Walter describes his time doing National Service. He tells of a remarkable coincidence: a meeting between a British Major and his father when they were both fighting, though on different sides, in the First World War
W.G:Then I did my 2 years National Service. I could have evaded because I’d been in agriculture. I could have got round it, but I felt that the Government had paid for a lot of my schooling – I mean I had got a bursary through University. So I went in and did my two years.
I volunteered for the Army because by volunteering I could get into what I wanted to. I wanted to get into the Royal Artillery because I did not feature myself being in the infantry which is pretty dangerous, and I certainly did not want to got into the tank corps – sitting in a tin can getting fired at – I didn’t like that.
My father had been in the artillery.
Field artillery is what I preferred because it moved fairly… My Dad was actually in the heavy artillery. My father got his Iron Cross when he was in the German Regiment that looked after what is nowadays called Big Bertha, which was a huge gun, which travelled on railroad tracks.
Interestingly enough when I was at Mons O.C.S, that’s Mons Officer Cadet School (Aldershot). I was being interviewed by a Colonel – I remember his name – Bellamy. He was a First World War man and he looked through my papers and he said, ‘‘Gumprich, I see you volunteered?’’
“Yes, Sir” – you just answered ‘Yes, Sir’ to everything and he said, “Family?” and I said, “Yes, Sir”. “Namely is it a family reason for joining the artillery, following your family.”
And he said, “First World War?”
“Yes, Sir.” He got really interested and he said, “Where?”
He actually had to ask. I did not say something. I kept saying, “Yes Sir” and it sort of got personal, almost.
“It was a place called Lille”, because there were pictures of this church, which was an odd church tower and I had been there and it was definitely Lille, where my father fought.
I said, “1916.”
“Oh” he said, “ What is your name again?”
“Shouldn’t I know your father? “
I said “No, Sir.”
“Because he was at the Front. He was in Lens in 1916 and the lines were pretty stationery. They did not move around.
I said, “Perhaps it was because he was on the other side, Sir.”
And he looked back and he said, “Oh, the Kaiser’s boys”. Like this is heaven to know a son of the Kaiser boys … one of his buddies! He tried to kill them but that is all right you know.
He said, “What happened?”
And I said, “My father was decorated Iron Cross First Class” and
he said, “Was he a Lieutenant acting as a Major?” and
I said, “Yes, he was”.
Well the Major was on leave; the Colonel had shell shock; and the Adjutant who was a Captain was out of it or whatever – actually what happened was that this Colonel explained… Dad had never talked about it. But what had happened was that the British attacked and routed the Germans and according to the Colonel a young Lieutenant rallied the German troops and fought off the attack giving the Germans enough time to withdraw Big Bertha along the railway line and get it back out of there.
And that it why the British attacked because they wanted the gun and the Colonel knew that this young Lieutenant, who was later promoted to Captain, was a big deal and he felt pretty sure he would get Iron Cross First Class for this particular deal. Yes. So that was Dad.
INT-2: Why did a British Officer know what was happening behind German line?
W.G:Because they played soccer on Sundays that’s why, they played soccer, football on Sundays. They all got out there and played soccer.
INT: I thought that was only at Christmas?
W.G: Ach, well these guys knew each other. He knew who is who. And he wasn’t in the German Army. I can guarantee that.
INT:So you did your National Service…
W.G: One year I was fooling around taking all kinds of courses. I took a parachute-jumping course. I took a REME course [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers]. Great stuff. Rolls Royce engines we took apart and put them together. Excellent instructors. In parachute jumping, five jumps was a dream and then of course you never got the final one because they asked you, “Are you willing to sign on for an extra year?” … and I said, well I will think it over and they knew that meant, no. So you never got the few pennies extra so and then I after I went through Mons with the O.C.S.
I wanted to go to Hong Kong and I applied for Hong Kong but I only had 14 months left. I only had 12 months left. I applied for Germany, as I was fluent in German and I was with the British Army of the Rhine doing winter warfare skiing and marathon running in the summer.
I didn’t do too many parades.
INT 2: Which year was this?
W.G: 1954 to 1956.
I got out on the 9th October 1956. The reason I remember was, it was when the Suez Crisis broke and it broke actually that day or the day after because I was at Woolwich and I was being de-mobbed. They were waiting for the bus to go down to Woolwich station.
I did not wait for the bus. I took my kitbag and I walked down to Woolwich Station, changed into civilian clothes in the waiting room and hopped on the first train, because, as a Territorial, I was not smart enough to get into the Army Emergency Reserve. They were already called up, incidentally, as everyone tried to get in there. I was lucky that I didn’t, though I realised that the next thing was they were going to do was call up the ‘Terriers’ and I was on the train.
Well, they have easily have recognised me because of my hair cut, but nevertheless I was out of Woolwich.