I was a Combat Medical Technician in the Territorial Army in the 1980s. My regiment was the RAMC – the Medical Corps. One year our annual camp was a fortnight abroad in Europe. Three of us privates and an NCO were detailed to spend the time in a transit camp at Emblem in Belgium. We flew out of RAF Brize Norton in the luxury of a VC 10. There were stewards to look after us just as on a civilian airliner; the main difference was the fact that all the seats faced backwards – excellent for safety, but unusual.
The worst part of our accommodation was the size of our room – just big enough for our high bunk bed (three berthers) and a very narrow passage way. Other than our rather cramped sleeping quarters it was fine. The weather has sunny and summery. We worked at going through the medical stores in the morning, the rest of the day we had off-in the NAAFI, exploring our surroundings and bathing in the static tank converted into a pool. There were a lot of water tanks at Emblem as the transit camp was also an ammunition dump. It is hard to recreate the frame of mind t the time, but this was still at the height of the Cold War, and being overrun by the Soviet Army seemed a real possibility.
The most interesting thing was a Second World War fortification destroyed by the Germans during Belgium’s brief campaign of resistance. A wide, straight canal ran through the village on its way to the sea at ANTWERP. The drinking culture was rather different from the UK; the little bar would be in somebody’s front room and closing time was whenever the last person had drunk his fill. As you may imagine, several sessions ended in the small hours. I remember stumbling through the dark lanes back to barracks, lit only by numerous glow worms.
We had time for a couple of further expeditions, one to Antwerp and one to the local town of Lier. Two things no visitor to Belgium can resist are the national foods – Belgian chocolate – and potato chips. We had plenty of chips, served the Belgian way with mayonnaise (not vinegar) and not a battered fish to be seen. Beer, chips and chocolate is not exactly a healthy diet, so maybe it was a good job our camp only lasted a fortnight.
We had flown out to Nurnberg, and our return was also through Germany, in this instance Munster. There we joined the rest of our detachment who had been on an Ambulance Train in Germany. Our return journey was very different from our way out. The aircraft was a C130 Hercules, and we were lying or sitting wherever we could in the cargo hold. We touched down at RAF LYNEHAM.
It was all great fun, but underneath it was a
serious purpose. The Medical Corps was the first TA Regiment to be deployed to a
real war zone szice World War Two only a few years later at the time of the first Gulf conflict. Since then TA members have regularly been called on to fight and die for their country.
Joseph Mason firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR MEMORIES OF LIFE AS AN ARMY MEDIC