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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

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Punch in the Guts never hurt anyone either! - 1982-1983

The pulse in Sergeant Cameron’s temple was visible as he paced up and down the line. He was fuming and we were the cause, in fact he was so angry that the rage almost appeared as a vapour evaporating from him, in much the same way as a dog turd steams when laid in fresh snow on a cold winter’s morning. There were at least ten of us, lined up in one of the dorm rooms, a gathering of our Trained Soldiers Cadre (TSC) looked on as Sgt Cameron vented his spleen and those lined up alongside me, quaked in their boots. One of those looking on had managed to tunnel so far up Sgt Cameron’s arse, that he was still wiping his brown nose whilst we stood there watching, a smirk playing on his lips. He knew, that we knew, who he was and what he had done to ensure we were now lined up facing certain physical retribution.

I admit to two things: - (a) yes I (we) had disobeyed a direct order from Sgt Cameron and (b) I was not in the least bit scared anymore, of him or anyone else. Of the latter, this was because I had been bullied, pounded, beasted, charged to the tune of over half a year’s salary and endured more than 60 days physical punishment during the past two years. The bullying, mainly from NCO’s, who should have known better, like Q Cadre, (see blog “Those are my Nipples you know”) had in fact made me grow up and stand up for myself, so thanks for that, but more over I had developed what the Spaniards term “Cojones” or Balls.

As for disobeying orders, if the reader refers to the blog entitled “To shave or not to shave, that is the question!” you will find reference to the Trained Soldiers Cadre carrying out their “beasting night”. To recap; senior boy soldiers would gather up squads of previously sleeping new intake boy soldiers and march them around camp, covering them in camouflage cream, boot polish and shaving foam. They would be taken to the various messes for inspection by the officers and NCO’s. I had been soundly beasted once or twice and so was firmly of the opinion that a little bit of beasting back was justified. I am not condoning my behaviour by the way, I was an idiot to do it, but at least I took the punishment to come. The “order” Sgt Cameron gave was that under no circumstances was anyone in the TSC, to beast anyone. My brain responded with “eh? What? What did he say? Eh?”

But I should give a little bit more background to Sgt Cameron, as I do not want him to come out as being unfair, as he was far from it. Sgt Cameron was posted to the College as a Drill Sgt and arrived as I was well into my second year. He was very sporty, (as long as the sport was football) and quickly set about forming a team from our company. I was a Goalkeeper through and through, I had tried the right winger role, but felt I was better placed between the sticks and so I tried out for the job. Sgt Cameron formed 2 teams from those trying out and we played a game, in which, although I do say so myself, I pulled off 3 superb saves. One, a flying jump and dive to the top right hand corner, to tip the ball round the goal, was rewarded with the Sgt running over (he was referring the game), hugging me and saying in his Glaswegian drawl, “Anyone who can save a shot like that, is in my team, you’re in son!” I was so pleased that I was distracted enough to allow the opposition to then score 3 goals in succession, one even going through my legs, but he said they were defensive errors and not my fault, so there!

But I had made an impression and so made the team. He was a tough but fair guy and made our TSC fun and a great learning experience. I admired him and respected him right up until the order regards “beasting”, and actually felt I had let him down when lined up with my co-conspirators. He was generous with the smoke breaks we asked for as we were drilled on the square with our rifles (which I really enjoyed). The TSC was all about getting us ready to join the “proper” army, where we would be serving alongside men, not boys and expected to get stuck in should the opportunity arise and be required and it very nearly was, had I been passing through Chepstow a few years earlier.

The “opportunity” that passed me by due to my age was the Falklands War. In actual fact, I was going home on leave during May 1982 and as I travelled between Paddington and Liverpool Street stations in London, I spotted signs and police officers telling all “Regular” Army soldiers’ and members of all the armed forces, to return to their units straight away. I called Chepstow and was told to go on leave, so I did. I do not intend to relate the whole story of the War, merely to say that, I have only the utmost respect for those serving then and now and we are fortunate to have a Military such as ours to protect us.

Our kit was starting to resemble not only its original state, but an improvement upon that, as the creases were sharper than knives and our bulled boots shone like mirrors, and woe betide you if they didn’t! We were taken to the ranges near Newport to shoot our rifles and then clean the buggers, which as I have said I hated. The great bit was working the range targets in what is called “the butts”, operating mechanical boards, with two targets affixed, when one was raised, the other target lowered, to be marked, pasted with a new target and readied for the next shooter. There was always an urn of piping hot tea in the butts, you could smoke freely, it was sheltered from the elements and you usually ended up having a real laugh.

Sgt Cameron had called us to attention and delivered his order in our final week of the TSC. Under no circumstances was anyone to beast or even look at any new recruits, if anyone was caught, there would be trouble, big trouble. I was left in no doubt, nor was anyone else, that he was serious. A few days later, having had a few beers in the NAAFI and feeling rather relaxed and pleased with ourselves, my co-conspirators and I wandered back to the block, it was not late, around 10pm. The final week of TSC was fairly easy going, we’d done our work and apart from daily drill sessions and kit inspections, we had plenty of time on our hands, to polish our kit and think about home, as we had a few weeks leave prior to going to Minley Manor, Surrey and 3 Training Regiment, where bullying, beasting and brawling, were all part of the daily pleasures coming our way! How ironic!

