After ten months in Oman, I decided that I had had enough of the Army and put in a request to buy myself out. Although I had signed on for nine years and had not quite served six, it was possible to pay the Army to let you out of the contract and although I was warned that it would be expensive, especially since they had sent me on the Arabic course, I didn’t care. I had about £40,000 in cash from playing poker, so money was not an object.
Eventually my papers came through and I tore open the envelope expecting to see a figure of £10,000 or more. It was, at that moment that I realized that the Army was about as fucked up as it could get. All they wanted to release me from my contract was £350 which I handed over immediately. A week later I had all my discharge papers and was due to be discharged two months later after 7 weeks of paid leave which I think amounted to about £300 a week. I told you the Army was fucked up.
I flew back to England a year to the day I arrived in Oman. My timing could not have been better for that very day, the beach, where I had spent most of my Fridays, was machine gunned by terrorists and five of my colleagues were killed.
The first thing I did on arriving back in England was to go out and buy myself a car; a Mini Cooper which was very fast and I loved it. I had always fancied a Ferrari, but they were out of my budget. However a very good friend of mine, Martin Greene, had just bought a 4 year old yellow and black 308GT4, which he, quite foolishly, let me drive whenever I wanted to. It was a dream come true. Seven weeks later I drove it down to Ashford for my final discharge and parked it on the parade ground in the very front row directly in front of the CO’s offices.
I went inside and, after a short wait, was called in to sign my discharge papers. The CO made one last, valiant attempt to have me change my mind and stay on and told me how much I would benefit from doing so. I asked him to look out of his window and tell me what he saw. He saw the Ferrari immediately – being bright yellow it was hard to miss.
“That’s my Ferrari, Sir.”, I told him, stretching the truth more than a little “I just paid £20,000 cash for it and I’ve got a lot left. Why in the world would I want to stay in the Army for another three years?”
He didn’t have an answer which is what I had expected, and five minutes later I was no longer in the British Army. I walked across to the car feeling a mixture of sadness and joy, climbed in and accelerated up the hill and under the exit barrier before the guardroom staff could get to lift it – I had already had the clearance checked and knew that I had about 3” to spare.
That was the end of my Army days in the Intelligence Corps. I had had some foreign travel; met no femme fatales (unless you count Helga); had not had any Bondian gadgets issued to me and the amount of intrigue I had experienced could have been written on the head of a pin. In short, I had been sold a pup by the recruiting pamphlet and yet it was a good time overall with some good memories and many many laughs.
There is, however, one final footnote to the story. Although I was discharged from the Army I was still obligated to serve out the reminder of a 12 year period in the Reserves. What this meant was that in time of war, I could be called back up. Three months before my Reserve membership ended, England went to war with Argentina over The Falkland Islands (I still don’t understand why – it’s not as if we have any shortage of sheep in England!) and a notice was sent out to all Reserve personnel warning them of the possibility of being called back in.
I received the notice in America where I was living, making money playing poker professionally. I duly sent a telegram to the Home Office expressing my regret that I wouldn’t be able to get back in time but that I would be happy to travel overland to Argentina and attack from the rear.
They never took me up on my offer! Thank God.
40 years later, I returned to the UK having lived all over the world for most of it. My sister in law told me that I should apply for an Army pension. I scoffed at her as I had always believed that you had to serve the full 22 years to be eligible. She told me that I was wrong and I only had to serve 2 to qualify. Having nothing to lose, I applied for it, thinking that it would be a pittance if anything, but I might as well take what they were giving.
A month letter, I received a letter from the Army Pensions office taking that they had approved my claim, and would be getting almost £200 a month, much, much more than I had expected. However they wanted to know why I hadn’t claimed it at the age of 60. I wrote back explaining that I had been overseas for most of my life and hadn’t claimed it because I wasn’t aware that I was eligible, and had only just discovered that I was.
Six weeks later, I opened my mobile banking app and almost fell over as the Army Pension office had just deposited over £23,000. This was 8 years backpay and a £5,000 end of service award. To say my gast was flabbered would have been an understatement of epic proportions.
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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