Home Page | A.A.J.L.R. Forum | Contact The Webmaster

Pull Up A Sandbag
Sandbag Reminiscences of John Thompson Sandbag
I Saw The Advert
I saw the advert. Be a Junior Leader. It showed a young soldier crossing a rope bridge, he was wearing combat kit and a green cap comforter, commando style on his head. 'Become a future non commissioned officer in the modern army.' Details were given and the address of the local Army Information Office. It sounded good to me. I wanted to be a soldier, I knew it, this is what I wanted.
Vickers Armstrong Engineering were the biggest employer in Barrow. They built some of the biggest and best warships ever produced. There was every kind of trade and skill involved in the making of these ships. Vickers employed welders, fitters, boilermakers, painters and a host of other skilled and unskilled men. It provided apprenticeships and to work there was the ambition of many a young man.
When I was young I used to see all the workers coming out after the siren sounded. Thousands of them making their way home, some walking, some on bikes and some by car. To me they all looked glum and most seemed to have about them an air of sullenness. Possibly this was my imagination but it stayed with me. The hooter beckoned the workers for the night shift. All talk I heard about Vickers seemed negative, moans about pay or conditions, injuries seemed to be quite common. I watched them and knew from instinct that they were from an Army I did not want to be part of. I knew what I didn't want to be.
At the Information Office, I knew only one thing, I wanted to be a Junior Leader. Everything they showed me about trades, engines, radios, signals went over my head. As soon as I saw a picture of a Junior Leader with a self loading rifle, I kept on interrupting. I want to be one of them, I want to be one of them. The more the recruiting Sergeant went on about the Army and its organisation the more I insisted I just wanted to be a Junior Leader.
"OK! which Regiment?" he asked. Regiment? Not having listened to a word he said. I thought it was just one big Army. "Any" I said with authority. The local regiment was the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment, it sounded alright to me, as long as I could be that Junior Leader. So the Kings Own Royal Border was to be my first Regiment in a new world.
By letter they informed me I was to go for an interview to an office in Preston Lancs. Preston, this was an adventure in itself. I had never been that far away from Barrow by myself. They had enclosed a train warrant to be exchanged at the station for a return ticket to Preston. I had to change at Lancaster by myself, no teachers. I was nearly a man. I got there on time and was ushered into a Major Landrock's office. This was his real name, you couldn't make a better one up could you?
Nervously I sat down and was faced with a softly spoken, middle aged (to me) man dressed in an Army uniform. He was kindly and polite. However he spoke with the poshest accent I had ever heard. My teachers talked clearly and well but the Major made my ex headmaster sound like a yokel.
I could not take my eyes off his mouth. "Actual facts, indeed yes's, jolly this and jolly that's, chaps, rugger, silly billy's etc." just poured forth, phrases I had only heard on TV's Billy Bunter were actually being spoken by him to me. I was mesmerised. I must have actually gaped at him throughout the interview. I really was astonished, so this was an Army Officer, did they al talk like this I wondered. He asked me various questions about school and my sporting activities. He told me there and then that he thought that I would make an excellent Junior Leader. My heart swelled with pride and excitement. As we neared the exit, he held the door open and wished me well.
"Now don't do like one little Yorkshire chappie did when I wished him well" he said, (putting on a passable Yorkshire accent) "If Ah don't like it, I'll come back and bray you with a fucking pick axe."
My mouth fell open. He had sworn. I stood there looking at that mouth as the door was closing. "Yorkshire chappie, get it? erm, pickaxes" he was mumbling. I was busy trying to think if this posh person really had said fucking. He on the other side of the door was no doubt thinking, "He'll never last."
On the way home, I thought, well, he was a nice chap, jolly decent, bit of a Wag really. I was learning a new language for my new world.
N.B. When I saw the picture of that young soldier on the Burma Bridge they had omitted a few details. They didn't tell me that in order to get to that stage I would have a few obstacles to cross. The scramble net for instance, no mention of being struck in the back of the head by other wanna bees' rifles, my hands being crushed by the boots of the people in front. The fact that rifle slings don't work, that the prized cap comforter had a steel helmet on top of it. The fact, that by the time I got to this bridge I would be unable to breathe or speak. The steel helmet chinstrap would be choking me and I certainly didn't look like the young lad in the picture.
It took me a few years to realise that that picture might have been posed for by someone who had just climbed on the bridge and done nothing else. What do you think? Recruiters wouldn't do that would they? Trades Description Act and all that.

