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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Friday, 24 September 2010

To Shave or not to Shave, that is the Question! - 1981

The drill, along with the kit and room inspections and general bullshit was building to a crescendo after 6 weeks or so and we approached a parade wherein we would march across the square in front of Colonel Addison, the College Commander. Every quarter, a new intake would arrive and an intake would leave (pass out) the college and head off to their Regiments, by way of the rigours of 3 Training Regiment based in Camberley Surrey. As noted in previous blogs, the final term at Chepstow consisted of supreme amounts of drill and military bullshit and required an even greater level of determination to pass muster, given that the inspections were meticulous in their detail. An age old custom for those passing out of Chepstow, a stage called the Trained Soldiers Cadre (TSC), took place in their final week of the TSC and consisted of those elder statesmen (all 18 year olds) rounding up anyone they could find from amongst the new intake and in the dead of night delivering unto them what was known as a “beasting”. This usually took the form of dragging those unable to hide or beat them off, out of their beds, in pyjama’s or less, covering their faces in boot polish or cam cream (the green, brown and black stuff you see on soldiers faces in the movies), and marching them barefoot around camp, drilling them on the square and extracting tears where possible (which resulted in further insults and beatings for the unfortunate sod). The night before the passing our parade, they would again gather as many bodies as possible, running amuck through the barracks and then marching the throng around camp, taking in the various regular soldiers bars and messes. After visits to the Corporal’s, Sergeant’s and Officers Mess’ were complete, with the patrons of each mess coming out to review the group, they were then marched to the Commandants house. When I was amongst the sorry bunch, Colonel Addison even came out of his house to inspect us. Our group was presented to him by the Apprentice Regimental Sergeant Major and the Colonel congratulated all the Cadre present on a job well done. It is also worthy of note to say here that by the time I came to leaving, all “beasting nights” were banned, more of that to come! On the day of the TSC Passing Out Parade, parents, girlfriends, partners and other members of the Cadre’s friends and relatives would arrive at camp and watch from the stands as their pride and joy marched across the square to the sound of the Band, presenting Arms to the Officer in Command, and then marching past. I quite enjoyed the marching side of things once i had mastered it, as the sound of the Band, the noise of boots slamming into tarmac and the crack of hundreds of hands smacking their rifles at the Order to “Present Arms” would always fill my chest with pride.

Early 1981, and we finally moved from initial intake training to take up our chosen apprenticeships and with the exception of 1 or 2 military instructors, most the instructors in the trade shops were civilians and they were fairly relaxed. Our workshop was across the road from the Bricklayers and next door to the Carpenters. The “brickies” soon picked up the derogatory terms for the Painters and Decorators and wasted no time in ensuring we knew them as well. The term Painter and Decorator was shortened to P & D, or as the brickies said it “Puh & Duh”. Another “funny” was the saying, “if you can piss you can paint, if you can masturbate you can decorate”, my how we laughed. We relied on calling them “Thicklayers”, as if it mattered! Days were filled from this point on with fewer inspections (the odd surprise inspection by a bored Corporal) and were more about learning our trades. Evenings consisted of the bar, music and the disco at weekends. Occasionally, we’d try and get served in the Ferry Pub located just outside camp under the Severn Bridge, but you were in trouble if your Sergeant was there and he spotted you, as we were still under the legal drinking age of 18 and therefore drinking illegally outside the camp confines. Down by the trade shops, (I say down, as they were in an area probably 30 feet below the level of the rest of the camp) was a pie shop, where we would congregate at morning break. There was always a mad rush to get out of work as soon as the bell rang, as there were never enough pies and pasties to go round, and although they weren’t that nice, it was food. There were myriad ways in which to get into trouble, from your appearance, (kit not pressed, scuffed or dirty boots, dirty kit, unshaven chin, talking whilst marching, answering back, the list goes on) and I must have been a Corporal and Sergeants dream come true, as I was getting caught for all of these reasons and more as the months passed by and inevitably, patience ran short and the charges started to come along. Depending upon the severity of the “crime”, the punishments were varied and meant to instil discipline and act as a deterrent. Other more serious crimes, (theft from others, theft from the army, fighting others, going absent without leave) attracted even greater levels of punishment, including jail (in camp). If really bad, punishment could mean jail in Pirbright Barracks in Colchester (similar to a civilian jail, but with massive amounts of bullshit) and being kicked out of the army altogether. I am pleased to reassure those reading this that I never reached or even came close to qualifying for any of these heady punishments. Such was my lot that I attracted the attention of my seniors on a regular basis and was punished either with a fine, restriction of privileges or both. Restriction of Privileges (ROP’s) consisted of appearing in various items of dress, (overalls, PT Kit, Work Dress, Number 2 best kit etc) at various times during the day, designed to restrict as much as possible the chances of food, sleep, rest and raise the prospect of catching you out and thereby failing an inspection and being charged again, and so the cycle continued.

An example of a day on Restriction of Privileges is as follows: -

0600 – Parade at Guardroom in Works Dress. Kit, personal inspection and be clean shaven etc.
0600 – 0730 – Cleaning the camp, general work detail.
0800 – 1200 – Trade Training
1230 – 1330 – (Lunchtime) Parade at Guardroom in Overalls, general work detail, kit and personal inspection and you had better be clean shaven, so shave again before parade.
1330 – 1700 – Trade Training.
1800 – Parade at Guardroom in Overalls, be clean shaven so shave again. Up to 3 hours of general work detail
2230 – Parade at Guardroom in best Number 2 dress, still clean shaven.

