From Ted Blowers
When the cookhouse was first blessed with my skills, the undisputed king was the cook Sgt Viger. Under him a Cpl Jack Snow, neither of these gentlemen went out of their way to make your life a misery. They were in charge of an assortment of civilian cooks a few Squaddies like myself and any Janker Walla’s that were there. Excellent food was supplied for preparation, which took major work to turn it into what was dished up.
The cooks also ate this fare, and as you can imagine took the best for them selves prior to serving, hiding their spoils inthe hot plate. It became the game among, the Squaddies to try to steal the best dinner and replace it with your own less meagre fare.
This was also the way with tea. Unlike the tea that came out of those big steamers tasting of the cabbage that was cooked in it prior. The cooks’ tea was made with lashings of sugar, a couple of tins of carnation milk, and enough tea to give it that lovely creamy brown look. A mug of this nectar left unattended for a second would disappear, the mug it was in if distinctive, would appear miraculously where it had departed from minus of course the tea.
This escalated to such a degree that Sgt Vigor resorted to basic instincts to solve the problem; the victim in both cases was my mate Tom Cobbett. The first time Tom grabbed a mug of unattended tea was with a furtive look he took a huge swig, I watched as his face changed from pleasure to Panic, he put the mug down we both looked and there residing in the half drunk tea was Sgt Vigors false teeth, what made it even more revolting was they were the old black vulcanised type. That put an end to the tea swiping. About a week later, Tom reaches into the back of the hot plate to emerge triumphant with someone’s dinner, only to find Sgt Vigors teeth buried in the mashed potatoes. I still drink my tea out of a cup to this day.
The ingratitude of youth…
One day I was given the job of making the mashed potatoes, as I loved good mashed spud and I thought the boys would enjoy decent mashed devoid of lumps, I put in extra milk and butter, and worked and worked with the masher, until I produced Mashed potatoes that were fit for any table in the land. Imagine then my horror when large numbers of the boys refused to eat them, saying they were POM. That instant muck that set like glue despite my protests to the contrary. The one’s that did eat them came back for seconds and thirds. I got reamed out twice, once for taking so long to prepare them.
It goes with out saying that food and smoking do not go together particularly when you are the cook. As just about everyone smoked in those days it was the unwritten rule that you did not smoke while mixing any kind of food. One day a lad brings back a portion of plum duff partially eaten and asks to see the cook Sgt, “what’s up I say” “that he says” pointing to a little discoloured bit of duff sticking up on one corner, Jock McCabe one of the civvy cooks came and looked and said “oh its only a burnt currant” and went to flick it off but instead of coming off and disappearing the black bit came off displaying strands of tobacco underneath, by that time the cook Sgt had arrived to see what the commotion was about. There was offers of more pud but only amazement at how it could have possibly got there, it must have been in the currants, it must have blown in from outside when the door was open, Given enough time it would have been the lads fault for having pudding in the first place. Anyway the orderly officer wasn’t called and when the lad had gone a minute inspection of the offending fag end, established that it was a roll your own, Owned and distributed for free by old Tom Warren, who rolled his own and had mixed the Duff. We all got a right rollicking and from then on no smoking when mixing was strictly enforced.
After I had left the kitchen. Taken and passed the cadre course, refused the promotion which would have meant a posting. Been a cop, an unpaid unwanted drill come weapon training instructor, and they finally didn’t know what to do with me, the Adjutant sent for me and asked me how would I like to be his runner. “What do I have to do says I” “What ever I bloody well tell you says he” (In retrospect it was a stupid question). The important bit it was part of my duties to provide the tea for H Q that meant that they had to drink tea the way I liked it. For the first time in their lives they had tea that was like nectar, after all I was an expert. I used to take the bucket waltz down to the cookhouse into the larder and help myself to enough tea, milk, and sugar, to make a divine brew. After a few days they had become addicted to my tea, and the Adjutant and I got on very well.
