In conjunction with the start of my educational journey, the 1980s saw my return to military service. The Falkland’s War rekindled an interest in the Forces for me. So, when I saw an advert for 2503 Auxiliary Squadron (the local RAF Regiment Reserve Forces) in 1983, I filled in the form and sent it off. I was invited to RAF Scampton outside Lincoln. I thought there would probably be several of us but there was just me. I was asked to get in a Land Rover and the corporal drove me across to the Auxiliary Squadron’s Head Quarters. “You are going for an officer?” he asked. I wasn’t, but seeing as he had suggested it, I nodded in agreement. When I got to the office, I was met by the Adjutant, a Flight Lieutenant, who took me in to meet the Squadron Commander. Everyone just assumed that I was going for a commission. I did think that I ought to tell them about my time in the Naval Detention Quarters, but that didn’t seem to concern them. I had to go through an official Commissioning Board, but I think that was more a case of a formality. In the meantime, I had started my training.
It had been ten years since I had left the Marines, but all the skills were still there; I could handle a rifle as though it was yesterday. I was still fit despite being in my mid-thirties. I was given the rank of Officer Cadet but shortly my commission came through and I became a Flight Commander. One of the other jobs I got was as officer responsible for recruit training, something which I really enjoyed.
I would have stayed longer only the commitment as an officer was quite substantial. By then I had met Val, who was to become my wife. We met at an evening course in psychology. She had three boys from a first marriage, although one of them lived with her ex-husband. Of the two that were with her, Mark was five and Matthew was seven. Matthew was a bit of a rebel, but I got on well with him.
I met the boys on my first visit to her house. We were having tea when Matthew asked if I was married. I replied that I wasn’t. “That’s a good thing”, he replied, “I don’t think your wife would be happy you seeing my mum.” Within six months, I moved in with Val and the boys and we married in March 1985.
The boys would spend time with their father and even go away with him for holidays so that enabled Val and I to travel. One of our holidays was a cruise on the Nile, the first time I had been on a cruise since I left Intrepid. We really enjoyed it so decided to book a sea cruise. Cruising became part of our holiday norm as we both enjoyed unpacking only once and then waking up to a new place every day. The other thing that Val liked about cruises was that it got me totally away from work, as in those days you didn’t have the ability to email and communicate so readily.
By the time I had served five years with 2503 Squadron, a point came where I had done six consecutive weekends and Val felt that I ought to be spending some with her. It was then I saw an advert for the Royal Pioneer Corps of the Territorial Army (TA). Their yearly commitment was a lot less than the Auxiliary’s. I contacted them to see if I could transfer across.
The role of the Pioneers was security, construction and general labour so they were delighted to have me join them. The idea was that I’d transfer across, but it wasn’t quite that simple. I had to leave the RAF, then commission into the Army as a Lieutenant, but that was just a formality, and it means that I have two commissioning parchments from the Queen.
On joining, I was put into a Company commanded by an ex-regular Major who didn’t suffer fools gladly. I liked him and we got on well and became friends. I would always salute and call him Sir the first and last time I saw him but, off duty, it was Rod.
My first appointment was as Company Training Officer. When I was promoted to Captain, I became Company 2i/c (Second in Command). However, being able to allocate what time I chose to the TA, I became involved with the selection of potential officers and assisted in the TA Officer promotion training, I also lectured on the Regular Management Courses. When it was decided that TA Officers would benefit from Distance Learning prior to attending courses, I was asked to produce the learning material, which I duly did.
