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The Life of an Army Brat

By Eric L. Davies

The Old Brit Brat

Just an Old BritiBrat so what on earths that
it’s not someone you see every day
Our lives were so different from everyone else
The Cliché … “At Work Rest and Play”
See we were quite special all one of a kind
part of the chosen few me and you
The way things worked we all had to fit in
unlike any civy could possibly do

You can find us living all over the place
it’s as though the whole world is our home
Two years until our feet start their itching
it matters not where we just have to roam

People we meet or friends that we make
sometimes they just won’t understand
We are not boasting or putting them down
we lived there did that and traveled the land
Saw all those sights and joined in the fun
stories could not be made better or worse
Proud to be BritBrats every last one of us
and here to recall it all “Chapter and Verse”

Zero to Five in Five Minutes

My earliest recollection was looking down from A Castle window at my brothers playing in the field below and wondering how I could get down there. I was born 27 Clay Street Gorton Manchester in 1950 and then at almost two years old my earliest memory was living in a castle or more specifically Militia Buildings in Chester.

My father “Albert” a Sergeant in the Lancashire Fusiliers worked in “Western Command” in another part of the Castle. Chester Castle overlooked the Roodee the oldest racecourse still in use in England and the River Dee. I heard from my mother “Olive” that I loved to play with the cockroaches in the part of the castle we lived in, I am sure the Roaches were well established. They had started building the castle in 1793 and completed it in 1822. History would uncover far more sinister events than my attraction to Cockroaches. I would learn that my brother Ivor had lost an eye in the castle grounds when our brother Jack was knocking down nettles with a stick and Ivor got too close to him.

I was from a big family by then already having four brothers and a sister. My eldest brother John (Jack) was born in 1940 Quetta in Northern India (now Pakistan) as was my Sister Beryl in 1941 and my brother Albert (Albie) in 1942. I was never told if the births were planned or if it was just a case of “The more the merrier” The next two, David born in 1944 and Ivor in 1945 (after WW2) in England made up the eight family members in Militia Buildings.

Since Chester Castle was my “Earliest Recollection” I will explain how we came to be there in the first place. My dad the oldest in our family; 1909 – 1992 (83 years) I overlapped half of that and learned bits and pieces for the rest. Dad was an Orphan born in Manchester. In the very early 20th Century I suppose children were rather less accountable or affordable to working class families, some kids living off the streets. My father never mentioned much to me about any orphanage that he did or did not attend. I do know he spent some years as a “Farm Hand” before enlisting in the “Lancashire Fusiliers” in 1927 where he would serve with them in Egypt until 1929 and then Gibraltar until 1930. I can only assume he met my mother Olive prior to joining the Army and kept in touch while abroad. In 1930 he was posted back in Blighty to the Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire until 1933 and then on to Colchester (I hope not as an inmate) until 1935 from where he was posted to China and served in Tientsin and Shanghai.

I know a little about my dad’s service in China, it is also well documented with his own photos. The Japanese were at war with China ten years before WW2 broke out. His service in China covered the Rape of Nanking 1937-38 he had photos of the bodies piled up in the streets and on the back of trucks and carts. Great Britain was not at war with Japan and it must have been hard for him to watch this event take place. He did have confrontation with the Japanese troops from time to time, both sides being careful not to start a major incident.

Before the outbreak of WW2 he was posted to the Staff College in Quetta India 1939. Wives and their children were being called forward at this time to be shipped out to India to rejoin their husbands, he would have asked for his girlfriend Olive to come out and marry him.

My mother Olive was born in Gorton Manchester in 1917-2003 (86 years) was eight years younger than my dad. My grandfather was an engineer and had taken the family out to the eastern side of Canada (Montreal-Quebec) a number of times to live where he worked. Canada is where my mother grew up as a young girl. My mother would tell stories of the cold weather and lakes being frozen over. They moved back to the UK first to Glasgow and then eventually returned to Gorton Manchester while mum was still very young. I don’t know at what age my mother left school but I do know that she was employed as a machinist (sewing) the machines were in lines in the Gorton factory with belts running from overhead shafts to drive them. Mum also worked at Belle Vue Zoo; among the attractions of Speedway and Dance Halls they had stage performances of chorus girls. Mother was one of the “Dancers” Maybe it was back then that my Mum and Dad met for the first time. In 1939 my mother would have been “exchanging mail” with my father on the pending “Reunion” albeit in India during the Outbreak of WW2.

I am not party to the difficulties in arranging the Voyage by Convoy from Southampton Docks to India or even the “Steam Train” journey from Gorton to Southampton. Mother was a brave girl at 22 years old to undertake such a trip. One story told was of opening the porthole in her cabin to see Gibraltar while they were cruising by and forgetting to close it, when the sea later got rough the cabin got flooded. Another story was of the convoy being attacked and of the Barrage Balloons that they had for some protection. Arriving in India there would be a train journey of days before reaching Quetta. Shortly after her arrival in Quetta they were married and allocated a bungalow and the services of a “Houseboy”

No one can fill in the Gaps of life in Quetta because all the children were far too young to remember. With an ever increasing size of family no doubt mum and dad never gave it a second thought to actually spend time recording details or had little spare time. Mum would natter away in some “Indian Dialect” that she probably learned from the houseboy during the five years in India, she mentioned hailstones as big as golf balls, but apart from that we just took it for granted that we were a “Normal Army Family” Dad was posted back to Barton Stacy in 1945 and later in 1947 spends some time in Eneskillen Northern Ireland. Rationing was still on after the War and dad would send boxes of well packed eggs back through the post to mum in England helping out with feeding the family. It must have been around this time that mother moved to 27 Clay Street in Gorton and dad was posted back to the Lancashire Fusilier Depot in Bury

A 1950s Gorton. Cobblestones on the gaslight streets, backyards with outside toilets, coal-fires in every room, no bathrooms or running hot water, little would I know I would meet the identical situation in Belfast in 1969 when I met my girlfriend Margaret and was invited to her parents house in 1969. There is almost twenty years to fill in before then, growing up the first 15 years as an Army Brat then as Boy Soldier before adult service.

