A child of the Army of the Rhine

Viersen. It must have been a small agricultural village at one time. Set in vast acres of open fields of sugar beet and potatoes which ran all the way to the Dutch boarder. It became a satellite village, or a town, to Monchen Gladbach but I suspect it retained its primary agricultural nature until the coming of the railways. A major permanent way was built across the fields to the south east of the village, with sidings and sheds and workshops and a very handsome bahnhof. The rail line ran all the way into Belgium and Holland and North to the industrial Rhur. It was undoubtedly this that attracted the attention of the occupying British forces at the end of the second world war. It became, with its easy rail access to the ports at Antwerp and Ostend, the perfect place to locate a forward supply depot for the Army of the Rhine. Initially they took over the railway sheds and workshops but eventually built a vast depot that employed hundreds of local German civilians and lots and lots of soldiers.

For the soldiers families, they built a series of terraced married quarters, clustered fairly close to the bahnhof. They were not at all unpleasant, not the kind of terraced housing of coronation street or industrial England. They were of good quality with a mix of local German civilian housing, both social and private, with large gardens and well-kept parks and open areas. Being military, they were of course, all painted the same colour with the same coloured doors and the same coloured curtains and the same inventory of furniture inside each property. But we children wouldn’t have noticed such things. For us it was a wonderful place to live. There were five children in our family so we got an end terrace, right next to an open park, 32 Lessing Strasse.

We would go down to the Bahnhof area to watch the trains and to play on the wooded banks of the railway lines. It was the age of steam and the German trains were handsome black beasts snorting and steaming and chuffing and clattering along the tracks, some at high speed others, towing long industrial wagons and cattle trucks of cargo, crawling along for what seemed like hours. On the wooded banks, we would play at soldiers. And why not? All our fathers were soldiers. In fact, most of the regular soldiers, Sgts and so on, had fought in the second world war and had chests full of medal ribbons. Some had been here as occupiers and were now, no longer occupiers but defenders of democracy and the western way of life. The Germans had so recently, within the past 10 to 15 years, been the greatest enemies known to civilisation. It was natural for us to play at soldiers killing imaginary Germans on the banks of the Deutsche bahn. We had picked up, mostly from a regular diet of Commando comics, the
necessary bits of German language with which to play war games. “Achtung!”; “Donner und Blitzen”; “Mien Gott”; Kamerad!” Yawholl mein Kapitan”: “for you Fritz, the war is over” “Britisher tommy, Kamerad Kamerad!”.
We would play for hours, with wooden stick tommy guns and bazookas, ambushing each other and killing Germans until tea time. The elderly Germans tending their allotment gardens at the base of the railway banks would pause and look at us at play and perhaps wonder how the hell it was that they lost the war.

There was a baker’s shop just around the corner from Lessing Strasser, on Schiller Strasse, and my Mum would send me there each morning to buy some freshly baked bread rolls. It was of course, an ideal opportunity for one to practice and display ones increasing command of the German language

“Achtung!, funfh brochen bitte mien Frau” The lady behind the counter would always smile and say “Ahh, Englisher kinder, you would like five bread rolls? “Yawholl mine frau” You see she understood me immediately and without the slightest difficulty.  Supplied with my fresh and warm bread rolls, or brochen, in a brown paper bag, I would then cross the road to the butcher’s shop on the other side, always busy with rather stout German ladies buying sausages’ Again I would display my command of German, “Achtung! Ein viertal shickenwrust bitte” The butcher would smile and say “Ahhh, Britisher kinder, you would some slices of ham sausage like” “Yawhol mien Herr” And he would go to his slicing machine and would often say, for he liked to practice his English “Zee weather is not so gut, ya?” “Yawhol mein Herr” “You zink it rain might?” “Yarwhol mien Herr, vielendank mien Herr”

I am a modest enough chap but I do think they appreciated and were impressed with my attempts to speak their language, certainly I was myself, although I admit to some surprise when, many years later, I failed my German ‘O’ level exams. Back home we would have a warm brochen with butter for breakfast, we were obviously quite sophisticated, we were having continental breakfast before continentals were even invented. And we would have another bread roll mit schinkenwurst, to take to school for lunch. School was in Rheindalen and there was a military school bus to take us there each morning, driven by German civilians, usually ex-Wehrmacht types who all wore old rather shabby field green Wehrmacht uniforms. Getting on the school bus was another opportunity to practice your German. “Achtung!, Gutten Morgen Fritz” “Miner name ist Hans” he would say, and touch the soft peak of his Wehrmacht forage cap and wonder how the hell they managed to lose the war.

