RECOLLECTIONS OF A JUNIOR LEADER
By Mike Gleeson
Ex 3rd Green Jackets (The Rifle Brigade)

Ex Junior Leaders on joining the Battalion had to be prepared to be greeted with various
names of endearment ‘Khaki Kid’, ‘Boy Wonder’, ‘Junior Bleeder’ and they were the polite
ones. We were aware that we had a lot more in-depth military training than many of our
fellow Riflemen, and that there might be some resentment because of that fact. The secret
was to blend in, not show off and help as required. Not many of our fellow Riflemen were
aware of the amount of military training we, as Junior Leaders had been taught prior to
arriving at the Battalion.

Junior Leaders joined their respective unit at the ages of 15 to 16. The 15-year-olds would
complete a two-and half-year tour (8 terms) reaching the age of seventeen and half. Those
16-year-old would complete at least 4 terms. There were 3 terms a year, Spring, Summer,
and Winter. Throughout their time there they would be educated and learn the skills and
trade required for their chosen military career.

Junior Leaders units were established throughout UK.
JL Royal Engineer’s at Dover, Kent.
JL RASC at Bordon, Hampshire.
JL RAC at Bovington, Dorset.
Infantry at Oswestry, Shropshire
JL RA at Bramcote, Warwickshire
JL Royal Signals at Newton Abbot, Devon
JL Para Aldershot, Hants.
All Arms Junior Leaders at Tonfanau. N Wales.
Also, at most Infantry Depots there was a Junior Soldiers Company, not to be confused with
Junior Leaders. There were also two Army Apprenticeship Colleges, one at Chepstow and the
other at Arborfield.

The Infantry Boys Battalion was formed in April 1952 at Harrogate. It took selective boy
recruits of school leaving age with the required aptitude, attitude and potential and provided
them with a comprehensive training package that included sports, education, leadership skills
and infantry training which would prepare them for a role as future Senior NCOs and Warrant
Officers of the British Infantry. In 1954 the Battalion moved to Plymouth. In 1957 the rank
Boy was discontinued throughout the British Army and was replaced with Junior.At the same
time the Infantry Boys Battalion was renamed the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion. In 1960
The Battalion moved to Park Hall Camp at Oswestry, Shropshire. Right on the Welsh Border.
The training programme was rationalised to create a programme based on the Sandhurst
model. The first full year being dedicated to education (70% education 30% military training)
with the final year focus on military training. The Battalions final move was in 1975 to
Shorncliffe in Kent. The school leaving age had now been raised to 16. The Infantry Junior
Leaders Battalion was disbanded in 1985

I enlisted into 3rd Green Jackets (The Rifle Brigade) in December 1960 aged 15. I reported to
the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion at Park Hall Camp, Oswestry, Shropshire on 11th January 1961

All the Infantry regiments were represented there, responsible for nearly 1000 juniors.
A Company for Green Jacket, Highland, and Wessex Brigades
B Company for Light Infantry, Home Counties, Forester, and East Anglian Brigades
C Company for Lowland, Fusilier, Mercian, and Welsh Brigades
D Company for Lancastrian, Yorkshire, and North Irish Brigades
Guards Company for the Brigade of Guards

Z Company was the Recruit Training Company. For 6 weeks we were turned from civilians into
fledgling soldiers. We learnt to make bed blocks, Blanco belts and gaiters and of course bull
boots. The emphasis was on drill, turnout, fitness, and map-reading. Daily we were dressed
in denims that were far too big for us and wore Service Dress (SD) uniforms like those worn
during WW1 for parades. We did many map reading exercises and route marches over the
nearby Welsh hills, plus long strengthening physical exercises in the gym. Something that I
have never forgotten, was the sight of 15-year-olds in the washroom every morning having
to lather their faces and then shave with a Gillette safety razor. There was nothing to shave
off! All we seemed to do was cut our chins. On completion of our training, we had to
undertake a drill and turnout parade ‘Pass off the Square.’ Failure could mean getting back
squadded.