If you failed any inspection, you were sent away to rectify the problem and return for re-inspection (usually within a timeframe of too few minutes to really make a difference). Let the record show that Potential Apprentice Weaver held the record (as at 1982, so probably still stands) for ROP’s at Chepstow (64 Days) and fines (£+300).

There are a few stories worth relating about my time on ROP’s, the first involves being told at the 1800 parade to go to the cookhouse to work. There were five of us and when we arrived the Quartermaster (QM) Cook (top Chef) assigned me to chopping Parsley, two catering sized boxes of Parsley. Having taken cooking at school and having worked in butchery for a time, I was quite useful with a chopping knife and set about my task with confidence. Within an hour, I had completed the job and presented myself back outside the QM’s office and knocked on his door. I told him I had completed the job and he scoffed at me and said (paraphrasing) “bollocks", I had probably done a crap job and had had better go back and do it again. I begged to differ and he walked over to where I had been working. No sooner had he seen the amount I had chopped and the fact it was chopped as required, than he had shouted out for the duty Cook (a Corporal) and tore into him. Basically, he was livid that a mere “Puh and Duh” had managed to do in an hour, what it took nearly 2 days for a “trained” army cook to do. But mainly because they had been found out to be lazy on their duty nights, probably spending most of the time smoking and drinking tea (a common military pursuit). He then said that all duty cooks would get a box of Parsley every night to chop and it had better be perfect the next day or else. The look the duty cook gave me could have killed a bull; I was dismissed for the time being and sent back to my block by the QM, whilst the others carried on working. Safe to say the next day, my name was mud in the cookhouse and I was ripped into by every cook for some time afterwards and I avoided eating anything I did not plate up myself for even longer! But that was typical of me, trying to do the right thing, but not looking at the bigger picture.

Another episode involved a Corporal who was in charge of Guard Duty one night when I was on ROP’s. At the last parade of the day (2230), he said that I had not shaved. I said I had and he told me to run back to my block and shave, which I did, shaving as fast and as best as I could in the 5 minutes allowed. I went back to the Guardroom (running both ways) and he inspected me again and said I had not shaved, I said I had, and we went through the whole rigmarole again. I returned to be told a third time that I had not shaved and I was given one last chance or I would be charged so this time; I intentionally drew blood as I shaved to prove a point. I made it back and he inspected me and again he said I had not shaved, what a prick I thought. He told me I was being charged for “stating a falser” (army speak for lying) and I told him that he should be charged for impersonating a Corporal (this did not go down too well). I was already on 4 days ROP’s for whatever reason and the prospect of more did not excite me at all. The following morning I was marched into the office of Major Cobb (Company Commander) an Australian and a Marine. Being charged involved being quick marched into the office, being brought to a halt, stood to attention and the charge(s) read out, (citing the Military rules broken). You were not allowed to wear a beret and had to salute the officer who sat behind his desk, the person bringing the charges had to attend to act as witness and say why they had decided to charge you. Major Cobb looked at in exasperation and sighed as the charge was read out. He asked the Corporal to explain, which he did and by the time he’d finished you’d have thought I had murdered someone. I was asked for my comments and simply said that I could have cut my head off and would have still been charged for not shaving as the Corporal obviously had a problem with me. Major Cobb was a decent chap and agreed that failing four times in a row to shave was stretching the limits of credibility, but said that insulting the Corporal as I had, could not go unnoticed. He did say that if I was to get anymore ROP’s, I would probably never leave Chepstow, so he fined me sixty pounds (over a weeks’ salary) and dismissed me.

My apprenticeship was going fairly well and I excelled in Colour Scheme work. Our attempts at scaffolding had proved less successful and nearly killed a few of us, as the whole 3 storey scaffold had not been tied into the building (an old drill shed by the parade square)correctly and had toppled over. That resulted in another charge for all those involved I think! I was also quick to learn how to get out of most things by signing up for every sport I thought I would (a) be good at and (b) enjoy. Sport has always been big in the Army. The Army likes winning things as much as anyone but the commitment was beyond reproach and they allowed anyone who was in “a team” time off to develop and compete. They even supported those who enjoyed the more “hobby” type sports and every Wednesday was half day sports day. Seeing this as a chance to disappear, I signed up for Football (Soccer), Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Body Building Club, Potholing (Caving) Club, Sailing Club and Climbing Club. I stopped the Caving after my first try, as I found I got a little claustrophobic not 5 feet into the cave! Sailing club was great (in the sunshine), but when it blew too hard I decided it wasn’t for me either. Body Building was a good laugh, one of the PTI’s thought he was God’s Gift, when he entered a competition in Newport, we all went along to support him and he came last and I thought it was a bit pants anyway! Gymnastics was run by a short, quirky Scottish WO2 PTI, who was a real task master so I soon slipped out of that one as it was too much like hard work. I stuck with the weightlifting as a hobby, rather than competitively and concentrated on the Football and the Climbing Club. A year after arriving I was really settling in (everyone else had settled in 6 months earlier!), I was playing lots of sport, had some good mates, few enemies, an eye on a girl at the Disco who I wanted to go out with and a sudden desperate need to lose my virginity for some reason. I would do both pretty soon, but not necessarily in the order I anticipated!

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