Whilst we were sitting, smoking, messing with one lads CB radio, drinking tea and telling jokes, someone mentioned (no it was not me) paying a visit to the new guys rooms and saying hello, “what harm could be done getting them to buff the lino on the stairs, wash the loo’s again, run them around a bit, and administer a bit of cam cream to their faces”? “No harm whatsoever”, we all said, although someone may have mentioned Sgt Cameron’s order, we ignored them, dolts! I do not intend to defend myself here; it was a stupid act and deserved punishment. To be honest, it was nothing like the treatment metered out to me and it was over and done with pretty quickly, as it turned out to be boring.

The following morning, we were up and about as normal, then the guy who’d spilt the beans came and told those he knew who were responsible to get down to his ground floor dormitory. I was totally calm as I entered the room, Sgt Cameron pacing about, swearing and pushing each arrival into line. He said we’d let ourselves down and were wanker’s etc. He said that were we not leaving that week, he would have charged the lot of us, but decided the punishment would be for each to take a punch in the guts and if we backed off, there would be more to come for each one who moved. So punishment was more violence, fair enough. I was the last in line and he started with vigour, catching the first guy a beauty, knocking the wind from him and down he went. Everyone looked shocked that he was actually doing it. I stood there and watched as he moved along the line and observed a couple of the guys step back, move and bend forward a bit, only to be shouted at (screamed at) to stand still and given the benefit of a generous pasting.

I resolved to stand my ground, look him in the eye and take it. Fuck it, I had been through worse than this over the last two years, one punch to the midriff was sod all and I was not about to let the dickhead who ran to the Sgt, (the lickspittle), take any pleasure in seeing me bleat or beg or cringe. Fuck it, stand up, shoulders back and take it for once! He moved along with a certain élan; “oof”, “argh”, came the noises and I pulled myself straight and looked directly at the twat who’d grassed. I should have stepped out and looked at myself in retrospect; I was there because of my actions not his. As the Sgt moved along the line, some stepped right back and a couple even cowered down, to these he really lashed out, shouting and punching like a dervish and not holding back at all, fuck me!

My turn; I look at Sgt Cameron, he looks disappointed. I stand still, he pulls his arm back, I brace myself and tense my stomach muscles, he paused and said “you fucking idiot, I expected more” and aimed his fist into my gut. I did not flinch, would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me move let alone groan. I stood there and stared right back at him, so he did me another one for good measure. I said “Sorry sarge”, he turned away and walked out of the room. I turned to the grass and said...................nothing, what could I say?

The Passing Out Parade involved lots of marching to the band, past the Camp Commandant, Colonel W.M Addison RE, who took the salute and inspected the parade. None of my family made it there, but many parents and friends of the others did and it was a well attended day. The next time we would meet was at Minley Manor in a few weeks. Prior to the Parade, we were informed of where we would end up once our Combat Engineering Training was completed. The process was one similar to many parents choosing schools for their kids, three preferences in order and you’d usually end up with the one you least wished for.

A couple of real examples; I asked to be posted to either: Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, Tidworth in Wiltshire or Ripon in Yorkshire, as these were Combat Engineer Strategic Reserve regiments, meaning you would invariably travel overseas quite a bit, to varied locations. I got Neinburg Weser, 21 Engineer Regiment in Germany, near Hannover. Meanwhile, Rick Manning asked for 28 Engineer Regiment in Hameln as his brother was there or any other German base and he got Tidworth, stunning! Mind you the benefits for me would be that Mark Cameron was based in Neinburg and Mick Hayes a mate from my company at Chepstow was also posted there with me, so a few familiar faces would be about.

One of the final acts was to sign on when you reached the age of 18 years old. This meant you were a “man” and therefore ready to sign again on the dotted line. You could sign for 3, 6 or 9 years; the Company Corporal always had 9 years written down against your name. I said I would sign for 6 years, to which he said, “They don’t do that anymore mate”. So I said “3 years then”, to which he started swearing saying, “why join up for only 3 years you prick, do you want to be an Engineer or not?” etc. I am sure he was earning bonuses linked to the number he got to sign on for 9 years. In the end I signed for 6 years. It was all smoke and mirrors anyway. I just felt that to sign for 9 years was too much, but as it happened, my actual length of service was to be taken out of my hands anyway by circumstances way beyond my control, circumstances that were to have repercussions on my life to this very day.

It was quite strange leaving Chepstow; I had survived in spite of myself, (my family had expected me home within 6 weeks apparently) and I had grown up, dramatically. I had made a lasting friendship with the guy who was supposed to kick the crap out of me, (yea right!) and had lost my inhibitions, my cherry and my temper. I had moved on from drinking Cider, Cider and Blackcurrant, Lager and Blackcurrant, Pernod and Blackcurrant and variations on the theme of Blackcurrant and was drinking simple pints of Lager, with the occasional splash of lime or lemonade top. I looked forward to the training to come (as I was totally unaware of the aggravation it involved) and headed home on leave to spend my money (what little I had left) and to relax.

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