The Training Companies

On completion of training, individuals were posted to their respective regimental companies,
but they would train together each term for the rest of their time at Oswestry. I was posted
to 1 Platoon in A company. Here I was to meet with other Green Jackets that were to become
lifelong friends. However, as we were only halfway through the term, we now trained
collectively in what was called X squads. Being introduced to weapon training, signals, field
craft and adventure training. We also attended the huge Royal Army Education Corps Wing,
to be assessed on our standard of education. The aim, education wise was to get as many
juniors as possible to achieve the Army Certificate of Education at Junior, Intermediate and
Senior level. By achieving this it meant that each junior could report to their battalion with
the knowledge that they had attained all the educational qualifications for reaching the rank
of Warrant Officer. Adventure Training was fantastic. Coming from Kent I had only seen
pictures of mountains. Now, within 2 months of joining the army, I was camping out in
Snowdonia. I had scaled Snowden in severe snowy conditions, crossing the infamous ‘Crib
Goch’ without the aid of a rope. Plus introduced to the art of rock climbing and abseiling. It
really was a great experience. Incidentally, one of the Adventure Training instructors was Sgt
Keith ‘Chunky’ Diggings, Rifle Brigade. Easter and it was time for my first leave. I chose to go
home in uniform. It was an amusing sight at the Gobowen Railway station that morning. On
both platforms, north and south, were amassed hundreds of juniors all looking for their
approaching train, looking to the distance for the puffing smoke. A big cheer would be
rendered from the platform by those whose train arrived first.

On the first day back from leave, we always had to undergo A FFI (Free From Infection)
medical examination. Lined up in our barrack rooms, wrapped in a towel, we waited for the
medical team to arrive, then individually we were checked. We then had to dress into our
civilian clothes and parade outside. The CSM would then inspect us to ensure that our attire
was presentable to wear out of camp. The company clerk would then list our apparel onto a
Individual ‘Walking out Dress” card which we would always have to present it to the guard
commander to check and inspect us before you would be allowed to leave camp. I was now
a first termer getting used to the routine of A company and the Battalion. All the adult military
staff were experienced soldiers, some had served in WW2, and most had been on active
service in Korea, Cyprus, Kenya, and Malaya. Our Company Commander had won the MC with
the Gloucestershire Regiment in Korea. Our Platoon Commander was Lt ‘The Right
Honourable’ Richards and the Platoon Sgt Joe Newman, both Rifle Brigade. We lived in spider
barrack blocks, each room accommodating 16 juniors cap badged, either Green Jackets,
Highland, or Wessex Brigade.

On completion of training, individuals were posted to their respective regimental companies,
but they would train together each term for the rest of their time at Oswestry. I was posted
to 1 Platoon in A company. Here I was to meet with other Green Jackets that were to become
lifelong friends. However, as we were only halfway through the term, we now trained
collectively in what was called X squads. Being introduced to weapon training, signals, field
craft and adventure training. We also attended the huge Royal Army Education Corps Wing,
to be assessed on our standard of education. The aim, education wise was to get as many
juniors as possible to achieve the Army Certificate of Education at Junior, Intermediate and
Senior level. By achieving this it meant that each junior could report to their battalion with
the knowledge that they had attained all the educational qualifications for reaching the rank
of Warrant Officer. Adventure Training was fantastic. Coming from Kent I had only seen
pictures of mountains. Now, within 2 months of joining the army, I was camping out in
Snowdonia. I had scaled Snowden in severe snowy conditions, crossing the infamous ‘Crib
Goch’ without the aid of a rope. Plus introduced to the art of rock climbing and abseiling. It
really was a great experience. Incidentally, one of the Adventure Training instructors was Sgt
Keith ‘Chunky’ Diggings, Rifle Brigade. Easter and it was time for my first leave. I chose to go
home in uniform. It was an amusing sight at the Gobowen Railway station that morning. On
both platforms, north and south, were amassed hundreds of juniors all looking for their
approaching train, looking to the distance for the puffing smoke. A big cheer would be
rendered from the platform by those whose train arrived first.
On the first day back from leave, we always had to undergo A FFI (Free From Infection)
medical examination. Lined up in our barrack rooms, wrapped in a towel, we waited for the
medical team to arrive, then individually we were checked. We then had to dress into our
civilian clothes and parade outside. The CSM would then inspect us to ensure that our attire
was presentable to wear out of camp. The company clerk would then list our apparel onto a
Individual ‘Walking out Dress” card which we would always have to present it to the guard
commander to check and inspect us before you would be allowed to leave camp. I was now
a first termer getting used to the routine of A company and the Battalion. All the adult military
staff were experienced soldiers, some had served in WW2, and most had been on active
service in Korea, Cyprus, Kenya, and Malaya. Our Company Commander had won the MC with
the Gloucestershire Regiment in Korea. Our Platoon Commander was Lt ‘The Right
Honourable’ Richards and the Platoon Sgt Joe Newman, both Rifle Brigade. We lived in spider
barrack blocks, each room accommodating 16 juniors cap badged, either Green Jackets,
Highland, or Wessex Brigade.
The routines of terms 1 to 7 were very similar. One week would be of education the next
military training. Sometimes this would alter to a week of 2 days education and 3 days military
training, or vice versa. Every Wednesday afternoon was allocated to a wide variety of sports.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings was hobbies night, which you had to participate. Saturday
mornings was RSM drill parade, where the whole battalion would form up by companies on
the vast drill square and spend the morning rehearsing for the end of term passing out parade.
Sunday was church parade, being a Catholic I went to mass at 8 o’clock and would be back in
the billet just after 9 o’clock. At 10 o’clock the remainder of the Battalion had to form up by
companies and march behind the ‘Corp of Drums’ to the camp’s main church.

