Royal Signals Memories
6 years in the '60s
During the sixties I served for six years in the Royal Corps of Signals – known simply as the Royal Signals. It was voluntary service as a Regular – as distinct from National Service.
(It was my third career step. The first was with the NCB as an apprentice electrician. Second was with (British) Ericsson Telephones on telephone exchange installation as a trainee.)
Serving in the armed forces was an unforgettable experience – evident by the many websites devoted to service memories and friendships. This is my contribution to the genre.
With only a few trouble spots around the world we enjoyed a relatively quiet period in history. Military bases and personnel needed very little protection. An ex-soldier said to me at the time, “I was in when they were needin’ ’em, not just feedin’ ’em”. I guess that sums up being a squaddie in the sixties. We had a very easy time, as you will see if you read what’s here. I very much enjoyed my time in the Royal Signals and would not have missed it for the world.
In 2006 I discovered Google Earth (GE) and Google Maps (GM). These gave me the idea of revisiting the places I’d served at to see how they look now. I’ve included some memories, events, scenes and sounds of the time.
During the ’60s the Royal Signals had personnel around the world. A booklet of the time (a few pages are shown in this slideshow) refers to personnel of the Royal Signals being deployed in Berlin, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Libya, Aden, Bahrain, Kenya, Malaya and Singapore. And seconded to units in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Rhodesia/Nyasaland, the Arabian Peninsula, including Aden Protectorate Levies and Trucial Oman Scouts. In Washington, the Caribbean and South Africa. Also, NATO in Norway, France, Turkey, Bangkok and the islands of Gan and Christmas Island in the Pacific. And of course Germany and Belgium. Opportunities for overseas postings were immense – in fact they were an odds on certainty.
Regular Army Pay
The Regular Army Rates of Pay (1960) were included in the booklet. Click here to see them.
Showing me the pay scales the recruiter said, “There are no Privates in the Royal Signals”. What he should have gone on to say was, “They’re called Signalmen”. Instead, he led me to think that the lowest rank in the Signals was Lance Corporal. This’ll do me. The Signals it is then.
The majority of my service was spent in Germany, most of which Jean spent with me. My last tour was 8 months in Singapore and Malaya. Due to the short duration, I was unaccompanied and it was referred to as a ‘Cooks Tour’ (as in holiday not as in chefs or because it was hot).
Below are the units associated with my – as you were – our time with the Royal Signals. They are in chronological order. Included are some photographs from that time.
Each unit also has an aerial view in which I’ve marked out the unit’s area as best I can recall. Click the image to enlarge it. The views are courtesy of GE and GM.
- 11 Signal Regiment, Catterick Camp, Yorkshire – Basic Trg.
- 8 Signal Regiment, Catterick Camp, Yorkshire – Trade Trg. (1)
- 608 Signal Troop, 15 ABOD, Viersen, Germany (1)
- 16 Signal Regiment, Krefeld, Germany
- 8 Signal Regiment, Catterick Camp, Yorkshire – Trade Trg. (2)
- 614 Signal Troop (Park), 3 BAD, Bracht, Germany
- 608 Signal Troop, 15 ABOD, Viersen, Germany (2)
11 Signal Regiment
Catterick Camp, Yorkshire
My service life (like many others) began at ‘The Depot’ in March 1962. Here’s where we stopped being civvies and started learning how to be soldiers. We had six hectic weeks of basic training. Spit & polish, square bashing, weapons training, map reading, command structure and army tea (which, rumour had it, was laced with bromide). If you’d never kept a tidy locker, pressed your clothes (with sharp creases in the right places), made a bed and bed pack or bumpered a floor, this is where you learned and didn’t forget. And of course every time you moved from place to place it had to be at the double.
We were organized into Troops with two Troops trained in parallel and in competition with each other. I was in 7 Troop and 8 Troop was our competition.
Here’s the happy band of 7 Troop’s 24 sprogs, the Troop Officer and two NCOs, (Corporal Drury on right). (Click pic to enlarge.) I’m second from right in the middle row. Third from right is ‘Jock’ Robertson. Fifth from right is Colin Baxter (who contacted me in May 2012). And fourth from right on the back row is Don Burns (who contacted me in September 2009).
BD & Ammo Boots
We wore Fatigues (loose fitting blouson and trousers) for most of our basic training. They had the advantage of not needing to be pressed. We changed into Battle Dress (BD) when we needed to look like soldiers. In the Troop photo above it can be seen that BD with coarse shirt was issued at this time. Plus ‘ammo’ boots (as on right) and webbing (gaiters and belt) with plenty of brass fittings – requiring boot polish, Blanco, Brasso, brushes, dusters, and spit. Oh! And candle and spoon to get a really smooth, shiny finish on those dull and pimpled toe caps.
I’d worn boots before, working at the pit. But wearing ‘ammo’ boots took a little while getting used to, particularly when stopping or turning sharply. Pit boots didn’t have metal studs but ammo boots did. I soon found my feet going out from under me. The smooth concrete floors in the barrack block had sprogs going in all directions – usually down.
Near the end of training, No.2 Dress and peaked cap replaced Battle Dress and beret. Some tried to emulate the Guards regiments by making the cap peak point down instead of out but had to buy a new cap because we weren’t the Guards.
During kit and room inspections items of kit or bedding that didn’t meet the required standard could be seen on this grass having flown out the barrack windows to the upper left. This was a sign that the inspecting NCO was not entirely satisfied with the turnout of one or more ‘earywigs’ [sic] (as we were oft’ called).
Going to Church
About the first time we formed up in our new army kit, we were marched down to the barbers for short back and sides. “What’s under your beret is yours. What’s not is mine.” said the troop sergeant. When we next fell in some brave soul asked, “Where are we going now, Sergeant? “We’re going to church, lad”, came the reply. We were then marched onto the drill square and the same brave soul said he thought we were going to church. The sergeant replied, “This is my church and I’m your God.” And at this church, we saw many funny incidents as we learned to drill, with and without weapons, but woe betide anyone caught laughing.
And speaking of weapons, you’re not much use as a soldier if you don’t know about firearms. So we were trained on the:
- SLR (Self Loading Rifle) and bayonet (detachable). Fires one round with each pull of trigger. The magazine holds 20 x 7.62mm rounds.
- SMG (Sub Machine Gun). Fires 550 rounds/min with trigger depressed. Magazine holds 34 x 9mm rounds.
- LMG (Light Machine Gun) – also known as the Bren Gun. Fires at the rate of 520 rounds/min when trigger is depressed. The magazine holds 30 x 7.62mm rounds.
We learned how they worked and how to look after them. The most boring part was cleaning them, particularly inside the barrel after firing. Then we had to learn about the different targets and how to patch them up and the firing range procedures. Finally it was off to the range where we split into two groups. One group loaded the applicable weapon, aimed and fired it. The other group manned the ‘butts’ where they raised and lowered the targets, marked the hits and patched the targets. After those on the firing point completed their shoot, both groups switched places. This was all carried out under strict control to avoid accidents.
The Boxing Match
In the gym one day we were told about the inter-troop boxing match. Volunteers would be asked for but if there weren’t enough then the PTIs would choose. I chose to ‘volunteer’ and had about four weeks to get ready. lt was my first and last ‘proper’ boxing match.
The bout was three 1-minute (felt like 10-minute) rounds. We were matched by weight. My opponent was short & stocky and had boxed previously. He won. It was all conducted in a professional way and watching the bouts was always very enjoyable – I can’t say the same for taking part. It was a regular regimental sporting event that took place as each pair of Troop’s completed their training. I’d attended two or three previously. The whole regiment marched to a gymnasium near St Martin’s church and was joined by the ‘officers and their ladies’.
Here I am after the boxing match (click pic to enlarge). My face looks like it has a sun tan but it’s from all punches it took. It must have been Sunday as I’m in civvies. The photo’s taken outside the Sandhurst block. Behind me can be seen where we’d spent so many leisurely hours – one of the drill squares (church!) and beyond that (over my left shoulder) the gym (where I rashly volunteered for the boxing match).
Map Reading Practice
One week of training was spent under canvas in the Yorkshire Dales. This was to put our newly acquired map reading and compass theory to practical use finding ‘trig’ points and rendezvous locations from map references – find them or miss lunch. It was our first encounter with ‘compo’ rations, the field cook house and shaving in half a mug of tea after having downed the first half.
