My Army Life - 1954 till 76
My First Love (The Austin 7)
My fracture at Winterburg
The Driving Test
My Life Story - so far ?
Happy New Year for 2013.
My life in the British Army
Visit My Web Site: www.the39ersclub.com
I was called up for National Service - Oct 1954 & served in the Royal Artillery till Oct 1976
The Photo above of My-Self was taken after the 1st week of training in the army - Oct. 1954 - "Who a smart Boy then!" If only I had the chance to start again! If, If.
Short storys my: Michael (PJ) Hughes (that me) - my e mail < firstname.lastname@example.org >
The storys are true 'I was that Soldier!'
We now run 'The 39ers Club' We? (that myself & Alfred Grimes) served togather in 36 Bty 39th Missile Regiment, Royal Artillery in Dempsey Bks., Sennelager, West Germany - in the 1960's - 70's.
We are trying to bring togather some old mates that served with us in this unit - we invite them to share their memories in pictures, that were taken around that time - why not have a look yourself,
Just Click www.the39ersclub.com below to visit our web-site.
Michael & Alfred
The Austin Ruby - Seven
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My First Love
THE AUSTIN SEVEN
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes)(10)
The Austin Seven was a lovely car that's what I thought, seeing it was the first car that I ever owned. It was just by chance that I picked it up - I went to the local scrap yard in Middle Wallop, Hampshire, a few miles from the Army Camp where I was stationed in Christchurch. One of my mates had an old Morris Ten and wanted some spare parts to keep it on the road. So I went with him to the scrap yard, then we parked his car on the car park out side the gates of the yard. I went with my mate looking around at the junk all piled up, I thought it was a pity - piling the lovely old cars on top of one an other. They must have been someone's pride and joy once, but now they were only junk, with parts missing or hanging off, such as doors and bonnets with some windows missing or broken.
I had to leave it, it was making me feel sad, seeing all the old timer's pride and joy, just there piled up, looking so forlorn.
Making my way to my mates car and giving him a hand to carry some pieces for his car, we secured them on the roof of the Morris Ten and then sat in the car ready to go back to our barracks. Just then, a chap in an battered old car, parked along side of us. It looked a bit shabby with one mud wing missing, as well as the headlight. I said to my mate, "If he leaves it there for long someone will think it's scrap and start taking parts off it!" The chap got out of the vehicle and started walking toward the office in the scrap yard - he was an old bloke around his sixties and was walking very slow and I think he was talking to himself. I was looking at the car with interest and said to my mate. "I wouldn't mind a little car like that for myself!" We got out of our vehicle and started walking around this interesting little motor.
I walked around the front of this box on wheels, that's what it reminded me of. I noticed, on the radiator a badge, that read, "Austin Seven." It looked so sad with the wing and headlight missing and leaning to one side. It looked as if it was in a battle and had got a black eye. Walking around I noticed it had spoke wheels and was better looking at this side. The running board was slightly damaged where it must have hit a gate post, and around the back of the car, was the spare wheel carrier minus the spare wheel, and some rust on the body work.
Just then the old man returned looking even sadder.
I said, "Nice car."
He looked at me with sad eyes and said, "She was always a good little lady, but her days are numbered! I'm moving up north with my son, so I've got to get rid of her. She would not be able for the trip."
"Are you going to put it in the yard?" I said pointing towards the scrap yard.
"Yes, Its a sad day seeing the old girl go like this," he said, with a tear in his eye.
"How much do you want for her?"
"They only offered me twenty pounds in there," he said, pointing to the office.
I shook my shoulders and pulled a face. (I thought to myself, if only I had twenty pounds. I would give it to him willingly for a beautiful car like that. But twenty pounds is a lot of money - over five weeks pay.)
I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out all the money I had in the world - three half crowns, and a two shilling piece and eight pence three farthing. I held it out in the palm of my hand and said, "This is all the money I own in the world. You don't get much being a National Service Man. I would love it! But, I won't get paid till Wednesday and that is only over three pounds.
He smiled at me and said, "I used to be in the Army once - it a good life. Where are you stationed?"
I said, "Christchurch."
He said, "I did not know there were any Camps there!"
I said, "Its a Signal Research Establishment, next to the Air-field"
He started walking around his old car, touching it now and then. Then he placed his hand on the shining radiator top and started to rub it - as if it was a dog! He looked up at me and said.
