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Friday, September 30, 2005

The Stag

In recent posts I've used the term 'stag' and it appears to have created some confusion. Someone even misread it and thought I'd managed to keep Mrs Soldier amused in the bedroom for two hours. If only. So here is the explanation.

Stagging on, or being on stag, implies being on duty. Not necessarily being at work but being responsible for something. You can stag on in a trench or shell scrape and ensure that the 'enemy' don't sneak up on you. You can stag on the radio and make sure that messages are replied to. Back in camp you can stag on the front gate and check ID's and man sangars. You can even stag on the bosses phone while he is at lunch.

Stagging on is never a good thing.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tally Ho Chaps!

Another night another two hour stag. The hourly radio check over and done with I wasn't expecting much radio traffic for the next hour. After all the instructors were all getting their heads down. And then........

"Victor Three, Victor Three this is Victor Two. What is your position?" A terribly plummy voice was transmitting on the HF radio net.

HF is a funny beast. Radio waves can be sent up into the atmosphere and if the conditions are right they can be bounced off various layers before coming back down. A bit like a massive free natural satellite. If you know what you are doing you can talk over a great distance with an HF radio set.

The flip side is that sometimes radio waves can get stuck. They can bounce around in the atmosphere for years before escaping and returning to earth. Apparently, and I've never managed to find out if it is true, the distress signal from the Titanic only finally disappeared in the late 1980s.

Victor Two and Victor Three had a short and very boring conversation. Who were they? I have no idea. They sounded military but certainly wouldn't have been the modern airforce. Bored and with a long time to go till I would be relieved I created lives and loves for them in my mind. Were they still alive? It's quite possible the conversation they had was 30 or 40 years old.

Half an hour later I heard someone else talking. This time it sounded like an Eastern European language. Who, where, what and why crossed my mind. It certainly broke up the monotony.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Peace. A whole hour to myself before it's back to the grindstone. A quick wash and a shave in lukewarm water, feet powdered and clean socks on, rifle cleaned. Now it's down to the serious business - breakfast.

I've never been a particular fan of baked beans. This is a shame as every breakfast in every menu of the rations seems to involve beans. I had my own solution. The recipe went as follows:

Preparation. (10-15 mins). Crack three hexamine blocks against any handy sharp object and set light to them. Pre-heat a metal mug full of water to Hexy Mark 5 (100 celsius). Open 1 x packet of rolled oats (a porridge like mixture), 1 x packet of powdered milk, 1 x sachet of sugar and the magic ingredient - chocolate powder.

Cooking. (1 min)
Empty rolled oats into mug. Stir briskly. Add 1/2 pack of chocolate powder. Season with powdered milk and sugar.

Serving. Should only be served al-fresco when very tired. Being cold and wet will improve the flavour.

Tip of the Day. Use the remaining chocolate powder, milk powder and sugar - add half a sachet of coffee and you can have a mocha-latte to compliment your breakfast.

Of course not everyone agrees with this recipe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In The Midnight Hour

Something, and I couldn't make out what or who was tugging hard on my legs. For some reason I couldn't move in yet someone was pushing me hard in the back. I could feel panic rising within me as adrenaline began to move through my body.

Then the cold night air hit me and I was awake.

"C'mon mate it's nearly your stag and the frequencies are about to change. I've given Smudge a kick to get up and help you."

I sat upright and realised where I was. Scotland. On exercise. Shit. As I sat up the prodding in my back disappeared. The flat piece of ground I'd gone to sleep on had proved to be not quite so flat. Either that or the tree root had grown through the night. Pulling my smock from it's position as an improvised pillow I could feel the cold begin to hit me. I might as well wait to put some warm clothes on - I had the antenna's to change and it was going to be warm work.

I looked at my watch.


"Shit - he could have woken me earlier - I haven't got much time."

It took a conscious effort to drag myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag into the night. My eyes were still adjusting to the dark and I stumbled through the Command Post to where the antenna masts where. No sign of Smudge.

"F**king typical - lazy b**tard never gets up when he needs to."

I stumbled back to where we were sleeping and gave Smudge another kick. A groan emanted from his sleeping bag and I took this for a sign that he was awake.

