The Black guy who took on Nottingham City Council

This is the story of Louis Broady. An unskilled black worker on a Manpower Services Commission employment scheme with Nottingham City Council.
Because he was black he was abused. His union took up his fight and together, over a period of two years they stopped the abuse and won justice. It was a victory that showed what a determined trade union can do to combat the poison of racial discrimination.
Louis’s story is told here in full because he was the first black worker to challenge Nottingham City Council and his case became a milestone on the road of the City Council’s Equal Opportunities policy.
Louis was employed on a Community Enterprise Project for the long term unemployed, which was run by the City Council. He was employed as “skilled labourer” and this required him to undertake bricklaying on environmental improvement sites throughout the inner city area.
Louis was not a skilled or qualified bricklayer. The only training he had received was a six month government course for the unemployed.
He was an ordinary worker with modest ambitions. All he wanted was to develop his limited training, by gaining experience, to a level where could call himself a craftsman. He wanted a permanent job in the building industry and he wanted to earn a decent living wage for himself and his young family.
Throughout his employment with the city, Louis suffered from direct racial discrimination, both from his fellow workers and from the foreman and supervisor of the scheme.
When the foreman asked him to carry out work he would shout to him “Boy”! Some of the other workers frequently addressed him as “Nigger”.
Louis bit his lip and carried on working; he was desperate for the experience which the scheme should have been giving him.
Louis suffered other forms of racial discrimination. When the bus timetables changed, he was two minutes late for work. He was stopped a quarter of an hour’s pay, and when he complained that another , white foreman, who arrived over and hour late in a taxi was not stopped pay, he was told it was none of his business.
When Louis attended a hospital appointment he received no pay, despite the fact that when white workers went to the doctor or to the hospital, they were paid.
Discipline on the scheme was also applied in a discriminatory manner.
Louis Broady was sacked for laying a line of bricks incorrectly. He received absolutely no warnings, he was not allowed to have a trade union representative present when he was sacked, and the fact that he was working with non qualified supervision, was using reclaimed bricks of different shapes and sizes, and was receiving no guidance from anyone within the scheme with any qualifications of any kind, was not even considered.
That was brutal enough, but other workers, white workers, had received far more lenient treatment for much more serious misdemeanours. For example, a gang of white workers who stole lead from city council sites and were caught by the police, received only verbal warnings!
Another white worker was using the council’s vehicle to run a private furniture removal business – when he was caught all he received was a verbal warning! In both these incidents the white workers involved were subsequently promoted!
When Louis was sacked he went straight to the Commission for Racial Equality and complained of racial discrimination. The fact that he did not go to his union illustrates the fact that many black workers did not have confidence in their union’s determination to fight racial discrimination. However in Louis’s case his confidence in the union movement was about to be restored.
Through the Commission for Racial Equality the case was referred back to his union by their newly appointed Trade Union Liaison Officer. It landed with a thump on the desk of the local office of the National Union of Public Employees.
Immediately an Industrial Tribunal application was filed and the city council was contacted for discussion on the matter. Those discussions turned out to be completely abortive.
The city council officers, with the backing of their chief executive, denied that they had done anything wrong at all. They were absolutely confident that no racial discrimination had been practised and told the union of the council’s equal opportunities policy which made such things impossible anyway.
They refused to consider the right of Mr. Broady to have an internal appeal against his dismissal, or to complain about the racial discrimination through the internal procedures. The union insisted upon an internal appeal and asked the officers to take further advice. One week later the further advice came: if Mr. Broady dropped his allegations of racial discrimination and withdrew his application to an Industrial Tribunal, then the council would let him have an internal appeal.
That was considered by Louis, and his union, to be illegal, immoral and indefensible.
The union then wrote to the city politicians. As they were Labour party politicians the union thought a favourable response might follow. To the utter horror of Louis and his Union the Labour politicians on the City Council supported the officers completely and refused to consider any right of appeal or any complaint of racial discrimination on an internal basis.
Several more attempts were made to dissuade the politicians from their disastrous path. As these attempts collapsed a bitter public feud developed between the union and the council
The union arranged to have TUC support for the council to receive Manpower Services Commission money. In response to this the council had the bright idea of side stepping the local union office and writing to the Secretary of State for Employment complaining about the union’s action. They also wrote to the General Secretary of NUPE, then Alan Fisher complaining about the irresponsible actions of his local officials. It is not known what Alan Fisher told them…
Under intense union and public pressure, the council finally agreed to an internal Appeal. However they required the union to agree that Mr Broady appear before a council committee without any form of representation and without having any right to cross-examine management witnesses.
The Appeal offer was thrown out with the contempt that it deserved.
So Louis and the union ended up at the Industrial Tribunal pressing the case of racial discrimination and unfair dismissal against a Labour controlled council. The hearing took five days over a period of six months and resulted in a decision declaring the council guilty of racial discrimination. During the case council officials admitted under cross-examination by the local union officer, to falsifying evidence against Louis Broady.
However, unfair dismissal was not found, for the simple “legal technicality” that Mr. Broady had not been employed for long enough to qualify for an unfair dismissal decision. But the Tribunal chairman said in his summing up that this applicant had substantial evidence of unfair dismissal and expressed his disappointment at being unable, for technical legal reasons, to rule on this issue.
So after nearly two years of hard work by the union and two years of frustration for Louis Broady they had a historic decision. What was the award? Louis was awarded £112 for hurt feelings. He was disgusted and returned the cheque to the city council telling them that this was an insult and did not reflect the damage which had been done to his reputation and his feelings.
The union knocked on the council’s door again and asked once more for an internal appeal against the dismissal. The City Council Leader, Len Maynard, went on local radio stations and said that he would not use the ratepayers’ money to employ Louis Borady again. Just to remind you. He was Labour. He even put this to the vote inside the city council Labour Group and came out with an 11 to 1 decision in favour of not offering Louis Broady his job back or any proper compensation.
The union arranged to visit the Labour leader. They took with them the unanimous determination and support of the local city council membership. They also took the full time officers of the General and Municipal Workers Union, the Transport and General Workers Union, the Electricians Union and the Union of Construction and Allied Trades and Technicians, the Metal Mechanics Union, the Engineering Union – in short every manual and craft union which had membership with the city council.
The labour leader was told in the bluntest terms, by every single union, that if they did not reconsider their position, the unions would organise demonstrations against the council and refuse to co-operate with any form of Equal Opportunity Policy they had for it was not worth the paper it was written upon.
The leader was told that the issue of racial discrimination was too important and such demonstrations as were threatened would take place despite the forthcoming local authority elections.
The council recanted. An internal appeal was heard in which Louis Broady was properly represented by his union. He was re-instated to the date of his dismissal earning himself some £4000 in back pay however his re-instatement was only for the duration of his one year Community Enterprise Project and his employment terminated naturally at the end of that contractual period in April 1982.
Further pressure from the union led to Louis Broady subsequently being re-appointed to the council’s payroll as a permanent employee with effect from the end of October 1982.
Victory was complete.
The case showed how a determined union could confound those who thought them incapable of fighting racial discrimination. In fact the entire Nottingham trade union movement enthusiastically engaged in the fight and without them it would not have been possible to bring the case home.
For Louis Broady a terrible ordeal was over. He had achieved his modest ambition. He was now an ordinary full time worker on a regular full time wage. There was nothing special about Louis Broady. . Except that he was a member of the Union.

