Camp Vernon, British Columbia, 1984

The Main Gate possibly as we may have known it as this one dates from mid-1984. (www.armycadethistory.com)

The Main Gate possibly as we may have known it as this one dates from mid-1984. (www.armycadethistory.com)

I stumbled across some photos of the band from the History of the Vernon, Army Cadet, website. The band stayed in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, for approximately a week, in the summer of 1984. I’ve since discovered Camp Vernon, where we were barracked, has been one of the most important Canadian,  Army Cadet Summer Training Centres (ACSTC) since 1949.

Camp Vernon. BC

An aerial view of Camp Vernon (www.armycadethistory.com)

I don’t remember too much about our official engagements but vividly remember off duty time because it was predominantly spent lounging around the shore of Lake Okanagan.  Some 50 kilometers separate Vernon from the town of Kelowna, both situated on the lake and the area is probably the most spectacular I have ever experienced. The sky was big and blue, the rolling foothills of the Rockies surrounded us, the air was fresh and clean and the lake, enormous, was edged with yellow sand. It was truly idyllic! At some point we took part in a parade in Camp Vernon and we also played in the Kelowna Regatta. I remember mornings spent lazing under shady trees in a nearby park and a radio interview I took part in with Mick Henderson, for Okanagan Radio. I distinctly remember the interview, in the back of a mobile radio van on the edge of Lake Okanagan, because I made some reference to the crappy piccolo I was having to play. It really did have an elastic band on it to force a key to work and the plating had all worn off. It was a total relic, badly out of tune, leaky and a couple of keys, certainly the f sharp key, didn’t work. Shortly after our return to Osnabruck, Mick decided to buy me a new one.

Camp Vernon 1984

Lake Okanagan 1984. (www.armycadethistory.com)

Camp Vernon

On the square (www.armycadethistory.com)

I remember our barracks, large, wooden billets and I think we shared rooms with some of the cadets  but I think NCO’s had their own rooms. The SNCO’s were probably in the mess. It was a busy camp and the mess hall had to operate shifts to feed the hundreds of cadets but the food was good. The ‘parade’ square was enormous and both on it and around the edges were cadres of students practicing drill, often with a chant, being shouted across an adjacent assault course or learning various other field skills.

Camp Vernon 1984

The edge of the square (www.armycadethistory.com)

On parade, we wore ‘whites’ with flat caps rather than helmets and I remember they couldn’t get me a jacket my size so I had to wear a chef’s jacket that wasn’t quite long enough and had a slightly strange collar. Martin Doughy dubbed me the ‘Barbecue Major’  ( I was a corporal at the time).

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards

On the ‘parade’ square in Camp Vernon (www.armycadethistory.com)

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards

I was far back right. You can see the short jacket! (www.armycadethistory.com)

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards

Judging by the shadow, it must have been early evening (www.armycadethistory.com)

I think we went to Vernon because of some connection with Fort Garry Horse though they are based in Winnipeg. However, I am not sure!

I discovered the photos: here.

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Imphal Barracks, Osnabruck; Transit into History

Imphal Barracks, Dodeshiede, Osnabruck. (L-R) RHQ, Band Block, Cookhouse

My most poignant memories of army life took place in Osnabruck and Imphal Barracks, where I was stationed from around 1976-1984.

Where I lived for 8 years

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.

Probably 1978, with Dave Bott, on the patch of grass outside the band block which later became our volleyball court

April 1982, shortly after my black belt, with Georg Soupidis (then 3rd dan)

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.

some of the old married quarters

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.

one of the ‘bungalow’ type barrack blogs which typified Imphal and Mercer barracks

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.

the tank road (Am Limberg) which ran along the side of Imphal and Mercer barracks

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.

the flag is lowered outside the guardroom and in front of what was RHQ

The barracks deserted, the gates are locked

However, Jim Blake’s, the schnell imbiss close to the barracks, is still going strong.

Jim Blake’s – still around and still getting good reviews

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Further References

Photos of the deserted barracks taken in 2010. (link)

Last Post, Osnabruck. (Royal British Legion)

Posted in Osnabruck 76-84? | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

RSM Jennings-Bramley

Occasionally, but especially when an Old Comrade has died, I search the internet for a face. Often, I remember names but might not be quite sure of faces and hence I try to find an image to attach to a memory. Eddy Scott was a recent case in mind and I’m not sure if the face I have in memory is that of Eddy or not. I find it amazing that despite all the available social networks, little or nothing exists of so many regimental members.

I was quite shocked to learn Guy Jennings-Bramley had died. How could anyone who knew ‘JB’ forget him. As is often the case, the relationship you have with individuals back in the time you served differs from the one you end up with. I often thought JB was a ‘tosser’ simply because he was the RSM and like all RSMs, he was an irritation. RSM’s, Drill Sergeants, PTI’s etc, were not supposed to be loved and if they were they probably weren’t doing a good job. But time mellows and years down the line, your memories are quite different. I suppose people have the same view towards old school teachers who harshness mellows as nostalgia and sentiment pervade.

