Monday, 14 July 2014

Physician-assisted suicide/ Assisted dying. Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt. Rev. Mark O'Toole. The Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Carey. Lord Falconer.

Physician-assisted suicide or Assisted dying is contrary to the current law under the 1961 Suicide Act, which makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This week Lord Falconer' s Assisted Dying Bill, allowing doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients a lethal dose of drugs, has its second reading in the House of Lords. The Church of England, the Catholic Church, other churches, most of the medical profession and many others are opposed to this. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says the Assisted Dying Bill is "mistaken and dangerous", and calls for a Royal Commision of inquiry into the subject.

However, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1991-2002) Lord Carey, has now caused consternation by going against the official line of the Church of England, saying he would back legislation to help the terminally ill in England and Wales end their lives. 

Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt. Rev. Mark O'Toole

This weekend an important and timely pastoral letter on Assisted Dying from the Catholic Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt. Rev. Mark O'Toole, was read out to all the parishes in the diocese. Bishop Mark was appointed bishop on 9 November 2013.

Lanherne Manor and chapel in St Mawgan were originally given by the Arundell family 
In 1794 to Carmelite nuns who had fled from Belgium during the French revolution. An enclosed community of Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Immaculata, an Italian order, now live there.

The chaplain to the Lanherne convent in St Mawgan, the Reverend George Roth, read the pastoral letter out yesterday, and I am indebted to him for giving me a copy of it.

Diocese of Plymouth

From the Office of the Bishop 


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The bishops of England and Wales agreed that we would write to our dioceses about a very important matter. Next Friday in the House of Lords there will be a debate about a proposed new law, tabled by Lord Falconer, This law would allow doctors to supply lethal drugs to people whom they have diagnosed as terminally ill, and whom they believe to have 6 months or less to live, so that these drugs can be used for purposes of suicide.  This is effectively physician-assisted suicide even if the supporters of the bill call it by the less shocking term "Assisted dying".

In today's reading from the letter to the Romans, St Paul speaks of the 'groaning' of the whole of creation, as "we wait for our bodies to be set free."  I have often thought of that text in accompanying those who aare dying.  St Paul also reminds us that the sufferings of this present life "can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us." Our experience of death and dying take place against our belief in a transcendent horizon; we believe that every person is made for God and called to be with Him forever.

Our faith teaches us that all human life is sacred.  Respecting life means that every person must be valued for as long as they live.  Whilst we believe every person should be given appropriate treatment in their suffering we do not always use extraordinary means to extend life at all costs.  At the same time it is not acceptable to deliberately put an end to the lives of the disabled, of the sick or of dying people.  The Catechism of the Church reminds us of this when it says, "It is God who remains the sovereign master of life.  We are the stewards, not owners of the life God has entrusted to us.  It is not ours to dispose of."

The new bill marks a very serious moment for our country.  It raises serious questions about what sort of society we want to be.  Especially of concern is whether we will continue to promote a proper care of the dying, and of those who are vulnerable through disability or age.

If this bill were to become law, it would change our society dreamatically.  We need only look at the meteoric rise in deaths from euthanasia and assisted dying in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, which introduced this legislation several years ago.  Belgium has peioneered the taking of organs from those who have died in this way and more recently demanded that the law be changed to allow voluntary euthanasia of children as well as adults.  It has seen some extraordinary individual cases - euthanasia for anorexia nervosa, euthanasia for someone who regretted gender reassignment, euthanasia of twin brothers who feared losing their sight.

Supporters of the bill will say that these cases are not possible under the proposed law in our country.  Yet the history of such legislation shows that once permission is given for one set of circumstances it will soon be extended.  We should not only be concerned about this "slippery slope" in the proposed law.  Nor should supporters of the bill try to see our opposition as a merely religious matter.  The deeper question is the inherent dignity of every person, especially in relation to those who are disabled, elderly and vulnerable.  If, as a society, we facilitate suicide for certain categories of people - in this case those who are terminally ill - but seek to prevent suicide of others - the healthy and the young - then what were are ultimately saying is that some lives are less worthy than others.

Those who argue for a change in the law say it is about dying not about other vulnerable people.  However in framing their arguments, they appeal not to the reality of someone's approaching death.  They speak rather about the alleged indignity of being being dependant on another, or of reduced mental capacity, or the fear of being a practical  or financial burden on family and friends.  But to say, as a society, that these are intolerable would ultimately be to condemn every disabled, elderly and vulnerable person.  It would open the flood gates and put huge pressure on these individuals, too, to seek such 'assisted dying'.  It would open the flood gates and put huge pressure on these individuals, too, to seek such 'assisted dying'.  It would make many of us feel insecure about our future and whether we, too, would be pressured not to be a burden.

