My Memories 1968-1969
Again, all of January I spent in Zweisel and Oberjoch, Langlauf ski training and competing in 2 Division and the Army Ski Championships. The regimental team even with it’s new novices, qualified to compete in the Army Championships. At the Army Ski Championships I won a cup, my first individual prize. In the 15 km race, I was the fastest Sapper, making me the Royal Engineer Champion. I was really proud and chuffed with that! I also won a trial with the British Biathlon Team. I was one of 12 potential candidates selected to go on a month’s course in Norway, from mid February until mid March. In early February I arrived back at Roberts Barracks to find that all the Squadron had gone to Ripon. I went to the Squadron block hoping to find somebody in the rear party. I felt I wanted to talk to someone from the Squadron, it was my family! I felt quite lonely, all my pals had gone. There was no rear party. It felt strange and eerie, I felt quite sad. Of course it had been arranged for me to be attached to 43 Fd Pk Sqn, until I completed my ski trial in Norway. I was accommodated in their block and later I bumped into Dave Owen who had been posted from 7 Squadron to 43 Fd Pk Sqn. Dave was a clerk, and he looked after me with all my travel documentation and administration. While I waited to go to Norway I helped out in the gym and kept myself fit.
After my ski trial I returned to Osnabruck and stayed with 43 Fd Pk Sqn, until my biathlon shooting course in April, at RAF Bruggen. Whilst we were at RAF Bruggen, the RAF were hosting a 5000 metre race. A couple of us ran as guest runners. This was my 1st ever 5000 metre race. On a gravel track, I clocked 15 mins 03 secs. Had it been a modern 'Tartan' track I would have been well under 15 mins.The shooting course was about 10 days. At the end of the course I returned to my foster parents, (43 sqn) who then made arrangements for me to fly back to the UK.
It must have been about late April, I arrived back at 7 Squadron at Deverell Barracks in Ripon. A lot of things happened in that short time. There was a girl’s college in Ripon, and a lot of the lads had found girl friends. They also knew all the pubs and quickly established themselves in them. The Squadron had quickly changed, and life here was very much different from Osnabruck. This was a new era for the Squadron. I think most of the guys were happier in Ripon, but I preferred Osnabruck.
One of the first tasks we had, was to do some construction work at the local training area, one of which, was to build ramps into the river for the APCs.
We did a brigade exercise in the vicinity of Barnard Castle that year, though I don’t remember too much about it, except that it was cold and damp.
In May,1 troop went to Mallaig and Spean Bridge in Scotland for adventure training. That was interesting, the lads went walking and map reading at section strength, and at times we were way out in the ‘sticks’. At the end of the exercise everyone had to hitch their way back to Ripon. I drove a landrover up there and I drove it back. On the way back, a couple of the lads were waiting for me to pick them up, which I did. The troop commander passed by at the time, and questioned me about it when I got back to camp.I just smiled!
The Squadron Spider in Deverell Barracks
Jock Park Pete Hilditch and Paddy Heron on adventure training Scotland May 1968
Me driving the ambulance Scotland 1968
Me having a strip wash after a training run. Hank doing some laundry unperturbed. Scotland May 1968
In the summer we had an open day, where civilians could visit the Squadron. I was giving rides to kids in my APC, including my young sister who came with my mum and brother to see me.
Mum, me and my young sister Janet at Deverell Barracks
The Army Show Aldershot
In late May until early June, I, with some of the troop took part with our APCs in the Army Show at Aldershot. We were accommodated in Southwood Camp, Cove, and traveled up to Queens parade in Aldershot daily.
The demonstration I was involved in, was working together with the armoured engineers. They would lay a bridge with the bridge layer and we would drive across it in an APC. It was interesting meeting the people who came up and had a chat. When the Army Show finished, some of the lads went on to do the Royal Tournament at Earls Court.
Jock Park decided to become a driver on MT, soon after, he crashed his Ferret, Ripon 1968
Me relaxing during lunch break outside my room
Biathlon Ski Training
Also in the summer, the Squadron received a request from the British Ski Federation for me to join the British Biathlon Team for further training in the autumn, at Edinburgh, Aviemore and Longmoor, followed by ski training and competitions in Norway and Bavaria until March. I was pleased on hearing this news, and that the Squadron would release me to attend. By now I was hooked on biathlon and I was looking forward to the coming season.
Exercises in Germany
The squadron went back to Germany in the autumn for the NATO exercises for about 1 month. This meant taking all vehicles and equipment. I didn’t go as I was away on my biathlon training.
Biathlon Ski Training
In September I rejoined the biathlon squad at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh. We did 2 weeks training there, then we moved up to the Rothemurchies Lodge at Aviemore. At Aviemore we spent many hours running over the Cairngorms and 1 day, as a team, we attempted the record over the ‘6 Peaks’. We started off well, but we were beaten by the fog, which descended quickly and we ended up off course. While we were at Aviemore we were self catering, so the team manager arranged to have an army cook attached to us. He appeared to be a nice pleasant and helpful lad. We caught hares and picked blueberries, and he’d make nice pies with them. His name was Donald Nielsen! who, in later years, was convicted for the horrific gay murders in north London. In October the team went to Longmoor for further training and shooting on the ranges there. We stayed in Longmoor camp and one evening I bumped into Jock Pomphrey in the Naafi. I also had the pleasure of traveling on the Royal Engineer Train, ‘The Bullet’ I had traveled from London one morning by train, with the last leg of the journey in the Bullet. There were civilians traveling on it too, but I think they were staff going to work on the camp. In the November I drove the team Minibus to Norway via Belgium, Germany and Denmark. There were 2 cars and the minibus traveling in convoy to Denmark where we got a ferry to Norway.
