At first glance the life of a child who's parent or parents are in the Armed forces doesn't seem all that different to the average childhood. But there are some differences, both good and bad.
My story begins in April 1980 when came into this world as a direct result of the British Army.
My father had joined the Army Juniors at 14 or so and had enjoyed it that much that as he became old enough to join the regular Army, he did. In 1978 he was posted to Germany, where a few weeks into is tour of duty, he was spotted by my future Mother. I'm not going to go into all the details, I think we all know how things work. Suffice to say, in April 1980 I was born to my 19 year old father and 20 year old mother. Their young age, and the inexperience that comes with it, would prove a key part of my strict upbringing.
Not surprisingly, I do not recall the first few years of life. People rarely do, and I am no exception.
My earliest memories start at the age of 3. We were living in the end house on a horse shoe shaped street. In a town called Luebekke. It was only 10 or 15 miles from my place of birth, Minden. We had been there since I was 6 months old. This was my world. A lovely quiet treelined neighborhood with a woodchip floored playpark.
At the age of 1, my Parents commissioned a local artist to replicate this photo in oil paints.
The finished painting still hangs on my Mothers wall today:
Throughout my life so far, and I am 27 now, I have had several brushes with death. My first was in this neighbourhood. One fine day I was peacefully at play in the front garden. My Grandmother and an Aunt were visiting and distracted my Mother long enough for me to figure out how to open the gate and effect an escape. Minutes later the assemble of adults noticed the empty and eerily quiet front garden and panicked. They frantically searched for me.
Meanwhile, I was enjoying a nice toddler stroll along the very busy main road that was a few hundred yards around the corner from my home. A female driver, driving slower than she typically did spotted me in my red shoulder strapped trousers and screeched to a halt in front of me, just in time for my Mother to spot me on the road and shriek my name in terror. I spun round... recognised my mothers voice and her frame running towards me and ran as fast as my little legs would allow. Mother scooped me up, hugged me and thanked the female driver for her vigilance, then apologised and took me home where I got a slap on my rear end for the experience.
A year passed and we moved to England. Father had been assigned a posting to Northern Ireland for 6 to 12 months. For the time being my Mother and I would be accommodated on a military neighborhood in the heart of Camberley, near London.
We moved in so close to Christmas that by the time my Father had finished his duties, he could not find a tree, or at least not one that was extortionately priced. So instead, Christmas of 1984 was celebrated with the christmas tree lights pinned to the wall in our livingroom, in the shape of a tree. I can distinctly remember watching my Father pin the lights up on the wall, with christmas music flowing from the TV as the christmas edition of “Top of the Pops” counted down to the Christmas number 1 song, which I remember being Paul McCartney - “We all stand together”.
That christmas, I also saw my first snow. My parents got me up one morning and told me to look out into our garden. To my surprise, it was white. A thick layer of snow had fallen during the night.
We soon moved house again, but only to a neighbouring street, while the first street underwent renovation.
In March of 1985 our family grew one individual bigger with the arrival of my sister.
1985 also saw my first day of school. Though I do not remember much about it.
I can remember a few things about the school itself. The playground used to have a nice smell when the kitchens were preparing out lunch. There was a nest of Swallows visible in the eaves of the lunch hall roof. My class even did a project on them because of this.
The walk to school was, for my 5 year old self, a long one. Though looking at the google earth image of the neighbourhood and the school near by, I'd say it was a 5 minute walk tops.
Mother always took me.
Here is a random photo my mother snapped on a warm spring or summers morning in 1986 as we were about to head out to my school.
Here is a pic of what I looked like in my first school photo, beside it a picture of my class on the day I left that school. It is the only “group” photo I have of the class, and one of precious few I have of any friends from back then.
As with a lot of things from back at this early age, the names and faces of those who were once my best friends have long been added to the file labelled “Forgotten” within my mind. Though the good times and long days playing with them will always by a part of me, in particular one incident, which is literally part of me today.
Sometime in 1985, my friends and I were play a sort of cops and robbers game, only with bikes. There were 4 of use and only 2 bikes.
I was sat on the back of one with a friend peddling as hard as he could. Our friends gave chase on the other bike. As we rounded a sweeping left curve in the road, I looked over my left shoulder to see how close our friends were. I suddenly felt an excruciating pain on my left foot and ankle. I looked down to see that somehow my left foot and ankle has become lodged between the back wheel and the frame of the bike. I screamed... screamed as hard as my lungs would allow. My friend stopped the bike in quick fashion and looked to see the pickle I was in. I was crying with the pain and screaming for my mother. It was so loud and so harrowing, that the soldier on guard at the rear exit from the military encampment shouldered his weapon and ran to assist me. Though, I resisted. In my mind, only my Mother could help. One of my friends sped off and fetched her on the other bike. She came running, fearing the worst. She calmed me down enough for the soldier to extract my bleeding foot and ankle from in between the bike frame and wheel. Mother cradled me in her arms and took me home. I cried and screamed with the pain all the way. She cleaned the wound, to more screams of pain, then applied what she called Magic cream and dressed the wound.
To this day, I have a scar on the outside of my left ankle. It serves as a reminder of why I have never sat on the back of a bike ever since.
Sometime in late 1986 early 1987 my father had finished his tour of duty in Northern Ireland and completed a training course at the nearby Sandhurst Military Academy. He was posted back to Germany and off we went.
Upon arriving in Germany... my Grandmother noted I had lost my ability to speak German. In an effort to remedy this, my parents and grandmother threw me into a local German primary school for 6 months. It had the desired effect. Shortly after I began my first Service School.
So called Service Children's Education school are schools set up where ever there are enough British service personnel to fill a school. In Germany, there were at one point over 70, probably somewhere close to 150 even. Primary schools, middle schools and High schools.
My first SCE school was Roy First School, located in Ratingen, near the large city of Duesseldorf.
It was a full hours bus journey from my home.
My home at the time was a 3 bedroomed flat on a normal German civilian street in the town of Mulheim an der Ruhr. The block of flats was entirely filled with British civilians and serving personnel.
An Army bus would pick us up each morning at 07:00 and drop us off around 16:00. In the winter months, this meant I rarely saw my home in the sunlight!
Anyway... my time at Roy First was pretty much your typical school experience. Except for that a girl on my neighbouring class lost her entire family in 1988 when the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise half sunk in the English channel. We all worked together to raise funds for her. I cannot recall what happened to her, but as her parents were the only reason she was in Germany, she left not too long after the tragic accident.
I spent most of my breaktimes running around pretending to be superman. I even had the routine of spinning on the spot while I took off my coat and suspended it by its hood from my head without getting dizzy down to a fine art.
In 1989, we moved house again, but this time only a few miles down the road. At the same time I “graduated” to the Middle school which lay a few hundred meters to the East of Roy First School.
It was called Dalton Middle School. It was a mix of primary school and high school type education. A less relaxed atmosphere than High school, but slightly more grown up than Primary. So, aptly named MIDDLE.
I can remember a few more memories from this school, including one embarrassing situation.
I will spill all and tell you why Service schools are different to Civilian schools in Part 2.
For now, here is a photo of my Class from Dalton Middle School. See if you can spot me.