As mentioned my first recollection of life was at the Castle in Chester. My father would be posted round and about Chester 1951-54 on various admin jobs, by now he was on detached service from the Lancashire Fusiliers and would never rejoin them. We went from; Saighton Camp, Dale Camp, The Castle , Blacon Camp all of which I have memories of but never sure during which visit to these places (all being quite close together)exactly what I remembered about what.

I know my earliest tangible recollections (after the Castle Window) were of Saighton Camp and living in a house with a Glow-worm cooker. Dad was a bit of a handyman in the garden which subsidized the vegetables he could purloin from farmers fields roundabout with a few of the homegrown variety. He was also a dab hand at “Fixing things” though if those “things” were not wearing a skirt there were often complications. Never sure why he was up in the attic the time he fell through the kitchen ceiling, or if flour was suitable filler for fixing holes in the house walls. He always looked smart in his Battle Dress and Beret with the Yellow Hackle and the three massive white Sergeants Tapes on either arm gleaming white from the whitener he used. I remember the Army Coke Sheds with the coke whitewashed, how we were taught to remove the whitewashed coke fill the bucket and then replace the whitewashed coke on top of the original pile. I dare say the powers in control insisted that pile of coke should always look all white.

Those were the lazy fun days before I started school I suppose I could be "Held to Account" for anything after that

Pace by Place by Place

Gorton Manchester

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Gorton Manchester, I am sure 27 Clay Street was a wonderful home. We had the steel coal fired full range cooker with ovens c/w hanging bars for pots in the living room, I dare say one room at least would be warm and not damp, other home comforts were hot water bottles for the beds and Pots Chambers under them. Memory of dad (RIP) would have me believe we had enough surplus “Army Blankets” to keep a “Full Strength Company” warm. Not sure how dad on “Sergeants Pay” could have afforded to power the full range cooker without a supply of “Army Coke” His chain smoking would have ensured the house was free of any insects.

We were among Civvies’ on Clay Street. Civvies’ would almost become a swear word to Army Children but more about that later. Grandma (Amelia Thompson) and Granddad (Jack Thompson) lived up the road at number 41 I am sure there were handouts to assist us.

Dad being Army was not always at home and I believe grandma in her younger days was a bit of a Battle Axe albeit knee high to a grasshopper.
One story my sister Beryl told me was about a small bottle that gran had found broken. Matter not that WW2 had only ended six years previous when gran herself had been charged and fined for letting light escape from the “Blackout Blinds” Gran now had Army Brats (grand-kids) to keep in order, also her street reputation. She always kept the front windows clean and donkey stoned the door step. Nobody would dare step on that doorstep, you stepped over it. Beryl however was duly accused of "The Bottle" and as it would appear went through the “Spanish Inquisition” with threats and tears. Eventually it would be uncovered that it was in fact my older brother Jack that was at fault, he had found the bottle in the street. Not sure if any favoritism came into play but you may recall Granddads name was also Jack so he got off lightly.

I was too young when at one year and one month of age I left Clay Street in February 1951 to know the more serious nature of what my older brothers and sisters got up to during that time. I do know brother David went to Peacock Street Primary School the very same school that Myra Hindley went to just after we had left. I would have escaped the duty runs to Rotors the corner shop in Clay Street and the post office or post-box up the street unless it was in my chariot with someone pushing me while I would be sharing space with the groceries. We had no car and I can just imagine them running my pram up the cobbled street to see how the springs worked.

We left Gorton Manchester to move to the Roman Walled Town of Chester and live in The Castle as told in Zero to Five. I have no recollection of our first residence 11a Militia Buildings on the Castle Esplanade or the following post in June 1951 to 2 Simpson Road at Moston Hall in the Dale Camp, however as previously explained we had a number of postings around Chester. By the time we moved to 113b Married Soldiers Quarters (MSQ) Saighton Camp in November 1951 I was entering the Terrible Two's stages. I had a position where I fitted in the Pecking Order, it was bottom. No doubt on our return to 8 Militia Buildings at the Castle in June 1952 life was starting to come into focus though I would enjoy my last year of freedom when we moved back to Saighton Camp 128a MSQ in September 53 before moving to Litchfield.

Whittington Barracks Litchfield

It was the 1st December 1954 when we moved to the MSQ a maisonette in the Barracks at Litchfield. This would be my seventh “Posting” place of accommodation and I wasn’t even five years old. Dad was the expert at packing up and moving, these home posts were a luxury Dad had been in the Army since 1927and with 27 years’ service seen more action than most would care to live through. He was a Military man through and through; The Army came first and probably second and third. Dad had been married 16 years by this time , I expect my mum his wife Olive came sixth, his fags came in at fourth, and his garden fifth.

