Friday 15th April 1977
Following our wonderful break from reality, our plans went to pieces on our return. Due to the airline cabin crew industrial action, Avril was delayed by four days and flew back to Northern Ireland on 8th April. I was unable to get a direct flight to West Berlin.
I went to a local Army Careers Office and had them send a message to my unit to let them know my position regarding travel. When I eventually took the opportunities offered, I went by train from Glasgow to London, and flew from London to Cologne, before catching a connecting flight to West Berlin.
Thanks to the way my journey had been mapped out for me, I arrived late in the evening. I had a meal and a couple of beers. I told JW how everything had gone and he was genuinely pleased.
JW said, “What happened regarding the argument you had with that new NCO before you left?”
“I was pulled in by the Sergeant Major and told to tread carefully. I was lucky.”
“Don’t worry, nobody has been talking about it, but I was wondering.”
“I’ve got responsibilities now, mate. I have to stay on the straight and narrow.”
Monday 18th April 1977
My working uniform was in good order, and I went downstairs to attend the morning parade. Immediately afterward, Sgt Jones called me into the office.
“Welcome back,” he said. “I understand you had problems getting back.”
“Yes, Sarge. I was offered a flight to different airports in West Germany, and they said I’d have to make my own arrangements from there, or I could have a direct flight to East Berlin. I explained why I couldn’t fly into the east. I told the airline I was staying put until they arranged travel all the way here.”
“Well, I’m sorry to say, the man upstairs has told me you’ve to be charged for absence. I don’t know the whys and wherefores, so you’ll be expected at the Squadron Commander’s office at nine o’clock.”
“My intention to stay out of trouble didn’t last long.”
“Hey, I’m sure it will be okay when you explain the circumstances.”
“I feel like I’m being bloody stitched up, Sarge.”
He shook his head. “Before you go, I had a call from the SQMS. He told me how pleased he was with your work in his stores the week before you went on leave.”
“Thanks, Sarge. If a job is worth doing, as they say.”
“Well, you bloody impressed the SQMS, because he can be a grumpy bastard.”
I reported upstairs to the SSM’s office, and he read out the charge of absence. I told him what had happened, and he asked me to save it for the OC’s office.
I stood in front of the desk and listened to the opening phrase I’d heard so many times before. The Squadron Commander read out the charge.
“You are charged under Section … of the Army Act 1955, in that you … on the ….”
When he finished his recital, I tried to defend myself by saying I only had so much control over the available means of transport to get back. As I spoke, I had the feeling the system was going to win again, but nothing could have prepared me for what he told me.
“Faulkner, you have several years of service, so I’d expect more effort from you.” He glanced at the notes in front of him. “A young soldier who had just completed training had the same problems, and he managed to get here inside two days.”
“Perhaps he set off from London, or somewhere in the south of England, Sir,” I said.
“No, Faulkner,” the officer said with a smirk. “The young man in question is from Glasgow. He had the same offers of transport the airline offered you a few days ago, but he took the chances to get here on time.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had been dropped in the shit by some guy I never knew existed. The bloody world was conspiring against me.
The Squadron Commander went over my history and told me that according to my records I had been given various punishments, but there was only one suitable way of dealing with this case. In his mind, although I arrived two days later than the other lad, I was technically a week late getting back, irrespective of the airline strike action.
“We don’t have a suitable guardroom in the Stadium Barracks,” the officer said. “You will, therefore, be detained for seven days in the guardroom at Wavell Barracks, under the care of the Ist Battalion, Welsh Guards.”
To say I was stunned would have been a massive understatement. Restriction of Privileges would have been reasonable, or I could understand a hefty fine, but fucking detention. I was going to jail, and not just any old jail. I was going to spend a week with the fucking Welsh Guards. Shitty death!
To put one of our personnel in jail, the choices were: the Welsh Guards, the Paras, or the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I didn’t fancy any of them as hosts.
I knew I would be accompanied until I was safely locked up behind bars. How did I know the drill? I had been the driver or the escort on a few of these occasions. Here I was, finally the star of the show. Bollocks.