September 1963. The first time I had ever heard silence was sitting on Morfa Maddock Station. A platform to myself and one short train ride ahead, Tonfanau. I looked forward to being a Junior Leader in The All Arms Junior Leaders Regiment.
Memories; I shall write them down as they come to mind.
Breakfast - spider in my cocoa pops. Jokes about extra protein and to keep quiet or everybody would want one. To me, a soldier for a day this was quite shocking.
Platoon Sergeant - Love, his name belied his nature. Quote "I'll ram this stick through one ear, out the other and drive you round the square like an 'effin motorbike boy. You'll end up with yer thumb up yer bum an yer brain in neutral." Or "This movement is broken down into two parts. Each part being numbered one and two respectively. You can all count up to two, so you can all fuckin' well do it."
Platoon Commander - Power crazy pillock who wanted you to salute him every time you saw him and if you didn't, you got a bollocking. Nearly all of my platoon were ex sea or army cadets and knew all about bullshit and the rank structure. I knew nothing. I spent a lot of time working out if those buttons on people's number two uniform shoulders needed a salute or not. They looked a bit like pips to me. Anyway, coming out of the shower, towel around my waist, I saw him and of course I saluted. I got bollocked this time for saluting. I just could NOT win in this place.
Early on I was very impressed by the lessons in weapon training and fieldcraft. I could see the point to all this. Map reading, fitness, first aid and Adventure Training. I could not (and still don't) see the relevance of Brasso and button sticks. I was consequently, an admin and drill sergeant's nightmare. I was always asking key questions.
After a superb demo of burning pimples off best boots I asked what I thought was a reasonable question.
"Sir, Sergeant, Corporal" (to keep then all happy), "why do they give you boots with pimples on, if you have to burn them off? Why don't they just make them without the pimples?"
"What's your name?"
"Junior Private Thompson Sir,! Corporal!, Sergeant!"
No answer to the question of course, just that weird "What's your name" threat.
Next day a perfect demo of rubbing a cap badge on a piece of cardboard wet with Brasso. This produced a gleaming badge of which the Sergeant was extremely proud. Just look at that he said holding up the badge now as radiant as his face.
"Any questions?"
"Yes Sir, Sergeant, Corporal, Why don't they just give you shiny ones?"
Once again no answer just the "What's your name" bit.
And the usual answer "Junior Private Thompson Sir,! Sergeant" ( I was learning).
They no longer have pimples on boots or brass badges. Thank you Thompson.
I had never been past Blackpool and some of the accents had me baffled. Not so much the accents but the use of words. A Scots lad for instance would say the word how. Meaning why?
You might say as I did to this Jock, "I am off to the shop Jock".
He replied "How"?
You look at him strangely and describe how you are going to the shop, Via D Company lines.
"No" he says, "HOW" (but meaning why); Confusion!
Then instead of why not he says "How no?"
Perhaps the wars with the Scots were just down to misunderstandings of this sort. e.g.
"If you do that again Hamish I shall punch you."
Hamish, "How"
---------- "Like this." ---------- Blam!
Just a thought Braveheart.
I have already said that I could see the point of Adventure Training and along with it Map reading. They really could say to you in those days "If you don't get to point A by 1200hrs - you won't get fed" and mean it - you just did without. Can you imagine that happening now? European Rights, Mummy's and Daddy's, Local MP's, MEP's, Solicitors, Counsellors, the RSPCA, NATO even. Newspaper headlines - "Tonfanau Thugs Starve Students. Staff make exercise realistic." How dare they?
This particular day whilst still in 'R' Company we were in the region of one of those bushy topped trees, in the middle of nowhere, halfway up a mountain. You all know the place I mean. Where it always rains and is windy and always leads to a vast expanse of ground that is boggy and full of tussocks of grass that trip you up, just when you have dried out from the trip before. You all know the place I mean - Wales I think they call it.
On this particular day we had all been fed, so no need to worry, and were tactically making our way back to camp Tonfanau. (Where they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining.)
Below us, we spotted a couple of shepherds, sheep shanking or flocking sheep or whatever it is they do with those woolly things. Next to where we were being 'tactical' was a triangular sheep feeding trough, made of metal and about twenty feet long. It even had wheels! Collectively we decided it would be a good idea to send this contraption down the hill towards them. So we took the wedges from under the wheels and 'chocks away chaps' it was. As it slowly began its journey down to sea level, we waved it a fond farewell. It gathered more speed than we anticipated and was hurtling towards the enemy at breakneck pace. Even though they could see and hear the trough hurtling towards them the sheep appeared to leave it until the very last moment before taking any action. Then one screamed at the other's "Baaaaaaaa" or words to that effect and they leapt out of the way.
We all had a jolly good laugh and went tactically and tactfully along a route avoiding the bewildered foe. When we got back to camp something was wrong and people were seen disappearing in and of OC's office. What's more they were going in and out in the same groups as the Adventure Training. We were next. Farmers? Feeding troughs? Maniacs? Not us Sir.
In individually, out individually, back in - Thompson J/Pte. Apparently it was all my idea and I had taken the chocks out of the wheels. According to the Welsh gentlemen the trough was full and had doubled in size since we launched it.
J/Pte Douglas Hay had bubbled me, so much for honour amongst thieves. If you are out there Douglas and I hope you're not, you ALONE were responsible for my term report saying that I was irresponsible. You know YOU took the chocks out of the other side. Then again I don't suppose you ever knew which side you were on. Of course I'm not the slightest bit bitter even after all these years!
We all, even Douglas 'did-nothing' Hay had to miss tea and go and apologise to both the farmers. I had to do most of the talking as well.
A few years later when I was guarding the Severn Bridge against Welsh Nationalists I was shown some mugshots. I had seen some of those people before! I am sure I had but I can't think where?
To be continued..

