ROYAL CORPS OF TRANSPORT
Taking the Queens Shilling, a 'Bounty Hunters' Tale

The Royal Corps of Transport (RCT) was born out of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) in 1965 and was in turn reorganized, and along with other corps, including the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and the Army Catering Corps, became the Royal Logistical Corps in 1993. 

My maternal grandfather, Donald Carr, served during the Second World War with the RAOC. He was de-mobbed in 1946 as a WO1. Prior to his de-mob, he was asked to stay in the army and if he had decided to do so, he would immediately have been promoted to the rank of Captain. He declined the offer as he had been in uniform since 1939, and ended up not being able to leave the army until a year after WW2 had finished. That being due to the restlessness of the natives in India, where he had been posted in 1944.

My grandfather, Donald Carr, at the Taj Mahal, India, 1945

My grandfather was originally going to enlist in the Canadian Army at the outbreak of WW2, and join the City of Windsor Regiment, which was the local regiment to where he grew up. However, being in the UK at that time, he elected to join the British Army. With hindsight it was a wise decision on his part, as the Canadians took severe losses during the momentous D-Day landings on June 6th 1944.

My father served with the Grenadier Guards as he is over six foot tall and was just the ticket for them. I am of more average height. My stature comes from the maternal Carr side of the family, so I don’t think I was ever going to be genetically predisposed to enlist as a Guardsman.

In early 1987 I joined the Royal Corps of Transport as a Territorial Army soldier and served until the end of 1991. I opted for the specialized trade of Movement Controller, having been persuaded of the merits of that specialty by an officer of the Squadron I would join after basic training. The army was very short of Movement Control operatives at that time I was informed, and I suspect that is still true today.

A couple of years later I was offered the chance to transfer to a regular Movement Control Squadron, with my rank intact and no need to complete a new course of basic training. I declined as I had too much going on in my civilian life at the time, and I would definitely have taken a large pay cut. If circumstances had been different, I may well have taken up the offer, as I loved the work I carried out whilst in uniform.

In the absence of National Service, the TA allowed people to experience the military lifestyle and gain a lot from that experience. It was a way to serve the country in a positive and practical way, whilst at the same time, still carry on with their lives and careers outside of of the military.

Recruitment Campaign publicity shot at Grantham circa 1989

The RCT was responsible for all forms of Army transport from pack mule, staff cars, trucks, trains, hovercraft and ships. They also provided Air Dispatchers for RAF aircraft and movement staff to control the movement of vehicles, equipment and personnel between theatres on operations and exercises.

Movement Controllers were to be found working with sea, air, road, canal and rail transport. I was mainly deployed on sea movements, and would work with the ships Loadmaster at the port when embarking vehicles and associated equipment. I never had much to do with the passenger or 'pax' vessels unless, as in one memorable instance, there had been a suspected murder of a young soldier on board. Both the RMP and civilian police were involved.

That particular instance was eventually resolved, when it was discovered his mates had taken him back to his cabin drunk and left him on his back, wherein he had vomited and drowned in it. There were reasons why murder had been suspected, to do with a major incident whilst on exercise, but I cannot divulge that. The soldier who died was 18 years old. 

It could be extremely hard work when there was a big exercise, and sometimes distressing. One incident I remember well involved a TA unit on exercise in Germany. They had been driving for many hours in convoy, when suddenly one of the Land Rovers veered across the road, straight under the trailer of an articulated lorry. The driver and Land Rover were cut in half. Worse still, the father of the Land Rover driver was in the same TA unit and was a few vehicles back. He saw his son killed in front of him, he had fallen asleep at the wheel. We received the remains of the Land Rover at the docks, which is how I discovered the back story.

As with all army specialists we were trained to be soldiers first and then acquire the trade or specialty afterwards. It was a lesson learned by the British Army very early in the Second World War, when many tradesmen in uniform had no real idea how to be an infantry soldier on the retreat to Dunkirk. 

The Army Catering Corps TA units never failed to make me smile, as they appeared to be staffed mostly by scousers from Liverpool, who were enormously fond of the bottle. The only soldier I ever saw four sheets to the wind in uniform was a scouser from the Army Catering Corps TA. Great people though and the British Army would have been nowhere without the ever welcome scoff from the field kitchens of the ‘Slop Jockeys’. In 1993 they were also incorporated into the newly formed Royal Logistical Corps and some time after that, army catering was outsourced to a private contractor.

Our unit did incur the wrath of the usually jovial scousers on one occasion at Grantham, when we went to get our food, directly after we had been for a training session in the gas chamber. Despite having been in the clean air, some of the CS gas was still clinging to our clothing. It sure made a few eyes water among the cooks serving the food, we were not popular there for a while.

Personal Weapons

As I spent much of my time in a Land Rover, my personal weapon was the venerable Sterling sub-machine gun. Designed way back in 1944, to me it always seemed to be more of a pop gun than anything, as it had almost no recoil when compared to the SLR rifle. It fired 9mm rounds at a rate of 550 per minute but was rather inaccurate over about 500 yards at most, at least when I was firing it. They were more designed for house clearance, urban warfare and confined space combat than anything else.

