Call up for my National Service in 1956

Don Whitehead

After two years as a trainee in GPO Telephones (later to be BT) I received a notice to go for a medical at Pownall Square in Liverpool prior to being called for National Service in the Royal Signals.

I duly presented myself at the Medical Office along with a couple of dozen other young men many of whom exhibited an amazing range of illnesses and impediments.

Flat feet, deafness and bad backs were the least imaginative . Some had much more sophisticated ways by which they thought they would avoid wasting two years in the Army. One such method was to swallow half a bar of soap which was supposed to give you symptoms similar to a heart murmur.

Needless to say the Army medics had seen them all before and few managed to hoodwink them.

About six weeks later on the 7th November 1956 I presented myself at Catterick Camp railway station in Yorkshire with my suitcase in one hand and my reporting instructions in the other.

When we got off the train we were immediately collared by Army NCOs and ordered into the back of army trucks for the journey to the camp. The next four weeks were a nightmare.

First off we met our Troop NCO's . I remember one was a fellow scouser named Corporal McIntyre. He was always immaculate but gave out no favours !!

Walking was forbidden and everywhere we went was at the double. After a meal, which I was surprised to enjoy, we were marched to the QM stores to be kitted out with everything we would need from underclothes to a rifle including greatcoat, 2 battledresses, a mattress and blankets,one pillow,two pairs of boots,one pair of plimsoles,six pairs of socks, a "housewife " containing needles and cotton,shirts,canvas webbing brass buckles and "staybright" buttons (which had to be sewn on the the greatcoat by next morning.) 2 plates,one mug,two mess tins and sundry other bits and pieces.

When we came out of the stores laden down with all these goodies and our suitcase , we found the rain was lashing down and we had to quick march about a quarter of a mile to our barrack room.

Consequently we and our belongings were absolutely soaked. We were then given ten minutes tea/smoke break before being ordered to change into our fatigues (denims) before parcelling up our civvies for despatch home.

And so commenced my two years service to the Crown. Because we were at a training camp the recruits were expected to carry out menial tasks around the camp. Jankers as they were called. These were typically peeling potatoes in the cookhouse or brushing the roads and parade ground and on one occasion I was detailed to the cookhouse with three others.

When we presented ourselves to the cook sergeant he showed us a mountain of potato sacks and told us to peel three sacks full. He then left us to it.

We started but we soon spotted a potato peeling machine which we loaded up with two sacks of spuds.

Leaving the machine to do its work we started a poker game and forgot about the spuds.

When we did check we found it was full of pea sized potatoes . We desperately tried to sweep them down a drain but they kept floating up again so in the end we had to tuck our denims into our socks and load them up with the white peas before anyone found out.

Then we had to peel like mad to make up for lost time.

Fortunately the two sacks were not missed and we got away with it. After four weeks initial training I was sent to be trained as a Line Technician . This involved the Army taking about 3 months to teach me all the things I had already learned in my two years in GPO telephones. Still, it was quite pleasant as the weather improved and in our spare time we could roam the Yorkshire moors and visit the local pubs most of which dispensed a lethal cider.

At the end of our trade training we we given our postings mine being to Munchen Gladbach in Germany and sent on leave for two weeks. They even gave us money for rations (beer money).

On the night before leaving Catterick we all went to a pub in a little village nearby (Scotton) and eight of us bought a firkin of cider . Needless to say we were paralytic when we came out and I woke next morning with an almighty hangover with a bus stop in my bed.

After my two weeks at home I reported to the Movements Office at Euston Station to collect my travel instructions. These were to go via Harwich to the Hook of Holland and then by train to Dusseldorf and on to Rhine Army HQ at Munchen Gladbach where I spent a very enjoyable time at 19 Army Group Signal Regiment, Rheindahlen.