The Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry
6 October 1959 - 10 July 1968
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SCLI Memoirs - One Man's National Service - Keith Petvin-Scudamore
This is Keith's story of his two years spent in the British Army 1960-1962, aged 21 to 23.
Then and Now.
One Man's National Service:
The train that had started its journey from Bristol Temple Meads was now in Geordie land pulling into Durham main station. Ray Ryan and I anxiously looked out to catch a glimpse of Durham, what we saw was Lance Corporal Petrie who was already shouting "Durham Light Infantry".
Ray and I had met briefly when we both received our call-up papers in Bristol and once on that train we soon became friends, we were in this together not knowing what was ahead of us, we were going into the unknown so it was good to have someone with you to share the grief. L/Cpl Petrie was obviously used to meeting new recruits and was busy shepherding us with our small suitcases out into the station yard to board our first 3ton army truck. We were soon ticked off on his list and speeding through Durham towards Brancepath camp, the depot for training men that would join the 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, nickname "Dirty little Imps"
We were made up of about 70 lads, officially Draft 33, all from the West Country of England stretching from Lands End in Cornwall to Bristol and beyond to Shropshire, evidently this was not unusual for the army to draft young men for training completely away from their home area, in our case we were to be trained and then dispersed to any Light Infantry regiment that were next in line for an intake of recruits. However for now we were in the Durham Light Infantry and our training was to get under way without delay. We were shown to our quarters at Brancepeth which in 1960 were WW2 wooden huts, still surprisingly quite liveable, we were all nervous of what lay ahead, we need not have worried as the British Army had an answer for everything! On our first day we had medicals and numerous injections, goodness knows what they were all for but the day went quickly, we all had a good laugh when we put on our uniforms for the first time, a lot of alterations were needed by the camp tailor.
Cpl Knowles was our platoon leader, he had been a Sergeant but had been busted to Cpl, it appears that this happened regularly, he was firm but fair, he eased us into army life and we all came to look back on him with some affection as the months went by. We were split into two platoons, Somme and Arras, I was in Somme platoon with twelve weeks intensive training ahead to turn us into infantrymen profficient enough to join a Battalion. Those twelve weeks had its ups and downs, mostly downs but we all won through and the great day came for the Passing Out Parade, for this we were able to invite our families to attend. Un-be-known to me my parents travelled up from Bristol to surprise me but unfortunately for them I had been a victim the previous night of "passing out pranks", I virtually did pass out when my bed was tipped over and I hit my head on a steel locker. While my mates were strutting their stuff on the parade ground I was in a military hospital in Barnard Castle, my parents were straining to see their son on parade and I was miles away. They eventually found me with the help of Cpl. Knowles.
One episode of our training was to take us to the Lake District, we pitched camp beside Lake Buttermere, a lovely spot.
Lake Buttermere DLI Camp - L to R - Cpl. Knowles, Capt P. Windsor-Aubrey,Cpl. Kennedy, Cpl Catterick.
Captain Windsor-Aubrey was the Platoon Commander and led each days activities which included climbing High Stile and Scafell Pike, something which most of us would never have tackled without being pushed. On our return to camp we had the option of a swim which saved an extra four miles but unfortunately we were all cowards (including the Corporals) so the officer (Capt Windsor-Aubrey., nickname Health & Strength) dived in every day watched by us all.
With the end of our training at Brancepath we all went on leave for two weeks and had to report back to Durham to be told where our next posting would be, most of us were to join the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry presently stationed in Osnabruck in Germany, so it was off to Harwich and the ferry MV. Wansbeck to Hook of Holland. We had meals at the Hook transit camp and then were put on the Blue train to Osnabruck for the next stage of our training. It appears that when a batch of men are trained by one regiment, the nextregiment says forget all your training, we are going to train you properly this time, so we started another eight weeks of training, much more intensive this time, all downs no ups!
On completion of this I was posted to "C" Company commanded by Major Matthews, he had a reputation of putting forward his company for all the nasty jobs, if there was war on C company would be on point, every day, up front. While in C company a sergeant came up to me and told me he was at school with me in Weston super Mare, his name was Slade, I did remember him but we never spoke again. I t did not take long for and old soldier to tell me to get myself out of C company and into HQ Company where you had a regular job every day, much less parade work and a good skive. Taking this advice on board I applied for everything put up on Part 2 orders but got nothing, I became so despondent at this I requested an interview with the Adjutant Capt Lane (now a General), he informed me that the jobs I had applied for I was not suitable. These were batman jobs, he said I would boss the officer about to much!!! I kept applying for different jobs but in the meantime was put on a signals course, this was fine, six weeks of mostly deskwork with a few sorties out into the woods.
In charge of this course was Colour Sgt. Hill who was obviously destined for high rank, he appointed me his driver but I only drove him twice as he always drove himself, this meant that when out on exercises he was my chauffeur, I just sat back and enjoyed it.
