It was early summer of 1981 and the Army had decided that I should learn to drive.
Learning to driving was not very high on my agenda at that time as I reckoned it could seriously hamper my drinking and general enjoyment of life.
But the Army had other ideas.
I expected to have to attend the Army driving school in Sennelage, just down the road from where I was stationed, but no ... I received my orders to attend the larger (and better equipped) driving school in Antwerp, Belgium. It meant a journey of about 170 to 180 miles (approx. 300 Km).
When the day arrived for me to depart, I was grumpy. I hated (and still do) train journeys that are longer than an hour. But, as luck would have it, I spent most of that journey being entertained by an elderly, one legged German gentleman. He showed me magic tricks with a coin that I just could not learn, pushed a cigarette through a piece of paper (another trick) without making a hole and told me riveting tales of his war time experiences.
Apparently he had been a bad boy as a youngster and at the outbreak of war had been in prison for theft and burglary. When things started to go pear shaped with the German's Russian campaign, he was one of thousands of prisoners that were released and sent to serve The Fatherland in a Penal (to do with 'punishment' not 'willies') Battalion. With only basic training, his battalion was despatched to Russia.
He came very close to tears on a few occasions, as he skimmed over accounts of the engagements he and his fellow prisoners had taken part in. Then he told me how he had lost his leg.
He and his unit were dug-in near Kursk when they were attacked by a very strong Russian force. For hours they fought off massed, and reckless, Russian attacks, until a German artillery unit managed to end the action by raining down shells into the advancing Russians. It was one of those German shells that fell short of it's target that had killed several of his friends and removed his leg.
Of course, he told this story in far more detail, recalling his friends and allowing himself minor digressions as he did so. He said that he recalled that even though his leg was missing and he was in great pain how pleased he was that his war was over. He remembered how on the day he was evacuated from the aid station, how his comrades 'congratulated' him on being able to go home.
At that time, he had said, we didn't know that 'home' was soon be the 'front line'.
He left the train before we crossed the boarder into Belgium and for the following hour or so before the train reached Antwerp, I sat alone and I, for the first time in my short military career, thought about what would happen if the Russians and their allies decided to take a stroll through the Fulda Gap.
By the time the train pulled into Antwerp's main station,I was busting! I needed to pee!
I raced down the platform, flashed my ticket at the gate and scanned the area of the main hall for toilets.
I found them located near the exit and I raced in.
As I ran in, I could see a long line of urinals along the wall on the right side. On the left wall there was a very long mirror ... or so I thought.
I dumped my case and kitbag, unzipped and uncoiled the 'hose'.
Relieved, I packed everything away in my trousers and turned to get my bags and head for the exit.
I stopped dead.
Before me were the upper torso's of at least seven or eight women.
What I took to be a very long mirror in my haste to lighten my load was, in fact, a very long hole in the wall to the ladies toilets on the other side!
Red faced, and accompanied by a round of applause from the ladies, I left the toilet in even greater haste
than I had arrived in.
It was then that I noticed for the first time a sign in several languages that stated: