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Junior Leaders in Denbury

Below is a shortened account by John Thompson, Leeds, UK, of the time he spent at Denbury Camp in the early 1960s. Full text available soon.

January 21 2001

My first thoughts of Denbury are arriving at Newton Abbot railway station at about 5pm on 10th September 1961, having spent 7 hours travelling from the grime (in those days) of Leeds. The weather was warm and sunny, I saw my first Palm trees and thought I was in another land. I was 15 years and 2 months old, alone, tired, hungry and very apprehensive. Fortunately an army 3 ton truck was outside the Railway Station and I quickly joined a number of others inside it. Most of that day is a blur. I remember there were about 24 of us in a wooden barrack room. I remember that night ‘I wet the bed’ the only time I recall doing that in my life. I am 55 this year, It seems like only yesterday. The following day we were into our new life, lots of being shouted at, collecting a mountain of personal kit from the stores and being shown how to wash, iron and maintain it. The first Drill lesson on the square, so at least we could be shouted at and know what we should try to do. The joys of Blancoing our webbing and Bulling our boots were to quickly follow.


Bulling boots as many ex service people will know is a ‘bit of a chore’. At some time in 1963, one of our number discovered Boots the Chemist in Newton Abbot sold a product called ‘Black Straw-Hat Dye’ which when painted onto army boots, gave a black mirror-like surface. Wahay! Boots in Newton Abbot quickly sold out: no doubt a factory somewhere went onto double shift to keep up with demand. Our very first parade after its intensive application on half of the regimental boots, the parade was brought to attention. 350 pairs of highly bulled boots crashed down on the parade ground. Calamity! The Black Straw-Hat Dye cracked off and the parade ground was littered with its remnants; the inspecting officers were not pleased.


The first 6 weeks at Denbury Camp were spent in junior wing doing Basic Training. During this time we were not allowed out of camp and were kept permanently very busy. On our first weekend pass we could only go out in dress uniform, which in those days, was the 2nd World War dress uniform. It was a hot tiring day in Torquay that first Saturday of freedom. We were VERY conspicuous. Life has been kind if not always easy – I put much of my success down to the kindness and hospitality afforded a young soldier, far from home and in his formative years, by Gwen and Gordon Smale of Newton Abbot. Regrettably, I don’t recall ever properly thanking them for the care and guidance they gave me. I have many more memories and will write again about:

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