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What Happened To:
Alan Ventress
Ian Ambrose joined the AAJLR in September 1965 with myself and Martyn Fletcher who is also on the database, we were all born in February 1950 Martyn on the 10th, me on the 13th and Ian on the 24th.
On returning to Tonfanau early in 1966 many of us found we had been posted from the All Arms Junior Leaders Regiment to the Junior Tradesmens Regiment Rhyl, Most of us didn't want to go and we were quite proud of the diamond flash on our battledress sleeves indicating our origins as AAJLR boy soldiers. We were loaded onto Bedford 3 tonners and shipped off to Rhyl. My first impressions of Kinmel Park Camp were good, the barracks we not as forlorn or as windswept as Tonfanau. Many of us hung onto our diamond flashes for about three weeks until we were threatened with severe punishment if we persisted in wearing them, naturally at this point we all gave in and it was no longer possible to identify AAJLR lads at a glance and we were quickly absorbed into the hurly burly of JTR Rhyl where the focus was on learning a trade and education rather than on infantry tactics and weapons training. I was in Arnhem Platoon, 'C' Company (Green Flash if I remember rightly) from 1966 to the end of 1967 when I went to Rousillon Barracks in Chichester to their Depot and Training Establishment. Sgt. Beamson, Royal Corps of Transport was our Platoon Sergeant, seemed friendly enough and reasonably harmless. The Lieutenant in charge was Lt. Ensor, South Wales Borderers.
First Aid Junior Sergeant Alan Ventress administering first aid on exercise circa 1967.
On one famous occasion we were on exercise in Snowdonia at Swallow Falls where a flying fox had been set up, unfortunately for me I slipped off it and fell knees first into the fast flowing river below. I dragged myself out like a drowned rat and was immediately kicked up the arse by Lt. Ensor who said 'Ventress you are full of bull**** and no coordination!' I then had to go to hospital for a week or so to recover.
I still have the injury today which gives me curry in the colder weather, (lucky I live in Australia) also my left knee is a completely different shape to my right. A happy memory of North Wales.
Friends I made and am still in contact with are Ian Ambrose and Martyn Fletcher, both now retired. I enjoyed my time in the army, it certainly taught me a lot - 'how to touch type and how to kill people' to name two useful skills! However, I am glad I decided to leave and take a chance in civvy street.
By the way, Ian went on to have an illustrious career in the Army, ending up as a Major, he served in the RMP/SIB and ended up with an MBE. Finally retiring in February 2010, surely the last man standing from the 1966 intake at JTR Rhyl?
I too have ended up with hearing problems from all the live firing we did on Sealand Ranges! I started realising about 5 years ago I could no longer hear very well, especially when I attended after work functions such as exhibition openings, book launches etc...
I ended up getting some very up market hearing aids after I had been diagnosed with industrial deafness! The audiologist thought I must have worked in an iron ore mine very close to explosions in Australia, I said that I had worked in an iron ore loading facility in the Pilbara in Western Australia, but not at Paraburdoo where the ore is mined. She said my symptoms were consistent with industrial deafness caused by explosions.
BTW the hearing aids cost around 4000 quid! I tried to claim it back from the British Army, but they politely told me to get lost.
I can't really remember that much about weapons training, only that I really enjoyed it and ended up being a marksman on most weapons. My favourite was the Bren gun; I loved the balance of the weapon. Filling SLR magazines and being timed while we did it springs to mind, also the cuts on your thumbs from forcing the 7.62 ammo in there in double quick time. Stripping and assembling weapons also comes to mind sometimes blindfolded if I remember rightly.
One of my most abiding memories of drill was an early morning practice for the passing out parade with Sgt. Smith, Northumberland Fusiliers. He was quite pleased with our efforts and marched us back from the parade ground to an area between the spiders, where the echo of our multitude of hob nailed boots rang out and seemed to mesmerise him, because we kept marching up and down interminably. We all thought he had gone bonkers, he kept on roaring out, ABOUT TURN, ABOUT TURN like a maniac. Not because we were doing anything wrong, but because we were doing everything right. It was a picture and sound of perfection (in purely military drill terms), I think he may have become orgasmic and ejaculated in his pants because of this! Anyway it seemed to go on for at least 10 or 15 minutes with all of us whispering to each other, what the f*** is going on! Finally it came to an end and we were all dismissed.
Sgt. Smith seemed a decent sort of old soldier, but he smoked heavily and I think he drank even more heavily; he appeared to be preserved by the alcohol. Swarthy dark features, mindful of an old turtle. Mind you he never did me any harm.
Another lunatic - once again I can't remember the name was an RSM who was followed very closely by a Sergeant Ferbrack or Verrbrach??? He used to put the fear of God into all of us when we were inspected on parade. Any infringement, such as Brasso stains on a blanco belt were dealt with in the following way ---- “Sergeant Verbrach take that man's name!!” Without a nano second pause the response bellowed out in a stentorian voice was always “SAH !!”.
It was only when I travelling to South America and learned Spanish that I realised that blanco meant white in Spanish! Bizarrely often in the army blanco was green.
Another ‘fond’ memory was being picked out by a physical training instructor – didn’t those immaculate sewn in-crease trousers put the fear of God in you, that with the quivering anticipation of physical exercise they all seemed to display, like a coiled spring, always ready to leap out of the blocks – the guy was teaching us unarmed combat and immediately twisted my arm behind my back and drove me into the nearest wall, happy days!
Another couple of memories of JTR Rhyl. As a Clerk/Radio Operator we had to learn how to touch type on a old Remington Typewriter the classes consisted of about 30 blokes all sitting at their own desk with the large and clunky machine in front of them. The Warrant Office teaching us was WO1 Budge a tall gangly, ungainly man but very friendly and a really decent human being. We gradually became accustomed to the QWERTY keyboard and the monotonous beat of a metronome which constantly pushed up the speed of our typing, starting with ‘ASDF JKL’ etc. etc. and reaching the dizzy heights of ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ to use all the alphabetical keys on the key board.
