Memory Six

I had enjoyed my nine months army service in Gibraltar from January to September, 1948. I had been with a company of RAOC soldiers on parade at the air-field when we were reviewed by General Montgomery and I had marched my men up the steps to the Top of the Rock and Rock Gun which looked down on the air-field, southern Spain and the Mediterranean.

We looked down to the south to see the concrete water catchment system which provides water to Gibraltar. We could also see across the straits to Morocco and North Africa. To the north across the Bay of Algeciras, we could see this beautiful city where I attended two of the days of the Algeciras Fair with the spectacular bull fights. All in all, Gibraltar was a great experience, but I am ready to be a civilian again.

skull and bonesI left Gib on a troop ship which was taking a battalion of 21st Lancers, a tank regiment, back home from Greece. We also had a contingent of WRNS going home from Malta. This became quite a party ship because the troops all had bottles of ouzo, the Greek liqueur and the word got around that ouzo was being confiscated on entry into UK. I am sure it was all disposed of in the three day  voyage to Liverpool. As we sailed up the Mersey into dock, our ship was flying the skull and crossbones flag of the Lancers which must have made for interesting comments ashore.

After disembarkment, I went immediately to a De-mobilization Center in Nottingham and was furnished with a choice of one of four de-mob suits, a hat, two shirts and a neck tie. I also got my de-mob papers including the FETA finance information needed to pay for a four year degree. I quickly went home to my parents and arranged to continue my Chemical Engineering course at Imperial College, London which had been interrupted by my being drafted. My original Class of 1948 had just graduated in June, 1948 and I joined the Class of 1950, even though I had missed three weeks. When I went to the first class, I quickly recognized several other de-mob suits, but we had all thrown away the de-mob necktie.

Back at college it did not take long to be a student again. My class-mates were a little older and some of us had had experiences with the outside world that made us feel a little more superior. It was our turn to look down on schoolboy-students. I did not re-join the Boat Club but lobbied successfully to revive the college Golf Club which had died when war started in 1939. I became Captain of Golf and I was able to persuade the Hampstead Golf Club to give us golf privileges on Wednesday afternoons. They also agreed to have an annual match with us. We had many happy afternoon rounds there. We also arranged to play other London University colleges and hospitals. I was playing to a nine handicap and I  and  another member of our team who had a two handicap, were invited to play on some of the University team matches. We played both Oxford and Cambridge and on one occasion, I was paired against the Prince of Nepal who was at Clare College, Cambridge.

Doris admitted to me that she had been writing to another boyfriend who, like me, had been drafted and sent overseas and we had complicated things further by returning the same week. I had detected that she was acting strangely for a week or so, but then she told me all about it and said she had chosen me. I think it was the de-mob suit that did it for me. We were, by then going steady and we enjoyed dances at college and quite a bit of ballet and other theater. The time went by quickly and soon it was June, 1949 and time for the summer break.

We were encouraged to work in some kind of industrial chemical plant in the summer months. I was told about an International Vacation Plan that sent British students to plants in foreign countries and hosted foreign students in England. I signed up to go to Finland and work in a viscose factory in a town 200 miles north of Helsinki. I signed up for three months and was given travel directions and a fare-paid ticket on a Russian ship, the Sestoreck, sailing from London’s East Dock.
This ship had been owned by Finland but was taken as part of reparations by Russia when the war ended. Our captain was a lady about 40 years old and she walked the deck in red sneakers.  There were about ten of us passengers in very small cabins and I thought that the other nine looked as if they had come out of a spy movie.

ussr flagOne exception was a returning diplomat. We sailed under the hammer and sickle Russian flag. We crossed the English Channel and went through the Kiel Canal. There were many sunken ships and other evidence of the Allied bombing.

My destination was Helsinki and I did not know we were making a one day stop in Stockholm. This gave us great views as we sailed into the long harbor. I had a good look around and had a Swedish breakfast of fruit, cheese and pickles before we left.

We were invited each day to have tea with the captain. This was hot, pale yellow tea with lemon and looked so much like a Tom Collins, we called it a “Joe Stalins” as we drank it beneath a large photo of him. We got a lot of frowns from our lady captain.

One more day and we cruised into Helsinki harbor and docked in the middle of the city. One first impression I had was the number of sleeping drunks all over the dock area. I found this to be a common sight all over Finland and I think it was due to the number of State-owned liquor shops everywhere. I checked in to the University of Helsinki dormitory for which I had a three day reservation.

The Yale University Whiffenpoofs were doing a concert tour of Scandanavia and were staying in the same dorm. We all showered and shaved to a never ending series of their songs. I took a few side trips in my three days. I visited the only golf course in Finland and found it to be only twelve holes and the professional/greenkeeper was an eight handicap Englishman.

finnish flagI also went on a 30 minute train ride to the home of Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer and musician.  I believe this is now a state-owned museum and there is a Sibelius Academy as part of Helsinki’s University of Fine Arts. The Academy has 1400 full time music students. I left Helsinki by train for Valkiokoski and a three months stay in a really foreign country, but that’s another memory for another day.

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