Not to be outdone by Michael Portillo I thought that I would recall some memories of my own exciting railway journeys on the continent. Clad in dull khaki as opposed to pink trousers and green jacket and without a copy of Bradshaw’s guide to refer to I, and several others departed from Inverness in the late summer of 1946. Serving with the Argyll’s I had been at Cameron Barracks awaiting a posting. The options were Palestine or Austria. My hopes were realised when my name was called in the draft for Austria.
An amusing incident occurred prior to departure. It was intended to march us out through the main gates en route to the station. No sooner had we exited the barracks when we were given the command to about turn as time was short and it had been decided to use a path down to Perth Road which was quicker. As we re-entered the barracks some wag shouted from the ranks “That was it lads. That was your embarkation leave!”
The first lap of the journey took us to Dover where we stayed overnight. The following day we embarked on the “Royal Daffodil” for the crossing to Calais where we boarded the MEDLOC (Middle East Direct Line of Communication) train which was to take us to Villach in Austria. Having read about the exploits of Captain Albert Ball, VC, the first familiar name was St Omer as it was in that area he shot down several German planes during World War I. Continuing through Lille and Nancy we eventually crossed into Germany at Strasbourg. Passing through the peaceful German countryside it was hard to imagine that not much more than a year ago we had been at war. And then we would be brought back to reality as we passed through towns which had been reduced to rubble with kids lining the route in the hope that some of us would toss out a bar of chocolate.
When time came to turn in for the night the six of us who occupied a compartment sorted out the sleeping arrangements. It was one on each seat, one up on each luggage rack and one on the floor. The lad who drew the short straw ended up in the corridor!
Arriving in Munich in the morning all I could see from my vantage point on the rack was a line of legs clad in shorts reminiscent of a Boy Scouts patrol! It transpired that they were males of varying ages clad in the traditional lederhosen. An officer who alighted at Munich had a fair amount of kit and in the absence of porters had to commandeer a trolley. As he pulled it along the platform he was serenaded by a chorus of “All my life I’ve wanted to be a barrow boy” from the squaddies remaining on the train. He was not amused. Continuing through Bavaria our breath was taken away by the stunning scenery. Salzburg was very impressive with the river and the castles on the hill reminding us of Edinburgh. Eventually we arrived at our destination, Villach where we were housed (or should I say tented) in El Alamein transit camp where we would stay awaiting transport to our units. In my case it was Lienz in the East Tyrol where the H.Q. of the 8th Argylls was located in a large building with the words “STIRLING BARRACKS” emblazoned in letters two feet high on the frontage.
During my time in Austria I travelled the MEDLOC route on several occasions. Once, in cold weather I had to spend the night in the transit camp at Calais. The wooden slats which supported the palliasses we slept on made useful kindling for the stove. On another occasion I almost missed my leave, Allocated to the morning train meant spending the previous night in the transit camp at Villach. By this time I was stationed in the attractive lakeside resort of Velden which was not too far away. I decided to spend the night in my own bed and take a chance on hitching a lift as there was a good number of military vehicles on the roads. However I was out of luck and in desperation turned to a mate in the M.T. Section. Unfortunately he needed a chit signed by an officer to authorise the trip. We had no alternative than to enter the hotel which housed the Officers’ Mess and wake up a Captain. Bleary eyed and probably hung-over from the previous evening in the Mess he signed without argument. The situation was solved and I caught the train.
Austria is a beautiful country and I was sad when I made the journey home for the last time.