There was a rather superior house, a private German residence, on the other side of the small park. There lived therein a fierce German lady who often complained about the noise of the British children playing war games in the park. She ran a business from the house selling overcoats. I know this because my mum bought a coat from her and I went to the house with Mum to choose her coat. The front room was full of rails of overcoats. They were all pretty much the same as far as I could see. Long heavy lengths of woolly material that hung straight down, like a tube, to just above the ankle. I don’t think fashion had been invented then. The German lady was a walking advertisement for her coats and would move around the area in a long tube of material looking terribly fierce. If we saw her coming we would ambush her with our wooden stick tommy guns. “Achtung, donner und blitzen, here Kompt der mantle frau” and we would riddle her with British bullets. I suspect her coats were probably bullet proof. I suppose it might be helpful if I was to put in a footnote or two translating these odd German phrases into English. Especially for those who never picked up the language. However I don’t want this piece to be too academic and if I may be so bold as to suggest that if you are having difficulty then you might just type them into Google translate.

For my thirteenth, or maybe my fourteenth birthday my Dad bought me a bicycle. It changed my young life. It was second hand. The army were closing an accommodation block in Viersen town, used since the war. It was a billet for the National Servicemen, it was on the hill as you pulled out of Viersen en-route for Rheindalen, Anyway the soldiers had the use of these bikes and now, National service was finishing and my Dad had bought one of them for me. It was a Raleigh racing bike, with drop handlebars and a long uncomfortable leather saddle. It had a crudely hand pained white WD  008 serial number on the black frame. I suppose it is possible it was previously owned by one of those 00 M.I.6 agents, but in truth that is hindsight for I do not recall that for the period I am writing about that James Bond had yet been invented. It was a little battered, but for me it was as if it was solid gold and encrusted with diamonds for there was never ever, since the beginning of time, or for all eternity a better present for a boy than a racing bike! The world became our oyster and we would ride through fields and orchards, woods and forests, lakes and rivers and to Monchen Gladbach, White City, Wildenrath, Krefeld and Wickrath and Rheindalen and all over the world. Of course, most German roads had dedicated cycle paths so it was quite safe, and predatory paedophiles had not yet been invented so we always felt secure and happy, our bikes, a brochen mit schinkenwurst and a few deutschmarks to buy a bottle of coke or an ice cream.

I had a lot of friends in Rheindalen and would often cycle up during the school holidays. It was about 10 miles away. We would meet friends in the woods and forests that edged the garrison married quarters. It was there, with, I think, Teasdale and Griffiths and a few others that we discovered bomb making. Tin cans filled with a mixture of sugar and weed killer and detonated with cheap bangers from Brooks fireworks boxes. We spent a glorious day or too blowing up every can we could find, until we ran out of bangers. Proper little jihadists. Of course today we would probably come under surveillance and our every movement tracked by computers and satellites, but then, well, boom boom.

And it was the bike that conveyed me to my first ever date with a girl – of the opposite sex, you know.

It was Janet, who was in my class at Queens. Her dad was in the RAF and she lived out in Bruggen but I met her for a date at the Astra cinema in Rheindalen
for a Saturday Matinee. We snogged in the back seat. My first ever snog. Janet’s too, I think. It had a strange physiological effect upon me, all that kissing. I got the most enormous protruding erection. Didn’t quite understand why. Nor did Janet. Sex education hadn’t been invented then, but we knew it had something to do with all that kissing. It was all a bit embarrassing really. When the lights came up for the intermission before the main feature came on I left Janet to go and buy a couple of tubs of ice creams from the cinema usherette. The physiological phenomime would not subside and I walked down the aisle with an awkward projection beneath my trousers. At least it was pointing in the right direction. Today, whenever I see those Hagen Das ice cream adverts I tend to have erotic thought about Janet. Not that we licked ice-cream off each other, although there was rather a lovely cold vanilla kiss, it just that, well, ice-cream, Janet and the Astra cinema, in some respects life doesn’t get much better than that.