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The Union Ballot – a poem

The Union Ballot – a poem

nupe-badgePrior to the election of Margaret Thatcher Unions were generally free to conduct strike ballots according to their own internal rules and practice.   A show of hands, a branch meeting, a national ballot, sometimes secret, sometimes not.  It was open to a lot of abuse and meant that a shop stewards or a branch secretary could exercise a huge influence over the direction a union might take.

The left generally controlled branch structures and could, with minimum organisation, deliver a solid strike ballot whenever called upon.   This poem reflects upon how, in some instances, my own union the National Union of Public Employees,  organised the national strike ballot for the winter of discontent industrial action of 1979.

Union Branch meeting at a Nottinghamshire  School.

The chairs were small,
For children,
And the trade unionists
Sat awkwardly,
To hear of caretakers deals
Of rubber boots
And distant minutes
Of endless consultations,
In monotone

The officer rose to speak,
He wore a tie
And did not earn an hourly rate
And spoke of struggle
Low pay, Visions, aims
And percentage claims
Urged to vote he brought them to a common voice
A thousand votes were cast
And six awkward men
And four home helps and
A dinner lady,
Left the room
The caretaker stacked the children’s chairs
Swept away the dust
And went home.

With  such ill attended meetings  casting their many thousands of votes in favour of  a national strike you would have thought that when it came to walking out of the workplace that the response of the “majority” who were not at the branch meetings would be luke warm or even hostile.  But that was never the case.  Workers responded enthusiastically and the strike just took off with widespread walk outs across the country.

The story of Nottingham Shire Hall courts (which can be read here,)  is fairly typical.   Almost no one from the Shire Hall workforce had attended the branch meetings that called the strike.  Yet they were magnificent and when called upon to strike, responded accordingly.

Despite all the shortcomings of the strike ballot the workers across the public sector struck and stayed out for as long as they were asked to.

Of course when Thatcher came to power she recognised that the ballot process was vulnerable and open to government  manipulation on a scale that would neuter or blunt the effect of  union rule – balloting.      It was a lesson that the unions  were sadly slow to recognise and which finally led to disaster when the magnificent NUM refused to ballot in the 1984 strike.


John LAVERY (1856-1941): High Treason 1916. Oil on canvas, 214 x 322 cms .

The canvas is huge: ten feet by seven feet and it hangs at the foot of the great marble staircase within the King’s Inns,Dublin where it dominates the descent of the Benchers as they process on their way to dine. It is almost as if belongs  there.

The scene, in Courtroom I of the West Green Building of London’s Royal Courts of justice (now Courtroom 34) as viewed from the jury box, presents a unique social and legal record of immense historical importance.  Here is a Dublin barrister in English Court pleading for the life of a British diplomat turned Irish revolutionary: the traitor in the dock.