Back to the masts. The antenna was held aloft by two of them. Both had to come down before I could adjust the antenna wire to the right length for the new frequencey. I released the clips on the first mast and let it slide down under it's own weight. That was a mistake. The rain from earlier that had been hanging on the guide ropes made a beeline straight for me. Half soaked in icy water - a great start to a two hour stag. Still no sign of Smudge - might as well give up on the idea of a helping hand. Another look at the watch.


"This is going to be close." A minute later and both masts were down and I was even wetter. Back to the CP to get the new length for the antenna from Chris. Not much change - just release a metre on each side - tighten up the strings and then the masts were ready to go back up. Trying hard to keep it steady but not succeeding, I started to raise the first mast. As I raised each section more icy droplets slipped down my neck. As each section was raised and clipped into place the mast got heavier. Finally the first mast was up.


A repeat performance for the second mast and the seconds were ticking down. The instructors would be trying to get in touch with us on the new frequency at midnight and if we weren't ready we'd be in trouble. I lifted the last section into place and clipped it off. A quick check skywards and the moonlight showed the antenna cable to be hanging reasonably horizontally.


My eyes were more accustomed to the dark now and as I climbed into the back of the LandRover the relative brightness stung my eyes.

"Ok mate good to go. You sort the VHF out and I'll tune the HF in."

Chris began to turn the dials on the set for the new frequency as I turned the tuning knob on the other set. Eventually the needle flicked to the right indicating we had a good signal.

"....pha Two Zero - Alpha Two Zero this is Zero. Radio Check Over."

Made it - just. I answered the check as Chris slunk out the back of the Rover headed for the remaining warmth in my sleeping bag. The excitement over I could feel the sweat begin to cool on my body and the LandRover suddenly felt cold. It was going to be a long two hours ahead.

Monday, September 26, 2005

These Are A Few Of My (Least) Favourite Things......

Having finished all of the class room work and 'practiced' until we were bored stupid we 'deployed' to sunny Scotland to prove that we were all competent signallers. At the time Northern Ireland was apparently too dangerous to exercise there.

I've yet to understand the army's love affair with the more remote parts of Scotland. I present the evidence:

  • They are excessively hilly.
  • The population tends to consist of no people and billions of midges.
  • They resemble no other country in the world (apart from maybe bits of Wales - the bits the army owns).
  • The bits the army owns tend to be as far away as possible from anywhere interesting.
  • Did I mention the hills and the midges.
Having deployed to a hilly, midge infested, remote part of Scotland miles from anywhere we proceeded to "cam up" our vehicles. Now this is the bit I really hate.

A cam net is like a large green string vest covered with plastic leaves intended to make a LandRover look like an innocent bump in the ground. What it does tend to do is make a LandRover look like a LandRover pretending to be an innocent bump in the ground. Putting a cam net up is a bit like wrestling several balls of string at once. Whoever designed the cam net seemed to forget that army uniforms are covered in buttons and the cam net takes every available opportunity to grab hold of one of the many buttons. Many is the time I have wrestled the cam net and lost.

Eventually we cammed up the vehicle and then the fun really began............

Sunday, September 25, 2005

An Occasion And An Apology

First of all the apology. I've just realised I've been talking utter rubbish in my profile. I haven't served 12 years at all. In fact today I've just reached 11 years. That's my half way point. Just another 11 years to do and then maybe I can relax. Anyway Happy Armyversary me!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Broadsword Calling DannyBoy

Anyway after my brief sojourn into the weird and wonderful names that we have for cups of tea let us return the 8 or so years to Northern Ireland and my Signals Course.

You might think that talking on a radio set would be quite similiar to talking on a phone. You'd be wrong. For a start only one person can speak at a time. This is something I think should be optional on mobile phones. At least then I might get a word in edgewise.

The other main difference is that there is often more than one person listening. This means that if you say something stupid then lots of people can hear it. And people often say stupid things on a radio net.

For this reason I've always felt very self-conscious talking on a radio net.

I've always tried to remember something that they taught us on the course.

Press - the button on the radio set.

