My first posting was to Germany where I joined an intelligence unit as a Lance Corporal; an automatic promotion for all Intelligence Corps recruits on passing out. The unit CO was a Warrant Officer, Terry Cornish. I don’t remember much about him except that he was a very hardened drinker and great fun out of the office. I went out with him and the other unit members to celebrate my 21st birthday – we ended up in a German bierkeller where I drank beer mixed with shots of a Schnapps called ‘Zowerpal’ (or something similar). I seemed to be handling it well until we went outside into the fresh air at which point something very bad happened! I have several intermittent memories of the rest of that day, snapshots, if you will, of moments of consciousness. They are leaning out of a car window throwing up as we drove down the main street of Herford; lying on the pavement outside Terry’s house saying “I want to die; please let me die”; waking up several hours later in my bed with a terrible thirst and a splitting headache. I got up and drank a glass of water and then proceeded to vomit it all up into a large bier stein by the side of my bed. I had a hangover for five days and was so ill that I didn’t touch another drop of alcohol for thirteen years! Needless to say everyone else in the unit thought it was very funny, everyone, that is, but me!
There were three Corporals in the unit. I was the new boy and the others had been there for a while. One was Tom Lynch, an Irishman. He and I never really hit it off and were constantly arguing. One day the three of us were in the office and Tom threw a metal stamp at me which hit me on the forehead and drew blood. I am, by nature, not a violent person and am very slow to anger, but he found out, that day, just how stupid he had been. Before he could move, I had crossed the room and lifted him out of his chair, one-handed, by his throat and had him about 3” off the ground ready to kill him. The look of terror in his eyes brought me back to reality and I let him fall and walked away. I think that is the only time in my entire life when rage has surfaced like that but it was an awakening for both of us. He certainly never did anything like that again and for the rest of our time together, he showed remarkable civility.
One night, we were fast asleep when we were woken by a tremendous bang at about 3 am. Our first thought was that it was an IRA attack but then when no alarm was raised we forgot about it and went back to sleep. The following morning, we found out what had happened. Apparently one of the soldiers from the other regiments had decided that he needed some extra cash and had determined to rob the Paymaster’s Office. He had got hold of some gelignite, had broken into the office and carefully placed the gelignite around the safe before setting it off. The only problem was that he had overestimated the amount of explosive needed. The resulting explosion had blown the safe clean though one wall and 40 yards across the parade ground and the backlash had blown him through the opposing wall – he wasn’t killed but was found looking like a cartoon character covered in soot and with his clothes shredded.
A year or so later, I got posted to a new unit up in Soltau in the north of Germany. Our unit was billeted with a Royal Signals squadron and, as usual, with the Signals there was a lot of bullshit going on. I remember seeing the ‘Siggies’ painting the stones that lined the walkways and flower beds bright white in preparation for an inspection by the Brigadier.
One day we were notified that the General was coming to visit and were told that all our rooms had to be painted. Despite the fact that this was entirely forbidden under Queen’s Regs, we were given no option but to draw out a can of paint and paintbrushes and proceed. The choices of color were blue and pink; pink, I assumed, was for the small cadre of females on the base.
I drew out a can of both colors and then went and bought a large empty can into which I poured the blue and pink making a lovely shade of purple. To set the purple off, I also bought a small can of orange with which I painted all the woodwork and metal cabinets. By the time I had finished the room looked very contemporary which is a euphemism for saying it looked awful. The General walked in my room and made no comment about the color scheme but the CO blanched and left after giving me on of the dirtiest looks I have ever got. I got used to the colors after a while but I was never again asked/ordered to paint anything again.
I met a German woman named Helga somehow and was invited over for tea one day. Helga was a very pleasant lady but had a face like a deflated balloon and a body like an inflated one. After tea she made it clear that I was invited to stay the night but I feigned innocence and ignored the overtures. I did, however, go back a couple of times more for meals as she was very interesting to talk to.
