A Three Rifle Soldier
In the early summer of 1958 I was trained on the venerable No 4 rifle and on the night before disembarking at Cyprus from HMT Dunera I was issued with a No 5 Rifle and a bandolier of ammo to defend against EOKA, boarders/pirates?
On joining 1 Suffolk’s I was issued a FN Assault rifle, a beautifully made rifle that could be zeroed with great accuracy. For some reason only known to the media mind, when on guard at BFN Nicosia the bosses insisted we be armed with the No 4 rifle, on return to the UK the SLR was my tool of trade for over 22 years, it saw me through 3 campaign medals, a cold war and a little cup for winning the Roupel Cup shoot in the Battalion Skill at Arms meeting with 1 Royal Anglian in 1975. I only put my SLR aside once, and that was as a Platoon Commander in Belfast where I carried a pistol, however the pistol jammed when needed so it went to the medic and I got my trusted SLR Back.
In the early 90’s I joined 2 Platoon ‘E’ Company HSF, 6 Royal Anglian as Platoon Sgt. We were initially issued with the SLR, but in our second year we converted to the 5.56mm rifle (SA80) something of a joke at the time, but now seems to be trusted by today’s ‘Vikings’ after some modifications and improvements. I did try cleaning it one rainy night on Stanta with disastrous results.
Later the Battalion went on camp to Warcop, and on a blank firing exercise at Windy Ridge CQB range in Catterick I was pulled out of my Platoon by the RSM, given three mags of live ammunition and briefed as the IRA sentry.
And so there it was, I had become a three-rifle soldier, having stood at bay with live ammunition against a discernible adversary with the Army’s three main Infantry rifle 1930’s to the present.
Other weapons I used; I endangered everybody’s life with the Sten Gun, cleared culverts with a Greener Gun in Cyprus, lugged a 3.5 inch rocket launcher around Germany, competed with the Sterling (SMG), used the Armalite in Malaya, but best of all, I was a great fan of the 84mm Carl Gustav.
I never quite got over the passing of the Bren gun; the only weapon that accompanied me throughout my entire service.
Tim (Dick) Davies
Editor’s comments: Nice one Dick! A weapons hat trick. If we were under the FA you would have been able to keep the SA80!
The Home Service Force (HSF)
Once upon a time, long long ago at the height of the Cold War everyone suddenly became very excited about the threat of the Soviet Union’s Special Forces – the Spetznaz. This may or may not have been connected to the deployment of land based medium ranged nuclear weapons in the UK. Obviously future concerns about Weapons of Mass Destruction don’t involve a level playing field. Anyway, as a result of this; in the early part of the 1980’s somebody came up with the brain wave of setting up a force of 18-59 year olds to defend key points in the UK against sabotage from enemy Special Forces.
The primary aim was to recruit 5000 by 1988, which with 20/20 hindsight would be just in time to commemorate the end of the Cold War.
The Home Service Force was formed in 1985 by the Thatcher Government as a successor to the Home Guard and recruited “Trained Soldiers” with a liability of 10 days a year. Each TA Unit was invited to form an HSF unit.
The Home Service Force (HSF) were intended to bolster the UK’s Home Defence assets, and that they did. A cross between Captain Mannering’s lot and Bravo Two Zero, or a special forces branch of the Old Comrades Association, it could also be said that they quickly became a victim of their own success.
These Merry Band’s of men would be established in the UK, as military units linked to the Territorial Army (TA) and recruited from volunteers aged 18-60 with previous army (TA or regular) experience. It was introduced to guard key points and installations likely to be the target of enemy ‘special forces’ and saboteurs, so releasing other units for mobile defence roles. Initially, several units were formed to test the water of a home defence force comprising ex-regular, ex-territorial and ex-uniformed service personnel. The results proved to be far better than anticipated. The recruitment of ex-servicemen with a minimum of two years experience enabled units to come up to operational readiness very quickly. On completion of a successful trial period authorisation was given for the HSF to be formally embedded. A national recruiting campaign was launched towards the end of 1984 with a view to enlistment commencing on 1st April 1985. The military’s care free use of April Fools Day has always tickled me! The concept of the HSF was an open invitation for the old and bold, there was no shortage of volunteers and one of the biggest problems was controlling the unlimited enthusiasm for the task in hand. It became blatantly obvious that there would be a great deal of disappointment if them old Spetznaz didn’t attack.
Each HSF unit was placed with either a Regular Army or Territorial Army regiment or battalion for administrative purposes and given the units title and cap badge. The HSF was a limited commitment branch of the Territorial Army/Reserves and its members were personnel who had previously served in the armed forces. This military service could have been with the Army, Navy or Air Force, MoD Police or as adult instructors in the Army, Navy or Air Cadet Forces. Reserve forces of significant length of service were also eligible.
Soldiers serving in the HSF brought with them broad and varied military experience. Veterans of many conflicts were to be found in the ranks including men who had served in Aden, Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Rhodesia, Northern Ireland and the Falklands. The many ranks and trades from the three services were well represented. The initial problem was that many who joined had previously held rank, some as Officers, some as Warrant Officers and many as non-commissioned officers (NCOs). The selection of those who were to fill the appointments in a new HSF Company was a difficult task and one that each unit had to solve in its own way.
Command decisions had to be made in a timely manner to prevent being overtaken by events. I was a Senior Permanent Staff Instructor at that time and the HSF Platoon placed with our company, went ahead and filled their own appointments, which strangely enough were exactly what we would have announced in due course.
During the initial period prior to appointments being made, the level of ‘War stories’ rose to an unbelievable level as anybody who was unknown would seize the chance to raise his profile and hopefully improve his position and status quo. Former service in Vietnam, the French Foreign Legion and the Rhodesian armed forces were popular claims and often difficult to disprove. Enthusiasm run amok and if the claimant thought his audience gullible enough, or wallowed in the attention, this could evoke stories of heroism which must surely have taken place before the claimant had entered his teens.
