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MémoireReg HARPER


(Arborfield 51A)






“All this happened 50 years ago. At the end of my time at AAS I was traumatised to the point of a mental breakdown. Ever since then I was too ashamed to tell anyone about this, even Vera, who knows me better than I know myself.

I tell my story as I remember it to people who really understand. The only names that I will use are of long-lost friends and those obviously dead. I do know where this particular man is, I have seen his profile and his photograph, but revenge is not what I want. To bear grudges after all this time would just demean me. He and others betrayed the trust that was given to them when they were given positions of power. I didn’t know the phrase then, but it would have been appropriate for me at that time: “What doesn’t kill me makes me strong”.

In May 1963 I lost my leg in a very traumatic accident, cut right through at the knee it had to be re-amputated at the hospital to mid-thigh. As I was in the operating theatre the surgeon informed me that I was so badly injured that I was likely to die. For the next 7 days they gave daily bulletins to Vera, saying that I would be lucky to survive another day.

It has always been my honest belief that my time as a soldier (of which I was, strangely, very proud) instilled in me the bloody-mindedness not to give in. Arborfield gave me that. As I look through the names and profiles, I feel a sort of pride that the majority of you men did so well in the Service. I want my story told, but not for revenge - let us leave this old feller in peace.”




“The King’s Shilling – Two Sides of the Coin”




My name is Reg Harper and I was born on 11th November 1935 in a remote cottage in the village of Bettws-Y-Coed in North Wales. My father, originally from South Wales, was a forester with the Forestry Commission, and my mother was a local girl whose first language was Welsh. She often told us children that she could speak two spokes! At the outbreak of World War 2 my father decided that it would be a great idea to move to Suffolk on England’s east coast, so we arrived on the Shotley Peninsular, right in the flight-path of the German bombers on their way to bomb London, and we got all their left-overs on their way back home. As a young lad living through this period I was recruited along with all other able bodied males to help with the necessary farm work. Our days were long, with milking twice each day before and after school, and helping the Womens’ Land Army harvest cereal crops and potatoes - hard work for an 8-year-old, but I only remember that time as being fun.



We moved to a small village near Salisbury. This was not a very happy time for me, I found the people to lack the friendliness of Suffolk with an outspoken dislike for folk of Welsh origin. This I found rather bewildering, but I soon developed a passable Wiltshire twang and things began to improve. I became a member of the Wiltshire ACF (Army Cadet Force), ‘The Moonrakers’. It was a large contingent in those days and we had a great many adventures. I eventually became a full Corporal and was a member of the County Rifle Team. We were runners-up at Bisley in 1950 and I thought a soldier’s life was the one for me.


1950 County Rifle Team - Reg HARPER standing behind the WO2



On my 15th birthday I left Wilton Secondary Modern School where I was a pupil. We were educated to the level of farm labourer though I must admit I was not an easy person for any teacher to have to deal with. Mr. Ruffel, a strict but kindly teacher, quietly pointed out to me that I could legally leave school on the day I was 15, and the following week I started work at Wilton Royal Carpet Factory. This place was like something out of a Dickens novel. As a bobbin-boy I had to replace the empty bobbins on the loom, which involved crawling around in semi-darkness to place them on the spools. The whole place hadn’t been upgraded for over 100 years, something the management were quite proud of. There were big rats everywhere and the noise and filth was horrendous. I was the personal slave of a weaver from the North of England who had an abiding hatred of Wiltshire, weaving and bobbin-boys, but I eventually won him over.  He was a veteran of WW2, having been an air-gunner in the RAF. His experiences had left him quite traumatized so every lunch hour he would go to the pub next door and make a hefty contribution to the Johnny Walker benevolent fund. On his return he was too drunk to work so I ran the loom as well as put the bobbins on. He finally got caught and sacked but by then I was long gone.


One day I read an advertisement for the Army Apprentices School and sent off my application. I attended an exam at Salisbury Recruiting Office where I was the only candidate. Most of my schooling problems stemmed from the fact that I suffer from a kind of number dyslexia, something that may be better understood today. The examiner, seeing that I had a problem, gave me the answers - little did he know the pain this move was going to cause me.