One day we were merrily typing away under the avuncular gaze of WO1 Budge who was on a sort of stage at the front of the classroom, leaning back on his chair when suddenly he fell over backwards with a great clatter, much to the hilarity of all present. He dragged himself off the floor and his face appeared above the desk looking decidedly sheepish.
There was another young civilian instructor there too, whose name I can’t recall he was an absolute whiz at touch typing getting supernatural speeds of up to 120 characters per minute and above. We held him in very high regards as we rarely cracked 30 words a minute.
Rock climbing and abseiling in Snowdonia also spring to mind. Abseiling wasn’t too bad once you overcame the fear of leaning out over some never ending precipice, at least you could slip on the Sh** on the way down and after a while it became quite exhilarating with burn marks from the rope across your back and warm gloved hands from the friction of your descent. If I remember rightly we were also taught to go down frontwards but that wasn’t compulsory. The boots we wore were really impressive very large with huge metal cleats, I think this type of mountaineering gear was abandoned many years ago! On one misty, drizzly day I was climbing on a rock face, I am pretty sure we were roped together and I was traversing a ledge from right to left when suddenly the ledge ran out, I could see that it started again around the corner of the rock face, so I attempted to stretch myself around and managed to get a foothold with my left foot, whereupon I stupidly looked down at the valley which seemed a long way below even through the North Wales weather. At that point I froze and couldn’t move either forwards or back. I must have been stuck like a limpet clinging to the rock face with jelly legs for quite a while before the instructor managed to talk me back to relative safety. At that point I realised mountaineering wasn’t really for me. The big phrase we learned was “Climb when you are ready” and “Climbing Now”. We also wore helmets to ward off possible rock falls on our heads and were constantly told to ensure when climbing that we had three points of contact. On returning to camp we often had the chance to slide and bounce down scree slopes which was always good fun. The trip back was invariably in an old Bedford 3 Ton truck which smelled of fuel and made us all travel sick from the winding Welsh roads.
Talking about driving, I can’t remember why but I was quite late taking my driving test at Rhyl in a short wheel base crash gear box Land Rover which required considerable skill at double de-clutching. (A very useful skill that has stayed with me all these years – I drive a 1975 clapped out VW Kombi Van with a dodgy gear box and changing down from 3rd to 2nd with a burst of the accelerator in neutral always does the trick). The instructor who was testing me was quite friendly and told me to drive into Rhyl. Anyway we had hardly gone a couple of miles, I think we got as far as a round about near Rhuddlan Castle and he told me I had passed my test and said to drive back to camp. Perhaps he had a more pressing appointment! Anyway I was quite pleased with myself with this result.
Denbigh Moors spring to mind. We once had to do a map reading exercise in truly appalling weather. Walking on compass bearings to find tins with further instructions in them to finish the course. We trekked over quite a few miles in squads of 6 or so, the weather quickly deteriorated and snow was coming in almost horizontally caking our right sides and faces with an icy layer. The effects of compo rations usually clogged you up for days and ensured that the bowels remained inoperative apart from the occasional disgusting fart – to which the usual response was “I think a rat has crawled up there and died”. Inevitably I needed to do a crap but none of us had toilet paper so I ended up using some grass and dried leaves. Big mistake, a few miles further on I developed a very sore arse and could only walk if I pulled both my buttock apart! Not a comfortable experience to say the least.
In relation to compo rations I still have a comp ration tin opener on my key ring to this very day marked with the government arrow and 1966, comes in very useful especially for opening paint tins.
When I first arrived at Rhyl we were allocated our billet in ‘C’ Company, Arnhem Platoon which was just about as far away from anything you could get. The end of our hut faced onto Engine Hill if I remember rightly and it was just over the road from the girls school that occupied Bodelwyddan Castle at this period. As we wandering into the room, there was a young corporal at the end of the billet standing next to a record player, and the dulcet tones of the Beatles were filling the room, it was the album Rubber Soul and I think the song was ‘Michelle My Belle’. I will forever associate this song with JTR Rhyl – a bizarre relationship but very real for me. The corporal wasn’t your average bastard, was very welcoming and made us all feel at home as much as he could in the rather Spartan surrounds of the room lined with austere grey lockers, utilitarian beds and expanses of orangey brown lino. Polishing this lino soon became part and parcel of our lives and we were introduced to large drums of glutinous polish which smelled distinctly toxic. We were also introduced to a peculiarly military polishing instrument called a bumper. This device had a long handle attached to a heavy polishing head around which yellow duster were wrapped. The idea was to walk up and down the isle that ran down the centre of the room and to flick small amounts of the viscous orange polish onto the lino with a spoon. The bumper man came up behind and swang the bumper from left to right or vice versa and in the process polishing the floor to the required sheen demanded by the polish Nazis who seemed to have a fetish for shiny things and polish in general whether it be for lino, brass buckles or black hob nailed boots. The down side of liberally spreading all this polish was that over time an excess of the stuff built up and formed ugly black patches which had to be scraped away and re-polished. Bumpering was quite a physical activity and I think this job and many others were rostered so that everyone got the opportunity to extend their domestic skills in all areas.
Terry McLaughlin may be able to elaborate on this story, but Terry was in the Light Infantry and a very smart young lad who left all of us early for the regular army as he was a little older than most of us.
By this time I had made Junior Sergeant – I am not quite sure how, but think it was because as Lt. Ensor said I was full of bullshit and quite good at polishing and shining anything that stood still. Anyway Terry was a good friend and he came back to Arnhem Platoon in his rather fancy Light Infantry uniform which had lots of black and green on it. I was particularly impressed by his black lanyard! I had a room of my own which was quite private and Terry and I hatched a plot to ‘inspect’ the platoon. So I took the brasses of my web belt and threaded them on to his epaulettes to make him look as if he had officer’s pips. The light infantry uniform was quite distinctive and very different so it was unlikely that he would be challenged by any of the younger lads. I called the platoon to order and told them that a visiting Lieutenant from the Light Infantry would be inspecting them shortly and called everyone to attention while I took Lt. Terry McLaughlin (really Pte. McLaughlin) on a tour of inspection. It was hard keeping a straight face especially when Terry was critical of some kit layouts, but we certainly had a good laugh afterwards when we got back to my room!
