1 Dec



My name is Brian Robertson born and bred in Scotland. During my two years’ national service as private, I was a truck driver serving with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. The regiment
were stationed in Cyprus during the height of the troubles from October 1955 to January 1957.
One of my most vivid memories of my time with B Company was driving a one-ton truck trailing a water cart over the mountain tracks from Plateres to Kykko Monastery in the dark. We were going in to search the Greek Orthodox monastery at first light for terrorist activity.
All I had to follow was one very small white light on the tail of the vehicle in front of me This light as you could imagine kept disappearing for minutes at a time, as we were separated from the truck in front at each bend. When this happened I just tried as hard as possible to keep the truck on the road. Being the slowest I was the last vehicle in the convoy because I had to stop and reverse the truck and cart to negotiate many of the tight bends. There was a sheer cliff up the left side and a drop down into a ravine on the right almost all the way through the mountains to the monastery. I could hear the lads in the back of the truck swearing at me with colourful words every time I went near the edge.
Sgt. Gammy was standing on the passenger seat with his head out of the roof turret, continually urging me to go faster to catch up with the rest of the convoy. Occasionally he would bend his knees and duck down into the cab to encourage me a little more forcefully.
“Put your foot down Robertson,” he would bellow over the noise of the engine at me “we’re bloody losing them”! Then he would resume his position with his head and upper body above the turret peering into the darkness
Had the journey been in the daylight, or had I been allowed to use headlights, I might have seen enough and been confident enough to take the bends in one without reversing, but in the dark I assure you it would be very dodgy. Not to be beat at the next bend I thought okay, here we go! I swung the front of the truck right out to where I thought the edge of the road should be and at the appropriate moment swung the wheel all the way to the left. I just hoped that the water cart would not bounce off the cliff wall on the way round.
About one second into this manoeuvre, I could hear the lads literally screaming in the back of the truck and out of the corner of my eye I saw Sgt. Grammy’s right leg lift off the passenger’s seat and hover.
The action completed satisfactorily, Sgt. Grammy’s leg resumed its place on the seat and his frame again appeared in the cab.
“By the hell that was more by God’s grace than good judgment laddy. Just bloody reverse at the next one will ye?”
Which I did. We arrived at the “walk in” site a mile or so before the monastery about 10 minutes behind the rest of the convoy. I must say a very relieved driver indeed.

Brian Robertson will soon be publishing his book on his national service days, when he served with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. There is no doubt it will be a good read and I am sure you the reader, will enjoy it.

Not Again

22 May

I have wrote my opinion about this subject before and due to statements that have recently appeared in the press and on television, I have put it back on the Blog
So now we have Prince Harry saying National Service should be brought back. What planet does him and others come from. Like all other royals he had to go in the forces and to be fair he didn’t duck his postings. He said being in the army kept him out of trouble, what a short memory he has. Does he not realise the regular forces in this country are being reduced and the lads who volunteered to join the forces being put in the dole queues. Obviously, I don’t think he understands the issue and problems of bringing back National service

The question about bringing National Service back is bantered around quite frequently these last few years and no doubt there are arguments for and against this question. It has also been the subject of many debates in colleges and Universities over the last few years
Many millions of British men of the older generation have done national service and served their country with distinction. They served throughout World War 2, Korea, Malaya, Palestine, Kenya, Cyprus, Germany, and Africa etc.
For instance over 300 British servicemen lost their lives in Cyprus in the fifties and early sixties most of these were national servicemen.
The national servicemen of yesteryear were certainly a different breed of men, than the present day men for that there is no doubt.
The men who had to do national service all those years ago were originally called up at the outbreak of World War 2 when Great Britain was in grave danger by Hitler’s Germany.
National service continued for another fifteen years after the end of World War 2, when each man called up had to do firstly eighteen months service. The length of service was raised to two years, due to the Korean War.
You may ask what you mean by a different breed of man, they are all the same. Well I assure you they are not.
The lads of yesteryear mostly came from poor homes where their father went to work for poor wages and their mother cooked, cleaned the house and looked after the children.
Over 80% of the people didn’t have a bathroom just a tin bath brought in usually on Friday night. The brick toilet was outside in the backyard the paper used was the day before newspaper. The bedroom for the children was shared with two in a bed for brothers and sisters depending on the size of the family.
The only wardrobe was in your parent’s room, the children’s wardrobe was a hook screwed to the back of the bedroom door. The heating in the house was just one-coal fire, which was usually lit before the children got up.
I was one of the millions brought up in a much loved family life with no television to distract conversation. One was made to respect elders, neighbours etc. it was always Mr and Mrs when speaking to neighbours; it was no Jim, Tom and Maggie.
When your time came to be called up for National Service whether you were eighteen or twenty one, you knew it had to be done and all able bodied knew that
No one was looking forward to doing two years in the forces while just entering the prime of one’s life. All the frightening tales told to by the abundance of ex-servicemen didn’t help, because they did it and you were no exception.
The day came when you reluctantly left your tight knitted community and left to join your allotted service, be it Army, Navy or Air Force. Although it was a shock to the system there was plenty of food and for the first time in their lives there were showers.
Young men at that time had so much in common, coming from similar backgrounds, camaraderie and lifelong friendships soon formed. The discipline and overall smartness instilled into each national serviceman during those two years made boys into men. No doubt they became better men indeed who kept the Great in Great Britain.