I said goodbye to Janet with another snog round the side of the Astra, by the bike shed where I had parked WD 008. Again, that strange reaction. Janet was rather small and I may have given her stomach or possibly her chest a rather difficult to understand sensation. The reaction would not subside, even when I got on my bike to ride home it persisted. The first two kilometers or so were rather uncomfortable on that hard leather seat. But at least I was pointing in the right direction. I never saw Janet again. Her father was posted out to Singapore and suddenly, she was gone. That tended to happen quite a lot with service family friendships. Made you a bit wary in the end Another advantage of the bike was that it enabled me to take up a paper round. Each Sunday the guardroom at the big supply depot would send a car to Rheindalen to collect the English newspapers. We would cycle to the guardroom and select the newspapers as ordered by each married quarter. All the other rank houses took the News of the World. The officer’s houses also took the News of the World but they liked it inserted inside the Sunday Telegraph or the Sunday Express. Off we would go to deliver the Sunday papers. The tips we received were extremely generous for the soldiers and their families loved getting the English papers, it was really important, there was no telly and news from England was so welcome and they were just delighted to see British schoolboys doing such an English thing as a paper round.

Once a week the estate, if I may call it that, was visited by a mobile NAAFI van. An occasion of great excitement for the families. It was if a relief column had reached an isolated group of survivors under siege in a foreign country. The mobile shop brought us a bit of England, real English products, boxes of Kellogg’s cornflakes, Scots porridge oats, jars of marmalade with golliwogs on them, Marmite and mars bars and packets of spangles. And of course tea. Teabags hadn’t been invented then and tea came loose, if I recall correctly, in small oblong red boxes. It was the highlight of the week for quite a few rather lonely service housewives.

And once a month a mobile library came. It was run, I think, by the WRVS it was there I discovered the famous five novels. I’ve still got one that I perhaps ought to return.

My neighbour, a few doors down, Orwell, had a fantastic collection of dinky toys. All military dinkys. Great rows of tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters, bren-gun carriers. He would line them all up in the front room. His father was a Sgt in a big vehicle depot in Monchen Gladbach which had acres of real military vehicles drawn up in endless lines, tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters bren-gun carriers, motorcycles. He was obviously trying to recreate the vehicle depot at home. Practicing I suspect. Orwell may have become someone important in car-parking when he grew up. He used to come to my house with some of his dinkys. I had the most amazing model trainset. A German make, Marklin, yards and yards of track with electric points and signals, model train stations, tunnels and bridges, carriages and wagons. He would blow up my trains with his tanks or we would put the Dinkys on flatbed wagons and watch them go around and around, under the settee and the dining table, into the kitchen and through the tunnels. I think service children did very well for toys. We usually inherited them, really cheaply from soldier’s families who were being posted elsewhere. That’s where I got my train set from. When we left it was all sold to some other family much to my despair. I have this fantasy that when I retire I will buy another railway set, just for me. Of course now that Brexit is here it will have to be a Hornby set rather than a Marklin. But if that is the price of sovereignty, then I shall face it bravely. Another neighbour was Billy Carter with whom I had a fight about Manchester Unitised. I knew nothing about man united or about English football. But
Billy was a fanatic. I must of said something derogatory about them and he cracked me across the head with his arm that happened to be cased in plaster of Paris. I’ve been planning my revenge ever since.

And there was the Hartly girls. The freckle faced Hartly girls. I really fancied the eldest one, Anne I think she was, we got quite close to a snog on the school bus. But after the experience with Janet in the Astra I was a bit worried and it all came to nothing. Its one thing to have a physiological reaction in the dimmed lighting of the Astra cinema, it would be quite another in the broad daylight of the school bus, with Fritz keeping his eye on us all.

