Oral History

Joe David

Joe David the Army Warrant Officer, Yeoman of the Guard and the Town Crier

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Joe David (JD)

Date of Interview: 18th May 2003

DW. Can we start when you became a Yeoman of the Guard?

JD. Well it was all started by my old Commanding Officer; he suggested that I apply to become a Yeomen Warder at the Tower of London. He said, “ Despite anything else you want to do when you retire from the forces it would be a good idea to have a look at the Tower of London. It was another iron in the fire” so he said. I thought it was a good idea so I went through all the necessary paper work and applied, and I was invited to go down to the Tower of London for interview. My wife had to go with me, Josie. I had all the qualifications required which was a minimum service of 22 years, minimum rank of Warrant Office, and of course I had to be highly recommended by a former Commanding Officer, so I had all the qualifications that where required.

Then I went to the Tower of London, and I was interviewed by the then Resident Governor of the Tower, Major General Sir Digby Rayburn, who was cousin to the Queen, former Scots Guards. Well it appears that I was successful in my interviews and so was Josie. So I returned to where I came from, my unit, and carried on soldering. Then in about three or four months later, I had a letter from the Tower to state that I was accepted and I was on the waiting list. Meanwhile I got on busy learning as much ‘shifty’` as I could, in particularly about the Tower of London. I had eighteen month to go before I had to retire. When I did retire in 1976 from the Army I had to wait another six month before I went to the Tower of London.

I went to the Tower of London in late October 1976. As soon as I joined I was quickly put into a second hand uniform. They didn’t have a new uniform for me obviously. Then I was instructed to learn the history of the Tower of London. I was put under the wing of one of the older young warders who helped me with my job. I learned all its history and everything I could. I remember the very first day I stood there in my blue uniform waiting on Tower Green with all these dates and names going round my mind, when at one minute past nine, they opened at nine I saw the crowds starting to come in. I stood on Tower Green with my colleges and this American started to come towards us full of cameras and Stetson and he came up and he; I thought now he’s going to ask a historic question, and he ask me where the washroom was, and I didn’t know [he laughs] so I made sure after that I knew where the washroom was where ever I went. However, you did twelve weeks, when you first arrived at the Tower of London to learn the history of your guided tour. I did these twelve weeks. Of course you have to take the chief Yeoman warder on a guided tour, and if he is happy with you he will then recommend you take the Resident Governor on a tour. Now if he’s happy with you then you are let loose on the public and take the public on guided tours happily. Because I studied my history before I even went to the Tower I passed with flying colours in four weeks. I was very, very lucky and for the next twenty years I was to spend as a Yeoman Warder in the Tower of London. I was sworn in three times, one at the Tower, I was sworn in as a Yeoman Warder, I was sworn in as a Special Constable, and then I went to St James’s Palace to be sworn in as a Yeoman of the Guard extraordinary and Body Guard to the Monarch. I am very proud about that fact.

DW. Can you tell me about some of the VIPs that visited the Tower while you were there.

JD. All the Royal Family of course, in particular the Queen, she came several times, well lots of times while I was there, and I had the honour and privilege of escorting her on several occasions. Prince Philip was always there because he is dead interested in the weapons that we have at the Tower of London. If we had a new weapon in he would want to come in and see it, and his Royal Highness the Prince Charles would come quite often, we have Presidents, we had two Presidents of the United States, we had Mr Ronald Reagan he came to the Tower, and err, George W Daddy, he came as well, he was a nice fellow. Any film star or any body famous, they all seemed to want to come to the Tower to see the Crown Jewels in particular of course, they are fabulous any way the Crown Jewels are. So anybody that is anybody comes to the Tower of London. Whether they are Prime Ministers, whether they be members of Parliament, Presidents, Princes, Emirs, they all came to the Tower every one of them, and we have seen them all.

DW. Can you tell me about some of the amusing incidents that happened at the Tower?

JD. Well I have told you that one about not knowing where the toilets were, well of course that’s quite common. I did a guided tour once with a large group of Americans and I told them the story about James Scott the Duke of Monmouth, who was rather brutally executed, and it took five stokes of the axe to kill him, and after they had executed him they realised they had no family portrait of him, so they had to sew his head back on again and paint his portrait. Well after I had finished the tour this American came up and asked me to tell him where they buried the fellow who had his photograph taken after he was executed [he laughs] which was rather amusing at the time.

This Japanese fellow came up to me when I was on the middle draw bridge and he looked at me and he said “Tadpoles” I said “ Pardon “ his said “Tadpoles” I said “ We have no Tadpoles here sir ” he said “Tadpoles” I said “ Look you can see the moat is no longer a moat, its filled in, so there’s no water and the River Thames is salt water, and Tadpoles do not live in salt water they can’t breathe there” He said “ No, No Tadpole Cathedral” Then I realise he was on about, where’s St Paul Cathedral, and that’s another one.

Officers they’re, a great giggle they are, they are renowned throughout the forces for being lousy on the radio they never could; We had two officers, we had the Deputy Governor Security, and the Deputy Governor Administration, both retired Colonels, and I remember one day one of them came up on the air “ DA this is DGS there is a person on the wharf flashing, there is a flasher on the wharf” and the DA replied “ Male or female over” [he laughs]

Anything can happen, twenty years at the Tower, every day something was going on. The queues at the Jewel House at one particular stage were absolutely horrendous. You could queue for anything up to an hour, an hour and half. One day I was on Tower Green with a friend of mine and err this rather irate American came up to us and he said “ How long is the queue for the Jewel House and he saw; and he looked; we said “ you see that soldier just about to enter the Jewel House the one wearing a beard” He said “Yea” he said “ When that fellow joined the queue he was clean shaven [laughter] I have got lots of others.

DW. I understand you became the Town Crier for the Tower of London?

JD. Yes, in 1993, May 1993 I was sent for at the Queens House, which is the residence of the Governor and the Administration area at that time. He was the Deputy Governor and he said, “ I would like you to become our Town Crier” I said, “Town Crier sir, I don’t know anything about being a town crier. Why do you want me to be the Town Crier?” “Well” he said “You’ve got the biggest mouth” So I was taken a back a bit about that. So I was appointed Town Crier. I had to produce my own uniform of course, which Josie and I got together and made and it was essential that I became a member of the Town Criers Guild. The Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers, so I wrote away to these and I finished up as a member of The Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers. After I had been in the guild for a month I received a letter from the Town Crier of Kingsbridge in Devon, and err his name was Noel Philips, and he requested me to attend down in Kingsbridge in Devon to take part in the Town Criers Championships they were holding. This was the International Championships and the Commonwealth Championships, and of course I was a bit taken a back and I thought no, no I’d better not, and Josie my wife, always the level headed one amongst us, she said “ Why don’t you just go down, its on your weekend off anyway. We’ve got a motor caravan we might as well go down there. You can sit back and listen to all the other Town Criers and gain experience, you’ve got nothing to loose. So it was decided we would go. So down I went very nervous and very new at the game, and then surprise, surprise I took all the prizes I won everything. I won the Simon Philips Memorial Trophy, the International Trophy for Town Crying, the Commonwealth Trophy, and the Best Dressed Town Crier. I took all the prizes that day which I was rather pleased with and off course when I got back to the Tower of London that Sunday night everybody was absolutely delighted by all these cups to be displayed in the Yeoman Warders Club, and from then on. I continued to do Town Crying and became British Champion Town Crier, quite often Best Dressed Town Crier, because my turn out is better then most, even if I do say so myself, and I continue to do Town Crying to this very day.

