A Comedy of Errors in the British Army UOTC, Part 4
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
A few more mid-week ‘training’ evenings came and went, where we were judged on our uniform and practiced yet more ‘delicious’ drills.
The most interesting thing that happened was at one of the post-evening piss-ups. Usually the mess is closed to non-service personnel, but every now and again we would have an open evening, where we were allowed to invite ‘civvies’ into the mess.
One of my cadet colleagues took one of my 'civvy' friends up to the room where we had watched that scene from heat, and boned her on one of the tables.
To be fair, my colleague had been playing a number of drinking games beforehand, and my friend was a bit of a ho.
And of course, she was ‘only a civvy.’
This would be a good time to point out the general attitude that most of my UOTC colleagues had towards both the students and the locals who were not part of the armed forces.
To be blunt, it was disgusting.
The UOTC cadets would not say it to the ‘civvy's’ face's of course, but behind closed doors they clearly expressed their absolute disdain for them, especially in the mess after a drinking game or two.
In case you were wondering, yes, their attitude towards female civvies was even worse, especially if those female civvies were not from a posh background. I think you can guess which contingent of my colleagues were the worst offenders.
Here is a hint: it was not Fetch and I.
The one useful thing we did learn was how to call out the location of enemy combatants. Since the TA centre did not possess any physical training or 'out-in-the-field' areas, we did it in the car park.
I clearly remember one of the seniors teaching us using the example of: “Enemy spotted, to the left of the shit red car!”
To be fair, this was pretty funny. (It wasn’t my car.)
We then had another weekend out in the Brecon Beacons, although this did not involve going out in the field so to speak, as most of it was spent at the camp, which I suspect used to be a farm. We slept in what used to be a cow shed. Not exactly ‘The Ritz,’ but it had a roof, so I was not complaining.
One of our lessons was learning how to cook our rations or 'rat packs’ out in the field. If we had the self-heating Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) the Americans used this would have been easy. It would still have been relatively simple if the hexamine blocks we were issued with would actually catch fire. They must have been the least flammable fuel tablet around. Asbestos would have burned easier.
Most of us gave up and ate the rations cold. Some of us would later resort to buying our own mini camping stoves out of our own pockets. I did this too, except mine broke.
NB — I do not think this was a specifically UOTC problem. From what Fletch and other TA cadets told me, this was an army-wide problem. I’m still going to bitch about it of course, since every member of every armed forces has bitched about their standard issue equipment at some point.
I think it is mandatory. I’m sure I read this in the regulations somewhere.
Also here is a hint for any would-be campers. Windproof Zippo lighters are only windproof if they are genuine Zippos. The ‘they-are-less-expensive-but-don’t-ask-where-they-come-from' ones some of us purchased from the company ‘Del Boy’ could be extinguished by a light breeze.
Oh well, you get what you pay for I guess.
This weekend we also had a brief introduction as to how to put on our NBC suits and gas masks. Putting on the gas mask was simple enough, but the suit was anything but. Straps, cords, and ties all over the place. It was very easy to get it wrong, which would leave you unprotected. Lucky we didn’t have to use them in a real contaminated environment.
We did have to do a run and circuit training in them however. 'Hurrah, proper military training!' I thought, and credit where credit is due, it was. It was also one of the most exhausting things I have done, as breathing through a respirator is difficult. Therefore, not only were you exercising in heavy clothing and an NBC suit, your O2 intake is reduced as well.
Serious props to this guy, then.
This weekend was also where I got my first-hand experience of one of the unwritten rules of the armed forces: ‘Never let anyone borrow your stuff.’
We had been out on a field working out how to estimate ranges by eye, again proper training so I was actually happy for once. Then along came one of the 'seniors' from one of the other universities. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, or even say which of the other universities he was from. What he did bother to do was to ask if he could borrow the day sacks from my burgen to use as range markers. Since he out-ranked me, and I aimed to please, I gave them to him.
He didn’t bring them back.
To make matters worse, after this lesson we were frogged marched off to another, and I was not given a chance to go look for it. Since the 'senior' had not bothered to introduce himself and had disappeared I could not ask him for it. I told my Officer / Senior Cadet / Rupert of course, who instructed me to go back to the field, after all the lessons had finished, to look for it. It was pitch black by then of course, so I was having to search one featureless field after another to try to find it by torch light. All of this was in vain, as I could not find it.
Whilst this was going on my colleagues, and presumably the 'senior' cadet who had asked for the day sacks in the first place, were having a jolly old time propping up the bar in the nice warm well lit mess, getting merrily drunk.
