Here I am in 1969 back in Blighty again, in the corporal’s mess at Bovington camp, Headquarters of The Royal Armoured Corps. By this time I had been promoted to Corporal. The Duke of Edinburgh paid us one of the regular visits he made to us here on his way through the area. This was the first time I had ever met him personally, although I had been present in many of the regimental parades he had previously inspected. This was one of the many highlights of my army career.
However, there were a few low points and later that year, I had one such experience. It all began quite well the year before (1968), when the regiment had first arrived in Bovington. Although I had been told there was a shortage of married quarters, so I would be on a waiting list, if I could find private rented accommodation that was suitable, the army would subsidise the rent. My house-hunting soon turned up an available place in Wetherbury Way, Dorchester. The house was fully furnished, beautifully decorated and the front and back gardens had been well kept by the previous occupants. It was owned by missionaries who were living in Zambia and had put their house in the hands of the army while they were overseas. The neighbours, all professional people and public servants whose children went to private schools or very good local schools, were very friendly and welcoming people. It was a lovely area. I had never lived in such a well-kept semi-rural part of England before. St Osmund’s Catholic junior school was just around the corner for my two daughters, so I had no worries about their education. Being in Dorchester gave us easy access to the market and shops and also to the south coast. Rod, the county housing officer, lived opposite with his family and we became good friends as did our children who all went to the same school. I felt very privileged to get such a lovely place. The only drawback was that I had to drive daily to Bovington and the shortest route was by unlit country back roads that could be dangerous at night in the winter when I had night duties. Nevertheless we had a very happy eighteen months there before we were allocated a married quarter in Bovington Camp itself. I went excitedly to the families’ office to collect the keys, expecting them to be for one of the new married quarters. To my shock and horror, I found that we were being put into “The Bovvie Bungalow,” the most run down and worst married quarter available. Everyone else had refused to go there it was in such a state: a massive rat-infested wooden structure that reminded me of “The Haunted House.” The BIA officer who had the inventory met me there and when he saw me, he started telling me how lucky I was to be allocated such a lovely big house. In silence, I let him talk on, all the while thinking to myself that this man must think I was stupid. He opened up the house and after about forty minutes of the tour and all his ramblings, it was time to sign the inventory.
“Do you always go on like this?” I said rudely. ”You must be joking if you think I’m signing this.”
“You should be thankful to be offered such a place. It’s a palace compared to the sort of house people like you have to live in where you come from.”
“If it’s like a palace, why don’t you move in here with your family?” I said.
“It’s never a good thing when the country starts recruiting people from the Empire,” he said.
“If I were a single bloke, I’d put you on your back, but I’m a married man with two small children. I’m signing NOTHING.” With that, I overturned the table with the cutlery, pans and inventory on it. I was so enraged that I picked up one of the long handled saucepans at the same time and threw it at him with such force that when it hit the door-frame and deflected away from him, it dented the pan. I left him cowering in the corner and went into the nearby Beehive Café to calm down before going back to work. In my whole army career I had never been made to feel like this by anyone else. Before I could face going back to work, I went to my friend Taffy Hubbard’s house nearby and spoke to his wife Inge. She was very upset on my behalf and helped me calm down. It was a relief to me that the saucepan had not hit the BIA officer or he might have been seriously injured. Inge advised me to go and explain everything to the families’ officer, who in turn sent me to the Band President, Major Meade, who referred me to Colonel Bidie. They all told me that what I had done was wrong but he said if I was treated in this way in the future, I was to go straight to him.
Colonel Bidie allowed me to stay on at the Dorchester house for a few more days until they found another married quarter for me. This time I was offered a house in Lawrence Close where all the senior ranks lived. It was one of the best married quarters I ever had. Now I had to face the jealous jibes of other band wives who wanted to know why I had better quarters than them! After a while, Bryan “Taffy” Helps became Trumpet Major and moved into a nearby house so I had a friend as a neighbour, and things died down.
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