Pause - just to make sure you're not about to say something stupid


I've found this to be a useful technique in everyday conversation - Press, Pause, Speak.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Answer: How Do I Take Mine?

I take my tea without milk or sugar. In other words I take it "White Nun".

N.B Brother In Arms had nearly got it right but he'd mixed his films and drinks up. I think he was thinking of a hot drink without without milk or sugar - otherwise known as a Whoopi Goldberg.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How Do You Take Yours?

Today I was round a civi friends house. He was making tea and asked me how I took it.

"Julie Andrews please mate."

A look of complete confusion spread over his face. I thought the term was in common usage. I'll let you work it out yourselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

How To Make A Paper Aeroplane. Part 2

Having suffered the preliminaries and gone through the aim, incentive and reason why we'd then get to move onto the meat of the lesson.

Right let's get back to making that paper aeroplane.

: "To make 'paper aeroplane, standard, one for the throwing of'," we have such a quaint way of describing everyday things, "first of all you take an A4 piece of paper................................"

Before doing anything in a lesson the instructor has to explain how it will be done.

: "Now if you just look this way."

Queue impressive display of paper folding. Before the students are let loose on anything the instructor has to show how good he is. The smarter student will then ensure he doesn't do any better than the instructor.

: "Ok now I've folded the piece of paper in half I want you to do the same."

Queue very boring monkey see monkey do routine.

: "If you look over on that table you'll see a box of paper..................."

Need I say more.

These are the four official stages of teaching anything in the army. The fifth unofficial one is 'the smoke break'. Although each lesson only lasts 40 minutes you can guarantee that at least 2 smoke breaks will be squeezed in. This is for one of two reasons:

1) The instructor is bored and wants a fag.

2) The instructor doesn't have the faintest idea what he is teaching and needs to get rid of the class for 5 minutes while he swots up the next section.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

How To Make A Paper Aeroplane (Or Education The Army Way) Part 1

The first couple of weeks of my new course were spent in a classroom - well a room where classes were taught at any rate.

Every lesson in the army comes in a set formulae. It doesn't matter if you are learning how to make a paper aeroplane or how to launch a nuclear missile the lesson will be in the same format.

First of all there are the Preliminaries. The beginning is a good place for them really. The Preliminaries include such exciting things as the instructor introducing themselves (by Day 3 of Week 1 this was comedy in itself); pointing out the fire exits in their best air hostess impression (by Day 3 of Week 1 this had lost any comedy valued it may have had); and asking everyone to switch off their mobile phones (although no-one every does).

Having allowed a short pause to allow one and all to recover from the excitement the instructor then moves on to the Aim, Incentive and Reason Why. This goes something along the lines of:

"The aim of today's lesson is to teach you all how to make a paper aeroplane. Once you've learnt how to make a paper aeroplane you'll be able to send messages across the classroom without the instructor noticing. When you join the Origami Platoon you need to able to support your mates with suppressive paper aeroplane sorties."

I'm sure you get the general gist..........

Monday, September 19, 2005

On The Radio

It was about this time in my tour that the army decided it was time for me to do another course. Having previously taught me how to purify water, tie knots and blow things up I was now going to learn the arcane arts of signalling.

I must admit at the time the thought filled me with nothing but dread. The equipment we were going to be learning how to use was much older than I was. And that's quite old. I was going to have to learn by heart frequencies, battery lives, codewords, callsigns and a whole host of other things that are about as interesting as they sound. I was going to spend weeks in an airless classroom watching the dreaded PowerPoint presentation and trying my hardest to stay awake.

At least it was something new..........

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Just having sat down to a delightful roast dinner cooked by Mrs Soldier* it has reminded me of the food I ate in the cookhouse as a young private.

For the amount of money - £1.77 ($3.2) I think the army did very well. We had a full cooked breakfast - bacon, eggs, sausage, beans and fried bread. Lunch would bring 'something' with chips, or maybe a pasta dish. Dinner would bring meat of some description, a choice of vegetables and potatos.

I'm sure all of this sounds delightful and to be fair it wasn't bad. At least it wouldn't have been every once in a while. But it was still mass produced, overcooked or undercooked food. It certainly did nothing to tempt the tastebuds and was often sorely lacking in flavour. For the amount of money the cooks had to play with I think they did they well.

