My National Service 1955-57.


Early in the morning of October 27th 1955, Mum and I walked down to Southwick station. I bent to kiss her goodbye and saw the tears in her eyes.
Unlike me, she'd realised this was the last day of my time at home. From now on I'd just be a visitor.
I changed trains at Brighton, and found myself in a compartment with John Minshull who had done a parallel course to mine at Brighton "Tech". It turned out he had also been called up into the Royal Signals.
We made our way from Victoria to King's Cross to join the troop train to Catterick. John and I had both had deferment to complete our studies and felt superior to the 18-year-olds who made up the majority of the passengers.
A naïve lad in our compartment amused us by opening his case, which contained only American comics and the largest size tub of Brylcreem.


At Catterick we were taken in lorries to 7th Training Regiment at Vimy barracks for four weeks intensive military training - drilling, shooting, fieldcraft, map-reading, but above all learning to be totally subservient.
On the first evening we were issued with uniforms, and we packed and addressed all our civilian clothes, which were taken from us to be sent to our homes.
The next day we were marched to the barber's shop and told to sign for a pay advance of a shilling per man, which would be paid directly to the barber for our haircuts.
We saw recruits from other groups emerging with an inch of hair on top and a quarter of an inch on the back and sides. One smart Alec had already had a crew cut, shorter than the army version. Despite his objections he was still made to have and pay for another hair cut - an object lesson in subservience!
On the way back a group of soldiers shouted at us, "get some in, nigs!" Someone explained that "get some in" meant get some service in, and nigs meant new recruits from the initials of New Intake Group.

The NAAFI canteen was our haven from the continual discipline of basic training. Having grabbed a cup of tea I would head for the piano if it wasn't in use. My father had told me years earlier that my playing would stand me in good stead in the services, and so it frequently proved.
One afternoon we were each given eleven "staybrite" buttons and told to replace the original brass buttons on our greatcoats. After tea a corporal came into our barrack room.
"Hill" he called.
"God what have I done?" I thought.
"Yes Corporal?"
"We've got a party tonight in the Corporals' Mess and you're to play the piano"
"I can't come, I've got all these buttons to sew on"
"You" said the corporal to the recruit in the next bed "Sew on his buttons". I was not very popular that evening.
At least my neighbour didn't have to sew on all eleven buttons, the coat was passed around the room and eleven recruits each sewed on one button!

One soldier thought he had a neat solution to the problem of too much week left at the end of the money.
In the NAAFI he would circulate about borrowing a halfpenny from each of us until he had enough for a drink, thinking that no one would remember to ask him to repay such a trifling sum.
Eventually we did get wise to him and demanded various sums immediately after pay parade. He of course couldn't recall exactly how much he'd borrowed, or from whom. So some of us made a profit on the transactions!

One morning we were being drilled on the parade ground by a Lance-Corporal whose voice did not carry as far as he believed it would. He sent us marching away from him and after we had gone about 60 yards he gave the command "about turn". Those at the back heard him and dutifully turned about.
Those of us near the front heard nothing and carried on marching away from him.
About twenty chaps in the middle weren't sure what they had heard; some halted, some turned left, some right, others began to realise something was wrong and tried to put it right, but it was beyond any one soldier's capability to correct the situation, even our instructor's!
He yelled out "as you were" and some of the confused middle files began to run after those of us at the front who were disappearing into the distance.
At this point he abandoned his dignity and the use of military commands and came running after us shouting, "stand still".

At the end of four weeks of hell we vaguely resembled soldiers.
We were rehearsed for our passing-out parade by no less a personage than the Squadron Sergeant-Major.
No doubt his military knowledge was of a high standard but his appreciation of the speed of sound was not.
We were in a column about 300 metres in length marching around a parade ground to practice for the camp commandant to take the salute.
This entailed making an oval circuit of the parade ground, and due to its length the column extended three quarters of the way round the circuit.
The sergeant-major was having difficulty getting us all to march in step, and had the bright idea of getting a drummer to give us the marching rhythm.
Unfortunately, this made things worse, because he positioned the drummer outside the circuit, so that the troops on the far side of the circuit heard the sound of the drum half a second later than those on the nearer side.
The effect was to totally unsynchronise the marching; instead of the crisp rhythm of marching boots one heard a continuous buzzing sound, and the sergeant-major became almost apoplectic with rage. When the actual parade took place, of course, the bandmaster knew perfectly well to situate the band in the middle of the circuit to equalise the time lag.


We were given a weekend's leave and I was transferred to 2nd Training Regiment at Kemmel lines for trade training as a radio technician.
When I arrived there a group of soldiers shouted at us, "get on the course, nigs."
This 19-week course was a very good apprenticeship in practical electronics, made up of six weeks radio theory, two weeks workshop practice and eleven weeks on the radio sets.
Each week of training had its own classroom and instructor, and the students progressed to a new room each Monday.
Every Friday we had a written exam, which you had to pass, or repeat that week of the course.
Three failures and you were out, and on to a lower grade of trade.
The national servicemen were mostly graduates or equivalent, (we even had some PhD's), who found the theory pretty straightforward.
Not so the regulars, many of whom cheated in the tests.
I found out much later that there was a black market in advance copies of each week's test questions.
There was a sort of regulars' mafia who persuaded members of the fatigue party that tidied the instructors' offices on Thursday nights to retrieve the Gestener "skins" of the test papers from the waste bins, and run off additional copies.
This not only ensured that much army equipment was badly maintained, but as one's final posting depended partly on the test results it meant that many regulars unfairly got better postings.

Kemmel lines consisted of about thirty brick huts built in WW1, whose heating comprised stoves in the middle of the huts ("central heating") with tall iron chimneys.
Each morning we had to take everything we needed for the day and walk a mile to Loos lines, where we had our meals and the training also took place.
The North Yorkshire winter had by now started in earnest, and troops from another hut had sneaked back during the lunch hour to steal our small supply of coke. There followed a state of war for three weeks between the occupants of the huts, as coke was stolen and retrieved nightly, and fisticuffs were by no means uncommon!

While we were in Kemmel lines we were given the first of our TABT inoculations.
Most people were made ill for 36 hours by them, with fever, headache and a painfully throbbing swollen arm.
The army cleverly administered the jabs at lunchtime on Saturdays, allowing you time to recover by Monday morning and letting you be ill in your own time!

Fortunately we were only in Kemmel lines temporarily.
The university leavers, being the majority of recruits for this course, caused a seasonal peak, and the Kemmel huts were an overflow facility.
We were moved to a "spider" in Loos lines, where the training took place. It was a luxury not having to walk a mile for breakfast.
A "spider" comprised six heated dormitory huts, a boiler room, and an ablutions and laundry hut, all interconnected by covered walkways.
Training was carried out in a "tech spider", six classrooms, a workshop and a toilet. This was in the days when most people smoked.
We were not allowed to smoke in the rooms where hands-on wireless training was given, due to the fire risk from hydrogen gas emitted by the lead-acid batteries.
Every hour the instructor would call out "Right, switch off, smoke break!" We would all troop outside or in bad weather, to the toilet block for a smoke and a natter. Or just a natter if you didn't smoke.

