National Service and Marriage
I was Twenty one, and getting married a week later to my childhood sweetheart, the reason being that my father would not sign for me to get married before. One of the jokes at my wedding said by my best man Graham was reading a letter from Her Majesty the Queen, inviting me to two years in the army, free of charge and to report to Aldershot in two weeks time. But it was no joke. One week on honeymoon and then Joyce saw me off to Aldershot from Stoke station. Arriving at Euston station I had to cross over to Waterloo to catch the Aldershot train. When I went down to the underground it was like another world, I didn’t have a clue what to do.
There were thousands, (to my thoughts) of people. Seeing a ticket man I asked him directions and he said to get a one shilling ticket and follow the yellow line, which I did, ending up on a platform with a sign saying Aldershot plus many other places. A train came in, the doors opened, I got in, and the doors closed, and off we went within seconds. Sitting there looking at the train map I counted five stations and then mine, but to my surprise it was another station. I panicked and asked the fellow next to me if he could help.
‘Oh you came to the wrong side of the platform’ he said, ‘you should be going the other way’
Bloody hell! What a to do, I thought.
‘Don’t worry, he said, ‘you can stay on here all day going round till you come to your station it just takes a bit longer this way’. Sure enough, after about twenty minutes the train
arrived at Waterloo. Going up a large moving staircase I arrived at the top to see a large number of entrances with their destinations above. At last I came to gate number eight which said Aldershot. Thank god, I thought, one and a half hours wait. Whilst waiting I noticed a lot of other lads about my age with their cases so I guessed we were all going to the same place i.e the ‘Army’.
I met up with a smart, straight backed fellow with a cockney accent.
‘Are you going for National Service?’ I said.
‘Yes, Queen Elizabeth Barracks’ he said, Royal Army Medical Corps, by the way, my name’s Ollie, Ollie Reed’, he said.
‘And mine is Roy’ I replied.
At Aldershot, we both got off, and a soldier was shouting,
‘Anyone for Queen Elizabeth, jump on this lorry’, which we did with a number of others. About 20 minutes later we arrived at the camp.
‘Get in line at that door, and enter when called by the sergeant who will take all your particulars’, another soldier bellowed at us.
Ollie was in front of me as we were going through, then he heard the sergeant keep saying ‘how do you spell this?’ Ollie turned to me and said:
‘They can’t bleedin’ spell, we’ll have some fun here. Ollie was next, the sergeant shouted, ‘Name?’ Ollie spelt it out for him. The sergeant looked up at him and if looks could kill, Ollie was a dead man.
‘Playboy,’ said Ollie,
‘Bloody play boy?’ What’s that?’
‘It’s a kind of actor Sarge’, said Ollie, laughing, but with no sound coming out of his mouth.
‘You’ll be a shitting actor by the time I’ve finished with you lad’ said the sergeant.
‘Next’, the Sergeant shouted.
‘The name’s Roy Smith …S.M.I.T.H’ I said,
‘You being bloody funny lad?’ The sergeant screamed
Oliie nearly fell over. I thought that if I stayed with this fellow I was going to get into trouble but when we got into the barracks room his bed was next to mine, oh dear I thought, that’s all I need. Looking back it was the most enjoyable two years of my life. Ollie became my best mate and I’d like to think I was his. Going through training and attending many courses like first aid and with Ollie I attended the intelligence course, why is beyond belief, but later it
became very useful to me. The two years soon went, getting into trouble getting out of trouble seem to come natural to Ollie. But a head ache to our commanding officer, Captain Roger Bannister,
‘It’s a good job you are a fast runner Smith’ he used to say.
Playing football for the regiment and being picked for the army side kept me very fit, although I never once beat the captain, nobody ever did, and I often came second winning many trophies for the regiment in cross country races.
After eight weeks of training we were given a thirty six hour pass. This enabled us to go out of the camp and to go anywhere as long as we were back by Monday morning at 6 am for parade. I told Ollie that this did not give me enough time to go home. He told me to come with him to London for a night as we could stay at the Salvation Army Hostel or Nuffield Centre, as there were plenty of places for servicemen.
Dave Alps, who bedded the other side of the billet asked if he could come with us, and before we had chance to arrange things there were five of us. Come Saturday morning we managed to get a lift in the camp lorry which dropped us off at Fleet railway station which was the nearest to us at around three miles away. The next station was Aldershot and Ollie said we’d be better off at Fleet because at Aldershot we would spend all our time saluting bloody officers. After ten minutes the train arrived and
there was a rush for a seat. We walked quickly along the corridors looking into every compartment until we came to two men who were looking into one of the compartments that contained only one man. We brushed them aside and rushed in.
‘Come in boys sit yourselves down I see you are in the medics’ said the little man sitting in the corner by the window.
I looked at this man, he was slim, with a very sharp featured face, long slim nose and ferret like eyes that were looking all over us.
‘How do you like the army?’ he said looking at me. I was getting worried, “I know this man so be careful what you say Roy” I thought.
‘Well, it gets you fit, I’ve never felt so healthy. This is our first pass and we are going to London for the night.’
The man then asked what I was before I went into the army. I told him I was a bricklayer and I had just served my apprenticeship and had only two weeks on full money.
He then asked me my name:
‘Smith, Roy Smith Sir’ I said.
‘Ah Woy, do you know where that name comes from Woy?’
Then it hit me straightaway. I knew this man, I had heard him talking many times on the radio and television, he had a problem pronouncing his R’s, it was Field Marshall Montgomery.
‘No Sir I don’t’ I said.
He told me that in the first world war a lot of American’s helped us, and some had the Christian name Roy, the most famous being Roy Rogers the cowboy, he told me that my father must have liked cowboy films, we all laughed.
He never stopped talking to us all the way to Waterloo. The lads could not understand me calling him Sir all the time. We walked along the platform at Waterloo. I told the lads who this man was as he now had two men with him one on each side of him. I told the lads it was Montgomery and we all came to attention as he passed us at he looked at us with a smile on his face.
He stopped in front of me and said ‘you are quite an alert fellow Woy, with good alertness and observation you will make a good soldier.’
I thanked him and he carried on along the platform to be met by two red capped Sergeants.
I saw him many times but never had the pleasure to speak to him again. He lived in the next village Fareham, and he would walk to do some shopping and visit the Post Office but there were always reporters and photographers following him, as were the two men who I had brushed aside in the
corridor on the train. As I have said, he was very talkative and was always asking questions. I have only wrote about those directed to me, which reminds me of my answer to him about being in the medics. My answer was that I was having a problem:
Being a bit macho, I thought being a nurse, running about the ward with a bed pan or on the battlefield carrying a stretcher was not me.
‘Well Woy, why did you join the medics?’ he asked.
I told him I was playing football at the time and was told by the club to volunteer for the medics, as they had an agreement with them saying that if I played for the army on Wednesdays I would get a weekend pass, enabling me to go home and play for the club.
‘Well, said Monty, you know it is very important being a medic, don’t feel out of the action because the first thing a soldier shouts when wounded is ‘medic’, and when bullets and bombs are going off all around it takes a lot of courage to go to him with only a first aid kit, there are more medals given to these soldiers although it is only a small regiment.’
I had never thought of it that way but I told him I thought I would still prefer a rifle to a first aid kit. He told me that I would have to volunteer to join another regiment. He also said he was a socialist and was delighted when they got elected to run the country. I did not pay much attention to this although I was a little surprised as I thought he would
have been a Conservative. It was later that I realised he, and many more in the army had voted against Churchill because he was Conservative and they all agreed with Monty to have a change and all voted Socialist.
After my two year service ended I moved back to Staffordshire, into a council flat and life returned to normal. Only talking on the phone to Ollie reminded me of the army. One of my duties was to supervise the sergeant’s mess. One day on the menu was brown stew and dumplings to me this was the Potteries “Lobby and Barmy Balls” and when asked by the RSM what was on the menu I loudly said the latter.
The RSM looked at me with a stern look until Sergeant Delucca explained about the Potteries food. He was a Potteries man from Hartshill. ‘For God’s sake Roy, don’t put spotted Dick on for dessert’ Delucca said, laughing.
Ollie, myself, and Mumford and a couple of the lads used to sneak to the local pub called the Windmill and have a couple of pints if I remember. Ollie didn’t drink, but came all the same, looking for girls. One night he did have a pint and the next morning on parade dropped one of his clangers. In the medics when you are given the order to number it was in fours. Ordinary regiments call their numbers one to how many there are in the line, for example there may be 40 in the line which meant the last man would shout 40. The
medics would shout in fours, 1234, 1234, 1234, 5634. Ollie was not paying attention as he was number one and I was number two, he shouted five I shouted six two, and of course the drill sergeant came looking at me thought it was me. So he put his nose on my nose with such a stern face I started to laugh, until the RSM came into view, he quickly gave the order to number off and he stayed with me to make sure that it went right this time.
[I have no idea what the last two paragraphs were about. I will have to ask Roy on Friday.]
I’ve already said that Ollie would join in any courses going. One day he came to me with forms to be an officer.
‘You must be joking, a commissioned officer?’ no way’ I said.
‘Will you help me to fill in this form he said?’
‘Yes I replied, and it was then that I realised, that Ollie had difficulty in reading and writing. We would now call it Dyslexia. Ollie was away about a couple of months and was back with three stripes.
‘Not good enough’ he said.
It was about this time we began to drift apart. I was into sport and Ollie was with his fellows who liked acting and was always putting on shows in the NAAFI. There was only one show I joined in and this was the Black and White Minstrel Show. I had done this at school and like an idiot had told Ollie
Ollie was brilliant, and a new friend named Berry was also very good. Another time the RSM called me to tell me about another RSM who would be staying at the Mess and everybody especially me must see that he gets looked after.
‘He’s here for about four to six weeks and he is boxing for the commonwealth’ said the RSM. His name was RSM Amin, a six foot African weighing about 26 stone. He was very pleasant, no problems at all, I found it difficult to have a conversation with him and I always asked him if he wanted to do this and that. I suppose years later, people had wished I had put a cyanide tablet in his morning coffee.
[Regimental Seargent Major Idi Amin one time president of Uganda.]
Around a couple of years later, Ollie rang me to say he was coming to the Potteries to look around. He wanted to see Burslem and the other towns, as he was reading Clayhanger, and he was hoping to get a part in it. He also wanted to visit Wedgwood and Doulton and to get a brown teapot for his Grandparents from a company called Sadlers. I told him I would pick him up at Stoke Station. He arrived on the Wednesday at 10.30 and after his usual greeting he told me he had not passed his driving test.
We went to Burslem, and he bought a figure from their shop in Nile Street and then we went over to Sadlers. I knew Peter Sadler, as I had done some building work there. Peter showed us around, showing us all the beautiful teapots, but Ollie said that his Gran wanted a brown one. These
happened to be the cheapest, but I don’t think this had anything to do with it, as it was what his Gran wanted.
I drove him to the Wedgwood shop, he bought a few items in blue and white china then I drove him through all the six towns, he said he had never seen anything like it, it was like
being in another world he said, and kept on about the toilets being outside. He said one thing that would get me the part would be talking like me, like a Quaker, with thee and thou and wut. We had a meal and a couple of pints in the North Stafford Hotel opposite the station then he caught the 6pm train and he made me promise to call on him in London at any time.
[Oliver Reed was quite a famous British actor back in his prime. Unfortunately there was little for him from Hollywood in those days and the British industry was as ever, very badly run.]