Sunday, 4th January 1970
In the sure knowledge that it was going to be a long day, I had decided to set off from Glasgow early, and only because I did I was able to catch the first available train to Loughborough. With a change of trains at York, I found myself in Loughborough at 2pm, and I remembered an NCO’s last piece of advice to anybody going there.
‘Get a taxi from the station, it’s worth the money and it’s less hassle.’
When the taxi driver was given the destination he assured me that I was going to a nice part of the local area. Geographically, he told me that Loughborough was almost centrally situated midway between Nottingham, to the north, and Leicester to the south. The town itself he said was probably most famous for its university.
We passed through Quorn, a picturesque village; unspoiled and clean. There appeared to be more countryside than buildings and within a couple of miles there was only countryside. As the road narrowed Woodhouse Eaves appeared.
The hamlet was picture postcard stuff.
It looked as if we were turning right to drive through the high hedgerow, because due to the height of the hedgerows lining the roads there was little or no warning about the camp.
The entrance road was narrow, downhill, and only about 200 yards long, but at the end of it could be seen a red and white barrier, and just to the left of the barrier the signpost painted in the colours of the Royal Signals. The sign was painted in the bands of light blue, dark green and dark blue – the Corps colours which represented communications over Land, Sea and Air.
Emblazoned across the sign in white were the words:
‘224 SIGNAL SQUADRON
GARATS HAY CAMP
Having satisfied the duty personnel in the small guard room that I was a freshly trained member of their Corps, I was assisted by a young soldier to show me my accommodation. There was a white name card on the room door with eight names listed on it and the course number. I made a mental note that the room across the corridor was a six-man room, had the same course number on it and six names listed.
When I got into the room and looked around I could see that there were eight sets of beds and lockers, and two of the beds already had bedding and baggage on them, so I already had company.
The guy that had helped with the baggage offered to give a hand to collect my bedding from the SQMS (Squadron Quartermaster’s Stores). I’d only experienced the carrying of bedding a couple of times, but I knew to accept his help without question.
My assistant didn’t have much to say, except that it was a great camp and nothing like Catterick. He also told me that he had lasted four months in training. He was spending three weeks working in the Guardroom before heading to Catterick to be trained as a Driver.
One of the lessons that I learned during my early training was a casual piece of advice given by one of the NCO’s. It was during the cold nights out in the woods on exercise.
Cpl Smith had said, ‘Try and get comfortable as quickly as possible when out on field exercises.’ As I was deciding which bed-space to use I decided that my aim would always be to get comfortable as quickly as possible, irrespective of circumstances.
Once my bed was made up, the next task was to get unpacked and get the locker laid out in a neat and tidy fashion. There was no reason why I shouldn’t continue with a regime of neatness. It was in my nature, but Basic Training had honed it. Besides, it was no hassle.
Prior to setting out my locker I did a quick check to ensure it was clean and there was nothing left by the previous occupant. It was clean enough but the previous owner had left some small change and two coat hangers. Another new policy was born. I quickly went around the room and made a check of all the other lockers. That netted me seven more coat hangers and some more loose change.
The camp was a delight to walk around and I found myself thinking about my time at Catterick. I still couldn’t quite believe that I had made it through those few weeks. My stroll around Garats Hay camp took me to the NAAFI, dining hall, gym, parade square, assault course, Training Wing (which was inside a security compound) and the Headquarters building.
One of the things that caught my attention was the number of aerials around the place. It wasn’t just the number of them, but the size and variety. Strange I thought, that I hadn’t noticed them from the road on the way in.
I returned to the block and met the owners of the other two sets of bedding. Introductions were made and I found out that both of them had up until a couple of days before, been on a Radio Technicians course.
I was eager to know about Radio Technician training, because it had been one of my trade options, but I wanted to operate radios – not repair them. The two guys told me that they had managed to keep up with the training in some areas, but felt lost in others. When given the chance to Trade Reallocate (TRA), they both chose to attend training at Loughborough to become Special Operator – Radio (Spec Op).