Another of my friends Ian Ambrose inexplicably went AWOL with one of his mates and ended up in Scotland. Cheekily they went to the local police station and strung them a line about being on leave and running out of money with no where to stay and asked if they could sleep in the police station for the night! They thought they had got away with it until the next morning when the police wouldn’t let them out. During the night they had done some checking up and found out they were both AWOL from JTR Rhyl. Having been charged with being AWOL they were marched into the CO’s office with a Warrant Office spitting out left, right, left, right, left, right . Right wheel, mark time, halt, all done at the top of his voice and so the words were hardly intelligible. Not long after two rather forlorn looking characters could be seen every day doubling up to the cook house to do dirty pan washing. They were always escorted by a corporal or sergeant with a pace stick who yelled out at regular intervals ‘MARK TIME’ and then ‘FORWARD’, the hapless convicts would then be set to washing pots and pans. One of my duties as a Junior Corporal at the time was to supervise Ian washing a mountain of dirty aluminium pots and pans at the cook house. The lingering all encompassing greasy smell has stayed with me to this day and I rarely eat greasy food like sausages, bacon and eggs because of those happy memories. Another punishment seems to have been white washing or painting white the rocks situated around the parade ground.
Walking from Arnhem Platoon to the cook house was always a bit of a chore as it was so far to go. Each of us had to carry our own KFS (knife, fork and spoon) and mug and we were instructed that there was a special way of marching to the cookhouse holding your KFS and plastic mug in your left hand behind your back and swinging your right arm. It was not long after I arrived at JTR Rhyl that I was able to afford to buy my first wrist watch, this was quite a moment in my life as it gave me more freedom to work out when the cookhouse would be opened especially early in the morning. I cannot remember how I managed before I got the watch.
Returning to the topic of my private room. Another friend Martyn Fletcher, who had been brought up a Catholic could not stand going to church on Sundays. I am not sure why but he preferred to hide in a locker in my room rather than go to church! So every Sunday I made my room available to him and he hid there for the duration of the church parade. How he managed to get away with this, I am not sure as I seem to recall some sort of roll being called.
Practicing for the passing out parade on a Saturday morning was always ‘good fun’, I generally enjoyed the marching and the band we had to accompany us. I was always in awe of some of the Junior Sergeant Majors whose voices had broken and were able to bark out commands in a very convincing fashion, totally in contrast to my falsetto voice which could hardly be heard above the band “EYYYEEESSS RIGHT” I would scream at the top of my voice but rarely made a impression – the squad did it on sight rather than on sound!
I can’t remember the name of the competition but Platoons competed against each other in fitness, weapons skills, shooting, map reading, first aid and problem solving. For example using two short planks and a tin drum to get over a trench 15 feet wide, basically to test leadership, intelligence, ingenuity and creativity under difficult circumstances especially as it was all timed. I think the competition started with a run in full kit with packs and rifles with a variety of problem solving exercises interpolated along the way. Also there was a lot of practicing for this event which was very hotly contested. Each squad consisted of about 8 blokes with a squad leader. One day we were running up Engine Hill and one squad member wasn’t keeping up very well and causing everyone to slow down. This must have happened a few times in practice runs previously because without warning two blokes really got stuck into the lad they thought wasn’t pulling his weight. I managed to intervene and stop this but it was an ugly ‘Lord of the Flies’ type incident. I don’t think the bloke was badly injured but he certainly wasn’t in the competition squad for the final race. The only photo I have of myself from this period of my life was taken at this time and shows me tending to a mock wound. Often situations would be established whereby someone’s femur would be protruding but they had a bullet hole in the back of their heads. Naturally the tendency was to rush towards the leg injury and tend to it because of its spectacular nature. Obviously treating a dead person lost you points! The final stage of the competition was about an 800 yard run and then straight down onto a firing parapet having been issued with a magazine of 20 rounds of 7.62 ammunition. The secret here was to wrap the rifle sling around your left arm to give maximum stability before starting to fire. Each hit was counted towards the final points in the competition so breathing had to be controlled. Despite our best efforts I don’t think Arnhem Platoon did any good the two years I was at JTR Rhyl.
Education was important for Junior soldiers and sexual education was on top of the list for the Royal Army Medical Corps. Not long into my time at Rhyl we were shown a number of films about the evils of tobacco with the effects of emphysema, men being unable to walk up three steps and others with holes in their throats so they could smoke. However, the sex education films were particularly graphic with lots of images of 3rd degree untreated syphilis and other forms of venereal disease. The WO from the RAMC was quite proud of his films and gave us dire warnings of what happens “if you dip your wick” in the wrong place! This was the first time I had ever heard of such an expression and he must have said it about 20 times during the course of his lecture.
Pass Out
Passing out parade at the Junior Tradesmen’s Regiment, Rhyl in 1966.
Rear back row Pete Philpott and Junior Lance Corporal, Alan Ventress.
Life as a boy soldier came to an end for me at the end of 1967 when I was posted to the Depot and Training Establishment Royal Military Police at Chichester in Sussex. After a few weeks leave I made my way down to the south of England and visited London for the first time, albeit just to change trains. My first impression of this part of Britain was how gentle and civilised it looked after the raw, wild harshness of Yorkshire and North Wales which I was more accustomed to. In January 1968 training commenced at Chichester into the intricacies of becoming a Military Policeman in the British Army. Fifteen of us joined 110 Squad which consisted of entirely of men, there were no females in our squad and in fact I don’t think I ever encountered a female military policewoman during my entire service, though I know there were a number of them in 106 Squad.
