Read This Excerpt from Lance’s Autobiography
The story of Lance’s eventful life, In My Shoes, will be available for download soon. Meanwhile, here’s an extract to whet your appetite.
We’d love to hear what you think. You can email us at the address above or leave a message for Lance on Facebook.
Enjoy the excerpt below meanwhile!
Memories Of National Service
The Scots Guards
“The Guards! As a Quaker you can conscientiously abstain from military service. But the Guards!”
The staff at Leighton Park were almost all oldish pacifist Quakers who had avoided military service. They seemed to be out of touch with the ‘real?’ world. A cousin of mine had been in the Scots Guards so I decided to join, too. I wanted to experience the other side. And opposite it was.
“What the hell’s that? Church of Scotland. March him off.”
Sunday church parade in Caterham guards barracks in full guards uniform, blancoed belt, polished brass, ironed trousers with creases ironed like a knife, boots spit and polished till they reflected like black glass, all took four hours to prepare. Lance Corporal Lance Clark’s strategem designed to avoid all this hassle and enjoy a relaxing Sunday morning failed.
“Company motto, Clark?”
“Nemo me impune lacessit.”
“No-one attacks me and gets away with it.”
Captain Erskine, a dapper Etonian Scots Guards officer, would come round the barracks while we were still polishing our boots, ironing uniforms, blancoing belts and polishing brass buckles and badges at midnight.
He would quiz us on Scots Guards regimental history.
Having been at a Quaker School, I was the only one who had not done army corp drill training. The sergeant yelled a command. The rest of the group jumped and turned right while I, not grasping the command, wandered off left.
“Take these scissors and go and cut the lawn outside the guardroom.”
“Outrageous. Do you realise you are wearing the Guards tie? That’s really not on!”
A pompous, plum-in-both-cheeks old Etonian on the train attacked me.
“Once a Guardsman, always a f***ing Guardsman.”
My quote from the Caterham Sergeant Major silenced him.
Did anything from the Guards rub off? Every morning, blankets and kit had to be laid out in line to the nearest millimetre. One millimetre out, and everything was thrown on the floor by the sergeant.
“Pick it up and do it properly.”
My children will remember that great tidiness is not my strength. Perhaps my untidiness is a counter-reaction! A seven year-old Yoyi, when asked:
“Why does mummy have the smart Lexus car and daddy an eight year-old Ford?”
Replied: “Because daddy keeps his car so untidy.”
The Royal West African Frontier Force (later the Nigeria Regiment)
“Where do you want to go to?”
Field Marshall John Harding interviewed me following my graduation from officer training at Eaton Hall.
The first country that came into my head came from stamps I had seen on one of my father’s business letters. My father used to get up at 7am every morning to go down to the Clarks factory to open all the letters. He brought back the foreign stamps.
Ten days later, I was in Kaduna in Nigeria living in a bungalow, my gidar, by the officers’ mess, with a soldier servant to look after me.
“Royal West African Frontier Force.”
“White officers with black privates.”
“Ooh, how exciting.”
I was Second Lieutenant in the Nigeria Regiment, 4th Battalion in Kaduna, and was given the Hausa name Dogo Yaro, which means Tall Boy.
Many years later a Nigerian lady came to Somerset to ask for help with shoe villages in her country. She was surprised when I told her my Hausa name and sang our marching song: “With a guru guru, Ya jabee”
Mogadishu Barracks – Kaduna
While stationed at Mogadishu Barracks, there were 30 of us young 18 year-old National Service officers eating and drinking together in a magnificent officers’ mess on a hill surrounded by mango trees. We trained our African soldiers, gave them English lessons, went out on treks in the bush and played tennis and rugby.
Our rugby team drove eight hours to play against the 15 in Jos, a tin mining town on the plateau. The Jos hosts’ aim was to get us all hopelessly drunk the night before. Next day, the scrum half had to get the ball in quick before it got covered in sick.
We were paid extra for trekking with a platoon out into unmapped areas of the Nigerian bush. As we were camping by, and swimming in, a river, all the villagers came to watch along the bank.
“Master, they do want to see if you are white all over!”
We issued chlorine tablets to sanitise the water.
“Why are you rubbing those chlorine pills on your arms?”
“Master you do say these pills take away all bad. I do have terrible pain for arm.”
The Queen and the Visitors’ Book
While I was there, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Kaduna. They attended a magnificent Durba parade of all the different Hausa tribes, and later came to our officers’ mess.
“The Queen complimented your graphics in the visitor’s book.”
I had worked hard to make myself competent at graphics. The commanding officer asked me to write the headings in the officers’ mess visitors book for the Queen and Duke to sign.
“Did they notice the spelling mistake?”
“What are you talking about, Clark?”
“His Royal Higess.”
“Bloody hell, Clark, put it right.”
I spent hours forging the Queen and Duke’s signatures, re-wrote the graphics, spelled Highness correctly and gave the corrected version to the Colonel. Somewhere in Kaduna is my signature in the battalion visitors’ book. Somewhere in my papers are the valuable signatures of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Big Game Hunting With The General
I was appointed aide-de-camp (or ADC) to the general in command of West Africa. He was a passionate big game hunter and had written books on hunting in Africa and India. I joined him in an area north of Kaduna, shown on the map to be uninhabited.
My job was to go out with him to the spot where he was hiding overnight to try and shoot a lion. I returned to his base camp. There I had to listen to incoming wireless messages and decide whether they were important enough to go out and fetch him.
“Wild pig,” he whispered.
He tested the wind. We crawled round to approach the pigs from against the wind.
