My life in the Grenadier Guards

James A. Hill

Part 1, London/Germany


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So the time had finally arrived for me to go into the army as I had now reached the required age of eighteen years in June of this year 1950. I had received my call up papers very soon after my eighteenth birthday telling me to report to Greenford in Middlesex London to register for National Service. All eligible male persons in those days were required to serve 18 months National Service, increased to 2 years in the June of this year (1950) as a result of World Tensions. So I reported to the Greenford recruiting Depot and signed on and soon after received my call up papers. These papers told me to report to Catterick for enlistment in the Royal Tank Corps within a couple of weeks. I was not too happy about the thought of having to be cooped up in a tank so I decided to volunteer for one of the Guards Regiments instead.

I had seen these regiments performing their duties around London whilst I was living in the City. I inquired where the recruiting centre was for the Brigade Of Guards and was told to report to Birdcage Walk in London the recruiting centre for all of the Guards Regiments at that time. I boarded transport and made my way to the Centre and fronted up to the Recruiting Sergeant. I stated my business and told him that I had all ready received my call up papers for National Service and was to report to the Royal Tank Corps at Catterick. However I had decided to join one of the Guards Regiments instead. He said "what a wise man, leave it with me and I will fix it up for you," after which he talked me into joining the best Regiment "his" regiment of course, namely: The Grenadier Guards.

The Sergeant led me away like a lamb to the slaughter and then handed me over to someone who proceeded to give me my education and fitness entrance examinations. At that time I was five feet eleven and three quarter inches tall but the sergeant stretched me for the last quarter of an inch saying that I had to be six feet to join. Now of course the height limit has dropped to about five feet eight inches which is too small in my estimation as one always thinks that Guardsmen should be tall. When the paper work was completed I was told that I had been successful and would be informed of the time and place of commencement. So I went home and carried on with my employment and waited for the big day. Then on the 5th October 1950 the fateful letter arrived and I proceeded to Caterham in Surrey to commence my service with the Grenadiers.

My life in the Guards was quite different to what I had been used to, but I soon settled down to the rather hectic and at times very trying life that I had mapped out for myself. Then for the next six months I was to go through a very active period in my life with not much time to think of anything at all apart from the job in hand, which was to mould me into the type of soldier expected of a member of " The Grenadier Guards."

When I arrived in Caterham I walked up the hill and arrived at the Guards Depot Caterham situated next door to the Lunatic Asylum. Someone once told me that there were a few Guardsmen resident in that place, as the conditions were a lot better than the one to which I was destined to go. I realized then that there might have been some truth in that statement when I arrived at the Depot.

It was on a Monday morning and I entered the gate and reported to the Guardroom and then was escorted to the Reception Centre at breakneck speed by a Guardsman. He appeared to be furtively glancing about him as though he was to be pounced on by someone. We eventually arrived at the reception room however without mishap and after attending to the paperwork I was taken to the Quartermasters store to be kitted out. I was roughly measured by a quick glance and then several articles of clothing were tossed over the counter to me and I was told to check them for size. The Sergeant then held out an service dress { SD ) cap saying try this hat on, and as I bent forward so that he could put it on my head he shrieked at me," stand up you horrible little man you're not that big". I thought to myself hasn't he got a nasty temper I wonder what has upset him today. He must have eaten something that's upset his stomach and I wondered what I had let myself in for. After ascertaining that I took a six and seven eighths size cap I jammed the remainder of my precious possessions into a kitbag and was then escorted to the barrack room which was situated on the third floor of Elizabeth block.

On my arrival I was then introduced to the " Trained Soldier " and the rest of the captives and then was directed to my bed space and shown where to put everything. After sorting out my equipment I settled down and commenced to get to know my fellow squad mates.

Soon we settled into a routine to commence our thirteen weeks of intense drills, physical training and small arms weapon training. We were told to pack our civilian clothing and belongings and post them home, as we were not allowed to wear any thing other than Army issue. I wish that I could have kept my underclothing though as the 'drawers cellular Mk 1' or 'drawers peculiar' as we used to call them were hardly capable of covering anything up but one did get used to them I suppose. My parcel was only small consisting of a shirt, trousers, and a pair of plimsoll's as I never was a Beau Brummel. In fact that wardrobe was just about all the clothing that I owned at that time of my life.

From that time on we had to try and adapt ourselves to a different lifestyle completely different to the unsupervised, life of freedom that we had all been used to? It took quite a lot of self-control though but eventually most of us settled down to the different lifestyle that was expected of us. I do not think that my feet touched the ground the whole time I was at the depot, as we had to move so quickly at all times. In civilian life I had kept myself quite fit with my sports and other outdoor activities and this helped a bit so I settled in fairly well.

Some of my squad mates seemed to have a bit more difficulty settling down though one man more so than the other's. I cannot remember this man's name now as time and age dims one's memory and we were too busy anyway trying to reorganize our own lives to really worry about other people. I do remember though that he went out of his way to try and get out of the Regiment by doing silly things. For instance he would put his chinstrap on his SD cap inside out (that was harder to do than placing it in the correct fashion.) He would put his boots on with no laces sometimes even on the wrong foot. When on parade he would stand slack jawed and generally do things a normal person would not even dream of doing. He would have received dozens of best actor awards had he been in the film industry. However whatever the case, he was either an extremely good actor or a genuine nut case but his system eventually worked for him anyway. He would stare at the corporal when given an order as though he had not heard him. I must give the Corporal credit too for having to put up with this type of performance from an individual he kept himself in check very well. I think the recruit was marched into the barber's shop for his head shave more times than anyone, as this seemed to be the Army's way of punishing people in those days. All that did for the person of course was to reinforce his image and make him a bald headed idiot. He took all of the punishment dished out to him and it never made any difference to his behavior so eventually he beat the system and was transferred to the Pioneer Corps. I think he eventually achieved his purpose but it solved an ongoing problem for the Grenadiers anyway. The remainder of the squad soon settled down and made the best of the lives that they had chosen for themselves.

