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Life with the 47
Dec 04, '20

Posting to Germany

I was 30 in 1984 and just received my posting to Gütersloh, Germany.

It was only a one-hour flight, but again I felt the same as I did when I went to university. It was all very strange, all new, was I doing the right thing? It felt like the right thing, but it felt strange. We touched down at Hanover Airport and Colin Daines met us, he was the friendly faced, ever cheerful Director of Studies. And so along with a couple of other teachers who had arrived, I set off down the motorway to King’s School, Gütersloh, and the life in the Officers’ Mess.

I sat in my room in the Officers' Mess and for the first time I realised I was really on my own again. I had left my wife, my house and my car behind in England! What had I done? Driven by this insane desire to achieve a commission of sorts and to experience the military life. I was astounded at the lengths I had gone to make this happen. Nothing mattered; my subconscious was prepared to sacrifice all that I had achieved to fulfil that hidden ambition.

Looking back now with the knowledge that I now have, I can see that this drive was so amazingly overwhelming in it intensity, that it leaves me speechless in awe as to the power of the subconscious mind.


I was dropped off at the Officers Mess, Mansergh Barrack. No sooner had I settled down with my backpack and suitcase than I was whisked away by taxi to my allocated quarters in Verl, surrounded by green field of ripening European maize. Clutching my apartment key I was left to go upstairs to my flat above the owner house Herr Feldhaus who was out.

It was exactly like one of my adventure role playing game! Armed only with my key, a smattering of language and two hundred Deutsche Marks (Dm) I was left in middle of nowhere!

I was dropped off at the Officers Mess, Mansergh Barrack. No sooner had I settled down with my backpack and suitcase than I was whisked away by taxi to my allocated quarters in Verl, surrounded by green field of ripening European maize. Clutching my apartment key I was left to go upstairs to my flat above the owner house Herr Feldhaus who was out.

It was exactly like one of my adventure role playing game! Armed only with my key, a smattering of language and two hundred Deutsche Marks (Dm) I was left in middle of nowhere!


First thing first: I needed some shopping! Hiking in the direction of Verl, I stumbled into the only shop around. Successful in my purchase of Brot, Käse, Wurst, Milch und einige Pfefferminzteebeutel I hiked back 2km to my dwelling place.

Herr Feldhaus was still nowhere to be seen. To cap it all my watch had stopped working!

Bed made, eating done I drew a bath. Relaxing in the water the morbid thought suddenly struck me that I was all alone and if I was to died it would be at least week before they found my body!

Completely cut off I went to bed when it got dark.

Ich kaufe einen Panzer

The next morning I awoke early but not knowing what the time was? I walked to the main road and found a bus stop with a single solitary woman waiting.

“Wie spät ist es?” I asked.

“Zwanzig vor sieben” she replied.

Great I thought it was only twenty to seven!

The bus took a detour around the factory sector of Gütersloh and I eventually arrived at the station. I needed to find the Volksbank and introduce myself. The Army had already setup an account for me.

Armed with a cheque book I set about finding a second hand car buy. All morning I walk from garage to garage with no luck. In desperation I saw a BMW with a number plate on it and a telephone number for Gellermann and Wecker.

Screwing my courage I successfully attempted to phone them from public telephone box in German! They gave me directions which I followed. The sale manager Herr Ulrich Schilling showed me a 4 year old BMW 323i for the price I had in mind so brought it!

Business transacted I decided to eat at the station Schnellimbiss. After which I trekked back to the Officers Mess. There I learnt that I could stay in the Mess for a Princely sum of Dm. 10 a day instead of paying Dm. 7,50 bus fare.

So moved into the Officers Mess pronto!

First Morning in the Mess

After breakfast I went back to my room and read. Lunch passed without incidence and I returned to my little room. I decided then and there that I would leave my room and go to the bar something was bound to happen. I had to be pro-active about my situation; after all I had made it happen! It was then that I chanced upon a dashing young Officer of Royal Engineers, strolling by the lake, Alan Pateman-Jones and I struck up a warm relationship straightaway. Alan was a Lieutenant in 10 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers and like me he was waiting for his wife, Hilary. I coincidentally was waiting for my wife, so we struck up a mutual friendship. We talked about all sorts of things, life, death, the Universe and everything. We had delightful evening meals in the Mess, silver service with a waitress and a wonderful English breakfast the next morning.

I found him to be remarkably good company, he had tremendous general knowledge combined with excellent intelligence. As we were also sharing the mess with the 47 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, the Gunners we had an excellent time. Alan was not a gunner and immediately join ranks with the teachers in the friendly internal mess rivalry Alan enjoyed the fact that the Engineers had save some guns once from the enemy whilst in action and therefore, he wore a blue lanyard in honour of that deed. Unfortunately the 47 had lost some guns once and conversely wore a white lanyard to their dismay and everlasting shame! On such amazing trivia is the tribal elitism of the British Army founded.

