I was only earning five shillings a week at Boys’ Squadron Royal Armoured Corps but the money didn’t matter. The things we were learning were priceless and that was what I wanted. We had the freedom to do lots of hobbies and one of mine was music. Some of my friends and I formed a skiffle group. I played the washboard and sang. Taffy Smith played a bass made from a tea chest. George Richardson played guitar and so did Ted Hayward and Tex Metson. We used to play in the garrison and sometimes in Swanage, Poole, Wareham, Dorchester and other army bases, local village halls and youth clubs.
One of the boys wrote away for an audition at Carroll Levis Discoveries, a popular radio show at the time. We got the audition so we asked for permission to attend and for the transport to get there. It was at the Bristol Hippodrome. We got through the first round and had to play again, but other acts much better than us reached the final. It made us realise how far we had to go to become successful musicians. I made up my mind to learn to play a proper instrument. Someone told me that if I could play all the cavalry trumpet calls and some fanfares, I would no longer have to do guard duties, so I went to Bandmaster Noble of the Lancers and asked him if he could teach me to play the cavalry trumpet.
“Yes,” he said, “Come along to the band block with the other junior bandsmen,” so I did. I soon achieved my goal and could play all the trumpet calls and fanfares, so was accepted into the band as an additional individual trumpeter. This meant I got my reward of no longer having to spend the nights patrolling military areas with tank hangers and tanks inside them. I thought it was a waste of time “who’s going to steal a tank?” I asked myself. (Of course now I’m older and wiser I fully understand why such guard duties are essential.)
I enjoyed my trumpet practises and was delighted to be given trumpet guards to do because I knew all the calls. Bandmaster Noble also told me I could join the fanfare trumpeters. Things were beginning to change for me as my love of music now found gratification. There were those who told me,
“You’re in the Royal Armoured Corps to learn about tanks and armoured vehicles and not as a musician, because to start with, you can’t read music and can’t play an instrument.” (Trumpet and bugle weren’t classed as an instrument) I didn’t let this deter me since my love of music was far greater than my love of vehicles. I asked Bandmaster Noble if I could learn to play the drums. Once again he agreed. I started with a side drum. Soon I loved that too and became a prominent member of Boys’ Squadron Band as a side drummer and trumpeter. Eventually, I became the Silver Trumpeter.
The education we got at Boys’ Squadron was second to none. I got on well with all the teachers. They were all university graduates who were part of the Army Education Corps. I admired and respected them for their knowledge and talent. They participated in all the extra activities we did, be it map-reading, sport or reviews and were always on hand to give us extra help if we didn’t understand something. I enjoyed our science lessons, especially doing the experiments. The classroom work backed up our weaponry instruction. They wanted us to fully understand the science of bullets and how to take care of them. Great care was taken to make us understand the safety procedures, and conducting them properly. We saw in controlled conditions in the classroom what could happen and that way we would never forget how dangerous the things we were handling could be if we did not carry out those safety procedures. Whenever a teacher asked for a volunteer, I always put up my hand first. One day we were being taught about flares and the dangerous chemicals in them. We all had our safety goggles on and standing at a safe distance from the demonstration bench. I was told to empty a tiny amount of powder, about the size of a match head, from the flare canister, but NOT to do ANYTHING else until I was given the instruction, because striking the match in the air above it could be enough to ignite the powder and it could cause harm. The teacher had to attend to something else and had his back turned momentarily and I struck my long match before he told me to. To my shock, it went up like a firework display and boys went in all directions. Luckily we were all far enough away and wearing safety goggles or someone might have been blinded and it would have been my fault. No one was hurt and only a couple flasks got broken, but I got disciplined for disobeying orders.
When I appeared on orders before the disciplinary committee I expected heavy punishment.
“Why did you do that when you had specifically been told NOT to?” they asked me,
“I just wanted to see if it was true what they said. I didn’t really believe it would be such a big explosion from such a small amount of powder,” I admitted.
Luckily for me, as no real damage or injury had been caused, they advised me to write a letter of apology explaining why I disobeyed orders in spite of clear instructions not to do what I did. I had learned a bitter lesson which I would never forget and I carried it with me for my whole army career. I always question what I am told. I like to find out for myself but that is sometimes a failing which has its repercussions.
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