I went to ‘bed’ (the sleeping bag in the barn) tired, stone cold sober and thoroughly pissed off.
The next morning I was informed that someone had found my daysacks the afternoon before and had handed them in, but no one had thought to tell me about it. So the whole nighttime search for them was a total waste of my time.
If anything, I was even more pissed off now than the night before.
There was another small problem — my shaving kit was in those day sacks. Being the ‘hormone-monster’ that I am, I was starting to sport a significantly-later-than-5-o'clock shadow. This is of course against regulations, and considering how anal they were about creases and other useless details, I imagined they would be even stricter on something that actually has a real-world purpose. (Gas masks do not create an air tight seal if you have a beard.)
At the first opportunity we got to sit down to have a short lesson outside I quickly whipped out my shaving oil to remove the offending face-fuzz, whilst still paying full attention to what the senior cadet / officer was saying. (It’s called multi-tasking.)
I was severely punished by the top ex-public school boy Rupert for ‘being disrespectful’ by doing so whilst he was talking. Note that we were sitting casually out in a field, using our helmets as butt-stools, not exactly on parade for the queen. Also note this was the same chinless wonder Rupert I reported the missing day sacks to, and our nominal CO, so he was well aware of the situation.
The next mid-week evening I was marched into said officer’s office for a formal disciplinary. You would think I would be given a chance to explain myself. And you would be thinking wrong again. I had to stand to attention and take it whilst the head Rupert gave me a chewing out for something that was not my fault, and for trying to do the right thing by following regulations.
I was on the verge of quitting there and then. I was hating *almost* every minute of my UOTC experience so far, and I suspected I was not going to be learning anything useful from it. It was only my determination and my reluctance to be seen as a quitter that kept me going.
‘This is the worst it will ever be.’ I told myself. ‘After this it will get better.’
It was coming up to Remembrance Sunday, and as per tradition the UOTC was going to be marching through town to the war memorial and then attend a church service. As much as I had grown to despise marching and parade I volunteered, so that I may show my respects for those who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we now enjoy.
This involved endless drill and parade practice before hand, which I hated with a passion. It turns out I am not very good to marching to someone else’s beat, neither figuratively or literally, but being the patriot I am I 'sucked it up and got on with it.'
Then came the day of the parade. The march itself went OK. Since the Veterans, full time Army, Navy, and Airforce personnel, the Territorial Army, Air Cadets, Sea Cadets, Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides were all marching as well, no one noticed when I was out of step.
The problem came when we were in the church. Like most British people of my generation, I am at best agnostic when it comes to religion, and back then I was firmly in the Richard Dawkins camp. (Hard not to be when you are a third generation atheist and your degree is centred around evolution.)
Suffice to say a church was not somewhere I would choose to be, but it was Remembrance Day, so again, I sucked it up and got on with it.
All was going well to start with. I didn’t immediately burst into flames, so that was a good start. I joined in as best as I could, said the prayers and sang the hymns quietly (you do not want to hear me sing, seriously, I suck) and I was respectful to the parishioners, the church and the clergymen.
It’s a pity the priest could not be respectful towards us.
This would be a good time to point out that the main reason I had been keen to join up in the first place was to protect people. This was the mid to late 90s remember, when NATO had recently put a stop to the ethnic cleansing that had been going on in the Balkans. The Balkans were a perfect example of when diplomacy had failed. Peacekeeping by the UN had also failed. The only thing that worked was picking a side and stopping the other one by force.
It is my firm belief that the strong-and-just must protect the weak-but-innocent from the strong-but-evil. If saving the innocent means having to kill the wicked then so be it. I have no problem with this, as it is justified.
The priest did not see it this way.
He proceeded to berate us — at length — for being in the Armed Forces, calling us immoral for wearing the uniform. He then proceeded to lecture us, stating that due to being in the Armed Forces we might be called to kill people, and if we were to do so, we would be condemning ourselves to Hell. His view was that it would be better to let the innocent die than to take a life to protect them.
“Well, fuck you very much padre,” I thought, ‘I’ll be sure to remember that if we get invaded and someone is trying to kill you.”
Not being a believer myself, this didn’t bother me. However, I imagine if there were believers in attendance who were in the forces then this might have caused them significant distress. It certainly put a lot of people in a depressed mood, and the conversations in the bar afterwards were a lot more philosophical than usual.
Well, that was it for a few weeks, but the 'Big One' was coming. Next time I’ll regale you with the tale of the four-day-weekend-from-hell.
To your duties, fall out!
Parade by Martin Addison, via Wikimedia Commons