Most of us had been boy soldiers at the All Arms Junior Leader’s Regiment or at the Junior Tradesmen’s Regiment at Rhyl, so militarily we were all well versed in drill and in keeping our uniforms and kit spic and span. We were had been inculcated with military culture to an extreme degree having already spent 1965, 1966 and 1967 training in the back blocks of the Welsh countryside and were fully conversant with weapons including the Belgian 7.62 FN Self Loading Rifle, Inerga anti-tank grenade, Bren Gun, General Purpose Machine Gun, Browning 9 mm sub machine gun and Browning 9mm pistol. We were also skilled in infantry tactics, the operation of radios, touch typing and all had the ability to drive Land Rovers. However, being a military policeman involved study in a range of new topics such as military law, medical jurisprudence and toxicology as well as honing our skills with the 9mm Browning pistol and learning how to ride a motor bike. Generally learning how to ride any vehicle in the army is allocated a period of around three weeks, unlike civilian life it is not done for an hour a day. The whole day is given over to one task and so it was with learning to ride a motorbike. The training bikes we had were single seater 500cc Triumphs and we were kitted out in a bizarre protective suit which was more like wearing rubber carpet underlay than protective clothing. The clothing we had to wear was literally out of this world. Talk about protective. It was made of rubber and was about three quarters of an inch thick in case we fell, it was terribly ungainly and hot and it you did fall off your motorbike you wouldn’t be able to get up and would have been run over anyway. We all wore pudding style helmets and goggles, so looked quite a sight. he emphasis was obviously on saving us from ourselves and not on mobility because it was exceptionally difficult to move once the suit was on. It was a rather bizarre sight, seeing about 15 blokes waddling around in these outfits prior to saddling up so to speak.
The first forays on our motorbikes involved riding around in circles, unfortunately for me I was slow on the uptake in coordinating the use of the gears, throttle and brakes and almost immediately hurtled off through a hedge, ending up on the ground next to my motorbike. Apart from being embarrassed, the bike proved lift up and even more difficult to start as I had flooded the carburettor. Once we got onto the open road we had to learn ‘roundabout drill’. About 15 of us set off with the instructor to the nearest roundabout, on the outskirts of Chichester. The instructor who was a civilian, but ex-army, was totally obsessed with roundabout drill and must have spun around and around the round-about about thirty or so times, like Sgt. Smith before him he seemed to go into a trance and kept going round and round. Talk about whirling dervishes! We all thought he had gone totally mad but looking back it was just one of those many surreal moments we all experienced on a regular basis where dealing with madness became the norm. I cannot recall doing a motor bike test but after about three weeks we went of a group ride from Chichester to Yeovil in Somerset and back. We all got back in one piece and so I assume this was sufficient for us to have passed our motorbike tests. Cross country riding was another skill we had to learn. Unusually the 500cc army version of the Triumph had a valve lifter which allowed the rider to traverse steep inclines without going too fast, essentially the valve lifter prevented power being transferred from the engine to the drive chain. It was quite a knack to go down a very steep slope on a heavy motorbike without going end over end but somehow most of us managed to stay on.
As always in the army drill played an important part in our training and at least one or two hours were spent on this each day. I can’t say I particularly minded this and enjoyed the noise of studded ammunition boots on tarmac. Unlike at the AAJLR and at JTR Rhyl we were taught synchronised drill at Chichester by the RMP Sergeant i/c 110 Squad, Sergeant Hodsman. However, unlike Rhyl we were not accompanied by a Corps of Drums.
Hodsman was fairly decent as our squad sergeant though we didn’t get to know him as an individual that well. Many years later I heard he had been dishonourably discharged from the Army for refusing to be posted to Northern Ireland, a rather extreme stance for a professional soldier! Synchronised drill involved a lot of counting to work out when certain movements had to take place. One day we were waiting for Sgt Hodsman to turn up to our drill session and someone suggested that I take over the squad and start the session without him which I decided to do. I think this event made Sgt Hodsman look at me in a different light in terms of leadership of the squad and I was promoted to squad leader. Throughout this period we had a number of written examination based around the Provost Manual which was a loose leaf handbook for military policemen consisting of a variety of topics from how to do traffic duty to how to administer the coup de grace after a military execution.
Graduation
Graduation photo. 110 Squad Royal Military Police.
Rousillon Barracks, Chichester, Sussex, April 1968.
Rear row left to right - Tony Scriven, John Alden, Paul Jeffrey, Peter Philpott, Alan Ventress, unknown, Mick Meaden
Front row - Ian Ambrose, Dick Kutyma, Martyn Fletcher, Sgt Hodsman, WO2 Granchlison, not known, Clive Evans, not known, Ewen ‘Jock’ Rennie
I must have done reasonably well in most of these examinations in drill, weapons training , driving, motor bike riding, traffic duty and in general turn out as one day, not long before we were due to graduate Sergeant Hodsman took me aside and intimated he was considering who in the squad would receive the Certificate of Merit for the best all round member of the squad. He divulged that he was unsure about me and thought that although on paper I was the best all round member of the squad he sensed that I wasn’t entirely taking the training and the army entirely seriously and was not fully committed to the military ethos. At the time I pretended not to know what he was talking about, but clearly Sgt Hodsman had latched onto an aspect of my character which I thought was reasonably concealed, a healthy disregard for military protocol which I often found nonsensical and obtuse. Sgt Hodsman must have forgotten about his reservations as in due course I was awarded the certificate. A number of years later when I decided to purchase my discharge from the Army, the fact that I had received this merit certificate was raised by the Provost Marshall when I went for my final exit interview prior to discharge. I recall he was most disappointed that someone with such apparent promise had decided to leave the Corps.
At the time the most remarkable thing about this interview was that the Provost Marshall genuinely could not imagine what I would do outside of the British Army and the Royal Military Police! I suppose that was the fundamental difference between their collective mindset and mine.
Certificate
Certificate of Merit for being the best all round member of 110 Squad RMP, 26 April 1968.
