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Les Yates - The Book

Les started writing a book, but he only managed to write 34 pages before he became too ill, it starts in childhood and finishes when he left the military police, we all have our own memories from there onwards and hopefully soon I can start filling in the missing years with stories from all of you.


The Early Years

I was born on 5th September 1939 in Cambridge, England. I was the second child after my brother Laurence Alexander Yates, to be produced by mum Winifred Ivy Yates and dad Alexander Yates. On the 4th of September mum had been evacuated from Shoreditch in the east end of London along with a charabanc full of other pregnant ladies. This was one day after the declaration of the Second World War. The ladies were all a bit fed up having to leave their homes and on that first evening in the hospital ward, an impromptu good old 'east end' knees up was held. It was probably as a result of this strenuous exercise that I arrived at 8.30am on the following morning.

As mum and dad already had a son, Laurence, born on 24th July 1933, I suppose it was natural that I was expected to be a girl and my name was to be Barbara. I never discovered whether I was a real disappointment but I am thankful that I never had to wear girls’ clothes.

At this time Aunt Mabel, Mum's elder sister was renting a house at 14, Roestock Gardens, Colney Heath, near St.Albans in Hertfordshire.  

As the war had just started it was decided that Mum would be safer living in the country. I therefore arrived at Roestock Gardens. Where I was to spend the first eighteen years of my life. I was thoroughly spoiled by Aunt Mabel and a colleague of hers who also lived at the house.

Mum gave birth to my younger brother Terrence John Yates on 12th January, 1942.


Dad's War Effort

The family didn't see much of Dad during the war years. He had joined the Auxiliary Fire Service some time before the war and was employed in that job for the duration. He was based in the East end of London within easy reach of the docklands area. There was a real fear that the Germans were about to commence bombing raids on London as soon as war was declared on 3 September 1939. This did not happen for some considerable time, which meant that Dad managed to get leave occasionally and was able to visit us at Colney Heath. The only way to do this was by bicycle. The distance involved was in excess of 20 miles each way, so the journey took considerable time and effort. I believe that these visits resulted in the introduction of domestic chickens and rabbits to our garden.

As the bombing raids started, (The Blitz), Dad found himself almost permanently at the docks which were a prime target area. He did all the jobs connected to the service from cooking the meals at the Fire Station to driving the Fire Engine, to operating the pumps and manning the hoses. He would keep us enthralled for hours by telling us of his narrow escapes, like the time he had been on the hose for several hours and he was relieved to go for a smoke. He did this in a warden's bell on the corner of the street. On his return ten minutes later a warehouse wall had collapsed killing his mates. On another occasion he stood in a hole all night pumping water. He did not know that the lump of metal he was standing on was a land mine which exploded just after he left the following morning.

There were many tales like this and I wondered how he had managed to survive. It was not surprising therefore that he cycled 20 odd miles to Colney Heath to get away from this nightmare for a few hours.

It was probably as a result of these traumatic times during the war that Dad developed duodenal ulcers. I remember that he seemed to eat only fish steamed in milk with potatoes and some form of green vegetables, followed by milky rice pudding. Even this diet upset him. Most evenings he would sit at the table, take one mouthful and rush upstairs to be physically sick... I felt so sorry for him.

We would occasionally hear aircraft over the house in those years and while most of these would be allied aircraft sometimes an enemy plane would come over. When this happened Terry and I would join Aunt Mabel under the dining room table until the threat had passed. Aunt Mabel always made a game out of it even when a stick of bombs were dropped a mile or so from the house at North Mymns and when an enemy plane came down near the village. On the latter occasion brother Laurence visited the site and managed to secure part of a belt of machine gun bullets, a lump of shrapnel and some parachute silk and lines. All very illegal.

After the war Dad became a painter and decorator and worked all over the place.

On one occasion he was away working in Glasgow for several months. Each week he would send us a parcel of comics through the post, which were eagerly awaited. On his return he told us how careful he had to be. He was in a bad part of Glasgow and he had to pass under a dark bridge on his way to his lodgings every night. Under the bridge were a group of youths who flicked lighted matches at passers by.


School Days

My education began at Colney Heath school which was the village school and situated one mile from home. My teacher was a Mrs. Marshall, A severe looking woman who wore her hair pulled back into a bun. It was in the days of slates and chalks. I never seemed to learn anything at that school and can remember how boring it was. The teacher ignored those of us who knew nothing and seemed to concentrate on those who already had some learning. It was probably as a result of the boredom that the boy who sat next to me and I decided on a competition to see who could push their piece of chalk furthest up their nose. I won, but try as I might I could not remove the chalk. I was eventually escorted to the head masters office where I was made to sniff at a pepper pot. This finally did the trick and the chalk was expelled. I was probably lucky that I didn't follow suit. Dad had bought me a clockwork monkey that climbed up a piece of string. This was my pride and joy and I insisted on taking it to school to show off. It was stolen on the first day and I never saw it again. The warm summer days brought a special treat. Each member of the class would collect a raffia mat and file onto the heath at the back of the school. We would all sit on our mats on the grass and there have our lesson in the sunshine. I found it much more fun to rummage in the grass and to discover the various creepy crawlies hidden there. Most of us stayed for school dinners but those living close by were allowed home during the lunch break. I remember one lad who lived at the Crooked Billet, A public house immediately opposite the school. His name was Donald. I heard talk in the playground that he had been run over and so ran to the railings to have a look. Sure enough he lay there under the wheels of a lorry. Thank goodness he eventually recovered, but to this day he walks with a significant limp.

 After a while I was allowed to walk the mile home on my own or in the company of a friend who lived in our road. His name was Donald Fryer. We used to divert on to the heath and play beside the river. Often I arrived home with wet shoes and socks as a result of searching for newts and minnows in the shallows. Even though it sometimes took us hours to get home, mum was never worried that something might happen to us. Because I was not learning anything at this school, mum managed to obtain a letter from our doctor who recommended that I be allowed to change schools. Consequently I started in the juniors at Fleetville school in St Albans. This necessitated a bus ride of about five miles. Initially, I was escorted by Marion Pratt, who also lived in our road and was my childhood sweetheart. She had been at Fleetville for some time and therefore knew the ropes. We also attended the village Sunday school together.


Sunday School

I began at Sunday school almost as soon as I could walk and was made to go every Sunday until I was about fourteen years old. The teacher was a Mrs. Wren, a truly Christian woman, unfortunately she was to suffer from cancer in later life and I found it difficult to understand why a woman who had done nothing but good all her life should succumb with such a terrible illness. The organist was a lady named Miss Lavender who we discovered was very easy to annoy. We would frequently sing the wrong words to certain hymns and add our own bits at the end. She would become progressively angrier until finally she stopped playing and demanded that the culprits step forward. Of course nobody ever owned up. Miss Lavender used to arrive on her bicycle each Sunday morning and she parked outside and to the right of the door. I don't think a week went by when someone did not let her tyres down. I could never understand why she didn't park the bike inside where she could keep an eye on it. During the summer we had an annual trip to the seaside. All of us kids and the mums would gather outside the Sunday school and there with much excitement await the coach (either Brunts or Albanian) to take us on our trip. The destination was usually Clacton or Walton‑on‑the‑Naze. I was generally sick about halfway into the journey. The other highlight of the year was the Christmas party. Each child would bring something for the table, either sandwiches, jelly, blancmange, cakes etc... After eating our fill it didn't take long for the leftover jelly and blancmange to start flying about the room and the party generally broke up in Pandemonium, a good time had by all.

I was about five years old when I got my first means of transport; this was a second hand tricycle which I though was fabulous. I was able to out peddle the local lads if they decided to chase me. Very few children had cycles in those days so there was always someone either pleading or bullying me into agreeing that they could have a ride on mine. The tricycle could support two of us, one on the saddle and the other standing on the back axle bar. It had solid tyres, one brake on the front wheel and was painted red. I had this tricycle for several years and used to accompany mum on her shopping trips to St Albans. She would push my younger brother Terry in his pram the five miles each way (there were no busses in those days) and I would peddle along beside her. Some of the ladies in our road took it in turns to walk to St Albans to do each others shopping.

Roestock Gardens was a paradise for us kids. The road was unmade and had grassy banks on each side. It was a cul‑de‑sac and had a large grassy oval at the bottom. When it was wet the surface retained lovely puddles, some of which stretched right across the road. The puddle at the top of the road was particularly deep. It was great fun to hang on to the back of the milkman's lorry and be bumped through the puddles trying to avoid being splashed. Not so funny though when I lost my grip and was dumped into a puddle. The deep one of course. The grassy banks were great for playing cowboys and Indians, giving great scope for hideouts and laying in ambush. It was at this time that Terry and I were playing with the two Rossetti boys (Leno and Fatty) from number 8, when one of them fired an arrow towards us. We were taking cover behind our garden gate. I was peeping through a hole in the gate when the arrow came through the hole. It embedded itself in my face just below the right eye. Instead of the expected sympathy, I received a clout from mum for playing with dangerous toys.    

  Washdays in our house were a nightmare. The gas copper would be filled with water and lit first thing in the morning. Soda crystals and soap flakes were added prior to the dirty washing going in. It was then given a good boil. Mum had a washing board which is best described as a flat, wood framed piece of ribbed glass, this was propped in the kitchen sink and using a one pound piece of Sunlight soap, the clothes were given a good rub. Another piece of wash day equipment was the copper stick, three feet long and quite thick. It was used to transfer the washing from the copper to the sink for rinsing. It was also used to give us a whack when Mum really lost her temper. It always had the desired effect. We had an old mangle in the scullery, used to get most of the water out of the washing before it was hung out on the washing line. It was a flat topped table most of the time but when the handle was turned the table rolled over and was replaced by the mangle rollers. It was really hard work to keep the handle turning while Mum fed the wet washing through. On winter days the washing would freeze on the line and it was like trying to fold a piece of board. To thaw it out and get it dry, it was hung on the clothes horse in front of the fire. We had open fires in those days, central heating was unheard of. The fire in the dining room was of metal construction and every so often it had to be black leaded, this was another of my jobs. Using a can of Zebbo black lead and a couple of brushes the job was soon completed. The fire had a back boiler which was the main supply of hot water. In later years we were to get an immersion heater. The back boiler was not very efficient, especially on bath nights when a few saucepans of boiling water were also required. Terry was always first in the bath as he was the youngest, as he got out, I got in.

 In the late summer we would sometimes go as a family to pick blackberries on the heath. We were each armed with a glass kilner jar which seemed to take forever to fill, probably because I ate as many as I put in the jar. I remember the jars were placed on the sideboard in the dining room to be dealt with on the following day. When I came down to breakfast in the morning I saw that there were dozens of maggots crawling on the inside of the jars. When I think of what I had probably eaten the previous day I felt sick. I have never eaten a wild blackberry since.

We also used to go gleaning in the field at the back of the house when the farmer had cut the corn. We would scour the field for the odd ears of corn that the machines had left. We usually managed to find quite a lot and it went a long way to feeding the chickens.


Chickens and Rabbits

 We always seemed to have a lot of chickens and rabbits which were kept at the far end of the garden; there were a dozen or so chickens which kept us in eggs and the occasional roast dinner. Dad would select a non layer and wring its neck. It would then be hung in the garden shed until Dad was ready to pluck and clean it. Eggs were bartered for other things with the neighbours such as ration book coupons for food and clothes. The rabbits were my favourites, being furry and cuddly and I spent a lot of time with them, until they became quite tame and I could handle them with ease. Sometimes one of them would gnaw through the cage wire and we would have rabbits all over the garden eating the vegetables. I can remember being called out of bed one summer evening because nobody could catch the loose rabbits. Mum and Dad were amazed when I called to the rabbits and they came to me and were able to be picked up. The worst part of keeping rabbits was collecting enough food for them. I had a small sack which I had to fill with dandelions and milk thistle each day. During the winter months this diet was replaced with bread soaked in warm milk and a bowl of dry porridge oats, plus any green vegetables left over from the house. Although I treated them all as pets and I loved every one of them that did not stop me tucking in to Mum's fantastic rabbit stew.