Here are my tent mates (from 8 Troop) and me in our nice new combat dress.
On the far right behind me is an ex-miner (I think his name was Geoff or Jeff) who, coming from Yorkshire, referred to boots as “booits”. I didn’t see any of them again after basic training.
After setting up the camp we were told to run up the nearest hill and back. Last two would be given some duties. The next three or four days were filled with trekking up hills to find various map locations. Each tent section was given a set of references and set off at timed intervals.
The hills were quite a climb. They just seemed to go up and up. Going across the top of some was dangerous. There was low cloud or mist and there were mine shafts left from a long time ago. We’d been warned but you could easily fall into them.
We certainly got plenty of experience at compass and map reading.
Our new No.2 uniforms (with web belts and ‘ammo’ boots) were worn for our passing out parade. For the first time we marched to the rousing sound of the Band of the Royal Signals – an uplifting experience. We marched off with loads of bounce and swagger to the Corps quick march: Begone Dull Care. We were soldiers now.
You can hear part of the march by clicking the play button below.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
After passing out we were given a leave pass and rail warrant for the return journey. Having been cut off from ‘normal’ life for 6 weeks, I was going back. I was going home to see Jean (my fiancé).
My journey home and back by public transport turned out to be very tedious, but it was well worth it.
On the return journey I caught the Sunday night ‘Catterick Flyer’ from Birmingham. This got to Darlington in the early hours of Monday morning. The engine uncoupled and we then waited in the ‘getting cold’ carriages for other trains to make the connection. At about 5.00 a.m. another engine coupled up and our journey continued. Eventually, at about 5.30 a.m. we arrived at Camp Centre station then made our way to our units. It was not an enjoyable experience and I only repeated it once. The ‘Flyer’ was a regular weekly service until the late 60s. Click here to open a new tab with the history of the line and station with photos. The station and line are now gone.
From 1961-64 the home of 11 Sigs. was at Vimy Lines, Catterick Garrison. There are still a few 1962 features in the 2003 GE view of the area below (click to enlarge).
In the upper part of this view is a Sandhurst block. The ground floor housed the regiment’s support services – offices, laundry, cook house, etc. Barrack rooms were on the upper floor.
The Gymnasium is still there but the Medical Centre (where we queued for our jabs) and the NAAFI have gone.
Someone always seemed to be playing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (aka “Wimoweh”) on the NAAFI jukebox. A short medley of this and other popular jukebox plays of the time can be heard below. I’m instantly transported back to Catterick in the 60s whenever I hear these. Can you name the artists and tracks? Answers below.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
The two large drill squares are now car parks and a new building with grassed area. Gone also are two large drill sheds ‘for the use of’. These ensured our drill programme was maintained during inclement weather, thus avoiding demoralized (wet) squaddies.
The houses on the right have replaced very old buildings where we did our arms training. Also here was the Quarter-Master’s Store where we received our first kit issue.
They are all 1962 hit records.
- The Tokens – Wimoweh
- Ketty Lester – Love Letters
- Roy Orbison – Dream Baby
- Chubby Checker – Let’s Twist Again
- Little Eva – The Loco-Motion
8 Signal Regiment
Catterick Camp, Yorkshire
Trade Training (1)
After basic training you went to either 8 or 24 Sigs. for trade training. I went to 8 Sigs. (Loos Lines) and was trained as a Tele. Tech.
No Sandhurst blocks here. Instead there were wooden ‘Spider’ blocks. Actually it was an improvement because they were echo free and quite snug. They had a ‘drying room’ that was kept really warm for drying wet clothing/washing. It was a very tempting place to visit when doing a guard duty on a cold wet night. But care had to be taken to not fall asleep in there – as some did.
Here are a few of us during our T3 course outside the fire exit of our barrack room. I’m second down in the middle. Next to me is Don Burns and below us is John Leppington. Standing left is Roy Evers and right is Dave Allen. I can’t remember the name of the Irish lad at the top.
Bill, Don and I met in basic training and did our T3 together. Later I was with Bill in Germany and saw Don in Singapore. I then lost contact with both until over forty years later. Bill contacted me in March 2007. Don contacted me in September 2009.
By this time we’d been introduced to and enjoyed ‘compo’ rations. We found that hardtack biscuits were quite tasty when topped with either cheddar cheese or golden syrup. Together with a mug of tea or cocoa they made a very nice evening snack in the barrack room. Some of us made sure we always had the makings in our lockers.
(There are a number of websites covering compo rations. If you’d like to try them for yourself, click here for a UK site that sells current issue Army rations. For a USA slant on hardtack (incl. a photo) click here.)
The compo rations we had came in tins packed in cardboard boxes. Every pack included a small but very effective tin opener and a small stove. (The opener was much smaller than the stove.)
In our spare time we went to either the NAAFI Harewood Club, Sandies Home, or camp centre cinema. Occasionally we also went to the cinema in Richmond. There were two in the same road as I recall.
We also went swimming at either the outdoor swimming pool (near the Harewood) or at Sandies indoor pool. Sandies Home had a good cafeteria.
Sometimes we had to be in camp on a Saturday morning for military training or exercise. This meant myself and others didn’t have enough free time to go home. So as soon as we were off duty a few of us would get the bus to Richmond then Darlington. (In the pic right a bus can be seen at what was then the bus station in Richmond market place.
One of the few to Darlington was Gerry Aitken.
We’d look to see what was on at the cinemas – there was the Odeon and I think two others. We’d choose one for later then go and have a Chinese meal (with chips of course). After the meal we’d see our chosen film then catch the bus back to camp – no boozing. Sunday’s in Catterick were dreadful, deadly dull days with only mealtimes to break the dullness.
A musical association from this time comes from the NAAFI (canteen) jukebox. Every day for a time was Come Outside – a 1962 UK No.1 hit by Wendy Richard & Mike Sarne. Whenever I hear it I am right back there eating one of those lovely cream buns dusted with icing sugar. Her long running TV appearances in Are You Being Served and Eastenders were yet to come.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
Another popular song of the time was written and recorded by Carole King. It always reminds me of the Harewood Club – do you know the record I mean? (Answer below.)
The Harewood Club was a nice place. There was a round coffee bar to the right of the main entrance. There was a ten-pin bowling alley, a lounge (see photo), restaurant, and a barbers shop. Up the steps was the entrance to the bar and the dance hall. Up more stairs were the games and reading rooms.
Getting To & Fro
Before I joined up I owned a Francis Barnett motorbike – seen on the right with Jean on it.
Having now experienced public transport I used it to get between home and Catterick. This was my first motorbike – a 197cc two stroke. A nice bike but underpowered for Catterick runs so I traded it for a twin cylinder 350cc Triumph T21. Due to some mechanical problems (of which there were a few) I only kept it a short time. I returned it to the dealer in exchange for a single cylinder 350cc Velocette Viper – seen below.
Although they didn’t become compulsory until 1973, we always wore crash helmets. Jean’s white helmet can be seen on the petrol tank of the Francis Barnett.
Hitch-hiking in uniform was usually quicker and more direct than public transport. Each journey was different. You didn’t know what was going to stop, how far it would take you, or how long it would take. The difficult part was each end of the journey. Getting to and from the A1 took an age. And having to use the bus near home because local traffic didn’t stop.
At that time the A1 had lots of sections. It had sections of single carriageway, dual carriageway and, for me, one section of motorway – the Doncaster Bypass or A1(M). At the time there where plenty of roundabouts. Doncaster Bypass had one at each end. And there were some built-up areas that you went through, e.g., Boroughbridge and Ferrybridge.
Coming back one clear, dry, night I was lucky to get an 80 miles lift in an Aston Martin DB3. The driver had on full safety harness (as did I) and crash helmet (I had my beret). He entered small roundabouts at 70 mph and exited at 90 mph.
Towards the end of ’62 we heard another new recording artist, Dionne Warwick. Below is a reminder of it – her first recording. It was a hit and many more followed.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
In February 1963, having spent 11 months at Catterick, I attained T3 status and thus my first stripe. I was now a Lance Corporal. I was also told of my posting to 608 Signal Troop, Germany. My weekends hitch-hiking home to see Jean were over for the time being. They resumed when I returned later for my T2 course.
