62 years ago I joined the Royal Marines. In memory of Jack Arbery
RIP, who joined with me and my room mates, Dave Clegg and Les Evans
I offer this short excerpt from my autobiography, soon to be published,
which I think will jog the memory of all those boys who undertook
the very same life journey. Stay safe!!
I walked up the old stone stairs into a small room on the top floor.
Entering this old and tall building I reflected on my day, the important
and binding contract I had signed that morning and how it initiated
my personal journey towards an independent life, away from the confines
and tension which surrounded me at home.
The travel from the Isle of Wight had been long and tiring but here
I was once more in the town I knew so well and where I had grown up,
had my first musical successes, and lived my first 12 years. I was
relieved to be shown a bed in the corner of the room with a long mattress
with blankets and pillows rolled up at the head. Opposite were four
similar areas, all with a bed. Seated on a simple tubular steel chair
I reflected on my day. A tall empty metal locker towered over me but,
unknown at the time, it would house everything that I possessed to
make me what I had decided to be—a musician in HM Royal Marines.
It was May 6th 1959. I was 14 year and 2 months.
I was soon joined by three other young boys who had clearly made a
lad! ‘ows tha’goin’? Owt’oop?”
me”, I tentatively replied, not having understood a word the
short blond haired boy had said.
aye man…Gang well?”…another strange voice uttered
from a much older red-haired youth opposite. What had I done?
Where was I? What were these strange languages?
It was obvious these room-mates had made the same decision that I
had and it immediately occurred to me that for them the experience
of leaving home may well have been more traumatic than it had been
for me as, after all, I was returning to the town of my birth and
which I knew so well. This local knowledge proved to be very useful
in my early days of being accepted in this new environment and news
travels fast. A local boy had joined. What did he know about the town?
Who did he know? I was soon approached by several older boys, much
older boys from the New Block opposite. They all wanted to know about
one subject—how many girls did I know in Deal? Which ones had
a reputation and track record for romantic ‘adventure’……
Now having been a star boy soprano locally I was very well known to
the young girls who were in the Girl Guides at St. Leonard’s
Church and there were also those who I had been to school with at
South Deal County Primary. Quite soon I discovered that when these
older boys from the barracks were in the town and trying to chat up
the local talent the mention of my name afforded an instant introduction
to the girls they wanted to know. My name became a social bridge to
young romance——and it made me popular in my new environment.
The first six weeks were basic training where for the most part we
learned how to drill. Our squad instructor was Cpl. Philips, a pleasant
enough man who had joined himself at 15 to be a bugler but transferred
at 17 to become a Royal Marine. His couple of years as a Junior Bugler
were an advantage over the other recruits who joined at 18 and Cpl
Philips was proud to wear on his shoulder the coveted ‘Kings
Badge’ for being the finest recruit on completion of training
at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Lympstone, Devon. We
were duly impressed that our squad instructor was so special as no
other NCO wore the badge. I was very shocked when talking about discipline
and other matters he announced to us that ‘some of you have
already been in trouble with the police’——I was
shocked. Who were these miscreants? Could one of them be in my room?
The very short fair-haired boy, whose broad South Yorkshire accent
was incomprehensible to me at first meeting, was called Jack Arbery.
He was a most friendly and warm person. He played the bass trombone,
which was hard to imagine considering his diminutive size at 4ft 10inches,
and had been in the Dinnington Colliery Band—a mining village
near Sheffield. Many young boys who were accepted in the Royal Marines
came from brass bands in the North or from the Salvation Army where
tuition on brass instruments was given. The boy next to Jack, Dave
Clegg, had come from the Salvation Army and was to be a solo cornet
player. Kind, gentle with a great sense of humour and a fine player
I later discovered. He came from Yorkshire too and was a delightful
person once I got to know him. Opposite me was the red-haired older
boy, Les Evans, whose speech was just as difficult to understand as
the others as he had a very strong Geordie accent coming from the
North East. At first I was very wary of him as he was two years older
than me but eventually we became good friends and I still meet him
from time to time when he is in England from his home in North Cyprus.
We had an adult room superintendent, L/Cpl Taff Roberts, whose job
was to show us how to clean our uniforms and equipment, how to press
trousers and shirts etc.—-and how to spit and polish boots.
Taff was apparently a trombone player but was employed in the drum
workshop hand painting the side drums before they were factory produced.
After our 6 weeks basic training we rehearsed for our passing out
parade when parents could attend and see how their little boys had
been turned into little men by the strict discipline imposed upon
us by Cpl. Philips.
and Jack 3rd and 4th from left consecutively.