DW. understand you went to Russia with the Queen as a Town Crier

JD. Yes, that’s right I was still a Yeoman Warder at that time and one Friday, which we call change over day, I was on duty on Tower Green, it was raining, it was a Friday morning. Over the radio, cause we all carry radios, the jailer tried to contact me. I answered and he said “When you go home for your lunch break be a where there will be a phone call coming through at about one o’clock, a very important phone call. So when my lunch break did come up, after I’d had my sandwiches with a cup of tea, I was sitting there watching the telephone, and dead on one o’clock it rang, and it was an old General that I knew from years gone by, and he said “ Hello Joe how you getting on “ “Fine sir, fine”. He said “ I hear you are doing well on this Town Crying lark” How did he learn about that I thought. I said “ Yes indeed I did sir “ and he said, “ Well how do you fancy a trip to Moscow with the Queen” and I said “ Oh marvellous” you know, He said “don’t worry we will arrange for leave and everything like that”. I said, “Yes I would love to go to Moscow”. So then I had to fill all the visas and application forms for the Russian Embassy, they needed it at least eight weeks before the flight so they had all the information there, and off we went to Moscow. It was to correspond with the Queens state visit there. I did proclamations through the city of Moscow, and it’s a massive city. We think we have big cities, but oh Moscow. I did proclamations in Red Square, in the Kremlin and many, many places throughout Moscow. I enjoyed it very much. I was always escorted by a Scottish Piper, and of course they’d never seen anything like it before, they had never seen a Town Crier, the people of Moscow, and of course I was passing on the greetings of the people of Great Briton to the people of the Russian. I had this man in a kilt with me. Mind you they had seen films of the battle of Waterloo and all that, so they had seen some one in a kilt, but they had never seen a Town Crier with a bell, which is rather unique, and of course people never look you in the eye at that time. They look down on the ground. They won’t look you straight in the eye and say good morning, that kind of thing. I started to get an audience. They would come to where I was doing my Town Crying. They started taking photographs of me and our Scottish hero. This dear old lady, she came quite often and she was in her mid-seventies, probably about eighty. She kept looking at this medallion I have, that I made out of my coat of arms which I call my Tate and Lyle badge, and err, the last day I was there, she came up to me and she gave me an enormous Royal Coat of Arms, British Royal Coat of Arms, big one, and she gave it to me wrapped up in Russian news paper. I wish I had kept the newspaper now. I couldn’t give her my Tate and Lyle in return of course, if she’d got caught with something like that in those days it would have been a bullet in the head, believe me. So I retched into my hat, my tri-cornered hat, and took out my silver badge, which was a replica of the White Tower, and gave her that, and she was absolutely delighted with it. So there you are. I was glad to get home; the food in Moscow was terrible, absolutely terrible, if ever you go there take a suite case full of food with you [he laughs]

DW. Can we move on to where you left the Yeomanry

JD. Well I left the body of the old wardens in the Tower of London in 1996, not quite twenty years I’d done by then. It’s odd because I was wondering what I was going to buy, you always get a gift for the wardens club you see, and I was wondering what I was going to get them. One day I was walking past The Scaffold site and there was some workman there, and they were digging up the brass plate, which said “Site of The Scaffold” which had been put there in 1838 on the orders of Queen Victoria to mark the site where the Queens had been executed. It appears that the new people that had took over the tower, the agency, were worried about having to pay fifteen minutes overtime to somebody to clean this brass plate every day, so they were replacing it with a plastic one. Well I spotted this brass plate on the floor, so I said to the workman “What are you going to do with that” “Oh its going in the skip” so I said “No it isn’t” so I picked it up “I’m going to hand this into the residents of the office” and marched off with it under my arm. So I brought it back here. I still had this bungalow, it was my weekend cottage, it was, and a friend of mine in Earl Shilton, he did it all up for me. Framed it, put it in a nice frame and a little brass plaque and engraved it, and I presented it to the Body of Yeoman Warders when I retired. On the night of my retirement they presented me with a little statuette of a Beefeater and I presented them with this plaque it said “Site of The Scaffold” and they were delighted. It now holds the place of honour in the Old Warder Club, so then I left, and away I went. But I still remain as the Crier for the Tower of London; on occasions I go back there and do it. But when I came here to retire in Hinckley, well Sapcote to be quite honest.