Although I eat in the cookhouse every now and again I couldn't go back to three meals a day there.

* - for those of you who are now perceiving me as a typical unculinary male last night I cooked Mrs Soldier a Thai Green Curry that didn't come out of a jar.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

You're My Best Mate Ever

Everyday my 5 year old son comes home from school he talks about his new best friend. Friendships in the army often carry on in a similiar vein.

Born out of shared hardships, shared laughter and often shared living space friendships can become almost intense very quickly.

If you are single and living in the block you will often spend almost every waking moment with the same small group of people - eating together, working together and socializing together. On exercise and operations the situation is exaggerated still further and even if someone does seek solitude it is almost impossible to find. It's not hard to see how these friendships build up.

What is perhaps surprising, but then again maybe not, is how easily they can disperse. A soldier moves platoon or company and all of a sudden he has another ready made group of friends - the old friends don't entirely fall by the wayside but he has new 'best mates'.

So there you go we're a bunch of 5 year olds really.

P.S For a description of how all this can go over the top the ARRSEPedia has a very good entry on the time honoured tradition of 'bezzering'.

Friday, September 16, 2005

And the winner is.........

As the observant may have noticed I've now changed the quote under my blog heading. The winner's prize is here. Monica came a very close second and also gets a prize.

What's Brown And Doesn't Jingle..........?

The answer had been me. The 'What's brown and doesn't jingle?' joke is a jibe at those without a medal. I'd passed the 30 day qualification for the General Service Medal (bar Northern Ireland) months ago but the usual efficiency of the army had delayed its' arrival.

Was it pinned on me by some high ranking officer as crowds of very grateful young ladies watched on? Where there speeches about all the fine work I had done to deserve such an honour? Did I march off with brass bands playing, my new adornment bouncing slightly on my chest?


I went to the Quartermaster's department and signed for a small cardboard package. Not quite what I'd had in mind but it was quite a pretty little medal. It even had my name engraved around the edge which was nice.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Eight

If the enemy are in range then so are you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Heartbreak Hill

Just once I wish someone in the army would show a bit of imagination.

Surely just once we could have run around the hill. Or maybe along the valley floor admiring how big it was from the bottom. But no we had to run up the bloody thing. It doesn't really matter where you are posted there always seems to be a hill nearby.

The hill in Northern Ireland was quite bad as far as hills to run up went. On a scale of one to ten it was bordering on a nine.

It would lull me into a false sense of security with its' gentle angle and appearance of not actually being that big. Then as the lactic acid began to build up in my calves it would unleash hell. The angle would increase and false horizon after false horizon would dash all hopes of the end ever coming. With lungs bursting and legs wobbling I would arrive on the ridge. As the acid began to settle in my calves and my legs feeling like they had doubled in weight it would hit me again. Once on the ridge the way 'back' involved maybe a mile along the ridge. It was an undulating ridge and in profile could have been a sine wave. Short steep bursts of downhill followed by short steep bursts of uphill did little to stop my legs complaining.

Eventually the path to the bottom would appear in sight. A loose shingle path that had more than once sent me skidding down on my arse in a most undignified manner. That didn't matter - we still went hell for leather on the way down - whooping and shrieking like children. Levelling out at the bottom and a slow jog trot back to camp.

I had a love/hate relationship with that hill - I loved to hate it. Cracking view from the top though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hitting Home

Quite recently I found out that a good friend of mine had been seriously injured in Iraq. I think we often block out the fact that it could happen to one of us until something like this. He is a good man and I although I am not religious I am as close to praying for his full recovery as a non-religious person can be. I would like to say that I am sending positive thoughts to him but that sounds even worse than praying. I think putting it in my terms I hope I get to go out on the piss with him like I did before.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Here Comes The Bride

There is the oft told tale of the Sgt Major trying to break the news to one of his soldiers that his mother has passed away. To make things easier he calls the company out on parade.

"All those with a mother one pace forward," he commands, "Jones stay where you are."

