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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Friday, 7 January 2011

Mosquitos, Strippers, Mormons and Me - 1983

I settled into life in Germany fairly easily. I mean, what’s so hard about getting up, getting breakfast cooked for you, meeting outside with you mates, and getting orders for the day that usually involved cleaning various bits of kit until lunch, a run, maybe the assault course, some more cleaning, dinner, then the times your own. Someone in the room would have a TV that a number of us would congregate around. Programming was provided by the British Forces Broadcasting Company and was typically BBC fair; they also had a radio station that broadcasted across the BAOR (British Army on the Rhine). One guy kept Piranhas in a huge tank at the end of his bed and would feed them live goldfish, which was usually more entertaining than the TV.

Unless you had pulled Guard duty, then the nights and weekends were your own and that meant exploring beyond the confines of camp and the squadron bar. I was not keen on the squadron bar; I did not mix in with the typical squaddie as I found their more boisterous behaviour a bit heavy duty for my liking. I was not wimping out and played many a game of indoor rugby, suffering a badly damaged ankle one time. There were a few other like minded guys I was to find out later.

Before any personally organised excursions could take place though, we (Mick Hayes, myself and a few other newbies), were taken out on the town for a tour of the local bars and clubs as induction to the Squadron. Chief amongst these were Treff Punkt, Blondies and the Weser Pub. Tradition had it that we had to drink a selection of the local beers, wines and spirits and manage to return to camp. Amongst the drinks taken that night were Ratzenpuss (unsure of spelling) that was watered down with Tabasco Sauce! The better known Jagermeister, served from the freezer and various schnapps such as Apfelkorn , and Asbach Uralt brandy etc. Ratzenpuss (sic) was a truly horrid concoction, drunk only under orders and as we traipsed around Neinburg, I got a terrible feeling in my gut that the night was not going to end well, unless I managed a tactical withdrawal or came up with a plan to reduce the possibility of serious illness and internal injury to my colon.

Treff Punkt had a disco set up and the bar was bang in the centre of the room, there were tables on a single pole leg and stools around them dotted about the bar. The place was usually full of squaddies and we walked in and were taken straight up to meet Tony, the owner. The order of the day was a large Stein of beer and a short, probably vodka, to ease into the evenings activities. We then headed off to the centre of town and the Weser Pub. Beers were ordered and we were then told to line up. The barman took a litre beer stein and filled it with one of each spirit along the bar. We were presented with a glass each and told to down it in one.

My plan, formed as we walked around town, was to down it and then eject it asap in the bar’s toilet. The concoction was foul as it went down my throat; I gagged but got it down. One of the lads ran outside and deposited his all over the pavement. I made it to the toilet, stuck my fingers down my throat and sent the lot off to the sewerage farm. Problem was that no matter how quick you did that, some alcohol still got into your system and I ended the night, eating currywurst, pissed, and sitting on the floor outside the fast food shop.

I noticed that it was a good idea to learn to drive a panzer (Armed Personnel Carrier), APC 432. Why? Well for a start off it was fun, steering a 16 ton piece of Chobham Armour around the Germany countryside, you got out of most tasks on exercise, such as bridge building, as it was your job to drive and cook, whilst the team on board, built and slept. When it came to laying minefields, (practising), a mine laying plough was attached to the back of the vehicle, the door (at the back was open) and two of the team would load barmines (a metre long piece of cardboard, shaped like a land mine) onto a conveyer belt, which laid the mine into a trench, dug by the plough, the thing then covered the mine with soil and two guys walked either side and made sure it was fully covered.

Driving a panzer was a piece of piss really. An accelerator, two tillers for steering, an automatic gear box and a dead man’s pedal, behind the tillers, that cut the fuel to the engine, in case the thing decided to ran away with itself, as they were prone to do. The other sweet deal about the training was that at the back garages, was a car park. Any squaddie who had a car that had passed it’s used by date, simply left them parked there. If no one claimed them, we would drive over them to crush them down.

One aspect of being on exercise in Germany, was that sometimes, the squadron would go on bridge gallops, which entailed driving to a location, by a river, building a bridge, driving over it, along with a couple of other infantry regiments, who we supported, such as the guards and the tank regiments, then taking it apart, loading it onto the trucks and going to the next location. This was knackering work for the guys, as often six or seven bridges would be built over a 4 or 5 day period. Usually, we kept to the training grounds, Soltau and Celle, but sometimes we’d go across farmer’s fields to reach the river. The farmers were compensated for the loss of crops and occasionally asked for us to drive through their field if the crop return was going to be crap, as the compensation was greater than the value of the crop.

