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Pull Up A Sandbag
Sandbag Reminiscences of Denis Hill Sandbag
Where's My Groundsheet?
I remember arriving at Tonfanau station in late afternoon, I and two other lads were about a week late to start our basic training in the second intake so it must have been about July/Aug 1959. We were met by a Sergeant and Corporal and driven in a car to the wooden huts of 'R' Company, shown a bed in B platoon (we only had two platoons in the second intake) and were told to go to the cookhouse with the others and we would be kitted out in the morning. There were the usual "You'll be sorry" comments, which were to be very true, and I remembering feeling out of place being in civilian clothes among all the khaki and looking forward to getting into khaki so as not to be so conspicuous.
Next morning after breakfast I was taken to the stores where I was issued (or was it thrown at me) my kit by two over zealous storemen. I had little time to check the quantity's as they shouted "draws green two" quickly followed by "socks woollen four" and loaded everything onto my outstretched arms, feet buckling under the weight of the increasing mountain of kit, until thankfully the corporal told me to take it outside and put it on the hand cart. There were more comments as I sweated to push the cart up the hill back to 'R' Company. I was to find out later that I was not issued with a groundsheet (poncho) but my explanation for not having one fell on deaf ears and I had to pay for one later.
Basic training over I was sent to Waterloo platoon in 'D' Company with the dreaded Lt. MacLagan. I shared a billet with Terry Doyle, Titch Nettlingham and a character named Dick Spencer who came from Horesham on the south coast. Spence crossed J/Sgt. Kelloch who had, as punishment ordered him to Blanco some items of his webbing. Spence was furious and answered him with something like "You lazy shit I'm not doing your kit, do it yourself." Kelloch exploded with "You're on jankers, report to the guard room" which Spence did. Arriving back shortly afterwards he told us that the RP were highly pissed off at this and would take the matter up with higher authority's in the morning, he could report to them but they would not inspect him! A couple of hours later saw Spence in civvies strolling up to the guard room and again later in pyjamas, plimsolls, and greatcoat, to our great amusement. By this time Kelloch had got wind of what was going on and told Spence he didn't need to go any more. Spence was having none of it, "The RP says I must report so that overrules any order from you" and he continued going. Next day there came a special daily order stating "No NCO, junior or other, may order lower ranks to clean kit not belonging to them." Kelloch was spoken to by Lt. MacLagan but we never got to hear what was said, but it made little difference as they would give you a choice of cleaning an item of kit or do something very very unpleasant.
Anyone from 1959/60 may have heard of a Junior Leader in 'D' Company who got married, it was me, my girlfriend was pregnant and unlike the kids of today marriage was the honourable thing to do in that era. My stepmother had seen a way to get me out of the house saying that the army would give me free clothing and married quarters, but better to keep quiet about it until I was in. I had just turned 17 and learned that I had to be 21 before I could apply for quarters and I wouldn't get full married allowance either.
I had a miserable existence in Tonfanau. I was not cut out to be a soldier, the rigger of the regime, the scathing remarks and actions of, at times; a drunken MacLagen and the heartbreak of separation were almost too much to bear. It was a happy day for me when I graduated in July 1960 and went for trade training at Catterick then to Berlin with 4th Tanks.
Unable to find affordable accommodation I got a 2 year transfer to Dorset living in caravans and holiday flats in the low season while at Bovington and Lulworth, then back to the Regiment now briefly in Scotland, before going to Aden. The blast of that hot air stepping out of the aircraft was a joy after Wales, Germany, Dorset and Scotland, that I never forgot.
While in Aden in 1964, I was given a compassionate discharge. I found work in engineering factories in Coventry and went to night school. By 1969 my wife and I had separated and I immigrated to South Africa where I got divorced. Spending some time in Ian Smith's Rhodesia until the army started to get interested in me, I returned to South Africa, then went to what is today Namibia a hot arid country, climate wise a bit like Aden, working in mines and construction.
The travel bug got me and I took a year off and went to Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, Nepal and India finally returning to Namibia to work again in construction. The bug was still with me so I travelled overland to East Africa, had a trip around the world crossing America by coach and visited the UK before finally settling in Namibia once more.
I met a South African lady in the early 80's. We went to the UK in 1987 and got married before returning to our home in Namibia. There I was involved in the mining and construction industry until my retirement in 2008 at the age of 66. We have 3 children all are working in the UK and have a good relationship with my 2 children from my first marriage.
It was while recently surfing the net I came across 'AAJLR' site, bringing back memory's both good and bad and even seeing myself in a 'platoon photo'. Anyone interested can contact me at dhdenishill@gmail.com.
Regards to ex comrades.
ex-Trooper Denis Hill

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