Having 'passed for duty' I was now available to be sent on 'draft' [sent to a ship, barracks or Naval establishment] and it was not long before my name came up. I was to go to the Infantry Training Centre, Royal Marines [ITCRM] at Lympstone, Devon, which is situated four miles from Exmouth and six miles from Exeter. Prior to actually departing barracks one has to do a 'leaving routine'. This includes laying out every item of kit that has been issued to ensure that nothing is missing and that everything is in a good state of repair. It also informs all the departments that you will be leaving the barracks, in order that all documents referring to you are sent to your new unit. The route to my new unit was road transport to the Plymouth rail station then on to Exeter where I had to change trains to finally arrive at Exton station the nearest station to the ITCRM. It was then a short journey by road to the camp itself.
In those days, as it is today, all items of kit went with you and for a Bugler that consisted of two kit bags and a drum. To make things a little difficult it was not just the case of humping that lot around but all webbing equipment, which was blancoed had to be assembled and worn as a 'marching order'. This meant that you traveled with a large pack on your back, a small pack on one side, a water bottle on the other and an entrenching tool bouncing around on your backside. Then your bugle was worn over your shoulder and laid on the right side of your body.
It was no fun lugging all that around. Of course, you were inspected by the Duty Officer before you left barracks and you could expect the same treatment on your arrival at your new unit. A standing joke in the Buglers branch at that time was of the poor Bugler struggling across the parade ground with all the kit he could carry when he was stopped in his tracks by the Regimental Sergeant Major yelling," And where do you think you're going Bugler". To which the Bugler replied, "China Sir", to which the RSM replied, "Well double". [run]
So on the 2nd September 1947 having spent just over a year in Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth, I left for my first draft. As it is not very comfortable trying to sit down wearing a marching order, so it came off as soon as we cleared the barrack gates. It then became yet another item to be carried when moving from one form of transport to another. On the last stage of the train travel I struggled, with the help of one of the other passengers in my compartment, to get into my 'marching order, so although the final phase of the journey to the ITCRM was uncomfortable, I made it. On arrival, I reported to the Guardroom where I was greeting by the Guard Commander, who said something like," So you're the new bugler, well 'sticks' take all that garbage off your back and I'll send the guard orderly down to your hut to get someone to help you with your kit". "What about my inspection by the Orderly Officer", I asked. "Oh he doesn't want to see you, and while you're waiting come in and have a cup of tea". Well! Life had suddenly taken a turn for the better and I thought, I'm going to like it here. Needless to say I was soon settled-in to a completely different way of life.
It didn't take very long to realize that having completed my training, and being away from the very strict and sometimes stupid discipline of Plymouth Barracks, that this was the real sort of service life, and although it was always possible to meet an idiot or two where ever you served, on the whole there was a certain feeling of friendship, and any rivalry always seem to work out as a friendly sort of rivalry as opposed to anything you could class as nasty.
I was part of a team. It consisted of a Corporal Bugler, five other buglers and a small Royal Naval School of Music Band. What sort of Band you might ask? Well let me explain. In Storehouse the band was a 'Group Band' and consisted of about fifty musicians. It was only on very rare occasions that they were ever required to move out of their own area. Chatham and Portsmouth also had their 'Group Bands' and these bands were also permanently stationed in their respective barracks. They all wore their own distinctive cap badges, as they do today, which was in commemoration of some historic event in years gone by when they were known as Divisional Bands. As part of the old three Royal Marines divisions of Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth. The Band at the ITCRM was a different thing altogether. At that time they were trained at their School of Music in Burford and were dispatched as smaller bands to the various HM Ships and Establishments. They even wore a different collar badge on their tunics which consisted of a small lyre as opposed to the Globe and Laurel worn by the Group bands and the remainder of the Royal Marines.
In later years the RNSM became a part of the Royal Marines and became the Royal Marines School of Music, and although two of the Group Bands, still retain their distinctive cap badges, any replacement musicians required in the Group Bands were acquired from the RMSM and not local enlistment as used to be the case.
The main duties of the Buglers at the ITCRM was to provide a Duty Bugler and to perform with the band. Gone was the very strict discipline of Stonehouse and at last you were once again part of the human race. There was still discipline but it included common sense and that made a world of difference. It was the first time I had encountered buglers from a different Group, and although some were from Plymouth there were some from Chatham and Portsmouth. We had always been told, whilst under training that buglers from the other groups were a load of rubbish, but that was unfounded and as with most things in life there were good and bad, or should I say, good and not so good. Anyway we all got on together really well.