This is a real history-painting, caught by the artist’s own hand as he sits in the jury box, paints beside him, sketching, drawing, and listening to this dramatic moment in the long struggle between England’s laws and Ireland’s destiny.

The date is 17July 1916 and it is Roger Casement’s Appeal against conviction for High Treason and sentence of death.  In the same courtroom, just nineteen days earlier,  the sentence itself had been handed down by the  Lord Chief Justice, Viscount Reading, and two of his judicial colleagues. By the time of the Appeal, Casement had, by Royal command, been stripped of his knighthood and his honours so that he appears now as a plain Irish felon, a rebel, as the five scarlet-robed judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal listen to the pleadings for his life.

Casement (Fig 8 in the Key) had been brought from the beach at Banna Strand, county Kerry to a cell in the Tower of London. There, under truly awful conditions, he was allowed to see the solicitor, George Gavan- Duffy (Fig 10 in the Key) – then a successful partner in a prestigious London firm – he became the first member of his legal team.  But Gavan Duffy was warned by his partners  that if he took on the case he must leave the English solicitor’s partnership and so, when – without hesitation – he accepted Casement as his client, he was effectively  sacked.

The case was to prove a turning point in Gavan Duffy’s life. Although English-born and English-educated – at the Catholic public school of Stonyhurst – he was of an Irish family rich in nationalist politics: his father, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, was a prolific Irish historian, a founder member and editor of The Nation newspaper, and a leader of the Tenant League. He had been tried, with Daniel O’Connell, for sedition; and, for his role in the 1848 rising at Ballingarry, county Tipperary.  Four times he was tried and acquitted.  Eventually, he left Ireland for Australia where he rose to become Governor General of Victoria while his other son, Frank, rose to become Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

After the Casement trial, George Gavan Duffy went on to a distinguished political and legal career. He was appointed by De Valera to the Treaty negotiations along with Collins, Griffith, Barton, and Duggan and was subsequently Ireland’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs. Later, he returned to the law, reading for the Bar at King’s Inns, and rising to become President of the Irish High Court.

Gavan Duffy had been chosen for the trial by Casement’s devoted cousin, Gertrude Bannister, while Casement was imprisoned in the Tower and still uncertain as to whether he was to be tried by Court Martial and shot or whether he was to be tried by the Criminal Courts.   Gertrude, who attended each day of the Trial and each day of the Appeal, has not been identified in the painting but, as it is well known that during both hearings she was handed a series of notes from Casement,  it is probable that she is the lady in the hat at the very end of the solicitors’ bench, directly beneath the dock in which Casements sits.

Gertrude was a primary school teacher and as a price for helping her cousin, the traitor, she was sacked from her school with one week’s notice.

Gavan Duffy initially turned to the English Bar to find a King’s Counsel for Casement but those whom he approached declined or refused the brief.   It was not a propitious moment to represent a traitor who, as a guest of the German enemy, had sought to recruit an Irish Brigade from among captured prisoners of war drawn from the Irish regiments of the British Army;  to do so would have been considered an act of treachery that could prejudice a future legal career, as Gavan Duffy already knew.

As Junior Counsel, Gavan Duffy secured the services of a Welshman, Artemus Jones, who appeared at the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court hearing, at the Trial, and at the Appeal. (Fig 19 in the Key). Jones, who has recorded that Casement told him in the Tower of London that he ‘should be glad to die a thousand times for the name of Ireland’,  was accompanied by an expert on constitutional law, Professor John H Morgan (Fig 20 in the Key)  he was an old friend of Casements and an active and radical liberal party member.

In his search for a King’s Counsel, Gavan Duffy eventually turned to the Irish Bar and to one of its leading advocates, Serjeant Sullivan, KC (Fig 18 in the Key) whose sister, Margaret (Fig 11 in the Key), was actually Gavan Duffy’s wife and who assisted him throughout the trial..

The office of Serjeant meant that the holder was a member of a superior order of barristers from whose ranks the Common Law judges were chosen.  Their only distinguishing mark was a small patch of black silk set into the top of the wig. They were Crown law officers and could not, in the normal course of events, take a brief against the Crown.   Sullivan sought the advice and sanction of Chief Baron Palles, the most distinguished of the Irish Judges, before taking up the Casement brief and it was Palles who encouraged him to accept it.  In accepting, Sullivan wrote to Gavan Duffy saying, ‘…I would reluctantly go into the business providing I was handsomely paid…’  and he demanded a fee of 150 guineas. In the event, he was paid £530 for the Trial, which lasted four days, and a further fee for the Appeal. This was a handsome sum indeed for 1916 when a pound sterling could purchase up to forty pints of Guinness and the average weekly wage for a manual worker was less than a pound.

The money was raised by Gavan Duffy and Gertrude Bannister through private donations from, amongst others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and  William Cadbury, the Quaker chocolate manufacturer.  Large sums were also raised in America by John Devoy of Clan na Gael in New York and brought over to England by an American Lawyer, Francis Doyle (Fig 9 in the Key), who was granted permission to assist the defence team.  Montgomery Hyde, in his important book of the trial,  records that this money was reimbursed to John Devoy by the German Secret Service.

