The Early Years
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS... STONEFIELD TRAMP
Live at the Red Hart Pub in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England. 10th March 1975
But long before then the real start of it all was a wooden floored school room in a British Army Primary school in Hohne, Germany in the early fifties. I couldn't have been more than seven years old, and during music lessons, we kids would group ourselves around the piano where our very attractive, and rather young lady music teacher, would lead us in Singing folk songs. I loved every minute of it and it was an early introduction for me to a form of song writing that I found fascinating! Songs like 'Clemantine' and 'Camptown Races' I can Recall.
Most of my childhood was spent in Germany, and when the family moved to England in 1961, I felt lost and didn't feel that I belonged. It left me with a burning ambition to leave home at the first available opportunity and go abroad. Being a rather simple fellow I went for the easiest option that I could think of...I joined the army.
And was it fate or fortune that directed me towards my first posting at Tonfanau in North Wales? I ended up in Alamein Platoon, C Company, The All Arms Junior Leaders Regiment. This was where I was to befriend a blonde haired, guitar playing kid called Rob Van Spyk. It was April 1964 and we were both 16 years old. We shared a room for about eighteen months, and then went our seperate ways to our own respective units for the next six years, but did manage to keep in touch by letter and also enjoyed a couple of shared leaves together. But not once did our Regiments ever serve in the same place together, and between us we went to Germany, Malta, Libya, Malaya, Singapore and Northern Ireland.
When I had just turned twenty, and very much to my shock and surprise, I began to write poems or, more accurately, song lyrics! It would be a major turning point in my life. I think Bob Dylan has to share some of the blame for this! For I had latched onto him in a very big way, and played his recordings over and over again at every chance that I could get. My finale two years in uniform were spent in the tropics, in Singapore and Malaya, with 3 Commando Brigade. It was during this period where the lyrics just simply poured out of me. I fully realised that on their own they would be nothing and that they were crying out for tunes! As I didn't play a guitar I contacted Rob, and the Van Spyk-Friend song writing partnership was born. At the end of 1970, and after a tour of active service in Ulster, I left the Army and joined Rob, who by now was also a civilian, in Letchworth and we began to plan our first recording session.
We recorded ten songs at Easter 1971 and pressed four acetates. (which have long since been bootlegged all around the world!) Three fruitless years of rejection by every record label we approached would follow, so we took the decision to record our own albums independantly of the system. In Easter 1974 we recorded our first commercial album 'Follow the Sun' by 'R.J.Van Spyk and Friends.' Joining us in the studio was, our good friend from Tewkesbury, Brian Balster. He and Rob did most of the work, but I did join them to record my first self penned composition 'Come the Day', for I was now teaching myself to play the guitar! This was the acoustic version, of what would in a mere matter of weeks, become the Folk band 'Stonefield Tramp.' Our first album was recorded in only four hours with 'straight takes' and at £4 an hour, cost us a mere £16. Unbelievable by today's standards!
Things developed at a hectic pace and the album sold so well we returned to the studio and recorded another one. This time our sound was enhanced by Dave Lloyd on electric guitar and Chris Sutoris on Bass. It was September 1974 and Stonefield Tramp were now an official band. We also chose this moment to launch our own label 'Tramp Records.' Once again Brian joined us, but this time I took no part in the recording. The album was 'Dreaming Again.'
STONEFIELD TRAMP TODAY
Rob Van Spyk, Brian Balster, Chris Sutoris, Peter Kiely and Terry Friend. Recording Session November 2005.
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I was born on the 5th April 1951 and grew up in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. I attended local schools and from an early age showed a natural aptitude for music.
During my adolescence this talent was recognised and was encouraged and developed by inspirational music teachers. My vocal talent was particularly acknowledged and I was put to good use as the choir leader, in performances of various operatic productions in schools and in musical productions at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
I have been and indeed still am, involved in performing as a member of folk/rock bands both county and nationwide, since discovering my particular love for the instrument guitar. I currently perform regularly as part of a well known local duo. I have entertained audiences at the Abby Mill, Tewkesbury and at Sudbury Castle, Winchcombe playing medieval style music.
