War Stories - Recruits 2

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Recruits 2

A major part of the evening was cleaning the barracks, naturally all the cleaning materials were available for us to purchase from the NAAFI. Amongst the items available were tins of BRASSO metal polish. One of our NCOs decided it would be a good idea if we each got a can of this and carefully covering up the letters RA with tape, (this is a clue as to which regiment I was in) removed the paint from the rest of the can then bulled (polished) it. Someone in our room had the bright idea of moving his mates little piece of tape a couple of letters to the right. On the day the of the unveiling ceremony and prize giving (done with great formality) we all pulled of our little pieces of tape to reveal the letters RA in red and cream on a very highly polished metal background, all that is except for one bloke who had the word ASS. I think I shall pass by the argument and the hurtful words that were said because of this little incident.

A little way outside of the garrison is a wood in the middle of which is a lake. It was around this piece of land we did most of our fitness, endurance, initiative and confidence training. High in the trees and even across the lake were rope aerial walkways. We grew used to rapidly moving around these ropes and they soon became less of the challenge that we first thought they were. They were a lot safer than they looked, particularly if you didn't let go! The ropes across the lake were a different matter. They looked easy enough, you could walk across one rope and reach above your head and grab another to keep your balance. Within a few yards though it became apparent that the bottom rope had a lot less tension on it than the top rope. This meant that to avoid a soaking you either had to pull yourself up to one of the upper ropes or lower yourself to one of the lower ones and shimmy across. Once you learnt the proper techniques neither is much of a big deal even with packs, unless of course you've got a couple of NCOs on either end jumping up and down on them. Needless to say they weren't happy till everyone had got a soaking, preferably several times.

On one side the bank down to the lake is very long and steep. One day we were up in the woods and told that each of us in turn would run through the wood, down the hillside to the lake out and onto a jetty. Here someone would throw a rope across to us, we would grab this rope and the momentum would carry us out across the lake and using a series of ropes suspended from the walkways make our way across it. One by one we set off through the woods, down the hill and out across the jetty, sure enough a rope would swing out, we'd grab it and go sailing off out across the lake. Only to realise even if you climbed up it like a monkey on amphetemines there was no way you were going to avoid getting a soaking.

One day nothing was going right for anyone, in exasperation a few guys were told they were put on this Earth merely to make everyone else look good and they were to go to the guardroom and jail themselves. I think the guards must have thought it was highly amusing, especially as a couple of minutes later more people arrived asking to be locked up. They didn't think it so funny an hour or so later when they had over a hundred people wandering around the guardroom cluttering the place up.

Why did we put up behaviour like this? For a start we volunteered, after the initial shock it became a matter of pride not to let it get us down, we were learning a lot of new and interesting things, most of us felt that we were getting fitter and stronger each day we were there and lastly as soon as we left we realised that most of it had been fun. Unfortunately some people couldn't or wouldn't tolerate what was happening to them, some left because they realised that the Army wasn't for them (Army recruitment posters and adverts very rarely show what really happens to make the British Army soldier the best in the world - one of the most commonly heard laments was "but I only joined for the skiing"), and others left because the Army decided they weren't for it.

A few years later I returned to the training school on a course. As we were marching past the officer's barracks we saw that an officer had obviously thrown something important away and was going through the large dumpsters. As we passed him we gave an "eyes right" and a salute. Discipline being what it is he had no choice but to come to attention, standing in the dustbin and salute us back. It's the little things that amuse.

Later on I'd return to these training depots for both my technical training and leadership / promotional courses but returning to the place of my recruit training always bought back mixed memories of the place. It didn't help when I returned for my first leadership course. The ethos is that you've got to go through all the crap you went through the first time but remain alert and detached enough to take others through it as well. Part of the course consisted of an exercise, one part of which was to dig a trench which had to be completed by the morning. A colleague and I were given a patch of ground to told to get on with it. Of all the trenches I've ever ended up digging this was the most difficult. After removing the topsoil the ground turned into a layer of rock. One of our instructors said it was just tough luck and to carry on. By morning some people had made very good progress, some like myself had a two foot deep rock filled puddle.

trench digging Hide

Two items just to finish this section neither are in the least bit funny.

When we left, after finishing the course a group of us took the same train home. I suppose it was obvious, but a lady in our carriage asked if we were in the Army, when we said yes she told us her son had just joined and had just left a course very much like ours. She went on to explain that her son couldn't take the stress involved and she'd just come back from the hospital where he had been admitted after suffering a nervous breakdown.

The final item is something that I heard about a few years ago and was supposed to have happened on a Basic Training Course. One of the NCOs in charge of weapons training would half cock a loaded rifle (bring the bolt back just far enough to make it look and sound as if he had drawn a round into the chamber), put the weapon to his head and pull the trigger. As might be expected no one gets away with doing things like this for very long without the inevitable happening and sure enough one day blew his head apart in front of a class of new recruits.

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