Barton Stacey 1956

I enlisted at Norton Barracks, Worcester, in September 1955 on a 22/3 year engagement and after basic training at Farnborough (No 9 TRRE) arrived at the SMS at Hermitage for a A3 Surveyor Topo course. This took place from April to June 1956 after which I went on 14 days' embarkation leave, prior to being posted to 84 Field Survey Sqn RE in Malaya.

Curiously I have no recollection of the journey from Hermitage to Southampton, or if it involved a visit to Barton Stacey. I do remember sailing from Southampton on the Dunera, with troops on board for Malta, Cyprus, Aden and points east, via Suez. We sailed on 25th July (possibly 24th) on a calm sea and I was looking forward to a boring and uneventful trip. Said he, laughing.

On 26th July Egypt's Colonel Nasser “nationalised” the Suez Canal, precipitating the Suez Crisis. The same day the British Government activated its war plan and the Army swung into action with unbelievable effectiveness and alacrity. The ship's pa system gave us the news and announced a revised itinerary viz:-we would now travel as far as Malta, where we would disembark those folk destined for Malta and Cyprus, take on board those folk on board Oxfordshire(?) - half a day behind us – who were destined for Aden etc and then return to Gibraltar and continue our journey via Cape Town. This sounded too good to be true, and it was. After a free day on shore in Valetta, we returned to Gibraltar, but turned north and sailed back to Southampton, because the Army needed the ship as part of its planned invasion force. In the Bay of Biscay we passed the Ark Royal steaming south at max knots, her flight deck covered in rls and tanks and carrying thousands of troops. It was a hugely impressive display of command, coordination and planning to accomplish this in such a short time-scale, and a contrast to the Army's usual lackadaisical approach.

Back in Southampton the RE contingent entrained to Barton Stacey. My bit of the party comprised 2 Surveyors Topo (Geoff Barson and me), and several printer types, who were destined for 570 Map Reproduction Troop RE in Singapore. Of these I remember John Ellerby, a machine minder from Hull, Wilf Marron from Manchester (ditto) and either or both of Jim Lake and Len Nicholson, both from Liverpool and both machine minders. As the days passed the requirement in the Far East for our services was regularly relegated as less important than Suez, to the point where we were housed at BS until 6th December – 4 months later! - when we flew from Stansted on what turned out to be another unbelievable odyssey (but that's another story).

BS was of course the centre of a huge operation and (in the early days of the panic) was taking in and posting thousands of troops (both regular and reservist) day and night. Whilst the military staff coped splendidly with its military tasks the civilian ancillaries were forgotten. As a result we “loiterers” worked day and night shifts in the NAAFI canteen, behind the bar, in the kitchen, cleaning etc, keeping the canteen service available 24hours/day. We also did other tasks, even volunteering for guard duties to alleviate the boredom. This latter had an unforeseen beneficial effect. On a weekend pass, by train from Andover, I didn't get home to Preston until Saturday morning but  to be back at BS for first parade on Monday I had to catch the 3.00pm train from Preston in order to catch the last train from Paddington. This tended to make the long journey not worth while. The next train from Paddington didn't get into Andover until just before 8.00am, not enough time to make parade. The RSM (I don't remember his name – God bless him) agreed that on Mondays we could miss parade, in return for our volunteering, so we northeners achieved a decent weekend break (not every weekend).

I returned from my eventual spell in Malaya to BS for demob in August 1958. Only once since then have I been in the vicinity (on an emergency mission for my employer) and I didn't have time to visit. But what memories!

Dave Swindlehurst

23251516 Sapper RE