Sometimes, I think I was born and have lived in the wrong age. Sometimes, I know it. Incidentally, all the actors in the clip served in either the Great War or the Second World War which gives it a touch of authenticity.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
As a postscript to that last post, just before the parade I was chatting with my Godsons grandfather. He told me his best job during his own service was working as a military assistant in Vienna in 1952 to General Roy Urquhart of Arnhem fame. General Urquhart commissioned originally in the Highland Light Infantry and served in Malta along with the actor David Niven in the 1930's. Later, toward the end of his military career, he became Colonel of the HLI but when the Army Board announced that the HLI were to amalgamate with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers, a terrible row broke out.
The HLI had traditionally been kilted whereas the RSF wore trews. The Army Board in it's wisdom decreed that the new regiment would follow the other Lowland regiments and wear trews. General Urquhart was having none of it. This Pathe newsreel clip is pure gold and if you don't understand why these things mean so much then.... well, you just don't understand.
As it happens, the RHF are now 2 SCOTS, part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland formed in 2006. All of the battalions in the Royal Regiment of Scotland now wear the kilt. While some RHF veterans, and those of the other Scots regiments, struggle to get behind the new Royal Regiment of Scotland, I like to think that General Urquhart would quietly approve that at the minimum, his Jocks have got their kilt back.
My new ruse for making the commute more bearable has been to listen to old Desert Island Discs downloaded from the BBC iplayer thing. They have been enchanting. Like most listeners I often play the "what would I choose" game but I find it impossible to drill down to just 8 records and as for the chosen luxury......... where's a fellow to start?
.I especially enjoyed Fred Dibnah (1991) but Jimmy Edwards (1952), Dickie Bird (1996), Hugo Gryn (1994) and Kenny Everett (1993) all had golden moments. Amongst others Louis Armstrong (1968), Field Marshal Montgomery (1969), David Niven (1977), the funniest Englishman ever born, Willie Rushton (1984) and another favourite, Douglas Reeman (1983) were all good value.
The all time winner though is the 16 mins only left of the recording of Col AD Wintle in 1962. This is the man who, decorated for bravery in the Great War described the inter war years as being “intensely boring,” ("Great War peace signed at last." diary, 19 June 1919 / "I declare private war on Germany." diary, 20 June 1919). Imprisoned in the Tower of London for threatening an RAF Air Commodore in France in 1940 ,who strangely would not accede to his demand for an aircraft to “rally the French Air Force,” he then admitted to the act at his court martial and helpfully produced a list of other people who he would have cheerfully shot to help the war effort including the secretary of state for war. His hunger strike when later a prisoner of war in protest at “the slovenly appearance of the guards,” and other displays to maintain English standards led to the entire Vichy French garrison going over to the resistance according to the then commandant.
My favourite line of his is this, spoken when standing unsuccessfully for Parliament, "Guy Fawkes was the last man to enter Parliament with good intentions. You need another like me to carry on his good work."
I alluded to that fine body of men, the 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers some time ago. In that piece I mentioned David Niven's autobiography, "The Moons a Balloon." Niven writes of his time with one of the RHF's forbears, the Highland Light Infantry and by common consent, the tales of his soldiering days are a mixture of his real experiences and other regimental myths and legends. I thought I might start a little series which I'll call, "Tales from the Lines," in which I shall record for a wider audience, some of my own experiences and those of others..................... all true of course.......!
This is an extract which had me sputtering in my tea, from a veterans website which I reproduce with kind permission..........
"I will admit to getting off with an 'older' frauline when I was part of the 10-20 hawf litre single jocks in Iserlohne. She was not by any stretch of the imagination considered a 'beauty' and she walked with the aid of sticks and had a very pronounced limp. Back at her place she asked me to "Putten ze lichts oot" which I did, and that's when I heard a loud thump which startled me a bit, but did not sway me from my task at hand.
After climbing on her bed and proceeding with the obligatory teenage fumblings, I was stopped suddenly in my tracks and I thought, "hawd oan, there is something amiss here". Aye, something WAS amiss. A bloody leg wis amiss. I mean, it wis bloody missing!!!!. That wis the thump I heard in the dark. Her bleeding wooden leg hitting the fler.
Well, did Ronnie re-investigate the frauline with the 'missing' marching equipment? I will plead the "fifth" oan that one and leave it to your imagination. Let's just say I got a 'leg-over', but it wisnae my leg."
Aye, 1 RHF.............. they'll tackle anything so they will.
In David Niven's autobiography, "The Moons a Balloon," he recounts that when asked to write down his three preferred choices of regiment at Sandhurst, he finished with the third being, "anywhere but the Highland Light Infantry." Of course, some wit commissioned him into the HLI. (The HLI incidentally amalgamated with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1959 to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers).
This of course was completely unknown to me when, some 31 years ago I found myself in the adjutants office at the Scottish Infantry Depot having succeeded in blowing the Commissions Board in spectacular fashion. When asked which regiment I would like to serve with prior to having a second bash at the commissions board, I somewhat naively and arrogantly asked to go to the Black Watch, (in Hong Kong!), and in fact, "anywhere except the RHF Sir." That wasn't a clever move for on the following Monday morning I was on my way to join 1 RHF in Germany with all the trepedation usually reserved by turkeys at the beginning of December. You see, 1 RHF recruited from the City of Glasgow and Ayrshire and enjoyed a fearsome reputation both within the Scottish Division and beyond. I very much doubted I'd be making a return flight. Most friends at the Depot concurred with my dark conclusion.
As it happens, I then enjoyed two of the best and most memorable years of my service. Of course the RHF were a feisty lot but if you were one of them you endured and enjoyed together. The humour was lightening quick and no matter how miserable the Army attempted to make our young lives with their incessant interruptions in our enthusiastic pursuit of good beer and girls, the Jocks had a quick and easy way of making light of occasional hardship. It has ever been the way.
In a week when a former 1 RHF soldier, Corporal John Moore, will be laid to rest having been killed in action whilst serving with 1SCOTS in Afghanistan, my thoughts can't but wander back to my days as a Jock.
Coincidentally, a friend has resurrected a song he wrote 30 years ago when we were young soldiers in Northern Ireland. It became a sort of anthem at the time but it still has resonance now for anyone putting his kit on and leaving to patrol in bad places. Certainly, anyone who patrolled on those dank, driecht and damp nights in the hedgerows of Armagh will recognise the sentiment.
Dick has now morphed into a cross between a sixties folk singer and Billy Connelly but my thanks to him for bringing the memories back - feel free to pass the link on.