Dad could be a little coarse round the edges; mum was his equal in all but physical strength. I learned basically to keep out of the way. It was the 1950s and kids should be seen and not heard, I would go one better than that and be “Not Seen and Not Heard” and Escape Unscathed.

1950s was the time that members of a family ate at the same table together. This meant that at least three times a day you had to be there on the dot or woe betides you. Meal times were a case of shut up and eat up, rules, regulations and other information’s could be voiced by mum and dad only. We were not allowed to leave the table until our own plate was clear of all food; this was a little unfortunate for Ivor who didn’t like cabbage or David who didn’t like cheese. On the other hand mum was a brilliant cook and dad a brilliant provider (don’t ask) so in reality we were, to coin a phrase, “Fed up our backsides” with far more than we wished to eat. Once our plate was clear we had to recite “Can I Please leave the table” and wait for the response before actually leaving. Permission to leave was not an automatic issue of any rights of freedom. There were the dishes washing and wiping up to be done and numerous other tasks to help mum.

I had become aware by then that Mum and Dad didn’t always see eye to eye. I am sure it was some sort of sport but mum didn’t like to “Chastise the Kids” herself due to a bad right arm she had developed over the years. Mum would threaten “I will tell your Dad when he comes home” and she did. I however was the start of the “Lucky” generation. My oldest Brother was ten years older than me and the youngest brother who would be born five years later would be ten years younger. The first half got all the beating and my dad by now 46 years old was starting to tire of the sport.

Although not equal to my mum in the culinary department my dad was a brilliant forager. He would take me on great expeditions through farmer’s fields and orchards. It was no less than the farmers deserved they hadn’t dad been out doing battle with the enemy during WW2 but sat enjoying the countryside. Rotund with Buxom wives and rosy cheeks, what would rationing mean to a farmer after all. A shotgun meant very little to dad it was a mere toy. My dad taught me if you are going to do something "do it bold as brass" as though you have every right in the world. I would add a clause to that. “Make sure you can run bloody fast too”

I started school in Whittington Barracks it was just at the end of the street. The summers seemed to go on forever and life was good. My younger brother Ken was by now over a year old so still keeping mum busy, we would run errands to the Navy Army & Air Force Institute (NAAFI) using the pram to carry the shopping. I would start to enjoy being an Army Brat with all the military vehicles, the training areas assault course film shows, Christmas Parties and note the respect shown by others to my dad with his three stripes. In fact when I was out with my dad if he shouted at anyone they would come running up and stand to attention in front of him. Nobody told me we were any different to civilians so I just took Army Life for granted.

The life of an Army Brat
Hell knows all the schools they were at !!
Life at the double some finding it trouble…
But for others … (RIP) just have to look back

Warminster Salisbury Plains

On Monday 1st August 1955 we moved again. This time it was to 352-354 Imber Road Warminster in Wiltshire.

Warminster would be my eighth place of residence and I was just over five and a half years old, nothing like a little change in your life as you grow older. We lived in two adjoining houses because one house was just not big enough for us all, those houses would stand the test of time and I believe are still standing and occupied today despite our best efforts to burn them down.

Salisbury Plains, who could wish for a better place to grow up in? All that spectacular rolling countryside and Max Bygraves singing Out of Town from the film “Charley Moon” 1956. We could have altered the first verse to:-

Say what you will,
The countryside is still
The only place to easily burn right down
Troubles there are so much rarer
Out of town

Though my favorite verse was

Up there the sun is a big yellow duster
Polishing the blue, blue sky
With white fluffy clouds in a cluster
Hanging on a breeze to dry

But let me explain.

We were no angels by a long ways. Dad smoked like a trooper and in order to cut costs often rolled his own. I suppose at five years old I had little interest in smoking myself but cannot confirm if it made things easier for my older brothers or sister to “borrow” some baccy. I think dad also had a pipe but what was attractive to me was that he had “Matches” with matches you could create fire and with fire you could burn things, big things like hedgerows and old bits of wood or sheds.

I had discovered by this time my older brother “Albie” at fourteen years old was a “Nutter” It was cruel to think of him as such but we were kids. I wouldn’t actually call Albie a nutter to his face because he was big and strong and could easily sort me out. Albie would never grew up mentally from the age of six or seven right to the very day he died in 2011 at 69 years old. Albie was epileptic and mentally incapacitated though to all intents looked quite normal, although he did have a stutter.

Mum and dad were beside themselves trying to look after Albie, and to be quite honest looking after the rest of us kids as well. Throughout Albie’s life he had attended special school and institutions. Back in the 50s and unfortunately long after the 50s the best way to keep a mental patient in order was to beat or torture them. Looking back in later life I am sickened at what those institutions did and the bad treatments that Albie would have to endure. Mum and dad entrusted them to look after Albie and I am afraid in their eyes it was their only option. Albie was as hard as nails in both mind and body; we were just what he needed for fun fun fun. My only excuse can be that I was only six years old at the time.

