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Pull Up A Sandbag
Sandbag Reminiscences of John Reid Sandbag
The Making Of A Man?
At the tender age of 15 I was picked up by land rover from my nice quiet village in the Cotswold's transferred to Gloucester, took the oath for the Queen's shilling at the recruiting office and put on a train to a place called Tonfanau with the parting words of the recruiting Sergeant "For Christ's sake don't forget to change at Birmingham!"
Tonfanau where the hell was that, there were no motorways or internet then in fact no maps, all I knew it was after Birmingham, in Birmingham there seemed to be rather a lot of lads around my age milling about, then I found out that Tonfanau was via the boat train to Holyhead. When the train pulled in half the teenagers in England poured onto it.
When settled the usual banter started and I became aware that this whole crowd including Wackrow from Brum and Shaw from Manchester both of whom apparently had the choice of the Army or Borstal were heading to the same place.
About 4.10pm (I was still a civvy then) on the 2nd October 1960 we detrained at dusk at Tonfanau Halt to be met by Sgt. Tull and Sgt. Kurle with his Jimmy Edwards moustache and his vocabulary of which every second word was F*** or F******, mounted onto 3 tonners and taken to the top of the camp which was 'R' Company.
I remember it well, we were all gathered in the canteen, Elvis was singing "It's now or never" and we were welcomed by a tall Captain with glasses given our first weeks pay of 10/- and then told to buy dusters, blanco, polish and the infamous bluebell brass polish from the nice lady behind the counter.
'R' Company. Early mornings - late nights hot spoons and candle wax, I had enlisted in the cavalry therefore I had to wear the wanking spanner and spend hours cleaning bloody brass buttons when every other corps had staybright badges and buttons.
Sundays, they seemed to leave us alone a bit to get the Sunday papers especially the News of the Screws to follow Lady Chatterley's Lover, there was always someone wanting 2's up on that.
Six weeks, pass out then on leave for 14 days, this was better than school, then back and into B Company with Len Haddow and Somme Platoon with Lt Frith, this is where you made good friends, Don Wilde, Daniels, Cockney George, Peter Went, 4 foot nothing built like a brick s***house with false teeth, Lawson Kent, Paddy Ruth, Heaton who was 6 stone wet through but would never give up and was helped daily by every member of the platoon, Blythe who was the Billy Bunter but again helped by all, the two mad jocks who passed out into the Royal Scots that first spring with J/Sgt Ken Baines who was our J/Platoon Sgt and lots more, I went on to serve with Lawson Kent and Paddy Ruth in the 11th Hussars (PAO) until the amalgamation with the 10th Royal Hussars (PWO) in 1968, Lawson is now looking after the 11th Hussars (PAO) old comrades Association which meets every year in May in Telford.
Here I reminisce;
Promotion! Great, now to the head of the queue for meals.
The quiet solitude when duty Corporal walking down the hill from Egypt and Gallipoli at dawn as the sun rose behind Beacon hill making the sea glisten on the horizon.(come to think of it that didn't happen that often as it rained rather a lot)
The 240 paces a minute (Sgt Major Cronin's warm up drill had nothing on this) as you tried get your Platoon ahead after RSM's Parade on Saturdays in order to beat everyone else to the Cookhouse.
The wag on a rainy day in the Drill shed when told that there was a "C*** at the end of this stick" replied "Not this end Sergeant", (is his ghost still doubling around the Drill Square with his SLR above his head?)
The shaping of the SD Hat - everyone wanted to look like a SS General.
Another bloody ridge on Cadre Idris.
Using your groundsheet as a sledge down the scree to the lake on Cadre.
The thought of a nice cool dip in the lake but when practiced sent two lumps up alongside your Adam's apple (Christ it was cold).
The jaunts into Barmouth and Davey Jones' Locker (I went back in '87 and the caf with the nets hanging was still operating).
The hanging about in the amusement arcade chatting up the local talent from Dolgellau.
The film 'Follow my Lead' in which I played a part, it opened my eyes to the media making me not believe half of what I read or see in the press or on TV today. (If we did that scene on Bird Rock once we did it a hundred times).
The instant change of language from English to Welsh as you entered a local shop (I had a few days in Barmouth / Towyn / Aberdovey in '87 and found that nearly all the small hotels and guest houses were run by outsiders, the locals were complaining about the English buying up all the derelict cottages and doing them up, some were firebombed and remain ruins to this day).
When after pass out in July '62 many of the girls from Barmouth came to the Dance in the WRVS club and every one was waiting for them to be twirled furiously in order to get their skirts nice and high for a sneak view of stocking tops and suspenders to be greeted with a pencil slip under all the lace petticoats.
The one night out in Aberystwith (it took hours in that Bedford 3 tonner) the song Speedy Gonzarles from the pier still haunts me.
The most used bit of army kit supplied in Tonfanau - the groundsheet, which acted as a funnel for the rainwater down your neck.
The issue of Raincoats in '62 - sheet bliss!
The discovery that when thrown underhand the bayonet struck home point first 9 times out of 10.
Corporal Fagg, he once related how he fired a mortar from the hip in Malaya, everyone on parade clamped all four cheeks but shoulders shook with mirth!
The Sing Songs at Tonfanau Halt when the whole Regiment was lined up waiting for the train to go on leave (10 weeks a year - fantastic!).
Looking back the one thing that did help me at Tonfanau was the Education by the members of the RAEC, I had left school with no qualifications, on our first day in the Education wing it was spelt out for us that to get on you really did need your ACE 1, I did just that and in the 18 months I was at Tonfanau I passed the ACE1 in 6 subjects with a couple of GCE's thrown in.
When I joined the 11th Hussars (PAO) I remember NCO's needing the ACE's to gain promotion and finding it really hard work, in fact there some really good Junior NCO's that remained just that.
I don't think AAJLR helped any lad in the RAC by being at Tonfanau trade wise but it certainly taught you when to keep schtum and I was way ahead when we had to use SLR's on the Queen mother's visit!
After all the shouting, threats and bluster when advice or encouragement was really needed the older Sgt's and WO's took you aside and suddenly turned into your dad.
Did I enjoy it? In a weird way I suppose I did as with most of your life when you look back you remember the good things and it did give me self confidence, discipline (sadly lacking in most teenagers today), the ability to judge the characters of others.
Like many other old boys I have been back, the clouds were grey, the sea was grey, the old Guardhouse and I think a petrol pump were still standing, the rest was gone leaving only memories of much younger carefree lads being taken up the hill and men marching down. Tonfanau will never be forgotten by me.
Did it make me a man? Yes I believe it did.

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