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Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Today I've been busy writing to Class 1b so I don't have time to write to you. I just know there are people from interesting places who read this so why don't you send them a postcard.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And Why Would You Want To Do That?

If you are a real b***ard then this is the trick that you play on a bomb disposal expert.

Our next Christmas visit was to the fabulous bomb disposal blokes. I've never quite understood why anyone would want to spend some serious time with a bomb that hadn't quite worked properly yet.

They did let us play with their 'Wheelbarrow' though. This is possibly the best remote control car ever built and may explain why people want to do this job. Ok - female readers may not understand this but remote control cars are cool - and it doesn't matter how old you are.

If the remote control car can't sort things out then the guys or gals have to get up close and personal with the unexploded device. This takes balls. Even if you are a female bomb disposal soldier it takes balls. Maybe the female soldiers get issued a pair of balls from the Quartermaster. I don't know.

To protect them they get to wear a really big, really thick suit. Now I wore a really big, really thick suit when I had some fun with a dog and it didn't really work. Call me old fashioned but I can't see it stopping an explosive device.

Maybe it makes them feel better - who knows.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Unleash The Hounds

In the run up to Christmas the powers that be had decided that there wasn't much point in trying to do anything too constructive. So they set up a series of visits for us. And very interesting they were too.

"So who fancies a go then? There's nothing to worry about. You won't feel a thing."

Never volunteer for anything. It's a military maxim that has stood the test of time.

I put my hand up.

5 minutes later I'd doubled in size and looked something like the Michelin man. The suit I was wearing was thick, thick material and designed to stop a dogs teeth doing too much damage.

We'd been sent down to visit the Dog Section. Possibly not the sexiest department within the army although we were all keen to know if the rumour was true that the dog handlers had to masturbate their animals on a daily basis. Quite why any of us wanted to know this I can't remember but it was very important at the time.

There are various types of army dog - sniffer dogs, explosive search dogs and attack dogs. They actually get their own army number and are awarded medals just like the rest of us. Apparently.

"Ok - when you're ready just start running over there. You won't feel a thing I promise."

I wasn't convinced. Why the f**k had I volunteered. This definitely wasn't one of my best ideas.

I started to run. I'd got maybe 20 metres when I heard the dog handler fiddling with the chain holding the dog.

I started to run faster. Why I do not know. There was no way I was going to outrun an Alsatian even if I hadn't been dresssed as the Michelin man.

"Go Boy."

Oh shit.

I think the dog was probably travelling at about 30mph when it hit me. I say hit me. That sounds a bit random. Launched itself in the perfect trajectory to sink its fangs into my arm would be a better description.

"Don't worry the suit will protect you," was ringing in my ears. Bollocks. I was bruised for days.

I'd do it again though. It was quite funny.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Keep On Running

At the minute I'm trying to get fit. It's not because I want to be really fit but in the New Year I really need to be.

The fact that I've spent most of the last couple of years sat on my arse doing very little hasn't helped.

So recently I've started running again. The first couple of occasions were to put it mildly unpleasant. To put it unmildly it was f**king horrible.

Lately it's got better. The lungs are complaining less and the legs are feeling some strength at least. That is until today.

I've been getting bored with pounding the pavements around where I live and there's always been this 'Public Footpath' sign that has sort of intrigued me. So this morning I decided to find out where it went. Why - I don't know -maybe it had something to do with the hangover.

It started off quite nicely. Picturesque almost. The legs were feeling good and the countryside was keeping the mind occupied. But the path went on and on.

It might have made sense to have checked a map before I started. After a few miles I began to wonder whether it might make sense just to turn around and retrace my steps.

Brain says "Yes." Ego says "No."

Ego won and I kept on running. Eventually the footpath came out on a road. There was a signpost - this signalled hope.

Until I looked at it. It was a long way home.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I don't know if 'waahing' people is purely an army thing or not but I was 'waahed' at work the other day so I thought I'd mention it.

The basic concept of the 'Waah' is to get someone to answer a question that is so blatantly obvious that nobody should be asking it.

Hmmm - that wasn't very clear. Maybe an example will clear it up. The scene - walking through Parliament Square in London.

A - "I wonder if Big Ben is near here."

B - "It's just there."

A - "Waaaaah."


A - "Have you noticed how many English towns are named after cheeses?"