One of the buglers had what I can best describe as an elongated head. It sort of 'stuck out' at the back and to combat this he always wore his hair longer than he should have done. In those days there was only one accepted haircut and that was a 'short back and sides'. Musicians were allowed to wear their hair longer as they were required to play in the Officers Mess and at other indoor functions where caps were not worn. Anyway this bugler was going out with one of the NAAFI girls who lived in Exmouth. She used to walk to the nearest railway station to catch the train home after the NAAFI closed. Well, as the last train left long after the last bugle call was sounded for the day, when this bugler was on duty he used to ask the Guard Commander if he could walk his girlfriend to the station. As this was a fairly regular occurrence it was taken for granted that that was the normal routine and so it became, until the day a new Guard Commander was on duty and he refused to allow 'sticks' to accompany his girl friend. Well, as there were no more bugle calls to be sounded off that day 'sticks' decided to accompany his girl friend anyway. The shock came when he returned to the camp, as he was immediately placed under close arrest for disobeying an order. The next day he was marched to the barbers shop and, under supervision, was given, on the orders of the Regimental Police Sergeant, a 'real' short back and sides. Of course, having this unusual shaped head he looked quite weird and for the next few months he wore a beret all the time. As he couldn't eat in the dining hall with a beret on, he used to take all his meals in the NAAFI, standing at the counter. On occasions when this bugler was parading with the guard prior to taking over the duties of Bugler of the Guard he would wear his webbing belt 'upside down', so that when he was inspected, the officer inspecting [usually a 'young officer under training]' would immediately see that the belt was upside down and not notice the long hair.
There were some good times had at the ITCRM and all the buglers got on well together. The buglers always got on very well with the Royal Marine cooks and that meant we did very well where food was concerned. In those days just about everyone was short of money as we only used to be paid fortnightly, this meant there was a 'blank week' and cash was hard to find. What we used to do, together with the cooks, was to pool whatever money we had on blank weeks and then a limited number of cooks and buglers would go ashore into Exmouth. Of course, this didn't mean we had plenty to spend but we would catch a bus, right outside the camp into Exmouth, go to our favorite 'pub' and order up our pints of scrumpy, at about 4d a pint. [that's less than 2p] We used to have a good old session, then, having missed the last bus, we would then walk the four miles back to camp.
At one time our band was required to mass with another RNSM band in order to perform at an agricultural event. This event took place at a place called Brewood. I know it was somewhere 'up north' but as for its exact location, I just don't know. Anyway, after some rehearsal to sort out a marching display we eventually arrived at the venue to discover that we were to live in 'bell tents', which were not very big but we had to manage eight to a tent. Of course, this was not funny when you consider that we all had our own instruments and to make things worse, it was raining. We were there for three days and the weather got worse as the days went by. The thought of all that white blanco running over uniforms and those brass shell drums still make me cringe. The band that had joined us for this engagement had a few 'characters' in it and they soon found their way to the beer tent.[ At most agricultural shows some brewery or other has a tent where samples of their brew may be sampled free of charge.] Although they managed to stagger on for the band display, it was obvious that they were 'under the weather' and as they countermarched at the end of the arena a Senior NCO would pull them out of the band, and they took no further part in the display. One of these characters was well known for his 'pranks' and managed to avoid the senior NCO at the end of the arena and continued marching with the band with his white helmet worn 'back to front'. The final insult came on the last day of the show when an announcement was made to the effect, "Because of the bad state of the ground, the horses will not perform and the next event in the Arena will be a display of marching by the RM Band".
It was quite an experience being accommodated with the band at Lympstone, as up until that time it had been a case of all Boy Buglers in the same barrack room. Although some of the members of the band lived in married quarters in and around the Exmouth area, the remainder of us lived in a Nissan hut. At that time most of the accommodation within the camp consisted of Nissan huts or wooden framed buildings. The only substantial brick buildings were the ablution blocks, situated away from the huts, the camp church and the cinema.
Of course, that was in 1957 and things have certainly changed since then. The one time ITCRM is now the CTCRM. Commando Training Centre, and the place has been completely re-built. The old Nissan Huts and wooden buildings have been replaced with modern buildings and the compliment now includes a large Royal Marines Band complete with a Corps of Drums and a Drum and Bugle Major. Not like the Cpl Bugler and five Buglers of my days there all those years ago.