I joined the TA at a good time, as a number of reorganisations were to take place that would enable me to further my career. Firstly, in 1993, the Royal Pioneer Corps was to be amalgamated into the Royal Logistic Corps, then in 1995, the three Pioneer companies were renamed squadrons and formed into 168 Pioneer Regiment. Rod was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became its first Commanding Officer, and I, as a Major, was his 2i/c, a position I held for three years. On Rod’s retirement, I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took over command. In 1998, the Strategic Defence Review resulted in 168 Pioneer Regiment being tasked with forming two additional squadrons. I was responsible with recruiting many of the soldiers from disbanding units in the area, which made 168 Regiment, with 678 personnel, the largest unit in the British Army. My tour expired in 2000 when, due to age, I was required to retire
I always thought that when I left the military, I would miss it terribly. It had played such a large part in my life as I had been with the military for over 35 years. I was one of very few people who ever served in the Regulars, Reserves and Cadets, as well as with all three branches of service, the Army, Navy and Air Force. Certainly, the comradeship that you have in the military you don’t get in civilian life. Like most things in life however, if you can find something to fill a void then it isn’t problem.
Once again, fate was to take a hand. I was at a cocktail party and was telling someone that I had just retired from the TA whereupon he asked if I would like to be involved with the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association Committee (RFCA). I had come across them in the past, when I was establishing my new units in the north-east for my regiment and the RFCA had provided the barracks. I expressed an interest, so I was invited to call and see them. I was told by their Deputy Chief Executive that I would need to meet with the Committee Chairman. I didn’t need to meet the Committee Chairman as we had both been in 2503 Squadron together as junior officers. I was accepted without interview.
Once with the Committee, I was asked to take on the role of Employer Liaison and then later when the Chairman changed, I was asked to be Vice Chairman. The new Chairman wasn’t able to carry out the role for more than a year, so I was asked to become Chairman, a position that I held for five years. That involved me giving presentations and talking to people and businesses about the Reserve Forces and the skills that it could provide to them or their workforce. Roger, my Vice Chairman, and I, would also attend exhibitions and promote the advantages of the Cadets and the Reserve Forces to individuals, something that I could speak about from my own personal experience.
While working as a lecturer I became quite good friends with Andrew, who had supervised the dissertation for my degree and proof-read my second book, Management for the Professions. When I decided that I wanted to do a master’s degree, I asked him if he would supervise me again. My research degree was on ‘Aspects of Security in Dwellings’. In order to give it some credibility, I needed to work in conjunction with an organisation considered proficient in the area. At the time I was Chairman of the Lincoln Crime Prevention Panel and working closely with Lincolnshire Police, so I enlisted their support.
Having successfully completed my first Master’s, I moved on to another at the University of Hull, which required attendance just one day a week. It was a Master of Education and as I was involved in education, I thought it appropriate to obtain a qualification in the subject. I found that to be the easiest of all my qualifications as by that time I knew what was required and was well into the system of study and the production of academic work. I did then start looking round to see about doing a Doctorate, but Val thought that I had done enough studying so I called it a day.
At that time, I was visiting Nottingham Trent University one day a week lecturing on Higher National and undergraduate courses for construction and surveying. It meant a long day. I travelled by train to enable me to work during the journey rather than waste the time driving.
I love lecturing, as I enjoy people, sharing my knowledge with them, and making learning enjoyable. Certainly, it was nice to build up a rapport with the group. On one occasion when I went into a group I had taught the previous year, they erupted into applause, which I found quite touching.
My speaking career developed thanks to Andrew, as he had been asked by a contact at Loughborough University if he knew anyone who could deliver their Project Evaluation and Development module for undergraduate and postgraduate students. He knew that I had done that in the real world and that I had also written a book entitled Successful Property Development, so he asked if I would be interested in doing that on a visiting lecturing basis. We arranged a meeting with their programme leader. I was offered the position, which I accepted on a yearly basis, and continued in it for four years.
I had got into writing books as I had difficulty finding suitable ones as recommended reading for the courses that I was teaching. The easiest way around that was to produce my own.
In addition to lecturing for the universities, I had also been doing some speaking engagements for Protocol, one of the foremost education recruitment and training companies. They were looking for someone who was experienced in distance learning and who was computer literate to assess an on-line course for them. As I had written numerous distant learning modules and had several qualifications in computing, I was engaged to do this work.