The inevitable happened Sgt Vigor had been replaced some time prior to this by a Sgt Clackworthy a more officious type. Just as I had walked in the larder he yells at me to get out. ” What do you think your doing” he yells (I found that in the Army you often had to describe what you were doing to people in authority, they never seemed to be able to work it out for themselves)”I’m making the Adjutant’s tea say I” “Oh no your not” he says “you get your tea out of the vat like everyone else” .”But it is for the Adjutant and the Col” say I “they’re no different than anyone else,” says he. (Well he is confused I think) “Get your tea out of the vat” “I am not taking them that” say I. Then the masterstroke “Are you going to let me make the Adjutants tea” say I ” No he roars get it out of the vat”? I return to HQ and wait in my office. After about half-hour the bell rings up to the Adjutants office I go. “Where’s the tea Blowers” says he “Oh Sgt Clackworthy said I couldn’t make you any” I replied. The adjutant was still reaching for the phone as I left picked up the bucket and was on my way to make the tea, before he had finished. I don’t know what said but I know that Sgt Clackworthy found out there is a difference.
Gunner McKean known to us as Jock was a driver and a good all round bloke. He was not famous for his smartness of dress; in fact he erred quite a bit to the scruffy. His 15 minutes of fame came one day whilst on company parade with Coy Sgt Major Taffy Hill, when Jock appeared with boots gleaming and toe caps that were out of this world, you could see reflections of half the camp not just your face, we stood at attention as Taffy hill moved down the line, coming at last to McKean we heard this intake of breath as Taff stared unable to believe his eyes, what have you done to your boots roared Taffy? “Polished ’em Sarg” says McKean, Taffy stared for a moment then taking his pace stick whacked the toe cap of Jocks boot, there was a slight crackling sound as cracks ran out like a spiders web from the point of impact then it all fell off revealing the normal rarely polished toe cap of Jocks boot. Taffs Face was a picture a memory I treasure to this day, the conversation that ensued I leave to your imagination, suffice to say that Jock got five days for Painting his boots with some kind of glossy black paint, Jocks moans about he was only using his initiative like he was always being told didn’t go down to well either.
The officers mess…
I arrived at the AAS Arborfield in the company of Pte Cobbett of the Middlesex Regt. On reporting to the Guard room, we were sent to the officers mess where we again reported to the mess Sgt, I can’t remember his name now but he was in one of the light Infantry mobs, and not a bad bloke. Both Cobbett and I were introduced to a way of life that Officers shared that we had only seen in movies.
There were about eight of us and our life consisted of cleaning, clearing and laying tables, waiting tables, there were about five that did the waiting. One did the washing up he was also barman, the rest were batmen to the officers that lived in.
After training I was appointed head Waiter, which meant I was responsible for seeing that the protocol at table was carried out, that the wine waiter knew when to replenish glasses etc, that the dishes were cleared in order, that the table was laid correctly. I got to wear a red Cummerbund and had gold buttons; the rest of our uniform was the same, short white jacket, black trousers, black socks and shoes, White shirt with black bow tie. It was great for us because we could wear some of our civvy stuff, when we were off duty and when we were just cleaning.
The food was marvellous we ate what the officers ate and the cook at that time was Taffy Stevens a civilian, who was a dab hand at hor’s d’oeuvre’s and many delicacy’s that we had never heard of. The hours were odd but we got used to it and when you had finished your work you could slip out to Cali or where ever as long as you were back in time to serve what ever needed serving. We also had the luxury of having our own billet behind the hospital, with no inspections to speak of; I was given a room of my own just off of the kitchen when I became headwaiter. Plus a room in the mess where we could all have our tea breaks and in the evening when on duty could sit and listen to the radio, Sundays of course it was the top 20 on radio Luxemburg it was a good little job.
It was here that I got to know some of the officers quite well and remember their little idiosyncrasies.
