A Comedy of Errors in the British Army UOTC, Part 2
‘The Class System’.
So I had passed the UOTC’s selection process, which at the time I felt quite proud of. The next weekend we were shipped off to Cardiff to get our kit, have our medicals and…er….sit around and not do anything?
I had not understood the expression ‘hurry up and wait’ before this, but I sure understood it after sitting for half a day out on the parade square with nothing to do, no instructions and no idea what we were going to be doing next.
We finally had a presentation in an auditorium about something uninspiring. It must have been uninspiring as I have a near eidetic memory, and even I can’t remember what they were talking about. All I, or anyone else, could recall was that the pair giving the presentation cracked an incredibly bad taste joke about how a career in the British Army ‘might involve being posted to Cyprus and killing a few tourists’. Considering this was only four years after a group of British squaddies stationed in Cyprus had abducted, raped and murdered a Danish tour guide this was disgusting.
Not cool guys, not cool at all.
The evening involved going into Cardiff town centre where many of my ‘peers’ thought it was a great idea to urinate against parked cars.
I say ‘peers’ as I noticed something quite clearly. There was a very large class divide amongst the recruits. Many were from what we in Britain paradoxically call ‘Public Schools'. For those in the rest of the world, i.e. those who do not share our grammatical lunacy, a Public School is somewhere ‘mummy and daddy’ have to pay very large sums of money so that their over privileged little darlings can attend. The sort of school former Prime Minister(and current millionaire)David Cameron went to.
I think you get the picture.
Most of the senior cadets and the officers were from this class, and they had obvious disdain for everyone not from ‘their’ background.
One particularly obnoxious chinless wonder took great joy in telling everyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not, that ‘his daddy is the British ambassador to America’.
So what I thought? That is his accomplishment, not yours.
He also took great joy in disparaging anyone who did not know how to tie a ‘Windsor knot’ or a bow tie, both of which would be considered ‘posh’ attire over here.
As if these are lifesaving skills on the battlefield.
This was compounded by the fact that many of these ex-public school boys had attended a Military Academy. This meant they had a huge head start on the rest of the recruits, as they had learnt much of the curriculum already.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the UOTC would have used this as an opportunity to help teach the other recruits. Perhaps set up a buddy-buddy system, where those with prior experience would be paired with those that did not, so that the raw recruits could learn from their more experienced colleagues.
A logical way of closing the skills gap, that also helps the experienced cadets to hone their leadership skills whilst fostering teamwork and a sense of camaraderie. Makes sense right?
I can only assume that it was far too sensible, which is why they didn’t do it.
Lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was not feasible somehow. I expect you would think that the UOTC would then take other measures to close the skills gap, such as additional lessons, or provided literature and training guides so we could catch up in our own time. At the very least you would think the UOTC would provide some suggestions about further reading we could engage in, even if it meant having to use our own funds to purchase them.
And you would be thinking wrong. None of this happened.
'So what exactly did the UOTC do to close the skills gap then' you may ask? The answer is simple. Nothing whatsoever.
The whole attitude was one of ‘It’s your fault for not attending a public school military academy in the first place.’ Essentially it was our fault for not having rich parents.
I come from a very working class family, from a very working class town near London. I went to an absolutely terrible secondary school (equivalent to high school for our friends across the pond.)
How bad was it? Here’s a clue - most of the teachers did not bother turning up to lessons.
One science teacher, who had terrible BO, would turn up to take the register, then hide in the broom cupboard for the rest of the lesson drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.
Another science teacher, who could best be described as ‘mutton-dressed-as-lamb’, would turn up, bend over in front of the male pupils so they got an eyeful of her cleavage, take the register, then disappear with the rabbits to do god knows what with them.
A third science teacher (spotting a trend here?) taught us exactly two things in two years:
1: How to squeeze poop from a dissected rat’s intestines with tweezers.
2: About his ‘Great-Uncle Morgan-Morgan, who lives on the far side of the moon’. Apparently Great Uncle Morgan-Morgan survives up there as the moon is made from chocolate (the dark side) and cheese (the light side).
Oh, and there was the substitute teacher who tried to throw herself out of the second story window mid lesson.
I am not making this up. We graduated from secondary school (somehow) despite our teachers, not because of them. Speaking of graduating, not only was I the first in my family to attend University, I was probably the first to even finish secondary school.
So my education was substandard, and I had no advantages growing up. Quite the opposite in fact, and everything I have achieved in life I have had to do in the face of many obstacles. Most of what I knew I had to learn for myself, in the days before the internet. This was far from easy, and required a lot of effort.
All this counted for nothing as far as the public school boys were concerned. They appeared to be offended that someone from a working class background had the gall to even be there in the first place.
This ingrained classism did not die away, if anything it got worse. Thankfully there were a few recruits there who came from a background similar to mine.
One was ‘Fletch.’ Fletch was from Bethnal Green in East London. This is where the Krays came from. If you want to get an idea what this place is like, just watch an episode of East Enders. Suffice to say it is as far removed from the privileged world of the upper class as you can get.
Fletch was a shaven headed, chain smoking, rugby playing hard nut with the most East End accent you can imagine. He was also in the Territorial Army, the ‘proper’ part-time army, instead of the ‘boy-scouts-with-guns-and-gin’ that I was rapidly beginning to think the UOTC was. He had transferred over to the UOTC whilst he was at university (or College for any American readers) and he clearly knew how to soldier to a much greater level than most of our ‘senior recruits.’
Fletch and I liked to ‘play a little game’ in the mess with the senior recruits from the other universities, such as Cardiff and Swansea, as they didn’t know who we were.
I would put on my best faux public school accent*, whilst he would speak in his natural ‘boy from Bethnal green’ gravel voice. I would deliberately talk utter nonsense, i.e. the sort of tactics that would get you and everyone around you killed, whilst he would talk sense, drawing from his TA experience.
Guess who they paid attention to, and who they dismissed. Yes, you guessed it, they listened to and agreed with the well-spoken idiot.
You should have seen their faces when I dropped the act. Fletch and I were laughing all the way to the bar.
*I’m good at accents, I managed to convince an exchange student for several months that I was from Northern Ireland for a bet.
Sufficed to say I was starting to have misgivings about the whole UOTC affair.