I am adept at playing acoustic and electric guitars, both six and twelve strings, and have played the mandolin and banjo. To accompany myself whilst playing, I have also acquired the skill of harmonica- though this has been self taught.
I have supported folk/rock bands as a session musician in recording studios and know that there is a feeling of achievement when recording CD’s tapes or records because as well as plying your own part the music has to come together and be identified as a product of the band. To that end certain flexibility in an artist is required.
Having recently returned from playing two functions in Germany, one of which was held at the British Consulate in Hamburg, I have decided that the time has come for me to pass on a little of my musical experience for the benefit of others.
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The FFG Sessions
It was sometime in April/May of 2001 and I had just returned from my very first trip to the United States of America. In my suitcase was a CD copy of a song that fellow Stonefield Tramper Rob and I had just written, and recorded, in a little studio in San Antonio, Texas. At the time I was making plans to release a series of CD's that would be called 'The Anthology' which would feature the back catalogue of both my solo albums and the ones that I had written with Rob. I wanted this song to round off the first album, and I also had the idea to include Brian, our dear friend and fellow S.T. man from Tewkesbury, to add something to it.
But, having previously subjected Brian to an earlier, now defunct, recording project and not wishing to put him through all that nonsense again! I decided that it would be better to find a studio close to Tewkesbury. So, I trotted off to the local library in Letchworth to look up the yellow pages for the Tewkesbury area. I found three studios in all, one in Bredon, one in Malvern, and one in Cheltenham. This was during my pre-internet days, and so the contact was made by the old fashioned snail mail. Only one of them bothered to respond, and, quite naturally, that was the one that got the job. It was the FFG studio, and it is situated in the little village of Bredon, which is but a stones throw away from Tewkesbury. In fact, David Pickering Pick, replied to my enquiry via the telephone, over which I outlined my needs and a 4 hour session was booked for a Saturday morning.
I do distinctly recall David's raised eye brows, as I informed him that I had no files for this song. Just a CD version that he would have to copy into his computer as one track and after recording Brian's Vocal and Guitar tracks, he would have to mix and master the finished song with just the three tracks involved. Whatever Rob and I had done in the first place could not have been altered at all. The recording went without a hitch and I left fully satisfied with what I had heard and seen. I immediately warmed to David, and his lovely studio, which is set in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside, almost alongside Bredon Hill. Unlike most studios, which tend to be rather gloomy and claustrophobic, this one was airy and bright, and I felt most at home here. I turned to Brian and stated 'I'm going to record my next album here!' 'Why' was his reply. 'You've got it all set up in Letchworth.' It's true, I had, and the current studio that I was using were working on my second album with them. But they were very expensive and I had the distinct feeling that I just wasn't getting my moneys worth of expertise that I was looking for. This was very unsatisfactory and I was eager to change the situation.
Change it I did, before I left I had made arrangements to return and record a whole album with David. His attitude, personality and very friendly, and helpful, manner were just what I was looking for. And, being a multi instrumentalist, he would support the recordings or bring in other musicians, as and when required. I left a very happy man, with an interesting, and more rewarding, song writing future to contemplate. I contacted Rob, with a progress report, and to my surprise he elected to join me and record some songs of his own.
That Summer, we hired the studio for a week's block booking, to get the ball rolling on our individual projects. I had the studio for the first two days, and laid down the keeper vocal and guitar tracks for ten songs. Rob had it for two days where he laid down the bedrock for 6 songs and, on the final day a drummer was brought in to lay down drums on all sixteen songs. Over the next 6 months, or so, David worked on the songs that I had laid down, including bringing in the well known Phil Beer to put fiddle down onto two of them. To have an artist of his stature on one of my albums was a bonus that gave me much pride, and pleasure.