B - "It's the other way around."

A - "Waaaaah."

Hmmm. I'm going to give up there. Having just re-read that it's not funny in the slightest. Unlike reality when it's absolutely hilarious.

Friday, November 25, 2005

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly

The exercise over we caught the ferry back to Northern Ireland. When we arrived back Christmas preparations were in full swing.

"A bit early." I hear you asking.

Well most of the Battalion were going home on leave for some of the Christmas period so to make sure we all celebrated together Christmas was coming early.

This was going to be my first Christmas away from home and to perfectly honest I was quite looking forward to it. Ok - unless Mum had let Father Christmas know where I was posted then I probably wasn't going to get a stocking this year - but it was going to be different.

Our first free day after the exercise we went and bought the cheapest, tackiest Christmas lights that we could find. The sort that flash that fast that they should carry an epilepsy warning on them. We bought a Christmas tree - well a 6 inch plastic thing that vaguely looked tree shaped if you'd had enough to drink.

With a bit of Slade on the hi-fi, a cold beer in one hand and some lights going mental on our sort-of-tree it felt like Christmas already.

And it wasn't even December.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Murphy's Laws For The Army Number Nine

If it's stupid but it work's then it isn't stupid.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Clean (ish)

After the final attack we heard the words we'd been longing to hear. A word that brings a smile to your face not matter what the exercise has been like.


The next couple of hours were spent picking up empty bullet cases (it's more the fact that the MOD makes a packet from all that brass rather than us being environmentally friendly), making sure we hadn't lost anything important (like the odd rifle), and generally sorting ourselves out.

After that it was back to the temporary accomodation and soon we were in our own time.

I'd been thinking about a hot shower for a couple of days now.

I'd like to say that I spent the next hour under a scalding hot power shower. I like to say it soaked away the aches and pains from the last couple of weeks. I'd like to say that after it was over my hair would have passed muster in a VO5 commerical.

In actual fact I spent about 5 minutes standing under a shower nozzle that dripped a rather pathetic amount of tepid water down my neck. I spent the 5 minutes with a queue of other blokes asking if I'd finished yet. I spent the 5 minutes watching a muddy puddle appear on the shower basin as two weeks accumulated grime began to disappear.

It may not have been the shower I'd planned but I still got out feeling a different man.*

* - (And no phnar phnar comments about me feeling men up please)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

We Attack At Dawn

The exercise was coming to a close. We'd watched the dastardly enemy do all sorts of unspeakable things (and can I tell you none of them will ever make a living on the stage), we'd tracked them to their hideout and now we were going to attack.

For some perverse reason, maybe just tradition, we were going to attack at dawn. This is something that almost always only happens on exercise these days. In 'real wars' it's become fashionable to make it an all night affair.

What followed was, and still is, one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

It was a cold Scottish morning and the fog was down. The enemy had retreated to an old coastal fortification. We'd assembled in the night and had our orders. The platoons had moved out and as dawn was about to break we were ready to move in. My platoon had been given a couple of concrete bunkers to clear of enemy.

At the given moment we moved forward out of cover. One of the platoons was giving covering fire. I had the radio and was trying to keep up with the boss. As we emerged through the fog and the enemy opened fire the strangest noise began.

One of the Scottish lads who was playing the enemy had brought his bagpipes with him. And so as we assaulted the enemy positions we had good Scottish bagpipe music to accompany us.

With the mist and the music and the smoke and the gunfire it was almost like a scene from Apocalypse Now - only Scottish.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Who Would You Give Your Last One To?

I was sat monitoring the radio net. I was feeling a little peckish. I reached into my pocket and pulled out something to snack on.

A few years ago the army in its' infinite wisdom stopped putting packets of Rolos into ration packs.

There is now a generation of soldiers who are growing up without knowing the delights of pulling a half squashed packet of Rolos out of a pocket.

They'll never know the sheer pleasure of trying to pick pieces of gold foil from a rather battered specimen.

The taste sensation that follows when you give up and eat said Rolo with gold foil garnish still intact is lost to them.

They don't know what they are missing.

Back on the exercise I took one look at the battered Rolos and opted for a boilie instead.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Has Anyone Seen The Enemy?

If you are pretending to be at war then you need a pretend enemy as well. I've always found the 'enemy' a source of some amusement mainly due to the numbers involved.

