My time in the army was very up and down. I’d wanted to join something that I thought would be worthwhile, that would give me a sense of purpose and where I could experience comradeship. I certainly had all that most of the time while I was training at Wood Green Karate Club. But to me, the army was a big disappointment. The adverts on the TV suggested that you would have real mates in the forces, but I found it to be just the opposite. Your friends would steal from you, and the animosity at times towards those who didn’t fit in was quite disturbing. I’d originally set my heart on signing for three years in The Royal Tank Regiment. But on the day that I went to sign on the dotted line I opted to join The Royal Artillery for nine years. You could sign for three, six or nine years and the longer you signed for, the higher your pay. That was the only reason I opted for the nine-year stint.
It soon became very apparent that the army in general was a very hypocritical organisation. I felt that I couldn’t trust anyone and I grew to hate it. The trouble was, I couldn’t just quit like it was an everyday job. I had to wait until I’d served over three years, then I was able to buy myself out. It cost me £300 in 1979, which was a lot of money back then. I don’t regret joining though, because I did have a hoot as well. I very quickly became a very heavy drinker (the beer in Germany, where I was stationed, is very smooth and easy to drink). I lived for alcohol and consumed vast amounts during my time in Dortmund with 26 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. I kept the lads entertained with my impressions and pranks, but I would also become very quiet and withdrawn. The emotional pain was very intense, and the more I hurt inside, the more I tried to drink it away.
Germany is a beautiful country and I would go out quite often on my own and try to meet Germans. The soldiers had a very bad reputation, which was deserved, for causing trouble, so I tried to steer clear of all that. When I did go out with the lads we normally had a lot of fun, but I really enjoyed mixing with Germans in my regular haunts; the kind of places that, in general, the squaddies did not frequent. My moods were becoming increasingly more up and down, to the extent that it started to affect my relationships within the battery. Looking back, it would be true to say that some of my behaviour could have been considered strange and it wasn’t until years later that I understood what I had been experiencing. It got to the point where I’d had enough, but didn’t see a way out. Then one morning on parade an opportunity came my way.
They wanted a lower rank to volunteer for duties in the officers mess. I knew there was a huge regimental parade coming up that would have meant a lot of tedious work. I thought to myself, if I volunteer to go in the mess it will keep me out-of-the-way and I’ll avoid having to take part in the parade. My hand shot up, and there were no other takers. It also gave me respite from the mundane, day-to-day life within the battery. My time in the officers mess was the best time of my army “career”. Me and the other lads in there got up to all sorts; I felt like a naughty schoolboy and had an absolute blast. I couldn’t possibly relate all the stuff we got up to here on my blog. I’m obviously not the same person I was all those years ago, so a lot of what we did would not be appropriate to be shared here. However…
One thing I will share, because at the time it was just so funny. We would get the unwitting officers to pay for our alcohol. The system was that if an officer wanted a drink from the bar they did not pay cash. They had to sign a chitty. The chitties would all be added up and the total cost was taken from their salary on a monthly basis. So the trick was that if an officer wanted a gin and tonic, we got them to sign the chitty and when their back was turned we would put extra drinks on it. None of them ever checked their final monthly bills, so as long as we didn’t do anything silly we got away with it. All good things, unfortunately, have to come to an end. My emotional pain was ever-present and my odd behaviour continued to be noticed. I was in a very withdrawn state one day whilst serving some afternoon tea. One of the officers I was serving was my own Battery Commander. He was actually a very nice and genuine man, and he became concerned at how I looked. He asked me what was wrong but I didn’t answer. Eventually, after some probing I burbled an answer that indicated I was unhappy and wanted to leave. It was decided that if I really felt the way I did, then I should watch the notice board for any postings that may come up.
Before long I saw a posting advertised for the Salisbury Plain Range Detachment (SPRD) back in the UK. I applied for it and was soon on my way. It was probably one of the most dead-end jobs in the army. I think I arrived some time in March 1979 and by the end of December I was out; a civilian again. SPRD drove me around the bend, but luckily we had a great commander; a captain who’d come up through the ranks. He understood how I felt and didn’t stand in my way. So, £300 lighter, I was back in the world. I made sure I got a job before leaving; a live-in job at a hotel near Ascot in Berkshire. My relationship with my dad had broken down completely by this time so I did not want to go home to London.
The hotel was situated in an area that was a completely different world to me. Even back in 1979/1980 the properties around there cost more money than most people will ever see in their whole lifetime. The area was full of very well-to-do people, some famous actors and also royalty moved in shortly after I left. I soon realised that the hotel was not for me and that I really missed Germany. I decided that I would apply for a job with NAAFI and try to get back to Germany. I seem to remember making a phone call; where I got the number from I don’t know, and being invited to Kennington in London for an interview. A few weeks later, in March 1980, I was on my way back to Germany. I was going to work at the main NAAFI shop in Münster-Gremmendorf. Oh what fun we had…..
To be continued..