Fellow trainees in the Military Police whom I have knowledge of in later life are Ian Ambrose, Martyn Fletcher, Mick Meaden, Ewen Rennie and Pete Philpott. Ian was ‘the last man standing’ and became a Major in the RMP/SIB with an MBE, finally retiring from the British Army in 2010 having joined in 1965. Martyn did a degree through the Open University and transferred to the Royal Army Educational Corps but was made redundant in the 1990s. He went on to found his own management consultancy / placement business for others who were made redundant. Mick Meaden ended up in Dunedin in New Zealand working as a fireman, Ewen Rennie worked for the Northamptonshire Police in the Child Protection area and Pete Philpott transferred from the RMP to the RAOC and ended up a Major in bomb disposal prior to retiring to the North of Scotland.
After leaving the Depot in Chichester we all went our separate ways and some Military Police colleagues from this period were never seen or heard of by me ever again.
My first posting in the regular army was to 1 (BR) Corps Royal Military Police in Bielefeld in what was then, West Germany. The flight was from Stanstead Airport near London to Gutersloh which wasn’t too far from Bielefeld. This was the first flight I had ever been on.
Before coming to Germany we had been given the opportunity to learn German and I took this opportunity though I must admit my understanding of German never progressed very far in the three years I spent in Germany being confined to situational words and phrases rather than to having a conversation. Phrases that spring to mind are ‘Ist er verletzt’ – is he injured? Haben Sie Versicherung? - do you have insurance? And ‘Wo ist der Verkehrsunfall’ ? where is the traffic accident? All phrases with military police overtones. I haven’t had much of a reason to use any of these sentences since, though bizarrely once when I was in Hokkaido in the north of Japan I was able to speak German to a Japanese who had no English to find a hotel. My first impressions of Germany were very favourable everything seemed clean and orderly and the wide cobbled streets in Bielefeld looked particularly attractive, especially after a shower of rain, thought they were always very dangerous to drive on. I quickly adapted to driving on the right hand side of the road and found it more difficult to go back to the left when I returned to the UK on leave. Work in Bielefeld seemed to revolve around desk duty and the odd exercise when we went out to the military training grounds around Paderborn and Sennelager. If lucky I got to ride a motor bike now and again. At this time Germany seemed a far more dynamic and go ahead nation than did Britain which seemed to have lost its way in the world having won the war and lost an empire. The whole country appeared aimless and dispirited. This was in sharp contrast to Germany which was in the middle of its ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ or industrial miracle and seemed a hive of activity and optimism. My posting to Bielefeld was only for a few months and in November 1968 I was posted to Hameln Detachment Royal Military Police. The atmosphere and nature of the posting to Hameln was much more to my liking. Bielefeld and HQ 1 (BR) Corps had been a large and anonymous bureaucracy whereas Hameln was smaller and more intimate. It was easier to get to know colleagues and there was more reliance on multiskilling, getting on with the job and mucking in. Essentially in Hameln we were attached to a Royal Engineers Bridging Unit, 26 Amphibious Engineers and were responsible for escorting them when they needed to move from Gordon Barracks to the River Weser to practice their river crossings.
M2B Bridging Vehicle
Geoff 'Corky' Corkish, posing with M2B Bridging Vehicle, Gordon Bks, Hameln, 1970-ish
The bridging vehicles, M2Bs were very large and caused considerable disruption to the civilian traffic when they were on the road as did the Antar tank transporters which at this time had to be off loaded of their tanks when crossing bridges on the River Weser much to the annoyance of the German population who occasionally tried to ignore our traffic signals. In these cases a 9mm Browning sub machine gun slung over the chest had a sobering effect, though little did they know that they were always without ammunition when we were on exercise. Exercises around Hameln and further afield, on the Luneberger Heath we regular features of my time at RMP Detachment Hameln. Our job a military policemen was to ensure transport convoys went the right way and that there were no avoidable delays in getting men and material to the right place at the right time. To this end we were often employed on traffic duty or nailing signs to telegraph poles around the district. Because most of our tasks involved constant movement there was little time for rest or relaxation on exercise and getting a few hours sleep here and there was always a top priority. It was during this time I learned to sleep at will, almost anywhere and at anytime. To this day I can lie down and be asleep in seconds rather than minutes!
Alan Ventress and Ian Ambrose on exercise in Germany 1968 Ventress and Ambrose
On one occasion we were moving rapidly over the North German plain and grabbing sleep whenever possible, Ian Ambrose woke me up for yet another mover after a very short bout of ‘shut eye’ and I was singularly unimpressed having just fallen into a deep sleep. This sort of sleep deprivation tried to simulate what it would be really like in a war situation, something I am thankful I never experienced. Though in August 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to bring the ‘Prague Spring’ to an abrupt end we thought that war in Europe was a distinct possibility. We were placed on alert and told that our job was to hold back the Soviet tank armies which would strike across the North German plain towards Antwerp and the Channel Ports. We were told to hold them up for three days to allow our superiors in Whitehall to decide whether or not to use nuclear weapons. Effectively for the British Army of the Rhine this would have been a death sentence no matter what decision was taken. Thankfully war did not eventuate and an uneasy peace descended on Europe.
In between exercises we carried out regular police duties in Hameln and the surrounding area. Hameln Detachment was responsible for a fairly large chunk of West Germany stretching from Hameln to Hildesheim in the East and to Holzminden in the South and Rinteln in the West. Occasionally when traffic accidents occurred in widely dispersed areas it was very difficult for us to attend. In the winter of 1970/71 there were a number of accidents reported during a very cold night with freezing fog. The Land Rovers we had we old and poorly maintained and many did not have heating so driving through these conditions was very treacherous, we always tried to go out in pairs and on this evening I was a passenger rather than the driver. The roads were slippery and dangerous and we had to cut our speed to almost a crawl. The accident we were supposed to attend was at the border of our area of responsibility near Hildesheim, though we never got there and decided to turn back before we too were involved in an accident. It was at this particular point in my army career that I decided I had reached the limit of my endurance. The seeping cold, lack of heating, poor equipment and inadequate winter clothing, as well as the prospect of no improvement in the foreseeable future tipped the balance for me and I started to save in earnest to purchase my discharge from the army. This was a rather difficult prospect as it cost 300 pounds to get out of the army at that time and I was earning about 25 pounds a week.