The toilet hut had a high roof with beams running across about ten feet above floor level.
I wondered aloud if it would be possible to jump and touch a beam. Prophetically, as it turned out, my friend Alan Jackson said, "only Hill would be fool enough to try." This, I'm afraid, was like a red rag to a bull and I rose to the challenge, getting near enough to the beam to encourage me for a second try.
I took a longer run, made a greater leap, but failed to consider the limited amount of traction hobnailed boots have on concrete. My feet went up, my head went down, and in self-protection I lowered my left hand to cushion the impact. This achieved its object but at the expense of my wrist which sustained a "Colles fracture".
Within an hour I was under general anaesthesia at Catterick Military Hospital having the bones set (or approximately set, the wrist never looked the same afterwards). Although it was pretty painful that night there were some spin-off benefits; for the next six months I was excused PT, Sports, Guard duties and fatigues, until one sadistic sergeant grabbed me for the weekly battery-change fatigues, colloquially
known as "dagbash". There were twelve training rooms each with about thirty radios. Each radio had a battery, or "dag", (presumably from "Dagenite"), somewhat larger and heavier than a car battery.
Once a week all the batteries were taken out of the huts and exchanged with freshly charged batteries that arrived at intervals during Friday in the back of a three-ton truck. We are talking of a total weight of about ten tons to be carried out of the huts (some of which were up to 100 metres from the road) and lifted on to the truck, and the same weight to be carried back in to the huts.
The fatigues squad of 12 men was divided, half the men going to the electrical workshop where the dags were charged and half staying at Loos lines. Each dag had two carrying handles. One man could carry one a short way but two were needed for any distance.
I showed the sergeant my "excused everything" medical certificate, but no joy. "You'll only be using one hand. Your other wrist's OK isn't it?"
I soon found that when carrying dags, even the biggest guys would put them down after twenty yards and swap ends to rest their arms. Even if I had been able to carry dags using my right hand all day my partner would have needed to change sides, so I just had to use my left wrist, still in plaster. Luckily it survived the strain, and so did I after carrying one end of 120 batteries out to the truck and another 120 back.
Whew, I feel knackered just writing about it!

I met some memorable people at that time, such as Corporal Don Crown. Crown was a national serviceman with a BSc degree, who after training on radio had not been posted away but retained in the training unit, not as a technical instructor, but as a GD (general duties) NCO.
He must have determined to out-bullshine the regulars because he had the smartest turnout in the unit, was devoid of the least bit of humour and as ruthless, it seemed to us, as a Gestapo officer. We were all terrified of him. Without pausing for breath he could scream out "Squa-ad, attenTION, by the right qui-ick MARCH full regimental pace of thirty inches left right left right keep in step eyes to the front swing your arms shoulder high to the front waist belt high to the rear look your own height stomachs in shoulders back chests out left right left right by the left le-eft WHEEL Squa-ad HALT!
Another corporal took drill somewhat less seriously and had a squad marching to their NAAFI break exactly to the command "Left, Left, Left Right Left" i.e. hopping on the left foot three time between each full step.
Our Irish Sergeant Major, "Paddy" Howley, was noted for many bon mots. He was inspecting the guardroom one night when two officers, returning from a mess party where the wine had been flowing liberally, were challenged by a nervous young sentry.
"Halt, who goes there?"
"Donald Duck" said one officer "and Mickey Mouse" said the other, joining in the spirit of the thing.
The sentry could see they looked like officers. He had not been trained how to deal with this, and stood tongue-tied.
A powerful brogue roared out from within the guardroom. "Stand fast Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse advance and be recognized!"
On another occasion he had ordered two trainees to paint the inside of the cookhouse roof on a Saturday afternoon.
They were sitting on a plank high up in the rafters and one said to the other "If that b*****d Paddy hadn't nabbed us we'd be at the pictures by now,"
They hadn't heard the b*****d in question enter to check up on the painting, and were not a little surprised to hear him say "I didn't know we'd been formally introduced!"
However, the most memorable character from that period was undoubtedly Ben Male.
Ben had arrived from OCTU, the officer-training unit, having narrowly failed to pass out. He was far from the typical public school officer candidate of those days, though today I am sure he would have been commissioned. Ben had plenty of money and the kind of outrageous cheek that somehow doesn't cause offence. He could say anything to anyone, and did! Ben had bluffed his way to OCTU by doing conjuring tricks! On his dossier he had "Magic" listed as one of his interests and when this was queried at the various interviews he would remove an egg from the officer's ear and launch into his act. The officer would suddenly realize he had run out of time for the interview and pass Ben, having failed to elicit any grounds to reject him. Ben could sing, play the guitar, and was an accomplished mimic, and could get away with murder. Asked during a safety lecture what steps he would take on finding a fire in the ammunition store, he replied "Effing great big ones". Asked by a radio instructor what he would do if he found a corporal being electrocuted by a transmitter, Ben answered, "Switch to high power".
I often wonder what happened to him.

