Unit History: Junior Tradesmens Regiment
THE HISTORY OF THE JUNIOR TRADESMENS REGIMENT, BODELWYDDAN, RHYL - 1962-1974
The Junior Tradesmens Regiment formed at Kinmel Park Camp, Bodelwyddan, near Rhyl, North Wales, in 1962. It functioned at full strength for nearly 13 years until axed by the MOD in 1974.
AIM. The aim of the Regiment was to recruit boys aged from 15.3 years for military, educational and trade training in preparation for eventual entry into the Regular Army at 17.5 years. The camp and its staff, who arrived earlier in the year, was well prepared and ready to receive the first Intake which arrived about the 7th April 1962. Recruitment was voluntary. There was a free discharge within 4 weeks for those who could not "fit in" or accept discipline. A small number chose the free discharge.
LOCATION. Kinmel Camp is on the A55 Expressway and was, ironically, sandwiched between two girls colleges, Lowther College to the east, adjacent to the entrance of the Camp and Clarenden College a little further to the west. Kinmel Park Camp, as it was known, was beautifully laid out and had Avenues of Weeping Cherry Trees in abundance, well kept lawns and did resemble a park. From the top of the camp, the sea and part of the Snowdon Mountain Range to the west can be seen.
RECRUITS BACKGROUND. Some of the 15-16 year-olds recruited during the life of the Regiment had a disjointed childhood, a troubled background or were juvenile offenders (or on the brink of offending). Some even came from a Childrens Home. Most boys had just left school; some were immature, unsure of what they really wanted, uncertain they were doing the right thing and not sure of what their future held. For many it was their first time away from home. For some, it was by choice. For others, it was their only choice. For most, it proved to be the best choice.
THE FIRST DAYS. Most arrived at Rhyl Railway Station from various parts of the country for their first day (to be met by 3-ton trucks and coaches) not knowing what to expect. On arrival at the camp they were organised into groups and taken to the Basic Training Company. Their rooms had been allocated beforehand and their names were on the doors. Their civilian clothes were handed in after 48 hours and they were then issued with their kit, tracksuits, uniform, 2 pairs of boots as well as football boots and, of course, the baggy "drawers, cellular green".
Then followed a few days of lectures, tests and a range of medical and dental checks. The visit to the Barber for a very short haircut was inevitable. Inoculations followed during the first few weeks. They were also shown how to press shirts and trousers, how to bull their boots and how to salute an officer. It was also the time for introductions and getting to know their Platoon Cpls, Sgts and Officers, as well as each other and to practise making bed blocks. Locker, bed block and room inspections were carried out before breakfast.
An introduction to army boots and marching was a shock to the system, with many experiencing blisters. Circuit training and cross country for fitness assessment were also part of the first 3 months of training. Many will remember being paired-off in the gym and given a pair of boxing gloves with the order to hit each other. This, believe it or not, led to a few being selected for the Junior Company Inter Platoon Boxing Competition.
ORGANISATION. The Regimental Companies were A, B, & C. Anzio, Cassino, Imjin and Imphal were "A" Company (Blue Flashes). Asten, Dunkirk, Keren and Minden were "B" Company (Red Flashes). Arnhem, Barossa, Tofrek and Seoul were "C" Company (Green Flashes). On entry, all new JT joined Junior Company, later renamed Cambrian Company, which consisted of Nos 1-5 Platoons.
EDUCATION. The initial aim was the Army Certificate of Education 1. Many achieved A.C.E. 1, 2 and 3, and some JT achieved additional educational certificates. Most JT learnt more than they did in school. Education, like Trade Training, was compulsory. Most of the teachers held Qualified Teacher Status.
TRADE TRAINING. Many wanted to be Dog Handlers but the trades offered were B111 Driver, Signaller/Operator, Clerk and Medical Assistant. In addition to the Driver Trade, all JT were given the opportunity to learn to drive and the trade term Driver/Operator was used. Facilities in all the Training Wings were excellent. Occasionally frustration showed when one trainee clerk threw his typewriter out of the classroom window. The Clerical Wing had manual Imperial Typewriters 50/55s with interchangeable typebaskets (for use in the Field). Drivers learnt to drive on static trainers before progressing to Austin 1 Tonners (on which double-declutching was essential) and Bedford 3 Tonners, firstly using the incamp driving circuit before going on the open road.
Some lucky lads were taught to ride motorbikes under the expertise of a Permanent Staff Sgt. Almost all lads who attended Trade Training were well turned-out and well mannered. The Training Wings also had frequent visits from high ranking officers e.g. Generals, Maj.Generals, Brigadiers, etc, who appeared very impressed by the standard of trade training, (especially after a few drams in the Officers Mess).
SPORTS & HOBBIES A large selection of sports were available, including Soccer, Judo, Cross-Country, Rugby, Fencing, .22 Shooting, Hockey, Basketball, Boxing, Track & Field, Ski-ing, X-Country, Sailing, Basketball, Pottery and more. It was compulsory for every JT to choose an evening Hobby (twice a week) which included Photography, Cycling, Woodwork, Car Mechanics, Motor-Cycle Club, a Canoeing Expedition down the Avon as well as climbing Mount Snowdon, in snow, in the middle of January and DofE Award Schemes.
