We had PT one morning. In fact we had them on nearly all the mornings, which I fucking hated. I hated getting up at 5am, which, as a 17 year old was understandable. Nowadays I’m up at 5, every morning. The buzzing of the lights before they flickered on and a cheerful shout of: “WAKEY WAKEY GIRLS AND BOYS. We’re off to the park today!”
I sat up and rubbed my eyes, the floor gleaned with a high sheen from the polish earlier that morning. I could see under all the other beds at the other guys who were also lying on the floor in the grey itchy blankets. The air was edged with an icy touch – some fucker had left the window open and I could hear the thunderous padding of bare feet on the floor as the lads made a rush to the wash basins. The dress today was going to be boots, lightweights, green shirt, combat jacket, webbing, large pack – which wasn’t large at all, and helmet.
As I made my way to the washing area I could see Bombardier JC pick up 9 packets of Hob Nobs. The rule was if we bought a packet of Hob Nobs then we had to buy him a packet. He must have had about 50 or 60 at home. He lived in a single room just off our dormitory. I wondered if he had a wife and family and what this life was like for him. Must have been shit for his wife. I heard he’d done six years in the Army and had completed a French Commando Course. Tales of him forward abseiling from a cliff sounded pretty exciting and it played on my mind what I could get up to. When I was asked which regiment I’d like to go to, I honestly didn’t have a clue, but came out with the usual 7 (PARA) RHA or 29 (CDO) RA.
We had a presentation from 29 (CDO) RA later on in my training and my aspirations to join them were brought to a shuddering halt from the rhetoric the soldier was giving us. Fuck that, I thought. I think I’ll crack on with a normal Regiment first. Just picking the units wasn’t difficult as each unit was assigned to a general area in the UK. Mine should have been 3 RHA or 4 FD RA and indeed I went on to 4th Field Regiment Royal Artillery – ‘The North East Gunner’ based in Osnabrueck, Germany. In the cookhouse while we would queue up for our scoff there were posters of all the regiments pasted on the walls for us to look. Regiments like 50 Missile Regiment, 12 Air Defence Regiment, and Heavy Regiments like 32 and 39 – this was before the big chop of 1994.
I digress, I queued up and had my shave quickly, brush teeth and ran back to my locker. On top of the locker we had our area which didn’t need to be arranged for inspection but it had to be tidy. The white locker on top had my spare combats and clothes. I quickly got into that and it felt good to be wearing green. My boots creaked and I quickly gave them a once over with the brush.
“Come on,” Clint whispered to us. He was at the door to our dormitory, all booted up for the PT session. He was the duty student today and had to make sure we were on parade on time else he’d get beasted. There was nothing worse than letting your mates down. I flung the boot brush into the locker, shut the padlock and remembered I’d left the key in the locker. FUCK!! No time for that. I ran out and into the three ranks of lads, the yellowing light on their upturned faces. I ran to the left, then the right and got dragged into place. There was a place we had to be and it was always that spot, but sometimes, especially at the start, you forgot. I stood at ease and looked up – everyone was looking up at WO2 Taylor who was grinning down at us. He had his number 2 uniform on, so he wasn’t coming with us. Next to him was JC.
“This fellah here is as close to God as you’re gonna get on this,” Taylor said pointing to JC, “Bombardier JC is as holy as they come. Jesus Christ resurrected. Listen to him, take the punishment and see it as development. Dig in. Work hard and work as a team,” he turned around and looked back into the building, someone had handed him a mug of coffee, then it was back to us. “It’s gonna hurt, but hey, that’s life. Persevere.” He raised his steaming mug of coffee to us in a mock salute, before disappearing off up the stairs to the first floor where his office was.
“Troop!” We jumped at this – it came from behind us. I could see JC smile from the window above us. “Troop SHUN!” There was a clatter of boots and someone came in last.
“Oooohhh!!!!” JC yelled, there was a glimmer in his eye, it was manic and I could tell he was enjoying this. “Let’s try that again. Shall we?”
“As you were,” the voice behind us said. Then… “TROOP!! Troop SHUN!!” This time we made a resounding boot clash at the same time.
“Better!!” JC said. He was on the ground floor with us now. He had his beret on which was a rarity, he normally had his twat hat on and number 2s.
We turned left and began to march to the cookhouse for the Queen’s Parade, which some of us would vomit back up again in about 40 minutes. Breakfast was a simple Bacon butty for me and a mug of coffee before standing outside waiting for the rest of the troop. I was usually one of the first as I didn’t have much for breakfast. It was energy and fuel for the day which was essential for the shit we were going to be put through.
There was a mix of marching and doubling to the guard room before we were ‘about turned’ and made to double all the way down to the end of the barracks and back again when someone got the step wrong: in fact nearly all of us who got the step wrong. We arrived at the guard room panting wheezing and red faced in the late March morning. The frost hadn’t quite gone yet. We could see it twinkling on the edges of leaves and branches outside the camp. The route to the ‘Dell’ as it was known was very scenic. We passed several dog walkers and a jogger, whom none paid us any attention.
We got to an area which centred on a lake and around it were various obstacles. It was called an Assault Course back in 1990, nowadays the name has changed to Obstacle Course – not sure why the name has changed, maybe it was a little too offensive for some recruits. We were given a guided tour of the obstacles and shown how to complete them. I think Branny was there and we had JC. Sgt Myers was potentially there too, but my memory isn’t that good on exact personalities. I know there was a Commando Bombardier who was a cockney and had a wicked sense of humour.
We started off attacking the obstacles, still cold and having major problems getting over some of them. Eventually these became easier and we worked more fluidly and people helping others up the 3 metre wall. The 3 metre wall was the prime test of team work and co-ordination, and leadership – we fucked up on this, as you’d expect, being our first round. Muggins here was the last and was left dangling like a twat, feet pin-wheeling for grip and purchase so I could get over. At that young age I didn’t have much upper body strength and after 50 minutes around this place we were all fucked. JC grabbed me by my webbing and threw me to the floor in disgust. We stood there while he berated us on teamwork and what he was going to do to us later, or rather what the Bombardier in the gym was going to do. Oh fuck. All thoughts of my locked padlock evaporated, they paled into insignificance with this new development. A beasting in the gym at 7pm was booked.
We were all brought to the water’s edge and JC talked about the tunnel that was submerged. We were to get under the water and though the tunnel. Cool, I thought. The water looked fucking freezing. JC stood, waist deep in the water at one end and another bombardier about 2 meters from him. We were to duck under, get pushed and pulled out the other end. While we queued up we were told about several soldiers who were still under there, so we had to make our way past their bodies. I began to shiver as the icy water filtered into my trousers, boots and jacket. When it was my turn I simply closed my eyes and ducked, my hands reached out and I could feel the pipe I was to go through. I pushed and pulled myself along before being dragged out the other end and out. We were to jog back and forth to the 3m wall before assembling as a troop and doubled back to the Barracks. There was a gap in our ranks and I later learned that one of the guys had ran back to camp rather than do the underwater tunnel. I don’t know what happened to him.