In British Army of the Rhine
My base was Headquarters 2nd Division, British Army of the Rhine, – a neat little barracks beside the Wiengebirge (Wiehen Hills) and outside the picturesque country town of Lübbecke, North Rhine-Westphalia.
From there I would regularly travel with one or more cameramen to wherever British soldiers were doing something likely to interest the British press, television, or radio. I would also supply news items about units within the division to the British Forces Network radio station.
The work, mostly in civilian clothes (civvies) ,would take me, among other places, to the Mosel Valley to report on British soldiers helping with the grape harvest, the Netherlands to report on a British contingent taking part in the annual international Nijmegen Marches, to Belgium for events commemorating the First World War, Hamburg to report on British soldiers helping with flood rescue work, to Berlin days after the Berlin Wall was erected, and to Denmark and Lake Constance for reasons I don’t recall.
The headquarters administrative work was in an office building called Tax House about a mile from camp. Its offices were populated during the working day by personnel from the barracks, officers from a nearby officers’ mess, officers and other ranks from married quarters and some German civilians.
In the Public Relations office there were myself, a photographer, I’ll call Kenneth, further into his national service than me, and a regular captain to supervise us.
At some point a charming young national serviceman who looked rather like James Bond actor Sean Connery came from one of the offices to introduce himself. He was in fact the actor’s brother Neil Connery, the divisional magazine’s photographer.
He and I became friendly and occasionally went drinking together in a German pub in town, where he would encourage me to sing The Blaydon Races. This continued after I was quite soon promoted to sergeant-writer (so that officers I interviewed would treat me with more respect than they might if I remained a private soldier).
It was generally frowned on for sergeants as well as senior NCOs to go drinking with lower ranks, but as a national serviceman I didn’t care. Neil was a little bitter that he wasn’t also promoted to sergeant, but then he wasn’t part of Public Relations. (I don’t recall his rank.)
As a sergeant I was on the rota to be occasional evening guard commander, which essentially meant (with the guard of several soldiers on call in bedrooms behind me), sitting in an office at a little table overlooking, through a window, the camp entrance. My job was to check anyone entering or leaving the camp.
One evening Neil entered with his wrist wrapped in a bandage and sat, furtively, opposite me.
“What’s wrong…” I started asking but he shushed me, looking round yet more furtively. He kept shushing and peering over his shoulder as he slowly unwrapped the bandage – to show me what he had written on his wrist: 006 and a half.
Neil Connery talked to me enthusiastically and admiringly about his actor brother Sean Connery’s rising fame.
Returning from a leave he told me that he had gone to overnight in Sean’s London apartment and, to his astonishment, found Shirley Bassey already overnighting there.
Back to Tax House
(From now all names in this memoir will not be people’s real ones, except for Neil Connery’s and, later, those of Karina and her German family.)
I described earlier how after, as it were, role-playing as appointed temporary leader of fellow POCs in a physical training session, I concluded that I would probably in future be good a role-playing in other positions for which I had not been formally trained.
This proved to be true a couple of times while based at HQ 2nd Division.
The first was late one evening during another session as guard commander, for which I had certainly had no training.
The role player
A Royal Military Police car arrived outside the guardroom and the policemen asked me to come outside. They pulled out of the car a young soldier in civvies, with blood flecks on his face and shirt, suggesting he had been fighting or beaten. The RMPs said regulations forbad them entering the guardroom and that I needed to wake up guard members to escort him into the guardroom cell.
On impulse I said, “No, I’ll manage,” took the soldier by the arm, and then said, “Come on inside lad, we’ll get you cleaned up.”
“Careful, sarge,” said one of the policemen, “he’s aggressive.”
But he allowed me to lead him into the guardroom, and the RMPs drove off.
I led him to a sink where he suddenly bellowed something in rage and punched the mirror above the sink, shattering it.
After a moment’s silence I said, “Well, that was stupid, wasn’t it? Now you’re going to have to brush up the mess you’ve made,” and brought him a brush and shovel and bin.
After another moment he apologised with, “Oh, I’m sorry sarge. That wasn’t because of you. You’re all right,” and swept up the glass.
I then got him settled on to the bed in the adjacent cell, locked it, and wrote a report about what happened for the warrant officer who would relieve me in the morning.
The second role-play example was as sergeant preventing a potentially riotous British-German fight in what the Brits called the Long Bar, in Lübbecke – popular with British soldiers and a lesser extent German youths.
I and a friend I’ll call Derek, a national service corporal, were enjoying my favourite Ochsenschwanzsuppe (oxtail soup) in a booth beside the bar when a soldier popped his head in to say, “Sorry sarge, but a fight is about to start between Officers’ Mess squaddies and the deutschies (Germans). It could be nasty.”
I didn’t want to get involved but felt I had no choice. I knew I would be at least admonished (charged, demoted?) if I did not try to intervene.
I went to one of the Officers’ Mess soldiers at the bar (all, like me, in civvies), none of whom I had seen before, and asked, “What’s going on?”
He said, “It’s all right mate. We’re just going to get the deutschies.” (At the other end of the bar.)
“No, you’re not!” I said. “I’m Sergeant Jamieson and I’m not allowing it.”
I don’t know you,” he said.
“Well, you know me now,” I said. “What’s now going to happen is that you and your mates are going to quietly enjoy finishing your drinks and when you’re ready, leave without fighting.”
To my astonishment and relief, they all did as I said – and left the pub.
I returned to my friend in the booth and continued my soup – with spoon in a very shaking hand.
Derek must have described the incident back at camp for I heard later that it had made me something of a minor hero among the other ranks – especially national servicemen.