Firing the Sterling L2A3 at the range- I am in the centre

I had the trusty L2A3 version, the last variant produced from 1956 onwards. It has been replaced in the modern British Army by the SA80, a weapon universally loathed by many soldiers when it was introduced in 1987. Early examples were plagued by faults, especially loose magazines. No soldier wants an unreliable weapon as it is literally a case of life and death. My unit was very lucky to keep hold of our SLR's and Sterling’s, at least up until I left in 1991. Truth be told though, I think we simply had the knackered old surplus from the rest of the army, and that was true of our vehicles too.

There were always stories circulating about the Sterling, more urban myth than fact I think, in respect of it firing off rounds on impact if it was dropped onto a hard surface. I have no experience of that as I never dropped one and I suspect it was truer of its more primitive forebear, the Sten Gun. One thing you often see in movies is the Sterling being held by the magazine. That is just about the worst way to hold the weapon, as it will lead to jams and stoppages. Never, ever hold the Sterling by the magazine if you want it to protect you dependably and save your life. Best to leave the dramatic poses to Hollywood actors I think.

Speaking with some very good Rhodesian friends of mine who fought in the Bush War during the 1970’s, they informed me that the Sterling was only ever given to the mixed race transport drivers, during that war against the Soviet and Chinese backed terrorists. Evidently it was very much looked down upon as a weapon by the Rhodesian Light Infantry. I honestly cannot see why though, as I found it to be an agreeable firearm in all respects, and one that was very easy to carry around. Of course, not everybody would agree with me on that point, but that is my opinion of the Sterling.

The Sterling L2A3 Sub-Machine Gun

Despite the Sterling being my official personal weapon, all too often I was saddled with the L1A1 SLR rifle, which I used to call ‘the musket’, due to its length. It was a real pain getting in and out of a Land Rover with it, especially the cramped air portable version. The SLR was a powerful weapon packing the gas assisted punch of a 7.62 round in a 20 round magazine. It was said that it would penetrate a brick wall at 400 yards, and kill at a mile. I cannot verify those claims though. To me, the weapon had a heavy recoil, and would pull up and to the right.

The one real problem with this weapon was gas stoppages, certainly our well used ones suffered in this way. The SLR had to be kept clean and be regularly broken down for it to operate at maximum reliability. Despite the irritating gas stoppages, its length and its weight of around 5lbs, I grudgingly respected the L1A1 for its sheer stopping power.

The British SLR L1A1

Some of the SLR’s issued to us from the armoury at Grantham for range use were well past being simply knackered, and invariably suffered from gas stoppages. I know of one man in my unit who had a gas stoppage every second shot! I am convinced clapped out L1A1’s were sent to us when the new SA80 was issued. We still had them long after 1987. On the bright side, at least we had a lot of practice in cleaning them.

Uniform

I remember being issued with mostly second hand kit prior to the beginning of my recruit course. We had two pair of boots, one pair for day to day use and the other to be bulled to the max for the passing out parade. I hit the jackpot in that I was issued with a pair of lightweights that had sown-in creases. Lightweights were the standard issue olive green, poly-cotton trousers. They were comfortable enough to wear and lasted pretty well. I was issued with my DPM camouflage kit consisting of heavyweight trousers and combat jacket at a later date.

The combat jackets we were issued were the pre Soldier 95 kit, which had a reputation for losing pockets and were not well thought of by many. However, for the use I put them to, I never had a problem.

We were not issued any kind of dress uniforms, if we wanted them we would have to acquire and pay for them ourselves. I am sure the regulars were issued a fuller set of kit than us.

I had no need to starch the life out of the lightweights, in order to produce a crease as sharp as a razor. Due to those sown-in creases, I had an easy time of the ironing, much to the chagrin of my squads drill instructor. He almost threw away his pace stick in disgust at just what a lucky bastard I had been. The lightweights were tucked into trouser ties that kept them at the required height to meet the top of the boots. Puttees had long gone by my time.

It is probably worth mentioning at this point that the first week of the basic training was an absolute nightmare. The drill instructor would work and beast the recruits using all kind of psychological shenanigans, including sleep deprivation, in an attempt to weed out those not suited to military life. In my squad some did fall by the wayside within the first week. Every day we were told that there was no disgrace in leaving if we felt it was not for us, the pressure was then ramped up and some cracked and went. Once those who could not hack it had gone, the drill instructor knew he had a squad he could make into useful soldier material.

One point here. Some former RCT regulars insist that the Corps never had Squads, only Troops. But I can assure them that the training depot in Grantham in 1987 definitely conducted their basic training using Squads. Sometimes, just sometimes, ex-regulars don't know it all, not even in the RCT.