In his powerful and eloquent summing up to the jury, Sullivan sought to show that Nationalist Ireland had been engaged in arming itself solely to defeat threats to Home Rule coming  from the already heavily-armed Unionists of the Ulster Volunteers. He suggested that Casement, in seeking to procure and land German arms, was acting only to defend legitimate, constitutional Nationalist concerns against armed Unionist threats to the Home Rule legislation. It is a stirring speech and makes much of the limited material available to Sullivan.  However. during his delivery he was interrupted by both the prosecution and the Bench who protested that he was introducing arguments not supported by any material evidence given throughout the Trial.  Obliged to make an apology, he lost the thread of his argument and when he tried to resume he could not, he swayed on his feet and  collapsed into his seat

The Trial had to be  adjourned and Junior Counsel completed the closing speech. But Sullivan, as we can see from the painting, had fully recovered by the time of the Appeal.

Unionism was well represented both on the Bench – Viscount Reading, the Lord Chief Justice (not shown in the picture), was a well known Unionist supporter – and in the prosecution in F E Smith, the English Attorney General (Fig 14 in the Key), who was staunchly Unionist.  He was a brilliant lawyer and exceptionally close to Edward Carson to whose Unionist cause he was deeply committed. He was known for a series of seditious and violent speeches and on one occasion had called on the young men of England to rise up against the Commons should they ever pass Home Rule bill into law. Yet, here he is: Attorney General, later to be Lord Chancellor of England, and known to history as Lord Birkenhead.

In his final speech from the dock, Casement was to remind him of his Unionist rhetoric: ‘The difference between us’, said Casement, ‘was that the Unionist champions chose a path they felt would lead to the Woolsack; while I went a road I knew must lead to the dock.”‘

F E’s Juniors for the prosecution were the Junior Treasury Counsel, Mr. Travers Humphreys (Fig 17 in the Key) and Mr. Archibald Bodkin (Fig 16 in the Key).

On the opposite side of the Court, the presiding Appeal Judge, Darling, and his colleague, Atkin (Figs 3 and 5 in the Key), are shown on the Bench.

Darling was also a Unionist and a close friend of Carson. In fact, it was he who took Carson – whom he regarded as ‘most unlike other Irishmen we meet… (as) …he is incapable of speaking balderdash’ – into his Chambers when Carson moved from the Irish to the English Bar.

In the event, Casement’s Appeal was dismissed with Darling not even bothering to call on F E Smith and his team to reply to Sullivan’s two days of legal submissions and although a further Appeal, on a point of law, to the House of Lords was proposed, F E Smith as Attorney General refused to allow it.

Next came appeals for clemency but, although the British Cabinet considered such appeals on three occasions, Casement;s fate was sealed and he would  walk to the scaffold at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916.

While Lavery’s painting is a tribute to Casement, it was not painted as such. On the contrary, it was commissioned by Darling as a commemoration of himself and the role he played in what was to be the most important State Trial of the 20th century. Darling and Lavery were old friends and indeed Lavery had previously painted him in his full judicial robes, wearing the black cap which indicated that he was pronouncing a sentence of death.  The portrait now hangs in the Inner Temple, London.  It was considered by many in the legal profession to be in poor taste.

Darling’s decision to commission Lavery to record the Casement Appeal also attracted criticism and, in time, the painting became a source of embarrassment to the British authorities. Although commissioned by Darling, the picture was left on Lavery’s hands and, in his will, he bequeathed it to the National Portrait Gallery in London with the Royal Courts of Justice and the National Gallery of Ireland as residuary legatees. When the National Portrait Gallery declined the bequest, the Lord Chancellor’s Department accepted it for the Royal Courts; but the Lord Chief Justice did not want it hung in the Royal Courts of Justice and there was some embarrassment as to whether it was proper to refuse a bequest that had already been accepted, some years earlier.

Eventually, the painting was hung in Room 472 of the Criminal Appeals Office of the Royal Courts of justice where it was not visible to the public. In 1950, the Kings Inn’s Benchers, through the good offices of Serjeant Sullivan, now retired from the English Bar and living in Dublin where he was an Honorary Bencher, sought to purchase the painting.   After consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor replied to the Benchers’ request saying that ‘we can adopt the suggestion of lending it to the King’s Inns on indefinite loan which means we can forget to ask for its return.”‘

And so the picture came to Ireland, on loan to the King’s Inns. Painted for the glory of the English Law, owned by the British Government but an hanging in Dublin as a tribute to an Irish hero.    The Lord Chancellor wrote to Sullivan saying that the loan was repayable on demand but that ‘…Any such demand is unlikely to be hurried.”

So, in the end, Serjeant Sullivan, who is generally held not to have handled the trial particularly well, performed a great and lasting service to Ireland by helping to secure for the King’s Inns this  unique historical document.

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Borneo – a clean war?

Three years of tough and intensive military training.  Hard bitten drill sergeants and skilled combat veterans turning boys of 15 and 16 into trained killers, before sending them off  into the far- flung outposts  of the empire,  to wonderful and exotic postings,  as honed killers.

