Volume 1 – Chapter 16 –Part 7
It was October 1951 and here I was back in England, travelling across London this time to Waterloo Station to get a train to carry me the short distance to Woking in Surrey. Loaded down with all my equipment I found my way to the guard room of Inkerman Barracks, the home of the Royal Military Police. Being told to wait I looked out to the parade ground which was within the walls of the barracks, and saw a passing out parade of men who had just finished the course and were now being accepted into the ranks of the privileged few. It was an impressive sight, a degree of smartness that would have left the Brigade of Guards for dead; the drill also would have been hard for the Guards to match. I thought I knew what spit and polish was all about, but this was way beyond anything I thought possible. I will admit here and now, at that moment and for the first time in my life, I felt I was facing an impossible task. I would never be able to reach such a high standard of perfection in just a few short weeks; I just could not imagine it.
When the parade was over I was sent across to the main barracks which had that old Victorian look about them. Later as the training course progressed we were moved to newer accommodation which had been added at the rear of the original barracks. The new developments had a prefabricated look about them, and it would be my guess that such expansions were made during WWII when every branch of the army had grown rapidly. I say we were moved, because I was one of about sixty new trainees who were assembling for the new course which was about to commence. There were two other squads with about the same number gathering in other billets, and I thought at the time that a number somewhere in the region of 180 new recruits was an enormous intake. Within a few days I discovered that our numbers would not remain the same, with a large portion leaving RTU (Returned to Unit) for one reason or another.
Most of our new intake was again National Service men, though the standard and quality was much higher than those I had been with in the infantry. There were a couple of young policemen, others with very impressive educational qualifications, and generally a very competitive collection of men indeed. Competing with these chaps might be quite a challenge, though I have to say that I felt more at home with them than I had with the cannon fodder I had been with before. Among these new recruits we had a sprinkling of regulars who had volunteered just as I had done. There was a smart young chap who had arrived from Germany, he was from the Queens Regiment, and another guardsman from the Scots Guards, but to the best of my recollection I was the only one in the squad with a stripe. Not that it mattered, they took my stripe off me during the first week or so, telling me that if I was returned to unit I would get it back, and if I passed the course everyone would get a stripe anyway, because there are no privates in the RMPs.
The very next day we were right into intensive training and for the first two weeks everything we did was a test of some sort. There were written tests, and physical tests, fast route marches, assault courses, in other words there was no mercy. We drilled for long periods, and attended classes on military law; I can still recall the section of the army act under which most charges were laid. We were told that we could charge anyone for just about anything under section 40 of the army act, which stated that anything considered a breach of discipline or good behaviour could be considered an offence. Depending on the charge or the circumstances, a report would be made on army form 252 or on 2100, but don’t ask me to remember further details
It was apparent that the intention was to cut out the dead wood as quickly as possible. It made sense I suppose, it would have been a waste of time and effort to provide more advanced training to those that would never stay the course. Every day some of us disappeared and a loss of a man a day was not unusual for the first two weeks, even afterwards there was a steady casualty rate though it dropped to maybe one or two a week by the last week or two of training. Some of those that were found unsuitable looked like very good quality to me; I remember one chap who I had been certain would come out top of the list, but who fell by the wayside after about ten days. When I heard he was going I expressed my regret that he was leaving us, and asked why, he told me that the security check had revealed that he had once been taken to court for a minor offence when he was just a teenager, that was enough.
A completely clean record was required to qualify as a policeman, some who had applied had been found out before they even reached the police depot. There were others who had been rejected for other apparently minor reasons, for example there was a height restriction which was 5ft 9inches and quite a few applicants had failed for that reason alone. It seems I was having something of a charmed life I was barely 5ft 10inches in my socks. (At the end of the course we had about 28 men left in my squad and I was the second shortest of them all. The tallest was a Londoner named Draper who was about 6ft 7inches.) I had no criminal record, so it was a case of so far so good. I found out later that they had checked me out, asking the local police station at Fenton to investigate and report; fortunately I had a clean sheet.
