Tag Archives: KORBR

Other Stories From Ex Kings Own Royal Border Regt.

5 Jan

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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George Hardisty, King’s Own Royal Border Regiment

31 Dec

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.

George Hardisty

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