A Reminiscence by N G Floyd CA 1 HLI 1951-1953
In 1950, a decision to abandon a
career in the Merchant Navy with the Clan Line meant that National Service was
unavoidable. After passing a medical at Whiteinch, where I was unfairly labelled as
rather obese I had hoped to follow my contemporary friends to the right turn
at Scotch Corner and end up with the Royal Signals at Catterick. It seemed such a
Instead, in February 1951 I boarded
a train to Inverness, then on a three ton truck to Fort George, The Highland Brigade
Training Centre, to join Carnatic platoon. However a recent appendix removal operation
meant I was immediately posted for two weeks to Cowglen Military Hospital, Glasgow. Lack
of drill training caused me to fall back on Boy Scout experience to put up a reasonable
show at pay parades! Fortunately the habit of dressing injured soldiers in bright blue
trousers had, by then, been discontinued. I returned to Fort George, not to the centrally
heated Fort accomodation, but to chilly nissan huts on the common and joined Nivelle
platoon. The official issue of coal only supplied one of the two soyer stoves in the hut
and we all spent some time scabbling through the ashes from the cookhouse to gather enough
part burned fuel for the second soyer stove. Training was tough and bull was
intense. The weather was bitterly cold during training and although gloves were not
allowed, we were aware that our drill sergeant managed to wear a pair of mittens!
During specialised training on the
EY rifle (the .303 converted to launch a grenade) a sergeant, who shall remain nameless,
threw a fused piece of cortex onto the roof of the safety dugout! Several mates went off
to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, to have nails and splinters removed. Its called
The TAB jag was painful but,
presumably, effective. It was administered on an unusually warm sunny day at Fort George.
When called to attention only about half of the company were able to move from the prone
The sight of seeing the young
officers being drilled by the RSM in the early morning was very enjoyable.
I passed out in July 1951 as best
recruit and top marksman. In August 1951 I joined A Coy 1HLI in Colchester . Lt. Col Rose
was in command of the Battalion with RSM J McMillan. CSM Dick Richards had moved from HQ
to A Coy. Field exercises were regular and we always accompanied by our OC Maj
Milmans noisy dachshund, Peppi. It was the age of the Z reservists annual two weeks
camp and one had to feel some sympathy for their holiday. The company included
Pte Blackwood, a top army boxer.
Battalion route marches were part of
the routine and, with the pipe band leading and the military band following, keeping step
in the middle was a problem. The animals in the adjoining fields cantered alongside
enjoying these unusual country sounds.
I October 1951 Egyptian threats to
the Suez Canal took the Battalion at short notice to Tobruk via Tripoli, where we
settled into a tented camp, no beds initially, but bedded down on three straw filled
biscuits. A breakdown of the local refrigeration plants meant that we lived
for a time on a diet of fish, fish and more fish.
In Tobruk we were issued with a
magazine of bullets and appeared to be on active service. A known trouble
maker was charged under the catch-all Section 40 of the Army Act with a while on
active service heading. The severe punishment this provided was reduced to CB when
the state of WOAS was withdrawn.
New Year was celebrated in the usual
way with service provided by the officers. At Tobruk several mates volunteered to transfer
to the Argylls to take part in the was in Korea. Was it to escape the terrors of
otherwise RSM, Jimmie McMillan? King George VIs death in early 1952 was marked by a
fine parade through Tobruk, although the locals did not seem too interested.
In February 1952 the threat to the
Suez canal had eased but dockers striking about pay in Malta called for a quick transfer
of the Battalion to St. Patricks Barracks, beyond Sliema, normally home of 45
Commando who were currently in Malaya. The Battalion marched through Valetta, witnessed by
an antagonistic crowd who expressed their views by chucking coins at the troops. We
resisted the temptation to pick the coins up! There was adverse newspaper comment as the
Bren sections took part, against all internal security duty rules, where automatic weapons
were not shown. However, after the strike was over, friendly accord with the Maltese was
quickly restored and a large audience gathered in Valetta main square to enjoy a fine
performance of a combined retreat by the Battalion Pipes and Drums and Military Band.
St. Patricks Barracks offered
comparative luxury, but short lived, as 45 Commando returned to Malta and we moved to huts
at Military Bay, Ghain Tuffiah, the only sandy beach on Malta. I had been appointed lance
corporal and a testing nine mile route march for the Battalion in the sun was completed
successfully and finished with a bathe in the Med. The next move was to a tented camp at
Bahar-i-Chaq on the north of the island where nearly half of the Battalion strength went
quickly down with sandfly fever. However the local tattooist on the rocky foreshore did
good business adding I love??? to many arms.
In Egypt in July 1952 King Farouk
abdicated and a further threat to the Suez Canal called for a swift return for the
Battalion to Tobruk. HMS Birmingham took us to Tobruk Bay where we were billeted on an
aged trooper ship, the SS Charlton Star. It was unusual to hear reveille through the
I recall an Officers Mess
party on board the Charlton Star becoming rather boisterous resulting in a quantity of
equipment ending up in the water. A local diving outfit provided hand operated pear to
effect the recovery!
HMS Glasgow took us back to Malta in
August 1952 where I was appointed corporal.
In September 1952 the Battalion
moved to Tel-el-Kebir (TEK), a desert area near the Sweet Water Canal, consisting of acres
of vehicle parks and dumps of all kinds, requiring 18 miles of perimeter wire and
minefields. Life was something of a bore with perimeter patrols but plenty of sport was
available and as my demobilisation in February 1953 was fast approaching, it was an
acceptable end to a successful two year National Service full time army career. An offer
of sergeant if I signed on was not accepted.
Reserve service was obligatory and I
joined HQ Coy of the 5/6th HLI at Hill Street, Glasgow. Sundays were training
days but I spent most of them in the rifle shooting team.
Summer camps of two weeks took place
on Salisbury Plain in 1953 where I managed to meet my brother Charles who in his National
Service was blowing his tenor horn in the RAF No. 6 Regional Band, based at
Further annual camps followed at
Glencorse and Stobs, Hawick where I performed heroically at the sports days organised by
Bobby Dunlop. HQ Coy won at Glencorse but lost out to D Coy at Hawick.
I was pleased to rejoin fellow Allan
Glens former pupil and rugby player Lt Col John Kelly at RHQ last year and, by one
of lifes coincidences, met 5/6th HLI then MTO, Ian Smith who trained me
for my driving licence success way back in 1953.
If you have any reminiscences you
would like to share with us , please either email the journal
@rhf.org.uk or alternatively, send them to RHF HQ at Sauchiehall Street. We will
publish the best and, who knows, you might end up on the Web!