"The Last Hussar"
by Gerard Walton
Apart from Mam, my 6 brothers and sisters, me and a few brass monkeys looking for welders, Thornaby Station was pretty quiet on that September morning when my whole world was about to change, and as any other squaddies may tell you not always for the good !.
Along the way I met up with other lost souls and a mate whom I'd come to know over the past year by the name of "Rob Wright" known in later years in the regiment as "numb nuts". We eventually arrived at Wool Station to be collected by the Training Staff and transported to Bovington Camp in de-luxe 4 tonners (de-luxe as they had canvas sides!), the next couple of days were hectic.. jab here..run there.. picking up uniform etc.
And being asked by the Q.M. my chest size and telling him I hadn't had one issued yet! I thought this would break the ice... but he decided to break my sense of humour by sending me to meet the lovable RP staff in the jail for 4hours.
Replying to all the questions thrown at me at mach 6 with "Yes Staff" I came to know and love the task of "bumping the ceilings", this was a particularly difficult task for me as I was slim of frame (8st wringing wet). As for those unfamiliar with a bumper, this was a cast piece of metal weighing about 50lbs with bristles on the bottom used to "bumper" the wax laid by hand on all floors till the Troop Sgt. could see the full length of his reflection in it. With one on each arm this was a task for Charles Atlas, (and his mate!)
I was badged to the 15th /19th The King's Royal Hussars, as like Rob I had a committal card issued to me by the infamous "Paddy Fox. BEM." who on his own over the years recruited half the regiment, and is now a Chelsea Pensioner. Although we weren't allowed to wear the cap badge until we passed out to the regiment we wore "The Wanking Spanner", the Badge of the RAC.
Over the next couple of months military college took over most of our time,..drill...field craft etc..took a back seat..Sgt Major Fox (Coldstream Guards) was the NCO in charge of inflicting daily pain on us on the square, "His Square!. He was from Middlesborough and a football fanatic..! on the other hand I knew nothing of the sport except a lot of men ran around kicking a piece of leather taking great delight in kissing each other when one of them scored. A concept he found highly irritable the day I shared my views with him. The colour he proceeded to change into was a kind of deep purple **** was the first word that came out of his pie hole... along with "How on Gods earth can a Teesider not like football? Was this a trick question I asked, lulling me into a false sense of security? I was the pawn of the devil that day...until...he threatened our lives would become unbearable .. due to yours truly.. which didn't stand me in good stead with the troop. He had a habit of asking football questions to any member of the Troop at the end of each lesson, fortunately for me and the troop, I had never been asked a question... however today was the day !!. in full purple mode he described the punishment in even fuller detail. I think one part of it was to include going over the assault course in full dress kit, best boots wearing ya respirator!
We would be spared the imminent torture if Trooper Walton could get this question right? You could hear the Oh F..... from 20ft away as the lads knew my football knowledge was less than that of the Pope! Who was the greatest footballer ever to play for Middlesborough.... Walton? The air was filled with a silence you only hear at a Cliff Richard concert, the time passing must have seemed like weeks to the troop but I can assure you it was in milli seconds.. My Uncle. The reply came back in MACH 6 mode, "Your Uncle".. with an air of uncertainty in his voice, "Aye Sir.. my Uncle! And who is that, lad? "Ex England and Boro player.. Wilf Mannion Sir.
His slashed peaked cap fell from his head, you could see the lads getting into assault course mode, "Holy shit, don't tell me your Uncle was Wilf Mannion.. No Sir , he is, still my Uncle. A smile cracked his face for the first time anyone had ever seen, if it had ever been possible. After that I was taken to his office for a cup of tea while the lads were given the afternoon off, I was discussing my Uncle Wilf, my popularity that day rose I can tell ya, thank god for genetics!!
It was Xmas in 82, my Dad took ill so I had to depart the troop and the Junior Leaders Regt. RAC. (the cap badge worn by students) leaving behind the friends I'd made, Andy Attwell, (13th/18th Hussars) Dave Watson (L.G.) and numerous others including Numb Nut's, still looking like I should have been at school having to go home to run Dad's shop I never thought I'd wear the badge of the 15th/19th KRH.... How wrong could I be.