Sufficient to say the album, and all of the work behind it met all of my expectations. So much so that I was of the candid opinion that in David, I, like the Beatles before me, had found my very own George Martin, whose input and guidance would improve my creative contemporary song writing in great leaps and bounds. Blessed indeed was the day that I stumbled over this man, and this studio. The very first album we recorded was 'Natural Noise' and many more would follow. I would never record anywhere else! And, if there are any would be Lennon and McCartney's out there reading these words. Bring your work to the FFG studio, you will not regret it!
Having been part of the local music scene in Letchworth for the previous two years, I recruited some of the contacts that I had made and as 'Terry Friend and Friends' we recorded my debut solo album 'Come the Day' in Piper studios in Luton in the summer of 1977. I released it on the 'Tramp' label. Having heavily relied on Rob for the tunes for the last seven years, recording my own material was just the confidence boosting experience that I needed at this fledgling stage of my career. For I had no doubt at all in my own mind, that concentrating and developing my song writing skills was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Whilst my friends and I were putting the finishing touches to my rather 'easy listening' type debut folk album, the Punk explosion had erupted. So, seeing an opportunity to enhance the label I decided to release a single by local punks, The Bleach Boys, whose bass player just happened to be Chris Sutoris. Their single did rather well and the band went on to release other successful discs on other labels. And today, like me, they are still flying the flag! As Tramp had been a partnership, and I was now working on my own, it was definitely time to break from the past. So I formed my own label, 'Paw Records'. The big burning question was who to put out on it. It was a toss up between local bands The Bees or The Varicose Veins. In the end I decided to go with the band whose material appealed to my musical tastes the most. With the benefit of hindsight I made a very poor choice. I chose The Bees, and almost as soon as their single was released, they broke up and went their separate ways leaving me with a lot of singles that I could not sell, typical local band syndrome! I lost rather a lot of money. The Varicose Veins, on the other hand, changed their name to Orange Disaster and later to Perfect Disaster and went on to achieve fame and fortune.
By now I had my own band, New Morning, which I had formed with a work mate, Colin Johnson. On bass was Nick Bliss and his mate Nick on drums. We did rather well I thought, equally as well as my Stonefield Tramp days. Disaster struck when Nick the bass player left to go to College or University. We failed to find a replacement for him and soon it was just me and Colin. We carried on flying the flag as a duo for a while but it wasn't really what we wanted. In the end we called it a day.
I was also a married man with a young daughter. Yes, I had taken the plunge and family life on a council estate loomed large. What, might you ask, is wrong with family life on a council estate. Do you want the list! Having left my flat in the town, I'd also lost the means to rehearse the band. Yet another nail in the coffin of New Morning. I'm not exactly saying that would be song writers and musicians should not get married, but in my own personal experience, did that situation do my creative output any good. Regretfully I have to say that it did not! So........all you would be Beatles and Bob Dylan's out there...... You have been warned!
Meanwhile, in between changing nappies and loosing sleep, I still managed to find the time to carry on writing. I came across a chap called Dave Simpson who had a studio in Stevenage called 'The Crypt', and as the name suggests, was in the basement of a church. We'd worked together earlier in 1981 and recorded five songs. Now (1983) we got together again and put together an albums worth of new songs which I called 'Lazy River'. I even had local celebrity John Slaughter, a well known Blues player, come in and lay down a guitar track on the Albums title track. Being somewhat broke, the lot of the recently married parent! I simply could not afford to issue vinyl albums as before, so opted instead for the cheaper option of Cassettes. They sold out very quickly, and in 1985, to celebrate the birth of my second daughter, Sarah. I recorded my last album with Dave called 'Follow The Dots'. I took the title from a drawing book belonging to my eldest daughter, Fiona. I also incorporated in the sleeve design, the first drawing that she had ever done on her own. Again it had to be a small run of Cassettes. I also changed the label to 'New Morning Recordings'.
Being stuck in the middle of an eighteen year long reign of terror by the Tories, things on all fronts in my life just seemed to be getting worse, or hopeless, with the ability to change ones options almost non existent. I now entered my 'lost weekend' phase. I had lost the inspiration to write, and without that it all seemed so pointless. This unhappy situation would last for an incredible seven years. Things had definitely reached an all time low for me. Although I suppose something positive would emerge from this creative void, I took up writing books, and completed two Biographies, one on my childhood and one on my former Military life. It did help to heal the creative wounds!
