George Welsh His life as a Highland Dancing Instructor
Audio Interview of George’s time in the Army
Part 1 Audio Clip of George Welsh talking about his time in the army. He begins by talking about his schooling and why he joined up in 1938 at the age of 14.
Also here is an Interview with the Knock News (August 2012) about his time at Gordonstoun School, which happened after his army days.
Life in the Army
George attended Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, a military school. It was hoped that the children there would go to the forces. They didn’t have to but they were encouraged to. At Dunblane school there was vocational training. You could choose to be a piper in a pipe band, a drummer in the pipe band, a tailor in the tailor’s shop or a musician in the military band. He chose to serve in the pipe band so he could learn highland dancing, at which he became proficient. He danced in many parts of Scotland at large functions because he was a good dancer. They included hotels like Gleneagles and a large hotel in front of the Chamber of Commerce in Glasgow. He remembers at the latter there were four youngsters with swords (he was one of them) marching through the tables, putting down the swords and dancing. He had four good years at school then went into the army. He joined the army on boy service in 1938. He was 14 years old. As his Dad was a Seaforth Highlander so George decided to the 2nd Battalion, the Seaforth Highlanders (no longer exists) at Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow. His brother (1 1/2 yrs older) was also in the Seaforth Highlanders.
During his first year in the Army he spent the summer from the age of 14 travelling with a different pipe band. The South of England has bandstands on the promenade at the coastal resorts. There was a different band every week of the summer. Left Maryhill Barracks and started at Eastbourne on the summer tour. Then went on to Folkstone, Tunbridge Wells, Ramsgate and Hastings. Then there was call to pack his bags and get back to Maryhill Barracks as war was imminent. It was the summer of 1939 as he arrived into Fenchurch Street station in London and saw guys filling sandbags. He got on a train back to Glasgow. Everything was being organised for the regiment to go where it was wanted whereas the boys were too young so they were sent to the regimental depot, which was Fort George. So about 24 of them were put onto a train. He joined the depot pipe band. He was sent to Fort George and organised the Highland dancing at concerts. The band master got a concert party together of military musicians. George was asked as the only highland dancer along with a piper. They travelled again this time in the Seaforth area raising money for prisoners of war (1940 onwards). The money paid for food parcels and other things. The Seaforth Area is Ross-shire, Caithness, Morayshire, Tain, Thurso, Wick, Stornaway, the Isles. Stayed in hotels commissioned by the war. Did concerts and dances for the public. Stayed at Fort George until 1941. Eventually got out of the pipeband as they were lazy and went into Physical Training in the gymnasium. He had to train civilians coming into Fort George to boost the regiments fighting in France. Montgomery needed Fort George to his training in the area so George had to move out with the Entire Infantry Training Centre. They left Fort George (No 11 Infantry Training Centre) for Pinefield Camp (6th Training Battalion RE) in Elgin. The Engineers had to move out to go to Preston.
The civilian intake was mainly Scottish with some local English men. He spent a period of 6-8 weeks training a group of men using drill, marching including long route marches, physical training, weapons training and basic testing. They had basic tests to do. The whole body had to be made fit not just their feet. They also did weapons training with rifles. After 6-8 weeks basic training they would be announced fit for the front line or fit for a regiment that needed them. By 1944 George was recommended for the Army Physical Training School in Aldershot. He had to pass a course to become an Army Physical Training Instructor which he passed in August 1945. From that day on he was no longer a Seaforth Highlander but in the Army Physical Training Corps. Each Regiment or Corps had one instructor.
His first posting was to a Convalescent Depot in Bedfordshire. He had to help to get the patients fit to return to their units. There were 8 PT corps. The doctors told them what to do. There were route marches through the various lanes. Worked there for 2 1/2 years. Next was a foreign posting to the far East. He was enroute to Hong Kong with 27 other PT instructors on their way to lots of different places. They got as far as Singapore. They were taken off and put in Nee Soon Transit Camp. The orders were re-jigged. Three of them including George ended up in “a plum posting” to Ceylon with the Light Infantry there for a three year posting (1947-1950). Ceylon was a beautiful little island and a lovely climate. There was also “a change of air station” in the hills for naval and army troops that were passing through. They could have a break for 14 days or so at the station. George was sent up there! After 2 1/2 yrs there Ceylon became independent (1948) and he thought he might get home 6 months early. The drawback of Ceylon was it was an unaccompanied posting and his wife was left in the UK. He did not get to go home. He moved to work in the Canal Zone in Egypt for the last six months of his overseas posting with the North Staffordshire Regiment. A very sporty regiment where George played hockey for them and trained their boxing team.
Came home with the regiment to Lichfield (1950). Then Bowerham Barracks, Lancaster with the Kings Own Royal Regiment where he took to the stage with Brigadoon. Next overseas posting was to Northern Rhodesia with the Northern Rhodesian Regiment as the Army P.T. Instructor. Within 8 weeks he went to Malaya by sea from Beira in Portugal. Was posted to a rubber estate under canvas for 18 months. His wife was able to join him later when he moved to Lusaka, North Rhodesia.
Returned to the UK in 1958 to Scottish Command in Edinburgh at the depot for the Royal Scots. Then posted to Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot. It specialised in intensive six-month training for short-service officer cadets. George was training cadets for these short commissions in the army (3 years) and this is where he first met Gordonstoun pupils.
Next was Royal Army Medical Corps, Mytchett in Surrey. This was his final postings in the army. He had originally signed on for 9 years with 3 years as a reservist but he re-engaged to do 22 years and eventually completed 27 years and 51 days. The army did not want their instructors to become too familiar with their regiment so this is why George never stayed in one place more than a few years. He received a number of service medals. He moved on to pastures new as a PE teacher at Gordonstoun school in Morayshire, Northern Scotland. Just after he left the army he went to a reunion of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps. During one of the speeches someone announced that the future fitness of the next monarch was in George’s hands, as it was soon to be….
Memory contributed by George Welsh from Hopeman
Additional information about some of the places George served
Fort George near Inverness- still an active army base and also part of Historic Scotland
Royal Army Medical Corps, Mytchett in Surrey – museum
Pinefield camp pictures site one, geocache, photographs of the camp
His subsequent 20 year-teaching career
George’s teaching career- Press and Journal
The George Welsh Sports Centre- article and the opening of phase one.
Phase Two of the Sports centre started 27 June 2012. George is in the centre of the picture digging the first piece of turf.