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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Where's The War?

I'd been in Northern Ireland a whole week now and not once had I been shot at or blown up - what was going on? In fact I hadn't even seen a blown up house or blood spattered pavement. To be perfectly honest the only difference was the curbstones were painted in tribal colours and in some areas the houses had murals painted on their gable ends.

The area I was based in was primarily loyalist although not hardline like some areas. We could leave the camp and go out socially although this was restricted by in-bounds/out of bounds areas. In fact we could lead a pretty normal life.

Which is exactly what 99% of the population of Northern Ireland were doing. Even 10 years ago the outsider perception of Northern Ireland was based entirely on media reports of The Troubles. I had made the mistake that countless others had done of thinking that everyone I met was going to be a member of the IRA, the UVF or any one of the other terrorist groupings around at the time. It's probably worth remembering this after the recent attacks on London.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Yesterday the police captured the 4 suspects from the 21/7 attempted bombings in London. I was looking forward with some anticipation to the headlines of the main newspapers. My favourite newspaper, although I agree that calling it a newspaper might be stretching the definition somewhat, is The Sun. If you are looking for quality journalism then look elsewhere. If you are looking for the mood of the people then this is the place.

And their headline for today.............

"Got The Bastards"

Absolutely classic.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Crab Air

I'm not quite sure why it's called Crab Air but it is. That is how the Royal Air Force is referred to. It was my first time flying with the forces and it wasn't quite what I was used to. There was a distinct lack of hostesses in neat little uniforms. Instead as we walked up the ramp at the back of the aircraft we were issued with a small packet. This contained two yellow pieces of foam rubber - one for each ear. We were shown to our "seats" - canvas strapping running down each side of the plane. We still the got the traditional "what to do if we crash brief" - as confidence inspiring as on a normal airliner. As the engines began to turn over I understood the need for the yellow rubber. Imagine pressing a hair dryer right up to your ear and then multiply that by about a hundred. If you can't imagine that I'll just say it was bloody noisy. We taxied out and then began take off. Before I knew it we were airborne and when we landed I'd be in Northern Ireland - the land of terror - or that's what I expected.........


This morning one of my little troopers decided to blow reveille at 03:30am. There was a time when this wouldn't have made me feel tired. Now I realise I'm getting old.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Northern Ireland Here We Come

Although I'd only just arrived at my unit we were due to move in the not too distant future. As a whole the unit was moving to Northern Ireland for a two year tour.

I'd grown up with IRA terrorism - not literally - but it had been frequently thrust upon us by events and the media coverage of them.

At the time we started to train for Northern Ireland there was a ceasefire in place and hopes that peace could be achieved. Nevertheless we trained for the worst.

The training was actually very well done. We spent days on the ranges practicing our shooting. Not just the normal shooting we would do in our everyday work but also learning how to shoot from the top of a moving land rover. How to shoot around doorways and from behind lamposts. We learnt how to set up a VCP and how to search people. We learnt about the history of the quaintly named "Troubles". We learnt how to patrol around a town and what do if someone shot at you, blew you up or generally tried to ruin your day.

Training over we had a couple of weeks off before we turned up at the airport. I was going on operations for the first time........

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps

Officially the army frowns upon drinking. We are even given a yearly lecture on the perils of the demon drink. It lasts an hour and includes a video made in the early 1980s.

Unofficially and for a disproportionate part of the remaining 8759 hours of the year drink is important. Leaving do's, welcoming do's, birthday do's, mess do's, Christmas do's, All Rank's do's, "We've just got back from Iraq do's", "It's a Wednesday night and we're bored do's". The list is almost endless.

I'm not quite sure why we like to drink so much. Perhaps it's peer pressure. Or maybe just a culture that has grown out of the days when alchohol was officially issued as part of a man's daily rations.

I can't remember my first night out drinking with my new platoon. It isn't that I drank myself into oblivion it's just that that night has merged into some many like it. I should imagine we went to our pub (different units tend to appropriate a pub as their own) drinking cheapish beer until the night club opened. After that we probably stood around drinking more and eyeing up the handful of women brave enough, or stupid enough, to turn up at the squaddie nightclub. Without doubt a night of frustrated romance would have ensued leaving the unwelcome alternative of a kebab with chilli sauce and a long walk home.

