A sad, true account of my limited military training.
‘’YOU GROWING YER OWN GREATCOAT??’ The sergeant major bellowed in my ear. ‘WE’RE NOT IN THE BLEEDIN’ GUARDS!! YOU DON’T HAVE TO GROW YER OWN BLEEDIN’ BUSBY!!’
With that he proceeded to stalk around looking me up and down as if I was dog poo, while I stood rigidly to attention, trying not to smirk, my right ear still ringing loudly.
Thus was my introduction to the army cadets in 1963 at the age of fourteen.
I’m still not sure what made me want to try it out. There were no girls and I’d already been chucked out of the cubs and scouts for being too exuberant. I think it was my mate who told me how great it was. You got to fire real Lee Enfield army rifles, SLRs and even Bren guns, and a camp was coming up!
At fourteen I liked the idea of firing guns and camps.
Looking back it seems a strange thing to teach young kids – very creepy. It’s what they do with religion: catch them young and brainwash them. Send us your kids and we’ll teach them some discipline! Along with the subtle art of killing!
That day I was issued with my uniform, shown how to blanco spats and belt, and how to polish boots, buckles and buttons.
I wasn’t so keen on that, but we were shown how to strip down, clean and oil a three-oh-three Lee Enfield.
Then we were marched up and down and taught how to turn on the march, stand to attention, dress off and stand at ease. I had great fun winding the young corporal up by moving both arms forward and back at the same time, turning in the wrong direction and such. I remember telling him I was genetically uncoordinated. He failed to find that amusing.
The next week, donning the itchiest shirt, tunic and trousers known to man (designed by sadistic religious zealots), a uniform that rubbed my neck into a sore and brought me out in a rash, I presented myself on parade for inspection.
The sergeant major, who was always a very loud man, impressed upon me from two inches away, complete with oodles of spittle, that I hadn’t quite mastered the art of blancoing, polishing or ironing and that by next week he was hopeful that I would have grasped these esoteric practices.
Sadly they always proved beyond me.
During my short stay, I did manage to fire Lee Enfields, SLRs and Bren guns, with mixed success, and go for a week’s camp, which resembled a glorified route march with accompanying loud bangs.
I only managed to protect the Queen for a matter of weeks before the sergeant major declared that remaining part of the defence of the realm was likely to be of more use to the enemy than the Queen and we had a parting of ways.
I had paid my penance. I don’t think I’m cut out for institutions or aesthetic religious orders.
In later life, as a headteacher, I used to look out of my window as the local army cadets were being put through their paces in the quad.
It always used to amuse me no end. It appeared to me that the whole company was made up of the biggest bunch of miscreants, rebels, delinquents and awkward types that we had in the school. Yet here they were in immaculate uniforms happily being marched up and done like happy little termites. This surly lot wouldn’t obey a polite request in the classroom but were deliriously joyous following every command to the letter.