Celtic Illumination, part 209, Poles apart.
It was quite obvious that the GST course had been cobbled together in the hope that what seemed to be half a dozen good ideas, if brought together, would form one huge big great idea. The language they used gave an indication of where they had gathered their good ideas from. We were to be processed through the course in groups of six known as ‘syndicates’, the same groupings used at Biggen Hill. In the old days when you were promoted you were given a slip of paper and sent to clothing stores where you were issued with your new rank. Now, you had to attend and successfully pass GST. The GST course was supposed to teach you about leadership and man management. Of course being the armed forces there was only one way to learn about man management and leadership and that was by marching.
It was quite similar to what was happening in civvie street, complete bullshit dressed up as professionalism, but there was one significant difference which did surprise me. In the old days you could wing your way through a course and then argue about your conduct or ability at the end, what they did at Hereford was to give each syndicate a Sergeant who monitored each activity and continually spoke into a dictaphone. This was a problem as every slight mistake you might make would be recorded, and as the notes from the dictaphone were typed up at the end of each day, they would be a hard and fixed record at the end of the course which would not allow much discussion.
There were the usual introductory methods where we each had to stand up and give a five minute presentation about some subject of our choice. I can’t remember what mine was about, probably something safe, unlike one fellow who spoke about free-fall donkey embalming. I understand they tightened it up so that you now have to give a talk on how your trade fits in to the delivery of air power. We were informed about the timetable for the course. There would be two practical leadership blocks. For each block we would each lead one exercise. For the first leadership block we would each be given a practical exercise; however we were supposed to learn from each exercise and therefore the standard would be expected to rise after each exercise. After the first block of exercises we would be graded, so the strongest leader would lead the first exercise in the second block, leaving the weakest leader to lead the final exercise.
We would also have various lectures covering all sorts of service related subjects. One I remember was where we had to sit and watch a video about a fight in a bar. We then had to fill out the appropriate forms for disciplinary action to be taken against the perpetrators. One lecture was to instruct us how to search someone. The course was housed in long wooden huts. Each hut had two entrance doors, on one side of the building, with one at the front and one at the rear. We were all seated, in neat little rows, by syndicate, watching an instructor at the front. “Today we are going to learn the proper way to search someone,” he said.
Next thing you know is that the rear door of the hut burst open and someone ran in firing a machine gun. Naturally we all ducked down. By the time we were brave enough to look up we saw some people exit the hut by the front door, leaving some poor sod leaning against the blackboard at the front of the room with his jumper up and over his head and his trousers down around his ankles. A small group had run in, disorientated us with the machine gun fire, they raced through the classroom, grabbing the unlucky sod, who sat next to the isle on the front row, and threw him against the black board. Jumper up, trousers down, job done, and left.
“That’s how you search someone,” said the instructor, and from that point on we all had eyes in the back of our heads. I suppose we were being taught some interesting things like how to search a car for bombs, but I could never see myself use such training. We were on our way to a training area for our first practical leadership exercise when we were stopped and told to pick up a telegraph pole. We then had to hold it above our heads and march, in double time, along the road. All I could think of was that the instructor had watched far too many American war films. I don’t know what six people marching along a road holding a telegraph pole above their heads has to do with man management.
When we got to the exercise area a volunteer was asked for and I jumped at the chance. As this was the first exercise in the first leadership block I should be allowed to get away with murder, the remainder of my syndicate were still holding back. We were standing in the middle of a field and the instructor pointed at a pile of wood and some rope. “This area will be flooded in thirty minutes time, to a depth of three feet. You have got thirty minutes to build a platform that will hold you, your syndicate, your kit and you weapons three feet off the ground. It felt very like the exercises we had to go through in the hangar at Biggen Hill but there was no real formality to it as there had been at Biggen.
I can’t remember how we got on with my exercise and the only other one I remember was when we had to build a platform that would hold an observer ten feet above the ground using three telegraph poles and a piece of rope. They seemed to love their telegraph poles. We still had to march everywhere and I was told that they loved our syndicate as we would always be singing, so even in the dark they knew where we were. You’ve probably seen military flavoured movies where marching bodies chant out ditties and songs. The one we liked was the ‘knock knock’ song. If I was in charge I would shout ‘Knock Knock,’ my syndicate would reply, ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Lenda,’ I would cry, ‘Lenda who?’ was the response and then we would all join in shouting, ‘Lendus a fiver and we can have a gang bang, oh yes we will, because a gang bang gives me such a thrill, when I was younger and in my prime I used to gang bang all the time.’ Now you would move on to another name and continue as before.
If I ever had to march the whole course, my own syndicate members would try to get the whole body shouting but one or two people would complain that we would get into trouble so I was never able to get the whole course going, that would have been fun. It was a good laugh and took our minds of what we were actually doing. They even taught us battlefield signals and commands and gave us detailed training on how to maintain and operate light machine guns. I was tempted to tell them that I had been fully trained in the light machine gun by Slim on 92, but decided against it, as knowing what end the bullets came out might not have been seen as being very professional.