I was born in 1953, the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls. My father was a coal miner who worked in the Easthouses coalmine in Midlothian, Scotland. My mother was a housewife.

We lived in a two bedroom house on a miners row. My parents had one bedroom and the four of us shared two beds in the other room. Somehow, we managed to get by without too many arguments. Perhaps because our father ruled with his fists when we stepped out of line.

The house had no electricity, so cooking was done on the coal fire and the oven built in to it. Lighting was provided by gas mantles located at head height on the walls. Bath times were in a large galvanised bath placed in front of the living room fire, the hot water regularly topped up from a kettle placed on one of the griddles at either side of the fire.

The toilet was at the end of the garden, a miserable, cold hut with a leaking roof and newspaper for toilet paper. We kept a chamber pot under each bed for nocturnal use. Rats and mice abounded and I remember at least once discovering a mouse inside the loaf of bread I had been sent to get from the pantry cupboard.

Luxuries were few and far between. Christmas might see us get a toy apiece and some fruit and chocolate in the stockings we hung from the bed posts. Clothes were almost always second hand, usually from neighbours with children older than us.

I attended Easthouses Primary School from the age of five. It was a Victorian era building, with just two classrooms. Classes were of mixed age and were basically Primary 1, 2 & 3 in one room, 4, 5 & 6 in the other (as far as I can remember). I hated school from the start. I was frequently in trouble and teachers resorted to using the belt to keep me under control. Pupils were subject to corporal punishment from the day they entered school right up to the day they left 10 years later. The school was demolished in the sixties to make way for a new road upgrade. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any photographs of the school when it was active.

By the time I started in Secondary school in nearby Dalkeith at the age of ten, I was totally uninterested in learning. I skipped school frequently, and when I was in class, didn’t take much interest in the subjects being taught. This is something I sometimes regret, although my life and career doesn’t seem to have suffered too much. I left school in December 1968 at the age of fifteen, having spent most of the final six months of my school life galavanting around the streets of Dalkeith without much thought to my future. Without a qualification to my name, my prospects looked pretty grim, but my father had other plans for me.

Unknown to me, he had entered me into a National Coal Board (NCB) apprenticeship entrance exam. So, having sat a General Knowledge exam and been one of the thirty successful applicants out of a total of two hundred and forty young and not so young men, I started out on a four year apprenticeship to become an Electrical Engineer. I initially worked at the Woolmet Coal Mine in Danderhall, a worked out mine converted to a training establishment. After this preliminary training I was assigned to Monktonhall Colliery, one of the largest coal producing pits in Europe at the time.

As an apprentice, I spent most of my time attached to a tradesman on day to day work. I also attended a day release scheme each week to learn the trade from the book. Funnily, I enjoyed this classroom environment, given that I had hated school. At the age of seventeen, my parents moved to South Queensferry. I was transferred to the Kinneil Colliery in Bo’ness. I tried commuting on my motor bike for a while, but winter weather meant I eventually moved in to “digs” in Bo’ness.

After four years as an apprentice, I finally qualified as an Electrical Engineer and started working without supervision. Initially working in the coalface area, I actually enjoyed my work, despite the really dangerous and unhealthy working environment. The coalface was a noisy, hot and poorly ventilated place to work. The roof of the coalface was only four feet high and so you were constantly bent over. Accidents were commonplace, with crush injuries the most frequent. Fortunately, apart from minor knocks and bruises, I avoided any serious injuries. And then my manager decided I should work on the surface in the workshops. Apart from a significant loss of pay, the workshop routine was tedious and soul destroying. After numerous requests for a return to the coalface, I handed in my notice and in 1973 returned to South Queensferry.

I took a position as a barman at the Queensferry Arms Hotel, the local pub frequented by my family. By that time, I had met Janet who has been my partner to this day (we were married in 1974). After a period working with an electrical engineering firm in Edinburgh, I decided after discussing it with Janet, that I would join the RAF. Or so I thought at the time.

When I visited the RAF Recruitment office in Edinburgh, the recruiter gave me the bad news, Without O-Levels (and despite the Electrical Engineering qualifications that I now had), the RAF just weren’t interested. As I walked down the stairs from the RAF office, I realised that the Army office was right next door. Down one set of steps and up the other, an hour later I was committed to joining the Army.

And so, in May 1974, I found myself in Catterick, North Yorkshire. 11 Signal Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals was my first posting, the Basic Training unit for the majority of Royal Signals enlistees. Having “passed out” as a soldier, I was transferred to 8 Signal Regiment to commence training as a Telecommunications Technician. With my background, I was fortunate to be able to advance classes, shortening my time there. At the end of my training, qualified as a T3 technician, I was promoted to Lance Corporal and posted to 28 Signal Regiment, located near the village of St. Tonis in Germany.

Four years later, and now promoted to full Corporal, I returned to 8 Signal Regiment in Catterick to commence my T1 training. This lasted a full year and was mainly classroom based, although I still had to complete the usual fitness training and pass the mandatory tests involved. On completion, I was posted to 7 Signal Regiment in Herford, West Germany. No sooner had I arrived, but I was out on exercise in the wilds of Bielefeld Ridge.