CORPS OF TRANSPORT
Royal Corps of Transport (RCT) was born out of the Royal Army Service
Corps (RASC) in 1967 and was in turn reorganized and along with other
corps became the Royal Logistical Corps in 1993. The RASC was the arm of
service in which my maternal grandfather, Donald Carr served during the
Second World War. He was originally going to enlist in the Canadian Army
at the outbreak of war and join the City of Windsor regiment, which was
the local regiment to where he grew up in Canada. 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.
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 any
case, to my mind the RCT were a far more important part of the army,
especially the Movement Controllers.
1986 I joined the Royal Corps of Transport and served for five years until
the end of 1991. I opted for the specialized trade of Movement Controller,
which was usually abbreviated to Mov Op in ‘army speak’ for
convenience. 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.
regiments called the RCT ‘The Blanket Stackers’ amongst other things,
and we of course had our names for them. The ‘Chunkies’ were the
Pioneer Corps and the RMP were known as ‘Monkey’s’, a name they
detested. There were many more nick-names for other units of course, as
the army does tend to have a way with words. Officers were ‘Ruperts’.
Cavalry officers in particular very much lived up to the stereotype of a
clueless chinless wonder with a fruity accent. They were often to be seen atop a ferret
scout car wearing a Barbour jacket over the uniform. I have seen these
snooty, self-satisfied and ridiculous effete fops with
my own eyes and a great laugh they are too.
Movement Controllers are 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 ‘Pax’ vessels unless as in one memorable instance, there had been a suspected murder on board. It could be extremely hard work when there was a big exercise on but there was also a great deal of satisfaction for a job well done. That red armband with the wheel symbol was a bit of a power trip, just the ticket for putting those jumped-up Rupert cavalry officers in their place too, what, what old boy.
with all army specialists we are trained to be soldiers first and then
acquire the trade afterwards. It was a lesson learned by the British Army
very early in the Second World War, when many tradesmen in uniform had no
idea how to be an infantry soldier on the retreat to Dunkirk. The Army
Catering Corps never failed to make me smile, as it appeared to be staffed
mostly by Scousers from Liverpool who were enormously fond of the bottle.
The only squaddie I ever saw four sheets to the wind in uniform was a
scouser from the Army Catering Corps. Great people though and the British
Army would be 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.
unit did incur the wrath of the Scousers on one occasion when we went to
get our scoff, directly after we had been for a training session in the
gas chamber. Despite having been in the air, some of the CS gas was still
clinging to our clothing, and it sure made a few eyes water among the
cooks serving the food.
As I spent much of my time mooching around in a Land Rover feeling important, as any good Movement Controller with a few stripes and an armband should, 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 FN rifle. It fired 9mm rounds at a rate of 550 per minute but was rather inaccurate over about 500 yards, at least when I was firing it. They were more designed for house clearance, urban warfare and confined space combat than anything else. In that scenario they were ‘point and spray’, or more aptly, point and pray.
Firing the Sterling L2A3 at the range
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 soldiers when it was introduced in 1987, as it was
plagued by endless faults and problems. 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 FN’s and Sterling’s, at least up until I left in
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 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.
The Sterling L2A3 Sub-Machine Gun
Firing the Sterling L2A3 at the range
the venerable Sterling being my official personal weapon, all too often I
was saddled with the L1A1 FN SLR rifle, which I used to call ‘the
musket’, due to its length. It was a real pain to keep getting in and
out of a Land Rover with it, especially the air portable Landies. The FN
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. It did
have heavy recoil, and would pull up and to the right if not controlled
properly. The full auto versions supplied to some foreign nations were a
nightmare, as they were almost uncontrollable and highly inaccurate when
operated on full auto.
The one real problem with this weapon was its tendency to suffer from gas stoppages, definitely not ideal in a combat situation. 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 liked the L1A1 for its sheer stopping power. Anybody dropped by the 7.62 round of the FN on the battlefield was unlikely to get up again.
The British FN FAL L1A1
The FN FAL L1A1 being fired
of the FN’s issued to us from the armoury for range use were well past
being simply knackered and invariably suffered from gas stoppages. I know
of one guy in my unit who had a gas stoppage every second shot! I think
other units sent all their old L1A1’s to us when they got the new SA80,
as we were still using them after 1987. At least we had a lot of
practicing breaking them down and cleaning them.
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 known as a ‘wombat’, at a later
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 pig’. He almost threw away his pace stick
in disgust at just what a lucky bastard I had been. I am sure I got extra
‘square bashing’ just on the strength of my trousers and the ‘drill
pigs’ displeasure thereof. 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 or two of the recruit course was an absolute nightmare. The ‘drill pig’ 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 army 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 pig’ knew he had a squad he could make into professional soldiers.
u niform, lightweights and cotton shirt
niform, lightweights and cotton shirt
Most of us had moments on that recruit course 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 the recruit course the ‘drill pig’ was 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.
A British Army film - gives a good picture of recruit training
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 on ‘civvy street’ where a genuine sense of group
commitment just does not exist. At least I have never yet found it and to be honest, I expect
I never will.
I digress and had best return to sartorial matters. Our boots were DMS -
rubber soled ankle 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, we did manage to get away with wearing German army ‘para
boots’ as they were a lot more comfortable and better made.
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.
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 recruit course 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 assigned to my unit, I went out to the local army surplus store
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.
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 and all squaddies 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 plastic army issue belt.
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 though, one minor victory for
the plebs at least.
Now we come to the Beret, that essential piece of ‘noggin furniture’ for the squaddie. When first issued they must be soaked in water, worn wet and folded into the appropriate angle. That way they are moulded into a perfect fit. Mine was a bit small on issue – I was once told by my RSM that it looked like a ‘fucking 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. In my unit the cap badge was worn above the left eye and the long part of the beret tugged down over the right ear.
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. 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.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr