By Andy Knowles 64A
Come in son, sit down. Now, so you want to join the Army do you?
I was in the recruiting office in Aberdeen. It was August 1963 I was 14 years old and would be 15 in September. What is it you would like to do in the Army? ‘I would like to be a vehicle mechanic says I’, and how old are you says the recruiting officer. ‘14’ I said. OK when do you leave school, in December I said, Right says he, as you are only 14 we will need to have one of your parents present or a letter from one of them stating your wishes, can you do that for next week. No problem says I.
OK, we would like you to do some aptitude and other tests while you are here if that is ok. Tests completed, and back off home I go having arranged to come back to the recruiting office in early September.
With required parent as requested I return to the recruiting office. Back in with the recruiting officer I sit down and he goes through the normal formalities. He then says, we have your results for the tests you completed and they are excellent, are you sure you want to be a vehicle mechanic? There are other options open to you. Could you tell me what those options are, yes you could go into ‘electronics’, what is that say I? Well it’s like electricity but a bit smarter. OK I can do that, when do I start.
January 4th 1964 I arrived at the Army Apprentice School Arborfield, having departed from Aberdeen station (See above picture) the previous evening, along with many others going off to join various establishments. I can’t remember if any of the others travelled to Arborfield. It was certainly the start of an adventure, never having actually left Scotland before.
So as a member of 64A I was installed in ‘Jeep Land’ Junior company (White Flashes) having trudged through the slushy snow. I believe I remember being in a room on the ground floor facing the square. Then over the next few days it was off to do the rounds of collecting all your bits and pieces from the various parts of the camp, including the inevitable visit to the camp barber (Norman Rose) to leave something behind.
The first term obviously had its focus on licking us into shape as soldiers, some found this harder than others. Left feet and right feet did occasionally become mixed up by a few. But at the end of the first term it was all magically transformed and we had our squad drill competition, and passed out into our respective companies.
I was to become a member of ‘D’ Company along with others whose names I remember, such as Ian Holding ( Always had the best bulled boots), Derry Orr ( not far behind Ian regarding boots), Ian Garden, Colin Crichton, Trevor Williams (Future A/T RSM), Phil Moran, Gary Foster and Jock MacKenzie. I am sure I will eventually remember some more.
Memorable things from those early months were, the cookhouse (not the food) but the usual ‘gypping’ and most of all during meals, the Juke box playing the likes of the ‘Dave Clark Five’ singing, ‘Glad All Over’, with the accompaniment of everyone banging knives and forks on the tables at the appropriate times. Another favourite at the time was the ‘Searchers’ with Needles and Pins.
I am not certain if it was during Junior Company or 2 Div but we had the compulsory boxing event. I am almost certain I remember being paired against someone called Pete Howes. (He is mentioned in Peter Griptons book The Arborfield Apprentice.) He was tall and I was stocky, but about the same weight. The bouts were held at Baellue camp, and I can’t remember if it was two, three minute rounds, or three, two minute rounds or something different. I believe I won a close fight though.
Another memorable thing I found at the time was being paid the vast sum of £2 10s 6p per week. From that you had a compulsory amount saved for you for the end of term. The rest was obviously spent on the purchase of blanco and brasso, and the ever present ‘flypie’ in the NAFFI. I went home on my first leave with the princely sum of just over £7.
You were paid according to you age at the time. I earn as much now in a day now than I did for the whole first year at Arborfield. But that is all due to the excellent grounding I had in electronics, and life at Arborfield. (I am still working in telecommunications in the oil industry but that is a whole new story.)
So over the n ext two years of progressing through 2 Div to 7 Div it was a busy but generally happy and enlightening time. Education and workshop practices featured a whole lot more during that time. These again have been well documented in The Arborfield Apprentice book. (Peter’s book brought back many events that had slipped from my memory. Quadrangular games, Remembrance Day, etc.) I became involved in a few of the sporting activities. (I retired from boxing after the first fight.) I do remember playing cricket occasionally, tennis and basketball featured well for a period, but my first sport was always football. As part of the D company team we did win the district league, and cup in the same season. I am sure it was 1965/66 I remember we went down to Aldershot stadium to play the final.
One name I remember from the times I played cricket was David Spawforth, had he really been back squaded so often, that they thought he was one of the permanent staff. He was also a very good rugby player.
Military training was always well feature with the drill and passing out parades. Memorable again were the camping expeditions to Hawley Common amongst others. But the one I remember best was going to Wales and the Brecon Beacons. Walking up Penyfan you could almost never forget. (Although I have done a lot more hill walking since.) I remember one time we had to venture out in small squads in the early hours and do a route march through various check points. It started well, but whether it was our map reading, or incorrect information, or bad weather, who will ever know. I think every squad went off the track somewhere, our squad ended up having bacon rolls at a café near a main road somewhere, before resuming what we thought was the way forward. But either way it was late on that evening when we were eventually picked up along with others and transported back to camp.
So on into Senior Div we went. I didn’t realise until reading Peter’s book that we were the last ever Senior Div that passed out from the college. The Brams’ featured a lot more on the agenda at weekends by this time. ‘Of course we were old enough’. This was the time of introduction to the Yard Of Ale and the Wellie Boot, great competitions or so we thought. I don’t remember anyone actually completing either though. On visits to Reading the focal point always appeared to be at The Boars Head, before moving on.
Nine Div for us was to see the changeover of The ‘College’ and the REME Badging parade.
Memorable times from Senior Div other than the sporting activities were the likes of Phil Moran and Derry Orr careering around the square at Beallue on a motorbike with side car. Completely mad they were. But this only took place when there was a long weekend due to a holiday and most people had gone home. But we preferred to follow other lines of activities and interests.
I had obviously by this time decided that the route I would follow would be in telecommunications, and passed out successfully. It was then straight from the College and over to the S.E.E. to carry on training up to second class technician. From then it was on to serve at various units and establishments as listed below.
39 Missile Regiment LAD, Sennelager.
9 Inf. Workshop, Colchester.
S.E.E. First Class Course.
Royal Irish Rangers LAD, Watchet, Somerset.
Worcester And Sherwood Foresters. N. Ireland ( Londonderry) and Berlin.
S.R.D.E. Christchurch. (3 Months in Cyprus during this time with U.N.)
R.E.M.E. Workshop at Bordon.(2nd Tour in N. Ireland at Sydenham, Belfast)
I then left the corps in July 1979, and had a brief period in England before returning to Scotland and started working in the oil industry in the North Sea. I still do telecommunications work which in itself has been a new adventure, with the many changes in technology over the years. I may write a brief article for the OBAN on this in the near future.
Best wishes to all, who may read this.