GEORGE HARDISTY Ex-KORB. TIME IN THE CAMEROONS.
My name is George Hardisty No 23790954. I was a member of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment stationed in the Bamenda region Of the Cameroons.
I would just like to start my letter by congratulating you on your initiative to build this website, which I am sure like me the many people who served in the Cameroons will really appreciate.
I was originally drafted to do my national service in the Loyal Regiment on March 6th 1960. Whilst training at Fulwood Barracks Preston my draft was transferred to the King’s Own Royal Border Regt. who was also being trained at Fulwood Barracks. All this was due to a crisis that had broken out in the British Cameroons, West Africa
On completing our training (square bashing) at Fulwood barracks our draft joined the battalion at Barnard Castle to further our training. It seemed only a short time before the battalion boarded the troop train to Southampton, where we joined the troopship Devonshire for our journey to Africa.
The journey on the Devonshire was really quite enjoyable. I remember buying pints of orange juice and slices of this tasty cake, which was available in the bar area. Some of the lads had brought with them guitars and they used to sit on the deck playing and singing in the moonlight.
At times we were moved in sections to the Aft end of the ship, where balloons were thrown overboard for target practice with our S.L.Rs.(rifles) There was even a daily competition onboard to see who could guess the distance the ship had travelled in the previous 24hrs with the result given over the ships loud speaker. When the Devonshire eventually anchored off the shore of the Cameroons, dozens of natives came out to the ship in their home made boats it was for then and us quite an occasion.
After disembarking from the Devonshire in barges, we spent our first night at base camp Buea. On the following morning being an M.T. driver I was designated to drive a flat nosed 3 ton Bedford lorry Reg no 54BG89. The vehicle was very sturdy and was used for transporting both stores and personnel to and from Bamenda.
On the first day, due too the bad conditions on the road caused by heavy rain. We stopped overnight at the R.A.F. base at Mamfe. I remember a colleague and I had to sleep on top of the canvas of the lorry due to the shortage of sleeping accommodation. Little did I know at the time, that I would spend many more nights sleeping rough on benches of primitive schools, or even out in the open jungle and hills. On the second day we made our way up the long winding narrow road to Bamenda one has too understand the roads had no tarmac and with it being the back of the rainy season, it was very dangerous.
My first few months spent at Bamenda, was an experience looking back I enjoyed.
As an M.T. driver I travelled to all the platoon outposts at Sante Coffee, Sante Customs and Pinyin etc.
Although the daily parades at the outposts were quite relaxed than the Bamenda camp. It was never relaxed if C.S.M Kershaw was at that outpost nicknamed by fellow squaddies (The Screaming Skull). At Sante Customs where we slept in tents and due to his personal attitude everyone had to parade first thing in the morning and be inspected by an office and the Screaming Skull. On this particular morning I had got up late and did not bother to shave. The officer and the CSM passed by me without saying a word. I sighed a big relief, how stupid of me. A few seconds later, I felt the breath of someone standing immediately behind me and yes it was Kershaw. He said in a reasonable quiet voice, “Have you shaved this morning Private Hardisty!
Not one for lying I said, “Yes Sgt major”. Then at the top of his voice I think it could have been in the U.K. he yelled “WELL GO SHAVE AGAIN AND THIS TIME STAND A LOT CLOSER TO THE RAZOR BLADE.”
I think my most frightening experience in the Cameroons, was when I had to transport a section of riflemen from one of the outposts to a place called Baligam, where they would start their night patrol in pursuit of known terrorists. Before leaving Sante Coffee a mate of mine David Lee asked the officer in charge if he could tag along for the run to break his boredom. The officer agreed to this and so was I.
I was issued with a Sterling Sub Machine gun with a full magazine of thirty 9mm rounds
We made our way to Baligam a distance of 7 to 8 miles from Sante Coffee on a very steep and narrow road in darkness. Going past all the mud huts of Baligam we turned right and after following a track for a further few hundred yards we came to a large flat grassy area. The Sergeant and riflemen left the vehicle and disappeared into the night to start their patrol.
I have to say at this time that we never saw any natives on our way to or through Baligam. With the patrol well on its way and the morning pick up time arranged. I with the company of my friend David lee started our return to Sante coffee.
About a half-mile or so from where we dropped the patrol off, to our surprise and shock, our road was blocked by a vast number of natives. They were spread all over the road waving spears, knives and machetes etc. in a most terrifying manner. I have to be honest for a split second I froze, not knowing what to do.
I had to do what was the best thing for David and me. I shouted at David to load my sterling machine gun and stand in the turret of the cab in the lorry, which he did fairly quickly.
I informed him not to fire without my command. I then put my foot on the throttle of my vehicle and raced towards the large crowd of natives who were blocking the road.
