This account first appeared on the message board in instalments in 2010 and can still be retrieved there but I thought it best to put it together as a single story.

The Incompetent National Serviceman

Perpatrated by James S Mcleish

TRAINED ?
I was 18 on the 8th duy of December,l947,having left school at the end of July.
On Wednesday, 18 October, a friendly Scottish life office agreed to pay me £160 p.a. to
visit their principal office in the City from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, Monday
to Friday. I began to study to become an actuary.
On my 18ft birthday, I became eligible for National Service but had applied for its
deferment on account of my actuarial studies. However, before that had been granted,I
was invited to Bromyard Avenue by the Ministry of Labour and National Service. There,
I believe I was found to be grade 1 and that the colour of my hair and eyes was brown.
Almost exactly four years later, in November 1951, the Minisfry again invited meto Bromyard Avenue. I do not know whether this second invitation was due to concern about the King's health, the crisis in Korea or to the misapprehension of the men from the
Ministry that I needed some new distraction to counter the depression from which they
thought I must be suffering due to the continued failure of the actuarial examiners to
recognise the latent talent behind my otherwise wholly inadequate answers to their questions.
Conversations with my contemporaries had suggested that life in the RAF was less uncongenial than that in the Army. Accordingly, I applied for service in the former.
To my surprise, the staff at Bromyard Avenue determined that I was grade 3, that the
colour of my hair, about which I had done nothing, was auburn and that my eyes had
turned green. None of this impressed the RAF who told me, unnecessarily, not to think of
the Navy. They thought that possibly the Army might not want me either.
They were wrong. The Army must have been desperate. Noting my address, they
presumed I would join the Beds & Herts. Unaware of my decline from 1 to 3, I had made
no research into the Army but I had learnt that one should avoid the infanfry and not be
beguiled by the term 'light'. The only alternative that occurred to me was the Royal
Corps of Signals, in which my schoolfriend and colleague had served during his period of
National Service. So, a few weeks later,I received a 3d class ticket dated 3d January,
1952 from King's Cross to Richmond with the helpful advice of the times of two suitable
trains. I would in any event have selected the later train but this also allowed me to catch
my normal morning train and travel with my normal morning companions, except that I
had to get out at King's Cross instead of carrying on to Moorgate.
Armed only with the recommended brown paper and string, I stood on the
platform and sadly watched the train disappear into the tunnel on its way to Angel. I then
made my way to find the tain to Darlington. I remember nothing of the journey, of
Darlington station or of the now unrepeatable journey to Richmond. On arrival there, I
was one of many, presumably equally apprehensive, who were chivvied into trucks by
khaki-clad lads who delighted in telling us that we were already late.
How I was kitted and allocated to 16 Troop to be trained, basically, by Cpl. Jukes,
I have long since happily forgotten. I suppose that at that time, I was given my army
number and told that it was essential that I remembered it at all times. To assist this I split
it into two sections of four digits, a useful exercise for subsequently remembering 4-digit
PINs but this practice probably began earlier with the then alpha-numeric telephone numbers, such as ROYaI 3411 and WHltehall l2l2. However, this division into two groups of four conflicted with having to recall, on demand, what the Army considered the most significant of the eight digits, the 'last tlree'.
Then there were the boots; two pairs, one to be 'best' and the other pair for everyday use. The comfortable pair had a smooth leather surface and was therefore promptly promoted 'best'. The other pair required too much effort to get a smooth
surface, although of a deeper black. Black-hearted, too, for aggrieved at being passed over? one boot attacked my heel, viciously, raising a painful blister. I endured this in return for the easier polishing of the other pair.
A1l my webbing equipment had been blancoed buff. The Signals used khaki green. Changing the colour was an unpleasant task.
Apart from the mess hall being on the ground floor of the building in which the troop was accommodated, I do not recall anything about the meals other than the deep tank of very hot water in which we had to clean our cutlery after meals. It was essential to
keep a tight hold on this as the water vapour above the surface made it impossible to see
the bottom of the tank and hence the dropped item. To say the least, it would have been
uncomfortable to try to retrieve it.
Right at the start, Cpl. Jukes told us that he had not yet produced the best troop at the passing-out parade at the end of the four weeks of basic fiaining. He intended to achieve that with us. I knew that with me in his troop, he had no chance but perhaps selfishly,I kept this knowledge to myself.