Yes it was the fag end of the empire, but the army still had bases all across the world, all in need of these highly trained committed young squaddies.  There was plenty of postings to Germany – to Monchen-Gladbach, Celle, Bracht, Dortmund and so on, even more were sent  to Blighty bases in Kineton, Chilwell and god knows where.  Some of us though were to strike it lucky.  Active Service.  What we yearned for. The reason why we were soldiers. . And so it was that after all that hard top rank training I was posted, straight out of boy service, to an active war zone, to the far east, to Borneo, to a glamorous and exotic  Laundry and Bath Unit,

What can you say about war service in a Laundry and bath unit? It’s not the kind of military record you tend to talk about, be it in the pub or at regimental reunions. In fact, when asked, you tend to keep quiet and mutter something about not wanting to talk about your military experience. It gets to the stage that you are so reluctant to talk about it that your workmates begin to suspect it’s because you must have been in the Special Forces.
One of course, does not deny such rumours. I confess that at times, often under the influence of alcohol, that I admitted to belonging to a very special squad of the SAS, which recruited overweight short-sighted volunteers who had a morbid fear of loud bangs and severe trouble with hand eye co-ordination. We were a very elite unit. In fact it wasn’t that bad a chat up line. You tended to end up with women who were either very very stupid or who at least had a reasonable sense of humour.

You will know from your own knowledge of military history that Laundry and bath units don’t feature much in military biographies. You don’t see books on the “Uniforms of Bath Unit Operatives” in the same way as you often see those endless albums of Special Forces books.
It has become the case that books on the SAS have replaced the flood of books that used to be published on the NAZIS. There used to be countless and continuous volumes featuring a swastika and the SS flashes:-. Books on ”SS tactics on the Western Front” or ”Uniforms of the SS Panzer Divisions” and “Weapons of the SS” and “SS insignia of the death camps” It is now perfectly obvious that the winged dagger and the SAS beret  have replaced, in the publishing world, the swastika and the SS flashes. I have even seen a book on “SAS Recipies”.
I am afraid the chances of the Laundry and Bath Unit memoirs featuring in this publishing goldmine are pretty slim. ”Ironing techniques of the Laundry and Bath Unit” might find a niche market, but otherwise we shall have to remain as unsung heroes of the military.
Only once has a Laundry and Bath Unit ever featured in a major movie. It was in the “St. Trinians” series and for some reason, now lost to movie history, the St. Trinian’s girls were sent out to the Middle East and landed  in the desert to be met by a Laundry and Bath Unit guard of honour.
The Bath unit operatives  were lined up in front of tin baths with loofas held in the present arms position. It was a significant appearance and has probably been written into the history of bath units, perhaps even stitched into the regimental colours as a battle honour. Incidentally their regimental colours are the best-pressed and most sparkling clean colours of any in the British Army.
I have included with this brief confession a few photographs of a real Laundry and Bath Unit in action in the Borneo Jungles during that brief intense war against Indonesia. The unit played a significant role in the ultimate success of that war.
Troops from the fighting units, filthy after weeks of chasing the enemy through primary jungle would find it slightly surreal to emerge in their filth to be met by a unit offering them a hot shower and a complete change of clothing. All kinds of fighting units received signals to rendezvous with the brave Bath unit, operating on the front lines of the action. I recall a small unit of Special Forces soldiers, mostly Australian, looking remarkably pale and extremely malnourished, coming out and not saying a single word before going back in with fresh clothes. And a Ghurkha unit, elated after a successful ambush, very shy about undressing and excited and impatient to get back in for more kills.
Such was the effect on the morale of our fighting soldiers that it is reasonable to assume that the Indonesians specifically targeted the bath unit for elimination.. Had their leading formations ever reached the bath unit perimeter they would have faced a formidable force of battle hardened Blackdown trained bath unit operatives, prepared to defend their unit to the last bar of soap. Surely such knowledge must have struck fear into the political and military leadership of the Indonesian Army. And can there be a bath unit operative still alive who is in any doubt that such fear contributed to the eventual surrender of the Indonesians?
Regrettably, I have had to disguise the identity of the Bath Unit operatives appearing in my exclusive photographs. This is of course for security reasons. Some soldiers got the wrong laundry back. And as you all well know, squaddies just don’t forget things like that!

So what do you really say when your young son asks what kind of soldier you were and were you ever in a war and did you ever kill anyone and did you have your own tank and how many people did you kill and were you ever shot at or wounded and were you scared and can you still kill with your bare hands and.and…. Well, my war son, my war, was in fact very clean…..


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With the Americans in Thailand

They don’t tell lance corporals such things, so God knows why we were sent to Thailand. But by the 1960’s it was clear, even to the dimmest of diplomats, let alone thicko lance corporals, that the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, of which Thailand was a founder member, was dead in the water. There had been several attempts to get it involved in the Vietnam war, but all to no avail. Firstly the French would have nothing to do with such American suggestions and secondly, Harold Wilson and the then Labour Government resisted all pressures to join that pointless conflict. God bless Harold Wilson.