We would get Albie to set off the camp fire alarms and such like and would then run away and watch from a distance. Albie of course could not care less and would await the arrival of the Fire Engines and tell them he had pressed the alarm just to watch them come. For all the senseless beatings dad gave him to keep him in order I don’t recollect him ever saying that anyone else was involved. One sunny afternoon without permission I took Albie for walk miles down into Warminster to play in the park and paddle in the pool. We were not found for hours and even when we were found we were as happy as two monkeys and had no intention of coming home.

In those long sunny days we would explore Cop Heap and surrounding woods getting up to all the mischief that kids could. We would be taken on trips to Longleat House and Stonehenge long before they would fence in the stones to start making money out of them or turn Longleat into a zoo.

It was in Imber Road that I met the first love of my life “Fanny Adams” in all honesty she wasn’t actually “A Love” just the daughter of my mum and dad’s friends “The Mallets” Ena and Ron Mallet. They never had a clue what we got up to while out playing, if the truth be known neither did I. It was all dares by older children for example could Fanny climb a tree with “No Knickers On” Of course she could, but it didn’t interest me much, as long as I could climb higher than Fanny while the others watched on from below I took it as just a climbing challenge. We used an empty coal bunker as our Play House while others watching in from the outside would tell us what boyfriends and girlfriends should do. I have no regrets.

My oldest Brother Jack had left school at 15 and was out in the “Big Wide World” earning money. Jack had a job down at the local NAAFI. Jack was a “Delivery Boy” Yes Army Families even had the luxury of being able to leave an order down at the store and Jack on his NAAFI bicycle with a small front wheel and a massive basket would charge around the quarters area delivering the goods. I am not sure what sort of tips he got in cash or kind but I thought it strange that he would give up that job which came with a free bicycle and then start a Door to Door salesman’s job selling medical encyclopedia’s. Maybe the customers during his NAAFI days had asked his advice on a few “Medical problems” while their own husbands were away on Exercise.

All us kids went to different schools I know Beryl and David and probably Ivor too went to the Avenue Secondary school, but I have lost track of the infant school I attended, to this day I can smell the fumes from the old diesel bus that used to take us down the road. I was reminded of that bus while on holiday in Malta once where the buses they use there seemed every bit as old as my old school bus and smelled exactly the same. I can identify most of the postings I had with the British Army by smell alone, Warminster had the smell of the countryside and if I had to associate a film with the place it would be “The Sound of Music”

Of course there were other smells in Warminster. It was the time of the Suez Crisis and Salisbury Plains was a huge training ground for military tanks and all other guns and equipments. What more could a kid want living that sort of adventure. I remember convoys of tanks roaring down the road past the front of our house thinking that they must be going to war. Suez was a bit of a Flip Flop after WW2 and it was strange to me in later life that it would be the Cold War and the Russians that would be our biggest threat. We must have forgotten all about the Arabs.

My dad Albert was an infantryman, he knew about survival skills. I still cannot work out what was going on in my dad’s head. We knew from an early age that he was very sociable but for an Army Man he couldn’t drink beer for toffee. Two half pints and he was drunk, that’s the polite name for pissed. I don’t know what he had, maybe it was the keys to the rations store, but he was a bit of a magnet with the women. Our house was always full of neighbors and not just the ones complaining about us kids.

Dad as I mentioned was handy in the garden. I think his favorite plant one of the few we couldn’t eat was sweet Pea. They always smelled lovely and offset the aroma from the Pet Rabbit hutch. The pet Rabbits looked more like wild rabbits to me and I bet there are not many of you that can say you ate your pets. We could, years later again in Malta when Rabbit was on the menu I tried it and found that it was actually bloody awful.
Summer and Winter of 1956 in a Tin Hut in Maghull

No8 Military Families Hostel
Deyes Lane
Nr Liverpool

I would have like to remain in Warminster with my girlfriend “Fanny” but “Needs Must” Dad had done his stint as the Senior NCO Rations with the school of Infantry and was now being “Head Hunted” back in Saighton Camp Chester. He was to be their Sgt’s Mess Caterer. Before you wonder why my old dad George was selected for the job I will relate a tiny bit of most probably “misguided information” about Saighton Camp.

The Camp was the home to RAEC Remedial Education Unit and rehabilitation center for the “Sick Lame and Lazy” These were soldiers who had been incapacitated or damaged in any shape form or size. The Great War had been over for 38 years my dad remembered that one as a 9 years old orphan. WW2 had been over 11 years my dad was 36 back then, still no-one knew anything about PTSD. We had more than 90,000 troops into the Korean War but that had also ended in 1953. Maybe now in 1956 it was just damage associated to a “Peacetime Army” inflicted on the Wednesday Sports afternoons that was keeping the spiders in Saighton Camp full. The way I saw it from a six year old point of view, ask no questions, they just needed my dad. Anyone that has been in a Sergeants mess in charge of anything will know you had to be tough as old boots to keep that lot in order, especially where food is concerned. Being "Mess Caterer" would open all sorts of doors for my dad, mainly the ration stores ones.

Just a note here to bring Saighton camp up to date, in later years it has been used as a nudist colony, a paint ball war games area and I believe now a civilian housing estate. I missed all the later ones but my mind runs wild as to what all those nudists did?

Either there was no accommodation available for us in Chester or no house big enough for us whichever way when we left Warminster in Sept 1956 we were sent to Magull. I was still six years old and this was my 9th Place of Residence and 3rd School. No chance of a stable education at that rate.