Loos & Marne Lines
This 2002 GE view of the area has few recognisable features from 1962-64. In both Loos and Marne Lines there is little evidence of all the buildings that once were there. Apart from the guardroom, there had been wooden ‘Spider’ and training blocks in Loos Lines.
What remains is the parade square where we used to form up on fire drills and guard duty. Also the few minor roads that joined Loos Road that runs from the bottom left of the picture. Marne Lines had been a mix of wooden and brick buildings. This included a wooden ‘spider’ block, a row of brick ‘H’ blocks and a wooden gym. There had also been a few minor roads.
I subsequently found an Ordnance Survey map of the area, published in 1952. Although over 10 years before my time it shows buildings I recall and refer to above. The ‘H’ blocks can be seen plus many other buildings. I added some labels.
Marne Lines Parade Square had a gym on one side and a barrack Spider opposite. A narrow road ran from the square, past the ‘H’ blocks and Cookhouse, around the NAAFI and onto Loos Road.
Map from the National Library of Scotland.
608 Signal Troop (Eqpt.)
15 ABOD, Viersen, Germany
My first operational posting was to 608 Signal Troop (Eqpt.), Germany in February, 1963. Getting there turned out to be a long and unexpected overnight journey.
It began with a small group of us travelling from Catterick to a Manchester travel centre. Bill Thompson and I found we were to be on the same flight to RAF Wildenrath, Germany.
The winter of 1962-63 is on record for being a bad one throughout Europe. The UK had a lot of snow so we were not surprised to arrive in a snow-covered Germany. Transport was waiting to take Bill to his unit but there was no transport waiting for me and no-one had heard of 608 Signal Troop. (The next time I saw Bill was about a year later.) I spent the night in the transit facility at Wildenrath. Next day a car with a German driver took me to 608.
Once outside the RAF station I had my first close-up look at Germany. Though unknown to me at the time, I was to spend the next four years here. We drove (on the opposite side of the road) about 20 miles through snow covered countryside and villages to Viersen. It all seemed so different. The first thing I noticed was the road signage, soon followed by different looking buildings and vehicles.
I didn’t know until I arrived that the Troop was attached to an RAOC unit at 15 ABOD. I arrived to find only a R. Signals Staff Sergeant and a German civilian female clerk. The Troop was being disbanded and everyone else had gone – I guess someone forgot to read the signal. I spent about two weeks there putting updates in EMERs whilst they sorted out where I was to go. Life was very, very different from a training unit.
The base was mainly German civilians with a relatively small British military contingent. There were only a few junior NCOs and Privates who ‘lived in’ so they were billeted at 17 RVD, Ayrshire Barracks, Mönchengladbach (another RAOC unit). Thus myself and three or four RAOC lads were transported by army bus every day between 17 RVD and 15 ABOD – a round trip of 16 miles (click on GM pic right).
My billet was a room to myself in an old house that was being renovated so we had to sort of make do. The house was one of a number located around a grassed area then used as a sports field. These provided barrack and office accommodation and mine is labelled Barrack Rooms in this 2000 GE image below.
My barrack and the others have since become a preservation area, which is why they still exist today.
This was my first experience of a working unit and it was OK. The cookhouse served up good food and some enterprising local had set up a stall inside selling clothes and other items. Of course they were priced in German currency – the Deutsche Mark (DM). In 1963 £1 = 11.23DM.
Ayrshire Barracks (17 RVD) was situated on what had previously been a Luftwaffe airfield in continuous use from 1932 to the end of the war. In the 1960s it was a British Army stores base for military vehicles of every description. The area labelled Tank Park, where tanks and armoured vehicles were stored, is now a football stadium and the home of Borussia Mönchengladbach (once a top class football club). The stadium can clearly be seen by clicking the GM button below. Apart from the preserved houses and what remains of the Luftwaffe main runway there are few recognizable features from 1963.
16 Signal Regiment
After my sojourn at 608 Signal Troop & 17 RVD I was posted to 16 Signal Regiment, Krefeld. (About 10 miles NE of Viersen.) On transfer I was given leave to return home during which Jean and I were married. Five days later my leave pass expired and I returned to Germany to 16 Sigs. It was 3 months before I saw Jean again.
Bradbury Barracks is where 16 Sigs. (and 16 Regt. RA) were based. In the above link, the second photo (Guard Room) shows the fields opposite the main gate (shown left). I trekked across that field a few times from a pub we frequented. We used the track or road to get there. Leaving the pub after a bier we walked a short distance down the road. Then turned onto the open fields and headed straight for the camp lights. Sometimes we got back with muddy shoes.
At first I was back in a barrack room again. Later on I shared a two man room with Martin Prior. I now began putting my Tele. Tech. training to use ‘down the hole’ in the Comcen workshop. Here I helped maintain Creed 7B teleprinters, perforators and 6S tape readers.
At some point later we began working shifts of 8hrs. on, 24 off, 15 on, 24 off. Each night shift had one Tele. Tech. to man the Workshop and one Line Tech. to man System Control. Martin Prior was my Line Tech. shift buddy – hence our sharing a room. When he went off to the NAAFI for evening break I had to take over his role. I was quite nervous the first few times I had responsibility for System Control. After a few times it wasn’t a problem although there always seemed to be something new cropping up.
One of our duties in System Control was to monitor signal strength – measured as ZBZ1-5 When the strength dropped we had to switch transmission to the alternative mode . We also had to contact the BundesPost and report “Der leitung von wherever bis Krefeld ist kaput.” With such fluid Deutsch we didn’t need to shout to be understood. They would call back when the line was no longer kaput.
A Few Firsts
Looking back over my time at 16, there was one ‘last’ and a number of ‘firsts’.
- Saw the last National Serviceman there posted out. He was given VIP treatment.
- First contingent of Signals WRAC posted in.
- Heard, and heard of, the Beatles for the first time. Both due to the WRACs selecting them on the cookhouse jukebox. This was one of them.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
- Was introduced to German mustard (senf), brandy & coke, (always cold) German bier (kleine and grosse) and beer mat ticks.
- Learned my first words of squaddie Deutsch. Guten abend. Zwei bier bitte. Noch zwei. Wie viele, bitte? Danke schon. ‘wiedersehen. And of course, Vie gater schtraps.
- Buying cigarettes (I didn’t smoke until I came here) and buying them in packs of 200. Rothmans tipped as I recall. (It was the late eighties before I eventually gave it up.)
- Seeing the effect ultra violet (UV) light had on white objects – all aglow in every bar. I’d never seen anything like it, as I suppose most Brits hadn’t at the time.
- Enjoyed my first Halbes Haehnchen mit Pommes (half chicken & chips) from the Balkan Grill after ‘shooting through’ for a few beers in town.
- Luxuriated in my first ride of many, after the above, in a Mercedes taxi. Just climb in, say, “Kempener Allee” and all too soon we were by the guardroom. Much better than a tram.
- Began my first of many trips to Holland.
- Had my first go at sailing – more on that shortly.
In the postcard above the top left pic shows the main tram stop we used on the Ostwall. Two types of tram operated from that stop – the street tram and the inter-city tram (the yellow tram). The inter-city used a wider track and went to Dusseldorf. We used the street tram between the Eisstadion terminus and the Ostwall/Rheinstrasse junction. The tram-line from camp is to the left of the yellow Volkswagon. The driver of the Volks’ would get the view of Rheinstrasse seen in the top right pic. I bought Jean an Omega wristwatch from a jewellery shop on the far left of that pic. Further along the Ostwall beyond the trees, was the the Hauptbahnof (main railway station) seen in the bottom left pic.
The ‘we’ I recall were ‘Jock’ Wishart, Dave ‘Piggy’ Poole, Martin Prior, Dave ‘Punchy’ Ayres, Cliff Monks, Ken Northey, Ken Crouch and Keith Durrant. (Dave Ayes contacted me October 2014. He passed away April 18, 2017)
In the summer of ’63 we sunbathed down the road on the man-made ‘beach’ behind the Tivoli pub. It was a public place and free to use. Coming off shift on a summer morning this was a pleasant place to relax and have a kip. We’d have a cookhouse breakfast, change into civvies with bathing cossie underneath, grab a towel then stroll to the pool. I don’t remember if any of us actually went in the water. But locals did as can be seen in the picture. It was a popular place – like being at the beach with trees.
At lunchtime we’d either go back to camp or eat at the Tivoli pub. Our usual (cheap) order there was ‘ham und eier’ (as we called it) on brown bread and a beer. The cookhouse was free; Tivoli required DMs.
In early summer Keith and I decided to join the sailing club run by (Army) Capt. (Jeremy) Boast. Our joining doubled the club membership because I only recall two other members – Dave Tanner and a WO2. The Regiment had two GP14 sailing dinghys for our use.
Our sailing took place at a Dutch sailing club off the Maas canal at Roermond, Holland. (CH marks the Club House.)
The stretch of water had jetties along the canal side (see pic below) for mooring sailing dinghies. Our jetty was about half way along (see pic left).
The distant spire in the above pic is of St. Christopher’s Cathederal (see map). The club house is hidden by the dinghy’s sails.
On the town side of the stretch of water there were moorings for large barges (see photo left and above).
Here I am (left) on our jetty with Dave in a GP14 and Capt. Boast on the bank.
Over the summer, Keith, Dave and I travelled in Capt. Boast’s diesel Merc’ every Saturday (shift permitting). His family sat in front and we sat in the back. It was about a two hours, 70 mile round trip.
We spent a very relaxing and pleasant day away from camp and got to visit a Dutch town. We also got to try (cold) Dutch beer (Amstel) from the club-house.
This being the army of course you couldn’t just mess about in boats. You had to work toward achieving a certificate of sailing competence. There were a few things to learn, such as capsize recovery. In this photo I’m carrying out the capsize drill – that water was cold. I never got my certificate and I don’t think anyone else did.
Since that summer I’ve never gone sailing again. But it was enjoyable.
I recall being very surprised in Roermond by the number of Cheverolet Impala cars there were. I still don’t understand why. Compared to other cars they were so big and flashy as they cruised by, bobbing like corks on water.
About mid-June I got a two week pass and return flight home. This time the airports were Dusseldorf and Gatwick. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Jean for three months so it was almost like meeting for the first time. I stayed with her at her mum & dad’s place.
(Telephone contact was possible but difficult to arrange. Phones were not widely accessible as they are today. Only a few people had a phone at home.)
It’s funny but on leave one of the first things people would say was “When do you go back?” It’s the last thing you wanted to think about. There were then about 50,000 of us in Germany but on leave people would say, “Oh! so-and-so’s serving in Germany. Do you know him?”
Two weeks were soon over and I returned to Germany. It was to be four months before I saw and spoke to Jean again.
My journey back took longer than expected. My train was late arriving at Euston. Although I couldn’t afford it I took a taxi to Victoria to try to catch my connection, but missed it.
When I eventually arrived at Gatwick the Dusseldorf sign was just being removed from the Check In desk. I was told to report upstairs to the MP office.
The pic left shows the Check In desks in a row on left. I went up the stairs shown to MP office on balcony right.
After explaining why I’d missed my flight I was booked on another but with a new destination – RAF Gütersloh. Whilst waiting for my new flight to be called I watched the Dusseldorf flight taking off. I had no idea where Gütersloh was. (It’s about 100 miles north east of Dusseldorf – see GM pic below right.)
On arrival there I was given a travel warrant and taken to the railway station. It was to be my first and only time on Deutsche Bahn.
I caught a train for Krefeld that required a change at Duisburg. I almost missed another connection there because I found that I was on the wrong platform. Finally, on that lovely sunny evening I arrived back in camp.
About a week or two later I found that I was up on a charge because I’d missed my flight. So it was cap & belt off and left right left right into the OC. After hearing my story he let me off.
When the WRACs arrived on camp some of them needed teleprinter training. The training area was at the top of (I think) the WRAC block. I was given the task of keeping the machines in running order. Thus I spent a couple of weeks up there with the ladies, going between rooms and teleprinters. I was as busy as down the hole.
Back in camp, apart from sailing our free time was spent either:
- on our pits listening to BFBS radio (I enjoyed ‘1800 Club’ record requests from British Forces in Germany),
- socializing in the mess,
- eating in the cookhouse (you had to take your own mug and yutes),
- going to the ‘pics’ at the AKC camp cinema,
- taking a stroll to a country pub, or
- going down town to either look around the shops or drink in the bars. All the bars had UV lighting which helped to create a great atmosphere with the pop music of the time.
Click on the player below to hear a short medley of popular UK and German recordings of the time. Can you name the artists and tracks? Answers below.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
The kids were noisy until it got to where Jim Hawkins is chased up the rigging by Israel Hands (see clip right).
As Jim climbed the noise faded until you could here a pin drop. The kids were wide eyed as Israel got nearer to Jim. Then one of our group shouted, “Come on, Jim”. The tension was released in an instant and the kids all started cheering and shouting for Jim. It was bedlam.
During that summer the regiment underwent military training in the field. To ensure the regiment continued to fulfill its normal role about sixty at a time took part.
Chosen from different sections we spent a week under canvas in a wooded area near the Dutch border. (It was near to Venlo, which I hadn’t heard of then.) It was quite novel as I hadn’t been under canvas since basic training.
The photo shows Keith taking his one day turn on cookhouse duties. It looks like he had nice weather as did I for the week I was there. Dress was relaxed as well.
There was a night exercise where platoon sections (halves) were put on different trucks. The tarpaulins were pulled down and the trucks went off in different directions. Occasionally they stopped to offload a section. This was to simulate a parachute drop that split each platoon.
Our first task was to establish where we were using our map (right), compass and the (dark) locality. Each platoon had a grid reference of a rendezvous. When you found where you were, you then located the rendezvous point and made your way to it. We were dropped at the point ringed on the right and made our way to the rendezvous ringed on left.
We had to be careful because there were army vehicles (the supposed enemy) nipping about trying to find us. I was in charge of our section so had the maps & compass. I recall going through a boggy area under bushes (see centre of map). Then lying in a field of cabbages near a road when a wagon stopped and squaddies (the enemy) jumped out. My section quickly and quietly moved away. Two fields later I realized the compass was missing – I’d left it where we were lying. I had to go back to retrieve it – which luckily I did.
We got to the rendezvous but our other section never turned up. Our objective was another map reference some distance away. Trucks would wait there until 02.00 hrs. to take us back to camp. We lost so much time waiting for our other section we gave up and found our way back to camp. You can imagine the reception we had when we got in before the others at about 02.00 hrs. having failed.
Living and working with other technicians every night began in the Corporal’s Mess. ‘Zimmy’ (Frau Zimmerman) served behind the counter. It was there that I learned to drink and smoke. Brandy & coke seemed a pleasant drink and soon became my preferred tipple. Can’t recall the price but a bottle of DeRoche brandy in the NAAFI shop was 4DM (about 8 shillings).
I developed a liking for hot meat pies covered in German mustard (senf). I still cover my hot meat pies in senf to this day (available in some UK stores). But despite trying different brands and strengths, haven’t yet found the same senf. (We also looked in German shops in 2014 & 15. On the web I found this pic showing the Löwen (lion) brand range which includes a dark one. I brought back tubes of the two on the left.)
At some point the Corporal’s Mess changed buildings. It moved to a building across from the WRAC block and by the gym. I can remember the opening night and having a few ‘carly & limes’ and a good night being had by all. But I don’t remember many other nights in there.
As winter began ‘Jock’ Wishart and I were posted to 8 Sigs. for our T2 course (see 8 Sigs. (2)). We returned to 16 Sigs early in ’64 and after a few weeks I was posted to 614 Signal Troop.
This 2002 view of Bradbury Barracks is similar to the ’60s. Much of the barracks remain so it was easy to mark out the buildings I knew.
The Comcen relied mainly on BundesPost provided land lines. Additionally, radio was the fallback when the lines were down. The field to the right of the site had radio receiver vehicles and aerials. (Brian Cordiner tells me that the transmitter station was at a site about half a mile away at Horstdyk.)
- Trini Lopez – If I Had A Hammer
- Nana Mouskouri – Weisse Rosen aus Athen
- Beach Boys – Surfin’ USA
- Freddy Quinn – Junge Komm Bald Wieder
- The Surfaris – Wipe Out
8 Signal Regiment
Catterick Camp, Yorkshire
Trade Training (2)
Toward the end of 1963 I returned to 8 Sigs. for my T2 course. The accommodation this time was less than salubrious. It was in an old brick ‘H’ block in Marne Lines. It had a stove at one end of the room that we had to keep well fed or freeze. Ah! Such fond memories. It was like living in the film “Carry On Soldier”.