For me the pressure was not quite as intense because much of the basic training I already knew, when it came to weapons for example the instructor told me to make myself scarce, knowing that I was already a small arms instructor myself. One drawback to this was that I missed out on instruction with the revolver, which I had never used. It did not worry me though because I was good with such things and did not expect any problems if we were issued with a.38calibre or some other similar sidearm. We were still in our original uniforms for the first few weeks, I suppose because they expected many of us to be returning to the unit from which we had come.
Having escaped from lectures one day I was making my way to the canteen for tea and a bun, when I met a staff sergeant who had the same North Stafford flashes on his shoulder. Seeing my identical flashes he stopped me to talk, explaining that he had been seconded to the RMP pay office to help organise the pay for the additional people they were recruiting. This was something the army would do when the pressure was on, take a specialist from one unit and send him to assist another. After a brief conversation he sent me on my way with the comment: “You are a representative of your regiment, so do not let us down.” This encouragement was not needed I could have told him, I was not about to let myself down, never mind the regiment.
Among the many additional skills we needed to be a military policeman was hand to hand combat, which included dirty tricks. We learned the conventional judo tricks like throwing a man over your shoulder; though I came unstuck on this one, much to everyone’s amusement. We had been paired off in the gym, and I found myself opposing the tallest man, Draper. In accordance with our instructions, Draper took a swing at me, and I grabbed his arm twisting around to throw him over my shoulder. The problem was that when I bent over, my opponent was so tall that he was able to bend right over the top of me without his feet leaving the floor. He then put his knee into by backside and I was propelled head first across the mat we were practicing on, very funny they all thought. It was not the way I would have dealt with such a tall man, but I was obeying orders, and we were not out to kill each other anyway. Some of the dirty tricks soon made us realise that this was not just a game, but to be taken seriously.
If held in a bear hug by a bigger or stronger man, the Liverpool Kiss could be very useful we were told, but almost as effective was the side of your ammunition boot down the shin of a leg. If dealing with a drunk or some other belligerent, a chop up under the nose with the side of the hand was usually effective. There were any number of tricks like these that were intended to make us dangerous people, but they take practice and a degree of youth and fitness to be effective. Such training certainly added to our confidence and willingness to take on difficult people and situations, and from that aspect alone it was all good stuff.
With so much happening at once the time seemed to fly past, and though our instructors appeared to be trying hard to eliminate as many as possible; those in authority were in need of as many new men as they could get, so did what they could to keep us up and running. We began to get weekend leave which was intended to allow some recreation, many of the men who lived not too far away could go home, and the rest of us could leave barracks and escape in whatever way we could devise. The guardsman who was a regular soldier as I was befriended me, and being a Londoner he invited me to go on leave with him, which I did. He lived in Holloway, London N7 not far from the famous women’s prison, and it was yet another experience for a young lad like me to see how other people lived. My friend was in his late twenties or early thirties, married with a baby, and lived several stories up in one of those high rise blocks of flats built by city councils all over the country. This was a visit I shall never forget, partly because everything was so different from anything I had known previously, and partly because I nearly found myself in a compromising situation.
The day we arrived we did the usual things like walk around the shops and talk to the locals; we went into the pub and had a pint, and played skittles and dominoes. Then in the early afternoon we sat down to a typical afternoon tea beloved by Londoners, a large plate of winkles. I caused much amusement having no idea how to go about the process of eating these tiny shell fish, plus the fact that I had no desire to eat them at all. They were enjoying them of course, so were quite happy to just let me eat bread and butter. After tea it was decided that we would go to the cinema, and the lady of the house informed me that she had a friend who live two doors along the landing, and she would make up a foursome.