Although I'm sure the story is apocryphal it does illustrate the soldiers sense of humour. Another well known fact is that in the dictionary sympathy lies between shit and syphilis.

It was about this time that one of the guys in the platoon was due to get married. He had been saving for months, never going out, scrimping and saving any way he could. He'd already laid out about £4,000 and was committed to much more. With a couple of weeks to go the bride to be got cold feet. I'm sure he'd liked to have kept it quiet but several of us were invited.

Were we there to support him in his hour of need? Of course we weren't. The jokes began almost immediately, although perhaps some bone of decency meant we gave him 48 hours grace.

After that inquiries as to the welfare of Ms. Smith and whether she might need looking after began to roll in. Looking back on it he took it suprisingly well. I'm sure if the shoe had been on the other foot he would have enjoyed taking the piss as much as we did. But then that's squaddie humour for you. Funny huh?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Awe Pt. 2

The trip had been planned for a long time. Transport had been booked. Cleareances had been obtained. Lunch had been ordered. It had taken the true precision and planning of a military operation to get 20 men to one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Ireland.

The romantic in me liked to believe that it had been built so that Finn MacCumhaill could walk to Scotland to beat up Benandonner. The visitor centre would have us believe that actually it was the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.

Whatever the truth the Giant's Causeway is truly awe inspiring. Oh and we got to visit the Bushmill's distillery on the way back...........

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Competition Time

After becoming depressed by the quote below my blog title and after the massive success that was 'Spot The Quote' I've decided to hold a new competition. So a huge prize will go to the quote I like the best.

Desk Monkey won this last time. Answers on a post card to the comments box please.

Four Seasons In One Day

The army has many different forms of clothing. We have a formal ceremonial uniform for special occasions. We have our combat uniform for going to war in. We get fleeces to keep us warm and there are now even special underpants to keep us cool. We have summer boots, winter boots and desert boots to name but a few. My house is overflowing with different items of military clothing.

Despite all of this when we are 'In-Barracks' the army only acknowledges two seasons. We have 'summer dress' and 'winter dress'. During my time in Northern Ireland summer dress involved a light shirt with sleeves rolled up. Winter dress meant sleeves rolled down and a nice warm woollen jumper added.

The switch between summer dress and winter dress was not determined by the weather but the calendar. As if in some King Canute-like way the army could dictate the temperature. On a certain date summer was deemed to have ended and winter was here.

Nature, however, had its' own ideas. You could almost guarantee that the introduction of 'Winter Dress' would herald the hottest weather of the summer.

Likewise when the army decided that summer was here there would inevitably be a cold snap and assembling on parade in the morning you ran the risk of developing hypothermia.

11 years done now and I still don't understand this.

Friday, September 09, 2005

You Shall Go To The Ball

One of the greater perils of serving in Northern Ireland at the time was not getting shot by the I.R.A but rather getting back late from a night out.

Unlike Cinderella if we weren't back in time it wasn't merely a case of our taxi turning into a pumpkin - we actually went to jail.

I can't remember exactly what time the curfew was. Apparently it was there for our protection. I do remember that it was at a very inconvenient time. Late enough that you could have drunk enough to forget the time. Also late enough to allow the Romeo's time to pull but not necessarily the time to find out if she really was an aeroplane blonde. Definitely late enough to make finding a taxi to get you home in time a real pain in the neck.

And the consequences of failing to arrive back in time.

28 days in the camp jail and 28 days loss of pay. Harsh - yes. Effective - very.

Stud or Slag?

Although my last post described one particular camp follower who probably had some sort problem it does raise an interesting gender issue. Why is it that a bloke who sleeps around a lot is generally regarded as a 'stud' while a woman who does the same is 'loose' or a 'slag'?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Camp Followers

Women have probably been following soldiers around for as long as soldiers have existed. The 'oldest profession' has always had a ready market within the armed forces. But not all women who follow the army have monetary gain in mind. I'm sure this post will offend some women. I'm sorry - I'm just telling it the way it is.

Soldiers like sex. But then almost all men like sex. And some women like sex with soldiers. Very much.

Thirsty Kirsty was a lady with problems. Lady might be a bit generous as far as descriptions go. She certainly had problems. Whether they were psychological or physical I don't know.

