Was there a 'downside' to the School of Music in those days? Yes there were some and I can well remember one or two areas that did not reflect well on us. One of them was a 'Mafia-like' regime that crept into the camp and continued for some months. As already mentioned, our pay wasn't plentiful and what we had was usually quickly spent. From somewhere, an iniquitous 'double-back' (100% interest!!) money-lending scheme came into being and the pay-back was demanded at the next weekly pay-day. Some of the boys quickly became victims of this scheme, apparently unwilling or unable to picture the consequences of borrowing. Inevitably, repayments were missed and it then became the usual thing for the 'money barons' to have 'enforcers' stationed at the back of the mess hall. One really weak character/victim was from 90 squad and he quickly ran up relatively enormous debts with more than one lender. Unfortunately, I became innocently involved in the troubles that followed the bursting of the bubble. As a non-chocolate eater I always saved my 'nutty' ration to take home when I went on leave. At his pleading I had loaned this character a few bars of my saved chocolate - but only on the basis of his replacing them with an identical amount. One day things just became too much for him and he allegedly tried to commit suicide - by diving into a full bucket of water whilst scrubbing the main hall! Not surprisingly he failed in that endeavour but succeeded in drawing attention to himself, whereupon he disclosed his problem to the authorities and gave the names of all to whom he owed. I never forgave him for putting me on that list! Of course, I explained the basis for my loan and presume I was believed because I was the only one of about ten who didn't receive punishment. The victim was later discharged as 'unsuitable'! Another episode still clear in my mind is the effort of the Howstrake RN padre to get a Scout group going. Everyone who had been a Boy Scout or was interested was roped in, and a total of around 20 of us set off for a week-end camp on a farm at the other end of the island. Having once been a scout I was deemed adequate to be given charge of one of the three 'patrols' we were divided into. On a Saturday morning, Bell tents, and bulk rations from the cookhouse and all of us were loaded onto a 3-ton Bedford and taken to a remote farm. The unsuitable field that the padre had chosen had a slope of about 10 degrees, but we were stuck with it and each troop started to erect their tent and settle in. Then it began to rain. Not heavy stuff, but the steady, cold, wetting type the I.O.M. was famous for. Accordingly we dug drainage channels to lead the run-off away from the inside of our tent and tried to set up a workable field kitchen, both for warmth and for cooking. The primitive tents had no groundsheets but we had been told to bring our own rain capes and a couple of blankets. We had also been told that there was be a prize for the patrol with the best prepared site and facilities, including camp gadgets - and we won. Unfortunately, the 'prize' turned out to be the privilege of cooking the Sunday roast for all present!
It continued to rain steadily and mud became widely distributed. That night we made up our beds as best we could with our two blankets. Because of the slope everyone at the top side of the tent slid down onto those lower and the lower level occupiers quickly found their feet out in the rain! It was freezing and no-one could get to sleep. After a while I decreed that in order to make best use of our resources we would have to sleep in twos to enable the benefit of four blankets. (Next morning we found that the other patrols had done the same! That solution worked well, the extra thicknesses of blanket, plus body-warmth bringing some comfort. However, sleeping in twos had another, less desirable, effect and soon there were sounds of muttering and heavy breathing followed by sighs. Not quite the wholesome, healthy and outdoor activities our 'sky pilot' had envisaged for the weekend!!! Next morning everything was soaking but we survived and later set about cooking lunch. Surveying the joint provided further evidence that the padre had himself never been a scout. He had accepted our meat ration as one very large chunk of beef - without realising that we would not have any means of cooking it. Despite a roaring fire it ended up charred on the outside and raw inside. But the vegetables were good! Mid-afternoon the Bedford arrived and the camp was dismantled. For a bit of fun we heaped long, wet grass onto our still roaring fire - which produced enormous clouds of white smoke until the whole valley was 'fog-bound'. The farmer came out roaring, complaining bitterly about the smoke and berating the padre. When fronted my excuse was that we were trying to put the fire out! We arrived back at Howstrake filthy, but happy to enjoyed a distinctly different week-end. Unfortunately, for some reason or other, scouting activities were never resumed!
In July 1946 we were sent on leave from Howstrake for the last time, with orders to report back afterwards to our new camp at the totally unsuitable location of Broadwell, near Burford in Oxfordshire. However, the redeeming aspect of the move meant that for the first time since the start of the war both the junior and senior wings were reunited in the one place. And what a place! Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, almost exactly half-way between Cheltenham and Oxford it was about as far from that salty, wet stuff that our regimental march told us our life was on - as it was possible to get in Britain! I have often wondered since, what the 'powers that be' in Whitehall, controllers of our destiny in those days, might have managed to achieve had they ever been sober! Nevertheless, we lowly, aspiring musical mortals had no choice in the matter, so it was to Burford that we returned from our leave. If Howstrake had been something akin to a Siberian Gulag in winter, the accommodation at Burford Camp was quite a few steps up from that. But it too was bitterly cold in winter.