Repeat the above sequence on average twice a week for the next two years and you have 95% of my social life during that period. At the time I'm sure I was enjoying myself. Now I can't understand why.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Golden Arches

I think I picked the right time to join the army. Certainly in the unit I joined bullying against N.I.Gs had died out. I never had a group of blokes wearing gas masks come into my room and beat me while I was asleep. I was never punched for making an innocent mistake. I was still the new boy though and as such was personal servant, to a certain extent, to all and sundry. The camp we lived in was a couple of miles from the town centre and I remember one evening as I was getting ready to hit the sack a group of blokes from my platoon came into my room.

"Mine's a Big Mac meal with Coke."

"Mine's a Quarter Pounder Meal with Chocolate milkshake."

.....The list went on.

"Oh and it wants to be f**king hot when you get back."

Half an hour later, sweat dripping from my brow, and Coke running down my arm I was back.

"See. Stick with us and we'll keep you fit."

And that's as close as I got to a thank you.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Eventually I was met by my Platoon Sergeant who seemed very underwhelmed by the latest addition to his platoon.

More time hanging around and eventually I was shown to my room. I was issued my regulation two sheets, two pillows, two pillowcases, two blankets, and mattress (check it carefully for piss stains - you don't want to get billed for it - I was advised).

A senior private was assigned to look after me. He took me away and introduced me to some of the other single soldiers. They seemed to be ordinary blokes not the 7 foot tall demons I'd been expecting. They came from all over the country. Many of them were younger than I was. But they all had one thing over me - experience. Be it two weeks or two years - they knew more than I did.

I was assigned my block job which funnily enough for the new bloke happened to be cleaning the toilets and then I was on my own. I unpacked my bags and sat on my bed. This was now home.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Tragically Patriotic?

In this day and age many see pride in your country as a fault. I disagree and don't care. I'm proud of my country and what she stands for. Today I read the following quotation and while I like to post my own words it seemed to sum up for me the last few weeks:

"Because the security of tomorrow was gone, the long binding compulsion of past and future took possession of the English mind. Not to yield ceased to be heroic because to yield had become impossible."
The Empty Room by Charles Morgan.

Through The Gate

The taxi dropped me off outside the main gate and what I'd taken as nerves before didn't in any respect match what I felt now. I showed the guard on the gate my ID card and approached the window to the guard room. Dressed in civis I could have been anyone but maybe the guard commander felt my fear.

"What do you want?"

"Excuse me Corporal, I'm Private ******* and I was told to report here."

"Wait there" (said in an ominously menacing voice)

Half an hour later and I was still stood At Ease outside the guardroom. I was beginning to wonder if I'd been forgotten about. It turned out that my idea of army efficiency was totally different to the armies. No one actually knew I was turning up. Eventually I ended up being escorted to my Company block where I waited another 30 minutes.

I'd been here a whole hour and no one had beaten me, bawled at me, or stolen my worldly possessions - maybe the stories we'd heard during training weren't true................

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Back On The Train

Bar the obligatory parade the end of the final exercise marked the end of my training. Sat on the train I had the opportunity to reflect on my training (actually I was probably asleep but now I have the opportunity to relive the moment). Many of the experiences which we find hard in life rapidly acquire a nostalgia which isn't an accurate reflection of the event. The body forgets pain and exhaustion very quickly. If it didn't my wife and I would only have one child. I can now look back on my training with nostalgia. The physical beastings don't seem so bad. Being treated like the lowest of the low seems funny. To be perfectly honest I'm not sure what I feel about it. Some of my instructors were very good and wanted to turn us from snot nosed civilians into professional soldiers. I'm sure some of the others just revelled in the power they held over us.

I do remember sitting on the train and feeling worried though. Soon I would be joining a real unit full of real soldiers. How would I measure up.....?

Friday, July 22, 2005


I am sometimes amazed at how quickly we can come to regard something as "normal". An activity or experience that we find bizarre or unusual is rapidly accepted as being nothing strange.

Take living under a plastic sheet for example. The first time that you clumsily erect a poncho and then try to combine yourself, your sleeping bag and your bivi bag in the correct sequence underneath it, it all seems very strange.

Coming towards the end of the final exercise of our Phase 2 training things felt very different. I assembled my "home" without really thinking about it - by no means was I a seasoned professional but things seemed to be coming together.

