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Looking back at my army days

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George Smith wrote about his first day in the army,which he was in for three years.

He was brought up on various farms in Aberdeenshire and served in Austria, Korea and Egypt during his time in the army.

I left Aberdeen by train on Tuesday night and arrived at King’s Cross the next morning.

I then caught the train for Farnborough but there were quite a lot of young lads all going to the same camp as me. We came off the train and were herded on to the back of an army truck, which then took us to our camp. At the camp we were greeted by an officer, a sergeant and a couple of corporals who were to help train us for the next few weeks.

We were allocated to billets and given a bed and a locker. We were all given a mattress, a couple of sheets, blankets and pillows. Once we had taken them to our billets we were then sent off to another store to be issued with a uniform, greatcoat, boots, gaiters and a beret.

For the most of us our uniform or greatcoat didn’t fit so we either had to get them tailored or exchanged. Back into the billet the corporals showed us how to make our bed then how to make them up in the morning – army style.

We were then shown how to clean our kit and arrange everything properly in our lockers. Then we had to bull our boots until you could see your face reflected in the toes of them.

We had to rise at 6am every morning – to wash, shave and make up our beds before going to breakfast. A corporal would wake us in the morning by rattling a tin mug along the ends of the beds.

We got the weekend off before starting our drill on the Monday morning. We had our kit ready on Saturday, so we decided to go to the airshow on the Sunday, as it was near the camp. It was quite a day there, as one of the aircraft crashed and the crew and 29 spectators sadly lost their lives. September 1952, I remember it well.


After a few weeks training at the camp we were moved to another camp at Blandford in Dorset to finish the rest of the training.

I remember one day when we were out on manoeuvres in the country, we saw quite a lot of rabbits. So on the Saturday one of the lads got his rifle and went shooting them. When he got caught, all he said was “It’s my rifle – I signed for it”. He soon found out that it didn’t work that way in the army – but we had a good meal that weekend.

Another time we were on a map reading exercise. We were taken out in trucks into the countryside and dropped off in pairs. Then we had to make our own way back to the camp using a map reference. My mate and I weren’t very good with a map so we walked a bit then thumbed a lift back to camp. We decided to hide in the toilets until the others came back, but we were seen going in. The next day, for our punishment, we were dropped off about five or six miles into the countryside. And, just so we couldn’t cheat, we were followed back by a corporal in a Jeep.

Our basic training was coming to an end and it was now time to learn to drive. We had three tonne trucks and were taught by civilian instructors. We were first taught on side roads and then moved out on to the main roads. As long as we bought the instructors their cup of tea at the roadside cafes we were okay. I passed my test and so did the others.

It was now nearing the time for our passing out parade. We practised for days on end, as we were expected to be spot on for the day. I remember one of the lads fainted with the cold, as we had been standing for so long.

The big day finally arrived. We were kept standing around for ages, waiting to be inspected. A lot of the lads that lived not far away had their wives and girlfriends down for the day to see us passing out. I lived too far away for a visit from anyone. When the parade was over, the cookhouse laid on a good meal for us and the visitors.


Next day we were all going home on leave so we were up bright and early to get dressed and to hand our kit into the stores until we came back. When we arrived in London I had to go from Waterloo to King’s Cross to catch my train to Scotland, which left around 7pm.

I had company most of the way, as there were quite a lot of lads going home on leave. We mostly travelled in uniform in those days. The train stopped at a couple of big stations so we could get out for a cup of tea and a sandwich, which were sold on the platform by a lady with a trolley.

Eventually I arrived at my station in Stonehaven. I got off the train at about 6am. I had a good couple of miles to go to my parents’ house, but as it was a nice morning I decided to walk. My parents were pleased to see my and after breakfast we had a good blether. As it was a Saturday there would be a dance in the town hall that night.

Later on I decided to get all spruced up for the dance by wearing my best uniform – except for my beret, as that would have spoiled my hair.

When I arrived in Stonehaven that night, I met a couple of lads I went to school with, so we went to the local hotel for a drink. We needed a bit of Dutch courage for the dance floor. The dances were usually led by an accordion band which played all kinds of Scottish Country music. I enjoyed my evening there, got some nice smiles from the girls – but I didn’t know if there were for me or for my uniform.

Why not share your memories with our readers? Contact Natasha on 01224 343382, send her a message at or write to YL magazine, Lang Stracht, Aberdeen AB15 6DF.