In sharp contrast to the winters, summers in Hameln were delightful and provided the opportunity to ride around on a 350 cc BSA motorbike around the German countryside in the hinterland of Hameln, favourite jaunts were to Hastenbeck, Coppenbrugge, Rinteln and Bad Pyrmont. We couldn’t go too far as ostensibly we were on duty but trips to German cafes selling Erdbeer torte and coffee we a great treat after the harshness of the German winters. Patrolling around Hameln allowed us to get to know the area very well and on occasion to assist the German police and population. Returning to Gordon Barracks one day Ian and I saw a German civilian who had been knocked off his mo-ped onto the road and was bleeding profusely from his head. Unfortunately for him none of his country man deigned to stop and the traffic was just driving around him. Ian and I sprang into action, administered basic first aid and called an ambulance, at the same time ensuring the traffic didn’t get too close. Our officer i/c Hameln, S/Sgt Vic Nicholls commended us on our initiative but couldn’t work out why we had been in the area at the time. We had been ‘swanning’ around but he chose to ignore that minor point. Our relations with the German police were very cordial and we worked well with them. At this time not many of them spoke English and as I have explained most of our German was very situational. Many of the senior officers in the Polizei had been in the army during the war and some of them in the SS, which they were quite proud of. One rather unusual custom the German Police always stuck to was introducing themselves and shaking hands at traffic accidents, regardless of the carnage and mayhem surrounding us! This was an aspect of their ‘modus operandi’ I never quite got used to. The German Police were also never backward in taking blood samples especially if they thought alcohol was involved, even if someone was ‘in extermis’ nothing would deter them from collecting the evidence. On the other hand we in the Royal Military Police were more constrained and limited in what we could and could not do in these situations. The German Police were also particularly keen to come to our Mess in Gordon Barracks especially for the cheap beer, alcohol and cigarettes. They also liked to get their hands on British Army petrol coupons which allowed the purchase of petrol for much cheaper prices than the general German population. Part of our responsibility at Hameln in the Military Police was to be rostered onto Mess duty for a month in rotation which involved ensuring the stock in the mess was replaced, that the mess was clean and tidy and that a selection of bread rolls were provided for ‘morning tea’ every morning. This involved purchasing bread from a local bakery and selling them to colleagues, the small profit from this enterprise was for the barman to keep. Other money making ‘operations’ involved the sale of alcohol and at this time Bacardi Rum was very popular with German nightclubs. This could be sold at a considerable profit and most rostered barmen engaged in this illegal activity. Many years later a friend Mike Llewellyn Jones commented to me that from Bielefeld and 1 (BR) Corps RMP HQ, Hameln was always regarded as ‘out of control and a law unto itself’. In retrospect his observation is very true. As mentioned some of the German Police we ex SS and at heart still staunch Nazis, who waxed lyrical about what Hitler had done for Germany in the 1930s, conveniently forgetting what he did for the country in the 1940s! Every now and again they would sing old Army marching songs like Erika, but on a more sinister note also the Horst Wessel Lied which was the Nazi anthem. The music is derived from a 19th century hymn and is very melodious, but the words are pure Nazi propaganda.
Alan Ventress Alan Ventress, RMP working as barman at Hameln 1969
In 1969 after a stint working on the bar Ian Ambrose, Mick Meaden (who I think was stationed at Herford at the time) and I decided to travel on the train to Istanbul in Turkey.
The major difficulty with this plan was that at the time, serving British soldiers were forbidden to travel through communist countries and Yugoslavia and Bulgaria stood between us and our destination on the Orient Express. This didn’t deter me and I sent my passport away to the Passport Office in Liverpool to have the occupation ‘Government Service’ amended to Student. When my passport returned we set off one summer’s day in 1969 heading for Istanbul. The journey there was relatively uneventful, even through the Communist countries and took about 3 days from Munich to Istanbul. Our fellow passengers on the train were mainly Turkish ‘gastarbeiter’ or guest workers going back to Turkey for a holiday after working in German factories, they were very friendly and forgiving of our appalling German, even though they were not very tactful saying on one occasion ‘Ich spreche besser Deutsch als Sie’ - I speak better German than you. This wasn’t a surprise to us as we spent most of our lives interacting with English speaking British troops rather than German civilians. On arrival in Istanbul, we were dismayed to find our hotel had no water because of severe water rationing. However it was suggested we go to the local Turkish baths who somehow were exempt from the water restrictions. Having arrived at the baths I quickly stripped off and set about washing the accumulated three days of sweat and grime from my body. This was culturally not the right thing to do and I was quickly surrounded by a bevy of Turkish men trying to cover me with some rather grey and grimy tea towels. Having survived this cultural faux pas we managed to have a good wash and wandered back to our hotel marvelling at the sights and sounds of Istanbul. I was only 19 at the time and the exotic nature of the city was intoxicating. Turkish food and hospitality were magnificent though this went a little too far when a Turkish man pinched my bottom!! We spent about 10 days in Istanbul and on the Black Sea coast of Turkey where I got horribly sunburnt on my legs exploring the city and visiting some of the cultural sights. The fleshpots of Istanbul were an instant turn off when we saw a queue of about 30 men outside a brothel. The three day return journey back to Germany was far more eventful. Stupidly Mick and I decided to try and find a carriage to lie down in which we did quite quickly and went to sleep immediately, not realising that no one was in the carriages because they were going to be left in a siding. We woke up the following morning to an eerie stillness with no train sounds whatsoever. We both pulled down the window and stared out into the wide nothingness of the Yugoslav countryside miles from any where, we didn’t even know which way it was to Belgrade. Ian had stayed in his carriage with all the back packs, but we had all the money and Ian had none. Initially we thought he would wait for us at Belgrade, but when we got there he was nowhere to be seen, we then thought perhaps we might see him in Munich, but no, he wasn’t there either. We didn’t see him again until we got back to Hameln. He had survived off the charity of Turkish gastarbeiter who had fed him on nuts and berries! Ian wasn’t very impressed by our efforts to find a comfortable place to sleep and the considerable discomfort he had to endure for the rest of his journey with three back packs and no money! The British Army never ever found out about our adventure to Istanbul.