Even so, there was a fair amount of contingency planning taking place – just in case. And no doubt that is what we were up to. We were a fairly small group from Head Quarters Far East Land Forces, and flew out of Singapore in a very old and overloaded Beverly, landing at a massive, huge, gigantic American Air force base in North eastern Thailand.

KoratKorat it was called, about 150 miles north east of Bangkok. Such bases dotted the world and were in effect the international transplantation of the American way of life. Within such bases the currency was the dollar and everything, but everything, was entirely American made and American sourced, flown in, direct from the States, without the slightest regard to the cost. They even had, as I remember, fresh milk, something British soldiers simply never saw in the Far East.

The base was operationally active and heavily armed aircraft, Phantoms and Thunderchiefs, were constantly flying missions into Vietnam. On at least one occasion not all of the aircraft came back, which is hardly surprising as they were tasked to suppress and destroy Surface to Air Missile sites. There were also Royal Thai Air Force squadrons on the base in addition to a New Zealand Air Force contingent.

Our small group of Brits were absorbed into this little America. And into the American way of military service. Actually it was quite a large America and covered a fair proportion of that part of Thailand. It was the first time I had been exposed to the American military and I was both impressed and shocked. They looked after their military very well indeed. Only the best would do. The food was outstanding, the PX incredibly well stocked and wonderfully cheap. Their equivalent of our NAAFI, it was a bit like comparing Skegness to Las Vegas.
But it was the latrine provision that was truly shocking

Most British soldiers will have dug their fair share of latrines in their time. Collectively just the few reading this will have dug and crapped into more holes than it would take to fill the Albert Hall. Such latrines were in addition, almost always segregated, for we other ranks were not to be allowed to smell the poo of an officer, let alone see their naked fleshy bums. But even our other rank latrines were carefully divided, with Hessian sacking or camouflage nets, to provide a basic and primitive level of individual privacy,

Not so for the Americans. They have communal latrines! Good God! Rows of pots, or great long wooden toilet seats. And no distinction as between officers and other ranks. None at all. So you would find, as I did myself that you are sitting on the next pot to a two star American General, not quite sure whether you should stand up and salute or just apologise for the curry.

Am I alone in finding this American disregard for personal privacy rather uncomfortable and a little disturbing? For me it reflects the general lack of regard by the American military, for the sensibilities of others, particularly those against whom they are waging war, be it in Vietnam, Grenada or Iraq. There is a real philosophical problem here.

I am convinced that up at the Pentagon they have a pentagon shaped communal toilet facility, where all the generals go and discuss their next tactical assault on the Iraqi insurgents. They are probably joined from time to time by Bush and Rumsfeld and probably Cheney too. I suppose Condoleezza might have a bit of a problem, unless of course there’s a piano in the Pentagon Kazi. They may even, and this is truly horrible, be joined from time to time, by Blair. What better expression of the special relationship could there possibly be than allowing him in on their communal craps.

Harold Wilson of course, would no more have accepted such an invitation than he would have considered snogging his wife in public. By such wise philosophy did we successfully avoid involvement in disastrous American wars.
There are obvious lessons here and while I might concede that I have not got the whole of this philosophical analysis worked out, there is, in my view, the kernel of a great insight here, with the possibility that it might lead to a world movement for peace. Perhaps movement, on reflection, is the wrong word. But I suspect American toilet habits are part of the problem insofar as world peace is concerned.

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Training to be a military photographer with the Royal Navy

Training to become a military photographer involves a fairly lengthy attachment with the Royal Navy. In bonnie Scotland no less. On the windswept flatlands of the Scottish North Eastern Coast. Lossiemouth.

It was a Royal Naval Air Station and almost brand spanking new, with the most outstanding buildings and facilities, massive state of the art aircraft hangers, a newly laid and enormously long runway, pristine accommodation with about 6 to 8 men in comfortable centrally heated rooms full of light and attractively furnished. A NAAFI bar and nightclub that would match anything, anywhere in any town or city in the country. A few thousand matelots and a fine body of WRENS, or was it a lot of WRENS with fine bodies. The later I think.

We were just a few army lads, all RAOC, and all with a bit of time under our belts, pongos they called us, cast adrift from the Corps and the army, amongst the Fleet Air Arm’s finest.

The Air Station was operating and training on Buccaneers, great brutes on the ground, but wonderfully sleek predator fighter/bombers in the air. Not a particularly safe aircraft as about four or five went down during the attachment, although that might have been inexperience on the part of the trainee pilots. The crews of four of the aircraft safely ejected but the fifth flew straight as an arrow, fast as a bullet, and smack into the hard Scottish earth with both pilot and navigator lost. They were flying round the clock, night and day, day and night. More often than not there was an Aircraft Carrier out in the North Sea and they practiced endless approaches, endless landings, and endless takeoffs. Hairy work.

We were photographers and did a fair old bit of flying ourselves. Air to Air work. Air to ground work. We flew in a wide assortment of naval aircraft, including the Buccaneers. In effect we were made honorary matelots for the attachment period and were obliged to partake in all the Navy traditions. For example, we were forced, under the threat of naval discipline, to drink tots of rum every single day. We were equally forced to take our due ration of Navy fags, a form of currency on the Air Station.

