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Tank Commander Series
By Stuart Crawford - Part 3
Becoming my troop’s muppet

TO PREFACE what follows below, I must just tell you that the regiment I joined after Sandhurst, the 4th Royal Tank Regiment (Scotland’s Own), usually known as 4 RTR or 4th Tonks, was by common consensus the finest armoured regiment the world has ever seen. It was vastly superior to its cousins 1 RTR, 2 RTR, and 3 RTR, and was quite simply in a league of its own in the Royal Armoured Corps in terms of style, panache, and sheer professionalism. No other armoured regiment has, or ever will, come close. Rommel’s panzers don’t even begin to compete. And please be assured there is no bias in my statement here, it is just plain fact, not opinion. Ask any of my former regimental comrades, whose contact details I can supply if required.

Having go that out of the way, I do have to tell you that my arrival at the Best Armoured Regiment In The World Ever (henceforth #BARITWE), then stationed at York Kaserne, Munster, Westphalia, was a tad underwhelming. For reasons that can be only properly explained by those involved at the time – I’m looking at you, Adjutant and Chief Clerk (no names, no pack drill) – communications with those outwith the Regiment’s immediate geographic location were tenuous at best, and chaotic the rest of the time.

So I more or less made my own way there, under my own steam as it were, armed only with an MoD Posting Order to guide me. I found myself on the regular RAF Trooping Flight from Luton to RAF Gutersloh, on which, to my chagrin and embarrassment, it was announced to the cabin full of rowdy soldiers returning from leave that 2nd Lt Crawford was officer-in-charge of personnel in transit, an announcement greeted with a ribald cheer by my fellow passengers. As it happened my duties were nil, thank goodness.

Nobody met me at the airport – communications really were shambolic – so I got on the normal trooping bus heading for Munster, which was fine. I arrived at the entrance to York Kaserne just as the guard was being mounted at 6pm. Normally the mounting of the guard would be a fairly formal affair, with the Orderly Officer of the day in full rig inspecting the guard with much saluting, crashing of feet, and swords being waved about. To my mild surprise I noted that the Orderly Officer that evening, one Lt Steve Anstey, had decided not to bother with all the formal stuff, had driven the short distance from the Officers’ Mess to the guardroom in his car, whereupon he wound down the window (remember, it was the eighties) and said something along the lines of: “Very good, Sgt McDonald, fall them out and crack on.”

I introduced myself as the new officer joining the Regiment. From the blank look on his face I could tell straight away that this was complete news to him. But I got a bed for the night, something to eat (and no doubt something to drink as well – I can’t remember) and all was well in the end. I had arrived.

The next morning I got into my uniform, had breakfast, and walked down to Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) for my welcome interview with the Commanding Officer (CO), Lt Col Mike Rose, a delightful man, and was duly despatched to the D Squadron office as their new, wet-behind-the-ears, Troop Leader. The Squadron was commanded by Major Mike Williams*, I was told, and at the designated time I marched into his office, gave him my best Sandhurst crashing-to-attention salute, and said something like: “2nd Lt Crawford reporting for duty, Sir!”

Mike looked up from his desk somewhat bemusedly, and kindly informed me that we didn’t go in for that sort of nonsense in the 4th and that I should call him Mike from then on. I learned that all officers in the Regiment were to be addressed by their first names regardless of rank and seniority. The exception was the CO, who was addressed as “Colonel” or, if you were feeling relaxed, confident, or slightly tipsy, you might occasionally address as “Colonel Mike”.

By far and away the most terrifying part, though, was meeting the troops you were to command for the first time. This took place the next morning after my arrival at First Parade, a short little ceremony held on the tank park at 8am each working day. I was to take over 13 Troop, D Squadron, from Richard “Stig” Jenkinson**. I knew the boys were eyeing me up just as I was them. It was all a bit discombobulating, to be honest, but I survived.

The relationship with your first command, your first troop, was an interesting one. They desperately wanted you to be good, and you desperately wanted them to like you. Some young officers had just got it and succeeded instantaneously; gaining both the respect and liking of their men (it was all men in my day). Others never had it and fell by the wayside ere too long, back to civvy street after their three years and, it has to be said, some of then went on to do great things and achieve high office. But even if your boys thought you were a complete muppet, as long as you were an honest, decent, well-intentioned-trying-your-best muppet, then eventually you became their muppet. They’d still call you a muppet amongst themselves, but if anyone from outside voiced the same opinion about their officer they’d get battered, simple as. I would never condone such violence, of course, but I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere for the corporate world.

To come in Part 4, life as a young(ish) subaltern in the Officers’ Mess.

Stuart Crawford 2020

* By happy coincidence (for me, not necessarily for him) Mike is now a near neighbour in, and Lord Lieutenant of, East Lothian.

** A splendid chap, sadly taken to soon just recently to join the great squadron leaguer in the sky.

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