Andy Attwell and me.J.L.Regt.RAC. 1982, note the cap badge
Now that Dad was OK again off I went to Catterick for a second time around of basic training, would it be the same? Locker layout everything 9x9 with a smiley face so flat when ironed it looked like a pint of Southern Beer! Well as hard as they tried nothing the p.s. (permanent staff) could do could ever effect me, I'd had it twice as long and twice as hard at Bovington, a fact they knew eventually and came to realise. Changing parades and bullshit, it just didn't effect me now. I left Catterick eventually badged to the Regiment trained as a radio operator and gunner for c.v.r.t. and I was off to join them in Paderborn in Germany.
Paderborn was full of squaddies from 2RTR, 34 Heavy Regt and us! A few debates arose in the town over the year and a half I was stationed there as to drinking rights etc, needless to say the boys gave a more than adequate account of themselves. Medic courses,driving courses, all arms search team led up to our tour of Northern Ireland, a tour I was looking forward to, real soldiering. We arrived at Aldgrove along with a flight of Yanks just stopping off to refuel on there way back to the good ol USA, along with a chorus of laughter, they informed us that they would be getting a medal for being in a War Zone, they could not understand when we asked ,"Where is the War Zone". We had our first taste of action on leaving Aldergrove down the country lanes when a burr...burr...burr., rang out, you have never seen a quicker reaction as the two lads at the back of the de luxe 4tonner cocked their SLR's pointing them out of the rear as the whole troop hit the deck trying to eat the flooring we were so low. The poor old Irish man nearly had a stroke, so much so his pneaumatic drill stalled, we eventually saw the funny side although there were a few strange smells in the back for a while.
We were there as a prison guard force at HMP Maze and Crumlin Road, it sometimes felt like we were the prisoners as a lot of the time we spent in the towers over seeing the prisoners run round and round all day so much that if they'd ever gotten out there was no one quick enough to catch them. Part of our tour we worked with 11 UDR in Lurgan and Portadown, my brick was Cpl. Richie Kimber, Trooper Darren Elliott (R.I.P.), Duncan Smith and yours truly, me being fourth man, I seen the whole tour backwards, it was a standing joke with the lads, everytime we went into a republican area (Kilwilkie) they would in inform all the locals I was a Fenian! And also every time we went into a Loyalist area, so I couldn't win really.
We had with us on tour an officer Capt S. who had just returned from 7years as Adjutant at 22 SAS., I first met him when I was boxing in an inter squadron event, Charlie Brown told me he'd just come from 22 where he'd been Bedding Store man for 7years. This time I didn't fall for it, although you could tell he was an officer by the brown cords, checked jacket, lemon shirt and blue 22Regt. tie, he stood out like a priest at a kids party. It was Capt. S. who on our first couple of days in theatre told us to go and pronounce the good name to the locals that the Black Hussars (so called after the St. Peter's Field massacre of 1819) were in town and duly issued each troop with a can of black spray paint to go forth and cover every painted wall with Black Hussars large enough for everyone to see. It was about this time I thought the locals were trying to give away the estate, but there was no way it would have fit in the Rover!!
Cyprus here we come
My Ferret ftx 1985 Cyprus. Note: .30 Browning changed to GPMG 1986. Eventually rolled down Trudos Mountains thanks to Trp. Davey Lowden.