Every weekend, and sometimes during the week, Kirsty would end up in the block. Not necessarily our block but one of the blocks in camp. Having sex with Thirsty Kirsty was not something to be proud of. It was however a 'badge' that few men in my unit would turn down. I'm glad to say I was one of the few who did.

One night there was a knock on the door. I was semi-sleeping and someone else opened it.

"Can I come in?"

"Of course"

Someone in the block had had their wicked way and then kicked Kirsty out and locked their door. She was looking for refuge elsewhere. Soon there was a creaking noise going on in the room.

I pulled the duvet over my head and tried to sleep.

To this day I have no idea if Kirsty enjoyed what she did. It made me cringe.


'A salute is a greeting between two members of the same profession - it is given by the junior in rank and returned in kind by the senior.'

Someone, and I can't remember who, said something like that in the 19th century. What he meant was that the respect paid by saluting a superior officer was a two way thing and the superior officer was returning the respect as he returned the salute.

If only every brand new officer, or Rupert as they are somewhat affectionately known, understood this.

Shortly after I returned from my course a new Rupert arrived on the scene. Fresh from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he thought he was the bees knees. He seemed to think that two little diamonds on his shoulder made him a better man than the men he commanded. I'm glad to say he was quickly disabused of this notion.

There are ways of being disrepectful without actually being disrepectful. The manner in which a salute is given or the intonation when calling someone 'Sir' can say a lot. There is an oft told tale in the Army of an RSM talking to a new Rupert. A young Private entered the office where the RSM and the Rupert were. After passing on the message the Private left.

"Private Jones may have addressed us both as Sir," the RSM remarked to the young Officer, "but he only meant it once."

Respect is earnt and not bestowed.

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Seven

Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Two's Company..............

On completion of my course I returned back 'home' to my unit in Northern Ireland. I also returned to my four man room. In many ways at the time I was very lucky. I shared a room with only three other blokes and we had our own shower room.

Communal living can be fun at times - ask anyone who has been lonely. At other times however it can be a major pain in the arse.

Between the four of us who shared we owned three TV's, four Hi-Fi systems, four alarm clocks (although two of them may as well not have existed) and an uncountable number of posters of women who have made their mother's proud.

At times you needed ear protection just to walk into the room. Unless there was a major television event that everyone was agreed upon - an England football match being about the only example I can remember - then there would be three TV's playing three different programmes.

Everyone was convinced that what they were watching merited the loudest volume so over the course of the evening the general decibel level in the room would rise. Leaving the room for any length of time didn't necessarily reduce the damage being done to the remainders eardrums as people would leave the TV's playing as some kind of marker for their intended return.

I never quite understood this competition for volume but then I mainly had my head stuck in a book. The one thing I've never quite come to terms with regarding communal living is the absolute lack of shame that some people have regarding 'hand to gland combat'.

"I'm just going to bang one out - have you got any porn?"

It doesn't matter how may times I've heard that it still doesn't sound right.

Useful Stuff

At one point I decided that I would provide a glossary of terms unique to the military. It never really got off the ground mainly because I'm lazy. So if there is anything you don't understand then check out the dictionary, encyclopedia, or slang guide provided by the Army Rumour Service (aka ARRSE) - guaranteed for a laugh.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Blowing S**t Up

The first time that you ignite the safety fuse on an explosive charge the instructors insist that you turn and slowly walk away from imminent explosion.

They say that this is to give you confidence in the safety fuse. I say it is so they can look with glee on the expression of fear upon your face.

You have been taught that safety fuse burns at so many inches per minute but that doesn't help. You have just set in motion something that is going to end in an explosion. There is something in that that just makes you slightly worried.

Some of the students walked away with stupid grins on their faces. I'm convinced they were bricking it as much as the rest of us.

Needless to say the safety fuses burnt at the correct speed and we were all safely esconced in a safe area when the detonations occured. There was nothing Hollywood in it at all. A dull thud and a compression wave were all we experienced.

Over the next couple of days we experienced all the joys of 'blowing sh*t up' and learnt how to blow up everything from trees to bridges. By the end the fear had gone and the childlike enjoyment of destruction was everpresent.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mine Warfare

The next module on the course and much more interesting than water purification was Mine Warfare.