I applied to the Borough of Hinckley and Bosworth to the Worshipful Mayor then, I think his name was David Wood. Any way I applied to be their Town Crier. I had a lovely polite letter back saying they have already got their own Town Crier, a Mr George Moore who is also their Toast Master. So I thought that’s it then, I will have to be a sort of independent Town Crier. Next thing I know I get an invite form Blaby District asking if I will be their Town Crier. So I finished up Town Crier of Her Majesty’s Tower of London and Blaby District. After a month of this I get another invite from the Mayor of Oadby and Wigston, to go to Oadby on a certain day to judge a Town Criers Competition because they want a Town Crier, but it was all fixed because they wanted me to be their Town Crier. Because when I went there they asked me to do a demonstration cry, and of course the judging was on the applause of the public there, and of course I won the competition. I am how the Town Crier of Her Majesty’s Tower of London, Blaby District, Oadby and Wigston. Then sadly a few years later George Moore the Town Crier of Hinckley and Bosworth, god bless him, he was doing a host at a function on Christmas Day when he collapsed and died. He had a heart attack. A few weeks later I was invited to take over his duties as Toast Master, then later on I became the Town Crier of Hinckley and Bosworth under the auspices of the then Worshipful Mayor which was Geoffrey Payne. So I am now the Town crier of Her Majesty’s Tower of London, Blaby District, Oadby and Wigston, Hinckley and Bosworth.

DW. Can you tell me of an instance that happened when you were a Town Crier?

JD. One that really springs to mind is the time when the bell separated from the handle. All my bells are named after Queens, and this particular bell is Queen Elizabeth the Queen’s Mother. It’s a very heavy bell. I was doing this proclamation in Wigston, after I’d finished the proclamation I little girl came up, she was about seven, and she said my names Jennifer and I am seven years old today. Well so I said, right, so I started to ring the bell to give a proclamation, and the proclamation would have been “Ladies and Gentleman I am pleased to inform all here present that this little girl here, Jennifer, is seven years old today. Happy Birthday Jennifer, God Save the Queen, and everybody would start clapping, that’s what I would normally have done. As I was ringing the bell, the bell its self separated from the handle, bounces in the middle of the road and a heavy truck ran over it, and of cause it had a five and a half inch split in the bell and it sounded like a dust bin lid [He Laughs] Happily the newspaper got hold of the story and they printed it, and um, some body got in touch with me, an engineer from Wigston and he said “Bring the bell down and we will have a look at it” cause everybody else had refused to repair it. Have to get a new one I thought. He had it brazed up and he got his apprentice engineer to work on it, and now it’s as sound as a bell, as they say.

DW I always thought bells had to be re-cast

JD. Yes that’s what I thought, but now I only use it on special occasions just in case. Any way, you always get the odd drunk come up to you, when you are doing your Town Crying, talk high and things like that.

DW. Taking the micky?.

JD. Oh yes, they take the micky out of you, you say Oh Yea, Oh Yea, Oh Yea, and they said “Oh No, Oh No,” and you get the odd one that peers into your face, and you’re ringing your bell, mind you, you have a minor accident then with the end of the bell [He Laughs] it upsets some of them but they leave you alone then. I have made an awful lot of friends, particularly in Hinckley and Bosworth. People come up to you and say “Hello nice to see a Town Crier and things like that” but I wish the Council would use me more, they tend not too use you too much. I get pretty well used by Oadby and Wigston though.

DW. Is there anything as a last thought you would like to add which we have not covered?

JD. Well you learn to live by looking back into history. If you don’t study history there’s no future. You have got to look back in history to learn about the future, believe it or not.

Joe David has written a book called "Eight into One" ISBN0-9534971-2-7

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.