As I got older I suddenly found that the chickens had become my responsibility also. Feeding them meant cutting up pounds of small potatoes and boiling them in a bucket on the gas stove. When they were cooked I had to mash them and mix in the bran. The bran was kept in Mum's old gas copper which had been relegated to the garden shed when Mum got her first washing machine. This was a great round monster of a thing but thank goodness it had an electric mangle on the top. All stale bread and egg shells were baked in the oven. The bread for the rabbits to chew on while the eggshells were crushed and fed back to the chickens as grit. At one stage it appeared that the chickens had stopped laying. It took Dad quite a long time to discover that a rat had burrowed a tunnel under the run and was stealing the eggs. I have to admit that the rat was not the only one to steal eggs.

At the other end of our road lived a lad named Christopher who Terry and I sometimes played with. On one occasion the three of us were, I suppose feeling a bit hungry. As the baker had just made his deliveries, Christopher stole a large fresh baked loaf from his mother’s doorstep. The end crust was ripped off and the three of us sat on the grass eating the inside of the loaf. It was a bit bland so I decided a couple of eggs would help it go down. I pinched these from the laying boxes at the top of the garden. When I cracked them, I remember being very surprised that they were raw and runny and of course uneatable.

On finishing the inside of the loaf Christopher was a bit worried that his mother might notice that the bread was missing. A solution was quickly found. We filled the inside with dust and gravel from the road, put the crust back on and replaced the loaf back onto the doorstep. I never heard what happened and didn't see Christopher for some time. He told us later that he was not allowed to play with us anymore.

Fleetville School

I remember that the summers always seemed to last forever and were always very warm. It was not unusual for the tar to melt on the roads. As it got soft we were able to dig lumps of it up and mould it into shapes. The normal shape being round and a nice handful, which was used as ammunition in our constant battles. While it was good fun throwing tar balls and trying to dodge those thrown at me, it was not so funny when I had to explain the tar on my shirt to mum. The worst thing by far was when I managed to get tar in my hair. It would not wash out and it was impossible to comb. It usually had to be cut out which left us looking a bit odd to say the least.

 As I got older I began to enjoy school. At Fleetville I started in Mrs. Bank’s class in the A stream. This was in 1947. I was eight years old when the sever winter of that year struck. I had to walk from home to the bus stop which was over half a mile. The snow was over the top of my Wellington boots and still being in short trousers, my thighs were severely chapped. I had to take a pair of slippers and spare socks to change into at school. I still remember putting those cold wet wellies back on to go home. The following year I progressed to class 2A where Mr.Griffiths was in charge. He was also the sports teacher. It was at this time that I received my first and only pair of football boots. I played left back or left wing (being left handed and left footed). Mr.Griffiths played anywhere and kicked the ball every time he had a chance, to show us how it was done. I remember I was standing in front of the goal when he gave the ball a ferocious kick. It came straight at me at what seemed like 500 miles per hour and struck me on both naked thighs. Having experienced this intense pain I never played again. It was in this class that I read my first complete book entitled Humphrey The Horse. It was therefore quite a jolt when the teacher explained that the following term I was to go down into the B stream as I was a bit behind on my reading. My next teacher was Mr. Belcher and as the school was a bit overcrowded our class moved a mile up the road to St.Mark's church hall. This was an extra two stops on the bus. This was a great class and was where I learned to write in running or joined up writing. We also carried out various class projects, the most famous of which was the creating of a giant map of St.Albans. The class was divided into pairs, each pair being given a piece of card about three feet square and a piece of map about two inches square. The idea was to copy the map onto the card making sure that each piece matched up to the other groups pieces. It was then painted with poster paints. We then had to walk the streets in our own time in order to find every post box, public telephone box and anything else of interest. On completion of this masterpiece all the squares were taped together to create an enormous map.

There was a Co‑Op grocery shop opposite St.Marks and it was my job to get the shopping each week. I put the order in on my way to school and collected the bag of shopping on my way home. In those days eggs came in paper bags as egg boxes had not been invented. The eggs were of course always placed on top of the bag of shopping. It was rare that the eggs survived the journey home. Normally some of them would break and the resulting mess could be found plastered over the rest of the shopping.

I used to stop and play on the recreation ground at Fleetville both in the lunch hour and after school. There were some marvellous old ruins there at that time which were normally several inches deep in water. It was a natural breeding ground for newts. It was great fun trying to catch them. There were also tunnels running underneath the recreation ground which I believe were a relic of the war. They had a small brick built hut at each entrance and a ladder descending to about twenty feet underground. As it was inky black down there I was never brave enough to go down. The tunnels were eventually blown up and filled in as several accidents had occurred.

I suppose it was at about this time that brother Terry told me about the competition in the boy’s toilets. The idea evidently was that a row of boys would try to outdo each other by seeing who could pee the highest up the wall. Terry won with a magnificent effort which went right over the wall and soaked the hat of a passing lady.

My final teacher at this school was Mrs. Jackson who was a very nice lady. She decided that the class would perform a play. It was entitled The Snowman and I was to perform in the starring roll. Mum provided me with an old sheet to wear, while my other props, a pipe and a bowler hat were acquired from other members of the class. Ann Thompson was the leading lady and she played the sun. As well as performing for the school we also played to several organisations like old peoples clubs and the local hospitals.

It was while I was in this class and playing in the bushes which skirted the recreation ground, that I found the gun. It was after school and I had some time to wait for the bus home. I was running along between the bushes when I saw a yellow chamois bag with a drawstring, lying under a bush. I had seen the bag several times before but had always been too busy to make the effort of crawling into the bush to pick it up. On this occasion though I retrieved it. I remember thinking that it felt like a bag full of conkers. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise to find that the bag contained a .38 Smith and Wessen revolver. I showed it to several people at the bus stop before taking it home and giving it to Dad. That night I was woken up and summoned downstairs where the local village policeman, known to us kids a Copper Day was waiting to interview me. On the following day I was called out from my class and escorted to the headmaster's office where I was interviewed by two detectives. They recorded my statement after which I showed them where I had found the gun. They told me that the gun was connected to a crime that they were investigating and that a camera was also missing. Suddenly I was the hero of the school and each lunch time I organised most of the other kids into teams to search for the camera. Any old bits of metal or plastic were brought to me and I would decide whether or not it could be part of the missing camera. I was sorry when interest started to decline along with my popularity.

 It was Christmas that year when elder brother Laurence gave me two pairs of boxing gloves. I could not have had a better present. I used to take them to school each day where I and a few friends would engage in friendly boxing matches, making sure that none of us was ever hurt. It wasn't long before the two school bullies discovered us and insisted that they be allowed to join in. I made sure that each of them had a pair of gloves on without realising that they were about to fight each other rather than one of us. The funny thing was that neither of them ever really won, although the fights occurred each break-time for weeks. Again I became very popular when the rest of the school realised that while these two idiots were knocking seven bells out of each other, the rest of us were being left alone. One day the weather was particularly wet and I had stayed in the classroom. One of the bullies came in and insisted that we put the gloves on and box each other. My heart dropped as terror took over, but I had no choice. I was pleasantly surprised when I scored a few good hits and realised that I was far better than him and I was easily able to dodge his lumbering punches. It wasn't long before he had had enough and made an excuse to leave. From that day on I never had a problem with him and he became eager to be friends.

All school children were entitled to free milk, which was one third of a pint in a glass bottle with a cardboard top. I managed to secure the job of milk monitor, which consisted of delivering the right number of bottles to each classroom. There was always plenty of milk left over and as monitor I could have as much as I liked. I loved milk and always drank my fill and of course looked after my friends at playtime with the excess milk, which was hidden behind the dustbins.

I had always had school dinners as did most of the kids. At that time they cost two shillings and six pence (12.5 pence) per week. Mostly we were ravenous and ate anything that was going, although I never did manage to eat the boiled cabbage. The smell of it used to hang like a cloud over the whole school (or seemed to). The dinners were always a good filling meal and generally consisted of meat, potatoes and a couple of other vegetables and lots of gravy. The puddings were usually pretty good but tapioca days were my favourite. There were six of us to a table and no one else seemed to like tapioca. Needless to say all six portions disappeared inside me.

During the school holidays Mum managed to get Terry and me into a thing called "Playcentre". This was held at Fleetville School and was a way to look after children whose parents both worked... I hated these gatherings and cannot remember much about them. As far as I can remember we were there for the whole day, Monday to Friday. I know we had to dress up in silly clothes and dance round a maypole and I was always in trouble for getting it wrong. The whole thing didn't make much impression on me and after the organizers had complained several times to Mum, suddenly we didn't have to go any more...

It was about this time that Terry and I travelled to and from school together. This entailed a journey of several miles on the 343 bus from The Queens Head at Colney Heath, to Fleetville, and return... We quite often intentionally missed the bus home and stayed to play on the rec. This didn't matter as the buses came along every half hour. I remember that Terry often spent his three pence bus fare in the Fleetville sweet shop and I would help him to eat the sweets. When it was time for the bus he would stand at the bus stop crying and telling people that he had lost his fare. It always worked. Someone would always stump up the 3d. I never had the nerve to do this as it was a very long walk home.

Towards the end of my time at Fleetville School we had the usual end of term exams. I think I was probably the most surprised person in the room when Mrs. Jackson announced that I had come top of the class. For this achievement she gave me a 6d piece and asked me who I had copied my answers from. I pointed out that if I was top I could not have cheated. As I had done so well in class, I was allowed to sit the 11+ examination. This exam determined who would get a grammar school place, and who would go to a secondary modern school. I failed the exam and therefore had to go to Beaumont Secondary School.


Roestock Gardens

Our garden at Colney Heath was quite large and was constantly being changed, mainly by older brother Lawrence in company with Dad. The path to the end of the garden frequently moved. At first the path was made of ash and cinders, which were cleared from the fireplace each day. Eventually a thin layer of concrete was laid on top. We grew a lot of vegetables, onions, carrots, beetroot, parsnips, lettuce, cabbage, runner beans potatoes and peas.

Sometimes, we would be visited by Mum's brother Willie and his family who lived at 99 Finsbury Park Rd. London. Uncle Bill as we called him worked in the upholstery trade in London. He and his wife Aunt Kit, and their daughter, my cousin Jean, would arrive on a Sunday morning with Aunt Kit clutching a loaf of bread as part of her contribution for the day. We almost had fights over this bread. It was freshly baked, still warm, and burned black on the top. It was absolutely delicious.

It was on one of these visits that Jean helped in the garden digging up potatoes for lunch. When lunch time came, Jean refused to eat the potatoes as she said they had been in the ground. I suppose as far as she was concerned, living in London, potatoes came from a shop.

I have very happy memories sitting in the back garden shelling our own peas on a Sunday morning, a goodly proportion being eaten at the time. We also had fruit trees in the garden, several apples, and one pear and later on blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes. We grew quite a lot of flowers. I remember there were quite a lot of nasturtiums grown behind the garden shed. These were a natural breeding ground for green caterpillars. There were hundreds of them. My favourite flowers were pinks, and I often had one as a buttonhole when at secondary school.