Several days afterwards I was called into my CO’s office for an interview with somebody from a different branch of the Corps who wanted to know full details of my involvement with Helga. I relayed exactly what had happened; precisely nothing, and was questioned over and over again about this until I finally got exasperated and refused to repeat my answers any more. I was then told that Helga was believed to be working for the East Germans and had ‘bedded’ quite a number of soldiers from the Signals unit. This firmly led me to conclude that the Siggies were as dumb and desperate as they were said to be.
One evening I was the duty NCO (non-commissioned officer). I had come down with a rotten headache and felt lousy but, since I was on duty all night, couldn’t go to bed. I begged a couple of aspirin off somebody and washed them down with some Coca-Cola not knowing that the two didn’t go well together. Within about half an hour I was weaving around and was virtually incoherent which is how I ended up in the guardhouse jail under arrest for being ‘drunk on duty’. I don’t think I cared!
The next morning I was brought up to the CO and told him that I hadn’t had anything to drink the previous evening. Fortunately my abstinence from touching alcohol was fairly well known, and, after some questioning about what I had done, he realized what had happened and let me go with a caution not to mix aspirin and Coke in the future.
One of the officers at the camp was from one of the Cavalry regiment. His name was ‘ffrench’ spelt with two small f’s. He was an enormously pompous twat and everybody disliked him. One night he was the duty officer when the phone rang. “Is that Captain f.f.ffrench”” a voice stuttered.
“Well, f-f-ffuck off then,” said the voice on the other end and hung up.
As you’ve probably guessed, the prank caller was me.
My next posting was to a Security unit in Celle. Our CO there was a commissioned Warrant Officer by the name of Dave Spencer who was about as pompous a fool as I have ever met. He was also very easy to wind up, and I used to do so on every occasion. One time he came back from a weekend leave with a new Rover; the following weekend I flew back to England and drove out in an almost new Lotus which when parked next to the Rover made it look like an also ran.
I had to register the Lotus at the base which meant having it inspected. It raised some eyebrows and some looks of envy and after passing all the static inspections, the Inspecting Officer got in the passenger seat and gave me instructions. “When I say ‘Go’”, he said “I want you to accelerate as fast as you can until you get to the oil barrels and then brake as hard as you can.” I had a feeling that he had never been in a Lotus before and duly hit the accelerator pedal. By the time we reached the barrels, we were doing almost 80 mph and his screaming was almost louder than the sound of the car’s engine. I braked hard and brought the car to a dead halt in a very short amount of space. The car passed but I don’t think he ever gave the same instructions again.
About 10 miles away from our unit was the beginning of the tank ranges where all the Armor went up to chase around the countryside in mock battles. Right through the middle of this range was a paved road exactly 7 miles in length that was one continuous series of bends and chicane turns; perfect to put a car like the Lotus through its paces. Every Saturday I would go up there and see how fast I could get the car from one end to the other – Saturday, by the way, was the one day that no Armor moved on the range so it was deserted. Usually one of my colleagues went with me and held the stop watch as I did the driving; usually they only went in the car once as the average time was a shade over 4 minutes and some of the bends were taken at speeds in excess of 120 mph.
At Celle we were again billeted with another unit; this time it was the Military Police, a hard drinking bunch of guys. On my first evening there I went into the bar for a soft drink and was informed that it was tradition for all new ‘members’ to ‘drink the boot’. The boot in question was glass and could take about 2 pints of fluid and what they did was fill it with a mixture of spirits. I made it abundantly clear that I didn’t give a damn about tradition and wouldn’t participate in the ritual and after some disgruntlement, they took me at my word and never asked again.
About a month later I was in the bar one evening having a Coca-Cola when one of the heavier drinkers, who was well on the way to oblivion, insisted on buying me a drink. I said thanks and asked for another Coke but he wouldn’t buy me that and demanded that I have some alcoholic beverage. I should mention also that he outweighed me by about 50 lbs, was about 3” taller and was very belligerent.