Firing a rifle, polishing boots, sleeping under the stars, throwing grenades, saluting - none of this was normal a short while ago. Now it was an accepted part of life.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Live Rounds

Live rounds landing in your close vicinity concentrates the mind. These live rounds were being fired by my section. It was my first "live firing" attack. We were coming towards the end of our training and this was the first time we had been trusted to practice an attack with anything but blank ammunition. The adrenaline had pumped enough with blank rounds but now I was actually quite worried. Behind me I had 7 other recruits all with loaded weapons, some of whom I wasn't entirely convinced could shoot straight. Crawling forward I could hear the rounds burying themselves in the ground a short way off to my right. I raised my head - I only had a few metres left to crawl. For the umpteenth time I checked that my safety catch was on. It was time to fix bayonets and storm the position. I switched the safety catch to "FIRE", rose from the slightly covered position I was in and emptied half a magazine into the stuffed dummy lying in the enemy strongpoint. I ran forward searching for any more "enemy" to my front. I heard the loud shout of "STOP" from an instructor and the practice was over. I was buzzing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


It's the little things in life that really count. It's also the little things that we take for granted until they aren't there. The uncomfortable bed that feels so good after sleeping on tree roots and uneven ground. The barely edible food from the cookhouse that tastes like cordon-bleu cuisine after a week on boil in the bag rations. A tepid shower after washing from a mess tin. Comfortable trainers and clean socks after army boots.

All too quickly though the bed feels uncomfortable, the food loses it appeal, the shower feels oh so cold.

We forget all too quickly how lucky we are and the conditions that we have "suffered" are everyday life for many.

War Crimes

I'm writing this post in a semi-masochistic frame of mind. I don't think I am capable of expressing my thoughts on this subject in a way that will not bring down a diatribe of abuse and misunderstanding. Can I first say that in no way do I condone or justify abuse of civilians in any situation. Sorry in case anyone missed that, in no circumstances do I condone or justify abuse of civilians in any situation.

Today a number of soldiers were formally charged on various counts relating to abuse of civilians and prisoners in custody. I have no problem with this - if guilty they deserve to suffer the full weight of the law. What is annoying me, many others like me, and is seriously affecting morale is the fact that these accusations date back two years and have taken so long to come to account. Some of those facing charges had nothing directly to do with the allegations and face having their careers ruined because a soldier under their charge many miles away may or may not have committed an offence. Regardless these soldiers careers will be affected.

The MOD has done itself few favours in its handling of this. It satisfies neither those who see the majority of our actions in Iraq as illegal nor those who feel this has become the search for a scapegoat in our forces post Abu Gharaib.

Rant over - expect resumption of normal posting shortly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's Been A Hard Days Night

When we are kids staying up late is an aspiration. I remember when I was a student the first time I stayed up all night. The mixture of exhilaration and exhausation mingled together. I've since learnt that lack of sleep isn't big and isn't clever.

On exercise and operations sentry duty, or stagging on in the colloquial, is an onerous duty. Woken out of a deep sleep, already tired. Leaving the warmth and comfort of a sleeping bag and venturing out to the sentry post. The cold rapidly draining the warmth from your body. A swift handover from the outgoing sentry - eager to retreat to his own sanctuary. Lying down and feeling the tiredness already. Looking out into the nothingness that is the countryside at sleep. Constant checking of the watch and realising how slowly time can move when it wants to. Battling against sleep - the head drooping and then snapping back up again as it touches the top of the rifle. Any noise or movement inducing a short burst of adrenaline - is something about to happen - and then the slow drift back to exhaustion. The hour dragging so slowly. Approaching the time for your relief. The glorious moment when it's time to leave. Suddenly finding yourself wide awake now that you are back in your sleeping bag and can relax. Fighting to sleep and eventually achieving it. To be woken again in hours few for a repeat performance............

Monday, July 18, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Four

Teamwork is essential; it gives the enemy other people to shoot at.

Third Party, Fire & Theft

Kneeling behind the wall of sandbags I was beginning to feel nervous. It wasn't the high explosive missile that was sat on my shoulder although that should have been enough. It was the fact that a couple of minutes earlier I'd been told that the missile was worth the same as a small family car and in a couple of minutes it would be worth nothing. To make matters worse the three previous firers had all missed the target and suffered the consequences - derisive laughter from all the instructors.