The lads of today have the better of two worlds, money in the back pockets, cars and a certainly more permissive society. Their homes have all the mod cons. The downside of their family life has been dampened by television.
I am sorry to say now; there are a small minority who have not much respect for elders, neighbours and the law, which of course should certainly be addressed.
Parents and school teachers should play their part in this and stop passing the problem onto others. Discipline when one is young plays a big part in future life
The overwhelming majority of young people are intelligent, dress well and courteous and should not be tarred by a few yobs.
The politicians, media and sections of the public who have never been in the forces themselves keep bringing this national service question up. Do it to them not to us attitude.
These same young men who keep getting picked on, will I am sure be the first in line to join up if the country was threatened, like it was many years ago.
No one wants to see lads who were forced to do national service being brought home after losing their lives in conflicts. It is sorrowful enough seeing our brave service men and women being brought home from the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts.
In my own opinion National Service should not be introduced, because of our country being involved in conflicts in far off places or any other feeble excuse. Do you honestly think the armed forces want to start training lads who are not making the services their career?
I am sure they will agree that it would be a complete waste of time for everyone concerned.
Politicians should sort our own country out, making it a peaceful and happy place to live, with no such thing as dole queues, poverty and racism.
When, one makes statements to the press about national service, whether it is Royalty, Politicians Actors or any other Tom, Dick or Harry. Please try and engage the brain first.

