I nearly got run over whilst stoned up! The driver recognized me, by virtue of being friends with my step-mum Deryth. I was duly invited home to sort my life out! My dad had a work friend, who used to be in the Army. He may have mentioned how the Army Air Corps was the future of the Army. My dad specified that I was going to join the Army Air Corps and I agreed.
Only recently I was reminded that I came from a family of officers in the military, where my Great-Grandfather had transferred from the Gordon Highlanders to the Royal Flying Corps. He joined as a CSM and ended WW1 as a half Colonel. When the RAF started up, he transferred, losing a rank to Squadron Leader, but finished up as an Air Vice Marshall, Knighted. My Grand-Father retired as a Brigadier in the Duke of Wellingtons. My dad kept the Laing tradition by earning his commission in the Royal Corps Transport of the TA, retiring as a Captain. My dad pictured me as a pilot. Bless his heart!
My smoking buddies were aghast! They were all anti-establishment and didn’t think I was cut out for it. However, they agreed to help me lose my cheery and for me to have one last smoke before signing my life away. Lord of mercy!
Whilst out there, there was much speculation as to who would be the lady in question. Everything was OK until I was lured in by a hand signal. My lack of experience was on display for the remainder of the holiday, where I had to make do with smoking the butt ends and stealing fruit. The only difference, before and after Amsterdam was the shame. On reflection, I had actually lost my virginity as a young teenager by accident. I once got carried away during a time of self-indulgence! Help me Jesus!
Back home I carried on smoking with my mates until one eventful evening. I was dropped off home, but my so-called friend who reversed up the drive to set off the security lights off and beep his horn. It was after midnight. That evening and the next morning I have never received so much verbal abuse. I was now livid and wanted to make him pay. The next day he answered his door all smiles, we started arguing and as his baby was asleep we took it outside. I surprised myself and the hypocrite as I started to display all my suppressed aggression which had been built up since childhood. He was outboxed, and his desperation he told me to wait whilst he went to get his knife. I didn’t need any confirmation to just start running away! Whilst walking home I was pulled over by the police as my top was ripped and covered in blood, so I explained what had happened. They drove me to his address to check and later in the day, the man in question turned up at my door to vent his anger because I had called the police on him and that he had to get stitches for his nose. His leaving comments were “if I ever see you again, I’m going to stab you”. Proof, that you can’t please everyone.
I was now able to concentrate on preparing for the Army. My parents were quietly pleased with my outcome but were gracious enough not to rub it in. I had use of an athletics track in Perivale, where I did my cardio consisting of 3 x 400m and 3 x 1500m and sprint shuttle runs with a minutes rest in between. The Army Careers office was in Wembley, where I completed the entrance exams, to show I had the intelligence asked for. The Army Air Corps was one of the top choice regiments to choose. I was 21, a late starter in life, but I was excited at this new season I was entering.
Some people join the Army to travel and see the world, some to get away from home, some loved action, while others myself included, needed some structure and discipline in their lives; or in my dad’s words, a kick up the backside! Prior to the Army, my life was going around in circles. I was living in temporary accommodation whilst doing a dead-end job, with no direction. In a nutshell, I was lost!
Even though my dad was medically discharged from the regulars, he displayed determination and commitment to still get his commission in the Territorial Army, which bought much pleasure to his father, who had a successful career in the Army.
I was supposed to start basic training in April 1996, but I dislocated my right thumb playing football. I was now put back to the July intakes. Before starting basic training at Winchester barracks, I had to complete a 24hr selection at Pirbright barracks and then travel to the Army careers HQ in London to swear allegiance to the Queen. On looking through my CV, the colonel commented on how I’d gone to that boarding school and he said, “Congratulations that you survived! Well done old boy”. That lifted a huge weight off my shoulder. This was my first witness to having overcome bullying.
Prior to starting basic training, my dad gave me some advice. “Just imagine that it will be like living your worst nightmare”. It worked a treat because after a few days I loved it! I felt like I was back at school and I was determined to enjoy it!