I eventually signed on for the Army at the great supply depot where my father worked. I was fifteen and a half!. There was very little else for a service family to consider in the way of work. I did have a spell at the NAAFI shop in Rheindalen before I finally left for my Junior Leaders regiment. Quite enjoyed that. They put me in this small section which sold duty free booze and duty free cigarettes to service families. Very busy as service men seemed to drink and awful lot of booze and smoke an enormous amount of cigarettes.

The little sods from the !st Monchen Gladbach Scout Troop

scouts-threeIt must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.

They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening, in St. Georges School in Monchen Gladbach. It was set within the perimeter of Ayrshire barracks,  a huge British military vehicle depot with acres and acres and acres of military Lorries and armoured vehicles and jeeps, motorcycles and trucks of all sorts and sizes, all kept in a high state of readiness for a possible soviet invasion. The school building was possibly the oldest building left in post war Monchen Gladbachscouts-school. It had a chapel at the very top where we would go for Mass on a Sunday, presided over by an elderly Dutch Priest shipped in from Venlo. He had very little English and conducted the Mass in Latin with a Dutch accent. It was an endurance test those masses. No joy, no reflection. Nothing. The school was on the next two floors below. Headmaster was a Mr. Denton. He would laugh a lot, always telling stories and encouraging the children to do the same, he delighted in their company, believed in them. He was perhaps more important a teacher than all those that followed in the fractured educational experience that came the way of service children. He had a gorgeous daughter, Valerie, with whom all the boys were in love. The scouts and cubs met in the basement which was a vast beautifully vaulted space of columns and arches.

We would be taken there in army Volkswagen cars or vans of which the authorities had an inexhaustible store of, and would go out their way to provide them for service families. They were driven by ex-Wehrmacht German soldiers. They still wore they field grey or was it green uniforms and caps. Without, of course the SS flashes or Iron crosses or indeed any insignia or badges at all. They looked rather scruffy and forlorn. Defeated. The Volkswagens would tour the estates of married quarter’s and pick up the children of the service families, convey them to scouts and take them back home afterwards.
We wore a badge on our left shoulder, or perhaps our breast pocket.scouts-badge The same regional badge as the regular army. A Saxon war- axe, which we were told, was modeled on a real axe found by archaeologists when the British Army was building its headquarters up the road in Rheindalen.

Perhaps supervision was a bit of a problem. We found in the vast vaulted basement a large stock of red paint. It was, I think, for painting fire engines. We painted all the vaulted ceilings, the arches and columns in bright red. Even the floor. And possibly a boy scout or two. We were very proud of our extensive work and achievement and reasonably expected to get a painting & decorating “proficiency” badge to wear with our uniforms. Merit badges the Americans call them. But things didn’t quite work out. I was demoted from Patrol leader, busted to simple rank and file boy scout. A rather bitter blow, from which, to be honest, I have never quite gotten over. Thereafter we met in an old Nissan hut and never again graced St. George’s School.

Each summer, and sometimes at Easter, we would go camping. Oh what fun! We camped once at a seaside resort in Holland. We made quite an impression and If there had been a merit badge for shoplifting we would all surely have got it. And we camped up in Paderborn in the mountains. But the place I remember best of all was the forests and hills above the Royal Air Force base at Bruggen near the Dutch boarder.
The tents were of rough green canvas. Six person tents, or in those days, six man tents. scouts-tentsBut you could get eight boy scouts in a six man tent. They would be sited in neat rows and between the rows there were two or three campfires which were kept burning all day and night and upon which we cooked sausages. Lots of sausages. And beans. Lots of beans. And occasionally a fried egg ala twigs. They were set in a valley, the tents, and up at the top of the valley was a wooden hut, about two kilometers away, which served as a tuck shop. One or two afternoons a week a volunteer from the RAF Bruggen scout troop would open the hut to sell confectionery to visiting scout troops, who came to camp from all over the British Army of the Rhine area.

The hut was in truth,  a very tempting target. And we boys, with more merit badges than common sense, highly trained in field craft and rather partial to confectionery decided to raid the tuck shop hut and liberate some of the sweets therein. It was done with military precision. Lookouts posted at strategic positions to warn of any approaching adults. The warning was to be an owl hooting. Terwit terwoo, terwit terwoo. (bird impersonation/merit badge) We had swag sacks to carry away the loot, in reality the sacks that the tent pegs and mallets were stored. There was a signalling system set up with torches. (Morse code/merit badge) The simple lock on the door was prised open with a wood cutters axe. (woodcutting/merit badge)  And suddenly, we were surrounded by all kinds of boxes of sweets.

