(2)The Isle of Man Days. Howstrake (ex - Holiday Camp).
Pag. 1 2 3 4

Surrounding the camp were quite high, craggy rocks above the sea. An earlier Band Boy (Danny Daniels) had fallen to his death whilst seagull egg nesting and thereafter that pastime was strictly verboten.

Self and Ron DeLorey - Illegally harvesting sea-gull eggs on the cliffs across from the camp

Needless to say, with the insouciance of youth, many of us totally ignored the prohibition and quickly learned of the best nesting areas. Possibly the best of the lot was across the other side of Groudle Glen, just beyond the sea-lion pens and completely in view of the camp although it was a fair distance away. The trick was to wear the khaki bits of our uniform as camouflage and to remain in view for as short a time as possible - which didn't exactly make for safe climbing habits! We wore our issue jumpers tucked into our trousers and the eggs we collected were carefully placed inside. Woe betide if you slipped when carrying a full load - instant omelettes and quite disgusting if you had inadvertently collected a bad egg amongst the others! The accompanying picture shows Ron DeLorey (now also gone from us) and myself, providing photographic evidence of our crime - had we been caught. After climbing back to the cliff-tops and out of sight of the barracks we would unload our haul, light a fire and cook some of the eggs in our mess tins, together with bread fried in butter saved from meals. Delicious, and made all the more so by the danger of being caught!

It was the practice of some officers to scan those cliffs from time to time with binoculars and should one or more khaki-clad figures be spotted they could be reasonably certain that it was Band Boys and not local lads. At that distance it was impossible to make a positive identification, but their remedy was to call a 'General Assembly'. As soon as that bugle call was heard wafting across the water, we had about ten minutes to get all the way back to camp to be mustered. Not a problem you might think - and I would agree had the terrain been flat. It wasn't! First there was a winding cliff-top path to negotiate, then downhill to the bottom of the Glen, across the stream, a scramble over the large, slippery stones and then up a very steep, usually slippery, path until nearing the camp (where the duty NCO's would by now be on the look-out), we finally had to side-track through an abundance of prickly gorse bushes, traverse a 20ft cleared area and leap over a barbed-wire fence (admittedly only about 3 feet 6 inches tall) before reaching safety! THEN we would have to change our appearances sufficiently to make it look as though we had been engaged in some quite innocent pursuit, before tagging onto the rear line of the parade. My God, even thinking about those times now tires me!

90 squad - 'After'  l to r (back row) Fattorini, Day, Taylor, Martin, Jackson, Rumming, Walton.  (Front row) Mayer, Hall, Oakley. C/Sgt Pook, Oakey, E. Smith, Wheatley.  (Flounders D. was in hospital for removal of his appendix.  One or two others were also missing from this photographic proof of our more or less successful transition to R.M. Band Boys.
Peter also mentions Colour Sergeant Pook, our drill instructor and general mentor. Ancient (by our standards) and grizzled he might have been, but he certainly knew the drill that he so assiduously dinned into our thick heads. Unfortunately, although it was by now late 1944, the pre- war four/two ranks drill and cane drill was long out-of-date and of not much use to us. Shortly after 90 Squad Passed out he vanished, to be replaced by a young RM Drill Corporal who then rapidly taught us to drill in columns of three - the modern way, as then used by just about every branch of the services.

My theory about 'Pookie' is that he had been happily pensioned and in the 'reserve' when, because of the extra manpower required for the recent invasion of Europe, he had been plucked from his pensioner fireplace and back into uniform. With their usual flair for organisation the 'powers that be' had despatched him to Howstrake to teach drill to youngsters the age of his own grandchildren. Not surprisingly he resented this and therefore taught us the only drill he (allegedly) knew - with the above results. I suspect that when this was discovered, he was quickly discharged back to the family fireside - exactly where he'd always wanted to be! I have never believed that an 'old soldier' of his rank and length of service didn't know exactly what he was doing and that what subsequently transpired was exactly as he had planned it!

Earlier in the war and before my time there, Howstrake Camp had once been strafed by an enemy bomber coming in from the sea and strafing the camp with its machine guns. No one was hurt, but afterwards the camp was hastily given some air defence! Just below the edge of the parade ground was the top of a headland. A small hole was dug, a length of heavy pipe placed in it and firmly cemented in. Then a WWI Lewis Gun mounting was fixed to it. Thenceforth, whenever a 300 mph attacking plane was sighted, the armoury would have to be opened, the gun extracted, carried the 200 or so yards to the mounting, (across the open parade ground) fitted to the mounting, loaded and.................then taken back and put away again, as the plane would by then have been landing back in Germany! I watched it test fired once - before an large audience of the boys, it fired about three rounds and then jammed (as Lewis guns were notoriously prone to do). After working on it for about five minutes, the RM Sergeant gave up and took it away again, looking meaningfully at all of us standing there wearing wide grins on our faces. The expression on his face conjured up possibilities of endless extra drills and the crowd melted away without so much as a snigger (out loud anyway)! Fortunately, our anti-aircraft protection was never put to the test. Discipline was in the main maintained by RNSM staff, with just a few RMs in the specialist areas of drill and P.T. and as with just about any other service, the NCOs ran the place. The Company Sergeant Major was a man known to us all as 'Buck' Peters. He was ideal for the job, a burly, benevolent dictator, and the place ran like well-oiled clockwork. If possible he would avoid official punishments which involved paperwork and trouble. A kick up the backside or a clump around the ear was quickly administered and forgotten and we preferred it that way. It was the old 'policeman on the beat' technique and worked well. I think it is a pity that it is not still in use.


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