The time that everyone looked forward to came along which was for our first leave consisting of a 48-hour pass. Most people made it out the gate and others had a bit more trouble though yours truly included, but after a few altercations with the sergeant of the guard I finally got out of the depot and made my way home. My family wondered what had arrived at the house when I arrived that day with my bus conductor's hat and size twelve boots and baggy battle dress. Every movement that I made was robot like and they wanted to know what the matter was when I kept muttering to myself, saying "two three one, " two three one. I think that they thought that I had hiccups or something. I do not remember how I spent my leave but it passed in no time at all and I was back to the Depot to carry out the remainder of my sentence.

Bedtimes now seemed so short that it seemed only a matter of minutes before the bugles sounded reveille then it was time to get up again. This did not really worry me though as I was always an early riser anyway.

There's glory in the morning when the dawning pales the sky,
And Reveille sounds to rouse us out of bed;
When the PT whistle calls us and we eagerly spring forth,
While the stars still faintly glimmer overhead.

There's a crackle in our footsteps on the grasses stiff with frost;
There's a tingle in our fingers and our toes ;
There's a tingle in our ears as we double down the track,
And a sort of itchy tiggle in by doze.

There's ice on bools of warder and it seems by lungs are froze ;
I cannot do deebreadig whed i 'b dold ;
So I gurse ubon the glory of a bordig such as this -
I've gorn ad gaught a dirdy rodden gold.

I shall always remember Reveille" mainly because I liked my first cup of tea of the day. This was when the lovely Corporal with a stainless steel bucket of tea came in and gently woke every one up with his kind words. It was 6.30 am and someone outside the building was practicing on a trumpet or something. His mates must have kicked him out of his room each day at 6.30 because he practiced pretty regularly. We would be chased about to get washed and shaved then rushed off to breakfast Then after breakfast we would suddenly be enveloped in a whirlwind, a whirlpool, a roaring tornado of being rushed and ordered about without pause all day and night for the next eleven weeks. There was never a free moment, never enough time to change clothes. Its fatigues, drill uniform, PT kit, and fatigues again, and uniform again, all day long

We were glad when it was time to eat and then we were hurried along to do that of course. From time to time an officer would come around the mess hall when you were eating your meals. He even tasted the food but he never got ill so he must have had a good doctor. The food at the Depot was very good though and was plentiful and we did have a choice although a small one. No one did an Oliver Twist but we all seemed quite fit, so it must have been ok. The tea had a funny taste however and we were told that the cookhouse staff did this just to take the "rise" out of us. (It worked.)

One of the useful things that we learned at the depot when looking after one's kit was when we had to press our trousers without using an iron. This method was to turn them inside out rub soap along the inside of the seams then damp them down with a wet shaving brush. After this we would turn them back to normal and lay them on the hard mattress of our beds and cover them with newspaper. After sleeping on them all night they would turn out quite well as the soap would tend to stick the seams together and make them look sharp. I often wonder though what they would have looked like after we were caught in a rainstorm I bet we would have been covered in froth. Our khaki uniforms were a bit rough at that time as they were really only tailored when you finished your training. Most of us put on some weight or perhaps it was just being re proportioned. I seemed to have grown two inches because the next time I got measured I was six feet two inches. Perhaps I was just standing straighter after all the exercise and training. The SD caps that we were issued with stood out on the front of your head like a railway porter, but the trained soldiers had a good racket going by selling you slashed caps. These caps had the peaks cut and pushed back and when you wore them they would just about cut your nose off. I was unfortunate having a nose like Cerano De Bergerak having being in the front line when they were issued out. As soon as you wore these caps the sergeant would take them off you and tell you to buy a proper one, I think he used to sell them back to us later. The uniforms were tailored at a later date when your body had settled down to the different lifestyle. The thought being I suppose that you would grow a bit after training and I probably did fill out a bit at that. I think we had another 48-hour pass after about eight weeks to get away from the tearing around for a while but I cannot be really sure of that.

When I filled in the application form to join the Guards one of the questions they asked you was to name some of your hobbies. I put down cycling, sword fencing, and that I had done boxing at the Lyons club in London. This was the biggest mistake of my life, because the PT Instructor, corporal A E Bridges, got to know about this after reading my application form. Then the next day when it was our physical training session he told me to put the gloves on and started to box with me. I did not do too well with him and he just about beat me to death. So after that episode I decided to keep away from blood sports and associated sporting activities. Everyone had to compete in Battalion boxing as part of their training however, and had to go into the ring for two minutes in a mixing session. As I weighed eleven stone seven pounds in those days I had to fight as a light Heavyweight in the Inter Battalion Sports. As we were being weighed in and matched up to our partners my opponent came up to me and said," do not hit me in the stomach I do not like to be hit there. So we agreed not to hit one another too hard and avoid the places where we were vulnerable. I was in the front line when noses were issued out and my proboscis was a tempting target being quite prominent on my face. The fight started very quietly but in the corner of the boxing ring stood the Regimental Sergeant Major. If I remember correctly it was RSM B E Hillier DCM who was in the Welsh Guards but was Depot RSM at that time. He was in my corner and was urging me on telling me to stop pussy footing around and get stuck into it. My opponent forgot about everything that we had discussed previously and promptly hit me a whopper on the nose, so I literally saw red and the fight was on. Unfortunately I won that contest and about an hour later had to fight the winner of one of the other contests. So all in all on that day I had three fights and for my effort got a five shilling Naffi coupon. This was worth about a dollar of our present currency and could only be spent in the canteen. This is why no one tried to win their contests, as they had to fight the winner of each fight in an elimination bout. I did have a couple of fights after that, and in one match received a pounding from an Irish Guard in one of my later fights. He had apparently knocked me out and I got up and carried on fighting all within the two minutes. When the fight eventually ended, it seemed like ten hours but was only (two minutes later) he obviously won the contest. I was told that I had done well and blooded his nose, so I suppose that was good considering that he had done a lot of boxing before. So after that experience I avoided the game of fisticuffs whenever possible and chose religious instruction. I never made the grade as a priest though so perhaps I should have stuck to boxing. In the early evening after the last meal of the day we were required to sit astride our beds and clean our kit.

The Trained Soldier, Ian Fletcher would lecture us about the Regiments Battle Honours and we would be questioned on these later to see if we had remembered them. This session, which had been going on in the Guards Regiments for many years, was called "Shining Parade."

uniforms from the late 1600's to the present day.

