The Friday before the course starts on Monday. WTF!?
During the course of your Army life you will get to do things called Cadre Courses. They got called Leadership Course, Lance Jack Courses etc Beasting sessions, which they were, in the main. You’d normally get to do these after 2 – 3 years service, 18 months if you were an exceptional soldier, or 6 years if you were exceptionally shite, like myself.It was in the early winter months of 1996 I began my Lance Bombardier Leadership course along with 38 other participants. It was Friday afternoon and it was fucking freezing. We were stood outside on the parade square in pressed, starched Lightweights (olive green trousers), stable belts, green shirts (these had our Brigade flash on the left shoulder – a Jerboa, and we also had gold/silver coloured RA titles on the epaulettes). Our boots had been worked on all week, spit and shine, using a silva cloth bought from the extortionate PRI shop (robbing fuckers) and Kiwi Parade Gloss polish.
“What time we meant to be here, Dougy?” Davenport asked me. Davenport was a good mate of mine, a fellow veteran of a 1993 Batus tour: and mad as a kettle of frogs.
“2 pm,” I whispered.
“Who the fuck was that….?” We jumped… The disconnected voice was behind us and we could hear the unmistakable crunch of Drill Boots, and tap of Drill Stick on the parade square. “Who, the fuck spoke?”
We kept still, at attention, looking at the Sergeants Mess building that was in front of us, hoping the mad bastard behind us would let it lie and we could get back to whatever the fuck we were doing.
“Well? I’m not here on fucking holiday! If no fucker answers now, you’re all going for a little trip tonight.” His voice echoed throughout the square, bouncing off all the 3 storey blocks around us. I could hear no hint of emotion to belie the tone, he wasn’t taking the piss. A couple of lads walked along the cobbled road and I could see their grins. Bastards.
“It was me, sir,” I said.
“SIR!!!??? Who the fuck do you think I am, you little cunt!!?? Do you know I actually work for a living. What the fuck are these fuckers!?” I felt air and wrigley’s spearming gum blasting in my face. An angry bloke in a sharp, slashed peaked, hat was looking at me and he was angry. I looked down to his arm, which he was pointing to.
“Bombardier,” I coughed to clear my throat. “Bombardier.”
“That’s right – Bombardier. If you ever want to get to that rank you’d better keep your fucking gob shut.”
He inspected us and nearly everyone, including myself got a show parade for some minor discrepancy. A smudge on a boot heel, a wonky RA title, or a beret that just didn’t look right. A show parade meant going to the Guard Room at 10pm with the item showing it put right. One lad was that shook up with this twat of a Bombardier shouting at him that he let out a ripper of a nervous fart.
“Where the fuck did that come from?” He asked in genuine shock. “Was that a duck? Is there a whoopy cushion up your arse? Were you on the piss??”
“What? The fuck are you saying?”
“Show parade. Tonight. Showing Fart.” What the fuck? Someone laughed, but I think the inspecting Bombardier ignored it.
We all left for our block and were welcomed by the Admin NCO who greeted us with similar compassion and understanding. “Aye up, cunts,” he said, calmly to us, “Youse lot are fucked by the way. We’ve got some treats in stall for you.” And he smiled benevolently at us as we lined the corridor.
He looked tapped and wired. This wasn’t looking good. Anyway, I thought the cadre course began on the Monday? Not the fucking Friday. Our joining instructions said Monday. Obviously I didn’t mention this, but I could see that it puzzled a lot of us.
We were in the transit block and it was in dire need of cleaning. We were shown our cleaning materiel which Wicksy had in his store. Wicksy was his name, Bombardier Wicks. He’d just come back from Weingarten from a LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) course I think and he was suffering from some mental illness, so this really didn’t look so good.
I remember bringing my boom box up from my room which was only 200 metres away, across the square. When I began to play music, Wicksy stood over me, “Are you on fucking crack?” he asked.
I turned it off and carried on scrubbing the floor with wire wool. I could hear that there was a function going on in the Essex Club and feeling pissed off. I could have murdered a can of blue at the moment. Davenport was busy on the walls getting the marks off and I could see Pete Ridley telling someone else about some bird he shagged in Canada.
It looked like our weekend was earmarked for this and it was. We were living here as well, our steel framed beds were in each room, four to a room with a locker and white above locker chest. We had scratchy, issued blankets and white sheets too – no doubt these would be used for bed blocks later.
On Sunday night we were still beavering away, this time on the stairs polishing them. When I think about it, these stairs had German soldiers running up and down them 60 years previously prior to the outbreak of war with England. It was a strange thought and in the corridor you could seen individual grooves for weapons, whether they were for the SLRs or for German weapons, I couldn’t tell. Finally at 3am the last of us got into bed, pulled the white sheets and scratchy blanket over our heads. No sooner had we done that, the light was turned on and a skinny fellah in boxer shorts walked in.
