Joe Bloggs:An Unlikely Hussar Part 22 How I Became a PTI and set up “Joe’s Cafe”

PTI course germany

Mixing with Germans in the villages around camp in my first year in Hohne helped me to start learning to speak German. I had plenty of conversation practice and soon became quite fluent. I applied for a pass so I could go into Bergen without seeking separate permission each time. It gave me a lot of freedom so I could go in and out of camp when I pleased as long as I returned before midnight. I had to book out at the guardroom on leaving and book in when I returned or I would face discipline. This freedom enabled me to spend time with the athletes of Tus Bergen and learn from their coaches. I needed to set up a gym with all the equipment, so I asked my squadron leader if I could do this in one of the large rooms in the squadron block. He gave me the go-ahead so I got mats, skipping ropes, medicine balls, boxing gloves and other equipment so I could train as often as possible. Many others in my squadron thought it was a great idea, so they all came and used the gym. At weekends it was packed.

I learned a lot in this period about training, preparation, and participating in top level sporting activities and after a while I asked my troop leader if I could do a PTI course. He agreed as long as it was in the winter so that I didn’t miss the tank exercises which we had to do in the summer, since I was part of the team and would be needed. I enjoyed being on tanks but being a PTI was what I wanted to do. The course at BAOR in Sennelager lasted about seven weeks. I practised all aspects of PE in my little gym and went down to the garrison gym to get advice from the staff there before I went on the course. Then I had to make my own travel arrangements to get there. En route to Sennelager in Westphalia, I planned out my army future. I would work hard at this course, pass it and get recommended for the next course as an assistant instructor. I planned my training programme in writing. I would do every sport available to me, but not activities that would risk unnecessary injuries, such as basic mountaineering, canoeing, water sports or skiing. I would only play sevens at rugby. I’d do as much cross country and boxing training as possible but not necessarily box in matches, as I wouldn’t be able to keep to the weight) I would play as much hockey and basketball as I could as that involved running. I would improve my tennis and badminton and learn to play squash with my troop leader’s help. I would keep up my cricket and do more indoor cricket training in the winter. I’d extend my bowling run-up and try to bowl faster. Having written my plan, I aimed to achieve my goals. I had a few weeks ahead in a new environment so I could get a better idea of what it would take to become a PTI and coach.

The course at Sennelager was an eye-opener for me. I now came up against selectees from all the regiments of BAOR, so I had to raise my game considerably in their presence. All the Army PT Corps instructors were specialists in the field and had exacting standards.

“If any of you get injured or we don’t think you are good enough, you will be returned to your units,” the PT School Commandant briefed us, “but hopefully that won’t be necessary.” It was the first course I had done away from the regiment. They set demanding tests in gymnastics, athletics, basketball, hockey, rugby, football, cricket, swimming, cross-country, boxing, judo and more. I aimed at coming in the top ten on this course. We were billeted fifteen to a room. None of us knew each other, but to hear the others talk, I felt they all must be far better than me. I soon came to realise that talk is meaningless and performance counts for everything, so I shouldn’t have taken any notice of their boasting at what they had done. With my aim in mind I knew I had no time to go out socialising in the evenings. Most of my time was spent practising in the gym till ten or eleven at night so I would be able to get good marks in the tests. The instructors were very helpful and willing to give us extra coaching in the evening practices. I warmed to them instantly. I owe a great debt to Staff Sergeant Instructor McCabe, who said to me,

“You should take up doing the jumps. You could be very good at these.” I took his advice and practised these hard, along with basketball, soccer, boxing and the other sports. I was showered with praise at my boxing ability and told what a good all-round sports person I was. I had found something that I excelled in and that I loved doing. I worked sometimes until midnight in the gym trying to rectify the weaknesses that had been drawn to my attention. I couldn’t get enough of this and made a name for myself by beating many athletics records displayed on the gym walls. My name replaced those of the record-holders I had beaten.

In football, the instructors told me I should be playing out in the field, not just in goal, because of my speed and ability to kick well with both right and left feet. They played me as right winger and sometimes left winger and I played well in these matches. I improved a lot in football, boxing, hockey, and basketball. Only in swimming did I not perform that well. I took the advice to keep on practising but it wasn’t until years later in Malaya that I learned all the styles and strokes. At the end of the course I had top marks in athletics, boxing, cricket, cross-country, basketball and hockey. The photo above shows me with all the other PTI course participants in Sennelager. I am on the far left. The report on me that was sent back to the regiment was read out to me by my commanding officer.

“Can I now work as a PTI in the garrison gym, Sir?” I asked him. He agreed, so from now on I was a regimental PTI who stood out from the others with my special uniform of red and black long-sleeved jumper, black serge slacks and black pumps. I hadn’t bargained for the consequences of this, however. I was now put to run the regimental sports stores, to issue equipment to all sports teams in squadrons throughout the regiment when they needed it for competitions and practice. It was an enormous responsibility with a massive space at my disposal. Not only did I have to keep the ledger and book in and out every item of kit, whether it be boxing gloves, skis, bicycles roller skates or special clothing, but also maintain and repair it all as it came in and take the dirty clothing to the laundry on the special bicycle provided to me. I did this job for three years in addition to my duties on tanks and exercises.

Quite often fellow soldiers and officers would bring back their kit late in the evening when the NAAFI canteen had closed but they were hungry and thirsty. Since I had the space in the sports store, I got two cookers in there to provide hot drinks and snacks to those who wanted them. I opened up my own small cafeteria serving hot drinks, soup and sandwiches. It was well supported by the soldiers who paid me for the food and drinks. This gave me extra income which I saved. I befriended the local German gardeners who supplied me with vegetables in season from their allotments in return for cigarettes, whisky or rum I got from the NAAFI store. I was happy with the deal and used the vegetables to make the soups and sandwich fillings. The colonel and other officers praised me for the way I kept the stores and equipment and they allowed me to run my cafeteria because it provided a useful service for all. I was a little nervous when asked who gave me permission for the two cookers in the sports store, but I argued that they were needed to provide refreshments for those waiting for their kit to dry when the NAAFI canteen was closed. “Joe’s Café” as it was called, became a hub of the camp and soon earned me enough money to buy a television on which I would be able to watch the Rome Olympics in 1960, but more about that in my next chapter.

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