GOODBYE TO ALL THAT..
The picture above shows the entrance to Barker Barracks just outside Paderborn in Germany - BFPO 16 it was when I was there. The forbidding building is just one of a number of barrack blocks where I spent the vast majority of my 731 days of National Service.
But today is a special day for me, as I celebrate the fact that it was 50 years ago today that I finally said goodbye to all that, my conscripted service to crown and country at last at an end. The funny thing is that, whilst I will never forget the day long journey that took me to Catterick Camp on 4th February 1960, I can`t recall much about the day long journey that took me away from BFPO 16 and returned me back to civilian life on 4th February 1962. It might have been the remnants of an extended demob party that blurs my memory or the simple euphoria of recapturing my identity after relinquishing it to two years of good order and military discipline.
What I do remember very clearly is the `exit interview` I had the day before with the regiment`s commanding officer - an impressive and imposing colonel, who offered a number of inducements for me to sign on and become a regular soldier rather than a grudging conscript. For a fleeting second I may have been tempted by prospects of promotion and a life of ordered regularity but then it dawned on me that the fragrant Mrs. Snopper was waiting for me in her idyllic Kentish village, along with the inviting prospect of controlling my own destiny rather than have the army control it for me.
So I declined gracefully but with genuine gratitude for the experiences I had had - some memorably good, some indescribably awful - the fortitude and resilience I had been forced to develop, the skills I had learnt and the friends I had made and would genuinely regret leaving behind.
What had started out with ten weeks of humiliating misery in the wilds of north Yorkshire had mellowed into being an almost agreeable routine in the depths of Germany - almost, but not quite. Did I have any regrets about it all? Well, I suppose I resented the conscription, especially those first few weeks of verbal abuse, pointless tasks and humiliating oppression but, having shrugged my shoulders and accepted that I had to do it, I found the National Service experience that I left 50 years ago today, was one never to be forgotten. If it had not been memorable, I wouldn`t have written this on today of all days.