“Hey lads. It’s 5 o’clock,” he said.
“Fuck off,” Greatrex shouted.
“Re-valley,” the skinny fuck repeated.
“Re… what?” I asked.
“Reveille,” he said and left.
“He’s the duty student,” Davenport said. I looked at my watch. Two hours? Is that it?
Within 15 minutes iron boards were deployed and people were ironing. “Come on. Hurry up!” People were pushing and getting their red PT vests done. The creases were easier to put in the red ones, the white T-shirts were shit.
“How long we got… how long we got?”
“Ten minutes!! Is that five minutes before?”
“Five minutes, before the ten minutes before!”
“Fuck. Hurry up then,” A lad said and put his shorts on the iron table anyway and ran the iron over it. “Fuck it.”
“We’re gonna get beasted anyway, so I wouldn’t get too worried about your shorts,” Greatrex said and that was probably the worst thing he could have said as one of the Bombardiers overheard.
Rexy was right, he’d done a course before, he knew what was coming. When we got down to the gym we were lined up in three ranks. It was dark outside, frost settled on the cobbled road, it glittered like jewels on the cars amidst the light of the lamp posts that cast gold on the accommodation blocks.
The PTI (Physical Training Instructor), back in the 90s, had to do a 6 week course to get his god like status. These were done in Sennelager and shy, recluse soldiers would come back egotistical (not always), confident gymnasts with a swagger in their gait. The one in front of me had this swagger and a smirk on his smug face – the fuck. He began to tear the squad apart, one-by-one, for double creases that didn’t exist in the arms of red PT Vests, smudges on trainers and stubble on chins.
“A general knowledge quiz now. See who can get the answer – coz not many people get it,” he paused and then posed the question. “What’s the capital of Ireland?”
“Uhh… I know…. I know.. it’s Dublin!” I shouted, much to the chagrin of everyone on the gym.
“Dublin!? Well what the fuck are you waiting for!? Start Doubling!!” And that was the start of the beasting, we began to double march time on the spot. The PTIs had been busy this morning preparing for us. We spent a long time on those fucking wall bars that I thought my arms were going to be ripped from their sockets. It looked wonderful. They had the ropes out, y’know the climbing ropes. Horse boxes out for leaping over, matts to do sits ups on… Matts to do sit ups? Really? Nah, they were meant to be put on your back and you had to run around the parade square, which we did. About five times. We flapped around the square like bats in the cool morning light as the sun began its slow ascent.
By the time the other soldiers in Roberts Barracks began to stir in their pits to wake, we were turned to vomit and sweat. Three soldiers passed out, one refused to go on and another cried. There was retching to be had and the PTI simply told us to vomit on the go, which we did. I retched and brought up bile and bacon. Lovely.
By the end, we stood there outside the opaque, glass walled gymnasium, the PTI appraised us…
“That was probably the saddest excuse for a Cadre course,” he turned to Bombardier ‘Mick’ Metcalfe and shrugged as if to say ‘what the fuck?’ Mick grinned back.
“Those of you who are on my left, your right, will be parading back here at 1830hrs for remedial PT,” the PTI said and he was stood to the side of us. That meant either all of us or neither of us would have to go. “That’s all of youse, you dumb fucks!”
“Course! Course shun! Right. Turn! By the left. Quick. March. Left right left right left right. Heads back. Look smart, it’s the start of a new week,” Mick Metcalfe marched us back to our accommodation block 200 metres away.
The Fuck Factor
Three weeks were spent in camp getting fucked about from morning till dusk. There were show parades for just about everything you can think of, including more farts to be presented. We even had to deconstruct the entire room, lockers and all, and re-construct it on the parade square at 2 in the morning. We were stood by our beds in the freezing, bitter February night as the Bombardier inspected our lockers using a torch. He stood where there would normally be a window and asked where the curtains were.
“You need curtains to keep a little privacy, don’t you? So where the fuck are they!?” He enquired in his whiny, and by now, irritating voice. We ran up to the empty block and removed the curtains. We ended up standing on plastic chairs to simulate the curtains hanging up. It was pathetic, laughable even. The people not on the course who were woken up by the noise peered from their warm rooms and were no doubt laughing at us.
One evening we were all in an old mess room, all chairs were arranged so that each of us could stand up in front of the crowd and talk for five minutes on a subject of our choice. I got up, slightly nervous, not sure what to say and just said the first thing that came into my head…
“Hello, my name is Dougy, and I’m an alcoholic.” There was laughter. “No. I really am. I mean we’re all alcoholics, I’m just doing a great job of it.” More laughter. I then stuck my thumb up and poked my index out like I was pointing to my right. “What’s that?” No reply. “Tom Thumb with a hard-on.” More laughter. Fuck me – I should b a comedian. I then wiggled my thumb and fingers all around. “That’s Tom Thumb having a fight with his mates.” I never really had a problem with crowds. I used to do that sort of stuff as a kid.
