Life as a Soldiers Son Part 2

The continuing story of my childhood around the Armed forces.
August 08, 2007
Where did I leave off from Part one?... oh yes Dalton Middle school. Summer 1989.

Dalton was a school for 9 to 11 year old's. Like I already explained it was a school lying somewhere in between the culture of Primary school and High school. Looking back, I think it was an excellent idea. There are a few middle school in the UK, depending on the local council. I think its a system that should be adopted UK wide. Middle school provides a perfect atmosphere where youngsters can get to grips with slight more advanced schooling, but still be treated as the young people they are.
Going straight from Primary school to High School can cause a nasty culture shock.

Anyway... back to Dalton.
It was a strange one level building. Looking down on it from the air, you could see it was comprised from a bunch of hexagonal sections. The School logo made light of that.

The School from above in 2005/6 The building has been abandoned since sometime in 1995 and may not be standing anymore. The neighbouring school to the East, Roy First School, disappeared some time ago, a huge warehouse or manufacturing complex now stands there.

I attended Dalton for a little over a year. Certainly long enough for a class photo as you saw from Part 1.
In that time, I had a ball.
We visited a place called Xanten, which wasn't too far away. Xanten is a archeological town with a partly recreated Roman fort. The ancient pathways have been re established and part of the wall rebuilt. Inside the complex was a lot of building housing artefacts and a roman bakery which sold delicious bread products. I've not tasted any bread quite like it since.
After the visit to the Roman fort, we staged a Roman banquet in the dinner hall of the school. Our mothers dressed us up in their finest white linen to simulate Roman togas. The night before, Mother had fitted me with a white sheet that was a snug fit, secured with an array of safety pins.
On the day though, the teacher who dressed me must not have fit it properly as the thing kept wanting to slip of my shoulder. As I (and the rest of my class) wasn't wearing anything else underneath except my underwear, I was very careful not to let my “Toga” fall completely off.
Thankfully, we spent most of the time in our outfits lying on our sides eating delicious food. Just like the Romans would have.

In Part 1 I promised to tell you why I think Service schools are different to UK Civilian schools.
The curriculum is much the same, as Service Schools are run by a governing body who follow standard British curricular guidelines, but its the way they go about it that is different.
Service Schools seemed more disciplined. Ok, sure there were the bad apples in terms of bullies, but the methods of dealing with malcontents were far more effective than those I experienced in civilian schools in later life.
For instance, the teachers were far more capable with dealing with the issues more effectively. Although they were civilians, they were vetted thoroughly by the governing body and as such the quality of the teaching was second to none. The structure behind the teachers in the schools was also a key part. Action could be taken quickly and decisively.
Then there was the military nature of our surroundings. Every pupil had at least one parent who was serving in the armed forces. It goes without saying that if a Soldier's offspring was creating upset within school, they'd hear about it pretty quickly. Quite often the problem was dealt with swiftly and often harshly.
This is because if a child of a serving member of the armed forces stirred up enough trouble, the AO, or Administrations Officer (better known as Family Officer), would hear about it. The AO was the section leader for the Squadron or Unit the serving Parent was in. The AO would have the serving parent marched into their office where the details of whatever had transpired would be discussed. More often than not, the parent would then be told to “Get his/her sh*t sorted”. As you may understand, this was not seen as a desirable situation, especially in the Army as there are no secrets within a squadron and soon everyone would know your business.
However, it could get worse. Sometimes their Commanding Officer would get to hear about it, if the the problem was serious enough. That would make things a whole world more complicated for the serving Parent. Consequently, problems were usually addressed quickly

This led to a far calmer, safer and enjoyable atmosphere within service schools. You knew that if someone was causing you problems, a chat with a teacher would usually resolve the issue.

One more thing that was different was that the school buses all had an Adult escort on board.
Usually the mother of one of the Pupils, these escorts were there to enforce the law. They made sure we didn't get out of hand and end up ripping the seats apart! (Which I would witness on board school buses in my later civilian life!). Consequently the bus journeys were always a safe and pleasant experience.

Getting back to the story of my life, and while on the subject of buses, I just remembered a couple of good stories.

Sometime between 1988 and 1990, the adults organised a weekend summer camp for us children.
In the Barracks my Father worked was a large grass field. One weekend during the summer they set up Army tents, field cookers, toilets etc. Just about everything you'd expect to see in a field encampment when on exercise in the Army.
Our parents then dropped us of Saturday morning. During the weekend we took part on a lot of activities and were were taught a lot of skills. We learned how to build one of the massive Canvas army tents, how to cook on the field ovens, how to set up camp beds and arrange them properly in the huge tents.
That Saturday evening a bunch of friends and I terrified each other with ghost and monster stories. Someone then came up with the not so bright idea of going outside of the tent and heading for the wood that filled the outer perimeter of the field. We had marched through it during the day, but it was said that at night, monsters roam it.
Foolhardily we all agreed and armed with just one torch (Flashlight) he head out. We didn't even get within a 100 yards of it... something made a loud noise and in quick fashion we all ran for the safety of our tent.

