Thursday, 18 April 2019

Real hero of the Cold War - Wolfgang

Saw a tweet the other day, with a picture of the mobile schnellie wagon of Wolfgang.



Modern soldiers might wonder what we are all on about, however I am sure certain Range Complexes in the UK still see an enterprising burger van turn up and you then see the resulting large black bin bag of quickly disposed of, half frozen pack lunches!

However, never mind how good those burger vans are, they will not compare with the legendary Wolfgang! His Blue Schnellie Van (Schnellie, British Army slang from the German word for quick food shop - Schnell Imbiss) would roam the large Soltau Training area, in North east (West) Germany.



It did not matter how good your camouflage was, he would find you and then any semblance of tactics would go out the window as soldiers rushed to him for Chips mit mayo, Bratwurst mit senf and a yellow handbag of beer.

Rumour had it that he had fitted in his blue van a Clansman 353 radio, a set of BATCO and sets of orders!



My 3 favourite Wolfgang stories that I actually witnessed are:

1. We were in Soltau with the whole 3 RGJ Battle Group on our final warm up exercise before departing for BATUS in Canada, and to show all of us how large the Battle Group was, we all leaguered up and then walked up a small hill where the CO addressed us. we all turned round and saw the A and R Company 432s, two Squadrons of Chieftain tanks and assorted other vehicles, a formidable sight but as the CO spoke, to the back of the mass of vehicles a late addition arrived - Wolfgang - blasting out music. the brief finished and then 600 soldiers poured back down the hill, past their vehicles as they raced to get to the front of the queue for Wolfgang.


2. I was in the 3 RGJ Milan Platoon and we were dug in with A Company along a valley in Soltau, practicing setting up 'Tank Killing Areas' in case the Russians had ever attacked with their T72s and BMPs, as any soldier will tell you, stood around in a trench was never a soldiers favourite pastime but as the sun dimmed and we got ready for night routine, Wolfgang appeared in front of the trenches. No one moved, we all waited than the first Rifleman jumped up from his trench and made for Wolfgang, soon followed by others all hoping to be served before the hierarchy noticed. We were not helped by Wolfgang blasting out what seemed his only record on his speakers, "Are you lonesome tonight" by Elvis.

3. I was again attached to A Company 3 RGJ, and was travelling back from a brief in the back of the Company Commanders Landover, in the back with me were two young Platoon Commanders, suddenly got very excited and before anyone else spotted him, one of the young officers had spotted Wolfgang.

The OC then turned round and as quick as a flash, commented that it was a pity that the young officer was better at spotting Wolfgang from a distance than he was at spotting and recognising enemy armoured fighting vehicles. ( This story would be of no surprise to those who know who the young officer was)


for those still guessing who the Officers mentioned were - the OC (later a General) was last seen working at St Pauls Cathedral and the young Officer reached the dizzy heights of Adjutant (in a warm place, close to Spain)

Thursday, 27 December 2018

A sort of Christmas story - Falkland Islands Christmas 1987

I recently tweeted, wishing all soldiers deployed a 'Happy Christmas' but added , even though they were missing their friends and families, they would always remember with fondness the Christmas times spent away with their Regimental 'family', so here is  tale of one Christmas I spent away from home:

In 1987, I deployed to the Falklands with 'B' Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets, we left our Colchester Barracks knowing we would be spending Christmas, far from home in the South Atlantic.

Do not feel sorry for us, the war was long over, it was their (sort of) summer and the troops were now stationed in shiny new accommodation at Mount Pleasant.

I say shiny, most of it was but the Infantry Company and the Engineers were still at the far end of the camp in what the RAF still termed temporary accommodation, (for most of us it was the most luxurious thing we had lived in!)

Not that we were ever in camp long, spending most of our time either in portacabins at Mare Harbour, living in old containers at Onion Range or on week long patrols across the Islands.

Somehow my section used to get the longest patrols and to add to that we found out that our platoon would be out on patrol on Christmas Day, a 6 day patrol finishing on Boxing Day with a Chinook pick up from Ajax Bay, the site of the Field Hospital from the conflict. The patrol would see us finish at a Royal Signals Re-broadcasting station (Rebro) at Look Out Hill ( just above Ajax Bay) late on the Christmas Day afternoon.

With our whole platoon out over Christmas, many Rifleman decided to carry one can of beer each, to have on Christmas day along with their Army ration (compo) Chicken Curry and bacon grill.

However I hatched a plan, if we were to finish at the  Rebro station, I could contact them and ask them to order a crate a beer extra for the 8 men in my section, it would be delivered along with their weekly rations by helicopter and we would pay them when we arrived. Luckily I knew a Yeoman of Signals from our time in Germany and he put me in contact with the 3 men who lived at the Rebro station, but unfortunately it all seemed too difficult for them and the only beer they had would be a case for the 3 of them.

