War stories - exercise 3

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Exercise 3

One of the duties of an NCO apart from being a complete git to the people under his command is to look after their welfare. I've spent many a happy hour shouting at and cadjoling people to get them to go those last couple of miles then spent time helping to dress the blisters. Some of our training took place in some very cold climates. Even touching metal without gloves meant you'd end up far more attached to your rifle or vehicle than you could possibly have wished for.

I was tasked with job of preparing a line of defence and set the men digging trenches. It was snowing heavily and very cold even doing hard work, looking around I noticed one or two people beginning to suffer the effects of cold. These I told that they could go back to the vehicles, make a brew for themselves and get themselves warm. The rest of us carried on digging. It soon became apparent more and more people were starting to lose their co-ordination and the worst of these I also sent back. Eventualy an officer came over and asked me what I was doing and where were the rest of my men. I said I felt fine and was finishing my trench, but most of the others were suffering so I sent them back to the vehicles. The officer asked me to look around, which I did and found that I'd ordered everyone back and had been digging all by myself, in fact I was the only one still working out of the entire unit. I was then ordered back myself as my co-ordination was going. Thanks guys, who watches the watchers?

A couple of hours later the weather abated a little and we finished the trenches, that night however a storm blew up, and the patrols were bought back in. A couple of people who were supposed to lay telephone line from the trenches to the command post about half a mile away, had manged to lose their bearings and had laid about 3 km of land line! Apart from a few sentries I allowed everyone to get into their sleeping bags, a little later another officer turned up, shouted something at me through the wind and went away. My first thought was to ignore him but duty got the better of me and I got myself and my kit together and walked to the command post to find out what was happening, here I told what I couldn't hear over the wind. The weather, it seems was bad enough but worse was on its way, everyone was to stay as warm as they could and no one was to leave the trenches! By the time I got back to my trench I looked and felt like a snowman.

One of the things we did was to 'attack' another unit, just before dawn, as the storm was dying down. It was nice to see that they looked as cold as we were. They were trying to defend their trenches stood up in their sleeping bags. Someone threw a pyrotechnic into a trench, where it landed inside someones 'green slug'. It was very satisfying watching everyone leave the trench as fast as they could, very quickly followed by a great cloud of feathers as it exploded. We retired to our breakfasts while they cleared up the mess.

Cold can be a killer because one of the organs that is very susceptible to cold is the brain. As the body withdraws blood form the extremities to keep the body core and all its organs warm the brain slows down, hence the lack of co-ordination, because the brain slows down it misses the point that the body is in peril. Wanting to go to sleep is a widespread feeling amongst people who are very cold, if they do the chances are they'll die. Rubbing peoples limbs to get them warm is not a good idea, blood is taken away from the body mass which needs it. Giving them an alcoholic drink is, likewise, not a good idea. The reason a person becomes flushed when they've had a drink is because the blood vessels become dilated, once again taking heat from the vital organs. The best method to keep someone warm is to give them a warm sweet drink, and gently warm them, very gentle exercise can help.

I used to take part in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, one of the toughest regularly run endurance canoe races in the world. It covers 127 miles from Devizes in Wiltshire to Tower Bridge in London. As the race takes place over Easter a lot of training is done through the winter. One night I looked down at my hands, where the water was running down the paddle shaft my hands were encased in ice but as they'd already lost all feeling ignored it. The front of the canoe and my clothes were sparkling in the moonlight. The only thought that went through my brain was "that's odd, I thought that canals were fresh water". For some reason I'd got it into my head that what I was seeing were salt crystals. My crew mate realised what was happening to me and got me running up and down the bank until our backup vehicle came and got us.

No Canoe

One year whilst competing my fellow canoist fell down a step set of steps at a lock and fell heavily against a bollard. People rushed to the scene with offers of help and asking if he needed medical attention. I was secretly hoping he'd broken something, then I wouldn't have to get back in the water, but one of our officers arrived and bullied him back into the canoe, much to the consternation of the onlookers. Oh well, it's a tough life. Actually, when we finally finished the officer produced a bottle of champagne for us, but we were far more interested in sleeping!

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