The Radio Tech course was to last twelve months, and these two blokes had lasted through nine months of the training before it all got too much. I couldn’t imagine making so much effort and then not making the grade. They had travelled from Catterick at lunchtime and arrived in Loughborough just before me. The pair seemed happy to have moved on.
The tall, slim, dark one went by the name of Dave Simpson. He wore glasses, and had a ‘boffin’ look about him. He was from the West Country, and from the little that I had seen and heard from him he had a tremendous sense of humour which would be good for our room.
The other guy was Chris Cusick. He stood about 5′ 10”, three inches shorter than Chris, but with his short-cropped blonde hair, dark tan and air of confidence, he gave the impression that he was on edge, waiting for something to happen.
Andy Munro arrived at about 5pm, and it was nice to see somebody I’d known in basic training. Of our intake at Catterick, there had been guys who chose Driver, Electrician Driver, Radio Operator, Radio Relay Operator, Radio Telegraphist, and Lineman, but nobody chose to go for training as a technician. Only the two of us opted for Spec Op.
There was time for brief introductions, collection of bedding, and then all four of us went over to the dining hall just in time for the evening meal. First impressions of the cookhouse were that it was small, well laid out and very smart, just like the appearance of the rest of this camp. Upmarket compared to Catterick.
By 11pm we welcomed the arrival of Mark McAllindon, Ross Campbell and Ken Rowan.
Monday, 5th January 1970
During the course of the day, almost all of our remaining fellow students arrived. By the evening we were still short of two bodies. We knew from the cards in the accommodation that there were meant to be 14 students on our course, due to start at 9am the next day. This was giving the trainees ample time to sort out their administration.
Tuesday, 6th January 1970
When we arrived back at our accommodation after a leisurely breakfast we found that one of the names on the door card had been scored out in red marker pen. It seemed that one of the men listed for our course had already decided that this particular course was no longer on his list of things to do.
At 08:30 we assembled in a small briefing room in the Squadron Headquarters (SHQ) building. The upstairs of SHQ served as a small Military Training Wing. Only three people addressed our small group and the main points of the briefing were not lost on any of us.
The high security classification included the training compound and all of the information learned therein. We were also warned about the severity of the penalties should anybody decide to discuss the unit, its contents or the training. This was beginning to sound interesting.
Prior to our course getting underway we were told, that one student had called into his local Army Careers Office to say that he no longer wished to serve his country. Another had phoned SHQ at Loughborough. The course would get underway with 12 students. We were told that on average, only four students passed the nine-month course. Our rate of attrition was already impressive.
Within the first couple of days, we were amazed at the amount of information being thrown at us. Fortunately, the system only allowed us to know as much as was necessary about the following week’s training. It was agreed by Dave and Chris that, what was being referred to as ‘basic electronics’ theory would not have been out of place on the syllabus of the technician course. I was suddenly very glad not to have opted for the Radio Technicians course. Andy agreed.
Morse code was something that I had always associated with war movies, secret agents and to a lesser degree the Scout movement. Typing required a little more dexterity and a couple of us managed to catch on with some difficulty. We had been told that we would get the hang of it and that was good enough for us. There were many more subjects, but Morse, typing and electronics theory were the main worries.
Some of the days were interesting, the time flew by and the training was enjoyable, but there were times when it felt like somebody was turning the clock back; regularly.
At the end of the first week, we were told that we were no longer confined to camp. We would be allowed to go out over the weekend, so, as would be expected, morale was high. I had no interest in heading home for the weekend. Glasgow could wait.
Ross Campbell said he intended going home to Glasgow. Mark McAllindon, also a Glaswegian agreed with me that it was too far to travel, for what would amount to a visit of a day and a half. Ken Rowan, a ginger-haired lad with glasses and a serious issue with acne sat quietly listening. He said that he was going home at every opportunity. He was from Lincoln, so would get home easily in a short time. I wasn’t too keen on him, so I was happy to know he’d be gone for the weekend.
Friday, 9th January 1970
Andy Munro asked me if I’d like to go to Nottingham with him for our first free week-end, but as tempting as the offer was, I declined. I told him I simply wanted some time on my own and he happily suggested that there would be other weekends. My sole intention for my first free weekend was to relax.
