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A Shout From The Attic: The Potman Cometh - Adventures In Sand And Cement

The walls which Ronnie Bray built while serving in the Army all came tumbling down.

From Barton Stacey I was posted to Ellesmere to be trained as a vehicle mechanic. It was a sixteen week course, interspersed with other duties, such as building classrooms. I claimed to be a bricklayer, based on my experience at Huddersfield Brick Tile and Stone Company. What I didn’t tell them was that I had never mixed mortar. They let me mix the mortar and lay the hollow ceramic blocks. Most of what I built fell down, victim to too little cement powder and too much sand.

To build a wall was what Bray meant,
But he put too much sand in his cement.
He worked under ASM Patman,
And the man who leaned on it needs an Army chaplain

So wrote one of my contemporaries, Craftsman Roy Davey of Cricklewood.

I enjoyed learning about engines and vehicles. I had not chosen that trade. It was chosen by the selection board. Nevertheless, I enjoyed what I could understand, and what I couldn’t understand didn’t matter too much because what we couldn’t fix we sent to the next echelon in the repair chain. In this manner, in spite of my fundamental lack of skill, I kept the British Army rolling along in a manner of sorts.

The chaps in the REME were self-denigrating in a humorous way. The received wisdom was that if a REME bloke wanted some kip, all he need do was lie under a lorry and tie his wrist to the prop shaft. “One hand out of sight and no one can prove you’re not working!”

We had most weekends off. A thirty-six hour pass let us be absent from camp from dinnertime on Saturday to 11:59 hours Sunday night. Some weekends I would take home with me a fellow soldier whose home was too far to travel on a short pass. A forty-eight hours pass let us loose after work on Friday until the witching hour Sunday, although provided that we signed in by reveille on Monday, no one mined at all.

Apart from our trade training, and forced labour building a shooting range at Ellesmere, for whom we never discovered, for no shooting ever took place there, our social life was good.


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