A Warmer In The Bank
There were several places we went to on exercise, the first location was a ‘warmer in the bank’, as the saying goes. We were lucky to get a coach down to the place which I think was in Kent. I might be wrong. We were stuffed into these buses with our large packs in the compartment underneath us or on top of our heads. Our rifles were under our feet.
“If you weren’t so fucking fat I could maybe lift my left arse cheek to fart.”
“If your mother weren’t so fucking ugly I’d wouldn’t have put a paper bag on her head when I was back scuttling her.”
And so the banter flowed; rivulets of abuse coursing through the bus and you’d get the occasional ‘ooh’ and a nasty laugh here and there.
It was mid morning when we arrived at our destination, Nothing Compares To You was blaring out from Radio One – Sinead O’Connor was harping on about the British in Ireland in the newspapers, but that didn’t stop the lads singing her number one tune. We got off, formed into 3 ranks and JC pointed one guy out. He looked around and pointed to himself.
“Yes, you – fuck head! Come here!” JC squealed.
The young lad doubled out to the Bombardier, whose face was dead-pan, set straight – oh fuck.
“What are you missing?” Asked JC politely.
“Don’t know, Bombardier.”
“You’re missing something – that is likely to kill you and your mates,” JC went on, “More vital to you than your ever shrinking bollocks between your legs.”
The lad looked at the rest of the troop on parade. I think he twigged on, as one of the blokes tapped his own SLR and motioned down with his eyes.
“Yes. Oh. You’re fucking dead, he’s dead,” JC pointed to me, “So is he,” then clint, “ – and him,” then Smudge, “ – and him!” He bent forward in proper archetypical drill instructor style and screamed into his ear (I’m surprised his ear drums didn’t burst) – “You’re a fuckig MONG!!” He straightened and looked at us then at a hill.
Top Of The Hill
Another Bombardier stepped in, “Top of the hill. Go! Rifles above heads.” What? “COME ONNN!!!!”
That sparked us into action and we ran.
To be fair I didn’t have a problem with the rifle above the head thing. I just locked my arms out. The other lads were flagging, their arms were lowering and some were stumbling. When I got to the top the view was lovely, but I didn’t have time to ponder on that as I was breathing out my arse at that point. When I reached the bottom, the lads who got back first were doing press ups and squat thrusts. Better to take your time, but not to come last was my policy (sounds like the tips you’d give to someone about to play ‘biscuits’ – sick fuckers).
That afternoon we were taken through some basic field craft and how to pack our webbing. Fuck knows how he got his NBC suit in his bum pouch! Just trying to fold it shut with those metal clips and canvas strips was a nightmare. Soon the Army would have new webbing, thank fuck, rather than this World War 2 shite. We were then shown the correct way to set up a basher with our poncho and then digging a trench, which to be perfectly honest was fucking complicated and we only covered the basics.
Under the stars
We spoke about cooking and how to brew up, these were all basic skills that many of us hadn’t done before, but I’d camped out before in the past and knew how to get a brew on. We did some sort of mind game where one guy would be in stood in the middle, we’d concentrate on him and force him to fall forward. When he did – that was pretty good, maybe there was some truth in it. There was about 15 of us, palms out towards the test subject and we just thought about the direction of fall.
The evening wasn’t a nasty one of being fucked about, but an evening of camaraderie and jokes. We sang ‘Sweet Chariot’, a Rugby song and there were tales of French Commando courses and jokes flying about, piss ripping and the usual stuff. It was good, I learned a lot and remember it well.
The Final Exercise
In contrast, our second excursion into an exercise area was in Kent. This was week 8 of Basic Training, a culmination exercise prior to our pass out parade, and we were going to be fucked about. It was April 1990: it was fucking freezing. This was the place where you learned if your admin was good or shite. Mine was shite. I don’t think there were many people who’s admin was good. We had a couple of TA guys with us, De’ath was one and ‘Spuggy’ Spears was another who I’d followed to Woolwich on the underground.
We dug our own trenches and were told that an enemy force of an unknown size were 400 metres to the south of us. It was Colenso Troop, or it could have been Marne – or Le Cateau, can’t be sure. We were issued blank ammunition and told that they should be treated like live ammunition and an ND (Negligent Discharge) carried the same punishment (a month’s wages).
One evening we departed from our trenches to an ambush point. It was late afternoon, the sun (wherever the fuck that was – hadn’t seen it in weeks) was going down. JC was the second man and I was to be rear man. We loaded up and cocked our rifles. I fingered the safety catch lever – made sure it was up, to safe.
We set off and I touched the trigger. Rubbed it with my index finger. Just to test the hair-pin ‘give’ on it.
I stopped. Everyone stopped. JC spun around and looked at us, a look of concentration on his darkened, camouflaged features. “Who was that?” He spoke slowly and deliberately.
My heart pounded.
Fuck! I’m gonna get kicked out! I raised my hand and he came over to me. He took the rifle off me and made it safe. “I’ll deal with you later.” He never did – but it was a lesson for me. That was the last time I had an ND.
The Ambush and Sleeping Beauty
The ambush was set up and we were sat in bushes and trees. It was dark by the time we got there. Each of us had to stag on watch. I got a 2am shift, but it didn’t get that late as the enemy were already in our killing zone. We got word from our cut offs they’d passed through. We were the killing team and would blow them away with blanks and the few Thunder Flashes that JC would throw at them.
I could hear snoring near me. It was Gonzo. Fuck! He’d alert the enemy and we’d lose the element of surprise! Then…
A boom and a cacophony of staccato cracks, lights and sparks from muzzles gleamed in the night. I hesitated, flicked off the safety and began to let off the blanks, blockage!
I cocked, tilted the rifle and ejected the blank and let the parts forward. It was slightly easier to deal with blockages when you’re left handed.
“Changing magazine!” Could be heard from various people. “Fuck!” I heard someone shout. They’d burnt their hands on the barrel. How could blanks generate so much heat?
When the shooting subsided, we could hear more snoring.
“Did he just sleep through that?” I heard Smudge say.
“That’s Gonzo,” came a reply.
More to follow….