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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LIFE IN REME
A Craftsman’s Story 1948 to I953
Contributed by: Phil KEMPSTER
I was transported by road to the docks in Singapore with all my gear packed in two kit bags and my large pack on my back. It’s quite a sight to see hundreds of servicemen struggling up a gangplank with all their kit to board a troopship. Anyway we all got aboard safely and were soon allocated to our boat decks, I could not believe how much the Dunera had changed from the last time I was on her three years ago, she had been completely rebuilt. There were proper beds to sleep on, they were called stand easy bunks, during the daytime they were folded up. There were also dining rooms with self-service counters and lots more improvements like showers and washrooms and really nice toilets. The ship’s weight had increased from 11,162 tons to 12,615 tons, more like a cruise ship than a troop ship. We were soon on our way [no bands playing this time though] we were all given various jobs to do during our journey. I volunteered for latrine duties, that wasn’t as bad as it sounds, we just had to swill down the toilets and shower areas daily with brushes and hosepipes and with every thing being new it was quite a cushy job plus we were excused most of the boat drills. It was quite an uneventful journey homeward bound, we called at Aden for water and stores, no trips ashore this time, it was too hostile with a conflict going on. Our next port of call was Colombo, again no trip ashore. We sailed across the Red Sea into the Suez Canal, stopped at Port Said for supplies, there was trouble brewing here so no trip ashore. We entered the Med and sailed towards Malta where we were to pick up service personnel that were going home to the U.K. We anchored off shore and they came out to us in small boats so we did not see much of the island of Malta, just the coastline in the distance. We sailed on through the Med towards Gibraltar, the sea started to get a bit rough with quite a swell and this started to make people feel unwell. I knew this latrine job was too good to be true, not the place to be with a sea sickness epidemic breaking out. Believe me.
Myself and another chap started to feel ill so we went up on deck and just laid down, the crew were washing down the decks with hoses and they told us to move, we told them to bugger off and let us die. So they turned the hoses on us but we didn’t care. I had never felt so ill in my life. When we sailed nearer to Spain the sea calmed and we all started to feel well again. I remember thinking I hope the Bay of Biscay isn’t as rough as it was three years ago on my way out. It was now time to get back into K.D uniforms again we were sailing into cooler waters and after three years in the Far East it took some getting used to I can tell you. Our next port of call was Gibraltar to pick up more people retuning to the UK, we anchored just out of the harbour and Royal Navy launches brought the people to board the ship. We had some nice views of the Rock of Gibraltar but unfortunately we were not allowed ashore, time did not allow it. We were soon on our way again, along the coast of Spain and Portugal to head out into the Bay of Biscay on our way to Southampton, sea was quite calm during this crossing and we were all busy getting our kit together and filling in documents etc. It was early morning when we arrived in Southampton and were soon assembled ready for disembarkation, no bands playing and crowds cheering this time. Watching servicemen disembarking down gangplanks with all their kit pilled high on their backs must have been quite a sight, we had two kit bags, a large pack as well as hand luggage. We all filed through Customs and collected our rail passes and with a few farewells were soon on our way home, looking forward to being with our families and friends.
I was heading for Manchester to be with my girlfriend and her family, with a leave pass for 28 days I was a very happy soldier. After a long rail journey I arrived at Piccadilly Station quite late at night. I then had to change stations to get a train to Eccles, that is a short journey approx 12 miles west of Manchester. I then got a taxi to Barton Moss, that was very close to the camp I was stationed at 3 years previously, 4A/A Workshops, this had closed down and moved to Liverpool. I had quite a trek down a path that followed the railway to reach my girlfriend’s house, this was situated along side the railway, my girlfriend’s father worked for the railways as a platelayer. I was made very welcome and spent the whole of my leave including Christmas with Jean’s family.
I was notified to report to 21 Command Workshops, Burscough, Lancs, this was a large camp and not too far to travel on weekend passes to my girlfriend’s house. The R.E.M.E. had a scheme for men leaving the corps, if you wanted to learn a trade other than your trade in the Army you could apply for a 6 weeks course with pay providing you got a company to take you on. I thought that’s a great idea, Jeans brother in-law had his own business as a Plumber and Property repairer so I got in touch with him and he agreed to take me on, so I applied with the necessary paperwork and was successful [no it wasn’t a fiddle]. I really did it and learnt a lot in a short time. Whilst I was on this course Jean and I married and Jean became a soldier’s wife for a short time. I was the R.S.M’s driver at Burscough and quite enjoyed my time there. I left the Army in June 1953 after 5 years and 2 months, I was then put on reserve for a further 7 years.
I enjoyed my time with the R.E.M.E. and made some very good friends. Unfortunately I have lost touch with them, and as we get older that’s when you start to remember the old days. I suppose that’s why I have decided to write this brief story about my time in the R.E.M.E. hoping some one I served with would read it and get in touch. I am keeping my fingers my crossed.