The final problem was that some of the members were now established business men with little or no financial concerns, and many after a successful military career now wanted to try the grass on the other side of the fence. Former officers fancied a dabble in the Sergeants Mess, driving a cross country vehicle appealed to many as a preferable option to command. Regardless it all went into the pot and everyone seemed to end up happy.
The atmosphere in most HSF units was very businesslike and professional. Initially training was very intensive with everyone familiarising themselves with weapons, equipment, tactics and developing teamwork. It did not take long for these experienced servicemen to get back into the military routine. Every man knew what had to be done and got on with the task in hand, whether it was digging trenches, patrolling or cleaning weapons and equipment at the EndEX.
HSF soldiers who were originally familiar with the Lee Enfield .303 rifle, were rapidly retrained to use the SLR and later the SA80. Units were very quickly brought up to operational readiness and the experience and enthusiasm of the mature volunteers ensured the success of the HSF concept, a truly brilliant idea.
HSF Platoons were restricted on man training allocations but such was their enthusiasm that attendance was never going to be a problem, in fact quite the reverse, there were several members in most units who would quite happily done 24/7. Inevitably there was intense rivalry between the HSF Company and its sponsor unit. The age old maxim that “youth and enthusiasm will overcome age and experience” was disproved time and again on exercise, shooting competitions, route marches and military skills events as the knowledge and skill of HSF soldiers learned over decades proved decisive. On any difficult tactical task the unit would happily regroup around the people serving in the ranks who had relevant tactical expertise or previous experience, and a DS solution would usually surface. Living the dream….
The relationship between the regular soldiers and the TA soldiers was now mirrored between the TA and the HSF. The HSF had many advantages and invariably knew how to use them. They knew the rulebook inside out and in many cases had members who had been responsible for writing it, there was also a fair cadre of those who had broken most of them and survived! The average TA unit will have regular army staff to assist them and provide support and administration, these personnel would be looked upon with admiration and respect by the average TA soldier, however a large proportion of many HSF platoons would have served as his equal and/or superior at some time or other.
Individual HSF Platoons were fiercely competitive, and if the military supply chain didn’t fit their timescale, then something had to be done about it. The Spetznaz weren’t going to catch them with their trousers down even if they hadn’t been given any! Army retail stores such as Silvermans and the like, could be relied upon to provide a solution when the Quartermaster (QM) was found to be lacking. Invariably the QM produced the correct equipment during the interim period between the men purchasing their goods and them being given the opportunity to use them. This meant that equipment had to be hidden or resold to avoid offending the QM as they really weren’t that daft.
There are many amusing stories about the short life span of the HSF, and it is not intended to make a mockery of the organisation and/or its members. I enjoyed my time with them, they made me laugh, they made me cry, and above all they made me proud.
I recall a certain TA Company that had a recruiting caravan, this was somewhat their pride and joy, all decked out in Regimental colours with suitable badges and lettering it made a marvellous accompaniment to any display or recruiting stand. The caravan had it’s towing attachment modified to enable it to travel behind an army landrover, all very military and definitely a crowd puller! Prior to a certain County Show the HSF Platoon requested use of said caravan for recruiting purposes and after a great deal of soul searching permission was granted. The caravan, landrover and recruiting paraphernalia were duly taken out and returned after the even with little or no problems, or so we thought. On the Monday morning we received a call from the police enquiring as to whether or not our caravan had been stolen. It transpired that it had been reported by a member of the public being towed behind a very large, pink cadilac! Further investigation revealed that the large pink cadilac was owned by a member of the HSF Platoon and in their defence they resorted to another age old maxim “Anyone can be uncomfortable!”
The HSF Platoon was defensive to a fault on any aspect concerning their members or the Platoon. An exercise was planned for a weekend at which they would deploy to guard a local training area as a keypoint. Much preparation went into this event and logistic support would be produced from the local TA Centre by the Platoon themselves. All attempts at double checking were met with a resounding “Don’t panic!”. When they collected the midday meal, which was the traditional ‘all in stew’,, there were countless ‘don’t forgets’ which were matched with countless ‘don’t panics’. I travelled out to monitor the feeding in the field and was entertained with numerous demonstrations of improvisation with regard to food distribution. Whilst nobody actually stuck their head into the container, it came close on a couple of occasions. In the words of the men it was reassuring to know that they could cope if it happened during the real thing, one thing was certain, nobody was going to own up to forgetting the ladle and utensils! It was also noticeable that nobody did actually panic.
After a drill night the Platoon would normally adjourn to a local pub to conduct a debrief on the evenings events and plan for the future. There appeared to be no limit to the imagination with regard to their role and purpose. Plans to commandeer all of the wire and building materials from local hardware emporiums for defensive purposes were rife. Vehicles could be commandeered from the local 4 x 4 dealer and on reflection it appeared they would actually do better than the system, the Platoon Commander was obviously earmarked for a Range Rover! Although their feeding arrangements were not discussed in front of me, I’m sure that the local hotels, restaurants and cafes would all have been given the opportunity to support the war effort.
The Home Service Force was disbanded in 1993, after 11 years – and eight years before 9/11 when Al Quaeda demonstrated the contemporary need for Key Point Defence. It is my humble opinion that they proved to be so successful that they demonstrated to the powers to be, that they could be got rid of. Their professionalism, spirit and esprit de corps had demonstrated that this concept could be activated when and if desired in the future within a workable time frame.
A ‘Veteran’ — whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve — is someone who, at some point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to his country for an amount of ‘up to, and including his life’.