We were introduced to the soldiers of D Company, 4 Para, who were not impressed. Sergeant Hunter told us we were in peak physical condition as we’d just passed P Company, but were untested in the battalion so the jury was out on our competence. In any event, we still wore crap hats as we hadn’t passed the two-week training course in Aldershot, which we were reliably told would be a “Shit time.” The maroon beret presentation waited for those who passed.
I sorted my kit out on a Friday evening, walked to the town centre and got a bus to the drill hall. Outside, I stood for a moment and took a deep breath in. This was it. My life would never be the same from this moment on. We boarded the coach to Aldershot for the final stage of training to earn the maroon beret. The coach meandered about the roads South and got lost. We had no sleep by the time the coach pulled into the Parachute Regiment depot, mainly due to the Lads’ intermittent grunting and shouts all night. I saw a Douglas C47 Dakota aeroplane with World War Two markings standing proudly on the grass before the entrance to Browning Barracks.
The coach took a few minutes to get past the checkpoint and then inside. Driving past the main buildings, I saw two Paras patrolling the perimeter. They carried pickaxe handles. One guard looked at the coach and menacingly slapped the blunt instrument in his left palm. We pulled into the training area and were ordered to form up in ranks with all the other recruits for the first day’s work. The survivors of P Company from around the country were already on the parade square. We formed ranks and were sixty-five in all.
We were herded into a billet about twenty metres long with ten metal beds pushed against each of the long walls. Between the beds were lockers and, every two beds along, there was a window on each side. A long passageway, lit by flickering fluorescent lights, divided each side of the spartan surroundings. The polished lino floor bore indelible streaks of boot polish. At the end there was a doorway, beyond which lay a Corporal’s quarters. We were each assigned a bed and locker, then a Corporal screamed “Get your shit squared away!!” We unpacked our kit and waited. There were several of these billets lined up and one building was a shower block. Outside, the parade square was enclosed by all the billets on one side and trees on the others. The wired perimeter fence enclosed the barracks.
The first day was a surprise. I braced myself for hard-core running until I puked, but it was more sedate. We were taken to the shower block and shown how to wash and shave ourselves. I wondered what the fuck was going on, but kept my mouth shut. Next we were shown how to wash and iron our clothes. Then how to arrange our lockers for inspection. This went on until evening lectures about behaviour on and off military property. It was a long day.
The course was run by 2 Para, the men who had taken Goose Green in the Falklands only three years before. The leader assigned to my section was Corporal Harrison. About five feet nine inches tall, he was of average build, had brown hair and an obligatory military moustache, and was a really sound bloke. We had good chats with him about the military and life in general, whilst other sections suffered when their Corporals were in a full flow of hate.
Corporal Wild was about five feet eleven inches tall and a well-built skinhead with insane, staring eyes. I’d never seen anything like it before (or since). One morning, we were made to parade at 6 a.m. in the semi-darkness. We remained perfectly still for over an hour and froze in an icy breeze. Corporal Wild was in charge and prowled around. Eventually, he spoke.
“I love it at this time in the morning. I got pissed out of my face last night and feel like fucking shit. This day can only get better.”
Silence for another few minutes as he stalked his prey, hating us. He moved silently around the recruits. Even the wind subsided on this smaller parade square surrounded by buildings. There was an awkwardness tinged with the prospect of violence. Dawn was streaking over the rooftops. I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the back of the recruit in front thinking ‘Please let this end.’
“You are all cunts. Any fucker moves an inch and you’ll all be in prison for the day,” he snarled.
It transpired that he was a private in the Falklands War and tabbed toward Port Stanley where he was faced with an Argentine trench. With no ammunition left, so the rumour went, a knife in one hand and a grenade in the other, he jumped in and single-handedly captured over twenty Argentine prisoners. He was promoted to Corporal in the field.
There was also Corporal Savage. An extremely scary man. Around six feet three inches tall, wiry and angry. Always angry. He shouted and spat at anyone for anything. I caught his wrath once for no particular reason and he went fucking mental, leaning over me in a screaming rage. His face was contorted with fury. I figured the best way to deal with this psychopath was to say and do nothing. With no reaction, he moved on. I heard he went into the SAS a year or so later. However, in the Paras, having enormous skinheads spitting venom wasn’t personal at all. They did this to every recruit. It was just another hurdle before joining an exclusive club.