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45 Commando




Written by Taff Evans and Nev Boulton

Return to Reunion 2008 page HERE

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.

 Taff 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 resident.

 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!).

 Our 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 freely.

 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.

 Saturday: 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.

 The 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'.

 As 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.

 Sunday � 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.

 Monday 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.

 Postscript.  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. 

 Present - 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 Brian Wright

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.

Kind regards,
Brian Wright

Return to Reunion 2008 page HERE