Here’s a few of us who shared this billet. Left to right are ‘Jocks’ Robertson and Wishart, Jim Saunders (contacted me September 2012), me, can’t recall, and Ted Edwards.
Someone on the course had an Austin A40 Farina. He liked to get home whenever possible (Newton Abbot – a good distance). So he was happy to get help with the petrol. His A40 had a heater and a radio – optional extras in those days. The lift was quite regular and saved a lot of hitch-hiking time. He’d drop me off in Leicester where I then caught a bus. Sunday night was the reverse. I’d get a bus back to Leicester and walk to a pick-up point by 10 o’clock for the return lift.
Travelling home on Friday, 22 November, 1963, the news on the car radio was that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember where we were when we heard it. It was such shocking news.
Our billet had at some time been a classroom because at one end it had a large scrolling blackboard. To cheer the place up over Christmas, ‘Jock’ Wishart drew on it – see below.
Above the Christmas greeting is Andy Capp and Flo (Andy’s wife) with Jock’s version of ‘Jimmy’.
Once met you were unlikely to forget Wishart. Among my memorabilia I found something he’d done in the style of a newspaper report. It must have been typed on a teleprinter. It’s his version of a football match we had one wintry sports afternoon (Wednesdays). He would always see the funny side of things and make us laugh. Click to read his almost accurate Match Report.
Three things that stick in my memory from my T2 are:
- My 21st birthday occured whilst on the course. An unforgettable non-event. I spent part of the evening in the NAAFI and that says it all. It was dismal.
- One lunchtime in the cookhouse I was making my way to a table carrying my lunch. I held my main course in one hand and pudding in the other. My pudding dish held a good serving of runny custard. Distracted by someone I stopped to respond. As I went to continue I looked down to find my custard dish had tipped slightly. In doing so it had discharged a fair quantity over ‘Jock’ Wishart’s head. He was transfixed, frozen, as custard ran off his hair and down his face. I don’t have a pic of that but wish I did.
- Near the cook house was a wooden building. Inside it looked as if it had been a small theatre – albeit very basic. About once a fortnight or so we had a free film show in it. There was a main feature followed by ‘artistic’ shorts by ‘Warwick Films’. The shows were usually well attended.
In January ’64 near the end of the course we would go to Sandies Home for a cuppa. We’d discovered a short cut between the parade square and the camp station so used this. One day I took some pics, two of which are below.
In the centre of this pic is Loos Lines and on the left, the start of Marne Lines. The large building on the right is at the riding stables. The photo was taken on the short-cut between 8 Sigs. and Camp Centre. Thanks to the snow the track we’d walked along can be seen. It leads back to Marne Lines parade square.
This photo was taken facing in the opposite direction to the previous. From the left, Norman Troughton, Jim Saunders, ‘Jocks’ Hare and Robertson and yours truly. I didn’t see any of them again after the course. However, Jim Saunders contacted me in August 2012.
The earlier photo when on my T3 course has everyone in BD. This photo shows the transition from BD to No.2s was still taking place. I’d got my No.2s in April ’62 whilst here in Jan ’64 Norman is still in BD.
My musical association of this time is from one of the films that was released at this time and I saw at one of the cinemas – From Russia With Love. Below is a mix of samples of the soundtrack theme and vocal by Matt Munro.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
On satisfactory completion of my T2 (thus earning my second stripe) it was back to Germany and 16 Sigs. But as I was to find, it was to be only about a month before moving on again. I loved being in Germany but I was away from Jean. No more weekends with her. I needed us to be enjoying Germany together.
This 2002 GE view of the area provides no evidence of Marne Lines presence here. There is no sign of the many buildings, parade square or road. It’s not surprising the buildings have all gone. They were past there sell-by date when we were there, particularly the ‘H’ blocks. But now you would never know any of it ever existed. The OS map below helped with my labels placement.
To save scrolling to 8 Sigs (1), here again is the OS map of the area, published in 1952. Although over 10 years before my time it shows buildings that I recall. The ‘H’ blocks can be seen plus many other buildings. I added some labels.
Marne Lines Parade Square had a gym on one side and a barrack Spider opposite. A narrow road ran from the square, past the ‘H’ blocks and Cookhouse, around the NAAFI onto Loos Road.
Map from the National Library of Scotland.
I can’t image the number of squaddies that trained here, ate in the cookhouse and drank in the NAAFI. All sign has disappeared in a relatively short space of time. What began in 1945 as 1st Trades Training Battalion, became 8th Sigs in 1959, finally passed into Corps history in 1994. That was 30 years after our T2.
My posting to 614 (about 20 miles WSW of Krefeld) came unexpectedly and with very short notice. It was near the end of March (1964).
614 was not far from the border with Holland, between the villages of Bracht and Brüggen. It was attached, for support services (barracks, cookhouse, etc.), to 3 BAD (an RAOC unit).
3 BAD was then the largest ammunition base in Western Europe and consequently was in the middle of nowhere. There was no adjoining town (as there was at 16 Sigs) to which you could go for entertainment. There was only the AKC cinema and the NAAFI. The barracks (Marlborough Barracks) is now a caravan & camping park and hostel which can be seen by clicking here. 614 Signal Park was situated next to the main entrance to the ammunition base – now a nature park.
Here’s most of the Troop before my arrival. Seated L-R are S/Sgt Pearson, Major Robert Salisbury (OC), Sgt. Tony Sammut.
Standing L-R are Bill Thompson, Dave Wormald, ‘Geordie’ Harding, Dennis Stevens, Ernie Calder (REME), ‘Pop’ ?, ‘Barney’ Barnes, Ken Muller, Richard ‘Taff’ Brain, Brian Streetly, Pete LeGros, Joe Ratcliffe. Missing from the photo is Sgt. Jack Quayle. (I made contact with Brian in February 2007, Dave in February 2009 and Dennis in May 2010.)
There were also German civilians, e.g., Joe (Tech workshop), Melita (Troop office) and Carl (her husband, the carpenter).
Life at 614 was very different to 16. I was in the tech workshop with Bill, Dave, Tony and Joe.
Our ongoing task was to maintain WW2 field telephones held in storage, like this one right (hover over it to see inside.)
To relieve the monotony there was always chess, crosswords and ‘Punch’ magazine.
Thankfully, other duties took me out and about driving, after I got my military driving licence. This meant passing a driving test at 13 Signal Regiment, Birgelen. I held a UK driving licence so the test was a formality. A UK car licence covered vehicles up to 3.5 tonne. ‘Taff’ Brain was the unit driver, later joined by ‘Dixie’ Dean. When they were busy other troop members assisted with the driving duties.
Monday-Saturday was a regular mail run to JHQ Rheindahlen. This was usually in the Hillman Husky or sometimes in the Austin 1-tonner. But there were runs to other places near and far. For some I used the Bedford 3-tonner. It depended on what had to be taken or brought back. I loved driving the 3-tonner – the commanding view and the humming sound of the tyres on the road.
On the JHQ run I first made the mail drop-off and pick-up at the Sorting Office. I then parked at the NAAFI Shop and went across to the YWCA shop for magazines and newspapers. Finally, into the YWCA cafe for elevenses before heading back. The various trips were very enjoyable. I got to see much more of the country that I’d now been in for over a year. And it cost me nothing.
Last Drop Inn
Driving wasn’t the only alternative activity. The troop and civilians had spent time and effort converting the storeroom by the tech. workshop into a social club. They’d named it ‘The Last Drop Inn’ and by the time I arrived it was finished and in use.
They’d made a first class job of it and were running it as a proper concern – including draught German beer. The Troop lads living in barracks took turns as bar staff. It was open every lunch time, and evening when requested by troop members for use by them and their guests. Some nights it didn’t open. Other nights there was a good crowd. The OC and his wife often called in. The record player played the Beatles and other popular artists of the time. People used to bring in LPs so that we had a good mix of pop music.
The photo right is when the club opened with Bill taking a turn on bar duty. We used to take our lunch breaks in there and play quite competitively on the fussball table.
Tony Sammut and others preferred playing the one-armed bandit and we would occasionally hear the sound of a jackpot win. During the week someone local used to call selling filled bread rolls. They had a good little business going around 3 BAD.
