Tag Archives: fulwood barracks

Harry Wilkinson King’s Own Royal Border Regt 1959-61

6 Oct

My name is Harry Wilkinson. I was brought up in what can only be termed an army family. My father did 22 years’ service, my brother followed suit by signing up and serving 22years in the army. Not to be outdone both my sisters did 6 years and 3 years’ service in the army. So in my early life you could see what was expected of me. The only problem was that when I left school at fifteen years of age all I wanted to do, was join the merchant navy.
I had quite a few different of opinions with my dad and family before I was given the go ahead to join the merchant navy. I spent my sixteenth birthday at the Gravesend merchant navy training school. After finishing my ten weeks training I was sent to my first ship. Believe me it was a great life and I enjoyed every minute of it. The only fly in the ointment was, every time I came home on leave it was like an army recruiting centre. I am sorry to say after five years in the merchant navy I gave up and came ashore. I knew the army would call me up, because I was no longer exempt after leaving the navy. I thought 2 years in the army was no big deal and when it is completed I could go back to the Merchant navy and everyone in the family would be happy. If I knew then what I know now I might have had second thoughts!!!
I received a letter to do my medical which I passed, a few weeks later I was called up to join the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment at Fulwood Barracks Preston in October 1959. Well the big day came and I saw myself off from Liverpool Lime Street Station (don’t like big send offs) and arrived at Fulwood Barracks late afternoon. There was also a few other new recruits who had arrived at the same time. We were all given a bit of a talk and then shown to our billet. I thought the two corporals who took us to our accommodation and sorted our kit out weren’t too bad!!! I soon learned differently, most of the time was spent bulling our kit/ weapon training, /cross country runs and foot drill. Bulling was ok, weapon training was ok, but I could never get my head around foot drill. Don’t get me wrong I do know my left from my right, but for some reason after a while I tended to switch off.
There was one particular time doing drill on the parade ground and with it being such a nice day unfortunately for me I switched off. Suddenly I realized I was marching all by myself. The platoon had been called to a halt and I had not heard the drill sergeant. He eventually called me to a halt can you imagine the embarrassment I felt standing in the middle of the parade ground all by myself. Eventually the sergeant came to me and said very quietly in my ear (his mouth was about two inches away from my ear) what happened soldier and I said very quietly I never heard you sergeant. He started off very quietly but ended up screaming down my ear (remember he is only about two inches away from it) “I hope your ear holes turn to a-se holes and sh-t all over your shoulders” I was deaf for a few days after that!!! I was always placed in the middle of the platoon after that episode.
At the end of six weeks training, parents and friends were invited to see what we had been taught. There were two platoons training at the same time, our platoon was picked to do foot drill. The other platoon was picked to fire some weapons on the firing range. The agreement between the two platoon sergeants was for me to carry ammunition and weapons to the firing range, then stay out of sight but they had one man short, they needed someone to fire the light Machine Gun and before I could escape I was picked, I tried to explain to the new sergeant (the other sergeant had gone sick) about the agreement but the visitors were coming onto the firing range and he insisted, there were 3 weapons to fire. The LMG was in the centre with me to fire it. To the left of me was a rifle (SLR) the chap stood and fired from the standing position with the chap on my right was to fire his Sterling Sub Machine Gun also from the standing position… I had to lay down in order to fire the LMG, so the procedure for me was to stand behind the weapon and wait until given the order. When given the order to move I got down behind the weapon fitted the loaded magazine and cocked the LMG, bringing it up into shoulder. I set the range and waited for instructions to fire. The sergeant gave me instructions for single round firing. I wanted to get it over and done with so I set it on rapid and emptied the mag all at once. The sergeant apologized to the visitors for my mistake and said we will do it all over again!!! So I wasn’t a happy chappy and may I say neither was the sergeant
When we were getting near to the end of our 10 weeks training, we had competitions to see who was best in sport, P E, and weapons etc. The men who were picked to be the best were to be given prizes by the VIP who was taking the passing out parade. Guess what, I was best shot on the SMG, which meant I was on the front rank when doing the march pass. The reason I had to be on the front rank was because the winners of the competition had to march out to receive their diplomas. We practiced for weeks and sometimes the RSM stood on the dais and he pretended to give the diplomas out. When it was my turn to march out everything went according to plan, except when I came to a halt. The RSM did not like the way I came to a halt and he said very quietly so no one could hear. I didn’t like that at all you were just like a gollywog (I bet you cannot say that any more) what are you soldier and I said very quietly I am a golly wog sir, and he said very quietly I did not here you soldier and I said it again, but a bit louder he said the same very quietly he could not hear me. In the end I was shouting at the top of my voice I am a gollywog Sirrrr. There were about 70 men on parade and quite a few people watching so after that I made sure whenever I had to come to a halt it was perfect.
When the big day came it was a lovely warm sunny day. I will never forget it, we had our last practice at eight o’clock (the actual pass out was nine o’clock) we practiced the usual foot drill and eventually came to a halt in front of the dais. The RSM called out company will fix bayonets and on the command fix you moved the rifle barrel forward and the next order was bayonets, you then took your bayonet from its scabbard and fixed it at the end of the barrel, when it was fixed firmly to your rifle you hit it with the flat of your hand to make sure it was on properly. Guess what, my bayonet wasn’t on properly and went flying across the parade ground. I think on the actual passing out parade we did not perform that exercise. When I read my certificate after the parade they had spelt my name wrong I never complained I just wanted a quiet life. That was the end of my training at Fulwood Barracks with the knowledge in knowing I had only another 90 weeks to do before demob!!!!