We fitted in rather well and suffered no obvious discrimination despite being but a few in khaki amongst so many in blue. There was an amateur dramatical group on the Air Station, the Buccaneer Theatre Group, and I was induced, by the presence of so many lovely WRENS, to become an actor.
We went into immediate rehearsals for a searing dramatic production set in 1950’s Australia called “The Shifting Heart” written by Richard Beynon” I was cast in the part Detective Sgt. Lukie, a hard bitten, hard drinking Australian policeman who reduces a murder suspect, at the end of Act 1, to a quivering wreck.
The Act was to close with me having grilled the suspect into a pathetic confession, then leaving the interrogation room and at the door, turning back to the broken suspect, and saying in my best Australian accent “..Trouble with you mate, is you’ve got a bloody chip on your shoulder as big as a bloody battleship..” Critics of the play, and there were many, suggested my Australian accent was not quite genuine or that I sounded like a Scotsman recently immigrated into Australia. There was some truth to this, for my favorite accent has always been that of a Scotsman – but one must put up with such critics in life.

My performance on the final night was somewhat marred by another ancient mariners tradition we were forced to endure. The compulsory drinking of tots of rum was occasionally enlivened by a practice, as old as Nelson, known as sippers. This was triggered whenever someone on your mess deck had cause for celebration, perhaps the birth of a child; a birthday; an engagement; a promotion, a divorce – the list was somewhat lengthy and rather flexible. I cannot recall now, at this distant remove, what was the occasion that obliged me to take sippers on that eventful afternoon. It may well have been just because it was the last night of the play. I resisted too many sippers, on the grounds that I was to perform later that evening, not just in the final night of the play but also on the night when the Scottish Amateur Dramatic Society Association was to make an adjudication of our performance for the annual National Dramatic Society Championship competition. My protests only encouraged more sippers to be pressed upon me. But I kept it within reasonable limits. Or so I thought.

Critical voices were later to say that on that final night of the play my Scottish/Australian accent was slightly blurred. That would not have particularly mattered, as I was in fact supposed to be both a hard-bitten and a hard drinking Aussie detective. But at the end of Act one, my murder suspect suitably cowed, broken and quivering , I walked towards the door of the interrogation room to make my dramatic exit, I turned:- “…Trouble with you mate” I said, “is that you’ve got a bloody battleship on your shoulders as big as a bloody chip..”

A lesser man would have given up Amateur dramatics after that. But I am made of stupider stuff, and would go on, in the years to come, to perform in several military dramatic groups ending my career with the fabulous Tidworth Players. I had discovered that such groups facilitated meeting with very attractive women. Indeed in Tidworth I was once cast in a love scene with the very slim wife of a cavalry colonel. The scene involved a great deal of snogging and the snogging required endless rehearsal, both on and off stage. I probably snogged the colonel’s wife a lot more than he ever snogged her himself….I believe there was gossip in the mess…

Meanwhile, back in bonnie Scotland there were, I’m afraid, no snogging scenes. In fact after the final night (in which, sadly, we did not win the National championships) I was never cast in any part again and was relegated to working with props and lights. I was not entirely devastated as the Theatre Group continued to attract the loveliest of the WRENS, but I did rather lose my taste for rum. Not difficult to do whilst living in Scotland, for all who reside there, either permanently or just on attachment, eventually and inevitably succumbed to the superior joys of whisky.

We were required as part of our final photographic portfolio to prepare industrial architectural photographs – interior and exterior, close up macros, tabletop still life’s, landscapes, character studies, photo “stories”, aerial photographs, and amongst other things, to make a film. My own final submission included an aerial photograph of a whisky distillery, architectural studies of the interior and exterior of the same whisky distillery, close-ups of fermenting grain, table studies of a range of bottles of whiskey, a fine portrait of a barrel maker and a great landscape of the fast running river that supplied water for the distillery, together with a film, of the ancient process of making whiskey. And they were all in focus. To this day I remain a world renowned whisky connoisseur. And I have a wonderful Scottish accent.

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Joining Up

I  was just turned 15. We drove to Blackdown, me and my father, from Viersen, in Germany, where my father was a warrant officer at a massive Ordnance depot thereabouts.   In fact I had signed on at that Ordnance depot, sworn in before my father’s Commanding Officer. So I knew what the Royal Army Ordnance Corps was and knew what I was doing – in as much as any fifteen year old boy knows what he is doing, which on reflection probably means I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was about.

We drove across Belgium and Holland and then down through England from Harwich, staying overnight at the Union Jack Club in London. That was a pretty primitive place in those days, little more than cubicles with large gaps at the bottom of each door, designed, no doubt, to discourage any homo-erotic hanky panky. Not that I knew what a homo was.  Or what erotic meant.  And I was, of course, completely innocent as to the meaning of hanky panky. All of that was ahead of me.

My father would have known Blackdown very well indeed. By that time he had his long service and good conduct medal and was quite well known in the corps. He had been an infantry man during the war and had transferred to Ordnance on being wounded in Italy. He was one of those soldiers who had seen a bit but never ever complained. About anything.

