Fleeties� (49ers) Reunion
26-29 September 2008
The thought of a re-union at Arbroath
surfaced at an earlier event, followed by an approach to the assembled
multitudes at the �06 re-union in Cambridge. A letter was written by our
skilled administrator Jean McColl to assess the degree of support for a
last look at Condor, on the basis that we were all getting older, and
indeed the sad experience of Fred Gooch�s sudden death taught us
that numbers would steadily reduce. The general consensus was that
although it was a long way to Scotland � that was where we spent most of
our time as Art Apps � so we should try to make the effort. Ron (Taff)
Evans was asked to investigate.
There were a number of problems concerning
travelling to Dundee � principally the long distances involved with
membership scattered all over UK. Members and their wives with medical
problems could find such travel difficult or even banned.
Evans wrote to the then CO of 45 Commando RM at Condor Lt. Col Dewar, in
spring '07 and was given permission for a visit. A subsequent change of
personnel ended up with Major AP �Spike� Kelly RM being the base OC, with
Lt. Col J. Morris RM the new CO of 45 Commando. Spike Kelly helpfully
nominated WO2 Clive Lucking RM as the man to liaise with Taff and
effectively run the visit. Clive Lucking is, we understand, the senior NCO
of the 'Base', with 45's RSM (a WO1) taking over when 45 Commando are
Taff established contact by telephone and
e-mail with Clive Lucking and a private visit to Condor involving a
450-mile round trip in summer '08 was arranged. On arrival at Condor,
Taff was made very welcome and the whole morning was spent with Clive
touring the base and discussing our requests and hopes. After a lot of
muttering by the would-be Druid about the effects of a proper lunch
followed by an evening banquet, Clive Lucking was finally persuaded that a
light 'finger buffet' would be adequate for our visit. A �Stand-Easy� in
the Sergeant�s Mess followed Taff�s preview tour and, later, lunch in the
main �other ranks dining hall� (5 star feast compared with the RN/Gobby
establishment of apprentice memory!).
hardworking dedicated Welsh Man in Scotland checked various hotels in the
area � Arbroath, Montrose, Broughty Ferry and Dundee. There were none in
Arbroath (our 1953 farewell dinner venue is derelict � it wasn�t us Chief,
honest!) the other big hotel in Arbroath had burned down.
In spring '08 Taff & his wife Christine
took a long weekend and drove the best part of 500 miles to investigate.
Montrose was eliminated on size and ease of access. After discussion with
Bill Daysh and Mac McColl the Best Western �Invercarse� in Dundee was
chosen in preference to the Broughty Ferry premises on the basis of first
class private facilities and better transport links. This was a very good
choice; �The Invercarse� is on a continuous dual carriageway system from
the South, close to the airport and railway station and Dundee�s shopping
centre. A circular letter was dispatched by our scribe Jean McColl giving
details and prices of the proposed event.
We received approximately 30 positive
expressions of intent. Eventual absentees with valid chits were: Slim
Forrest (who sadly lost his wife Elizabeth, after 53 years of marriage).
Jack Martin (wife's illness), George Couchman (who had suffered a stroke
on a Spanish holiday in late 2007 and was now with mobility problems),
Bill and Linda Daysh (urgent business in Spain).
Most of the members arrived on Friday mid
afternoon 26th September. Flights into the very limited Dundee
Airport did not appear to suit anybody. One group flew into Edinburgh and
caught the train. Another group (using their geriatric rail cards), from
the South East used the railways for the entire trip and the rest of us
drove up by car � with variations, e.g. stopping in the Lake District.
Nobody walked or arrived by sea, the latter being no surprise since the
Tay is only about a foot deep west of the railway bridge. Definitely not
worth risking one's yacht for, even with a pilot.
We were all very lucky with the weather
staying fine and dry for our entire visit. In the early evening we met up
in the hotel bar � everybody recognised each other despite the glasses,
wrinkles, new hips, genuine false teeth and walking sticks. Handshakes and
kisses were exchanged between old friends (observing the 1949-53
male/female conventions, of course) and the conversation and wine flowed
Around about 1900 hrs we were shepherded
into our reserved dining area and seated for dinner. One of the positive
factors in choosing the Invercarse was that the hotel offered a private
space - not just tables - which bitter experience at a previous re-union
at Southampton had proved to be important for a successful reunion.
