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National Service: The Best Years of Their Lives Hardcover – 1 Sep 2002
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About the Author
Trevor Royle is a well-known author and broadcaster specialising in the history of war and empire with a score of books to his credit. His most recent book is Crimea: The Great Crimean War 1854-1856 (Little Brown) which received widespread acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Other recent books include The Last Days of the Raj and Winds of Change: The End of Empire in Africa. Trevor lives in Edinburgh.
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Naturally, the first sector I looked at was about the Royal Corps of Signals, to see how Mr Royle's research agreed or not with my own experiences as a wireless detachment commander with what was in the early 1950s called 1 Air Support Signals Unit, stationed during my time with them at Herford, in the former German Panzer Caserne (barracks), later some ten miles away at Lemgo, also in the then British Zone of Germany.
Examination further into the book was admittedly cursory, as I was so annoyed by the author's assertion that use of the morse code was dropped by the British Army at or just before the end of the Second World War(1939-1945.
In fact, on completion of 1950 basic infantry training at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire, England, during which my colleagues and I were very carefully assessed as to our suitability for training in morse code wireless communications, and having found it not so difficult as many of us feared, some of us were posted to Germany for urgent completion of that education as morse wireless operators were deficient in numbers for the 1950 major training exercise, Broadsword, including other NATO nations, including the Belgian Army.
In time, after much training service with 1 ASSU, detached to infantry brigade HQs and/or Royal Air Force fighter stations across Northern Germany, liaising with Army and RAF appointed officers, I had the honour of being employed as a detachment commander with a crew consisting of a driver and usually about three other wireless operators -- almost excusively using the morse code at quite high speeds, as all of us steadily improved. This was during the Cold War with the seemingly overpowering strength of the massive Russian Army just a few miles away in their post-war zone of Germany. We had just one alarm connected with that threat from the Eastern Zone, but it turned out to be a false alarm at the behest of military high-ups, after we had all paraded late at night with full kit outside our barracks, complete with rifles.
Then, in 1987, I visited the Army Recruiting Office in Norwich, to discuss a shared interest in regimental badges with a Major of HM Lifeguards. On returning to the main office, I was startled to be greeted by Royal Signals Squadron Sergeant-Major Barry Robinson, last seen when both of us were junior NCOs at Lemgo, although he was in Air Formation Signals.
I asked about the state of wireless communications in 1987, to be told the morse operators in Germany were faster than ever before.
Then a few months ago I wrote along these lines to the National Service book author Trevor Royle (foreword by John Peel), via his publishers, about his forty-years-incorrect morse code "National Service: The Best Years of Their Lives" glaring error, but answers came there none. I wonder why!
Alan H Dale, Norwich, England.
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