The 28th July 2017 marked the 65th anniversary of my father joining the Coldstream Guards. This was at a time when men were conscripted to join the Armed Forces, although as my father always pointed out, he wasn’t conscripted, but joined voluntarily; even serving an additional year, leaving in 1954.
I don’t remember how or the specifics, but even after my father had left the Coldstream Guards, he was in reserve for a number of years, almost going to Egypt to fight in the 1956 Suez Crisis. I seem to recall that he was actually on an aeroplane that was turned back at the last minute.
My father had been a member of the Army Cadets as a teenager, along with his brother, John, and he took the decision to join the Army when he was aged 17. I think this decision was partly influenced by him losing his sister in 1946 and his mother had been in ill health for a couple of years, passing away just nine days before he joined the Guards.
My father’s first regiment of choice had been the Grenadier Guards, but his application failed so he applied for the Coldstream Guards instead. A medical examination revealed a heart murmur, but after some deliberation, it was determined that it would not affect his ability to join the Guards.
My father told me a number of stories regarding his time in military service; I wish I’d written them all down. But I do remember tales of him floating in the Red Sea during his time in Egypt, waiters bringing him Stella Artois when relaxing on the beach there, befriending the local Arab population (one loaned him a large knife for a while), missing out on ‘Trooping the Colour’ due to an injury to his foot sustained during training, which disappointed him greatly. I believe he was serving in Egypt when Queen Elizabeth II was Coronated. He also helped to sandbag Mablethorpe when there were devastating floods there in 1953. I even remember a tale of when he sneaked his dad and friend into his barracks in London for an overnight stay. In his spare time, my father would help wash pots in the Ritz or Savoy hotel.
Below is a piece of writing written by my father regarding his arrival at the Guards Depot in Caterham for the first time:-
I got off the bus, opposite to my intended destination. If I had any lingering doubts that it was right, the notice on the roadside, quickly dispelled them, as it was painted in bold black letters, “The Guards Depot, Caterham.”
I walked in to the entrance to the Depot, which was a stone built building of turn of the 19th century origin, and stopped at a wire gate.
A tall sergeant appeared from the office, and came to a halt in front of me. I gave him my identification papers from the recruiting office in Sheffield, which he accepted without comment. Then I was startled to hear him bellow in the recesses of the office, “orderly, take this man to the waiting block.” A long lean guardsman emerged from the guard house, at a run. He came to a shuddering halt in front of the sergeant and stood erect with his arms at his sides. Then the sergeant commanded “double march left right,” and I was running behind the orderly, with my suitcase in my hand. I was to find that this mode of motion was the norm for all recruits at the depot.
No communication took place with the orderly and I, and I pursued him, at a frantic pace to the company stores. There I was issued with: bedding, four blankets, two sheets, a mug and knife, fork and spoon.
From there the orderly guided me to the waiting room, not at the same demented pace, but a slower one, as a concession to my new found burden from the company stores.
There were a few other recruits in the waiting block, so called because the new recruits were based, before they were assigned to their first squad.
There wasn’t much time left in the day, travelling down from Rotherham, meant it was afternoon before I got there. My memories of the first day are vague for some of the detailed happenings, but after tea in the cookhouse, it seemed to be quickly time for bed.