Bryan Bonnington Royal Air Force 1954-56

3 Apr

Hello everybody, my name is Bryan Bonnington; I was born and brought up in Leeds. Life was quite difficult, because 9 years before I was born in 1925. My father job was working in a boiler works in Leeds on heavy presses. One day he had a terrible accident, he had his hands crushed and had to have both hands amputated 6 inches below the elbows. So one can only visualise the difficult and hard times my parents had, especially my mother in bringing up my older brother and me. My brother was 9 years older than me and things weren’t very easy for the family as one can imagine.
We moved to Lincolnshire for my dad and brother, who had left school at 14, to find some work. Hopefully on a farm, we eventually rented a small holding from a government scheme in 1940.The holding we had was just outside of Grantham at a place called Harrowby. We stayed there for 6 years, but with the rise in price of foodstuffs for the pigs and hens my Dad had to give it up. We moved to Gt. Yarmouth to open a boarding house. My brother had already joined the Royal Marines when he was 16. Sadly after less than 2 years my mother died of cancer, which was a big blow to all of us. One must understand the circumstances with losing my mother had on us all. My father decided to move back to Leeds to live with my uncle. I had to leave school a year early at 15 to help the budget and I obtained an apprenticeship in a Leeds textile factory as an apprentice Weaving Over looker.
National Service in my younger days was an accepted, though not very welcome thing, as millions will testify. You didn’t want to do it, but knew that it had to be done and that was that. If you were fit and well you had to wait for the dreaded brown envelope dropping through the letter-box. In special circumstances you could get a deferment if you were in an apprenticeship. When one’s apprenticeship was complete you were then called up. In special circumstances you could get an extra deferment for 12 months depending on your job etc.: Mine were a bit special, when my papers came I was able to be deferred on the grounds of looking after my Dad.
When my second set of papers arrived I was married with a daughter. I knew I would have to go sometime so I decided to get it over with. So on 29 Nov 1954 I had to report to RAF Cardington for kitting out. The ironical thing was that at Gt.Yarmouth, I had been in the ATC and was keen on joining the RAF as a Wireless operator aircrew. This helped me get my choice of RAF, but because of national service not aircrew. I did my Square-bashing at West Kirby on the Wirral, then to Compton Bassett for a wireless operating course for 3 months. I passed out as a Wireless Operator; this consisted of learning Morse code at a speed of 18 words per minute. It was quite interesting learning the procedures in ground to air communications, and obviously about wireless sets (valves Diodes, Double Diodes etc.). After passing the course I was given the chance to take another course to be a Wireless Operator A class). This was to monitor Morse at speeds up to 22 words per minute. This was for receiving signals only. To do this we were sent t, I think it was RAF Wythall near Birmingham.
Some of my mates had got postings to the Far East but mine was Germany. This was classed as a home posting so we only got the normal pay which because of my marital status amounted to about 12/6d a week. My wife got the rest, but like all national servicemen I managed somehow to just get by. We were part of the Cold War stationed 15km from the Russian zone not far from the Belsen concentration camp and Luneburg Heath. The camp was Hamburhan and the nearest town was Celle, which we were informed, was the Fascist Headquarters in that area. The camp was odd because the billets were at the side of the road to Celle and the rest of the camp opposite. Inside the main camp was an open shed full of transport vehicles, I think this was to give the impression it was a transport camp. Just down the road in the fields was a forest of radio masts. Cars used to pull up and take photographs on a regular basis. A woman used to walk her Alsatian dog past when we were going to work, she would say something in German to the dog which would then snarl and bark as she held on to its lead. Can’t imagine what she said to it. I put it down to her being ignorant
One of the corporals taught me and a mate how to play badminton, but he wasn’t best pleased when we began to beat him. Our job in Germany was to monitor Eastern Bloc signals in Morse, and then a group of linguists would translate the best they could from our efforts. The trouble was some of the groups like a Czech group, were not well disciplined in procedures and more than one outstation would be sending messages together. These we nicknamed The Goon show and were a nightmare to work on. We worked shifts day and night and in our spare time played cricket football or badminton. Some of us one day decided to borrow some skis from stores and walked about a mile before we found a gentle slope to go down. On my first attempt a strap broke on one of mine so that was as far as I got on skis. If we went out for a look round we kept out of Celle although we did explore some local hostelries to sample the excellent food and beer of course!
It was whilst over in Germany that I got a “Dear John” letter from my wife. If you don’t know what they are, it is a lovely letter to say your marriage is on the rocks. I was not on my own receiving letters like this. Not a good thing when you are stuck a few hundred miles away and can’t get home. However I did manage to get some leave and thought I got it sorted. My marriage lasted a couple of years after I got out. Back to Germany again, my time was getting nearer for demob. I was offered the chance to get out a fortnight early if I went on a Civil Defence course to learn to be a fireman. This was in case of a war with whoever decided to drop “The Bomb”. The most terrifying thing about the course was being carried down a ladder head first over the shoulder of a mate half my size; I am 6ft 3”. Eventually demob came and you were then put on the reserve list liable for recall in the case of a conflict.
So as I said National Service was disruptive. It did affect people’s lives. It took me a while to settle back at work and I constantly moved around in the textile industry. It went some way to wrecking a marriage which might not have survived anyway and changed my Dad’s life, although he lived until he was 86. The happy ending to all this is that I have been married a second time for 52 years. Looking back I learned a lot doing National Service and made some good friends, and would love to contact anyone I met. Finally, I wish you all good luck and best wishes for the future.
Bryan Bonnington