Working in the Military Police in Hameln brought me into contact with a great variety of individuals and some rather unusual characters. One of the most unusual was Chris or ‘Cribby’ Wardle who was an RMP married Corporal. He loved doing his stint in the Corporal’s Mess and spent any profits he might make on ‘black velvet’ a mixture of Watney’s Red Barrel and Guiness. Half and half I think. No long after I had arrived at Hameln we were paraded in the corridor for a shift change, Staff Sergeant Vic Nicholls was in charge and was inspecting about nine of us who were lined up. Suddenly out of the mess came Cribby with a mattress over his shoulder and a young German girl who looked very much worse for wear with mascara and lipstick smeared all over her face. Cribby completely ignored the parade and walked right past us all with his ‘girlfriend’ in tow. Staff Nicholls, much to our surprise, ignored Wardle and allowed him to get on with his business. This was a mistake in terms of discipline at Hameln as it established Nicholls as a weak leader who was fundamentally afraid of confrontation. Wardle had served in the RMP considerably longer than me, he knew every lurk and perk and he pushed the boundaries where ever and whenever he could. A hot spot in terms of trouble for the Military Police in Hameln was on the outskirts at Wehrbergen on Fischbecker Strasse, a strip club called the Café Camino. Soldiers being soldiers had stolen the underwear of some strippers as they had disrobed and had taken in back to Binden Barracks in Hameln. Chris Wardle and I went out there to sort things out. The soldiers were quickly tracked down and found slumped over their beds in the midst of their cache of sweaty bras and knickers. Deciding not to wake them up Chris gathered up the underwear and hot footed it back to the Café Camino we me in tow. On arrival the strippers were predictably grateful and Chris was from then on considered to be part of their ‘family’, assisting at the club and rumour had it, actually appearing in shows dressed in his RMP uniform! On a number of occasions I recall taking Chris to the strip club and dropping him off to do what he had to do and being given instructions to pick him up urgently if we got any call outs. Fortunately nothing untoward happened and Chris got away with his strange and dangerous life as part of the demi monde of Germany.
Other colleagues I remember from this time in the Army are Jock Brodie, Bernie Walsh, John Green, Phil ‘Taff’ Owen, Jeff Corkish, Kenny Bishop, Eddie Sankey, Mick Brice, Pat Dickinson, John Millington, Ian Ambrose, Steve Fuller, Chris Wardle and Paddy Stockman. John Green and his wife Sue were particularly generous to Ian Ambrose and myself, while we were in Hameln and would often invite us to their home for a family dinner, which was most appreciated in an environment of wall to wall army food. Our interpreters were a motley crew and consisted of Jock and Betty Zeddies, Reine Huke and Karl Schrader. Jock and Betty had lived in Germany for many years and were equally at home speaking English or German and much to my amazement would converse with one speaking one language and the other answering in the other. They were a most gracious and cultured couple and it was a great pleasure to work with them. Karl Schrader was a much quieter man, but also very cultured and had an abiding interest in music. He often alerted me to musical performances in Hameln and I saw Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand at this time which deepened my love of classical music. Reine Huke was a completely different style of man and looking back was probably an incipient alcoholic. His most prolific phrase when I worked as barman in the Corporal’s Mess was “Giz me a Beck’s”. Reine also had the rather unfortunate habit of phoning up from bars in Hameln demanding a lift back to Gordon Barracks or Linsinger Kaserne in German. He did this to me one night and I angrily drove him back over cobble stoned streets in a short wheel base Land Rover at break neck speed on arrival back at the barracks he laconically observer how good a driver I was! Many years later I learned that Reine had died in a traffic accident, I am not sure how or where, but it is highly likely that alcohol would have been involved. The words ‘Ich hole ein Dolmetscher’ (I will fetch an interpreter) are forever printed on my mind.
