|And here we are, all clean and scrubbed up, puts faces to names|
My closest friends were Mick Hayes a David Bowie fan, who was very Army orientated and went on to become Apprentice Company Sergeant Major, Jon Moss, part time Romantic, nicknamed Wingnut, due to his unfeasibly large ears that stuck out more prominently due to our heads being shaven, Ian Clayton, who was a Geordie and not a Romantic, Kevin Atkinson who was from Liverpool so was nicknamed Scouse (how original)), Mark Madden (Madge), Rick Manning, who wore his jumper tucked into his trousers better than anyone I knew (it was the fashion, come on!), Garry Cuddy, from Barry Island in Wales and a strong Romantic fan, Jon Steed, a comedian amongst us, and Mark Cassar, (Casper), who was really into Soft Cell. There were others, whose names unfortunately slip my mind, but we made a fairly good group of mates, who were supportive of one another by and large, until promotions started to happen, then the colour of another’s cloth really stood out.
After 3 weeks of our induction we were taken on our first exercise. Normally, whenever you went on exercise, rifles were taken. I do not recall carrying my rifle around on that exercise, but the 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and I were to have a difficult relationship once we met, as I was useless at cleaning the bloody thing once we’d fired them. Weapon inspections, in fact all inspections, of any kind and of anything, became the bane of my life to say the least! We set out on our exercise, all dressed in our camouflage combat gear, with weighty backpacks made of canvas, that attracted and held water better than any sponge (Waterproof Bergen’s were not allowed nor issued), our webbing belt with various pouches for carrying everything from mess tins (another bane), spare rifle magazines, water bottle, mug and clothing such as a change of grots (underwear) and socks.
Clambering aboard the Bedford 4 tonner, we set out towards Monmouth, smoking and chatting away. We arrived at a camp which was amongst the ruins of an old castle or church and set about building bivouacs using our capes, which were sheets of plastic coated nylon, with a hole in the centre for your head and studs running up the sides. These could be adapted to create a shelter, big enough to get your sleeping bag under, just! All this was done in pouring rain, after which we then moved off into a field, where Sergeant Deveraux then had us sit in a group and took us through the 24 Hour Army Ration Pack (Summer). Back then, 24 Ration Packs came in two types, Arctic and Desert. Sgt Deveraux said that the stores guys normally issued Arctic rations, (which used large amounts of water or melt ice to rehydrate the contents) in the summer and the Desert Ration Packs in the winter as they required no water whatsoever to make them edible, when there was in fact an abundance of the stuff!
We thought he was joking, he was not, we were given Summer Packs and it was December in Wales! After we were each given a pack, he then took us through the contents, item by item. Each pack contained a plastic pouch holding tea bags, coffee, powdered milk, sugar, a can opener, matches and striker. The packs contained enough tinned food for a day, 3 meals, consisting of breakfast, a snack and dinner. Breakfast consisted of a thick oat biscuit, which could be crumbled, mixed with water and sugar and turned into porridge (or tiling grout if needed); Bacon Grill came in a can and was a processed meat product, somewhat like spam, pork based, with a large splat of greasy fat around it.
This could be sliced and fried in your mess tin and once cooked would stick to the tin and no amount of scrubbing would remove it. “Lunch “said Sergeant Deveraux “was a selection of Biscuits Fruit and Biscuits Plain, Ham roll and the dinner is a selection of meals in cans which could be boiled in the can or scooped out and cooked in the (by now crusty) mess tin”. He fished each article out of the box and held it up, then with either a positive comment of “this is good keep it” he would drop the item at his feet, or say “this is crap, bin it” and would toss the item as far away as he could throw it. “Beef Goulash (seriously; they had that in a tin) good”, drop, “Chicken Curry, good” drop, “Surprise Peas, what’s the surprise, they are fucking shit, that’s the surprise” and he launched the pack of dehydrated peas. I thought that was quite outstanding actually, a bit of honesty.
All chocolate became known as “Bars of Nutty”, why I do not know, and there was a Mars in each box, along with Toilet Paper (tracing paper) which gained the unfortunate nickname of Arse Wipe, as did one of the other lads, who would lick around the Sergeants’ and Corporals. We were invited to launch (throw) any item of food we did not want, but I decided to retain all mine, as (1) I was hungry and (2) I wanted to try all of it, to ensure I was not missing out on a feast. I should have chucked the lot. The packs also came in boxes holding enough rations for 10 men and we had one Lance Corporal (Lynsey Horten) in Germany, a Paratrooper/Royal Engineer (9 Engineer Regiment), who would add curry powder to every meal no matter what time of day or the ingredients. Everyone in his team would suffer a poor diet, desperate wind and the hazard of following through whenever they were on exercise. No one complained as he was a tough character, he once threw another guys washing machine out of the block window, (3rd storey) as it was making too much noise!
Cooking the contents of the tins and packets was a fun thing to do. We were provided with a Hexamine Stove, (a small, steel box that folded open to provide a stand on which you’d balance your mess tin) and Hexamine Blocks, strong smelling fuel tablets. I cooked something apparently nutritious and each guy’s meal was inspected by the Sgt, for quality, colour and taste! None of the three was ever found! The first night on exercise was pretty much the usual sort of thing you might expect; learning to read a map at night, patrol, and standing guard. Guarding against what I don’t know as the Russians were miles away; we did not have guns to shoot a marauding army so apart from a few drunken Welshmen coming home from the pub we were pretty much on our own.