To get everyone together enjoying themselves, themed evenings were occasionally held. These were always well attended by all troop members, wives and guests. The first one I attended was a Tramps Ball where everyone was required to dress smartly – not! Those living in barracks raided the civilian lockers and put on whatever we could find – it was all returned afterwards. Just about everyone dressed like tramps.
That’s me on the left in this photo. I don’t know who the young lady was but the other guy was Neil Morris. The evening was a big success and others followed.
One was a summer outside event with a pig roasted on a spit. A new outside bar was built under the two tier storage. It had a fenced area off in the yard (the area in shade in the GE view down below).
This was a special event for officers and their families from other units and the OC’s boss.
We all worked as waiters or bar staff for the whole evening. There were seats and tables made from big and small cable drums and coloured lights strung around. Music was from the club record player on the outside bar. I think all our guests had a very good night. It was amazing.
“Taff” Brain bought a Renault Dauphine. When he wasn’t washing, polishing, valeting and admiring it he would take a few of us for a night out. We would go to some of the local bars and over the German-Dutch border into Venlo and Roermond. A favoured bar in Venlo was the “Blue Note” where jazz was played, often by a live group. This bar bill shows that Bill and Dave had 20 biers for 13.20. Pre-Euro this was 13 Dutch Guilders (symbol: f or fl) and 20 Cents (c). At that time we equated 1 Dutch Guilder to 2 British Shillings (10p today).
The club bought a second-hand Volksbus so that troop members without cars could enjoy group trips to various places. This included going home to the UK. It was similar to the one in the photo but cream instead of yellow.
Jean Joins Me
I now hadn’t seen Jean for about three months and I wanted her with me. So I found some accommodation for us, got the OC’s OK, went home and brought her back with me. (Three years would pass before we saw the UK again.) Our journey was by rail and ship. When we got to Liege in Belgium we found some of our luggage wasn’t on the train. After waiting to see if it was on the next train – it wasn’t – we travelled on into Holland. (It was mainly Jean’s clothing and was to be over a month before we saw it again. But we did get it back.)
It was now getting late so we spent the night at a hotel in Roermond.
The next morning we travelled on and soon arrived at Venlo station to be picked up by ‘Taff’ Brain. We then learned that the accommodation I’d found had been let to someone else so we had nowhere to stay.
Sgt. Jack Quayle and his wife, Colleen came to our rescue. They very kindly invited us to stay with them in their army married quarter for a few days. We gladly accepted and after a few days moved into the Hotel Neuenhofen in Brüggen village. Two RAOC families were also staying there. The paved area in the picture was then the main road through Brüggen. The hotel frontage is as we knew it. Our stay there was about two weeks.
Rooms at Henry's Bar
We then found two rooms above a bar in Brüggen and set up our first home together. We lived there for about a year and Jean became very adept at cooking on a two plate electric hob. I passed the NAAFI shop every work day so shopped when needed. We didn’t have a fridge so couldn’t keep food for long. But with careful management on Jean’s part it all worked out well.
The bar was owned by Henry (as Heinz wished to be called) and his wife Hannalore.
He was a great landlord, spoke very good English and enjoyed a laugh. Henry became a very good friend to us. He used to tell us about his time in the army, in the desert, during the war. And about being a prisoner of war with the Americans. He would do whatever he could to help us.
- Joe Ratcliffe
‘Taff’ Brain took us out a few times. One evening we went to RAF Brüggen. We had a drink in the Airmens’ Mess then went to the AKC Astra cinema. There we saw a newly released film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ starring the ‘Beatles’. Afterwards we went to a couple of bars with ultra-violet lighting in Roermond.
In those days you had to pass through the German and Dutch border controls. The German customs post was near RAF Brüggen main entrance. The road then passed by hangers on the left housing Canberra bombers. After Dutch customs was reached it was a short drive into Roermond. (The route we took was slightly different to the above because roads have changed since 1964.)
Our Own Car
During this time we saved for a car and eventually bought a new Renault R8. As I recall, it cost £470, which in 2013 was equivalent to £7,940 or £17,910. Saving for it required us to live very frugally and we then had our own transport. We were now able to go shopping at JHQ and visit Venlo, Roermond and other places. We visited Keith Durrant and ‘Jock’ Wishart at 16 Sigs. and met Keith’s wife Patsy. On Christmas Day 1964 we drove along snow covered roads to pick up Keith & Patsy in Krefeld. Then drove on to ‘Jock’s’ place near Düsseldorf. We met his wife Maureen and children and spent Christmas day there. After a good time together we drove back in the evening.
We also attended a 614 Troop dinner party in the club with everyone in their Sunday best. It was quite a gathering of all troop members and wives plus guests. This photo shows (L-R) Bill Thompson, Steve Bloom (replacement for S/Sgt Pearson), Pete Roberts and Jean. Jean wore a brown corduroy suit she’d bought from ‘C&A’ in Venlo. On her feet were a pair of brown suede shoes her mum & dad had sent her. All the ladies were presented with floral buttonholes to wear.
A very good time was had by all dancing to records of The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, etc. At that time many British groups were playing live in German bars. Below are samples of 1964 UK hits. Can you name them? Answers below.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
The Royal Review
In May 1965 I had to report to 16 Sigs. It was in preparation for a Review by HM the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Germany.
It was the first time since ….. (don’t mention the war) that the British monarch had visited Germany. It turned out to be quite an event.
A group of Royal Signals from the Krefeld area were assembled and briefed on the programme ahead. Of course we were inspected and drilled to make sure we were up to scratch. Anyone that wasn’t was politely advised of the improvement required.
The Review was held near Sennelager (120 miles east of Krefeld). We travelled there on the Sunday to our accommodation in what was described as ‘cavalry barracks’.
We were billeted in what had previously been stables with hay troughs on the walls. Our beds were old double bunks and a pile of palliasse covers were at the door. We were instructed to fill them next door. Next door was a barn filled with straw. That night some went to sleep on top of big sausage shaped mattresses.
On the afternoon of the review we all marched on, dressed off and waited for the Queen & Duke’s arrival. After the Royal Salute the review took place and the Queen & Duke went by standing in the back of a Land Rover about 20 yards in front of me. They attended two reviews that day – mounted and dismounted. It was an opportunity for the army to show off and it certainly did that.
Marching on and off to the massed bands was incredible as was the sound of 6000 pairs of boots swishing through the grass.
It wasn’t long after my return to 614 that the unit was disbanded (not, I hasten to add, because of something I’d done at the Review).
The club contents, including the bar, were sold off to a German couple. They took it away, lock, stock & barrel. I believe they intended to start up their own bar.
I don’t know what became of the civilians working for the Troop. Some of the Troop were posted out and the rest of us transferred to become 608 Signal Troop (Eqpt.). I couldn’t believe it. I was going back to 15 ABOD, Viersen.
The 2007 GE view above shows locations relevant to the Bracht to Brüggen road on the right. The row of married quarters where Jack and Ernie lived are still there but are now homes to German families. I recall eating fritten mit mayo at the chippy.
The GE view to the left is a close-up of the Park with labels to indicate the purpose of some buildings (click to enlarge). All other parts are the yard and storage sheds. This 2007 view of the Park (not the outer area) looks just as it did when it closed in 1965. Sometime later, possibly 2010, the buildings were demolished and area cleared. It’s surprising that it lasted so long. When this article was created in February 2011 the button below showed the same view.
- The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
- Cilla Black – You’re My World
- The Searchers – Needles and Pins
- Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
- Dave Clark Five – Bits and Pieces
608 Signal Troop (Eqpt.)
15 ABOD, Viersen, Germany
Return To 608
In June 1965, 614 Signal Troop was disbanded. Most of us transferred to 15 ABOD, Viersen.
15 ABOD was an RAOC unit about 11 miles east of 614. For Jean and I the transfer included the bonus of our first married quarter; more of which shortly. This map shows the relative locations. (Click to enlarge GM pic.)
Those that transferred with me to 608 were, I think, the following:-
Bill Thompson, Brian Streetly, Dave Wormald, Dennis Stevens, Tony Sammut, Eddie Howells, Jim Tierney, Pete Roberts (but not his brother Tony), Joe Jones, Arthur Teasdale and Charlie ?. There may have been others but who and how many can’t now be recalled.