The friend was not a bad looking woman in her mid-twenties; she was very friendly and soon made me feel relaxed in her company. I cannot remember what film we saw that evening, and anyway the details of that evening we driven from my mind when the lady I was with propositioned me, or that is the lasting impression I remember. The reason I have a problem in remembering this occasion accurately is because of my youthful ignorance, the noise of the soundtrack of the film we were watching did not help matters either. Leaning towards me the young lady said in a low voice that I need not sleep on her friend’s sofa but could sleep at her place that night. I replied that it was very kind of her to offer. Then I began to worry about it knowing that the flats were small with only one bedroom, where would I be sleeping exactly? My concern about the offer was further increased a short time later when she then said to me that her husband would not be a problem, because he worked the night shift on the London Underground. Now I was really worried, so I decided to thank her for the offer, but I would be quite comfortable on my mate’s sofa. I still cannot make up my mind to this day whether the lady was being kind or suggesting something immoral.
This was not the only problem I had as a result of teaming up with the guardsman, who I discovered was not a man of high morals. It was not long before I realised he was a womanizer, and his machinations soon began to involve me. He was not what I would have called a handsome man, but he was one of those people that had some sort of magnetic attraction, especially for member of the opposite sex. On one of his outings he had picked up an attractive young lady much younger than himself, but she was cautious enough to refuse to go out with him unless she could bring a friend along. He had agreed and then he asked me to escort the other girl on a blind date. I agreed because that is what you did for a mate in the army, and as a result I found myself escorting this rather plain looking girl to the cinema.
I was polite to this young lady but was not attracted to her; she on the other hand was very keen and showed some enthusiasm for romantic dalliance. After supporting my pal on two or three occasions, I told him that I was going to leave him to his own devices, which he was quite happy about. It appears he had now established himself in the home of the young lady, and finding she had an attractive mother and no father, he was getting sexual attention from both of them. For my part however, I now found I had a problem with the other girl who did not want to end our relationship, sending me messages in which she attempted to arrange further meetings.
Being inexperienced in relationships with the opposite sex I was unsure how to deal with this problem I had. What reason could I give for refusing to go out with her? I did not want to hurt her feelings, but had no desire to involve myself further. A few days later the problem was solved by other events, when I got myself confined to barracks for five days. The military police were strict with military personnel, but they were even stricter with their own people, who had to be beyond reproach in every respect. Part of our training was intended to teach us this, with our every move under scrutiny. For example we were not allowed to go to meals as individuals, we had to fall in and march to the mess as a squad. I was finishing a chore I had been given in the billet when the others went dashing out to march down to the mess. By the time I had got myself together they had marched off, so I found myself dashing along behind trying to catch them before they went into the mess hall. They were filling in when I got there, but before I could join them a duty corporal at the door stepped forward and asked me why I was not with my squad. I explained but he was unwilling to accept my explanation, so he booked me and I was on a discipline charge the next morning.
My punishment was five days CB (Confined to Barracks) which concerned me for a while; would it be noted on my records? I was very pleased when I found out my offence was not serious enough to warrant a notation on records, so from that point of view the whole thing was just an inconvenience. It was an inconvenience because I discovered that anyone on jankers, as they used to call it, was expected to report to the guard room in full battle order, after the days duty was over, and again just before lights out. The guard commander would inspect you closely looking for any opportunity to find fault, so this punishment was hated and avoided at all costs, which I suppose was the object of the exercise.
The whole thing could have been worse, but once again I avoided the worst of it by way of my musical popularity. I had my accordion with me and had made myself everybody’s friend by playing for my comrades most evenings. They would clean my kit while I played, which suited me just fine, and when I was on my five days punishment, they got me ready for inspection, making sure that I was in apple pie order. My confinement to barracks also worked for me in another way, when the girl I have mentioned came to the barracks enquiring for me. She was told that I was on a punishment detail and not allowed to see her, so she went away never to return.
My attempts to control events around me were not working in the main, but fate was being kind to me and keeping me out of trouble, as far as the less important things were concerned. I say where the less important things are concerned because I was soon to find that fate had not been looking after me very well where more serious matters were concerned. In the meantime she continued to smile on me in regard to the unimportant. There was the night when some of the boys wanted to drag me off on a bus trip into London to see a naughty show. It was called ‘Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath’ if I remember correctly, but it was winter time and bad weather caused the trip to be cancelled, so my education was never improved on this occasion.
