Norton Manor Group Veterans celebrate 60th Anniversary

Norton Manor Group Veterans celebrate 60th Anniversary

A Group of almost 60 Army veterans, some of whom were accompanied by wives and partners, returned to Taunton on 2nd October in celebration of the 60th Anniversary year of their first arrival at Norton Manor Camp in 1961.

Although the Army had already begun its recruitment of 15 year old school leavers during the 1950s it was not until the announcement was made in 1960 that National Service conscription would end in 1962 that the decision was made by the Government and Ministry of Defence to increase the numbers of boys’ voluntary recruitment and the number of training establishments for these across the three services. This would help to fulfil the objective of replacing National Servicemen when they were finally demobilised in 1962 and aid the transfer to an all regular volunteer professional Army. The aim was that youngsters at the age of 15 and 16 years (many from underprivileged backgrounds) would be fully trained not only in military skills and disciplines but in further education and in a trade of their choosing so that by the age of 18 they would be fully qualified when entering regular military service. Their qualifications and skills achieved would initially make each eligible for promotion through to the rank of Sergeant. Further skills and advanced trade qualifications during the early years of their regular army service would enhance their prospects for further promotion through to Warrant Officer Class 1.

The veterans who met at Taunton over the weekend had all been trained together as Junior Leaders Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), otherwise known as RASC Apprenticed Leaders or little RASCALs as they were informally dubbed. Initially, the earliest of these recruits were being trained in what was known as the Boys’ Company RASC which, owing to increased numbers of recruitment, became known as the Junior Leaders Battalion RASC. Their unit at that time was based in St Lucia Barracks at Bordon in Hampshire. The barracks on the east side of the A325 had been in continual occupation since building was completed in 1903. No longer suitable for a Battalion sized training establishment the decision was reached to relocate to Norton Manor Camp on the western outskirts of Taunton. The first of these young trainees arrived from Bordon in April 1961. A representative company of boys numbering 37 took part in a physical march from Bordon to Norton Manor, some 126 miles lasting seven days. Prior to their arrival at Norton Manor the contingent paraded through the centre of Taunton and were given a rapturous welcome from its citizens. The Mayor of Taunton, then Councillor EJH Harnell, took the salute and honoured the Battalion by allowing the Corps flag to be flown on the saluting base.

The remainder of the Bordon boys arrived more sedately by train. It was here that the RASC boy recruits were to undergo a rigorous period of training lasting on average about 30 months. As well as their military and further educational training, team and character building through outward bound and adventure training, the RASC Junior Leaders were also trained to qualify as Drivers for the Army (from staff cars to tank transporters) or as Clerks to fulfil a myriad of administrative duties in military establishments around the world. Many of the boys who completed their training at Norton Manor had met and courted their future wives, girls who lived in Taunton and its environs and who then went on to accompany their husband throughout his military career. Several of those Taunton girls were present at the reunion with their husbands on this special weekend. The training of RASC juniors ended on 15 July 1965 on the rebadging of the Corps to become RCT. Although Junior Leaders’ training would continue at Norton Manor until the mid-1970s it was no longer a RASC unit. Hence, the Norton Manor Group is comprised only of members having completed their Boys’ Service training in the RASC. Of approximately 1,800 youngsters who were trained at Norton Manor between 1961 and 1965 a total of 280 have since been located throughout the UK and around the world. The gathering of veterans, aka the RASCALs return, culminated in a Gala Dinner at the Holiday Inn in Deane Gate Avenue on 2nd October saw men in their mid-70s meeting up, some for the first time, with their friends from their training days 60 years ago. The oldest member present, almost 94, had served as a training Sergeant on the camp Permanent Staff and was meeting up with many of his former trainees for the very first time. A majority of these boys, from all walks of life, went on to achieve outstanding success. Many attained Warrant Officer rank and many too went on to receive a commission, some of whom attaining command appointments as Lt Col and at least one holding a full Colonel appointment. Many more members have received Queen’s Honours including OBE, MBE, BEM and QCB awards. One former 15 year old Junior Leader went on to represent GB at Pentathlon in two Olympics (1968 & 1972) and rose to be Commandant of the Army School of Physical Training at Aldershot.

The highlight of this 60th Anniversary weekend was a visit to Norton Manor Camp, the present home of 40 Commando Royal Marines, where each of the veterans had undergone their training. At the end of their very first training term at Norton Manor Camp in July 1961 an end of term brochure, The Waggonette, was published to record key events having taken place since their arrival. The costs of producing the brochure were supplemented by several local Taunton businesses, advertising their services in the publication. Amongst these was an advertisement for Berrys Coaches who would be contracted by the Unit for the occasional recreational trip away from Camp. Now, 60 years on, Berrys coaches have once again been called upon to provide transportation during the RASCALs’ visit to Norton Manor Camp. On this occasion Berrys were pleased to welcome the return of the veterans and they provided their coach free of charge for their visit. A Norton Manor Group spokesperson states “We were overwhelmed by Berrys generosity and the years just fell away when remembering the various trips we had all undertaken during our training at Norton Manor in the 60s. We are grateful too to 40 Commando RM for allowing us to revisit our ancestral training ground”.