Sometime after that, we had a brilliant family day out. My dads troop (A Troop) borrowed a large 70 seater coach from the transport depot (They were, after all part of the Royal Corps of Transport) stuffed it with their wifes and kids and off we went.
We headed out to a large theme park to the north called “Traumland” or Dreamland in English. I had been there before so I knew what to expect and was excited. We all toured the park together, sometimes completely filling the roller coasters and other rides in one go. The weather was sunny and warm, for a while. Once we had all had our fill of the rides, a couple of the men went back to the bus and dragged a large barbecue from the rear cargo hold.
Now, the Army's take on a barbecue was an oil barrel cut in half lengthwise and some industrial grating over the top. Then some angular steel is welded together to form a sturdy four legged base which the drum sits on. Job done!
The men heaved this thing out of the bus, filled it with coal and went to work lighting it and cooking slabs of meat, Bratwurts, fish and jacket potatoes. It was a veritable feast. The only thing wrong was that it began to pour with rain shortly after the first course of food was ready. No problem for us kids... we sat in the cavernous cargo hold of the bus were it was cool but dry. We ate and ate well. It was a unique experience we all hoped would happen again. Sadly, it didn't.

A period photo of myself and my siblings

Getting back to school, after I turned 10 and was still attending Dalton Middle School.
One day, a doctor turned up at the school. At the same time, every 10 year old in the school was handed an appointment slip. We were all to report to the Headmasters office at a designated time.
At first this was exciting as it meant heading out during class. Strangely though, my fellow pupils who returned from their appointments before me during that week refused to talk about the experience.
It was soon my turn and I reported in a few minutes before my scheduled appointment with this doctor person. I was told to take a seat and wait till called. I did. Before long, the door to the Headmasters office opened and a boy came out looking sheepish. Unperturbed, I went in when told to a few moments later.
A female doctor stood there with some sort of register or medical file. She asked me my name and some other details which I confirmed. She then produced a stethoscope and told me to unbutton my shirt. I did.
She then asked me to raise my arms as she went about listening to my chest from the front, back and sides, asking me to breath in, out and hold my breath several times. She made verbal note of my heart murmur. I told her I knew about that. She nodded and put her stethoscope down on the Headmasters desk, then came the instruction I somehow instinctively knew was coming.

“Put your trousers and underwear down please” She said.

I knew precisely what she had in mind too. After a moments hesitation I did as instructed. I stood there spread eagle, my arms still held level. She checked the condition of my arms and upper body and made her way down south. She then took a firm grip of my gonads and had a good feel about, asking me to cough a few times. I flinched as her hands made contact.
“I'm sorry, are my hands cold?” She asked not taking her eye off my private region. “Yes, a bit” I answered. She then checked my legs and stood up. “Ok, you can get dressed now”. I left that room with an entirely new outlook on doctor and hospital visits! I also understood why no one would talk about it.

I have since learned this was a planned check up. A child should ideally be medically checked every 5 years at the least. This was my 10 year checkup. A few weeks previous, a consent form had be sent to my Mother which she duly signed and gave to me to hand over to the school nurse, which I had.
She tells me she didn't warn me as she could not figure out how to tell her 10 year old Son that he was going to get “fiddled” in an examination. As most of you will know, this particular part of examination is to make sure both testicles have descended as they should. It would seem I checked out!

Going back to 1989 now, I will not tell of a story which still remains as vivid in my memory as it was the night it happened. Bare with me on this one. It's a long story, but necessarily so.
In the early evening of Friday October 27th 1989 we set off on a planned 2 week holiday to go see family friends to the north of us in a town called Buende. The Styles were friends of my Parents, Steve was a soldier like my Dad. Their son, Dean, was a friend of mine. We got on well. We had planned to spend most of the coming two weeks watching Dick Dastardly cartoons. (Catch the Pidgeon and Whakey Races mostly).
Sadly, it did not turn out entirely as planned.

Our route from our home in Mulheim an der Ruhr to Buende in the north would take use several hours on the German Autobahns. I can still see my Father bringing the car up to speed on the long right hand sweeping entry ramp as we began our Autobahn journey. He was already munching one of the rolls my Mother had prepared for the long drive to keep us kids happy in the back.
Our car was a 6 month old 1988 Model Mitsubishi Lancer Estate (or station wagon for American readers).
The boot was stuffed full of clothes and toys, including my beloved BMX bike and my skateboard.

Pics of a Lancer... not our car though. We never took any photos of it. Ours was sky Blue and didn't have the tow hook on it. (trailer hitch)

It got dark and we were still making out way along the Autobahn. Coming up to a jam that blocked all three of the Northbound lanes, my Father slowed down and turned on the hazard warning lights to warn traffic behind we were coming to a standstill. We were in the middle lane as we slowly crawled past stationary cars to either side of us. Then, all hell broke loose.