On arrival to Winchester, the men & women were put into their sections and introduced to their NCO (non-commissioned officer) section commanders, who hardly spoke. If they wanted to communicate, they shouted! Our first port of call was the dreaded POW haircut. In the platoon, four men were always being shouted at, they were all in my section and yes, I was one of them. My admin had not been my forte and with all the shouting it was difficult to remember everything. As a punishment for being the last outside, I would normally have to complete a combination of running to landmarks in the distance with press-ups.
The humour was quite dark, where one of the other recruits sweated a lot. He was told every day that “he sweated like a paedophile in a playground”, whilst pushing his mattress & bedding out the window on inspections. It was quite sad, as we would help each other get ready for room inspection, but he would always fidget with his layout just before our corporal came to inspect. In the end, we just let him get on with it and look forward to the fireworks at inspection. The Sergeant once questioned my sexuality on arriving outside with a big smile, which disappeared straightaway. I was now living in fear and reminded of my school nightmare, so from then on, I was very wary of him.
I made history by being the first recruit to lose the firing pin of my rifle whilst on exercise Halfway, ouch! I had to carry my rifle above my head whilst running to a landmark on the horizon. This is the trouble when you are too honest with your efforts. I would always come third in the mile and a half run, so my corporal knew my strengths. Basic training is where you are broken so you can be remoulded into a disciplined soldier! Ages ranged from 17-25 and I was right in the middle, being 21.
It was a hot day; we were dug into our harbour and were not allowed to drink any of the water in jerry cans by the DS (directing staff). This is where I was weak, and I didn’t hide the fact that I was getting a drink. Before I could even swallow what was in my mouth, I was given a pick-axe and commanded to start pulling myself around the perimeter of our harbour until told otherwise.
We were shown how to use our rifle as a machine gun. Whilst cleaning my rifle I made the mistake of not switching the shooting mode back to single shot. I only realized when the sound of continuous fire came from my muzzle and then I was told to make my weapon safe, before all the present DS continued to kick the stuffing out of me. I thought this was hilarious, but wisdom from above had me play along and cover my head and ribs, whilst pretending to be in pain.
As I was tall & slim, my upper body needed work. Thankfully I had the support of other men who also struggled with chin up’s, to practice on the branch of a tree outside the accommodation. The BFT (basic fitness test) required us to complete 6 bar heaves on top of the 1 and a half mile run in less than then 10 mins & 30secs and some sit-ups for 2 minutes or so. The run & sit-ups was a breeze, but I was struggling with just 5 bar heaves, so on the day of final testing, I had mixed emotions. The DS were proper wind-up merchants, especially when it came to counting the number of completed bar heaves. I knew in my heart that I had completed 6 bar heaves, but the DS only acknowledged 5. They let me and a few of the lads sweat it out for 20mins before they let the truth be known.
I was not aware that there was a bar on camp until the pre pass-out parade celebrations. Apparently, some of the recruits used to meet regularly for a drink with some fornication. Thank God I didn’t have that distraction because as it was, completing basic training had squeezed out all I had! We were told to meet in the NAFFI for a quick drink, and from here we awaited our chariots into Winchester. In town, I was amazed at my new confidence to talk with a woman, albeit she had a lisp. However, I was sat with an ex-Marine! By the next morning, everyone was laughing that I allegedly had sex with a girl in a wheelchair. My introduction to squaddie humour!
The next day was our pass out parade, so it was just doing the finishing touches to our kit before spending time with our invited guests. I felt on cloud 9 for having changed the direction my life was heading and I did enjoy marching with my rifle. I looked like I was the right-hand man, but I wasn’t the tallest and I was blessed to have General Sir Michael Walker (SAS) encourage me. He was one of the leaders responsible for the Falklands being a successful war. It felt so good to have my parents and sister make a fuss over me and give me words of affirmation.
This was quite a milestone and a therapeutic reward for facing the demons from the Army Boarding School I had attended. I was not bitter, just glad that my traumatic childhood now had closure. I can now also see how God had me join the Army to improve morale.