TTGU, Ep. 2, Ch. 18 – Changes
I’d settled in quite well and made a few friends among my fellow soldiers. They were lads with whom I felt comfortable, lads with no airs and graces and good conversationalists – facts which show both my egalitarian outlook and my snobby side!
There was always the distinction among us between National Servicemen and Regulars. Whenever referring to Regulars, most NS lads prefixed the word with “thick”. The proportion of thick soldiers was about equal among NS and Regulars!
I sort of fell in with the camp’s amateur dramatic group. One of their number was an outgoing, plump, balding National Serviceman called Ron “Rosie” Rowe. He was, as the saying went, “as queer as a nine-bob note”. That mattered very little to me or to most of my comrades. “As long as he doesn’t try anything with me . . .” was our attitude. Ron and the am-dram people were looking forward to putting on their first performance, three one-act plays, of which more shortly.
Rosie and his boy-friend, Brian Jowett, wandered round the camp together when off duty. “There they go,” we’d say, “mother and daughter.” Indeed, Rosie, with his balding head, did look a lot older than Brian.
Another lad with whom I became great pals was Alan “Mac” Houston, a Londoner – from Charlton, I think – whose forte was taking the mic out of Army ways of doing things. Mac got himself a cushy job as a clerk in the Company Office and gave us advance news that a new CSM was being sent out from Blighty to replace the current one who was going home for demob. We wondered if the new bloke would be a Christian like the one he was replacing.
We’d said our farewells to the old CSM and seen him off the camp. A few days later, when I was off duty, a Land Rover swung to a halt down at the bottom of our company lines.
And out stepped Sergeant-Major Ampleford – Ampie from my training days!
The word soon got round that our new CSM was a regimental so-and-so, so we’d have to be on our toes. And Ampie had come to keep us on ‘em. There would be regular – and thorough – billet inspections. And no more dodging breakfast due to a hangover. Discipline came suddenly and harshly to our easy-going camp.
About this time, Rosie Rowe and a few other potential thespians had invited me to join their Theatre Group. They knew I enjoyed performing to an audience, for my trumpet had not been idle since I came to the camp. I would entertain with a few choruses in the NAAFI, sometimes accompanied on the piano by a pub-pianist, sometimes soloing.
I played with a few scratch groups in KL, doing gigs for food and drink in various venues. I am still the only jazz musician I have ever known who has played in the type of place where jazz began – in the houses-of-ill-fame of Storyville, New Orleans (look it up!) I did not know the “hotel” was such a place when I went to play, but wondered why the men in our audience seemed to drift away for a while when a pretty girl with a sheet of paper came into the room and beckoned them. Clearly, their names had come to the top of her list.
Rosie told me that I would be useful in a “pit orchestra” which they were hoping to have as part of the Group. I sort of agreed. I already knew most of the Group’s members, and knew that some of them were billeted with Rosie up in Barrack Room 10. So he suggested that I change billets. I decided to do so, received permission from the out-going CSM, and shifted my kit to my new abode. The lads in Barrack Room 2 were quite happy about it. Indeed, Robbo, Pinky, Kenny and Geordie would be off home for demob soon, anyway.
Sharing Barrack Room 10 were Rosie Rowe, Dickie Wagland, Yeti Waghorn – all three members of the newly formed Theatre Group – George Cooper (a member of the old CSM’s Christian group) and Abdul Jones (who had “gone native”, wore local Malay dress when off duty, and spoke the language like a native – he came from Brum!). There were two spare beds at that time.
Barrack Room 10 was noted on the camp as being the home of eccentrics.
Dickie was one of the camp cooks, managed to liberate a fair few tins of food with which to barter with the locals for ciggies, and found every young lady attractive. It was always interesting to go to the canteen when he was duty-cook: whatever the Army cook-book said, he would augment the recipes with locally bought (?) spices. You’ve never experienced real fried eggs unless you’ve had ‘em in a curry-sauce!
“Yeti”, a Regular soldier, was so called because his skin remained as white as snow despite him frying in the Malaysian sun to try to get a tan. His full name was David Jonah Percival Waghorn, and he’d made it to Sergeant twice and had been busted both times for some misdemeanour or other. He’d set his sights on regaining his tapes. He owned a massive great multi-valved radio-set on which, he claimed, he could get the BBC Home Service; he couldn’t, but there were many interesting hisses and pops which emerged from its speaker.
George was a really nice bloke who would do anything for anybody. He looked a bit like The Owl of the Remove and peered at us from behind thick-lensed glasses. We wondered – as did he – how, with eyes like that, he’d ever been classed fit for National Service. He was known to travel by taxi to and from the Garrison Church on special festival-days in the Christian calendar. And, each evening when he wasn’t on duty, he would kneel beside his bed to say his prayers, while those who were in the billet maintained respectful silence as he did so.
David “Abdul” Jones was a perky chap who spent many of his off-duty hours at the homes of local Malays. He had not converted to Islam, but acted for all the world as if he had. I think the Army forbade such conversions at that time. Ampie gave him a tough time, even though our new CSM had married a Malayan girl some years before. Rumour was that he’d been forced into the marriage because the girl was pregnant and the locals would have killed him if he hadn’t. He was known to treat her badly.
Then, I had another surprise which filled one of the spare beds of Barrack Room 10. Out of the blue, an Army 3-tonner arrived at the camp – and out jumped Private Glyndwr Taylor, one of The Brotherhood in E6 Squad back on our training camp! Straightway, I invited Glyn to reside in our billet and he did so, spending most of his off duty hours sleeping.
A little later, a new intake came as old hands went back to Blighty, and as Ian “Butch” Weatherhead had been on the same additional training-course as had Glyn, he filled the second empty bed in Barrack Room 10. His nickname came from the fact that he was a butcher in civvie-street.
My days in Barrack Room 10 were very happy ones, my companions being somewhat independent in their outlook on life. To add to our eccentricities, there was a banana tree just outside our billet from which we picked the fruit, ate what we wanted, and sold the rest to our comrades.
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