P Company – Milling and Battle March

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P Company is a test in life that can make or break you. The first event was milling or sixty seconds of controlled aggression against an opponent of similar height and weight. The rules were punch to the head and get punched. No defence allowed. This has been described as the longest minute of your life. On the parade square, we were organised into two long lines facing each other, ascending in height order. I was toward the middle and stood on the same side as my mate Rog, so at least I wouldn’t be fighting him. The three people opposite comprised two weedy-looking blokes and someone who glared under sinister eyebrows and looked like an animal, complete with flaring nostrils. The Corporals shuffled us about and I ended up opposite one of the thinner ones. This was looking okay. The Corporals brought us to a left turn and, just before we marched off, a last minute switch was made and I saw Animal beside me. I thought, Oh shit. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Stag

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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. Continue reading

Basic Training

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Corporal Steele got his section together and led us over to a patch of grass at the back of the drill hall. We took the weight off our feet and leant against the building while he sat in front of us. Our section leader was a stocky man in his early twenties with short brown hair and a sharp sense of humour. I met him a few years later and he had joined the regular Paras. He would be our teacher and guide – there to encourage us, shout at us, discipline us, tell us when we were shit, and try to make us into the best section in the cadre. He showed us how to wear our kit correctly and told us to put our boots in hot water, polish them and then wear them wet so they would mould to our feet. He explained only a few in this section was capable of reaching P Company and even less would actually pass. It would take willpower to succeed. “This isn’t fannying about in a civilian job,” as he put it, “this is important.” Continue reading

Fitness Test

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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. Continue reading

Sergeant

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For the first weekend of training, we turned up in civilian clothes at the drill hall. It was about sixty metres long, twenty wide and thirty high, with wooden flooring. The drab windows were elevated and some of the walls had wooden bars attached, like in a school gym. We were issued some basic kit: Boots, socks, fatigue trousers (olive-green with pockets down the side of both thighs), an army issue sweater – or ‘Woolly pully’ – with elbow and shoulder patches, T-shirts, combat jacket or ‘Smock,’ camouflage cap, mess tins, green sleeping bag and poncho. Continue reading

Test Run

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This would be tough. I need to be robust to get through cancer. My thoughts drift to when I was nineteen. My elder brother, Marky, saw an article in the local newspaper entitled “Teessiders Can Take It” in bold letters. It was a recruitment drive for the local Parachute Regiment battalion – part of the Army Reserve (formerly known as the TA). Continue reading

Dig Deep

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I check in and fill out some forms. This is my first experience of a cancer hospital and it’s really depressing. There’s a pungent smell of disinfectant and floor polish. All the other patients in the waiting room are twenty to thirty years older than me. Some look in quite good shape, but one woman looks frail, wearing a trademark cancer headscarf. Her eyes are drawn and she hobbles in, leaning on her husband. No one gives her a second glance and I realise this is not out of the ordinary around here. Eventually, I’m called to another waiting area and pass the refectory on the way. I look in the windows and see groups of people huddled around tables filled with hot drinks. Some people appear normal, but there are the inevitable bald patients, the deathly pale and others with an intravenous drip on a stand. I make a mental note that cancer hospital canteens don’t look much of a laugh, so I’ll stay away from those places. Continue reading

A Calm Rage

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My next appointment is at Mount Vernon Hospital, in Northwood, for PET and CT scans. They will illustrate body tissues and show the cancer in more definition. These scans are key to determining a survival rate as they can show the stage of cancer. I eat nothing for at least the recommended six hours before the appointment time, but am allowed to drink a little water. Continue reading

Boo Hoo

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A few days after the surgery, I’m in bed at home. My discharge from hospital is all a bit hazy, but I’m definitely home. Michelle has a night out pencilled into her diary and, for obvious reasons, she doesn’t want to go out. I tell her I’m alright. I feel fucking awful, but she deserves time to unwind a bit. She agrees to meet her friends, reluctantly. But she wants me to call her if I feel unwell. Michelle leaves and I have pain shooting through the middle of my head. I can taste chemicals and blood. I should check on the kids, who are asleep in the rooms next to ours, but can’t get up. My head’s pounding, the room is spinning and I feel sick. And I’ve already taken the maximum pain relief and other meds allowed. Continue reading