Since discretion was the better part of valor I asked the bartender what the most expensive drink in the bar was. He pointed to a malt whiskey and told me how much it was. It was very expensive indeed. I ordered a triple. When it had been poured, and my benefactor had paid for it, I picked up the glass and raised a toast in thanks. With every eye in the room watching and waiting for me to back down and drink it, I turned the glass upside down on the bar surface and watched it spread out across the bar. There was a collective gasp from the room. I turned to my ‘host’ and said, “Thank you very much indeed for the drink. I really do appreciate it and if you don’t fuck off, I’m going to rip your head off and stuff it up your arse. Do I make myself clear?”
Fortunately, for me that is, he backed down and went off muttering. I turned and left the bar and when I got back to my room, sat down on the bed and shook for a good ten minutes realizing that I had come very close to extinction. It is, however, not in my nature to back down and I cannot be forced into doing anything that I do not want to. Some people say I’m stubborn; I say that I bring new dimension to the word!
I had a filling come out one day and had to go to the camp Dentist to get it seen to. I have always hated dentists since our family one was something of a sadist and I had never had a local anesthetic until I was 16 years old when he had retired. Consequently the equation ‘Dentist = Pain” applied. Usually though, I could get through it but that day I was a nervous wreck and the Dentist couldn’t get to do anything.
He finally gave up trying and told me to come back the following morning. Handing me four Valium tablets, he told me to take 2 at bedtime and 2 in the morning before I came over. I followed his instructions. To this day, I have absolutely no recollection of being at the Dentist and having the filling repaired; I have no idea how I got there or how I got back. The only thing that I do recall is that the Valium gave me multiple simultaneous nightmares and was something that I would never take again.
It also, apparently, did something strange to my memory as a day earlier, our cook had made ma sandwiches with onion in them which I am violently allergic to. I had bitten into one of them before realizing and had been very sick. The day after I had taken the Valium, he informed me, somewhat snottily, that he had got the message about not putting onion in again the first time, and that I had not needed to tell him on another 40 occasions during the day!
While at Celle we worked closely with the German Special Branch, the Kriminalpolizei more commonly known as the Kripo. Horst Hausknecht was in charge and his deputy, who we worked with most of the time, was Pete Schulze. Pete was a hard man, a deadly marksman and skilled in martial arts and was, like Horst, great fun to be with.
One day we got a call from Pete. There had been some vandalism at one of the old concentration camp sites, Bergen-Belsen, and he wanted to get up there quickly to see for himself. Could we provide a helicopter? We said ‘Yes’ and while Dave Spencer was arranging for one, I shot off in the Lotus to pick Pete up. For some strange reason, the rendezvous for the helicopter was about 10 miles away in the country and I was driving very fast to get there before the chopper arrived. This meant doing speeds in excess of 100 mph through little German villages that had a speed limit of 30 mph.
Suddenly a blue and red flashing light appeared in my rear view mirror. Busted! Pete looked over his shoulder and said to me “Can you outrun them?”
“Yeah. I may not be able to lose them but they won’t be able to catch me until we get to the landing zone”.
“Go,” he said. I put my foot down and surged away from the police car. Within a few seconds I had about a 300 yard lead on them but that was about as much as I could get. Three minutes later we got to the RV. The chopper was there waiting for it. I screeched to a halt, grabbed the keys out of the ignition and Pete and I ran for the chopper, jumped in and gave the thumbs up to the pilot who took off just as the police turned in. Their jaws must have dropped open seeing us get away like that.
Pete grabbed the microphone from the pilot and identified himself over the speaker system to the bewildered policeman below, and then ordered them to guard my car until we got back. I doubt that they were very happy with the assignment.
Some short while later, I got the opportunity to go for a joyride in a new helicopter, the Gazelle. Extremely fast and very manoeuvrable, the Gazelle was as quiet a helicopter as you could imagine. The pilot took off and proceeded to put it through its paces.
