217 (London) Field Squadron, R.E. (V)

Parkhurst Road, Holloway, 1969 - 1984



Were you a TA/TAVR Sapper at 217 Field Squadron at Holloway during 1969-1983 ?   If you were, some of the pages on this web site may bring back some memories of those times.  I'm Peter Cox and I served in 217 for the last 14 years of the 24 years I was a "Terrier".

In 2012, twenty eight years since my last TA pay-day, I started this very unofficial (naturally) website to share photos, images, memories and news (past & present) with anyone who served in 217 before EOD days.

This site is just a few pages at present but with contributions from others it is gradually expanding.
Sqn shield
Who designed the 217 shield?
 March 2013: Chris Wilton e-mailed the answer: Keith Jones, son of Harry the barman / caretaker.

No pop-ups, no adverts.
No registration, no log-in.
No personal details taken.
Site updates

Since late 2012, I've had a welcome flood of mesages and photos and I'm very grateful to all contributors and those in the chain that brought this about.
It will take a while to add these to the site so please be patient.
There are other ways to do this of course, such as Friends Reunited (which last time I looked had 38 ex-217 members from the 60s-80s), Flickr, Facebook, etc, which all have their merits. These pages are not intended to replace those sites, but to be an additional or alternative way of sharing and keeping in touch, particularly for those like me who wish to view without being obliged to join, log-in or register.

Some of the material is from my own collection and any errors or omissions are also mine. Many of the photos are from other sources, I would love to hear from any other ex-217-ers and would appreciate contributions - news, photos, stories, recollections, messages, comments, ideas, praise, even criticism. All sources will be acknowledged. My contact details are at bottom right.

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News of ex-members

ex-Spr Alfie Attle.
sadly died from cancer on 19th March 2014 at St. Care's Hospice, Harlow. Funeral: 1345 hrs 31st March at Parmdon Wood Cemetery & Crematorium, Parmdon Wood Road, Harlow, CM19 4SF

ex-WO2 George Orford MBE
died May 2013.
see In memorium

ex-Cpl Tony Boxell
see In memoriam

ex-S/Sgt Ron Henderson(217 1969-74) died Nov 2012
see In memoriam

JUNE 2015


If you've viewed here recently, please "refresh" the page to ensure you view the latest version.

News of events and comments from and about ex-members

June 2015. During the last 18 months I've had many emails with news, photos and info which I've not been able to give the attention deserved (despite a few promises). Well, at last the great "catch-up" has begun, working backwards, and will continue for many months. My apologies to all for the delayed response, and please do continue sending me stuff.
forthcoming events

(more details below)
  Antoni Ostrowski emailed 16th Nov 2015.
"Hi Peter. Just found your website. I was in 217 between 1984 and 1988 ish on and off. Brought back lots of happy memories, In the photos HGB training Chattenden 1985 ? photo 007d in the middle is Micky Naim, he was my corporal for a while. I am in the next photo 007f leaning against the bridge facing the camera. No hats it was a sunny easy going chilling out sort of day. I had just joined 217 must have done my recruits course. John Keene was my sergeant. Its like looking back in time. I had black hair then. I joined against my parents wishes when I was 17 and a half. I was known as young un or Ossie for the whole of the time at 217. I think I was the youngest in the Squadron for about 3 years. I spent my time in 1 and 2 troop. I learnt an awful lot in 217 and worked with some great people. I always consider myself fortunate and extremely lucky for spending those years at 217. Vic Chitry took a stack of photos whilst I was there I remember him always walking round with his camera."
Thanks Antoni for filling in some names. Glad the site brought back happy memories - that's what it's all about.
  John O'Neill emailed October 2015.
I live in Tamworth and have just retired from Jaguar/Landrover, was there since Feb 1999, great company to work for (Solihull.) I am so sad Gabby is gone. Re First Cyprus camp [1970], believe we flew from Luton with monarch and the hostesses uniforms were canary yellow!
I do remember the hostesses, and their uniforms fitted very nicely! Also remember it was wet and very cold at Luton, and 4 hours later dry and very hot in Cyprus. Took some getting used to. Peter
  Alister McCaw emailed 5th Nov 2014.
This message is shown out or order because I unfortunately mis-filed it on arrival and have only by chance found it in Oct 2015. Huge apologies to Alister. Peter
"Hi Peter I joined the RNZE in 1975 and lived in London 1978 - 1980 during which time I was posted to 217. Can remember with much fondness the night parades at Holloway, regimental training, amazing regimental dinners etc. most of all I remember annual camp 1980, ex Crusader, for a young kiwi officer it was like a kid in a lolly shop, the move over air, rail, bus and the meals every time one stopped. I served as the sqn security officer, and enough stories of events to write a book. A great unit and I remember the professional officers, NCOs with such a depth of knowledge and experience, an experience I will never forget. Col Alister McCaw NZDF"
Ah those meals! I seem to recall Chicken & Chips every time! (Great) Later highlight for me was breaking into "Tin City". If anyone out there has a tale to share, please email me. Peter
  Keith Dickens emailed 11th Aug 2015.
"Just been looking at the 217 website and the photos submitted by Graham Chambers.
I was in the unit from 1980 til 1993 then transferred to ULOTC until 2005 then went to London District and finally now at London Oratory School as their military instructor for the cadets in total so far 35 years. I worked in the stores with Richie Courval before being signals Sgt and finally in 2 troop as acting Ssgt. Recognised some of the characters in the bridge building photos.
  Graham Chambers emailed 23rd June 2015.
"Hi Peter, I just found your website and thought it's brilliant, so many memories came flooding back fro my time there as a PSI back in the 80's. Here's a few photos you can have I hope they  help get a few ex members thinking."
Modesty prevents me from agreeing with Graham, but PSI's are usually right! Graham included his phone number. If you'd like to contact him please let me know. His photos can be found on a new page, photo-galleries where all contributors photos wiil be located eventually.

Brief history of 73 Engr Regt and 217 (London) Fld Sqn

On 1st January 1969 a new TAVR regiment, 73 Engr Regt (V) was formed as a reinforcement Combat Engineer Unit in support of the 1st (British) Corps.

It was a mixed bag of units and geographically wide spread. RHQ was in Nottingham, with 217 (London) Field Squadron at Holloway, 272 (West Riding Artillery) Field Support Squadron at Bradford, and 575 (Sherwood Foresters) Field Squadron at Chesterfield and Derby. Despite the names, 272 Sqn did not have artillery, and 575 were in a different county to Sherwood Forest, and quite some way from it.

Many of 217's early members had previously served in RE TA Sqns in London prior to the disbanding of 101 and 114 Engr Regts in April 1967 when the TA was replaced by the new TAVR. To most of those members, it was still "TA".

Sometime in the mid 70s, 873 Movement Light Sqn at Acton joined the Regt (but fairly loosely), and in 1977, 272 left and were replaced by 129 (East Riding) at Hull and Goole.

At annual Camps, many of us indulged in mimicing, and taking the mickey out of, those of other squadrons with their different accents. As a Londoner, I always found the West & East Yorkshire accents funny, but hadn't realised how funny Cockney accents were to Yorkshiremen!

In the late 80s/early 90s the Regt was reorganised to become an Air Support Regt and at some stage 217 was converted to an EOD role and later apparently replaced by a new Sqn at Holloway, 583 (EOD), as part of 101 (London) Engr Regt (EOD). Internet sources disagree about this period, so if you know the details please contact me.

Significant events 1969-1990

year month event place    
1969 Jan FORMATION Holloway TAVR sqn in 73 Engr Regt (V)  
1969   Annual Camp Altcar
(nr Liverpool)
217 (London)'s 1st camp - incl. a recruits training course.  
1970 Sept Annual Camp Cyprus   1
1971 June Annual Camp Weymouth
(Wyke Regis)
HGV2 driving course & tests 1
1972 Sept Annual Camp Cyprus   1
1973   Annual Camp Weymouth (?)   7
1974   Annual Camp Stanford PTA (?)
1975   Annual Camp Cultybraggon
1976   Annual Camp Stanford PTA  ("Thetford")
very hot & dry summer 1
1977   Annual Camp Germany (april) Plant Troop worked at Börry sportsfield 1
1979 May-Jun International Air Tattoo RAF Greenham Common   1
1980 Sept Annual Camp Germany Ex. Crusader. Trg at Tin City 1
1981 May-Jun International Air Tattoo RAF Greenham Common   1
1982 Jun-July Army Air 82 Middle Wallop Airfield marked silver jubilee of Army Air Corps 1
1982 Oct
Annual Camp Germany Ex. Quarter Final 1
1983   Annual Camp Weymouth (?)    
1984     Germany Ex. Lionheart and
Ex. Spearhead
1994   Annual camp Gibraltar   6
1994   Silver Jubillee Holloway to mark the Sqn's 25th year since formation in 1969.  
1998   Annual Camp Halton (Lancaster)   6

