When a few friends and I joined the cadets at Hirwaun it opened up the best few years of my life and childhood. We were all about 12 years of age.
The first time I stepped in the hall I was fascinated by all the posters on the walls. There were photos of 303 Enfield Rifles, Bren guns, Hand grenades. Would I really be able to use any of them?
Then out of the office this large man appeared smartly dressed in his uniform. “Sgt Major Boulton”. He looked extremely intimidating to us “New” boys. He lined us up and began to explain what being a cadet was all about.
The next meeting was about learning how to read maps, camouflage & “shape, shine & shadow”. This was followed by drill lessons followed by more drill lessons until we got is right – this took weeks to perfect!
Our big day for all those practised drills was the Remembrance Sunday Parade at the Hirwaun Memorial. My we did look smart in our new uniforms. There were cadets from the Welsh Regiment, the R.A.F., Navy Seamen, Boy Scouts, St John’s Ambulance Brigade and members of different religions Churches.
Weekend Camps and Manoeuvres
Together with cadets from Aberdare our first weekend camp was in Penderyn guarding the Vole mountain. They packed us in lorries and sent us to an unknown location, gave us a map reference for home and we had to find our own way back.
The next camp was at Penderyn falls and the Blue Pool plus a mission into the caves. We also had an overnight stop guarding a WW2 crashed aircraft.
Then followed our first long camp at Barry Island long before Mr. Butlin had arrived. The schedule consisted mainly of map reading, drills and general information about life in the army. (However, at night it was down to the fair for a bit of R and R where a good time was had by all!)
A visit to Plaster Down Army Camp in Devon was a big event that was talked about for months. We were going to travel by train. Sgt.Major Boulton met us at our hut and marched us to the Hirwaun Train Station. There were also cadets from all the surrounding area who would also board the train at Hirwaun. Sgt. Major Boulton kept us all together and showed us to our allocated carriage. By the time we arrived at Cardiff the train was full of cadets from everywhere!
Next stop Devon and Plaster Down Army Camp. The camp was huge the biggest we had ever seen. Sgt. Major Boulton marched us to the barracks which were to be our new home for the next week. Everyone had to do his turn at guard duty, fire picket duty, spud cleaning and washing dishes.
On our first night manoeuvres we were picked up in army trucks from the camp then driven to some isolated spot on Dartmoor. Who knew where we were because we didn’t. We were split into sections given a rifle, 5 rounds of blank 3.03 rounds, safety instructions and marched even deeper onto the moor. Night was falling fast Sgt.Major Boulton and other N.C.Os started to tell us about an escaped prisoner from Dartmoor Prison which was just down the road from our position. He was considered very dangerous and we were told to be on the look out for him.
That made us feel very comfortable I’m sure. As we had been drilled we all laid on the ground in a line, our feet touching so that we knew where everyone was. Laying there in the dark with no Mam or Dad, an escaped prisoner whatever next. It was very dark and very quiet just a few fire flies dancing around us, eyes peeled for the escaped prisoner. Daylight couldn’t come fast enough.
Then all hell broke loose. Thunder flashes going off everywhere, N.C.Os shouting, whistle blowing by officers and someone shouting “fire”. Fire, fire is what we did at what must be the escaped prisoner but fire we did. What a night.
Later we stood for inspection and head count to see if all had survived. Then back to camp for hot cocoa, biscuits and bed. Thank heavens that was over. By the way we never did see that “prisoner”.
Our final day was an outing to Plymouth. We were left to our own devices and wondered around, and some bought a few presents. Not knowing where next to go we went to the cinema and ended up watching a film called The Alamo. It brought back memories of our night manoeuvres on the moor.
It was a good time in my life and I shall never forget my experience in the cadets and friends I made. But all things come to an end. It’s called growing up. ‘I think’.
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