They did not return until about midday. This meant that us Catholics were first in the queue for lunch and
invariably got the best choices.

Every summer A Company went for its annual camp on the Isle Anglesey. Here for two weeks,
we slept in bivouacs, got introduced to deep drop latrines and open-air washstands. Plus, all
the cooking was done on field cookers and served out of Hay Boxes. It was an eye opener for
us, especially, each morning, having to run down the beach, immerse yourself in the cold sea
and then run back to get dressed ready for breakfast. It certainly toughened us up. At my first
camp, the Junior Green Jackets were taken to the Depot at Winchester for a few days. There
we were briefed on regimental history, visited the museum, and were instructed in Green
Jacket drill for the very first time. We would not do this drill again until we had left the Junior
Leaders and reported to the Depot, as at Oswestry the only drill permitted was The Brigade
of Guard’s foot drill. At half term in the winter months, each platoon went for a long weekend
at various training camps. In my first year our platoon went to Brecon in Wales and second
year to Leek in the Peak District.

As each term progressed, so the training intensified. There were lots of shooting on the
ranges. The weapon and tactics training became more detailed, as did navigation lessons.
Signal training introduced us to the various radios and voice procedures we would be using
once we had joined our battalion. Physical fitness and endurance training were paramount.
At the same time individuals were preparing for and sitting the Army Education Certificates.
We were also now having to prepare and teach lessons on certain weapon, signal, and field
craft subjects. Also, the adventure training syllabus changed each term enabling us to
progress in potholing, caving, canoeing, advanced climbing, and abseiling skills. These were
undertaken in Snowdonia, the Peak District, River Severn, Derbyshire, and old local slate
mines. Some juniors also went parachute training and others skiing in Norway. Plus, certain
individuals (myself Included) attended a 3-week course at the Army Outward Bound School
in Towyn in N Wales.

It was not all work at Oswestry. For recreation we had a Naffi, cinema and a huge social club
on camp. Each night during the week ‘Lights Out’ was at 2130. On Saturday afternoons we
could book out of camp until 2230 hrs and go into Oswestry, for shopping, cinema or sneaking
into the pubs (Always with an eye out for the Regimental Police on Town Patrol). Saturday
night was also dance night at the Plaza dancehall. This was where you got a chance to chat
and dance with girls who came in from all the local rural villages. It was probably the highlight
of the week. It was pointless going into Oswestry on a Sunday because in those days being so
close to the Welsh border, no shops or pubs were allowed to open, only churches.