The LAW anti-tank weapon is just one of the specialist weapons that the infantry soldier learns to fire during his Phase 2 training. Designed primarily for destroying tanks it could also be used for blowing up bunkers. Sat on my shoulder the thought that I might be aiming this at a 40 tonne monster heading directly towards me with all guns blazing did nothing to calm my nerves. The missile comes with 5 spotting rounds - apparently this helps you get your aim. I missed with 3 out of 5 - then slid the lever forward to select the High Explosive round. Looking back I'm not sure if I shut my eyes or not - I think I might well have done. I pulled the trigger, heard one of the largest bangs I'd ever witnessed, felt the weight lift from shoulder, breathed a sigh of relief. The thing that makes me think I'd shut my eyes was that the next thing I can remember is a small cheer. Apparently I'd hit the rusting hulk of an ancient tank we were aiming at. To this day I have no idea how I achieved this.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Yesterday three British soldiers were killed in Iraq. I didn't know any of them and I doubt we ever met. At the time that we join the army I don't think many of us consider the possibility that we may pay the ultimate sacrifice. I certainly didn't. We join for a variety of reasons. For some it's the pure economics of getting a job. For others the search for something more exciting than a mundane 9 to 5 job leads them to sign on the dotted line. There are very few of us who join for an ideal. At the end of the day it doesn't matter why we join it's what we do when we have that counts.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Show Parade

You may already have realised that I don't like parades. Worse than a normal parade is a show parade.

A show parade is a minor punishment for a minor offence. This "offence" could range from unpolished boots to a piece of fluff being spotted on your beret. The punishment involves parading at the guard room at a certain time - usually 1800hrs - "showing" the offending item.

Dirty boots - you show a nice clean, highly polished pair of boots.

Fluff on beret - you show a beret sans fluff. You get the drift I'm sure. If you are not up to the required standard you get the opportunity to "re-show" the item at 2200hrs.

A show parade is an embuggerance and usually nothing else. Occasionally though they are an event of high quality humour. I remember walking out of camp one evening past a single soldier on parade. Accompanying him on parade - a bed and locker. His room had been left untidy and he had been given a show parade - "showing bedspace".

Friday, July 15, 2005

Poets Day

Today I'm posting early because I've benefited from a good old army tradition - a poets day. Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley you might ask. In fact a poets day means Piss Off Early Tommorow's Saturday. I've been home since lunch time.

Cold Hard Steel

I've never had to stab anyone with a bayonet. I hope I never have to. Bayonet fighting is upfront and personal as opposed to the slightly more detached act of shooting someone. To kill someone with a bayonet you need to be aggressive. They try to teach you this during training.

To get you in an aggressive frame of mind they try to wind you up. They woke us early but we knew it was coming so it had little effect. They trashed our lockers - ruining a hard nights ironing and folding - inside I was laughing. They made us repeatedly change from one type of uniform to another. One guy wasn't quick enough changing and ended up dressed in formal "No 2" jacket and a pair of tight fitting olive green long johns. This did not have its desired effect and the laughter inside was now in severe danger of coming out. Next we ate breakfast from mess tins - and were given 2 minutes to do so. Another guy had lost his mess tin and ended up eating breakfast from his beret - another bizarrely humourous event.

Worked into a frenzy of silent laughter we were now ready for the bayonet fighting. This wasn't such a laughing matter and consisted of one of the hardest physical workouts I have ever suffered in my life followed by repeatedly charging and stabbing straw filled sandbags.

Bayonet training must rate as one of my most surreal experiences in the army.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Three

Incoming fire has the right of way.

Covering Up

Having dug a hole deep enough, wide enough and long enough you then attempt to fit together some corrugated iron, fit it in to said trench and hey presto somewhere to live.

Now I don't know which genius in the army thought that living in a hole in the ground was a good idea but they never really thought it through.

Fair enough when you are ensconced in said hole in the ground bullets and bombs are less likely to upset your day. But let's face it holes in the ground have a nasty tendency to fill up with water when it rains. Water companies use trenches to catch water.

Having read a lot of literature about the First World War I have no reason to complain. I have never stood in 2 foot of liquid mud for 3 days. I hope I never have to. Standing in 2 inches of cold water for 12 hours nearly finished me. I don't think todays generation would survive a re-run of 1914-1918.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Digging In

One of the exercises during Phase 2 training was designed to teach us about defensive warfare - i.e living in a trench. Of course before you can live in it you have to dig it.