On completion of the course I was told I was to be moved again, still within HQ Company but with the Quartermasters office. The QM who was Major Meredith required a new clerk, I could type so I was off to do a different job again.
During this period we were able to go into Osnabruck to shop etc., but soon didn't bother as the locals were most unfriendly, in fact in Merkers store, the biggest in Osnabruck the staff almost refused to serve you. We would stand for ages with our money and purchases and they would ignore you, we soon got the message, also on Saturday mornings the regiment had a compulsory cross country run and the locals would stand in your way, not very helpful. The expert runner was Lieut. Fyfe, nobody could beat him, he is a retired Brigadier now.
On my first day in my new job Major Meredith had a word with me "Alright lad" and that was it, I had the job, RQMS Clarke was my immediate boss, it was all different again but I got on well with my new situation and my new bosses. Besides doing my desk job we had to fulfill our quota of parades and guards but much less than if you were in a rifle company. The majority of my fellow soldiers made the best of what was imposed on us, there were exercises to be done, some a day or two and some lasting much longer, it was all part of National Service. It must be remembered that NS men were treated no differently to regular soldiers, we did the same work and if there was a war on we would be serving alongside each other with no exception, except pay!!
At the halfway point in my service the SCLI was due to move from Osnabruck back to Plymouth (Seaton Barracks) for four weeks, and then to Gibraltar, this after we all had home leave. I saw my parents for the first time for a year, my father was very interested in my move to Gibraltar as he was ex Royal Navy and had spent a lot of time at RN bases in the Mediterranean. The Battalion moved from Hook of Holland to Plymouth on the Empire Parkeston, encountering a force eight gale on the way, I was one of the few men not seasick, hence I was put on the sick bins, a lovely job!. When we left Plymouth we cruised to Gib aboard the MV Devonshire, I say cruised as the trip was the opposite to our experience on the Empire Parkeston.
The rifle companies of the SCLI were accommodated in South Barracks with HQ Company up at Europa Point, a beautiful spot on the southern tip of Gib overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar,you could look straight over to North Africa. I came to love this location.
The QM's staff occupied an old building which adjoined bombproof house , Major Meredith's office was across a yard from mine, so every time he needed me you could not fail to hear his shout of "Scudamore" and I would dash across to his office. If it was a bacon sandwich that was needed that was good news as it meant a bacon sandwich also for me. As he was the QM he could order a sandwich whenever he liked but mine was strictly against the rules. On my way back from the cookhouse I would slip my sandwich into the drawer of my desk and take his over, later on he would often say, "Bacon sandwich Scudamore was good, what was yours like". This was said with a big grin as he knew he had put me on the spot, he'd come up through the ranks and knew all the dodges.
He was a super boss and everybody respected him, he was particularly kind to me on more than one occassion. He knew that my cousin and family were on a troopship calling at Gib on their way to Hong Kong, so he arranged for me to visit the ship for an hour to meet them. This was done by him making an excuse to visit the ship himself and take me along as his clerk holding a clipboard. Another occassion was the aniversary of the sinking of HMS Ark Royal some twelve mile off Gib in 1942, again Major Meredith knew that my Dad was ex Navy and had served in the Med, Major Meredith had been invited to join a party going out to the site to lay wreaths and he asked me if I would like to go along. This was a great privilege as I was a Private soldier, Major Meredith was the Regiments Mr Fix-it so I had to be kitted out in a good uniform, so off I went to Cpl Youngs clothing store. The uniform I wore had no rank on it, so I asked the Major what rank I should say if asked. His reply was, "I don't care lad as long as you don't outrank me". This was Major Meredith to a tee and all ex servicemen who knew him have their own tales. We went out on a Royal Navy Destroyer, it was very moving with the Royal Marine Band playing " Eternal Father Strong to Save" as the wreaths were dropped over the side.
My civilian trade was a pipeorgan builder and it was while in Gib that a Colonel came into my office to tell me there was trouble with the Garrison Church pipe organ, could I help. Major Meredith detailed Dave Pruett and I to take tools we required and get ourselves down into Gib and work on the organ, Dave and I saw it was a "Big" job and "Slowly" did as we were told. A good skive!! Dave and I ended up tuning the Garrison organ together with the Anglican and RC Cathedrals plus the Methodist Church, all in army time.
During my period in Gib the Battalion was presented with New Colours and numerous practise parades took place, it was a grand occassion with Lord Harding presenting the Colours.
Also Dave Pruett, Eric Dursley and myself clubbed together to buy a car, an A70 Hereford, it served us well, we went into Spain most weekends with journeys to Malaga, Seville and Granada, we were the only NS lads in Gib to have a car as far as I know. On leaving we sold it to Cpl. Smith the CO's driver.