On one occasion Cobbett and I were dusting the picture rails in the passage that led from the dining room to the anteroom where we served Tiffin, when we found a cigarette butt standing on end on the picture rail with a little note under it that said. “This cigarette butt placed here by Major Beardall on such and such a date and time”. We replaced the note with one saying this cigarette butt picked up dusted and replaced by Cobbett and Blowers on the day in question and the time. We never found any more.
Major Beardall was a strange man, He never spoke and would order dessert every day, never eat it but would cut it up or mess it about so that it looked as if it had been partaken of, He was obviously totally unaware of the keenness of eye of the always hungry squaddie. Everyone one knew of this strange behaviour and benefited from it.
The messing officer was the lowest guy on the totem pole, usually a National Service Lt. I can’t remember the chaps name who was there when I arrived, I only remember he didn’t have much money, because the only item appearing on his mess bill was always the same a bar of soap.
The mess bills were posted to enable the Officers to see at a glance what they owed, as this was in full view of the staff, we also knew. Not that It was any surprise, for when we served dinner or meals it was if we didn’t exist, we were privy to conversations, that I wouldn’t discuss in front of strangers.
The protocol when we had a big dinner was that the highest rank was served first, unless ladies were present then the highest ranking lady took precedent, then the highest ranking man and so on down the line. This meant that our messing Officer was always last to be served. It was the Highest Ranking Officers job to watch the table to see that every one was finished, before he put his utensils down, because the minute he did, I as head waiter would wave on the waiters and we would move in and clear all the plates for that course.
Now on occasion, “very few much to my regret” The Col would become engrossed in conversation with someone nearby, and inadvertently put his spoon down when he had finished his soup, I like lightning would move in and clear the table, leaving some of the lower ranks half finished and the poor old messing Officer hardly started, I remember one meal when I don’t think he got to finish anything. It was great fun for us who would ignore the stares of those affected as if we hadn’t noticed.
Major Biddulph of the Gloucestershire Regiment was a constant source of amusement to us I believe he had something to do with training, as I attended lectures of his when I was on a cadre course. I don’t know what his problem was, and do not mean to be disrespectful as he may well have sustained injuries in battle, that caused his eccentric behaviour. That said he was still a thorn in the side of some of the other Officers, and funny to us. He was very hard of hearing, and did not live in.
He would come flying into the mess when all the other Officers were at work, Go into the Ante room, pull all the newspapers out of the cupboard spread them all over the floor, be on his hands and knees reading them and getting them all mixed up, Then just as quickly he would be up and off, leaving his mess behind. He also had the habit of instead of following the road to the mess would drive his car across the sports ground, rain or shine resulting in ruts in the football or rugby pitches. To stop him Capt Baxter I think it was, had a couple of big concrete blocks placed at the Majors entry point, I wasn’t privy to the row that took place, but I know it worked at least on the first day. Imagine our surprise and delight next day to see the major careering across the field in his car with one of the huge concrete blocks in tow.
On another occasion on the cadre course Major Biddulph was telling us how to conduct a class, It was like a Monty Python sketch, things got dropped, blackboards knocked over, projector screens rolled up in the middle of the presentation, what made it funny was he didn’t seem to notice.
The major also on one lecture drew a target on the black board and proceeded to tell us that, when we as NCOs had given instruction to a group of men, that the middle of the target was what they must know, the second ring was what they should know, and if we were any good, the outer ring was what they could know. After we had finished it was revision time. Pointing to me and then the middle of the target, said What does this mean, I replied must knows sir, Quite right says he, then pointing to the next area says to Cpl of Horse Wilcox, and This, should knows sir, Wilcox reply’s, quite right quite right, Then points to the outside ring, then to Cpl Whilly and this, F**k knows says Whilly, without the shadow of a smile. Quite right quite right say’s the poor major who was deaf as a post? This deafness must be remembered by the lads that took training from him on how to score when in the butts.
