war stories - exercise 4

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Bath

On exercise it's important to keep up a level of hygiene. This is sometimes difficult especialy on those exercises where you're not allowed to show lights, or those which involved us being in our NBC suits for long periods, sometimes for the entire exercise. This usually means washing and shaving in cold water and eating cold food, or if in the noddy suits hardly washing at all, after about a week or so in these suits any movements sends a wave of hot smelly air out of the neck piece! One day a rumour went around that a local Gasthouse was offering baths for 4 Marks each (about £1). So some off us went off to investigate. It was true, the only thing was that there were about 50 people in the queue. Whilst we were waiting it was natural for us to have a drink. One thing led to another and by the time it was my turn for the bath I was more than slightly drunk. What a bath though, it was a great, even with a thick layer of filth around the rim. Funnily enough when we got back our officer wasn't too pleased to see the state we were in, but at least we felt clean.

Sleep

On exercises we'd usually work eight hours on, four off. I think the longest I had to go without sleep was around 70 hours. At the end of this time your eyes feel like red hot coals and even the simplest things become very difficult to do properly. Someone was reading 8 figure grid references to me and I was supposed to be marking them on a map. The floor of the trench became littered with pens as I couldn't hold on to them properly and couldn't be bothered to pick them up. Finding the references on the map was a chore and by the time I'd orientated myself I'd forgotten what the second set of figures were. The person reading them to me was no better off as he'd misread the figures anyway. Something that would have taken us about 10 minutes if we'd been alert took us over an hour to do.

Be alert - your country needs lerts

A man and his teddy . .

One day I was fell asleep in the back of a land rover that was involved in an accident. I didn't even wake up. Another time I was driving and when we reached our destination by the time all the passengers were out I was fast asleep. If you think you need eight hours sleep then I wouldn't recommend coming out with us when we were on exercise.

Sometimes though stupid things would happen to you, like the day in barracks, when someone had fallen into a drunken stupor and awoke next morning in his bed. The only thing was, his bed and all the other items in his room were neatly arranged in the middle of a parade square!

Or the time a friend of mine woke up in his sleeping bag only to find that someone had superglued the zip shut.

Umbrella

On long exercises we'd be given a day or so RnR - Rest and Recuperation, though we very rarely rested and needed more recuperation when we got back than before we left! Before being let loose on an unsuspecting civil population we'd have a lecture about not disturbing the natives and looking after ourselves. One officer summed it up quite well. He said, "... and for God's sake be careful, some of you will insert pieces of your anatomy in places where I wouldn't put the ferrule of my umbrella".

Climbing

People have a way with words. One of our quartermasters once said, "stores are for storing things. If they were here for giving things away they'd be called issues, now f*** off".

Young Love

On exercise in Denmark on of our younger colleagues fell madly and deeply in love with one of the local girls. In fact he was quite smitten. I don't think it was reciprocated, especialy as a couple of friends of his went to his NCO, me, for advice saying that she'd been seen in dark doorways accepting money off of other soldiers. oops, c'est le vie.

Stallingrad

In Germany we were busy digging trenches around a farm owned by a two old brothers. They took a keen interest in what we were doing and one night bought a couple of bottles of wine round to us. We found out that these two were at the Battle of Stallingrad during WWII and that the one who got shot and evacuated considered himself the lucky one. It appeared that the other got captured by the Russians and didn't get released until 1956.

Security

The Army decided to test the security of some of our bases. Small groups of people were chosen to harrass certain units. During the day groups of "protestors" would picket outside barracks and installations, if they could get inside the gates then so much the better. To make it more authentic no-one carried any identity documents, not even civvy stuff, let alone dogtags or Army IDs. This caused a couple of problems as no outside agency was told of what was happening, not even the Police. We had groups of people wanting to join the groups we made up such as "Save our Trees" or "Protect the Wild Places", on the other hand there were people who gave us a hard time saying we should "get a job" or that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Personally, I always thought the short haircuts would give us away but no-one ever seemed to notice. At night though the real work would begin and we would actively break into these places. Small explosive devices, very loud and bright, but relatively harmless would be planted. On one occasion one of these went off a bit too soon while some of us were still inside the perimeter. The good thing was that the training in camoflage and concealment paid off, people were passing within a few feet but couldn't see us, but all I could hear was the blood pounding round my ears. There were reports of people being hospitalised after being caught doing this in other places and on one occasion I got "rifle-butted". Another time on the way out, the branches of a bush started to move. After giving the warning, "British Army, come out with your hands up or we fire" nothing happened. The pair of us lit two thunderflashes (giant "bangers") each, threw them into the bush and ran, only to be overtaken by a warren of rabbits!!