My pay as a regular soldier was two pounds nine shillings a week, which was about five dollars in today's currency, and out of this we were allowed to draw ten shillings. The rest was put into our account to be drawn when we went on leave etc. The ten shillings was spent in the NAAFI ( Navy Army Air Forces Institution ) on an assortment of cleaning materials. These would consist of items such as black polish, brasso, a (button stick) to put around buttons so that the brasso would not go on your clothes, and shoe brushes etc. I never had any change from my money as the total amount was spent on cleaning gear. Later on when we had learned to economize on the polish and brasso we would sometimes have enough left over for a current bun. It was a good job that I never smoked cigarettes otherwise I would not have even been able to buy a bun.

A Trained Soldier nearly always supervised shining Parade and on odd occasions we might have had a Corporal or Sergeant but this did not happen often. Every time you wanted to leave the room you had to march up to the door, turn smartly round stand to attention and shout " permission to leave the room trained soldier please." If the Trained Soldier was in a good mood he would say yes, but he never was, and it was usually a marathon exercise of backwards and forwards to the door at his pleasure. I always remember him picking on me, I had a really shiny pair of boots but he did not like them or me so he threw them out of the window. We were on the third floor of Elizabeth block, and he then said " Guardsman you have fifteen seconds to get them back ". So I took off towards the door of the barrack room at a furious pace and was going to go out when he stopped me. He shouted, "Where do you think you're going?" so I said "to get my boots trained soldier please." To cut the long story short I had to go through a long session of standing to attention and stating "permission to leave the room trained soldier please." There was a groove in the floor where every one had been doing this for years I'm sure. After I had done this for about six times he said yes and I took off at high speed and came back with my boots. It started all over again - "permission to enter the room, trained soldier please." I eventually got in only to be told that my small pack had been tossed out of the window too, and so it went on. These things happened to everyone all the time at the Depot so one eventually got used to them and got into a pattern of behavior to suit the situation.

When we were busy in the barrack room we would have regular visits from our nice friendly sergeant. We would be quietly be minding our own business when he would creep up the six flights of stairs to the third floor. Then we would hear a rushing of feet and he would leap at the door, which would crash open. He would stand there looking like Dracula's daughter and would shout, "Stand by your Beds ". He must have had a fetish for feet as he used to make people stand on their beds so that he could look at their feet. He was not a bad bloke though, all of his family loved him I am told.

At Caterham "The Depot" as we all called it every movement was done at top speed, we even had to run to meals. A " Corporal Dawley " picked on me from time to time ( I will never forget his name. ) He used to grab hold of my jacket pocket making sure that he had my left nipple in the cloth and twist it. He used to say: "Get that button done up Guardsman", and if you said "it is done up Corporal," he would yell and say "do not argue with me you horrible little man you." Of course no one could argue with the NCO's otherwise your life would have been a misery.

One other incident that stands out in my memory whilst doing a drill session at Caterham one day. We were standing in line in the 'Right Dress position' and had our 303 Rifles at the 'Slope' that means having it sitting on your shoulder. The Sergeant was looking along the line at the front of the Squad and the Corporal at the rear. My arms are quite long in fact I have only been able to wear one type of shirt in my lifetime because of my siminile tendencies. However on with the story, the sergeant walked along towards me with his cane and whacked my fingers that were on the butt of the rifle, saying "get your butt in line", pushing my rifle backwards. The corporal who was looking along the line from the rear walked along and pushed my elbow back again as it was then out of alignment. This went on a couple of times then the Sergeant with a roar grabbed my rifle wrenched it out of my hands, stood back and threw it at me. It landed across my shins nearly breaking my legs. We had the Lee Enfield 303 rifle in those days which was quite heavy and when he threw it, it hurt like blazes. I didn't know what to do, thump him, cry and show myself up, or keep quiet. I chose the latter and the Corporal took me aside and told me not to say anything as it would make more trouble than what it was really worth. My shins were really painful for a long time after that and I was rather upset over an incident that was not really my fault.

One of the duties or fatigues as they were called that we had to do in those days was coal fatigue. This entailed collecting coal in round steel containers and delivering them to the Barrack rooms and Married Families Quarters. After this was done these steel buckets were passed around on shining parade. They were then burnished on the outside with steel wire coils by everyone on Shining Parade and painted white inside till they shone. We were also detailed to perform lots of other manual duties cleaning, washing up, and peeling spuds in the cookhouse of the Guardsmen mess.

After completing ten weeks of the twelve weeks course at Caterham I had to go into the Royal Herbert Hospital in Harwich for a varicose vein operation. This condition had been brought on by I am sure by one having to smash one's feet into the ground as hard as possible when doing foot drill. This problem had been troubling me for some time and eventually I had to have an operation which entailed having the offending veins stripped from my left leg having a total of ninety eight stitches in my leg after the operation.

When I was discharged from the hospital and returned to Caterham I was back squadded to another that was in its sixth week training stage. I stayed with this squad and had to complete another six weeks on the sacred bitumen of the square, stamping boots, and smacking rifles. I stayed with this squad until I had made up the twelve mandatory weeks of Depot Training. As a result of my being in Hospital this then made a total of sixteen weeks that I had completed in all at the Depot. After this long period of training I was ready for a change and would have been the most drilled recruit in the Depot.

At the end of our training at the Guards Depot Caterham we had to take part in what was called the 'Pirbright Flit'. This entailed drilling in full FSMO, full service marching order, rifle included, and all very heavy. We drilled at one hundred and eighty steps a minute, which was really fast. One did not have time to turn or do the movements correctly before the order was changed for another one. The sergeant would give the order to halt, and if you had time during the interval you were allowed to take off some item of equipment. I never did manage to get my kit off though, as I was never quick enough. Before I could even start to take my things off we were off again at a very fast rate which carried on for about two hours. One Sergeant at Caterham who will always remain in my memory was a Sergeant Rogers. One morning as we were on drill parade and standing at the 'At Ease' position, Sgt Rogers said to me, "what were you in civvy street Guardsman?" I said "a Wholesale cake salesman for J Lyons and Company, sergeant." He said "I thought so, you're like a bloody cream puff, go home and sell your cream puffs but do not dare to come to my house". He at least had a sense of humour or perhaps did not like cream puffs. I was to meet a few more like him in my service and it really made one appreciate the English type of humour.

