- “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.”
Arthur Wellesley on the QDG OCA German Branch
I’m not sure if you know this, but in another life I was a soldier.
I say another life because that’s exactly what it seems to be now. I was different in the army; despite the discipline I had far more freedom to do as I wished and was, consequently, positively feral in my free time.
I ran with a clique who called themselves Quaff Troop, and that’s what we did. We quaffed. Olly Reed was our hero and patron saint, (unknowingly, of course) and we toasted his name at any and every opportunity. Our troop store was the NAAFI, our ID Cards were Paderborner Pilsner bottle openers, which were to be presented every time you were challenged or you were fined a slab of beer and nobody, absolutely nobody was allowed to own up to a hangover. Work hard, play harder was our motto, though the playing bit tended to overwhelm the work part.
For example, once a year the Americans and French would visit us for a joint exercise, preparing for an eventual closure of the Berlin corridor by Warsaw pact forces. They’d be invited to the bar in the evenings and duly put to the sword by our drinking prowess. We’d challenge and provoke until they’d found enough men for a drinking team and then we’d crush them, accompanied with lots of songs and patriotic bouts of “Oggy, oggy, oggy”.
The ladies were another distraction. Though we all loved women, in the confines of our troop store it just wasn’t done to be seen to be a gentleman. Course, misogynistic sayings peppered our vocabulary like grapeshot and our appreciation of the fairer sex was not what you’d call politically correct… in fact, you couldn’t even call it correct. We were young, fit and very unhealthy in our quest for ale and ladies who like a good time…
Though, if I’m honest, we had more luck with the ale than we did with the floozies :-).
Europe was different then too, of course. We had the might of the Russian Third Shock Army waiting for us at Magdeburg, (about 90 kilometres away) and the Cold War didn’t look like it was going to thaw at all. Though nobody really gave a thought to those prowling communists on the border, we knew that every time we went out on manoeuvres, (once a year, for two months in one go) we were training for a war that would probably go nuclear very early on, killing us all very quickly and thus spoiling everyone’s plans for the weekend..
However, it was those very same atomic warfare-endangered weekends that kept us going. We, the lads in the barracks who weren’t career NCOs, who didn’t have the benefit of a solid family behind them, who didn’t speak enough German to have any interest in the local area, all we had was the NAAFI, the Bierhaus, (our local in the town) and the discos of Brunswick to keep us sane… and we liked it that way.
So, fast forward twenty odd years to last weekend and imagine this.
The same town, Wolfenbüttel, though not as affluent as it was during the Cold War, and a troop of Dragoons, patrolling its bars with ale in mind. Laugh-lined, beer-bellied, bald of head and dicky-bladdered, we weren’t Quaff Troop but we were thirsty Dragoons reliving our past.
This was Waterloo weekend, the celebration of that famous battle where our regiment (or the forerunners of that proud institution) made their mark and played their part in stopping the Corsican tyrant in his tracks. The majority of us had invested in polo shirts, regimental royal blue with the cap badge on the chest, and like a herd of cobalt, geriatric mastodons, we grazed through Wolfenbüttel’s tidy pedestrian precinct, supping the town dry, recounting the same old stories and laughing like escaped loonies.
Once, such a gathering of beer frenzied Brits would have struck terror in the hearts of the locals. However, times have changed and the good people of Wolfenbüttel thought it refreshingly quaint, fun even! We weren’t fighters, (I never have been), we were drinkers and the pubs willingly opened their doors to us and our coffers, (another considerable change since the 80’s).
This all started a couple of years ago when one of the lads had the idea of gathering the chaps who lived in and around Wolfenbüttel to celebrate our ties with the regiment.
The first gathering was a minor success. There was no special reason behind it, we just met up, swung the lantern, pulled up a sandbag and told stories over ale. It was decided on the night to do it again, once a year.
We’ve had numerous gatherings since then, with varied success, (the worst of which consisted of myself and four others, including the barman), but the idea of celebrating Waterloo struck a chord with the majority of ex Dragoons in the region and the last one we’d held, (2012) was a roaring triumph.
So Russ, (the driving force behind the affair) put out the feelers to see if anyone would be up for it again?
The feedback was respectable, but nobody could ever have predicted how spectacularly good the evening would be.
Saturday the 15th, “(Waterloo day) started off in the town around fifteen hundred hours, and went through until I have no idea. Beers in the town and then off to the football club where it was being held.
Our hosts for the night, Steve and Claudia Jones, made food for us and credit where credit’s due, they worked the bar like true professionals; something I know I’d never have managed as my experiences as a barman on ex. Snow Queen can testify.
All in all it was a great night that reaffirmed to me what the regiment was; a part of my life that will never go away and deserves its tribute. On the night I met some great older guys, who told me stories about my former Sergeant Majors that would have curled my toes as a young trooper. I saw old friends again, people that I haven’t seen for over twenty years and I drank with the guys I meet with on a regular basis.
I only served six years in the regiment, but the shadow cast by that time is longer than anything else I have done in my life. I’m planning to go over to the main regimental reunion in October and I hope to see a couple of faces from my past there, and, of course, glory in the abuse about the length of my hair!
You can take the man out of the Dragoons, but you can’t take the Dragoon out of the man, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Pro rege et patria
( … but pro quaffing’s the norm.)
As you were.