We were also told that during this four-week period, we were confined to the camp. I had no idea where the camp's perimeter was or its exit(s) and since I suspected that there was probably very little in the immediate surroundings to entice one to go outside, this restriction seemed more psychological than practical. The promised 48-hour pass at the
end of the period was another matter. Would I have sufficient money for a return ticket to King's Cross and would the period between the journeys make it all worthwhile? On the other hand, there was no foreseeable alternative; I knew no-one in the north of England. As there were more immediate concerns,I decided to defer consideration of this one.
At some stage, the troop underwent a written intelligence test supervised by a sergeant from the Royal Army Education Corps whom I thought I had seen sometime in the past (when else?) I completed the test with about 10 minutes to spare and spent the time seeing whether I agreed with my answers.
A little later, we were taken to a more practical test, in a different building, I think. Here, each of us was placed in front of a table, the top of which was divided into a number of sections, within each of which was a jumble of metal parts. These, apparently, could be assembled to make a useful tool. The jumble in the top left hand section suggested an adjustable spanner but I failed to get the parts to confirm this. None of the other collections gave any hint as to what they might have produced and, thinking it unlikely that playing with them would induce them of themselves to come together appropriately, I did not bother. Instead, there being nothing else to do. I re-arranged each jumble more neatly within its own section. I did not foresee the slight embarrassment this would cause me. At the end of the allotted period, the supervising NCO inspected what each of us had achieved and then ordered the others to dismantle whatever it was each had mantled. Naturally, the parts resumed something like their original jumble, for which the NCO berated them for not neatly arranging the parts as I had done.

Subsequently, we each were interviewed by Personnel Selection Officers. Mine was a major who after the usual courtesies, said "You do not seem to be cut out for the Signals". I agreed, despite thinking that he would have been even more accurate had he said 'army' instead of 'signals'. I admitted that I had not thought about the Intelligence Corps. Unaware of the Corps' existence, I asked what they did and received the surprising response "I don't know, something cloak and dagger, I think." January in bleak Catterick made the cloak attractive but I was not so keen about the dagger. However, I said I would try it.He then presumed I would apply for a commission. After a brief and rapid internal discussion, I again said 'yes' and was pleased when he said that I was not fit enough at present but the matter would be reconsidered after about three months.
Fortunately, it was never mentioned again; it seemed too much like hard work.

For some periods of our training, Cpl. Jukes was relieved by a Scotsman, Cpl. Vaness whose period of full time National Service was coming to its end. He was a much more competent instructor and although assisting Jukes, unwittingly exposed the wide gap in their abilities. During the afternoon of my second Wednesday at Catterick, Jukes was taking us for rifle drill when a messenger approached him. After a brief chat, Jukes ordered me out of the squad and I was told that I was being transferred the next morning. I felt that Jukes' chances of 'best troop', although still slight, were nevertheless considerably enhanced by my removal. It is quite likely that he thought so, too.
On our way to the barrack block, the messenger told me that I would be awakened early and that to make it clear who was to be awakened in the room, I should put one of my two white towels over the foot of my bed. At the time, this seemed sensible but in practice proved unnecessary. The guard's well studded boots on the hard polished concrete floor made so much noise, even had he tried to be quiet, that he awoke everybody. The others were by no means pleased.

