200 Signal Squadron, Detmold
1961-2 Remembered

Clive Fletcher

I first donned uniform as a thirteen-year-old Army Cadet in Driffield, Yorkshire, in 1956; my father was stationed at the nearby RAF base. Two years later I joined the Junior Leaders Regiment, Royal Signals, Denbury Barracks, Newton Abbot in Devon; in those days you could join the Army straight from school at fifteen years old.

As Junior Signalmen we were taught the basics of operating radios of varying size, Morse code, NATO voice and Morse message procedures and the Phonetic Alphabet. Telephony included, Line Laying and repair, Field Telephony using the wartime Tele Hs, Js and the Ten Line Magneto Field Switchboard. We were also very usefully taught to type on Creed 7B Teleprinters, Signal Centre procedures, and Tape Relay operations. We were instructed and tested on OHMS Law, electricity and magnetism, the very essentials of telecommunications.

Despite having left school, academia still continued as we studied for the various levels of the Army Certificate of Education and the General Certificate of Education. By the time we 'passed out', we were trained soldiers, could operate most of the Royal Signals radio and telecommunications equipment, passed all or most of the Army Education requirements and were highly proficient at drill and turn out, and we were still only 17-1/2 years old.

Leaving the Junior Leaders I went to the Corps "Finishing School" at dear old Catterick Camp, Vimy Lines, 3 Training Regiment. Virtually trained in the Junior Leaders, I was soon awarded my A111 Telegraph Operators, (TG Ops), badge and now ready for my first posting. Telegraph Operators were trained to operate long distance radio communication at very high speed Morse, 25 words per minute, and also to man and operate Signals Centres, two trades in one.

Whilst patiently waiting at Catterick for my posting to come through I was sent to the Diplomatic Wireless Service (DWS) training centre at Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire, now the Government Communications Centre, for a Cipher Operators course, essential if you were being posted to a remoter part of the British Commonwealth and working closely with the Foreign Office, which at the time I didn't know I was going to be. It was at Hanslope Park that I was first introduced to Radio Teletype, Radio Modems and the sexily named cipher machine called the Rockex. The fantastic code breaking achievements made during the Second World War at Bletchley Park, just down the road, was still a closely guarded secret even in 1962.

A week later, I was duly informed that I had met the Diplomatic Wireless Service's requirements and would be posted to the Bahamas Signal Squadron. Next day I was duly kitted out with green tropical clothing and painfully all "jabbed-up" for my wonderfully exotic posting. However, two days before flying out my O.C. at Vimy Lines, Catterick, broke the sad news that I was now being posted to BAOR. I remember he did thoughtfully comment, "The Berlin Wall had just been built and it's all hands to the pumps." Also with a wry smile, he softened the blow by telling me, "Detmold is very handy for Hamburg where much sin and fun can be had on a weekend." So it was goodbye Kingston, Jamaica, Caribbean sunshine and all that cheap rum and Calypso. Life is such a bitch sometimes.

On the 22nd August 1962, so my Army Discharge Book tells me, I left a very gloomy Catterick Camp in Yorkshire for my first real posting to 200 Signal Squadron, who were then located at Hobart Barracks with 20 Armoured Brigade Group at Detmold, North Rhine Westphalia. The occupying British Army named this former Luftwaffe barracks, at the end of the Second World War, after the British tank warfare specialist Major-General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart KBE, CB, DSO, Royal Engineers. To keep things in the family, his son Brigadier Peter Hobart, formerly of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, was then the Brigade Commander.

The long journey to Germany started from Richmond Station, Yorkshire, and a railway station so well beloved by many a British soldier, to Parkstone Quay, Harwich in Essex, for the highly delightful overnight British Rail ferry trip to the Hook of Holland.

'Don't forget to take sick bags with you,' was the comforting advice our troop sergeant gave us as we boarded a coach at Catterick Camp for Richmond Station.

