For the first weekend of training, we turned up in civilian clothes at the drill hall. It was about sixty metres long, twenty wide and thirty high, with wooden flooring. The drab windows were elevated and some of the walls had wooden bars attached, like in a school gym. We were issued some basic kit: Boots, socks, fatigue trousers (olive-green with pockets down the side of both thighs), an army issue sweater – or ‘Woolly pully’ – with elbow and shoulder patches, T-shirts, combat jacket or ‘Smock,’ camouflage cap, mess tins, green sleeping bag and poncho.

A Corporal addressed us as we stood with the new kit at our feet.

“You will wear a ‘Crap hat’ for the duration of the recruit cadre.” He waved a camouflage cap in the air.

“Eventually lads, you will wear one of these – a standard issue helmet. You’ll notice the disruptive pattern material, chin strap and, especially for you, the inner padding has been ripped out to give you headaches. And no cap comforter to cushion the blow. You will toughen up or fuck off!!”

We put the new kit on and were shown how to fold the bottom of the trouser legs under rubber bands so they curved neatly at the top of our boots. We all milled about in our ill-fitting uniforms while hair was checked and anyone who hadn’t got a close enough cut was taken away for a skinhead. I’d already had my hair cut short so was put into a section of eight men and assigned to Corporal Steele. We were assembled into lines in the drill hall and Captain Dugmore gave a pep talk about training hard and switching on. He saluted, turned on his heel and marched smartly away. We stood around waiting for something to happen.

Sergeant Hunter strolled purposefully in. It was clear he ruled the drill hall. He was only about five feet seven inches tall, but had an impressively military moustache and looked both fit and tough in his uniform. He walked up and down at the front and glared at us.

“Fucking scruffy cunts!! You lazy bastards might as well fuck off right now!” He seemed angry. “On my head is the maroon beret. You wasters have not earned the right to look at it. When I talk, you will focus over my head because you ARE shit and I’m NOT. You will have to prove you’re not shit before you can wear a beret like this. What I can say with certainty is that most of you will stay shit and go back to your dickhead lives. Only a few of you will be here at the end of this course. The more of you we bin, the better we are! If you want a beret after a few weeks’ basic training, then fuck off to another regiment. But, if you want to wear the maroon beret, you’re going to have to put in a fucking massive effort. Those hats on your heads are crap because you’re as crap as the rest of the army and you will stay crap until I tell you otherwise!!!” Sergeant Hunter stared at us for an uncomfortable moment and then stormed off, disgusted.

This was exactly what I needed. Something worthwhile to go for. A Corporal told us to form up outside for a run and shouted “MOVE!” We shambled outside in shit order and stood in an undisciplined arrangement on the parade square. This was the first time I got a good look at everyone else. In all, there were about seventy of us on that first day of training. Some were lean and fit; others were not. There was a definite divide between the majority, who looked hard with an arrangement of tattoos – mainly purple swallows either on their necks or hands – and a few softer-looking ones. I fell firmly into the latter category. An Officer marched to the front. The Corporals shouted and pushed us into two lines.

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