My recent feature on the army’s navy, once based at HMS Vernon in Portsmouth, ignited memories more than 50 years old for Philip Mason.
He joined the army in 1960, as a National Serviceman, and a member of 115 Hampshire Fortress RE Regiment TAVR which had four drill halls from Portsmouth to Bournemouth.
He tells me their colonel negotiated with the States of Guernsey and Jersey for the regiment to carry out various tasks and demolition and live ammunition exercises on Alderney, as with the other Channel Islands, occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.
Philip, of Ditcham Park, Petersfield, says: ‘Our main task was to clear German fortifications around the island.
‘During our summer camp in 1962 we established a base camp in Bray Bay.
‘The regiment, about 800 men, was delivered to the island by Royal Navy frigates, but the ships’ draft was to deep to enter the harbour and we were ferried ashore by local fishermen.
‘Craftsmen were first because there was work to be done. Others were still on board the next day.’
Philip says that, as with all the Channel Islands, the German tunnels and radar blockhouse had been sealed for safety reasons after the war.
‘The concrete and local granite was crushed and used on the local roads and the surface of the harbour jetty.
‘We also repaired the island’s water supply.’
When the two-week camp ended these squadrons visited the islands at weekends, leaving HMS Vernon on a RNVR minesweeper on Friday evenings and returning late on Sundays. This lasted for four years, says Philip.
He continues: ‘There was no shortage of volunteers because of the attraction of duty frees.
‘On one trip, experimental cutting mines were tested by boffins but were found to be not fit for purpose. We discovered the best explosive for the job was good old-fashioned slabs of guncotton. Pack it into ventilation shafts, seal it, detonate it, job done.
‘We removed numerous bunkers and blockhouses. Machine gun posts on cliffs were left as tourist attractions.
‘Curved tunnels and bunkers were built by the Germans all over the Channel Islands.
‘If my regiment had not been disbanded by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1967, they would still be clearing Hitler’s Atlantic Wall today,’ says Philip.