AAS Arborfield


Reg HARPER, n/k, Jack FROST



Jack FROST                                                      Reg HARPER      



Arriving at Arborfield on a cold, wet, gloomy winter’s afternoon I joined the rest of 51A intake. What happened next is a bit of a blur - I remember the haircut, the kit issue, some of the worst food I had ever tasted, and the continual yelling from the Apprentice NCOs who appeared to have gone power mad.


Sergeant Roberts

The next day we were introduced to Sgt. Roberts, our Drill Instructor. ‘’My name is Roberts. My first name is Sergeant’’ he yelled, ‘’I am an absolute bastard” he went on, and so it proved to be. Strangely perhaps, I have had Sgt. Roberts with me ever since. One day I was slow responding on the parade ground and for the rest of the session he gave every order including my name: “Squad, and Harper, right turn”; “Squad, and Harper, quick march” etc. At the end of the parade he stood behind me with his pace stick in the small of my back and said: “Harper, whenever things seem to be impossible, remember I am right behind you”. Of course along with the rest of the lads I feared him but to me he was fair and as far as I knew he was a good soldier. During a life that has had some tough times to deal with I have the memory of the tough old bastard with his pace stick and I have got on with it. During HQ Company I seemed to be well ahead of things - after all I knew all about beezing boots and blancoing equipment, a soldier’s life seemed to be what I was cut out for.


Trade Training

We were eventually selected for our trade training. I was keen to be a VM as I had a keen interest in engines from my days involved with farm and earth-moving equipment. So quite naturally I was designated a Fitter [no, I don’t know why either]. Moving on to 2 Division ‘B’ Coy and working in the workshops, chipping and filing - we all remember that - then doing theory, and my lack of comprehension soon had me in trouble. By now I had made a lot of good friends and they tried so hard to help but I could not grasp even the basics. The civilian instructors were at a loss so they reported me to the Chief Instructor’s staff and I was put on a charge for ‘malingering’, though no one had worked harder than I had. Then came a trade test, which I failed miserably, and again I am on a charge for malingering. This time I was given 14 days CB and told to report to the Chief Instructor. My friends and I agreed that this was my opportunity to explain my problem and perhaps obtain a transfer to the Infantry or the new Junior Leaders Regiment that was being set up. The Chief Instructor, a Lieut. Colonel whose name I don’t (want to) recall, leaving me standing to attention asked me what my problem was. I thought that at last I was going to get some help, but his reply actually changed my life. He went purple and frothed at the mouth - I was a useless piece of human excrement, make no mistake, I would conform even if I stayed there for the next 12 years of my service. I was a smart Alec malingerer who was trying to buck the system and I was not going to be allowed to win.


Escape and Capture

Later that night I went over the fence and across the paddocks till I reached the road, then at dawn I crept under a hedge and slept the day through. That evening I set off again not really knowing where I was going. As I was feeling very hungry I saw a milk van making his deliveries. I followed him until he was away from his vehicle and stole 2 bottles of milk. Later that morning I did the same thing with the bread van - I had now joined the criminal classes. Some time later I was in a place called Hartley Witney; there was an apple tree in a garden and as I stood on a wall to get some fruit a middle-aged man on a bicycle approached me. He was the local Police Sergeant off-duty; he could see the state I was in and the fact that I was wearing the remnants of an army uniform. He was a kindly man and it was not long before I told him the whole story. He took me to the Police house and his wife cooked me the best meal I had ever tasted, I had at least 2 helpings of an apple pie that I will remember to my dying day.


Later that day a truck with two MPs came for me. The policeman’s wife told them to make sure that I was looked after - you can just imagine the fun they had with me on the way back. I was questioned at length on how I survived without food, and I told them I took bread from the cookhouse.  These people didn’t believe me so they made me do tricks, like standing on one leg in the back of the truck as it went along; refusing to let me urinate until I just did it out the back of the truck, then as it blew back in some of it going over them; knocking me down and telling me that I was going to die. Looking back at that 15-year-old lad on his own, being degraded by two thugs, I wondered how I survived. All these things were building my resolve if I was going to die I wasn’t going to go quietly.