The next weekend pass that came my way I decided to do something more to my taste, I went to visit my Aunt Anne at Harlow which was only about 15 miles North/East of London. I did not see her very often, but over the years my father and I had kept in touch with her, mostly by letter. I had a very enjoyable visit during which she was very kind to me, refraining I suspect from admonishing me for joining the army, something she had done to my father years before when he had visited her. The next time I saw Aunt Anne was in 1956 when I had married and took my wife to see her while we were on honeymoon in London. But right now it was the winter of 1951 and I have to return to my story which has me in training to become a military policeman.
We were now about a month or more into our training, and we had exchanged our uniforms for work denims, plus a cap complete with the RMP badge. Now the three squads which still numbered well over 100 men were paraded ready for a route march to Aldershot where we would begin our training as drivers. Over the next six weeks we would learn to drive every type of vehicle, something which quite a few were unable to do, a situation which caused a further reduction to our numbers. Early that morning we set off on a march which took us the whole morning, using back roads we covered about 16 miles, arriving eventually at the Military Police Driving School which was in an old cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Aldershot.
On arrival we were told that due to a lack of facilities, vehicles, instructors, two squads would be trained on motorcycles only, and the third squad on other vehicles. My squad was allotted to motorcycles, and the next day we were issued with a BSA 500cc army bike and split into teams of 16 riders each with two instructors, who rode fancy models called Aerials. There was no messing about and we were riding the first day, round and round in a field, with one of the instructors in the middle of the circling bikes, demonstrating to us what we should be doing next by showing us on his stationery motorcycle. This was called confidence riding, performing actions one would normally consider impossible. We stood on the saddle, crouched down alongside the bike on one of the foot rests, plus a number of other dare devil tricks, which had most of us falling off at regular intervals.
Fortunately these army motorcycles were very strongly made and came to little harm, unlike some of the riders, and incidentally, not like modern bikes today which are seriously damaged if they fall over or receive the slightest knock. These exercises led to some very hilarious incidents, which amused us all, especially the instructors. Like one chap who slipped off the footrest while crouching alongside his machine. Holding on to his handgrips for dear life, his fall twisted the throttle which sent his bike speeding across the field. About thirty yards away the ground dipped down about two or three feet, and on the lower level the grass had not been cut, growing to a height of three feet or more. Roaring down into the long grass the bike dragged its unfortunate rider out of sight, and all we could see was a rapidly lengthening line of grass that waived furiously as the machine tracked through it. It seemed very funny to us, and there was very little sympathy for the poor lad who had suffered this fate.
Most of us enjoyed riding these motorcycles, even though we were pushed towards increasing levels of daring by the instructors. With no time to waste we were soon out on the open road, and then practicing cross country riding which was very exciting. I was good at it managing to avoid most of the accidents that occurred to others. On one outing there was a real pile up when we approached traffic lights where the front rider braked hard to stop, and the second rider ran into him. Instantly over half the 16 riders had piled on top of the fallen leaders, and the next two or three fellows swerved onto the pavement to avoid the same fate. One of those that swerved was unable to stop quickly enough, which resulted in him riding through the open doors of a large Co-op Store. It looked very strange to see him sitting on his motorcycle with his engine still running in the middle of the customer space, with the shop assistants gaping at him with mouths wide open. I witnessed all this because I had been tail end Charlie and was able to stop safely, and take it all in, a picture never to be forgotten. The instructors had kept out of trouble, with one of them riding escort alongside the line of learner riders, and the other coming along slightly to the rear. They must have seen this sort of thing many times before and knew very well where to ride to keep clear of the problems that their pupils got themselves into.