One thing I can say about those days though we were as fit as at anytime in our lives which was probably a good thing. I remember having to climb a rope with all my equipment and rifle I could not use my legs to help me climb the rope like a lot of my mates. The sergeant kept at me until I eventually got to the top by the sheer strength in my arms.

On completion of our training at Caterham we attended the Commandants Passing out Parade complete with band. All our kit was bulled up and I remember certain individuals being carried down three floors of stone steps so the polish on their boots would not crack off. We would be all lined up on parade and told not to move about too much, and another guardsman would go round with a duster and dust everyone's boots and equipment. The Adjutant came round and inspected us then afterwards we marched past him in slow and quick time to the rousing music of the Regimental Band. We advanced in review order and did all of those things that we had been taught during our time at the Depot. We really felt as though we were the " Bees Knees" at that time and we would have done anything for the squad instructor. After the parade was over we had completed the first segment of our initial training at Caterham.

The next stage was to take place at a place called Pirbright but fortunately we had some leave coming before reporting for the start of those drills. Soon after we this we were issued with a leave pass and all went to our respective homes for rest and relaxation.

On our return we reported to Pirbright near Brookwood for weapon and battle training for another eleven weeks. I remember one of the Guardsmen in my squad was called John Jordan and he had a chest full of medals having been in the S.A.S. during the war. He joined the Grenadiers but had to do his squadding all over again but was soon a trained soldier assisting the drill instructors. It was not too long after he had completed his training that he was made up to a Sergeant.

At Pirbright we had a further eleven weeks of training consisting of cross country running, intense training on assault courses using small arms and other equipment. These 11 weeks combined with all of the other methods of foot drill training learned at Caterham made up a quite extensive start to our first few weeks in the army. Whilst at Pirbright some of us used to visit Croydon the closest town of any consequence to Pirbright. I always remember there always seemed to be plenty of Military Police about in the town so one had to be sure to look smart and well turned out.

Whilst I was doing my eleven weeks at Pirbright I was chosen along with another squad of men to compete in the LDRA. This was the "London District Rifle Association" shoot held at Bisley. We all aquitted ourselves very well on the shoot so every one was happy about that. I must admit this type of training was more to my liking and I enjoyed my stay there.

One of the things that we had to do on the assault course was to carry a person on our shoulders over a fallen tree suspended across a deep hole in the ground. That was not so bad but it was made a bit more difficult because the sergeant threw a smoke bomb into the pit. Of course it was my lot to fall off half way, as I could not see the tree and as a consequence I fell into the hole with my unfortunate burden. Of course the usual happened the sergeant jumped on you and said do it again and get it right this time. One of the pranks one used to get up to during our training was to put thunder flashes under a tin hat and let them off. They made a tremendous noise and the tin hat would fly into the air, which did not go down too well with the sergeant's either.

We performed a variety of quite long cross country running and battle training exercises in full kit FSMO 'Full Service Marching Order' around an area called Brookwood adjoining Pirbright. The only thing that I remember about Brookwood though when we alighted from the train was that there was a large cemetery adjoining the station. Brookwood was situated in a Man Made Pine plantation that surrounded the training camp and it covered quite a large area. I really enjoyed this type of training though and preferred it to drill sessions. Then on completion of our Pirbright we had some more leave and on our return prepared to go to Pickering in Yorkshire.

The duties at Pickering consisted of doing very much the same sort of battle training as we did in Pirbright but this time using live ammunition firing on what they called fixed lines. If you were crawling along through the barbed wire and had your glutious maximus sticking up you could lose part of it. No one received any direct hits of course and we all lived to see another day.

During our time in Pickering there was lots of bayonet fighting when we had to stab at straw dummies on stands. The sergeant would show us how to do this by grabbing our rifle and while making a scream, would lunge at the dummy. He was that strong he would sometimes knock the stand over and would stand with his bayonet sticking in the woodwork of the stand. When it was our turn of course it was just like a comedy act with pitiful half hearted attempts to scream and short, weak pokes with the bayonet. The sergeant would then grab one's rifle and show us how to do it correctly of course. I admired him for his control because he never shot any one of us during our stay there, but we learned a new language.

I spent another couple of weeks in hospital whilst doing my training in Pickering Yorkshire for a problem caused by an accident on the assault course. I sustained this injury whilst attempting to scale a twelve feet wall on the assault course. We had to work in groups of three men. Two would cup hands and the third would take a run then use their cupped hands as a step and would be helped up to the top of the wall. It was my lot as usual to be the last person and have no help to scale the wall, and as a consequence I jumped as high as I could to reach the top. I never made it but trapped my manhood between the unresisting brick wall and my muscular thighs. This sent me into ecstasy of course and I ended up in hospital for the privilege with oversized testicles and lots of pain. I had to wear a canvas carry bag strapped to my thighs, which supported my manhood, not bad once you got the swing of it. So once again James had to perform another three weeks of training all over again and must have been the best-trained recruit in the Guards.

Because I had been back squadded I missed being sent to the third Battalion with my squad mates. I remember about six of them were sent to Kings Company at that time, as they were all six feet three and over. I had a letter from a Guardsman called Tiny Lees " Ken " who said that he was from number one Company of the 2nd Battalion that had been in Germany in 1945. Tiny apologized for his badly type written letter saying that it was as a result of his hands being so big. He said that his fingers were so thick that when he pressed a typewriter key with one finger it covered two keys. He must have been a big fellow by all accounts and would have been handy to have around in a free-for-all perhaps. He said that he had joined Kings Company in 1948 and then after it had changed from Kings to Queens Company they had some difficulty. The reason being was that when they had to start fitting the burial party out with uniforms all of the men were too tall. He mentioned that several of them had the 222 numbers so it was possible that I might know them. He went on to say that the problem was that their height was from 6 ft 10 inches going down to not less than 6ft 2 inches. The outcome of this was that the Greatcoats had to be made at Burtons, the bearskins at a back street shop in the East End, and his battle dress trousers got cut off at just below the knees and joined up to the legs of the blue trouser bottoms. He said that he marched at the side of the gun carriage at the funeral like this and he felt awful, good job he never got knocked down by a bus.

Two of my squad mates were Pall Bearers at the funeral and the remainder of the squad was posted to the Third Battalion. The 3rd was eventually posted to Tripoli and Egypt and was commanded by Lt/Col PAS Robertson they arrived on the 30th July 1951. So I missed out on joining the Third with my squad mates and eventually joined the second Battalion. I remember having heard that a couple of them had been killed whilst on an R @ R (rest and recuperation) trip to Palestine when their Jeep went over a cliff but I cannot remember their names now.

