We lived in old, pre-world war 2 German military barrack blocks. Rumour had it they were old SS barrack blocks and as you walked in you could still see the places on the wall where they’d put their rifles. The decor was pretty cold and prison like, but it was functional. In the cellar we’d usually have the BQMS stores as it was easy to put them there. We’d have our armoury there where we’d store all our weapons. Often you’d see a load of lads sat on the floor cleaning their gats after a range day. There’d be weapon parts strewn all over the floor with bits of 4 by 2 cloths we used to pull the barrels through. If it were a Friday afternoon then we’d be hurrying up as we’d be on the piss that evening.
“Battery bar’s open in 30 minutes,” the barman declares and we’re furiously getting the cordite off the gas parts. If you were unlucky to get the GPMG then you’d shat out. That gas plug was a pain in the arse, it would take ages. Once the weapon has been inspected you’d race up to your floor get out your gear. You’d throw the lot on the floor, get in the shower and then get your gear ironed.
I remember showering after a week’s exercise in Hohne and coming out of the shower. Looking in the mirror I saw a fully cammed up face. How the fuck did that happen? I’d managed to clean every part of my body apart from my face.
The Battery Bar was a phenomena we knew of only in Germany. The Battery bar had undertones of a German culture that you couldn’t replicate in the UK. It just wasn’t the same in the UK. Germany was something else. We were different soldiers, we had a different rhythm. I suppose, as single soldiers, we were a captured audience in a way. In the UK you could go home to your parent’s on a Friday night, but here there was a stronger bond. That’s what it felt like. I think it sometimes felt claustrophobic to some and that may have been the reason why many soldiers left the Army, but then, why join in the first place?
My first experience of block life was with 88 (Arracan) Battery in mid 1990. Fuck me, that was an experience! I shared a room with three other guys : Musgrove, Bedford and Wilson (Sloth). These were good guys and not overly loud or extreme so it was pretty normal in there. You’d get your odd different person – in the other rooms. For instance there was a guy called Tony Towey who lived next door, he liked listening to The Fields of the Nephilim and other heavy metal bands. I overheard the Pay Staff Sergeant refer to him as the Warlock because it was rumoured he was into black magic. All rumour of course, but I couldn’t help but speculate by his fashion sense on the weekend. He’d be completely transformed into something else, his hair was a tail fin shape and he wore denim, leather and cowboy boots. Crazy fucker, but he wasn’t a drunk or violent, so, he was okay in my books.
Opposite, across the corridor we had another 4 man room, where Firby, Mickey Bridges and a few others lived. They were slightly crazy on a weekend. If I had a Richter scale of drunken loudness, I’d give this room an 8 out of 10. Ours was a 4. Other people in the flat included; Tinker Taylor, Cruikshanks, Cuz (team member in Northern Ireland), Chez (Bdr Chester), Routledge (RIP) and many more.
Friday night the bar would be open, in fact it would be open all week. I bet Cuz I could drink 15 bottles of Applekorn or I’d give him my Television in the bar, one Friday night. I didn’t get passed the first bottle. That bloody Applekorn, and then there was Johanishofen which was the blackberry variant of it. You drank Applekorn when it was just defrosting.
Up in the bar one new lad was told to kiss Crucky’s ‘python’. There was a roar of cheers when this happened and the beers were bought. When I look back it conjures up images of scenes from Viking halls and in some respects it was just that, soldiers getting pissed together and messing about.
There was a game which I remembered from my time as a child in Gutersloh. It was called ‘Shock’ and you played it with dice. The Germans played this all the time. The loser would buy a round of shots and each shot in the early 90s was about 20 pfennigs. It would later go up to 50pfennigs, but that was peanuts too. We had fuck all else to spend our money on except beer and whores.
In just about every Battery, Squadron or Company bar there would be a bell. The Engineers would usually rig up a chair on the end of their bar that would turn out all the lights and set off a siren, but that’s the wedgeheads for you. We weren’t that clever, so we had string and a bell. If you rang the bell then you bought the entire bar a round of beers and the bar could be packed full of marauding squaddies.
There were tales and legends, some urban legends transcended national boundaries and were traded in the UK, but to their reality – that’s a different story. I eventually got an internal posting to HQ Battery or 94 (New Zealand) Headquarters Battery as it would be known in early 1992. An HQ Battery is a strange beast in that it is heavily departmentalised and I know a lot of Battery Sergeant Majors who couldn’t get their heads around this as they’d spent most of their careers in Gun Batteries. It was a honeycombed society, in that you could be in the QM(Main) Department and you’d never be seen for 6 months. We had one guy called ‘Hovis’ who’d been a Gunner for 20 years and was a Mess Waiter. Rumour had it if you were a Gunner for 22 years you got an RSM’s pension – which was complete bullshit, but that was what a lot of guys believed back then. There were a lot of fatties in HQ Battery and I mean these were obese and couldn’t run for shit. Some were downgraded and that was that. Being downgraded, the PTI’s couldn’t touch them in the gym – they’d go to the multigym and chat with each other whilst the rest of us got a thrashing running up and down the gym.
There were a number of characters in that Battery that will stick in my mind, and lots of stories. There was a period when fridges were being hoisted and lofted out of bedroom windows three floors up. The BSM ‘H Lloyd’ would be raving mad for a while. We had ‘Swampy’ Thompson before him and I remember him ripping me a new one.
There I was in the corridor, stood on a highly polished linoleum floor that had just been bumpered by the BONCO fatigue man. I was stood at ease and in front of me was the door to the BSM’s office. It was shut tight and I could hear an increasingly frustrated ‘Swampy’ Thompson on the other side of it talking on the telephone. I looked down at my boots. FUCK! A scuff on the left front toe of the boot. I must have knocked against the step on the way up! I bent down to rub it away and my thumb stuck!! Morello…. FUCK!! I used Morello, which was a hair dying agent to line the boots and it hadn’t set properly. Now I had a thumb print on the boot and a black thumb.
The door banged. I stood up, beret in hand. The door opened.
“Gunner Douglas! Get in here!” The BSM shouted.
I brought myself to attention and marched into his office and halted clumsily before his desk. He sat with his hands laid out, palms down on the table and slowly looked up. A puzzled expression crossed his face like a slap, then down he looked to my right hand.
“What’s that in your hand?” He asked under his breath.
I looked down and knew immediately of my grave error. My beret was still in my hand when it should have been on my hand.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY OFFICE!!! NOW!! AND COME BACK IN CORRECTLY DRESSED!!!!”
And that was a sample of the types of bollocking I’d get for some misdemeanour. It was a wonder I ever made it to Sergeant. There were deviants, sexual deviants in the battery and porn mags and rubber dolls, but that’s a story for next week.