As I said in my last article, for some strange reason to this day unknown to me, I went and enlisted in the British Army, I stopped work about one month before and spent my time before going for training getting over fed by my Mum and drinking too much beer! This was an action that I would regret when I went for Basic Training!
On the Morning of the 1st April 1970 I said my goodbyes to my family and along with 4 other New Recruits I left Bradford on the London Bound Train to Farnborough and then onto Cove, a village near Aldershot in Hampshire where my life would change for the better but I did not know it at that time!
We got off the Train from London to Farnborough and were met by a very “friendly” Corporal who showed us to an Army Green Bus which transported us to Southwood Camp, Cove, the home of 1 and 3 Training Regiments, Royal Engineers!
On entering the camp, the bus dropped us at our accommodation which was made of wood and pre-dated the 2nd World War. These Barracks were called Spiders as at the center were the Toilets and showers and there were six Big Dormitory Rooms facing away from the center which were set out like the legs of a spider! Each Room housed about 30 men! Having been shown our personal bed spaces we were taken to the Cook House for Lunch and as soon as I went in I was mesmerized at the site before my eyes! Several Hundred other recruits were already eating and I stared in amazement at the food warmer which was a good 50 meters long and it was filled with every dish I could think of! I asked the Corporal what we were allowed to eat and he told me that I could eat anything and as much as I wanted but should not waste any food! I was in heaven as I had never seen so much food for every meal in the previous 18 years plus of my life! Even with all the great food and the many choices there were still people who complained about the food!
The next few days was an easy as we withdrew our Military Uniforms and were shown how to wear and clean them and we also had medical and Dental check ups to make sure that we were good for the Army, we had more injections than you could get by wrestling with a porcupine but this period was the last time that the training staff were nice to us, after that we were in the Army proper and life as we knew it changed a lot as we got bullied by the Training Staff every minute of the day and night sometimes!
From then on it was very early to rise, Physical Training each morning that you would not believe, I suffered for a while after Mums great Cooking, Drill, Marching for hours every day until you got it correct then Marching some more! One day while we were on the Parade Square we heard a strange noise in the sky and to everybody’s surprise it was a prototype of the Concord flying from Farnborough Air Station just a few miles away! Weapon Training began, a very important part of a soldiers training. Our Rifles were the 7.62 Caliber SLR, Self Loading Rifle which was very powerful, the Light Machine Guns were the 2nd World War Bren Guns, 303 caliber and we also had Sterling 9 mm Sub Machine Guns! We stripped and assembled these weapons until we could do it in the dark, then we learned how to shoot them and use other weapons also like the Browning 30 Caliber Machine Gun and the 84 mm Carl Gustav Anti Tank Weapon ! The Royal Engineers are actually Front Line Soldiers First and Engineers Second so the first several months of training were learning Infantry Tactics, Combat Engineer Training, Battlefield First Aid followed with other tasks like Laying and Clearing Mine Fields, Explosive Demolitions, Booby Traps, Bridge Building and many other very interesting subjects that the Army could dream up! All of this training took over 6 months and at the end of the most intense training I could imagine life was getting easier. I enjoyed the Bridge Building as it was like putting a big Meccano set together, each piece on a Bailey Bridge was a 6 Man Lift so not too heavy. On the Demolition Training we got to use real explosives which was really fun but we had the concept of safety really drilled into us and nobody got injured at all! Not all who started the training actually finished, some were not cut out to be soldiers, some were lazy and never really gave it their best shot, some had physical problems which would not allow them to do many tasks so we were cut down from about 150 recruits at the beginning of training to about 60 at the end!
All of us had changed a lot as we had started training as a bunch of young men who did not know anything about the Army really to a very well disciplined and extremely fit and confident group of Soldiers, even better we were Sappers of the Royal Engineers! we were now ready for our first posting out to real Regiments!
We had our Passing Out Parade at the end of the training, I was very happy that my Dad and a friend came to see my Proudest Moment, he enjoyed the parade very much as he was an old soldier himself!
We all went home on leave after that and everybody who knew me was very surprised at my knew Physical Appearance as I had changed from an overweight Teenager to a very fit young man! I actually went out in my Uniform a couple of times with Mum and Dad and I was really surprised how many drinks I got bought! People still showed respect for soldiers in my area which was good for me and all other Soldiers! After our 4 weeks leave we had to report back to Southwood Camp to find out where our onward Postings would be! Quite a few got Postings in England but most of us were sent to the the British Army on the Rhine In Germany, I was excited as this would be my first trip out of the UK and my first flight in a Jet Airliner.
A few days later we were taken to Luton Airport north of London to board the Aircraft which would speed us away to the start of our new lives as Real Soldiers!
I know that this Magazine is called Live in the Philippines and you might wonder what my latest stories have got to do with the Philippines but I am working my way there as my past life moves towards me getting here! I hope you all enjoy this and are waiting for the next episode which will follow soon!