Happy Days

Exam time again

It's exam time again and students at schools and universities up and down the country are doing their best not to go into exam meltdown but to hold it together and get themselves through to the holidays and their bright futures that lie ahead. I couldn't wait to leave school. I finished one week and the next I started recruit training at the Scottish Infantry Depot at Glencorse in Midlothian. It was the Army or Royal Marines for me and given the Army course started sooner the decision was made. My plan to go through recruit training and then have a bash at the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury seemed a good idea right up to the point that I walked through the gates at Glencorse where I was jettisoned into a world closer to 1958 than 1978. While not easy it was obviously doable if uncompromising. It was though good experience and stood me in good stead later in my Army time, not least at Sandhurst.  

Memories of happy days, (first 2 minutes)

The first two minutes of the clip above, of a pass out parade at Glencorse in 1984, which I saw on the Queens Own Highlander page on FB, hurtled me back to that time. Young, fit, proud and ready to take the world on it was the best of days. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, quite comes close to the sensory overload you feel when marching with your fellow Jocks to the Pipes & Drums and I would give anything to go back to that time. 

Uniquely, having passed out as a Queens Own Highlander, (well on paper anyway having missed the actual final parade for reasons explained here!), and which I remained for the next 3 years, because I was a potential officer I never served with them. I was sent off to the Royal Highland Fusiliers and Gordons until I eventually scrapped my way into Sandhurst and from there I was again surprised to be commissioned into the Gunners. The Army likes to surprise. Wouldn't have missed any of it it for the world though.

Drum Major Ronnie Hughes RHF

Drum Major Ronnie Hughes and Pipe Major William Frame, Ronnie's friend who also recently passed away. That will be one heck of a smoker when they two get together.

Not many of you outside the RHF regimental family will know or of heard of Ronnie Hughes. He was a diamond of a man who passed away earlier this week. Ronnie followed Rosie's breast cancer updates poster here and despite his own frequent visits to hospital in the past months always dropped me an email after each post to wish her well. He was that kind of man. So sad that he just missed news of her improving situation. 

I thought, as did many others I'm sure, that he would bounce back from his latest illness just as he usually did. I didn't know Ronnie while I was with the Battalion; I was at the wrong end of the pay scales apart from anything else. I had though, got to know him better in recent years through his fast wit and enthusiastic support for small projects I have been doing. I enjoyed corresponding with him, mostly over email and reading his hilarious posts both on the regimental forum and on Facebook. His book 'Reflections,' is a Regimental treasure and should be given to every recruit and young officer joining along with the regimental history. The truth is, he embodied everything that is good about the RHF in particular and the Scottish soldier in general. I'm pleased to have known him in a small and quiet way. We lost one of the good things in our lives this week.

In 2014 I posted a piece about Ronnie and his book, 'Reflections.' Here it is. His poem, 'The Ballad of Brenda McGhee,' is just a timeless classic.

The Ballad of Brenda McGhee


Life’s not all bad, dull and dreary and as you know, here at Crumble we try and occasionally elevate matters by bringing something with a cultural bent along to feed the soul and cheer the heart. With that in mind I’d like to introduce you to what I firmly believe is a classic contribution to our nations literary heritage, the joy of which will far outlive me.

 A book dropped on the doormat this week and its no ordinary book. Just once in a while, from the many hundreds of thousands of men who rotate through the Army the odd one will commit his memories and emotions to paper and in doing so capture moments in time that would otherwise be lost for ever. Former Drum Major of the 1st Bn The Royal Highland Fusiliers, Ronnie Hughes has done just that and those of us who served at the same time are grateful that he’s done so.

In his collection of poems and short stories called “Reflections,” which he collated with the help of a friends student daughter, he’s nailed an entire Battalions rich humour and sense of collective being. I can honestly say that my formative years spent with 1 RHF were the funniest I've ever experienced. There were some not so good times but those were quickly forgotten in favour of the high points and Ronnie’s book has brought a flood of memories back for me and others who are chuckling their way through it. Thanks Ronnie.

This is my favourite;


The Ballad of Brenda McGhee 

In the town of Port Glasgow there lived a young lass, in a flat overlooking the sea, 
That’s where I first clapped my eyes oan the sight, I hope never again for to see. 
The ugliest burd in the whole bleedin’ world, yes folks you kin take it from me, 
Meet Brenda McDonald McFadzean Coltrane, Fitzpatrick McGregor McGhee. 

To say she wis ugly, wis putting it mild, as she sat by her windae aw day, 
Gazing longingly oot as the world passed her by, in the hope that a boy came her way. 
Twa bandy legs, and a wee crooked nose, Ailsa Craig wis the size of her rump, 
Wi’ wan squinty eye, and a 52 chest, not forgetting that she had a hump. 

Poor Brenda wis lonely, of that there’s no doubt, and boyfriends a no- no it seems, 
As I looked in her eye, and she gave me a wink, not me pal, aye jist in yir dreams. 
It seems such a shame, as I toodled aff hame, leaving Brenda alone at her sill, 
There’s some ugly burds that kin capture a lad, of course there are some never will. 

One day came to pass, this ugly young lass, left her windae ti’ go make some toast, 
When in through the windae a burglar he came, and very soon wished he wis lost. 
Wee Brenda she caught him alone in her room, as he rifled the loot frae her hoose, 
This is ma chance, thought wee Brenda at last, as her boobs from her bra she let loose. 

