Monday, 23 February 2015

Where was I the most terrified in my Army career?

Somebody asked me the other day “When were you the most terrified during your military service?” I thought for a second and then it came to me it was during my basic training as a sixteen year old Junior Gunner with the Royal Artillery. Most would obviously think it was during the Falklands War or Northern Ireland, but no it was during those informative years straight from a school classroom to the harsh discipline of the British Army. When we finally did mange to get to bed I would lay awake feeling tearful and wanting to go home, like the dozens of other sixteen year old hopefuls that couldn’t take it any more. From a troop of over fifty recruits only twenty made it to the end and the passing out parade. Even during much needed sleep we would be woken up by our drunken training sergeants, who would throw us out of bed, throw our clothing and equipment freshly bulled boots out for the window into the mud. One of the sergeants used to take great delight in biting our ears until he drew blood, believe me this was terrifying. Those that were brave enough to actually ask to leave the army, had to do a thing called `running the gauntlet`, where they had to run between two ranks of their comrades who would batter them will pillow cases full of bars of soap and other objects that would cause the most pain, they were lucky to get to the other end without a bust nose our cuts to their heads and face. If the sergeants deemed that we were not hitting them hard enough then we would have to run the gauntlet. I like most children had had a couple of scraps at school but this violence was on another level. I will say that the worst violence meted out to us was at the beginning of training and it did get better the longer we stayed in, the training staff would just say that they were just removing the chaff from the wheat. I’m glad I became wheat and not chaff.  The other terrifying experience was doing drill with a DSM (Drill sergeant Major) from the Scots guards. DSM Hardy was his name, a name burnt into my brain forever. If we did anything wrong which in his mind was nearly everything he would punish us, this consisted of us being made to stand on one leg for as long as we could, if your foot touched the ground, you would be hit with his pace stick over the head, screamed at in your face with such ferocity that you would be covered in his mucus. I witnessed him attack one young boy for a drill mistake. The victim was smashed over the head with a pace stick and he collapsed on the ground sobbing and screaming, which only made the DSM more angry and he continued to lay into him on the ground. Can you imagine how terrifying that is for a young boy? I’m not sure if that particular victim left the army, but I would not blame him if he did.  In my opinion the army lost some really good young soldiers due to the unnecessary brutality. I’m glad that things are a lot better these days. Don’t get me wrong I don’t go for the mamby pamby approach, there needs to be a happy medium hard but fair. Did this brutal training make me a better soldier? I don’t think so. I was an army cadet from the age of twelve, I knew how to march, shoot, bull my boots, already. I suppose it did get me ready for the drink-fuelled violence that took place on the block most weekends in West Germany, the only difference was you could at least hit back. I mean it was not the French Foreign Legion where brutal treatment of Legionnaires is legendry. We were not Para’s or Marines; we were Gunners, who would go on to learn their respective trades on Field Guns and missile systems. So there you have it, the place where I was the most terrified in my military career, Gamecock Barracks, JLRRA, (Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Artillery)  After that twelve months of hell the rest was easy…..UBIQUE….

The above photo is me sat on a 25 Pounder field gun in basic training. When doing direct laying dial sight, you had to lay the gun on a wooden tank, if the sight was not laid perfect you were told to look again in the sight, where your sergeant would then punch you in the back of the head causing you to have a black eye.