Major Kemis-Betty who was retired but still wore the uniform. I got into a real fight with him one day, and refused to salute him, so he charged me, thanks once again to some help from Sgt Major Taffy Hill who steered me to the right paragraphs in Queens Regs, I was able when I went before Col Magee, to point out that Major Kemis -Betty was in fact a civilian and therefore couldn’t give evidence, and also that when you salute an officer you do not in fact salute the officer but the Queens Commission, and as he was no longer a serving officer, he no longer carried the commission and was not entitled to the salute. As you can imagine that went down like a lead balloon, and with RSM McNally just about having Apoplexy. I still got 7 days but had the satisfaction of knowing that Mr K B was told no doubt very politely not to wear his uniform again.
Major Jarman was in charge of stores and had risen through the ranks, a point he would stress every time he thought you were doing or about to do something he didn’t approve of saying, “I have been a private! A lance corporal! A corporal!” And so on until he reached the rank of Major then he would end by saying “and I hope to become a Lt Col so don’t try to fool me laddie. Another strange thing about the major was that he an amazing amount of blankets on his bed, Mick Stockwell was his batman and used to moan about how long it took to make the bed and how could anyone sleep under that amount of weight, which was considerable as we all tried lifting them. The Major also had the strange habit of putting his dog on jankers, if the poor thing committed some infringement or other, Mike was told not to let it out except to relieve its self, for 5 or 7 days no walks or treats.
Major Jarman also had a running battle with the civvy cook Taffy Stevens an ex Squaddie himself. Breakfast used to be from 7am until 9am if my memory serves me right. At least one morning a week the Major would come in after everyone else had left, and we had cleared or were in the process of clearing the table, I as head waiter would say ” good morning sir” he would reply “I would like breakfast please Blowers” I would trot off to the kitchen, tell Taff that Major Jarman would like breakfast, Taff’s reply never varied, “Tell the Major that breakfast finished at 9 o clock” back I trot “sorry sir the cook says that breakfast is finished” long pause then “in that case I will have some toast” there was always some cold toast left in the rack, I would then retire and wait, The Major would butter him self a slice, then ring the bell, back I would go to the dining room, where I would receive an icy glare from the Major who would say ” Tell the cook I will have some breakfast” I go back to the kitchen only to receive the same reply from Taffy, ” Tell him breakfast finished at 9am” back to the dining room relay the message, This time the stare is colder, “Tell the cook that I will have breakfast” I would return to find Taffy grinning and cursing but with two eggs in the pan and the Major’s breakfast well on the way. I do not know why but it was the same every time, it never varied.
I liked Major Stocker He used to have a terrible stutter, and when I was head waiter in the officers mess I got so that I used to finish his sentences for him when he was trying to order, he also liked to go shooting, pigeons and other game, He bought back some pheasant once and we had to leave them hang until they were ripe, Taffy Stevens was the cook at the time, and didn’t appreciate that a bit. He also shot a Roe Deer that I am sure that doing so was illegal. I remember this really well because I was then in the main kitchen and was being persecuted by the RSM and every one below, including the new straight from college 2nd Lieutenant Rothwell who was the new messing officer in charge of the cookhouse. He really threw his weight around when he first came, he came in the tin wash one day when I had just finished washing them and had them put away on the racks, using his stick he stated to throw them on the floor, saying they were filthy, I told him if he didn’t want a smack in the head, he had better clear out, well he called The cook Sgt and I was charged.