The sweets and confectionery were divided on a strict basis of equality. Packets of spangles and refreshers, liquorice pipes, scouts-pipessweet cigarettes, Pontefract cakes, Chewits, scouts-cakesImperial mints, wine gums and pastilles,scouts-spangles-2 all religiously distributed regardless of rank age and I suppose, although it didn’t quite figure in our then underdeveloped minds, sexual orientation, there was no merit badge for sexual orientation, although had there been a badge for the philosophy of equality we would all have surely qualified. I might mention the crisps. Two boxes of packets of crisps held in the hut were found, upon being tested, to be not fit for purpose. The crispiness had gone out of them and the little blue bags of salt were a bit damp. Crisp packet technology was not very advanced in those days. We left the crisps behind.

It was late in the afternoon the next day that the RAF Bruggen volunteer tuck shop man was observed approaching the hut (observer/merit badge). He was seen in an agitated condition and shortly afterwards left, only to return sometime later with a landrover following his vehicle in which there were three RAF military policemen. Snowdrops they were called. Now it wasn’t of course the crime of the century and it didn’t need a Sherlock Homes of the Snowdrops to work out who had committed the offence. A wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. Nobody around for a twenty-mile radius except for the green tents of the 1st Monchen Gladbach scout encampment, some two kilometers down the valley. Towards the late afternoon the three snowdrops and the tuck shop hut man began to walk down the valley towards the tents.
We had an early warning system in place with camouflaged observers watching their advance. (camouflage/merit badge) The wooded valley, rather suddenly, filled with the hoots of owls as a mild panic set in amongst the hardy boy-scouts as they desperately attempted to destroy all possible evidence. One of the campfires suddenly burst into fiery life as various packets of sweets were fed to its flames. Some tried to scoff the evidence. I tried, in fact I succeeded, in scoffing a whole box of Pontefract cakes, an act I was later to regret on the primitive latrines of the forested campsite. I recall another of the patrol leaders with a mouth full of sweet cigarettes. By the time the snowdrops special investigation team reached the tents they found a sizable group of scouts gathered around a suspiciously blazing campfire vigorously singing “Ging gang goolle goolie whatcha” with  a rather over the top exaggerated emphasis on the chorus “Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally,Oompah, oompah, oompah.” ***
But it was to no avail, they were not impressed. The snowdrops found abundant evidence of the looting. Scouts had pockets full of chewits and spangles wrappers. There were liquorice pipes hidden under pillows and one of our swag bags stuffed with fruit and nu bars and milky ways, tied with a reef knot and a woggle was discovered hoisted half way up a tree. (knot tying/merit badge)
For some reason the German police were not called in. Perhaps because it was Ministry of Defence Property, or was it War Department in those days? Was there a jurisdictional problem, or did they just want to cover it up and avoid all the embarrassment of misbehaving British boy scouts. There was certainly consequences. Reparations had to be made. We had all been told to bring to the camp at least 15 shillings’ pocket money. We scouts-5-bobhad to hand it all over, any shortfall being made up from scout troop scout-10-shillingfunds. And in fairness, they recovered a fair amount of the loot.
Our parents were informed and several scouts, including myself were expelled from the troop and were never again to be allowed to participate in scouting activities. But there were no prosecutions, no arrests, just the eternal shame of it all.   I regret it. Of course I do. I have never again, in all the years since that summer of ’61, never again, sat by a campfire, beneath the stars, the smell of wood-smoke drifting upwards to the open skies, mixed with the odor of burnt sausages, and the scout master strumming his guitar, sitting in the companionship of the best friends you will ever have and singing late and softly into the night, the immortal words of Lord Baden Powell:   Ging,gang,goolie, goolie, whtcha, ging,gang,goo, ging gang goo. ging gang goolie, goolie, goolie watcha, ging, gang goo…… 

Note:  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore::  http://bit.ly/18TKrlJ

Queens School Rheindalen and the Profumo Affair

Rheindalen, a great sprawling British military garrison.  Headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine and home to thousands of soldiers, their wives and children.  And within fairly short distances from the garrison,  massive  Royal Air Force bases humming with technology, bristling with weapons and with armed fighter and bomber jets on permanent standby to launch strikes against the soviets.  And dozens of military bases with enormous stockpiles of vehicles, ammunition, weapons including nuclear weapons, all supplying armed to the teeth Divisions of  infantry, regiments of tanks and batteries of artillery.