Not to be put off, I then took walk down to the helicopter squadron, and after a bit of blagging, I returned an hour later with 3 crates of beer, that they had agreed they would drop off at the Rebro station on the 23rd December. Not bad 9 cans a man!

I then went back to our lines, and along with my 2ic, Colin Harlow, we undertook a further study of our patrol route, it was long, over difficult terrain, but we decided to walk a bit further each day so we would arrive at Look Out Hill late on Christmas Eve, a day early.



Completing the patrol a day earlier was more difficult than we thought after our radio operator fell on a rock scree field and had to be picked up by helicopter, he was joined on the Chinook by the local Catholic Priest who has spent the first 3 days on patrol with us, I think he was glad to go as the pace of the patrol had not been easy and our Scouse Rifleman, Billy Foy had many bible questions to ask him each night as the rest of us attempted to get to sleep in our hooped bivy bags.



We now had 6 hours to catch up after waiting fro the helicopter plus the HF radio now had to be carried by the patrol members, but we managed it, arriving at the Rebro station just as the sun was setting on Christmas Eve, We thought the 3 signallers would welcome us with open arms, we may not have been the wise men or even a bunch of shepherds however we thought after spending 10 weeks living in the middle of nowhere and hardly seeing another human, you thought they would have been more welcoming when 7 soldiers arrived. We were wrong- they seemed quite happy just the 3 of them living on their own, they had their Christmas planned and suddenly we turned up!


Ajax Bay

Good news, the beer had arrived and we took over their rest room and made ourselves at home - we even had TV to watch, just videos but they had the complete BBC schedule from the previous Christmas Day, so it was almost like being at home. One of the signallers even offered to cook us fish pie, something he had perfected over the last 8 weeks and with so much fish to be easily caught at Ajax Bay they had been eating his fish pie, twice a week, we decided to pass and stick to our compo Chicken Curry with baked beans and bacon grill.


Christmas cake (carried by me) not fish pie!

We sorted out all our equipment on Christmas Even and then spent Christmas Day watching last years Christmas programmes whilst making sure we got through all 3 crates of beer, the 3 signallers soon disappeared to their small radio room to have their own two beers plus eat their fish pie.

We went to bed happy, knowing that the next morning we would have the small walk down to Ajax Bay and a helicopter pick up to be flown back to Mount Pleasant for Christmas Dinner a cracker and one free beer.

We got up in the morning and said goodbye to our hosts, I am sure as I looked back to the Rebro station as we walked down the hill, I could see the 3 signallers doing some sort of celebratory May Pole dance round the 10 metre radio mast.

For once, the RAF was on time and we arrived back at the airfield to be met by the Company Commander and quickly whizzed away to have Christmas lunch, then it all started to fall apart!


Returning from an earlier patrol - Port Howard Airport

We might have looked a bit smug when we were given our free beer (after having 9 cans the previous day)  but people seemed to be pointing at our section, we wondered why we seemed to be the centre of attention - we soon found out. On the 23rd December our crates of beer (with Cpl Ross written all over them) had been delivered by helicopter to Look Out Hill along with their Christmas rations, what the signallers had failed to mention was that the rations (and our beer) had been unloaded by the General, commander of all forces in the Falklands, as he visited all the distant outposts to wish the soldiers 'Happy Christmas', he was quick to mention that night in the  Officers Mess, to our Company Commander that he had delivered a number of crates of beer ( and had to carry them the 600 metres up the hill from the helipad) to one of his sections!

There are now two schools of thought what was actually said between the two officers, I tend to believe the General was impressed by our ingenuity and Major Balfour, our Company Commander did mention it a number of times afterwards however our Company Sergeant Major, may not have been so impressed ( we had always had a love/hate relationship) as he decided to ban me from every bar in the Falklands exclusion zone, this meant my nearest bar was now on the seafront in Montevideo, and as there was no regular bus/boat/plane to the Uruguayan capital. it did look like I was going to be seeing the New Year in 'dry'.

I did mention that I thought our Company Commander was actually quite impressed in what we had done and this may have been the reason that he selected my section to see the New Year in at the Falklands Adventure Training Centre at Shag Cove. So we spent the end of 1987 and the start of 1988  enjoying ourselves, rock climbing and sea kayaking plus having a few beers, because even if our Sergeant Major was an amazing soldier ( who would reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel ) we knew he had little chance of making it to Shag Cove unannounced. It was as if Major Balfour actually knew that!



