The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Berlin 1969 - 1970
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The advance party arrived in Berlin during March 1969 with snow still on the ground. Briefings, border patrols, visits to East Berlin, tours of training areas, and all the administrative functions that are involved in a handover kept the advance party fully occupied, but by the time the main body began to arrive on 9th April a welcome spell of hot weather had got rid of the last of the snow and brought some colour to the grass, so that the barracks and quarters looked a little more welcoming.
There had been a few changes since the Battalion occupied Montgomery Barracks in 1955 and 56; not many to the barracks themselves which remained as spacious as ever but with improved playing fields. Outside the gates though, the country resort had now become suburbia, and the training areas which used to exist close to the camp had all been built over or became caravan sites. The wire round the barracks remained as flimsy as ever, but beyond it, at a discreet distance lay the barbed wire, dogs and sentry towers designed to prevent East Germans leaving their country for the freedom of the West. Overlooking Montgomery Barracks was a tower 70 or 80 feet high, from which no doubt the Border Guards enjoy watching battalion matches, if they weren't sheltering from the overs from the 300 yard range.
The battalion arrived at the beginning of the parade and sporting season. The first public appearance of the Battalion was, however, the biggest. The whole Battalion with very few exceptions took part in the Allied Forces Day Parade on 17th May, showing solidarity with, and possibly, outshining our American and French allies in Berlin. Ceremonial events came thick and fast in the first three months. Quarter guards were found from every Company to greet distinguished visitors ranging from the C-in-C BAOR downwards, and on two occasions B Coy found Guards of Honour at the British Headquarters. Two Companies (A and D) supplemented by some of Command, and of course the Pipes and Drums and Military Band took part in the annual parade on the Maifeld in honour of the Queen's Birthday. This included a vehicle screen as well as the marching troops and the Reconnaissance and Signals Platoon provided the majority of men and vehicles for this part of the spectacle.
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The battalion’s efforts in the sporting events in May were not very glorious but the hurdles team won the Brigade relay in the unit athletics, and in the Safe and Skilled Driving Contest Cpl Pollock and Pte Brossault managed to defeat the professional competitors from all Berlin units. In the Tug-of-War the battalion teams did creditably, and in the knock-out hockey competition we managed to reach the final within a very short time of our arrival. In water polo and aquatic championships we also swam. Flourishing soccer and hockey leagues finished at the end of June with A Coy winners of the hockey and D soccer champions.
Guards and duties take a great deal of time during those periods when we are duty Battalion, which resulted in training being spasmodic during June. The
most enterprising event was an exercise in which D Company carried out training in jungle techniques and patrolling with their affiliated American company,
but the whole Battalion managed to fit in valuable work in preparation for the three-week period at Sennelager.
Sennelager has been the antidote to this butterfly existence of flitting from Guard to Grunewald and back again. For three weeks the Battalion had the use of an excellent selection of field firing areas and dry training grounds. The weather, which started with cold winds and rain, turned to a heatwave for the last
ten days, lending a new meaning to the expression "fire and movement" as tracer or smoke bombs set the heath alight. Most of the training was at Company
level, but the second week-end was spent in a Battalion exercise or in sleeping it off, and at the end of the period the move back to Berlin was carried out as a
tactical exercise, flying in RAF aircraft from Gutersloh to Gatow. The inter-platoon championship was held on the last day before the return from Sennelager. At the end of a gruelling day, 6 Platoon, commanded by 2/Lt Sharp, were declared the winners.
August was a light month for duties and the emphasis was on sports and outdoor activities, including full use of the assault boats for watermanship training. Although the winter seemed a long way off when the temperature is in the high eighties, football, boxing, and rugby teams had to be chosen early if they were to have a chance to train together before the winter season; especially as September was taken up with preparations for the Berlin Tattoo and the Spandau Guard, over and above a heavy bill for other duties. Inter-Company knock-outs and trials, under the eyes of the selectors in each of these sports, were, therefore, a high priority, at the same time as cricketers, canoeists and sailors who took advantage of the glorious summer weather.
September was memorable for the Tattoo, in which the battalion’s main contribution was the production of 25 minutes of piping and dancing with pipe bands and dancers from five regiments and from WRAC in Germany. Many others were involved in preparing the Stadium, providing torch bearers or taking part in the musical battle which formed the Finale, and of course the Military Band was massed with the other 570 musicians to play their part in the programme. At the same time the Battalion had the full range of Berlin garrison duties to meet as soon as the Tattoo was over, and took its turn at guarding Hess in Spandau jail. The welcome addition of a platoon of KOSB to swell numbers at the time allowed our quota to get away on leave without breaking the backs of those who remained.
Duties were heavy since the beginning of September, with the change-over of Glosters and Royal Regiment of Fusiliers putting one Battalion out of the running, and the Staffords training in West Germany, limiting the pool from which the guards can be drawn. Partly for this reason and partly to try and give as many long-term soldiers as possible an extra skill October and November was used to run a series of specialist courses—signals, anti tank, mortars,
assault pioneers, NCOs and driving have all taken in unskilled but generally willing material, and attempted with varying success to fit them for a new role. The
jig-saw puzzle was not always fitted as neatly as had been hoped: boxing training, leave dates and sickness have taken their toll, and there have been interruptions for the two major exercises in which the Battalion has been involved.