On arrival at Harwich you reported to the 'Movements Control Officer, who issued you with a ticket and a pass and you boarded the ferry under the watchful eye of the ship's Duty Warrant Officer, usually a Guards RSM nearing retirement. 'You can spend the sea trip bulling them boots up soldier! I shall inspect them when you disembark,' he snarled as you arrived at the top of the ships gangplank.

Arriving in the early hours of the morning at the Hook of Holland you were directed on to a military train, which dropped some of us off at Verden, home of 1st Signal Regiment at Caithness Barracks.

This long and very tedious journey was in fact the last time the Harwich to the Hook Ferry was used by the military. Silver City Airlines took over BAOR 'Trooping' from Manston (Kent) to Dusseldorf.

In those days you had to travel in full uniform and FSMO, Full Service Marching Order, which then consisted of, beret, worn very regimentally, overcoat, full Battle Dress including ammunition pouches and a water bottle, always full of water, they checked. Underneath all of this you wore a very uncomfortable hairy shirt with a woollen tie, which looked like something your maiden aunt had knitted for you after too many G&Ts. To complete our ensemble, very shiny and very highly bulled boots, immaculately blancoed Webbing Belt with Bayonet Holder and Gaiters. All your other military and civilian clothing had to be fitted into your '37 Pattern Webbing that included a large pack on your back, a small pack fitted underneath that and a kitbag over your shoulder. Fortunately we didn't have to carry a rifle as well. This was one excellent piece of good thinking by the newly formed Ministry of Defence, for as the long journey dragged on you often felt like shooting yourself rather than lugging all that heavy kit around.

Whilst at Verden, I spent three months taking my A2 TG Operators upgrade course and familiarisation on the R230/D11 radio system. Manufactured by Marconi, it was just starting to come into service. Another first for me was when the Marconi instructor said that the D11 was the British Army's "New Range", to differentiate it from the wartime 'legacy' radios; the term "Legacy Systems" is now in common use in modern Information Technology (IT).

Finally it was then on to 200 Squadron at Detmold. The living accommodation at Detmold was very good indeed; Hitler looked after his troops very well. Central heating, two men to a room, which was OK in those days, and a very large and well equipped cookhouse. It even beat the 'Sandhurst Blocks' at Catterick. Each morning, except Sundays, or if you were just coming off a night shift in the Signals Centre, the entire Squadron would be "fallen in" for "First Works Parade" at 0800 hours and, after a thorough inspection and the reading out of any new orders, we were then "fallen out" to our individual or team duties.

Our Squadron Sergeant Major, SSM, had a bit of a fetish about saluting and berets. He always maintained that a unit's discipline could be immediately judged by its standard of saluting and how correctly every member wore their beret. If he saw a soldier, of any rank, wearing his beret other than with "Jimmy" one inch above the left eye it became a "Wheehee." The sergeant major would call the miscreant to attention and the error of his ways pointed out to him. His non-regimental beret was then whipped of his head and, just like a discus, thrown into the air to the chorus of "Wheehee" by the others on parade. The wearing of the Queens beret bearing the Corp badge in an assortment of exotic styles like that of a recalcitrant French Foreign Legionnaire, French Tart or an elderly French onion seller on a bicycle, soon stopped.

Work for me in the squadron, consisted of relieving the Cipher and Teleprinter Operators in the Signal Centre and, on exercises, operating the 'New Range' C11/R234 radio sets for the Brigade's vital Divisional Forward Command Radio Network. For this we initially had Armoured Humbers, which were actually Second World War soft skin Humbers with thick armoured plating replacing the original lighter bodywork - supposedly for nuclear protection. They were fridges in the very cold German winters and greenhouses in the summer. The additional weight of the armoured plating on a soft-skin chassis had quite a dramatic effect on the vehicles steering and suspension and made it tremendous fun to drive on the right-hand side of the road in Germany with British-style right-hand steering. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, REME, had also thoughtfully, and with obvious great care, mounted the generator for charging up the radio's batteries on the left wing of the vehicle, totally blinding the left hand side of the road to the shorter driver which meant that if there wasn't a front passenger to guide the driver, he had to stand up, whilst in motion, to see if the left-hand side was clear. This additional weight also meant that when you wanted to drive in a straight line, you had to keep fifty percent right lock on the steering wheel to compensate for the heavy generator on the left wing; would never have passed an MOT today.