Back at Arborfield I was dragged out of the truck and booted up the Guardroom steps. I was put on a charge and charged with being absent without leave; breaking out of barracks; breaking in (that’s right); stealing bread from the cookhouse; and being improperly dressed. I stood impassively as this pompous pillar of society sentenced me to three days detention in the cells. I was marched to the Guardroom where I was welcomed by Sgt Furneough (no one else seems to remember him) the Provost Sgt. I had to strip naked and was put under the freezing shower and scrubbed with a bass broom until I bled. My head was shaved, and when not running around ‘on the double’ outside my bootlaces and belt were taken away so I had to hold up my trousers and shuffle around.


Another dangerous criminal like me was a Welsh lad called Pymble. He was basically a natural comedian who couldn’t under stand why we were being treated as convicts. Pymble was a real hero and he would throw punches at the RPs until he was physically restrained. He suffered a lot but he wouldn’t give in to them. When any of the Apprentice NCOs gave Pymble an order he challenged them to a fight behind the air raid shelters. One day one of them did, and he got a real belting. Give him his due though, he never said anything about it - Pymble became someone to fear.


1952 - Friends and Foes

This was something that kept me going at this time - we did have some good times as well as the bad. The Apprentice Sergeant occupying the bunk in our room was an eccentric - he used to visit a place called “Smokey Joe’s” some nights, and come back at midnight drunk as a skunk. Where did he get the money for that? This man had an old wind-up gramophone and one record called: ‘I Can’t Get Started With You’ - some hag with a screeching voice - we couldn’t sleep with this row going on so I was elected to ask him to turn it down a bit next time.


Next morning I asked him about it. He looked at me for a while through bloodshot eyes then told me to stay right where I was. He came back in a few minutes with two of his mates and they gave me the biggest hiding of my life. They dragged me around the adjoining barrack rooms, punching and kicking, until we got back to our room whereupon they threw me head first into the wall. As I got up my head hit the bottom of a fire bucket filled with sand so there I was blood running from the cut on my head and blood and snot out of my nose. The blokes in the barrack room stood around me in disbelief as these three brave warriors walked away. I saw the fear in the eyes of my friends and one was crying - it could have happened to any one of them. After a while righteous indignation began to take over and they all urged me to report it, but I was getting wiser every day – one beating like that was enough. At the muster parade next day I had to account for a swollen lip, two black eyes, and a cut on the head that required stitches. At the time of this incident I was one of the camp buglers so I said I had taken a fall down the steps of the air raid shelters when I had gone there to practice. The Apprentice Sgt. never spoke, or even looked at me again; I wasted many long hours planning ways to kill him but as you get older you realize that there are worse things in life than a coward, which he was.


By now I had decided to incur as many days ‘jankers(CB) as it was possible to get; I was determined that I was going to get transferred to anywhere. Every week I would put in an application to another Corps or Regiment, everything from the Paras to the Medics. Even the application forms were pure grovelling, i.e. “Sir, I hereby respectfully submit my application to transfer to The Royal Ballet, hoping this meets with your consideration etc. I am Sir, your obedient servant etc.” I would be marched in front of the CO and earn another 14 days CB for insolence.  I became an expert on jankers. A good mate of mine - one Lovelace - and I were doing some serious long-time CB, and I bet him that I could be clear of all of it by the end of the week. The bet was made, so that night we paraded at the Guardroom as usual at around 2100 for our final inspection. We had our freshly blancoed webbing, still wet, over our left arm. When I had blancoed mine I swapped my belt with a mate (Dave Hooper, where are you now?) and told him that he would be questioned about this. “Tell them I stole it. “ I said. On the inspection the Corporal walked past me so I said very quietly: “This is not my belt Corporal.” “Where did you get it from?” was his reply. “I stole it, Corporal.” Straight into the cells I went. In front of the Commandant next day: “How do you plead?” “Guilty, Sir.” “Three days detention. March him out.” Now I had discovered after my last sojourn in No 1 that on completion of detention the sheet was wiped clean. Lovelace paid me my 5 woodbines and did something like AWOL so he could receive the same benefit. Next day I was back there, building my score.