The Magull Hostels down on Deyes Lane was what was termed “Sub Standard Accommodation” it was used as temporary means of housing families that the Army couldn’t fit in anywhere else. Everyone moved so often and whilst the Army did try and balance things out but they could fail miserably. Magull Hostels was a fun place for kids. The “huts” we were housed in were made of wood with metal sides and roofs; if it rained you needed cotton wool in your ears. There was no hot water supply unless you boiled a kettle, there was no bathroom as such but the toilet block in our hut had four or more lavatories in a row and the same amount of sinks in a row, but no shower or bath.

My brother David somehow managed to escape the first part of our eight month stint by going to our aunty and uncles "Real House" in Speke Liverpool. Uncle had a Factory in the middle of Liverpool not far from Lime Street Station. Uncle Laurie Hall's factory produced high quality wooden "Cigar Boxes" The downside of Liverpool for David would be it was full of rough tough "Scoucers" though I never heard him complain. Uncle Laurie had got religion and was a "Lay Preacher" it's always handy to have god connections if you are running a factory. The Beatles had not yet been invented. David would miss the joys of summer in Magull during the first four months but rejoined the family in September just in time to winter it out with us all.

Summer in Magull was brilliant I can’t remember learning anything in the school up the road I went to or in fact the two schools I attended before that. I suppose most of my memory revolved round long summer holidays. We had the best central play area in Magull Hostels called “The Wash Houses”. It was from our “Tin Hut” that mum sent us for buckets of hot water for her washing machine; I am almost sure the washing machine had a built in heater but you had to switch the heater on and that electric cost money. The machine was quite a new contraption with electric rollers through which mum would get us to feed the clothes to squeeze out most of the water before she pegged them on the washing line outside.

The wash house had rows of bathes and an ample supply of children and women using them. Adult men had their own washrooms in another part of the camp. The washouse was where the women folk would go to complain and shout at each other. Who didn’t clean the bath after they used it? Whose kids were climbing or peeping over the partitions while they were having a bath? I think most husbands were away for days or weeks at a time leaving the women and kids to fight among themselves in the not very pleasant sub standard accommodations. It was always a break for the kids when adults were shouting at each other if it meant they were not on the receiving end. Up the road there was a mental was category 'A' mental unit called Ashworth which over the years has housed a number of infamous criminals including moors murderer Ian Brady. I am sure any passersby outside the camp would think it was the “Spill Over” accommodations for Ashworth.

We spent Christmas 1956 in Magull. My eldest brother Jack who was by now 16 had found a job in a chemical producing company. My sister Beryl was just 15 and about to leave school they must both have been wondering about work prospects with being moved around from pillar to post so often. My only concern was the new bike I had ordered from Santa for Christmas, I could not yet ride a bike and it was wet and snowy outside. There was always plenty of stuff for us to do, even in 1956 when "Television" had not been invented or maybe I should say “There was no such thing as TV in our house” that I could remember. I could hardly read a book even after three different schools. At six years old I was quite handy at getting under mums feet therefore it was in mums own interest to keep me fully employed. Well dare anyone even remotely look bored for there was always lots of housework to do.

When Christmas came all the family were together again to celebrate it. I mentioned earlier that my mother was a “Machinist” I remember mum having a black and Gold Singer Sewing machine at home, it was driven by a foot pedal. She could certainly make that machine whiz round. Mum made Christmas decorations by cutting long strips of different colored crepe paper and “Gathering or Bunching” it up as she sewed. We had yards upon yards of Christmas decorations that would all be rolled up like fire hoses and stored neatly away till Christmas. Ceilings in our houses would be peppered with “Drawing Pin Holes” where dad and the older boys had hung all the Christmas Decorations. It was always a sad occasion when the decorations had to come down, the house would look bare but worse still you knew it was a whole year to go before next Christmas and more presents.

Christmas was always a massive event in the “Davies Household” There were so many kids of different ages to cater for. No one dared question the existence of Father Christmas because if he was proved to be false then it followed there would be no presents. Of course we always knew the "Father Christmas" at the Army Children’s Party was a Fake but then he always gave us a toy and that was even before Christmas. It was wonderful that the Army always tried so hard to look after their brats, we had Mum Dad and the Army as Parents.

We still had no car and when the day arrived to move to Blacon camp on 1st May 1957 it would be by public transport. Beryl and Jack owned their own bicycles that didn’t sort of fit in the MFO Boxes; they duly took on the challenge of cycling from Magull to Blacon camp Chester on the same day we moved. Not sure if they took the “Ferry Cross the Mersey” or could ride through the Mersey Tunnel back then.

Now at six years old, I owned my own bicycle and could ride it. Watch out Chester the Davies’s are coming. It would be “Out of a Tin Hut to Blacon Camp”

Watch out Chester we are Back

Willan Road, Blacon Camp, Chester.
Wed 1 May 21 1957 to Tue 1 Oct 1957

Following the move to 21 Willan Road Blacon Camp in Chester we waited for the more permanent quarters in Saighton Camp, we would have to wait for 5 months. This would be my 10th place to live and 4th new school; being honest I can hardly remember which school it was but possibly Blacon School. This area was not the poshest place to live in Chester but we were on an Army Camp and at long last in a “Real House” after living in those tin roofed huts in Magull.

The quarters themselves were in fact quite spectacular; they were all smartly painted in an off white colour had nice big gardens and thankfully proper bathrooms. They were tall and impressive houses neatly laid out to form a huge crescent with a playing field in the center. I would recall (as any young boy should) the joys of a long summer there.