The choice and quantity of food was good
throughout the visit, but some (those who keep their teeth in the sink
overnight - if they have made the correct choice) missed the golden syrup
of Condor (or was it Fisgard) days. As ever, the ladies looked good from
the "off" and the blokes became less wrinkly, with more mobility, as the
drinkies took effect. During the introductory rites and rituals, the grog
gradually eliminated the fact that the deck-head lamps were fixed. Old
friendships renewed � old stories re-told over a very good meal. Thence,
once more to the bar to refuel.
breakfast, �Arbroath Smokies� (never again!) were on hand for the first
few chaps as a reminder of the food that we got at Condor all those years
ago - what was missing was the wheat flakes! The highlight of the trip
was of course a visit to HMS Condor, now RM Condor - 0930 departure. A
blind choice of transport provider could have been a problem, but using
the hotel's feedback from innumerable gatherings, Morrison's Coaches of
Dundee were chosen. They had clearance for R.A.F. Leuchars, but not
Condor. The firm was submitted to and approved by the spooks (there were
further checks on some of the passengers. No names, no pack-drill, as the
saying goes). In the event, the vehicle was a clean modern Mercedes, which
had us arriving at RM Condor at exactly the forecast time. Very
thoughtfully, a fall-back wet weather routine had been arranged, whereby
the bus would have taken us round the base - building by building, but the
sun shone on the righteous i.e. the ancient S5 and S6 entries � the 49ers.
first surprise that we had was that the old main gate (complete with the
old guard room and ModPlod office) had gone. We entered the camp through
the new Main Gate with a couple of very smart armed sentries and very posh
guardroom where our escort, WO2 Clive Lucking, boarded the bus. Clive had
been at pains, during Taff�s reconnaissance visit, to find out what would
constitute a good stroll down memory lane and, on the great day, he did us
proud. Explanations of the work of 45's base were seamlessly mixed with
opportunities galore for the ex-apps to roll back the years. The old
gymnasium, where we used to fly over the box horse (did we really do
that?) and hold our Saturday night dances was locked. Many memories of the
Dance Band, �Harry� Reynolds blowing trumpet (and swinging reveille)
flooded back. Clive told us how some of the wall bars from the old gym
have been taken to the new gym.
The old Chapel, gym (now a close combat
training room), cinema (now Bewley Hall, named after a marine killed in
Ulster) and Control Tower are listed buildings. Out on the airfield
runway we could see a glider winch and glider being launched. Visit to the
factory � all the fitting benches gone, all the machines and lathes gone,
salt bath gone, but the same �Toc H� lights remain. All the memories of
the years and hours we spent fitting and bashing metal! The former
'factory' is now the MT workshops and all the other hangars have been
modernised. As well as the guardroom, the armoury, band room, parade
ground, some schoolrooms, the Wailing Wall of the �Wrenery� and all the
'49-53 accommodation have been demolished. The Sick Bay is intact, but
cannot take in-patients.
The 45 Commando Falklands war memorial at
the flag-pole was the centrepiece for a number of shots taken by a
professional photographer from Arbroath, Wallace Ferrier. The old Cinema
(which was Bucko to apprentices in honour of the ship�s crest of H.M.S.
Raleigh � if there was a popular film to be shown and it had a 35mm print,
the Fisgard contingent was marched over the road), the posh new floor &
ceiling � memories of tatty canvas chairs, trying to sweep out the old
gravel floor in the cinema � clouds of cement dust and dog-ends! The
parade ground built over! What do the bootnecks use for drill practice?
Where do they do jankers? (Taff reckoned that RM type jankers is probably
a 30 mile run up to Montrose, swim to Arbroath and crow-hopping back to
Condor - all with a 150 lb bergen). Touring the wonderful new gym named
after marine Corporal PTI Ben Nowak (killed in Iraq) made a number of the
weaker brethren feel tired. Upstairs to the exercise machines (a statue
could get fit in this place!) Visit to the sick bay seeing some of the
rehabilitation equipment used to get the battle-injured marines fit again.
Walking back to the Sergeant�s Mess �
passing a small building (the morgue) resulted in the confession of one
Art App of having slept on the slab during a night exercise whilst all the
other silly buggers were lying in the snow firing blanks at the intruders
- the station Morgue was the warmest place for miles in a Scottish winter.
Memories of the occasion when a now anonymous apprentice shot the wardroom
*goose, sold it to a CPO (or was it our Divisional Officer?) for his Xmas
Dinner, and was subsequently promoted for initiative, flooded back.
*Please see late information correction at the foot of this report.
The sergeant�s mess � sumptuous � polished
wood and brass everywhere - Two shots of spirits for a �1 - how all the
senior marine N.C.Os have a cabin of their own (or was it 2 to a cabin? �
perhaps on Dance nights) with their own bathroom en-suite! Attempts by
certain ancient individuals to sign on again once they saw the standards
of the Sergeants Mess and the bar prices came to naught! Splendid buffet
lunch � the mess to ourselves � all �45� personnel on leave prior to going
off to Afghanistan.
Our thoughts were that they very much
deserved the current comforts of RM Arbroath.
