I’m not pretending that I was a model of good behaviour during my early years in Boys’ Squadron but my popularity with the boys and my success in cricket got me out of a few difficult situations. Here I am (front row far left), looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth in the Blenheim Troop Boys’ Squadron cricket team. When it came to duties, I wasn’t always a good example, though. When I was a trumpeter, I had to do trumpet guard. This meant I had to get up before everyone else, go out on the parade square and call “reveille” to wake up the other boys. This wasn’t a problem in the summer but in the winter it wasn’t always a pleasant job, so I developed a novel way to deliver “reveille”. I leaned out of the barrack window on one or two occasions and blew the call from there so it could clearly be heard all round the barracks. All the boys knew, but no one let on, so the officers never realised that this was what I was doing as long as the trumpet call came on time and it always did.
Another time I hadn’t prepared my drum skin in the proper way. We had to do this by soaking it and stretching it over the rim of the side drum, then screwing it down tightly and waiting for it to dry so that it would make a crisp sound. When I tried to fix the crumpled dry skin that I had not done this to, it wouldn’t fit and there was no time to do it properly, so to cover my fault, I cut some cardboard and wet it and put it in place of the skin. It meant I had to pretend to play it out on the parade as it would have made no sound. I went through the whole parade without banging a note, but since there were other drummers, none of the officers noticed, so I got away with it.
I loved doing the Sword and Lance competitions because I was good at them and enjoyed the freedom they gave us. We were dropped off somewhere and had to find our way to a certain destination in the quickest time possible. To check we had all gone the complete distance, they asked us questions about landmarks we would have had to pass en route to see if we had observed them. However after doing many of them I became a bit bored with always doing them in the same area, so on one occasion, instead of covering the distance on foot, I got lifts in passing vehicles to speed up my journey and asked the questions of the drivers so as to get a knowledge of the bits I had missed out. That way I was still able to answer the questions when I got back before the others, so I wasn’t caught out. You can only do this kind of thing once and get away with it and I knew that, so once I’d had a lucky escape, I made sure not to repeat the offence.
I was nearing my 18th birthday when I would have to make a choice about my future. There was a buzz of excitement in Blenheim Troop when we heard that we would be getting a new troop leader who had won the Silver Sword at Sandhurst for being best officer. He was an excellent sportsman and would be coming to us. From the day he arrived and gave his first address to us, Lieutenant BLG Kenney made our attitudes change. He was an excellent motivator.
“We are the best because we give the best,” he told us and stressed the importance of passing exams which would enable us to get promotion in the future. He believed in winning and up to that point Blenheim troop had won nothing. We all liked him and rose to his challenge to enter and win everything from then on. Our attitudes changed and so we began to win things. We all stood together and helped each other more than ever and I can honestly say that this was the happiest period in my army career. Lieutenant BLG Kenney was indeed an excellent sportsman. Being a hockey player in the England hockey team, he taught us how to play this game. I played cricket alongside him in the Dorset County team, as well as for the garrison in the Royal Armoured Corps team. In fact because of my love of sport and ability in it, he got me involved in rugby and gave me personal training in how to be a good wing three quarter. I always got selected for that position when we played matches. In athletics, he introduced me to the discus and showed me how to throw it properly and also how to put the shot. But it wasn’t just in sport that he influenced me. He explained the importance of getting my education certificate while I was still at Boys’ Squadron.
“Do not waste the army’s time or the instructors’ time. They’re there for your benefit, young Joe, so use them to your full advantage while you have the chance,” he told me.
“Have you made your choice as to which regiment you want to go to when you leave Boys’ Squadron?”
“The Queen’s Bays, sir,” I said.
“Why?” he asked,
“Because I’ve heard it’s a really good regiment sir. They’re serving in Libya at the moment and I learned about Libya in my Bible and Scripture courses. I want the chance to travel to countries like that. But I’m also considering the First Tanks Regiment, because it’s Sergeant Major Rose’s regiment and he recommended it to us.”
“Well whichever one you choose, remember that it’s a choice that will affect your entire army career. Find out as much as you can about them but whichever you choose, all the regiments are good regiments,” he said. That’s what made me realise what a good man Lieutenant Kenney was. He never tried to run down other regiments like most other officers did. He was in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars and I hadn’t mentioned this.
“I’d like to know more about your regiment, sir. Where is it posted right now and do you think it would have opportunities for someone like me?” I asked.
“Well if you really are interested in the 4th Hussars, I’ll get you some more information about where they are and what they would have to offer you if you join them. It will be better for you if you can get all your certificates and qualifications before leaving Boys’ Squadron at 18.”
I thanked him and began to reassess my future. Up to now I’d been wondering whether to sign on for 6 or 9 years, and as yet had no trades such as wireless, gunnery, map-reading or field-craft. I had no particular qualifications apart from the intermediate certificate of education. I saw no future in going back to the life I’d had before as a spare part in the Munroe household. By now the Munroe siblings had their own children and were pursuing their ambitious careers all over the world. I definitely wanted to make the army my career. I went to Mr Bicknell for advice. He had never given me bad advice thus far and I trusted his judgement which wasn’t tainted by any personal interests or prejudices which other people often had.
“Sign up for the full 22 years, Joe. They’ll give you all the training and education you need to set you up for life,” he said. “You’ll have a secure profession with a pension at the end of it. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”