Riding motorcycles was going to be no problem for me, but I was feeling disappointed that I would not get to drive other vehicles, or so it first appeared. What I had not realised of course was that fate had decided otherwise, and this is how it arranged matters. Having reached this very satisfactory point in my bike riding, I went to bed this particular night and with the lights going out before I was ready I sat on my bed with a torch to light my final preparations. This was something we had learned to do with lights being beyond our control. Being in my underwear I looked down and saw that one of my legs looked very much thicker than the other, why was that I wondered. On closer inspection I became aware that the ankle I had cut when swimming in the Adriatic some six or seven weeks before had become infected and it has spread up my leg as far as the knee.
The next morning I reported sick feeling very worried that this problem was going to prevent me finishing the driving course, or even police training. Aldershot was the biggest and most famous army town in Britain, so it was not surprising that the military had an extensive medical establishment there, run by the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps). This is where I was now sent, and here it was decided that my ankle had to be opened up and the infected material removed. Maybe it was because their patients were soldiers, but they took very little care with those they treated in the army, and I was made to suffer far more than it was necessary; it was not possible for me to say with any certainty that the poultices were too hot, but they burnt me so it appeared to me to be the case. The treatment was to be a series of Kaolin poultices which were heated for maximum effect, and the pain they caused was extreme to say the least.
It is not just the hot poultices to my ankle causing blistering which to me suggested they were heated too much. My treatment was carried out by a medical orderly who was a male nurse without qualifications, and he, like so many such people seemed to take some pleasure in making young soldiers suffer. Once the poultice had been applied I was sent back to my unit with instructions to return the next day. My unit must have been informed of their findings because when I got back to barracks I was informed that I was excused boots until the infected ankle was healed. For two or three days I was excused duties, which gave me an opportunity to watch the latest aircraft fly over as they circled over the barracks on their way to show themselves at the world famous Farnborough Air Show which was taking place only about two miles away.
For the next few days I returned to the medical centre for daily treatment, and though it was extremely painful the treatment was effective and rapid. My leg quickly returned to normal, though I was left with a hole about the size of a half crown in my ankle, and this took at least two weeks to heal. In the meantime the Military Police had decided that I was worth keeping, so they transferred me to the squad that was training on vehicles. Until my ankle had healed I was allowed to drive in shoes, and so it was that my injury benefited me, resulting in me being allowed to train on every type of vehicle.
Here is a picture of me (front left) with my fellow learners; the very tall Londoner named Draper is the chap at the back.
Some individuals have no talent for driving; I can recall that my father was one such person. I on the other hand had a natural aptitude and benefited greatly from the very thorough training that the police were providing. We were given the opportunity to try all sorts of vehicles, but most of the time we practiced in the army’s standard 15cwt truck which had a Bedford broad base 27 horsepower engine. Our police vehicles had been specially tuned for high speed running, and they were very fast indeed. The trainees were split into groups of six to each vehicle, and very early in the training the instructor on our truck decided that two of the six allotted to him would make suitable drivers and the other four would not. As a consequence the two lucky ones did all the driving, and the other four spent their time in the back as passengers. I was one of the lucky ones, and until the end of the course I drove every day and quickly became a skilled driver.
Looking back I would say that the training we were given was as good, as or even better than any driving course available anywhere. We drove many miles in all sorts of situations and conditions, on busy main roads, like the well known Hogs Back in the Farnham / Guildford area. I even drove through London passing the end of Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament. At the other extreme, we did cross country driving, night driving; you name it we did it. The memories I have of this time still bring pleasure when I recall them, such as driving off road and learning to cross varied country. I learned how to get a vehicle up extremely steep hills without a road to use; I never knew that you could reverse a truck up steep ground when it would not do it in a forward gear. One day we shot into a clearing in a wood not realizing that there was a party of young Ghurkha Officers there, and we scattered them without doing any damage I am glad to say. Night driving without lights was tricky, it took considerable concentration. We drove in convoy on a pitch black night, almost nose to tail, and the only guide we had was a small torch light bulb which was attached to the rear axle of the truck in front.