Mortar

Explosives are dangerous, now and again people do stupid things with them, like using signal flares in the "direct fire" mode. Fun but potentially dangerous. There are ways of creating what are called IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices, this story illustrates how not to do it. One day, a few of us decided to try our hand at creating a mortar. There are ways of making these so that they work properly but we took a few short cuts too many. The first try wasn't too successful, producing a lot of smoke but little else. The next couple of tries were a bit better but a mortar that only fires a couple of metres is useless, you might as well stand up and throw rocks at your target. I think the trouble was that our "tube" was by now a bit weakened but we decided to "go for it" anyway and packed it with explosives. After setting the fuse we retired to what we thought was a safe distance. It wasn't. After the explosion, looking behind us, there were lumps of burning plastic and shards of metal lying on the grass. Luckily no-one was hurt but after that we decided to call it a day and went back to what we were supposed to be doing.

Water

Practically everyone has heard the stories of soldiers being told to paint coal white or thread-bare patches of grass green. Here's a story about water, it was emailed to me by my old BSM (Battery Sergeant Major) so it must be true.

The Provost Sergeant was taking the afternoon staff parade, he had been told that the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) was going away for the weekend and he wanted two men on jankers to go and water his garden, picking two men for the RSM's detail he told them what he wanted them to do. The following day he asked them if they had watered the RSM's garden they replied that they had, the Sergeant detailed two more for the following (saturday) evening. During the sunday afternoon staff parade outside the guard room the two men were asked if they had watered the RSM's garden "No Sergeant" came the reply. "No" you say "No, to me? Why did you not do as I told you?" he shouted in this Irish brogue. "But Sergeant," came the reply "It was raining". "I don't care" shouted the Provost Sergeant "you had your ground sheets you could have wore didn't you?". Who needs brains when you're dealing with logic like that?

Idle

There is a saying amongst soldiers. "Why march when you can stand? Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lay down and sleep?" If you're a soldier and not doing anything in particular the best thing you can do is go and hide somewhere. Out of sight sometimes really is sometimes out of mind. DO NOT EVER, EVER stand around with your hands in your pockets or look as if you're bored, this is the quickest way of finding yourself far busier than you thought possible. Another tip is if an officer or NCO asks you if you're cold, then just say "no", even if you are. If you say "yes" they'll soon find you ways of warming you up, mostly involving work, or going for a run or going over an obstacle course just for the fun of it. This is not however a hard and fast rule as it can sometimes backfire.

One day a group of us were stood around waiting for something to happen. It was really cold and a couple of guys had their hands in their pockets. A senior NCO came over and asked "Are you lot cold?" Back came the universal "No, Sergeant". "Pity" he said "I was going to send you back to the barracks, but if you're not cold you can stay out here for a while longer." Damn, damn, damn.

Officers and NCOs, although they act as if they don't care about your welfare, are taught to look after their troops - if there is the time and resources available. We'd just finished a couple of days hard exercise and were given a little time to get ourselves a hot meal and get our our personal admin. back together. Most of us were half way cooking our rations when a young officer told us to get our stuff together and get ready to go again. The usual grumbles, but we threw the food away and started packing up. Our BC (Battery Commander) arrived on the scene, told us to get on with our meal and took the youngster away for a "chat".

Another time we were given time to relax and I overheard two officers chatting. The more senior of them asked "Why are these men not doing anything? If you can't think of any real work for them to do then f*** them around a bit". Exit one senior officer smiling to himself leaving a very perplexed looking junior officer in his wake.

Talking of young officers. Having passed my OP Ack DCs (Detachment Commander, a course on the more technical aspects of Observation Post duties) course, I was able to tutor some of them. Ah, revenge is sweet and the power of it all!!

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