As a reward or so we were told for an outstanding job done in Ireland after returning to Germany and Capt. S. returning back to 22SAS. (as Squad Leader last heard now Lt.Col.) we were sent on a 2year posting to sunny Cyprus, as usual this turned out to be a ploy, we spent 2 weeks of every 6 on outstation duties patrolling the sovereign base area of the north of the island at all times day and night. It was there we met our first Turkish soldier only to find out he was from Tottenham, he'd been over to visit his granny and been drafted up, we supplied him on a regular basis with tabs sweets and Frankie Vaughan, apart from being a southerner he was OK!! We were stationed in Episkopi as the Scots Guards (2Btn) Armoured Recce Squadron, they were a good bunch but a bit loopy. Drink was cheap so the lads tried a few times to drink the island dry, as ya do, we had our own squadron bar and held many a shindig there in between ftx and other duties. Sahagun Day Dec. 21st Regt. Battle Honour Day is held by every member of the regiment no matter where and the done thing is on the eve to go out and nick summit. This tradition is older than the actual battle honour I would think (1808). When each tropper to gain access to the bar must arrive with an article not his own, (nicked), over the years we've had horses,caravans, bikes, dogs, portrait of the Queen, taken from the Scot's Guards Officers Mess, taken while they were having dinner, but all in good humour and always returned next day to their rightful owner.
It was on Dec 21st 1984 we had a visit from the RMP of Episkopi Garrison trying to locate lost property, because other regiments on the island had their patrol car stripped of their wheels, sirens and insignia whilst talking to the Sgt Major. "SGT. MAJOR (Paddy O Niel) in his office. The whole squadron was aboard a coach waiting to take us to happy valley to start off the festivities, when the Sgt Major stepped onto the coach with 2 RMPclose to tears. "Right you bunch of C....ts, Yho did it" to which trooper qwiff Clarkson stood up in 1st WW Flying Hat and goggles with a scarf protruding on a wire said, "It was Ginger Sir". The whole bus roared with laughter and the RMP eventually saw the funny side once we put the car back together like a formula 1 racing team. (THE FACT THAT PADDY O'NIEL WAS DRESSED IN A PAIR OF HIS WIFE'S FISHNET STOCKINGS AND BASQUE AFTER AN OFFICERS AND SENIOR NCO'S BASKET BALL MATCH AGAINST THE TROOPS, I THINK MADE THE RMP WARY ANYWAY.
The summers were hot, the winters cold as we found out over the 2yrs, at our expense we were allowed to wear army shorts known as passion killers, they were so big they came up to your chest, and like all cavalry units within the British Army if it STOOD still we painted it!!Theres a saying that the Queen thinks the world smells of paint cos 12yds in front of her you'll always find a squaddie painting it.
Me inspecting the Queen Tank Park , Episkopi 1985
I left the island while the squadron was at Akamas annual ranges, due to the death of my grand-dad and went from there to Bovington for Chieftain conversion courses as the regiment on its return to Germany was converting to M.B.T., not a decision that went down well with the lads as the regiment had nearly always been a recce regt., but this was a sign of things to come.
2nd row: Biffo Slaughter, Wayne Wakenshaw (Wakey), 3rd row: Rasher, NBarney, Serge, Boris ("the heed"), Andy the Jock (Scots Guards) Front row: Charlie Brown, (Broon) Nankers, Quiff (aka Clarkbo).
I escaped England after my courses by getting 3wks leave, the first home leave I'd had in 18months, this came at a cost.. and that was.. a 3month tour of Falkland Islands in minus 40, living in a portacabin. But all was not lost, I met up with HMS Arrow, the ship adopted by the regiment and had a day on board with the matlow's, my stomach will not forget.
It was after my tour of the Falklands I returned to Detmold, Germany in 1987 attached to recce troop HQ Squadron, when I decided my day's as a Hussar should come to an end. LITTLE DID A LOT OF THE BOYS KNOW THAT NOT LONG AFTER IT WOULD BE THEM TOO.
It was decided by the Goverment of the Day as usual cuts needed to be made to the Forces and as always the Army was worst hit. Armoured Regiments were cut from 19 to 11. But who was to Amalgamate with who?
Now the Cold War threat was over who would our armoured units fight against? If only Tom King had known 12 months later British Armoured Regiments would be in action against Russian built armour in the Gulf War, just maybe he wouldn't have been so keen to make so many experienced tank crewmen and infantry men redundant.
It was 1999 when I got the letter off Tony Blair.. Dear Ged, please come and fight for us.. love the goverment!! I still had my long term reserve kit and on contacting MOD was told I was required to go to Bosnia with the Light Dragoons. This of course in the money saving drive of 1992 was one of the reasons I'd been called up, they'd sacked all the troops with any experience but was pleased in a way I'd be returning to the regiment I'd served in as they'd almalgamated with the 13th/18th Hussars. Another regiment of long history and distinction that had also been a recce regt.