Two chaps in our hut, Glass and O'Neill, used to sing Gilbert and Sullivan songs learnt at school. This was a new experience for me; I had only heard a few snatches of G & S. It was never played on the BBC in those days due to the unique special copyright owned by the D'Oyley Carte Company.


Eventually I finished my training and was posted as a radio technician to Nairobi in Kenya. As we climbed down from the lorry that ferried us from the Nairobi Airport to the camp, a group of soldiers shouted at us, "get yer knees brown, nigs."
After a few weeks in the East African Signals Headquarters I was offered a posting "up-country" to a reconnaissance squadron in Nanyuki. I was the only Signals person in the unit, which was made up of native troops led by British Officers and NCOs. I was immediately promoted to Lance Corporal and put in charge of the radio workshop.
I was given a private room in the sergeants' mess and lived as a sergeant, with my own native batman to dhobi my clothes and sheets, polish my boots and clean my room.
My predecessor had left a large backlog of work, so for a few weeks I repaired radios, and when they were all repaired I tidied the workshop, painted everything possible, and learned to play the accordion. There was no piano in the unit.
I used to walk two miles some evenings to play the one at the Silverbeck Hotel. This was right on the Equator and a brass strip inlaid in the bar counter divided the hemispheres.
One Sunday, for a change of scene, I walked five miles each way to the Mawingo Hotel at the foot of Mount Kenya.
I had a drink in the bar and got chatting to two Sergeants, dog-handling trainers from the Veterinary Corps who were regular customers there. "You've got a very nice friendly young officer at your place, who often comes in here" they said. "Which officer is that?" I asked. "Mr. Xxxxx, very friendly chap, doesn't mind being bought a drink by a sergeant." I didn't tell them that the friendly officer in civvies who democratically accepted drinks from humble sergeants was actually Corporal Xxxxx, my predecessor!
This was all happening towards the end of the Mau Mau emergency and the unit was being downsized.
They had been stripped of their armoured cars shortly before my arrival and were now told to reduce the number of British NCOs. The result of this was that I was sent for a week to learn vehicle auto-electrics at the nearest REME transport workshop and on my return, in addition to my radio responsibilities I took over the electrical maintenance of all the unit's vehicles from the departing REME electrical sergeant.
I also took over the battery-charging workshop, but with my lance-corporal's stripe I could get the native troops to do the "dagbash"!