I was still doing my training in Pickering Yorkshire when the Festival of Britain opened on the south bank of the River Thames in London. This festival was opened by the King and Queen at the beginning of May 1951 and was an immediate success. Thousands of people from all over the world poured into London, which of course was good for the economy of the City.

After completing all of my training at the Depot, Pirbright and Pickering in Yorkshire we were all given a few days embarkation leave. On my return to barracks I was posted to the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards who were stationed in Bradbury Barracks Krefeld West Germany at that time. They had been transferred from Sennelager in the May of I think 1949 where they had been training National Service Junior NCO's since they moved from Caterham in the May of 1948. The Commanding Officer at that time was Lt Col TP Butler DSO, later followed by Lt/Col Charles Earle DSO.OBE. the RQMS ( Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant ) was EC Sam Weaver. Sam stayed with us until we returned to England in the November of 1952 and he became the Superintending Clerk at Regimental HQ. Sam Weaver passed away in 1997 after a long illness. Some of the other Officers at that time were Major RH Whitworth MBE and Major EBM Vaughan and Capt WGS Tozer.

This posting was designated as B.A.O.R 24 " British Army of the Rhine" The Division sign was the crossed keys, denoting the 1st Infantry Division in Germany and I had the number 55 on my steel helmet. I sailed on the Empire Hallidale a German ship that had been previously sunk but had been salvaged, given a name change and put back into service. We left from Harwich and after a very rough crossing landed at the Hook of Holland. In Holland we were transferred to a train going through Rotterdam, adding another engine and proceeding to Dalheim on the Dutch / German border. Then we transferred to a German train and eventually arrived at our destination "Krefeld".

West Germany was still classed as an occupied zone in those days and it was not until the 5th of May 1955 that her Sovereignty was restored. The German Police used to search our bags when we were on the German train. This was because people were running a Black Market on coffee and cigarettes which were hard to get in Germany at that time. At that time we were only allowed to take four small tins of coffee or Nescafe into the country. I used my weekly allocation to pay for photos that I took of my squad mates and the four tins paid for the developing of these films.

We were paid some Army money, which we used to buy our goods in the Naafi, the NAAFI being the canteen situated in the barracks. This money was called BAFS or British Armed Forces money but this was not legal tender outside of barracks. The German currency of course outside of barracks was called "Deutschmarks" and was worth about eight marks to the pound sterling in those days. We were also issued with a weekly coupon, which entitled us to buy 150 cigarettes and a bar of soap at the Naffi. I cannot remember what else we would get on that coupon, but I swapped my cigarettes for photo films, as I was a keen photographer at that time. On our arrival at Krefeld a three-ton truck took us to Bradbury Barracks in Kempener Alley.

These barracks had been used as a Panzer Barracks for the Germans during the war. It was here that we were to stay for a couple of years and we started our new life in quite nice surroundings. I was placed into Support Company of the Battalion and was put in the Anti Tank Platoon. This seemed a good omen as I had enlisted in the Guards so that I would not have to be cooped up in a tank in the Royal Tank Corps, and here I was now in the Anti Tank Platoon to be trained to blow them up.

I remained in Support Company for the remainder of my army service and must admit that I had a lot of very happy and interesting experiences as a result of this. I cannot remember many names of the people who I served with now but since this web page has gone on line I have had many contacts from former members of my Battalion. I will update my page as soon as I process the photo's received from them. When l was a L/Sergeant and performing the duties of Sgt in Waiting I used to know nearly everyone by the shape of their heads looking from the rear view. This ability was instilled in us so that if someone was doing something that he should not have been doing he could be called by name and apprehended for his crime. I often wondered as a recruit how the sergeants could know who you were when they could not see your face, but found out that it was possible to do this with a little bit of effort. It was surprised however when I came to write my memoirs to find out how many people I had forgotten when going through my squad photographs. However as it turned out I was very lucky because some time after I published my story a Mr. Neville Lane contacted me and sent me a list of most of the names of my squad buddies who had served with me at that time. Neville is now living in Canada and is a member of the Grenadier Guards Association ( North American Branch ). He was in the same Platoon as me but was demobbed in 1953 and joined the Honourable Artillery Company (Infantry Battalion) apparently the home of all ex guard types. Neville had an excellent memory and was able to forward a complete list of the people who served with us in Germany during those early years. Neville apparently wrote everyone's names on the rear of the photo's, a good idea that I should have adopted I think. Unfortunately I neglected to do this and as a consequence had forgotten most of the names of the people in my squad. I append the names to my story so that I have a record for myself and by doing this will also have a record to compare with other ex Guardsmen who will no doubt want to read this story. The names are as follows:

The Company Commander was Major Whitworth, others were: Captain Gus Hargreaves, John Cook, Bertie Besant, Sgt Albert Leagas, Lt / Miles Lambert, CQMS Chiefy Downes, Sgt Johnny Saxon, Sgt Ashton, John Cook, Eric Fisher, Bert Preedy, 2626132 Pongo Wearing, Geordie Wilkinson ( CSM Peapod Pentney,) now deceased) killed on a motor bike accident, Scouse Fletcher, Johnny Jordan, Melonhead Pickering ( not a very nice description ) but a lot of people got known by one's other than their own.

I gained the nickname Boots Hill while I was serving in Germany in 1951 as I took size twelve in those days and I must have looked like a stalk in boots when wearing shorts. That name stuck to me for the remainder of my army service and will go down in posterity forever. A few more names come to mind now so I will append them to the list of names before I forget them these are, Tidman, Holloway, Butch Higgins, Snowy Ryall, the Butcher twins, Butch Reynolds, (Odd Bods) Del (Burny Burnicle) Jam Butties Tinning, Wrigley, Sargent, Josh Pollard, and Monkey Monk.

