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National Service in Germany

Anything that stayed still got painted white


My first day in the National Service was November 16th 1952. On the first night we were all in a mess hall which had 6 to 7 decks.  This was at the Light Infantry depot at Borden, Hants.  An officer said, “What’s your county regiment?” I replied, “The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers”.  There was a silence, followed by his reply “Have we got a Geordie comedian in here?” You’re in the Light Infantry.  From now on its all Light Infantry”.

We never sat still, it was the busiest training.  Anything that stayed still got painted white.  The training lasted for four weeks, then after embarkation leave it was off to Germany.  Even though it was five years after the war, Germany was in a mess, still a lot of devastation.  I was based at Munsterlarger.

Our training was a build-up to manoeuvres on the Rhine.  They just got bigger and bigger, using live ammo, even though it was peacetime.  Some men were injured, or even killed on some of these manoeuvres.

I was away from home for a year without any leave.  My strongest memories were of going behind the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain as it was called then.  I was a guard.  There was six of us protecting senior officers.

The German people had very little, and were deprived of a lot of things.  There was a thriving black market in cigarettes and coffee among other things.  A British soldier could sell them for twice their value.

Editor’s Note: The sound clip that accompanies this memory gives you more detail about life in Germany on National Service and describes one particular trip into Berlin, through the Russian controlled sector of the city.


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