They realised I wasn’t going to stop for any reason and they started to move out of my way, but still continued to behave in a very hostile manner. One particular native lunged towards my side of the door with a machete in his hand and jumped up and with his free hand grabbed the bar of the vehicle mirror. He was peering at me through the open window of my cab, but could do nothing due to the speed I was
doing, he just held on for grim death. What seemed an eternity, but must have only been seconds. I elbowed the uninvited passenger directly in the face and with a grunt he completely disappeared from view.
With my adrenaline racing I returned to the Sante Coffee outpost, where I immediately informed the O.C. in charge about the incident. He noted it down, but said nothing could be done now, because the fact is they would have dispersed by now.
The following morning I returned to a now deserted area, to pick up the night patrol, who apparently had an uneventful night. When I told my story to the sergeant, he said he was sorry he couldn’t have been there to help.
The remainder of my time at Bamenda was not as exciting as that, until I caught Malaria and was placed in the medical hut at Bamenda camp in what I now know to be a very serious condition. After many weeks I started to recover then I sustained abscesses on my appendix. I had to be flown by the mail plane, which I believe was a little single engine pioneer to Buea base camp to undergo surgery in their hospital.
I always remember the surgeon a Mr Smith, who was a perfect gentleman in many ways. I made knew friends during my stay in the Buea army hospital. One lad I remember told me he was driving his truck along a road. A native carrying a long probably bamboo stick of some sort, heard the truck coming and turned round to look at the truck. As he did so, the cane went through the driver’s window slicing the driver’s neck open nearly killing him.
After recovering from my illness I remained at Buea camp some times visiting a vast volcanic lake, which was unbelievably warm when you dived in. We would swim out to a large tree trunk which was lying about 15 yards from the shore everyone seemed to congregate by the old tree trunk.
The regiment’s time was up in the Cameroons the Grenadier Guards arrived on the troopship Devonshire and we were now to board the ship back to the U.K.
I was really enjoying the trip home, when to my surprise I contracted measles above all things. This meant I was put into solitary so as the disease did not spread. Whilst in solitary, the Devonshire anchored just outside Lagos docks where the lads were taken to a sandy beach for swimming. While this was all going on I was still in solitary much to my disappointment I contracted serious appendicitis and I had to be transferred from the Devonshire to the military hospital in Lagos Nigeria. I recall being stretched off the ship as the rest of the soldiers were actually watching a film on the top deck.
I remained in the Lagos hospital, the only private as you had to be at least a sergeant or above to serve in Nigeria for several weeks, until the drugs eventually calmed down my appendix. Eventually I was allowed to fly home in civvies on a civilian passenger jet. Leaving Lagos airport and arriving at Heathrow at 9am the following day.
I had to fly in civilian clothes bought for me by the army, because in those days military personnel were not allowed to fly over foreign countries wearing uniforms.
I was met at Heathrow Airport by members of the Queen’s Alexander’s Nursing Corps. They transported me to the King Edward 7th hospital in London.
I remained here until I was fit enough to be discharged and allowed home for my disembarkation leave.
I then travelled by train to Carlisle railway station of which is only 7 miles from Gretna, where I lived. Words cannot express the feeling I had in finally returning home after 12 months. On arrival at the station my parents who were well off business people were not there to greet me. Later when I did see them they treated me as though I had not been out of their sight. I thought a lot of my parents and I know they did of me, but this episode has haunted me ever since.
My Girlfriend Patricia, whom I was engaged too, did however meet me at the station.
It was obvious there had been some kind of rift between Patricia and my parents whatever it was I vainly tried to find out. I had been engaged to her before I went abroad. She wrote regularly to me and quite often sent me gifts in the post. These gifts mean a lot to all servicemen not only then but in past and present times. I had great feelings for her, and no doubt she had for me, but what had happened over the last 12 months had understandably changed me. Patricia had also changed and over the next month or so, we simply grew apart. On hindsight it was sad really, because we had so many plans for the future.
With my leave over I returned back to the regiment at Barford Camp Barnard Castle.
I was in for more disappointment, as I was informed that all my personal property which had been on the Devonshire, had been stolen. This included my camera and about 10 rolls of film, which I had taken in the Cameroons.
I was summoned to the camp medical officer who said when you were called up to do your national service you were A1, but your latest medical review showed you now as B5 category and you are no longer required to complete your national service. I was only a couple of months short of completing my two years’ service
So that was it, I really paid the price for all the times I spent living rough whilst going to and from the Cameroon outposts, but thankfully I survived
.Finally on a brighter note, I would like to wish all my ex comrades who served with me throughout my national service days.
Good luck and best wishes wherever you may be.