I wrote a letter to my parents and to Eva, a girl who was two years younger than me, but had stolen my heart when I was still at junior school. We had never been any more than childhood friends, but when I left home she asked me if we could write, and I agreed.
I didn’t drink alcohol regularly when I started at Garats Hay, so I finished my Friday night by going to the NAAFI for a sandwich and a brew.
The cafeteria and the bar were adjoining and whilst I enjoyed my own company I looked around and noted that there were several people on their own. It didn’t strike me as strange until later when I was back in the accommodation. It was the end of my first week of training, so for me to be on my own didn’t seem unusual. When I had looked around the ‘loners’ in the NAAFI, they didn’t look like any of the new intake. I thought it unusual that guys that had been in training for several months should be sitting on their own.
Friday, 16th January 1970
At lunchtime, I was once again asked by Andy if I’d like to join him for a weekend in Nottingham, and on this occasion I accepted. This time I decided that there would be other weekends to be on my own.
During Basic Training at Catterick I had seen a photo of Louise, Andy’s 16-year-old sister. It had been a black and white image taken in a photo booth, but I remembered she had shoulder length dark hair and beautiful eyes.
As we headed to Nottingham on the bus, I was looking forward to seeing Louise in the flesh, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. She had plenty of flesh and in all the right places. She was every bit as pretty as her photo had promised, she stood 5′ 7” and was very well-built for a 16 year old girl.
Her ample chest ensured that she stood out from the competition in more ways than one, as well she knew. I never did find out if she wore a mini skirt that day because Andy was bringing me home for the weekend, but I appreciated the gesture. From the moment we were introduced she held my attention.
It wasn’t hard because when there was nobody else in the room she would uncross and re-cross her legs. At first I didn’t think she noticed me looking, but when she stared straight at me smiling whilst performing the same routine, even I knew I was being sent a message. She enjoyed my discomfort as much as I was enjoying the view up her skirt.
Apart from Louise the other members of the family were Andy’s mum and dad and his 15 year old brother Phil. The weekend went well, and until that visit to Nottingham I had little experience of drinking alcohol. I went to a local lounge bar with Andy and Louise and had a couple of pints of the local ale. I reckoned that if I took it easy I would come to no harm. Naive or what?
Monday 19th January 1970
Ross Campbell didn’t return from his trip to Glasgow until 07:30. Following our second week-end of freedom we all applied ourselves with renewed vigour to the training. We were told that with the exception of a rare weekend guard duty we would have no week-end restrictions so we were happy.
Ross spent most of the day trying to fight the urge to sleep. He was taken to one side and one of the instructors had a quiet word. Afterwards Ross confided in me that he had been told to stay local on some weekends because the travelling would affect him. He told me he would continue to head home to Glasgow. The advice from the instructors had been free.
Unlike some of the other trainees I didn’t spend my nights in the bar. Due to the nature of the course we were unable to do much in the way of revision in the evenings, and a couple of the guys dealt with the pressure by having a few drinks.
It was one evening in the NAAFI cafeteria that Pete Long, a 24-year-old, came up the idea of using the gym in the evening. He had spent all his early working life in the building trade and a lot of his free time as a civilian had been spent in the local gym. He was no stranger to the environment and his muscles had muscles.
Thanks to Pete, and the back-up of the Squadron PTI, a group of six of us started regularly attending the gym in the evenings. We had all begun to realise that the trade training was never going to get easier; only slightly harder. The evenings in the gym saw some of us playing badminton, weight-training, boxing, and learning to use the trampoline. The boxing to be more accurate was ‘sparring’ with Pete, but it was a good work-out.
By my third visit to Nottingham with Andy, my relationship with Louise blossomed. Andy went his own way with his mates from the local football team, leaving me and Louise in the lounge. I was about to order our third drink when my newly found girl whispered in my ear.
She said: “Is it true what you said earlier, about not having a girlfriend?”
“Yes,” I said, “before I joined up I spent most of my free time studying accounts or going out cycling.”
“So did you finish with your previous girlfriend when you left to join the Army?”
“I’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“What about sex?” she said and placed a hand on my thigh.
I felt my face burning, so I shrugged as I picked up my pint.