I secretly yearned for the exercise period. A week before we had this Colour-Sergeant (equivalent to a Staff Sergeant) from the local Infantry Battalion from Belfast Barracks. He spoke about MFV when attacking the enemy. MFV stood for ‘Maximum Fucking Violence’, because he said, it was a life and death struggle and if you lost, you died, so it was MFV all the way. This guy was teaching us some basic fieldcraft techniques that were second nature to Infantry, but not usually practiced by ourselves. I mean I’d done it before but it wasn’t really my primary role which was a Cymbeline Mortar Locating Radar Operator.
During lessons, because we were being deprived of sleep, you’d get somebody fall asleep during lesson and they’d have to go outside and get beasted by the duty Bombardier. You could hear the Bombardier shouting out the drill orders while in the lesson and that was an incentive. When the guy came back in he was sweating and breathing hard. To tell you the truth I honestly don’t think that helped, he was doubly fucked now and was more likely to fall asleep again, but he didn’t – it was the fear of going through that crazy quick drill again.
Final Exercise and the last week
The final exercise was perhaps a great test on the Admin Bombardier, and I’m not sure how Bombardier Wicks found that, but he looked okay. I think we were in the Saarland and sleeping rough for most of the time there. We had log runs, section attacks, night reconnaissance missions, more PT, more section attacks and an escape and evasion exercise.
We were all split up into sections and then captured. We were interrogated with sand bags over our heads and made to sit in really uncomfortable positions – stress positions. Once that evening was over, we were loaded onto Bedford Trucks like cattle and dropped off with a note to the local Burger Meister about the exercise and who we were. It was in German and we didn’t want the GCP turning up with guns pointing at us. We were dressed up in Army coveralls and boots. The DS (Directing Staff) gave us a chance by letting us ransack our bergens for a couple of minutes before we were loaded on the trucks. All I got was a sleeping bag and a sandbag over my head. Some twat in the group got a Credit Card and used that on a fucking Hotel! Escape and Evasion, fuck sake.
We were given RV (Rendesvous) to reach in a certain time period and I think I did a fucking marvellous job here. One time I got my patrol of two to the actual RV at 2 in the morning. We traversed over a hill and down a re-entrant to where we could hear the purring of the Truck’s engine. I mean, we were in thick forest – I think it was the Back Forest in the south west of Germany, not that that means anything to me. But navigation was demanding. Stigga had a torch with him and we managed to find our way round with it. We managed to find a dilapidated barn for the night and both of us shared a sleeping bag. Not sure how the hell we managed it.
Near the end of the E and E exercise the DS were forced to search for Pete Ridley who’d gone to the DS’s barn where they slept and nicked their rations. He was only 200 metres away in a custom built shelter that was completely covert. It was Wicksy who finally found him and commended him on his ‘bush’ skills, though I’d reckon Pete would know of other ‘bush’ skills he was also good at – like that Canadian girl back in ’93. He was commended then beasted.
The last week of the Cadre course was spent preparing for the ‘Pass Out’ parade. We’d spend all day marching and practising our rifle drill. We’d be told we were shit, and fed shit sandwiches all day. We’d have inspections during the morning and get fucked about, but it wasn’t as bad as the first week. I had to go sick that week with the shites. I was called a wanker by the DS, naturally, to make it look I tried to get out of PT. I had these Immodium tablets and took them two days before the parade. They worked a treat. I didn’t shit for a week, and when I did, well you can imagine what happened there.
The parade went well. We only had one guy faint on us. The DS doubled on the square and dragged the fellah off by his shoulders, his heels dragging on the square. We were in number twos, fucking horrible scratchy uniform that rarely fit. There was so much bullshit to be had with this uniform, from the lanyard (Engineers can fuck off with any comments on the white colour), and the RA lapel plates, the twat hat, the fucking medals and the white belt around the waist. Everything had to be sparkly clean and bright white. I fucking hate bullshit. I think the 90s was the last time our Regiment really got nasty on the bullshit, with ‘Stick Men’, ‘Bulling Boots’ and Starching your kit. In the noughties, it faded out, like it was no longer the main push.
Each generation of soldier will say that they had it harder than the latter one. It’s the way it goes, I suppose. Six years later I did my Crew Commanders (Lance Bombardier to Bombardier) and didn’t really have a problem with that one, in fact, one time in that course I was considered for best student, but lapsed into 2nd or 3rd place on the last week. In the Cadre course I was bottom third, a paltry attempt and I’m not sure I realised my potential then – I still had this drink problem and kept on fucking up. There were two awards given out for that course – you had best student, ‘Yes, well done, you were good all the way through’. Then you had, most improved student, which meant, ‘You were shit, you’re still shit, but not as shit as at the start.’