In 1996, I turned to my friend Colin from my New Morning band, and re-recruited him and we hired a studio in Luton, as it happens, the cheapest one we could find. I'm married with two kids remember! We spent a very pleasant and rewarding two years recording seventeen of the songs from my back catalogue that I had never previously done anything with. The recording process took us two years because of the financial situation. I was as hard up as a church mouse and it took me a month or so to be able to save enough money to spend a day in the studio. Eventually the deed was done. The resulting album was to be my first C.D. It was called 'Whispers in the Wind' by 'New Morning'. I was joined by my daughter Sarah on one of the tracks where she did backing vocals, also I used one of her early oil paintings for the cover and I think it worked very well. Although pleased with the song content I regret to say that the recording lacked the strong, guiding hand of a good producer/ engineer. I'm afraid this sort of thing always happens when you 'Go cheap'. Therefore I had produced a flawed album. And I can only apologise for that and make sure that I never make that mistake again. Nevertheless I'm glad that Colin, Charlie and I, rolled up our sleeves and got on with the job. It is, engineering skills apart, a good example of the type of material that I write, and besides, If I hadn't have recorded it, those songs might have been lost for ever,
In 1998 with all the other chaos going on in my life I had, what I think had been brewing for a good couple of years, a complete nervous breakdown. I'm not proud of it, but it happened, and it's a fact of my life that it happened. Usually you come through these things weaker or stronger. It took some time, but I think I came through stronger. I expect you are wondering why I ever bothered to mention it at all! It's all rather simple really. In the midst of the torment, heart break, and feelings of utter helplessness, and the darkest of the demons, something rather wonderful happened. I started to write again.
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The CD Years
In fact, with the outpouring of emotion and inner torment that I was going through the words just flowed out of me. And what a relief to be creative again. By now Colin had moved to Bath, just a wee bit to far away to commute to. Luckily a neighbour of mine introduced me to a friend of his called Ryan Sharp. Like myself, he was a devoted, one might say, fanatical admirer of Bob Dylan. He also played Guitar and Harmonica. We began work on my new material and it went rather well. I found him very easy to work with and very much on my musical wave length. We had actually spent some time in the studio working on some demos, when I was introduced to a guitarist/producer called Darren Hurst. The long and the short of it was that we agreed to work together and he would produce my next album. The promise being that 'It would take three months, not two years'. He also wanted his producer’s fee up front, and like a fool I paid it. An error of judgement that I have since learnt to regret! The templates of fourteen songs were laid down in his studio in December 1999. It is now the spring of 2005 and the project still awaits a satisfactory conclusion! A great shame, because I thought that the material that I had written was the strongest I had ever done, and early indications were, that to date, it might well have been the best recordings that I had ever done. However! Along came the gremlins! Darren relocated his studio, first up north, and then to Los Angeles! Plus, in the middle of all this he was struck down with a very serious illness which left him unable to continue with the project. As was usual with me when things go wrong, my version of 'Churchill's Black Dog' struck. And I thought that it would never be completed. As a creative artist I found this extremely frustrating to say the least, and for a time I lost contact with Darren.
They do say that out of every dark cloud there is a silver lining. Joining Ryan and me in the studio while we were putting those demos together was a young girl called Rebecca Larter. She had discovered a studio in Stotfold that I didn't even know existed. It all looked rather promising, so in 2002, and armed with a handful of songs, I trotted along to introduce myself.
Six weeks later, I had recorded my first 'Country Music' album called 'Summertime'. Ryan guested on the album with three of his songs. Rebecca also did a vocal duet with me. John Saltwell ran the studio and the musicians that sessioned for me were his band 'Alter Ego'. At last after all the bitter disappointments and frustrations over the Darren Hurst project, I now had a good recording to promote. I sent a copy to the country music paper 'Country Music Round-up', where it was reviewed most favourably. This led me in turn to Jim Silverthorn who runs the 'Country Music Trade Fair' every year in Keynsham, near Bristol in the West Country. I was invited to perform as a song writer in August 2003. This year I will be returning with Alter Ego, things can only get better!