RSM Brittain, Britain's most famous RSM. Unfortunately, I can't find a photo of JB.

‘JB’ was an incredibly smart soldier, one of those individuals who wore a uniform well. Along with his good looks and slicked back hair, he always seemed to look more of an officer than a SNCO and cut a quite different figure from the stereotypical, ‘old school’ type of RSM immortalised by the likes of RSM Brittain. However, I affectionately remember what a ‘pain’ he was as an RSM.

I remember JB most around the 1980’s when we were stationed in Imphal Barracks, Osnabruck. In the daytime, whenever you had to walk past RHQ, you took your life in your hands. I frequently remember ‘JB’ bellowing out of his office window at a passing soldier who wasn’t smart enough or was walking in a sloppy manner. Apparently, he gave his own wife a ticket for parking outside RHQ, a rule he strictly policed. Whether this was regimental rumour or fact, is irrelevant because it is totally inline with ‘JB’s’ reign as RSM.

JB, FTW

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Posted in Munster ?-74, Obituary | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Eddie Kettering – Pen Portrait

Service – 1950’s-1973?

Instrument – bass

Final Rank – Sergeant or Staff Sergeant?

Family – Unknown

Current Location – deceased (FTW)

A ‘Pen Portrait’ is hardly the right title. I don’t remember Eddie very well because he left the band shortly after I joined in 1973. At the time we were stationed in York Barracks, Munster. Eddie was a bass player, possibly a sergeant or staff sergeant at the time, and along with various other older members of the band, was one of those individuals whose service stretched into the past and to places that always sounded exotic, Benghazi was one I remember.

John McAvoy, Eddie Ketteringham, Laurie Payne (Bones)

Although I find it difficult to picture him, when I think back to days when I first joined the band, I can almost hear his voice. Eddie must have left the band before we departed for Cyprus in the Autumn of 1973, which means I must only have known him for a month or so. On this point, a number of older band members seem to have left shortly before our posting to Cyprus and UN service.

Eddie, is second from right

Eddie died in 2011 or perhaps 2010. (FTW)

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Posted in Benghazi, Cyprus UN 73-74, Munster ?-74, Pen Portraits | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Keo Beer

I currently live in Daegu, South Korea, and recently my local supermarket, E-Mart, was selling imported beers, on of which was Keo beer, from Cyprus. Anyone posted to Cyprus under the United Nations will instantly recognise the distinct, yellow and blue can.

How did it taste after all these years? I have to say watery but possibly better than Korean beer which is notoriously boring. Perhaps my taste buds were influenced by nostalgia…

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More Westphalian Winters

I recently found these photos lurking in the bottom of an old BFPO box. They were taken in Osnabrück, Imphal Barracks, either in 1979, in the winter before Dave Smith and I went to Kneller Hall, or in 1981/82, after we returned. I’m making this guess as Andy Coombes is in a  similar winter photo (Westphalian Winters) and had left the band by the time we returned from KH.

Charlie Harris posing in the snow

Mick Pickering and Phil Watson

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Westphalian Winters

a great photo capturing Phil Watson and Andy Coombs at a significant moment

I have special memories of winters in Osnabrück. I think these photos must have been taken around 1978 because Dave Smith and I went to Kneller Hall in 1979 and Andy Coombs had transferred to another band by the time we returned.

Osnabrück winters were severe with heavy snow appearing usually at about the same time we were playing in the Hallemünsterland show, which was every December. The snow hung around for months and I clearly remember chunks of compacted snow, the remnants of that which had been swept to the side of pavements, loitering into early April.

Then, there were odd occasions when the finest drizzle fell onto the freezing ground and everything was glazed in a fine sheet of black ice. I only remember this kind of weather twice over a 10 year period but it was memorable because for several hours everything was suspended; all traffic stopped and the pavements were so treacherous that even walking  a short distance was dangerous.

There were a numbers of photos taken at the same time as the two I have added here, the others included Knocker Patterson, Bones and Mick Pickering.

Both photos are intensely familiar to such a point I can almost feel the nip of a Wesphalian winter and smell dinner as its aroma drifts from the nearby cookhouse. In the photo above, to the left of Phil Watson’s head, are the birch trees around which I practiced taekwondo over 7 years.

Bob Hallett and John Adye on the edge of the Regimental Square

Silver Birch trees were so prolific in northern Germany, they covered Imphal Barracks and I remember an enormous, somewhat desolate forest of silver birch surrounding Bergen-Belsen. In autumn and spring, Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, which grow in a symbiotic relationship with silver birch, would spring up around them. In spring, the Catkins, laden with pollen, were a great source of irritation for Mick Henderson and on a blowy afternoon, I recall watching the trees around the Regimental Square swing and sway in the wind agitating a cloud of yellow pollen.

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