To keep inquisitive German civilians and Russian spies from driving into the back of us, the standard British Army trailer was attached at the back containing such vital necessities as our fuel, Compo rations and sleeping bags. Sleeping bags had only just come on regular issue for the Signals, and then they were ones that had been originally issued and used, or were surplus from the Korean War, 1950-53. Before that sleeping arrangements in the field were the blankets off your bed held together with large safety pins. The archaic practise of soldiers sleeping on Palliasses, mattress covers stuffed with straw and full of fleas, had only just been phased out; we actually used Palliasses in the Cadets and Junior Leader on our summer camps.

We all thanked God when the much-improved Saracens eventually arrived.

Some ten years later I was astonished to see on television our trusty old Armoured Humber, you somehow never forgot your first radio vehicles Army licence place number, now very unkindly renamed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a "Humber Pig." She was however now painted a rather fetching Admiralty Grey and very decently holding her own as fridges and other heavy objects were being hurled down at her from the Divis Flats in Belfast. Game old girl she was. Shame to think we are now, or have been, using what is left of her to shave with.

Our Brigade to Division Command radio vehicle contained two 'New Range' C11 Receivers and R234 Transmitters, one operational the other spare; well to listen to Radio Luxembourg actually. Both sets had Intercom Amplifiers fitted, which, when wired out using Don Ten cable to the Brigade Headquarters Command Vehicles, provided five telephone handsets and loud speakers which the Brigade Commander's operating staff used to speak and listen-in on the radio net.

For the technically minded, the C11/R210 set was mainly used for Corps, Divisional and Brigade command networks. Working in High Frequency, 2 to 16 MHz, it had Amplitude Modulation for voice transmission and hand-keyed Carrier Wave, CW, for Morse. The R210 was, on high power, a maximum 50-watt transmitter, which could be calibrated at 10 kHz intervals. For security it also had an in-built 100 Kc/s crystal calibrator which meant you could set (tune) the radio, within the limits of its frequency range, without radiating a signal from your aerial and giving away your geographical position to a listening enemy. In the right terrain, atmospheric conditions and a well-sited aerial, distances well in excess of 25 miles could be obtained on voice communication and 75 and more in CW, good old Morse. Power was provided by 24V battery, or 120/240V AC supply. As well as fitted in Armoured Fighting Vehicles, AFVs and Land Rovers, the C11 radio sets could also be parachute dropped in standard containers, carried by mule pack; they were in Borneo, and even manhandled. Suitably equipped they could also be used as a Rebroadcast Units.

One of the most annoying features of military radio communication in Northern Europe at that time was the illegal and indiscriminate use, mainly by Hull fishing trawlers, of very high-powered, T1154 model, ex-RAF wartime Lancaster Bomber radio sets which they used to communicate with their mothers, wives and girlfriends back home, who also had the same sets. So bad was their chatter at times that unplanned frequency changes would have to be ordered by Divisional Control. However, we did get our own back one day when before changing to the new frequency we heard one of the trawler skippers tell his wife, Nancy was her name, I shall never forget it, that, "owing to the sudden discovery of a shoal of Herring, (at a certain location,) we will not be coming home tonight, so see you about noon tomorrow in the pub for lunch." One of our operators, who shall be nameless to this day, immediately responded, "you should be very careful leaving your wife alone like that Skipper, last time that happened she was seen slipping into the Dock Superintendents office at nine o'clock at night every night whilst you were away at sea." Confused mutterings were heard coming from the trawler but we couldn't stay on the frequency any longer as we could hear Divisional Control calling us to change frequency on our other set. I still wonder whatever happened to Nancy or indeed the Dock Superintendent?

