Austin Hernon

Born into the chaos of a world war…

It’s no surprise that culture led me to a life in the military.

The world seemed weary of itself in the 1940s and 1950s and nothing much seemed to happen. School went by without any significant interchange of ideas.

I looked forward to wandering about at lunchtime, staring over the wall of Swan Hunter’s shipyard, trying to spot my grandfather and watching the ferries skittering across the waters of Tyne to Hebburn. School was only somewhere convenient to be during the day, nothing more.

It felt a waste of time, and the local priest had more influence over teaching than the headmaster, so I left maths-poor and catechism-rich, ready to face a world not yet ready to face itself.

Things brightened up at this point. No qualifications (that would come some years later with an HNC in Business Studies, as would the BSc in Social Sciences), just the joy of freedom; until the idea of earning a living was mentioned.

I had been racing moto-cross bikes at the time, liked nuts and bolts and oily smells, and so thought that my career should take a different path from being apprenticed to my father in a butcher’s shop; not a decision I’ve ever regretted. I found employment as an army recovery mechanic with diving skills – that was good, excellent in fact, but it’s another story.

Twenty-three years later, and after many adventures, the question of what to do next came up once more when I found myself on the cusp of civilian life. It was easier this time and I entered the world of civilian logistics, first with BT and then the Post Office group.

Ten years after that came another retirement and another freedom. Time to write, and here we are.

After leaving school my first foray into the adult world was with the Sea Cadets; my greatest happiness at the time. When I was old enough, my happiness increased again on joining the Royal Marines Reserve. I was allocated to the Special Boat Service and became a diver/canoeist/parachutist. I was taught other skills too obscure to mention, and discovered the adult world through different eyes. A bigger collection of rogues and nutcases you would be hard pressed ever to find gathered in one place – except on the set of some Hollywood ‘B’ movie.

In the Special Boat Service we paddled canoes, made parachute jumps and drained many a coastal hostelry dry. We dived with primitive oxygen equipment then invaded more waterside pubs, and blew things up; we crossed moor and mountain to blow more things up – and drank loads of beer in remote and overwhelmed public houses. Four years of paid-for fun. Until I succumbed to my inner petrol-head and left the marines to join the regular army.

HMS Northumbria was my first ship. We went to sea in her, and as we sailed beyond the piers of the River Tyne, I looked back to see the yellow fug lying across the Tyne valley. I had lived in this. It was the result of industrial Tyneside being powered by coal, and was always accompanied, day and night, by the rattle of riveting guns, the flash of welding torches, and the clash of steel colliding as the work of shipbuilding went on unabated. How my lungs survived that I’ll never know.

My first job brought my first wage packet, £7 for the week, and my first motorbike – a Douglas Dragonfly – smooth.

Then I moved up a gear, to the Royal Marine Reserve. I was too titchy to be a commando, so they offloaded me into the Special Boat Section: my gain.

Royal Engineers

Germany bridge building unit

After training it’s off to Germany bridge building unit, during the same period I was often called upon to do extra curricular work for the local German authorities, such as: recovering bodies, searching for stolen items, repairing underwater pipes, and the best of all, rescuing a five hundred tonne barge stuck on a sandbank in the River Weser.

This, as well as the usual breakdowns and crashes on the road and items, such as tanks, fallen in the water during river crossings – all good fun.