But he was shocked by the state of Dettingen Barracks. He thought the accommodation was truly appalling and he knew a bit about rough barracks. I remember him complaining – almost the only time I ever heard him complain at all – to the recruit platoon Sgt. They were both Geordies and knew each other from the corps but my dad gave him some stick.

Perhaps because they knew each other the recruit Sgt. managed to avoid my father seeing the shower block. I think if he had he may well have incited me to mutiny and taken me back home to Viersen. For the shower block was awful to behold. Many of us were to spend part of our winters in the years to come, lagging the shower block pipes. At times they pumped out as much asbestos as they did water, and both were both usually cold.

The starkness of the barracks was ameliorated slightly by the cookhouse which I always remember as warm and bright and welcoming, and quite modern in its way, with fresh milk from a dispenser, something I had never seen before.  They gave  all the parents and recruits, buns and tea in the cookhouse.   Many of the mums and dads  though must have left their sons with some apprehension, such gloomy ancient barrack rooms, such primitive toilet and hand bowl facilities, were there only four toilets for 60 boys?

One of the remarkable features of life in the Junior Leaders  was that there was no violence by the permanent staff against the boys. There was plenty of violence and bullying amongst the boys, but I never saw any of the permanent staff involved in it.  It was surprising really, because corporal punishment was still prevalent in English schools, and widely used.  If Blackdown had been, for example, a Catholic boarding school, then violence by the staff would have been natural, endemic and expected. So too if it had been a Borstal. And at times it was fairly close to a Borstal.

Amongst the boys however, bullying was widespread. And maybe the permanent staff turned too much of a blind eye. There were lending rackets that would have done the gangsters of the East End proud. 100% interest, 200% interest – a good beating if you were late. I was bullied myself as I am sure were many others.. And, god forgive me, I also became, at times, a bully. I recall one night returning from the NAAFI with a bottle of tizer or something, having been sent by the corporal to get it for him. I was set upon, for no other reason than it was my turn to be set upon, by a group of young bullies’ intent on giving me a beating. There was a Scots boy from my platoon who intervened. From Glasgow he was. Really a rather frail looking boy but those Glasgow Scots were as hard as nails. He was on his own but he told them all to fuck off and if they couldn’t understand his Scottish accent they certainly understood his meaning, and quiet as mice, they all fucked off. By such chances you survived. And thrived.

There is a picture here of my recruit platoon, or at least those from my barrack room.

From the left in the back row is, if I remember rightly, Pardoe. He was a boxer and very very frightening. No that’s not true. He was in fact a very nice bloke. It was in the ring that he was frightening. He was small for a boxer but went in very fast and very hard. He was from London. He left the army shortly after boy service but then re-joined after experiencing a bit of civi life. He boxed for the corps. Wonder where he is now.

Second from the right in the back row is a boy who I remember very clearly being bullied. He was slightly overweight and they went for him in a big way. I recall him being thrown down the stairs of Gordon Platoon in a sack. He suffered quite a lot. After Blackdown he went and became a paratrooper and returned to confront some of his bullies. He returned a real fighting soldier. It was a triumph and I often think of him.

Kneeling at the front right is an Irishman who I curse myself for not remembering his name. He was from the North, just outside Londonderry. One Easter he invited a small group of about four of us, over to the North for a holiday. Sgt. Major Robinson came with us. His Dad had a farm and was a member of the ‘B’ Specials. But he made us all most welcome with the tremendous hospitality of the Irish.

Sometimes I travel up through Londonderry on my way up to the courts in Donegal and one day I will have a battery operated internet thingy and stop at that farmhouse and show him this site and properly express my appreciation to him

Standing far right is Pat Hamilton. He was one who went on holiday to Northern Ireland with us. He was a footballer of some note. Also possibly the most handsome recruit of that year. His dad ran a pub I think, out in Northamptonshire.

Kneeling in the very centre of the group, second row, is Jim Ainsworth. I am sure he became Junior RSM. Brightest of our year, he went out to Singapore after passing out. We had a few beers together out there. He had a gift, I think, for languages and learnt Chinese. I suspect after that that he became involved in intelligence work for he virtually disappeared of the radar. He was ahead of his time was Jim, not for him the causal racism of the common soldier.

Is that Flood with the cap tipped back at a jaunty angle? He was possibly more handsome than Hamilton. He used to dress like the Dave Clark Five, always immaculate. He was only from down the road in Farnbourgh. I suspect he didn’t serve too long in the army. Nor did I for that matter.

The guy that I bullied is not in the picture although he was in that particular recruit intake. Crisp was his name. His father was a Sgt. Major in the Parachute Regiment, but poor old crispy.  He  wasn’t very street wise. He had a really horrible time and I often think that it must have been particularly difficult for him to tell his Sgt. Major paratrooper dad that he was being bullied. I met him a few years ago, in Nottingham. His flat had been burgled and I was working as a Police Scenes of Crime Officer and went to gather bits of evidence. He was, I am pleased to report, very happily married and bristling with confidence. He had a fine singing voice and was making a few bob as a singer in the clubs around Nottingham. I was so pleased to see him and felt such a heel about Blackdown.

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