I had to wait outside the Sergeant Major’s office for an escort. Cpl Thomson came along the corridor.
“Hi, Jim,” he said. “I’ve just heard, mate. I’ll be your escort.”
“I hope I haven’t taken you away from anything important, Ian.”
“Don’t worry about it. Okay, you know how it goes. We’ll head to your room and get all your kit packed, and then we’ll go to the stores to have a kit check and collect or pay for any missing uniform or equipment.”
The only deficiencies in my kit were, a towel and a pair of socks. The SQMS gave me the kit.
“Don’t worry about paying for them, mate,” he said. “I’ll fix the numbers.” He paused. “You be careful in there, and remember, they probably don’t like fucking Signals guys.” He laughed.
“I’ll see you in a week,” I said and picked up my Army-issue suitcase and kit bag.
I went out to the transport with Ian and found Eddie Hart standing with a frown.
“Cheer up, Eddie,” I said cheerfully. “You’d think it was you goin’ inside.”
“It’s fuckin’ wrong, mate,” he said ruefully. “The system is shit.”
“I’m a problem, Eddie, and the system doesn’t like problems, and it shits on them from a great height. In that way, the problem gets sorted, or it goes away.” I paused and glanced at a bemused Cpl Thomson before adding, “I need to get sorted, cos I’m not fucking going away.”
They both laughed, so I continued to put a brave face on it. When these guys arrived back in the Stadium without me, I knew there would be lots of tongues wagging. I wanted a positive message going back when I was locked up.
When we arrived at Wavell Barracks, I heaved my baggage from the transport to the guardroom. I stood to attention while Cpl Thomson told the Regimental Policeman (RP) who I was, why I was there, and for how long.
The Welsh Guards RP was a sergeant. He said he’d received a phone call earlier. He looked me up and down as if I was a piece of shit and turned to address Ian Thomson.
“Has he been searched, Corporal?”
Ian glanced sideways at me and lied. “Yes, he was searched by me before we left the Stadium.”
The RP Sergeant turned to me again. “You, get your kit upstairs and use the remaining bed-space in Cell 3. Unpack your kit, and stand by your bed, while you wait for further instructions.”
“Yes, Staff,” I responded with gusto, and without a second glance at anybody else, I was gone, making my baggage look light. Whatever their actual rank, I remembered that the appropriate way to address RPs was “Staff”, if you were a prisoner.
As I made my way up the stairs, I remember thinking I’d only have to take this shit for seven days. Fuck it, I could do that in a week ….
When I arrived in Cell 3, I felt the eyes of the three occupants boring into me before I had set down my bags. I opened my No. 2 Dress jacket, and from the waistband of my trousers, I pulled three packs of Benson and Hedges. I addressed the biggest and ugliest of my new roommates.
“Where do we stash these?”
He produced what I assumed was a smile, and said, “Toilets, second trap, grille up near the corner of the wall.”
I opened my suitcase and emptied my kit bag onto the bed to make it look like I was unpacking. I went to the toilet and stashed my contraband cigarettes. I returned to the cell.
Ugly said, “We heard we had a Signals guy coming in for a week. We reckoned you’d be a fucking wimp.”
I dropped the shirt I was folding and turned to speak to him directly. “Just because we have a cap badge that looks like the Interflora man doesn’t make us all fuckin’ wimps, mate.”
“Okay, boyo, keep your fucking hair on.”
“Keep in mind, that some of us get good money for wearing that badge.”
These were not circumstances in which we’d all be shaking hands and exchanging addresses, so I decided to take things one step at a time.
“What are you in here for then, mate?’ Ugly said.
“Seven days absence. I couldn’t get back after my leave ended.”
“Seven days detention’s a bit steep for seven days absence.”
“They also took into consideration, that I was on a three-month warning order for striking an NCO.” I stretched the truth a bit, but I knew it would be good for my street cred’.
“Well done, mate,” Ugly said. The other two laughed and nodded their approval. I felt that as much as I was average in build, I’d created the impression I wouldn’t be fucked around. Ugly seemed the type.
