Thursday, February 19, 2015

They say that a week is a long time in politics.  They should have tried two weeks as a National Serviceman.   I kept a diary during my first few months doing Her Majesty`s pleasure in the chilled wilderness of Catterick in North Yorkshire and I still have that diary to this day.   As this is the season for me to reminisce about those times all those years ago, I had a look at the diary today, especially on this Thursday when I was exactly two weeks into my enforced conscription.   

And it was an auspicious day because the Troop of 04/60 were no longer the newest recruits in those austere and forbidding barracks, home of the training regiment, the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, who Mrs. Snopper, with unfailing insight, always referred to as Dragon Guards.   Anyway, we looked out of our barrack room window and saw the latest consignment of conscripts clambering out of the 3-ton Bedford truck, bearing their suitcases in one hand and their fears and bewilderment in the other.  "Get some in," we cried in the kind of unison that was hewn from two weeks of collective togetherness.

I had learned a lot in those two weeks.  Useful skills such as turning left and right, stopping and starting, marching slowly and quickly and responding to a name which was constantly prefixed as `spewy` and ``orrible.`  My surname also acquired an appendix in the form of a number which was not only quoted in response to questions but which also had to be stamped on each and every item of clothing and equipment which had been thrown at me two weeks` previously in the Quartermasters Stores.  Good idea, but one of the numbers was missing from the collection of stamps, so every item was a number short, thus immediately calling into doubt the  veracity of one`s military identity.

But back to my diary which, when I looked at it this afternoon, was singularly absent of any entries for those first few days apart from recurring one-liners, `Bulling.` This was probably because there was simply no time - an 0630 reveille began a day of constant movement between barrack square, gymnasium, `dining hall` and lecture room. 

So much so that, when evening came, we spent the whole of our `free time` constantly polishing and bulling assorted items of equipment ready to be inspected by corporals, sergeants and the odd officer.   Boots, webbing, brasses - all the usual stuff that go to make a soldier look the part - and, intriguingly, gaiters.   I never understood gaiters - I still don`t and they, along with some other strange items of military equipment, remain a mystery to this day.  

And so, as we gazed triumphantly at the newly arrived conscripts, I comforted myself with the knowledge that as they began their own journey into the unknown, at least I only had another 717 days to do.


Ray Turner said...

Sounds dreadful Snopper. I am so glad that National Service had stopped by the time I was born and I consider myself lucky to have escaped it.

However there are plenty of dubious characters from my generation and subsequent generations, for whom it would have been absolutely perfect...

Thanks for sharing these memories. I do enjoy reading them.

Snopper said...

Thanks, Ray - things got better as the days dwindled down.