Reader’s letter: Sergeant Major yelled at me: ‘It’s a belt not a bra!’


The interesting letter from Barrie Roberts about National Service ( TWWW , February 20) rekindled memories of my time serving in the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC).

Like Barrie, not long after arrival at barracks, I stood in line at the camp barbers awaiting the customary ‘short back and sides’ even though I had visited Jack Deakin’s barber shop in Silverdale the previous day.

I’ll never forget that fateful October morning in 1957 when I left Silverdale Station having been ‘invited’ to attend the RADC HQ and training establishment at Aldershot. It was my first time leaving home and was altogether a strange feeling.

I recall that, prior to receiving my call-up papers, rumours were rife of national servicemen ‘doing little but kicking their heels in barracks’ and ‘National Service being a complete waste of time!’.

This was of some concern to me as I’d settled into my first employment in the offices of the West Midlands Gas Board in Newcastle and had no desire to lose track of the valuable experience already gained.

Arrival at Aldershot was a shock to the system – shouted at to climb in and out of a three-tonner, harried through kitting out in the quartermaster’s department with a pile of clothing which we had to sign for, harried in and out of the barber’s chair, then the cookhouse having been issued with ‘irons’ or cutlery.

Lights out was 10pm and morning came too soon with ‘reveille’ at 6am.

The barracks room door was then flung open, followed by a bellow which was accompanied by the clatter of a pace stick on the metal bed ends.



The Tounai Barracks in Aldershot where Graham was based.

This naturally was not really appreciated, particularly if the stick just happened to hit your foot.

The six-week basic training period consisted of ‘square bashin’, fatigues (such menial tasks as road sweeping), guard duty, map reading in the spectacular Hog’s Back and rifle training on the Ash Vale ranges.

Our squad NCO, Coroporal Glyn Jones (actually from Hanley!) was great, firm but fair. He successfully managed to ‘transform’ us into soldiers. Whether the Regimental Sergeant Major would agree may be questionable.

During my service this was the awesome Harry Roper whose ever-watchful eye never missed a trick. Like other RSMs no doubt, his patter was legendary.

Merely touching the hair on your neck with his large brass-topped pace stick meant ‘haircut’. This could at times be followed by ‘Am I hurting you lad?’. In the event that the poor soldier happened to meekly reply ‘No sir!’, the RSM’s reply was typically ‘Well I should be, I’m standing on your hair’.

On one occasion our squad was on parade standing to attention in full gear and the weight of my backpack was causing my belt to slightly rise up my chest.

On passing, the RSM gave me that look and remarked: ‘This is a belt lad, not a b… brassiere!’

Accommodation during training was in a two-storey Victorian-built block at Tournai Barracks. Heating was by pot-bellied stoves which made the billets cosy in winter – when we had enough fuel.

However, the fire had to be doused each morning and the stove thoroughly cleaned out.

The communal washrroms and toilet areas were freezing in winter, not helped by the fact that they were placed directly opposite the main doors to the block.

Therefore, particularly in cold weather there were consistent cries of ‘Shut that b….. door!’.

After successfully completing basic training, my squad members and I went into the classroom to learn how to be dental clerk assistants (now dental nurses).

The training was quite intensive and followed by examinations.

If successful, you were likely to be posted out to Army dental centres wherever members of the armed forces were serving.

This resulted in some great postings in the Far East, Germany, Paris and the Caribbean.

At the time, most people took their holidays in Britain so National Service gave large numbers the opportunity to travel for free.

However, by chance, towards the end of my course I learned of a forthcoming vacancy at the quartermaster’s stores.



Graham in his National Service days

Believing that the experience would be beneficial, I successfully applied for the post and became a member of the permanent staff, rising to the rank of corporal.

I also then had the benefit of moving into more modern accommodation.

The QM stores was a busy, large department supplying clothing, bedding and so on but also certain medical/dental equipment as it was part of the RADC HQ and training establishment.

Part of my duties involved the order of items required by the establishment’s various departments (hygienists, X-ray, dental technicians and so on) and also requisitioning repairs to any equipment.

However, while some national servicemen may have been fortunate to travel to various parts of the world, one tends to overlook that some found themselves in war zones.

Some fought the communist Chinese in Korea, others took on terrorists in Egypt, Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya.

Many died as a result of direct enemy engagement.

I also had a friend who fought in Korea. He maintained that conditions were ‘terrible – temperature in the daytime being like the Sahara and the intense cold at night being likened to the Arctic!’.

What people thought of their experience of National Service depends on their point of view and perhaps the period served in.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Barrie that National Service gave me confidence, self-discipline and a purpose in life.

Some also contended that it made them more mature.

I certainly didn’t consider National Service a waste of time, but more of an education in itself.

But I also believe that National Service made me appreciate more my parents, home and where I came from.



Here are the top stories from The Way We Were:

Want to sign up to receive these stories straight to your inbox? It’s completely free!

You can sign up for free here – simply click on ‘The Way We Were Nostalgia Newsletter’.

You can also sign up to the StokeonTrentLive newsletter too with all the latest news from across North Staffordshire:

Read a preview of today’s newsletter here and sign up for free here





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *