Home from home

Frank (far back) and friends enjoy their 'Christmas'  room

Frank (far back) and friends enjoy their ‘Christmas’ room

MY first Christmas away from home saw me on National Service at RAF Butzweilerhof, near Cologne, in 1953.I had completed my basic and trade training as an electrician and was sent to Germany on the troopship Empire Wansbeck, then on by train to Cologne and RAF lorry to the camp.

I was billeted on the fourth floor of the barrack block and there was one empty bed right next to a window. I lay down for a rest. The bed seemed rather hard so I looked underneath and found a huge coil of rope. It turned out I would be sleeping in front of the emergency fire escape.

I was a bit down as I had never been away from home before, but the lads in my room were great. There was a competition for the best decorated room, so we thought we’d give it a go. We built a fireplace over the rifle rack, acquired a small tree, and borrowed armchairs from the library. It was worth it as we won a crate of beer.

I was very nervous of doing National Service at first but with good friends like I had at ‘Butz’ it was a really good time – and it gave me a trade. The discipline helped make a man of me, I am sure.

Frank Smith, Rochester, Kent