Transfer to the Intelligence Corps

Eventually we reached Uckfield which was as far as our Movement order took us. On getting out of the train, I was surprised to see the platform crowded with lads in khaki and, also surprising, none of them was moving, very different from Richmond two weeks earlier. There was nobody waiting to collect us so we waited and after a while, it was suggested that someone ring the camp to say that we had arrived at the station. This proved, initially, easier said than done. The local phone book revealed that that part of Sussex was liberally sprinkled with Army camps. Which one was supposed to be expecting us? Almost all the other Movement orders,like our own, went only as far as Uckfield. However, one lad found that the name of the camp had been added to his order. So, Maresfield Park camp was rung and an immediate truck promised. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, a truck pulled up and the driver apparently asked, "You lot for Maresfield?" "Hop in the back then."
Having been near the front of the train, we were at the farther end of the station. It is not surprising therefore that I was the last to climb into the truck. On arrival at the camp,I contrived somehow to be among the last to get off.
The jouraey from the station to the camp took a bit longer than a couple of minutes. The truck which collected us was returning from Uckfield where it had been delivering rations to the married families. The truck sent to collect us passed us on its way to the now deserted station, much to the driver's annoynce who thought himself the victim of a hoax.
Twilight was somewhat advanced by the time we reached Maresfield. I was near the back of the single file conducted by Cpl Barlow to the row of trainee huts. Naturally, I was among those approaching the last, apparently empty hut. One or two of the early entrants through the door in the in the middle had gone into the right hand part of the hut but shortly before I reached the hut, the right hand half was fuIl. On entering the left half I saw why the others had gone to the right. In front of the neatly boxed blankets etc., all in the approved army fashion on the first bed to my right, there was a card proclaiming that this was the_bed of Cpl. Stubbs, D. I took a bed on the opposite side, near the stove. When Cpl Stubbs, D. arrived to find the end of his solitude, he gave us the good news. He was due to be demobbed in about six weeks. The whole of the permanent staff from the OC (a Major Wilkins; at that time, the camp commandant was Lt Col. Pine- Coffin) down were falling over backwards trying to get him to sign on as a regular. The consequence for us was that for the Saturday morning hut inspections, we needed merely to keep the hut clean,neat and tidy instead of the greater exertions required of the occupants of other huts. Inspection of his hut would be not much more than a token visit.
The bad news for those of us from the Signals and like places, was that of the colour of blanco for webbing equipment at the School of Military Intelligence was buff. So khaki green had to go. I enjoyed this exercise no more than I had the reverse at Catterick. Some, of course, were fortunate in having come from another buff training establishment.
The next morning, Cpl. Barlow introduced himself as our basic training instuctor.
He informed us that because we had come from a number of different training establishments, our basic taining would have to start again. We objected that we were all fully experienced half basic trained soldiers but to no avail. There was no mention of our being confined to the camp for the period of our basic training. Indeed, from what followed, the clear indication was that we weren't. Unless specifically assigned to a duty, our time was our own from 12.30 p.m. Saturday until midnight Sunday. For those who wished to visit London, the best way back to the camp was by the train for Brighton which left Victoria some time after 10 p.m. At Haywards Heath s]tation, there would be a doubledecker Southdown 'bus waiting to take us back to the cnmp. Provided we were on this obus, we would be deemed to be back by midnight even thiugh the 'bus might arrive later. He (Cpl. Barlow) advised that to ensure a seat on the 'bus, a ticket should be purchased before leaving the camp on Saturday. So it was that I did not need to write to my parents to tell them of my new address. During my period at Maresfield before being sent elsewhere, there was only one weekend when I did not go home.

On Monday, having returned from home with a pair of shoes, I reported with my very sorely blistered heel, had it lanced, a dressing applied and was excused boots. I was told to report again the following morning for a fresh dressing. This process continued for a while and as my heel healed, I daily expected to be told to go back to wearing boots. This did not happen and there seemed to be no hint that it ever would. So I decided to resume boots and quickly became liable for guard duty.
This did not happen often but I remember particularly one occasion when the last tour fell to me. Normally, apart from resulting in a long and weary day, this had the advantage of having some useful activity in arousing various people such as the catering staff of the variouJmesses, the officers' batmen, the Orderly Sergeant, etc.. However, when my predecessor awakened me he said that there were a few flakes of snow in the air. And so there were ! But, at first gradually, these few increased, and increasingly so. When the arousing time cnme - the tiire table was such that the guard had to walk (probably one should have marched) back and forth 3 or 4 inches depth, and was still falling enthusiastically. This enthusiasm was not sharedby the guard.

One morning, we were gathered in one room of the basic training hut, waiting
unusually for our instructor to arrive, when Sgt Asplin entered and told us that the King had died. Regrettably, I can remembernothing else about that day.

Cpl. Stubbs, D. was our weapons training instructor. A later day, in the same room he was instructing us on the Bren gun (or LMG). For us, he demonstrated the First IA (Immediate Action) when the gun stops firing. This has probably occurred because the magazine has emptied so all the gunner need do is replace the presumed empty magazine with a full one. Then it was our turn to were fire it. There were, on the floor, four Bren guns, each with a magazine on it and another beside it. All eight magazines were of course empty. The first detail of four lay down on the floor and each raised the butt of his gun into the firing position. When our instuctor said, "Gun stops firing", each one of the detail put down butt of his gun, knocked off the empty magazine and put on the fresh one. Our corporal-was disappointed and told them they all had failed by not resuming firing. The first detail were followed by the second, also of four, who to my surprise (this seems to have been an uncommonly frequent occurrence), did no better than the first four. I was in the third detail.
At "Gun stops firing" I put down the butt of my Bren, knocked off the magazine (successfully - another surprise) put the replacement on the gun, then took up the butt into the firing position. I can still remember the barely suppressed amusement in Derek Stubbs' voice as the exclaimed, "Killer Mcleish is the first to get it right!"

