KEEPING UP WITH THE TOP BRASS
The Commander in Chief’s Escort Section
ROYAL MILITARY POLICE
By Roy Oswick
Following the completion of my 16 week Royal Military Police Course at Inkerman Barracks in July 1958 I found myself aboard the Troopship DEVONSHIRE bound for Malta, Gibraltar, Tripoli, and finally Limassol Cyprus.
Like the majority of the troops aboard, we Military Policemen were young, and had never been outside of the shores of Britain before.
The trip was scheduled to take about 3 weeks which seems an awfully long time by today’s jet aged transport systems, but was seen as quite normal in those days, and for most of us this was quite an adventure, apart from one or two who were terribly homesick and seasick almost before we were out of Southampton.
For the duration of the trip we Military Policemen came under the direct control of the Ship’s RSM, a formidable Scotsman whose language was less than polite and his words delivered at such speed that it was difficult to understand much of what he said, and he lost no time in making sure that we were made aware of his obvious dislike of RMP. Unlike the rest of the troops aboard who had nothing to do other than while away the time playing cards or deck games, we were detailed to carry out patrols of the ship ensuring that the troops aboard behaved correctly and, more importantly, ensuring that the male troops did not manage to enter the families quarters where a number of unaccompanied females were housed who were on their way to join husbands already in post.
For the most part these were the wives of Senior Rank Regular soldiers and Officers. It quickly became apparent to us that many of the soldiers aboard had developed very sophisticated methods of avoiding detection, and we were somewhat surprised to find that a number of the younger women actively encouraged their attention, to such an extent that the Ship’s Captain had to issue an order that no female passengers were permitted to sunbathe in areas that were overlooked or could be overlooked by male personnel.
The heinous task of enforcing this rule fell to us, 20 or so, red blooded male 19 year olds!!! Terrible job but someone had to do it.
The trip was almost a pleasure for us as it gave us the opportunity to put into practice some of our new found policing skills and boosted our confidence. Not so pleasant was the period that we spent crossing the Bay of Biscay which chose that particular period to be at its roughest. I have never seen so many people lying flat out and looking so green and we were all very pleased when we were through and entered the calmer waters of the Med.
On disembarking at Limassol we were drafted to the various Military Police Units on the island. Quite a shock for all of us as we had now been together for almost 6 months and had formed strong friendships we had thought that we would continue to serve together, but that was not to be. Myself and three others were posted to the Commander in Chief’s Escort Section in a very small village called Paramalli just outside the Middle East Land Forces HQ in Episkopi.
This was a very small unit consisting of a Sergeant Major, 2 corporals and 25 Lance Corporals.
The Commander in Chief was Lt, Gen, Sir Roger Bower and his residence was a huge house called FLAGSTAFF HOUSE overlooking the sea. He had a House Sergeant, Batman, Butler, cooks, and drivers who all lived in the house while we his escorts lived in large tents a little way down the hill from Flagstaff House.
The tents all held four men and we had electricity, shower tents and toilets as well as our own cookhouse, NCO’S Club and bar. We also had the latest model Land Rovers for escort duties. These were very highly polished with chrome bumpers and wheel hubs and were fitted with 3 litre engines so that we could keep up with the C-in-C’S cars which were a huge Austin Princess and Humber Super Snipe, both beautiful cars and very fast.
All in all as a first posting the Escort Section was about as good as it got.
The hours were long and riding in the rear of a Landrover at speed whilst attempting to ensure that if need be we had a clear field of fire, was no easy feat.
We always felt a little vulnerable dressed as we were in khaki with red cap tops and brilliant white webbing, so easily identifiable and wide open to attack, especially given the status of the High Ranking Officer that we were escorting. Nowadays things are much different and The Escorts are referred to as Close Protection Officers and their role is to be as discreet as possible so as not to draw attention to themselves or the principal. In 1958/9/60 attitudes were quite different and it was thought that a show of strength was the best deterrent.
When not employed on actual escorting duties we had the less enjoyable task of manning the main gate to Flagstaff House. This was a 24 hour duty shared by 3 lance corporals completing a rota of 2 hours on duty at the gate followed by 4 hours off.
We also had the company of a soldier from the nearby Episkopi Garrison who spent his time in a sandbag emplacement armed with a Bren Gun, His role was to assist the Military Policeman in the defence of the entrance should that be necessary. What the army expected two men to do in the event of an attack was never explained to us. In the time that I was there we never had to face that situation apart from one night, a little after 0300 hrs I was on duty and was warned by the soldier that there was something or someone moving about in the bushes outside of the perimeter of the house, I could see nothing but felt compelled to alert the duty Corporal. My only means of communication was by field telephone to the Duty Corporal. He was less than impressed at being woken from his sleep and told me in no uncertain terms to deal with the situation as I felt best.
The soldier and I continued to listen out and by now I was convinced that there was an intruder waiting for an opportunity to attack, I briefed the soldier and I decided that the next time we heard a noise we would voice a challenge and if we did not get a positive result we would open fire. After a few seconds we were able to definitely identify the sound of something moving about, as if in Unison the soldier and I shouted into the darkness, “HALT, STAMMATA, DUR” which is English, Greek and Turkish for Halt. There was no response from the darkness but what we had now decided were footsteps, could be clearly heard. By now my heart was racing and I dearly wished that there was someone else in charge, but bearing in mind the response I had received from the Duty Corporal I decided to take the initiative and ordered the soldier to fire in the direction of the noise. Unlike me he was delighted to be able to use the weapon that he clearly treasured. Now the Bren Gun was a very powerful weapon capable of firing .303 calibre rounds at a rate of about 100 rounds per minute and when fired made a tremendous racket especially at 0330 hrs in the still of night. Making the most of his opportunity he let fly with a full magazine of 30 rounds.
The noise was tremendous and within seconds it seemed, the Duty Corporal with several others in support were on the scene with weapons and powerful flashlights. I did my best to deliver a verbal report of what had happened and concluded by saying that I felt sure that we had hit the intruder as there had been no further noise from the area. The Corporal immediately contacted the House Sergeant in Flagstaff House and assured him that the house was not under attack and that the welfare of the C-in-C was not under threat. He then said that we should remain alert and that he would organise a search of the perimeter area at first light. Needless to say the rest of my shift passed with us in a state of high tension, and my thoughts began to turn towards the possibility of a commendation for my swift and determined response to a possible attack, perhaps even a medal? At about 0530 hours the Corporal with a group of Military Policemen carried out a search. My dreams of commendations and medals quickly disappeared when he and the search party returned about an hour later and the Corporal came to me and in terms that can be best described as indiscreet, and much to the joy of my colleagues, said to me. “You absolute Plonker.
By this time my relief had arrived and I was able to depart and seek refuge in my tent. Sadly, my new found fame had preceded me and my colleagues were waiting to welcome me from the front line. Naturally the Sgt Major also wanted to see me and he also added his advice as to what I should do, concluding with as I recall, “be sure not to make an ASS of myself” in future.
It took an awfully long time to live that down. News travels fast in the Army and I know that the story of the incident was relayed to military policemen all over the island, and I am sure that it was added to and enlarged upon in the telling.
Some years later when by then I was a Sergeant I was posted to Berlin E Duty Corporal on that memorable night was now the Regimental Sergeant Major and who at the end of my first Regimental Dinner, took great delight in relaying the story to my assembled Senior NCO’s during his after dinner speech!!! So even after some 10 years had passed the event still served to haunt me However it provided some enjoyment and as I will relate later, I did exact my revenge upon him.
But that is another story……..
With thanks to Mike Foster for sharing many of those pictures from our younger years.