“I’m travelling at about 350mph right now,” he informed us “and I want you to imagine that as we go over the top of this hill we come under anti-aircraft fire.”
I was tempted to ask from whom but refrained. We shot over the hill and, in response to the imagined attack, made an evasive manoeuver by turning to the left at full speed in order to go back behind the hill. I don’t know how many G we pulled; I suspect it was about 5 and it felt like my face was being elongated to such a degree that my chin was touching my knees and that was sitting with my head up. It was not a nice feeling.
After this high speed turn, the pilot then proceeded to demonstrate its low-level flying capabilities. This involved going under telephone and power lines, gunning the power to fly over the next one and then back under the one after that. It was a hair-raising ride.
The last ‘stunt’ was when he flew it vertically until the engine was unable to draw in enough air and stalled. With a jolt, it started to fall like a stone towards the ground with us hanging on in terror. A moment later the centrifugal force caused the engine to restart and we were off again.
Finally we headed back to the base only to find that there was a traffic jam. About 20 helicopters were hovering over the landing zone. Our pilot got on the radio. “Alpha One, requesting emergency permission to land. We are very low on fuel. Over.”
‘Roger, Alpha One. You have priority. Out.”
Instead of landing like a normal human being, he pulled the control stick, put the Gazelle on its side and we dropped through a hole in the melee. At about 100’ off the ground, he straightened up and landed with barely a jolt.
“You want to go up again later,” he asked.
“No thanks,” we replied in unison. I think we hurt his feelings!
One cold winter’s morning, Pete Schulze phoned the office and asked if I could go up to Bergen-Belsen (where there had been some more vandalism) and take some aerial photographs for them. He said that he didn’t need to go personally this time. I ordered the chopper and went to meet it.
This time it was a Sioux, a small two-seater with a bubble front giving tremendous vision. We rose languidly into the air and headed north. Half an hour later we arrived over the area. The pilot’s voice came over the speaker. “I’m going to land in a moment so we can take the door off. Then you can take your shots without the distortion before we pick the door back up. Okay.”
I looked below us. A carpet of thick, freshly fallen snow covered the ground as far as the eye could see. A hill gently sloped its way down to a small clearing which is where I assumed we were going to land.
“Ever been helicopter skiing?” he asked.
Helicopter skiing is where you take a helicopter to the top of a mountain where no ski lifts run and ski down from there. It is usually through the thickest of powder and is said to be the best skiing in the world. I had never done it and told him so.
“You’ll enjoy this,” he said and proceeded to land the aircraft right on the top of the hill. “Lean forward,” he said. I did, with some trepidation. The weight shift, slight as it was, caused the runners of the aircraft to move and a moment later we were sliding down the hill with the rotors still running. It was a short ride but an exciting one. It also confirmed my belief that all helicopter pilots are insane.
After we had dropped the door off and got my photographs, we went back and repeated the slide. I must admit that it wasn’t as nerve racking as the first time.
Another assignment was to go to the town square and photograph some German communist agitators. We were asked to do this as they knew all the Kripo people and we would, most likely, pass fairly unnoticed. I was to be the photographer, and Paul Harmon was to be my back up in case of any trouble. Paul was slightly built with light ginger hair and was somebody that you didn’t want to mess with having studied karate for many years. We duly got down town and I started to take photographs of our ‘targets’. The lead agitator was Curt something and he was a little weasel of a man who was a fiery orator. He also worked in some capacity for the civilian BSO so had some involvement with the British military ,but there was some reason that he hadn’t been or couldn’t be fired. Standing in front of him was his bodyguard, a huge German built like a professional wrestler; 6’5” and about 300 lbs.