I believe our Drill Sergeant was Alf Dickinson and the RSM at that time was George Hackett. One person I do remember however was a Company Sergeant Major who was appointed CSM of number 1 company in 1952. He was a CSM LC Drouet who had joined us from the Apprentice training College at Harrogate in Yorkshire where he was a warrant officer training army apprentices. Lou left the Battalion sometime in 1952 though and was appointed as the CSM of Somme Company at the Royal Military College Sandhurst serving under the great RSM JC Lord MVO MBE. Alf Dickinson our Drill Sergeant also left the 2nd Battalion Grenadiers at about the same time and was appointed RSM of New College Sandhurst

Bradbury Barracks was a really good place to be stationed as it had been built especially for the Panzer Corps and was really well laid out. In the early days we had German cooks and they were called GSO 'German Service Order' personnel. We had German waitresses serving at the tables who wore light green uniforms but after a time this luxury stopped and we reverted back to our own military cooks. I then commenced my Army life in Germany with the general duties, which were a part of a soldier's normal routine.

The Battalion was occupied attending daily drills but we in Support Company were kept busy with our 17 pounder anti tank guns and Stuart Gun Towers which had to be kept in a good state of readiness.

As previously mentioned National Service had been increased from 18 months to two years as a result of World Tensions and the War in Korea. We did get some recruits as a result of this and soon after the Second Battalion was told to get into a state of readiness and be able to deploy quickly. As a result of this some vehicles were kept loaded up with supplies. It was at this time that the Battalion was told to sleep out for three nights a month. So just before Christmas in fact on 12/14th Dec we had an exercise called 'Operation Santa Claus'. This was a three day toughening up exercise for the whole Battalion held in the forests around the Mohna See and Erde Dams. These dams were the one's the R.A.F blew up during the war depicted in the film the ' Dambusters ' as mentioned in the earlier part of my life story.

We had a compass march round one of the dams, the Mohna Dam and it took us many hours. All in all we marched about thirty-six miles in very hard conditions day and night. The Battalion got into trouble during that exercise as the troops burned about a million marks worth of felled timber, and the Germans were pretty upset about that. At about 4 am the next morning we pitched our tents in the snow in the forest and I took my boots off and used them as a pillow. When I went to put them on again a few hours later they were frozen solid, and I had to hammer them with a mallet to make them soft enough to get on again as the temperature was well below freezing. We also had to go 'beating' (walking through the forest making a noise) to drive the pigs to a certain spot so that the Officers could shoot them. I do not remember if they managed to shoot any pigs though, as we certainly never saw any. When Exercise Santa Claus was over and we returned to our camp at Krefeld half the Battalion was laid up with influenza. This posting was a really good one and was perhaps the most enjoyable part of my service in the Grenadiers.

During my time in the army I was trained to use the Bren Gun, the Sten gun, the 303 rifle, the P.I.A.T and the two inch mortar. The Bren had been in England since 1934 and was based on the Czechoslovac ZB gas operated maching gun that had been obtained from a company called " Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka Akciova Spolecnost of Brno", and had been in service in that country since 1926. In 1934 the British made a version of the ZGB series and called it the Bren, using the first two letters of Brno,the location of the Czech factory,and adding them to the first two letters of " Enfield " a town in England the the location of the Royal Small Arms Factory. This gun was rechambered to take the .303'' ammunition and was introduced into service in August 1938. We had to be marksmen on the Bren gun and a first class shot on the rifle, or the other way round to gain our star rating.

Also one needed an education certificate rating. The system provided education courses to assist one to improve themselves and a lot of guardsmen took advantage of this. If one passed the course then you achieved your star rating and gained extra pay as a result.

Whilst serving in Germany Support Company participated in a joint exercise with a tank squadron of Centurion Tanks. This would have been sometime in 1952 and we all got a chance to ride on one of these monsters. The one pictured is the Centurion Mk 8 and I managed to secure a good position right on the top dead centre of the photograph.

Whilst serving with the Grenadiers in Germany I also completed a dispatch riders course riding at that time a Norton 500 Motor Cycle.

This was a very heavy steel motor cycle (side valve) with girder forks and no shock absorbers just heavy-duty springs. I remember when I was engaged in a cross-country motor cycle driving course I had to drive down a very steep hill. That was graded as a one in three slope, the grading of a very steep hill. I positioned my bike at the summit and engaed first gear. I was told not to touch my brakes on the way down but just apply the exhaust valve lifter. When I started off at the top of the hill the sump plate on the bottom of the bike fouled the soil on the top of the slope. Then the bike and rider toppled over and rolled down to the bottom of the hill stopping at the bottom with yours truly wrapped around the handlebars.

I was not hurt too much however other than a few scratches to my body and my pride of course. The sergeant said, "get up and do it again and get it right this time." I did of course and managed to complete it to his satisfaction. I have a photo of the members of that dispatch riders course but never could remember their names.

One of the stories that Neville also mentioned in his letter was one relating to my abilities of riding a motorcycle. The story is as follows, we were on an exercise in Sennelager an area that had been the Headquarters of the German Panzer Barracks during the Second World War. I had been ordered by the Commanding Officer to take an important dispatch to the forward area of An Echelon, situated and hidden in the forest. I took off on my motorcycle at a furious rate, as I was very keen to do this job well. I then decided to take the short cut across an area covered with dense bracken as it looked quite firm. However when I was about half way across my motorcycle with me still sitting in the saddle disappeared into a slit trench. The bracken had camouflaged the terrain that had apparently been used during the war years for defensive purposes and the old slit trenches were still there but were overgrown. With the weight of the bike and the fact that it was jammed deep into the trench made it extremely difficult for me to extract the motorcycle and myself from this predicament. However, being a Grenadier and a strong handsome one I did not let that problem deter me. After a lot of tugging and backbreaking effort I managed to get out and I proceeded to fulfill my commitment for the Commanding Officer. I eventually delivered my message to the CO at the Battalion HQ and when I fronted up to him and explained the reason for my delay he said to me "Too late now, the Bloody war's over!" I think that he saw the funny side of the matter but of course never let on to me. Neville apparently did not forget this incident with the bike however and so mentioned it in his letter.

Support Company had other types of motor cycles at that time including BSA 350 and 500 cc motor cycles. They were much better to ride than the Nortons mainly because they were much lighter to handle and had Hydraulic shock absorbers instead of the heavy springs of the Norton bikes. They were easier to handle as a result of this and being much lighter than the very heavy Norton bikes were faster too.