June 2004, and things are moving at a cracking pace. Alter Ego and I have completed more recordings and have plans for an album of new songs later this year. John and his mate Paul have been kept busy building these two web sites for me. I am definitely on a roll! For me one of the most interesting things that I did in 2004 was to work with my old friend Brian in Tewkesbury adding the finishing touches to a song that Rob and I wrote and recorded in Texas in 2001. Oh, Happy Days!
February 2005, and Darren Hurst and I are back in touch. It now seems that the 'Blue for you' project is back on track! Good! For I did not want it to become a 'lost' album. So, I keep my fingers crossed that now we have our second wind, all will be well! Keep your eye on this web site for details of progress.
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Isn't it strange how some decisions can be made without any forthought or planning. Such was the case when I recorded my first album 'country style.' And it all came about because of failure!
Let me explain...
It all began when I hired a producer (whose name I do not intend to disgrace this page with!) to record an album's worth of recently written songs. Songs, in fact, that I believe were the strongest that I had ever written! However, some two years after the project's templates had been recorded, it was beginning to dawn on me that I had hitched a lame horse to my wagon! A very lame horse indeed! Such was my frame of mind one day, after pondering on my situation, and so deep was my anger and rage over the way I had been let down by this charlatan, that I resolved to show the man just how easy it was to record an album of folk songs!
So grabbing a handfull of songs, there's always spare songs laying around awaiting development, I marched into the nearest recording studio in the area and told the engineer that I wished to record an album of contemporary folk songs. The studio was The Cottage studio in Stotfold and the engineer was John Saltwell. 'Let's hear them then!' he instructed me. Sitting down, I grabbed my guitar, and went through about six of them. 'Why don't we make a Country album?' John suggested. I immediately thought of Bob Dylan's album 'Nashville Skyline' and thought to myself, 'why not!' It seemed to work for him, why not for me! Besides, I had always believed that Folk and Country songs were pretty closely related to one another!
And that is how John's band, Alter Ego, and I came to record the 'Summertime' album. From start to finish the whole process took just six weeks. It was a good move for me, for it got rid of the frustration and rage that I was feeling over the failure of the previous project to bear any fruit, and it was interesting to lean my songs in a slightly different direction than the usual Folk Rock format that they normally took.
In fact I was so impressed with the outcome that we all gathered together, about a year later, to work on my Alamo song and some other songs from my back catalogue that I intended to use, at a later date, on an album of Northern Ireland related material. (The Ulster Songbook)
The we in question being...John Saltwell (Bass) Jason Ward (Guitars) Martin Langshaw (Drums) and the lovely Cheryl Murphy (Vocals)
And at the moment we are still working together on another project.
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Should I be so lucky to have any of my songs remembered after I have gone, if so, then this song may well be the one! Written differently than all of the others, for they were all inspirational, no effort required whatsoever! I sweated blood over this one, and several years were to pass before I was satisfied with my lyrics. As for the tune, that took decades! You know, it's not every day that I create an eighteen minute long song. But I just found it impossible to tell the story of the Alamo in a three minute 'Pop' song!'
I was about nine years old when I first read about the story of the Alamo, and that was in the pages of a book called 'The story of Davy Crockett.' I've never quite understood why I was so touched about the tale of that gallant band's famous last stand in San Antonio, Texas on the 6th of March 1836. In that same year I received the aforementioned book, I also saw Fess Parker's film portrayal of Davy Crockett in the Walt Disney movie. My interest in the subject continued and at the age of thirteen I saw John Wayne's film 'The Alamo.' I don't know of any kid, in those far off fifties, that didn't have an affection for the 'Duke' and his films. Several years later, and I am a serving soldier back in Germany, I purchase a book by Walter Lord called 'A time to stand.' It was from the images placed in my head and my heart from this book and John Wayne's film that inspired me to write the lyrics that would eventually become the bedrock of my song.