In June of 83, we headed over to Canada, to take part in live firing exercises at BATUS (British Army Training Unit, Suffield) in Alberta. It was close to Medicine Hat and we were allowed to nip over there at weekends. The live firing consisted of all the weapons we had at our disposal, including anti Tank weapons, machine guns, and rifles and using live explosives to blow shit up. Problem with BATUS in the summer was out on the prairie, it was a mosquito cafe and we were on the menu. Taking a crap was a nightmare because as soon as you dropped your pants, what looked to be the whole of the mosquito family on the prairie would rise as one and head towards your bare arse. So a juggling act of rubbing mosquito repellent on your bum, whilst squirting the buggers with another repellent bottle, laying cable and wiping your bum took place.

The prairie also had its fair share of snakes and Mick Hayes was scared to death of them. We found a dead one in a wagon rut and when he was taking a kip in the back of the tank, we carefully placed it on his chest, facing him. We then woke him and said “Mick, don’t move mate, there is a snake on you”. He shat himself, sprang up and shot out of that panzer and ran off into the wilderness. We promptly shat ourselves laughing. That’s the last of the poo stories for now!

On the exercise, we had the task of wiring a steel girder bridge with Plastic Explosive. PE4 smells like marzipan, but work with it long enough with bare hands and you get a blinding headache. Using blocks of wood and steel wire, each charge was shaped and attached to the girders; we then retreated into a bunker a few hundred feet away. The detonation was overseen by safety officers from the base and they parked their land rovers just behind the bunker. The bunker was underground, flush with the land, so the jeeps were exposed to the blast. The safety officer gave the order to “wait”, which some joker with the shrike (detonation trigger) took for “blow it up” and promptly pressed the buttons that sent the electrical message to the detonators. A huge boom went off, followed by some highly explosive language as pieces of steel flew past the land rovers and the exposed safety officers above us. For once, I was NOT at fault...............

Medicine Hat City had a water slide park on the outskirts, which we soon got bored of and in the centre of town was the Assiniboia Inn (this place had and has legendary status in the Army). Back in 1983, the place would be crammed as every day, all day, they had strippers on. Canadian laws state that if you order a beer at the bar, you must stay at the bar to drink it. If you do decide to move through the room to a table, you have to ask a waitress to carry your beer for you. We’d order jugs of beer and settle down for an afternoon of free (really) strippers. One stripper could shoot ping pong balls across the room (use your imagination as to what the firing mechanism was), another did a show to the music from the Muppets TV programme, with Animal the drummer as her helper, (he looked pretty pissed off to me) and you could always guarantee that some drunken squaddie would cause or get involved in a fight.

At the end of the tour, we were given 4 days R&R (Rest and Recuperation). Myself, Andy Orton, Titch Winder and Paul Evans (may have been others but cannot recall), jumped on a greyhound bus and went from Medicine Hat, through Calgary and on into the Rockies. We stopped at Lake Louise (fantastic) and drove on to stay in Kelowna, a town on the Okanagan Lake. The town and the scenery was beautiful , our motel was right on the water and we’d spend nearly every day, lazing in the lake, drinking beers held in brown paper bags (yep, you had to hide your beer in public) and generally causing mischief where we could. There were loads of small house boats moored on the lake and we decided that one would make a good diving platform. We were happily throwing ourselves into the lake, when this guy pitches up in his motorboat and asks us what we thought we were doing. We apologised, said who we were and once he knew we were soldiers, took us over to his house on the lake, organised the beers and took us up in his own water plane for a flight over the mountains and the lake.

Whilst in Kelowna, I bumped into this gorgeous girl. She was on holiday with her mum and I asked her out for a drink. Her Mum told me in no uncertain terms that they were Mormons and did not drink nor smoke. That was merely a challenge to me, one I had to live up to and I proceeded to not only succeed in getting her away from her mum, but also managed to help her break both the rules her mum had told me about. She also told me that Mormons did not believe in sex before marriage, but that rule got well and truly busted too as I ended up lying in my hotel bed, drinks by the bedside, ash tray on my chest, with smokes on the go and her lying next to me. Dazed, confused and satisfied (hopefully).

Ah Canada.

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