Hameln RMP
Hameln Detachment RMP 1968
left to right Rear: Jock Brodie, John Green
Middle Row: Pat Dickinson, Roy King, Chic Isles, John Millington, Terry Foister
Front: Alan Lowe (Pay Corps) Ian Ambrose, Steve Fuller, Chris Wardle, Paddy Stockman and Reine Huke (interpreter)
In early 1970 when I was 20 years old I was selected for a secondment to the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) at Sennelager near Paderborn. This was a privilege and a great opportunity to learn new skills. The remit of the SIB was and is the investigation of serious crime within the military establishment however, being a 20 year old corporal still wet behind the ears, this would be something to aim for in the future. Initial tasks were clerical and administrative with a weekly job, on Fridays, of taking Captain Roger Theiss’ wife, (the officer in charge at SIB Sennelager) grocery shopping! Theiss was a rather remote character and we hardly exchanged a few words the whole time I was there. Like many I met in the RMP he appeared to have a drinking problem which may account for vagueness and lack of engagement. Other characters at SIB Sennelager when I was there were Jock Marnoch a jovial and rotund Scot, Sgt Roy Carter a whiz kid investigator who was only a few years older than me but had an aura of supreme confidence in his ability to investigate crime and get to the bottom of any case that was thrown at him. Roy also enjoyed his Johnnie Walker whisky and drank vast quantities, in between jobs. Part of my duties as a junior corporal in the SIB was the ‘bratwurst’ run, to collect orders and go down to the nearest bratwurst stall and bring back the sausages to the ravenous wolves at SIB Sennelager. The phrase was ‘bratwurst, mit pommes frites und mayonnaise, bitte’ . This was invariably done in the Morris Minor Traveller station wagon, a rather quaint and rather ‘retro’ vehicle with wooden cross members on the rear of the car. Roy always got around in an officer’s coat especially during winter, a so called British warm. This had many advantages and immediately gave Roy a leg up in the pecking order, as everyone he came into contact with thought he was a commissioned officer, not just a sergeant. This gave him an entre into places which may have been more inaccessible as a non-commissioned officer and caused all of us considerable amusement when sentries sprang to attention and saluted the coat and the sergeant inside. When on duty with Roy he was always on the move and seemed to crave action and excitement, one of his favourite phrases was “I wonder if we will have any stiffs tonight”. Invariably the British Army cooperated and we had many ‘stiffs’ while I was at SIB Sennelager. The investigation of serious crime and fatal traffic accidents was our daily bread and butter at Sennelager and there was no shortage of either. Some of the traffic accidents were rather gruesome and a great deal of effort was made at the scene to get things right and to record every minor detail. The accidents often entailed a follow up post mortem which was in a morgue not that far from Sennelager. My first post mortem caused considerable amusement among the SIB old lags who were present. As the body was in a state of decay it exuded an awful stench, I couldn’t stand it and had to run outside to vomit. Most of those present smoked cigarettes to mask the smell and advised me in future to buy some Vicks Vapour Rub and apply it to my upper lip to block out the vile smell of decaying flesh. In Australia when I drive past a dead kangaroo the smell reminds me of those post mortems at Sennelager. Each post mortem had to be meticulously recorded and it was Sgt Dave Boyd’s job to record the proceedings using, what was then, a state of the art Mamiya Twin Lens Reflex Camera. As the pathologist dissected the body he recorded what he was doing onto a tape recorder and Dave took the necessary photos, all in black and white and all with exceptional clarity and depth of field. Watching corpses being cut up with bolt cutters to remove the rib cage and circular saws to remove the top of the skull inculcates the observer with an element of distance, especially after it has been observed an number of times. One of the saddest cases I was involved in was the death of a very small baby whose parents had gone out to the pub and left it in an unheated room. When they returned, the child had frozen to death. In this case it wasn’t necessary to use the circular saw on the skull, a scalpel did the job and the brain was revealed much in the same way as an orange is peeled in quarters. Occasionally I was allowed to use the camera and this sparked a life-long interest in photography, though fortunately I have moved on from photos of post mortems.
SIB Sennelager 1970
SWB Land Rover, Commer Van and Morris Traveller parked outside our offices.
SIB Sennelager
During the sixties and seventies homosexuality was outlawed in the British Army and even today is frowned upon. Back then it was a serious offence and one day Sgt Boyd and I were detailed to investigate such a case. Remarkably I had no idea what homosexuality was! Even though I had spent two years at boarding school and by 1970 had been in the Army since 1965. It was just something that had never occurred to me and I had never been aware of an instances of homosexuality up to that point. Sgt Boyd was grumbling in the car on the way to interview the suspects that “ two dirty bastards had been found in bed together”. I was rather mystified by this and said to him “ what were they doing?”. He was rather flabbergasted at this naïve question and retorted, “Where on earth have you been living?, under a bloody gooseberry bush!”. He then went into detail on what they were doing. This was my first introduction to homosexuality. I can’t recall where the investigation ended but generally in cases such as this it led to a dishonourable discharge.
Another character at Sennelager was Staff Sergeant Suckling, who had an air of laconic, cynicism and world weariness about him, but also with a twinkle in his eye. Whenever he answered the phone he always said “Suckling (pause) - as in pig”, which always caused amusement no matter how often I heard it.
During my six month secondment to SIB Sennelager I wore civilian clothes as all the Special Investigation Branch does on duty and when investigating crime. The suit I wore saw two rounds of service at Sennelager because Ian Ambrose, my replacement, borrowed it and took it with him for his secondment which came immediately I returned to Hameln. I learned a great deal about police work and criminal investigation when I was in the Special Investigation Branch and I am pleased I experienced it. However, in retrospect I can now see my time in the Branch was a catalyst for thinking about my life and career. The daily horror of dealing with death, destruction and decay and investigating it in forensic detail was not part of my future and though I didn’t know it at the time I had already started to mentally distance myself from my life in the British Army in general and the Royal Military Police in particular.
When my six months at SIB Sennelager were up I returned to general Military Police duties at Hameln, but a feeling of discontentment had fallen over me. Though I continued to do the job effectively and efficiently my heart was no longer in the Army and I longed for adventure and more exotic places than the dull and grey North German plain. I had also come to the conclusion that despite the apparent superficial success of my army career to that date, having been a Junior Sergeant at the Junior Tradesman’s Regiment, getting the Certificate of Merit for being the best squad member at RMP Chichester and gaining a six month secondment to the SIB. I was no longer committed to an army career, perhaps Sgt Hodsman had been right in his perceptive comments about my personality at Chichester? During this period I re-doubled my saving efforts and I stopped buying Deutsche Gramophon long playing classical music records which were rather expensive on my pitiful salary. My aim was to save around 500 pounds, of which 300 would be used to purchase my discharge.
I quickly reached the stated amount and was ready to move on to the next phase of my life by early 1971. I set the army bureaucratic juggernaut in progress and in early March 1971 was moved back to Rousillon Barracks at Chichester. Before I left the Army I had the obligatory interview with the Provost Marshall who, as I have already mentioned was genuinely mystified by my decision to leave. In an effort to shut him up I told him I intended to join the West Australian Police, something that was definitely not on my agenda. I walked out of the gate at Rousillon Barracks on 15 March 1971, a rather cold and wet day, out of the British Army and towards an uncertain future.
Discharge Book 1
Discharge Book 2
Discharge Book 3
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