You might think that there is nothing complicated about digging a trench. You'd be sadly mistaken.

First of all you have to pick a site that has the hardest, stoniest, god-forsaken earth in the immediate vicinity.

Secondly you carefully remove the turf from the area of your planned trench and the area in front it. Unfortunately unlike gardening programmes on the telly turf rarely comes away in nice neat rolls. Ground Farce more than Ground Force.

This is when the digging begins. You might think it wouldn't take very long to dig a trench large enough to take four men (specifications carefully laid out to the inch in the army manual). Again you'd be sadly mistaken.

Peoples inclination to dig seems to follow some bizarre mathematical formula that might look something like this (although I'm no mathematician):

This is just the first stage of making a trench to live in...............


Quite a few people have asked me about the artwork. Some have even commented on my fantastic ability to draw. If only this were true. I struggle with stick men. In fact the pictures are images from the internet that I digitally manipulate. I suppose there is some artistic element of my own there but I definitely don't draw them.

If you'd like to see more then they are here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Make Like A Bush

The dictionary defines camouflage as:

  1. The method or result of concealing personnel or equipment from an enemy by making them appear to be part of the natural surroundings.
  2. Concealment by disguise or protective coloring.
  3. Fabric or a garment dyed in splotches of green, brown, tan, and black so as to make the wearer indistinguishable from the surrounding environment.
During Phase 2 training I learnt that camouflage actually meant:

  1. Applying liberal quantities of face paint, sorry I meant camouflage cream (allegedly made by Max Factor although I for one don't believe that.
  2. Picking large quantities of grass or whatever vegetation happens to be around and stuffing it into your helmet, webbing, uniform until you look like an overgrown bush.
  3. Moving on average 100m and finding out that the vegetation has changed substantially and you now stand out like the proverbial spare pr**k at a wedding.
I also learnt that a good way of getting back at someone who had upset you was to wait until we were granted a smoke break and then ensure that your (still lit) cigarette butt ended up somehow in their grass stuffed webbing.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Holding a live hand grenade is quite an unnerving experience at first. To be perfectly honest I've never quite got comfortable with them. The basic premise behind a modern hand grenade is that you grasp it firmly in your hand, pull the pin, throw the device, duck, wait for a bang, carry on.

The first time I threw a hand grenade was about 11 years ago. The first time you do this it is in a very controlled environment. That doesn't stop you from being nervous. You are holding in your hand a lump of metal and high explosive designed to maim and kill. The fact that there is a small piece of metal preventing this from happening isn't much comfort. You prime the grenade by placing the fuse into the grenade and screwing it in. You are lead up to the "throwing bay". You gulp, and on the word of command pull the pin. We had practiced the actual "throw" with suitably sized stones beforehand. As I stood there with a live hand grenade in my hand sans pin I suddenly realised that I had totally lost the ability to throw. Through a supreme effort of concentration I managed to launch the grenade the requisite distance beyond the throwing bay. We ducked. There was a bang that compared with what I had seen in the movies was distinctly disappointing.

I realised it was over. Actually it is a very overrated experience. The thing I have never liked about them is just walking around with one in my pouch. The pin might appear to be firmly wedged in but what if it is slowly working its way loose........

Sunday, July 10, 2005

60 Years

A grew up with World War II. Not in a literal sense of course but more in an Action Man, Boy's Own, The Longest Day kind of sense.

When I was a child we had a large garden that had been neglected for many years before we moved in. My father spent days removing an old rockery and burying the rocks in one corner of the garden. We spent the next couple of weeks uncovering them and building ourselves a fortified strongpoint.

Obviously this childhood fascination has carried on into my adult life. The difference now is that when people get shot they don't lie still for a count of 10 and then carry on with the game.

I read a lot of military history and the more I read the more I understand the sacrifices that those going before us have paid - and I'm grateful.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Crawling doesn't sound difficult does it. After all it's the first movement that we make as a child. Crawling in the army isn't as much fun. When someone is shooting at you - whether it be real or not - crawling becomes quite important. During my second stint of training I learnt the importance of crawling. Weighed down with equipment and with a rifle in your hand crawling becomes much more difficult. Instructors bawling at you, your lungs bursting with the effort every inch gained takes it toll. You raise your head and realise how far you still have to go. Arms and legs struggle to propel yourself along the ground. A sudden burst of effort to gain a few more feet. One final push and then you rise - your rifle set for automatic fire. A burst of blank rounds into the enemy position. You've captured your objective. You take cover again to prevent yourself becoming a target. Lungs struggle to get some oxygen back into a weary body. A period of recovery as it becomes someone elses turn to advance. And then back into the fray.......