The Letchworth Country band Alter Ego, that I had just recorded my 'Summertime' album with, recorded the first version of this song in 2004. You can imagine how proud we all were when this CD went on sale at the gift shop of the Shrine itself in San Antonio! My vocal version of this song was released on my 'Anthology-Part Two- The CD Years' album in 2006 and finally I released the definitive version of my song, with a slight alteration to the chord structure, in 2007. I was joined in the studio by my two friends, Brian Balster from 'Stonefield Tramp' and Phil Beer from 'Show of Hands.' I also need to pay due tribute to David Pick and Dave Draper for their monumental engineering and production duties on this recording.
I also had a very firm idea of the image that I wanted for this CD and had local Letchworth artist Allan Hunnisett paint the picture for me. To date, all told, I must have written and recorded about a hundred songs, but I doubt if there will ever be another one on the epic scale of this project!
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The Ulster Songbook
During my time as a songwriter, both with my former partner Rob Van Spyk from Stonefield Tramp, and in my solo work. Several songs have been written based on my thoughts, feelings and personal experience of the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'.
Some time ago, I was watching the festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert hall, and Isla St Claire sang a couple of First World War Folk songs. 'Why don't they get up to date?' I thought. This gave me the idea to put together a collection of our songs to create The Ulster Songbook compilation album.
It was whilst I was recording some new songs that I wished to include in my project, that the Northern Ireland Veteran's Association was formed. I joined and decided to turn my proposed CD into a charitable venture to raise funds for NIVA.
And now to Ken's book. A Long, Long War. Why it took so long for a book like this to be published, I have no idea! But at last! Here it is, and what a book, and all power to Ken's elbow for making it happen! There are some harrowing stories within these pages!
I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the contemporary social history of our country. I am also highly honoured to have some of my writing in this book. Thank you Ken, you have done all of us Northern Ireland Veteran's proud!
A powerful look at the Troubles from the perspective of the ordinary British soldier
Bullets, Bombs and Cups of Tea: Further Voices of the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-98
Published June 2009, £25, ISBN: 978 1 906033 34 7
Publisher: Helion and Company, available from Casemate
"The IRA was not a motley crew of red-haired, country bumpkins, with charming picture book Irish accents and armed with obsolete World War One weapons. They were an implacable, increasingly professional, terrorist organisation, backed in the main by the Irish-Americans and they were very good at doing what they did best; killing us."
Many accounts have been written about the Troubles, but what was it like for the ordinary British soldier patrolling such notorious areas as the Bogside, the Ballymurphy Estate, the Turf Lodge or Crossmaglen?
Following on from Ken Wharton's acclaimed oral history of the Troubles A Long Long War, Bullets, Bombs and Cups of Tea contains more first-person accounts of soldiers who lived with the strain of being "a walking target all the time".
It delves deeper into the Troubles, telling of the tragedy and hardship soldiers faced and the trauma that continues to haunt many of them but also of the camaraderie that sustained them. They recall the violence, the danger, the insults they faced and the shock of seeing their comrades die in front of their very eyes.
Bullets, Bombs and Cups of Tea contains plenty of fresh material to allow readers to reconsider the role of British soldiers in the Troubles, a conflict that claimed the lives of over 1,300 of them. The book also tells, for the first time, the stories of those families who lost loved ones - the "unseen victims" of the Troubles whose pain continues to this day.
Praise for Wharton's A Long Long War: Voices from the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-1998:
"In this excellent and wide-ranging selection of first-hand accounts from the British Army in Northern Ireland, Ken Wharton has assembled testimonies from men of all ranks that are invariably informative, sometimes humorous and often deeply moving. A fitting tribute to the British soldier in a campaign that lasted nearly three decades."
- Adrian Gilbert, author of POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe 1939-1945
Notes for Editors:
The author, Ken Wharton, is based in Australia, but is available for interview via telephone or e-mail.