On my 17th birthday I was sent to the Officers Mess. They were having some sort of booze-up, entertaining fellow-officers from Aldershot. I of course was on jankers, in the kitchen scrubbing pans after the cooks had used them. I had been given dispensation to stay until they had finished - after midnight. Great big deal! After they had left the dining room I had to scrub the floor. When I had finished I was wet, cold, tired, hungry and completely self-pityingly dejected. I had told no one about my birthday and parcels were beyond my family, so this made it all the more miserable. Perhaps I was getting to enjoy all this misery. Guess what? There is a God. A driver came in to pick up his officer, I told him where he was, a while later he asked me to help him get this fellow into the car as he was out cold. The driver, a Lance Bombadier in the RA, gave me a smoke and we got talking. Somehow the fact of my birthday came out and he was visibly pissed off at me having to go through all this misery. Mind you, I probably laid it on thick, I was turning into the Artful Dodger. The young ‘Hooray Henry’ was dead to the world so my new pal said: “Keep an eye on him a minute mate, I need a leak”. When he came out again he had a box with food and cigarettes that he stolen from the kitchen along with several half-empty bottles of wine from the Officers’ lounge. We sat under the trees in a November fog and agreed how good life was. I had never drunk wine or anything else much before so he had most of that.  There was plenty of food though, so I took some back for the boys to have a midnight feast; I was a hero. Before leaving, the driver went through the officer’s pockets and came up with some change and a couple of pound notes. These he insisted were my birthday presents - from a grateful country  - which I humbly accepted. I hope this driver’s life has been a good one.


There was a butcher’s shop on the Camp. I believe the man running it was a Sgt. on the Permanent Staff.  I was sent down there one Saturday afternoon to defrost the fridges, this man was a bit of a grumpy fellow but after a while he told me he was pleased with the good job I was doing on the fridges. Rare praise indeed, but I had been doing a lot of cleaning in those days! After a while he told me to take a break, he had brewed a pot of tea and opened a packet of biscuits which we devoured outside in the rare English sunshine. We finished the break with him handing out a smoke before getting back to polishing up the now defrosted fridges. When I was all done he gave me a Swiss roll to take away with me, I believe this was a traditional butcher’s thing. My growing powers of self-preservation were now coming to the fore so I asked him if he wanted me next week would he tell the Provost Sgt. This he did and I had a great little racket going for quite a while. Saturday afternoons were looked forward to, the work would only take an hour or so, the rest of the time we yabbered on about every thing under the sun. Under the circumstances we became good mates, the Sgt and me, and the Swiss rolls soon became two which were shared by Lovelace, Pymble and Harper – ‘The Three Musketeers’ - sorry, janker wallahs.


The ‘Mafia’

On of the darker side of Arborfield were the so-called ‘Tobacco Barons’. For a while I was recruited by one of the Senior Apprentices to act as a sort of runner delivering smokes, then on payday collecting the money. This was a disgusting business, but as an addicted smoker the few fags I got for my work eased any conscience that I may have had.


One of the hardest places for a man on jankers to be sent was the Sergeants’ Mess. However, this was a place of some rich pickings, and I worked very hard to please the man in charge. On Mess Nights he would ask for me, and when I had finished I had a tunic full of goodies and was becoming very popular with my roommates. Then one night I had an inspiration. The ashtrays were full of cigarette butts (no filter-tips around there in those days) and I filled a couple of paper bags with these and hid them away. Later on at bugle practice, sneaking off on my own, I cut the burnt ends off with a razor blade and packed the baccy away in a tin with some dock leaves to keep it fresh. When I got paid I bought an ounce of A1 rolling tobacco and carefully mixed the lot together - I would trade 10 generous-sized roll-ups for 4 tailor-mades. I couldn’t keep up with the demand. Looking back it is a wonder someone didn’t get sick (perhaps they did). I did this on a regular basis and no one noticed that it shouldn’t have been very profitable. This is the first time I have ever mentioned this to anyone, so if any reader did get sick I can only say: “Tuffus titatus” or words to that effect.