"I tell you what, if you give me ten shilling and promise to look after the old girl - she is yours. He handed over the keys and log book and then shook my hand saying. "Good luck and look after her."
I said, "I will" - rubbing my hand along the top of the car.
"By the way, how are you getting home?"
"I'm alright. There is a bus along in a few minutes, I'd rather do that!" he said, walking away - looking back once and waving to me. I waved back saying - "thank you!"
I now had my first car an 'Austin Seven', 1932 model. I drove it back to our Barracks following my mates car. It was different from what I was used to! as I had only driven land rovers. It was so light, like an dinkey toy. I got back in one piece - but then realised that I had no insurance. I had forgotten that in the excitement of getting the car. I spent a few days doing my car up, with a replaced mud wing and head light. She was looking like her old self, and with a bit of elbow grease she was soon shining again. I had it insured and got it some road tax with a disc on the windscreen. We were ready for the road. But I had to wait for my weekly wage before I could afford the money for some petrol. I drove to here and there trying out my new car, I was very proud of her.
When I had time off, I spent it cleaning my car and painting things on it - the wheels had spokes which were painted silver and the rims black. I touched up the body work with black paint, then the running boards and the spare wheel carrier, which had another spare wheel fitted - painted like the other. The engine compartment, I painted silver, with the engine been aluminium. It polished up shining - like new.
I was in the units running team at the time, so I had lots of spare time on my hands, and I spent a lot of it working on the lady! It was shining so bright I could not do much more in that line. So I started to find out why and how the engine worked! I took the engine out and stripped it down. It was very light. After I disconnected the mounting bolts and the prop shaft, I just lifted it out and placed it on a bench. I then started to take it apart bit by bit. It was off the road for a few weeks while I tried to put it back together. So that's the way I started working on engines!
Later on I got myself a motorbike, an A.J.S. 1,000. I had some close shaves on this! It had a side car and I would drive it along the roads with the side car off the ground. The Police did not like this, so I was pulled over many a time and told off. Then I wrapped it around a lamp post and that quietened me down for a while. I remember months later I had another motorbike and I had two crashes with this. First I broke my ankle and later fractured my shoulder and arm in a crash with two cars. One was turning right and the other turning left and I went in between them! There was not enough room so the bike was written off. ALL PART OF GROWING UP.
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes)
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Another true story - The Fracture at Winterburg
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes) (item 12)
I was stationed with the 39th Regiment Royal Artillery at Sennelager, West Germany, and I was a young lad of twenty five, with plenty of energy. Then in the middle of January 1961, a few days before my birthday, the Regiment was asking for volunteers to make up the numbers on a two week training exercise. I was always told never to volunteer for anything, but this looked O.K. as there was no training involved. We were just administration staff, to look after the lads who were on the training. So I volunteered with about twelve other lads, and the next thing we were on our way to set up camp in Winterburg. I was to work in the Officers Mess with six other lads. I was the chief washer up and spud peeler, but it was alright. There were two shifts. I was on the early one with two other lads, that was from six in the morning till two thirty in the afternoon. Then we had the rest of the day to ourselves.
So the first day after duty, we were all ready to go out at ten to three that afternoon. The three of us, Tom, Dave and myself, thought we would go down town and see the sights. We started off down the steep hill that led into town. Looking back we could see the building where we were staying. The Officers Mess stood on the hill surrounded by the wooden huts where the lads on the exercise were staying. It looked very pretty set out among the snow covered fir trees, and the snow on the surrounding hills. I think it used to be a hotel once, before it was taken over by the NATO troops. Different units of the NATO forces did their winter training there.
On the surrounding hills lots of people were skiing and it looked like good fun. Even the small children had a special slope made, with a little chair lift to get them up the small hill, and there they would ski down. It looked so easy.
I said to Tom, "We will have to have a go at something like that."
Tom said, that he was often on skis and would love to have a go, sometime.
We were approaching our first pub (guest house) and we agreed to have a quick drink there. I noticed the crossroads just beyond the pub. The traffic seemed to be stopping and starting as if a policeman was controlling it, but I could see nothing. Then I noticed this thing hanging over the center of the cross roads. It looked like a rectangular box, something like the lantern that hangs outside some houses as a porch light. But this was much bigger. The lantern like object was bright yellow in colour. On each of the four sides of the box, there was a large circle split into eight segments. The segments, on the top and bottom were red. They occupied nearly half of the circle. The two segments on each side of the circle were green and did not occupy as much space as the red segments. There was four orange segments, one between each colour, but those were very small, about quarter the size of a green segment. There was an arm, like that on a clock, but this was the full width of the circle and pivoted in the center. The arm was moving slowly around the segments. One half of the arm would be pointing to the red segment on the top of the circle, and the other half of the arm would be pointing to the other red segment at the bottom, and the same when the arm moved to the green and orange. On the other sides of the box-like object was the same layout, but I noticed when one side of the clock hand was on red, the other hands on the other side were on green, and then when it was on the orange segments, they were all on the orange together.
