As I walked past the guard room I could hear the occupants of the ‘goldfish bowl’ laughing. This didn’t look good. I passed another soldier who started to sing ‘You’re in the Army now’.
The Royal Artillery Barracks was built in the late 18th Century and has been the home of the Royal Artillery until recently as Larkhill on Salisbury Plain now takes on that role and has done for some time now.
From what I can remember as it was 27 years ago, there were a couple of Batteries. No doubt I’ll miss some out, so sorry guys, there was 24 (Irish) Battery and 59 (Asten) Battery, and 59 was to be mine. There were several troops in the Regiment – not sure which battery they belonged to. These were; Martinique, Le Cateau, Marne, Colenso, Sphinx and Inkerman. Our troops were split into two sections. The Sections were led by a Bombardier (equivalent to a Corporal) and he would sleep on the same floor. Mine was called Bombardier Jameson-Caley or JC as he was known to the Troop. The Troop Sergeant was called Sergeant Myers and he was a triathlon runner from 7RHA. The TSM was a WO2 called Taylor I remember him coming in one evening pissed up and chatting to the lads, much to the chagrin of the Bombardiers.
I remember the first week of Woolwich and we were allowed to wear civilian clothing that week. We were given lectures and shown how to iron our uniform, clean the toilets and a some marching too. A few of the guys had already left by then, seeing that this wasn’t for them, which was fair enough. I had fuck all to go back for, so I had nothing to lose.
A couple of the lads left, the one’s who thought ‘fuck this for a game of soldiers’. The IRA were targeting barracks now with the Deal Barracks bombing a year before it was in the forefront of everyone’s mind.
One morning JC got us all out on parade and gave us one last chance prior to week 2. “One last chance. You can fuck off now if you like. If you can’t hack it. After today you’re all mine,” he finished this sentence and I could sense a malign edge to those words.
We had to get our heads shaved after that first week. I thought the haircut was for free, but the cheeky fucker charged me £1. I had to borrow off one of the lads and pay him back later. The weeks were good, we found ourselves in a place called the ‘Dell’ a lot. It was a popular beauty spot that had us lot spoiling it. There was an assault course on the area and we’d be going round that a couple of times. Getting over that 10 foot wall was a pain and require a lot of upper body strength if the lads didn’t help you out. I found myself as one of the last and attempted in vain to scramble up and over with my webbing on. It wasn’t happening and I think it was Bdr Branscombe who pulled me back down by the straps and we all got punished for that. We all got punished for not working as a team as by rights two lads should have waited for me at the top. Instead I’m on my back, sweat and mud on my face, panting like a dog with rabies.
I wasn’t very fit at that age, fitness takes a while to grow on you and I suppose I’m more fit now than I was in my teens. I went on remedial PT once for lagging behind with a load of other guys. It was brutal, we had one of the Section Leader (senior Gunner) in tears through pain. I remember telling the PTI I thought I was going to faint. A bollocking followed that and I can see what they meant. It took a while later, 20 years to be precise, to really appreciate a good beasting – and I’m still getting them now, and paying for them.
During a PT session one guy walked out.
“Hoy! Where the fuck are you going!?” A PTI shouted.
“That’s impossible, is that is!” The Gunner replied.
“Get back in line, you fucker!”
“I’m a Burnley lad, and that’s impossible, stuff yer fucking Army,” he said and with that, he was off.
Breakfast was a Queen’s parade and if you didn’t attend, then you were charged. You were charged for missing a parade in the morning for one, we all had to be out of our pit spaces by 0600hrs and on parade by 0630hrs. One stuck up little fucker of a Lance Bombardier was in the kitchen and he’d be looking at us.
“Get your fucking hands out yer pocketses,” he jabbed a nicotine stained finger at soldier.
“Pocketses? What is he? Gollum?” I said trying to humour a guy in front, but I think that was lost on him.
Once we were sat down we had to wolf the food down. If you were back of the queue, you dipped out; best get that breakfast down you, sharpish!
Skill At Arms was done in a room where we laid out the SLR rifle and took it apart. When the instructor was out the room we’d pose with the rifles in port arms like a bunch of Walts. We’d do the warry photo shoot in our rooms as well and if ‘Gus’ had paid a visit, we’d be stood over our flung mattresses and spilt washing powder, grinning at the camera.
‘Gus’ was this imaginary giant gorilla who came into the barrack rooms and trashed your rooms. If you hadn’t locked your lockers with a trusty NAAFI padlock then ‘Gus’ would have a field day. We knew it was the instructors and JC seemed to love it more than any of the others. We’d be stood on parade facing the accommodation block as mattresses were thrown out of the third floor window. One of them had the paid particular attention to graffitiying the word GUS with shaving foam on one locker door.
One morning we hear The Jazz Singer begin playing Love on the rocks and we all knew the day wouldn’t start so well. We hear the crashing of the boots on freshly polished floors and doors being barged open.
“STAND BY YOUR FUCKING BEDS!!” Bombardier JC barked and we stood to attention where we were. “Youse fuckers are taking the piss.” He held up his hand, palm facing upwards and presented it to the guy nearest the door. “What’s this, Simmons?”
“That’s right. It’s fluff,” he spoke softly now. “And you can hear that, right? Love on the rocks? Get ready people because I feel a changing parade coming along.” He paused, straightened and then shot his arms as if to present a huge prize. “I feel like TOGA!!! You got 2 minutes to get into Toga gear and down stairs on parade. Starting….. NOW!” He then walked off in the direction of the stairs.
“What the fuck’s TOGA??” Somebody asked.
“Roman wore toga.”
“Aye. Toga Party. I’ve been to one. Use your bed sheets!!”
We all scrambled to rip out the white sheets from the beds, destroying hours of work as we’d slept on the floor to prevent them from being messed about with.
We made it in time – just. Panting and laughing we faced the Bombardier and could see another block away that another section were having similar ideas…except. Except they weren’t having a good time – they looked fucked and they wore NBC suits. That was going to be us in five minutes! Fuck!!