I Have A Problem

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The battle marches were getting longer, faster and we carried more weight. We wore our usual issue kit, but now also a helmet – the metal inner rattled against my head and gave me a headache – and webbing: Belt, yoke and ammunition pouches. I was getting cramps in my legs, but these lessened with salt-replacement tablets. On these battle marches, I tried to keep expressionless to disguise whether I was cruising or suffering. In truth, it was a mixture of the two, but I didn’t want to show any sign of weakness. The pace was hard running interspersed with brisk walks, which were an opportunity to suck air in and slow my breathing down. On one of these marches, we were brought to a hurtful pace over the village green and Corporal Steele ran alongside me to see if I was feeling the pain. I ignored him and remained straight-faced, running with seeming ease. He shrugged and moved on to assess how the others were doing.

The mental and physical pressure increased as the course continued. The attrition rate was high and, by the time we approached P Company, six out of the original eight in my section were no longer there. I could feel my strength and stamina building. The beastings from the Corporals were to be expected now. Time and again, we were ordered to “Assume the position” or get into a press up position without actually doing a press up. Straight arms and legs were held in this stress position for as long as possible. After five and then ten minutes or so, many people collapsed and were harassed back into the position, only to collapse repeatedly.

You couldn’t get used to these sessions of pain. All you could do was get through them. The Corporals often yelled “What’s pain?” After initial confused looks, they would shout “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I’m not sure why but, whenever a Corporal shouted “What’s pain?” at me, I always replied “Fuck all.” This pissed them off and earned me extra time in the stress position, but I was toughening up by then.

The final fitness test before P Company was circuit training, which involved sit ups, press ups, burpees, squat thrusts and shuttle runs. The Paras didn’t do much in the way of this type of training, but it was my thing. I had done circuit training for years and enjoyed it. Sergeant Hunter ordered us through the routines and the Corporals trained alongside us. After a punishing warm-up session, Sergeant Hunter screamed.

“Run to the end of the hall… fifty press ups, then back here.”

We were off and I reached the end close to the front. Into the press up position, down, up, down, up, looking at the sweat dripping to form a puddle beneath me. Finish and back again. Over and over with different exercises for almost an hour.

“There and back counts as one. Do it ten times, now!”

I ran and touched the bottom of each wall as I turned, which was harder, but enabled me to get sprint starts in. I reached Sergeant Hunter in first place with Corporal Steele just behind.

“Fifty press ups, fifty star jumps, fifty sit ups, fifty burpees and fifty squats, in that order, now!!”

I drove myself on and finished at the same time as Corporal Steele in equal first place. He looked over at me and smiled, sweat pouring from him. My fitness had surpassed anything I’d attained before.

In the final week of the course, I ran along a busy road. I needed to cross over to head for home and decided to run over the carriageway instead of the long, safe way over a bridge. I waited for a gap in the traffic and ran to the central reservation. I looked up and saw another gap on the opposite carriageway so I hurdled the barrier, but my right knee hit it heavily and I tumbled into the road. I saw a lorry speeding toward me, so I scrambled my way to the far edge of the road just in time to the sound of a blaring horn. I sat for a few minutes and looked at my knee. It was bleeding and starting to swell up. And I was still a few miles from home. I stood up and a stabbing pain shot through my knee. There was no way I could run so I kept my right leg straight and forced myself on for over an hour. I swore at myself for being so fucking stupid and didn’t allow myself a rest all the way back.

The next day I saw a civilian doctor. My knee was cut, bruised and swollen. I was advised to rest it for at least two weeks and a nurse bandaged it up. I limped home, deep in thought. It was Tuesday morning and P Company began on Saturday. The Corporals told us that, if we got injured, it would affect our performance on P Company, so we must tell them. If they saw the state of my knee, there was no way I’d be allowed to do P Company. At best, I would back-squaded and have to start the next recruit course from the beginning. I’d come through so much to get this far, so I decided to rest my knee for the remainder of the week, strap it up tight and do P Company anyway.

On Friday evening, I turned up at the drill hall early to get the coach to Aldershot. This was the first of two weekends we would be assessed on the P Company tests. As we drove on the journey South, I sat and rubbed my swollen knee. The likelihood of my passing had narrowed significantly, but I had to give it a go.

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