We sat in the guest house near the crossing and watched with amazement at how well the traffic flowed. All the drivers were obeying the signals. After a few beers we got fed up watching it and moved on down town.
The town was small. We looked around a few shops then ended up in a guest house and then another and another. We were getting hungry and didn't have enough money to waste on food, so we decided to go back to our camp for the evening meal, and then we might go somewhere after. As we were leaving the building, there was a taxi outside, and the driver somehow must have known that we were English, as he offered to drive us to our destination, very cheap! Tom negotiated the fare and we all climbed in. The other two were in the back so I got in the front. The driver started talking to me in German. I told him in my best German that I didn't understand, but he kept on talking. As we took off, I shouted to my mates in the back, "I hope we get there!"
Then he was playing at dodging cars in and out of the traffic.
My mate shouted to him, "We are not in that much of a b...y hurry."
The driver turned around to talk to the passengers in the back.
I shouted, "Keep your b....y eyes on the road mate."
The roads were clear of snow, but some was piled up along the pavement otherwise the road was O.K. I saw the first guest house that we had been into ahead and turned and pointed it out to my mates. As I turned my head forward, the driver was braking hard and I nearly went through the windscreen. There was a bang and then we were waltzing around the road, and we came to a stop as the car hit a pile of snow. The driver was out of our vehicle even before it stopped, running to the other car waving his hands all over the place. We got out and were looking for the damage, when our man returned. He beckoned to us, and pointed toward the guest house across the road. He was in front, and at the bar first. We wondered what was going on and thought he must have brought us here out of the cold while he made a statement.
The barman was placing some full glasses on the bar and our driver lifted one up and said something, so being good soldiers we joined him. There was a glass of beer and a glass of spirits. He lifted the beer glass first and took a large drink, then wiped the froth from his lips with the back of his hand. Then he lifted up the glass with the spirt in and said, "Prost." Then the drink disappeared down his throat. So we did the same! The three of us nearly choked on the liquid, as it burned our throats and went down our gullet. That was the first time any of us had tasted, 'schnaps.' Over here we call them 'shorts.' Then there were more set up on the bar, so we had another drink with him. Just then the German Police arrived. Our driver greeted them and tried to hand them a drink, but they pushed him away. Then they were talking to him. He was still swinging his arms around, and he then pointed to the three of us.
The Policeman came over and said, "British soldiers, yes?"
We all nodded our heads and said, "Yes."
He then spoke to us in broken English. "You from the camp up the road?"
We again nodded and said, "Yes."
He then turned around and went over to our ex-taxi-driver and said something. Then they both left. Our man waved to us and then he was gone. We still had some drinks on the bar so we stayed to finish them. We were informed later that our driver had done that, so the Police could not prove he was drunk when the accident happened. So we had a cheap night out and walked to where our beds were, and we had something to talk about to our other mates the next day.
So that evening we had a go at skiing. Tom said, he was pretty good on skis. For Dave and me, this would be our first time. We signed for our kit from the ski store - ski boots and sticks, gloves and an oversuit. Tom showed the two of us how to put the things on, then gave us a demonstration. We got the hang of it, learned how to move off, turn and stop. I found the best way to stop was to sit on my skis. We all had some good fun, but kept to the small slopes. We were really tired that night, and our limbs were aching. I thought I was fit - but it was not in the right places! It was the back of my legs that were aching. I had a good shower, got my head down for the night and went out like a light.
I was willing the time away next morning, and then at two forty-five that afternoon we were all ready to have another go. The weather was not that good as it had been raining earlier in the day and the snow was a bit slushy.
The store man said it was not good for skiing and it could be slippy on the nursery slopes. We said, we would watch out and off we went.