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A Noisy Arrival!
I would like to welcome you to this new section of my website. As its title 'Random Thoughts' suggests. It could be about any topic that I choose to unravel my opinions and thoughts on. But I think it might make sense to commence this little enterprise of mine at the beginning, the very start of it all in fact!
I first tumbled, rather awkwardly as it happens, into this world on a bitter fog bound, and rather dreary early winter's day, on the tail end of the month of November 1947, the 27th to be precise. The exact hour escapes me, but you can almost guarantee that it would have been a most awkward and inconvenient one. I do believe that the hours of darkness were involved, for I have often been told the story that 'the ambulance crept down the fog bound Autobahn.' Now there's a clue, if ever I heard one! Yes, you guessed it. We were in Germany. The German Naval port of Kiel, or rather what remained of it after the R.A.F. had finished with it! Apparently very little of it was left undamaged and a great deal of it was devastated beyond repair. Why was I born here?
A fairly simple explanation accounts for it, and I am sure that by now you have already guessed the reason. World War Two! My father was a career soldier who served in North Africa with Monty's Desert Rats and then took part in the D Day landings in Normandy. His unit, The 4th Royal Horse Artillery, found themselves in Kiel when the war ended and that was where they remained as part of the newly formed B.A.O.R.
Back to my arrival! To say it was problematic would be an understatement, for I was born two months premature and weighed, as my mother would constantly remind me in the years ahead, only two pounds. 'A bit like a bag of sugar.' Was the way that she would put it and I was also small enough to fit into the palm of my father's hand! It was an emergancy birth in a medical facility on the camp that was, in truth, little more than a medical reception area. Hence the requirement for a journey down the Autobahn to Hamburg Military Hospital, in a rather slow and very basic, Army ambulance.
It was to be touch and go for both of us, for my mother had lost a great deal of blood and all they did for me was to wrap me in blankets and place me in a laundry basket with a hot water bottle. Upon our arrival the doors of the vehicle were flung open and an Army Nursing Matron, whose size and demeanour would have made her an ideal candidate for the New Zealand All Blacks, stared down at both of us and muttered the never to be forgotten phrase, never to be forgotten by my mother that is! 'There's nothing we can do for him but we'll see what we can do for you!' Charming! Don't you think? Anyway, I proved the old Battleaxe wrong! Because here I am, still creating havoc and making a noise!
I mentioned noise because, despite my size, or lack of it might have been a better way to put it, I must have had a fairly decent pair of lungs on me, for I nearly drove my parents insane with my constant yelling and screaming. So much so that medical help was sought. The remedy was crude, but effective! They left me alone in a room to scream and bellow away to my heart's content, and just ignored me until I stopped!
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Born to Roam! ( With apologies to 'The Boss!')
My Mother and I eventually returned home to a commandeered house in Kiel, no doubt the former property of some middle class German family. After all these years no one can remember the address, but you can be sure that it would have been very cosy, with its double glazing and central heating! The Germans, as I would discover for myself one day in the fairly near future, seemed years ahead of us when it came to basic home comforts!
However, we would not be there for very long, and in March 1948 I was to be taken on the first of many journeys that I was to experience during my formative years. This one, in fact, would take me all the way from my birth place of Kiel, to Exeter in Devon, England, the home town of my parents.
Our mode of transport would have been a troop train, which would have made its way steadily through Germany and Holland, and eventually ending up at the Hook of Holland where we would board a cross channel ferry bound for Harwich on the east coast of England. The crossing, on this and subsequent journeys, was always at night! If one must cross turbulent waters, doing so in the horizontal position in a bunk, must surely be the best and most comfortable way to do it!
13 Chamberlain Road was typical of the 'two up two down' terraced houses erected for the working class poor in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. No central heating, no double glazing, no bathroom and an outside toilet! What a contrast to my first home, luckily I was too small to even care or notice! But we weren't there for very long either. A mere six months later and we were residing at 30 Corrie Square in Aldershot where Father's regiment had been posted. This time we managed to stay put for all of eight months, and then, a mere five days after the birth of my brother Christopher, we moved to 16 Victorian Terrace in Blackdown.