This country has such a rich tradition of care for the dying.  We should invest more in such care.  Thankfully modern medicine, too, can deal with most forms of physical pain and distress.  We all have the greatest compassion for someone in mental anguish who takes their own life.  The law already has the discretion to deal compassionately and sensitively with the difficult case where someone, after repeated pleading, has reluctantly helped a loved one to end his or her life.  That is a totally different situation from a state-sponsored licensing system for assisted dying.

The proposed legislation poses real threats to the equality of all people and the ongoing need of end-of-life care in our society.  It is good to see that those opposed to a change in the law includes a diverse group of medical professionals (especially but not only from the field of palliative care), disability rights organisations, pro-life groups and faith communities, as well as individual activists, researchers, carers and a range of other concerned people.

We must work with such individuals to promote a culture of life rather than in promoting a sense of hopelessness for people in very difficult circumstances.  Always we must seek to protect those who are most vulnerable, especially the terminally ill, the disabled and the elderly.  We must treasure and value these individuals among us.  If you felt able I would be grateful if you wrote to your loal MP or to a Member of the House of Lords, expressing your concern about the proposed bill.  Especially I ask for your prayer at this time that we will show, as a society, that we cherish life in all its vulnerablility by rejecting this proposed ligislation.

I thank you for your attention and I ask you to remember me in your prayers.

Yours devotedly,

Mark O'Toole

Rt Rev Mark O'Toole
Bishop of Plymouth

Please write to your MP or a member of the House of Lords if you are against the Bill.

Suggested points to make in your letter come from Care Not Killing

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Abraham Lincoln and Jack Kennedy - some eerie similarities. Ron Kurtus and School for Champions. Hotel du Golf, les Arcs.

Hotel du Golf, Les Arcs

During a skiing holiday last year, twelve-year old Amy Mustard came down to the jazz bar at the Hotel du Golf in Les Arcs (a great hotel frequented by the French with terrific food) to show us these eerie comparisons made by Ron Kurtus, from, a useful site for students.

Skiers wanting a good hotel convenient to the slopes will find the Hotel du Golf in Les Arcs fits the bill. Although it only has three stars it has three restaurants, a spa, swimming pools and conference facilities. The bar has great decor and a roaring fire.

Abraham Lincoln 1809-1869
Jack Kennedy 1917-1963
Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846
Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946
He was elected President in 1860
He was elected President in 1960
His wife lost a child while living in the White House
His wife lost a child while living in the White House
He was directly concerned with Civil Rights
He was directly concerned with Civil Rights
Lincoln was shot in the back of the head in the presence of his wife
Kennedy was shot in the back of the head in the presence of his wife
Lincoln was shot in the Ford Theatre
Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln, made by Ford
He was shot on a Friday
He was shot on a Friday
The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was known by three names, comprised of fifteen letters
The assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was known by three names, comprised of fifteen letters
Booth was killed before being brought to trial
Oswald was killed before being brought to trial
There were theories that Booth was part of a greater conspiracy
There were theories that Oswald was part of a greater conspiracy
Lincoln's successor was Andrew Johnson, born in 1808
Kennedy's successor was Lyndon Johnson, born in 1908

Ribollita Soup by Jamie Oliver. Italian peasant food.

Despite the excellent eateries in Cornwall, like Nathan Outlaw, Jamie Oliver and  Rick Stein, I haven't seen this on their menus,.and didn't know anything about it.  (Rick is having an oriental kick at the moment on his menus). 

I enjoyed ribollita recently with family in patrician Bath. 

Try it in these days of hardship.

Ribollita Soup by Jamie Oliver, 
from Jamie's Italy


310 g zolfini or cannellini beans, fresh, or dried and soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, squashed
1 small potato, peeled
2 small red onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
3 sticks celery, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
1 pinch ground fennel seeds
1 pinch dried red chilli
400 g good-quality tinned plum tomatoes
310 g cavolo nero, leaves and stalks finely sliced
2 large handfuls good-quality stale bread, torn into chunks
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil


There's often confusion as to what ribollita should actually be like. It's not like minestrone, as it isn't brothy and it has no pasta in it. It's actually more like pappa al pomodoro, as it's thick and based on bread. It's very much Italian 'peasant food' and would have been eaten a lot in the days of no central heating and lots of hard manual labour. I think this recipe embraces the heart and soul of what peasant cooking is all about – cheap, tasty power food. Please do make it and reheat it the next day – you'll find the flavours intensify.

Add your fresh or dried and soaked beans to a pan of water with the bay leaf, tomato and potato – this will help to flavour the beans and soften their skins. Cook until tender – taste one to check they're nice and soft. Dried beans can take up to an hour, but check fresh ones after 25 minutes. Drain (reserving about half a glass of the cooking water), and discard the bay leaf, tomato and potato.