During unpacking and organising my uniform, I asked a few questions and listened for useful detail. Ugly, otherwise known as Gareth, was in for twenty eight days for assault, which didn’t surprise me. The overweight, fair-haired one was Bryn, who was serving fourteen days for drunkenness, and the third guy, Louis was in for going absent. Unlike me, he headed off to the UK for a month when he wasn’t actually on leave. He was picked up from home by the RMP. Louis was serving twenty eight days.
Before lunchtime I was given a 100% kit check, then told how to lay my kit out for inspection. The other prisoners told me that irrespective how well-behaved I was, the RP staff didn’t like the Royal Signals. Unfortunate all around, I thought, but I’d keep it in mind.
At 13:00, the four of us were marched to the cookhouse in single file, at the pace generally used for prisoners, which was twice as rapid as the regular pace. To deal with the speed, I had to use a six-inch step instead of the natural twelve-inch step. It was fucking hard, and I heard the others behind me sniggering.
“Fucking shut up,” the RP NCO shouted at them. They shut up. I grinned between panting breaths.
As we ate, a couple of the others tried to find out what we’d be doing in the afternoon. The inquiries met with the same reaction as the sniggering. My fellow inmates were members of this regiment, so it seemed, no matter who you were, if you were serving time, you were a piece of shit. This confirmed my assessment of the look I’d been given on arrival.
Following a meal which I hadn’t particularly enjoyed we were marched back to the guardroom and told to get into our overalls and work boots. The Welsh Guards standard for ‘working’ boots was the same standard I would have strived for in my best parade boots. I could see I’d have some work ahead of me in the evenings.
We were marched off to a large hangar and given the brief by a bossy little shit of an RP.
“Move all those wooden crates from that end of the building to the other end, and stack them neatly.” The distance was about fifty metres across the hangar.
“How many are there?” Louis said as if it made any difference.
The RP grinned. “Nine hundred, boyo.” He went off to sit on a crate, light up a smoke, and watch us work. The only time he spoke was when he heard any banter. He used the standard Welsh Guards phrase to keep us quiet – ‘fucking shut up’. I couldn’t help noticing the ing was always clearly pronounced.
I thought with a hint of humour, it’s because you boyos are Welsh – iznit.
I was the smallest of the four of us, but I worked as hard as any of them and didn’t stop. This didn’t prevent the guy in charge from continually telling me to make sure I didn’t stop moving. In other circumstances, I’d never tire of punching the bastard.
It took us the entire afternoon to move the crates. We were marched back to the guardroom, where we showered, changed into fresh uniform and were marched off to tea. After the evening meal, we were locked in the upstairs area, which allowed us access to our cell, the toilets, and showers.
According to Gareth, we’d be checked a couple of times before “lights out’, but as long as the RPs thought we were working on our kit, they were happy enough and wouldn’t bother us. I laid out my boots, polish, duster, cotton wool balls, and a polish tin lid of clean water. I kept it all handy so I could pick up something as soon as I heard anybody on the stairs.
I went into the toilets and fetched down a pack of contraband cigarettes and my lighter. We all sat by the barred, open window which faced out towards a couple of blocks of German flats. Most of the smoke went straight out because the windows were big.
I’d never been particularly good at bulling boots, and when I looked at the shine on the toecaps and heels of the other guys’ boots, I wondered how I was going to get mine there. I tried to console myself with the thought that these people were in a Guards regiment. These standards were what was expected of them.
Gavin nodded to Bryn and indicated my boots. My shitty, dull boots, which I’d been working on for an hour. Bryn produced a candle, a spoon and a tin of beeswax. He gave me a lesson in burning the wax onto the surface of the boots. When I returned to working with spit and polish again, I saw a result immediately.
“Thanks, Bryn,” I said, and turned to nod to Gareth. He returned the nod with a crooked smile. I knew without his consent, I’d have been left floundering with my meagre efforts. I felt accepted.