Aunt Mabel and Uncle Jack

Our school summer holidays were often spent with Aunt Mabel who by this time had married Jack Eggleshaw and was living in a terraced cottage in Selston Nottinghamshire. It was a wonderful place, just a village in the middle of nowhere with a railway line and coalmine at the bottom of the road. The loo was at the bottom of the garden, so I made sure that I went before bedtime.

It was here that I was introduced to the wonderful taste of hazelnuts and dates mixed with cereals and milk.

 The railway line at the bottom of the road was where Terry and I spent most of our time, sometimes with one or two of the local children. They showed us how to put halfpennies on the railway line and have the train run over them and turn them into bent pennies. There was a signal box on the opposite side of the line and one day the signalman invited us up into his box. We had great fun operating the signals and the level crossing gates. This quickly became the normal way of spending the day, much to the chagrin of the local kids.

Washing days were hard work as there were no washing machines in those days. The washing was put into a metal barrel shaped container full of soapy water, known as a dolly tub. I would then have the job of pounding the washing with the dolly. This was a wooden shaft with a crosspiece on the top, which formed the handles. On the other end was an inverted cup shaped piece of metal that was perforated to allow the water to pass through. The idea was that you used an up and down motion to bash the living daylights out of the washing. After rinsing, the washing was put into a small spinner. This had a habit of travelling around the kitchen unless sat on by Aunt Mabel.

 I remember once having my hair cut by Uncle Jack. This was a very traumatic affair and involved me sitting on a wooden chair in the yard and having a bowl put on my head. Uncle Jack then went to work with his hand clippers and scissors. The result was a complete mess and I cried.

Uncle Jack was a lecturer in economics and in those days travelled by motorcycle combination, which he had done for most of his life. We always looked forward to a ride on his machine on their visits to Colney Heath as soon as Aunt Mabel had climbed out of the sidecar.

Uncle Jack was not allowed off his bike until Terry and I had experienced a ride round the local roads. Terry used to be perched on the petrol tank and I would ride pillion.

Whilst staying at Selston Terry or I would sometimes accompany Uncle Jack on one of his lectures. I found these to be terribly boring, as I could not understand much of what he was talking about. However on the occasions that we stayed for lunch it was worth the boredom. Stewart and Lloyds at Rugby was my favourite when we lunched in the directors’ dining room and I experienced my first taste of smoked salmon and prawns.

Sometimes Terry used to go to Selston on his own. It was then that he became friendly with the local milkman. In those days the milkman did his rounds by pony and trap. The milk was in urns and he carried half pint and one pint measures to fill his customer’s jugs. Terry was well into this and sometimes drove the pony and trap.

Aunt Mabel and Uncle Jack then moved to 23 Ladybay Rd, Nottingham. This was a very large house on three floors, and I think it had an attic? It had a nice back garden, mostly lawn, a garage, and stables, which Uncle Jack turned into a workshop. Attached to the workshop and the apple tree was a hammock.

Whilst living here Aunt Mabel started to take in students from Nottingham University. There were a few English but the majority were foreign students with the emphasis on African. I believe the very first student was Kwame Bosque Hamilton who was the son of an African chief. I never knew quite which country he came from but he kept in touch with Aunt Mabel for many years. He eventually became the education officer for his country... Another person who lodged there and whom I remember vividly was Mrs. Moore. She was a middle aged schoolteacher from Holland who decided to spend her summer holiday in Nottingham. It very quickly became my job to show her around. She was renowned for never washing herself, but on the other hand she went to the university swimming pool every day. It was Mrs. Moore who taught me to swim.

Uncle Jack used to take us out for a ride on the moors. At this time he had a small car and had got rid of the motorcycle combination. It turned out that Mrs. Moore was terrified of hills of which there are a lot in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, after her first experience of Uncle Jack's driving she never came again.

When we said goodbye she gave me the money to buy two white mice, which she said were to be named Pim and Wim, two Dutch names. I did buy them and they were so named.

The house was always full of students and Aunt Mabel became so well known that she was interviewed on the radio programme "Woman's Hour".

We sometimes spent Xmas at this house and on one memorable occasion there were twenty three family members present including Aunt Olive who wasn't a member of the family at all. She was great fun and always kept us kids amused with her games. One of these games involved the hiding of cob nuts all over the house. Each nut had a price marked on it from 1d to 6d. At the appointed time we were let loose to find as many nuts as possible. We ransacked the house in our efforts and when we were done we were able to claim cash to the value of the prices marked on the nuts. It must have cost Aunt Olive a small fortune and I know that Aunt Mabel was finding nuts for months afterwards.

Aunt Olive was also responsible for the introduction of the Xmas bran tub. All presents were put into a large chest or box. The parcels were attached to varying lengths of wool. The wool had to be followed and gathered as it wound its way around the room and through the furniture. Looking back it was much more exciting than the current method of receiving presents.                  


Dad Fishing

Dad was a great fisherman, or perhaps that is not quite the right description. He enjoyed fishing immensely but there never seemed to be anything great about his catch. He was a member of the Hatfield and District Fishing Club for more years than I can remember and either Terry or I would go with him. These trips started the night before when Dad would boil the hemp seed that he used as one of his baits. The other bait was maggots which he bought on his way home from work. The trip would generally start at about 4.30 in the morning when Dad woke me from my slumbers. He would always make sure I had a good breakfast before cycling the three miles to Hatfield carrying the fishing box and rods on the cycles. We parked the bikes behind the Odeon cinema and met the other fishermen in front of the cinema and there waited for the coach to take us to one of the rivers fished by the club. The destination was generally on the river Ouse or the Thames.

On one of these trips Dad was tackling up my rod. I decided to try a few practice strokes with his new rod. Disaster! The rod snapped about two feet from the end. I was in the dog house for the rest of the day and got the blame when he didn't catch anything. I was taught to bait my own hook with maggots and even though I washed my hands in the river, I could never eat a sandwich without holding it with a piece of paper. Even this method wasn't satisfactory. The sandwiches were warm (in the summer) and I swear I could still taste the maggots. Sometimes I would take my swimming trunks and Dad would encourage me to go in the river even though I could not swim. On one memorable occasion we were fishing next to a weir and a lock. The water between the two was only a few inches deep and ideal for a paddle. After some time in the water Dad urged me to go into the deeper water in front of the weir. This I did whilst holding on to the concrete edge of the weir. It was great having the whole of my body immersed on such a hot day. Dad kept urging me to touch the bottom of the river saying it wasn't very deep, but when the water was up to my nose I gave up. Later that day a boat came up river measuring the depth. At the weir it was eighteen feet deep.



Mum and Dad always managed to give us kids a holiday of some sort, even if it was just a couple of day trips to the seaside. Usually we went to Aunt Mabel's house in Nottingham for the summer. Occasionally we would have a whole week at the seaside. I remember spending time at Southend and Weymouth, where we had relations, and also at Hastings. It was very warm when we went to Hastings and I can see Terry and me now with towels on our heads done up like a couple of Arabs. It was on the pier at Hastings one afternoon when I was introduced to old time dancing. I found it quite easy to pick up and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I don't think that I will ever forget the Weymouth holiday. That's when I almost drowned. Dad had hired a rowing boat. He and Lawrence rowed while I sat in the middle and Terry had squeezed himself into a covered part of the boat up at the sharp end. Lawrence started whining about how he had the hardest rowing position and Dad's was the easy position... It went on and on until finally they decided to change ends. All went well until they met in the middle of the boat where I was sitting. At this point the boat turned turtle dumping us in the sea. I could not swim and I had no life jacket. I remember my eyes were open and I could see the green water. I had a very strange sensation of floating and slowly sinking in the water. There was no feeling of panic and I didn't struggle at all. Suddenly I was grabbed by my hair, hauled to the surface and dumped back into the boat, which had been righted. Lawrence was already sitting in the boat and had shut up at last and surprisingly Terry was still hanging on in his little hole at the sharp end. Mum was on the beach jumping up and down and shouting that her children were drowning. Dad had his good clothes on and was soaked from top to bottom, and to top it all he had lost all his money for the holiday when he was in the sea.

Now I come to think of it there were other attempts to drown Terry and me. On a Sunday afternoon after the family roast dinner, Terry and I would often cycle to Stanborough Swimming Pool at Welwyn Garden City. Mum would often give us a great lump of bread pudding each to eat after we came out of the water. It weighed a ton and would often be eaten before we went into the water. How we ever survived I don't know.

I was always a greedy boy right from a very early age. Mum used to tell me how she used to tie me on to a chair, no high chairs then, with a scarf, and I would always be fed first. When everyone else started eating I would shout for more. The only way round this was to turn my chair round so that I faced away from the table and could not see what was going on. To try to break me of the habit of always grabbing the biggest of everything, Dad prepared a special sandwich at one Sunday tea time. In came the plate of sandwiches with one twice as big as all the others, right on the top. Of course I immediately made a grab for it. I then experienced feelings of surprise, disappointment and outrage when I discovered that the sandwich consisted of bread only. No butter and no filling. I was made to eat it in order to teach me a lesson, which it did not it just made me more careful.

My grandparents on my father’s side lived at 24,Cathrine House, Phillip St. Hoxton, London. Occasionally Dad would take me to see grandma who would always give me half a crown (12.5 pence). She lived on the top floor of a block of flats. There was a piano against one wall and it surprised me that Dad could always manage to knock out a tune. In later life I learned that grandma had been on the stage in her younger days. She had been a singer performing at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, which at that time boasted the largest stage in London. In later years grandma had a second hand clothes stall in Shoreditch market. On these trips Dad would show me where he played as a lad and pointed out the filthy canal known as 'the cut' where he swam and dived for halfpennies. On one of these swimming excursions he got into real trouble when another lad stole his boots. We would often meet other members of the family at grandma's, some of whom I hardly knew. We also visited other members of the family who also lived in London. Aunt Kit, Uncle Bill and cousins Jean and Michael at 99, Finsbury Park Road. Aunt Lil, uncle Alf and cousins Winnie and Derek at 100, Mapledene Road, and Aunt Ester, Aunt Lil and uncle  Eddie who all lived in Barbara Street, Highbury.


Secondary Education

In September of 1950 at the tender age of eleven years, there occurred a major change in the routine of my life. I commenced my secondary education at Beaumont School in St.Albans. Suddenly I had ceased to be among the eldest at junior school and was now amongst the youngest and most inexperienced at this new school. I was placed in class 1A and while for the most part I enjoyed it, there were certain lessons that were a nightmare. The worst of these was gymnasium. We were required to change into shorts and gym shoes or if gym shoes were unaffordable, it was bare feet. At this time I suffered with a sever rash on my legs and it was extremely itchy. I scratched at my legs every night. The backs of my knees and the inside of my calves quickly became one enormous scab. My legs were creamed each evening with various prescribed concoctions and bound up. Despite my protestations I was made to change into my shorts and bare feet. The resultant barracking and vicious remarks were extremely upsetting and made worse by the unfeeling teacher who thought it funny to pass derogatory remarks at my plight. The new school was very large and at first co‑educational, although the boys and girls were kept separate both in class and on the playing fields. It was here that I was introduced to woodwork and later on to metalwork. Both of these lessons proved to be an absolute waste of time as I was totally useless. Spanish lessons were as bad. After two years trying to learn this language I was able to ask. 'What colour is your shirt?' together with one or two equally unnecessary phrases. The teachers in those days were allowed to administer corporal punishment at there discretion. This they did with much glee and an assortment of weapons. I quickly learned not to complain to Mum if I had had my backside walloped at school, as she would say that I must have deserved it and she would give me a clip round the ear for good measure.

My secondary education proved to be a total disaster. Although I enjoyed maths and English I learned virtually nothing of the other subjects taught. Hence I went gradually downhill from class A1 to class B2 and finally ended up in class C3.

The school had two wonderful playing fields which were enormous. The one used by the boys had a wonderful rough piece of ground at the bottom left hand side of the field. It was conveniently out of sight of the school building and was used by us as a battleground. It had lots of trees and bushes and small hillocks. We normally had two opposing armies and we were armed with wooden swords, which we cut from the bushes. We also had a long whippy stick to which we fixed a soft clay ball on one end. When these were launched en‑mass it was a frightening spectacle. The idea was to take a prisoner and make him run along a fifty yard stretch of fence while the army bombarded him with clay balls. In practice this was a bit dangerous and several accidents occurred, especially when someone was hit on the head with a ball travelling at high speed. The battles went on for the duration of the lunch break each day and we were reluctant to return to class at the end of the break, so sometimes a few of us remained in the area until the end of the school day. Luckily Mum never found out about these missed lessons but it was no wonder that my education suffered so much. There was one other subject that I enjoyed and that was cross country running, not that I ever ran across any open country. We were allowed out of school to run and it was always a double period. I, with a couple of mates several times ran all the way to our house in Roestock Gardens. Once there I made a pint of custard, which I shared between us before catching the bus back to school. Mum never seemed to notice that a pint of milk had gone missing. I had always been interested in cooking from a very early age and Mum would always let me make a few cakes when she was cooking. My specialities were lemon curd and toffee and these always went down well with the family


Boy Scouts

It was at about this time that I joined the boy scouts. The troupe was the 5th/13th St.Albans and was situated at Sandridge just outside St.Albans. I was lucky in as much that I could catch a bus from the Queens Head in Colney Heath to the end of the route in Sandridge and my school bus pass was accepted so I did not have to pay the fare. Mum could not afford to buy me the uniform so I had to make do with my school trousers and I managed to get the right type of shirt from somewhere. Mum did buy me the neck scarf and Jack, the scout master, gave me an old pyramid style hat which had seen better days. The brim remained floppy no matter how many times I steamed and pressed it.

I used to go to scout camp as often as I could although at first this was not a pleasant experience because of the actions of Ted, the scoutmaster’s younger brother. Ted was an out and out bully. He was considerably older than us ordinary scouts, bigger and stronger. He would delight in taking us into his tent one at a time, and always out of sight of Jack. Once we were at his mercy he would make us bend over and give us six of the best with a stick. This went on for several camps until the first year that we went camping to Lyme Regis. I was living in terror of Ted and his beatings and one night I had the misfortune to wet my bed. I remember how distressing this was. However when Jack found out what had happened he was very sympathetic. It was not long after this that Jack discovered what Ted had been up to and I remember the immense satisfaction I felt when Jack gave his brother a real good hiding in front of us all and that effectively ended the bullying. I learned a lot while on these camping trips, how to make plate and cup racks out of sticks, how to erect a tent properly and build a fire and how to burn a dixie full of porridge. The burnt porridge happened more than once and the taste was awful. We used bell tents at this time, which had a single pole in the middle and was circular at the base, rising to a point at the top. They were pretty easy to erect and we slept six or eight per tent. Each morning we would roll up the wall of the tent to allow fresh air to blow straight through. This was a necessity with eight grubby scouts living together. The first time that we went camping to Lyme Regis it rained every one of the fourteen days and it was pointless trying to keep dry.

The standard dress soon became shorts and plimsolls and as we were always wet it was great fun to paddle or take a dip in the rocky stream at the bottom of the field. We used to try tickling trout in this stream but never caught anything. The farmer used to make his own scrumpy cider and it wasn't long before someone found where he kept his barrels. The scrumpy tasted very tart or dry and was extremely strong. There was more than one scout with a hangover, until Jack found out what was going on.

The second visit to Lyme Regis could not have been more different. The sun shone every day and it was really hot. Several of us spent much of our time on the beach. We would walk over the fields and hills to Charmouth, which was a more exciting area than Lyme Regis. On one occasion we built a bridge across the mouth of the river Char where it poured across the beach. It was made of rocks and bits of old driftwood. We quickly discovered that people would pay a penny or two to use our bridge rather than walk a long way round. All went well until we got a real stroppy man who was not going to pay us anything. We allowed him to get to the middle of the bridge before we very quickly removed both ends, leaving him stranded in the middle. His language was really bad as we ran off laughing. On normal scout nights we used to have various things to do. Sometimes we would work in our patrols [ I was in Lion patrol] learning knots or semaphore or working towards another badge.

Sometimes on a nice warm summer evening we would go outside and perhaps have a game of camp or bottle cricket. At other times we would go into the woods at the end of the road were we would play some sort of hide and seek game. As I got a bit older I was allowed to cycle to the scouts on my new roadster bicycle, which Mum had taken me to London to buy. Unfortunately the membership of the 5th/13th began to wane and no new members were forthcoming. Eventually as there were so few of us, it was decided to disband the group and I then joined the 9th St.Albans group. This was a very different kettle of fish and not half as much fun as the 5th/13th. However, this group did have a drum and bugle band, which I duly joined. I was given a bugle to learn to play. I don't ever remember having a lesson on this instrument but was left to get on with it. If I ever blew a right note it was by accident.

Mum could not put up with my bugle playing in the house and told me that if I wanted to practice then I would have to go and stand in the field at the end of the road where neither she or our neighbours could hear me, and that is just what I did, much to the annoyance of the cows I should think. I loved playing in the band. There was an immense feeling of pride especially when we marched through St.Albans on St.George's day. We would form up at the scout hut and march to the bus station where the whole parade was to start from. We then set off with the drummers at the front and marched through the town to the Abbey giving it all that we had. Not many of us blew the right notes and we must have sounded atrocious but the onlookers always clapped as we passed.

The scoutmaster of the 9th never liked me and I have to say that the feeling was mutual. He made life difficult both at the weekly meetings and also at the camps. I always seemed to get all the rotten jobs and when things went wrong, I always seemed to get the blame. It got so bad that it was no longer fun to be in the scouts. I therefore left when I was fourteen.


My First Job  - International Stores

In 1954, I was informed by the school secretary that as the summer break would end on September 6th and my birthday was on the 5th, I would be leaving school at the start of the holidays in July. This came as quite a shock and suddenly I had to decide what I was going to do for a living.

I eventually decided that I would like to join the Police force. For this I needed the headmaster’s recommendation and he refused to give it. I thought this was very unfair especially as he did not know me personally. He effectively ruined my chances of joining the Police. After a lot of discussion with the family I decided that I might like to work in a shop. Mum did all the arranging and got me an interview at the International Stores in Hatfield. This was a grocery and provisions store and part of quite a big chain. I commenced work as an apprentice grocer on 5th September 1954 for the princely sum of £2.5s (, 2.25p) per week. The hours were 8.30 ‑ 5.30, Monday to Friday and 8.30 to 1.00 on Saturdays. There was an hour’s lunch break each day, during which the shop was closed.

When Mum took me to get this job she also took me to a cafe just down the road where she negotiated a special price for a two course lunch for me. She was always worried that I wasn't getting enough to eat. I ate at the cafe each day for a cost of two shillings and sixpence (12.5 pence). The meal was quite substantial consisting of a main course of meat and three veg. a pudding and a cup of tea. I was always ready for it. On nice days I spent the remainder of the lunch break in Hatfield Park, which was a short walk up the road. On wet days it was prudent to remain sitting in the cafe until it was time to return to work. It was about four miles from home to the shop which I used to cycle each day. It was a very long walk home when I got a puncture.

For the first year or so I was employed on the grocery side of the shop, [tins and packets]. I found this to be very boring for the most part. It was my job to make sure that all the shelves were kept fully stocked and if replacement stock was not available then I was told to 'face up' the shelves. That meant pulling the remaining items forward so that the shelves looked full. There was a more interesting side to the job, which I did enjoy. All dried fruit was delivered in wooden boxes most of which contained 28 pounds of fruit. I always enjoyed breaking up the fruit and weighing it up in one pound bags. There were normally two of us employed on this job, Claud, another apprentice who was a year ahead of me, and myself. One of us would fill the bags while the other weighed them. We usually did several boxes and made the job last as long as possible. I usually managed to acquire a pocketful of fruit, which I ate on the way home. The only trouble with this was that it did make for very sticky trouser pockets.

 I bought a new bicycle while in this job, it was a Palm Beach model with straight handlebars, which were all the rage at the time, and three speed gears. It was my pride and joy. I believe I paid a little over £20 for it.

Another of my jobs at the shop was to clean the front windows. There were two very large windows, one either side of the door, plus the door and a couple of smaller ones. This was where I was taught to clean windows using only newspaper and water. This method was so effective and cheap that I have cleaned windows using this method ever since. While it sounds to be a rotten job, on nice days it was good to be outside in the sunshine. I was able to appreciate the pretty girls as they went by. In the winter it was a different story, my fingers would be numb with the cold and the north wind blew straight down the high street. After six months at the shop I received my first pay rise, which was 5 shillings or 25 pence, as per my contract.

I always gave Mum half of my wages, not that I wanted to, but that is what she expected. In addition to this I would sometimes buy her a nice bunch of flowers on payday. I think I got as much pleasure from giving her the flowers as she got from receiving them. Payday was every Friday and that was the day when I did the family shopping. Fruit and vegetables from over the road, fish from next door, until Terry got a part time job there, and groceries from the shop. When it came to sorting the money out at home, Mums wages, less the cost of the purchases, I was frequently money short, or appeared to be. There was always an answer, usually a purchase I had missed or could not remember. Mum would make me sit at the table and go over and over it until it came out right. She taught me a lot.

During my second six months of employment I was required to take the preliminary postal course for the Institute of Certificated Grocers. The course papers arrived at home each week and I would have a quick look at them (sometimes). I sat the examination at Hatfield Technical College and of course failed miserably. I duly received a good dressing down from the manager who went to great lengths to tell me how much the course had cost the Company.

Part of the job I really did not enjoy was when the manager sent me out to sell biscuits. He filled a box with packets of biscuits, which were all priced at one shilling (5p) per packet. I would take these home balanced on the handlebars of my bike and spend the following morning trying to sell them to the neighbours. I have never eaten so many biscuits in my life. Another of my jobs was to stay behind in the evening after the shop was closed and get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor using only soapy water, a scrubbing brush and a cloth for rinsing. It was a bit more complicated as I had to move the floor standing stock and sweep up the sawdust which we had sprinkled previously. The job took several hours to complete and for this I was allowed the following Saturday morning off. By now I was sixteen and much more interested in going out at night. I had managed to join the Hatfield Youth Club although there was a considerable waiting list. My joining was entirely down to the intervention of Mum who always seemed to get her way.

I now had dozens of girl friends and changed them frequently. Some only lasted a day or two while others lasted as long as a fortnight. There were the usual things to do at the club, table tennis, darts, weight lifting and the like or you could make your own entertainment. It was somewhere to go in the evenings and it was entirely enjoyable. It was from this club that I had my new Palm Beach bicycle stolen. The Police did eventually recover it but it had been mutilated and was never the same again. It was at this time that I made my first visit to a public house. I was persuaded by a friend, that as there was nothing on at the club, it would be a good idea to have a glass of beer at the local hostelry. The pair of us finished up totally drunk and to this day I don't know how I ever cycled home. Needless to say Mum was waiting up for me and I could not avoid her. I received a lecture and was told that I was still two years too young to be going into pubs. I felt so dreadful that night and of course had a corker of a hangover the following morning that it was a very long time before I ventured into a public house a second time. After one year at the shop I was given my second 5 shilling (25p) raise and shortly thereafter I was moved to the provisions side of the shop. This was a much more interesting job.

The man in charge of the provisions department was Sid Clarke and he made it obvious that he resented my presence. It was his job to train me. For quite some time I was only allowed to stand and watch him while he demonstrated the skills of cutting and weighing the products. Eventually I was allowed to serve customers and enjoyed weighing up bacon rashers and cutting the cheese. The cheeses came packed two in a wooden crate and weighed about forty pounds each. They were enormous round things, flat on the top and bottom and they were wrapped in muslin. I had to take the muslin off which was sometimes a very difficult job. The muslin wasn't wasted, it was boiled until all the wax was out of it and the resulting soft cloths were used for washing down the counters. Sid then taught me how to bone out a side of bacon, cut it into the various parts, joint and tie part of it and rasher the remainder. I had a real aptitude for this work and thoroughly enjoyed it. I quickly took over the job from Sid. Sid and I eventually became very good friends, and I used to spend some of my evenings with him at the Hatfield Working Mens club. I introduced a couple of my friends to this club and it was great to have a couple of drinks and a game of darts. The other attraction was the barman's daughter. I think I was seventeen when Sid bought me a second hand motorcycle. It was a 125cc.and it cost £85. Mum and Dad thought it odd that a fifty six year old man should give a seventeen year old this amount of money and insisted on interviewing him at our house. All ended well when Sid explained that he had no family and nothing to spend his money on.

On completion of my two year apprenticeship, by which time I had re‑taken and passed the preliminary Institute of Certificated Grocers exam and received another small wage increase, I was moved to other shops for a few weeks at a time, to help out because of shortage of staff. I think the first of these moves was to the shop in Dunstable. I spent virtually all my time in a room at the back of the shop where I was in sole charge of boning and cutting the bacon and cutting the cheese. These jobs kept me fully employed and I enjoyed the work immensely.

The manager of this shop had managed to secure me accommodation at the home of one of his customers which saved me the journey from Colney Heath each day. This worked well until I became friendly with Glenda who worked on the tills. It wasn't very long before I was sleeping on a camp bed in her mother’s front room. Our relationship was doomed when Glenda discovered that I was shortly to go on holiday with another girl and her family. 


Home and Colonial Stores

I believe that it was in 1956 that I left the International Stores in Hatfield and went to work for the Home and Colonial Stores in St. Peters Street, St. Albans. This job offered a little more money and I was in sole charge of the bacon and cooked meats department. For the most part I worked at a bench in the cellar boning out the sides of bacon, of which there were many, before jointing and slicing them. I really enjoyed my work although as I was underground, I saw very little daylight. When the shop was really busy I helped out on the bacon counter and enjoyed chatting to the customers.

I remember one day when I had finished using the slicing machine, I had stripped it down and sharpened the blade ready for the following day. I had switched the machine off and unplugged the lead from the socket. I was cleaning the blade when one of the lads came along and switched the machine on. I was safe as the plug was out. I was leaning on the machine plate when I looked up and saw this idiot putting the plug back in. The plate went forward with my arm still on it. The blade sliced into my arm before I could pull back. There was blood everywhere, all over the machine, the floor and bench and even the ceiling. I was eventually taken to hospital by ambulance where I had a lot of stitches. After two weeks sick leave I returned to work.

One day I was told to go to the shop in Harpenden and run it as the manager was ill. When I arrived the following morning I could not believe the mess that faced me. My first job was to throw out about a dozen sides of bacon that were running alive with maggots. There was problem after problem and as a lad of eighteen with no managerial training I found the job difficult in the extreme. I regularly fell asleep on the desk while trying to sort out the bookwork and I received no help from either the area manager or Head Office.

As National Service in the armed forces was fast approaching, I decided that I had seen enough of the retail industry for a while. I thought that it would be a good idea to join the Army as a regular soldier rather than wait to be called up. I went to the recruiting office in St. Albans and discovered that if I signed on for 22 years, I had an option to leave after 9 years. For this my weekly wage was to be £9. This was £6 more than a national serviceman.


Military Service

On 1st June 1958 at the age of 18, I commenced my military service. I reported to the Army Catering Corps depot at Rammillies Barracks in Aldershot (Home of the British Army). As a regular I was reporting several weeks ahead of the next national service intake. After being issued with my kit I was installed in a barrack room on my own and told to look after it and to make sure that nothing was stolen from it. During this period I was able to get my kit up to standard. I had a lot of straps and packs to blanco using khaki green 103 blanco. This was a very messy job and took ages. It was also necessary to "bull" my two pairs of boots. I found this period to be very boring and I was intensely lonely. The only breaks I had from this duty were when I was relieved to go to the cookhouse for my meals.

I had to learn too lay out my locker as per army regulations. Blanco'd kit on the top shelf with all buckles to the front. I quickly learned that a plywood frame inside the big pack and small pack made for a very smart appearance. The second shelf was for underwear, P.E kit and the like all folded to 9 inches by 5 inches with all folds to the front. Again a piece of soft cardboard inside each front fold added a very good appearance, and so the layout went on until at the bottom of the locker were placed my kit bag and boots.

After about three weeks the national service intake arrived. This consisted of about 1000 men who were divided into three Companies. I was in number 1 squad of C Company along with 30 odd others in my barrack room. The men came from all over the country and were all types. I quickly made friends with one particular man who was a re‑enlistment and named Gorden Duckworth, although he was always known as Johnny. At this stage most of us acquired nicknames. As I was the tallest in the squad at about 6 feet 2 inches I was given the name, TITCH. We were now issued with a Lee Enfield .303 rifle and bayonet and our training started in earnest under our drill instructor Sergeant Morgan. I thoroughly enjoyed the military side of the training but I wasn't very keen on the assault course and the five and ten mile runs although I always managed them in the time allowed. The Catering Corps was not where I wanted to be. I still wanted to get into the Royal Military Police and applied for a transfer.

On completion of our six weeks basic training we had our passing out parade and I won the title of Champion Recruit. For this I was presented with a certificate and a small engraved cup presented by Colonel Vivien H Whitpen. After some home leave I was posted to St Omer barracks again in Aldershot to do my cooks training. I remember being taught how to make soup, meat pies and Swiss rolls and that was about it. On completion of the course we had to sit an examination where the answers were a choice of A B or C. As the classroom was small only a few could sit the exam at a time. Consequently the first few in came out with the answers written on their hands, which the rest of us used. We all passed.


The Royal Military Police

Shortly after completion of my training my transfer to the Royal Military Police came through. Loaded with all my packs and kit bag I caught a green line bus from Aldershot to Woking where I reported to the guardroom.

The barracks had formally been a women’s prison and was a very grim place. There was one small coal burning stove to each barrack room and never enough coal which was strictly rationed. One scuttle per room to last twenty four hours. The result of the rationing was frequent midnight raids on the coal depot. This was difficult due to the armed guard on patrol there. However, as the guard came from our barracks he could usually be bought for a packet of fags. I never got involved. The rooms were always cold and it was usual to sleep in long underwear pyjamas and battle dress in order to keep warm. In fact we wore in bed the same as we wore in the day. I had managed to get the bed next to the fire and although I was warmer than most, I soon developed a very nasty chest infection due to the fumes from the leaky chimney on the fire.

My squad was number 723 and the instructor was Sergeant Madden. He was always very fair with us and liked a laugh. He gave me my first stripe and I became an acting, unpaid Lance Corporal. I was then put in charge of the squad and was responsible for the cleanliness of the barrack room and for making sure everyone was on parade at the correct times. I had to change the colour of all my blanco'd kit from green to white.

The basic training for Military Policemen was sixteen weeks. It was necessary to sit examinations every few weeks and on the result of these depended whether or not a person was back squadded. This meant being put back two weeks into a later squad to relearn the two weeks training. In the case of those failing an exam a second time the penalty was to be returned to your former unit. There was a good percentage that did not make the grade. I was lucky in as much as I had already done my military training in the Catering Corps. Sgt Madden would therefore often excuse me from a drill session, much to the chagrin of the rest of the squad. I could never escape the evening cleaning session though. Each evening we were required to press our uniforms, whiten our webbing, clean all brasses and bull our boots. This procedure took most of the evening so there wasn't a lot of time for going out on the town, not that Woking had much to offer in the way of entertainment and if you happened to miss the last bus, it was a very long walk back to the barracks. What spare time we had was generally spent in the N.A.A.F.I. within the barracks.

Sgt. Madden was a very good instructor and he loved to relate his experiences. Often in the classroom he would start to teach the squad and one of us would ask, Did that ever happen to you Sgt. That was always enough to start him off on a story. He was hilarious and how we ever learned anything is beyond me. As the training progressed we concentrated more on the police side and less on the drill. I found the training more and more interesting as we got deeper into the law. Included in the training was a two week driving course. Each man had to “pass out” being able to drive a motor vehicle or ride a motorcycle. As I had had some experience on motor cycles I was selected for that course. During the first riding lesson in which we were told to go round the road course in first gear, three of us who knew what we were doing ended up racing round the off road section. This resulted in a road test on the following day after which the three of us received our licences.  At the end of the course it was normal practice for each squad to capture their squad lance corporal and to organise something nasty in revenge for all they had had to put up with from him. In my case they stripped me and took great delight in painting my nether regions with a concoction which many of them had added to. The mixture painted on me, to my knowledge contained; blanco, boot polish; after shave, brasso and various other things which were to hand. After being stripped I was held down and the painting began. It was done with shaving brushes and all the squad had a go. It wasn't long before I felt the mixture burning my more tender parts. On release I found that I was well covered in the mixture and so grabbed my soap and towel and ran stark naked to the showers where after considerable effort I was able to clean myself up.

All those who had successfully completed the course were issued with their lance corporal stripes and our pass out parade was held. This was a very proud moment for us all. After all the months of hard work we were finally fully fledged Military Policemen and we marched onto the parade ground to the tune of Watchtower, with all the swank that we could muster. The squad had a collection for Sgt. Madden our instructor who was very well liked and I believe we bought him a tankard, which we had engraved.

After some leave it was back to the barracks before being posted to a unit. As a regular soldier I had first choice of the postings. The first one on the list was 5 War Dog Company based in Singapore which I volunteered for. At that time I didn't even know where Singapore was and certainly did not know what the job entailed. If I had known I would never have volunteered.  There were about half a dozen of us for this posting and it necessitated a further six week dog handling course at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

On arrival I was allocated a great hairy Alsatian named Rochester. We were told to go straight into the kennels and to put the dogs onto their leads. This we were assured was quite safe as the dogs had trained many handlers before us. As I approached Rochesters kennel he leaped from the back and slammed himself into the front wire, barking and snarling. There was no way that I was going into that kennel and no way that Rochester was going to let me in. Finally one of the trainers got him out and handed him over to me. From then on he was fine all through training.

We learned to drill with the dogs and to use the seven words of command: Heel, sit, down, come, stay, attack and leave. We also learned the different types of baiting: Suit, muzzle, sleeve and line. There were also the more mundane jobs like cleaning out the kennels, feeding, exercising and grooming. All in all it was a good course which I enjoyed, that is apart from running up and down the local slag heap which was part of the assault course for the dogs. They loved it but it was virtually impossible to control a dog while running full tilt down the slag heap and sinking ankle deep with every step. Rochester taught me a lot and one day at the end of the course he decided to really test me.

We were out for a walk when he managed to slip his collar. He took off over the fields with me in hot pursuit. No amount of calling the command words or any other words would stop him. It was a very hot day and I was sweating profusely and had to run to keep him in sight. I was getting more and more angry and screaming at him. He did not seem to understand the swear words that I was using. Eventually, exhausted, I collapsed onto the grass and began to think up excuses for losing a dog that had cost £2000 to train. After some time Rochester must have realised that I was no longer chasing him and he returned and sat down beside me. Having got him safely back on the lead he yelped and looked somewhat surprised when I kicked his backside.