Things improved this time and it was well worth emptying the cases! For we stayed here for all of twenty months! Of course! You are all beginning to pick up the threads of this by now, aren't you? This time we all headed back to Exeter where we remained for only a few months for Father's regiment was on the move again. 'Where to now!' My Mother would no doubt have declared in some exasperation! 'Somewhere nice and warm perhaps!' 'Kenya, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong? Cyprus? Cyprus would be nice!' But alas, it was not to be. 'No dear!' he replied. 'It's Germany again!'
And so, after completing the two day journey that I had previously undertaken when I was a mere four months old, but this time in reverse order, we arrived at our new home. Hohne, a fairly large, self contained, army garrison situated in North West Germany on the edge of the Luneberg heath.
All I can truthfully say about any of the above narrative is that I have no personnel recollections of any of it! None whatsoever! It is only from this point of my life that my childhood memories have any meaning for me. For we stayed here for an incredible ten years! Ten years of which, to me, were a perfect and idyllic childhood!
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Our New Home
The summers were very hot and the winters very cold, and I was to experience nine of each. Which, to be honest, was rather unusual for a military family in the fifties, for the average posting would usually only last for about three or four years. The countryside in which we lived was rather flat and contained lots of woodland, consisting mostly of Silver Birch or Conifers, or indeed combinations of both. As we were on the edge of Luneberg Heath, wild heather grew in abundance. The camp itself, which was a Garrison containing about six differant Regiments, was completely self contained and isolated in its own little world, out in a rural backwater about three miles from the nearest German village of Bergen.
The married families were housed in blocks of flats, two stories high, each one also with an attick and a cellar area. We were on the back of the block on the upper floor. Each building was situated in its own very large plot of land and fenced off from its immediate neighbouring block. So there was plenty of open space between the buildings and there were also many small woods and fields to run wild and free in. And safe! Above all perfectly safe. For a small adventurous boy it was the perfect place to grow up in, and I loved every minute of my childhood because of it! In the flat we had double glazing and central heating with radiators in every room and all the mod cons of a modern bathroom and kitchen, and compared to our families back home in England, we were living in the lap of luxury by comparison! We even had a maid for those first few years, something, I am quite sure, that my Mother would never have envisioned, not even in her wildest dreams, whilst living in our broken down old Victorian quarters back in Aldershot. If people were suffering back home in austerity Britain, for the Germans it must have been ten times worse! So they hired their services to their recent conquerors for a mere pittance.
As we approached our first German Christmas (1952) my Mother took my brother and myself to one side and explained to us just how badly off the German people were, and could we let our maid have one of our Teddy Bears, so that she could give her children something for Christmas. I went to my room and returned with all of mine, about three in all. 'No, no! Said my Mother. Just one will do.' I shook my head and placed them all into her hands. I had just recently turned five and started school and considered that Teddy bears were now beneath my new status. And besides, I just couldn't image a child waking up on Christmas Day to find nothing at the foot of the bed! I will never forget the look on our maid's face the next day when our gifts were handed over to her, and I do remember feeling slightly embarressed by her tears, for she did cry! We never had very much in those days and I found it so hard to understand that there were people far worse off than we were.
Every Christmas in Germany was a white one, and the snow would lay thick on the ground for weeks at a time. Father would drive out to the local woods and chop down a Christmas tree and it would take over and fill a corner in the sitting room and reach up to the ceiling. How on earth we never burnt the house down, I'll never know, but of course we didn't! For the candles that adorned the branches were real ones, to be lit very slowly and most carefully with matches every evening during the twelve days of Christmas. I've no doubt that it was at this first Christmas that the sledges turned up for my brother and myself. A great source of amusement for us during the winter school holidays, despite the lack of available hills. But we utilised a rather steep bank that was at the edge of some sports fields near the camp cinema, and that was good enough for us!
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