Time: 1600 hrs.          Place: The Gym.
I am sitting on the top wallbars above a Trampoline. (I had bounced up and could not get down) Not really. I was about to come down when the following happened. Enter two very young gentlemen who are new to the job shall we say. They have come to practice one of the more realistic exercises of Unarmed Combat in the Gym.
It is a bit chilly outside and they don't yet know, that if we do fight the Soviets, it won't be in the Gym. (unless they're Paras)
No, any hand to hand stuff would have to be on the Football pitch because the bayonets will dig in there. I guessed they were Officers because they dusted the varnished benches before they sat down. Other clues were the glowing P.T. vests with crisp locker creases and the carpet slippers instead of boots. They had obviously learned the P.T. Corps motto "Mens Sana In Corpore Sano." Which I think means don't wear your boots in the Gym.
Young, a dashing pair of light welterweights. I can't remember which one had a quiff but both would flick their heads back and brush their hair back before any physical action. A couple of Mick Jaggers without the lips, without the voice, with, no perhaps I am going too far, they didn't have that much hair. (Remember the adjutant?)
At first I thought they were swearing, there was a lot of Hell Bees this and Hell Bees that. From my perch I scanned for bees, I didn't see any. Then I realised this must be one of the boy's names. LB or sometimes Derek. The other boy was called Oh! Martin. He must have been Irish with a name like that. It was a known tactic of the Soviets that if they ever ran out of ammo, they would attack you quite slowly with knives, so we practiced for this accordingly. Defence against knife attack, grab opponents wrist, pull down armed hand and with your other hand lock his elbow. Very effective and possible with a bit of practice.
O'Martin means business, both flick back their fore locks and commence Battle. "Jolly well attack me" shouts O'Martin (quite frightening really). Derek does as he's bid and with his right hand carry's out a classic very slow Soviet style stab in the direction of O'Martin. O'Martin grabs the acting Soviet's right wrist with both hands ?????????? Twists himself to his right and eagerly begins to strangle himself with his opponent's right forearm. Not to be recommended, especially in defence.
After fifteen minutes they both have perfected the move. I could see it in their swagger, if there are any Russkies about, without ammo, then these are your main men. Wait a minute!! L.B. hasn't had enough. Now he's knifing and counter knifing the punchbags. O'Martin leaps onto the Pommel Horse rides over to L.B. and shouts, "We're off to the Mess for Tea." If I remember it correctly, he then burst into song. "Do you think I would leave you knifing when there's room on my horse for two." With that they ride out through the Fire Exit. As the song he sang said, "Warriors true" of course. Not really, I made that last bit up about the horse.
Now here is the strange thing about Army life; both of these Rodneys ended up as Colonels!

 Return To The Sandbag Menu 


Why not tell us what you remember:

 Email the Webmaster