What is it that makes a good party? Is it the food, the drinks, the silly hats? Isn’t the clue in the photo shot you all huddle together to get into? This dog-eared picture is a bit worse for the wear but that’s hardly surprising when it’s nearly sixty years since it was taken and it’s travelled to the other side of the world and back again a few times since then. It survived the ravages of tropical termites, but only just, because it had to be carefully peeled out of its old paper album and the glue that held it in was stronger than the developing paper. Glue that strong is a bit like the friendships we built in Boys Squadron. Have you guessed the answer to the question? A party is a good one when it brings together a group of friends who are bound together by that special kind of glue that derives from their shared experiences and enjoyment of each other’s company. The kind of shared experiences that teach you the importance of helping each other in difficult times, the shared laughter and shared achievements are all celebrated in this party photograph. It shows our leaving party after the pass-off parade at Boys Squadron.
We had about five weeks’ leave and were told to report back to HQ at Bovington on a certain day at the end of it to collect our travel warrants to our new regiments. We would all be going off in different directions in army life after that. I was looking forward to making amends for never getting any promotion in my Boys’ Squadron years. I felt a sense of belonging and I now had a permanent job which I felt proud of. I was wearing the badge and uniform that shouted out this fact to everyone I passed in the street. I wore it proudly as I boarded trains, buses and the underground in order to visit my former school-friends and their families in Tooting, The Bicknell Family, my bosses at the Post Office and wood-yard in Chelsea. Being in uniform, I was entitled to free travel on public transport, so I made full use of it. When the leave came to an end and we all arrived back at HQ, I collected my pass to Hohne in Germany. Other boys were going to Libya, Malaysia, Ireland, or other parts of the Empire. A truck took us from camp to Wool Station and the train to Waterloo. This was the hub where we said our goodbyes and exchanged addresses, not knowing if we would ever see each other again. The next leg of my journey was the train to Harwich, thence by ferry to the Hook of Holland, and train again across to Soltau in Niedersachsen, Germany.
The train journey across the Low Countries passed through changing landscapes. It was very interesting to me. As we sat in the dining carriage with its tables all laid out in a very civilised manner and were served by the train staff, it seemed a far cry from the army camp mess halls back at Boys’ Squadron.
“I could get used to this,” I joked with my travelling companions. “If man’s service as a soldier is like this, I’ll sign up for 50 years!”
At Soltau, I looked out of the window to see if anyone was there to meet me. I saw a 4th Hussar cap badge like mine. There was a Land-rover with driver and assistant waiting there to pick me up. It was two cockneys, Wally Carpenter and Joe Blake, who took my kit off me and bundled me into the car.
“We’ve ‘eard you’re a top sportsman,” said Wally, who was a National Service man. I didn’t know what to say.
“Speak English, mate? I ’ear you box.”
“Yea,” I said at last.
“I recognise that accent,” he said with the warmth of one cockney to another, and we got off to a good chatter in which I was bombarded with questions about my back-ground and family while they filled me in on the work I’d be doing with tanks. I realised that if I was going to get anywhere in the regiment, I’d have to start learning about these things. I had known rankers who had been promoted from the ranks to replace their officers who had fallen in battle, so I expected to have a fair chance of reaching warrant officer one day, and I told them so.
“To get what you want, you’ll ’ave to be a lifer,” Wally joked.
“Whatever it takes, I’ll do it,” I said and I meant every word of that.
We arrived at Hohne camp, former Nazi barracks, and as usual, the guards all seemed shocked to see a black face with a cockney accent as they all peeped out of the guard hut window to see the new arrival. I was taken to my block where I found my single room with its bed all neatly made up, shown where the washroom and toilet were and told to be ready in my best kit at 9 a.m. for breakfast.
I was ready for breakfast in ‘C’ Squadron cookhouse several hours before it was served, so this gave me a good chance to get to know the other soldiers as they arrived. They all bent over backwards with welcoming and friendly offers of help. Then, after breakfast, as planned, I was taken to see the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel “Loopy” Kennard.
“Welcome to the best regiment in the British Army,” he said. “Did you know that?”
“Yes sir. That’s why I joined it, sir.” I answered.
The Lieutenant Colonel then went on to read out to me the glowing report which BLT Kenney had submitted on my behalf. It didn’t sound like he was describing me, as up to then I had no idea what other people thought of me or how they saw me. I felt uplifted.
As I left the Colonel’s office, Jack Reynolds, the regimental sergeant major Warrant Officer I, called me into his office and said,
“You’re full of words, you, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir” I said.
“You’ve got an answer for everything. What have you got to say about that, son?”
“If you say so, sir, it must be right.” He gave me a funny look.
“ You had a good interview with the commanding officer, you had a good report on sport, which I like, but you’ve got no trades, so my advice to you, son, is to make that a priority from day one. I’ll speak to your squadron S.M. to get you on some courses and I’ll be keeping my eye on you to see if you live up to what we’ve heard about you.”
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If you want to find out what happened in my later life when I returned to help develop my birth country Guyana in South America, then look for “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 available in paperback on Amazon.co.uk, order it through your local book store or read it in Kindle format ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1 available worldwide on Amazon.com