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note source
1 Peter Cox
5 Ron Henderson (via son Malcolm)
6 Chris Wilton
7 John Holland

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At Holloway Road

Just a couple of scenes taken at the Drill Hall.
Must be hundreds more out there guys, please see what you can dig out. Muir Hill & plant ops at Holloway
Photo courtesy of Martin Skeggs (217: 1973-1981)
Plant Troop's Muir Hill LWT with back-acter (back-hoe) extended and the tractor in four-wheel steer mode.
Left to right: L/Cpl Bob Jackson (Plant Trp), Charlie Garnish (facing camera), someone wearing beret and glasses, Cpl Bill/Billy Orford (Plant) with bare back, Dave Holden (Plant), Doug Wilkinson (I think) and Plant Trp Sgt Ted Allen just ducking under the rope.

Does the LWT have a hydraulics problem? And where's that winch rope going to?  Mid/Late 70s?

  From one extreme to another: Part of One Troop at Holloway
Photo, names and info courtesy of John Bustin (217: 1980 - 1989)
Part of One Troop outside One Troop's stores (marked Training Wing ?)
All poshed up in No2s ready to go to York for the home-coming parade of 2 Div which the Queen was inspecting.
Front: Cpl John Kean; Alan Tyler; Alex Savage; Mark Harris; L/Cpl Micky Newman (Webmaster: I was nearly always unconventionally dressed, too.)
Rear: Dean Peavey; Mark Bowen; John Bustin.
Early 80s

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plan of camp
Plan of Altcar Training Camp
Recent plan. Maybe different to 69

Annual Camp, 1969, Altcar

Sqn photo, 1969 Camp, Altcar
Photo courtesy of Malcolm Henderson - Click photo for larger view in new window or tab

En route to 1973 Camp, Altcar
Breakfast at Ormskirk
Front, l to r, Mr Venka, Mike Kane, John Holland & Bob Shaw (sitting).
Rear, on left, Bill Orford.
Clipping courtesy of John Holland - Click photo for larger view in new window or tab

group with rifles
In the webmaster's day, recruits were taught "never point a rifle at anyone". Nice posing though.

kneeling rifleman
"I've just seen the cook!"
The webmaster was here as the photo above proves, but cannot remember it (poor old sod) but Martin Cargill does - this was his first camp and was on the recruits course and he's kindly sent these colour photos.
Recruit cadre 1969
The class of '69

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Martin Cargill at Altcar 1969
Martin Cargill guarding the Sqn signboard.

anon and Chris Wilton
Anon and Chris Wilton

Annual Camp, 1970, Cyprus

	Post Card Map
In the north east of the Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus had a population of about 600,000, 80% of Greek origin and 20% Turkish (Muslim). It became a British Crown Colony in 1925, but during the 1950s ethnic Greeks began a campaign (enosis) for union with Greece leading to guerrilla warfare in 1955-59 and independence in 1960, although Britain retained its military bases and some lands around them.
	Map showing SBAs
The British bases, known as "Sovereign Base Areas" (SBAs) are on the southern coast 60 miles apart and shown here in pink. The western one, 'Akrotiri', just west of Larnaca, is an area of about 48 square miles including  RAF Akrotiri and Episkopi Military Garrison. The Eastern SBA is 'Dhekelia', which is about 50 sq. miles and has a large military base.

After 42 years, I cannnot be certain, but I seem to recall that we left the UK about 20th September from Luton (presumably on a chartered civilian plane) dressed for an unseasonably cold 45˚F, and arrived 4 hours later at RAF Akrotiri where it was an unseasonably hot 80+˚F.

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Annual Camp, 1971, Wyke Regis, Weymouth

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Dhekelea camp & MT park
The MT park/helicopter landing area and part of Dhekelia barracks

Mick Byrne with Hymac 580
Mick Byrne with Hymac 580
Hymac 580 at full stretch
pulling the hillside away from the road below.
Dhekelia barracks in distance.

Peter Martin operating a DC6
Peter Martin operating a DC6

Peter Cox posing with a DC6
Peter Cox posing with a DC6

Annual Camp, 1972, Cyprus

This was our second vist to sunny Cyprus in two years. See maps & background info above.