Friday, July 08, 2005

Food Pt. I

The first time that you are given a cardboard box smaller than the average shoe box and told that inside is everything you need to eat for the next 24 hours most people end up with a slightly incredulous look on their faces.

By the time I got to my Phase 2 training I had mastered the basics of cooking rations. It’s not hard and most recipes go something like this:

  1. Boil water.
  2. Place tin/foil bag in water.
  3. Wait.
  4. Eat.

Soup and porridge are slightly more difficult in that they involve emptying the contents of a sachet into a cup and then adding hot water.

The longer you spend living outdoors the more creative you become. This becomes even more evident when you are given the same menu ration box every day for a week.* There are only so many times you can eat pork cassoulet before the cardboard box it came in begins to look more appealing.

Very quickly in my Phase 2 training I learnt the art of the Tabasco sauce bottle. You can add it to anything – if it tasted bad before it instantly becomes something that tastes really hot and bad. Although a little garlic salt does actually make an incredible difference.

What did become apparent very quickly was how much you came to appreciate food when you got back to camp. Dishes from the cookhouse that might have been spurned before instantly become delicacies to be savoured after a few days living on rations.

* Ration boxes are labelled by letter. When I went through training there were about 8 different menus although this has improved now.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I had a something half-written to post today but it was vaguely humourous and didn't seem appropriate. Then I started to write an experience of mine with terrorism - that didn't seem appropriate either. This was all I could come up with.

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organised group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
coward n.

a person who shows fear or timidity.

spineless adj.

  1. Lacking courage or willpower.
  2. Biology.
    1. Having no spiny processes.
    2. Lacking a spinal column; invertebrate.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Although I grew up in the countryside I don't think I'd ever really looked at it. I think we all take our immediate environment for granted - complacency breeds contempt.

As part of learning to being an infanteer you spend quite a lot of time "in the field" - a military expression for living outdoors and being on exercise. You also get to spend a lot of time practicing being on sentry duty or "stagging on" in the vernacular.

I can picture in my mind a cold spring morning, the first rays of the sun beginning to cut through the early morning frost. I am on sentry duty at the edge of the small wood our platoon is occupying. My eyes scanning across the areas I am responsible for. It had been a clear cold night and has stayed clear till morning. The sun creeps slowly above the horizon and gradually a myriad of colours develops in the sky. I have witnessed a sun rise as nature intended.

Suddenly I hear a crack - something has broken a twig in the wood to my right. I had been lying on my front observing the area in front of me and I have to rise slightly to twist and see what has made the noise.

At first I see nothing and then gradually a young fox emerges from undergrowth. It raises its head in the air - sniffing carefully. Perhaps it catches a scent of us I don't know but quickly it lopes easily across the small patch of open ground into another wood block.

12 years later I can see this as it happened and still I am in awe.

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Two

There is no such thing as an atheist in a slit trench.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Learning Pt. II

During the first ten weeks of training everyone learns the basics - be they drivers, artillerymen, chefs or infanteers. I guess that's why it's called basic training. After that each trade goes off to learn its specialist trade. Drivers learn to drive, artillerymen find out all about big guns, chefs learn how to burn food and the infantry are educated in the finer points of travelling the world, meeting interesting people and killing them. I'd chosen the latter - although according to the manual I was going to learn to "close with and kill the enemy".

Phase 2 training for the infantry is 12 weeks long and this time as I got off the train I was feeling slightly more confident than I had first time around. It was a totally different station I'd got off at though - a new phase, a new barracks and hence a new station. I was quite surprised when I entered my new home to find that in a former life it had been an airfield.

Now airfields are windy.

There is a reason for this although I don’t know what that is. I’m sure one of my “colleagues” in the Royal Air Force could elaborate. Not only was it a windy former airfield but it was a windy former airfield in the north east of England which means it was cold as well as windy.

Leaning into the wind with bags on each shoulder I set off in search of my barrack block ready to begin learning again....

Monday, July 04, 2005

If It Ain't Raining......