CAMP FACILITIES. These included The Cavern Club (with the camp band and sometimes a local girl as lead singer), the NAAFI, a Cinema, the Library, St. Andrews Club, Medical and Dental Centres, a YMCA, a WVS and the Church.
PROMOTIONS. Many lads were promoted to J/LCpl, J/Cpl, J/Sgt, J/CSM, and J/RSM as proof of their leadership qualities, which, in turn, would help their promotion prospects in mens service. The length of boys service was not taken into consideration in the Regulars.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A JUNIOR TRADESMAN
Reveille was at 0600 hrs. The rooms were inspected daily, as were bed blocks and locker layouts before breakfast, which was at 0700 hrs. Breakfast consisted of cereals, sausage, bacon, fried bread, beans, eggs fried, poached, boiled or scrambled, tea and toast. No two days were the same but could include marching, drill movements, weapon training, first aid training, workouts in the gym and trade training. There were the Assault Courses and also rifle practise on the Ranges at Sealand. Exercises and map reading covered distances from Talacre to the Great Orme’s Head. Tea was at 1700 hrs. With a Hobby in the evenings twice a week, there was very little time left to oneself. Then there was bull, bull and more bull. Best boots had to be bulled to a very high standard "like a mirror". Lights out was at 22.30 hrs. Saturday afternoons were reserved for sport and Sundays for Communion at 0800 hrs and compulsory Church Parade at 1100 hrs.
A SAD EVENT. A sad experience recalled by an ex-JT was when his Platoon Commander was killed in a Road Traffic Accident during an end of term Exercise in November 1963. For almost 7 days solid the lads that volunteered to be on the Firing Party were put through their paces in one of the Drill Sheds by the RSM. On the day of the Military Funeral, he was staggered to see so many people in attendance. The coffin was laid on a gun carriage and the Regiments Band, with drums covered in black, were at the rear. As they stepped off, he said he didnt think he had ever been so nervous in his life. We slow marched down the hill and out of the main entrance, directly onto the A55 and along the road to the Marble Church Cemetery. Once there, the committal took place, with the Firing Party firing volleys over the coffin. He says he struggled to stay on his feet because his knees were shaking so much. Anyone visiting the Church will find the grave close to the boundary wall, bearing the usual Military Headstone.
THE MARBLE CHURCH, BODELWYDDAN
St. Margarets Church, as it is correctly known (or The Marble Church) is a Victorian showpiece. The founder of this beautiful church was Margaret, the daughter of Sir John Williams of Bodelwyddan Castle and widow of Henry Lord Willoughby de Broke. Margaret was a very determined and wealthy woman. She had the church built, in Gothic Revival style, to commemorate her husband. It is an impressive sight from the A55 (now an Expressway) and worth a visit to see the marble inside. The Church is almost opposite Kinmel Park Camp. In its cemetery are the graves of some Canadian soldiers killed during the 1919 riots at Kinmel Park Camp.
This used to be known as Lower College, an expensive and exclusive school for girls and is situate opposite the main gate of the camp. Like its counterpart, Clarendon College for Girls, both colleges closed many years ago. The college has now been renamed Bodelwyddan Castle. The castle was created by sir John Hay Williams between 1830 and 1852, though the estate has medieval origins. It has a magnificent estate wall and formal garden. In 1914 the Castle was requisitioned by the Army and used as the Officers Mess for Kinmel Camp, while a military hospital was built in the grounds. It is now an outstation of the National Portrait Gallery and arranges a changing programme of exhibitions of its many treasures. Warner Leisure Hotels offer accommodation with meals, for adults only, as well activities as varied as archery and croquet to fly-fishing and painting.
It was rumoured throughout the life of the Regiment that Junior Tradesmen habitually "scaled the walls" into the hallowed grounds of Lowther College seeking carnal pleasure with the virtuous, nubile and innocent young wenches!
There are, however, well documented liaisons with the local Abergele and Rhyl girls.
FINAL PASSING OUT PARADE
It was the big event after many weeks of practise. Kit, after many pre-inspections, had to be immaculate. Family and friends were invited and sat on a dais at the side of the parade ground. A senior officer took the March Past Salute to the music of "Z" Cars, played by the Regiments Corps of Drums. A farewell meeting was usually held in the cinema, after which Junior NCOs removed their stripes because they were then "Regulars".
THE CAREER OF ONE JUNIOR TRADESMAN
Jan 64 - May 65 - JTR, Rhyl
May 65 - Jun 68 - 15 Sqn RCT, Osnabruck
Jun 68 - Dec 71 - 7 Sqn RCT, Tidworth
Dec 71 - Sep 72 - 15 Sqn RCT, Osnabruck
Sep 72 - Feb 75 - 263 Ground Liaison Section, RAF Laarbruch
Feb 75 - Sep 78 - 3 Tank Transporter Sqn RCT, Sennelager
Sep 78 - Aug 81 - 57 Junior Leaders Sqn RCT, Colerne
Aug 81 - Jul 84 - 8 Sqn RCT, Aldershot
Jul 84 - Mar 87 - 14 Sqn RCT, Bielefeld
Mar 87 - Oct 87 - HQ Chester Garrison
Oct 87 - Discharge
POSTINGS. Some of the many overseas countries to which JT were posted included Aden, Belgium, Benghazi, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Singapore among others.