Our trusty, but awkwardly placed generator, did however provide us with many creature comforts in the field that not even the Brigade Commander enjoyed. With an abundant supply of electricity to hand and DC to AC converters, we could use electric shavers, electric kettles, toasters and electric frying pans; pity the Microwave cooker wasn't small enough then to be used in the field; I bet they are used today though? With civilian rations compensating our Compo we could eat like kings. Hot curries were naturally a firm favourite enlivened by a long-forgotten mysterious tradition of adding a whole packet of Spangles, Cherry ones, from the Compo rations. It was lost in the mists of time why Spangles were added to curries in the field, for they were boiled sweets made by Mars. Sometimes if the Brigadier had been up all night he would ask the duty radio operator if he could do him a boiled egg with toast. If I remember correctly, he liked a four-minute egg and lightly buttered toast cut corner to corner. To keep others from annoying us for our creature comforts and facilities we told them that we were a top-secret cipher unit and if they even dared approached our vehicle we had orders to shoot them dead on the spot and ask questions later. Well, our full strength Ghurkha curries made from the Compo tinned meat would have probably put them out of action for some considerable time anyway. The other benefit of our field catering was that we rapidly turned into quite decent cooks. If you didn't you got severely thrashed by the others in the radio crew if you gave them Gippy tummy in the freezing cold of the upper or lower Harz Mountains in Germany. More rice or Mango Chutney chaps!

The Garrison RSM, whose main duties on Exercises was to ensure the Brigade were properly concealed and camouflaged up, always, with impeccable timing managed to pop in just as our Chicken Tikka was nice and hot; tea and coffee was also always on the go. He was after all an old Desert Rat of Monty's Eighth Army and could eat and drink anything.

Our Squadron SSM was however a little concerned one day on an Exercise to discover the Squadron's Driver Electrician, one of the last National Servicemen, brazenly using a pink ladies hairdryer after he had been in the very welcome communal showers provided by the Mobile Bath and Laundry Unit, MB&LU, run by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, RAOC. A Royal Signals Driver Electrician's job in those days was to charge and change batteries and fuel up our generators. With his discharge from the Army now just a few weeks away our last National Serviceman was growing his hair long but tucking it discreetly under his beret. The SSM suspicions of him were to be proved entirely wrong when; on his discharge from his two-year plus six months compulsorily extended National Service, he returned to Detmold a few months later as assistant NAAFI manager and later married the much-older NAAFI manageress. He then relished calling the Garrison RSM 'Matey'. We did have the devilish idea of 'spoofing' a message stating that owing to an administrative error he was being retained in the Army for another six months owing to the deteriorating situation in BAOR; but we just couldn't be that cruel.

October 1961 saw the entire BAOR busily preparing for the very first 'Exercise Spearpoint', the largest military exercise and movement of troops and vehicles held in Germany since the end of the Second World War. The primary purpose of this, and many subsequent Spearpoint Exercises, was to give commanders and their staff practice in handling subordinate formations and units during a period of intensive fighting under both conventional and nuclear conditions. It was also a kind of psychological warfare and warning to the Soviets who had just built the Berlin Wall the previous June and nearly started World War Three. I seem to remember we were in Blue Team, the good guys, so we always won. The Brigades' Intelligence Officer, who, quite remarkably resembled one of Benny Hill's scoutmasters, briefed us before leaving camp. Looking around the room very furtively he said, "Keep a good lookout and report immediately any civilians or suspicious characters taking an unhealthy interest in us." He again looked around the room, put his fingers to his lips and whispered, "The Soviets will have their spies out you know." We mischievously made frequent reports of mysterious sightings but alas they usually turned out to be the local professional ladies from the various villages and towns we stopped at looking for business.

When the Exercise was over the Brigade Commander made a special visit to 200 Signals Squadron and lavished much praise on the high standard of communications he and his staff had enjoyed throughout the Exercise. He commended something like, "Those new radios you have that allow us in the Command Vehicles to talk on the radio just like a telephone made it so much easier for us. Jolly well done!'