On a few days we went to a large open area where we were taught how to control skids, drive through and around obstacles, and such things as emergency stops. Four oil drums were placed with just enough room to get our vehicle within them, and we had to drive in fast and brake hard, without stalling the engine. When you stopped the instructors would leap onto the running boards and shout and bang on the truck with a large piece of wood, and the driver had to take off again without delay, regardless of the distractions. Confidence driving included riding alongside the instructor who would get up to a good speed, then open the door and step out onto the running board, at the same time ordering you to move over and take control of the moving vehicle. It was quite an impressive trick to have him step onto the square bonnet and walk across to the other side while you were trying to concentrate on driving the vehicle. Of course he had done this many times before, stepping down onto the other running board and calmly opening the passenger’s door and sitting down without turning a hair. But to us it looked a very daring trick indeed.
My impression of our driving instructors was that they were good at their job and knew how to get the best out of their pupils. Having said that they were at the same time only human and as far as the man that trained my particular group was concerned, the influence of having complete authority over others affected his behaviour. He carried a stick and would hit the learner driver with it quite hard if they did anything he did not like. There was also a mysterious incident that happened which came about, I have always thought, because of his over inflated ego and a desire to impress a young lady.
The young lady in question was quite good looking and worked behind the counter in a road side teashop not far from Aldershot. Our instructor had taken a fancy to this girl, so he made a point of calling to see her most days. We were expected to spend our money on refreshments which reflected well on our leader, and we would spend more than the usual time sitting at a couple of tables while our Romeo chatted up the young lady. On one visit we had left the teashop and were getting into our vehicle, when the girl came out and spoke to her boyfriend. He then came over to us and informed us that she had accused one of us of drawing an obscene picture on the table we had been sitting at. Obviously no one admitted to this crime, so we went on our way with the mystery unresolved.
The next morning our squad paraded before hitting the road, at which time our instructor again accused us of offending the girl at the teashop. It seems the rude picture had been traced in a puddle of tea on the table top, which had been in front of where I had been sitting. The details of the offending drawing were never revealed to us, but to my dismay he now accused me of being the one to have created it. Being innocent of the charge I denied it and with no definite evidence the matter was dropped, but I have often wondered about the incident ever afterwards. Was there a picture I wondered or had the girl made it up, and if so for what reason? Had there been an image in the spilt tea which had occurred by accident, or had someone drawn something deliberately? I shall never know the answer to this little mystery, but I have always suspected that the whole thing was used as an opportunity for a young man to impress a member of the opposite sex.
We had been given very little time to relax while in Aldershot, I can only remember going into town once or twice while we were there. Even in that limited time we were unable to avoid trouble, something which resulted from the fact that we were RMPs. There was a large modern military club in town which had a wide variety of food, drink, and entertainment. We made a beeline for this place, as did every other soldier with free time on his hands. Included in the various visitors that afternoon were some airborne lads who did not take kindly to a bunch of redcaps being present. Understandable I suppose that they should think that this was their place of leisure and freedom, no place for hated MPs to be; they must have felt we were there expressly to spoil their fun.
Men from any other unit would have avoided trouble with us, knowing that they could expect the authorities to take our side if trouble ensued. However, where paratroopers were concerned it was different, belligerence had been encouraged in these chaps, and they were prepared to prove what tough guys they were. Their demeanour made it abundantly clear that they saw us as a challenge, there would be no avoiding trouble this was obvious. There was only one thing that we could do and that was leave, a pity really because it was a really nice place. Leaving the building we split up with some of us deciding it would be sensible to return to barracks. Several including myself headed off in that direction, which took us across a park. We had not gone far when we realised that some of the airborne chaps had followed us, determined to teach us that we were hated and despised by all and sundry.