Frank Malone Ex- Grenadier Guards

12 Jan

Hello everybody, my name is Frank Malone. During 1960 which was the last year of national service I was called up to do my two years’ service with the Grenadier Guards. I reported to Caterham for my basic training, then onto Pirbright for further training. After the passing out parades I joined the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards. I spent a short time as a Bren gunner with 3 company, before being sent to the signal platoon. I must admit the signal platoon was a great bunch of lads and I was happy to be in their ranks.
During the early months of 1961 it was posted on orders that the battalion were being sent to the Cameroons in West Africa. Like most in the battalion we had never heard of the Cameroons.
We boarded the troopship Devonshire and incidentally this was my first time out of England. A couple of weeks at sea and the ship reached the Cameroons. Barges took us in sections to the dockside where a number of 3 ton Lorries transported us in a long overnight journey to the tented camp at Bamenda.
Not long after arriving at Bamenda and having not much time to settle in. I was sent on a course for horse riding and how to look after the blessed things. One has to understand the roads were none existent, So patrols with horses was better as far as I was concerned than foot slogging over the hard countryside. I remember going on horseback to a place on the French Cameroon border named Sante Customs. The custom building had been burned down by terrorists’ months before we had arrived.
I was the signaller with Sergeant Biddick’s when our Company attacked a terrorist camp in very hostile country. With Sgt Biddick we set up a radio on the edge of a bamboo forest overlooking an escarpment.
We spent a very sleepless night before the attack on the terrorist camp. The shooting and shouting lasted only a short time and sadly John Lund was killed and the camp was empty of occupants.
We stayed in the terrorist camp for an hour or so. I was told that I was stopping behind with my radio along with a rifle squad .All men with 9mm ammo for a sterling were to fill my pouches ,I was not too sure about this, but after a short time this order was rescinded. We all then made the long tab back. This was very gruelling long march over some hard country; finally we arrived at a tent first aid station staffed with doctors and RAMC personnel. Resting for a short time we were loaded into 3 tonners and back to camp.
I did a few more patrols after these both on foot and on horseback before returning to the UK and public duties and eventually demob.
I would like to wish all my former comrades in the Grenadier Guards all the best and good health wherever you may be.

Frank Malone


7 Nov

Hello everybody on the ninth of November, it will be Remembrance Sunday.This is a special day in Britain and indeed our commonwealth. I have known many men who fought in both of the World Wars and other conflicts around the world. To lose one’s life in the service of your country is a massive sacrifice. During the First World War Just over 703,000 men and women were killed 1.663,000 wounded. In the Second World War 382,000 were killed and 369,267 wounded. Also during WW2 67,800 British civilians were killed during bombing raids over Great Britain.
When you look at these figures it is very hard to comprehend the sacrifice made by the men and women of the British Isles in the pursuit of freedom and victory. The mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of men who died in foreign lands also suffered. I knew two families who lived in the same street as me. Their sons had lost their lives during WW2. Sadly just the same as the thousands of other parents of this great country of ours they had to get on with their lives. Many years have passed since the two World Wars. Unfortunately even up to this present day, British service men and women have lost their lives in various conflicts.
Remembrance Sunday, gives the country a day to pay homage to the men and women who paid with their lives for the freedom we and the future generations enjoy
The Cenotaph built from Portland stone was erected in Whitehall 1919-20 at the request of the then Prime Minister Lloyd George. The guns fell silent in the First World War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Ex- service men and women absorbed in their own thoughts will smartly march past the Cenotaph on Sunday. To you the British public wear your Poppy with pride in remembrance to our fallen heroes. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Samuel Wassall VC

9 Sep

Hello Everybody I hope you the reader finds this interesting. Quite a while ago I was in the Barrow-in Furness cemetery where I noticed a grave headstone with the name Samuel Wassall VC. Looking closer it read he won his Victoria Cross at Isandhlwana Zululand on 29th January 1879. Having watched the film Zulu Dawn probably the same as you have. I was always under the impression no one survived the battle against the 20,000 Zulu warriors, how wrong I was.
Samuel Wassall was born in the Birmingham on July 28th 1856. During the year 1874 he joined the 80th Regiment known has the Staffordshire Volunteers, which later became the South Staffordshire Regiment. The regiment was part of Lord Chelmsford’s force that was sent to South Africa to put down the Zulu uprising. Part of Chelmsford’s force of over 1300 men of which Samuel Wassall was with, were camped at Islandhlwana in Zululand. Without warning the camp was attacked by an overwhelming force of Zulus. In the ensuing vicious battle, the camp was over-run with most of the 1300 defenders killed. Samuel Wassall managed to find a loose horse as the Zulus were slaughtering the last remnants of resistance. He rode to the Buffalo River closely being chased by a section of Zulus. On reaching the river he noticed another soldier of the regiment drowning in the river on which he was struggling to cross. Bravely without thought to his own safety, he tied the horse to a tree on the Zulu side of the river and plunged into the flowing river and brought the drowning man to the riverbank. The Zulu warriors were close on his tail now. He remounted his horse under heavy fire dragging his comrade across the river to safety. For this act of bravery Samuel Wassall was awarded the Victoria Cross at the ripe old age of twenty two.
What this man went through must have been horrendous for what he had seen and heard. One cannot fully comprehend the bravery shown by many of our fellow countrymen such as Samuel Wassall VC. On leaving the army he married and settled down in Barrow-in- Furness for the next 46 years. Samuel Wassall VC died in his 70th year in 1927 and was buried with full military honours. The headstone of his grave was erected by his former regiment a few years ago, which is a fitting tribute to him and his famous regiment. Samuel Wassall’s Victoria Cross is in the regimental museum of the Staffordshire Regt.


