One of the best postings I ever had during my time in the RAOC was in the Stores Section attached to 617 Tank Transporter Workshop REME which was responsible for the maintenance of the Antar fleet of 617 Tank Transporter Sqn RCT. I was stationed there from 1978 to 1981 and the unit was based in Cromwell Barracks in Hamm.
The reason that this posting was so memorable was because 95% of the personnel were Mixed Services Organisation (MSO).
The first documentary evidence of 617 Squadron dates back to the 15 December 1915 with the formation of 617 Company Army Service Corps; Captain Tevlon had the honour of being the first Officer Commanding. On Christmas Day 1915, 617 Company became attached to the 60th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery at Bordon. After moving to France in April 1916, 617 was based at Framvilliers on the Somme, supporting the 60th Battery which was located between Albert and Becourt. The Company had an establishment of 28 vehicles.
After the First World War the unit was disbanded and it was not until 1947 that it was re-introduced as 317 Unit. This part of its history started with “Watchman Units”, that were formed by the British Army for the Poles who happened to be in the British zone of Germany. They happened to be there, not from personal choice, but because they were former prisoners of war, former inhabitants of the concentration camps, or displaced persons forced to work in Germany. In most cases they had no wish to go back to Poland, which was then dominated by the Russians, and were pleased and willing to work for the British.
Early in 1947, 317 Unit was formed with the Watchmen Units, and the personnel commenced driver training, first in Cuxhaven and later in Flensburg. The unit then became known as 317 Transport Unit. In March 1948 317 Transport Unit moved to Langenhagen, near Hannover where it started its role as a general transport unit.
General transport was not to remain the units role, and, in 1948, HQ BAOR confirmed that it should become a Tank Transporter Unit. The unit then moved to Hamm and took over the Diamond T tank transporters and equipment from 15 Company RASC. By the end of 1948, 317 Tank Transported Unit was fully operational and had begun its new role of tank transporting, which it continued to do until March 1991. In 1953 the unit was re-equipped with the Antar Tank Transporter.
In 1963, 317 Tank Transporter Unit was redesignated, becoming 617 Tank Transporter Unit MSO RCT, which received the freedom of the city of Hamm on 6 September 1974. The unit was then renamed 617 Tank Transporter Squadron RCT on 7 July 1982, which was followed, on 31 March 1987, after 40 years of exceptionally loyal service, by the disbandment of the MSO.
The last Antar in the Army was decommissioned from 617 Tank Transporter Squadron RCT on 31 March 1987, although in line with Regimental policy one was placed on permanent display in the Squadron. The vehicle was named “The Wladyslaw Paterek” after the much respected Father of the Tank Transporting MSO, who served with the British Army for 43 years, retiring as Staff Superintendent of 617 Tank Transporter Squadron RCT.
With the departure of the MSO the Squadron was reduced to one tank transporting troop of Scammel Commanders and one military light troop of Crusader 20 and 35 ton units. It was soon increased to 3 troops with the arrival of the Civilian Works Group (CWG) who provided the drivers and infrastructure to support 28 lease hire Mercedes tractors and the Kings trailers.
In August 1990 the unit was notified of its impending disbandment and with the advent of the Gulf Crisis and Op Granby in September 1990 many of the soldiers deployed directly to the Gulf or 16 Tank Transporter Squadron RCT. The remaining soldiers and the CWG lease hire troop moved to 3 Tank Transporter Squadron RCT on 31 March 1991.