In late 1989 I decided I wanted to join the Army. I’d heard a friend had done Basic Training with the Royal Marines, but sacked it after being booted in the head by a Corporal on the shooting range. I went to Peterlee Careers office, it was opposite the Technical College and you had to go under the road to get to it. There was a guy on the fifth floor who directed me to the Army Careers Office in Horden, and so… my journey began.
The Sergeant Major in the office interviewed me and asked what I wanted to joint. He was a Tanky and told me his fitness had saved his life once in Cyprus when his Land Rover rolled over into a chasm. He was on death’s door apparently.
“Infantry,” I said.
“Your BARB test score is off the charts fellah, you’d be fucking wasted as a grunt, son,” he said to me with a chuckle.
A lady to his left (WRAC) sat up. “Why don’t you try Movement’s Corps? Something with a trade?” Movement’s Corps? What the fuck? I joined to hold a weapon and fight – I wanted a bit of adventure. Little did I know at the time that the Movement’s Corps went to shitholes to move cannon fodder about.
“The punch? Tank Regiment?” The Sergeant Major said bristling at my rejection of this – he was Tank Regiment after all.
There were plenty of options. I was told I could join any corps, but the Intelligence Corps as I hadn’t passed my GCSEs.
“Movements Corps? I know I said Infantry and it’s not all Rambo stuff like,” I said, not sure I really meant it, or what it meant. I knew what I needed and that was to get the fuck out of the village and go places. I had a restless heart and if that meant dying on some foreign shore, then be it. There was no way I going to rot in a village.
On my second visit to Horden ACIO I was told that there were no spaces left for the Movements Corps, but there were places in the Royal Artillery as a Gunner Technical. As if that was going to entice me.
I agreed and went down to Birmingham to attend a 2 day Army pre-selection course. There were a couple of physical tests. We did some pull ups – we only needed to do three, and to be perfectly honest I’m not sure I could have done more. We did a 1.5 mile run and I got 10 minutes 30 seconds which I think was bullshit. I think every fucker who was remotely fit at 17 got 10 minutes and 30 seconds. I think they saw a baseline to work on and went with that.
The interview was pretty funny, now that I come to remember it.
WO2 – “Do you drink?”
Me – “No”
WO2 – “Take drugs?”
Me – “No”
WO2 – “D’you smoke?”
Me – “No”
WO2 – “Been arrested?”
Me – “No”
WO2 – “Are you a faggot?”
Me – “No”
WO2 – “You sure?”
Me – “Yes”
WO2 – “Fuck off while I think about it.”
I sat in the waiting room and within five minutes he emerged from his office. He shook hands with me and congratulated me on jumping the first hurdle. He must have been filling out paperwork to process me to Woolwich while I was waiting.
I sat on the train and could see a group of other lads singing and drinking, they were on the same selection as me. There were complaints, but that didn’t stop them from continuing.
On the morning of the 7th February 1990, I took the 154 bus which starts its journey from Sunderland, makes its way through the little ex-mining village of Murton where I boarded, and to Durham. In an ACIO I was met by an ageing Major (probably ex-ranker) and he explained to me that I should take the ‘rough with the smooth’ and it would be no ‘bed of roses’. I swore my oath of allegiance to the queen and signed a contract for 9 years. I was circumcised that evening in a place called Rickleton, Washington courtesy of my dad’s BUPA membership. Probably not the best timed circumcision given that I’d be getting beasted in 3 week’s time.
Three weeks later at the end of February I boarded a train and was bound on an adventure for the next 22 years.
Arriving at King’s Cross was the easy part, the difficult part was trying to work out the tube station directions – fuck!! I nearly got lost a few times, but managed to get to Woolwich Arsenal with my ticket. Stepping off the train I saw a gentleman dressed in green, olive clothing and he was wearing a beret. He sported a handlebar moustache and had this mischevious look on his face. Oh, uh… who the fuck was this fellah? Definitely a soldier. He must have looked me up and down, I could see the cogs working in his head. He lifted a drill stick and pointed it at me.
“You here for the Army and all that?”
“Right you are,” he said then must have fought the temptation to bollock me for calling him sir. “Wait here,” he said and grabbed several others. One of the others I noticed I’d been following his green Army Bergen for the past 4 tube connections. His name was Spuggy Spears and already a TA soldier, but was joining the regulars now.
“I was following you. You joining up as well?” I asked him, but he just grinned at me and nodded.
We were led up a hill by some shops a pub called the ‘Elephant and Castle’, another called ‘The Star’ (PIRA supporters pub apparently) and another called the ‘Kings Head’. The Kings Head was at the top of the bank and by the entrance to the camp. The camp was huge. I pulled my huge suitcase along with me and entered the barracks.