At Wolverstone School, a friend and I discovered the world of camping in each other’s back gardens. Scotty was a stocky character with a cheeky grin and brown hair scruffily covering his ears. We formed a club called the Night Fighters. Scotty and I both liked anything army, so we were sergeants. Another friend, Taylor, also liked army and he was a corporal. Marky preferred the air force because he made model aeroplanes. He was a flight lieutenant. Clearly, we were a mixed services club.
We spent nights camping in a tent in our back gardens and this soon turned into midnight adventures. Usually it was just Scotty and I, but Marky and Taylor sometimes went along. Our exploits ensured that guest members began to accompany us out at night. After a few close shaves with the police when careless friends were too noisy, Scotty and I restricted the night expeditions to club members only. As far as our respective parents were concerned, we were just camping out. But, once in the tent, we got into our sleeping bags and pretended to go to sleep.
At about 11.30 p.m., we changed into dark clothes. Fatigue trousers, army jumper (with patches on the elbows and shoulders), black trainers and belt holding a knife in a leather sheath. We also carried Mk VII gas mask bags containing a catapult, life-size replica pistol (mine was a Colt 45), flexible saw blade, gloves, cagoule, torch, map, compass, binoculars and the all-important survival kit. This included matches, candle, cord, a mixture of potassium permanganate crystals and sugar – which was good for starting fires – and first aid kit, all packed into a small tobacco tin.
Just before it was time to move, we put balaclavas on. Scotty had his Dad’s green balaclava from the Second World War that had a single slit for the eyes and I sometimes borrowed it. That was really cool. However, I would usually just put some camouflage netting over my head and a balaclava with a full-face opening over the top. Whichever way the balaclava situation went, we waited until midnight and slipped out of the tent without making a sound.
We went garden creeping often, sneaking over fences and walls in order to sharpen our senses and practice moving silently at night. Other times, we went for miles over a local golf course, farmers’ fields or open countryside. Sometimes we cooked a midnight feast and other times it was just to be outdoors, unseen. As a way of knowing where the other was in the dark, we used to clasp our hands together and blow into both thumbs to make a hooting sound, just like an owl. We became attuned to listening for any noises and taking cover. A car approaching, the click of a lock, footsteps. On any sign of danger, Scotty and I hid in the shadows, undergrowth or any cover available. When the coast was clear, we would run across gardens, over fences and into the night. Those expeditions made my childhood.