One fine day, despite my aversion to volunteer, I became a member of the boxing squad. Now despite the fact that I had boxed at school and in the Army Cadets I did not join out of love of the sport, quite the reverse, I thought (and still do) that it was a bloody silly way to spend my time. However, there were two good reasons; one was for some strange reason we got two breakfasts, and as I couldn’t stomach the food except for the greasy cold fried eggs and beans this was a good way to keep myself fed. The other was that people always thought twice before getting into a stoush with a member of the squad; this gave me an advantage when tempers were getting frayed. I did enjoy getting up early and running around the place with a towel around my neck (what was that for?), and the other team members were good blokes. I hope they never smoked any of my tobacco!


Memories Are Made of This

One lad in our room - Wevill was his name - was a lanky lad with a great sense of humour, who would often hang from the rafter on a broom. With the head of the broom on the rafter he would swing backwards and forwards like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. One day the head came off the broom and he fell; Wev was sort of skinny and when he fell he broke his arm, so it was a term of light duties for him for a while. Some months later we had someone visiting the room and the subject of the accident came up. This fellow asked Wev how did he break his arm? Believe it or not he demonstrated it and broke the other arm! Poor bugger had a job explaining it away but as he was never in any trouble and was good at his studies he was rightly bollicked and forgiven,


In ‘B’ Coy 2 Division there was a lad called Strachan - he was from Clackmananshire - who pronounced his name ‘Strakken’. One day he was ordered by a Sergeant to refer to himself as ‘Straun’ as this was the correct way. To our amazement he obeyed.  He was the only A/T in our room that actually enjoyed being there - he loved the food so we gave him ours. One day he was sent to see the MO; he had been complaining about foot pain, When he got back to the room he was in a state of shock, he had fallen arches or something and had been discharged on the spot. He was a big strong Scottish lad and here he was absolutely heartbroken at the news. We were wondering what kind of awful place was Clackmananshire. He was going to find it difficult to catch any sheep with those feet.


For myself this was a time for reflection and the study of fallen arches, their causes etc. However I still had another year or so to go - woe is me!


Having a laugh at someone else’s expense was the order of the day. On one particular drill parade the Sgt thought that two fellers were, as he put it: “Poncing about like a couple of fairies”. He ordered them out in front, with their left hand on their hip, their right hand behind their head, and skip as high and as fast as they could, up and down the square, yelling out: “I’m a nig-nog!” at the top of their voices. I was so glad it wasn’t me. It was pure pleasure to see the discomfort of some other poor bastard!


“On The Road to Damascus

Church parade was held on three Sundays each month, this was compulsory as far as we knew. One day Lovelace told me that King’s Regulations clearly stated that it was voluntary, and we decided to test this theory out. We marched off to the gym [Church] and as we got to the door we stood to one side at attention until the Orderly Sergeant asked us what we were doing. “ We are atheists.” we informed him. He looked at our pay books; “It clearly states here that you are C of E  says he. Lovelace patiently explained how we had seen the light so to speak and it didn’t have any room for Jesus in it. Personally I thought the good Sergeant took all this information rather well considering. “This is a parade” says he, “and you belong to me”. He doubled us to our barrack room where we did a rapid change into our work denims, then a quick double down to the incinerator. We had to rake all the ashes etc out of the incinerator, separate the cans and bottles from the ash and shovel the ash into a separate heap. Then back to get changed again and down to the church to join in the parade. Later, as we were being inspected, the Sergeant pointed out to the officer that we were looking rather grubby. We rolled up our sleeves and pulled up our trouser legs - I learned that day the true meaning of apoplexy. Filthy on parade was the charge. “Do you have any excuse?” snarled the long-suffering Major. “No Sir” says I. “Well Sir, it was like this ---“ began Lovelace. “SHUT UP!” screamed the Sergeant. “28 days.” said the Major, “March them out”. The following Sunday we were entering the Church and the Sergeant asked us where we thought we were going. “Why, to church Sergeant.” said my dodgy pal. “We have both seen the error of our ways.” Even the Sergeant was grinning all over his face. After the service we were sent to see the Chaplin who was a kindly man. I mean, why wouldn’t he be? He had one of life’s easiest of jobs. He gave us a lecture and said we were making our journey through Arborfield very difficult for ourselves. Rather good at stating the obvious was the Padre, however he didn’t get the point, Lovelace asked if he could choose a hymn for the next service, which the good man granted, So next week there we were, two reformed sinners loudly singing Onward Christian Soldiers - Lovelace was taking the piss and they couldn’t even see it.