If the scenario dictated that we were defending against the 3rd Shock Army then on exercise we'd eagerly be awaiting the arrival of four blokes in a Land Rover.

For the UN style exercise we were on they'd actually done quite well. A section of Jocks had been 'borrowed' from another unit in Northern Ireland. Their ranks had been swollen by the sick, lame and lazy who had somehow managed to blag their way out of doing the actual exercise. Add to that the fearsome female company clerk and we were facing 'a large, well trained and motivated militia'.

Well that's what the boss said anyway.


Pat was absolutely right in her answer - the first light drew the attention of the sniper, the second he took aim and the third he fired. Some accounts date the superstition back to the Boer War but apparently it became widespread during the trench warfare of World War I.

There are just as many superstitions in the forces as elsewhere. One of my favourites is that it's considered extremely bad luck to mention the word 'Rain' when on exercise or operations unless it is actually raining.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Never Take The Third Light

It was raining. In fact it wasn't just raining it was absolutely chucking it down.

The remainder of the platoon had split down and had gone off to set up some observation posts to witness any heinous activity that might take place in front of them.

There were only four of us left in platoon headquarters. Apart from the rain things weren't too bad - not much to do apart from try to stay dry and pass on the odd radio message.

Then the Company Commander and CSM decided to make an impromptu visit. I knew what was coming almost before the words left his lips:

"Don't s'pose you've got any fags Private ***** I've only gone and left mine in me bergan."

He really didn't have to lie. After all he was the CSM and only the RSM stood between him and God. It was kind of nice that he tried to cushion the blow though. It would have been even better if he hadn't 'forgotten' his fags the day before.

Only a few days in and the tailor made cigarettes were rapidly disappearing. In a day or two I'd be struggling to roll my own. Rolling your own with soggy fingers in a howling gale is never a recipe for success.

I pulled a half crushed packet of Bensons out of my pocket - took a fag and made half an effort to straighten it out before handing it to him. Then I took one for myself - after all you can't let a man smoke by himself.

My zippo lighter sparked first time between the CSM's cupped hands and after he'd got his lit I leant over and the flame was still there for me. Just then the Company Commander butted in:

"Can I get a light?"

"Now Now Sir. You should know better. No-one takes the third light."

Suitably admonished by the CSM the Company Commander retreated......

Now I know the reason for this tradition. I'd be interested at taking guesses from those who don't as to why it's considered bad luck.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jackanory Tell Me A Story

Apparently it's not the done thing to 'pretend' to be at war with real countries. It's ok to actually be at war with them but not to pretend.

For every exercise some poor soul has to create a 'scenario'. Maps are hastily recreated with made up place names - it's amazing how many times I've been at war with Ruritania. The more enterprising officers create a bit of history to flesh out the scenario - usually cribbed from some GCSE history text.

I can't remember who was involved in the exercise I'm describing. I do remember that it involved a country breaking apart, three different ethnic groups, a dose of ethnic cleansing and infringements of ceasefire agreements.

Ring any bells anyone?

The following year we were to deploy to Bosnia and someone wanted to start getting us ready early.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Rifle, My Admin, Myself

The night had passed without incident. Me and the boss had split the radio stag so we each got a decent amount of sleep. As daylight approached the platoon stood-to - a time honoured tradition of making sure the 'enemy' doesn't conduct a sneaky attack at sunrise or sunset.

After the traditional 30 minutes or so was up we moved into morning routine. One of the things about being on exercise or operations is that so much becomes timetabled - there is very little time to yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

My morning routine went something like this:

Strip rifle, clean rifle, oil rifle, put rifle back together again.

Wash (baby wipes in all the right places is about as elegant as it gets), shave (a few drops of lukewarm water in the bottom of a mess-tin), powder feet and change socks (you can't believe how good a fresh pair of socks with some talc in them feels).

Then I covered the radio while the boss peformed the same routine as me.

Finally it was scoff time. Bacon and beans was on the menu - never could stand that so it was chocolate porridge for me. Bliss.

My weapon, my admin, myself - it might sound harsh but it makes the "myself" part so much better.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Can't Be ARRSE'd

I've promised Mrs Soldier a night without blogging tonight - anniversaries only come but once a year so I suppose she deserves it. In the interim I'll leave you with a couple of entries from the ARRSE dictionary that make me chuckle:

AquaFresh - nickname for an incompetent Sgt - ie he’s a tube with three stripes.
Break the seal - First p1ss of the evening, usually take three or four pints of wifebeater, seal breaks and you're on the lavatory every five minutes.

