Military service during the Cold War inevitably involved a posting to the British Army of The Rhine (BAOR) which formed part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in what was then West Germany. The task was to counter the threat from the Soviet Union and their Communist Warsaw Pact allies whose massed armour and motorised infantry divisions were poised on the East German border. These were supported by an array of short and medium range nuclear weapons.
The Gloucestershire Regiment, which had last been in Germany immediately after the Second World War, returned there in early 1958 after a brief interlude in England after their tour of duty in Cyprus. The Glosters were posted first to Wuppertal and later to Osnabruck where they participated in all aspects of BAOR life. On 17th May 1958 the Regiment adopted a new front cap badge. The Gloucestershire Regiment had been part of the Wessex Group, later Wessex Brigade, an administrative rather than a tactical formation, since 1946, and it had now been decided that all regiments of the Wessex Brigade should wear the same cap badge, the Wessex Wyvern. Fortunately the Glosters were allowed to retain their unique back badge of the sphinx in a laurel wreath, but it would not be until 1971 that the regular battalion reverted to its more familiar front badge of sphinx, EGYPT and GLOUCESTERSHIRE.
The Glosters took part in normal training activities which built up to large-scale NATO exercises each autumn. These periods of intense activity were interspersed with days of relaxation and battalion family life, before the regiment returned to the United Kingdom in 1960. Major Claud Rebbeck, a regular soldier, and later archivist at the Regimental Museum, recalled his days as senior subaltern with the Glosters in Osnabruck, and praised the virtues of the National Service men with whom he came into contact:-
“It was about this time that we became aware that National Service was soon to end and that we would need a great many regular soldiers to replace them. The great majority of our junior ranks were national servicemen. They brought many skills with them. As signal officer my platoon had the first choice of any draft that arrived if we needed extra men. One invariably chose tradesmen, who were rather older than the rest and had had to sit exams, which usually guaranteed their literacy. Carpenters and electricians were always useful in other ways and our splendid platoon built the battalion cinema and latterly some of the crates for our move home in 1960. Life without them would be different. As mentioned earlier, our NS officers were also usually good and provided variety in our daily lives.”
The Glosters were to undertake several more tours of duty in Germany over the next two decades; Berlin, 1967; Minden, 1970; Munster, 1979; and Berlin again in 1986.
Being part of the garrison in West Berlin always included the duty of guarding Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison. The four occupying powers rotated this guard every month, the British always taking over from the Americans, and handing over to the French, who handed over to the Soviets. The Winter 1986 edition of the regimental journal, “The Back Badge” described the system:-
“Each guard consists of an officer, a sergeant and three reliefs (each of one Junior N.C.O. and seven men). The duty of the guard is “to keep all secure within the prison courtyard and to prevent the escape of the prisoner if he has gained unlawful access to the courtyard”. With “the prisoner,” at present, well into his nineties and showing considerable signs of age, there is probably little danger of this.
“Each relief takes its turn during the 48-hour tour to man the six watch towers around the prison courtyard and the main gate. Duties themselves are long and tedious with strict formalities observed (dating back from the immediate post-war period when Spandau was far busier and a more “high-profile” place). Most of the towers overlook the now derelict and defunct areas of the prison and are of little interest, particularly at 3 o’clock in the morning. However, from one of the towers one can see the garden and small “summer house” used by Hess and thus affords those on duty the chance to see “the loneliest man in the world”.
“Whenever he appears, a phone call is usually sent back to the guardroom to ensure that the Guard Commander or Sergeant on duty at the time has the chance to do an “ad hoc” inspection and see him. On no account are any members of the Guard allowed to communicate in any way to Hess”.
Picture: Glosters MOBAT crew, West Germany c.1970.