TRENCH ADMIN AND LOFTY FUCKING WISEMAN
I’m not sure how I woke back then. I wasn’t used to sleeping rough and outside. I remember the final exercise one early morning, the nudge and cry of “Morning. You awake? Dougy? Geordie!”
I peered out the opening at the top of sleeping bag and felt the wet lower part of it. It had rained and by the look of it the trench had leaked. We had overhead cover with tufts of grass giving it added camouflage – about as much use as tits on fish. I could hear Taff’s teeth chattering. Taff was my buddy for the exercise, and he was getting on my fucking nerves.
“Come on boyo!”
I poked my head from the warm confines of the sleeping bag. It was commonly known as a ‘maggot’ for the only reason that it looked like a maggot when you did up the draw cord and zip. Taff’s bulbous features shone in the morning sun. He was shivering and holding his arms to his sides.
“Lofty Wiseman is SAS. That’s what I’m gonna be. He’s from the valleys and used to run up and down the hills where I live.” Oh god. Here we go again – Lofty fucking Wiseman.
“Really?” I began to pull on my china suit and combat trousers over them, all whilst still in the sleeping bag.
“You’re on stag mate,” he declared, slipping that one in between, “Yeah, Lofty is two two from Hereford. I got one of his books. To keep warm, see, you keep still, you keep your body warmth.”
“Well, that’s a load of horse shit,” I said and began to move around the trench like I was Jackie Chan. I began to karate kick the walls and began to punch Taff in the arm.
We got a brew on the go and saw that a pair from another trench had fallen asleep. The Bombardier was getting them to run to and from his poncho. I made a chocolate porridge with biscuits brown and watched the lads get beasted. I saw another lad rise from his trench to go for a piss – he was wearing his poncho. You could wear them, or sleep under them, they weren’t much cop as water resistant ponchos, if the truth be told.
It began to rain and we heard a crack and smoke billow out from the centre of the section’s area. “GAS GAS GAS!!” A Bombardier had thrown a thunderflash and smoke grenade.
If you heard the shout “Gas Gas Gas!!” you had to bend down, grab your respirator from its pouch and don it. You’d blow out and shout ‘gas gas gas’. Next it was time to put on the NBC clothing. The trousers would go on first. It was muddy underfoot so half of the trench got into the trouser legs. The straps would go over your body and tied off at the sides. The jacket would then be donned and with a respirator on at the same time, this was a test. It was to simulate an NBC (now CBRN) attack. I wouldn’t want any of that nerve agent in me as we’d seen on the news that Saddam Hussain had used it on the Kurds and there would be attacks in a Tokyo underground five years after this dismal exercise. Little did we know that some of us would be putting these on for real in 12 months time.
Within five minutes we were stood in three ranks and told to do star jumps. One of the guys was told to come out to the front and do a Michael Jackson impression. He did a pretty good job, but had problems doing the moonwalk in those horrible overboots. We were then ‘doubled’ up and down the exercise area. Running in S10 respirators was extremely difficult due to the lack of air you could get into your lungs. I was wheezing like an 80 year old by the time I did my third lap. When we eventually took the S10s off, you upturned them and watched the sweat pour out of them.
ADVANCE TO CONTACT
Later that day we were given a demonstration of the power of the Thunderflash. The Bombardiers were out and having a laugh. One put the pyrotechnic in a wooden box after he’d struck the fuse. The Thunderflash gave a deafening crack and bits of wood flew all over the place. I ducked as bits of the stuff flew over head. We had these pyrotechnics thrown at us on our first advance to contact through the woods. Most of the attack was done in ankle deep water and plumes of water shot up into the air when a thunderflash went off nearby. Cordite hung waist high in the air as blank ammunition was fired off rapidly. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. There were screams and shouts, orders given. I had rifle jams, changing magazines and getting a right fuck about. Today, I suspect, you wouldn’t be able to do this due to ‘elf and safety.
THE FINAL PUSH
On the last day of the exercise we were to run an assault course. We bivvied up the day before and it was non-tactical: no trenches or light discipline. I put long johns on, a china suit and had my combat suit in the sleeping bag with me. The next morning I was toasty. There was an air of anticipation that the exercise was about to end. Soon, after a quick breakfast, we were assembled into 3 files and had our large packs on our backs, rifles on our fronts.
“By the front. Quick march!!” Bombardier JC shouted to us and we set off for the assault course.
I think I began to sweat almost immediately. You see, I’d taken off my china ‘padded’ suit, but hadn’t take off the thermal gear. I was wearing long johns and the thermal vest. I only made it a kilometre before I started to wobble. Salt began to form on my face as the sweat began to evaporate and steam rose from my head.
“Come on!! Douglas! Catch up. Come on!! We haven’t even fucking started yet!!” Yelled Sgt Myers in my face.
I began to flail and was dragged from the marching column. I was summarily thrown into the back of a Land Rover where I was met with two other equally ashamed soldiers. I panted and gasped at the air like a rabid dog fighting for the stuff.
Martinique Troop did well for themselves attacking each obstacle, dragging a stretcher with them. Even Gonzo made it around, and I had my doubts about him from start. People have a way of deceiving you, first impressions don’t always last. This was an embarrassing episode which I’m pleased to say didn’t happen often when I finally reached my Regiment. I put it down to inexperience and being a total fucking mong. During the remainder of my basic training I had the spectre of this failing over my head and this only acted as a catalyst in the urge to do better.