Carrying On With The Army Again (part 4)


This is the continuing story of ‘my brilliant career’ in the army! I had returned from my regime of prayer and fasting, otherwise known as a Religious Leadership course, none the wiser, but many times lighter from the in-edible food provided along with regular religious services by the Army Chaplain’s Department..

Back at my all women unit I prepared for my next adventure, and another opportunity to meet the young men we yearned to fall in love with, but never got within coo-ee of. Going on a  course was the only opportunity of meeting the opposite sex, so this time I’d sent my name in for a fire fighting course.

The instructions told me to bring a boiler suit. This did not bode well for a non-athletic person, but I accordingly went to the quarter-master, a grim north countrywoman who’d served all through World War Two, and didn’t approve of frivolous young things like me. Accordingly she issued me with a khaki boiler suit with its outrageous measurements listed on a label stitched to my bottom. It was so huge I had to wear a belt round the middle of my newly skinny frame to keep it up, and was, as I assumed the quartermaster had intended, a perfect antidote to any masculine interest!

Arriving at the squalid house where a harpy ripped off the army by giving us abominable food and beds, I walked into the ante room, where a group of attractive -looking young men stopped talking and sat in frozen silence, while I wondered what on earth to say or do. Luckily an old boy friend arrived and took me out to dinner (my last decent food for a fortnight), and told me that while he waited for me to go and change, one of these young men addressed the room, and declaimed: “What was that!”

The next day we all gathered at the Maidstone Fire Station. We began with a long introductory lecture, the gist of which I found hard to follow, as the Chief Fire Officer repeatedly emphasized that there would be no blue jokes and sexual innuendo. Every time these remarks were re-iterated, the various young men stole sideways looks at me, and I sat there completely mystified. But after a few days of lectures, when the practical work began, light dawned. From now on, as we reeled hoses, and ran up and down directing icy water, and manhandled female couplings, man holes, male-female connections and a number of other technical terms, I realised what these kindly firemen had tried to spare me!

Every day when we staggered back to our digs on freezing foggy December afternoons, I for one, was absolutely shattered with reeling and running and sliding down greasy poles and even climbing out of a tower on what seemed to be a piece of white cotton, and being lowered to the ground. (where my knees gave way from the aftermath of terror, and I fell on them).

I made sure I was first into the bathroom to warm up with a hot bath, and it was only on the last day, I discovered that the extreme chivalry of my fellow sufferers had caused them to hide from me the fact that that was the only hot bath in the cistern. There was no more hot water until the next morning when I had my early morning bath! On the last day too, the lovely men at the Fire Brigade staged a ceremony at which they gave me their badge mounted on a piece of leather for me to wear as a medal, and said I could come back and join their brigade any time I wanted.

Back to my nunnery at the depot, I thankfully forgot about fire fighting, and never gave it another thought. Two years later, when I had unexpectedly been made a captain at the early age of twenty two, I was posted with this rank to another all-women unit – the training centre! Did they have something against me at the War Office?

When I was taking over the job from a much older and rather sporty woman who drove the latest model expensive sports car – a cream TR4 –  she pointed out that I would also be taking over as fire officer from her as well.  “Did you do that awful course at Maidstone?” she asked in her clipped tones.  I nodded, feeling slightly intimidated by this very assured person. “Some bloody Amazon had done it just before me,” she continued, “and I was expected to run around and climb out of towers and generally behave as though I was on an outward bound course.”

Good heavens, I thought to myself. That must have been me. Didn’t I have to do all those hefty horrendous fire- fighting exercises? No wonder the Maidstone Fire Brigade had taken me to their hearts, given me their badge and offered me a job! My fire fighting duties here at Liphook were not too onerous, and consisted of regularly inspecting the seven rather dim General Duties soldiers, allotted to us to do any heavy work. When lined up for inspection they looked rather like the seven dwarfs. Our fire-fighting equipment consisted of rows of three red – painted galvanised steel fire-buckets filled with sand lined up outside each hut, along with a stirrup pump. Naturally we made sure that the ancient stirrup pumps were in good working order!

The camp was surrounded by bracken covered heath which often caught fire, and I would hear the Liphook volunteer fire fighters sounding their siren. One night I turned over hearing the siren again, and was just sleepily thinking that it sounded much nearer than usual, when my bedroom door flew open, and there stood my stout colonel, fearsome in riding breeches and a duffle coat flung on over her pyjamas. “That’s Our fire alarm,” she barked!

To be continued ! Three previous instalments of this account of my brilliant army career are in the archives under: ‘A Soldiers Life is Terrible Hard’ and: ‘Carrying on with the Army.’


Food for Threadbare Gourmets


I’ve spent the Easter break knocking up dinners, lunches and morning teas for relays of family and friends who’ve come every day of the holidays. At the beginning of the holiday I baked a fruit cake which would last for the whole holiday, moist and too filling to gobble up.

It’s simplicity itself. The basic recipe is one pound of mixed fruit, half a pound of butter and a bit less of sugar, three eggs, half a pound of flour, pinch of salt and vanilla. You simmer the fruit in a little water until soft, then add sugar, butter, essence and salt, and when cool add the beaten eggs and the flour. Bake in a medium to slow oven for an hour or until cooked.