The Journey

After some embarkation leave I was on route to Singapore. The aeroplane was a Bristol Brittania, four engined turbo prop. Machine which looked enormous. It was my first experience of flying and I found it to be a pleasant one, apart from the air pockets that we occasionally hit and the plane would drop dramatically. The flight was supposed to be twenty three hours flying time, plus two stops for re-fuelling. As things turned out it took considerably longer. Our first stop was Istanbul where we were allowed to get off the plane for an hour to stretch our legs. On leaving Istanbul we headed for Karachi. That was when one of the engines decided to stop. The captain assured us that there was nothing to worry about as we could manage quite adequately on the remaining three engines. Some time later when a second engine stopped there was no word from the captain and I began to worry. We eventually reached Karachi safely and I have to say that it was the smoothest landing of the entire journey. We were bussed to the Hotel Metropole where we stayed for five days while the plane was flown back to England to have two new engines fitted.  

Karachi was very sandy and very hot. As the aeroplane door opened there was a blast of hot air and we knew that we would suffer in the heat. There was nothing much for us to do as we had no money and did not even know what the local currency was. On the third day we were paid 20 rupees each which did not go very far. Three of us hired a horse drawn taxi and had a tour of the local zoo. This consisted of a few monkeys on an island in the middle of a pond, A few chickens scratching at the ground and some goats. This trip used up most of our cash and I knew that we had been ripped off. Most of our time was spent lying on our beds trying to keep cool and so it was quite a relief when the plane returned and we were able to continue our journey.



I arrived at Payer Lebur airport, Singapore on 31st May, 1959, the same day as the P.A.P. government came to power on the island. We were met at the airport by a Military Police one ton truck and transported to 5 Army War Dog Company at Pasir Panjang. I was now aged 19 years.

The island was very green with an average temperature of 95 degrees farenheight and a very high humidity. While the normal dress in the unit was shorts and jungle boots, as newcomers we were not allowed to remove our shirts for more than a few minutes at a time. White skin was burned very quickly. After a few days I was introduced to my dog, number 6A02 Merry. There were 108 dogs in the unit at that time, most of which were vicious bloody things that would eat you if they were given half a chance. The hand over procedure was that the handler would muzzle the animal and get him out of the kennel. The new handler would then come from behind and take over the lead, hold it very short and near to the collar. It was only a moment or two before the dog realised what had happened and then the fun started. The dog would go mad and there would be a fight. Sometimes this would last only minutes until the dog accepted the new handler, but normally it was prudent to muzzle him every time he went out for several days.

I settled down to the routine of the unit and found myself doing night guard duties with my dog at various military establishments all over the island. The patrols were three hours on and three hours off for a twelve hour period. At the start of each patrol we were issued with a .38 revolver, five rounds of ammunition and a time clock. The latter had to be stamped with different numbered keys which were dotted around the premises. There were various methods of stamping these clocks for the complete twelve hour period and there were several sets of keys available to borrow from some of the older hands. Having stamped your clock up it was then reasonably safe to go to sleep instead of patrolling. At one time we were doing five nights on duty and one night off. The maximum should have been three nights on and two off. It was exhausting and we were like robots. Added to this I had to spend time in the classroom when I was put on an education course, which started at 14.00hrs each day. This meant that I was returning to the unit after duty at about 08.00, and then I had to clean out the kennel and parade for dog training, feed the dog and groom him before getting my breakfast. I was lucky to get to bed by 10.30. I slept until it was time for education at 14.00. There was no time for any more sleep as I had to parade for duty again at 17.00. No wonder we slept on duty.

Things were not always so bad and you could get a bit of time off if you knew how to play the system. On one occasion I volunteered for a three weeks church course which was spent lazing on the beach of Blackang Mati, a small off Shore Island. The course included several boat trips around some of the other islands and was as good as a holiday.

Daily routine was made a little easier as there were several services offered by some of the local inhabitants which could be employed for a small fee. One of these was the laundry which was undertaken on the camp by the dhobi wallah and his family. He had a small building at the far end of the camp near to the sergeant’s mess and the washing was done in a huge stone boiler. It was then soaked in a very strong mix of rice starch before drying and ironing. There was so much starch used that the clothes would stand up on their own. Our clothes were always clean as we would spend hours hanging about and watching the process. This was not because we were particularly interested in the laundry but rather more interested in the owner’s daughter who was very dark and mysterious.

Boots were “bulled”, webbing blancoed and brasses polished by the boot boy for a reasonable weekly fee. There was also a fruit boy who offered fruit and hot drinks for sale. These were delivered to us in answer to a shouted instruction. At the camp entrance was a shop which was run by a Chinese family and in particular the head of the family, Chico. He supplied everything else that you could possibly want. As all these people ran a credit service, it was very easy to suddenly find yourself in debt. This happened to me only once when I was required to hand over all of one week’s pay in order to extricate myself. It taught me another lesson.

When the duties eased a little I was able to get out and about around Singapore. A favourite trip was to Changi beach where we swam in the sea. At that time there was an RAF aerodrome at Changi and no civilian airport. It was here that I did an Air Portability course. This was learning how to load and unload military vehicles onto Beverly transport planes. That was a very good course, we only worked in the mornings and spent the rest of the day on the beach. I generally had one visit per week to Singapore city. I would always have a meal first usually at the Britannia Services club at the end of Bras Basir road. This was followed by a general wander around and some larking about with my mates. Anything for a laugh. It was then on to the Jubilee bar on Orchard Road for a few drinks and then maybe the Cathay cinema to see a film. We all met up at midnight at an Indian food stall in Short Street where we each had what was supposed to be a beef stew. We all knew that it was made from leg of dog, but it was delicious served with large cubes of fresh bread.

Those of us, who were not drunk by now, were certainly well on the way to being so and we were all in high spirits. It seemed natural therefore to enter into a song or two while travelling back to camp in the back of a three ton truck. It was on these trips that I learned a goodly number of dirty songs which I have remembered to this day. The dirtier the song , the more we laughed and if the song was to the detriment of the Officer Commanding or one of the senior ranks, then so much the better.

It was while in Singapore that I learned to drive a car. Several of us would chip in a few dollars and hire a car from one of the local garages. It was a rule that if you had contributed then you had a turn at driving. I did not have a clue but once in the driving seat I was instructed which pedals to push and when, while someone else changed the gears. This was how I learned to drive and I eventually became confident enough to hire a car on my own. Of course I did not have a driving licence but I had been to the garage so often with the others that the attendant assumed that I had. In those days the streets of Singapore city were like a racetrack. At traffic lights all the drivers were revving their engines and as soon as the lights turned to amber it was foot hard down and streak away as fast as possible to the next set. If you were slow then your car was bumped from behind. As I had not learned to drive properly it was not surprising that on a trip along the coast road in Malaya, I managed to drive from the Causeway, half way to Kuala Lumpur with the hand brake on. The smoke was considerable.

My guard dog Merry proved to be quite good at obedience and was exceptional at the three man attack. It was not long before we won a place in the demonstration team. The team gave displays at various places and events on the island and was very popular. The display consisted of drilling as a team with the dogs both on and off the lead. This was followed by the attacks which were really quite spectacular. Merry’s speciality was to bring down three men. The first he would hit in the back, the second he would trip by running through his legs and the third was a repeat of the first. He then went back to the first man and hit him in the side of the body with his head to make sure that he stayed down. This procedure was kept up on the three men until he was called off. It was not much fun for the baiter who needed to wear body protection and Merry had to wear a muzzle.

There were various trainings for the dogs, some more popular than others. Line baiting was O.K. unless a dog got loose. There would be a line of twenty or thirty dogs and their handlers all facing the same way. The baiters would approach from behind waving branches and the dogs would then try to get at them. The baiters worked the line of dogs into a frenzy by beating them with the branches. Other baiters followed and allowed the dogs to have a good chew at a special protective sleeve. The dogs were very difficult to control all through this procedure but the accidents happened at the next stage. On completion of the baiting, the baiters ran off into the trees and we were supposed to allow the dogs to chase them, on the lead and under control for about 25 yards. What with crossed leads, handlers falling over and general mayhem there was always a couple of loose dogs wanting to eat someone. At these times it was safest to beat a very hasty retreat to the nearest empty kennel and lock yourself in.

Suit baiting was carried out one dog at a time. A fully suited man would be “picked up” by the patrolling dog and handler and when challenged, run away. The dog was then released and went into the attack. The padded suit was very heavy and it was extremely hot inside. It was not possible to bait more than three dogs before someone else had to take a turn.

Occasionally the training session would be a road walk. Twenty or so dogs in a line walking along the side of the road. It was great fun to wait for one of the local Chinese to pass on his bicycle and then to very quietly tell the dog to attack. The dog would immediately go for the man and invariably set most of the other dogs off as well. The result was always the same. The local would panic, fall off his bicycle and run for it. Looking back now I can understand the panic. It must have been a nightmare to see all these dogs trying to eat you with nothing between the dog and the handler but a piece of string. The halfway point of the road walks was usually at a beach and the dogs were allowed to swim in the sea with us. We then had to walk back to camp. Sometimes a dog would go down with heat stroke and had to be carried back to camp on your shoulders. Not funny. He was then placed in a bath of cold water to bring his temperature down.

Sometimes we took a column of dogs into the “ulu” (secondary jungle), this was very dense and full of creepy crawlies which always seemed to be inside our uniforms. We had to cut our way through the more difficult parts and for this used a “panga” (machete).

Sometimes when we had a bit of time with nothing to do, some of us would go on what was called an “ulu bash”. This was a minor adventure as we never knew what we might come across. It was a case of hacking our way through the jungle until we came to a path. We would follow the path because it was easier walking and just to see where it would lead us. On these trips our lunch would consist of any fruit that we could find. Coconuts were plentiful and usually green but the milk and creamy nut were wonderful. We sometimes came across a “kampong” (native village) where the huts were thatched with “atap” (banana leaves) and some villages were built on stilts. The local inhabitants grew fruit and vegetables on the edge of the kampong and I have to admit to stealing the occasional pineapple and papaya.

On 5th November, 1960, I married Evelyn Rosemary Clarke at the chapel in the grounds of the British Military Hospital, Singapore. At my request the Army had flown her from England, all expenses paid. We moved into married accommodation that was a semi detached bungalow at 62, Borthwick Drive, Serangoon Garden Estate. We were given a servant paid for by the army, who did all the housework and the washing and ironing. She was a very nice girl but very shy. Her ambition was to become a teacher. Her name was Ang Chow Lang. Shortly after getting married I bought an old second hand motor cycle which enabled us to get about a bit and save on the taxi fares.

Each year it was necessary to undergo various annual tests. These consisted of a one mile run, a ten mile speed march, the assault course, swimming and classification on the pistol and Sterling sub machine gun. All these tests were undertaken in full battle order. The swimming was particularly difficult for those who could not swim. They were forced into the deep end of the pool and had to complete a length. Those that could swim helped the unfortunates struggle to the other end of the pool and after they had swallowed a mouthful or two it generally worked out alright.

