The Royal Highland Fusiliers 

                                                            NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSET  


RHF Journal : Volume 23   :  Number 1  :  Summer 1999



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 ‘cushy number’.

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. It’s called battle inoculation!

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 condition.

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 Milman’s 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 Tara(God) otherwise RSM, Jimmie McMillan? King George VI’s 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. Patrick’s 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. Patrick’s 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 tannoy!

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 Weston-Super-Mare.

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 Glen’s former pupil and rugby player Lt Col John Kelly at RHQ last year and, by one of life’s 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 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!