The next morning on orders I denied threatening him of course and as there was no one who had heard, I got the customary 7 days. We came outside the office, again were alone and he said I hope this will teach you a lesson, or words to that effect, I then told him that he had better stay close to his billet because if I ever saw him outside, he may not make it back. He was thunderstruck but what could he do, and I meant it. I told you that so you could appreciate our relationship before the deer. What happened in essence was he got him self in a bit of a bind by telling Major Stocker that he could get the Deer skinned and cooked or butchered and Major Stocker had said he ”Rothwell that is” could have the skin as a rug. He asked Danny the civvy butcher to skin the Deer and butcher it, Danny said he didn’t know how, he asked all the cooks with the same response, I at that time was in the spud room with a few boys who were detailed there or on Jankers, one of the cooks said he was doing his nut because he couldn’t get this Deer skinned, I said I could skin it but wouldn’t. Of course the cook tells him and he asks me do I know how to skin this Deer. Yes say I To cut a long story short he begs me to do this for him, so I say ok Figuring that it cant be that difficult. It is to do it properly anyway. By the time I got the skin off that he wanted to make the rug of, it was devoid of feet and head, I then bought a couple of old boys in a pub a pint and they gave me an idea on how to set about curing the thing. Oh I had a wonderful time I always had to go into town to buy some more Alum linseed oil anything to get this pliable, it was amazing. It ended up looking like a distorted spider and like parchment with hair on. He in his ignorance was quite pleased with it. In the end he turned out ok, so I lifted my Jihad so to speak. I have often wondered how many times he or someone else had nearly broken their neck, by stepping on that rug only to find on a floor it was like a hairy sled, I have visions about the possibilities.
When Taffy Stevens was transferred to the main Kitchen we had a new Scots cook who couldn’t, his meals were terrible and he didn’t last long but while there he provided some humour. Major Stocker was out shooting, we had kept some dinner for him in the hot plate, when he came in he told me he would eat in his room and would I bring his dinner over, I took it out of the hot plate and it was terrible, it wasn’t good to start with now it was all dried up, so I poured some boiling water on what was left of the gravy stirred it around to try and make it look a bit more appetizing, then took it over to the Major’s room, Put, put, put, it, it, there he said pointing to the top of an Aladdin paraffin stove, “It will burn says I” im,im,impossible,said the Major with that terrible stutter, I fell about laughing and he had a grin from ear to ear.
The Memory Man…
During my time in the officers mess a REME officer a Capt came who had been in India, he knew every sports record and sports statistic that you could think of and loved you to try and catch him out. He was like Lesley Welch the memory man who you may recall was on radio and later television. I can’t remember the officer’s name now, though some of you boys may. He wasn’t a bad bloke but a bit full of himself. His batman was an old ex Fusilier civvy called Bob. One morning Sir sticks his head out of his room and hollers Char Walla Char Walla, this enraged old Bob who stuck his head out of his boot room and shouted, “get back in yer charpoy you ain’t the only one that’s been in India yer know” Sir did in some haste, much to our delight as we not being civvy’s couldn’t say what we thought.
Its a long story but I lost my job in the officers mess by being falsely accused of stealing, there was a break in during the summer holidays, as I didn’t go anywhere because I was courting, I became the obvious suspect, the Wokingham police were not the brightest stars in the sky, at that time.
Anyway the Army and my dear friend RSM McNally of the Scots Guards decided, that despite there being no evidence, and despite my repeated statements that if you have a break in somewhere, And the only people around are the Regimental police, then maybe there was another line of inquiry they could pursue. The army being the army, I was sent from headwaiter in the Officers’ Mess to the Tin wash in the main kitchen, plus of course doing Jankers everyday on some pretext or other. Turning me from a regular soldier into a bit of a hard case. I had so many days jankers to do there was no end in sight I was not going to let them grind me down, so if I wanted to go out I went, with the obvious retribution when I returned, This went on for months, until one day no one charged me, then the next day, and the next, Its amazing now to think of it but I was walking about looking over my shoulder, I couldn’t stand it so went to Taffy Hill the Sgt Major, and said what’s going on I haven’t been charged for 3 days, his first answer was ”well we can soon change that” Then he said come into my office, and said that he couldn’t tell me anything but maybe I could talk to an orderly room clerk.
I had a bit of a reputation, so I leant on a clerk who searched around and found out that one of the Regt, cops that had been done by the SIB for stealing 80 pounds from the ‘A’ Coy ‘boxes soldier’, which was being looked after in the guardroom. The cop had been sent Colchester on I think it was a two year term.