Story from Mike Hargreaves ex-KORB who served in the Cameroons

2 Mar

Mike Hargreaves who was in the regiment signals wrote this story to me a few years back for my other sites www.getingetoutandgetaway.co.uk and www.nationalservicememoirs.co.uk.

Hello Alan

I said I would put together some notes on my experiences with the KORBR particularly in the Cameroons in 1960/61 as a National Serviceman and my involvement as part of the Advance Party. Firstly I think your assessment of the character and ethos of the people there during that period was spot on! Very many were deferred student/craft apprentices born in the late 30s/early 40s who through their upbringing had already acquired a good degree of self-discipline before the Army added its own brand! Your description of The KORBR, the country and its people is excellent and could not be bettered.

I was called up in Oct 1959, shortly after my 21st birthday and did my basic training at Fulwood Barracks, Preston joining the Battalion at Humbleton Camp, Barnard Castle in early Jan 1960. A very cold winter, I recall, with a fuel shortage and bedside lockers being in great demand for firewood. All to be paid for of course by the time honoured method of deductions for “barrack room damages”!

I joined the Signal Platoon under Capt Blinkoe with CSM Medway and Sgt Holt and underwent a intensive training programme of several weeks with a training platoon of about 15. When it was confirmed that we were all going on active service to the Cameroons, a number of us were allocated to go on the Advance Party which meant that we went several weeks before the main body and flew out from Heathrow in a Britannia Turbo Prop, my first flight, direct to Lagos. Because of the war in the Belgian Congo at the time it was considered prudent to conceal our presence as much as possible hence the trucks conveying us to the harbour were driven fast and furiously with the covers down! My impression was of clouds of dust with chickens and cattle as well as local people running in all directions!

The rust bucket that took us from Lagos to Victoria, sailing east into the African Bight, was uncomfortable and so hot that we slept on deck but the voyage was stunning in many ways, we saw our first whales, flying fish with dolphins accompanying us all the way. We were out of sight of land for a few days then passed the island of Fernando Po and entered Victoria harbour, our boat being shallow draught so we could moor at the wharf. The next week or so was very hard, we never stopped working,unloading our gear then guarding it at night, all in continuous rain, and then being called on to use our newly taught skills to establish a telephone system between the harbour and elsewhere in Victoria.