The slender fingers slipped further up my thigh which had a direct effect on the fit of my underwear.
She leaned close so I could taste her sweet breath. “Don’t have another beer after that one Jim.” She lifted her purse and stood. “I’ll be right back.”
We left the bar and strolled arm in arm for about 20 minutes until we arrived at a public park. It was a pleasant evening but there were few people around, most of them being at the local disco or in the city. As we walked on and through some woods, Louise stopped, turned and pressed her lips to mine.
Up until that point I could have pretended to have had some sexual experience, but I had none whatsoever, so when her hot, moist, tongue explored my mouth it took about ten seconds before my zipper was tested to the limits of its endurance.
We walked on again, albeit I was now walking with a strange sensation and an urgent need. When we arrived at a small building with a porch and a couple of wooden benches I was ushered to sit beside my 16-year-old seductress.
Tongues and fingers explored for a short while; hers under control and mine in a frenzy of discovery. The more urgently I fondled, the greater became her control of the situation. When she produced the small pack of condoms and looked at me from under long, dark lashes I was a lost cause.
I looked out across the moonlit cricket ground as she helped to tug my trousers down, but she assured me we’d be unseen, and then she kissed me so deeply that I didn’t care anymore. When I thought back to it later, it occurred to me that it took longer for her to squeeze the condom onto me than it did for me to use it.
Clumsy would be a kind description of my antics as I climbed into position over her. Those luscious lips locked on mine, my eager manhood slipped into her furnace, and I must have lasted a little over two minutes. I didn’t so much thrust into her; she simply sucked me in between her succulent thighs. She held me in position for a short while afterwards.
“Well,” she whispered, “I think we’ll have to get in some more practise.”
At that time I didn’t know that Louise figured that all men should be ‘used’. I would find out about that and other things, later; much later.
In my office job back in Glasgow, I had gone from £4 per week when I started, to a princely £5 per week at the end of two years in 1969. It was average for an unqualified office junior in that type of work at that time. Office-work was the task; slave labour was the rates.
My pay during basic training had been less than £3 per week. The rises would be, on completion of basic training, on reaching 17-and-a-half years of age, completing each level of training, and reaching 18-years-old. Each stage would arrive very slowly for me, but the pay rises could be substantial.
In February I got a pay rise, and then in April, as I started my fourth month of training I got another pay rise. I thought life could not get any better than this. Up until February I’d been paid £15 per week, but then it went to £20. At the end of April it went up to £30. I was rich. As a trainee, my pay was matched to which level I’d attained, but it was also based on my age.
Friday, 22nd May 1970
An imbalance had occurred in my world at some indeterminate time in May, but it was to be brought clearly to my notice. Although I felt I had been working as hard, if not harder than ever, I became one of the students that had to attend extra trade training in the evenings.
Three people on my course were already attending a two-hour typing session on three nights a week. When I was taken in for a chat with the Chief Instructor, Major Reid, it was suggested that I should join the others on extra training. This directly affected the regular sessions in the gym, because two of the other lads on extra training were members of the group that worked-out with us in the gym.
On the up side, I was told that I was one of the best on the course at receiving Morse code. Surely not, I remember thinking – me above average at something. Wow. I wasn’t brilliant at sending with my little Morse key, but I was getting there, slowly.
When it came to transcribing Morse code by hand I was totally at ease as the speeds were increased. I could listen and write the results of the blips and beeps at about 35 words per minute. My natural handwriting style was copperplate which was the natural style to use for such a task.
My issue like the other guys, was one of dexterity, or more accurately, lack of it. Earphones on my head and typewriter at the ready I always started well, but by the time I’d been typing the incoming code for more than 15 minutes my brain turned to mush.
I told myself that there would be drawbacks. I had made it through Catterick. I would make it through this. The money might not help, but it was a nice bonus. I was able to write and tell my mother to stop sending me money every week. I knew she could ill afford it.
I set off to Nottingham with Andy for the weekend. On the bus journey he asked how things were going with his sister and without going into detail I told him we were very fond of each other. He laughed and winked before telling me she’d had boyfriends since she was 14. I was too naive to consider the implications of such news, plus, I was looking forward to my regular few minutes of heaven on that Friday evening and the Saturday.