Summer Uniform - lightweights and cotton shirt 

Most of us had moments during the basic training when the pressure got to us. It is at that point you both dig deep inside yourself and refuse to be beaten, or you give up and leave the army. It is the time when you truly begin to know yourself and what you are really capable of. The pressure also forges your squad into a team who look out for and support each other.

By the end of my recruit course, the drill instructor was practically our best friend and much more of a mentor. Things were far more relaxed and a lot easier then, we even got a few days off. I met that drill instructor again about a year later, on an exercise called Bold Grouse. It was nice to have a chat with him and shake hands.

 

A British Army film - gives a good picture of basic recruit training

The passing out parade was a very special moment in my life and it filled all of us who took part with a great sense of achievement and pride. It is something rarely found outside the military where a genuine sense of group commitment just does not exist. At least I have never yet found it. 

The one thing that does sadden me, is the resentment and ill-feeling towards TA soldiers expressed by some ex-regulars. I have personally experienced it from a couple of former members of the RCT, which is rather shocking. It is of course very much a small minority. All soldiers should be judged on their competency and the work they do, not on how they take the 'Queen's Shilling'.

However, I digress, back to the kit. Our boots were DMS - rubber soled boots that had a smooth toe cap and heel, which could be bulled to death for that parade ground shine. They were not the best boots on the planet but they did the job. In my small unit which was pretty relaxed, but hardworking and competent, we did manage to get away with wearing German army ‘para boots’. They were a lot more comfortable and better made. We could not wear them at the depot in Grantham though, where things had to be correct.

Our socks were thick green woolen items that were warm enough, but on UK duty I used to put on more comfortable work boot socks, and generally tended to get away with wearing them. I was always more interested in comfort than military clothing dogma. I even wore white sports socks on occasion, on hot summer days, not that they could usually be seen anyway.

The first shirts ever issued to me were the notorious KF’s, properly known as Khaki Fatigue shirts. These were strong and long lasting, but about as comfortable as wearing a brillo pad. They made my basic training a penance, except when I managed to sneak a cotton tee shirt underneath them. Those KF’s would make you itch and scratch as though infested with lice, and were even worse if you sweated in them. 

After my recruit course and being officially assigned to my unit, I went out to my local army surplus store in South London and bought the new cotton shirts that were then in service. They may have needed a lot more ironing and starching, but at least they were not an instrument of torture like the maddeningly abrasive KF’s. Quite a few of my mates in the unit bought their own kit, it was the only way of ensuring that you got something that actually fitted and was the latest issue.

When the weather turned colder as it frequently does in the UK, even during the so-called summer months, we pulled on the Jersey Heavy Wool, known to us as the ‘woolly pulley’. It was actually the only piece of kit initially issued to me that fitted properly. However, these sweaters tended to make it look as if you were wearing a colostomy bag when worn over lightweights belted with the vile, green plastic army issue belt. 

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to wear our smart-looking RCT stable belts in my unit, but it wasn’t for want of trying. We did manage to get permission to wear the metal RCT badges for our shirt epaulettes, but these were only ever worn at the depot, never on exercise.

Now we come to the Beret, that essential piece of ‘noggin furniture’ for the soldier. When first issued they must be soaked in water, worn wet and shaped into the appropriate angle. That way they are molded into a perfect fit. Mine was a wee bit small on issue – I was once told by my RSM that it looked like a ‘helicopter landing pad’. I thought it looked rather dashing myself. Some of my mates had larger berets that I always thought made them seem like demented Parisian onion sellers. The cap badge was worn above the left eye and the long part of the beret tugged down over the right ear.

My Black RCT Beret and Regimental Plaque

In the RCT our berets were black, as was common for most tank and transport regiments. There is a whole spectrum of beret colours in the British Army and many denote specific regiments. The most famous are perhaps the maroon berets of the Parachute Regiment and the beige of the SAS. The Intelligence Corps have bright green ones. 

That said, I think the black ones look the smartest and are certainly easier to keep clean. I still have mine and just looking at it, on the times it tumbles out of the wardrobe, always brings back wonderful memories of good times with great people.

Would I encourage my own 3 year old son to join when he is older, if he was keen to do so? I would advise him to go with the TA in the first instance, to see if it was really what he wanted, and then move across to the regular army, if there is one by then. The numbers seem to shrink on a yearly basis. Even the Army Reserve is not at full strength as I write this article in mid 2017, and is about 25% down from where it should be. They just cannot seem to encourage enough people to join up. Given the nature of the overseas adventures recent governments have dragged this country and its armed forces into, I guess that should not come as any surprise.

The vast majority of us who signed up for the military did so for myriad reasons. However, we all took an Oath of Loyalty to the Sovereign and would defend this country and its territory unto death. What we did not sign up for was to promote the interests of 'Big Oil' and the commercial and political ambitions of the global elite.

For those interested in the Territorial Army and the modern Army Reserve, the following links may prove informative and useful.

Territorial Army UK

Army Reserve UK

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©Copyright - James of Glencarr