Cake and Arse Party - Used to describe a job/mission that no longer resembles normality i.e its gone pear shaped. Young officers tend to give out open invites to such functions.

Flogging On - Surfing the Internet for some left-handed websites.

Horizontal Time Accelerator - Another method of describing the Sleeping Bag.

I take no credit for any of the above - it's all from the funny people at ARRSE.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Can't See The Wood For The Trees

We reached the end of the insertion march and went to move into a wood to spend the night. It wasn't a bad spot. The trees would give us some shelter from the elements. Moving into a location is a convuluted process. As with everything in the army there is a set procedure. I was one of the first ones to move in. As the Signaller I had to make sure we could get through to other people on the radio.

Usually you move in before it gets dark. Due to someone getting navigationally embarassed (the PC term for getting lost) we were doing it in the dark.

Moving into a location should be done in silence. No chance. As we moved into the wood all you could hear was CRACK CRACK as people stepped on the undergrowth. This was interspersed with the odd obscenity as a branch or twig swiped someone across the face.

Eventually we were in. I managed to get through on the radio first time which was a bonus. Then I settled down to wait. The physical effort of the last few hours had left me sweating and now as I lay down next to my bergan, listening to the radio, I could feel the sweat cooling on my body. It was going to be a while before we could settle down to a routine and after only a couple of minutes I was shivering.

Roll on bedtime.

Friday, November 11, 2005


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I Just Can't Get You Out Of My Head

After the hill the march settled down into a tedious slog. The straps of my bergan were digging into my shoulders and aches and pains became more pronounced the further we went. Every few miles we'd drop to the ground and take on some water as those in charge decided which way next.

On this sort of move individuals are spread out - a few metres between each man - in a real conflict this is to reduce casualties if a shell lands near you. The spacing reduced conversation to a minimum.

As the half miles turned into miles and the miles turned into more miles the mind begins to wander. At first the scenery was enough to absorb me and take my mind off the slog. After a while however this ran its course and my mind looked elsewhere.

At any point in time there are some really annoying songs around. Now I can't remember the annoying song that was around at the time of our little trip to Scotland.

I do remember that once it got into my head it wouldn't leave. I didn't even know many of the words. Just one annoying chorus over and over again. I tried to think of other music - straining to remember the lyrics. It was no use.

In the end I don't know what was worse, the long slow physical task - one foot in front of the other - or the long slow mental one - one chorus after another.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Grand Old Duke Of York

The four tonner had dropped the platoon off. We'd formed up into the formation we were going to move out. As platoon signaller I was located with the officer in charge of the platoon. He'd given the first leg of the march to a Junior NCO to navigate for us. The lead section snaked out across the Scottish countryside. We moved slowly along the valley floor - getting used to crossing rough terrain again.

I could feel the bergan straps digging into my shoulders. I was enjoying the physical exercise now. I was young fit and my legs were ups to the challenge. After a couple of miles it became obvious that there was going to be a large hill in the way shortly.

Now there are two ways to deal with a hill. You can take the shortest, and most difficult, route across it - up one side and down the other. Alternatively you can 'contour' around it - no steep slopes to march up but further to go.

On this occasion the NCO decided to go around. It was probably the right decision. The gradient of the hill was very steep and could have caused us problems. So we began to wend our way around the hill. It seemed to take forever. Surely it couldn't be that far around.

After a while things began to look worringly familiar. We hadn't gone half way around the hill - we'd done the whole f**king thing. Needless to say the soldier in charge was not the most popular of people.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Beast of Burden

The average infantryman can carry up to 45% of his own body weight at times. That's quite a lot of weight for anyone.

I looked down on my bergan again with some trepidation. It didn't look that heavy. Tentatively I put one hand on the strap and went to hoist it onto my shoulder. No chance. I knelt down, put one harm through the strap and went to stand. I nearly made it but lost my balance and ended up sat on my arse on the floor. Hmmmm what next.

I ended up sat on the floor putting both arms in the straps. A friend of mine then grasped hold of my hands and pulled me upright - this was going to be so much fun....... Top of the British Blogs