Later that night, we took turns on guard duty (or ‘stag’), two hours on and four off. When it was my turn, I engaged the night vision goggles and scanned the area. Through the ghostly green haze, about ten meters along the path, I saw another recruit on stag. Out of nowhere, a shadow leapt up and dragged him into the darkness. There were thuds and muffled cries until the recruit clambered out and got back on stag. I looked down at my boots on the path and turned the night-sight toward the bushes bordering it. I couldn’t see anything, but decided to move about five metres back from the path so I wasn’t such an easy target. After my turn, I passed the night vision gear to the next recruit on stag.

“Stay away from the path,” I told him. “There are Paras out there kicking the fuck out of anyone too close to the edge.” He nodded and went grimly into position.

In my sleeping bag, fully clothed and boots on, I ensured my SLR was within arm’s length reach. I noticed bruised clouds overhead and the rain began to land on my basha. As I was falling asleep, the occasional thump and shout broke through the beat of the raindrops as another guard got a beating. After a brief rest, I packed my kit on the wet grass and heated a breakfast of beans and processed sausages on my hexi-stove. The meal cheered me up as some energy returned. With eating irons at the ready, I looked around. Several recruits had black eyes and swollen faces.

As the course progressed, groups of recruits began to form. There was the vocal group, who glued together as one and were ‘the Lads.’ This loudmouthed bunch strutted about and were obviously impressed with themselves. There were other sporadic groups of rough blokes that included some characters. Borstal Boy’s hair was shaved almost bald. He was wiry thin with an eagle tattoo across his chest and boasted how he learnt to march in borstal. I looked at his weasely face and decided not to trust him. Another was quickly called Rambo because he was nothing like Rambo: Small, not tough and clueless when it came to anything military. As time went on, the Corporals nicknamed me College Boy as I was one of the few with any form of education. Then there was the small group I was in, which included Rog, Dane and Patrick.

I first met Rog Lauder on a training run when we were paired up. We had all run onto some wasteland that used to be a quarry and were told to keep going up the far side. The pace was fast and I looked over at Rog, who was in pain, leaning forward and breathing heavily. A Corporal ran alongside me.

“Stanford, get Lauder here to the front.”

I grabbed the back of Rog’s smock and forced him past the other recruits until we got to the front at the top of the incline. As we both stood there, gasping for breath, I enjoyed the cool breeze. Sweat poured off me like it was raining. I talked to Rog afterwards and we got on well. He would end up being not only my best mate, but the best man at my wedding.

I was buddies with Dane Cooke, who was switched on and always cheerful. The buddy system in the army teamed two people together for training and it was meant to provide mutual support, develop a sense of responsibility for fellow soldiers to reduce stress and improve safety. That was the theory anyway. I was fortunate because Dane and I hit it off immediately and he certainly made my time in the Paras a better experience. Early one Sunday morning, we went on a run. The Corporals paired Dane and I off and made us repeatedly sprint up a hill. I was sure I could beat him and managed to edge ahead each time we reached the brow of the hill. However, that was early in the training programme and Dane got fitter in no time.

Patrick Frankland completed the group. He was the tallest and quietest of us, with short black hair and small glasses. He looked studious and was solid company. He could be relied upon to go over material we’d been taught and was quick to take information in.

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