In addition to the courses, parades, guard duties, etc. we had some other forms of amusement provided for us. Every Saturday morning, we were taken somewhere by truck to counter an imaginary invader. I forget the name of this recurring operation (was it 'Knock-out'?). once, we were taken to the beach at Eastbourne to repel a phantom landing force. Having charged it, apparently unsuccessfully, we then became it and made an equally unsuccessful invasion. During all this, one of our party lost the bolt of his rifle and we had to spend some time searching for it.
On Wednesday afternoons, once winter gaveway to spring, cross country runs were organised. On the first of these, I expected to return at least five minutes after the penultimate runner but was (Yes! You have guessed it) surprised to find myself finishing somewhere about the middle of the pack. It was, however, possible to avoid these runs if one could find some equivalent alternative. There was a beagle pack in the vicinity which apparently met every Wednesday afternoon. A group suggested following the beagles to which the OC assented and the group were taken each Wednesday by army truck to go beagling. Maurice Cooper-Stanton found a nearby golf club and proposed playing a round of golf. The OC was apparently even more impressed by this.

I do not remember much about the FS course, which lasted about six weeks, including a brief excursion to Norfolk. It was rather more enjoyable than the previous courses, except that I gave an unimpressive ten minute talk on the City of London. At the end of the course, we were graded from A to F (for Failed). Those graded F were returned to the unit from which they had come. I was graded E(pp) (probationary period) which might best be explained as just failing to fail. I had, of course, no intention of failing; I certainly did not want to return to the bleak misery of Catterick.
Again we were rewarded with a 48hour pass. On return to the camp, if not the last this time, I was among the last four or five to collect kit. Another search for beds revealed that all the huts in the taining area were full. So, perforce, we had to try the permanent staff huts. We found one unoccupied but equipped with beds and bedding and promptly moved in. Next morning, we were not aroused. We went to breakfast and then returned quietly to our anonymous hut. I have no doubt that the CSM knew where we were but provided we were discreet, we would not be disturbed. And there we waited for our postings. FARELF which would mean Hong Kong or Singapore for I Corps national servicemen was probably most desirable, MELF i.e. Egypt, totally unwished for. When the postings appeared, they were chosen, with one exception, in alphabetical order of those who had successfully completed our FS course. The first three were for BAOR, the next fourteen for BTA and the next two and the exception for BETFOR. Everyone knew BAOR and BTA (British Army Of the Rhine and British Troops Austia), but what or where was BETFOR? CSM Balfe was disappointed when we asked, but told us Trieste (British Element Trieste FORce). My two companions were Robin Smith, an Old Alleynian who had been one of the others from Catterick with me and Tom Strang who was a plumber from Edinburgh.
On Thursday 12ft June, we started our 7 days embarkation leave.

Posted to Trieste

The weather had been fine and the morning of Thursday 26h June promised an even better day. It seemed a pity to be leaving Sussex in such glory. We were, all twenty of us, taken to Haywards Heath station to catch one of the fast tains from Brighton to Victoria. Our Movement Order, designated by four letters, the last being 'O' (the Orders for the other two parties making up off twenty had the same first three letters but ended with 'M' and 'N' for BAOR and BTA respectively) required us to report to the RTO at Liverpool St. station at6.30 p.m. At Victoria, we had plenty of time before then. Robin Smith suggested we spend it comfortably in his family's flat in Orchard Square, behind Oxford Sfeet. We went there by taxi. In the flat,I felt uncomfortable in studded boots. I chiefly remember that we listened to a record (a 78, of course) of Charles Trenet singing 'La Mer'. When the time came, we went to Liverpool Street also by taxi and reported to the RTO in good time. He directed us to platform 11 for the train to Parkeston Quay (now,I believe, demoted to Harwich International).
In the transit shed at the Quay, we were made somewhat conspicuous by the absence of a formation badge on our sleeves. We were constantly being exhorted to 'get some service in'. But we had already completed almost a quarter of our commitment.
There, we had to change sterling for BAFVs British Armed Forces Vouchers), real money for just pieces of paper. Those for BETFOR could convert some money for 500 lire. I had no idea of the exchange rate and wondered whether I had enough for 500 lire. When I examined my BAFVs and 500 lire, I found that the latter was equivalent to 5s.10d (29p). The exchange rate was 1740 lire to £1, atwhich it remained throughout and some years after my national service.
As I mounted the gangway to the ship ('Empire Parkeston', I think - the other possibilities were 'Empire Wansbeck' and 'Vienna'),I worried that my kitbag might tumble off the large pack and fall between the ship and the dockside into the water. Fortunately, it didn't.
The weather being settled, the sea was also and slept even better than I did. We were roused shortly before we docked at The Hook. So far, we had had no indication how we would get to Trieste. We had merely followed each stage as it was set before us. We now looked around the hold for notices which might tell us. All we found were time tables of four variously coloured trains on none of which was Trieste mentioned. Three of the trains went to destinations clearly in Germany. The fourth, the White tain and the latest to leave, at 10.30 a.m., equally clearly was destined for Austria. That, I was sure, would be our train. Various groups called forward for disembarkation and when the three for BAOR were called by the designation of their Movement Order, LlCpl. Rees gathered up his thirteen companions for BTA saying "That's us". When some disagreed, he insisted that the last letter called was quite definitely 'N' and we all went up on deck. It was far too early for the White train: he obviously wanted to be out of the hold and in the fresh air.
The hold was practically empty when at last it was time for us to climb up, out and off. We found an empty compartment towmd the front of the tain and settled in. Soon after, the train moved smoothly out of the station. Now,I really felt abroad for the first time. The sun was shining and the orange-red bricks and tiles of the Dutch houses with their gleaming picture windows gave the journey a holiday-like atrnosphere.
I am sure that we changed from electric to steam before we reached the German border, where, of course, the locomotive was changed again. The contrast outside was sharp. The Dutch towns and countryside had appeared lively and cheerful but Germany, even under a bright sun, was depressing and lifeless, seemingly under a grey dust, all the way to Cologne.