On the way back to Dundee we stopped off
in Arbroath. Sadly Arbroath is a ghost town today. The main street is
pedestrianised and a children's �tractor train� runs on a circuit from the
Abbey to the harbour; the inner section of the latter being a marina and
the outer containing very few commercial fishing vessels, most of which
are creel boats which land prawns and a few lobsters. Most of us didn�t
recognise anything � was it really 55 years ago since we were there?
Steak, egg and chips at Ma (what was her name?) Shepherd�s) caf�.
Saturday Evening Gala Dinner. Pre � dinner drinks in
the ante-room. The private dining room, which we were allocated, met with
universal approval. The menu was very good with a very nice
five-course meal followed by coffee and truffles. The nineteen of us were
seated (including a very well smartly dressed Hank Amor, in his DJ) with
the tables in a square formation, wine and chat flowing well. A sad toast
was proposed 'To Absent Friends'.
the main course was being served, Harold Jemmett�s wife Emma fainted & was
taken away by paramedics after first aid by ex-Wren SBA Jean McColl. �
True to form, one greedy ex-app jokingly asked if he could have her lamb
chop! Old habits die hard! Ron and Christine Evans were presented with a
bottle of Malt & a Bouquet of flowers for carrying out a positively
brilliant job in organising the event. Calorie control failure! A few
jokes were told. Sadly and rather late - to bed.
� still nice weather � visit to local Botanical
gardens Good roast beef Sunday Lunch in Hotel - Relaxing day prior to the
long trip home � Good news that Emma Jemmett was sitting up in her
hospital bed reading the papers. A collection was made for flowers to be
sent to her at Dundee�s Ninewells hospital, but a prudent 'phone call
confirmed that they were not allowed on the ward.
Morning � Fry up breakfast � Lingering
farewells. Hank on the early train followed soon after by Ginger & Rita
Sanger. The remainder departed with varying degrees of reluctance.
Contact was maintained with Harold Jemmett and we were all were relieved
to hear that Emma was home earlier than forecast; local continuation
treatment was organised. The following Saturday Emma was able to
personally send an up-date and Email to everyone (on line) her thanks for
the postal delivery of flowers.
A �thank you� letter was written to Major
Kelly, and a very pleasing reply included a message from Lt. Col. Morris,
CO of 45 Commando to the effect that he hoped future reunions would be
enjoyed as much as the �08 event apparently was.
- Former Aircraft Artificer Apprentices and their Wives.
Amor, Don � Auger, Brian & Janet � Ayles,
Cyril & Margaret � Brown, Rod & Joan � Boulton Nev & Thelma � Evans, Ron &
Christine - James, Jamie & Kelly � Jemmett, Harold & Emma � McColl, Mac &
Jean � Sanger, Mike & Rita.
RNB/RE October 2008.
*Correction to the "goose" story by
I was reading through the Reunion Report
with great interest when I
encountered a reference to the demise of the Captain's goose. The
facts are however, wrong. I will recount the true story:
On this occasion there was no snow. The night was clear and starry and
our camp defences were being tested by the SAS who were travelling up
by rail. My company was lying in wait on the western boundary, north
of the guardroom and just inside the perimiter fence. Farther north
from us again was the company which did the dastardly deed concerning
the goose. First, as we lay in wait, the boiler house personnel (the
one near the factory) were changing shift and a very large stoker
cycled out of the main gate on his way home to Friockheim. He hadn't a
care in the world and slowly pedalled on his way in the stillness. It
was then that an anonymous apprentice lobbed a thunderflash into the
road behind him. The report was magnified by the silence and it was a
wonder that the poor chap didn't have a heart attack. He was instantly
galvanised into action and positively flew up the road - from fat slob
to batman in a fraction of a second.
After order was restored, the vigil continued and we were stood down
on a rota in order to visit the sports pavilion to partake of
sandwiches, cake and pusser's cocoa. My company had returned and taken
up watch again when the next company headed off for their break. It
was commanded by a CPO AA, I don't recall his name but he had blonde
hair and had a tuft of blonde hair on each cheek bone. In the darkness
they became disorientated and blundered into a wire fence. Having got
over this they crossed a grassy stretch only to be attacked by an
extremely angry gander. It flew at apprentice Charlie Pittaway, who
dispatched it in self defence, with the butt of his rifle. They hadn't
known of the presence of the goose, or who owned it, and then didn't
know what to do or who to tell, so the 'body' was smuggled out by the
CPO later that morning, and was plucked and prepared for Christmas
before it was missed. Then all hell was let loose as it became known
that Captain Storrs had borrowed this prize Chinese Goose for breeding
purposes. Apparently he had a keen interest in the subject, and wasn't
relishing the prospect of telling the owner that his breeding gander
was now Christmas fodder.
Those involved quickly owned up, were put on 'captain's report' and
took the rap. Charlie was dismissed from the service, back to civvy
street and the CPO was reduced in rank to PO.