It was at this period the the film "Lawrence of Arabia" was being filmed in Seville and men were needed to act as extras, Dave Pruett was among the lucky ones to go on this trip. They were put up at the Engelterra Hotel in Seville, a very good hotel and were filming at the Palace for the Officers Mess scenes. To this day you can see many men in those scenes that we all remember from 1960 when we were all young men.
Eric Dursley and myself had to satisfy ourselves with a trip up to Seville in the A70, staying at the Engelterra and watching scenes being filmed from a spot where we were not spotted!!!
At breakfast it seemed strange to look over and see Anthony Quayle at a table with other notable stars.
A part of the Infantry garrison duties at Gib was to provide a company to garrison RAF El Adem in Libya and Ray Ryan did three months there, I did not go there but did make several trips to Morocco, one an official ski-ing trip up into the Atlas mountains. The army had several trips going over but I could only get on it as a cook, I was able to ski but enjoyed cooking much better. The cooking entailed looking after 30 men for 10days, we went over with a 3ton truck which was heavily loaded with food, ( the truck had to be repainted, to disguise the fact it was British Army) my cooking duties were in the company of Cpl Doug Brown of QM staff. I got on well with Doug, (I've been unable to trace him), it was a great experience and nobody was poisoned, all returning safely to their duties in Gib. One day Doug and I decided to have a walk and ended up right down in the bowl of an extinct volcano , we went on to a viewpoint where we could look for miles to the northern edge of the Sahara, unfortunately we disturbed a hutted village of Morrocan Indians (Nomadic people) and they fired their guns at us, luckily they could not see us but obviously knew there were intruders about. We quickly made off.
On our long drive back to Tangier through Fez and Meknes there were tribesmen celebrating the end of Ramadan, firing their guns in the air and riding their horses about in large groups.
We all returned to Gib via Tangier ferry, on the quayside the locals kept asking "Take parcel to Gib", smuggling being big business.
The round of duties at Europa continued until June 1962 and it was time for demob and home, having completed my service. I was tempted to sign on but wanted to return to my civilian trade. We flew from Gib to Gatwick and then by train to Pontefract, we were supposed to stop overnight but they got us away the same day, I was off home to Bristol. I enjoyed my National Service and feel proud that I have served the Colours and been in the company of so many fine men. I had no contact with the Army for 40 years but in 2003 I made contact again with Dave Pruett (Darth) and Peter Vile, have also met and corresponded with others, this renewed my memories of that enjoyable period
In 2004 I was very fortunate to be able to return to Gibraltar at the expense of the MOD and Gibraltar Goverment (bless their hearts), this was together with my old pals Dave Pruett and Phil Ashworth. This was truly a wander down memory lane and a wonderful experience, even being able to visit the Europa Barracks site and see Major Merediths office (now a toilet), my own office and Dave Pruett's G10 Store.
Also I have been fortunate in also being able to make contact with other old pals including Captain now Brigadier Windsor-Aubrey who has an excellent memory especially of us Somerset lads, his help to me in supplying photographs and interest is only matched by the warmth of his replies to letters and Emails. I am very much looking forward to meeting him again after all these years in the New Year.
Copyright text and pictures: Unless otherwise indicated:
This page is dedicated to the memory of Ray Ryan who died in 1999 and also the other members of Draft 33 who are no longer with us.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas (Tom), Fletcher, Meredith MBE.
Died 23rd June 2002 aged 85. He enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in 1935, 1941-45 1st Parachute Battalion, commissioned in 1945. Awarded MBE in 1951, returned to Somerset Light Infantry in 1954 with rank of Major. 1962-1964 Quartermaster of Light Infantry Depot and from 1964-1971 he held the most senoir Quartermaster's appointment in the Army as Staff Quartermaster. Promoted to Lieut. Col in 1968. Tom Meredith was hugely popular and much respected in the regiment, he was commonly known as "Mr Fixit".
I regret to report the death of my father in law Thomas Fletcher Meredith LtCol (MBE) at Penticton BC Canada at 0100 hrs 23 June 2002. Tom joined the SLI in Birmingham in 1936 because he liked the picture of the soldier on the horse and wanted to play football. He was serving in India when he was seconded to the Paras on their formation. He rose to RQMS with 150\151 and then the 1st?? after Arnhem. He was subsequently commission and served in Germany with the army of occupation, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Egypt/Palestine, and Malaya, to name a few (my wife was truly a globe trotting army brat) Following his retirement he served as an RO with the ceremonial branch of the Ministry. He was predeceased by his wife Margaret and is survived by his daughter Charlotte Lewall of Christina Lake BC Canada, and four grand children - Anna Lewall of Newcastle, Brendan Liard Lewall of Canberra Australia, Katharine Margaret Lewall of Cranbrook BC and Christina Meredith Lewall of Christina Lake BC A finer man I will not meet. He will be sorely missed
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