The Corporals explained this was the first of many runs. We were to set off in pairs and follow the Officer until he ordered “Go.” Then we were to run as fast as we can back to the drill hall. As we waited, I was nervous. I could hear shuffles and scraping of boots. Someone coughed behind me. I was paired up about fifteen places behind the Officer and we were ordered to move out. A right turn and we jogged down a hill, right again and then along the side of the A19. It was a steady pace.
After about a mile and a half, we were brought to a halt and ordered to turn around. I was warmed up and just beginning to sweat. The cool air felt good on my face. Unbelievably, some of the recruits were out of breath. I looked around and took in what was happening. The Officer made his way to the front without speaking while cars intermittently roared past on the road. There were now around forty recruits in front of me, some switched on and staring, others bent over and wheezing.
Without warning, the Officer ran in the direction we’d come from. Recruits looked around, not knowing what to do for a moment until he shouted “Go!” and we all ran after him. I sprinted past as many as I could until there were only five people ahead, including the Officer. I could hear Corporals shouting at recruits further back as the first cold beads of sweat trickled down my back. I settled in and kept pace with those at the front. It still wasn’t that fast until we got to about five hundred metres from the finish.
“What are you guys staying with me for? If you can go faster, then fucking do it!” the Officer gasped.
The recruits ahead overtook him and I did the same. It was uphill and the pace was frenetic as we sprinted to the drill hall. I was in fourth place and managed to get past one and then two of the recruits ahead of me. I was coming up to the lead man, when he turned a sharp left, up the ramp and I followed into the parade square.
Sergeant Hunter and a few Corporals were waiting. They arranged us into a line. Our times were noted down. The Officer arrived, breathing heavily, and the Corporals lined up everyone else over to our left as they came in. Stragglers were still arriving as the Officer walked to the front.
“I am forty years old. You should be faster than me,” he exclaimed in an upper-middle class tone. “That was just crap. Apart from these recruits over here…” he waved an arm in our direction, “… you lot are not up to fucking standard. You either get fit or we will kick you out!” He walked away.
There was something faintly ridiculous about a posh bloke attempting to sound aggressive. And his swearing just made it funnier. I glanced around and some of the recruits were looking down, smirking. It was infectious and I stifled a grin. Sergeant Hunter took over and smiled.
“That Officer is shite,” he said and moved his beret sideways, comedy-style. Affecting the Officer’s accent, he carried on. “Thaat’s jost crarrp. Yorr not opp to focking standard.” We all laughed. I liked Sergeant Hunter.
“But,” he went on, “he’s right about one thing. If you can’t even beat that fucking wanker, it’s going to be easy to whittle you lot down…”
A recruit ran onto the parade square and stood with hands on his thighs, gasping for air. The Corporals pushed him into line at the back. Sergeant Hunter paused, stared at him and roared.
“… You there!! Who the fuck gave you permission to be a useless cunt?”
The recruit did his best to stand upright, hands shaking by his sides. Sergeant Hunter moved toward him.
“Did I tell you to mince about like a fucking Marine?”
“What did you call me? An Officer is called ‘Sir.’ You will call me ‘Sergeant’ and this soldier here is ‘Corporal.’ Look…” he punched his upper arm repeatedly, “… the stripes give it away. And, while we’re having a lesson in how to stop being a dickhead, when we shoot the enemy with an SLR, it’s called a ‘Weapon’ and not a ‘Rifle.’ You got all that?”
“This is the Paras, not the Girl Guides. Switch on!!”
Sergeant Hunter walked to the drill hall and left us on the parade square. A Corporal explained that we had just taken the basic fitness test, a one and a half miles timed run, and only a few had passed. It was explained that we were going to be assessed and graded in everything we did, so they had a yardstick to bin us by.