After about ten minutes of taking photographs we got spotted and the ‘giant’ headed my way with an angry look on his face. I turned to Paul to make sure that he was aware of the situation and found that he had disappeared. Frantically I looked around and spotted him in the window of the coffee shop getting some coffee. He paid no attention to my signals for help and I thought that here was where I got the shit kicked out of me. I looked back at the giant who was now only a few feet away from me and decided that all I could do was stand my ground.
A moment later I breathed a sigh of relief. Paul was standing between me and the giant who was angrily gesticulating and poking his finger in Paul’s chest. Paul slapped it down the first time and the giant poked him again. In a move, so fast that I could barely follow it, Paul reached up and over with his right hand, grabbed the offending finger and broke it. The giant went white with pain. Paul wagged a cautioning finger at him and we slipped away with our photographs and bodies intact. All he said to me was “Did you want some coffee?”
Among Paul’s skills, he was a fantastic archer. One evening, in the bar, we were drinking with Pete Schulze and the subject came up. Paul claimed that he could fire arrows with almost as much speed as with certainly more accuracy than somebody with a revolver. The gauntlet was down and a day later a match had been set up between Paul and Pete. The rules were simple; 12 balloons had been blown up (6 of 2 different colors) and were strung up under a line in front of a barn. Pete had his .38 revolver with a 4” barrel and Paul had his bow and a quiver of arrows; one of which was notched into the string. When the whistle sounded, both had to shoot their set of balloons from a distance of about 30’. The winner would be the person who burst all their balloons first.
Needless to say there was a lot of betting going on. It was a windy day and the balloons were going crazy, bouncing up and down in the air. Most of the money was on Pete but I had mine firmly on Paul – I had seen him practice! Also since I was betting on the underdog I was getting great odds; about 24 to 1 if I recall.
Horst blow the whistle; Paul got off his first arrow and burst a balloon. Pete emptied his revolver and three of his balloons burst. In the time that it took Pete to reload, Paul had fired five more arrows and not missed once. It was a slam dunk! I collected my money and then, in a very sporting gesture, offered everybody a chance to win it back. This time the bet was that Paul could put an arrow through the center of a wedding ring from ten paces. I still don’t understand why nobody took me up on it!
Paul and I were a pair, constantly getting into some scrape or the other. One time we were sent off on exercise to provide security coverage for the armored squadron. All this really involved was patrolling the area and making sure that Soxmis, the Soviet Military Mission, didn’t get in and either watch the maneuvers or pick up any classified material that might have been left around. It was the middle of winter and bitterly cold. We got to the base camp and set up our tent and then advised the CO that we would be out patrolling overnight and would be back in the morning. As soon as he dismissed us, we drove to the nearest town, about 20 miles away, and checked into a hotel which became our base of operations for the next few days. I mean, why be cold and uncomfortable when you can be the opposite?
On a later exercise the next summer we actually camped out with the rest of the army. and had Dave Spencer with us and he wouldn’t have been amused about us ‘hotelling’ it again. It was beautiful weather so it was quite bearable. The second morning we were there, Paul got up at about 4am and silently left the tent. An hour and a half later he returned carrying 47 trout and 2 hare that he had trapped. We all ate very well that morning.
One evening later on in the exercise, we had prepared our own dinner and afterwards I turned to Dave Spencer and told him that it was his turn to make the coffee. This suggestion was not favorably received and he tried to get out of it by pulling rank but we all ganged up on him. Eventually after much grumbling, he made the coffee and handed the cups around; it was revolting and we couldn’t quite work out what had gone wrong until we realized that instead of putting powdered milk in he had put powdered potato. To this day I still don’t know whether it was incredibly stupid or incredibly clever but one thing for sure, he never got asked to make coffee again!
Dave Spencer and I were constantly having run-ins. I was always up to something or the other and skated on very thin ice on more than one occasion, but never stepped over the line where I could get into trouble. One day I got called on the carpet and accused of being a ‘wheeler-dealer’.
“i’m not sure what you mean by a wheeler-delaer, Sir”.
“Buying and selling things, etc.,”he replied.