“Free Sunday” Foray

On the spur of the moment on a ‘Free Sunday’ Lovelace, me, and a chap called Williams got dressed up in our best SD and went out the back gate - we were not eligible to leave camp due to our CB. We got a lift in the back of a builder’s truck which ended up in Basingstoke; we walked around for a while and decided it was a bit like the morgue, so we walked onto the railway station and onto a train which took us to - I think – Waterloo (Railway Station, London). We never paid, and no one challenged us. Lovelace was a brazen devil and he was my hero. We did a bit more wandering around then spent what little money we had on something to eat. “So, what shall we do now?” “Well,” says our hero, “we find a prostitute.” He had heard that they would give boy soldiers somewhere to sleep for the night. “Now why would they do that?” asked the very un-gullible Williams, who by now was becoming aware that he was in the company of two self-destructing idiots. “Well,” said Lovelace, “they reckon that when we get full pay that we would use their services, and besides, everyone knows they have a heart of gold.” Well, we couldn’t find one, not that we would recognize one anyway, so Williams being the only one of sound mind, used one of those blue Police telephone boxes and ordered our ride home, We arrived back at about 0130hrs and put in the cells - poor old Willy started to snivel but to us two it was home sweet home.


Next morning an RP retard appeared and announced that King’s Regulations stated we were allowed 3 cigarettes a day under supervision. We had never heard of such a thing and I remarked that the old King was going soft in his old age. Corporal retard was most upset at this so I apologized saying I didn’t realize that he was a personal friend. Anyway, he gave us each a cigarette and stood ready with a match. When Will said he didn’t smoke and had never even had one we both offered to smoke it for him, but the walloper wouldn’t hear of it. He said: “Kings Regulations so-and-so clearly states blah-blah-blah and you WILL smoke it or else!” so Willy did and turned green. Later that day back to see the Commandant and 7 days detention this time for Lovelace and me; Willy got 14 days CB and a stern lecture about the dangers of associating with known criminals. This time the Provost Sergeant was one Fred ‘the looney’ Silvers [I hope he had a horrible life].


Fred Silvers

Fred, God be praised, was instrumental in setting up a vegetable patch at the rear of the fire shed further down the road. By the time we copped our 7 days it was ready to plant and we had to put in cabbage plants and water them in by carrying the water in buckets from the fire shed.  Lovelace, being a boy from the city, suggested that we should find a way to kill these plants. Me being an original Swede-basher said they would commit suicide as the soil was wrong, and the plants had been left out in the sun too long. I was right about that and the following day they were well and truly kaputt. Obergruppenführer von Silvers went mad; he knew we were responsible he said, so we had to run up and down all the rest of the week with a full bucket of water in each hand while he and his eunuchs ran up and down screaming themselves hoarse. We were still putting water on those plants long after they had disappeared. There were a couple of other unfortunates there with us, so perhaps someone else remembers this episode.


Another scheme of Fred’s was presenting us with a large quantity of fire buckets out of the shed. We had to sandpaper them down, then we were issued with some dark green gloss enamel paint. Now of course we thought this to be rather odd to say the least, but who with a vestige of common sense was going to suggest that our hero must be colour blind? So away we went, literally hundreds of buckets painted green and green paint all over everything in sight, including us. Next morning ‘Himself’ comes to inspect our work and away he went again, ranting and raving - he was an expert at it. Didn’t we realize that ALL fire buckets were red? What had he done to deserve having such cretins in his care? We started sanding again while he sent someone off to get the correct paint. The mystery remains unsolved; was he colour blind or was this an elaborate plan to drive us mad?