By the  early 1950’s, when the British military presence in Germany had changed from that of being a victorious army of occupation into a welcomed NATO defender of the Western way of democracy, it was decided that all those troops and military, with their wives and families needed schools for the rapidly expanding number of British children.   Queens school badgeSo it was, that in Rheindalen, was established a brand spanking new secondary modern school for children over 11, the Queens School,  set in pleasant woodlands on the edge of the great garrison.

It was, in my day, late ‘50’s/early 60’s,  a straightforward garrison school, designed for the children of other ranks, and having as its mission the desire to turn them into, well, other ranks.   Most of the officer’s children had grants (and the ancillary income) to attend posh boarding schools in England.  The Officers married quarters around the garrison and the military bases were a bit notable for the lack of children during term times.  Secondary Modern schools like Queens, were of course intended to take those who did not pass the 11 plus exam or those who only just made it.  And of course we all knew, sure we did, that officers children, in those days, were always much brighter than the children of other ranks.

A central feature of life at the school was the Combined Cadet Force.  playll-cadets With virtually every boy in the school being the son of a serviceman then this was hardly surprising.  Each Wednesday we travelled to school from the towns and villages and married quarter complexes around the Garrison, in ill-fitting battle dress Army Uniforms.   Boys from the RAF bases came in ill-fitting RAF uniforms and each classroom looked slightly more like a military barrack room.

In the basement of the school, next to the caretakers room and adjacent to the school boilers was the school armoury.  Stuffed with rows of serious and lethal weapons, which were issued out to the boys at about 2.30 each Wednesday, whereupon the boys  would march up and down the school playground saluting each other, with self-selected teachers dressed up as officers, shouting Orders.

From time to time the boys would don steel helmets and patrol through the woodlands, camouflaged and with fixed bayonets, searching for soviet enemies and learning all the soldiery skills of killing.  Oh it was such fun!    There were trips out to the vast military training grounds in Northern Germany to see how real soldiers lived.  We had the chance to  play with the big guns and pretend to be real soldiers.     And out in the wilds of RAF Bruggen, on the Dutch Border,  we would spend a couple of weeks fighting carefully planned battles with blank ammunition,  assaults, charges, capturing each other prisoner, eating army rations  and living in trenches under the German moonlight.

Of course we had a great advantage over English based cadet forces in that we were living in and around one of the most important military complexes in the world.   We thus had access to units and equipment unheard of in England.  And we were constantly encouraged in our military endeavours by visits from the Generals who peopled the nearby NATO headquarters.   Thus there would be British Generals, Canadian Generals, American Generals, Dutch Generals all would come and smile at us and inspect us on parade in the school playground.  And of course there would be visiting politicians looking for a good photo opportunity and anxious to show the military their appreciation of soldier’s families.

And so it was that we were exposed to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, John Profumo.   download   He came to Queens to review and inspect the massed armed ranks of the school’s combined cadet force. I was there!

Now Profumo, while not exactly a spy for the Soviet Union, was careless and feckless and thereby betrayed his country and his people.   We were not to know this at the time.  Nor did anyone else really. But it was all published in the papers, the News of the World and the Daily Mirror in particular.

And then we knew.

We knew that we had diced with danger.    There was a photograph of his girlfriend,  Christine Keelor,christine keelor I didn’t quite understand it at the time, didn’t fully appreciate its erotic potential, just thought she had a strange way of sitting on a chair.  She it was to whom he whispered the Ministry’s secrets and she it was who passed on the secrets to her Soviet lover, a full KGB colonel.