Soon we were to join numerous other units in a large manoeuvre around Archer's Post, near the border with Ethiopia.
The officers and native troops marched there, taking three days, but I travelled in comfort in a Land Rover as part of the support services convoy.
Ten thousand troops firing blank ammunition for 5 weeks scared away most of the wild life from the area, but I did see giraffe, an ostrich, elephants, water buffalo, baboons, and many varieties of deer and gazelle.
A few of our officers went hunting and shot some deer. When the venison was butchered it was found to be riddled with small parasitic worms. Our medical officer stated that the worms were harmless when properly cooked; however none of the Europeans (including the MO) fancied roast worms, but the Africans were only too pleased to be presented with the carcases!
A demonstration of various military operations was carried out before Sir Evelyn Baring, (the Governor of Kenya), and a large retinue of local and visiting bigwigs.
The demo was a movable one with the audience being bussed from place to place over five different sites, and I was given the job of providing a mobile PA system to get to each site before the convoy, set the PA up and test it, ready for an announcer to address the audience. I had two large horn speakers bolted on to the front bumper of a land rover, with an amplifier, microphone and spares of everything. It was quite a race between sites.
Without wanting to get too technical, the wiring of loudspeakers for public address, whether for a large arena or a small hall, music or announcements, is fed at one hundred volts (yes you're quite right, only during the loudest passages). This voltage, being sufficient to cause an electric shock, but normally only very dangerous if conducted through water, offers considerable scope for the practical joker. That evening I re-connected the PA wiring so as to electrify the whole frame of the Land Rover, and got a couple of the native troops to hold on to the vehicle while I shouted into the microphone, thus giving them a healthy and surprising tingle. They thought this was terrific fun and called their pals over to share the experience. This snowballed and by suppertime I think every black man in the unit had been electrified!
Another time I had to provide a diversion during a night exercise. I was to take two native troops and walk by starlight ten miles around to the far side of a hill held by the "enemy" and at precisely midnight make a dreadful din with blank cartridges, thunder flashes and much shouting. Meanwhile our own force sneaked quietly up the front of the hill and burst out behind the "enemy" taking them by surprise.
One day I was left in charge of the camp, all the officers and British sergeants having gone to an exercise. No sooner had the dust settled after the last vehicle left when I was called to the fuel store compound. An African sergeant had moved a jerrican, disturbing a spitting cobra. These snakes eject their venom through hollow fangs with deadly accuracy over several feet, and aim at the eyes. The poor chap was in agony and temporarily blind. I got a driver to take us by Land Rover 50 miles to the nearest hospital. The last I heard the victim was still having vision problems three months later.
The winding-up of the anti Mau-Mau campaign was now under way. I got my African General Star with Clasp "Kenya" with about three weeks to spare before the end of the emergency.
The Reconnaissance Squadron was ordered to return all unused stocks to the central stores. It was dagbash time again. I carefully cleaned, charged and drained the acid from 100 batteries, the correct procedure for storage, and took them by truck to the Command Electrical Stores where a sergeant signed a receipt for them. "Get your driver to back up over there," he pointed. "Over there" was a heap of mostly broken batteries. Two natives climbed into the back and THREW my carefully prepared batteries on to the heap!
When I got back to Nanyuki I did a stock take in my workshop. There were over 1000 valves on my shelves. I offered these to my boss, the Technical Adjutant, who told me we did not officially hold any valves; therefore we could not return them to central stores. I should therefore dispose of them in such a way as to leave no evidence that we ever had them. They all ended up in the "choo" (the ten feet deep earth closet)!
When my leave was due I got a booking for the NAAFI leave camp in Nyali near Mombasa.
I got a lift to Nairobi and took the night train to Mombasa. I shared a sleeping compartment with a German whose job consisted of travelling down on this train three times a week, collecting a new car from the docks in Mombasa, and driving it 300 miles to a showroom in Nairobi, all expenses paid. As my idea of heaven then included driving new cars this didn't seem a bad life, particularly after I had sampled dinner on the train. In a comfortable dining car a silver service waiter in a white gown with gold braid and red fez brought the menu.
The 5-course meal comprised soup, grilled fish, mixed grill, sherry trifle, coffee, biscuits and cheese. The mixed grill appeared on a large oval platter and included a decent sized fillet steak, lamb and pork chops, liver, kidneys, gammon bacon, fried egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried onions and chips, uniformly excellent throughout. I had the appetite and health, at 22, to take full advantage of this astronomic gastronomic cornucopia, which cost the princely sum of 6s 6d (32 pence)!
The leave camp was a marvellous place, right by the beach, with a thatched bar on the sand. Unlike Nanyuki, 6250 ft up with a beautiful climate, Mombasa was HOT, so most of us got up at 6am before the temperature rose, had an early breakfast then spent most of the day in the sea. One day I walked along the beach for half a mile and came to the Nyali Beach Hotel. I could see that swimming trunks were acceptable wear in the hotel bar so I popped in for a drink, and found that one of the residents was a Signals NCO from Comcan Signals Squadron, based at Nairobi Airport, Tony McCoy from London.
Most nights at the leave camp, in the cool of the evening Housey Housey was played on a fairy-lit terrace.
Beer flowed liberally and Bill Haley's Comets played over the PA. One morning I went into Mombasa, walked around in a temperature of 104F in the shade and had a boat trip round the harbour, where I saw Arab dhows in full sail. My tropical holiday ended all to soon but left memories for a lifetime.


Soon the Reconnaissance unit was downsized again.
This time I was posted back to Nairobi to rejoin the Command Signals Headquarters.
Our main job was to maintain the radios used for military signals between East Africa and the UK. I explored the bars and restaurants of the capital and was offered a job playing the piano in a fairly upmarket restaurant, the "Taverne Royale". I had to get permission from the army, and this was given subject to the army always having priority for my time. I became very popular with the other NCOs because I would swap orderly NCO duty with them if they were down to do it on a Sunday, that being the quietest night at the Taverne Royal.
For healthy young soldiers, Nairobi was a wonderful place for eating-out.
At the Vienna Café they served an inch-thick steak that drooped over the edges of the plate, no chips were needed, just a few onions.
The New Stanley Hotel did a seven-course lunch for six shillings and an eight-course dinner for seven shillings. One of the courses was a self-serve buffet counter the whole length of the restaurant, and this defeated everybody I knew - no one ever got to the dessert!
Once two chaps came up to me on a Sunday night and said, "do you want to come down town for a curry?"
"I can't," I replied, "I'm orderly corporal."
"That's all right, Jonesy will stand in for you till we get back. He doesn't like curry"
"But I don't like curry either."
"Have you tried Indian curry?"
"You'll like that, I promise."
And so began a lifetime's love of Oriental cooking!
By the way, the orderly corporal spent the night in the Squadron Sergeant-major's office to field any phone calls, (of which there never were any).
I was sitting at the desk writing to my fiancée one night when a huge spider dropped off the ceiling and straight down the inside of my shirt. I broke all records for undressing. I daresay the spider was nearly as scared as me!
Occasionally I was sent on short trips to places where radio repairs were urgently needed.
Once I flew down to Dar-es-Salaam (Arabic for Peacehaven!) to fix the radios of the 1st Kings African Rifles at Cilito Barracks (well known subsequently as the site of the outbreak of the Tanganyikan revolution).
At one point during the flight Mount Kenya (17000ft) was visible on the port side and Mount Kilimanjaro (19000ft) on the starboard. These mountains are over 300 miles apart so you get some idea of the breathtaking scale of the view.
While I was in Dar-es-Salaam I met another Signals NCO, Corporal Raoul Guinard, a Jerseyman.
Another time I was sent to Nakuru to repair their wireless equipment. This was at an altitude of 7000 feet with a very cool climate.
While I was there I experienced a thunderstorm so intense that I saw sparks flying from filing cabinets in an office. The local Brits, including tea planters, all attended a film show at the army camp; Judy Garland in Sunset Boulevard.
While there I met Ron ………, the signals clerk. He told me he was a librarian from Croydon. (Some months after my demob I was driving through Croydon and happened to notice the public library, so I parked the car (in those days you could even park in London!) and went inside, and sure enough there was Ron, stamping the books.)
Shortly afterwards Tony McCoy, who I had met at Nyali beach, was posted to our unit. A new officers' mess building was opened and the British NCOs moved into the old officers' mess. I found myself sharing a room with Tony McCoy.
At about the same time Raoul Guinard, who I met in Dar-es-Salaam, was also posted to our unit, and we became good pals.
Raoul wanted to buy a Hillman Minx car but was short of cash, so I lent him the £35 he needed, which he repaid at £5/month.
Unless he was on duty he always gave me a lift to the Taverne Royale each night, and I found an African taxi driver with an ancient Ford Prefect who charged me 5 shillings a week to take me back to camp at midnight every night.
The Taverne was owned by Fred Forno, born in England of Italian descent, who visited his grandparents in Italy in the late thirties. While he was there, the Italian government called him up for national service, considering him to have Italian nationality. He was still in the Italian army when Italy entered WW2, so he had to fight against Britain, the place of his birth. The British captured him in Somaliland and after the war he chose to be released in Africa.
Fred reckoned he was a marked man because a gang of Mau Mau terrorists came into his restaurant one night armed with pangas, so Fred pulled a revolver from under the counter and shot one of them dead; the others fled. I hope he was OK after Independence.
At the Taverne Royale I used to play solo piano for an hour from 6 to 7pm then I was given a free meal. After this I joined the "5 Caballeros" to play dance music until midnight.
About once a week I would miss the early session and the free meal and visit the Garden Hotel, an Indian-owned establishment, for a curry. After demob I introduced my family and friends to Indian food and most of us are still enjoying it.
