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A Soldier′s Life for me

From the Barwicker No. 103 and No. 104
September and December 2011

Les Goddard is a military hero living quietly in Scholes. He told his remarkable story to Martin Tarpey.

″I was born in Hunslet and have two younger brothers. I attended Hunslet National School but changed schools twice when we moved house, so I went to Bewerley Street and Middleton Primary Schools before going on to Park Side High School. I was not a great lover of school, but later in life I appreciated some of the things that I had been taught. I learnt more when I started work but I have always been a hard worker, and I really wanted to find a proper career. One day some Army friends told me what they were doing and how they were living. It sounded brilliant, so I thought I would give it a go and in 1980 I joined up.

As a young man, my interests were playing football, cricket, darts and snooker but I really enjoyed playing rugby and was honoured to play for my regiment.

I am tall and so was allocated to the Coldstream Guards. This is the oldest regiment in the British Army in continuous active service since its formation in 1650; that is why its motto is Nulli Secundus, Second to None, (of whom the Coldstreamers know). The Coldstream creed is Honi Soit Qui Mal Pense (Evil be to him who evil thinks). It is an elite regiment with a long and proud tradition and as a young Coldstreamer I soon learned how tough, disciplined and exceptionally demanding the training has to be to produce first-class soldiers. All Coldstreamers have 13 studs on the sole of each boot to denote the 13 men in the Regiment who have been awarded the Victoria Cross.

My six months basic ′square bashing′ at The Guards Depot in Surrey was very hard. I vividly remember being instructed how to march. Initially all the recruits were put into three ranks and marched up and down to the stores and if any of us messed up we were told to run somewhere and run back as fast as possible. None of us had ever marched before and so we messed up more times than I can remember, by the time we were back at the block we were sweating and blowing. Then we had to go and sort out our beds and lockers as well as ironing our uniform and that was difficult since our mothers had always done ironing for us; eventually we learnt how to do it after a fashion and helped others who were having problems. A Lance Corporal was in charge of the room and his job was to show us how to do things the Guards way.

On our second day we had to get up at 06.30 which was not what we were used to, soldiers came in banging dustbin tops loudly to make sure we all got up. We all had to be ready by 0700 for breakfast, because at 0730 we had to be back on parade to return to our block. We marched round the camp before being shown how to iron our uniform properly, how to buff the floor in the block, how to clean the toilets and even how to make the bed in three different ways, normal, made down for inspection and made down for leaving. Our lockers were strictly regulated, clothes had to be ironed, correctly sized and properly placed. But the most important thing was to clean your boots for parade; they had to be clean and shiny enough to see your face in them when you shaved.

The first six weeks were the worst, running around up and down ‘the hill’ and doing drill. We were due a weekend leave which was conditional on passing the drill inspection satisfactorily. We all tried so hard but unfortunately made a small mistake which kept us on the drill ground, so we were delayed. We kept drilling until there were no mistakes, and went on leave knowing that we still had lots to learn. On returning, we started advanced drill and longer runs. Six soldiers dropped out at this time. We had equipment inspections every week. If your kit was of a high standard but you had something out of place in the layout, it was thrown around and you got locked up for a few hours, then when you got back you had to sort it out and get ready for the following day. But we all pulled together and helped each other out.

Our assault course training was very tough and hard to complete, especially as we had to lug our webbing around on five mile runs carrying a twenty pounds weight. We had another six weeks assault course training and drill course to complete before we went on a week’s leave.

When we returned we still had eight weeks to go; we learned map reading and went on field exercises. We were sent to East Anglia for two weeks where we started digging trenches and fighting an enemy that started off as targets that popped up, then dropped back down again when hit. We learned how to use an SLR (Self Loading Rifle) and re-load quickly using the rounds in our webbing. It was nice to get back to camp and start making preparations for the final parade, we all worked very hard to ensure that our kit was immaculate. We also had many late nights checking up on regimental history.

Eventually the final day came and after a five mile hike with heavy webbing we had the assault course. But by this time the weight didn’t bother us and in the afternoon we had our passing out parade with family and friends watching. It was the most thrilling sensation in the world to work unbelievably hard for six months, to become super fit and then enjoy the pride and passion of passing out successfully to join an elite regiment.

After a week’s leave I was posted to Caterham in Surrey to join the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, who were still stationed there for another month as they were on their way over to Germany. I then became part of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards which had just finished a tour in Germany. I was in No 3 Company and started to learn my official Ceremonial Duties. The drill was very exacting and the sergeant was prepared to throw soldiers into jail for not listening to what he said; turning the wrong way or not stopping when commanded were the worst offences.

