A fond memory of mine from a number of weeks into basic training for the British Army was the evening before our first bayonet training day. In our block was a long corridor from which our dormitory style rooms and ablutions fed off from. On the floor of the corridor was a painted yellow line, where us recruits had to line up whenever the word “LINE!!” was shouted from the platoon office at the head of the corridor. Rushing from our rooms, ablutions or from outside we would drop anything we were doing and endeavour not to be last out – otherwise a random punishment would ensue. This may seem harsh, but it teaches you a few things. For example, remaining alert at all times even if you are on ‘down time’ (something very important in an operational environment) so that you can react accordingly – in this case readying yourself for duty.
Walking down the corridor to check out the schedule for the next couple of days with a friend, who would go on to great things with me in Battalion, we noticed that the plan for the next day had been removed. Our brains whirred with thought as we discussed what was up (the development of our important ‘combat indicator’ senses) because there was always a detailed plan of what we were to expect. If there wasn’t then how could we prepare our kit before hand like a good soldier?
We went back to our room and sat opposite each other, mulling things over whilst preparing our kit for good measure for the evening. At around 10 P.M. the call came, “LIIIIIIIIIINE!!”
We slipped on our shoes and sped out with the rest of the platoon to form up on the ‘line’, waiting to hear what our NCO’s had to offer us. Before we knew what had hit us we were verbally assaulted from the staff, berating us for being too slow and being dressed poorly for a want-to-be soldier. “Press-up position down!” came the cry far too often and on this occasion it was used to its full. It was often preceded by “Too slow stand up!” or “On my timings, UP! DOWN! UP! DOWN!” at a rate impossible to keep up with.
Eventually, breathing heavily we were stood up. “You poor excuses for men have 2 minutes, to get back here wearing your working dress!” With that we ran off and changed, for the members of the platoon who had not ironed and polished their uniform it would be the start of a hard night. But for me, being a bit keen on keeping things tidy, everything was OK. With the speed of a thousand gazelles we were back on the line and sounded off (from the first person shouting “One!” to the last shouting the final number in the platoon), with the last 5 people doing 30 press-ups, the staff inspected us and any faults being dealt with by more press-ups. “2 minutes, drill uniform!”
As with the last request, we ran and changed into drill uniform as fast as possible. Again, those who had failed to iron (or even wash) their uniform were singled out. A common saying in the forces, it pays to be a winner has many connotations. If you prepare your kit before you think about yourself then you are always ready for anything. If it needs cleaning, clean it, if it needs ironing, iron it. A mantra that resonates throughout everything the army does.
This went on until we had used up everything in our lockers, which are meant to be kept pristine at all times – a sign that you are organised and clean. Showing yourself off to others who look at your tidy locker. Everything that is, bar our long-johns, thermal vest and our S10 respirator – which we were now ordered to dress into at roughly 11 P.M. Racing to the ‘line’ I didn’t hear the numbering off properly, I knew when the guy to my right called out “?een” so, milliseconds later (hoping the guy to my left knew his number) I just screamed “aaahhh!”
It didn’t work, to my left the guy (a future Private in the PWRR) buckled over with laughter and I was busted. 30 press-ups later we started again, with me still giggling with the guys around me undercover from our respirators – what the staff can’t see can’t hurt us!
That was our final change order, we were dismissed to clear the ‘disgraceful mess’ from our bed spaces for a full locker inspection at 1 A.M. Now came the joy of sharing 3 ironing boards between 9 men as fast as possible.
But that, is another story.