The first of these was a day spent with the police searching out a party of guerrillas, first from the Spandau forest and then from the police village training area. Co-operation with the police was very close, but it showed only too clearly how easy it is to start shooting at your own allies, if either party shows a little too much enthusiasm. The second big exercise was in conjunction with our affiliated American Bn (2nd/6th US Infantry). The problems of moving the force across two water obstacles with barely adequate resources were greater than routing the enemy from their strongholds at the end of the exercise. Sergeant Major Sutherland and the Assault Pioneers had a close race with the Sappers to see who could get their rafts built first. The honours went to the Pioneers, but they were then unable to use their craft because it was quite impossible to steer straight and lost its way in the fog.
This was also a time for visits. Away fixtures have been the participation of both bands in the British Textile Week at Hamburg and the tour by the recruiting team to Scotland in September. Besides the commitment to the visiting bands over the Tattoo, the Bn has been host to the Col of the Regiment and the Regimental Secretary, over the Tattoo period; to the Divisional Brigadier at the end of September, and to the Colonel Commandant the Scottish Division in early November. The Adjutant General also paid a short visit on 28th October. Berlin being rather different from the rest of BAOR, it was a popular place for sporting fixtures to be held. 4 RTR sent A Squadron here for a week of soccer, followed by a weekend when teams from 3 RHA stayed with us and played every sport you can name, against the Battalion and other "Berlin" units. It was now the turn of' the Battalion to take a look at West Germany once more, but in less light-hearted circumstances. The specialists and those who are being trained as NCOs, anti tank gunners and mortarmen, had a week's live firing at Sennelager just before Christmas, and the remainder of the Battalion spent ten days at Soltau training with 4 RTR, with whom we have had many associations over the past ten years.
During January most outdoor activities were restricted by the weather some events were driven indoors, hockey and football above the garages, a swimming gala was held in February, and the gym was put to full use. Out of doors the routine events like border patrols continued, and skiing took place on the slope in camp, and at the Battalion ski hut at Bodenmais in Bavaria. A party under 2/Lt McLeod attended the BAOR winter warfare course at Silberhutte in the Harz Mountains and showed up the less energetic elements of BAOR who were there with them by beating them handsomely in the patrol competition.
The first parties to break out of snow-bound Berlin were the Mortar and Anti-Tank platoons who spent the last week in February training on the ranges at Hohne. The remainder of the Battalion followed at the beginning of March and spent three useful weeks on the training area at Vogelsang, on the Belgian border.
The move was only just made in time, as the heaviest falls of snow of the winter occurred the following day, and all road movement through the corridor stopped. The hills of Vogelsang restored a number of developing figures to their lean mean Argyll pattern, and the Battalion returned just before Easter ready to face a month of visits, inspections and duties which would otherwise have been a very depressing prospect. The Annual Inspection now consists of a series of technical inspections throughout the month before the Great Day. The inspection itself took the form of a visit by the Brigade Commander and his staff to every form of activity going on in the Battalion on 30th April. He saw barrack rooms, stores, company competitions and training and wrote afterwards to say how impressed he had been with it all. His opportunity to see the Battalion's performance in the field came five days later when the spring exercise took place in conjunction with the French forces. Thanks to the weather, good planning of the exercise, and a resilient enemy this turned out to be two thoroughly enjoyable days.
In addition, Berlin was inundated with visitors of every kind, of whom a share came to Montgomery Barracks. These included Welsh cadets, assorted MPs, a smattering of civil servants, a belted Earl, the Permanent Under Secretary for Defence (Administration), a recce party from 1 Queen's and the board of officers working out the contingency plans for dispersing the Battalion to the other regiments of the Scottish Division. One group which was almost omitted was a party of 30 German Youth Workers whose sponsor asked if he might bring his "curse" for Youth leaders to see us one afternoon. The Padre gave them a benediction in return.
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The ceremonial season began again in April. The bands started the summer well with, among other engagements, a share in the concert by the massed bands of the Berlin Brigade on 23rd April, and a most polished evening's entertainment on 7th May in aid of the Red Cross.
The Allied Forces Day Parade was held on 23rd May, is celebrated by the march of all the Western Units either on foot or in their vehicles, past the generals of the three nations, and a population which is reasonably evenly balanced between those who are glad to be defended from Communism and those who want to demonstrate against our presence. On this occasion there were two special features, the CGS was present in the VIP stand, and the protestors were more incensed than usual by the American action in entering Cambodia. The CGS expressed his pleasure after the parade: the protesters were held at bay by an impressive body of police, and only managed to inflict one annoyance, by firing a pellet of some kind at Cruachan. He described three quick circles round his master before marching on again in a more conventional manner.
Her Majesty's Birthday was celebrated on the evening of Thursday, 11th June, with the traditional parade on the Maifeld. Two guards and sixteen vehicles represented the Argylls. The Colour of the Staffords was trooped. The weather was perfect, and the Parade excelled the rehearsals in every detail. The C in C BAOR, General Sir Desmond Fitzpatrick, took the salute. This was the fourth occasion on which the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had taken part in this parade. The form had been gradually simplified over the years, to reduce the preparations required, and the music has been brought up to date, but the parade still retained an impressive quality which the setting and the weather do much to enhance.
The Battalion left Berlin after a most successful tour of fifteen months and flew in stages back to the UK. An Advance Party of 120 took over Fort George from the Royal Highland Fusiliers at the end of June and beginning of July. They were followed ten days later by the Royal Guard who proceeded on leave on arrival, as did the main body who were a further ten days behind them.
Source - RHQ Argylls and Thin Red Line Magazines
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Updated: 07 April 2015