........ then it ain't training. Well that's how the saying goes. Needless to say today I got soaked whilst doing some training and it got me thinking. Does some evil rain god watch down and see us at it? Are we unlucky? Is it that we just remember getting cold and wet a lot more than we do being warm and dry?

Now I cast my mind back I can picture lying on warm grass with the sun beating down on me while I await my turn to fire on a shooting range. I can remember having been cold and wet and then feeling the warmth of the sun begin to dry me out and take the cold out of my bones.

I also remember never really drying out for four weeks and of being that wet that my fingers started to wrinkle.

So if you are up there then I wish you'd bloody stop it.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Passing Out

After ten weeks of learning to march, shoot, run, live outside, conduct CPR, and fold t-shirts to exactly A4 size it was official. I was a soldier. Ready to defend Queen and country. Probably a good job the 5th Shock Army didn't pick that moment to land at Folkestone is all I can say.

The culmination of the ten weeks basic training was the dreaded, sorry i meant eagerly awaited pass off parade. The format of these formal parades tends to be pretty much the same. Hours are spent in bulling boots, polishing brasses, ironing formal uniform. More hours are spent rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. You march on as a formed body men (and in many areas of the army these days women as well). You stand still for an inordinate length of time. Your arm aches from the weight of your rifle. Eventually the inspecting officer graces you with his presence. Inspecting officer has a quick walk up and down totally ignoring the amount of effort you have put in to bulling your boots. Inspecting officer asks every third or fourth man a very boring question such as "Have you enjoyed your time here?" Inspecting officer totally fails to look interested at the answer he receives. Inspecting officer then stands on a podium and makes a rousing speech that no-one really listens to but generally goes along the lines of "To all of you who have done well, well done." You march past the inspecting officer for one last time. You march out of sight. You breath a collective sigh of relief that it's over.

If you hadn't noticed I'm not a great fan of parades.

Why Is Abbreviation Such A Long Word?

The army loves abbreviations, absolutely loves them. The army loves abbreviations as much as dogs love lampposts and chavs love burberry.

We love abbreviations that much that we've come up with an abbreviation for an abbreviation. T.L.A's or three letter abbreviations abound - from the now infamous W.M.D to perhaps the less well known P.O.L (Petrol, Oil, Lubricants). At times we manage F.L.A's and S.L.A's as well.

We are that out of control that we have a manual of abbreviations just in case someone chucks a T.L.A at you that you've never heard before. To give you some idea of the extent of the problem the manual makes the complete three volumes of the Lord of the Rings look like a short story.

So next time your ETA at the FUP is going to be delayed make sure you change your ETD.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number One

Friendly fire - isn't.

Enemy Iceberg Ahead

In the army we draw little pictures on our maps so that people can see on a map both where we are and also where we think the enemy is. This is nothing new. What is new is the sheer number of symbols now in existence. The latest set of symbols differentiates between friendly, enemy, neutral and unknown units. Here are some of my favourites.

However my favourite symbol and unfortunately I couldn't find it on the website that I nicked the ones above from but I swear it exists is the enemy iceberg symbol. Never mind the WMD that are out there - it's those lethal terrorist controlled icebergs we need to be looking out for. This is what it looks like.

Don't believe me or want to know more there is a whole website devoted to them.

Friday, July 01, 2005

22 April 1915

....... the date that chemical weapons were first used.

Training for chemical warfare is not fun. Ever.

During basic training you learn how to protect yourself in the event of a chemical (nasty), biological (nastier), or nuclear (just plain screwed) attack. You are taught how to use the protective equipment that has been produced by the lowest bidder for the British Army. You also get to go in the gas chamber.

It's not real gas - just the CS gas that every down town PC Plod carries.

Just so you know what CS gas feels like the first time you go into the chamber you are exposed to it for a few seconds. You remove your gas mask and the instructor asks you a question - thus making you inhale some CS gas as you answer. Most of the questions are simple:

  • What's your birthday?
  • What's your favourite colour?
  • What's your army number?
And the question I was asked - by the man I'd known for two weeks:

  • What car does my mum drive?
6 guesses later with snot pouring out of my nose and my eyes awash with tears I got the make if not the model and left the chamber.

Bitter you might ask? Not at all - although it wasn't pleasant even at the time I found it quite amusing and was laughing so hard I think some snot ended up on the instructor. Ha - revenge! Top of the British Blogs