If they were intent on catching up to us there was no way we could keep ahead of them in the distance we had to cover. We had no option we were going to have to fight, something we were not all that reluctant to do, having much the same sort of attitude as the airborne men. We also saw ourselves as an elite force, who could take on anyone including these paratroopers. Once we realised that we were going to have to do battle we looked for some advantage, and we found it when we came to an area of thick bushes. We would hide then make a sudden attack catching them unawares we hoped. Waiting in the bushes one chap showed his experience in such situations by pulling off his belt and winding it round his fist, one hit with that and there would be no more trouble from that particular assailant. Taking my cue from my colleague I decided to make use of a tin of sweets I had in my pocket, it would do more damage than just a clenched fist.
The enemy drew near and we made our attack, which was successful with two or three of our opponents going down instantly. Our ambush had given them very little chance to hit back; with a clear advantage we were able to continue our retreat leaving them to lick their wounds and gather themselves together. Having heard soldiers talk about their impressions of the redcaps, I knew that the general opinion was that we were stuffed shirts who hid behind their authority. Most military personnel also believe that those doing a police job do it because they enjoy making life difficult for others, that they are bullies who enjoy making life difficult for others. These views were of course totally wrong, there were a few that appeared to enjoy making life miserable for others, but the majority were decent blokes who wanted to help, no persecute.
In what seemed to be no time at all the day came for us to take our driving test, and when it was my turn I was directed into Aldershot where I drove down the main street amidst considerable traffic. It called for all my concentration, which in a way was a good thing because I was much too busy to feel nervous. After a long intensive test I was told on the spot that I had passed, and that was the end of our driving course and our time at Aldershot. The next day our depleted squads fell in and marched out of town, returning to Inkerman Barracks at Woking. I have never seen Aldershot again since, and did not drive again until I had married and was allowed to chauffer my father-in-law. (Eventually in 1960 I was able to afford a vehicle of my own which allowed me to drive for the following two years. After that I sold my pride and joy in readiness for my departure to New Zealand.)
When we arrived back at the police depot we were transferred into the prefabricated huts behind the main barracks; here we were to remain for the last two or three weeks of our training. Officially we did not know whether we had passed or failed the course, this was revealed to us shortly before our pass out parade. Now in hindsight I realise that those of us who were left had already been accepted, though they were not going to tell us that. Maybe some of us had worked it out, but I was taking nothing for granted, though I should have realised we had succeeded when they began to issue us with everything we needed to display ourselves as the real thing.
Now I found out why the RMPs were able to appear so much smarter than other soldiers. A tailor came to measure us for uniforms that fitted and looked very smart indeed, when we received them we found that they were made of a high quality material that had come from Canada. We were issued with army boots that were already mirror bright, gone was the need to burn and bone rough chrome leather that began life like the warty skin of a toads back. We received a whole heap of additional equipment one set in khaki the other in white. Being smart was the name of the game; if we were to judge the appearance of others then naturally we had to be that bit better ourselves. Now I could see how it was done, we were given an unfair advantage which other military personnel never knew about.
For the last couple of weeks we drilled all day, and nearly every day; I would never have believed that new recruits could learn to move together in such perfect harmony. The way we moved became automatic, we didn’t even have to think about it, that is what intense training does for you. As always I continued to put my best foot forward, but in these last week’s little signs began to indicate that all was not well with me. Of course, at the time I did not see these signs, it was only later that I realised they had been present. I can recall that one day the drill sergeant shouted at me to put more energy into swinging my arms, which made me wonder why he had picked on me? I knew how to march; I was a regular soldier who was there because I wanted to be.
In the last few days everything came to a final build up with every moment committed to the end result. Our evenings were spent in the billet doing that little bit more to prepare ourselves, though we were perfection already. We did what we could to relax, though it was not easy. I continued to play my accordion which was appreciated more than ever in the circumstances. I also remember that another chap entertained us one night in way that we never expected. I don’t know what he did for a living in civilian life, but we now discovered that amongst other things he was a hypnotist. Explaining to us how it worked, he went on to say that not everyone made good subjects, but having studied us all he knew those who would be.