Plant Troop (as the plant ops called it, but officially plant section of SHQ) were tasked to strip the top off a hill overlooking the main road not far from Dhekelia barracks and move the spoil further down.

The plant was quite decent army stuff, Ruston Bycyrus and Hymac excavators, A DC6 crawler tractor and a wheeled loading shovel (which I don't recognse now).

But the tippers to shift the spoil to its new site was local Cypriot crap frequently breaking down. One of the better looking ones was the Bedford seen here. Unfortunately the hydraulics didn't work, the driver winding the tipping gear manually with a stilson wrench. Took hours.

Cpl Peter Cox recalls being woken early one morning (by Bob Shaw ?) a couple of days after arriving in Cyprus to be told he was sleeping in the wrong place. Apparently he had been promoted Sgt overnight and had to move to the Sgt's mess for breakfast. But only after being properly dressed with three chevrons. The only time he was ever late for a meal.

All the photos here were taken as 35mm slides, and re-photographed recently from their projected image on a not very taut white screen. I hope to improve the quality later.

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Dhekelea camp & MT park
Bill Orford with RB excavator with face shovel

Loading tipper
Loading a local Cypriot tipper

Bill Orford in RB cab
Bill was the only plant op not to wear shorts.

Peter Cox "supervising" repairs. "what's going on, Billy ?"
"The f***ing whatsit's gone."
"Oh, right."

Gabby Kaye with Medium Wheeled tractor
Gabby Kaye with Medium Wheeled tractor


Annual Camp, 1973, Weymouth?

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Annual Camp, 1974 (?), Stanford PTA (Thetford)

Stanford training area (now called a battle area) in Norfolk covers about 30,000 acres of heath and meres (ponds) that until mid 1942 was home to 1,000 people living in the villages of Tottington, West Tofts, Langford, Buckenham Tofts, Stanford and Sturston, and various farms in between. Plus a lot of sheep.

The area had been used for large military manouvres since just before WW1  but was taken over by the MOD during WW2 who compulsorily moved the inhabitants elsewhere so troops could be trained in live firing conditions. Many of original buildings were blasted down by artillery or damaged during other exercises. At various times the MOD have constructed new buildings and villages to resemble whatever part of the world British troops were deployed, in Eastern Europe, Northern Ireland and lastly an Afghan style village built in 2009 complete with mosque.

But when 217 exercised there in the 1970s, the only religious buildings were 4 ex-parish churches, the only buildings out of bounds to troops.
And there was still a lot of sheep. But maybe not the same ones.

  map of Stanford PTA
A 1-inch OS map used by the webmaster at an annual camp at Stanford.
Click map for larger view showing unit locations: 217 at Bodney Lodge, grid ref, 853973; 272 at 870908; 575 at 898960; and RHQ at 872903.
Bridging equipment had to be collected from 320 Engr Park in square 9787.

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Dads Army
No, not 217, the TV series,
was filmed in the training area because the roads and the landscape being devoid of modern markings and power lines were authentically 1940s. The area at Frog Hill where RHQ and 272 Fd Sqn were based on at least one occasion (see map left) was where Capt. Mainwaring led his men in the closing scene of every Dads Army episode, and the Bailiey bridge we will all have crossed at some time featured in a 1971 epispode.

Annual Camp, 1975 Where?

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route card from Holloway to Stanford
Holloway to Stanford route card

Annual Camps, 1974 and/or 1976, Stanford PTA (Thetford)

Did 217 go to Stanford both years or just one. If the latter, which year?
!976 was the summer that newspaper headline writers ran out of variations of "phew what a scorcher" and editors had even more excuses for printing titilating photos of "bikini babes". Dennis Howell was appointed Minister of Drought, but far too late and had to deal with floods instead. But that was after 217 had driven up the A1, A505 and A11 one Saturday to "Thetford" as many of us referred to Stanford PTA, for a glorious fortnight in the sun.