Finely chop your onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Heat a saucepan with a splash of olive oil and add the vegetables to the pan with the ground fennel seeds and chilli. Sweat very slowly on a low heat with the lid just ajar for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes.

Add the cooked and drained beans with a little of the water they were cooked in, and bring back to the boil. Stir in the sliced cavolo (it will look like loads, but don't worry as it will cook down), then moisten the bread with a little of the cooking water and stir it in too. The soup should be thick but not dry, so add a little more cooking water if you need to loosen it. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes – you want to achieve a silky, thick soup.

Season the ribollita with salt and pepper and stir in 4 good lugs of good-quality Tuscan extra virgin olive oil before serving to give it a glossy velvety texture. Serve on a cold winter's day with lots and lots of Chianti

Friday, 11 July 2014

Le Mans. Toyota Celica. Ian Burrows. Condor Ferries. Sea-sickness tips.

Here is Ian Burrows en route to Le Mans, with his splendid compact sports car Toyota Celica, which he built and customised himself.  I was parked behind him on the Condor Ferry to St. Malo, and saw many motor racing fans come up and admire the car. Last year Ian was very proud to have been invited to drive in the pre-race parade in Le Mans. 

The Japanese company Toyota produced the Celica from 1970-2006: the name comes from the Latin for celestial. Toyota Celica are cult cars well-known for their victories in rallies.  

The 24 Hours of Le Mans ( 24 Heures du Mans) is the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 in the second week in June near the town of Le Mans in France: it is considered to be one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. Commonly referred to as "the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency," racing teams have to balance speed with the cars' ability to run for 24 hours without sustaining mechanical damage, and manage the cars' consumables, primarily fuel, tyres, and braking materials. The endurance of the drivers is likewise tested, as drivers frequently stay behind the wheel for over two hours before handing duties over to a relief driver during a pit stop. Drivers then grab what food and rest they can before returning to drive another stint. Current race regulations mandate that three drivers share each competing vehicle.

The race is organised by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) and runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe, a circuit containing a mix of closed public roads and specialist racing circuit meant to test two aspects of a car and driver: their ability to be quick and their ability to last over a 24-hour period. 

The Condor Ferry is cheaper than its rivals, but the Brits in Normandy and Brittany call it the vomit comet, as many people get seasick. The ferry company is however carrying out a vital service with these fast catamaran ferries.  I can certainly recommend the food between the Channel Islands and France, because it was home-made by French chefs. An excellent tip against sea-sickness is ginger ale, and passengers on Condor are advised to sit midships to avoid it.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A blogger’s progress after two years: July 2012-June 2014. Over 82,000 pageviews from over 133 countries.

In the two years since the start of Rambulation on 23 July 2012  there have been over 82,596 Pageviews on 233 posts, including several guest spots filled by family and friends.The chart oddly starts in July 2010, so Google has got that wrong.

Ironically but pleasingly the most popular post, A Bursar’s Checklist, was written by my late husband Bob for a talk he gave to the North Devon Business Breakfast Club in 2002. Bursars are rather a neglected breed, and don’t seem to have much time for writing about their profession.  I have recently added his article on his early life and National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment in Korea, entitled A one-eyed volunteer, which is equally riveting.

The Dock, Nuremberg by Dame Laura Knight, 1946.
Imperial War Museum

Seven out of the top ten posts are on art, with the most pageviews for Dame Laura Knight, whom I wrote about twice after seeing her paintings at the Penlee Gallery in Penzance.  It was interesting to read her autobiography, and research the history of the Nuremberg Trials. 

Year 1 
Year 2 2013-14

A plus point for a blogger is the fact that readers continue to click on old posts so statistics keep rising even when a blogger is inactive.  This January, BBC Radio 4 dramatised Knight’s Nuremberg Diary, which  led to a surge in the statistics.  In similar fashion Pageviews shoot up in July whenever Andy Murray plays at Wimbledon, when readers look for articles on Kim Sears' art. July 2013 in the right-hand column showed a record 6744 pageviews, the year of Andy Murray's victory..

Most Pageviews

Chris Billington. Modern British Artist  
Dogs in China. Canine Fashions 

The chart below shows where the most pageviews come from,: the UK and USA are followed surprisingly perhaps by Ukraine and China. Thankyou to readers from over 133 countries. It is also interesting to see the Browsers and Operating Systems.

I have written far less in my second year.  The pace of the first could have been maintained but to the detriment of the rest of my life ..  Another reason for the slowdown was that my daughter Dominie gave me a wonderful birthday present  of an iPad mini.  It is an absolute joy to get to the camera or the internet in seconds,, but  it takes much longer to write on a tablet, so I have got lazy about cranking up the computer which is away from the armchair and the television..

