“Army Days” – Recollections of being a soldier by Tony Muddimer
“I left Loughborough by rail on the morning of 5th November as Mr Tony Muddimer and arrived at Norton Barracks Worcester and became Sapper Muddimer 22933638 Royal Engineers. We had an introductory briefing in which we were told that it was to be an honour to serve in the Royal Engineers with its long history, and that as a soldier you were required to be on call 24 hours a day, every day and all for the princely sum of less than two pounds a week, and at the age I was then, I was permitted to die for my country but not allowed to vote, which always struck me as being rather odd. We were also warned about the potential attack from the IRA and the possibility of nuclear war, just to cheer us up.
Next, recruits haircut, then off to the stores to get kitted out by passing along a long counter and being given our uniforms, webbing, two pairs of boots, a Lee Enfield 303 rifle and an army greatcoat. The coat I was given came down to my ankles, so I said to the store man it looks a bit long, he replied with a smirk, “you’ll grow into it” in fact it was to be a great benefit whilst doing night-time guard duty to keep me warm. We had to patrol the camp at night to prevent attack from the IRA so we carried our rifles but were not given any bullets as we might hurt someone!
Then came injections where we all stood in a long line stripped to the waist whilst a medic passed along with one giant hypodermic needle injecting each soldier as he moved along the line of 40/50 soldiers’ with the same needle, and I discovered then why we stood close to each other, so you could catch any neighbour who collapsed, which some of them did. It was best if you were at the front of the line whilst the needle was still sharp rather than at the end of the line when it became quite blunt, fortunately I was in the middle of the so it wasn’t too bad.
When all the preliminaries were over we retired to the NAAFI for a cup of tea and a wad (a type of bun, best described as similar to eating blotting paper).
At the end of the day we returned to our billet which was a plain wooden hut without any form of heating to commence spit and polish on our boots, until they had a shine that you could see your face in. Then we had to Blanco our webbing and polish all our buttons with Brasso.
We were woken in the morning at 6 a.m. to wash and shave outdoors, in November, at a row of sinks with just cold water. A very quick breakfast then during the rest of the day learning to be soldiers. Marching and rifle drill, PT in the gym, root marches, assault course, striping down a rifle and Bren gun and reassemble, then back to polishing the barrack room and more spit and polish. Eventually, becoming a soldier!”
“Army Days” continued …
Following on from my previous post about joining the Royal Engineers (RE) I now relate an incident which happened shortly after I’d been demobbed; and posted to the Army Emergency Reserve (AER), which meant I could be recalled into the Army in the event of any emergency. This happened to coincide with the Suez crisis in 1956 when the Suez Canal was taken from Britain and France by the Egyptian Government, and may have meant I could be recalled into active service to help reclaim the canal back, and be part of the RE Railways section to run the railway which passed down the side of the canal. Fortunately, this crisis soon ended, so no need for me to be recalled.
Whilst serving in the AER I had to attend an annual two-week camp which took place at the Railway Depot run by the Royal Engineers at Liss in Hampshire and at the same time as my annual camp it coincided with the visit of the Russian Premier Nakita Khrushchev and Marshall Bulganin to Portsmouth, close to where I was based in Hampshire, for a courtesy visit to Britain for a meeting with then Prime Minister Anthony Eden. The Russians’ arrived in a cruiser with two destroyers which docked at Portsmouth, and on the very day I arrived at camp the Royal Navy diver, Commander Crabbe was lost whilst trying to spy on the underneath of the Russian cruiser on behalf of MI6. He was intending to report on the mechanism which gave the cruiser such good technical manoeuvrability, which at that time Britain did not possess.
A year later a headless and handless body was washed up in Chichester, which was believed to be that of Commander Crabbe and it was suspected that he’d been discovered in the act of inspecting the bottom of the cruiser by Russian divers’ who it was thought had killed and decapitated him. This particular event was to give Ian Fleming the idea for his book Thunderball.
On the following Saturday, 28th April 1956 my army colleagues and I arranged to visit Fratton Park to watch the match between Portsmouth and Manchester City, City won 4 – 2.
Standing close to us were hundreds of Russian uniformed sailors’ and with us in our British Army uniforms it must have been quite an intimidating sight for the other spectators, as this was a time of heightened tension of nuclear conflict during the ‘Cold-War’. Who knows some of these sailors may have been responsible for murdering Commander Crabbe!
In the event the sailors turned out to be very friendly, so we all chatted as best we could and swapped cigarettes. The ones they gave us were very small length and were held in an empty tube through which you drew the smoke. This was probably the worst taste I’d ever endured. Anyway, WW3 was averted and we enjoyed the rest of the match together, after which we returned to camp and the Russians to their ships.
Our friendly meeting with the Russian sailors reminded me of the football match on Christmas day, on the Western Front, during the Great War. Left to their own devices, soldiers and sailors would not start military conflicts.
If you have any memories to share of the history of Charnwood and the surrounding area, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org