THE FINAL TERM

The final term (Passing Out Term) was the most arduous of all. We were now being treated
as adult soldiers both mentally and physically. We were the first Juniors to undertake the
adult 9-mile march with full kit and weapons. We spent 2 weeks under canvas on Sennybridge
ranges. Here we carried out individual, section, and platoon live field firing. We had been
warned not to shoot the sheep, unfortunately quite a few were killed. The penalty was, we
now were made to eat them. Mutton seemed to be served up at each meal, even in the
haversack sandwiches. I can honestly say not another sheep was shot after that and I have
always had an aversion to mutton since. We were shown how to ‘Dhobi’ our clothes in the
streams and how to live hygienically in a camp site. The signal exercises were spread over 3
days with half sections moving up through the hills and mountains around Brecon, tasked
with using various radio equipment and using relaying methods and dipoles to establish and
maintain communications with base. On return from Sennybridge, we undertook various
tests on all the subjects we had been taught to attain our final grading for our leaving report.
Plus, we would be preparing for our long awaited Passing out Parade and to undertake
‘Exercise Pipeline’.
The scenario for ‘Exercise Pipeline’ was escape and evasion from Oswestry across country
through Snowdonia National Park to the coast at Harlech Bay. We were the escapees and
members of the permanent staff were the friendly agents. The exercise was initiated when
we paraded one evening in a hut, dressed in denims, and carrying a groundsheet folded over
our shoulder, bandolier style and secured with string. We then underwent a thorough strip
search, to ensure we were not carrying any money, food, torches, or maps. We were then
blindfolded and led to a 4-ton truck and transported to a barbed wire enclosure somewhere
in the local hills. At various times during the night an agent would crawl into the compound
and lead an individual out through the wire. He would then release the blindfold. You
suddenly realised you were in an old slate quarry facing the mine entrance. In front of you
laid out along the ground was a line of mine tape to follow. The tape led you into a single
candle lit chamber where a rope hung down through a hole in the floor. You clambered down
the rope into a lower chamber of the mine, again, dimly lit by a candle. Following the tape,
you eventually came to the exit of the mine. Here another agent briefed you to cross the fields
to a disused railway track, where you had to turn left and follow the old line for about ten
miles until you reached a bridge.
At the bridge you left the embankment and entered a tiny village and made your way to the
church yard. Here an agent met you and gave you food. I will always remember it, an oatmeal
block, and a cup of mock turtle soup. From here in twos, we made our way across country to
the edge of Lake Bala where another agent led us to a hideout. That night those juniors’ that
were weak or non-swimmers had to make their way cross country to the far end of the lake.
The rest of us were led to the waterside where we got into canoes and paddled behind an
agent who had a low-lit torch on the back of his canoe. We proceeded to canoe the length of
Lake Bala. On arrival at the far end, in pairs we hid in the forest, where we lay on one ground
sheet and used the other to cover ourselves. Although it was summer it was still very wet and
cold on the ground. Anyhow we were so exhausted we slept like logs.
At daybreak, the next stage began, in groups of four we set off following a route cross country
towards the Welsh coast. We had been instructed to meet an agent at a telephone kiosk in a
small hamlet. The agent would visit the phone Kiosk every hour from 4 o’clock onwards. Now
it was typical Welsh weather pouring with rain. Throughout the day we trudged over fields
and forests to the village. On arrival we were soaked. A very kind old lady saw us crouched
under a tree, she beckoned us into her cottage. There was a fire blazing, the heat hit us
immediately. This kind lady let us dry ourselves, while she kept the kettle boiling and
produced endless cups of tea. We were so grateful. From her cottage we could see the phone
box and observed the agent arriving, one of us went and got the instructions for the next leg
of the journey. At the same time, he received a rollocking for being in a cottage and not out
in the wilds.

The next stage for our group, was a night march, again along a disused railway track,
eventually leading us to a river. There was a rope ‘Burma’ bridge over the river which we had
to use to get to a barn the other side. Here we were given a hot drink, some food and told to
get some rest. Being wet, we just cuddled up together and slept. The next morning
individually, we were directed to cross over a mountain ridge. On the way an agent was below
a cliff face, here you had to climb the rockface using the climbing and roping techniques you
had been taught. Just over the mountain ridge was a farm which overlooked Harlech Bay.
There you were allowed to get a drink and rest before being sent down to the bay. You had
to make your way down the mountain side to the seashore and hide in the sand dunes,
waiting to be met by an agent. My agent turned out to be Sgt Keith Diggins. In the evening,
as more individuals arrived, we were led to the shore. An RAF Air Sea Rescue launch appeared
out in the bay and in groups we were rowed out to it and scrambled aboard. The launch then
took us across the bay to Pwllheli. On landing there we were informed that we had completed
the exercise. We all felt chuffed and very relieved, we clambered onto 4-ton trucks and set
off back to barracks. On arrival we were taken to the cookhouse and given one of the best
meals ever served there. We were ravenous and thoroughly enjoyed the feast. Then it was
off for showers and bed. We were allowed to sleep in the following morning, then paraded at
the medical centre for a check up to ensure we had no ailments or injuries (especially foot
blisters).
‘Exercise Pipeline’ was to me, one of the most exhilarating and physically testing exercises I
have ever done during my time in the army. It was carried out in an era, long before ‘Health
and Safety’ regulations and other restrictive training practises were implemented. Sadly a few
years later, during the exercise, 2 juniors were tragically killed by a milk lorry and the exercise
was discontinued.


A ‘Passing Out Parade’ (POP) was the final event of all the training a Junior Leader had
undergone over the previous 8 terms, it was a day long a-waited for. These parades were
carried out at the end of each term. Prior to the event to ensure our drill and turnout was up
to scratch, a ‘Drill and Turnout’ competition was held. Each platoon had to undergo an
inspection and drill routine, judged by the Drill Sergeants specially brought in from the
Guard’s depot in Caterham. Invariably Guard’s Company took the top three places, but one
term, 4 Platoon A Company actually split them up, quite a shock to the Guard’s but in A
Company, we were ‘Cock A Hoop’. Because of the better weather the biggest spectacle was
invariably the Summer POP. The whole Battalion would be on parade with the ‘Passing Out
Platoon’ out in front. Also on parade would be a regular army infantry band. There would be
hundreds of families seated, excitedly watching the parade. An extremely high-ranking officer
or a member of nobility would carry out the role of Inspecting Officer. The first POP I was on,
the inspecting officer was ‘Monty’. The format of the parade was similar to ‘Trooping the
Colour’ but minus the Colour. After the march past in slow and quick time, the final part of
the parade unfolded. To the tune of ’Auld Lang Syne’ the ‘Passing out Platoon’ slow marched
off the square, whilst the remainder of the Battalion ‘Presented Arms’. Once off parade those
passing out, would render a loud ‘Hurrah’ and throw their caps in the air. It was all over, we
had finished.

That evening, the pubs in Oswestry would be filled with ex -Juniors. All now proudly attired
in their adult Battle Dress (BD) uniforms. Blatantly extoling the fact that they were now adults
and could legally drink in a pub, without the fear of being chased out by the town patrol.
There would be some sore heads the next morning. I remember my next morning, proudly
donning my Green Jacket BD with RB titles in the epaulettes, renovated belt and green beret.
Hoisting my kit bag on my shoulder, picking up my suitcase, bidding farewell to old room
mates and heading off to catch the train home for leave and after leave reporting to the Rifle
Depot prior to joining the Battalion in Cyprus. On the train home I felt exhilarated that I had
finished as a Junior Leader and at the same time apprehensive of what the future held for me.

What I did not realise then, was that by being a Junior Leader, I had made friends from
different infantry regiments for life. As my army career progressed, so did theirs. We
invariably met up on the various career courses we had to attend, and we were networking
long before it became the in thing. When we attained the rank of Warrant Officer, RQMS,
MTO and QM these contacts became invaluable in assistance with obtaining equipment,
handover/takeovers and solving problems for the benefit of each other’s units.

JUNIOR LEADERS REMEMBRANCE SERVICE AND BLESSING OF ASSOCIATION COLOURS FROM THE 2023 REUNION OSWESTRY
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