Plans for Year 3 are afoot for adding  Google's Adsense, so watch this space! 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

National Service 1953-1955: a one-eyed volunteer. Royal Tank Regiment, 5th Battalion. Cambrai Day. REME, Honiton. CCF. WOSB. Mons Officer Cadet School. Centurion Tanks. Foreign Legion. Korea. R & R. Libya, Moriarty, Cardinal Puff and other adventures. Bursar's Checklist. Wrekin College. Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.Truro School.

My husband Bob's lucky ploy to get into the army despite only having one eye gave him happy memories of his National Service for the rest of his life. Years later, in retirement, he wrote about his early life, and his time in the Royal Tank Regiment. I am proud to be able to publish his account, which he wrote for his family, for posterity and a wider audience, . It is an interesting history of how the Army trained its National Servicemen from 1939 to 1960.

Bob's involvement with the Combined Cadet Force at Wrekin College where he had been a CSM was invaluable in terms of familiarity with uniform, drill & small arms. Most importantly it taught him how to master the problem of being a left-eyed soldier operating weapons designed for the right-eyed. Bob's path through National Service showed his commitment to achieving his objectives and stood him in good stead for the rest of his life. 

Bob went up to Cambridge in October 1955, reading Geography. He played cricket for his college, Gonville and Caius, his strength being as a fast bowler. His greatest regret was that he did not gain a Blue, but in this having only one eye did limit him.

After his degree Bob was articled to Stephenson Smart Chartered Accountants in Lincoln, qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1961, then trained as a Management Consultant with PE, (Production Engineering), working in the UK and Nigeria for 3 years before taking up management posts in Industry with Unilever abroad and in the UK. He ended up as Bursar of Truro School, in Cornwall, where he spent over 20 happy years. He wrote A Bursar's Checklist which is also a very good read.

A One-Eyed Volunteer by Robert Oram, 

25.12.1933 – 2.2.2007. RIP

This autobiographical tale of my early life may be of interest to my family.
 Whatever, it has been fun in the writing! 
Truro, 2004

I was born on Christmas Day 1933 in Llanelli to Welsh parents. Both were younger siblings of the large families common in Victorian times. My mother Vera was a Roberts and her father Evan was a local hero, having played rugby for Wales. I have his cap for 1886-7, a much prized family heirloom. My father Gavin was a qualified engineer aspiring to management. I had an older sister Vivienne but another sister Isabel had sadly died whilst still a baby. My parents are now buried with her in Felinfoel.

Galle Lighthouse built by Gavin C. Oram

The depressed early thirties were hard for ambitious young professionals but Dad successfully applied for an appointment to manage the Government Factory in Ceylon, then still part of the British Empire. My first conscious memory is of playing with Vivienne in the garden of our bungalow in Colombo. Dad’s responsibilities included the maintenance of public buildings and the improvement of roads and bridges. His major achievement was to build the lighthouse at Galle, a notable landmark to this day and which still bears a plaque with his name.

Dad thrived in Ceylon and even mastered Singhalese but unfortunately my mother, who had always been of delicate health, found the tropics too taxing and was continuously ill, so much so that Vivienne and I were sent to a convent in Nuwara Eliya. When it was suspected that war was imminent in Europe we reluctantly in 1939 returned to England on one of the last passenger ships to make it through the Med before hostilities began. We were even buzzed by an Italian fighter!

Dad had been transferred to the government armaments works at Woolwich Arsenal and we lived in neighbouring Bexley Heath. When the blitz started we suffered the routine of long days and nights in shelters listening to the bombs. I can remember my mother shaking with fright. We sometimes watched the dogfights and cheered when a Spitfire chased a Jerry low over the rooftops, as if at a football match. But mostly, it was hell!

One fateful day during a lull in the bombing my right eye was accidentally shot by an arrow whilst playing with other neighbourhood children. Because of the blitz, it was with great difficulty that the medics got me to Moorfields Eye Hospital in the City but they could not save the eye and I was doomed at the age of seven to use an artificial one thereafter. This was when my troubles began.

Dad was sent to run a factory making ammunition in Cheshire and I went to the local primary school where I was subjected to terrible bullying, not physically but very much mentally. Because I was “different” some pupils picked on me to mock my disability. They would follow me around the playground chanting abuse. Children can be really cruel. Sometimes I ran away home during the school day. My mother complained to the teachers who feebly tried to protect me but to no avail. School for me during this period was desperately unhappy.

Not surprisingly perhaps, I failed the Eleven Plus examination when the time came. But it was to be a blessing in disguise because my parents then decided to send me to a boarding school at the age of twelve. The choice was Wrekin, then a minor public school close to the mountain of that name in Shropshire. It was to be my lucky break!