While there he was smart enough to realise that if he confessed to doing the officers mess, he would be brought out for a new trial which carried a lesser sentence. The army basically said let sleeping dogs lie, just leave Blowers alone. My life had been a misery, I wont go into the retribution I took suffice to say I never did another days Jankers.
A cadre course came up, Despite putting my request in writing I was thrown out of Major Westropp’s office, On the advice of Taffy Hill who had became a friend, I took it to the R.S.M. with a request to see the Col,
A blazing row ensued with the R.S.M. screaming at me, while I standing at attention refused to move,
The noise brought the Adj out of his office, whom had not long arrived, That was then a Capt Ian Mc Horton, he quietened things down, then took me to his office, asked me why I wanted to go on the course, I pointed out that I never joined the army to wash dishes, etc.
He told me to come back to his office the next morning, When I did he had my record on his desk, which was very thick. He said I have just been looking at your record, not very good is it, Hardly N.C.O. material,
I said have you sir, have you really looked, he asked what I meant so I showed him the type of charges I had been subjected to 10 days for losing a cap badge etc, the long and the short of it I was put on the course with his assurance that if I didn’t pass I would be on the inside looking out.
The course was overseen by another old enemy of mine 23.59 the nearest thing to midnight, or Rastus to you guys Sgt Lawrence, He always wore his beret as if he was a Scot with his Hackle stuck over his ear and was forever trying to pull mine down to do the same thing, which I kept reminding to his disgust was not the way the Regt wore it nor ever had.
I was the only private on this course the rest were Sgts and corporals, as you know there is no rank on these courses, so I got on great, I had a hidden talent which I never realised or fully understood until years later. I was good at commanding men. Sgt Laurence was the only one that didn’t appreciate my efforts, and when the marks were posted for his section of the course, you can guess where I was, much to my surprise to a man the rest of the NCOs wouldn’t stand for it and took it somewhere I don’t know to whom but my mark was revised, and I ended up 3rd highest on the course over all. They then had no choice but to promote me, that however would have meant a posting so I refused I didn’t have that long to do so they made me, an unpaid unwanted unofficial Lance Cpl to be addressed as Staff.
I was appointed squads to train in square bashing and weapon training, I loved it but the R.S.M. couldn’t stand it, and wouldn’t have me on the square, I used to go every day of course, just to drive him up the pole, you remember how short-sighted he was, he would survey the parade ground, spot my lone Hackle and send a Sgt to escort me off and I had to wait behind the cookhouse, until he had gone. This went on until it became unbearable for him I guess. So with their superior military intelligence they made me a policeman, yes an R.P. I still grin about it.
Sgt Silvers giving me his lecture about how smart he had noticed I was, not surprising as he had seen more of me over the previous year then anyone else, anyway he told me that as I was such a villain and they had never been able to catch me, when I had wanted to disappear, that I could now use my talents to catch you unsuspecting boys, creeping in when you wasn’t supposed to be out.I pointed out I was a cop not a spy, that didn’t go down too well; he never had much of a sense of humour. I was a good cop when I was on duty fair, but when I was off I was off, that didn’t suit him of course or maybe it was the R.S.M. again who couldn’t stand to see me, on the veranda when he came in the morning.
I took no pleasure in making peoples lives a misery, just because you could and having been subject to months of that myself, I just did what I was supposed to do, no more no less. I remember on one occasion being in Wokingham with my then girl friend and seeing one of the boys who wasn’t supposed to be out, chatting to a couple of girls, upon seeing me he headed for the hills, I took of in hot pursuit and when I finally caught up with him and told him that if I was in town, then I was off duty and he had nothing to fear from me. He couldn’t believe it. I figured the boys had enough to put up with from the likes of Fred and some of the boy NCOs without the off duty staff, making it worse.