It was made clear we had to run everywhere and work hard. We were supposed to rise at 5 a.m. and finish at about 9 p.m. But I got up at 4 a.m. each day to get ready and sort my kit out before most recruits were up. It was a good start. Further instruction was given on cleaning our kit and brushing teeth, and demonstrations of how to fold sheets and blankets into the regulation size and shape. It took about half an hour with a ruler to get the bed clothing into the exact measurements, and this was time we didn’t have in the morning. We were warned not to use our sleeping bags to avoid making the bed blocks for morning inspection. I decided to put my bed block safely under the bed and got into my sleeping bag with a spare blanket over the top. This worked for the full course, which saved me extra time in the morning as I only had the hospital corners to make.
We spent long hours on the parade square, marching up and down, cracking our heels against the tarmac. It was explained marching was an extension of walking with heads up, shoulders back and arms swinging. The theory behind marching was to instil discipline, co-ordination and alertness. The practice was a lot of hard work, with intense concentration and the only reward being, if you did it right, you didn’t get noticed. If you were out of time with anyone else, you got abuse from the Corporals. It wasn’t fun.
The Corporals did everything they could to make life uncomfortable. Early one morning, we were on the parade square. The Sergeant ordered us to run to the mess hall for food and the Corporals took us at a near sprint for ten minutes, including along a canal. We joined the queue for food, and were told to eat and line up outside in three minutes. Luckily, the regular recruits in the queue realised what was happening and stood aside so we could eat quickly and form up outside. We sprinted back to our barracks at a punishing pace. The Corporals ran beside us, screaming insults over the sound of boots crashing on the ground.
I arrived at the parade square and was pushed roughly into line. I looked ahead, listening to several recruits vomiting.
“Who the fuck told you to puke?”
More sounds of coughing and spitting.
“Stand up and get back in line, you wasters!”
The last recruits came in and we were all put in one long line.
“Right you lot, listen in! Lie down on your backs. All of you. Now!”
We got down in a line and the Corporals ran over us, one by one.
“Up you get! Now, the Captain is on his way. Inspection is in two minutes and you had better fucking pass.”
We brushed each other down and formed into ranks. The Captain arrived and walked before each recruit, looking for faults. He stared at me, then moved on. The Captain eventually strode to the front and leaned in for a talk with the Sergeant. They both cast furtive eyes along the recruits. The Sergeant nodded and the Captain marched away. Turning toward us, the Sergeant looked furious.
“You are a fucking DISGRACE!! The Captain tells me Campbell has some mud on the back of his woolly pully and Fitzgerald has a leaf stuck to the sole of his boots! A fucking leaf!! You two, get THE FUCK here now!”
The two offending recruits ran hurriedly to the front and stood before the Sergeant.
“The sentence for being a waste of space is a day in prison! Now, fuck off out of my sight!!”
“LeftRightLeftRightLeftRightLeftRight” faded into the distance as the two recruits were pushed and shoved toward the cells.
In between the beastings, we were taught combat first aid. Learning about different types of bleeding, chest injuries, burns, broken bones, the application of morphine and giving mouth to mouth when a soldier has had his chin blown away.
But the best part of the course was live firing. For the first time, we were trusted with live rounds and spent every day down the firing ranges. We fired the Self Loading Rifle (‘SLR’), Sub Machine Gun (‘SMG’) and General Purpose Machine Gun (‘GPMG’). The instruction concentrated on marksmanship principles. Firing positions – prone, kneeling and standing – holding your breath when firing to steady the SLR for a shot; adjusting the iron sights; where to aim, depending on the speed of a target; aiming off due to weather conditions; target indication; and control orders. Hitting targets up to three hundred metres was fine but, above that range, it got trickier, especially if you were standing and the weapon seemed to wave about the place. We also learnt about the 66mm anti-tank rocket and 84mm medium anti-armour weaponry, and we watched its devastating effect. The 84mm was especially memorable as it created a vacuum when fired and sucked the air from my lungs.
We did a weapon handling assessment, which included stripping and re-assembling the SLR and GPMG within a set period of time both sighted and blindfolded, and also loading up the SLR magazines and clips of rounds for the GPMG. Then we were tested in live firing the SLR and GPMG on the range from one hundred metres up to five hundred metres. Afterwards, we were marched off to a hall for the military skills written examination. This would test our understanding of various ways of moving tactically, map reading, hand signals, combat first aid, NBC warfare, contact drills, situation reports and types of fire control orders.
A couple of evenings later, the results were posted on a noticeboard. Crowds of recruits elbowed each other to see their marks. Eventually, I managed to get to the front and looked for my name. My results were: Weapon handling and live firing, skilled; and written examination, 100%.