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I first met Mike on my return from the Far East in 1959, when I was posted in as the Permanent Staff Instructor to 162 Inf Wksp in Luton. The workshop was located within the Vauxhall car factory and most of the TA personnel were employed there or in the Bedford truck factory in Dunstable.
The workshop ASM turned out to be a slightly rotund gentleman almost instantly recognisable as a chap who knew what a workshop was all about. Exchanging pleasantries, we soon established we were both ‘ex brats’ from Arborfield although I was never allowed to forget that I was only a jeep. It turned out that Mike at that time was a salesman for Vauxhall cars, a role that suited him to a ‘T’.
With a similar outlook on life we soon became great friends, well cemented at the two week annual camps that was the highlight of the TA training year. We attended camps in North Wales, Okehampton, and Hythe during my tour and I can report that many were the hostelries we reconnoitred, all in the interests of finding suitable recreational facilities for our soldiers.
I recall I used to be invited to attend the Annual Motor Shows that were held in Earls Court, where I would be treated as a potential customer and taken out for liquid lunches. I refrained from purchasing a Vauxhall as they were never as good as my AC.
As part of his job he applied and passed the Institute of Advanced Motorists test, sporting the IAM badge on his beat up Dormobile. Whilst the Institute may have passed him, to us he was the worst driver in the unit, often disregarding kerbs as obstacles to test his suspension. We consider this as part of his Sales job whereby each Salesman was handed a car from the opposition, report on it and check out its limits. Not unusually this resulted in removing mud from the door handles. He did however lend it to me on the Police skid pan that we practiced on as members of the Forces Motoring Club.
During my tour I met my wife who knew Mike when she worked in Vauxhall’s Recreation Club where Mike was a leading light n the Rugby Section. He was therefore a guest of honour with Gerda at our wedding in 1961. The unit had laid on a superb reception n the TA Centre and when the wine was flowing freely, Mike decided that I looked far to smart in my blues, so to the horror of my new bride, he and his friends upturned me, stuffing confetti down the legs of my trousers. Try retaining your dignity after that.
All good things come to an end, and I moved on via Kenya, Aden, Iserlohn, Berlin, Tidworth, Chillwell, Woolwich, Andover, and Ballykelly, eventually deciding that the nomadic life was not good for the education of a young family. Taking up a position with a MOD contractor, specialising in the manufacture and fitting out of transportable containers. I liaised with many firms, one of which was Bedford Trucks, which at the time was the preferred platform for box bodies. Who should I run across there but a chap called Larby who was Head of Sales for Bedford Military vehicles, resulting in more long lunches.
About this time (1980?), the college reunions were getting really underway, and I always looked forward to the Saturday lunchtime sessions when Mike would arrive at the bar, order his pink gin and remind all and sundry that we young soldiers did not know what life was like back in 1943.
One reunion I recall he brought Gerda and dog with him in his caravan, parking on the square in Hazebrouck, attending a dance in the old camp hall.
We kept in touch over the years, although his move into the wilds of Norfolk from Wilstead made it a little more difficult for us, but we called in and were treated to the lavish Larby hospitality when in the area.
The tales from his early days so well portrayed in the OBAN, captures him precisely. There is no doubt that he was a character and a fine example of how one should grab what life has to offer and enjoy it to the full.
George Marshall 46B