On that first night, I slid to the floor of the shower, and for a while felt sorry for myself. I’d had a shit day, and I had to endure this for a week. The only good thing so far was, the other three didn’t follow me to the shower and brutally expand my arsehole. For a week, I’d have three morons for company, there’d be no privacy, and there would be hard work during the days and bullshit in the evenings.
When I stood up in the shower for a final rinse, I realised I’d have to get into the right frame of mind to get through this. To many, it might not have been hardship, but it was to me.
On Tuesday morning, half an hour after an early breakfast, and a kit check, we were marched back to the big hangar and had to put the hundreds of wooden crates back where we’d moved them from. By Wednesday afternoon, I felt I’d blended in as well as I could. During the daily grind, I told myself I’d look back at this one day and laugh.
I could hardly wait.
It was shortly after dinner on Thursday, when I was called to the principal area of the guardroom. As it turned out, I was sweeping the stairs, and I was about three steps away from the front desk. I turned and jumped to the floor, coming to attention with plenty of noise. I stood with my brush at my side in a smart manner, and screamed out, “Staff!” My voice echoed around the guardroom.
The RP Sergeant found out early in the week, it didn’t matter how crappy the task was or, how badly I was spoken to, I would keep it together. His recognition of this was important to me.
“Sergeant Williams is here from your unit to make sure everything is okay.”
Of all the people to be on duty from our unit, it had to be the asshole technician who fucking hated me. He turned to look at me properly, not having recognised me.
“24165999 Signalman Faulkner. J., serving seven days detention for absence. I have no requests or complaints. Staff.”
Sgt Williams took a breath and gazed at me as if I’d just walked down the ramp of a flying saucer.
He said, “Is everything okay … Faulkner?”
“Yes, Sergeant Williams. I’m serving my detention to the best of my ability.” In my peripheral vision, I saw the Welsh Guards RP Sergeant raise an eyebrow.
Sgt Williams turned, met the other man’s gaze, and nodded. “Thank you.”
The RP Sergeant said, “Carry on, Faulkner.”
“Yes, Staff,” I shouted unnecessarily and stepped back to where I was to continue sweeping the stairs. I didn’t hear the end of their conversation because I’d headed upstairs to fetch a mop and bucket.
When I finished mopping the stairs, the RP Sergeant called me to the desk.
“You don’t like that fucker with the handlebar moustache do you, Faulkner?”
“Does it matter, Staff?” I asked, trying to hold back a smile.
“No, it doesn’t matter, son,” he said and grinned. “I don’t fucking like him, and I don’t even fucking know him.” He nodded toward the stairs, and I picked up my cleaning kit and disappeared.
Friday 22nd April 1977
When the RP Sergeant called up the stairs for me, it was mid-morning. I glanced at the others in the cell, and to a man, they grinned. I’d taken more than my fair share of shit, but from day one, I’d resigned myself to deal with it. I arrived at the bottom of the stairs in a few seconds and stood to attention in front of the counter.
The big Welsh RP Sergeant glared at me. “It’s unfortunate that you came in here when you did, son, ‘cos it means we can’t release you on Saturday or Sunday.” He paused and grinned again. “Rules, you see.”
I felt my stomach turn at the thought of two extra days, but I maintained a deadpan expression and remained silent.
“It falls on me to decide if you stay here until Monday.”
I didn’t flinch but held his inscrutable gaze.
He said, “I’ve called your people, and told them to pick you up today.” He paused. “I said, if they can sign you out by twelve noon, you’re free to go.”
I didn’t move my head but glanced at the big guardroom clock. 11:15. Fuck.
“Go and pack your kit, son,” he said and smiled. “If the bastards let you down, I’ll organise a truck to get you to the Stadium. You’ll be out of here by twelve.”
“Thank you, Staff.”
My kit was already neatly folded, and it took me twenty minutes to change into my No. 2 Dress and pack everything else. At least I’d go back wearing my hat again. Strangely, I’d missed being without headdress for a week.
I nodded towards the toilets. “There are plenty of smokes still in there, lads.”
“Transport, for Signalman Faulkner,” was bellowed up the stairs.
Unexpectedly, Gareth stood and shook my hand. “You’re okay for a fucking Signaller. All the best, Jim, mate.”