I now often wondered what would have happened had the Soviets advanced on us for we were never issued with live ammunition. Sergeants and above swaggered around like John Wayne with 9mm pistols and lower ranks the trusty WW2 Sub Machine Gun, (SMG). In 200 Squadron we had decided that if the Russian did invade and we hadn't been issued with ammunition we would, in unison, shout out the names of our respective football teams in defiance. Accrington Stanley would really have had them foxed.

Life for young unmarried soldiers in BAOR could be very boring despite the many facilities provided within Hobart Barracks and, without a car, somewhat restricted in where, and how far we could travel. However, a REME vehicle mechanic I had befriended, he came from my hometown of Bognor Regis in Sussex, was lucky enough to purchase a trusty pre-war Volkswagen from his sergeant who was going back to the UK. Three of us in the Divisional Command Network team chipped in with my REME friend and we bought a quarter of the car each. Now we were free and our first outing was an in-depth, purely exploratory cultural weekend to Hamburg's famous Reeperbahn. It proved to be a very useful foray for the still very innocent.

One constant annoyance we had to endure as shift workers, was the Garrison RSM picking us up for 'being in civilian clothes during working hours.'

'No sir,' we would respectfully reply, 'we have been working all night in the Signals Centre.'

'I don't care who you are,' he retorted, 'I'm not having you lot mincing around my camp like out-of-work tarts, you make the place look like a holiday camp.'

Our SSM partly rescued the situation but Garrison RSMs will have their way and when in civvies in camp during working hours we had to wear collar and tie.'

We then purchased natty Dunn's brown hats as worn by officers and regularly received illicit salutes. I can still vividly remember the RSM standing on the guardroom veranda in an 'It Ain't Half Mum' pose shaking his head and shouting to the guards on the main gate not to offer us compliments, "There only bloody Signallers", as we doffed our hats to the sentry on the main gate and smartly walked out of camp in the afternoon into the town.

We were sometimes, and unexpectedly, called out on what were called "Crash Outs." These exercises were intended to practice the whole Brigade rapidly moving out of their permanent camps to secret locations in anticipation of a surprise attack by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies. World War Three we were told by Benny Hill's scoutmaster in great secrecy, "Would start with Warsaw Pact forces launching over a hundred and thirty tactical nuclear missiles and bombs to eliminate most of NATO's ground and air forces. This would then be followed by a massive ground offensive into West Germany and southern France to destroy Western Europe's political and communications centres. The Warsaw Pact troops, in very poorly designed NBC suits, would march over deadly radioactive landscapes and invade Nuremburg, Stuttgart and Munich, then bastions of West Germany. On the ninth day the Warsaw Pact troops, now suffering acute and terminal radiation sickness, would just have sufficient strength to take Lyon and south eastern France. Soviet reinforcements, equipped with superior NBC kit, would then enter the battle and continue the offensive towards the Pyrenees in the west." "Oh, have no fear sir", we replied, "we would have our electric kettle on for a nice welcoming cup of tea. We also have a small pennant waving from our mobile copper aerial saying that we were the Blue Team, no not Chelsea, and on the winning side." He wasn't amused!