Ok so laying minefields was quite tedious - you dig a hole, you put a mine in it and then you cover it up. Minefield breaching sounded very exciting though - crawling on your belly, prodding to discover hidden mines, clearing a passage through which your mates could safely pass. And you might even get to do this under fire.

Having seen the effects of anti-personnel mines in subsequent years I have come to realise what a nasty form of warfare it actually is. It's not the mines fault that it can't distinguish between a combatant and a young child but it can't. Mines don't understand ceasefires or the end of a conflict.

Current estimates suggest there may be between 70-120 million mines still buried

Saturday, September 03, 2005


There is a famous quote that says an army marches on its stomach. Even more importantly it marches on its water requirements but I but guess that doesn't scan quite as well.

The next 'exciting' module on our course was water purification, although all we could think of was getting to the module where we got to 'blow sh*t up'.

Water purification is not the most interesting subject in the world. Water is drawn in from a source, cleaned, purified and pumped and then it's drunk.

We spent several days learning how to set up the various pieces of equipment that we would be using. We learnt how to test water for its cleanliness and how to add the correct amount of chemicals at the right time to make sure we weren't going to poision anyone.

The module concluded with us 'putting it all together'. We adjourned to the banks of a particularly dirty river and began setting up. By lunch we had all the equipment in place and water was beginning to move through the system.

"Right lads let's break for lunch. By the time we get back that tank there will be full of water that's perfectly safe to drink," our instructor assured us.

We returned after an hours lunch break.

"Right who wants a taste?"

We peered into the tank and then a snigger broke out. Someone must have sneaked off during lunch break because sat in the bottom of the tank was a perfectly formed, perfectly curled out turd.

"Ummmm, think I'll pass on that one Staff, thanks all the same."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Left Over Right, And Then What?

The first module of the course I'd been sent on was 'Field Engineering'. This entailed learning how to tie different bits of rope together, lashing bits of wood together with the rope and doing something useful with it.
Oh and we were taught how to use power tools as well. As if a man needs any instruction on the use of power tools. Using power tools is something that comes naturally to us men. That's why we never look at instruction manuals.

But anyway back to the lashings. I've never been a natural as far as these sort of things go. Whatever I did with the rope (or cordage as it is properly known) it never quite seemed to match the diagram or demonstration we were following.
The course progressed at quite a rapid pace. Quite quickly we were not only expected to tie pieces of rope into various strange shapes we were also expected to be able to lash telegraph poles together and create devices for lifting things, carrying things and moving things across large gaps.

It was all a lot of fun but a little voice in my head kept asking why. I'm fairly sure the techniques we were learning had been in existence for centuries but try as I might I couldn't think of one practical application of what we learning.

But rest assured if I'm ever stuck by a large gap that I need to move something across and there just happens to be a few telegraph poles and some rope lying around then I might be able to cobble something together.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Spot The Quote Prize

Desk Monkey's Prize is here - he can do with it what he likes.

So You Must Know...........?

Although infantry units tend to be close knit affairs the external course provides the opportunity to meet people from other units. This in itself leads to the inevitable game of "You must know so and so".

This game can be quite good fun e.g "Tall bloke black hair" narrows it down to around a third of the Battalion or around 200 blokes. It's a bit like twenty questions except you might never have met the person you are trying to identify.

Matters are further complicated by the unimaginative nicknames which we impose on our comrades. Every battalion will have its' fair shair of people with the following name:

Smudge - from the surname Smith
Blue - an alternative to Smudge
Dusty - from the surname Miller
Jock - anyone from Scotland
Taff - anyone from Wales
Paddy - anyone from Ireland. I sometimes wonder what English soldiers in Scottish or Welsh Regiments are called.

The list goes on and on with the occasional spark of ingenuity interupting the endless repetition of identical nicknames. The recent influx of soldiers from the Commonwealth has at least provided a little variety.

The "You must know" game usually concludes with both sides unsure if they are talking about the same person but both sides also concluding that he is a "bloody good bloke". Top of the British Blogs