At times when riding my Norton motorcycle along the Autobahn in Germany I would reach the speed of sixty-two miles per hour (97 kms) the bike's maximum speed and in those days that was considered fast for an army bike. There is no speed limit on the Autobahn but services personal were still governed by army rules. So I was told off on the odd occasion for arriving at my destination too quickly. On the Autobahn in Germany one had to travel fast though and even at this speed it appeared as though you were not moving quickly at all compared to the other civilian traffic. Some of these vehicles were huge and would pass me as though I was standing still but some paid the penalty later when I noticed them smashed up at the side of the road

I used to like participating in Battalion schemes because it got us away from drills and guard duties.

Being a member of Support Company and an armoured unit we would be pretty well independent of the rest of the Battalion with regards to food etc. The crew used to take boxes of 'Compo' rations on our tanks, which consisted of most of the items, required for all meals for the day. There was usually someone who would take over the cooking duties and he made a good job of what he was doing. None of us were finicky though and we would all devour anything that was put in front of us. The ration box had a tin opener, toilet paper, tins of stew and an assortment of other items such as sweets and chocolate, water treatment tablets and malaria pills. All in all it was very well designed and was quite acceptable to all. One box was designed to feed ten men for one day or one man for ten days.

I remember swapping a tin, which contained twenty-one boiled sweets and a bar of chocolates with a German farmer. I received a very heavy loaf of black Rye bread and some butter for these items. The bread was so heavy you only needed one slice to fill you up. The German women used to eat this bread and it sustained them whilst working in the fields. I noticed a lot of Women working in the fields digging up potatoes and doing manual work whilst we were on our exercises. The reason for this was I was told, was that German men were still in short supply after five years of war and a lot were still held as prisoners in other countries. I have since learned that these prisoners in England were a lot better off where they earned wages and were allowed other privileges.

Whilst on the Tasmanian Reunion in the November of 1994, I met a guardsmen that I had served with in Germany in 1951. He was 22213737 Ken Day now living in Victoria and we had many happy memories to talk about.

One particular incident we rembered took place when we were on Barrack Guard duty and the guard was pestered by two females who wanted to get in to the barracks to sell their charms. They were called Anna Lisa and Chrystal Vinckle, and they used to stand outside the guard gate and throw stones at the sentries. They were found in the basement of the barracks at one stage after having been there for about two weeks. So someone had been entertaining them by all accounts, not me I was not like that, honest. I was told that these women had to have a monthly medical check up to see that they were free of nasty medical problems and had to carry a card stating that this examination had been carried out.

The Manpower strength of a Battalion in those days was usually about a thousand men, but now due to cost cutting it was down to about six hundred men. The Guards Battalions were divided up into several duty companies with other companies (Support and Headquarters) containing the equipment, vehicles and guns. Support Company was divided up into three platoons, the anti tank platoon, the MMG (Vickers Machine Gun platoon) and the three inch mortar platoon. HQ Company contained the clerks, vehicles, tailors shop etc. I was placed into the "Anti Tank Platoon" of Support Company Grenadiers and trained as an Anti Tank Gunner.

In those days we used the 17 pounder Anti Tank Gun which had replaced the two pounder which was used during the Second World War. Later this 17 pounder too was to be replaced with the 120mm Bat (Brigade anti Tank Gun) that was towed by a jeep.

The Sherman 75 Tank or " Stuart" towed the 17 pounder and was an American Tank with a 75-mm gun and a Vickers machine gun on its turret. This tank was used during the 2nd World War mainly as a 'recce' tank because of its speed and light armament. The turret had been removed to allow for more gun crewmembers to be carried and it was converted for use in towing our big guns. The name was changed too and we then called it the Stuart Gun Tower. It performed its new duties admirably using the power from the two really big Cadillac engines but I cannot remember what capacity the engines were now though. The vehicle could travel at about fifty miles plus per hour and that was very fast for a track vehicle.

I saw quite a lot of Germany during my term of service when travelling to various locations in Germany on exercises to fire our guns. One area I remember was called Lubeck situated somewher on the Baltic Coast. One of the other places I remember well was "Senelager" the former Panzer School previously mentioned in my motor cycle episode. We used to travel quite a lot going to Northern Germany on gun exercises because of its isolation and large forested areas that were suitable for training. It was at Senelager that I saw a Panzer tank with a shell stuck down the front of the barrel of its 120-mm gun. After the war this area had been designated a museum because of its involvement with heavy track vehicles. Seeing this tank with the round stuck in the barrel would have to be a million to one shot and an obvious choice as a museum piece as it looked like a peeled banana.

During my service in Germany and in the last summer before we left for England the Battalion took part in the big Allied manoeuvres called exercise Holdfast. This involved Troops from the American Sector and quite a few troops from the continent of Europe. During this exercise one of our Grenadier Officers had his foot blown off with a plastic grenade, not too good considering this was only a training scheme.

Our first Christmas in Germany (1951) was quite an experience and everyone seemed to enjoy it despite being away from his or her loved one's. It was a tradition in the army that at Christmas time the Officers would act as waiters for the guardsmen at the table's. The cooks had excelled themselves and there were a good variety of foods and drink and everyone indulged himself or herself. On Boxing Day however everything returned to normal and the whole Battalion including the officers had to go on a cross-country run. The officers of course were on horseback and were placed in strategic positions to see that the men did not take any short cuts. I came seventeenth in a Battalion of a thousand men and the Commanding Officer complimented me on my great effort. This run took place every Boxing Day to clear all of the booze out of the men; I did not drink of course hence my good performance on the run. The Battalion used to hold several cross-country runs in the year and whilst involved in one of these runs I came to grief on a mangle wurzle. The mangle wurzle was a type of turnip similar in size to a large beetroot but much larger, some being the size of a football. These vegetables were planted by the Germans and were used for cattle feed and " foot breakers of course". We were running across fields planted with these vegetables when I trod on one of them and my foot twisted and I felt it crack. It hurt but being a big brave man I continued the race and then we returned to the barracks and finished duties for the day. The following morning my foot was so painful and swollen that I could not walk on it. I used a broom from the barrack room-cleaning cupboard as a crutch and went down into the basement of the building to the MI (medical inspection) room. After my right foot was x-rayed it was found that I had fractured the neck of the fifth metatarsal. For this dreadful war wound I was awarded M & D, excused boots and light duties for a while, no Purple Heart for me.