We had a new OC for 608 – Major Hoskings. To bring the troop up to strength new people were posted in; one of these was FoS Paul. But the troop was smaller than 614 both in terms of personnel and the troop area. This consisted of a workshop, storeroom, and two offices (the troop and OC’s). These were located on the first floor in the corner of one of the four large warehouses of 15 ABOD.
Above is a 1967 basic plan of 15 ABOD (click to enlarge). It was drawn with the help and photos of Chris Kimpton (ex-RAOC). It’s drawn on the earliest available GE view – October 2000 – which still has remnants of the earlier topography. (The depot closed in 1992 and all trace of it has now disappeared.) 608 Troop were in the building in the centre marked PC&A. B1 & B2 were the ORs barracks and CH the Cookhouse. The railway line and Viersen station is across the bottom.
(Click here to open a tab on a very amusing article. It was written by the son of a British soldier growing up in Viersen just before this time. It’s a good read that I recommend, particularly if you served in Germany. Plus the site has many other and varied articles.)
Our Married Quarter
Our married quarter was in the village of Waldniel. One side of the street was British army married quarters and the other side was German homes. We were the first house in the second of three short terraces in this cul-de-sac. It was fully furnished and included everything you needed for a home from mustard spoon to 3 piece suite.
Here’s Jean at the front door as Keith & Patsy are about to leave after a short stay.
We had a large living room across the rear, entrance hall, small ‘L’ shaped kitchen with steps to the cellar. (That’s the kitchen window between Jean and our blue Renault car.) Upstairs we had one large and one small bedroom, a bathroom and a toilet. The cellar had four rooms – laundry, tool store with steps to garden, briquettes store, and boiler room with coke store. Briquettes were used in the warm air central heating system. The tool store had a lawn mower, spade, fork, shears, etc. The box on the wall by our car houses the emergency telephone for the quarters.
Jean and I had now been married over two years and this was our first real home together. We were very pleased with our quarter and the location. It was a 16 miles round trip to 15 ABOD but petrol was very cheap for British Forces. Motor and heating fuel, cigarettes and spirits were rationed duty-free and quite sufficient for normal consumption.
16 Base Vehicle Depot, Olen, Belgium
Although 608 had a workshop at 15 ABOD I can’t recall doing any real work in it. Unlike 614 we didn’t have telephones to inspect (thank heaven). Our tasks were at other locations – the first at 16 BVD, another RAOC unit about 80 miles away in Belgium.
The journey took about 2 hours via (in those days) two border controls. (Thus not within easy daily commuting distance back in the 1960s.) The map above shows the route. Eichenstrasse is where 15 ABOD Gate ‘A’ was. Britselaan (British Lane), near Olen, is where 16 BVD camp was (and like 15 ABOD is no longer there).
We used either a Morris Minibus or Land Rover (long wheelbase version). Of the two military vehicles I preferred the Land Rover because the Minibus was a pig to drive. It could carry up to 12 people but had ‘forward-control’ (driver’s cab on top of the engine). When the brakes were applied the weight came onto the front making it very difficult to steer (no power steering) and to stop. And with the cab over the engine the cab got very warm in summer.
For some time, a group of us spent two weeks a month there. We’d go down Monday morning, return Friday afternoon, down again Sunday evening and back Friday afternoon. On the Sunday evenings, we’d stop at the first bar (also now gone) over the Holland-Belgium border to have a beer and play bar billiards. Also on Friday and Sunday evenings we’d stop for frites with mayo or small silverskin onions at the Belgian army garrison town of Leopoldsburg – lots of bars, some with a Watneys Red Barrel sign outside.
This annotated picture found on the internet shows the camp viewed from the north looking toward Britselaan.
We were billeted in an empty barrack block (‘C’ in the center of the picture). We used the services of the base but had no military duties there – a great position to be in. All we had to do was get the work done, stay out of trouble and no-one would bother us.
Things That Go .....
I recall one morning being awoken by the duty sergeant looking for our vehicle driver – on this occasion me. I’d parked the Land Rover on the road outside our block the night before (to the left of the ‘C’). During the night someone had driven a private car into camp and they must have been going quite fast. They’d driven around a corner head-on into the Rover front and made off. The Rover appeared fine although it had been pushed back, but the car was in a right mess. The owner claimed someone had taken it. I had to get the Rover checked over. It’s a good thing it wasn’t the Minibus standing there as that would have been a write off.
The new kits were packed in various size wooden boxes with the tops nailed down. So we had to unpack them, place the various parts in each vehicle and assemble them. We worked two per vehicle – there wasn’t room for more. Each kit also included a Yagi antenna but not being a Radio Tech it meant nothing to me. Checking boxes, sorting into kits, unpacking, placing in vehicles, assembling, then testing and tidying up each vehicle took some time. (I think the testing was done by Eddie Howells – Radio Tech.) When we’d eventually finished there was a warehouse full of radio vehicles with the latest radio sets in.
During the evenings we spent our time doing what squaddies in barracks do – went to the NAAFI and/or bar. The nearest bar was ‘Blancas’ (no longer there), across the road at the junction of Britselaan and the Olen road. In the NAAFI we played lots of table tennis, snooker and billiards. Some played cards but I kept clear of the card school. They played for money and some lost a week’s pay the day they received it.
When we went out in the evening and on occasional ‘sports afternoons’ we used to visit the same three or four bars. One afternoon we found a place with a man-made beach and pool that was quite pleasant. (It reminded me of the Tivoli pool I used to go to at 16 Sigs.) It’s now a theme park and camping site called Bobbejaanland. In our time it was just the part on the left side of the road that runs top to bottom. We sat on the sandy beach and drank our beers.
Here’s a brief medley of a few records found on jukeboxes at the time.
(If you don’t see the player, click here to download the mp3 sample.)
When I wasn’t away at 16 BVD, Jean & I enjoyed living a normal married life in our new home. Not being a keen gardener the one slight drawback was having a garden to maintain. At the front was a tiny lawn but at the rear it was a decent size garden, about half lawn and half veg/flower plot with a cherry tree. I never attempted to do anything with the vegetable plot.
In this photo of Jean in our living room the cherry tree can be seen in the left background. In the centre background is a grey frame. This was for beating carpets on – we never used it. The frame was situated where the lawn and vegetable plot met. On the small table is our Schaub-Lorenz portable radio (DM49.50 from a shop in Viersen) and an ashtray. Both of us smoked at that time and I’m pleased to say we gave up later. To the left of the window was a patio door, seen in photo below.
Mowing the front lawn was easy but the rear one was a drag. The mower came with the quarter and was a push type cylinder mower. It was harder to use than the electric power driven mowers of today and tediously boring – but I did it. On a few occasions I had help from visiting friends that lived in flats and offered to have a go. Here Pete Roberts can be seen doing his bit, with another eager helper.
The window shutters seen above could be closed to keep out the sun and for security. They latched on the inside. The left shutter was a double one. To Pete’s left can be seen the small gate at the top of the steps leading down to the cellar. Most houses have cellars.
As can be seen in the map on the right, JHQ Rheindahlen was nearby. Every weekend we did our shopping there in the NAAFI Families Shop in Oakham Way. It was a pleasant run through open countryside.
JHQ Rheindahlen closed in 2013. Prior to its closure we made our first return visit since 1966. Afterwards I made the video below and added ’60s pop music. The video plays at double speed to reduce viewing time. It begins where the blue line emerges from behind the label on the map. It ends after the bend on the white road above Oakham Way.
Security of the camp increased after our time. Entry checkpoints were added – one can be seen below – and other access roads were closed. Other than this the drive along Queens Avenue looked much as it did in the ’60s. The major difference was the absence of people and vehicles. The video was taken on a Friday afternoon – see date & time bottom left in video. JHQ would close in a few months so most had been posted out. In Oakham Way we stopped at the NAAFI car park, just as we did on our weekly shop. There were no bollards then and the road was all two way. The video ends just after the checkpoint at the eastern end of Queens Avenue.
If you enjoyed the above video you might like to watch the real time version of it by clicking here. It lasts twice as long, has a few more photos and, due to its length, has additional music excerpts. This is an extract from a much longer video about a return visit to places served at.
Camera & Projector
On one of our weekly shops I purchased a Yashica Minister D 35mm camera with leather case. It cost me DM191 = £17.40 in August ’65, equivalent in 2013 to £294 or £663. More about the camera can be found by clicking here (scroll down to almost half way).