I understood such things and together we made an excellent team, when out numbered by the gunners. Although even as a die-hard cavalryman myself I had always enjoyed cannons and the gunners were excellent company.

Mess Life

Mansergh Barracks situated at the foot of the Teutoburg Forest is a range of low, forested hills in the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. In 9 AD, this region was the site of a major Roman defeat, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Until the 19th century, the official name of the hill ridge was Osning.

Mansergh Barracks

Life settled down into socialising, working at school, partying and things like that. One worked hard abroad but, as in any community, especially with the army Officers, there is never a dull moment. There is always a Mess dinner evening with silver candlesticks, mess silver and full service of course. Mess evenings with just the Officers were fun. We would line up the guns and have an impromptu firefight after the meal; much to the Staff Sergeant‟s bemused annoyance. I thought I was adept at handling explosives, but the army boys were really quite serious. They had an affinity with me, because I liked explosives, but they were the ultimate masters at causing absolute mayhem and I was in my element.

Several occurrences happened during my 3 years, some especially memorable. One Mess meal the Officers had clubbed together and bought a radio controlled model King Tiger Tank, a large one, which they sprayed silver and put on a plinth. Halfway through the meal the Tiger Tank got off the plinth and started to drive down the table, knocking all the glasses over. Some of the visiting Officers had already commented, as to why we had a Tiger Tank on the table when really it should be artillery, most of the Mess silver consisted of various guns that the regiment had used.

The boys' spun them a yarn about how the Regiment had knocked out a King Tiger in World War II, which they swallowed. The Tiger Tank then rumbled along the table and turned its turret, with the barrel and pointed it up the Colonel‟s nose! The Colonel just looked at the Officers and in a deadpan voice said, "If that thing goes off you will all be on a charge Monday morning!" So the barrel descended and the turret turned to normal position, the tank drove back up the table and onto its plinth and everybody thought it was a jolly good wheeze.

I was very privileged to share these meals with the Gunners and Engineers and I really joined in with the spirit of things.

There was another Officer called Bob McDonald who had a BMW M3 and had a rather well connected girlfriend who lived down on the Brenner Pass. He used to go down and see her some weekends. Bob used to blow things up quite regularly! In fact it became quite an art form with him. I think his most memorable moment occurred, when a local opera singer was singing in front of the General and the Officers in the Mess after dinner with a silver vase full of daffodils on the piano. Just as she reached a high note the vase exploded. It was a remote control booby trap device that Bob had rigged up. The daffodils flew through the air, one of them ended up in the General’s drink, and the woman went into shock. She wasn’t used to army high jinx! I think that really nearly got Bob thrown out, but he managed to get away with it, as usual. He was always good at talking his way out of things. Everyone agreed afterwards that it was again a rather fine jape.

The Officers were just like students, except that they had money and we had many excellent adventures. One Bonfire Night, Alan’s Engineers had built a complete scale model of the Houses of Parliament out of cardboard boxes; it was absolutely huge. In their way it was another jolly jape, because it was ever so slightly anti-government. This is because the British soldier is loyal to the Queen and not to any soldier is loyal to the Queen and not to any one Government. It is a fine institution, as it means the country can never be taken over by any one political party, as happened in Nazi Germany, in 1933.

Parliament therefore is seen, as a legitimate target in the eyes of the army, for they really do not like political masters. All the best Officers have a touch of dash and the old rebel spirit in them somewhere! But the important thing is to have style and this was perfect style, as in silhouette, the buildings looked so real; so up went the Houses of Parliament on November 5th.

The Germans could never understand why we kept having fireworks all the time, as they only have their fireworks on New Year‟s Eve! We tried to explain that it was a cultural thing, but at the time we seemed to have fireworks every other week, especially after Mess dinners.

Two years into mess life was when the Colonel left. Colonel Douglas Withers, an Officer and Gentleman had been promoted to the rank of General and was off to the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall in London. I was privileged enough to be asked to his leaving dinner when he formally was dined out. After the meal, Officers only, he stood on the table, put his old parkha on, and delivered his leaving speech, which was highly emotional. He was well loved for his generosity of spirit and excellence of conduct. It reminded me historically, at the time of Napoleon saying farewell to his old guard. Everybody had a tear in their eye. He was a fine Gentleman and a damned good Colonel.

They took him outside and placed him in an armchair with his wife in another and then rowed him ceremonially across the lake in a rubber dinghy, whilst they played Richard Wagner‟s Flight of the Valkyries. With trip flares going off in the background all the while, to add to the atmosphere. To which were added a whole multitude of signal flares, maroons and all manner of other pyrotechnics. The whole thing was inspiringly emotional. Having got to the other side of the lake, the Officers then picked him up with a mini, which they had chopped the back off, and with fellow Officers on bicycles with swords drawn escorted the Colonel out of the camp. They then drove him around Gütersloh at 3 a.m. for one last time. And so our beloved Colonel left. It was really quite a night.

The parallels with my other past lives kept happening.....



Dec 04, '20
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