Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Frederick Halls, RAOC

December 28, 2011

There were two Company Sergeant Majors for the RAOC Boys School in 1954. Frederick ‘Baggy’ Halls, the CSM for “A” Company, was an ex-Scots Guardsman and Bob Cox, the CSM for “B” Company, had spent all his service in the Corps. Bob was a reasonable, run of the mill, average CSM with no peccadilloes to distinguish him from many others in the Corps. Baggy, on the other hand…

Baggy Halls was the epitome of a Guards Brigade Company Sergeant Major. He enjoyed his reputation as a martinet, a disciplinarian of the first order. However, when he wished to allow his boys a measure of relief, with humour, from the day–to-day structured discipline, he would be the caricature of a Sergeant Major. He was tall, wide-beamed, heavily built with reddish hair and the complexion of a discerning man, who appreciated a fine malt whisky. He relished the admiration and respect of his boys.

Baggy devoted effort to establishing his credentials as a character, never missing an opportunity to consolidate his claim to being a “card”. He had a wealth of idiosyncrasies that the young soldiers appreciated even though they were the subject of Baggy’s attention. CSM Halls was determined to become a legend in the Corps at least as far as impressionable young soldiers were concerned.

As CSM, he would, when inspecting the boys on parade, check one for an “idle” belt, meaning the belt was too slack, and order the boy’s name to be taken. A name ‘lost’ invariably resulted in extra duties. Then, when inspecting that same boy from the rear, he would comment that the belt was also idle from the back and order that the boy surrender his name yet again. Once, when he had called me from the ranks to march out and halt in front of him, he commented in a loud stentorian bellow, “Boy Davidson, there is no movement in the whole of the British Army Drill Manual whereby both feet are off the ground at the same f***in’ time!” He deliberately ignored the snickers of the parade.

On another occasion, knowing that I came, as he did, from the county of Angus, which is devoted to farming, he expressed his dissatisfaction that I was not maintaining the regulation thirty-inch pace by roaring,” Step short Boy Davidson, you are not behind a f***in’ plough now!”

As part of our uniform we wore peaked caps. Unmodified these hats looked like the ones postmen wore and we would cut and alter the peaks to look like guardsmen caps. This ‘mutilation’, known as ‘slashing’ a hat, was totally against regulations and Baggy would dream up some fiendish schemes to penalize us. On one occasion he ordered a whole platoon of boys to remove their “slashed” caps, rip out the peaks and throw them to the ground. The peaks were collected and burnt so that they could not be refitted. The platoon had to wear the peak-less caps for a week looking to all intents and purposes like midgets drafted into Kaiser Willem’s First World War German Navy.

Dress Regulations, mandated that, by using a stiff clothes brush and soapy water, the nap of the crown would lie in the same direction giving the surface a shiny appearance. One morning, when the parade ground was covered in slush, the 6’3” Baggy looked down & noticed that Pete O’Hara had scrubbed the surface of his cap, not in one direction but in reverse segments, so that it resembled the crown of a top hat with four shiny brushed quarters. Standing in front of O’Hara he slipped the point of his pace stick between the side of the boy’s face and the offending hat. With a flick, he whipped it off and pinned it upside down on the wet red slushy gravel of the square. Keeping the hat pinned to the ground with the point of the pace stick and reinforcing his instruction with the corresponding motions he recited “When you scrub your hat, Boy, you do not go back and forward, back and forward, but around and around and around”. He then flipped the cap, by now sodden and shapeless, up on the tip of the stick and deftly returned it to O’Hara’s head from where dirty watery trails ran down his face for the rest of that parade.

There were four boys in the unit named Martin who for identification purposes would be referred to by name and last three digits of their serial number e.g. Martin 365. Baggy knew each one of the one hundred plus by name and number. However, when we were drilling and he would roar out, “ Martin is not swinging his arms. Take his name, Sergeant!” and four platoon sergeants would dutifully call out “Sah!” and enter their particular Martin in their notebooks to be assigned additional duties, to the accompaniment of snorts of muffled laughter from the non-Martins. Needless to say such duties that were allocated at times like this were not arduous

At the end of every term, of which there were three a year, the boys would be sent on leave. In those days pay was always paid, in cash, on a pay parade. The money for the leave period, plus allowances and savings or credits, would be paid to the boy soldier then immediately taken back to be sent by mail to his home address. Normally the money would be collected from the Bank for paying out on the day of collection but this was not always possible and sometimes the money had to be held in the orderly room safe overnight until posted on the day of departure. On these occasions Baggy would place guards on the safe – literally. I remember having to sit, in the middle of the night before, for my allotted two hours on top of the safe in the Commanding Officer’s office.

Did he succeed in becoming a legend? I guess it depends on the criteria, but if an individual is such, that someone writes about him and his actions, with affection and nostalgia, fifty-eight years later, and the author is aware that several hundred other elderly men view that figure with the same respect then the claim is well on its way to being established.

2 Responses to “Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Frederick Halls, RAOC”

  1. Gary Dennett Says:

    Oh the memories that return of my service days when such stories are told. I had my own 1st Sgt Kut who could bring fear into the heart of any soldier just by clearing his throat.

  2. Robert Davidson Says:

    Thanks for the support, Gary. I really appreciate that these blogs are being read – not by many but those that do read them really count. Cheers! Bob

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