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Imphal Barracks, Osnabruck; Transit into History

Posted in Osnabruck 76-84?, Uncategorized by 노강호 on May 8, 2012

Imphal Barracks, Dodeshiede, Osnabruck. (L-R) RHQ, Band Block, Cookhouse

My most poignant memories of army life took place in Osnabruck and Imphal Barracks, where I was stationed from around 1976-1984.

Where I lived for 8 years

I remember the downy birch trees from which clouds of yellow pollen drifted, when the wind blew across the barracks, in spring. It greatly irritated Mick Henderson, our bandmaster, who suffered hay fever. The species of birch were specifically Betula pubescens around which the ‘fly agaric,’ toadstool (Amanita muscaria), with its distinct red cap and white spots, often grew. Downy birch and the ‘fly agaric’ have a symbiotic relationship. Occasional some quite poisonous toadstools grew around our band block, including the ‘death cap’ and ‘destroying angel.’ I remember the winters when borders of grey-black snow, hardened to ice, edged the regimental square and paths from December until April. And in summer, the grass between the various ‘blocks’ was parched a thirsty brown. I did most of my taekwon-do, from white belt to black, training under the canopy of birch trees by our band block and had an intimate relationship with the seasons from the dank smell of the lichen on the papery bark of the birch trees to the taste of the dust that my footwork kicked up in the summer. And of course, a myriad of faces traverse that landscape.

Probably 1978, with Dave Bott, on the patch of grass outside the band block which later became our volleyball court

April 1982, shortly after my black belt, with Georg Soupidis (then 3rd dan)

It was, in retrospect, quite a beautiful barracks, spacious and well-ordered with tended gardens and where buildings, with the exception of the gymnasium, were single floor buildings and hence blended into, rather than dominated the wooded background. In this sense it was the antithesis of austere barracks such as Imphal Bks, in York,  where there wasn’t a shred of grass, or functional, somewhat clinical type barracks such as Cambrai, in Catterick Garrison, from which we’d just arrived.

some of the old married quarters

A posting of eight years was a long one and it meant that you became acquainted with the small army of civilian staff that work in every barracks but whom you rarely got to know. Most of the small army of civilians were women and indeed, the only man I can remember was ‘Peter,’ the barber. Other civilians, some British, worked in the WRVS and the library both of which were opposite the Guardroom. the faces of some of the German women who worked in the cookhouse, I can still remember.

one of the ‘bungalow’ type barrack blogs which typified Imphal and Mercer barracks

There was also a small contingent of individuals who worked just outside the barrack entrance: Archi Konker and his family ran a highly successful ‘schnell imbiss’ wagon which stood by the Naafi every evening in the late 1980’s. Then there were the taxi drivers, one of whom was Richard Muller, who in the summer of 1981, drove me to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam when I missed my connecting train.

I visited Imphal Barracks in 1990 and considering I’d only been out of Germany for 4 years, Osnabruck was almost a ghost town and even by then Imphal Barracks had been fenced in and its environs, Am Limberg and the Naafi, were inaccessible.

the tank road (Am Limberg) which ran along the side of Imphal and Mercer barracks

At 1500 hrs on Thursday the 26th of March 2009, Imphal Barracks lowered the Union Flag which had flown over its domain for 64 years. They keys to the main gate were handed over to the Mayor of Osnabruck. So many people, both military and civilian had lived and worked here and yet trawling through the internet, so little remains as a testament to its existence. Of all the thousands of photos that must have been taken by soldiers and their families, only a handful of sources can be found.

the flag is lowered outside the guardroom and in front of what was RHQ

The barracks deserted, the gates are locked

However, Jim Blake’s, the schnell imbiss close to the barracks, is still going strong.