Shag Cove was great for us, as the Green Jacket instructor at the centre was good friend of mine Scoobs Ubhi, so he ensured we had a good time. Scoobs was in a select gang of three corporals who had upset some of the hierarchy in Germany, Scoobs had been moved from 'B' Company to 'R' Company, Taff Addison had moved from 'R' to 'I' Company and I had completed the circle and moved from 'I' to 'B' Company. Sadly since that time in the Falklands, Scoobs had died on a climbing accident on Mount Kenya and Taff had been murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I returned to Mount Pleasant after a week, got back in the Sergeant Major's good books and had by drinking ban removed.

So for many reasons, I will never forget that Christmas away from my family.

Of course not all Christmases away were that exciting however I may in the future tell you about the one in South Armagh with the mountain bikes and smuggled biscuits or of Christmas 1999 in Kosovo and the tree lights that caused a power cut to whole of Pristina!










Monday, 24 December 2018

Happy Christmas - 2018

Hope you all have a great Christmas, almost certainly with Brexit, 2019 is going to be a bumpy ride

.

As we finish 2018, my father in law is being looked after by the NHS - and no surprise, they are doing a brilliant job - seeing how they operate close hand, has made me more determined than ever to keep fighting for what I think is right.

See you all in 2019.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Freedom Poem

At the Remembrance day service in Ipswich today, a number of veterans mentioned a poem, read by a student from the University. For many it was the first time they had heard it however for many it described best what they felt their service in the forces was all about.



 
Freedom poem
 
 
by Charles Province
 
 
It is the soldier, not the reporter
who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet
who has given us the freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the peace cam organiser
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
it is the soldier, not the politician
who has given his blood, his body, his life.
The Soldier, who has given us these freedoms.
 
 
 
 


Sunday, 28 October 2018

Our Regiment, our Rifleman, we will not forget them

Belgium and Northern France - 1914 - 1918 - many Rifleman lost their lives, some were never found - we must never forget them, they are part of our Rifles family



We are still losing Rifleman now - not just in combat but afterwards - veterans for World War II, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, N Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan - some from injuries they received both physical and mental - suicide is now one of the biggest killers of veterans - I am not sure any Government will do enough for our veterans, so it is up to us, the Rifles family to look after our own.










Our young people get it

 
Last week, I took a group of 43 young pupils to Belgium and Northern France, to learn about the sacrifices made by many during World War I, and the simple fact is that these young people get it - they see that war is futile, but for what ever reason when we get older - we seem to forget it - and we learn to hate- as seen by the tragic events in Pittsburgh yesterday.

We are quick to say - 'we will remember' - we now need to act rather than just say those words. the young get it, so should we.










Monday, 22 October 2018

Still behind in the polls- why?

Today the Tory Party seem to be in self destruct mode however they increase their lead over the Labour Party in the polls - why?

Theresa may is also still ahead - by a long in the polls, when asked who would make a better Prime Minister.

So many would then deduce the only problem labour has - is to dump Corbyn as leader - but that is not the solution.

A new leader would almost certainly be one appointed by Corbyn and they would win any leadership election at a canter - the Corbyn support is solid and organised and it may be childish to call it a 'cult' but their behaviour at times does make it seem almost cultish.

Brexit is difficult for  both Labour and the Tories, but Labour are more united on Europe - the PLP, MPs, the membership, activists are mainly very keen on remaining in Europe however many of our voters do want us to leave and voted to do so and Jeremey has in the past been a prominent Euro sceptic so for many of us it is hard to believe he has suddenly changed his views.

On Saturday, almost 700,000 people marched through London demanding a second vote on Europe, a number of MPs attended, thousands of members and many Corbyn supporters attended but Jeremy himself was in Switzerland.

What ever he did, he would have been criticised, however a more sensible course of action would have been just to have a day off in his constituency, but he chose to go to Switzerland and then get the party to promote the visit and his part in the campaign to get Pinochet sent back to Chile. His other action was also to pressurise the Shadow Cabinet not to attend the march.

I fear for the party, not just because of Corbyn, Brexit or even the poor polls but because the way many of Corbyn's loudest supporters used social media to attack those who went on the march, often taking their lead from George Galloway!

Hypocrisy, seems to be the key word when talking about Corbyn and his followers, they attacked the marchers because they were white middle class - I suggest they take a closer look at the majority of our new Labour Party members - white middle class.

They just do not seem to get it, many are new to the party but when you look at many of those close to Corbyn and in lead roles with Momentum, you see the same people who have been hanging round the far left fringes of the Labour Party for years.

Even with may hanging on, Tory Brexit chaos, I can't see us closing the gap in the polls - a General Election would see a closing of the polls but we would probably see the return of a Tory Government. That would be a disaster for the British people, however another coup in the party would only see Corbyn get stronger- so what do we do? We now have to rely on the Shadow Cabinet, John McDonnell and the unions - they are the only ones who can say it can't go on like this - this is not a cult, this is not just about one person - it should all be about electing a Labour Government.