Collecting my red tunic, trousers and bear skin hat was exciting. We had to be checked over by the master tailor to make sure that the uniform looked good and fitted correctly. Then we were called out for our first Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace and the Tower of London. My first Queen’s Guard was St James's, it was winter time and very hard work, we did a two day stag, (there for two days throughout the winter and one day through the summer) then back down to Buckingham Palace and change the Guard. Whilst on Guard at the Palaces people can look at you but not touch. But when you are at St James's Palace people can get very close and stand at your side, whereas when you are at Buckingham Palace there is a big court yard and fence between you and the public.

The Tower of London is a good place to guard. You can see two guardsmen during the day near the White Tower and then as night comes we get other posts for the Key Ceremony. That is when a few people come in to the Tower for 10 pm and watch the handing over of the keys. I did that parade with the Holder of the Keys who is the Chief Beefeater at the Tower and I also acted as the Challenger of the Keys, before they are actually handed over.

Thirteen ravens live in the Tower, they have their nests near Traitor’s Gate. If any fly away or there are not thirteen, then it is said London will fall. But as the birds have had their wings clipped they cannot fly away, but they have the freedom of the Tower and can go wherever they choose.

On 16th January 1981 I was selected to join the ceremonial group in Chester for the funeral of Regimental Sergeant Major Ronald Brittain, I acted as his coffin bearer. He was a national figure and well known as the Loudest Voice in the British Army.

In May that year we started rehearsing for Trooping the Colour. We had rehearsals in barracks three or four times a week in preparation for the troop, learning how to march with the turns. In those days the troop had eight lots of Guards whereas now they only have six. It is very hard standing there waiting for H.M. Queen Elizabeth to enter the parade, but then it gets easier as you march proudly round the parade ground for the whole world to see. After doing normal training in the Regiment I became a clerk in the office. I went on a six week’s training course and that led to doing clerical as well as the ceremonial and infantry duties like everyone else.

Early in 1982 the Company went to Cyprus to do hot climate training and early rises, because it is light at 5.00 am. The rough terrain and heat made training very hard, but when we got a few days off there was lots to see and do, both on the beach and in Limassol.

We then had a six months tour of Northern Ireland. It is a beautiful part of the country, but a few of our lads were injured when their patrols were fired on. The regiment then returned to Cyprus for an eight week tour, to assist another Regiment stationed there. We also undertook very strenuous climate and sea training.

In 1984 we went down to the Falkland Islands via Ascension Island whilst the Islands were still under the threat of attack and we had just started re-building Port Stanley. We were very well received by the locals. Thus we went from winter in the UK down to the very cold Falklands winter and then back home for winter again. By this time we were well used to the cold weather and were running around without our coats on; we didn't feel the cold as much as we would normally have done. On our return to England we had to get ready for the next Trooping of The Colour. We still found the training difficult but not as hard as it was the first time.

In 1985 we had a trip to Canada and we were on a huge prairie where battlefield cover is difficult to achieve. We did lots of hard training but in our two days leave we had a chance to have a look round. It is an exciting and fascinating country with lots of open ground and large cities.

In 1986 we were posted to Hong Kong for three years although I only did one year there because I was posted to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium. We were stationed at Fort Stanley on the Eastern side of Hong Kong and helped the Hong Kong Police stop immigrants crossing the border. I enjoyed Hong Kong, there were many good areas but a few bad ones which we avoided. I did my Lance Corporal’s Drill Course there before my European posting. Then I went to Belgium for two years as the Movements Clerk, to make sure that every British person could travel in and out of SHAPE with their families. I was in charge of the weapons for all the British people stationed there. Whilst there I came back to England to pick up my Tunic and Bear Skin to parade with the RAF Regiment for the Queen’s Birthday Parade. A good day was had by all!

One of our Staff Sergeants wanted a few of us to do the Nijmegen Marches, that is a marathon walk on each of four consecutive days; you can only walk/march, carrying heavy webbing, running is not allowed. We completed that very tough assignment which gave us a sense of achievement and an insight into what soldiers had gone through during the 2nd World War as they fought for the Dutch bridges. In 1990 I did the Marches for a second time with men from my regiment.

