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A Shout From The Attic: The Army Years - 1

Ronnie Bray, continuing his life story, tells of rejoining the Army.

My life was going to pot. Life with Esmé was not going well. She had gone home to her mother in Southbourne once, and I went and brought her back home, but she never settled and I did not know what to do to make things right between us. Our immaturities were more powerful than my optimism, and a series of events took place out of my sight and understanding that brought the end long before I ever knew it was over.

There are times when the only safe way seems to be to do something considered safe, and that is why I re-enlisted in the army. It wasn’t a particularly wise thing, it was precipitate and ill conceived, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Esmé wanted to end the marriage, that was her method of dealing with difficulty, and there were times when I felt she was right, but most of the time I didn’t want it. At other times, I was convinced, probably without good reason, that it might be the best course for us. The strength of my ambiguity was almost as overwhelming as its concomitant confusion. I felt as if I was on a wheel that rotated in and out of sunlight and darkness without warning.

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Catterick
Re-enlistment blues
228209103 Trooper Bray, Ronnie
Royal Armoured Corps
Royal Tank Regiments
Best Trainee – Catterick 1960
Royal Tank Regiments
General Service Medal
Clasp “Canal Zone” (1954) Clasp “Cyprus” (1954-5)
Canal Zone Commemorative Medal 1954

You Can’t Get There From Here
... was lost, and is found ...

I have only ever been lost twice, as far as I can remember. The first time was on my third birthday when I left school by the wrong door and entered a world I did not know. I was hugging one of the huge round brick ventilation shafts at Springwood that let fresh air into Springwood railway tunnel, when my sister René found me and gave me a chocolate aeroplane. She was five, so quite grown up. She asked my “Why did you run away from your birthday?” Then, as big sisters do, she led me home.

The second time, I was a soldier in the Royal Tank Regiment but attached to the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards at Catterick in 1960 and was engaged on a map reading exercise somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales’ extensive moorland. The exercise required us to go across country navigating by topographical features. But once we set off from our drop-off point, led by a young man with all the confidence in the world in his map-reading capabilities, we were soon walking round in little circles with our confidence in his powers as a pilot as low as his own had suddenly become.

Despite the moors looking so terribly alike in all its parts, steering a course by prominent features, relying on a compass to cover the featureless tracts of heather and bracken in between outstanding features that were not very outstanding, the task was not impossible, as evidenced by the groups who managed to complete the course with time to spare. Of course, they didn’t have our handicap: a leader who “knew” what he was doing.

Not surprisingly, we missed our rendezvous but managed to stumble late and dirty in to the beautiful Dales village of Kettlewell where we stayed the night in a Youth Hostel. After a full Yorkshire breakfast, which is an English breakfast but the bacon is thicker and the eggs are fresher and there’s more of everything, we took advice from local worthies and slunk back into base full but ashamed.

Apart from those times, I have never been lost. There have been times when I didn’t know where I was, but you only become lost when you give up trying to find your way. When I was a semi-professional singer I often had to find my way onto towns and cities I had never been to and find some isolated club so that I could thrill them as “Ray Buck - Britain’s Finest Country Singer”, but I always found them in time and never got lost.

Finding my way as an ‘artiste’ or holidaymaker, I have met all sorts of guides and directors. Some were as disoriented as I was but with less excuse. Some were very sure of the direction and gave them without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. Sometimes they were right, and sometimes they were wrong, but they were always extremely confident.

Others were vague. They knew of or had heard of the place I wanted, they thought, then turned one way to point before turning right round to point in the opposite direction. It was their other hand, whose fingers were placed to their lips, which betrayed their uncertainty. They always left me feeling sorry that I had asked them for directions in the first place.

The rest, fortunately a small group, had no idea where they were, let alone help a stranger find his way. I have been told by more than one, “You can’t get there from here!” These are the people who are really lost, because believing you can’t get there from here, wherever there or here are, means that some places and destinations are forever closed to you. The possibility of going through life unable to visit certain places is a form of death sentence, because it places limitations on one’s sense of adventure.

You can’t get there from here, but from here you can get to where you need to be to get from there to where you want to be.

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