ACHIEVEMENT. All ex-Junior Tradesmen, without exception, have stated the impact boys service had on them i.e. maturing, educating, perseverance, learning to stick things out and learning a trade. Many went straight into the Regular Army at 17.5 years and had an excellent career, serving their full-term, most reaching the rank of at least WO1. Many were commissioned. A large number have remained true friends to this day.
THINGS I REMEMBER (1962-1964) BY J/Pte Anonymous
1962 - The old cookhouse closed and the new one opened. Thousands of us going on our first leave saying farewell to the RSM (rhubarb) as the train pulled out of Rhyl Railway Station.
PT Test - remember, pass all elements to get your pay award. "Throw the hockey ball as far as you can" the PTI said. I did and it went through the MT Shed Sky Light. I failed the total test with the swimming. Static water tanks in November can be a bit cold, in fact so bloody cold they pulled me out with a pole!
Trade Training started - I was a radio operator but no good at all with the morse key, so they transferred me to Clerical and gave me forty plus typewriter keys!
Rescuing the sheep for local farmers on Denbigh Moors - in the end they had to search for us in four foot of snow.
1963 - The Club opened opposite the Church. They bussed girls in for a dance in the Church.
Boxing - winning the Boxing Final at my weight - I beat T.M. of C Company.
1964 - Sealand Ranges - two warmers into the bank - everyone shoot at the Flag Pole and sure enough it came down!
Over the wall to the girls school - one lad, a real gent from Brum, laid his raincoat down for this girl to sit on, someone came, we all did a runner, he forgot about his coat, they found his number and name inside and he was discharged!
Being voted by the Civilian Driving Instructors as the Best Driver (Non Driver Tradesman).
Driving Col Whalan to Sealand Ranges and back in a Champ.
High - being promoted - Low - being demoted.
DISBANDMENT. The Regiment disbanded, quite suddenly and with little notice for the permanent staff, in July 1974, after 13 years. No reason was given for the closure and disbandment of the Regiment by the MOD. The Regiment had undoubtedly been a success and had fulfilled its role of cocooning, disciplining, training, educating and maturing 15-year-old boys into men and giving them both a trade and a purpose in life. It had thoroughly prepared them for a career in the Regular Army if they so wished.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW. Most lads are retired or nearing retirement and are spread and widely dispersed across the Globe, including France, Germany, Spain, Australia and the UK, with some remaining in North Wales.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
The Trainazium - A scaffolding tower, 40 ft high and 12 ft square, with a "death slide" on one side, a "para" jump, rope bridges and a simulated rock climb making up the other three sides, with a free-fall abseil down the middle?
The Indoor .22 Range and Sealand Ranges?
The Watermanship Course - using Assault Boats?
The Static Trainers - pretending to drive?
Double declutching on the Austin 1 Tonners?
Map Reading Exercises in 3 tonners (canvas closed),
and finding a check-point on foot using maps and compass?
DofE Pursuit Award - 3 days walking and 2 nights under canvas?
A FEW EMAIL QUOTATIONS FROM EX-JUNIOR TRADESMEN.
"The grounding I was given at JTR shaped my career for many years afterwards".
"I have loads of memories (fond ones); it was one of the happiest two years of my life".
"My life really began to have meaning on the day that I arrived at Kinmel Park Camp".
"It was a character building experience".
"I have so many memories of my time at Kinmel Park - almost all of them good".
"For the first time in my life, I had my very own bed, and comfortable it was too, and I thought the meals were superb".
"The JTR took in many a rough diamond and sent out some real gems".
"The military and civilian staff were all top-drawer people".
"I entered the JTR with a chip on my shoulder, and they passed me out with plenty of tools for my lifes journey".
"My time at JTR changed me forever. It made me the person I am today. It taught me the importance of discipline, teamwork, the value of good friends (sometimes for life) and to be there for my friends as they are for me".
"Rhyl to me was the start of my adult life, where you were expected to do your best and perform well as a team. These disciplines have stayed with me all my life".
".......I realized I could eat three times a day and wear new, clean clothes and be warm and dry and live in a safe, secure environment. I could take a bath or shower when I wanted and no longer had to wait in line at the Public Baths once in a blue moon."
A final note from "Davos".
Many recruits arrived with very little, but left with so much. They had a purpose in life.
Reproduced with the kind permission of:
John Williams (aka "Davos"), and the assistance of Mike Bartie
Added on 18/01/2011
Some 10,000 young men passed through its gates before
disbandment. It was previously a transit camp for Canadian Artillery after the First World War. Some graduates moved to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Poland, USA and Germany.