After my tour in SHAPE I returned to the Battalion in London and due to my rank started Queen’s Guard Duties again in the Tower of London. During my time in SHAPE the army was in the midst of changing weapons and going from the SLR to the SA80 which is smaller and lighter weapon. After doing Guard Duties in London we were then sent out to Kenya for a six week operation. When we got our three days off we saw one of the animal safaris. It was absolutely brilliant to see animals free in their own world and not in a zoo. In 1990 we returned to London to prepare for another Queen’s Birthday Parade. It is amazing how the situation still got to me, making my hair stand to attention on the back of my neck. Despite all the rigmarole of learning what to do on the parade, it is still one of the best feelings I ever had, parading before Her Majesty the Queen. Even now I still watch the Parade and can tell when things go wrong, I feel proud that I have been and done that.

After returning to camp and doing our normal duties, I was promoted to Full Corporal (Lance Sergeant in the Guards). My Regiment was involved in the 1st Gulf War conflict in 1991, from start to finish. We didn't know much apart from what we had to do and who the enemy were. We saw some good situations out there but also lots of distressing things that I never talk about.

Then I was sent on my Education for Promotion Certificate course (EPC) so that I could be promoted to Sergeant, I completed this task first time on all five subjects. On our return to London we had more public duties to attend but then in 1991 we went to Germany. We started our Warrior Armoured Vehicle Course because the Warrior was now our main attack/defence vehicle.

In 1993 we were then sent to Bosnia for a U.N. tour and in most of our areas there was not much happening, but if you went out of the secure zones you had to be very careful as you were on their turf and they could cause big problems.

Then the accident happened which changed my life forever! I received a severe head injury and lost the sight in my right eye. I was near death and unconscious for eight weeks, my life was only saved by the excellent treatment I received in a German hospital. I then spent a year in various hospitals in this country. I was very distressed when I was medically discharged after 16 years of serving my country. The Army was my life and I wanted to stay in it. I had made many wonderful friends and comrades, we all looked out for each other no matter what was going on and I miss that. But I do have quite a few old friends on Facebook and this is our way of staying in touch now.

I was awarded the following conflict medals-
  • General Service Medal 1962 with clasp for Northern Ireland.
  • Gulf Medal 1990-1991.
  • Gulf Medal Clasp 16 Jan-28 Feb 1991.
  • UNPROFOR (Bosnia)
  • Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for service in the Armed Forces for over 15 years.
  • Liberation of Kuwait Medal from the Kuwait People.
  • Saudi Arabia Medal for Op Granby 1991.

  • In the Armed Forces you meet many people. When you are in life and death situations with your mates and you depend on each other for survival, then intense bonds of comradeship are formed; danger breeds courage and loyalty. Close, loyal friends often emerge from bad things, bad times or bad situations. I am in touch with about three hundred members of the Regiment, after almost seventeen years and we do still meet at the Regimental Dinner once a year. I also attend monthly meetings of Coldstreamers in Leeds.

    On finishing in the Army in 1995 I was informed about a charity called BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association) which deals with injured members of the Services. I am a member due to the fact I have lost sight in one of my eyes. They have existed for eighty years, helping ex-service men and women who have lost legs or arms or sight, doing what I wanted to do, which was not very much.

    The Leeds Branch of BLESMA took me in and we started going out on day trips and little holidays as well as meetings every month. They took me under their wing and helped me to deal with things. I'm very much appreciative of them for being there and helping any youngster. The Association has places for a holiday visit in Blackpool and Scotland, or even full time residential care. They have nurses and carers to help look after anyone who needs attention. I had never heard of them during my time in the Army but I am glad that I am part of them; they have helped me get back into the world of the living. I had forgotten how to live and was taking things for granted and just who comes into the fold. The only problem is now that I am still the ′baby′ of the group as I am the youngest member in Leeds, because the military keeps soldiers in for longer now than they did in my day. We have an Annual General Meeting when I get the chance to see other members of the group of all ages (90′s through to late teens/early twenties) from different areas of the country.

    Now BLESMA do activities like Fishing, Sailing, Golf, Diving, White Water Rafting or Activities Weeks when the sky is the limit. I went on one two years ago and we went Canoeing, Rock Climbing, Skiing, Quad Biking, Clay Pigeon Shooting and Fishing all in six days and on the seventh we returned home. This was a very enjoyable week and all being well I will be doing it again. There were a couple of people younger than me who got injured in The 2nd Gulf War/Afghanistan and we all get on extremely well.

    I have lived quietly in Scholes for the last eleven years and enjoy my membership of the Barwick and Scholes branch of the British Legion. I thoroughly enjoyed my life in the Army and would do it all again.


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