Jim Blake’s – still around and still getting good reviews

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© 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Further References

Photos of the deserted barracks taken in 2010. (link)

Last Post, Osnabruck. (Royal British Legion)

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More Westphalian Winters

Posted in 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, Band, BAOR, Osnabruck 76-84? by 노강호 on February 6, 2012

I recently found these photos lurking in the bottom of an old BFPO box. They were taken in Osnabrück, Imphal Barracks, either in 1979, in the winter before Dave Smith and I went to Kneller Hall, or in 1981/82, after we returned. I’m making this guess as Andy Coombes is in a  similar winter photo (Westphalian Winters) and had left the band by the time we returned from KH.

Charlie Harris posing in the snow

Mick Pickering and Phil Watson

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

Westphalian Winters

Posted in Osnabruck 76-84?, Uncategorized by 노강호 on July 22, 2011

a great photo capturing Phil Watson and Andy Coombs at a significant moment

I have special memories of winters in Osnabrück. I think these photos must have been taken around 1978 because Dave Smith and I went to Kneller Hall in 1979 and Andy Coombs had transferred to another band by the time we returned.

Osnabrück winters were severe with heavy snow appearing usually at about the same time we were playing in the Hallemünsterland show, which was every December. The snow hung around for months and I clearly remember chunks of compacted snow, the remnants of that which had been swept to the side of pavements, loitering into early April.

Then, there were odd occasions when the finest drizzle fell onto the freezing ground and everything was glazed in a fine sheet of black ice. I only remember this kind of weather twice over a 10 year period but it was memorable because for several hours everything was suspended; all traffic stopped and the pavements were so treacherous that even walking  a short distance was dangerous.

There were a numbers of photos taken at the same time as the two I have added here, the others included Knocker Patterson, Bones and Mick Pickering.

Both photos are intensely familiar to such a point I can almost feel the nip of a Wesphalian winter and smell dinner as its aroma drifts from the nearby cookhouse. In the photo above, to the left of Phil Watson’s head, are the birch trees around which I practiced taekwondo over 7 years.

Bob Hallett and John Adye on the edge of the Regimental Square

Silver Birch trees were so prolific in northern Germany, they covered Imphal Barracks and I remember an enormous, somewhat desolate forest of silver birch surrounding Bergen-Belsen. In autumn and spring, Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, which grow in a symbiotic relationship with silver birch, would spring up around them. In spring, the Catkins, laden with pollen, were a great source of irritation for Mick Henderson and on a blowy afternoon, I recall watching the trees around the Regimental Square swing and sway in the wind agitating a cloud of yellow pollen.

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Philip ‘Taff’ Coleman (Pen Portrait)

Posted in Pen Portraits, Uncategorized by 노강호 on December 7, 2010

Taff Coleman (details ?)

Service – 1976-92

Instrument – Euphonium

Final Rank – Staff Sergeant

Family – married Caroline in 198?, children Kyle, Lewis, Harriet. Re-married Oct 23 2010  (Janette)

Current Location Taff died Dec 1st 2010 (FTW)

Taff was born in South Wales in 1957.  Quite often we got to meet relatives of band members as they would visit but I don’t recall meeting his mother, (Thelma), father, or sisters (Shiela and Carol). This is a little surprising as Taff’s first marriage, to Caroline, was in Osnabrück, around 1982 (?) but I cannot remember his relatives from that occasion probably because my parents were visiting at the time. Indeed, my parents also attended his wedding.

He joined the army in 1974, and trained as a bandsman in Bovington where he was a Junior Leader. He joined the band in Catterick as a euphonium player around 1976 (?) replacing Robert ‘Foxy’ Fox, who was killed in a car accident in 1975-76(?). Shortly after arriving in Catterick, the regiment was posted for it’s lengthy stint in York Barracks, Osnabrück (West Germany).

Taff saw subsequent regimental posting to Tidworth (84-86 ?), Paderborn (86-?) and by the time he left the ranks, (1992) he was a Staff Sergeant.

When did Taff leave the regiment? I’m guessing around 1992?

Where were the band stationed after Paderborn (and the amalgamation) and when did they leave Paderborn?


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Master Georg Soupidis – Osnabruck Song-Do-Kwan (Taekwon-do)

Posted in Diary notes, taekwondo by 노강호 on August 14, 2010

Master Georg Soupidis (6th Dan around 1972))

The e-bente-tang today was mugwort (쑥) and because it is the school holidays it was fairly busy. It was disgustingly hot on my way to Migwang, my favourite bathhouse and it rained all night and a good deal yesterday, so it was humid. As I said, I’m not spending much time in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) so I wallowed for a long time in the cold pool (냉탕).  I had a dream last night, a taekwondo dream. My most recurrent dreams are either about taekwondo- which I studied for 20 years or the British Army, in which I served around 15 years. They are the sort of dreams, the specifics of which you can’t recall but which shadow your days with their atmosphere.

As I was in the cool pool I started thinking about my taekwondo teacher, Georg Soupidis. I studied almost all my taekwondo in Germany, in a fascinating town called Osnabruck. George had been an ex-soldier, originally from Greece and he was an excellent teacher. There are thousands of fantastic taekwondo practitioners in the world but few fantastic teachers, and Georg was one of them. I left Osnabruck in 1984 and I haven’t seen him since. I’ve spoken to him on the phone a few times and always planned to re-visit Osnabruck but time is running out.

Georg Soupidis (far left)

I entered my first taekwondo school back in 1974 and can still remember the feelings I had training there. All the black belts were decent people and mostly studying at  University. I remember Lutz and Heinz, who became lawyers, and there was Stephan who worked in a bank and another youngster called Stefan Wawer whom I had a crush on, but never told.  Then there was Stephan Bic, a lad about the same age as myself with a kind and gentle nature. He had a blue belt and being tall we often partnered each other. I admired him for a long time but once again, he never knew. Coming out was just too much of a risk! It was super-cool to practice martial arts in the mid 70’s and having a black belt or advanced belt was revered. Bruce Lee had only just died and his last film, Game of Death, was still to be released and hence the martial arts fad was at its peak .

Georg (left) and myself. (1982)

My school was the Song Do Kwan, a professional martials arts academy situated a short walk from the central railway station, in Osnabruck, on Mosse Strasse. General Choi Hong-hi himself had stayed at  Georg’s house when visiting for a training seminar. General Choi  was one of the founding fathers of taekwondo though his contributions have subsequently been whitewashed from much of Korean history.  If you read anything by the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation ), the sport version of taekwon-do popular  throughout the pennisula and perceived as the only form of taekwon-do, it seems to  emerge from out of the blue somewhere around 1973. However,  it’s history stretched back before this and  in  Choi’s second manual on taekwon-do, published in 1972, Georg can be seen with the core of German  black-belts with General Choi stood in the middle. My point? When this photo was taken the WTF didn’t even exist. I trained in the Song Do Kwan from 1974 until 1981 after-which the school moved into a public facility. However, for the next 5 years, whenever I passed the home of my old school in Mosse Strasse, Osnabruck, I would respectfully bow towards it as I passed.

The Song Do Kwan team after a competition in early 1982.

For years my life was the Song Do Kwan and I trained diligently and became a very competent  competition fighter. I eventually passed my black belt on April 3rd 1982. Even after enduring military exercises in the middle of winter I would return to camp and head straight to my dojang. I remember Georg with great affection and he was one of the greatest influences on my  life. Walking into the Song Do Kwan changed my life and though I no longer practice taekwondo, it teachings took me elsewhere.

Once I left Osnabruck, in 1986, I lost my focus. I trained in a  school in Paderborn,  Germany, and  when I returned to the UK in 1988, trained in Aylesbury and then at a Karate school in Essex University. When I came to Korea in 2000, I trained in a WTF school, and though I gained my red belt, didn’t think the style was as efficient as the ITF style (International Taekwondo Federation).  Of course, a style is as good as its practitioner and a good martial artist borrows from whatever style to improve their technique but WTF was just too much ineffectual bum kicking.  Just my  opinion!

To all my old friends in martial arts, and especially Master Georg Soupidis, I send my greetings.

(I haven’t written any posts on martial arts despite their having been part of my life for many years. Keep checking as  they are long overdue!)

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.