from Peter Bell-young
The following memories have been sent to me by Peter Bell-Young a member of 47B. I must apologise to him and our readers for the delay in publishing them. Having recently moved home I was checking through various papers when I came across these memoirs.
Memories Harrogate 47B
My first memories are attending the recruiting office in Brighton then, after what seemed ages, suddenly finding myself on a train to Taunton in Somerset to report to the AAS at Cothelstone Manor Camp at the foot of the Quantock Hills. Some months later Cothelstone Manor Camp closed down and whereas most A/Ts were transferred to AAS at Chepstow, my transfer was to AAS Harrogate (Uniacke Barracks). The first year was taken up with drill (CSM Kelly of the Irish Guards); selective trade training; and education to prepare for the ACE First Class exam.
I was selected for surveying (Topo, Trig and Cadastral). Fantastic training and days out on the neighbouring moors, in both topo' and trig. Trig saw us using the Watts 5inch theodolite, later to be replaced by the 3.5 inch CTS model, and in topo' the usual clinometer and topo boards. I remember having to learn how to soak the linen backed cartridge paper in water before pasting and stretching it over the topo board, and leaving it to shrink, before embarking on the task of chasing contours!
In those days Uniacke Barracks offered a number of timber 'spider' accommodation comprising six barrack rooms, three on either side of a central ablution block. Each block had its own water tower and I remember an occasion when I was placed in a kit back and hoisted to the top of a water tower, and left hanging there. (I can't remember what I had done to deserve this pleasure!), eventually I was lowered to the ground by the Orderly Sergeant and received a severe ticking off!
Each barrack room was supervised by an AT Corporal or Sergeant, who enjoyed the privacy of a single room at the end of the barrack room. This inspired me to work hard for promotion, and come the end of my second year I had achieved this and enjoyed the luxury of my own room (I didn't even have to 'make my bed up' every morning!).
Derived great feeling of achievement when, thanks to CSM Kelly's raging and ranting, we all finally mastered the art of drilling and enjoyed the regular Sunday Church parades. It was hilarious on one occasion, we had 'fallen out' and proceeding in single file into church, with officers and their families already sitting inside, when the AT in front of me forgot to remove his cap on entering the church porch which provoked the CSM to shout, as only CSMs can, "...left, right, left...and take your bxxxxy cap off in the 'ouse of Gord!"
My memories of MS Harrogate are a mixture of pride and happiness. I became involved with the Dragon Parade Methodist Church Youth Club, (under the railway bridge to the left of the bus station) and made a number of good civilian friends, including my first girl friend.
I passed out from the AAS into the Royal Engineers in February 1951, as an AIII Trig' and Topo' Surveyor, with my ACE First Class. I remember how proud I was of my smart fitting battle dress (thanks to the tailor at AAS!) and beret and, of course, the 'dodger' I had on my left sleeve! The passing out parade went well... 1TRRE Malvern here I come!
Memories 1TRRE Malvern
My arrival at 1TRRE was a mixture of confidence and amazement. Confident that my three and a half years of military training at the AAS would stand me in good stead when it came to drill and firing on the rifle range. Amazement at how bitterly 'anti ex boys' our troop corporal, and sergeant were. I'm sure it stemmed from their resentment of the way our uniforms fitted us and our skill on the parade ground, compared with other 'rookies' who had joined straight from civvy street.
The pleasure and excitement of watermanship; handling explosives, and bailey bridge building, were dampened by the rigorous regime imposed on us by the training NCOs in all these activities purely because we were 'ex boys'. On the bright side it made us even more determined to succeed and pull together as a team, to withstand them.
One very tragic outcome of all this was when one of our troop, who had been with me at AAS Harrogate, completely lost his nerve and, following a visit to the rifle range, shot our troop Corporal at close range during a rifle inspection in the barrack room. A week later another corporal, the armourer, was accidentally shot by a member of our troop who was assigned to the armoury to help in cleaning weapons.
On the completion of basic training I was well versed in most of the 'sapper skills', and a great deal wiser when it came to dealing with people. School of Military Survey here I come!
Memories School of Military Survey
My hopes of resuming my Trig Survey training were dashed on arrival! It was explained that every tradesman had to do some time performing 'military duties'. It had been decided that it would be best if I embarked on this now rather than later in my career.
I was made acting Provost Lance Corporal! The only one marching around the SMS Camp in a smartly ironed battle dress and white blanco'd webbing, and, of course, carrying a black cane! I became so over officious in this role that after a few months it was decided that I should give up the provost appointment and become the SMS Fire NCO!
I was seconded to the London Fire Brigade Training school and after an exhilarating two weeks, carrying people 'fireman's lift' down 60ft extension ladders and using a Davy line to scale down the jumping tower from a fourth storey window opening, I returned to SMS on the 16th February 1952 with a Grade A Fire Training certificate, to start my role as Unit Fire NCO. Good bye smart battledress with white blanco'd webbing. Hello denims!
I had great fun training the unit fire crew, and even greater fun instigating fire drills!. I think I must have overdone this a little because in June 1952 I was selected for posting to 42 Field Survey Squadron in the Far East! Goodge Street Transit Camp, London, here I come!
Goodge Street Transit Camp, London
Until I arrived, I had no idea that Goodge Street Transit Camp was in fact a disused underground station, apparently used as an air raid shelter during World War 11.
It was eerie going down below ground to the sleeping quarters, and to hear the rumble of trains in the distance. Still, it wouldn't be for long, and then I'd be on my way to the Far East to resume my trade taking part in primary triangulation work with 42 Field Survey Squadron. I even had my CTS Theodolite with me to verify this! Right?...Wrong!
The next morning I was summoned to the RTO's office to be told that my posting had been changed. Instead of going to the Far East I was being posted to 32 Fortress Squadron RE in Gibraltar, to set out the tunnels.
"Sir" I replied, "I'm a trig surveyor not a tunneller, I have no idea what to do when it comes to tunnelling"
"You can use a theodolite, and you even have one with you, correct?"
"Yes, sir" I replied.
"That's why you're going to Gibraltar, and that's final corporal"
As I sat looking at the clouds from the Dakota flying out to the Rock of Gibraltar I couldn't help feeling proud, at least I was going to a place that features prominently in Corps History. When I arrived it was like stepping into another world, everything around me was dwarfed by this enormous rock. I later found out that it was about three miles long; three quarters of mile wide and that the highest point was just over 1400ft amsl.
The local CRE gave me my brief. Work had started tunnelling an 8ftx8ft adit simultaneously from the western and eastern side of the Rock, with the hope of meeting in the middle. Sadly this had not happened and tunnelling operations had ceased until a surveyor, (me!) had plotted where the two adit faces were in relation to each other, in order for him to plot a 'dog leg' adit to connect them. This had to be accomplished without delay in order to keep to the programmed completion date. I spent a fretful day wondering how I could possibly do this.
I finally decided to carryout an open traverse from the eastern face round to the western, including taking levels from a TBM I would established at the eastern face. The field work seemed to take ages. When this was finished the plotted results enabled me to calculate the angles and levels for the new adit to ensure it joined up the two faces. This was relayed to the tunnellers in the form of profiles erected in the tunnel to keep them on line and at the correct gradient. It worked! Everything I had learnt at AAS Harrogate had enabled me to achieve success!
I became involved with the setting out of other tunnelling projects in Gibraltar and was seconded to CRE Cyprus for a short while to set out the first major tunnel to be driven in the country, well known for its land tremors! August 1954 saw the end of my tour in Gibraltar and I was posted back to the SMS, where I sat and passed my All Trig' survey trade test. My next posting was to the Directorate of Military Survey at NATO HQ Moenchen Gladbach, Germany (BAOR)
NATO HQ Moenchen Gladbach Germany
I was responsible to the Asst Director of Military Survey for a team using aerial photographs to update maps of Germany for NATO, and transforming all maps from the German Gauss Kruger Grid system to the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid system. My tour in Germany finished in December 1956 and I was told I was being posted back to AAS Harrogate as a Survey Instructor, I couldn't wait to get back!
Whilst in transit en route to 42nd Field Survey I was billeted at Goodge Street awaiting my flight, when I was transferred to 32nd Fortress Sqn RE in Gibraltar, to bring two adits, which had gone off course, to meet. I ended up there for 3 yrs, setting out major tunnelling projects.
With thanks to Peter Bell-Young for this contribution