Profumo reviewed the young warriors of Queens on one of our Wednesday afternoon military days.   We paraded on the school playground.   There was a military band from one of the garrison regiments playing suitably martial music , parents and teachers lined the edge of the parade/playground as we stood smartly to attention as  he moved along our military lines accompanied by various Generals and a few teachers dressed up as officers.   He actually spoke to me!

“And what does your father do young man?”  He asked

“He’s a soldier sir”   I snapped back in my fiercest 12 year old voice.

“Just like you then” he said and patted me on the shoulder and moved on down the line with his accompanying Generals, all smiling and chuckling at his wit and obvious rapport with the heavily armed schoolboys.

I have no doubt that later that evening he whispered into Christine’s ear as she sat awkwardly on that funny chair, and told her all about us.  No doubt we were betrayed.   We can be confident that shortly afterwards the school’s armoury appeared on Moscow’s war maps, earmarked and targeted for Soviet air-strikes.   And for sure, the advance elements of Soviet invasion forces were warned to avoid Queen’s school because of its massed, heavily armed, well trained fanatical youth movement. Especially on Wednesdays.

It took me many years to get over the betrayal.   It hurt, damaged my development as a fully rounded member of society.   If you can’t trust the Secretary of State for War, then who the hell can you trust?

It was probably that incident, and my inherent sensitivity, that so traumatised me that I became one of the more difficult pupils of the school.  This was sharply manifested in my epic confrontation with the headmaster Mr. Aspinall

There was a school tuck shop.  It sold sweets and ice cream and other nutritious healthy educational treats for the always starving kids.   Profits went to buy sports equipment or perhaps ammunition for the CCF guns.   Anyway there was always a queue and if you were still in it when the bell went then hard luck, you had to answer the bell and return to the classrooms without delay.  On the fatal, hot summer day, I had just bought and paid for a cooling nutritious ice cream, when the bell rang summoning us back to the books.    I took the view that the tuck shop really shouldn’t sell ice creams so close to the bell.   It was unfair.  An infringement of my Human Rights.  As the profit of my purchase was going to the school I thought it entirely reasonable that I should take and finish the cooling confection in the class room.

This was considered behaviour of the very worst kind.  Just what you would expect of the son of a corporal or of  those bloody other-ranks.   It was much worse than the betrayal by Profumo.   I half expected to be taken out and shot by a firing squad from the CCF.  Instead I was frog marched to the headmaster’s study, subjected to an arbitrary trial and sentenced to be caned, six strokes, to be delivered with immediate effect, before the ice-cream even had time to melt.

But after Profumo, my respect for my elders was gone.  I refused to submit.  I REFUSED TO TAKE THE PUNISHMENT!.   This was un-heard of.    I reasoned that I was making a stand for tuck shop consumers, a stand that would echo through the ages.  I may lose thought I, but the wounds that would be inflicted by the brutal strokes would be remembered, in tuck shop queues, in schools across the world, from this day until the end of time.

My father was summoned to persuade me to take the belting.   He came with all the deference that other ranks have for their betters.   He called the teachers “Sir”.   It wasn’t that he was particularly deferential.  That was the way then.   Teachers expected to be called Sir by other rank parents.   Teachers were honorary officers and socialised in the Garrison Officers clubs.   They mixed with captains and colonels, dined with Brigadiers.   They were accustomed to deference.

Of course my rebellion could not survive the combined pressure from headmaster and parents or the betrayal of Profumo.    The stick was wielded with particular ferocity and dug deep into my rebellious bum.

WHACK you will not WHACK eat WHACK ice-cream WHACK in WHACK  my WHACK classrooms WHACK

It took me many years to forgive what happened.   The physical scars faded fairly quickly but I carried the mental scars for the rest of my life.   Still do.   I left the school as thick as two short planks.  Not only did I not have any GCE’s I didn’t even know what a GCE was.   I became a professional rebel, becoming an active trade union organiser, often comparing my members to metaphorical tuck shop victims.   It was the trade union movement that enabled me to truly recognise the value of education and take some serious steps to remedy the disastrous years at Queens.

It was only in my late forties that I finally came to terms with the Profumo affair.   I realised that it was not Profumo who betrayed me.   It was that bloody school.