We kept to the area where we were the previous day - it was a bit slippy, so we went around the woods where the snow was not used that much. It was all good fun, especially when we were on the narrow tracks, with the over-hanging branches. If you put the stick up and touched them, all the snow would fall, and if you were behind someone that did that, you could be covered in snow. It was great, but it got boring so we decided to venture to new pastures. We went further up the hill. It was very misty there and the evening seemed to be setting in, so we made tracks for our home base. It was surprising how far we had travelled and we were getting worried as the mist seemed to be settling down. Everything looked white.
"Which way?" I could hear Tom shout, as he was the leader. Just then Tom saw the lights of the village and we knew to keep to the right. The terrain was very rough and we were all getting tired.
I said to myself, "I will be glad to be back in my bed!"
Tom was at home on the slopes and soon disappeared into the distance. Dave was in front of me and I was doing my best to keep up with him. Then Dave fell, and I was in front. I looked back and saw him starting to follow. So I raced on. Then it happened! I was sliding sideways. I flung myself to the ground, but it made no difference. I was still tumbling and rolling out of control, then I came to rest in a pile of snow. I tried to get up, but I couldn't. I had lost one ski and the other seemed to be under me and my foot was still in it. I rolled over sideways and nearly passed out.
"My b....y foot!" I shouted.
Just then Dave arrived. "Are you O.K. Mick?"
I said, "There is something wrong with by b....y leg!"
Dave tried to pull me over and my scream nearly caused an avalanche. It was really dark now and we could see nothing. Just then Tom arrived and said, "What's wrong?"
I said, "I think I have broken something!"
He and Dave had a feel around and took off my ski, then said, "Yes."
"Yes what?" I said.
It was really cold now, I had not noticed it before, but I was freezing.
I said, "What the F... do we do now?"
By that time Tom was back on his skis and said, "The best thing is, for me to go and get some help, our base camp is only over there."
Then he was gone! I don't know exactly what happened, but the next thing - someone was holding a glass in front of me and placing it in my hand and moving it closer to my lips. I took a sip and it seemed to warm my throat up, so I took another and another. I was lifted on to a stretcher and carried to a room with bright lights. I was told that the man looking at my ankle was the local doctor and he had said, it was broken. After about an hour I was placed in an army ambulance, a converted land rover, and taken to the Canadian Military Hospital which was the nearest, and that was around ninety miles away. I had a very rough journey and arrived there about midnight.
I did sleep a bit on the long journey with the help of drugs they gave me before we left. I was well wrapped up, with the blankets tightly around me and then strapped onto the stretchers. I could not move even if I wanted too and with the drink and the drugs I did not want to move anyway. It was a good job I was drugged up to the eye balls as the journey turned out to be a nightmare. They did not take the main road but a short cut, that cut about twenty miles off the journey. The road was covered with hard packed snow and sometimes, where the snow had melted, there were pot holes and I felt them all. I would be drifting off to sleep and then we would hit a pot hole. The driver and his mate would say, 'sorry.' The vehicle would slow down for a bit. Then it would gather some speed as the road looked clear in the headlights. Then the driver would hit another bump - 'sorry,' and then gather speed again and so on! I was very relieved when we turned on to the main route and some smooth roads.
I was even more relieved when we arrived at the hospital. I knew I was there, when I heard voices speaking in English, or should I say Canadian. Then the rear doors were flung open and I was greeted by someone saying, "You will be all right now, mate, you are in good hands." I said "Thank you," to my driver and his mate, as I was lifted out on the stretcher and carried into the reception area. I knew this, because a nurse said, "You are now in the Canadian Military Hospital reception area." Then she said, "We must un-wrap you. You look so very comfortable there." I said, "Thank you." I was then taken to another room where all my clothing was removed and a white gown was put on me. My leg was still in the splints that were placed around it by the doctor in Winterburg. They had removed my clothing without disturbing my leg. Now I was dressed only in my white gown, and lying on a more comfortable stretcher, I had my splints removed, then my leg and ankle were cleaned up and an x-ray taken. I was informed that I had fractured my tibia and fibula, and they would have to operate to get them back together, then they would place my leg in a plaster cast.
Then the doctor said, "There is a small problem, and that is, there is too much alcohol in your blood, just now."
Then he said, "Did you have a drink after the accident?"
I told him about the glass full of something, that I thought was rum, that I drank while I was still in the snow.
He said, "We will make you comfortable, but can't operate on you just now as the alcohol level in your blood in very high".
I said, "How long?"
He said, "Twelve to twenty four hours."