From the moment I arrived to the day I left, not once did any fellow pupil or member of staff even mention my “disability”, leave alone mock me for it. Wrekin at that time was sport mad. PE was obligatory during morning breaks regardless of weather. I was good at cricket because I could bowl fast. I was also good at rugby because I was a sprinter and played on the wing. At athletics I was a good jumper. Ability at games ensured that you were one of the chaps. For the first time I was not treated as a disabled freak. Once during a close and intense cricket match my eye popped out as I bowled a particularly fast delivery. I picked it up and reinserted it. No one said anything or even indicated that something unusual had occurred. If anyone was embarrassed, it was I.

At that time, every schoolboy knew that they faced two years National Service. We  heard tales of Old Boys experiences, even killed in action in Malaya or some such trouble spot. The school took the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) very seriously and every Tuesday afternoon we donned uniform and did square bashing, weapons training, signals or tactics. The officers were young members of staff recently demobilised. They had seen active service and a couple actually had Military Crosses so the “tuition” was real.

There was no question in my own mind that I should not serve in common with my pals! Not to do so would to me be shameful. A few weeks after leaving school I was summoned to a medical. I cannot remember what was in my mind when I attended the examination; it was a complete blank probably, or with some trepidation. But when I got there it was immediately obvious that chaos prevailed, the staff were so overworked. When it came to my eye tests the medic told me to hold a card over each eye and read the screen. Without thinking I contrived only to cover my blind eye and in the confusion nobody noticed. Thus I was passed fully fit with perfect eyesight and as far as my military record would be concerned, QED! I knew there had been a couple of famous one-eyed commanders in WW2 but they had lost theirs in combat and were heroes. I was an impostor!

In late summer of 1953 I was called up to join the army at the REME Basic Training Battalion in Honiton. Do not ask why they thought I was suitable for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers! We were billeted in barrack huts and it was immediately apparent who the few former school boarders were. The majority of conscripts had clearly lived with Mum all their lives and many blubbed themselves to sleep or cried out for them in their dreams, poor bastards. Each morning at the crack of dawn, the platoon corporal would stamp in noisily, screaming “hands off cocks, on socks” or some similar exhortation.

I now had to cope with being a soldier. My experience in the CCF was invaluable of course. Drilling on the parade ground was familiar as was most small arms training. I had learned to shoot the Lee Enfield rifle left-handed with passable accuracy. The Sten gun was used like a hosepipe anyway and the 2 inch mortar and lobbing grenades, the latter like heavy cricket balls, no problem. The only difficulty was the Bren light machine gun because its sights were on the left of the barrel. Luckily a Para weapons' instructor had given me the tip to shoot using the left shoulder. Apparently there were a lot of “left eyed” soldiers! For the rest, our training was infantry tactics, dreaded route marches, assault courses, PE and games to get us fully fit. I have never been in such fine physical condition as I was in the army.

Much is made nowadays of the widespread practice of  “sickies” when people call in on the slightest pretext to say that they are too ill to work. The Army had a simple and very effective Catch 22 way of dealing with this ploy. In order to report sick, you first had to manhandle all your kit and deposit it at the guardroom for safe keeping. Bedding, webbing, rifle, steel helmet, boots, the lot. Unsurprisingly, the only soldiers to go sick were too ill to move and were ambulance cases!

Within some weeks a few of us were interviewed to ask if we would like to be considered for officer training. Why me? It was obviously a combination of education and the fact that I had risen to the rank of CSM in the CCF. In due time we “potential officers” were sent to a War Office Selection Board (WOSB) for assessment over a three-day course to test our leadership skills and ability to use initiative. There were also weird psychology tests given by quite spooky “trick cyclists” and we were watched to see how we mixed socially. As an ex-public school prefect I had no difficulty in bullshitting my way through to pass! Wrekin had prepared me well.

When basic training ended I was sent to Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot which specialised in passing out officers for Artillery and Armoured Corps regiments. At WOSB I had given the RAC as my preference for the most spurious of reasons, namely that if I had reluctantly to go into battle then it must be preferable to ride rather than walk. Such was my simple, misguided thinking!

Apart from being trained in leadership and how to be an officer I also had basic tank training in driving and maintenance routines, signals procedure and wireless operating, gunnery, map reading and armoured fighting tactics. We officer cadets had great fun charging all over Salisbury Plain in Daimler armoured cars and on the tank gunnery range at Lulworth Cove firing live ammo. The main battle tank at that time was the Centurion with a 20 pound cannon. These made a tremendous crack when fired and huge flashes and fumes enveloped us. I am still partially deaf in my left ear. But there was nothing in the training that a determined one-eyed man could not do.