“What do you mean by etc., Sir?”
“You know what I mean,” he said, exasperated. (He often got exasperated with me!)
“Is there anything in Queen’s Regs, Sir, that says buying and selling is illegal?” (This ws a rhetorical question – I knew Queen’s Reg’s backwards. After all if you’re going to skate on thin ice, you have to know how thin the ice actually is!)
“No, there isn’t”.
“Well, with all due respect, Sir, since there is nothing that says I can’t do it, I shall continue to do so. Is that okay with you, Sir?”
He muttered something and dismissed me. On the way out of the door, I stopped and turned back. “By the way, Sir, I’ve got some really nice sheepskin seat covers for your car; if you’re interested, that is.” I was rewarded for this kind offer with an exceedingly dirty look.
One weekend we had a company motor rally competition. I was to be the driver and I think that Paul was the navigator. The course was about 75 miles long and went around the local countryside. I was determined to win but we managed to get lost. As soon as we realized this, I grabbed the map and figured out where we were and where we needed to be; it was only about 10 miles but there was a thick forest in the way. Making an executive decision, I drove straight through the forest narrowly missing trees and other, relatively, immovable objects. Hurtling down the last stretch, a wild boar made the fatal mistake of running in front of us and we hit it with a jolt. The boar was killed instantly. As quick as a flash, we jumped out of the Land Rover, grabbed the carcass by its legs and threw it in the back of the vehicle and then drove on.
A few moments later we were in the clear and could see some of the other competitors. We were at the top of a fairly steep hill and the road wound its way backwards and forwards to the bottom. All the other Land Rovers were about half way down and the lead was way too much for us to catch them up, unless … A famous golf teacher, Harvey Penick, once said “Take dead aim” which is what I did and drove straight down the hill through fields, knocking down fences and scattering sheep and cows before us and bouncing over the road where it got in my way.
We ended up coming second in the rally and had a very good roast boar dinner, which I’m sure had been ‘tenderized’ by the pounding it had taken going down the hill. We had had safety belts on – it had not been able to get its on and had bounced continuously from the floor to the roof.
Talking about boar we used to play golf at any army course which meandered its way through woods with a fairly large population of wild boar. When you checked in to play, you were issued with a sawn-off shotgun just in case any of the boar decided to attack; to the best of my knowledge none ever did!
Another of my colleagues at Celle was Tony Lynch-Staunton. Tony was an interesting character with a strange background; one of his previous careers had been as a lion-tamer. He was also a wine connoisseur and fanatic, a trait which drove his wife mad, but she was very patient until the morning I had gone over for coffee only to find that Tony had disappeared to the store to get some milk.
An hour passed with no sign of him and we were starting to get worried when he turned up. His explanation was that he had found a really good wine on sale at a fantastic price and had had to buy some. This was, in itself, quite reasonable until it came out that he had bought four hundred cases (four thousand eight hundred bottles!) I excused myself before World War 3 broke out in the Lynch-Staunton household.
Of all the friends that I made during my Army days, the one that I have not lost touch with is John Farrell. We served together in the same company although not the same unit for two years but hit it off the moment we met. John and I are cast in the same mould; we’ll do anything for a laugh and will get away with as much as we can and in the Army the two of us found that we could get away with one hell of a lot.
We were out together on one exercise in Germany and had a young trainee officer with us. His name was Terry Freeman and he was still at university. He was a very polite young man, not much younger than us and had high expectations about the important work he would be doing in the Intelligence Corps. We were sitting in the tent the first night after dinner, wondering what to do when I suggested a friendly game of poker. John looked at me, knowing that I played lots of poker and none of it was friendly, and agreed to play. Terry, with some hesitation, also agreed and had soon lost his entire allowance for the trip. To this day, John says that I fleeced him, an accusation I roundly deny!
After a couple of days of the exercise we were in the Situation Room marking the positions of both us and the enemy team on the ‘bird table’ (a board with a map of the area and models showing where everything was currently located. The Brigadier suddenly entered the room. We snapped to attention.
