As with every good tour there’s an opportunity to have a little R&R and mine was in the form of a 2 day training session in Ballykinler. The Chinook helicopter that picked us up from Bessbrook 17 minutes earlier bounced on a grassy field as if it were an aeroplane. I counted 3 bounces as it came to a halt. The back door was already down and the view back was gut churning. Bill Waller laughed at me when the helicopter dropped suddenly – it must have shown on my face. Bill was my new team commander. I must have stretched Rossy to his limits. After belting me in the face and numerous attempts to sort me out he must have gone to the BSM and replaced me. Bill seemed to be amiable enough, but he certainly liked to take the piss, which was starting to wear me down a little.
Ballykinler camp was a desolate place with WW2 style accommodation blocks, everything was single storey and the grassy area would have been perfect as a golf course.
We were split up in to teams and allocated accommodation blocks and told to be outside for 10.30am for a briefing. We were to do an APWT (Annual Personal Weapons Test). Others would be doing a BFT (Basic Fitness Test) while we did this and another group would be in the NAAFI doing their ATDs (Annual Training Directives).
The ATDs covered a range of syllabi such as First Aid, Law Of Armed Conflict, AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) Recognition, NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical – now known as CBRN which stands for Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear), Moral Understanding (Usually with a Padre), Health (Which covered Alcohol abuse, something we’d be more familiar with) and others.
I remember the first part of the shoot and I’d forgotten my Ear Defenders. I’d left them back in Bessbrook. Now you can see why I got a lot of shit.
“I don’t give a fuck if you don’t have your ear defenders,” Bill said to me.
“But. But? But what? IRA are shooting at you,” he holds his hand up to halt an imaginary terrorist, “’Hey! Paddy! Hang on, mate! I’m just going to get my Ear Defenders out.’” We had a pretty good audience here with this show. Maybe we should have gone in to business as a duo on stage. “No. Dougy. No. Get your fucking arse up there.” He pointed to the 100 metre point where we were to check zero.
On the 100 metre point I looked to my right and saw Clint. He winked and pointed to his ears. I couldn’t believe it! He’d forgotten his ear defenders as well, but he was using cigarette butts in his ears.
I pressed the magazine home into the housing and carried on with the exercise. It wasn’t too bad, my ears rang a little, but I soon got my hearing back after. Looking back on it now, I can see the rationale and reasoning. You can argue all you like about historical bullying, but that wasn’t bullying, more so conditioning to an adolescent who hadn’t reached maturity yet. I’d place it parallel to parenting, but on a much more elevated level. If we were to drag everybody in for historical bullying then you’d be dragging in most of the Army, including myself and we’d all have to be prosecuted – waste of time and, anyhow, we’ve all moved on since then.
I’d never fired a 9mm pistol before, but today would be my first time. I had the urge to do some James Bond poses with it, but thought better of it. I’d get battered. I learned how to hold the pistol correctly after firing my first round. The skin of my right hand came off as the upper housing came back to eject the casing. That fucking hurt.
That evening we spent it in the NAAFI. There were a few who didn’t go, but they were in the minority, like the non-smokers. I was a non-smoker, but the amount of passive smoke in that NAAFI must have made this a moot choice. Non-smoker? Passive-smoker more like. Everyone got rip roaring drunk, as we did back then. Going back to the accommodation block was comical and pretty scary. You don’t know what’s going on through people’s minds. No one physically assaulted me, but the taunts were there. One other guy who was attached to 88 Battery was from 1st RHA and I think his name was Vaughn or Vince, not sure. The guys didn’t really take to him. For one, I’m sure he didn’t go to the NAAFI on the piss and two he was a ‘Donkey Walloper’ or a ‘Donkey Shagger’ as the guys would say and three, he had a refined, accent originating from the south of England, a fucking foreigner!
As the guys ambled in to the accommodation mob handed, one guy took it upon himself to shout in my ear and mentioned something about a fire. He then approached Vince (I’ll call him Vince for the sake of the blog) and ranted at him.
“Think yer summat special? Eh? Eh!? Come on then, yer fucking fuckin’ horse shagging cunt!” The I could hear skin on skin contact and a yelp.
“Fucking calm down. Get off him. Get over there!!” Bill broke it up. A guy had been belting Vince about the face and we’d see a cauliflower ear in the morning. Nothing more was said on the matter.
As a side note I picked up a book Vince had left on Romeo 11. It was called Perfume by a guy called Suskind. There was a note in the front, inside cover from his then girlfriend. He even had a picture of her on his ceramic plate that slotted in to the front of the body armour.
“Are you coming down?” Bill was looking up. A guy called Robbo had perched himself up on the rafters like some hibernating rodent. Bill shook his head and looked at me, “Get to sleep, Mongo.”
The next morning we were all paraded outside the NAAFI. ‘Schiz’ O’Riorden was not happy. He was the Troop Sergeant Major and dealt with any disciplinary measures.
“Right. I’m not fucking happy. Not fuckin’ happy,” he began. He whispered and I strained to listen as the wind brought in more rain on this shite Thursday morning at 8 o’clock. “Not fucking happy at fucking all. Some CUNT, in their right, fucking, mental, stupid, mind decided to take it upon themselves to break in to the NAAFI and steal clacky bars.” He let this sink in. “Fucking KitKats!!! And Chocolate Fucking Hob Nobs. You fucking Nobbaaahss!!!” Fuck! Who the hell would do that? “I need someone to own up. Anyone man enough to own up? Or am I going to have to punish every single man here?”
“It was me, sir!” All heads turned to the culprit, a blond haired Robbo brought himself to attention.
‘Schiz’ O’Riorden called over the Provost Black Watch Sergeant. Robbo dilligently took out his laces, took off his beret and was rapidly marched off, to where he would spend 28 days in Jail. The Black Watch are notorious bastards to their prisoners and I wouldn’t want to swap places the guy.