Over the weeks I’d been visiting Louise she had managed to talk me into going to the disco after we’d had a drink in the lounge bar. I had never been one for dancing, but it was fun, and I was all out to impress my girl. Whilst I sat with Louise and two friends of hers, Andy was at a long table on the other side of the room with a few members of the football team.
At one stage after a couple of pints and one or two dances I went to the toilets. I was standing at the urinal staring straight ahead at the tiled wall when the door opened and a youth with long dark brown hair came in. He was wearing a leather jacket and jeans, and took up position at the only other urinal.
Just prior to my companion entering the toilet I had been gazing at the tiled wall and wondering how much longer I was going to last in training. I had a gut feeling that the task was slipping away from me. For some strange reason that didn’t worry me as much as the thought that I’d have to leave Loughborough and I wouldn’t be able to visit Louise as often.
“Hey,” the greasy youth said, “aren’t you the Scottish guy that’s seeing Andy Munro’s sister?”
“Yeah,” I said as I turned and glanced at him. He was about my age, or possibly even a year younger. He was grinning like an idiot and shaking his head.
I said: “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Wrong,” he said and laughed. “There’s nothing wrong mate, but be careful you don’t catch anything from her.” He laughed again. “She’s a right fucking slag.”
I pulled up my zipper with my right hand and then used it behind the greasy head to smash the guy’s face into the tiles. I moved away from him and prepared to follow up; my fists clenched and all my worries creating enough frustration and anger to punch him senseless.
“Fuck-,” he said as he staggered back from the urinal, with piss dripping down his jeans. “You’ve fucking had it mate,” he said and wiped blood from his forehead. He backed off to the door. “You should have stayed on the other side of that Adrian’s Wall.”
“It’s Hadrian’s Wall, you thick bastard,” I said and stepped forward, glaring at him.
He pushed the door open and left as another guy was entering. I washed my hands and set off back to the disco, but as I walked along the short corridor I was met by the guy I had injured and he had two leather-clad mates standing behind him.
“Car park,” the injured cretin said. “We’re gonna kick fuck out of you, you Jock bastard.”
I was still trying to work out a plan when the door opened behind them and Andy appeared with four of the other football team members.
Andy said: “Everything okay Jim?”
“No,” I said. “Apparently these three guys are gonna kick fuck out of me.”
By this time the three leather boys had turned and noted the change in odds.
“Nah,” Andy said, “I think they’re going out now to cool off and fuck off.”
“We’re not leaving yet,” my adversary said.
One of the footballers, a broad-shouldered hulk, pushed past Andy and pointed a finger at the door. “You three fuck off out, get on your mopeds and fuck off.”
When the junior bikers left I bought all my rescuers a pint and they had a laugh about the incident. One of the guys explained that there were normally about a dozen ‘greasers’ at the disco, but for a change there were only those three. When I told them what had happened they advised that the next time I should make sure I leave the other guy unconscious.
Even with alcohol to numb my common sense I didn’t think I could beat somebody until they were unconscious. What the greaser had said wasn’t going to make me doubt Louise, but I had no doubt I would tackle him again if need be.
I left the place shortly after with Louise, and to explain my delay said that I’d been chatting with somebody. It was close enough to the truth.
Friday, 5th June 1970
‘Ossie’ Oswald was taken out of training at the end of the day having failed his second progress test in a row. He was added to the staff in the guardroom. Whilst he had done all he could, including extra training sessions, he was falling too far behind on more than one subject. There was to be a Military Proficiency Course (MPC), organised in the camp sometime in August. It was suggested that he could attend if he wished, and since it meant a useful qualification, he agreed.
Being taken out of training was hard enough on Ossie and the temporary position in the guardroom suited him well enough. That was easy. The hardest thing to bear was the move into a different room; in a different accommodation block.
All of us on the course were feeling the strain at the point when Ossie left and his removal from training did temporarily spur some people on to greater effort. I was amongst them and so was my best mate, Andy Munro. Like me, he was able to type, but not at the required speed.
