TTGU, Ep. 2, Chapter 14 – Introductions
“I’m Robbo – Corporal Roberts to the Army – and I’m the NCO i/c Barrack Room 2. What d’they call you?”
“ 2-3-6-1 . . . “ I began.
“Oh, cut out all that bullshit. This is the real Army – and I’ve got your number rank and bloody name, anyway. What do we call you – us – here – in this billet?”
“Well . . . Jazzer . . .”
“Right. So is that your instrument in that case?”
“Yes, Corporal . . .” His look stopped me! “Yes, Robbo – it’s my trumpet.”
“Just don’t play it when I’m asleep. That’s your bedspace,” he said, pointing. “Get your stuff sorted. The other lads’ll be here in a mo.”
I started putting my stuff away in my locker. The other lads came in one by one. They were in civvies.
“Geordie” Armstrong had the bedspace opposite me. He was a tall, thin, joking Tynesider, full of energy. Robbo had the bedspace next to him and, in the corner, was “Pinky” Picton, a plump, amiable Midlander. Kenny Seymour a Nottingham lad who called everybody “youth” (or “youf” in his way of speaking) instead of the usual Army “mate”, was in the opposite corner on my side of the billet. The middle bed on our side was usually empty and waiting to be filled from time to time by soldiers who were in transit. Robbo, Pinky and Kenny (who had his leg pulled when he revealed that his Mom called him “Baby Benny”) were from the 1st/3rdEast Anglians, Geordie was one of our own lads. Robbo and Kenny were regular soldiers, Geordie, Pinky and me being National Service.
As the billet’s sprog (new soldier), I was in for some ribbing, but the other lads were kindly and taught me the ropes – especially how to put up my mosquito-net, and how never to kill a chit-chat or I’d never leave the Malayan Federation alive. Chit-chats it was which had squeaked in the attap billet in Nee Soon: almost transparent lizards with some sort of suckers on their feet which gave them the ability to run up walls on the inside of buildings. I never saw a chit-chat on the ground. But there were masses of them in the Federation. And they helped keep the insect population down.
I was adopted in right away, and we all became mates. A few weeks before, I would never have believed you could become mates with RPs, but these lads were very different from those RPs on the training-camp. We all went down to the NAAFI that evening after the lads had wandered me round and shown me what was where on my new camp. I noticed that there were soldiers patrolling the perimeter – a job I would have to do on many occasions. Can’t be too careful on Active Service.
That night, I wrote my first letter home since leaving Blighty. It was on an Air Mail form, and looked really exotic with a Malayan stamp printed on it. That would impress ‘em back in Wolverhampton, I thought.
I still have nearly all the letters I wrote in one of Mom’s old handbags up in our loft here in Pontrhydfendigaid. Never read any of them since coming back home, but someone may find them interesting – and they may reveal much about me that I miss out in this autobiography.
Next day we were up at the usual Army time. Robbo sort of marched us down to the small parade-ground, we all saluted the Union Jack as it was raised to greet the new day, and Major Mahon, the CO’s aide-de-camp inspected us. Then we had an official lesson on how to do whatever the Army felt we needed to do. That was followed by a route-march along the road through a couple of local kampongs – villages.
Much of my service in Malaya would be spent just filling in time: parades, a bit of marching, rifle practice and the bulling of webbing and brass. We seldom wore leather boots, jungle ones being the main footwear out there. Routine is what the British Army thrives on.
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