I was promoted to Corporal whilst serving in Germany and had to go on a corporals course.

Whilst on this course the drill sergeant said to me, get up there and talk for five minutes on any subject that suits you. I was not really fond of standing in front of a class of people and felt a little self-conscious. On this occasion though I was lucky because I chose a subject that must have been the drill sergeant's favorite hobby. All I said was that "I am going to teach you all how to ride a motor bike." He then said, "I remember when I first started to ride a motor bike," and he went on for about ten minutes on his experiences with that regard. I finished my session quite well having hardly said anything at all but acquitting myself very well as a good listener it seemed.

I will always remember the Drill Sergeant trying to teach me the method of shouting an order whilst drilling the men. He told me that I was not making enough noise and this was as a result of my shouting from my throat. So he told me to go in the toilet at night and eat a tin of Vaseline and practice shouting from my stomach, that gave me a belly laugh anyway. I never did understand that order and did not take his advice but I seemed to manage ok anyway.

Whilst on early morning duty out on an exercise at Putlos in Germany on the Wednesday 6th February 1952, a German civilian came up to me and taking his cap off, he stated in German that King George had died at Sandringham. I understood a little German so I reported this to an officer who was unaware this had taken place. The Officer reported the incident to the commanding officer that checked it out and the information was found to be correct, and so the necessary action was taken.

Princess Elizabeth who was the Colonel of the Regiment at that time was on a tour of Kenya with the Duke of Edinburgh. The couple had to return to England straight away and the Princess was proclaimed Queen on the eighth of February 1952 on her return. The Queen then became our Colonel in Chief of the Regiment and General Sir George Jeffrey's KCB, KCVO, CMG succeeded her as Colonel, and he was later to be made a Baron. The King had been ill since his operation for lung cancer a year before and had not fully recovered. The King had been a very heavy smoker all his life but in those days this habit was not linked to lung cancer. George V1 had been a popular king and stayed in London during the war even though his house was bombed along with thousands of others.

We had a Regimental Parade in remembrance of the Kings death on our return to Barracks after the exercise. One amusing incident that stands out in my memories during my army service were when we formed up for the eleven am Commanding officers parade on the square. These full parades took place on most Saturday mornings when the battalion was not away on exercises. We were all lined up waiting for the CO to come out when we noticed someone had painted huge white letters across the lovely black Bitumen saying "Let Pollit Broadcast" When the CO came out he nearly had a fit, looking at the Regimental Sergeant Major he shouted "who did that?" As if the RSM knew who did it. Pollit was a well-known Communist leader in England at that time and had been having trouble getting his views published in the 'Daily Worker', a Communist newspaper. No one owned up to that of course and the outcome being that everyone on parade was told to get paintbrushes and black paint to clean up the mess. The parade was cancelled to every ones joy so we got out of a drill parade, but we never did find out who did the art work.

My sister Pat wanted some black nylon stockings with black seams down the back but they were not available in England. They were plentiful in Germany so I said that I would bring her some back. I thought that I would be clever and show off my German, so I went in to a shop in Dusseldorf and in my best German and said, "habense quartz nylons bitte." Before I could get it all out the proprietor said "with black seams Sir?", he spoke better English than I did. English is the second language spoken in Germany and the children learn it in their schools.

I was still in Germany when England had a major disaster, which took place on the 8th of October 1952. Two trains had collided at Harrow just outside London and a third train travelling at high speed smashed into the back of them bringing an overhead bridge down. 112 people were killed and a further 200 were injured and it took days to clear the wreckage from the tracks.

During my service in Germany I took two weeks leave compliments of the Army as we were allowed two weeks local leave all expenses paid whilst serving overseas. I took this opportunity and had an unforgettable holiday in the Hertz Mountains at Bad Hartzburg and learned to ski.

Whilst I was in Bad Hartzberg there was a group of PPCLI (Princes Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry). They had been fighting in a local pub and had been banned everywhere. A lot of them sounded like Scotsmen but were huge and were built like lumberjacks, and were best to be avoided.

One of the towns that we would frequent on our days off was Dusseldorf where the 'Church Army ' had a Services club. We would go down to the main centre at Krefeld and board a Krefelder-Bangershellshaft, which was one of their O''Bahn type of double carriage type fast busses. We eventually acquired this type of transport in Adelaide in 1992 so one can see the Germans were quite modernized even in those days. The Church Army Club was an institution something like the Salvation Army, but looked after Service personnel who were serving overseas. The premises were situated in a prominent position in the 'Graf Adolph Strasse' the main shopping area in Dusseldorf. The club had just about everything you needed to enjoy yourself, there were restaurants, gaming rooms, library, and several places where you could go to listen to and play gramophone records etc. This club also hosted variety shows from time to time but I never managed to get to any of those as I always seemed to be somewhere else at the time they were being performed.

Whilst visiting Dusseldorf one day I purchased a chromatic harmonica (a mouth organ) for my Father that he really wanted and could not get in England. The shopping centre in Dusseldorf was quite extensive even in those days and one could get almost everything that was needed. This mouth organ was supposed to be one of the world's best and in fact was played by Larry Adler who was then and still is the best harmonica player in the world. I have this mouth organ now as my sister Pat brought it back from England when she came back from her holidays. When Dad passed away in 1991 he had left it for me along with his gold watch that was presented to him by his work mates at George Kent's in 1956 when he first sailed for Australia. On the reverse of the watch is inscribed " Presented to Jimmy Hill by his work mates at George Kent's 1956 ".

I had another spell at the Army Hospital in Wuppertal Germany due to a recurrence of my accident on the assault course in England. The hospital was situated right opposite the overhead railway, the 'Monorail' that was very much ahead of its time in those days. I was in hospital for about two weeks but eventually recovered from my problem. In the November of 1952 the 2nd Battalion commanded by Colonel Earle concluded a very successful tour of Germany, where they had been almost continuously for nearly eight years. During their tour they had won the Athletic Championships for the third successive year, breaking five Rhine Army records

On their march from Liverpool Street to Chelsea Barracks they exercised the Regiment's ancient privilege of marching through the City with Colours flying and drums beating and the Lord Mayor took the salute outside the Mansion House. The Battalion was later to take part in the presentation of new colours to the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Grenadiers on the 7th May 1953 in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

Continued... London/Egypt.
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