The other two guys shook my hand, and I bid them all farewell.
I was greeted by a beaming Sgt Williams when I got to the main desk. I nodded at him and put down my kit bag and suitcase.
The RP Sergeant reached a hand across to give me a firm handshake. “Best I don’t fucking see you in here again, Faulkner.”
“You won’t be, Staff.”
He gave me the first sign of a natural smile I’d seen from him.
When we got out to the VW minibus, I was pleased to see it was JW in the driver’s seat.
“Hi mate,” JW said. “Welcome back.”
“I’m looking forward to getting back to work, and bloody normality.”
Both JW and Sgt Williams laughed, and within seconds we were out of Wavell Barracks, and on our way back to the Stadium which would take about half an hour.
I reported to the troop office on my arrival back at the Stadium.
Sgt Jones said, “You survived then?”
“I did, Sarge,” I said.
“Okay, mate. Get your kit up to your room, change into working dress, get a bite to eat, and we’ll see you on the afternoon parade.”
“Wilco, Sarge.” I picked up my bags and went on my way.
My afternoon went as expected. Some of the guys didn’t know what to say, while others took the piss. I didn’t care what anybody said. I was glad to be back. During my week inside, I’d written a letter to Avril, to explain where I was, and why. I emphasised not to worry because by the time she got the letter I’d be out and all would be back to normal.
A ‘happy hour’ was organised to be taking place in the troop briefing room downstairs, starting at half past four. It was Friday, there were things to celebrate, and I relished the thought of my first beer in a few days.
I figured after the week I’d just had, I could fight the urge to get totally wasted. When the lads were detailed to collect the beers, I paid for an extra crate. It was the right thing to do in my opinion.
When we went down to the briefing room in the cellar, I sat close to the door to make my presence less conspicuous. The guys all knew I was back so there would be no fuss. There were about twenty five of us with a bottle in our hands by the time the Troop Sergeant, and the Troop Commander came down.
Sgt Jones had a bottle thrust into his hand as he made his way around the tables in the small room. He squeezed himself into a seat between a couple of the lads and gave them as much good-natured abuse as they were giving him.
Captain Boswell, The Boss, had an opened bottle handed to him as he stepped through the doorway. He accepted the beer, looked around, and after a nod to me, he squeezed himself between me and JW.
The Boss was a ‘ranker’. He’d served his time and was promoted through the ranks as a regular squaddie. Having reached Warrant Officer I, he was an RSM for three years before being commissioned. A commissioned officer who has come up through the ranks was always more popular than the Sandhurst-trained model.
The officers produced by the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) were usually referred to as a ‘Rodney’, or a ‘Rupert’. Whether or not Daddy had been a general, the product of the RMAS always spoke as if they were to the manor born. Occasionally, an officer was likable early in his career, but only occasionally.
“Enjoying your freedom already, young Faulkner?” The Boss whispered.
“Yes, Sir,” I said. “I intend to keep my freedom.”
“You do realise I was responsible for you being given detention, don’t you?”
“I had my suspicions, Sir,” I said. “I had plenty of time to think things through. Did you have a motive, apart from teaching me a lesson?”
“I had two reasons,” he said and grinned. “Firstly, it was the only punishment you hadn’t already undergone in your career, and I did check up on your record.” He paused to take a drink. He turned to meet my gaze. “Second, and importantly, I wanted you to know what it felt like. If I’m going to recommend you for promotion, I want detention to be fresh in your mind. You might be less likely to make an arse of yourself again.”
“You’re sure I’m ready for a stripe now, Sir?” I whispered.
“You’re ready, mate. It might not be available until your next posting, which is next year, but by then, you and your young wife will have settled.”
“Thank you, Sir.’”
“There’s no need to thank me. When your wife arrives over here, keep your nose clean, and perform to the best of your ability. You might even surprise yourself.”
We clinked our bottles together and moved onto a general chat. He told me we as a troop had a lot of work ahead of us in the coming year, and he explained about some of it. For such a small unit, we played a part in everything of any consequence in Berlin.