“Sergeant,” he said to John. “Give me a sit rep!”
John looked at the bird table and gave the most succinct briefing in the Brigadier’s entire military career. “Well, Sir, we are here,”he said pointing to our position “and the enemy is here. And if we don’t move we’re going to get absolutely fucked!”
The Brigadier looked at John for a moment somewhat strangely and then said “Good briefing, Sergeant. Thank you” and left the tent.
“Well, he asked, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” I replied “but I don’t think that was quite what he was expecting!”
“That’s the problem, then,” said John. “You should never expect anything but the unexpected. Saves a lot of disappointment.”
We found another use for the bird table later on that exercise when it started to rain. It kept us dry as we carried it over our heads while moving around the camp. We were only stopped twice to ask what we were doing and on both occasions told the officer in question that we were moving it on the Brigadier’s orders. One of the officers who had stopped us asked us where we were moving it to and I immediately replied “Can’t tell you, Sir. Need to know and all that,” to which he responded “Well, carry on then” and went on his merry way.
One weekend I came down with a bad case of conjunctivititis (red eye) and could hardly see but I had arranged to go to the fair in Hanover with John and his wife Sandy. It was like most fairs, full of noise and stalls and people and we were having a good old laugh when we came to the shooting stand. The stand had lots of prizes perched on clay sticks and the idea was that you had to shoot the sticks away so that the prize fell down and you won it. I had to have a go and paid my money. It wasn’t easy seeing the target with my eyes as swollen as they were but I was blasting away when all of a sudden the German lady who was running the stall snatched the rifle out of my hands and started yelling at me. I had no idea what she was so upset about until she grabbed the doll I had been trying to win for Sandy – I had mistaken its legs for the clay sticks and had amputated them both below the knees.
We had a company shooting competition a while later and I had to drive a couple of hundred miles for it. Arriving at the range I got out of my car and saw John approaching. We were both dressed in camouflage gear with our boots nicely shined. It had been a while since we had seen each other and I moved towards him with my hand outstretched. “Your laces are undone,” he said expecting me to glance down only to see his boot racing past my head in an upper kick. Like a fool I bent down instead to do them up and as my head went down it collided with his foot coming up. The impact lifted me off the ground and threw me back onto the car hood. I staggered up as John grabbed my arm and steadied me. Anybody else would have apologized; all John said was “You’ve ruined the shine on my shoes!”
Indeed I had; the shine had been transferred to my forehead. To add insult to injury, he beat me in the shooting competition too.
Some years later John, by then a Staff Sergeant, was stationed in Berlin. A new officer was posted in and John met him in the corridor on his first morning. John, of course, knew who he was and without any introduction asked “Do you have any nude photographs of your wife?”
The officer spluttered “No”.
“Would you like some?”
“You must be Staff Farrell. I’ve been warned about you!”
John was indignant about people being warned about him. To his dying day he maintains that it was completely unfair.
Some time after I arrived, we were relocated to different quarters; this time sharing them with the Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police. Virtually everybody living there was a fanatical card player and we used to play a form of whist constantly. People were so obsessive about playing that I was often woken at 3am to join in a game and on one field trip, a card table was set up in the back of the van and we played the whole time. Even the driver had a hand and would play a card by holding it over the back of his shoulder for somebody to grab.
I went to Berlin on several occasions; on most of them I took the train through East Germany, which was a very interesting ride as we were often able to see Russian tank units moving through the countryside. Berlin is, in my memory, one of the truly great cities in the world. Mind you I haven’t been back for over 20 years so, with the Wall down, it may well have changed dramatically.
On one of my trips I went across Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. It was like entering the Twilight Zone; it seemed as if we had been suddenly transported backc 40 years in time; everything was grey and gloomy and it was much, much colder than in the West just a few hundred yards away. I can honestly say that I have never felt so cold in my entire life. The whole illusion was compounded by the East German military, still wearing WW2 uniforms, goose-stepping their way through the streets.