The worst of these annual tests was when the Regimental Sergeant Major announced on a new years eve that the tests would be held on New Year’s Day. I knew that I was duty driver that day and so would not be doing the tests. Evelyn and I therefore went out with a group of friends on New Years Eve. We went to the Starlight Room of the Singapore Hotel, Which one of our party, a Chinese, partly owned. I was totally smashed on whisky in a very short time and spent an hour or so laying on the floor in the toilet and being sick. Every time I lifted my head, up it came again. I finally got home in the early hours of the morning and collapsed into bed. I arrived at the unit for work later in the morning and found all the men on parade ready for the tests. I was still drunk. The R.S.M. took one look at me and ordered me to change into full kit and join the parade. The first item on the agenda was a one mile run to the barracks of the Singapore Infantry Regiment. It nearly killed me and I came in last and well outside the six minutes allowed. The run ended at the assault course, which we then had to negotiate. I ran into the six foot wall and instead of getting over it, collapsed in front of it. I was picked up and thrown over the wall by some of my mates. Second on the list was the water jump. I landed in the middle and so it went on until the last obstacle, which was to climb a rope, swing over a distance of about 30 feet and descend the rope at the far side. No chance. After the assault course the R.S.M. informed us that the run had been only a practice and now we would do it for real. This time I managed it in the allotted time only to find a vehicle waiting to take us to the ranges to qualify on the submachine gun. This one I managed as I had now sweated out most of the alcohol. Thank goodness that the ten mile march was scheduled for another day.


443 Base Ammunition Depot

One day on reading Company Orders I saw that a volunteer driver was required to be based some miles away at the Base Ammunition Depot, off the Bukit Timur Road. Although I did not have a driving licence, I volunteered. I was given a driving test in a Land Rover which seemed huge after the small car which I had hired. It also had floor change gears and I had only used column change. It all felt very odd and I wondered if I would be able to drive it. After driving about two miles along the road, I was instructed to turn around and return to camp. I thought I had failed dismally but to my surprise I had passed. I was instructed to collect my vehicle the following morning.

 To my horror the vehicle was a three ton Bedford truck which looked enormous and I was ordered to drive it to my new unit. This vehicle was totally alien to me and I could not even find the starter button, which turned out to be on the floor. I informed the Sergeant that I could not possibly drive this monstrous machine. His reply was to the effect that I had passed my test and was now licensed to drive it. I therefore had to get on with it. I drove very carefully and arrived at my destination with both the vehicle and myself in good condition. The roads around B.A.D. were single track with about two feet clearance on either side of the vehicle after which were six feet deep monsoon drains. There was no room for error and this is where I really learned to handle a truck. No, I did not put it down a monsoon drain.

443 B.A.D. was a very large place. It consisted of four separate fenced areas contained within a single fenced area. On each of these areas was stored a very large amount of ammunition. There were guard towers on each of the areas and these were manned in daylight hours. During the hours of darkness, each of the areas were patrolled by the dogs and their handlers.

I worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off now which was much better than the duties at Company H.Q. My job was to collect the married men from their houses on the various housing estates around the island and to ferry them into the unit for morning parade. I then had to change the duties every three hours. This meant loading the men onto the truck and driving around the four areas and stopping at each of the watchtowers. I would wait while the new duty climbed the tower and the old duty climbed down and boarded the truck. It was then off to the next one. Each man was armed with a 303 rifle and 5 rounds of ammunition and had to stay alert for the three hour duty period or until relieved. It was a very hot and boring job that was made worse as we were not allowed to take reading or writing materials on duty and smoking was strictly forbidden. It was usually possible to smuggle a couple of cigarettes onto the area by concealing them inside your hat.

At night the towers were abandoned in favour of the dog patrols. This was a case of strolling around an area on a pre-determined route and phoning in to control every fifteen minutes. The worst area to be on was 4 area which was also known as Jap area. This was because it had been the site of a Japanese run prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. The rumour was that it was haunted and I have to confess that strange things did occur on that area

The telephone system on the areas relied on two local men who took it in turns to man the local exchange. These men quickly became known to us and could be persuaded to say that they had received our calls when in fact we had not rung in. The NCO in charge of the duties would be rung by the operator, who would volunteer to take the calls for him. Then he would go to sleep. We did not have to ring in so could also sleep using our dogs as pillows and the operator could sleep as he had nothing to do. All the duties on each area would be in one place leaving one man awake in case the duty officer came round. This system worked quite well apart from the one occasion when I was on 4 area on my own. I had gone to sleep at about 23.00hrs, hidden away in an ammunition bunker. I slept so soundly that I missed two guard changes and did not wake up until 08.00hrs the following morning. I had to walk back to the unit and creep in before anyone missed me. It was so hot in Singapore that the roads on B.A.D. retained the heat of the day all night. It was therefore very comfortable to sleep on the road using the dog as a pillow. The only uncomfortable time was during the monsoon. Three hours walking about in that was a nightmare. We then had three hours to dry out before we went out in it again. We were constantly wet and it would have been better if we had not worn clothes at all. This would probably have frightened the dogs though.

We had two Indian boot boys at B.A.D. who I became friendly with and I would often eat with them in the evenings. They were not allowed to buy anything from the NAAFI but they did like a beer or two. I would therefore purchase the Tiger or Anchor beer and they would cook the curry. The curries were red hot and wonderful. On one occasion after eating Kofta curry on an Indian roadside stall in Singapore, I finished up in hospital for five days with severe stomach pains. I was not allowed to eat or drink during this time. When they let me out I was so hungry that I bought a curry from a stall at the gates of the hospital. 

It was decided by the powers that be that part of the unit would go up into Malaya for a military exercise. We were to form a FMA (Forward Maintenance Area). This is too complicated to explain here. We set of from Coy. H.Q. in Pasir Panjang just as the monsoon started. The water on the road could not run off quickly enough and there was a constant 2 or 3 inches of water on the surface. One of my friends, Ray Scott, skidded and came off his motor cycle. The following motor cycle, ridden by “Titch” Parkins caught Ray’s shoulder and dragged him along the road. Ray’s injuries were a broken shoulder and a broken arm. When we arrived at our destination in Malaya we set up camp, camouflaged the area and got on with it. All went well enough until the end when the 2ndLt. In charge informed us that next time we would be wearing full whites (belt, cross straps, gaiters and a red cap). Now either he was daft or the rest of us were. Can you imagine? All these men dressed in jungle greens, in a camouflaged area and all glowing white. I was relieved that we never went again.

Evelyn and I eventually left Singapore at the beginning of June, 1962 and flew back to England again by Bristol Britannia. We landed at Stansted airport where we were met by my parents and driven back to Roestock Gardens. Although the work had been hard, I had enjoyed Singapore but it was good to be home again.


1 (BR) Corps Provost Coy. RMP Germany.

After several weeks leave, I reported to the Military Police Depot in Woking and after several weeks of doing nothing, I was eventually posted out to 1(BR) Corps stationed in Bielefeld in Germany. Virtually the first thing that happened here was that I was taken to a desolate area a few miles from the barracks and was told that this was the spot that I was to stand on and defend to the death if ever the Russians attacked. Laughable really. I soon settled down to the routine and quickly realised that this posting was to be very different from Singapore. This was an operational company which undertook many exercises in order to keep us fully trained and prepared in case Europe was ever attacked. After some weeks of settling in, Evelyn joined me in Germany and we moved into one room of a small “pension” in Apfel Strasse. The landlady, an obnoxious woman, was forever running up the stairs trying to catch someone cooking, which we all did.

The exercises in general were enjoyable and I learned a lot. I was pretty good at route signing which also involved map reading. I was eventually given the ultimate test for signing a route when on completion of one of the exercises, the RSM gave me three men, a vehicle, a motor cycle and a stack of signs, and said. “You have fifteen minutes to work out your route back to Coy H.Q. and to start signing it. The Company will then follow your signs”. I had seen this done before and the convoy caught up with the unfortunate signing team in the first town. The convoy had strict orders not to proceed unless there were signs to follow. This of course caused chaos through the towns. I was successful however and beat the convoy back to H.Q. by a few minutes. This was achieved by dispatching the motorcycle to sing the towns, while the vehicle team signed the open country, which was very much faster.


Sub Aqua Club

The Army ran a branch of the British Sub Aqua Club in the barracks and I joined as I had always been vaguely interested. My first experience was at an outdoor pool where we had to break through a thick layer of ice before we could enter the water. Protection from the cold was afforded by a neoprene wet suit. After an initial icy trickle of water down the back which very quickly warmed up, the suit was very effective. There followed numerous lectures on the theory of diving and then a trip to the Sorpe See, for my swimming and free diving tests before my first real dive with the aqualung. I later went to the Olympic pool in Berlin on an intensive swimming and training course. This proved to be very hard. On the first morning after a warm up run to the pool we had to do twenty lengths breast stroke using arms only. There then followed another twenty lengths using legs only. After this the training began in earnest and I knew that I had made a mistake. This was not the lazy time I thought it was going to be. It was a two week course but unfortunately I developed dental problems and after one week I returned to my unit in Bielefeld. I did not therefore achieve my grade three divers exam.



The exercises became more frequent and we now started to use Sea King helicopters on initial moves to locations. This necessitated more training on loading the aircraft and loading and attaching the cargo nets carried beneath the aircraft. The training was repeated many times until we were all proficient and very fast in our allotted tasks.

I remember one exercise very well. The emergency bell sounded on a pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon and we went into action. We drew our weapons, route signs, radios and maps from the stores and paraded in full battle order, on the square, together with our vehicles and motorcycles. We were directed across the road to the football field where we were met by several helicopters. I loaded my half section into the aircraft and slung two m/cs and the fuel into the cargo net. Our flight commenced and after about ten minutes we were deposited at our location. This was a very nice country field with a few trees, long grass, a carpet of wild flowers and about 200 Germans all enjoying their picnics. As it became obvious to them that a helicopter was about to land among them they decided on a closer look. I thought that this was an ideal opportunity to show these locals how efficient and highly trained the British Military Police were. The unloading was done quickly and the helicopter departed. We worked like mad to erect the camouflage nets and a 34 foot radio mast whilst continually tripping over little boys and declining   the help of the older people while trying not to hurt their feelings. Our vehicle had arrived by road and the route signs were divided between this and the m/c. We now needed orders on where to sign to and from. Try as I might I could not get the radio to work. It was an old “19” set and had seen far better days. I knew that it had been dropped when it was being unloaded so I was not really surprised. I checked all the fuses, not that we had any spares, and wrapped them in silver foil in case they had blown. It still would not work. Having taken various bits off the set and put them back again, I thought that the locals would be really impressed but they soon drifted away. All that is except the children who stayed to play soldiers with us.



By now I had completed a number of courses at Bielefeld. There had been the swimming course, an education course, a promotion course and two radio courses. The latter of these was when we eventually received the new SRC13 radios, and unlike the old 19 sets, they worked. I had now earned my second stripe and I was promoted to corporal

I also bought my first car while I was in Bielefeld. It was a Borgward Issabella and I purchased it from a friend (Neil Pamplin) who was being posted to Hong Kong. It was quite old but seemed to run alright until I undertook a journey from Bielefeld to         airport and return, at high speed. The garage told me that the strange knocking noise was a major problem with the engine and would cost about £200 to put right. In those days (1963) a fortune.


Sennelager Detachment

After about eighteen months at Bielefeld I was posted to Sennelager Detachment, which was about 24 miles away. There were two sections here each consisting of one sergeant, two corporals and thirteen lance corporals. Our duties were to police the area on a rota of 24hrs on and 24hrs off. The village of Sennelager consisted of the railway station, a church, three shops and a lot of bars. These were all on one side of the road while on the other side was the permanent staff barracks and behind this hundreds of square miles of NATO ranges. As well as several regiments permanently stationed in and around the village, the ranges were frequently used by NATO member’s forces. It was common to have the troops of three or four different countries on the ranges at any one time. Trouble usually started when two or more nationalities, after spending several weeks on exercise, were paid and allowed into the village for a drink. It was not uncommon to see fights involving dozens of soldiers. On these occasions it was prudent to let them get on with it and to pick up the pieces later rather than three Military Policemen try to separate the two sides. It was usual practice for a German police officer to accompany our mobile patrol during the hours of darkness, and one of us would go with the German patrol.