Willan Road still exists in its splendor today just off Western Avenue, the avenue leads down to Sealand Road. At the junction of Western Avenue and Sealand Road if you turn right you will see the sign “Welcome to Wales” this would be the closest I would ever get to actually living in Wales.

I love Chester with all the Victorian Buildings in the town and surrounded by a Roman wall with that splendid River Dee gliding by. With its bandstand, parks, rowing boats and the worlds seventh wonder Chester Clock. These are all well known landmarks for what is one of the prettiest towns in the world. Chester must have made an impression on me back then because I would later buy a bungalow at 13 Robin Gardens, Saughall. The number 13 proved to be unlucky for me because although I was able to let my mum dad, two younger brothers and a sister live in it I was away serving for years in the REME and would never get to live in it myself. I sent tulips and daffodil bulbs back from Amsterdam to be planted and dad kept the gardens in pristine condition. The current owner has removed the 13. I believe it is now number 14.

Chester Clock, how many have passed by that lovely erection gazed up and seen the VR 18 97 and of course the time of day? The fun for us kids was running along “The Rows” foul or fine weather it was always dry up there. Chester was certainly a wonderful place with all its “Roman History” as a seven year old boy nowhere could be better.

My brother Ivor barely five years older than me had got himself a part time job with “Ernie” the milkman on his electric milk float. Ivor had to be up at “Sparrows Fart” to race back and forwards with all those milk bottles before getting back home to get ready for school. I don’t know how much money he got or even if he got the odd bottle of cream. Back then we had no fridge so fresh milk in the morning was vital. Can you just imagine the wives in housecoats or nightdresses, curlers still in their hair cigarette between fingers or dangling from the lip, waiting for Ivor to come to the door so they could prepare the old man’s cuppa?

Another story from an old mate “No names no pack drill” sorry John Legg, reminded me of the concrete shed and coal bunker to the side of the houses, just below the bathroom window. Leggs dad had been stationed at Blacon Camp too. But first the reason for these sheds.

Mostly the Army Quarters we had occupied were heated by “Coal Fires” Who hasn’t got up on a freezing morning to get ready for school only to find their dad bent over the fireplace cleaning it out from the night before, separating the old “good bits of coke” from the ashes and putting them on top of yesterdays newspaper scrumpled up with the minimum quantity of sticks on top that would catch the old cinders alight transferring the heat to a few lumps of new coal and hopefully ignite it. Who hasn’t seen the poker balanced in the front of the fire with a broadsheet paper (the only type that would fit height and width) to draw the fire and make it roar up the chimney. If you are lucky dad is an expert and it “catches on” Who hasn’t then been sent outside in the freezing cold to fill the coal bucket because some lazy a’hole who was the last one to bed last night left it empty. It was they who let the fire go out in the first place even when you had an overnight burner; they could have tamped it down with “Slack” and closed it off.

The Army issued you with everything you could possibly need from dishcloths to dusters from toilet brushes to sink and bath plugs, I mean everything, even down to meat mincing machine, the wooden tongues for the water boiler that boiled the issued white sheets and the hand operated roller mangles to squeeze the water out of your washing before hanging it on the Army Issued washing line. Every last knife fork and spoon, tables, chairs sofas curtains curtain lines. No fridge at that time but some houses had pantries with cold slabs and meat lockers. The outside shed was to store the issued garden tools; Fork Spade trowels even a push along lawn mower, they didn’t belong inside the living accommodation. The smelly issued “Rubbish Bin” had to be kept round the back until Bin Day.

So there you have it, a nice practical concrete shed. We really needed that shed and John Legg had found an additional use for it. Remember I said it was under the bathroom window? Well John was quite a “Tall Brat” and had discovered if you climbed up on top of the roof you could look in the bathroom window. This apparently saved him from having to go into the house to see if the toilet was free should you need a Pee, which I would have accepted if it was indeed his own shed that he was climbing up on!

I was old enough at seven to know that if you were out of sight you were less likely to get selected to do any of the various tasks that in dads absence mum would dish out at random. If mum couldn’t see you however she would call out in a “Fishmongers Voice” from the side door hoping you would “Just turn up to be tasked” hehehe that was before she would walk round round the front to see where you had actually got to. I had become rather proficient on my little bicycle so when one day I heard mums cry of EEERRRRRIIIICCCCCCK I knew to pedal as fast as my little legs would carry me while looking back at the house. If mum saw me I was doomed. I was doomed anyway because I didn’t see the lamppost that I was racing towards and then near knocked myself out on. I blamed mum telling her when she yelled I looked round and that is why I ran into the post. Of course it didn’t change matters one iota. It was still my fault and the yelling from the side door would continue.

Life in an Army Spider

121/1 MSQ
Saighton Camp

We moved to Saighton Camp on Tuesday 1st October 1957. I was seven and three quarter years old and this was a brand new eleventh place to live with a fifth school to start. Already I was a man of the world, I had already seen lots of “Army Spiders” on my travels, but now we were going to live in one of our very own.

