Mick Hay  I  UK

The fragrance that had wafted its way through Northern Germany and in particular Soltau, was me, or rather us – All of us! We were the guys from 207 Signal Squadron, and we had been on military manoeuvres for 4 weeks solid.

The problem was that we had only being able to grab a quick shower once during this time. We stank! All of us, absolutely stank of BO and there was no deodorant on the market that could help. So we simply became accustomed to each other as the weeks went by. That manoeuvres were part of Exercise Flying Falcon: a mammoth movement of troops each year which simulated Russians, East Germans and some very horrible, nasty people moving their troops in a simulated war scenario. It was like a big, huge game really, but me and my detachment commander Stevie Hope were fully prepared for Mr Gorbachev; our land rover 37KF26 was loaded with enough equipment to make sure he was sent back to Moscow with a stern message not to mess with us! Because Stevie had gone Absent Without Leave (AWOL) from the Army for a couple of years and joined the French Foreign Legion, nobody messed with him – not even an entire communist regime!

..and joined the French Foreign Legion, nobody messed with him – not even an entire communist regime!

The 4 weeks were tough going, and we work hard together, both me and Stevie. Everyone else in their crews worked equally hard and everyone relied on one another to make sure they could work to full capacity. I reckon the term “military precision” was born in 207 Signal Squadron: every crew worked with each other; the guys all knew and followed the script the letter; they knew what to do, in what order to do it and how long it should take. I saw everyone in a different light once more: Daz Pallet wasn’t the zippy little striker in the football team – he was the commander of the Radio Relay detachment; and, Lofty wasn’t the AC/DC loving head-banger down the Corner Bar – he was commander of the SAS M/C detachment. My respect for them increased every day.

Exercise Flying Falcon

Myself and Stevie were the Linemen (known as “The Linies”) for the Main Headquarters. There was always a backup crew for most of the detachments at Main, and my in-barracks chaperone Baz, and the corporal in charge of us Linies, Bob Bruce, were our back up. The back-ups were normally a few Kilometres away from us and were available, if we needed them, to bring extra cable or equipment or even physically help with working in one of our complexes. As it was, we only saw Baz and Bob once over the 4 weeks.

The work of the Linies was labour intensive – not too complicated or reliant on skill or analysis – but hard, solid graft; and Stevie had a work ethic that was enviable to the point that I wanted his job and I wanted to be 7 Armoured Brigade Main HQ Line Detachment Commander! I concede that it would have been some way off, because Stevie was firmly in charge. He was, though, an inspiration, and I intended to learn as much from him as possible.

One of the officers had managed to locate a local German swimming pool near to where we were holed up one weekend and had asked if it was OK for us to turn up in groups to use the showers. Baz and Bob stoodin for us for an hour or so, as a dozen of us literally turned up with rifles to a public swimming pool in the middle of a Saturday afternoon in a sleepy little town in Northern Germany. Since my arrival to Germany, I had developed a thought process as to just why the German locals hated us soldiers as much as they did. This was another example to add to my growing list of acts that we commited, thinking it was absolutely fine – when really it was intolerable. We took our land-rovers, our wash bags, our clean clothes, and of course our rifles; and we just took over the local swimming pool. We were completely oblivious to German daily life, one group after another, all during the day. I caught glimpses of the locals – it was not a welcoming look.

Being on manoeuvres was great fun and I embraced it with open arms. I was lucky to have had Stevie as my commander for many reasons: ethics and attitude to hard graft, of course. But also, when we had down-time, he chatted about his time as a Legionnaire and had a million anecdotes that I never tired of hearing. The places we stopped to set up our HQs looked to be random. If we were lucky, we would stop in a local German farmer’s courtyard for a day or so. They were normally paid quite handsomely, with best part of a dozen 15-tonne tanks about to take over his quiet picturesque pride and joy. Afterwards, the farmer would often make a healthy insurance claim for damages, routinely never disputed by the British Army. The courtyards were good for us Linies: we were told who was going to be located where, and often we were all quite close together, which meant only a few hours working laying cables and setting up the complex. Once that was all done and working, we could go back to our land-rover and settle ourselves in; as Stevie called it “get ourselves squared away.” First job was always to set up our little cooker to make a coffee. Stevie had names for everything and “concurrent activity” whilst coffee was brewing was tidying up the detachment, checking what we had out and what we had left insofar as cables and equipment wereconcerned. Also, there was going for a “sitrep” with Daz at the Radio Relay (“sitrep” or situation report, i.e. sit down with a coffee and having a chat).

When we were set up, we really had no idea when we were to be on the move again. Sometimes we sataround in a place for days, sometimes for hours, but we had to be ready at a moment’s notice to get back to work again and that meant every piece of cable we had laid on the ground around our complex, had tocome back in again because it will be used time and time again. Not only that, but we needed to be sharp-ready in ourselves: we needed to have eaten enough, drank enough, slept enough and be in good physical shape to drag our cables in quickly and efficiently. The norm when we arrived somewhere that would be our HQ would be to work for around 4 or 5 hours setting everything up. But when it was time to move, it could not take any more than 30 minutes to take everything back in. Therefore we both had to focus on priorities when we got the call that we were moving. We simply got the call “Linies, 30 minutes to move.” The “military precision” cycle kicked in again for everybody, for Lofty, for Daz, for us. It had been like that for the previous 4 weeks.

Endex was called earlier that morning (“End of Exercise” i.e. time to pack up and go back to barracks) but it had to be a staged and managed return to Soltau. We simply could not have hundreds of tonnes of tanks on the German roads on a Friday afternoon all at the same time ……Once again I caught glimpses of locals on the roads, and once again the look was not welcoming. It was another event to add to my growing list of acts …….

We got back to Soltau at 3pm and further chaos ensued as none of the single soldiers had any money for the weekend, and with it also being pay day, this was a major headache. The married guys had their wives go to the bank for them. But us single lads were generally stuck because there was no cash point at the Deutche Bank. As if I didn’t have enough admiration for my detachment commander already, Stevie told me that his wife Alison would have gone to the bank earlier in the morning and he would lend me DM100 for the weekend if I missed the bank. Staff Lodge, who had been with the back-up crews for the last 4 weeks and who I had hardly seen at all, allowed a few lads to nip to the Deutche Bank, but I stayed behind. I didn’t want Frau Baumann to see me in that state of only having had one shower in the last month – or worse for Fraulein Weiss to see me like that! As it was, a lot of the wives had done the same for a lot of the single lads: Alison also got money for Baz; Dave Clarke’s wife for whoever; Les North’s wife for whoever; Bob Bruce’s wife for whoever; and so on and so forth. It was something that was instinctively done. Being nice, pleasant and decent was a way of life in Soltau and required no effort.


The majority of us were exhausted and settled for the Naafi and a beer…

Deutche Bank aside, the procedures for when we got back at the end of an exercise were exactly the same. We cleaned our rifles, we cleaned our cables, fixed and tested the broken ones, unpacked and cleaned our land-rovers and tanks ……and then packed them up again ready to go out on exercise again. We still needed to be ready to go out at a moment’s notice, just in case …. Well, just in case. Once we were dismissed, we could go back to our rooms. Proper showers, clean clothes, a beer, and music absolutely blasting out from every room – in our case Simple Minds. Nobody was bothering with The Corner Bar tonight, or CC’s. The majority of us were exhausted and settled for the Naafi and a beer, a game of pool or darts, and a pasty.

It’s where I was at my happiest.