Then in front of us were some 15 of them drinking from a pool in the river bed.
“You take the front one! Shoot when I shoot!”
Two loud bangs – two pigs dead. Then a terrible wailing from the bank.
“My God, Clark, we’ve killed two domestic pigs!”
I had to negotiate a pay-off to the villagers.
I could do nothing wrong the remainder of my military career – or at least so I thought!
But: As ADC to the general I had been entrusted with the only new Land Rover the fourth battalion had been allocated in four years.
On the way home, my “boy” as we used to call them, or manservant, asked me to fill the trailer with fire wood which was against army regulations. It was cheaper in the bush than in Kaduna. Also against the rules, I then took over the driving.
The combination of heavy trailer and slippery, waterlogged mud track saw me skidding out of control as I went round a bend. The new Land Rover rolled over down a bank and finished up on its side – with my legs through the windscreen. It took the whole village to lift it up and get it back on the track.
Back in barracks, my friend Ron, the transport officer, took the battered Land Rover to the battalion garage to restore it. He intended to take doors and other bits from other Land Rovers.
Unfortunately, there was a routine garage inspection and the battered new Land Rover was found before it was rebuilt. I was charged with:
– Driving instead of my native driver
– On the wrong route
– Using a military vehicle to collect fire wood
– Crashing a vehicle
– Not reporting the crash
Since it would cost a fortune to raise a court marshal, the commanding officer said the case would be dismissed if I paid the repair costs.
They would not let me go back to England until I paid. So I paid. It was a lot of money.
Officers’ Mess of the 4th Battalion
“What the bloody hell is going on Clark?”
It was the regular end of the month full military evening dress formal dinner with the visiting area Brigadier at the head of the table. I was in charge of the officers’ mess catering.
Sergeant Sunday, the mess sergeant, was leading in the mess waiters who were carrying silver racks full of fresh toast.
“Master, you do say after the dinner bring on the royal toast.”
Puppies for supper
“Have you seen Yowa’s puppies Lance?”
Jimmy James’ dog had birthed six puppies to whom he was devoted.
“Let’s go down to the lines and see if they are there?!”
A smell of roasting meat.
“Bloody hell, oh my God, Lance the b******s are roasting them”
Poor Jimmy threw a fit.
Major Sweeny is invalided home
An obnoxious Major had been posted to the 4th battalion as second in command. He felt, probably rightly, we junior officers needed tighter discipline. He had put me on a charge:
Shorts not two fingers above the knee!
A keen polo player, he had made the Ordinance Company build a wooden horse, dig a pit with sloping sides and place the horse in that pit so that he could practice polo shots as the ball rolled down either side.
One night a group of us took a three ton truck, loaded the wooden horse, placed it outside his gidar and using the best polo outfit from his room, built an effigy and sat it on the horse.
Hiding behind the hedge we waited till the Major came home. Seeing his effigy sitting on the horse, he went bananas.
“I’ll have whoever did this court marshalled.”
The poor Major screamed and raged. The Major was invalided home.
“I’ll get you, Clark!”
There were beer team relay races in the officers’ mess after the monthly full dress formal dinner. Whoever had Captain Aguiyi-Ironsi in their team always won. Ironsi could dislocate his Adam’s apple and pour the beer down. He still holds the record for drinking the yard of ale in a pub in Bodmin, where he was on a training course.
The captain later became Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi, the senior African officer at Nigerian Independence after the five Nigerian officers senior to him were all cashiered.
Ironsi later became President of Nigeria following a coup, but shortly after was assassinated in 1966.
“You only hear what you want to hear.”
One of the drawbacks to my generally very fortunate life has been my deafness.
Deafness is extremely irritating to those who have to live and operate alongside someone who constantly asks for a repeat or misguesses what was meant. It has been a major problem in business, making it very difficult to cope at times as, for example, at meetings with union officials and members.
Closer to home, it has been particularly irritating for my second wife, Ying, living with a deaf partner with the deafness compounded by the language and cultural differences.
There are pluses and minuses in life. Knowing my deafness would increase has been the stimulus to my learning to draw, so there would be a pastime to fill the social void.
We had marched the 120 miles with full gear and weapons at four miles an hour through the night. This was followed by an exercise intended to accustom the soldiers to the frightening crack and thump of bullets passing over their heads that they would experience in real war.
Life-sized targets were set up at the end of a rift valley. The soldiers were instructed to walk down the valley.
When the targets came into their sight, I would start firing over their heads across the valley from a ledge high up on one side of the valley.
One platoon was supposed to fire at the targets, (in real warfare, to keep the enemy heads down) while the second platoon made a flanking attack on the ‘enemy’ targets.
All fine in theory, until one of the African soldiers saw where I was firing from and started firing at me. Fortunately he was not a marksman. With bullets hitting the rocks around me, I retreated into a cave and continued firing over their heads from the Bren gun.
Suddenly all went black with intense ringing in the ears. Subsequent examination by the army medical officer revealed that the resonance within the cave had broken small bones in the ear.
The army gave me £600 for the hearing damage – not much considering the problems I later faced, such as trying to hear everyone when chairing a company council and having to guess what a trade unionist was saying.
A Free Treat for
Here’s a treat for your little ones – a book of children’s stories directly from the imagination of Lance Clark.
These are stories Lance wrote to entertain his younger children, and they’re generously illustrated in colour by Lance as well.
Download these stories to entertain your own children, or just children you know, and if you like them, please let us know. If we get a good enough response we’ll format them for Kindle and have some printed as actual books!
Enjoy the stories!