I was wheeled into a ward, which was in darkness except for a light over a bed with curtains drawn halfway around. The nurse helped me onto the bed and then placed a cage over my legs, pulling the bedclothes over it and me.
She said, "That will take the weight of the bedclothes off your foot." Then she gave me a injection to help me sleep. I closed my eyes.
I could hear voices, I was wondering where I was! Opening my eyes, the room looked so bright - people were walking around. I thought they had just finished breakfast as I could hear the clatter of crockery.I looked around. There were curtains drawn around my bed. I lay there looking at the ceiling and wondering what was happening, when the curtains parted and a head popped in. It was a pretty nurse.
She said, "You are awake then, the man from Blighty."
She approached my bed.
I said, "Hello."
She then started tidying the bed up and said, "Are you comfortable?"
I nodded my head, and said, "Well, yes!"
I then said, "Have I missed breakfast?"
She said, "You have just missed dinner!" She then explained that it was gone one-thirty and dinner had just finished.
She then said, "I don't know about you? I will go and have a word with matron."
And off she went. A minute later she returned with another nurse, who turned out to be the matron.
Matron said, "You may be going to have your leg fixed up later."
Then she turned to the nurse and said, "Nil my mouth."
I said, "My mouth feels like, as if there was a chickens farm in there."
Matron said, "You can have a mouth wash."
The nurse then brought a basin of water, soap and towel and gave me a hand to wash myself.
She said, "You could do with a shave."
She then handed me my own bag containing my washing kit. I had a battery shaver there and soon cleaned my face up. I felt a bit better.
Then the screens were removed and I could see around the ward. There were six beds set out around the room. It looked as if there were only four occupied. Then a chap came over to me and put out his hand. I shook it, and said, "My name is Michael."
As he let go my hand, he said, "I'm George."
He then said that he had the same sort of injury. He had fractured his ankle while skiing on exercise. He sat talking to me for a while, then he went back to his own bed. I closed my eyes.
I was awakened by a nurse, a different one than before, and she informed me, that she was going to test my blood. Then she took a few pints out of my left arm(!) saying, "We will see if you are going to have your operation today."
Five minutes later a nurse arrived with a tray full of food, and said,
"You might as well have some food as your operation is at ten tomorrow morning." I was glad to see the food - scrambled egg, toast and marmalade and a nice cup of tea. I thought I was hungry, but I just nibbled at the egg and toast. I downed most of the tea. I was getting stomach pains and wanted to go to the toilet. The nurse returned and took my tray, saying, "You were not as hungry as you thought?"
I said, "Thank you. You are right, but the cup of tea was great!"
She then said, "Is there anything else I can get you?"
I said, "No thank you, I'm just waiting for tomorrow."
She then left with the tray. I meant to say to her, that I wanted to go to the toilet, but I was shy! I lay there thinking - I must go! I must go! I even tried to get out of bed, but when I tried the pain was too much, I nearly blacked out. I lay there looking around the room and trying to forget! I must have had an anguished look on my face, as the nurse came over and said, "Are you in pain?"
I said "No, but I would love to go to the toilet!"
She said, "That's all right! Do you want a bottle or pan?"
I looked at her, and she must have read the question in my eyes!
For she said, "You want to pass water or the other?"
I said, "The other!"
She then drew the curtains around me and disappeared! I was waiting with great expectation. Then a minute later the nurse returned with something covered with a cloth.
She said, "Here we are," and pulled the cloth off a sliver object. It looked like a wash basin.
She then said, "We sit on this!"
I started to laugh, at the thought of 'We'.
The nurse then placed the thing under me, saying, "Move your gown."
I sat there, it seemed for hours! I felt very uncomfortable sitting up there in the world! The object was removed later. The moving around in the bed started to make my leg hurt. It was really the first time since I had occupied the bed that I had had a good look at my leg! It looked so large all wrapped up in cotton wool! Just then the nurse came over and handed me some pajamas, saying, "Put them on, you might as well be comfortable for the night."
After supper, I settled down and drifted off to sleep. I was dreaming of skiing, when I was awakened by a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and there was a pretty nurse, with a trolley full of tablets and medicine. She gave me some tablets and then said, "Turn on your side." Then she gave me an injection, saying, "That's for the pain, and it will help you sleep!"
It was quite dark now. As I glanced at the clock on the wall at the far side of the room, it read - eleven fifteen. I closed my eyes again and drifted off to 'wonderland'.
I was awakened by the sound of a basin being placed on the table next to my bed, and a smiling nurse who said, "Time for a wash."
