The 18th March 1947
Not an auspicious date, just a normal spring Monday to most Londoners, but for few, myself included, it was day never to be forgotten, for it was on that day with 29 others I became a Royal Marine.
Some weeks earlier, I, had gone along to the Hither Green Recruiting Office to enlist in the Royal Horse Guards, but was informed on arrival by the only person there, a rather large blue clad man with buttons on his sleeve, that the Army 'bod' was out to lunch and he doubted if he would be back before closing time. I was also advised that the Royal Navy offered a much better life for a young man, than that of a 'brown job'. Being of but 17 tender years and sadly unaware of the power and sadistic humour of a Chief Petty Officer RN, I ventured to explain I wanted to be a soldier not some scruffy matelow in a tight suit with baggy trousers.
How he contained himself, I'll never know, but he did and just smiled at me (much the way as a crocodile does)and said “For you my lad, I have just the thing, there's vacancy in the Royal Marines” and went on to explain the benefits of being both a soldier and a sailor, with me in my innocence having the impression (wrongly as one finds out) that I would get paid as both, and adding the final comment “that he had always wanted to be a Royal Marine but had not really been good enough.” Oh! How gullible we are at 17.
I then remembered that I had an uncle that had served in the Corps during WW1, I had never met him for he had later settled in Cape Town, and so, green as the beret that I now wear on Anzac Day, I accepted his proposal and signed on the dotted line. It was many, many weeks before I fully appreciated his sardonic sense of humour and realised how he had restrained himself that day.
And thus it came to pass on that at 10 o'clock on that fateful Monday morning, the 18th March 1947, I found myself, in the company of thirty other lost and deluded souls, who were either simple minded or had been tricked or duped into signing that same piece of paper that I had, facing a bored team of medical personnel,who prodded, peered, poked, looked at or listened too every square inch of my naked anatomy, after which, having been permitted to clothe my nakedness in my very expensive fifty bob suit from 'Billy' Burton's, I was ushered into another room where some of those other poor souls who had preceded me were recovering from the shock. Time passed, how much I cannot remember, with those present eyeing each other with intrepidation, until the last of the glazed eyed thirty staggered in.
Within minutes we were arraigned by a quiet spoken Sergeant and sworn in, what the actual words of the oath were I doubt if any of us knew, just “Hold up your right hand and repeat after me”, followed by a mumbling fromall present, most still being in a state of shock or total bewilderment. We were then each handed the sum of Four Shillings, which most of us thought was for lunch even thought we had been advised to bring sandwiches. Neither do I remember being given the King's Shilling unless it was included in the Four Bob we got.
Left to our own resources, more time passed until a haggled looking Corporal, shepherded us, clutching our worldly possession to Victoria Railway Station and put us on the train for Deal, counting heads every time the train stopped, as if he was feared one of us might leap off the train and disappear.
To this day I still do not know why any of us did not pocket the four bob and bolt but we didn't.
It was only now when we were on the train to Deal that I think we began to realise we were going to be together for some time and questions such as “Where are you from?” 'Why did you join?” or “Want a fag? Mate! Were asked and a few unprintable comments on the vulgarities of those had tormented us were passed.
It was during that journey into the wilds of Kent that the seeds of the friendships which were to sustain us through the months of training and the years that followed were germinated.
Finally, Deal hove into view and we gathered our belongings together ready to face the unknown. To a Londoner, and a Cockney to boot, whose formative years had been spent there during the Blitz, Buzz bombs and Rocket attacks, Deal seemed like another world, so peaceful and quiet.
Herded from the station by our much relieved Corporal, we, the thirty lost souls, were all from the same country, speaking the same language but in a variety of tongues. The Corporal handed us into he care of a small but exceedingly smart young Sergeant, who once he had ensured that we we were all there (physically if not mentally) escorted us to 'THE BARRACKS' and where having deposited our bags and baggage in the “Receiving Room”, a de-consecrated church with rows of double bunk beds reaching up to where the altar had once stood, we were ushered to the Dinning Hall and fed sausages and beans with great hunks of buttered bread washed down with a pint of very hot and sweet tea served in enamel white mugs.
Now fed, we were formed into three ranks and marched (if you can call what we did as marching) back to the Receiving Room, all the while eyeing the sights around us with wonderment, The Guard Room with its immaculate sentry, the barrack blocks of reddish brown brick, men going about various duties, some in smart Khaki, others in scruffy denim and some in Blue uniforms that seem to have been painted on. While those that stared back at us seem to have a smile that said - “YOU”LL BE SORRY”.
Back in the Receiving Room we were allocated bunks ( I got a top one ) and shown how to properly make a bed, then the young Sergeant called us together and introduced himself “Sgt Day, Sgt H.E. Day” and continued “ I am your Squad Instructor and from this moment on you are the 476 Chatham Continuous Service Squad”.
And so ended the first day.
As we settled down for our first night, little did we realise that in the following days we would be run (sorry – doubled) from pillar to post, to collect the mountain of uniforms and equipment we would need, most of which had been mouldering away in storage since the end of the war and would require interminable hours of scrubbing and blancoing (Khaki Green No3) until it satisfied the diligent eye of the ever smiling “Happy” Day and our squad Officer, Lieutenant Coy.
Nor did we fully appreciate the hours, days, weeks and months of blood, sweat, tears, toil and joy that would pass before we could really call ourselves “Royal Marines”.
Oh! Yes I'll remember the 18th March 1947...........
EVEN IF YOU DON'T
476 CS SQUAD – DEAL 1947
Author 2nd Left front Row