In Norway we trained and competed at different locations. In January we traveled down to Oberjoch for the British and Army Ski Championships. While at Oberjoch, I and the team racing captain shared a room in a guest house, we both got food poison at the same time and were too ill to summon someone for help. After some time the skiing officer from 35 Engr regt burst into the room and asked why I hadn’t turned up for the relay race. I had previously agreed to ski for them in the 4x10km relay race, but on the day, I was too ill to even get in touch with anyone. I managed to do some races later on at the meeting but that illness took a lot out of me. After Oberjoch I went with the British biathlon team back to Norway and did more training and competitions until March. My best result of the season was in the ‘Lowlanders’ competition. This is an annual event between the Brits, Danes, Icelanders, Dutch and Southern Swedes. I came 2nd in the 15km race, 13 secs behind the winner.
Me competing in a 20km biathlon race Norway 1968
Me by the team bus Norway 1968. I was to later 'write' the bus off, when I slid into the side of an oncoming lorry on an icy road one dark night. Very lucky to escape with just a light injury
Back in Ripon
I settled back into soldiering after a long strenuous ski season. I found soldiering a bit slow and dull in Ripon, there seemed to be more things going on in Germany, which made it more interesting. Sometime throughout the year, The British Ski Federation wrote to the Squadron to advise them that I would not be recalled for further training with them. The British Team had to manage their finances carefully, which meant limiting the team to 6 athletes. Unfortunately my shooting let me down. In biathlon, the 2 disciplines, x country skiing and shooting are equally balanced to effect the overall result. My shooting wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t good enough at the time. In those days, in biathlon, we used to shoot full bore rifles at a range of 150 metres. The rifles we used were WW2 German army rifles with Mauser action. The rifles were old, the barrels were worn and the carrying harness was very basic. The British team shooting coach, who was REME, and more of a technician than an actual shooting coach, designed and made a new carrying system, revolutionizing the carrying system for biathlon rifles. I always maintained, that with better shooting coaching I may have done better, as it was, we didn’t actually receive much shooting coaching at all. In later years, biathlon changed to small bore, which meant new rifles. My shooting then improved consistently to the standard required of top athletes.
In March, I arrived back at Ripon to find a new OC, 2I/C and SSM. The new OC was Maj Alexander, the new 2i/c Capt Barr and the new SSM WO2 Wallace ex 9 Para
In the autumn I went with the Squadron to Germany for the Nato exercises. All in all we were there for about 6 weeks. To begin with, we stayed in the attic of the NAAFI block, in Roberts barracks for a few days, sleeping on camp beds. In between exercises there was a lot of free time so we played sports. On the return to UK, I remember driving the FV432s back from Hull to Ripon. It was quite late at night when we arrived back, and we had to be up for normal parade in the morning. There were a lot of tired faces on parade the following morning.
By late ‘69, I was a bit disillusioned with the army, I wasn’t happy in Ripon, and I thought it was a waste of time the Squadron coming back to the UK , then having to go back to BAOR for the autumn exercises. I also thought that I could earn more money in civilian life. Near the end of the year, I bought myself out the army. My 7 Squadron days had come to an end.
After just less than 2 years I rejoined the army, and except for an 18 month spell at Training Regt Domestic MT, I spent the rest of my career with different Squadrons in 35 Engr Regt. I helped the regiment achieve domination in x country skiing and biathlon at army level for many years. The regiment produced a lot of talent for the British Biathlon Team, many, achieving outstanding results in the Winter Olympics they competed in. Biathlon saw major changes in 1977, most notably, the change from full bore to small bore and the shooting range reduced to 50 metres. The caliber changed to.22. This made biathlon more appealing, and made it easier for more people to compete. The rifles and equipment were better, all of the guys I introduced to biathlon, got ‘hooked’ on it. I started and organized, biathlon summer and winter training camps for the whole Corps, which were a great success. I got a lot of satisfaction from seeing how the young lads were enjoying the sport. Many of them bought their own rifles. In 1983 I was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to sport. When they started the British Junior Biathlon Team, I was appointed as their coach, and later I coached the senior team. During my career, I also had the honour to dine with Princess Anne on 2 occasions, and after the Calgary Winter Olympics meet Mrs Thatcher and Dennis Thatcher at 10 Downing Street. After several extensions, I had to leave the army in June 1989. Some day, I hope to write some memories of my time at 35 Engr Regt, which will also include life at the ‘sharp end‘, 2 x emergency tours in Northern Ireland. Overall, I had some great experiences in the army, and I am very proud to have served in the Royal Engineers. When we were in training Regiment, we were told “Once a Sapper, always a Sapper” I can certainly confirm that.
A depleted 2 Troop on the Squadron Farewell parade Roberts Barracks January 1968
Hank's experience with the Squadron's return to the UK
I remember when the sqn moved back to Ripon, I was tailend charlie to a small convoy of sqn vehicles, driving a ferret, with Fred Geary up top. He'd gone to sleep, when we all crashed on black ice. it was early in the morning on the way to Bremerhaven. Total mayhem ensued, even the Polizei car that appeared to sort us out, crashed. The ferret went down over an embankment and landed on its side. I reckon we were lucky, especially Fred. The next convoy caught us up, amongst them was LAD, they recovered us and off we went again, just managed to catch the ferry with a very sick ferret. It didnt make it to Ripon, it did about 10 miles in the uk and conked out in a village. A farmers wife brought us out tea and buns. Good ol' northern hospitality!!
Best wishes Hank