From: Peter Welbourn Subject: Memories of war
It was 45 years last month that Her Majesty returned a crop of young
journalists to their chosen profession after two years’ national
service with the army.
We all found ourselves at the depot of the Welsh Regiment, Maindy Barracks in Cardiff and as part of Inkerman platoon.
Get Fell In roll call was Colin Cross, who hailed from London; John
James (mid-Wales); Len Hayball (Devon); Brian Lilley (Barnet); Brian
Swain (Luton); Ralph Slater (South Wales); John Mangnall (Manchester)n
and myself (Lincoln).
In addition there was Tom Hickman, who
earlier this year published an excellent book about the call-up. He
came from Southampton and for some reason was assigned to Somme Platoon.
We are all OAPs now. But I did come across some of my former comrades in adversity in my career after demob.
Codd and I were Daily Express colleagues in Manchester and later with
the Daily Star in London, he as showbiz editor and I as political
I ran across John Mangnall while reporting union and
political conferences in Blackpool. And I often saw Brian Swain while
covering soccer for the Sunday Express and News of the World.
But of the rest? Who knows?
biggest character of all was Brian Swain – known affectionately as S**t
State Swain because he was the scruffiest squaddie of all. He collapsed
one morning on 0700 parade and speared himself on his bayonet.
parade commander screamed: there are only two reasons for a soldier to
faint on a parade. Either he’s not eaten breakfast or his bowels are
not open! The unabashed Swain scrambled to his feet and chirped: “My
bowels are open now… SAH!”
Most of us ended up in the Intelligence Corps in either field security or Russian signals intercept work.
Two years in khaki did us no harm.
After all, Dr Johnson observed thatevery man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.
Perhaps he was right.
Peter Welbourn By email