The webmaster recalls his bitter disappointment missing the thrilling experience of the 20mph convoy run, as he lived in Cambridgeshire and nipped up in his car to the Red Lodge pub at Freckenham where he joined his mates from Plant Troop who also missed the delights of convoying by going up on Friday evening.
  At some stage during camp we all brushed our berets and polished our badges, those with moustaches trimmed them (except Charlie Cox) and then we posed for the annual squadron photograph. With THREE WO2s. camp-photo-76
Photo courtesy of Martin Skeggs (circled)(217: 1973-1981, now in South Africa). Click photo for larger view in new window or tab
From left:
rear:3rd Cpl Peter Cox; 6th Peter (Doug?) Wilkinson; 7th John O'Loughlin; 9th Martin Skeggs (circled); 11th Cpl Charlie Cox; 13th, Charlie Garnish; 14th, Tony Lockett (?);
centre:1st John John (yes, really) 2nd Bob Jackson; 9th Cpl Bill Orford, 10th Dave Holden; 11th Alfie Attle;13th Cpl Charlie Turner;15th Chris Wilton; 19th Tony Boxell:
front: 2nd Sgt Derek Pavey (REME); 3rd Sgt John Holland; 6th Sgt Derek Scott; 7th WO2 (SSM), 10th Capt Chris Hall; 11th OC, Maj Godfrey Hope; 12th, Capt Richard Selby-Boothroyd; 15th WO2 George Orford; 17th Sgt Marrabel (?); 19th Sgt Ted Allen (dark glasses);

(Webmaster's note: I've listed the names Martin and I can remember. There are only 61 all ranks here, and I'm sure there should have been more; several regular faces are missing. If you can add or correct any names or ranks please contact me)

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An M2 rig (amphibious truck)
designed and built in Germany
used by British Army 1969-1980
for bridging and ferrying
photo courtesy Martin Skeggs

Germany 1977

The webmaster was with Plant troop at Borry during this camp and cannot remember whereabouts in Hameln the rest of the Squadron were billeted.

He does remember a previous camp in the early 60s when he was here in a tented camp alongside the Weser.

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an MGB (Medium Girder Bridge)
designed & made in England
used by British Army from 1971.
 Here being bulit with crane.
Dave Gaze and Charlie Garnish
photo courtesy Martin Skeggs

A german website about the British Army's bridging camp at Hameln with lots of history and photos.


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Crusader Badge

Annual Camp, 1980 - Exercise Crusader, Germany

Exercise Crusader 1980 was at the time the largest exercise ever held in NATO. It took two years to plan and lasted a month (but 217 only did two weeks) with a series of minor exercises (Spearpoint, Jog Trot and Reforger) involving UK, US, Belgian, Dutch and German forces.

It was designed to test the UK forces capability to mobilise and reinforce BAOR over a compressed period. The main part of the exercise was the deployment of 20,000 Territorial Army and 10,000 regular troops to 1st British Corps. The aim was to have all units in position in Germany within 48 hours of leaving the UK by air or sea using both military and civilian resources.

As far as the webmaster can recall, 217 went by air, probably from Brize Norton to Gutersloh. Then we wre taken by truck to a transport depot where we collected our allotment of vehicles. Then off somewhere else. One lasting memory is that 'Chicken & Chips' was served en-route wherever we stopped, and very good it was too.

(Photos provided by Peter Cox)
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British Army newspaper
a British Forces newspaper
24th Sept 1980, price 10pg
Peter Cox posing with a DC6
Semi detached "council houses"
Peter Cox posing with a DC6
Inside of gates at Tin City

Tin City

From a 217 plant operator:
"One day I was detailed to work in the Sennelager Training Area with a Muir Hill LWT - Light Wheeled Tractor - and was led to a site a few miles from our base by the Plant Troop Sgt, Ted Allen. I had to dig a trench around a house, but told not to enter the building beause it was booby-trapped. Food and fuel were promised for later on and off he went.

Several hours later, I was geting hungry and low on fuel when I saw in the distance some army trucks going towards a compound. I set off in the LWT but by the time I arrived the trucks had gone. The compound was surrounded by high CGI (Corrugated Iron) sheets, and the gates were locked. I walked around the compound and found a way in round the back and soon found myself in a deserted and poorly constructed housing estate.

A few minutes later a couple of women appeared around a corner pushing a pram. We exchanged glances but didn't speak. I was begnning to think this was like something out of Alice in Wonderland, or where Alice walked through a doorway into a bizarre world where nothing was what it seemed. Then I heard the sound of troops running and from behind me came about 20 squaddies running quiet fast, but in proper time and three abreast. They were led by a red-faced NCO who could have been a composite of all the characters in the Alice books. In fact it was Chris Wilton, so I was spot-on.

