My stint in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces was a bit a of a damp squib and not surprisingly so, because by the time 1972 had arrived “Blighty” had the ‘DTs’ and that was about it. The ‘DTs’ were, of course, the Dependent Territories. Yes, and then, there was Hong Kong but, all things considered, gone were the days when a wee working class boy could go to sunnier climes and lord it over the natives and only a half-witted Data Telegraphist, my trade, would have wanted to go to the Royal Signals installation in Lisburn, Northern Ireland and so it was that off I went, trumpety, trump, to 7th Signal Regiment and the British Army of the Rhine.
When I got to Herford in North Rhine Westphalia, they didn’t quite know what to make of me; it was generally accepted that I was quite bright but it was also soon clear to all and sundry that I was a bit of a liability because when it came to my job, I didn’t exactly cross my “tees”and dot my “eyes” and my character and behaviour generally suggested that if I wasn’t going to join the CPGB or some Trotskyist group, I would at least end up in the Scottish Nationalist Party. The question, therefore, was what do you do with somebody who has top security clearance and is not only incompetent at his job but is also very probably a political liability? They sent me to the Royal Army Ordinance Corps depot in Deepcut, Surrey and trained me to be a clerk.
On returning to Herford, I was given a job as the Commanding Officer’s Clerk. It was the sort of crème de la crème of clerk jobs and I even got to discuss the meaning of life and things like that with the CO. It was also a job with a lot of responsibility because it was for me to ensure that the right orders were distributed to the right people. This meant that, for a time anyway, the Officer Commanding 8 Squadron would get the proper orders delivered to his desk first thing in the morning and the 1st Royal Signals Regiment in Hong Kong would get the relevant information from our CO telexed to them. Anyway, for a few weeks I was doing great and everyone, even the RSM, loved me but then I started to get bored and as we moved into 1974 I decided that it was time to stop this army lark.
Now, as they say in German, “irren ist menschlich” and when, all of a sudden, the OC in 8 Squadron was getting a telex meant for Hong Kong and Hong Kong was getting information that should have been on its way to Lisburn …. “Sorry Sir, made a mistake”, and I made lots and lots of them. Whatever, soon I was demoted to being the RSM’s clerk, a job, which really should have been impossible to fuck up. Indeed, the guy who had done it before me had managed to do it more or less well enough and this was the seriously stupid, Combat Signalman “Woody” Woods, the same guy who on seeing me watching ‘Sesame Street’ in English was to fly back from Luton with a Sony television set after I had told him that I had bought my set in the UK. In those days German television broadcast ‘Sesame Street’ in English ‘ on a daily basis. Shortly after that the twit decided he wanted to see some action in South Armagh. Anyway, back to the story!
My new job was all about making the RSM and his guests cups of tea and coffee and duplicating the RSM’s orders on one of these old duplicating machines where you used to squeeze the big tube of black ink onto the printing plates. To cut a long story short, the teas and coffees were invariably too sweet or too weak or too something else, and masses of paper was getting wasted because I was using too much ink on the machine and it wasn’t long before they were making one last big effort to tame me by letting me realise a soldier’s dream. They decided to unleash me on our NATO allies and sent me to Senelage on exercise. Not as a Data Telegraphist, of course, not even as a clerk ….. off I went, trumpty, trump as a waiter for the Officer’s Mess in the field and there they were all these idiots running around in red regimental dinner jackets with tails but instead of the trousers to match, combat trousers, puttees and army boots. What must Her Majesty’s allies have thought? Up to our knees in mud, living in tents and, as if the attire wasn’t enough to have you splitting your sides, we took the regimental silver with us. It was my job to polish the stuff.
It is at this point that we can finish the story because it was on that exercise that my army career came to a sort of abrupt end. There was the army legal aid thing and me trying to get out under a ‘minority and lesion” clause in Scots Law but, in retrospect, they no longer wanted to even contest that. It might partly have been because they didn’t want me to set a precedence but I suspect they were really at a point where they just wanted to see the back of me. The exercise was the last straw. Anyway, there was me polishing a silver jug and there was this little creep of a Lance Corporal prodding his finger into my chest and saying, “I’ve heard about you back at the regiment, I will put you in your place.” And there was me saying, “don’t prod me, don’t prod me, don’t fucking prod me” and he prodded and he prodded and he prodded and “WHACK”, the silver jug split his nose in two and he stopped prodding and I was sent back to Hereford, put behind the grill, up on Commanding Officer’s Orders the following day and told that I was to be given my discharge.
The picture above shows the entrance to the 7th Signal Regiment South Camp Maresfeld Barracks, Herford in 1972.