One another trip I had gone up for a Chess competition and one evening a group of us had gone to a bar. We were playing Pool when a hooker came over and propositoned us, offering her body for 50DM. We politely refused; at which point she pointed to a very heavily made up man and said that we could have him for only 12DM. She didn’t get taken up on that offer either.
Another trip I took was to Hamburg. Four of us had driven up from Celle to celebrate the New Year. We had found a small neighborhood bar, had had a couple of drinks and got the bill which was enormous. We questioned it and the barmaid told us that it included the drinks for her (Champagne cocktails) which we had not ordered. We refused to pay for them at which point she made a signal and this huge bouncer ponderously got to his feet and moved threateningly towards us. My friend, Tony Mattinson, stood up to meet him. Next to Tony the bouncer looked like an underdeveloped midget and ofter a couple of dirty looks were exchanged we left without any trouble and without paying for anything other than our own drinks.
We wandered down the Reeperbahn which is where all the hookers hang out. At five minutes before midnight, they all stopped working and as the clock chimed in the New Year, the fireworks went off. Firework rockets were being launched horizontally down the street and everybody was frantically diving for cover. At five minutes past the hour, business was back to normal.
Tony Mattinson was quite a character. One day the CO had decided that he wanted all the furniture in his office moved around and Tony got lumbered with it. It was quite a job as the filing cabinets all had to be emptied, moved and then refilled. After it had all been done, the CO came in, decided that he liked it better the way it had been and gave orders for everything to be put back. Tony gave some serious consideration to breaking his neck, but settled, instead, for picking up one of the filling cabinets – fully loaded with papers – and throwing it across the room to its original position. The CO beat a hasty retreat!
We went out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant locally and were somewhat amused to discover that the owner and staff were all Japanese. Tony very proudly announced to the owner that he spoke Japanese and then demonstrated his linguistic prowess by saying “Banzai” and “Pearl Harbor.” They were not amused and I don’t think we were welcomed back.
At some time during my four year stay in Germany I was sent to Rheindahlen to attend a promotion course from Corporal to Sergeant. There were about 30 of us, all Intelligence Corps, and we were there for a week of intensive studying about Russian military weaponry and tactics. It was mind numbing stuff and at the end of it we were to have an exam which had a pass mark of 70%. Failure was not a good idea.
On the last day but one of the course, our instructor casually mentioned that he had set the exam and that he had torn his notes up so we couldn’t find out what the questions were. It occurred to me that the pieces were probably in his waste paper basket. That night in the early hours of the morning, I picked the locks to the office building (they had taught us how to pick locks at the beginning of the week, and I thought this would be good practice!) and got into the Instructors office.
There was nothing to be found in the waste paper basket! I rummaged around and found a black plastic sack full of papers which I poured out onto the floor and found the torn up question paper. Painstakingly I reassembled the pieces taping them to a blank sheet of paper, and then photocopied the page before tearing the pieces back off and putting everything back in the sack and leaving the room exactly as I had found it.
Back in the billet I handed out copies of the exam to everybody and we set to studying. Somewhat surprisingly we all got 100% in the exam the following day. The Instructor told us that he was really impressed and, he said, “I really, really like to see initiative!” In hindsight I realize that the idea was for us to do exactly as we had done; they didn’t want us to fail the exam as it would reflect badly on them and a cushy instructing job might easily have been lost.
My lock picking skills came in useful on another exercise. Our CO for this was a Captain by the name of Chris Hughes and of all the officers I served with, he was the best, and we would all have done anything for him. We were in the tent chatting late one night when Chris said that he was hungry. There was nothing to eat so I did the only thing I could possibly do; went to the Mess Wagon, picked the lock and ‘requisitioned’ a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread and a pound of bacon.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading or listening to this chapter as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and recording it.
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