The Pleasures and Perils of a Bugler’s Life

I don’t remember exactly why I volunteered to be a Bugler, but I was good at it, and to this day I love to listen to ‘The Last Post’ played on Anzac Day, waiting for every bum note and feel great if he gets it right. I don’t like to hear them play it on a trumpet though. To go out onto the square to play ‘Reveille’ was pure magic - a cold, frosty morning, two hours from daylight, perhaps a full moon. You stand on the square, the whole place is deadly silent; you put the mouthpiece inside your mouth and gently breathe into it to warm it up; the clock gets to the hour and you start to play; the whole place is instantly ablaze with light, orders are being shouted, the long-remembered sound of boots pounding on wooden floors. As you walk off you meet the cooks going into the cookhouse to get started on the breakfast. You return to the Guardroom; your 24-hour shift is finished. During your shift your first call is the breakfast ‘Cookhouse’ - each British Army regiment had their own preamble that introduced the call that you were about to play, i.e., da-da-dadadada come to the cookhouse door boys etc. There were many calls during the day that informed people that it was time to be doing something or other, On some calls it was appropriate to add the ‘Double’ at the end of it, for instance on a fire call it was the preamble followed by ‘There’s a fire, there’s a fire, there’s a fire, then the double ‘Run you buggers’, ‘Run you buggers’, ‘Run you buggers, run’. Jankers call – ‘You can be a defaulter as long as you like, as long as you answer the call’. And if you felt like it, adding the ‘Double’.  There was Officers Mess call – ‘Officers’ wives are puddings and pies, soldiers’ wives are skillies [now what on earth did that mean?]. I never was game enough to play the ‘Double’ on the end of that one!


During the shift, or stag as some people called it, we lived in the Guardroom.  This could be a good place as they cooked their own meals and it was a vast improvement on the damage done to the food by the Cookhouse staff. Occasionally an emergency fire call would be arranged to be set for around 0100 hrs and we would be informed of this at about lights out. It was forbidden to tell anyone about this, however it was an unwritten rule for us to tip off the other off-duty buglers by saying something like: “It looks like being a long night, I cant see me getting much sleep before 0100 hours”. It was a sight to behold when you sounded the alarm; people running out onto the square in pyjamas, some with greatcoats and some without; the people that came near me spitting the worst abuse as if it was my fault! On one memorable night they repeated the exercise at 0300 hours and I spent the next few days virtually friendless. On many occasions people responding to the bugle call would shoulder-charge the bugler or worse, hit the bugle into his mouth. This happened to me one very cold night as I was playing the last defaulters’ call of the day. I fell-in as usual at the end of the line, I had a mouth full of blood, and my mouth began to swell alarmingly. At the end of the usual proceedings the Orderly Officer said: “Sound the Last Post”. My mouth felt like a pig’s snout, and I knew that I was about to be burned at the stake but I played it anyway - of course it was bloody disgusting. I was totally ashamed because despite my attitude towards AAS, I believed then as I still do today, that the ‘Last Post’ is a tribute to all the soldiers who had died for our country and to play it was a privilege and an honour. After the last horrible note sank to the floor there was a long silence; most people were looking at the ground in embarrassment. Finally the officer walked to the end of the veranda and said: “My wife is the daughter of a General in the Indian Army, she is always homesick for her former home, her one pleasure is to listen to the ‘Last Post’. If it is good she goes to bed happy, if it is not I am soon made aware of her feelings. Tonight I will sleep in the Officers Mess, YOU will sleep in the cells!” So I was marched away.  Later, having finished his rounds, he came into the Guardroom and saw the state of my face. He was appalled - I told him I didn’t know who did it, which was true, and he got someone to attend to me and take me back to my barrack room.


A few days after this incident I was sent up the road to report to his wife to spend my jankers time chopping wood and getting in the coal etc. This was a cosy little possy - they had two small boys who had extreme upper-class accents which at first I loathed, but we soon became great pals and I was often asked to baby-sit them when their parents went out. I used to tell them stories about life in the Blitz, and how I used to go out at night poaching pheasants - they used to sit there enthralled. They used to call me ‘Hawpah’ and say things like: “Daddy’s got a Rovah, Mamma’s got a Citrown”, but these were really good people and I always got paid for my baby-sitting and there was always a cup of cocoa and a sandwich or cake after my jankers duties. I am not sure, but I think he was the Adjutant at that time. I hope these lads and their parents did well.