The weather had been fine and the morning of Thursday 26h June promised an
even better day. It seemed a pity to be leaving Sussex in such glory. We were, all twenty of us, taken to Haywards Heath station to catch one of the fast tains from Brighton to Victoria. Our Movement Order, designated by four letters, the last being 'O' (the Orders for the other two parties making up off twenty had the same first three letters but ended
with 'M' and 'N' for BAOR and BTA respectively) required us to report to the RTO at Liverpool St. station at6.30 p.m. At Victoria, we had plenty of time before then. Robin Smith suggested we spend it comfortably in his family's flat in Orchard Square, behind Oxford Sfeet. We went there by taxi. In the flat,I felt uncomfortable in studded boots. I
chiefly remember that we listened to a record (a 78, of course) of Charles Trenet singing 'La Mer'. When the time came, we went to Liverpool Street also by taxi and reported to the RTO in good time. He directed us to platform 11 for the train to Parkeston Quay (now,I believe, demoted to Harwich International).
In the transit shed at the Quay, we were made somewhat conspicuous by the absence of a formation badge on our sleeves. We were constantly being exhorted to 'get some service in'. But we had already completed almost a quarter of our commitment.
There, we had to change sterling for BAFVs British Armed Forces Vouchers), real money for just pieces of paper. Those for BETFOR could convert some money for 500 lire. I had no idea of the exchange rate and wondered whether I had enough for 500 lire. When I examined my BAFVs and 500 lire, I found that the latter was equivalent to 5s.10d (29p). The exchange rate was 1740 lire to £1, atwhich it remained throughout and some years after my national service.
As I mounted the gangway to the ship ('Empire Parkeston', I think - the other possibilities were 'Empire Wansbeck' and 'Vienna'),I worried that my kitbag might tumble off the large pack and fall between the ship and the dockside into the water.
Fortunately, it didn't.
The weather being settled, the sea was also and slept even better than I did. We were roused shortly before we docked at The Hook. So far, we had had no indication how we would get to Trieste. We had merely followed each stage as it was set before us.
We now looked around the hold for notices which might tell us. All we found were time tables of four variously coloured trains on none of which was Trieste mentioned.
Three of the trains went to destinations clearly in Germany. The fourth, the White tain and the latest to leave, at 10.30 a.m., equally clearly was destined for Austria. That, I was sure, would be our train.
Various groups called forward for disembarkation and when the three for BAOR were called by the designation of their Movement Order, LlCpl. Rees gathered up his thirteen companions for BTA saying "That's us". When some disagreed, he insisted that the last letter called was quite definitely 'N' and we all went up on deck. It was far too early for the White train: he obviously wanted to be out of the hold and in the fresh air.
The hold was practically empty when at last it was time for us to climb up, out and off. We found an empty compartment towmd the front of the tain and settled in.
Soon after, the train moved smoothly out of the station. Now,I really felt abroad for the first time.
The sun was shining and the orange-red bricks and tiles of the Dutch houses with their gleaming picture windows gave the journey a holiday-like atrnosphere.
I am sure that we changed from electric to steam before we reached the German border, where, of course, the locomotive was changed again. The contrast outside was sharp. The Dutch towns and countryside had appeared lively and cheerful but Germany, even under a bright sun, was depressing and lifeless, seemingly under a grey dust, all the way to Cologne.