Tenth.  

At home, I imagined that the fragrant Mrs. Snopper was busying herself honing her wifely skills in readiness for my return - I was certain that advanced domestic science was engaging her as much as her work in the Solicitor`s office - and I was acutely aware that there was a whole world outside the confines of BFPO 16 that was waiting for me.   What I didn`t know was just how much, in 74 days time, I would miss the company of good friends and, paradoxically, the strange security of regimental life and finally leave the 731 days behind knowing that I, along with the world, had changed forever.

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