The Making Of The Man Page 5

I returned to Gunsite, reported to the Chief Clerk, was ordered to hand in my bedding, to collect "Kit tropical" and to then return to the Chief Clerk and receive my orders. This I did and was told I had a warrant to get me home and to have two weeks leave. I was then to report to the Movements Officer, Liverpool Docks. Still there was no clue as to my destination. After enjoying my leave I reported to Liverpool Movements and met up with Staff Sergeant Dickson C. RE and two other sappers, W.C.Beaman (Fred) and John Thomas Chevane Smith (Tom). Fred was from Shrewsbury and Tom from Sunderland. Charlie was in those days, as now, a quietly spoken gentleman. Little did I know we would remain friends to this moment in time (42 years). He was not in a position to tell us what we were to do or where we were going. We all went to the docks adjacent to the Liver Buildings and joined H.M.T. Devonshire - what excitement! We set sail on what must have been around February/March 1956, to the Bay of Biscay. Gibraltar, Mediterranean Sea, Cairo, Suez Canal, Columbo, Singapore. This was where developments took at new turn. Charlie introduced us to a tall, debonair Major A.S.Fancourt who was to join us, and who was to brief us to our reason and purpose of being where we were. He came down from Kure in Japan and was identified as O.C. 504 Postal Unit RE, British Forces Post Office 170, Christmas Island Pacific. This took at little getting used to. This was the first B.F.P.O. to have its location advertised in its date stamp. He told us we were making history. Our job was to provide Postal and Counter Services for combined services, Scientists, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and Commonwealth Support Services. We collected 55 Field Squadron in Singapore (who had been in Korea) who then joined the 12 Field Regiment RE who was on the Devonshire. Their job was to build an airstrip from which Vulcan and Valiant Bombers would test the British Hydrogen bombs. We also uplifted the 1st Battalion of the Fiji Regiment to return them home to Suva, their headquarters. What a fine body of men — average height 6'3", weight 16-18 stone - all in proportion to height and not an ounce spare. They had a wonderful attitude to life and the rank structure counted for very little when off duty. Their singing and dancing was a joy to hear. Sat on deck, under a full moon and listening to them was unforgettable. We docked in Suva harbour, and received a great welcome. We were the first British troops to arrive since the early part of the century. A civic reception was laid on and a reception was held at the Governors House for a token representative of all units. Sadly, 5 in a unit did not qualify for any of 504 P.U. to attend. We lay along side the jetty for 3 days and then set sail deeper into the Pacific, crossing the International Date line and dropped anchor off of a Coral Island which was to be our location. Christmas Island was discovered by Captain Cook on the 24th December 1777 aboard the 'Discovery'. It was a sight to behold, a flat island, shaped like a lobster claw and full of palm trees bearing coconuts. The highest point above sea level was 45ft and a salt water lagoon was surrounded by a coral reef. The water was clear as gin and fish of many sizes and colours were to be seen. We lay off the reef and with precision, the units and supplies were offloaded and a tented camp was built on shore, which was duly called Port-Camp. The speed the Regiment raised Marquees and sleeping accommodation was truly amazing. They worked ashore and returned to the ship to sleep for the first few days. The A.P.O. was one of the first tents to be erected. It was a large marquee complete with front counter area, sorting office and bay, with the private accommodation and sleeping quarters for us three 'posties'. We had no mail in for the first few days, but counter services were available from day one. The inward mail was flown in from B.F.P.O. 171 Honolulu using RAF Dakotas DC9. Cookhouse facilities were available just across the road. The brilliant white coral sand was most invasive, and we found another, more serious, threat to the idyllic location - in the form of Coconut crabs. They were twice the size of our edible crabs with only one huge claw. This was capable of breaking the husks of coconuts and their inner shells, permitting the crabs to reach the flesh of the kernels. The three of us sappers scavenged wooden packing cases of which there many and built ourselves bed-boards. The height was 3 foot off the ground and our camp beds were fixed to keep us off the ground. It made life very much easier, however you still found crabs in your boots and under the bed on regular occasions. The unit was very busy and we were a close knit group, apart from the first salute of the day and the last. Major Sid was one of the team. Staff Sergeant Charlie, in his quiet way, developed us and was very avuncular. Page 5