Wee Joe the burglar looked aghast, his face wis as white as a sheet, 
Of aw the hooses he picked ti’ tan, and whit a god awful sight for ti’ meet. 
Aw Christ whit is this, the burglar enquired, I only came in for yir loot, 
That’s OK son, said wee Brenda with glee, only two weeks ti go, then yir oot. 

The fortnight flew in and wee Brenda wis glad, at long last she’d captured a boy, 
Virginity gone and two weeks of pure lust, the burglar wid make a good toy. 
It’s fair ti’ say Joe didnae see it that way, he wis knackered and right puckered oot, 
He longed for the day, he had to escape, doon the pawn wi’ the ugly hags loot. 

Some years doon the line, wee Joe doing time, in his cell he jist let his mind wander, 
That time in Port Glasgow he robbed the wrang hoose, aye, whit a major blunder. 
Still sat at her windae wis Brenda McGhee, she wis smilin’ for aw she was worth, 
There by her side was her 5-year-old pride, a wan eyed humpy backit wee dwarf. 

This tale has a moral, and, yes it is true, ugly hags can get boyfriends, aye, even you, 
Don’t sit at your windae, watch life pass you by, go make some toast, or even a pie. 
Remember wee Brenda, the ugliest burd, that’s ever been this side of Oban, 
Just make sure that when you leave your room, that your windae on life is left open. 


Historical context from Ronnie,

"Let me enlighten you as to how she found herself on the end of my pen (so to speak)  When I was growing up in the East end of Glasgow at the end of, and just after WW2, I noticed that there was a dearth of menfolk in my area, thanks to a certain wee Austrian Corporal. When the weather was fine, 'wimmen-folk' would often be seen at their window sills, leaning on a cushion or pillow. Conversations would be passed up and down the street and many even went on round corners into different streets. Now, thanks to the shortage of men (young and old) who never made it home, women just had a hard time getting themselves a laddie, and every street had a "Wee Brenda" who came up a bit short in the 'good looking' stakes, so she had 'nae' chance (until I came to her rescue with wee Joe the burglar.)  I never met the mythical Brenda, and I certainly never frequented Port Glasgow, but when I put both together, it helped my words and the poem to flow." 



General Roy Gets His Wish

General Roy Urquhart; famously advised his daughter, 'Never trust a man who buys a half bottle of wine.'

General Roy Urquhart; famously advised his daughter, 'Never trust a man who buys a half bottle of wine.'

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.



 As a result of a glorious and completely predictable failure at the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury at the age of 18, I subsequently enjoyed three years as a Jock and JNCO in not one but three different regiments, (Queens Own Highlanders, Royal Highland Fusiliers & the Gordon Highlanders), in the then Scottish Division in three years.

Of course, this groundbreaking approach to career development was sadly ahead of it's time and my tour around the Division was brought to an abrupt end when, somewhat to my surprise and everyone else's involved, a catastrophic failure of diligence at the RCB at my second attempt allowed me through the gates of the RMA and off for another enjoyable adventure with, much to the relief of Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Artillery. Some enquiring minds have noted that oddly enough, the post Suez British Army reached it's zenith at round about the same time. 

This week, one of the Crumble Kids secured an Army Sixth Form Scholarship at the age of 16 which gives him a place at Sandhurst after University. 

Perhaps the family DNA is improving over the generations.......



Legs Are Overrated


I took my daughter to university for the start of her first year on Sunday. Haven't heard much from her since; they obviously drag all new kids into a room and say "right, whatever you do, don't call home - you're an adult now, you don't need them anymore." That of course is all very well, right up until I highlight the fact that I'm still paying and guess what, both as a parent and as a taxpayer I've got a few questions.

We can start with why the academic year starts in the second week in October. What is that all about? It's no surprise that the US universities went back a full month ago. Of course, one might suspect that the date is a matter of tradition, gleaned from the difficulty in travelling long distances to places of learning in times past. Actually, it's probably got more to do with universities holding conferences in September for revenue. Ramping up fees with no measure of quality control from the institutions which is commensurate with fees charged is a recipe for mediocrity. The universities are on easy street and it's high time they joined the rest of society and learned what value means. 

Of course, students do bugger all in their first week. At the express encouragement of their new seat of learning the priority appears to be to go out on organised nights and get trashed every night........ "2 shots for 1," being a fairly typical theme, sometimes in fancy dress, sometimes not. It all shouts to me an vacuum of confidence and conviction in the task in hand...... that would be learning.

So, just as my boys will be heading home for half term, my daughter will be apparently sobering up for her first few lectures. I'm just so happy that I've spent the last eighteen years preparing her to be messed up and around by higher seats of learning that appear mostly to have lost the plot. 


The other day I watched a programme on Channel 4 called "Fighting on the Frontline." It followed a platoon from A Company, 2 Scots, (previously the Royal Highland Fusiliers) and is well worth watching. At my daughters age I was a Jock in A Company of the same battalion. The programme left me feeling nostalgic and a wee bit sad that the years are rolling by but proud to have an association with a battalion that has lost none of it's fighting spirit and aggression. 

They obviously kept the PR dollies well away from the Jocks given it was as open, honest and funny a programme as I've seen about Helmund. The sub titles were over the top though, absolutely no need for those at all. 

Thinking about it, my views of long haired students haven't much changed since those days to now..................