I will explain a little how the Army worked back then. Single soldiers lived in accommodations with very limited privilege. There will be many that remember the “Spider” accommodation it consisted of a main bathroom block with a central enclosed grass area at either end. On opposite sides of the enclosed grass area were “Utility Rooms” with two long corridors running down either side of the bathroom block, grass areas and those utility rooms. From each of these long corridors extending outwards were three long barrack rooms. Imagine two capitol letters E’s placed back to back. The single soldier privilege by 1957 was that the original pot bellied stoves traditionally used to heat such rooms had gone and they had a central boiler room that would provide sufficient heating via big cast Iron radiators and ample hot water for the wash rooms, as long as the boiler man knew his stuff and wasn’t drunk.

Each individual leg of the spider would contain a row of beds and lockers along either side and would have hardwood flooring making up the central isle. The hardwood floor was fitted because soldiers wore Hobnailed Boots and it was so designed not to wear out too quickly. Unfortunately for the soldiers living in those accommodations the none technical Regimental Sergeant Majors saw this hardwood floor as an item that could be highly polished with bumper and wax for their own personal gratification. Soldiers therefore did not dare walk on the centerboards wearing hobnail boots.

Staying on track those days for spider 121 had long ended, now in order to keep families housed three of the legs had been partitioned off inside and turned into MSQs, another had been turned into a “Dental Center” The screams and howls from the dental center were no match for the noise coming from the three MSQ legs. The middle “Leg” next to our front facing 121/1 leg was occupied by the Haws family. The whole Spider complex was at the bottom end of Saighton Camp in a little used area overlooking farmers fields and nestled beside rows of Air raid shelters and concrete ammunition bunkers with heavy steel doors, this would make any child’s dream of a playground come true.

School came first, the winter term had already started. Our family in the past had been in and out of Chester a number of times and the school of Hobson’s choice this time again it would be in the quite remarkable old building in Aldford a few miles down the road. My older brother Jack had gone there in the past he had now left school, so had sister Beryl.

Aldford School was the nicest school that I ever attended or ever would attend. Miss Yellow the infant teacher the best teacher I could ever wish to meet. I loved it there. I loved the journey on the school bus, I loved my classmates, life was wonderful and even if we missed the bus I recall Peter Walton my sister’s boyfriend giving us a lift to school in his Big Truck, civilians could then in fact be useful for some things.

My dad had become the most wonderful guy. He was in his element as the sergeants mess caterer; he had a massive garden between the “Spider Legs” He was in the countryside surrounded by farmers fields and he had a bicycle. I had by then gotten quite competent at bicycle riding and almost every evening dad would take me out riding along the paths and side roads through the fields along with my little brother Kenneth sitting on a seat attached to his crossbar. Life was absolutely wonderful.

My older brother Jack had bought himself a new BSA Bantam motorcycle and if I helped him clean it I would get a short pillion ride along the side roads of Chester for payment. We had no car and to be sat at the back of my big brother clutching round his waist on his powerful machine with its 125 two stroke engine was an experience never to be missed. I could look sidewards but not forwards because Jack was so big. I recall to this day the beautiful blue smoke from the exhaust and the aroma of exhaust fumes; just don’t touch the hot pipe with your bare leg!

I recall him once letting dad have a go on his motorbike, unfortunately dads clutch control and steering wasn’t up to much and within yards he had collided with the side of the spider and fell off, I don’t think dad ever got another go.

One day when my brother Albie was reported as being seriously ill following an epileptic fit at the home he was incarcerated in, Jack came to the rescue and was able to give mum a lift to see him. We had no telephone or other means of communication but found it was a bit of a false alarm Albie was as strong as an Ox and survived most things.

This is what real life and growing up is all about. Jack had gotten a job at the Chester Railway Station and was training to be a “Fireman” on those big steam engines. He must have been important because he was able to bring home tins of explosives from the station. Those tins resembling small boot polish containers could be placed at some distance down a bank on top of a rock and other rocks thrown at it. Should you be lucky enough to score a direct hit there would be a terrific bang.

Jack was on a career with a future and told us stories of stoking up those big steam engines and roaring down railway lines black smoke billowing out of the funnel. He always came home rather grimy and I now have visions of him also having to clean out the fire compartments on engines that had stopped work for the day. Just as long as we stayed in Saighton Camp and he could commute to the Train Station there was no doubt he had visions of becoming a Train Driver

My sister Beryl was starting to get the “Hang of Life” she had boys flitting round her like Honey Bees. My favorite was Peter Walton. I lost track of how many cats Peter brought to our house but we had plenty. He also had that big truck we got a lift to school in. Peter was a big strapping farmer’s lad and I will leave it at that. Beryl would eventually marry Peter but not this time round.

Beryl had gotten herself a job at the most famous of famous shops in England, probably in Wales Scotland and Ireland too. “Woolworth's” We all had a long association with Woolworth's, it’s the first name in retail that springs to my mind when I think of Old GB. The sweet counters were my favorite. At that time, our motto could have been “Try before you Buy” and then forget the buy bit. Did you know if you licked your fingers and put them in the sherbets’ compartment even after just one second "dip and lick" the flavors stayed on your thumb and tongue for hours. Normally after a visit to Woolworth's we all had yellow tongues. Even Dad.

If anyone knew what they wanted it was Beryl. Even if the older boys were sometimes beat rather severely it was Beryl that had the hardest time. She was being brought up in order to become a married woman of some use around a house. Mum had all the kids to look after and rarely did actual housework other than the Laundry and ironing, mum had been used to years spent in India where as Memsahib she had people running round after her, Beryl would have to fill in the now absence of servants she was the only young woman around, what did us boys know about housework. I reckon Beryl had other ideas to make a life of her own and no one was going to stand in her way.