At some point, officer cadets had to be allocated to regiments. In some cases this was obvious as with sons following fathers; but mine had been a Sapper. So I was interviewed by a charming retired colonel who in the kindest way possible assured me that unless I liked horses a lot but more importantly had a private income, then I “might not be happy” in a cavalry regiment. I got the message! The “poor man’s cavalry” consisted of eight regular Royal Tank Regiments at that time. Most were based in England or Germany but one was in Egypt, one in Hong Kong and one, the Fifth, in Korea. Without hesitation I opted for the Fifth.  The choice was not out of Boys’ Own gung-ho heroics. A cease fire was already in place and peace talks were ongoing at Panmunjon. No, this was a chance to see half the world at HM expense in the days when cheap global travel was still unknown, leave alone going by sea! In due course I “passed out” from Mons.  Vivienne and her husband George kindly came to the parade as my parents were temporarily abroad. I then went home on embarkation leave.

Cambrai Day in the Sergeants’ Mess
Bob is second on the right.

I was now a Second Lieutenant, a “one-pipper”. Tank officers wear the same black beret as the other ranks; made famous by Monty who adopted it as his preferred headgear at El Alamein. They are obviously more practical in tanks than the standard service cap normally worn. Officers also carry long ash plants instead of the usual short swagger stick. This is in memory of those brave men at the WW1 battle of Cambrai  who had to walk in front of their tanks with wooden staffs to prod the depth of the mud to avoid bogging down.  The regimental march is Willie but when we sang it we improvised with the words: “It wasn’t the Yanks who won the war, it was my boy Willie!” Cambrai Day is every 20 November when the officers serve the other ranks at a celebratory meal. Much beer is drunk. That evening officers are traditionally guests in the Sergeants’ Mess where the object of the veteran NCOs is to get the young subalterns paralytic. They often succeed.

Soon my movement order came to join the troopship Dilwara in Southampton bound for points East. On board the days were spent in leisurely exercise and games with the odd parade for inspection. In reality it was a glorified cruise which today would cost thousands! As we were about to enter Port Said we saw a man in the water waving frantically. We assumed he had somehow fallen overboard. The ship stopped and a lifeboat was lowered to fish him out. He turned out to be a soldier in the French Foreign Legion who had literally jumped ship, thoughtfully with a life jacket! They were destined for French Indo China where the Legion was fighting for its life besieged in Dien Bien Phu by the communists. Not surprisingly, he did not fancy his chances and deck officers told us that it was not uncommon to pick up French deserters at that time. From Port Said via the Suez canal to Aden, thence Colombo where I looked up Olive, a widow who had been a family friend in our Ceylon days. That evening as we headed south past Galle I was proud to see Dad’s lighthouse reassuringly winking away. Next stop Singapore then Hong Kong where I met David, a school buddy who was serving there as a subaltern in the North Staffordshire Regiment. Finally to Kure in Japan for transit to Korea.  

Although under the overall authority of the UN, we were part of the Commonwealth Division located just northeast of Seoul. In addition to British outfits, there were Australian, New Zealand and Canadian units. On the Division’s left flank were the US Marine Corps and to the right the Republic of Korea Army (ROK). The Fifth Tanks were based at Choksong in the shadow of Gloster Hill so named when the “Glorious Glosters” were all but wiped out there in the Imjin battle of 1951.

To this day I thank my lucky stars for landing up quite by chance with the Fifth! The Regiment was immediately welcoming of this rookie subaltern, kindly, considerate even seemingly grateful that I had come to help them out! It was the same treatment with all National Servicemen. But they were not daft enough to entrust me with my own troop of four tanks and fifteen crewmen. I was assigned to C (Charlie) Squadron to understudy an experienced troop leader. Denys was my mentor, a full ex-Sandhurst Lieutenant. We became good friends.

The Regiment was entirely under canvas and I shared a tent with Bill, another National Serviceman. Unhappily, a multitude of vile rats also considered it home and we could hear them at night tearing savagely about.

The Fifth was a proud and highly professional outfit. It had fought its way from Egypt to Tunis with the Desert Rats and landed on D-day plus 1 in Normandy after a short spell in Italy, finishing their war eventually in Hamburg but liberating Belsen on the way. The CO had a DSO and all the squadron leaders and a few Captains had MCs. Several senior NCOs had MMs. The majority were career soldiers with us National Servicemen making up the numbers.

The demilitarised zone (DMZ) bordered the front line that had existed when the ceasefire came into force. It consisted of barbed wire and minefields and was dotted with watch towers manned by the various infantry regiments to guard against surprise attack. We were to support these troops in such an event, acting as forward artillery.

The tank park was muddy paddy and the tanks themselves were caked in the stuff. We spent our time on inspections or out on manoeuvres  along the banks of Imjin River, on the gunnery range or playing team games. But mostly we were on tank maintenance work to ensure they were battle-ready. Denys quickly taught me by example that an officer was expected to pull his weight like any other crewman, however hard or dirty the task!