This was of considerable help when investigating incidents that involved both nationalities.

Although I still had to take part in Company exercises I found that I was very busy with police work. There were a variety of incidents from minor traffic accidents to murder and I very quickly learned my trade. “Drunk in charge” incidents were very common, some involving deaths and others involving soldiers who were homesick and become drunk. These would steal a military vehicle with the intention of driving to England. On one occasion a soldier took an armoured personnel carrier and started to drive home. He hit a civilian Volkswagen car with fatal results.

Our unit had the job of guiding visiting troops to their locations when they came to use the Sennelager ranges. I looked forward to guiding the tanks, which usually arrived by train. I remember that both the Americans and Canadians had superb canteens and an excellent meal could usually be scrounged on completion of our task. On one occasion I went to meet a German tank division at the station only to find that they were already mobile, in the wrong direction, on a public road and halfway to the next village. I used the flashing blue lights and the two tone horns to get to the head of the column in order to stop them. By the time they had all turned round there was nothing left of the road surface.

It was great fun guiding the tanks in. When travelling from the station to their locations we had to take them around the perimeter tank tracks in order to avoid damage to other areas. In places these tracks had become very deep with repeated use. Therefore the guide vehicle which was usually a champ, had to be driven with the wheels straddling one track. It was common to drop the wheels into a track but the champ was such a good vehicle that it was always possible to drive it out again. Except of course on the one occasion when a new driver leading a column in an unfamiliar area drove into what he thought was a large puddle. The Champ slowly sank into the mud until just the blue light was left above the water to mark the spot.

At this time I was living together with my wife in private accommodation near Paderborn. It was a large old house that had been divided into flats. We had two rooms that were both very damp and not very healthy. We had a coal burning stove in the living room which gave out as much smoke as heat. In winter I used a powerful fan heater to heat the bedroom and sometimes this was put under the duvet to warm up the bed.

On 18th October 1963 our first son Mark Brian Yates was born at the British Military Hospital in Rhinteln. He was brought back to Paderborn but did not do very well in this house. Within a fairly short time we were allocated married quarters. This was on a newly built estate at Sennelager. Our address was flat 5/6 Pommern Strasse. Mark quickly made up for lost time as he was no longer breathing fumes from the stove. The flat had a very large lounge/dining room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and balcony. It also had very efficient central heating.

My car had been in the garage for engine repairs for some considerable time but eventually it was delivered and parked on the square in Sennelager barracks. I finished duty at midnight that same night and although my road tax had run out I decided to give the car a run on the road round the ranges where the roads would be deserted. As the engine had new bearings and needed running in I did not exceed 30 mph. I had travelled only about a mile when the accident happened. A German civilian car came out of a track in front of me and to my right. It was travelling fairly fast and came straight across the road. I hit it squarely on the two side doors and bounced the car into a field at the side of the road. The car came to rest on its side and I thought the driver would be badly hurt. In fact he climbed out and was not hurt at all. My car was too severely damaged to be repaired and after some argument with the insurance company, they paid me about £200, which was what I had just paid out on repairs. I did not do very well. As my tax had run out I soon found myself up before the Commanding Officer, who fined me £10 and banned me from driving for a year. As I now had no car to drive the punishment did not worry me at all. In fact it caused a lot more hassle for the army than it did for me. I did drive during this year, when it suited me and when nobody in authority was about.

Sennelager was the posting which I enjoyed most because it was the busiest. There was always lots of police work and investigations to do and I never knew what was coming next. Then there were the continual exercises, which frequently interrupted an investigation. We were always told that we were soldiers first and policemen second. It was asking a lot to be pulled off an investigation for a ten day exercise and then be expected to carry on as though nothing had happened.

My Section Sergeant was always away on some course or other and we rarely saw him. This meant that as senior Corporal of my section, I assumed the duties of acting Section Sergeant. The section prided itself on being the best trained of the entire Company. We usually managed to get turned out and arrive at Coy. H.Q., 24 miles away and be the first in the queue to draw arms.

Training is all very well, but sometimes if things are just not going your way, then no amount of training will help and you might just as well have stayed in bed. The Company was on exercise and my half section was ensconced on the banks of the river Vaser. We had set up the radio and rigged the camouflage nets over everything. All routes were signed and everything appeared to be going well. That evening I was summoned to a meeting at Coy.H.Q. In the field to receive orders. While I was there I purchased a crate of beer for my half section. As I was leaving the command truck, I slipped on the steps and twisted my ankle. The pain was quite sever. I returned to my location but as I felt quite unfit I organized the duties for the night, stripped off my clothes and got into my sleeping bag. I was in that in between state of not asleep but not awake either when I smelt petrol. I opened my eyes and saw one of my team attempting to fill a small cooking stove. He was trying to pour petrol from a five gallon container into the half inch hole of the stove. There was petrol everywhere. Before I could move he struck a match to light the stove. There was a great whoosh and a sheet of flame engulfed the stove and the immediate area. It spread to the still open five gallon container and then on to the side of the tent. Unfortunately that side of the tent had been soaked in diesel oil while in transit. Suddenly there was no one in the tent other than me, and I could not walk very well. I made a rapid exit on my hands and knees. I then felt a draft and realised that I was stark naked. I went back in and retrieved my clothes after wrapping them in my sleeping bag. A second hasty exit was safely achieved. We stood and watched as the tent burned and the 24 beer bottles exploded. The radio trailer was situated about 150 meters from the tent and I could not understand why the duty NCO had not attended the fire. It transpired that he had been asleep and while in this state, someone had stolen his sub machine gun and the code books that we were using for the first time. As if this was not bad enough, we could not contact anyone by radio and neither the motorcycle nor champ would start. There was of course a court of enquiry later.

The Corporals mess at Sennelager was not a very smart place. It boasted broken furniture and beer stains down the walls. As we had a couple of ex-decorators in the unit we decided to do the place up a bit. We wallpapered and painted and manufactured padded and studded leatherette panels to go around the bar area. We scrounged new carpet and furniture and suddenly it was a pleasant place to be. The bar was frequented by some of the German police with who we worked and table football was a favourite with all of us.

Occasionally I would have an evening playing cards in the mess, usually poker. The betting was always at a reasonable level and no one ever lost a lot of money. This was also a drinking evening. Each player would purchase a bottle of spirits and this was consumed during the game. In those days my preference was vodka and orange. It was usual for me to finish the bottle and then I would vomit all the way home. The strange thing was that I always thought that I had had a good night out.

It was during my time at Sennelager that I again became interested in shooting. There was an indoor range for .22 rifles very near to the Military Police duty room. I discovered that Coy. H.Q. possessed three .22 rifles that were never used. I managed to acquire them for the detachment together with some ammunition. I soon got fed up shooting at paper targets and it was a bind to keep changing them after every ten shots. I then started to stand match sticks up at the 25 yard mark and try to cut them in half with a bullet. This also became too easy so the ultimate challenge was to shoot so close to the match that it would burst into flame. Now that was difficult. Ammunition that small was not held by many units in the area and proved difficult to secure until I discovered a source at one of the tank regiments nearby. I befriended their regiment armourer who used .22 on a simulated tank turret gun for training purposes on his indoor range.


Bulford and Tidworth

I finished my three years in Germany and returned to England in 1965. After a few weeks leave which we spent at Roestock Gardens, I was posted to 3 Division Provost Company at Bulford Camp on the Salisbury plain in Hampshire. As married quarters were not readily available in Bulford, I lived in barracks and left Evelyn at Roestock Gardens. She was now heavily pregnant with our second son.

 It was at this time that mum presented me with a Post Office savings book in my name and which contained deposits of about £400. This was the allowance that I had sent her from my army pay until I was married. It was completely unexpected but very welcome. I immediately spent a good part of it on a second hand car. A two tone pale green and cream, Hillman Minx.

My duties at 3 Div. were at the H.Q. building where I carried out security duties. It was also part of my job to receive helicopters at the pad, using the marshalling and landing signals, which I had been taught in Germany.

The next event of note was the birth of our second son, Paul Michael Yates on 11th November, 1965, at the Queen Elizabeth 2nd Hospital, in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Shortly after we moved into married quarters at Bulford. This house proved to be quite damp on our arrival and was not the best of accommodation. Mark had been a very good baby but Paul hardly ever stopped crying. He was alright while he was getting all the attention but as soon as he was put down he started. It was so bad that eventually he was tucked up in his pram and left in the lounge to get on with it. It wasn’t long before he got the message and shut up. 3 Div. proved to be an extremely boring posting. When not on H.Q. duties, which were boring, it was difficult to find something to do. That is until 5 Brigade who were based a few miles away at Tidworth, were sent to Borneo for a twelve month exercise. We quickly moved into their barracks and became responsible for policing the area. I secured the job of unit investigator, which was to take over the investigation of all incidents, which were not completed by the duty NCO’s during their duty period. This job suited me very well. I was given the use of a Land Rover and driver and as many men as I needed. All the more serious crimes had to be reported to S.I.B. (Special Investigation Branch), but I quickly learned that they would only be interested in attending, if there was a good chance of apprehending the perpetrators. Otherwise it was only necessary to send them a copy of the final report.

I had now served eight years and it was time to give notice of my intention to leave H.M. Services. I had always intended joining the police force when I left the Army, but I was disappointed to discover that I would have to start at the bottom with a six weeks basic training course, followed by at least two years on the beat. There was then no guarantee that I would be able to specialize in what I wanted to do. I therefore decided to look at other forms of employment. The security industry seemed the natural path to follow and as I had been reasonably successful at investigations, I decided to apply to Securicor Detective Division. There then followed a six weeks pre release course with Securicor where I learned about the Company. I then returned to Tidworth where I served my remaining few weeks before I was discharged with an exemplary record and enrolled into the Army Reserves. I had to serve three years in the reserve for which I received a small amount of pay and did absolutely nothing.


Civilian Life

My name had been on the St.Albans Council housing list for some years and on my release from the forces, I discovered that it was Government policy to house ex servicemen according to their needs. We therefore moved into 86, Cotlandswick, London Colney, St.Albans, Hertfordshire, shortly before my discharge. Cotlandswick was a new estate and was still being built when we moved in. I had amassed about ten weeks leave, which I did not know what to do with and so started work on the estate helping the carpenter. I was shown how to fix the window frames into the apertures and to wedge them in. This was working on the inside of the building and I had no problems. It was when I was asked to fix the guttering that I first discovered that I had a phobia. As I got out of a second story window and onto the scaffolding boards, I found that I could not let go of the window.

After my leave and as the Detective Division had no vacancies, I was employed by the local Securicor office in St.Albans as “Cash in Transit and Data Officer”. I soon discovered that although I had a grand title, in reality I was collecting and delivering cash in an armoured vehicle. After three weeks I wrote a report to the Area Manager on what was wrong with the branch and why it was not profitable. This resulted in me being offered the managers position. As the current manager had only been in situ for a few weeks, I did wonder how long I would last in the position. The whole branch was a joke. I declined the offer and left. I was out of work for several weeks until a vacancy occurred with Securicor’s Detective Division.

My first job was under cover in a factory in Bristol. They were losing valuable stock due to theft. The property being stolen was copper bars of various shapes and sizes. I worked as a labourer in the factory for several weeks but I never did discover the perpetrators and in fact made a complete mess of the job. There was a subsequent complaint from the client and I received a roasting from my manager. This type of work was unlike anything I had done before and there was nobody to teach me. I had to learn as I went along and the more jobs I did, the better I became at investigating them.


This is as far as Les managed to get, so please think hard and remember some of those good times and memories and jot them down on an email and send them to me at

Email Helen -  Les Yates Memories