I’ve never made the basic recipe. I add extra fruit, things like chopped dates, finely chopped figs and sometimes prunes, a spoonful of fig and ginger jam or apricot, I use brown sugar, treacle or golden syrup instead of some of the sugar, and sometimes add spices and nutmeg, or orange and lemon juice…ginger marmalade…  sometimes ground almonds, or oatmeal or whole meal flour – anything that I think will be delicious! It never tastes the same, but it’s always moist and more-ish. I dredge the top with sugar, so it has a nice crisp sweet top. Simple!


Food for Thought

Let all the strains of joy mingle in my last song – the joy that makes the earth flow over in the riotous excess of the grass, the joy that sets the twin brothers, life and death, dancing over the wide world, the joy that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and waking all life with laughter, the joy that sits still with its tears on the open lotus of pain, and the joy that throws everything it has upon the dust, and knows not a word.

Rabindranath Tagore, the very sound of whose name is poetry, is one of my favourite poets. He was a Bengali, and lived from 1861 to 1941









Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, great days, humour, life/style, love, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

43 responses to “Carrying On With The Army Again (part 4)

  1. Great memories. I love that kind of basic cake that can be fiddled with to our tastebuds’ content.


  2. Good one. I’ve often thought I should have been a . . . maybe not!


  3. Great stories and lots of adventures! I enjoyed reading!


  4. Oh, you made me giggle. How did you feel being referred to as, “Some bloody Amazon.”

    I just have the picture in my mind of you on your firefighter training. Dressed in not so attractive clothing, but still stunning.


    • Oh good, Val, I always hope someone will enjoy a good giggle! I think I can rely on you!
      Shocked and mortified when she said “bloody Amazon”, and carefully hid that it was me!!!
      Thank you for your vision of a younger me! We never see ourselves as others see us!!!


  5. Michele Seminara

    I love these stories of your days in the army Valerie! So fun.


    • Thank you Michele, so glad you enjoyed it – they are such fun to write, and then I read it through and think, is it really interesting?
      So it’s always great to have your support!


  6. What lovely, lovely firemen to let you have the first and last baths! Love your cake recipe to be individualised to our hearts’ content! The words of Rabindranath Tagore are always worth spending time with. Thank you.


    • Hello Sally – yes, weren’t they lovely – though they weren’t firemen, they were all young officers like me, sent from their regiments to learn a useful skill!!!!
      Yes, cakes to play with are always inspiring to people like us, who enjoy cooking…
      You obviously enjoy Rabindranath Tagore too – I love the sound of his name – it’s a poem of its own, isn’t it….


  7. 😀 The Amazon Woman likes poetry? Super story!


  8. I loved the poem from Rabindranath Tagore! I have never read him, but now I’m off to find more of his work!

    Thank you for telling us about him!!



  9. I can’t wait to hear more; I loved the Amazon woman part!


  10. Just the encouragement I need !!!!


  11. Skinny you is now a bloody Amazon. Quite funny, but the boiler suit doesn’t do anyone’s figure justice. Sounds like the guys were good sports to give up their hot water. Tagore is indeed one of my favorite poets and the quote is food for thought. Love the fruitcake recipe…a little this and that.


    • Lovely to hear from you Lynne… yes, the Amazon bit is going to take a bit of living down!.. Glad you like the fruit cake recipe… even if it comes out too soggy, it’s still delicious!! If you like soggy cake – which we do….


  12. This is great. Well done for holding your own and for those young men not to make you miserable! Love the bit about the boiler suit.


  13. Another wonderful journey into the past Valisa. I can just imagine you in your XL boiler suit not realising that the men had to have cold shaves in the morning. But men are men. Strong, compassionate and forgiving 😀 *mutter, mutter, grumble* “Cold shave again” 😉 Ralph xox


  14. Amazon, indeed! lol xoxoM


  15. That’s going to take some living down isn’t it! XXX


  16. wow – amazing and interesting look at something I know nothing about


  17. Why am I not surprised that Rabindranath Tagore is your favourite poet! He is one of my all time heroes!!! You really have a wonderfully entertaining story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Hugs!!!


  18. Through words and deeds we get to know each other. An officer no less. Had a wonderful visit Val. Mahalo.


  19. Oh Valerie, your posts always conjour up such fabulous images. I love the stories from your Army days 🙂


  20. I love Tagore as well. Thanks for his words and images.

    Bravo, Valerie…you did it! I figured you had done something quite special when all those men were willing to give up their hot water without a peep!

    (A reference to your previous post…I hope all the spam has stopped. What a nuisance! I wonder if one of the Happiness Engineers in Word Press could have helped filter more tightly.)


    • Hello Amy, good to know great minds think alike over poetry!.. re your other comment – Don’t think it was special so much as naive!!! I walked around in a blissful daze in those days I think!!! Yes, Spam… I thought they were supposed to stop it as well as feed it away from blogs… no doubt there’s some good technical reason why not!!! Do hope you’ve solved your problem with Word Press…


  21. Valerie – I just had to browse around your blog and so glad I did. The first blog is exquisite and I loved it. Then, I saw the arrow pointing me to an Army blog and of course i had to read. I spent 20 years working for DoD as a civilian – and you provided me several good chuckles. I’ll read parts 1 – 3 later.


  22. Your story about being in the firefighters is amazing! I am going to try the fruit cake recipe–usually the joke at our family gatherings is, “this recipe is so simple, even Janie can do it!” You amaze me!


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