CHRISTMAS ISLAND JOURNAL: The recollections of a DUKW driver
This weeks blog is the journal of Brian Cole, he was a DUKW driver on Christmas Island from March 1958 until March 1959.
Brian has created his own website, documenting his time on the Island and providing updates on reunions.
Brian captured some amazing images of his time on the island, his story is a fantastic read:
In 1956, one of the advantages of enlisting in the army - as opposed to waiting to be called-up for National Service - was an understanding there might be an element of choice in matters such as the regiment you joined, the trade in which you were trained, and where you were posted. In my own experience, this turned out to be the case in two of the aforementioned categories because I was allowed to choose the Royal Army Service Corps and I received a thorough training as a driver.
So far as my first posting was concerned, however, I don't recall being given a choice. Mind you, I did have a preference and, in that respect, I was fortunate because I had decided that, although I may have preferred to be posted to an extremely far-flung corner of the world (as opposed to Europe), my second choice was to be as close to my home in the north-west of England as was possible - and Chester (my first posting) fitted the bill quite nicely.
For the most part, I can't deny that I was quite content during my time in Chester. However, as I had only signed on for three years, I realised it was unlikely that I would be posted anywhere else. So, after about a year, in response to an urge to broaden my horizons, I volunteered for a gruelling ten-day course with The Parachute Regiment...........
Sadly, although I completed the course and actually got as far as making a descent from a tethered balloon, I wasn't awarded the coveted paratrooper's wings. Within days, however, my disappointment was put to one side because an earlier application to become a DUKW driver at the British nuclear tests in the south Pacific had been accepted and, early in 1958, I joined a dozen or so other drivers at a training course at an RASC Amphibious company in north Devon.
In hindsight, I seem to have a more vivid recollection of off-duty moments than the military stuff. Visiting the cinema at the nearby town of Barnstaple, for example, or the pub almost opposite the camp gates - where I was introduced to scrumpy (cider) and a form of bar skittles which I hadn't seen before. I do, however, recall that the training was quite intense - in that we were required to learn an awful lot in what seemed like not very much time. It's so long ago (over sixty years) that some of the finer details may have escaped my memory; but, I can remember that we were billeted at a camp near the village of Fremington and that our training was undertaken in and around Instow, Appledore, Westward Ho, and Bideford Harbour - which is where we were introduced to larger landing craft such as the one behind the DUKW (below).
When we had completed our training, we all went to our individual homes for a period of embarkation leave; later re-assembling at the RASC Depot camp at Bordon in Hampshire where we received an assortment of injections and were kitted out with tropical uniforms and kit.
On the last weekend before our flight to The Pacific, Geordie Dixon, Barry Hands, and myself set out towards Aldershot for a final Saturday afternoon and evening in the UK. On the way, from the top of a double-decker bus, I caught sight of a small garage which had a Ford Popular for hire (below). Fortunately, Barry had a savings account; so, we jumped off the bus, found a Post Office, and persuaded him to withdraw sufficient funds to cover the cost of the hire - which (so far as I can recall) was about a fiver for the weekend.
Heading north, we realised it was too far to contemplate going as far as Geordie's home in the north-east; so I invited him to my home in the north-west. Barry lived near Birmingham and we dropped him off on the way. We returned to Depot Camp very late on Sunday night before I headed off to Heathrow airport on the following morning.
Although we hadn't known it until we arrived in Hampshire, the RASC unit at Port Camp on Christmas Island didn't just consist of DUKW drivers. There were also several bakers and a handful of tank-farm technicians - making a total of about three dozen - all of whom had assembled with us at Depot Camp before travelling to the Pacific. The first leg of the journey was going to be on civilian aircraft and we were scheduled to travel as far as Hawaii in small groups of three, four, five or six. This group (below), for example, who are waiting at a railway station en route to Heathrow Airport, consists of three DUKW drivers, two bakers and a tank-farm technician.......
To read the full journal, click here
It is these stories which allow the impact of the Nuclear Veterans time on the island to be appreciated. Brian was lucky enough to have access to a camera to record these fantastic images.
Nuclear Veterans Worldwide would like to thank Brian for allowing us access to his story and the images via the BNTVA. (Even this one!)
Brian's website can be accessed via http://www.omnibusologist.com