They disappeared and then I heard lots of shouting and banging. When I rounded the bend I was at a cross-roads with troops everywhere and some civvies too. I stood with my back to a CGI wall wondering what the hell was going on. A WO2 came over and said 'don't just stand there, rub this brick across the CGI like the others'. He spoke with an Ulster accent. The penny dropped, this was a training area for Northern Ireland."
[Webmaster's note: The photos here were all taken inside the compound, I'll post the credit when I find the details.]
Peter Cox posing with a DC6
crossroads in housing estate

Peter Cox posing with a DC6
riot-strewn terraced hourses.
"The noise got louder and louder. Then a beaten up car appeared and stopped in the middle of the roundabout. A couple of lads jumped out and ran off. Then another car, more lads, lots of shouting, bricks being thrown, even at me. And I only wanted a sandwich and a couple of gallons of diesel.

Then an army Land Rover arrived and armed troops with shields chased the lads, and caught a couple. Lots more lads appeared, more shouting, more bricks, a car was overturned and set on fire. I'd done a couple of weeks in Ulster in 1968 at the start of "the troubles, but this was much, much more scary. I was rubbing the brick across the tin sheets like mad, and ducking out of the way of more missiles.

It all died down eventually, the cars were dragged away and the place cleared up. The WO2 and maybe ten others walked down a street and disppeared into a building. Intrigued, and with nothing else to do, and hoping they might have some food, I followed and found them in a bar. An Irish bar, with Irish music and patriotic sogns. I went in and was handed a can of Guiness. They were talking in various degrees of attempts at a Belfast accent about the "incident" or exercise, then it dawned on the WO2 that whereas they were all in comabat dress, I was in overalls (OK, they're really known as coveralls) and no belt or puttees. He asked who I was. It went quite. I said, in I think a much more convincing Ulster accent, that I had come in to try to get a sandwich and some fuel for my digger. They looked nasty, so I quickly added "I'm TA". A couple laughed. He got quite angry, asked how I'd got in, what unit I was with, what I was doing near there. Eventually he calmed down and gave me another beer.

After a while I left the compound the way I'd come in, and went back to where I'd been working. At some stage a Land Rover arrived with some fuel but no food (thanks Ted, that was really good of you, and I said I wouldn't forget that). I said where I'd been and was told I shouldn't have gone there. I asked why I hadn't been told about the place. Apparently it was only divulged on a "need to know" basis, and I didn't need to.

Later I learned the place was called "Tin City" and it was politically sensitive, the UK Govenment didn't want the Germans to know it existed, although they must have done. Anyway I was told not to talk about it, and haven't until now except to Chris Wilton when we swapped yarns back at Holloway some weeks later. And luckily for Ted I nicked his map and have kept it a safe place ever since 'cos he'd done something he shouldn't have - written the name Tin City on it in ink at the spot that was supposed to be something else."
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217's Silver Jubilee programme
Courtesy of Malcolm Henderson - Click for larger view in new window or tab

1994 Silver Jubilee Dinner at Holloway

In November 1994 the Squadron marked its 25th Anniversary of its formation in 1969 with a dinner and dance at Holloway. The images here are from the collection of S/Sgt Ron Henderson who had served in 217 until only 1974 but obviously attended the party. 217's Silver Jubilee programme
Courtesy of Ron's son on Malcolm - Click for larger view in new window/tab

The programme says that a speech was to be given by Sgt Wilton, who I was told was the only member who had served the whole period (and went on for another six, 31 years in all, wow!). If anyone else did the full 25 years (or more) please let me know. No medals, but I'll give you a mention.

And come on Chris, tell us what you said.

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217's Silver Jubilee
above, Jubilee ticket
below, a Jubilee napkin.
217's Silver Jubilee
Courtesy of Malcolm Henderson - Click for larger view in new window or tab


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Leyland Martian 6x6
So why did you do that?"

Good mates
"we're just good mates"

hconvoy halted
Convoy. Bedford MK & RL

Mystery corner - who, where, what, when?

This is a selection of the photos Martin Cargill has kindly supplied.

If you can add some details or can think of better captions, please let me know,

An ex-217 Driving Instructor says:
"Top left, I don't know the blokes, but the truck is unmistakeable - it's a Leyland Martian 6x6 with a straight-eight Rolls Royce petrol engine, introduced in the early 50s as an artillery gun-tractor with a 12-13 seater cab, and used in the 70s at the School of Transport at Bordon for HGV Driver Instructor courses."

Another ex-217 member has suggested a caption for the bottom right:
"When I said if you want to pass your test you'll need to get stuck in, I didn't mean like that!"

