(3) The Isle of Man Days. Howstrake (ex - Holiday Camp).
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The O.I.C. of Howstrake was Major G.C.Keen (RNSM) who had a big nose and a large moustache, giving him a somewhat fierce expression - which probably helped in his dealings with us! His assistant was the inimitable Lt. 'Doc' Compton, a source of many amusing and some hilarious anecdotes such as 'The Disappearing Conductor', 'Pulling the String' and 'A' Company C.O. (Perhaps others know of some of these and could contribute their versions?) Shore Leave, as it was known from the moment we joined, was available from 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and expired at 10 p.m. The 'Manx Electric Railway' ran right past the camp and was the easiest way to get into Douglas, the largest town. The electric railway bore a strong resemblance to trams used anywhere else, except that the lines were at the side of the road - not in the centre of it. It ran between Douglas and Laxey and one end of the line was at the Howstrake end of Douglas's lengthy promenade. Sod's Law ensured that the busy centre of the town was right at the other end and the pre-war horse-drawn trams had long ceased running. The prom was lined with hundreds of large terraced houses which had previously housed happy bucket and spade holidaymakers. Now, well cocooned in barbed wire, many were being used to house specialist service units. Some of them were POW camps for German prisoners and some became R.N. 'ships'! (concrete dreadnoughts.) One group of three houses (suitably honeycombed with connecting doors) was HMS Valkyrie, a radar training school. My older brother was instructing there for a while. I sometimes called in on him to sample his bottled rum ration!

Following the tram's arrival at its terminus, the eager mass of Band Boys emerged from the terminal and streamed along the seafront towards the fleshpots of the town. Whilst not exactly flush with money (I think at that time I was getting 8 shillings a week, but I could be wrong), prices were low and tightly controlled so what we did have went quite a long way. My usual Saturday run ashore was typical of most of the boys and went much as follows - First call would be at a cake shop where I always purchased two custard tarts, receiving them in a brown paper bag. It was then straight to one of the town's cinemas to catch the matinee. It didn't much matter what was showing but the programme would typically consist of a news bulletin, a cartoon or two, a not very long minor film (known as a 'B' film) and then the main feature. We would sit there, warm and comfortable, munching on our custard tarts, cakes, buns etc., carefully keeping the paper bag for a long-established special purpose. Love scenes of those days were very reserved and sanitised, but no matter what the subject matter, there was always at least one 'steamy' moment. Unsuspecting patrons would be sitting absorbed in the film, as the hero and heroine's lips moved towards the kiss. Had anyone been listening for it, at that moment there would be surreptitious rustling and sounds of exhaled breath, followed, at the exact moment lips met, with bangs and pops from all over the cinema as we burst our inflated paper bags. Angry protests would sometimes erupt from a few startled patrons, but the management never tried to stop it, as long as the habit remained confined to matinees only. After all, Band Boys will be Band Boys!

The film over, it was time to head for the 'Sally Gash', more properly known as the Salvation Army Canteen, where good-hearted and worthy ladies provided at a minimal price the ammunition necessary to fill young stomachs. Sausage, chips, baked beans, fried eggs with tea and a slice of bread. Wonderful stuff. Replete for once, we would then retrace our steps and head for one of the other cinemas, just in time for the evening session. That finished (and no paper bags) we would emerge, this time into the black-out and (some of us, dare I admit it?) head for a pub known for its laxity in enforcing the minimum age laws. The phrase "if you're old enough to be in uniform, you're old enough to drink" was commonplace during the war. A quick pint or half-pint later (depending on the state of finances) and it was to the fish and chip shop to purchase a goodly newspaper-wrapped packet of hot chips. Especially appreciated in winter with the wind howling in off the sea, the packet, tucked inside our greatcoats, would keep us warm as we munched chips all the way along the 'prom' back to the tram terminal. Once there it was time for some fun and games with the local 'bad' girls. There would usually be at least four or five and were known as P.T's.(you work it out). They would lead a lad on and then run off just when things got interesting. Some of them had picturesque and self-descriptive nicknames. 'The Onchan Basher' and 'Laxey Lou' still spring to mind.

A Motley Group mostly 90 squad - 1945) (Back l - r) David Rand, Chris Taylor, Alfie Mayer, 'Lofty' Clark, ????, 'Pincher' Martin. (Front)  ???? and 'Tusky' Hall. Musical Instruction was something of a 'hit or miss' affair with the instructors being mostly band NCOs who were between appointments to ships or depot bands. However, their obvious instrumental skills did not necessarily make them good teachers. This system of training was well entrenched and, all things being considered, remarkably effective. In good weather, instrumental classes would be held outdoors. At other times different classes would be in our rooms and the training rooms. Larger groupings and 'voluntary' orchestras used the main hall. R.N. Education officers ('Schoolies') tried their best to fill in the gaps (sometimes quite large) in our general education. These gentlemen were mostly ex-civilian teachers, in uniform for the duration of the war. One notable exception was Schoolie Gibson. He was a highly qualified university graduate who had volunteered to serve in the RM Commandos, which he had done with distinction until, during the early part of the invasion of Europe, he had been heavily shelled and was consequently badly 'shell-shocked'. After treatment he was invalided from the RM, and given a commission in the RN as a schoolteacher. Mentally he was a near genius and had a prodigious photographic memory. Every now and then his battle trauma would manifest itself in class and in the middle of a sentence he would suddenly cower and make very realistic sound effects of incoming artillery and mortar shells. After a few minutes he would recover and continue as though nothing had happened. We all thought that he was wonderful. Apart from his strictly teaching duties he also looked after travel arrangements for the boys at leave times. In those far off days, railways covered the British Isles and, wherever a boy lived, there would be a station not far away. There was a well-known, very thick publication known as 'Bradshaws' which had detailed timetables for every railway in the country. Schoolie Gibson had memorised the lot and, if asked (for example) how to get from Fleetwood (the mainland IOM ferry terminal in those times) to some obscure village station, he would pause for a moment's thought and then give you the exact route and times of the appropriate trains, including any alternatives. We often tried to catch him out, but never did. He was a 'wiz' and I am sure that others could confirm these abilities. Another display of his brain and memory power was in the field of music. He could play the piano quite competently, if not quite expertly. Where his expertise came in was learning the complete score of a piano concerto - without having a piano before him! Give him the score and he would study and analyse it, memorising every note. Then, later, when at a piano, he would play the concerto quite accurately, although possibly a little lacking in the musical expression that only comes from physical practice. His brain power was almost unbelievable. I wonder what became of him?

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