I put my hand into the basin, wet my fingers, then rubbed them over my eyes and dried myself with the towel. I could see a noticed over my head that read, 'Nil by mouth.' I then remembered - ten o'clock! I said to myself, "Wish it was over."
The time passed slowly. A doctor came to see me and said,
"Today is the day!" He explained what he was going to do. Then a nurse prodded me with a needle. I started floating on cloud nine. It was like being in a cinema watching a movie. I was lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled away. I was watching things fly by. Then someone said to me, "Count from ninety-nine backwards." I started counting '99, 98, 97, 9! *!'
Someone was calling my name. "Michael, Michael."
I tried to open my eyes, but they were so heavy!
Then again, "Michael, Michael!" I was determined to see who was calling, so I forced my eyes open! I was amazed to see two eyes, two large nostrils and lips, that were moving, saying,
"Michael how do you feel? It's all over."
I tried to say something, but could not move my lips.
Then the voice said, "We are going to put you into your own bed and there you can sleep it off."
I had this horrible taste in my mouth and tried to ask for a drink but couldn't. I drifted off to sleep again.
I opened my eyes. I was back in my own bed. My mouth was so dry! There was this pretty nurse leaning over me.
She smiled and said, "How do you feel?"
I said after a while, "I could do with a drink?"
"Just a sip then," she said, holding my head up with one hand and holding a glass with some water to my lips. I took a sip! I then noticed my leg hanging from a rope that was on a pulley over my bed!
I said, "Thank you." I looked at my leg again. It was covered in something that looked like plaster! Plaster cast. Just my toes were sticking out at the far end - surrounded by cotton wool. They looked really comfortable! I tried to move them, but I couldn't. After a few goes they finally wiggled. I was wondering how far down the plaster had come? I moved my hand down onto my hip, and was amazed to feel the cast there. It had come right up to my hip! I thought to myself that it was my lower limb that I had fractured. It felt like concrete-so solid!
The nurse handed me some pajamas and helped put the jacket on and then one leg in the trousers.
I asked her, "How long are we usually in the cast?" pointing to my leg. She said, "Your leg may well be up in the air for a few weeks! It helps with the circulation. They usually remove the plaster in about six weeks, after an x-ray."
I said, "Do I lie here all that time?"
"No," she said, "You will be able to get up in a wheelchair and maybe crutches. But when you are in bed, your leg will be placed on the pulley to keep it lifted up in the air!"
So the weeks rolled by. I got to know a lot of people, mostly Canadians. When it was visiting time I never had any visitors! So they took pity on me! Some of the families used to bring me fruit and cookies. As I was a long way from my unit I very seldom got anyone from the Regiment calling! But I made some good friends there and was invited to call on them if I ever visited Canada. I never got around to going and it's too late now!
I spent about four months in the hospital, as I had some problems with my leg. I broke it a second time. I was making my way down the stairs in the hospital one day and tripped! I woke up back in my bed in plaster again. I was informed that it had snapped and had to be put back this time with screws - four altogether. Then after a couple of weeks the plaster was removed. Then a few weeks later, I had to have another operation as the screws became loose and had to be removed. So after about four months altogether, I was released from the hospital. I bet they were glad to see me go!!!
I was then air-evacuated to Southern England by the R.A.F. I stayed with then in a rehabilitation unit to be checked over to see if I was fit enough to continue with my army career. After a few weeks I was granted leave, and went over to Ireland for a fortnights holiday. I then reported back to my unit in Sennelager, West Germany, fighting fit!!
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes)
|Visit My Web Site: www.the39ersclub.com
The Driving Test
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes) (item 03)
When I was stationed in Christchurch, Hampshire, mid-1957, I bought my first car, an Austin Seven - a 1932 model. This is when I get interested in the working of the motor vehicle. I passed my driving test while I was stationed in Barton Stacey, near Andover.
It was in the early part of 1957 that I attended a driving course while serving with 23rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery at Barton Stacey. We had some good times on the course, did a bit of classroom work first and then we were taken on the vehicles - a short wheelbase land-rover.
We started with driving around objects laid out on the ground at the side of the parade ground. The instructor would take one of the group with him to learn how to move off and stop, then drive around the objects on the ground. Some of us had knowledge of driving a vehicle as some of the lads were from farming backgrounds. I never had the opportunity of driving a motor vehicle before this course so I was a bit slow on picking things up. Then after a few days we went out on the main roads. With four or five lads to each vehicle, we were let loose with a driving instructor - a lad about my age who himself may have passed this driving test a few months earlier.