Beryl certainly knew how to handle the lads and any competition, she had long ginger hair and long nails and woe betide the Haws girl Angela next door falling out with her.

The Devils at Saighton Camp

What about Religion? Since dad was an orphan, I am sure the kind people making sure dad wanted for nothing would have liked to see him give praise in the right direction? I don’t know if dad had a religion or just took on mums faith when they got married. Dad had that wonderful old style writing ability and was an excellent speller, he could also belt out old songs written long before our days and would never be lost in a church congregation.

Mum on the other hand had a more religious upbringing, Mum up to the day she died was a Methodist and always attended church whenever someone was christened married or died. Her real interest however was hobgoblins witches and the Ouija-Board. Mum would rather go to Spiritualist Churches.

Who remembers all those horrendous nursery rhymes as kids? If that didn’t frighten us the threat of the Bogie Man if we were to dare stay out playing after dark did. Stories would be told of a woman being dug up from her grave by grave robbers in a Gorton Cemetery and waking up when the thieves chopped her finger off to steal her wedding ring. Then there were “God Honest” true stories mum would hear from “The Other Side”

I was frightened of the dark, if the truth were known I was frightened of my own shadow. If I went to the loo even though it was by now an indoor event and not some pilgrimage down a backyard at my Grans house in Gorton in the freezing cold or rain with no lights...... I was terrified of the noise of the clanking of the chain and the water flushing down from the cistern above. I would leave the flushing till the very last second and try to race out before that noise of all these devils in action flushing away the evidence of the event. I would even beg mum to leave the lights on until I fell asleep when I went to bed. To this day late at night I hate the noise of flushing the loo in the witching hours, I still quickly exit the bathroom and jump in bed.

I had a sort of “Blanket Religion” I trusted and believed in “My own God and Savior” probably more than anything else in the world. My God would save me no matter and he would “Cover Me from All Evil” I put more faith in my God back as a seven years old than I can ever remember doing since. He kept me safe and never once let me down. Of course I won’t be the only one that relied on this “Blanket God” to protect them. Once the blanket was pulled over my head the world could blow up and I would still be safe.

There were certain “Rules of the House” I was coming to understand them even if I didn’t like them. Swearing was a definite No-No. In fact it was a criminal offense and there would be no way to escape capital punishment should you accidentally use a swear word. We found ways round it of course by saying things like “Polish it behind the door” It is still amusing to this day to think of my mum’s amazement if you swore! “Where did you learn that word” she would say “Have you been mixing with those bad boys I told you to stay away from” Could there possibly be boys worse than us I wondered. We learned most of the bad language from mum and dad in their all too frequent rows where half the neighborhood would hear a swear word or three.

Bedrooms were only for sleeping in, they were not to be entered unless you were going to bed or had been sent to bed. You did nothing else but sleep in a bedroom, even brother Jack who was now a fully qualified railway man and 17 years old would not be allowed the lights on in bed. Our bedroom had up to 4 single beds all boys, Beryl as the only big girl was lucky she could have her own room. Jack had devised a contact breaker which he attached to the top of the bedroom door which would break the circuit for the bedroom light whenever the door was opened. This defeated dad on his inspections making sure we were not breaking the rules. He knew the light was on but no matter how quietly he crept to the bedroom door or how quickly he threw it open, the lights were always out. Ivor later told me dad did eventually find the secret "Heath Robinson" contact breaker when he accidentally touched it and got a 240 volt shock for his troubles.

In 1957 we were strangers in the main to “Fizzy Pop” I think by this time we had the choice of a small bottle of Orange Juice or milk at school at break time, but at home back then it was “Nato Standard Tea” though NATO had only been formed eight years and the Army hadn’t yet started using that term. I had heard dad call it “Piss” now and again when he was bollocking some poor cook in the sergeants mess.

Mum had invented this concoction that she grew on the “Kitchen Windowsill” in a big clear jar..... she fed it with yeast and it would grow in size and she would have to split it in half, it was called a “Ginger Plant” before long I think half the Garrison would have ginger plants. I don’t recall the whole procedure only that we acquired hundreds of bottles which would eventually be filled with ginger beer corked up and be stored in a room by the back door. I don’t know if it was intentional but our ginger beer would ferment. There was no limit on how much Ginger Beer we could drink; after all apart from the sugar which dad probably got from his ration store the water used to make it was free. We did have some losses every now and again when one or two bottles in that back room would explode, but this “Ginger Beer” was the best of the best. So now we had tea which we knew dad sometimes called Piss. We used Yellow Label Tea! It was the real stuff from the NAAFI. Also we had Ginger Beer that you could “Get Pissed” on.

Guns were the order of the day and the game was Cowboys and Indians I spent many happy hours with my sixgun shooting at Indians coming over the air raid shelters, but then we had real guns too. The advantage of having bigger brothers was that their toys were always more advanced than your own.

Shoot it Burn it or just Knock it Down......

This is the start of my records of life with the British Army.... to be continued if the response warrants it
Happy days, the joys of being a Military child.
Where you stopped in 1957 my journey begun, the joys and fears of being a child who had to follow the Colours.

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