Nine days after my eighteenth birthday, I was in the army. Conscripted like so many others before me. I was sent to Victoria Barracks at Bodmin in Cornwall. This was the headquarters of The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
Here we soon got used to army food. Good food, plentiful portions, but, on occasion, spoiled by poor cooking. It was all filling stuff, stews and pies, lots of potatoes and green vegetables and a pudding. Our tea mugs were pint-sized and we used to pour ourselves a pint at every sitting.
There was nothing special about the meals, either good or bad, but they were marginally better than our school meals.
After several weeks, we were allowed out on the town of Bodmin where we used to say there were thirteen pubs and twenty-six houses. A slight exaggeration, but there were rather a lot of pubs. Mostly, they sold cider. In the pub we used, the cider was housed in two huge barrels set into the wall (I think they were filled from outside the pub).
On the barrels, written in chalk, were the words “Rough” and “Smooth”. I was never very fond of cider and I managed to secure a small bottle of brown ale, which was my tipple at the time. Others thinking that the cider was no stronger than lemonade, partook of it liberally. These characters were dragged back to the barracks. Waiting for us at the gate was the Sergeant Major. He did nothing and he said nothing, but our drill sergeant, when asked, explained that the Sergeant Major would have thought that the miscreants had punished themselves sufficiently. A punishment that would not show itself, fully. until the following morning.
After a few weeks of primary training, Christmas came. A week before Christmas, there was a large party in the Sergeants’ Mess. This was a long hut with windows all along each side. Some of our platoon had been wheeled in to act as waiters and to assist in the kitchen. The kitchen was located at one end of the building. The rest of us could not resist going down there and peering through the window at the festivities. All without attracting attention from the sergeants inside.
It was worth the wait because our colleagues inside started to pass goodies out of the kitchen window. I enjoyed my first taste of Turkey.
Surprisingly, we were given Christmas leave after only six weeks in the army. I went home by a train that took thirteen hours from Bodmin to Paddington with no food or drink on board.
I went home to the first Christmas after the War. We had Capon for Christmas Dinner, it was very tasty. However, there was not a great deal to be cheery about, we were still suffering under rationing. For most people, little had changed since the end of the war. One remember the period as being grey.
After our twelve-week course was over, and after experiencing a slightly better army menu, we found ourselves working around the camp while we awaited posting to a permanent unit.
Since arriving, I had been sitting next to a chap named Brill. He was Jewish and he did not eat bacon, but he saw no reason why he could not collect his share and give it to me. I also saw no reason why he should not collect his bacon and give it to me. It was much appreciated.
While awaiting posting, I got to work in the kitchen which had to prepare meals for three hundred soldiers. Washing up was a continuous operation which would start at around 8 o’clock in the morning and go on until six or seven in the evening. The deep sinks had no stoppers and it was the practice to plug the waste pipe with a potato of an appropriate size. One day, I removed the potato stopper and the water did not run out. I decided to get under the sink and unscrew the trap lid. Before doing so, I put the potato back in the waste pipe. I unscrewed the trap lid and was suddenly hit in the face with hot water. I pulled my head back quickly and struck my temple on the sink support.
There was water and blood everywhere. What had happened is that the hot water had finally cooked the potato stopper and it had turned to mash.
I was taken to the nearest military hospital for stitches. We got new stoppers after that.
Returning to duty I was first put on a shift to peel the potatoes. This was done by an ancient device which was like a small washing machine. The sides of the tub were coated with an abrasive and the potatoes were placed in the tub and rotated until the peel had been removed. To wash away the peel, there was a continuous spray of water. Because of its age, the machine leaked and water was sprayed everywhere. Unfortunately it was not only water, but a strong solution of starch. As a result, we had to have our denims washed every day to get rid of the starch.
Having only two denim uniforms, we were obliged to rotate this duty. My other duty was much more rewarding. I was given a side of bacon and told to bone it ready for slicing into rashers. All bone had to be removed.
I searched through the Sergeant-Cook’s knife drawer until I found the right one. I then sharpened it to my satisfaction. The rest was comparatively easy. I became a self-taught boner of bacon.
Next Chapter: Chapter 26: My Second Posting