25 Apr

Canada has been shoulder to shoulder with Great Britain in times of conflict over the years. Without doubt the armed forces of Canada are really formidable when it comes to the crunch. I will mention a few of those very notable battles the Canadian forces were very involved with.

During the First World War in 1917 there was heavy fighting in the Arras offensive. The Canadian Corps which was made up of men from all parts of Canada was given the task of capturing the heavily fortified positions held by the Germans. The Germans were well dug in on high ground, which overlooked the surrounding area known has Vimy Ridge. The battle took place 9th to 12th April 1917. Supported by a creeping barrage the Canadians attacked the German positions and during the course of heavy fighting, captured most of the ridge on the first day of attack. The town of Thelus and the rest of the ridge were captured on the second day. Taking many casualties the Canadian forces overcame heavy resistance outside the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle. The town was eventually captured on the 12th April with the German forces retreating. With Vimy Ridge now in the Canadian forces hands the British advanced without the fear of German fire.

During this battle for Vimy Ridge the Canadian Corps suffered 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. Four members of the Canadian Corps received Victoria Crosses for valour during the course of this battle. One can only try to visualise the bravery shown in taking Vimy Ridge. The area of the battle is now a memorial park dedicated to the 59,544 Canadian forces that lost their lives in the First World War. If you are ever in this area, please take a visit and see this wonderful memorial to the brave men of Canada.

During the dark days of World War two, thankfully we had Canadian Forces fighting alongside British troops. On the 18th August 1942 a large force of troops mainly from Canadian Regiments set sail for Dieppe on Operation Jubilee. The attack on the French Port area was destined to start just before dawn on the 19th. It involved 5000 Canadian Troops 1000 British Troops and 50 U.S Rangers.

The objective was to capture and hold the Port, gather intelligence and destroy the coastal batteries. The attack was meant to be a morale booster for things to come in the future. The Germans had got wind of the attack and were on high alert, of which spelled disaster to the attacking force. The well-fortified German forces held the Canadian forces that did land on the beach. The Canadians on one sector were pinned against the sea wall by devastating fire. Unable to advance The Royal Regiment of Canada was just about annihilated of the 556 men in the attacking Regiment 200 was killed and 264 men who were suffering injuries were captured. Within a few hours of the landing, the order went out for a retreat back to the landing crafts. It can only be described as carnage and many brave men lost their lives with many more captured. The South Saskatchewan Regiment and The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada landed on Green Beach without being detected but in their advance to Pourville, met with positioned German Machine guns and took heavy casualties on a bridge just outside Pourville fighting bravely before retreating back to the beach.

In the Dieppe attack in general, virtually none of the objectives were met. The fire support was totally inadequate leaving the attacking force mainly trapped on the beach by obstacles and well positioned German troops. Within 10 hours of the initial landing. The men who had not been killed or captured were evacuated back to England.

It was said later by Mountbatten who justified the raid by arguing that lessons learned at Dieppe in 1942 were put to good use later in the war. He later claimed by saying the Battle of Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe. For every man killed at Dieppe, at least 10 were saved at Normandy. Winston Churchill said that his impression of Operation Jubilee is that the results fully justified the heavy cost and it was the Canadian contribution of the greatest significance to final victory. To many especially the Canadians it was a major disaster. Of the attacking force of 5000 Canadian soldiers 900 were killed and 1874 taken prisoner. Whatever has been said about this raid, many brave men of Canada paid the supreme sacrifice towards the eventual victory in Europe.

On 6th June 1944 The Canadian Forces were given Juno Beach for their landings. Many of these troops had fought two years previously at Dieppe. At the close of D-Day one The Canadian Forces had pushed further in land than any other landing force. This speaks volumes for the well trained Canadian Forces. Approximately 44,198 Canadians were killed in WW2 with 55,368 wounded.

Going back to the opening lines I wrote. We in Great Britain are really grateful that we have the shoulder of Canada to be alongside us, in times of peace and conflict



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