Selecting his subject he proceeded to put him into a hypnotic trance, we all sat around and watched, wondering what he would make him do. For some time he instructed him to do things that would amuse us, including eating a piece of stale bread believing it to be the most delicious food he had ever tasted. It was amazing to see this lad eating unpalatable dry bread with such enthusiasm, he loved it. Inevitably someone asked if he could make him do other more serious things, but the hypnotist explained that it was not possible to make a person do something that his conscience would not accept. This may be the case I thought, but obviously it was possible to persuade a subject that it was acceptable to do something. The chap under the influence had been persuaded to eat the dry bread for instance, so it would be possible to make him do other things, it was all about the power of suggestion. I was not going to say this of course, we did not want a debate we just wanted to be entertained.
Our pass out parade was to take place on a Saturday so that friends and family could attend and admire the standard we had achieved. About two days before the final parade we were informed of our success when a list was posted to show the results. I found my name about two thirds of the way down the list, which for me was a disappointment. It was like the results as school, I always came out near the top, so why not this time? (It never occurred to me at the time, but maybe this was another sign that all was not well with me.) At least I had passed the course, which meant that my plan for the future was still on track. What is more my final goal of becoming a civilian policeman had been given a very positive sign when we received a talk by the Chief Constable of one of the County Constabularies a couple of days before. He was looking for men like us we were ideal recruits he told us, already trained police who would be welcomed with open arms. Some of you may have places already waiting for you with other police forces, he was aware of that he said. But if we were willing to join his force he could guarantee success and fast promotion. His words were music to my ears; I was on the right track I was sure of that, all I had to do was keep my nose clean.
On the evening of the day that the list was posted we were given the evening off so that we could celebrate our success. A short distance from the barracks gate was a pub that was traditionally used for such celebrations. There we gathered to do the usual thing, which was to get blotto, well the others did but I was entertaining as usual. They would not hear of a party without me to play for them, and as usual I did not mind, so I played a lot and drank little. Being the only one sober at the end of the evening, it also fell to me to go back and forth ferrying those who were too drunk to make it back to barracks unaided.
On the day of the parade we would receive a full kit inspection so we lay it all out on our beds and it had to be perfect. No one would be allowed to let the side down, so it was all done on a collective basis, which ensured that everyone had it, right. There was no bed for us that night, what little time we had left after all was ready we spent on the floor, this also was traditional we were told.
The next morning we went on parade maybe eighty or more strong, and for a couple of hours or more we drilled and were inspected, with a crowd of spectators looking on. I remember thinking at the time, of the day I had arrived and seen an identical parade, and how overawed I had been. My thoughts were also somewhat tinted with sadness when I looked at the crowd of friends and spectators, realising that I had no one there cheering me on. Never mind I thought, this is the way it is in my family, we paddle our own canoe. Another memory that remains with me from that time is what could have been another sign that I had problems. During the inspection the officer inspecting walked along the ranks stopping in front of each man, who was required to shout out his name, rank, and army number, finishing with a resounding ‘Sir’ at the end. When it was my turn I complied with the instructions with the officer standing in front of me, his face only a few inches from mine. When I had finished he continued to stand and look me in the eyes, then he said in a very low voice: “Are you alright boy?” I replied: “Yes Sir” I would have died rather than say any other. He moved on and nothing more came of it, but now I wonder what caused him to ask me that question.
When this momentous day was over we gathered in the barrack room feeling very pleased with ourselves, and awaited the orders we knew would be coming. Sure enough in came the sergeant with a list of orders from which he read out our postings. We were to be sent to every corner of the army, but a few of us were to go where the trouble was, and that was Egypt. There was a virtual rebellion going on out there, which was getting worse as each day passed. Shootings, bombings, even outright warfare in some places, which meant that the Military Police were increasing their numbers as fast as they could. This was to be my posting and like the others so ordered I was handed a pass for two weeks leave over Christmas, and orders to report back to Inkerman barracks in the New Year.