Out patrolling the Imjin one day my driver, who was an inexperienced conscript trooper, had a brainstorm and somehow put the tank in reverse, compounding his error by pulling the wrong stick with the result that we slewed backwards into the river. I traversed the turret to get the gun out of the water and in so doing inadvertently wrote off the Browning machine gun which I had naively placed below to keep it out of the monsoon-like rain we had experienced. When we got back to camp having been towed unceremoniously out by the REME recovery unit, to their guffaws about “women tankie drivers”, I was up before my Squadron Leader Jackie and his 2i/c Roy charged with gross negligence. I had no case to answer. I would have been ridiculed if I had tried to blame the luckless trooper and I knew well the officer code: “never complain; never explain!”. I was severely admonished and given extra orderly officer duties in punishment. At least I was not expected to pay for the damage! Jackie never showed me any ill-will afterwards; he just had to make me sweat. He was a streetwise man who had risen in WW2 combat from trooper up through the ranks and I much admired him. I believe he knew my secret but his attitude was “if you’re mad enough to want to be here, more fool you!”. Roy, incidentally, was destined for promotion to General eventually.

Much is made in today’s media about the chronic lack of or inferior equipment of our troops in Iraq. It was always thus throughout history! In the Crimea, a consignment of boots was despatched to the soldiers; fine if you only had a right foot that is! So it was in Korea, the troops originally sent in were issued only with tropical kit. But the geographical knowledge of desk wallahs in the War Office did not extend to the fact that after the very hot summers came sub-arctic winters there. As usual, the poor sods had to turn to the Yanks for help. Incredibly, the Yanks were “dry” whilst one of the few things the Brits had in abundance was booze. A lively bartering trade not surprisingly ensued. It was even rumoured that sufficient quantities could secure a jeep but this may have been just a “good story”! An unusual perk in Korea was to be issued with a weekly tin of 50 Woodbines and a bottle of rum.

One day we were motoring up a track nose to tail when a company of infantry approached in single file going the opposite way. I saw by the emerald green hackles on their berets that they were Royal Irish Fusiliers. Suddenly I recognised one platoon commander as John with whom I had opened the bowling in the school’s 1st Eleven. I quickly climbed down to swap notes very briefly because we had to keep moving. However, I saw him again for a proper chat when I had to take some Catholic troopers to the Irish camp for confession.

One practice introduced by the Yanks was rest and recuperation (R&R). Every man was sent to Tokyo for a week’s leave during his tour of duty. Luckily, we had adopted this system too. In time it was my turn to go and I flew courtesy of the US Air Force to Tokyo. Apart from the odd visit by ENSA group entertainers, there were no western women in our area. There were of course local girls but the poor things had been so traumatised by war and now lived in such  wretched conditions that it was impossible to think of them as sex objects. (Having said that, a couple of our troopers had managed mysteriously to catch the clap!). At the Officers Club in Tokyo I teamed up with Mark, a like-minded Canadian Sapper.  

I had lost my virginity as a sixteen year old schoolboy on a trip to Paris. In those days, “nice” girls did not do it! We were accommodated in one of the residences at the Cité universitaire and during the day were marched around the usual tourist attractions. However, during the evenings we were left largely alone. We had been briefed by so called highly experienced sophisticates at school that the action was to be found in the area around Les Halles, a combination of Covent Garden, Smithfield and Billingsgate markets all in one.

One evening, a friend and I (we hunted in pairs for safety!) were there persuaded by two ladies to join them in a nearby and very seedy “hotel”. In the room they first produced impressive Cartes certifying that they were free from any infection known to man, at least as far as our limited French allowed. We all then undressed and they washed our members in the hand basin. Then they knelt down and took us in their mouths. Nothing we had been told by even the grossest of the braggarts at school had prepared us for this! We were quickly finished and in moments were back in Rue St  Denis, 1000 (old) francs poorer but certainly wiser.
The Japanese girls were something else again. They were not the highly trained and sophisticated geishas made famous by Captain Pinkerton and Hollywood. They were their more amateurish sisters out for a good time but getting pocket money on the way. Their speciality was bathing you. Not the kind that Mum gave you as a child. They actually joined you in the tub and gave you a thorough going over which of course you reciprocated. This was a superior service to the rudimentary ablutions offered by the Parisiennes.

All too soon my leave was over though I had managed to see the usual tourist attractions as well as partying. I returned to the Regiment in serious need of rest and recuperation, out of the question of course. But it is amazing how quickly a punished body can recover when you are young and physically fit!