Another familiar face turned up at our unit. Lance-Corporal "Bugs" Hare, who had been the NCO in charge of the blanket store at Loos lines, was happy to get out of the stores to an overseas posting.
"Bugs" told me a funny tale. He was a regular, an ex boy-soldier, and had taken a day off from Loos lines to go to a wedding, so he got out his number one dress. There was not enough time to change afterwards so he wore his "blues" back to camp. As he approached the guardroom on his return, there was a sudden kerfuffle and the guard were turned out. Bugs looked around him to see if there was a fire, then realised the guard were all saluting. He looked round again to spot the officer but couldn't see one. They were saluting him; the national service sentry and guard commander weren't familiar with No1 dress and thought he was a general!
Despite all the good things about Kenya there were a few things we all missed from the UK; our girls, long summer evenings, and fish'n'chips were high on most chaps' lists.
The girls and the evenings we just had to wait for patiently, but a rumour went round that a British-style chippy was to be opened in town.
Soon we saw the shop being fitted out, and then it opened.
We all tried it in the next few days; the food was fairly authentic but the ambience was somewhat different from what we were used to. For a start it was spotlessly clean, and very expensively fitted out. There was no price list with Cod, Haddock, Plaice, Huss etc., in fact there was no choice of the type of fish at all and actually we never found out what it was, it was just "Fish". You did queue like at home, but waiting at the head of the queue was a very superior English lady, beautifully dressed and coiffeured who clearly never came into contact with the fish. We all assumed she was a general's wife! This lady took quite a lot of your money and gave you a plastic token. You then continued to queue around to the other side of the shop where an African in spotless whites and the tallest size of chef's hat took your token and gave you a Styrofoam box of fish and chips, complete with a little wooden fork. Now I know this is common here now, but in those days we were all used to our fish served in newsprint.
Incidentally, another modern thing I saw first in Kenya was a 13 Amp electric mains plug!
A date was now announced for the official ending of the Mau Mau emergency.
Naturally the unit had to celebrate this, and naturally we did this by having a parade.
Now most of us had only four weeks basic training, so we were not in the top class at drill. A few days later daily orders announced that there was to be a special ceremonial squad to give the salute, I forget to whom, and my name was on the list. A staff sergeant was unearthed to coach us for the event, and this time the army got it right. The gentleman in question had recently attended a drill course at Pirbright, the Guards' headquarters, and really knew his stuff. We had 90 minutes drill every morning in the beautiful Nairobi sunshine, and that in itself was far better than cold wet and windy Catterick. Those of us who like myself were national servicemen had never used a bayonet (I'm talking of its ceremonial application. I doubt if anyone in the Royal Signals in Kenya had ever used one for its primary function!) We were shown the ceremonial method of fixing and unfixing the bayonet, saluting to the front etc. and after a week of this we were beginning to move as one man. When the actual parade took place, the majority of us shed tears of pride as, to the stirring notes of the band, we performed the intricate moves in perfect synchronism.
It was soon time to return home. I must have been mentally uplifted by the thought, because in my last week I beat the unit's top snooker, chess and table tennis players at their respective games.
On my last night after a few beers I asked the roughest character in the camp if he wanted a fight, luckily for me he said no. After finishing my breakfast next morning I picked up my kitbag ready to board the Land Rover that was to take me to the airport, and called out to the rest of the lads the magic words, "get some in, nigs!"
I've noticed often that progress doesn't always work in one's favour, and although the flight by 200mph Hermes was slow and sometimes bumpy, there was plenty of leg room, and every 4 or 6 hours we would land for the plane to be re-fuelled, while at the same time we would also be "refuelled" in a proper restaurant with tablecloths and real cutlery, with a freshly-cooked and generally good meal. Flying was the province of the better-off in those days and passengers were treated accordingly.
I lived on my piano earnings during my last six months service, leaving my army pay to accumulate, and when I was demobbed at the end of my 2 years I had an extra £100 on top of my demob pay!