National service – first phase continued.
The people in my barrack room ranged in age from around 18 – like me – to the early-to-mid twenties. Some of the older young men had been to university or been overseas but inevitably the call-up had netted them.
A few smug individuals had older relatives who had completed their call-up. They had, variously and through these relatives or friends, obtained boots that were highly BONED, brasses that had been squared and buffed for them and some even had mess tins and so on that had been CHROMED so that they merely had to wipe them for inspection and could use their issued kit for day to day use.
It was interesting to see how the various instructors reacted to this preparedness – some accepted it and others would throw these items off the beds and sneeringly tell these men to make sure that the ISSUED kit was presented for inspection. Of course the PREPARED boots and brass would pass muster. I remember that I battled with drill boots (we called them STICK BOOTS) until one of the batmen came round and, for about ten shillings or a pound they boned the boots for us. A few times the batmen’s quarters were raided and then those without boots for inspection were in deep trouble! I was lucky and was not discovered having my boots set up by the batman!
Many of those who had benefitted from the experience of their predecessors had DURAGLIT™ – something I had never heard of and was marvellous to use compared to Brasso™. I also learned to scrounge some beaverboard (sometimes call softboard) on which one could REALLY shine brass with the help of Brasso™.
Lots of tips and tricks were shared or observed and a team effort emerged because it was in no-one’s interest for any member of the barrack room to fail inspection.
About three weeks into training my feet and ankles started to swell from the hours of drill and the pain in my feet was excruciating. Sick parade was no fun and the doctor and medics were mostly indifferent to us recruits. I started to worry that I would be back-squadded – everyone’s biggest fear – that meant staying for a second round of recruit training. I don’t know what made me think of it but I stuffed my packs and other gear under the end of my mattress to elevate my feet at night. Within two days I was OK and had no further fear of being back-squadded. I did this for several weeks until I had no more problems.
In those days all drill was done in stick boots (leather soles with hobnails) with puttees and hosetops, starched khaki shorts and shirts and a slouch hat with the brim up over the left ear. Of course the intricacies of putting on the puttees correctly gave the instructors plenty of scope for criticism at inspections – never mind the boots having to gleam. (the picture is from 1962 – two years before my time in those barrack rooms)
“You think those boots are shined, boy?”
“What!” screams the Colour Sergeant in the recruit’s face – so close that little specks of spittle land on the poor unfortunate’s shirt. “I’ll put my boot up your arse so fucking hard it will come out of your mouth and FUCKING BLIND YOU – that is what shined is you fucking arsehole!”
“Yes, colour” but the NCO had already moved on and was regaling the next unfortunate with his expletive ridden, sarcastic criticism.
We had THREE Smiths in our squad and one morning the instructors were observed marching up to the barrack rooms a few minutes earlier than normal. There was a scramble to get out onto the road and form up for inspection before they arrived.
This one Colour Sergeant, a small built man with an English accent that the rest of us struggled with (he was not our normal squad instructor) completed his inspection and looked at the squad, and looked at us again. Marched up and down each rank, looking each inwardly trembling man over and obviously puzzled by SOMETHING that was wrong.
He marched out again and turned to face the squad. Just as we thought he was about to march us off he SCREAMED – “SMITH!” Three Smiths took a smart pace forward. “Not you and you,” he shouted, stabbing at the other two with his stick and they, smartly and with obvious relief, stepped back into line.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Mr Smith” he bellowed, standing about a foot away from Smith. “What, Colour?” came the bewildered reply.
“Do you think you are fucking clever, Mr Smith? Did you think you could get away with this you little shit?” (made funnier because the NCO was about five foot six and Smith was over six foot)
Most of us had seen what Smith had done and to this day I don’t know if he was bucking the system or if it had just been as a result of undue haste but his hat was on back-to-front. Where everyone else had the upturned brim with the badge over the left ear his was the opposite way round. (see picture above where all the hats are correct)
“Do you see that hangar over there?” said the NCO, pointing with his stick at an aircraft hangar made small by distance. Smith’s head snapped to the side, “Yes, Colour”. “You will DOUBLE AROUND that hangar and when you come back into view you had better be properly dressed, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“No, Colour, er yes Colour, er, what, Colour?” “Run, you fucking idiot or you will be on a fucking charge”.
As Smith took off for the distant hangar the NCO, who had been aware of the sniggers of the rest of the squad, suddenly screamed “What the fuck are you laughing at?” causing the squad to immediately brace up. “You keep laughing and you will join that fucking idiot”. A suppressed laugh or two later and we were off for the distant hangar, at the double and with dire warnings about being last back…
One morning, instead of being marched out onto the old airfield for drill we were marched towards the stores and issued with rifles from the nearby armoury – the SLR (Self Loading Rifle). Used by the British army the L1A1 was widely considered a more rugged improvement on the FN FAL that would become the Rhodesian Army’s standard issue rifle a few years later.
We were to do several days of drill with the rifle before starting weapons training but everyone was suddenly more interested in this new development.