TTGU, Ch. 6 – More Memories of Training.
We had guarded The Compound all night, all six of us. It was the place were the transport waggons were kept, where the armaments were housed and where – for all we knew – the plans to invade Communist Russia were hidden.
We had a couple of corporals in charge of our duties. They warned us that, at any time, members of the IRA could sneak into the camp over the high, barbed-wire topped fence, scurry right across the big drill-square, leap over The Compound’s barbed-wire topped gates, and run off with . . . well, the sandwiches we’d been given to see us through the night.
Each of us was armed to the teeth with a pick-axe handle.
Our orders were to challenge anyone who wanted to enter The Compound, identify friend from foe, and then let one of our corporals know that someone was at the gates. We took it in turn, in pairs, to patrol The Compound’s perimeter and to guard the gates: one would walk the perimeter, the other would stand by the gate. After each circuit of the whole fence, we would swap roles. While one pair was guarding Queen and Country, the other four lads would sleep in one of The Compound’s wooden huts.
Dawn gradually broke on that May morning. Not a single IRA terrorist had tried to run the gauntlet of our vigilance. It was about time for Billy Heeps and me to stand down and have a kip while another two brave warriors wandered about with their pick-axe handles. There was a small broad-leaf woodland just beyond the camp’s main fence. The dawn-chorus started, first with a few chirps, then each bird joined in when it seemed the time to do so.
One of the last to wake and begin calling was a cuckoo. I remarked upon it to Billy. He listened for a moment, seemingly enthralled.
“Do they no chirrup?” asked the Scotsman. I was very surprised that he’d never heard a cuckoo before. Perhaps, unlike me, he had not had a country-boy for a Dad and had never wandered country lanes on his own.
I had learned by that time that Billy was a bit of a musician. He played tenor-sax, his idol being Lester Young. We’d talked about jazz and had asked permission from Corporal Keogh to bring back our horns when we went home on our first leave.
Keogh warned us against it, but was overridden by Staff Sergeant Pete Redmond, our Company Quartermaster, who was a great jazz-fan and told us he played the drums.
We could not wait for the moment when we were reunited with our instruments!
Billy was courting strong back inEdinburgh. Indeed, he was engaged to a lassie by the name of Liz Lechie. But letter-writing was not his strong point. So I offered to draft his letters to her for him to copy out. He accepted, and I began writing romantic screeds to a girl I’d never met.
Soon, other lads in our platoon noticed my letter-writing talent and I again made a few bob from my skill. Even the married lads used my service!
When the time for our first leave came, the lads with girl-friends or wives would be going back to a romantic welcome owing to the romantic letters those ladies had been receiving. Me – I would be going to back to rejoin my beloved trumpet!
Pete Spinks slept in the next bed to me. We got on very well. But one day, we argued quite loudly about some trivial thing which I forget now. Straightway, the other lads crowded round and began shouting “Fight, fight!” That was daft: Pete and I were mates and squabbles broke out between lads quite often. But the others were not to be put off: here were two big blokes arguing. The only way to sort it was to fight. So, somehow, Pete and I found ourselves being escorted outside to cries of excitement.
“Big Jazzer and Big Spinky are going to fight!”
Pete and I stood facing each other. The lads – both from our platoon and from the rest of the Company – surrounded us in a circle. Both he and I saw the daftness of the situation and moved closer to each other. Then, Pete’s face cracked into a grin. I followed suit. “You were right, I was wrong,” he said. “No – it was all my fault, Pete,” I replied. We shook hands. It was all over. Everyone settled down and it was a quiet night.
Then – suddenly it seemed, though we initially thought it would never come – that first leave was upon us. Most of us travelled up to London together then went our separate ways. I went across the city to Paddington, not even worrying about travelling alone.
The train was there, waiting for me. Being on my own in that crowded carriage and wearing military uniform, I got approving smiles from the other passengers. I had managed to get a seat by the window and my thoughts went hither and yon as I travelled through the Springtime countryside. The train chugged into Low Level Station and I walked – marched more like! – through Wolverhampton and down to Dunstall Road where Mom fussed around and Dad, when he was not at work, just sat and listened to my tales of military daring!
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