Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Each year on this day of all days, I dredge up a memory from the 731 days of my National Service, which began and ended on 4th February.   It`s 55 years ago that I arrived at Catterick Camp in the depths of a North Yorkshire winter and 53 years ago today that I took my leave of the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales Own) - the Shiny Tenth - and turned my back on Barker Barracks, Paderborn, BFPO 16 for the last time.  I did so with a tinge of regret at leaving good friends behind, some of whom I am still in touch with even now.

And recently one of those `old` friends got in touch to remind me of his reluctance at being placed on guard duty.  Well, you can hardly blame him, for unless you were selected by the Orderly Officer (and, yes, there were some disorderly ones too) as Stick Man and thus relieved of guard duty thanks to the smartness of your kit, you spent the rest of the night patrolling the tank park in two-hour shifts, armed with a whistle and a pick axe handle (no axe - just the handle) to ensure the security of western democracy in the face of the Soviet threat.  A  daunting task indeed.

And his recollection brought to mind an incident when I was detailed to be on guard duty myself one night.   Now it seems to me that life is indeed about Kipling`s twin imposters of triumph and disaster; life is a series of little victories and setbacks.  Some you win, some you lose and the Shiny Tenth`s very Regimental Sergeant Major`s insistence that I went on guard duty, gave rise to a serious conflict of interest.

My basic pay as a National Serviceman was something like 15/9d a week when I started in Catterick and this `rose` to about 26/- a week when I arrived in BFPO 16.  I felt the need to increase my income, which I did by conning my way into the job as projectionist in the Army base`s AKC Globe Cinema.   I convinced the cinema manager that of course I was well versed in the mysteries of cinemascope, stereophonic sound, lighting calls, sound cards, reel changes and the rest of the smoke and mirrors that ensure an enjoyable evening at the pictures.  And after a few false starts, audience refunds and trial and error, my fellow compatriot, Dave Millman and I became quite good at it.   I still have my certificate of competence to prove it.

At the time of the threat of me doing guard duty, Dave was away on leave and I was manfully running the cinema shows by myself, so when I learned that I had been put on guard duty, I contacted the cinema manager to let him know that I would not be available to run the films that evening.   There then followed some high level discussions between the manager and the extremely Regimental Sergeant Major and I found myself hauled before the Adjutant to be told that I had to do the guard duty and what did I think about that?

Time to pull at the heartstrings, I thought, so I explained that of course I had to accept the order to do the guard duty but felt sorry for the 200 or so of the military audience and their families who would be deprived of their evening`s entertainment and I wondered how this might affect morale.  Further discussions ensued and I was then informed that I should work that evening in the cinema but that I would have to do guard duty at some point in the future.   (I took this as one of life`s little victories.)

Some weeks later, I was sent on exercises to Soltau on Luneburg Heath, leaving Dave to run the cinema, although by that time we had recruited an assistant - Gordon Watson from the Pay Office -  so Dave wasn`t entirely on his own.  Shortly after setting up our `camp` on Luneburg Heath, the awfully Regimental Sergeant Major placed me on guard duty.   I had no chance of being selected as Stick Man and so, armed with my trusty pick axe handle and whistle, I spent most of the night patrolling the serried ranks of tanks and military equipment, hoping that the Russians would not choose this moment to launch an offensive.   Especially as it was my 21st birthday.

Now I could have taken this as one of life`s little setbacks but I suspect it was the frightfully Regimental Sergeant Major`s way of wreaking his revenge on this conscripted upstart by making me spend my 21st birthday so memorably. In the final analysis, I settled for Snopper 1 - RSM 1, after extra time.   And I still don`t know how the 53 years have gone by so quickly.


Ray Turner said...

Some nice memories Snopper.

Glad the Russians didn't invade that night when you were on Guard duty...

Snopper said...

Me too, Ray.