Nonetheless, we all drew stag duty which was typically an hour in duration and meant wandering around the perimeter of the camp, smoking. I cannot recall what time I was on guard, but I do know that when I did get into my maggot (sleeping bag), I tied the cords around the head end tightly, pulled the hooded top over my head and tried to shelter from the rain under my cape. I must have been asleep for a while, but I woke up screaming my head off as I had inadvertently tried to strangle myself on the cords of the sleeping bag. Screaming like a little girl, I struggled to get out of my bag, not realising I was stuck. Sgt Deveraux wandered over and delivered a well aimed kick to my midriff, told me to stop bleating and walked away.
By this time I was wide awake and sobbing quietly to myself, embarrassed and in pain. What a tit! We broke camp the next day and went back to Chepstow, after cooking a hearty breakfast of Bacon Grill and dipping our Oatmeal biscuits into hot tea. I noted previously that anything cooked in mess tins, tended to attach itself to the steel of the tins, and it would take a small nuclear device to dislodge it. I later learned to my betterment that anyone with any idea of what they were doing (everyone else), used a separate set of tins on exercise and kept a pair for best (inspections). Not me, I persevered with scourers and various cleaning products and even wire wool, to no avail and within a day of being back at barracks, a kit inspection was called, at which we would lay our gear out on our perfectly made beds, and it had better be shining as bright as a new pin.
Starting at the head of the bed would be a Bed Pack. This consisted of our two bed sheets, folded and pressed to an approved thickness of about an inch high and 2 feet wide (rulers were used so measurements could be taken) . Above and below was a blanket, again folded to the same width as the sheets. Both sheets and blankets had to present a smooth fold outwards. Another blanket was wrapped around the blankets to form a sandwich of bedding. This block had strict dimensions, as did the width of items laid out in your locker and the counterpane was used to cover the mattress, hospital corners all round and tightly tucked in. So tight you could bounce a coin on the bed.
The bed pack was placed at the head board end and placed upon the bed, in previously determined places would be eating irons, cups, mess tins, webbing, back packs, Combats (camouflage clothing), highly polished boots (polishing of this type is termed as bulling) and various other items to be inspected. Everything had to appear as though it had just been handed over from stores, except the boots of course. Any slight blemish, scuff, stain, particle of food would be found and noted. Even the space in between the tines of the fork was inspected. Almost everyone would get pulled up for something; I just had the knack of making sure I was at nearly every inspection. I did not set out to fail these inspections; I was not a minger (stinky person), I just was not cut out for the work and besides, I enjoyed lying on my bed far more, listening to my Walkman Cassette Player, smoking, drinking tea and chatting as I watched my mates cleaning their kit!
Still, my failures provided plenty of talking points for my mates as they watched the follow up to my kit and I being inspected. I should point out that the kit was not filthy, it just did not sparkle as much as it probably should have and when questioned as to why my gear was not up to scratch, questions that would include jocular cross referencing, such as “did you use your kit to mop the floor, wipe your nose” etc, I would smirk or smile, as I was immature and thus attract the wrath of those inspecting me. Being in the Army was probably one of the better things that could have happened to me as I had to start growing up, but it took a lot of punishment to kick off the move into adulthood.
Any area of my kit, (mess tins, bed pack, eating irons, bed space or me in general) would fail to pass muster and I would, in the early days, be given extra cleaning duties, drill or further kit inspections. The later in the vain hope that I would improve given enough time and chances. On occasion, I would pull my finger out and pass, but the problem was that, instead of being able to knock off and go to their own room, (or house if they were married), the Corporal assigned to keep inspecting me, by a Sergeant who had long disappeared, would have to hang around, coming back every ten to fifteen minutes, until I got it right. In most cases there would be others who had failed, sometimes the whole room. Other times, the entire floor, so I was not alone. It just became more likely that I would always be amongst the group to reviewed and after a while, this moved to the point where an example would need to be set. Anyone else would have seen the opportunities to seek help and assistance, but not me. I seemed destined to provoke and cajole my trainers until they could no longer avoid the decision to place me on a charge. Before a charge became inevitable, I would be sent to the Q (Warrant Officer) or to the Company Sergeant Major for a “chat”, wherein I would be drilled further, spoken to (sworn at) or in the case of Q Carder, bullied and physically punished. Just because I did end up on a charge, it did not stop Q Carder from seeking to gain enjoyment by inflicting pain.
His favourite trick was to call me to attention, then standing very close, directly in front of me he would quickly grab both of my nipples, through my shirt and squeeze. This had the effect of making me squirm about, accompanied by noises such as “oooohh, aaargh and ooww”. Letting go, he would demand that I stood still, if I moved he would place me on a charge, and the whole process would start again. If Q Carder was feeling in a particularly vindictive mood, he would squeeze really tight and being a tall man, would then attempt to raise my feet off the floor. No amount of protesting and begging would help and he would continue until bored, or, until I cried, the evil bastard. He did not restrict this treatment to me alone and I saw plenty of others get the same close attention from him, nor did he do this away from the crowd and he seemed to revel in having an audience to perform to. The only reasons I can find that might excuse his behaviour are these: -
1. He had a very small penis.
2. He was not getting any sex as he was a fat twat.
3. His ability to influence anyone was diminishing as fast as his stomach was growing, and he used bullying as a way of deflecting his self evident failure to slim down.
4. He was a gross Fcuk head.
Oh and I am not bitter either.........................................But being placed on a charge was going to happen and I was to become a record holder in so many fields that relate to discipline and punishment in the Army. Mind you, I was to turn it into an art form in some ways, impressing a few and exasperating others!