My most poignant memories of army life took place in Osnabruck and Imphal Barracks, where I was stationed from around 1976-1984.
I remember the downy birch trees from which clouds of yellow pollen drifted, when the wind blew across the barracks, in spring. It greatly irritated Mick Henderson, our bandmaster, who suffered hay fever. The species of birch were specifically Betula pubescens around which the ‘fly agaric,’ toadstool (Amanita muscaria), with its distinct red cap and white spots, often grew. Downy birch and the ‘fly agaric’ have a symbiotic relationship. Occasional some quite poisonous toadstools grew around our band block, including the ‘death cap’ and ‘destroying angel.’ I remember the winters when borders of grey-black snow, hardened to ice, edged the regimental square and paths from December until April. And in summer, the grass between the various ‘blocks’ was parched a thirsty brown. I did most of my taekwon-do, from white belt to black, training under the canopy of birch trees by our band block and had an intimate relationship with the seasons from the dank smell of the lichen on the papery bark of the birch trees to the taste of the dust that my footwork kicked up in the summer. And of course, a myriad of faces traverse that landscape.
It was, in retrospect, quite a beautiful barracks, spacious and well-ordered with tended gardens and where buildings, with the exception of the gymnasium, were single floor buildings and hence blended into, rather than dominated the wooded background. In this sense it was the antithesis of austere barracks such as Imphal Bks, in York, where there wasn’t a shred of grass, or functional, somewhat clinical type barracks such as Cambrai, in Catterick Garrison, from which we’d just arrived.
A posting of eight years was a long one and it meant that you became acquainted with the small army of civilian staff that work in every barracks but whom you rarely got to know. Most of the small army of civilians were women and indeed, the only man I can remember was ‘Peter,’ the barber. Other civilians, some British, worked in the WRVS and the library both of which were opposite the Guardroom. the faces of some of the German women who worked in the cookhouse, I can still remember.
There was also a small contingent of individuals who worked just outside the barrack entrance: Archi Konker and his family ran a highly successful ‘schnell imbiss’ wagon which stood by the Naafi every evening in the late 1980′s. Then there were the taxi drivers, one of whom was Richard Muller, who in the summer of 1981, drove me to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam when I missed my connecting train.
I visited Imphal Barracks in 1990 and considering I’d only been out of Germany for 4 years, Osnabruck was almost a ghost town and even by then Imphal Barracks had been fenced in and its environs, Am Limberg and the Naafi, were inaccessible.
At 1500 hrs on Thursday the 26th of March 2009, Imphal Barracks lowered the Union Flag which had flown over its domain for 64 years. They keys to the main gate were handed over to the Mayor of Osnabruck. So many people, both military and civilian had lived and worked here and yet trawling through the internet, so little remains as a testament to its existence. Of all the thousands of photos that must have been taken by soldiers and their families, only a handful of sources can be found.
However, Jim Blake’s, the schnell imbiss close to the barracks, is still going strong.
© 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Photos of the deserted barracks taken in 2010. (link)
Last Post, Osnabruck. (Royal British Legion)