We would all be on parade for 8 o'clock and the section commander would inspect us as we all lined up like soldiers - he was sure to find some of us with dirty boots or our brasses not polished, and those persons would have to wash the vehicle at the end of the day and be the vehicle guard all that day. When out driving we would stop at a cafe for a cup of tea. The person who was the vehicle guard had to stay with the vehicle, while the rest of us had our break. Sometimes one of us would bring a drink and a snack back to our vehicle guard, usually one of his mates - if he had any !
The driving course was not hard and we got to know a bit of the surrounding countryside - mostly where the best cafes were - with the best juke-box and slot machines. There was one favorites cafe where I liked to go - a transport cafe, where all the truck drivers had their tea break.
The cafe had an old juke-box with two holes in the front - the idea was to put your own record on. It was a bit confusing. ! First you had to put your money in the slot on the juke-box to get the turntable going around - then you put your hands in through the holes in front of the box and selected your record from the rack. Before all this you had to remove the record from the turntable that the previous customer had been playing and put it back in its rack - then you could put your record on, and place the needle on the start of the record and the thing would play your tune. If the needle was worn you could change it from a selection of needles. It was a bit of a do - just to hear a tune.
There were not any of today's vandals around then as the juke-box was not mistreated and no-one pinched anything. The records were not supposed to be taken out of the box - the records being about 7 inches in diameter and the hand holes being about 3 inches, but we discovered that if you held the record in one hand and gently curved it in between your fingers - you could draw it through the hole. It was not plastic that the record was made of - but something like that, and it would break easily, but by warming it up in the hand it was possible to do this, especially in the warm weather. We did it mostly for a dare.
As well as the juke-box, there were the one-arm-bandits that used to take the old 3 pence piece, the one with twelve sides and coloured copper. Also one that took the old silver six pence pieces. I won a few times. They were like a magnet drawing me to them to put my money in. I always put in more then I ever won, but I kept on trying.
Then came the driving test itself. I was the first one in my group to take it - I was in the wrong place at the wrong time! We were on parade one wet Thursday morning in our own little group when the Sergeant in charge of the Regimental transport said.
"Hughes get in that vehicle,"
Pointing to the vehicle we had been training in for the last six weeks. I checked over the vehicle the way we were taught over the previous weeks and then sat behind the steering wheel of the land-rover ready in all respects for the task ahead, a little nervous under my skin, but trying not to show it.
I felt the vehicle lean to my left as this big Sergeant mounted and sat in the seat next to me.
"Out the gate and turn right,"
I heard him say in his harsh voice.
I followed his instructions to the tee! - trying to drive and change the gears smoothly. We drove for about three miles - I followed his instructions as I thought but he told me off a few times - like - 'you are in the wrong place to turn right' and 'watch your speed.'
Then he said.
"Pull over to the side of the road and stop."
"Get ready to drive on again, but when I hit the millboard with my hand and shout 'stop'. I want you to stop the vehicle - under control as quickly as possible and then wait till I tell you to drive-on."
So I drove on when told to do so. I was driving through a wooded area on a straight part of the road, when I heard this bang and the word.
I nearly jumped out of my seat, when I heard the slap of the Sergeants hand on his millboard. But then realized that this was it, on hearing the word.
I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands as my feet moved - one on to the brake pedal and the other on the clutch pedal, a fraction of a second later. ( I was told to dip the brake pedal before the clutch - while I was on the driving course). The nose of the vehicle dipped towards the ground, as the whole vehicle started to slide on the wet leaves on the road - the rear end trying to overtake the front! I could see a tree starting to move towards me and realized I was going to hit it - if I did not do something. I eased my foot off the brake pedal and turned the steering wheel into the skid and then applied the brakes again. The vehicle had slowed down by now as my hand went onto the hand brake lever. I started to apply pressure - we stopped with a jerk, facing the right way on the road and nicely parked on my side of the road. I felt a relief as my heart started to beat again!
I heard a voice say.
"That's O.K., drive on."
I had forgotten about the Sergeant, as I was completely engrossed with stopping the vehicle - but I came to my senses, and after checking the road, I drove on.
When we arrived back at our barracks and after I answered a few questions on the Highway Code, he said. "You have passed!"
(By, Michael (PJ) Hughes)
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