Bottom left, the convoy has MK and RL r-h drive Bedford 4-tonners.

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Land Rover ambulance
I've got plasters & aspirins, which do you want?

good mates on scout car
more good mates scout car stuck in mud
What an L of a mess
derelict lock nr Devizes
a derelict lock near Devizes
photo by Derek Pratt
from "Canal" published 1976.

Canal restoration near Devizes

The Kennet and Avon Canal fell into disuse in the 1950s as did many others due to dwindling freight and neglect by Government agencies, and it closed in 1955. Some five or so years later a Trust was formed to restore the canal using mainly volunteers, a task that took nearly 30 years.

At some stage, I think in the early 1980s, 217 became involved, providing men and equipment at weekends near Devizes.

Hopefully more about this Jan 2013.

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Peter Martin and Peter Cox
Peter Martin (left) & Peter Cox
the morning after a night of Wadworth's 6X beer.


The official version
used at 217's 25th Jubilee:

"Good morning Mr. Stevens and windy Notchy Knight,
Hurrah for the C.R.E.
We're working very hard down at Upnor Hard,
Hurrah for the C.R.E.

You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy.
You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy pontoon.

For we're marching on to Laffan's Plain, to Laffan's Plain, to Laffan's Plain,
Yes we're marching on to Laffan's Plain where they don't know mud from clay.

Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah Oshta, Oshta, Oshta, Oshta.
Ikona malee, picaninny skoff,
Ma-ninga sabenza, here's another off.
Oolum-da cried Matabele,
Oolum-da, away we go.
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah
Shuush ......
Mr Stevens was a civilian attached to the REs; Windy Notchy Knight a nick-name for a lanky knobbly-kneed WO2; Upnor Hard - the bridging site at the RSME, Chatham, and Laffan's Plain is part of a training area near Aldershot.

Hurrah for the CRE!

At the end of RE functions, there is often a rousing rendition of one of many versions of the "Corps song". Its great if a band is on hand to drown the usually drunken singers, but unfortunately they are unlikely to be around when most needed.

The song originated during the South African War of 1899-1902 (British Empire-v-Dutch 'Boers') and is sung to the tune of a traditional South African song Daer de die ding. The second part contains Zulu words which are complaints that the British gave them too much work and too little pay and food, and so they were leaving.
Every sapper knows the opening "Good Morning Mr Stevens" but after that it's a bit hazy. Each unit seems to have its own version, with words changed over time by misunderstanding, by accent and by local wags. There seems to be an almost total lack of knowledge of the Zulu bits.

When circumstances allow, the gathering should form a chain, each with their hands on the shoulders of the one in front. The chain then winds around with everyone singing, or attempting to, quite loudly. The closing "Ah, ah, ah" should start from a fairly high note and gradually descend. At each "Ah" the singers sink down a little until resting on their heels. There follows a short silence, then a whispered "Shuush", another short silence, then everyone jumps up and shouts "Whooh!" (or Hurray! or Hurrah!")

So to end this webpage, please play the brilliant little video below. Make sure your speakers are on and join in, using whichever version you want.
Hurrah for the CRE!

I am endebted to You Tube and to "Jack Frost" (of Ely?) who uploaded the above and describes himself thus: "I was a Royal Engineer, I was a commercial diver. I was a Police Officer, I am an Ambulance driver."
And obviously a very competent video maker too. Thanks Jack.


An unofficial version
used at Peckham & Chelsea in the 50s/60s and in 2013 at George Orford's funeral:

"Good morning Mr. Stevens and windy Notchy Knight,
Hurrah for the C.R.E.
We're working very hard down at Upnor Hard,
Hurrah for the C.R.E.

You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy.
You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy pontoon.

For we're marching on to Laffan's Plain, to Laffan's Plain, to Laffan's Plain,
Yes we're marching on to Laffan's Plain where they don't know sugar from tissue paper, tisue paper, marmalade or jam

Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah Oshta, Oshta, Oshta, Oshta.
I saw a little boy sitting by a fire, I saw a little boy playing with his wire,
Hold him down till I get at him, hold him down till I get there.

Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah
Hurray !"

If you know the origin of the parts above in bold, or know other variations, please contact me.

My contact details are at bottom right.
Text: Peter Cox.
Photo & information sources as noted.
Copyright remains with the original source.
back to top of page page created Jan 2011 last edited/amended 16 November 2015 please e-mail me