National service – first phase continued 3
“Does anyone want to join the regular army?” the instructor asked.
Two of us immediately stepped forward.
“Why do you want to join up?” the instructor asked me. I replied that I had always wanted to and I had a number of friends in the regular army. I had been turned down when I applied in 1963 but I now felt that as I was being trained I wanted to try again.
I due course I was marched in to see the OC A Coy (I think it was Major Willar). He posed much the same question and put me at my ease by sitting me down to tell him my story.
I explained to him that I had tried to join the army at the end of 1963 but had been turned down because of my eyesight. At his prompt I added that I felt that if I could be shot at as a spectacles-wearing short-sighted territorial or NS soldier then surely it made no difference if I was a regular and besides, my friend Graham in RLI signals troop was equally short-sighted.
“So where do you want to go if you join the regular army?” and I replied that I wanted the RLI signals troop.
I don’t really remember what happened then but a few signals must have gone between Army HQ and DRRR because when the intake was being split up into the various specialty training groups I was in some kind of limbo – not having been allocated anywhere yet. I was called in and told that while a decision was being made I would be temporarily put into the RPs (Regimental Police) – where I was to languish for about ten days.
A new intake arrived during this time and I was with the MEET AND GREET party of RPs at Heany Junction. With great enthusiasm we started cursing and swearing at these new recruits in exactly the way we had been welcomed on OUR arrival – doubling the men here and there (being bloody bullies actually, on the premise that WE had been subject to this shit so….)
Imagine our surprise when we were taken aside and told that we were to moderate our language and not make the men run until they had all had their medicals…WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD we muttered. As to the swearing we were admonished that there had been complaints from parents…we were gobsmacked that some youngsters could have snivelled to their parents.
I was in the guard room one day and heard a woman shouting outside. Keeping a low profile I looked out and saw that there was a woman BERATING the guard – in fairly robust language – for not saluting her and for not opening the boom – forcing her to stop her car.
C Sgt Gregan who was in charge of the RPs came out and spoke to the woman.
“Madam” he reminded her, “you are not a serving member of the Army nor are you an officer. As such you are NOT entitled to the courtesies accorded to such rank” (or words to that effect, as we used to say when framing a charge sheet). The woman was apopletic but the C Sgt went on and told her that the boom guards were merely doing their duty and following the orders of the CO of the Depot. One such order was that ALL VEHICLES will stop at the boom and the drivers will identify themselves before being allowed to proceed.
With some further rather startling invective the woman drove off vowing to have the RPs, and the C Sgt in particular, sorted out.
It may have been later that day or the next morning an officer came down to the guardhouse and spoke to C Sgt Gregan. He apologised if his wife had been rude (knowing of course that she had been) and assuring the C Sgt that he understood perfectly that the men had acted in accordance with standing orders. We suspected that Colour Gregan having a talk with the RSM about the matter may have had a lot to do with this apology. The clerks in HQ confirmed that it had started with bluster from the officer, a visit to the CO by both the officer and the RSM and a somewhat subdued officer leaving to speak to the NCO in charge of RPs.
A few days later C Sgt Gregan came into our quarters and told me to pack my kit. I was then driven down to Brady Barracks, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, and handed over the the School of Signals where I was to join the Regimental Signals course that the Intake 70 men had started nearly ten days previously.
I did not have too much trouble catching up and enjoyed learning voice procedure, basic electricity and battery charging, radio set handling, line and field telephones and – MORSE CODE and procedure. It was unfortunate that we were taught morse code in a way that some of us found difficult as the speed increased but we managed to pass it anyway.
At the end of the course I think I was in the top three (maybe I came first – I really don’t remember) and while everyone was getting ready to go home I was summoned to the School of Signals offices.
“Do you still want to join the Corps of Signals” asked the adjutant.
“No sir, I want to go to RLI signals”.
Looking at my records he commented on my excellent results as well as the results of my aptitude tests and said, “You can join the Regular Army, Corps of Signals, or you can NOT join the regular army at all.”
I accepted the ultimatum, not realising at the time that THEY wanted ME and that he probably did not have the authority to make that deal – to coerce me really. Anyway, a signal would have been sent to expect me at recruiting in Salisbury.
I attested into the Rhodesian Regular Army, Corps of Signals, on the fifth of March, 1965 – a few days after completing my national service – fourteen months after the dissolution of Federation and a mere eight months before UDI (the Unilateral Declaration of Independence) that was to take place on 11 November 1965.
As it was to turn out I think that it was the right thing for me to go to Signals because I suspect I would not have been a particularly successful infantryman.