I arrived at Caterham Guards Depot in January 1948. I had just finished six weeks Primary Training at Inglis Barracks Mill Hill and had been posted to Caterham. At Caterham station there was a Lorry to meet me and half a dozen other conscripts, all about the same age, 18. We were taken to the Guards Depot. A high wall surrounded the Barracks and once inside it was like going back in time to the Victorian era. National Service Conscripts had been chosen from various Barracks across the UK as an experiment to see if conscripts could be assimilated into the Brigade of Guards, which up until now had been the reserve of volunteers. We were to make up a third Battalion of the Coldstream Guards because the second Battalion was being posted abroad leaving Public Duties short of Guardsmen.
My story is about a recruit who was in my Barrack room on the 3rd floor of Codrington block. Discipline was very strict and Jarvis was of a nervous disposition and had a slight nervous dry cough and occasional twitch of his head, nothing major, just now and again when he got extra nervous at the shouting and abuse by the NCOs. But it was enough to make him the scapegoat of the Barrack room. He was always on fatigues and became alienated from the rest of us and more and more withdrawn. His cough and head twitching had increased. I remember we had Swank Parade every Wednesday, when the RSM had us on Parade. We had to march round the square to a Drum and Fyfe band, chest out chins in and arms swinging in line with our shoulders, and give it “Bags of Swank” as the RSM said.
The RSM would scream” Quiet! I don’t want to hear a sound or see the slightest movement “We all stood like statues, still and silent…. except for Jarvis.
Afterwards we would come to attention for inspection. The RSM would scream” Quiet! I don’t want to hear a sound or see the slightest movement “We all stood like statues, still and silent…. except for Jarvis. His cough echo’d round the square and his head now shook so violently his hat, remember we had peaked hats, (During the War years ceremonial dress had ceased for the duration and had not yet returned we had Khaki uniforms with a peaked cap)that his hat began to circle round his head and the peak was over his ear. The RSM went crazy, foaming at the mouth he ran over to Jarvis and screamed and raved at him and then got an NCO to escort him to the Guard room and put him on a charge.
There were many incidents similar to this that happened to Jarvis, and I am ashamed to say now, that we all thought it was a good laugh at the time. There was one final incident that shocked all the Barrack room, and I am sure filled most of us with shame. Every night before lights out we had hand and foot inspection, we had to stand at attention at the foot of our beds and the Corporal would inspect everyones hands and feet (I never knew why), there were so many stupid rules and regulations we just followed them without question, on this night the Corporal was accompanied by a Sergeant. When they got to Jarvis the Sergeant shouted at Jarvis and said his nails were filthy and asked him when he cleaned them last. Jarvis was coughing and shaking his head so much he could not talk, the Corporal grabbed him by the back of the neck and bent him over forward and the Sergeant was asking him over and over again when did he last clean his nails. The Corporal, still holding Jarvis down by his neck, was kicking him on the Backside and saying, “Stand up straight when the sergeant speaks to you” Suddenly Jarvis, with a cry, threw up his arms pushed both of them away, ran to the window, threw it open and tried to dive out, we were on the third floor, they grabbed him by the legs and pulled him back in and dragged him out of the Barrack Room, screaming. We never saw him again. There was a rumour that he had been sent Banstead Military Hospital.
I know this must seem a strange story to write about National Service, and one that fills me with sadness and shame, but it is an incident that has stayed with me to this day. There were no repercussions, no reprisals, the whole thing was hushed up.and nothing happened to the Sergeant or the Corporal. Bullying has always gone on in the Forces and always will, but at least to day they are trying to stamp it out.
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