After the unloading the next phase was with the Nigerian Army units to transport everything up Mt Cameroon to Buea the base camp which was a sea of mud, duck boards and bell tents. The roads were dreadful, no surface finish, just laterite and mud. Up and down we went time and time again on what was quite a hazardous journey. We rode “shotgun”,our “shotgun “being a brand new hickory pickaxe handle of the type we frequently used for guard duty at Barnard Castle. Our rifles had gone back into the Armoury, the weather conditions made it impossible to keep them clean. During our training in the UK, when presenting a rifle for inspection, we frequently had it rejected on the grounds that” spiders where nesting in the barrel” Quite true here !

Having transferred to Buea we laboured mightily there in terrible conditions, but I think it was the shared laughter and humour that always saved the day! On one occasion it was thought that we should take our daily anti-malarial tablet, Paladin, as a platoon by numbers in case the regime was not being followed. We gathered as a group in the pouring rain with our officer on parade observing the 1,2,3 from hand to mouth and swallow, when on 3 the Sgt who was leading coughed and out popped the pill to disappear in the mud! It took some time before we could stand to attention and that was the last we heard of swallowing pills by numbers! One day on a” you, you and you” basis, we were told to get our best kit on as a small group had been invited to dine with the District Commissioner. After several abortive kit inspections we finally passed muster and were driven to an impressive house with extensive gardens. The door was opened by a black servant in white suit and red sash and then warmly welcomed by the Commissioner and his family .Nevertheless we were not at ease and even less so when we saw the splendid crystal and silver laid out in the dining room. I don’t think any of us had dined in such splendour before. However after a drink the DC took us out to admire the rose beds and then, led by him, to “water” the roses which we all did with gusto.!

The day finally came when we had to put into practice our transfer to what were to be the camps for the main body which was then at sea on the Devonshire. Two signallers to each camp- Eric Forrester and myself to Mamfe and others to Kumba, Bamenda and of course a presence at Buea and Victoria. Our little convoy with our Nigerian drivers set off into the unknown loaded up with our rifles, kit and every conceivable piece of equipment with strict instructions- and threats if we failed- to open up the network on the scheduled time and day. When we finally arrived at Mamfe after a long journey and overnight stay at Kumba there was nobody there, just a bell tent and a windsock on the grass air strip, together with a native foreman leading a gang digging foundations who introduced himself as Napoleon! The RAF squadron, 230 SQD, flying in from Rhodesia and the UK had not arrived. However we had no time to dwell on that, all the kit had to stowed away and the Tilley lamps made ready for the long tropical nights and the invasion of insects, snakes, and the Cameroonian gorillas that we had been told would be visiting us! The following days we wracked our brains to work out how we could erect a suitable aerial as we could not climb the jungle trees as we would have done in the UK . Nobody had told us about the giant thorns, ants and snakes lurking in the branches to say nothing of the inaccessible size and height. Finally we hit upon an unconventional solution, as a temporary measure, a long horizontal dipole aerial from the windsock! We had been taught to be resourceful and so we were!

After a few days everything was in place, batteries were charged with the mobile generator we brought with us, codes and frequencies were sorted out and the RAF had arrived to our great relief. The network opened on time loud and clear! Shortly after that the Devonshire arrived at Victoria and the rest is history! During our time at Mamfe we had a very good relationship with the RAF and our small Army presence which eventually swelled to include a Pay Corp member and a ACC cook was treated well!

Thinking about those days ,the amount of trust and responsibility that the Army placed on young people is striking. The contribution people made to their country and to the British Cameroons was tremendous and not all were single. Many of the troops had wives and young families at home, such as Jim Thomas who subsequently replaced Eric at Mamfe. The entire operation, the logistics, the support to the UN who were ,as I recall, overseeing the Plebiscite, was in retrospect so impressive. I hope that others will continue to make some record of their experiences on your website. National Service was a Institution of which we shall never see the like again. My best wishes to all.

Mike Hargreaves, KORBR 1959/61. (no. 23645741)

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