Being in the Signals Centre we would get advance warning of these Crash Outs. The early signs usually commenced with the Brigade Majors assistant constantly phoning up the Signals Centre asking if a high priority message had come through for him yet? When it did it read something like, "Right Guard, (code name for the exercise), 1800 hrs., a coded grid reference" and the appropriate date. We obviously had to decode the grid reference for the Brigade Major so had advance notice of the exact location. The time of 1800 hours we guessed was chosen to ensure that the majority of the Brigade were still sober enough to drive vehicles and react to orders. Sealed in two envelopes the top secret message would be delivered directly to the Brigade Major's office post haste. A quick phone call was then made to our SSM by the duty Signal Centre operator and the whole Signal Squadron would stealthily start to prepare for the forthcoming very secret exercise. Casual enquiries by nosey members of other units of 'What's going on then?,' were usually met with the reply, 'Oh, we are going on our Squadron Commanders annual midnight picnic.' Those members of the Squadron who lived out in married quarters or civilian hirings would dash home, kiss the wife and kids goodbye and return to Squadron Lines awaiting the klaxon and blue flashing lights to go off to commence the disembarkation from camp. When the alarm finally went off, the Brigade Major, expecting to find chaos, would dash from the officers' mess only to find all the Signals vehicles beautifully and neatly lined up on the parade square, engines ticking over and all our tyre pressures at the correct level; the wonderful Royal Military Police, RMPs, had a habit of stopping you and taking your vehicles tyre pressures and, if not correct, the driver was on a charge.

We would cheekily greet the breathless Bridge Major with, 'Oh, lucky you sir, just made it, the alert went off ages ago, and we were beginning to wonder where you were?' He would leap into the Divisional Command wagon and, with his now favourite radio handset glued to his hand, commence calling up all the other Brigade units to move to the secret hide location. Often whilst on the move to our secret hide location, we would hear plaintive cries of help coming over the net from new subalterns who had accidently guided their troop of Centurion tanks up a cul-de-sac. Map reading lessons at Sandhurst had a lot to answer for then before GPS came along.

Strange that these dramatic evacuations from camp never happened over the Easter or Christmas holidays, the very time when the Soviets and the Eastern bloc forces knew we were at our lowest and the roads and Autobahns would be chocked with West Germans in their brand new Mercedes making for the North Sea and Dutch coast bathing resorts. We all thought it was very obliging and decent of the Russians to plan their invasions of Europe during office hours.

To break the monotony, some of us were sent to the Berlin Garrison for a month to relieve the permanent Signal Centre crews. However, to prevent the East German or Soviet Security Services comprising British Signals personnel, we were never allowed out of the Garrison. Pity, for Berlin, we had read, had many interesting distractions for the single soldier. Alas we only saw the divided city from the Signals Centre and our living accommodation. As the British Army Garrison Headquarters were in Hitler's 1936 majestic Olympic Stadium, there were many sporting activities on hand, especially the gigantic swimming pool.

Another regular duty the Squadron had to perform was providing twenty-four hour radio back-up to the operations room of 39 Regiment Royal Artillery at Dempsey Barracks, Sennelager. This high-level coverage was due to the fact that 39 RA had Honest John battle-field rockets that could fire up to 25 km a surface-to-surface missile which could be carrying ordinary high-explosive, a nuclear warhead or one packed with Sarin nerve gas.

Today just the mention of that place reminds me of the saying, "Sennelager, if God wanted to give the world an enema guess where he'd stick the tube?"

Each evening at Sennelager, the Royal Artillery orderly officer would arrive at our radio vehicle to make a test call over our net to ensure connectivity. Satisfied, he would sign our logbook. One captain I remember insisted on shouting into the mouthpiece, which of course distorted the signal. The control station duly replied and asked for the message to be repeated.

'There,' said the Gunner captain, 'useless, just like the duff radios I have to put up with in my Battery.'

On being asked to repeat the call but not to shout or alternatively hold the mouthpiece some distance from his mouth, control reported back, "Strength Five, that's a whole lot better, who the bloody hell was that idiot who made that first call? I bet it was one of those Long Range Sniper officers'; they're a bloody nuisance they will insist on shouting Battery Firing orders over the radio, this isn't Balaclava you know.'

On return to camp we told the REME Telemechs of the incident with the captain and they were mightily relieved, as they had spent many, many man-hours on this captain's radios trying to find the source of the very unique distortion; a further quite word to the captain's O.C. cured the problem.

One day in mid-August 1963, whilst on duty in the Signals Centre, I tore off an incoming message from the teleprinter, it was from Royal Signals Records detailing my new posting; a posting that was to change my life forever.

Clive Fletcher 29th November 2014