With special thanks to George Millie
Many boys who served at the School during the Fifties will remember the Provost Sergeant, Fiery Fred Silvers, he of the bristling moustache and a temper to match, although not too many will recall any of his personal details. John Maddox (44B) had actually met him at Winchester around 19, when Fred was still a Corporal, but didn’t realise until years later that Fred had subsequently been posted to Arborfield.
Eggy Egleton of 52B recalls that when he arrived at the School, Fred was on sick leave, having suffered a stabbing by another member of the Provost staff! This story is supported by Jim Baker of 46B, who recalls that his last meeting with Fred was in Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, in the summer of 1950, where Fred was being treated for his wounds. Sounds like a long sick leave.
Joe Kinson, however, was on the Schools permanent staff from 1954 to 1957, and is thus able to cast a little more light on Fred’s background details. Fred was a member of the Kings Royal Rifle Company KRRC (60th Foot). His three Sergeants chevrons were black on a red background, of a larger size than those worn by the apprentice NCOs, and his uniform always sported a black lanyard, black buttons and a black cap-badge. Joe recalls that Fred was less than popular with many boys, but that as Provost Sergeant he had an unenviable task to fulfil.
Joe was to meet up with Fred again around 11, on route to join BAOR Germany and, despite his Regiment having suffered from enforced amalgamation, Fred was still proudly wearing his KRRC cap-badge he wasn’t going to change that for anyone. Fred appeared a little non-plussed about the journey; he was heading for Bielefeld to join the administration staff for married quarters. Joe travelled with him to Harwich, then overnight with him on the ferry to the Hook of Holland and finally on the train into Germany.
Another PS member who got to know Fred fairly well was Brian Conway, an ex-boy himself of 42A, who served here as a military instructor from 1954 to 57. Brian recalls one particular Saturday afternoon, after a heavy session in the Mess, when Fred made his way off through the gates in unsteady manner, steering one handed with a bundle of clean laundry under the other arm. Now Fred was quite proud of his pocket watch, so when one young lad yelled across to ask Fred the time, Fred reached for his watch and fell off his bike with a resounding crash! “You bleedin fool,” shouted Fred, “what you want to ask me the time for?”
Fred was well known for taking Fire Picket, but never seemed to understand why he often used to get his uniform soaking wet when taking those infamous sessions! George Fleet Fleetwood (56B) recalls one occasion of such a duty when Fred sent one lad off to get some rag, as the brass fittings of the hoses and standpipes required polishing. The unfortunate lad returned empty-handed some time later and, of course, Fred went quite mad. “Get into the guardroom and find me some rag” he bellowed. Some minutes later out came the same lad, proudly holding some rather splendid red rag in his clammy hands. Talk about red rag to a bull, the young fellow had only torn up one of the guardroom curtains! A good example of obeying the last command if ever there was one.
Fleet himself became part of the Fred legend, soon before his departure from the School in 1959. At the rear of the fire station was a small patch of garden that Fred had nurtured, on the backs of his janker wallahs and free manure from the adjacent stables. Fleet and another boy had been instructed to scratch out a number of small furrows and then sow some seeds along them in the time-honoured fashion. Fleet’s mate had other ideas, however. The furrows were duly scratched out and the seed packets proudly displayed at the end of each one for identification purposes. What Fred couldn’t see was that all the seeds, from all the packets, had been deposited in the one large hole, prior to it being carefully filled in. We wonder what became of them?
Another memory of Fred is recalled by Gerry Hinck’s, also of 56B Fred doing an apparent war dance on his beret, in frustration at seeing his beloved greenhouse virtually destroyed by a severe hailstorm.
One of Fred’s more insidious duties was that of inspecting the boys, prior to their being allowed out into the world at large. Once the senior boys had gone past the School Mufti stage of blazer and flannels, standard civilian clothes were then permissible. Now, it hadn’t been too many years since the first teddy boys had made their presence felt, with their drape suits, drainpipe trousers with fluorescent socks, and slim jim ties. So it was only natural that Arborfield boys, wishing to look their best for the young ladies of the outlying towns and villages, would endeavour to try and emulate the latest fashions.
Fred, of course, saw it all differently, and would be there at the Guardroom, ruler to the fore, ensuring that trouser bottoms were at least 16 wide. There was also a custom in those days that Arborfield boys would wear a slim bright red tie, it helped when attempting to come to the aid of ones mates should any fracas occur. Fred must have thought it was a symbol of being a Communist, the way he would rage against any boy actually wearing such a tie on his way out, so they were usually rolled up in one s pocket until the bus had been boarded!
George Vince of 57A recalls one occasion when Fred came a right cropper and had to be extricated, along with his bicycle, from A Company’s flowerbeds, by members of his own Regimental Police staff! Riding back from the Sergeants Mess, where no doubt a certain amount of over-indulgence had been undertaken, Fred had failed to negotiate the corner of the Camp Hall road and found himself much closer to nature than was usually the case.
Mick Ould’s acquaintance with the dreaded Fred began before he’d even crossed the threshold of the School to join intake 57B. Upon arrival at Wokingham railway station, a dwarf with a large black moustache greeted him. Mick’s great expectations of a romantic start to his Army life were shattered by Fred’s words, “If yer for Arborfield, sonny, get yer arse into that lorry, quick!” Mick is another who remembers the usual battle to get out of camp in anything but the standard garb. His usual trick was to cover it all up with a beige-coloured shorty mac; they were very popular at the time.
Fred didn’t make many friends, that’s for sure! He certainly came off worst on one occasion, as recalled by Eddie Cooper of 52A. Eddies mate Bob Condon had an uncle, who had not only served in Fred’s regiment, but had also been its RSM. Arriving as a visitor to the School one weekend, Bob’s uncle was immediately recognised by Fred, who must have thought he was being checked up on. Fred was hopping about all over the place, “Yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full Sir”, completely subservient much to the amusement of all the boys present at the time, happy to see Fred squirm for a change!
Many Thanks to George Millie for saving this story.
Photos of Fred are in short supply and we are grateful to Bill Weedon for sending the one at the top and to Trevor Stubberfield for this one of Fred and his brother Moni:-
if anyone has any photos of Sgt Fred please send them to the webmaster via the contacts section