During our time at Stanley we heard weekly rumors often started by the Regulars at the expense of the National Servicemen, most often of another extension of our service or of a move by the Battery to some new station. Surprisingly few involved Korea. The first soon after our arrival at Stanley was that we were destined for Aden, to serve what purpose I cannot imagine. But the most appealing and unfortunately the one that did not come about, although presumably it contained a grain of truth, was that the Troop was bound for the USA as a demonstration unit of our survey and flash spotting abilities.
Regulars and National Servicemen
The Regulars and the National Servicemen got along well. Many were regulars were characters and of those in the Troop a few stick in my memory; an ex collier from Wigan who was, I think, in the original 98 Squad – how he got there I cannot imagine and not surprisingly he didn’t last; a real old soldier, a Geordie, with no teeth who seemed to perform no duties and got drunk every night; being befuddled with drink and incontinent and on an upper bunk he relieved himself over the bunk below occupied by Frank Beames, who resorted to sleeping underneath his poncho; a scruffy, dirty, smelly untidy and unwholesome homosexual ”T” who had a bunk opposite me; our two ace drivers, Crouch and Mc Evoy, two signaler drivers, Jock Robertson and Sid Wheeler; Jock a cheerful young Scot and in whose jeep we often went out in on survey tasks, and Sid a merry fellow from the Midlands who, I heard was killed in Korea when the Battery went on to serve in that inhospitable country against an implacable enemy.
There was one Regular Surveyor, and this was an exception, he joined the Troop in one of the later intakes, a quiet chap from a good background but unfortunately I never got to know him.
Leave – Christmas 1950
Amid all these trials and tribulations as the end of 1950 approached our thoughts turned to Christmas, and leave. Having had no leave since our arrival in February we thought some our due. We accordingly broached the matter and after some difficulties and nastiness from 2nd Lieutenant Hango, which was typical of his small minded attitudes, Captain Tilburn granted us a week’s leave, Tim Tate-Smith, Ian, Frank, Mc Kenny – from another squad, and I.
Meals in Victoria
We planned to spend it at the Sailors & Soldiers Home in Victoria, and beyond a Christmas Eve meal at the Volunteer Centre with five others who would come down from Stanley, we had little planned. We were just thankful for being away from Stanley. I can remember little of our Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day at the Café Wiseman, except it was all rather grand, ten courses and most enjoyable. The only improvement we could offer was we would have enjoyed all of it, including the traditional Christmas Pudding and mince pies, more at home. Christmas abroad and in the army is not the same despite the cards and presents we had from home, something we all felt I am sure.
Although we enjoyed these wonderful meals, it seemed little like Christmas. For it was warm, we were out in shirt sleeves and the world around us continued with its everlasting bustle. Christmas then not being an event the non-Christian Chinese celebrated. I had been, I think, with Ian Styles to a service in the Anglican Cathedral, but it still did not seem like Christmas. I suppose we were not only sated with rich food to which our stomachs were not accustomed, but it was not really all that fun. Perhaps we missed Army life! The very soft beds in the Sailors and Soldiers Home did take some getting used to.
A Trip to Macao
After moping around, for there was little to do within Hong Kong with no civilian contacts only the Forces clubs, shopping or visits to the cinema, we decided to explore further afield and pay a visit to Macao. This was a Portuguese enclave about forty miles to the west across the mouth of the Pearl and Canton Rivers accessible via steamer service. Whether as soldiers we were allowed to leave the Colony or not we did not inquire, but got tickets and went. Had we asked the answer would likely to have been ‘no’. But, we had no difficulty and our army AB64’s provided sufficient identity. Our inspection upon entry was very perfunctory a real example of laissez faire.
Our trip across on the ferry was exceedingly pleasant. The ferry was a very smart vessel of shallow draft built in Canada and operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co, then a large ship owning group. Well all enjoyed the niceties of the everyday courtesies extended to us as we were treated as civilian passengers.
Staying at the Grand Hotel
On arrival we had to find somewhere to stay and we were immediately pounced upon by a brothel keeper who promised us many delights. We however resisted those and made for the Grand Hotel, a building of several stories and an ornate portico immediately across from the landing stage. We booked some rather splendid rooms for what seemed a pittance, and had my first experience of sleeping under a duvet. Next we had a very Chinese meal and explored the place. Amounting to no more than a few square miles, Macao was easy to explore by trishaw, taking us less than two hours. I found the place fascinating, a sleepy backward small outpost of the kind that I imagined in colonial Africa, a place that Georges Simenon or Somerset Maugham would use as setting for one of their novels.