There was a deafening smash from behind. Glass smashed, metal crunched and screeched and tires squealed, all in the same instant. Our car lurched forward at a rate of knots I can only estimate to be 30mph (from almost standstill!) in the same instant. My mothers seat back collapsed onto my lap. Mother was screaming wildly. I watch my father wrestle with the steering wheel of our car, still not quite understanding what was happening. Father brought the car to a halt on the breakdown lane and leapt out of the car. He opened the rear passenger door on the drivers side and extracted my 4 year old sister and 2 year old brother from his car seat. Meanwhile, Mother was fumbling for her glasses and I was trying to get my door open. It wouldn't budge. Onlookers had, by now, flooded around the car rendering assistance where they could. They too tried to open my door. With my siblings safely in the hands of a female onlooker, my Father raced round to my door and yanked hard at it. It opened, seemingly effortlessly.
With myself now beside my siblings and the female onlooker, Father got mother out and took her over to us. It was then I smelled the Petrol. I now understand why my Father was so urgently getting us out of the wrecked car. Our fuel tank had been filled to the brim a mere couple of hours before hand. The impact had cracked it open and fuel was every where. Father did not want to risk us sitting in a potential time bomb. As the initial shock of the crash wore off I began to realise the back of my head was sore. Father went round check we were all ok. He had previously been a medic and knew how to diagnose injuries and conduct triage. He found my sister's right leg was broken, Mother had whiplash and I had a bump on the back of my head.
It had been the handlebars of my bike, they smacked me in the back of the head in the impact. Luckily, Father had has the presence of mind to wrap them in my bed quilt before we set off! He went over to check on the occupants of the car that had so suddenly smashed into us. I cannot recall what their condition was.

Soon after being taken away from the car and in relative safety, I got to take a look at the back of our car.
The sight of the mangled rear end was too much and I broke out in tears. I cried and cried hard. All I could say was “Look at the car, look at the car”. The stranger who had been charged with my care by my father comforted me as much as they could. They were speaking German and I could understand them, but in the shock of it all, I was unable to respond in their language, I was stuck on English.
My Father eventually came over and took hold of me and gave me what I will forever regard as the most needed hug in my life. In that single moment, that single sign of care, love and affection did so much for my state of mind that night that I cannot fully articulate the experience.

It was only a few minutes before the emergency services arrived on the scene. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the sirens and blue lights got closer. They were coming to help us. It was a relief.

I spent the rest of that night in a waiting room with my Father, joined later by a panicked Grandmother and Uncle. Mother still suffers from neck pains today as a result of her whiplash.

This crash naturally threw a spanner into the works of our plans. I spent a few days with the family friends we had all intended to visit, while my parents saw to all the legal documentation and procedures.
I was eventually picked by my Father in a hire car his insurance had given him until the legal situation was resolved and we could get a new car.

A photo of my Father taken round about the same year. He is the weapons officer on a live firing range during a squadron march and shoot competition.

In between school and family holidays, I attended a youth club on Saturday evenings through out 1989 and some of 1990. The venue was quite a bit away from my home, so a bus, the same kind that would take us to school, would pick my friends and I from our street and take us to the Youth club.

(This was the staple form transport to and from school between 1987 and 1990 for me.
Unique to the British Army I have not seen one in the flesh since 1993).

The Youth club was held within a large building in the center of an Army barracks somewhere near Duesseldorf. The building have around 4 floors and we were on either the 3rd or 4th.
The halls were floored with decorative real wood flooring and wooden panels on the walls to about halfway in height. All highly polished and sparkling clean, as you would expect from a Military building.
The Youth Club featured a Disco, common room with tables, chairs and settees, a snack shop full of what today would be considered unhealthy food. There was also a pool table, table football and one or two Atari or similar games machines... I think even an early PC.

Outside was a large grass field lined with tall spearhead like trees. (All British barracks in Germany seemed to have this species of tree!). There we played football, rounders (a sort of easy baseball game) and various other fun activities. When the weather allowed, of course.
It was a fun club I can only remember ever having good times there. Oh how I wish I could remember more about it.

Anyway, sometime in the summer of 1990 we were on the move again.
Father had gotten a posting in a large Barracks to the South West. We packed our things and left Mulheim an der Ruhr for the last time. I left behind a wonderful school and a good bunch of friends and one bully. It was the last time I saw any of them.

My new home was to be in the massive military complex known as Joint Headquarters, or JHQ for short. Situated in the countryside known as Rhinedahlen beside the massive city of Moenchengladbach.

This place deserves an entire part to itself. So I'll divulge more in Part 3.

As a side note:

In 1995 the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was disbanded after a 50 year “occupation” of the Rhineland in Germany. Many of the Regiments and Corps that made up BOAR were shipped back to the UK. A vast majority of barracks were closed as the last of their resident units left. The land was handed back to the Germans. Literally tens of thousands of Soldiers and Airmen left Germany. Naturally, they took their families with them. This led to a gradual closing down of many Service Schools.
Roy First School and Dalton Middle school were amongst the victims. It pains me when I think that these once proud and bustling schools either sit empty or no longer physically exist. Roy First and Dalton now only exist on the memories of the Pupils who were taught there and in the memories of the teachers and staff who taught them and looked after them.
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