Both regt's had a long history of battle honours, Emsdorf (first ever battle honour bestowed on an English regiment) Balaclava, Sahagun, Waterloo, Assaye, to name but a few. I travelled down to Chillwell in Nottingham for 6 weeks refresher training, I'd served 3yrs with 252RMP in the TA in between, so things weren't to alien. It was there I met up with guys from all walks of life ex squaddies and guys who'd only ever served in the TA, but whom I came to respect for there commitment. "Bosnia" I said "The Light Dragoons", nope sorry but ya going to Kosovo now with the RSDG. A few more disillusioned troops stood in the line with me, Joe Montgomery was ex RSDG, so he was ok, a copper from Wishaw, Elio Henriques RLC. (patch or h to me). Malcom Thorn (Titch) RLC, "We seem to have our fair share of drivers Joe". Well Joe had been in MT. so he was ok.. I on the other hand had been a recce soldier, I must be going to recce group eh?. No such luck. There had been a bit of controversy at Chillwell cos I was still wearing my 15/19 Hussar. "Well you don't have a LD cap badge" Ok don't worry I'll make do".
We were then told we'd have to wear a grey beret (head dress of RSDG) not that I have anything against the regiment, I thought the guys were great and made some good mates.. only... you get used to certain things and when you study regimental history ya get a feeling of what the troops before you went through and I had an overwhelming pride in my regiment. What I'd gone through to get that cap badge was no one's business..I was keeping it, Tom King could kiss my ass! and I felt personally hadn't the right to wear their headress, call me old fashioned but, thats just me.
We arrived in Kosovo at 2am. it was 15 a deluxe 4tonner awaiting us, we climbed in the back and set off for the Waterloo Hotel Podejeve (about a mile from the Serbian border), we spent the first night in a tent with no heating and arose at 6am, then of corse made a brew. We were introduced to the Colonel of the regiment, he was over the moon to have 6 augmenties, 4 of whom were 1st class drivers which left me and Titch as the spare parts. The Colonel couldn't believe I was wearing a 15/19 H cap badge as he'd worked with and met a lot of guys over his service and thought we were a bunch of loonies, I of course pointed out the fact I was a Teesider, but 20miles made no difference to him. It seemed everywhere I went the next 3months people would ask "What regiment are you mate", it was 3 months into the tour and the badge seemed to be quite annoying to the QM. He would pass comment every time he passed me, maybe the 4yd grin didn't help things and he decided it had to go and would indent for a Light Dragoons badge for me.
We moved to the purpose built TFA and left the hotel, I use the term with unease, it had at one time been used by the Serb militia to torture, rape and execute civilians at there whim , the cellars where the atrocities had been carried out sent the hairs on ya neck to stand on end. During one of my 58 guards while in Kosovo I was sure I heard voices at 2 in the morning so I decided in future to give it a wide berth.
One morning Captain Tazey (Taz) presented me with my LD cap badge, he was surprised I'd gotten away with it for so long and taken the title off Quiff Clarkson who'd wore his badge till 1994 as he was posted to Canada. No one dare tell him to change it hence his name changed from Quiff (he was getting balder) to Clarbo! like Rambo but a bit harder.
I would like to think the lads of the Light Dragoons would be accepting of me even though I'd put up such a fight to keep that little bit of history a bit longer than I was supposed to and only hope they think I lived up to the regimental motto now combined of:
Merebimur ------ (We shall be Worthy)
Viret in Aeternum------(It Flourishes forever)
I Dedicate this article to all Members of the 15th/19th The Kings Royal Hussars and 13th/18th Hussars (QMO) passed and present especially.
Gary Cooper, Darren Elliot, Kenny Nicholson.
Mates gone but not Forgotten.
And of course the Regiment of The Light Dragoons.
Ged Walton - 2004
Copyright Text and Images: Gerard Walton ----------Back to: Home Page