The course that I was to assess was the Institute of IT Training Certificate in Online Tutoring. Once I had done the assessment, I met with the client to give a presentation on my findings. They had just bought the course with the intention of marketing it and wanted to know my views. After making the presentation, I was asked if I would be interested in working for the company full time. My response was that if they made me an offer, I would consider it. I was invited to their head office in London to meet with the directors of the company. They had put together a package and offered me the position of On-line Manager. It was a good package, and as I would be working from home, I accepted the position.
I worked for Protocol for two years and only left when they wanted me to work from their Barnsley office full time. I had been going to the office in Barnsley several days a week, but it was a drive of an hour and a half each way, so I wasn’t prepared to do it every day of the week.
Around that time, I saw an advertisement for a lecturer in Construction at Lincoln College and so I applied. Having a degree in Building, being a Chartered Builder and Chartered Surveyor, and having lectured at college and university level on the subject, I thought I would have a good chance of getting the job. My confidence of success increased when I was called for an interview to find that the Head of School and the Programme Leader were both people I knew from my days of studying at Lincoln College. I was required to give a lecture to a group of students to see how I did. It went well and I was offered the job, which was lecturing in Building and Civil Engineering Studies to technicians and managers up to professional status. I started in 2002.
Within a year, the vacancy of Curriculum Leader became available, so I applied and was accepted. I was now responsible for the development of new programmes and courses for the School of Construction.
The end of my marriage came as no surprise. Val and I been drifting apart for several years. We found that we wanted different things from life and from each other. She wanted me to retire and spend all my time with her in leisure activities. I had tried retirement to please her when I left the TA at the age of 53, but found that I was very bored and dissatisfied. Fortunately, I was able to get back into the work world without any difficulty. I like to be busy. I like a challenge and to have a purpose for getting up in the morning. Later, our relationship got to the stage that, when I got home in the evening and started telling Val about my day, she complained that all I talked about was work. So I stopped talking.
We divorced in 2007, the same year, Lincoln College underwent a reorganisation. The college required that I reapply for my position. My line manager Chris and I had talked about setting up our own training company and this seemed the ideal time to do it. Chris had been at the college for many years and most of the people in senior positions in the local construction companies knew him and had been his students. Several of the companies were at the college not to have the college teach them but to have Chris. So, when he told them that he and I were thinking of setting up on our own, a couple said that they would come with us. When we made the final decision to form our own business, Chris’s PA, Helen, said she would like to join us as well.
We set up Gates MacBain Associates Limited, an educational consultancy and training provider, to work within the construction industry for the provision and assessment of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for all levels of Trade and Construction Supervision and Management, the provision of Incorporated and Chartered Engineer mentoring through the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), and the delivery of Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Management Courses. Due to Chris’s contacts, we were up and running from day one and we were soon involved in additional projects. My contacts were the universities and through them we were engaged to establish constructionsite.org.uk, the National e-learning and resource website for Higher and Further Education Institutions. I was the technical expert author advisor and editor, as well as writer of many of the modules.
In 2010, Gates MacBain Associates was invited to the National Training Awards. Chris, Helen and I went along for the evening. I quite like such events as, apart from the social aspects, it enables us to network and we got a lot of work from them. On this occasion, I was recognised in the Individual Award category of the National Training Awards for Outstanding Achievements in Training and Development for the benefits that my work had provided to others.
Gates MacBain did very well and was one of the country’s foremost private construction training providers. After a decade, Chris and I decided that it was time to retire. Bee, who worked for us, wanted to purchase the company. Chris and I agreed to continue on as associates and to assess assignments. I continued to maintain the website, something that I had designed and set-up originally. The good thing was that I could do this work from anywhere in the world as long as I had an internet connection. Chris and I sold Gates MacBain in November 2016.
2503 Squadron Recruit Squad.
Val and I on our wedding day with our mothers. 1985.
34 Company RLC, my first command. Taken at annual camp on the Isle of Wight.
Roger and I promoting the RFCA at an exhibition.