Friday, 12th June 1970
Andy was interviewed and told that even with extra training he was not making headway. Instead of hanging around in Loughborough, he requested TRA to be a Driver. I reminded him that there were other radio trades, but he said he would be content to do something easy. It seemed he was physically fit, but the fight had been knocked out of him mentally. He went home for the weekend and the following week set off to Catterick to commence his new course.
During the period of uncertainty, rather than go to Nottingham for the weekend, I was intent on spending my weekends at Loughborough to do extra training. I was giving it the best effort I could. There were certain areas of the training which could only be covered within the Training Wing, which was in the compound and therefore totally out of bounds over the weekend. Unfortunately for me and two other guys, it was these areas that were creating the most problems for us.
It came as no surprise when we were joined by two more students after the regular progress tests. The tests had started at the end of the first four weeks, continued every four weeks since then and seemed to rattle the confidence of even the best of the students.
Friday, 17th July 1970
The Chief Instructor sent for me, and Pete Long. If I was honest with myself I had known for some time that my days were numbered. I had given everything I had and managed at one stage to get back on level with the programme. Typing speed once again became a barrier for me as the training intensified. An interview on a Friday became one of those things that nobody ever wanted to be involved in. On a rare occasion a student would be relegated to the next course, but our issues were quite clearly not going to be improved by taking us back a couple of weeks in training.
As had happened with Ossie and others, we were offered the opportunity to attend the MPC which would be starting within a couple of weeks. It meant that I would leave Loughborough with at least one qualification, so I accepted without hesitation.
Pete Long had seen the way things were shaping up and he’d prepared a course of action that nobody else had even begun to suspect. Within a matter of 48 hours the paperwork was processed to allow him to DbyP. It was going to cost Dave £100 to pay for his own discharge from the Army, but, being switched on to opportunity – he had secured himself a new position. One week after leaving, Pete started work with a local fitness centre.
Monday, 3rd August 1970
The MPC was planned to take up the first two weeks of August and it involved all the personnel from our course and the next course after ours. The difficulty of becoming a Spec Op was made clear to us when the MPC started and we assembled at SHQ.
Between the two Spec Op training courses there should have been 28 students in attendance. Due to the numbers that had failed and moved on, there were only 16 of us.
For any of us to get the chance to gain this qualification, it was an opportunity not to be missed. The MPC qualification would later be recognised as an aid to gaining promotion irrespective of trade.
The subjects included physical fitness, weapon handling, NBC, map reading, first aid, drill, and an assortment of individual sessions to test initiative. One part of the course that everybody was looking forward to was a 24-hour Escape and Evasion exercise.
Training was completed on the same subjects that we had all done in basic training, but it was only after the first two days that we realised why we were enjoying it so much. We were going a little deeper into all the subjects, and we were being spoken to like people with more than one brain cell. We were expected to know a certain amount.
Week one came to a less than perfect finish because of one man not paying attention to the instructors. Alan ‘Jonah’ Jones, one of the guys who had been doing well on our course didn’t listen closely enough during the death-slide demonstration. The death-slide itself was the final obstacle on the assault course.
For Jonah, as he was aptly called, it was the final obstacle during his stay in Loughborough. His body swung from side to side as he began the rapid descent down the rope. Unfortunately, he misjudged the point of impact and he landed awkwardly. Amidst much screaming and swearing he was stretchered away to the Medical Centre, then to the local hospital. Following X-rays, it was discovered that he had dislocated his left shoulder and fractured his left leg.
He was advised not to book himself on any ski-ing holidays. Jonah decided not to return to training at Loughborough, because it would have meant starting all over again which he couldn’t face. We all sympathised with that train of thought.
Some weeks later, Jonah put his typing ability to good use. He left hospital and got himself enrolled on a Clerk’s Course. Unsurprisingly, he passed with flying colours and was then posted to Cyprus. A bitter blow – I don’t think so!
The remainder of us completed the MPC. Those who were still able to continue with Spec Op training did so, whilst a few of us left and headed back to Catterick.
We had been assured that we would attend individual interviews and given options before we had to decide on our own intentions. I was saddened to leave Loughborough, but none of us were saddened to leave the intensive training.