The End



The continual punishment details were now beginning to take their toll, I was working non-stop from reveille to lights-out day in, day out with no end to it in sight. An unpleasant incident with a RP moron saw me going berserk and I had to be forcibly restrained, put in the cells, and the MO gave me an injection. I was removed under escort that same day, taken by rail to Southampton and admitted to the Military Hospital at Netley where I was diagnosed as suffering from Acute Anxiety State [note the initials]. On arrival at about 1600 hours I was given a meal and a hot shower, allocated a small bedroom and told to sleep for as long as I liked - I slept the clock around.


The next day I was interviewed at length by the MO, a young Captain who was one of the finest men that I have ever met. After listening to my tale of woe he told me it was a load of bullshit, however, a few days later he spent a day at Arborfield and on his return he apologized for doubting my story. I believe he was instrumental in getting the system known as ‘Mufti’ in place. He was appalled at the way that Boy soldiers were treated and vowed that changes would be made.


The hospital was a very large place with a railway line going into the main building itself. This was used during the two world wars, the wounded being shunted into the hospital right beside the operating theatres. The place was so extensive that the Staff used bicycles to get around the corridors. There was a cinema and a large ballroom; top variety acts were frequent visitors. The place had its own bakery and I have never forgotten the beautiful smell of that bread.


Most of the men there at that time were convalescing; they were from all branches of the Armed Services, many from Korea. We were in a separate unit, four wards with about 10 men in each. An elderly RAMC Sergeant was in charge, I think we called him Fred or Frank. The most senior of the men in the wards were two Staff Sergeants, and I was the most junior by a long way. We treated each other as equals. It was with a great deal of trepidation that I moved into the ward, wondering what was this going to be like. It turned out to be the best holiday I had ever had in my life up until then. Most of the older men had volunteered to take part in aversion therapy for alcoholism. There were Korea vets who were suffering combat stress and some whose wives had run off with someone else taking the kids with them, these latter were continual absconders from their Regiments and they were sent there so they had time to sort them selves out. Life was very easy, we were on call for interviews etc until around noon then we could do as we liked. We had a fishing club and a couple of sailing dinghies to mess around with. We could go down town in the afternoon till 2200 hours and each Friday after lunch I would go home until 0900 hours on Monday. On a couple of occasions I went to Woolwich with a friend Patrick who had been a POW in Korea. Patrick was in the unit for continually impersonating an officer, and he was so good at it, some of the lads bought him a bowler hat and, dressed in his civvies, with a rolled umbrella, he would strut around Southampton looking for soldiers to bawl at. The Boss would issue us with a weekend pass and a rail warrant to just about anywhere so long as we were back by 0900; failure to do so meant an instant RTU as we were living in Paradise he had no trouble at all.


After about four weeks I was medically examined and pronounced completely fit. I informed the medical board that even if it meant prison I was not going back to Arborfield. Our benefactor, the RAMC Captain, agreed with me so as I was now almost 18 I could be transferred to the Infantry. At first I agreed, but I had been spending a couple of weekends at home with my mates and the good life was beckoning, so I asked him if I could be released, which he agreed to, and I was subsequently discharged, ‘Services no longer required’.



Almost 50 years have gone since I left, but some of it stays with me like a tattoo or a wooden leg. I have had a good life, sometimes hard, most times lucky. I have been law abiding [two speeding fines], and I have travelled extensively in the USA and Europe. My wife and I have three children of whom we are very proud, and a 3-year-old grandson, with another on the way.


January 1961 - Reg & Vera HARPER cutting their wedding cake


Since I discovered [by accident] George MILLIE’s The September 49ers I am so proud of the young men who made it through Arborfield who became successful in both their Service and civilian lives. I have recently met George Millie and ‘Greg’ Peck and their ladies, these wonderful people were like meeting up with long-lost friends, and I thank them for letting me exorcise some old demons and facing up to some things that I have hidden away for so long.


In conclusion, may I say that I bear no ill will to anyone from that time, I do not know how I would have acted if I had been in the position of an Apprentice NCO. Too much power in the hands of people too young can have long lasting consequences. My hope now is that I may contact someone from 51A ‘B’ Company before I visit the UK in 2003.