Preferring slides instead of photos I used colour transparency (reversal) film – either Kodakchrome or Fujifilm. The first colour film I bought with the camera cost DM18.30 = £1.66, equivalent in 2013 to £28 or £63. Here’s the Sales Receipt for the two items.
Of course with slides you need something that projects them. So I later purchased, again from the NAAFI, a Sawyer 500R Slide Projector. In July ’66, this cost DM207 = £19, equivalent in 2013 to £308 or £684. It had a plug-in remote control and a 36 slide tray. The limitation of the tray soon became evident. Loading and unloading each set of 36 slides was very time consuming. And sometimes I put the odd slide in upside down or wrong way around.
A RotoTray was needed. These held 100 slides and when full you bought another one and thus built-up a collection. No more slide swapping, out of order or upside down images. Over the next few years we added another five RotoTrays. Due to cost and film limit, you didn’t just snap away.
After we’d left the army Jean gave me a Christmas present of a Photax Projection Screen and I bought a small flash unit, an Agfatronic 200B. We still have all of it but when technology moved on it was stored away and no longer used. I digitized the six hundred slides in the RotoTrays a number of years ago. My colour photos on this page were taken with the Yashica.
17 Rear Vehicle Depot, Mönchengladbach, Germany
When not at 16 BVD, some of us commuted daily between 15 ABOD and 17 RVD. I was billeted there in 1963 (see here) when I first arrived in Germany.
Our first job here was un-installing radio equipment from Centurion tanks, Saracen personnel carriers and Ferret scout cars. This was usually because the vehicles were being ‘recycled’ to another country’s military. Working inside a Centurion was educational. It was very cramped and must have been hell to be in when it was firing and/or in hot climates. A crew of four worked inside it. Read more about it by clicking here.
17 RVD Parks
Having once been a Luftwaffe airfield, 17 RVD covered a large area. It was divided by a main road (Gladbacher Strasse) into two main areas – North Park and South Park. What had been the main runway (now called Am Borussiapark) crossed the road between north and south.
The bulk of North Park or Nordpark is now part of Borussia Park Stadium. This area was behind my old billet and where we worked on the tanks and armoured vehicles.
South Park had lots of bushes and undergrowth with areas of hard standing where various vehicles were stored. One area was like a railway siding with radio trucks loaded onto flat bed wagons. These were our next stripping job. We came across some Stalwart amphibious trucks here which were interesting to check out but not strip.
Whatever target we had to strip each day we would work hard to get the bulk done before lunch-time. The balance we’d then do at a leisurely pace after lunch. For example, with the traveling and the clambering up and into we aimed to strip seven tanks a day. Then it was back to Viersen, into my car and home to Waldniel.
On the main road to the left of 17 RVD’s main gate was an AKC Globe cinema. Jean & I went to see “West Side Story” there in, I think, 1966. 17 RVD main gate was at the junction of, what is now, Heinz-Nixdorf-Strasse and Gladbacher Strasse.
In late ’65 – early ’66 we hired a rental TV. It was black & white – colour TV was yet to be rolled out. We didn’t need a TV licence.
We were able to receive, I think, four channels. Two German and two Dutch. I think the German channels were WDR and ZDF. The Dutch were NTS 1 and 2. Both photos show NTS 1.
We mostly watched NTS because they broadcast English speaking films and programmes adding only Dutch subtitles. The German broadcasters over-dubbed English soundtracks with German. They did a very good job of the lip sync but I don’t know what was lost in the process.
The TV introduced to us a number of singers that we continue to enjoy. In no particular order, here are three of them:-
Someone called Englebert Humperdinck. We learned of him in July ’66 when he and four others represented England in the annual Knokke song contest in Belgium. (We’d never heard of that either.) We can’t remember what he sang but it might well have been his 1966 single – Release Me. This is how he looked and sounded at the time. Or it may have been Dommage, Dommage.
Another is Adamo. Born Italian and lives in Belgium. We immediately liked his voice and style though can’t remember which song first aroused our interest. The one in this video was his 1967 release so it was an earlier one like Tombe la neige (The Snow Falls) or possibly J’Aime (I Like) that would have engaged our attention. He still performs and there’s lots of his stuff on YouTube.
Gilbert Bécaud, a French singer, composer and pianist. First seen performing “L’Orange” in a TV show. You may never have heard of him but you will undoubtably have heard one of his many songs or collaborations. For example, he co-wrote “Love on the Rocks” and “September Morn” with Neil Diamond. His song catalogue runs to about 450 songs. Many have been adapted and interpreted by popular singers. He died from cancer in 2001 aged 74.
In Feb. ’66 we exchanged our Renault R8 for a Renault R10. The R10 cost £494, equivalent in 2013 to £8,345 or £18,830. We really liked our Renaults with their very comfortable seats – but without headrests or seat belts then. (It wasn’t until 1983 that UK law required seat belts to be worn.) Both were rear engine cars with the luggage compartment at the front under a front hinged bonnet. The spare wheel (normal, not spacesaver) was slung on a frame under the luggage compartment.
Don & Kate
In early ’66 at 15 ABOD I happened to meet again the German civilian female clerk I’d met in 1963. She now worked in HQ (see 15ABOD plan above). Her name was Kate and her husband Don (a civilian Brit from Jersey) worked in RSSD. The four of us became friends and had some good times together. In the R10 photo above Don can be seen looking out the rear side window on one of our trips.
One of our trips was a 340 mile round day trip to Traben Trabach in the Mosel valley.
Key to places in map right:-
A: Waldniel > B & J: Viersen >
C: Bad Münstereifel > D: Remagen >
E: Cochem > F: Traben Trabach >
H: Nürburgring > I: Monschau
After picking up Don & Kate our first stop was at Bad Münstereifel. Our next (for a cuppa) was by the River Rhine near Remagen. Next was Cochem where we had a picnic by the side of the River Mosel. Then Traben Trabach, after which we started back. After a brief stop at the Nürburgring racing circuit we called at Monschau. Then back home via Viersen to drop off Don & Kate. A very good trip. See photos below.
We had a great day, covered a lot of miles and weren’t rushed. This was the biggest of the trips we made together. We lost touch with Don & Kate when Tony was posted to Singapore. In the Signals you got used to meeting up with people again but unfortunately we never saw them again. We’ve now forgotten their surname. One of our great regrets. We got on great together.
17 Base Vehicle Depot, Recklinghausen, Germany
Another place we worked at was 17 BVD up in Recklinghausen. For a short time we spent two days a month there, travelling there each day. It was just over an hour’s drive from Viersen to Recklinghausen, a distance of about 60 miles, as can be seen on this map.
Recklinghausen is in the Ruhr region – an area of coal and steel industries. To avoid the heavily built up industrial cities of Duisberg, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, etc., we used the autobahn – which was for about half the journey. The route we took in the sixties would have been slightly different to that shown on the map. We normally used a military vehicle but on at least one occasion FoS Paul took us in his new Renault R16.
He’d not had the car long and it needed to be run in. His married quarter was less than half a mile from 15 ABOD so the more longer journeys he could make the better or it would take an age to run in. This photo shows him driving us back down the autobahn. It was one of the first cars with a hatchback body style, in fact, before the term “hatchback” was coined. I’d wanted one myself but couldn’t stretch to the (I think it was) £700 price tag, which in 2013 was equivalent to £11,830 or £26,680.
In a warehouse there were about 40 Austin Champs with radio sets mounted in the rear. They were TAVR vehicles. Our task was to run the sets and make sure they were working. I don’t recall which sets they were but probably “Larkspur” sets. (Information on Larkspur, plus many other British military radios and vehicles, is available here. Further information may be found here.)
We set up a couple of ‘drive-in’ workstations manned by two radio techs. The rest of us would drive the Champs into these then drive them away after testing. It involved a lot of jumping in and out of Champs and short distance driving and parking. The Champ’s forward/reverse lever meant we used one gear and could go forwards and backwards with ease and speed.
This was, unfortunately, yet another location and task for which my Tele. Tech. training and experience wasn’t needed. Not since 16 Sigs. had I used my specialist technical skills or had the opportunity to maintain or extend them. I think this was the case for all of us at 608 and 614 previously. This situation was to improve with the next task I was assigned on my own.