Remembrance Day, so that can only mean one thing... time to share another story from the Tinker's little memoir Bugle Boy, which for anyone who may not know is a published collection of his memories of going to war at the age of 14 in 1939 as a Royal Marines boy bugler.
I haven't mentioned the Tinker, (father of dgr ) in a while which is most remiss of me, but he is very chipper, walks twice as fast with the double pacemaker, sends you all his regards and reads here every day.
In case anyone's wondering it was Our Susan (Hill) who gave him that nickname and based on an incident I recounted to her concerning the regular gatherings of the Tinker's little band of octogenarian World War II veterans, which always seemed to involve some mischief and the need for an ambulance for one of them.
That's him, the little lad on the left in the cover picture and all ready to go off to a battleship in December 1939.
He did a wonderful thirty minute live question and answer interview about Bugle Boy on Radio Devon recently, so the book's still available out there and still being read which is lovely. And because it is the bugler playing Last Post and Sunset on Remembrance Day that always brings a tear to my eye, I have tagged on a picture of our own 'at the going down of the sun moment' here last night, it was breathtaking.
The first time Mum and Dad said they would come down
to Eastney to see me filled me with excitement. I knew
they would feed me and make me financially sound for a
short while and, of course, I could show off in my new
uniform. I suppose it was a month after I had arrived but
it had taken at least three weeks to assemble all my kit.
The accoutrements were no problem but the uniform had
to be specially made, after all at 4’ 8” I was not exactly off
the peg, besides which we had to be trained in how to
comport ourselves when out of barracks. In those days,
when a Royal Marine went out he wore white cotton
gloves and carried a silver-headed cane, something I was
sorry to see discontinued, it made you feel a little special;
but there was a drill to it all that had to be learnt before
you were allowed out.
It was a Sunday, as I remember, and they would meet
me at the barrack gate at 2 p.m. by which time I had
cleaned my buttons, boned my boots to the best possible
shine for a new pair and starched my cap cover. We never
had white-top caps then, just blue caps, but we donned
cap covers between 1 May and 1 October and they had to
be starched. A word about my boots; they too had to be
made, by the cobblers in the barracks, from greased cow
hide that took weeks and weeks of boning before getting
the required polish. They were size six and each boot had
116 hobnails, a heel plate and a large toe plate; when I first
put them on I felt like a deep-sea diver.
Two o’clock came eventually, I left it for a few minutes
to make sure they would be there to see me march up to
the Sergeant on the gate, and there they were, in earnest
conversation with the Sergeant. Drawing myself up to my
full height, I halted in front of the Sergeant.
‘Po/x 3943 Boy Bugler L. Chester, permission to leave
My father was bursting with pride and my mother had
tears in her eyes; I was terrified. Whilst I stood there with
my proud parents watching, he did a 360-degree inspection
of me, including a bird’s eye view of my cap cover,
because I’m sure he was 7’ 6” tall.
‘You have dust in the welts of your boots, go back and
clean them properly.’
My father’s pride at that moment knew no bounds, my
mother shed some more tears and I was completely
humiliated. I have said that after three weeks we were
completely streetwise, we had ways and means for all situations.
For this one I went back to my barrack room, sat
on the bed for ten minutes then walked back again.
‘Why didn’t you clean them like that the first time,
In those halcyon pre-World War Two days, I’m sure
that was the way of the Royal Marines, more so with the
recruits: they endeavoured to break your spirit and then
proceeded to build you up to what they wanted – sheer
blind obedience. It worked, unless you were as cunning as
us boys who had nothing to break down in the first place.