The Regiment’s tour came to an end and Christmas 1954 saw us embarking at Pusan for passage to Libya. This movement was an added bonus which I had not known about when I opted for the Fifth first of all! We disembarked at Tobruk, which still showed the battle scars of the WW2 siege  with sunken hulks in the harbour. Thence we were taken in convoy to our new base at Barce where there was a former Italian barracks built during the brief period when Libya was part of that country’s empire before the war. Libya was now an independent Kingdom. The Desert Rat veterans were quick to reminisce and “grip” us rookies about the previous time they had literally blazed this trail! Cyrenaica was pleasantly green rather than inhospitable desert, which was further south, and it had been called the granary of the Roman Empire when that was at its height..

The contrast to our previous home in Korea could not have been starker. The tank park was concrete instead of the mud we were used to and the tanks were spotless. The accommodation was in proper buildings with modern plumbing and electricity. There were playing fields with real grass! Life would be different here..

Bob with Arab friends at Jālū Oasis, Libya

I now shared a room with Colin who had arrived direct from Sandhurst. Instead of the rats, he had an excitable Boxer called Whisky who slept on his bed. Much more agreeable! The daily routine was much as in Korea but in far nicer conditions. The climate was Mediterranean, the kind people pay to holiday in nowadays. One new and very interesting exercise was in desert navigation when we drove south in jeeps deep into the Sahara as far as the oasis of Jalu. Long Range Desert Group style. The veterans taught us how to use the sun compass and also desert survival techniques.

As in Korea, we did not mix much with the locals apart from Libyan royalty and dignitaries who were invited to the mess on social occasions. The only time I visited the Arab township nearby was to pick up a drunken trooper when I was orderly officer. If you left a vehicle unattended you might return to find it minus wheels!

Life was more formal and smarter than in Korea. We wore mess dress in the evening. Another difference was the presence for the first time of “white” women. There were married quarters with wives and even children during school holidays. Curiously, to some of us  “Korean” bachelors this was not a fully welcome development! For relaxation we read a lot and played cards. In this latter there was an interesting social distinction. The more senior members played bridge. They would spend the evening quietly accumulating rubbers ending up either owing or winning a few bob. No sweat!. The younger ones opted for poker which was at once much more lively and rowdy. Stakes were higher and the unlucky or rash could wind up with a financial headache.

On formal mess nights after the loyal toast, we did not have the luxury of say a Highland regiment with their piper to serenade them round the table followed by Scottish reels and the like. We had to resort to more basic games. The usual drill was for senior members to sit back in comfort and watch the subalterns at play. There were several games such as Moriarty where two blindfold blokes would attempt to bash each other with rolled newspapers, Cardinal Puff, a drinking ritual where if you got it wrong would result in a serious alcohol overload and boat races but the most popular one was British Bulldog. All furnishings would be shoved aside and the youngsters would divide into two teams; the runners and the tacklers. The idea was for the runners to get unscathed from one end of the anteroom to the other and for the tacklers to stop them. The runners won if anyone got through the scrum to reach sanctuary. The tacklers won if they stopped all runners. It could be quite bruising, like rugby played on tarmac! Of course, the comfortable, baying spectators had all been subalterns themselves, having to go through the mill. They saw no reason to spare the current incumbents in their exertions. Occasionally during high jinks something special might occur. Once a horse was ridden through the mess to tally-hos. Another time shotguns were discharged into the ceiling. Yet again a piano was drowned in beer. Once, famously, Bill had a parade wearing a red Egyptian fez instead of the regulation black beret. He was temporarily under house arrest and we passed him clandestine drinks through his window. I don’t think the brass knew quite how to deal with that one!

Towards the end, Tim and I hired a dodgy jeep from an Arab trader to do an epic drive following the Desert Rats' route to Tunis in defeating the Afrika Corps. From the start the vehicle gave trouble but we finally made it via Benghazi, “Marble Arch”, Tripoli, Gabes, Sfax and Sousse meeting some weird characters on the way. The final prize was historic Carthage. Because of the jeep’s mulish reluctance, we were late back at base and were hauled up before the Colonel for going “AWOL”. This was potentially a serious charge but luckily we had somehow won some Brownie points for our venture with the Brigadier in Tripoli who had actually helped push-start us on our way back. This mollified the CO somewhat and we were admonished and given extra orderly officer duties in punishment. He knew anyway that we were “demob happy” being on our way out!

Shortly after in late summer 1955, Tim and I flew from Benghazi to Northolt for demobilisation, via a few agreeable days in Malta. We were released slightly early because we were both going up to Cambridge. I met my parents at the Mount Royal Hotel. My mother wept. My father just smiled. He had been at this scene before after WW1 and Arras. But the dear old things still could not figure out quite what had happened! The one-eyed volunteer had finally made it!

At Cambridge I met Mary, the love of my life. We married and had five children: Dominie, Siân , Gavin, Alice and Harry. All uniquely different! All absolutely wonderful!
But that is another story!