Celtic Illumination, part 210, I don’t like Monday’s.
I managed to survive the first week of GST, unlike some unlucky chaps who had been thrown off the course. One fellow opened his locker during an inspection and it was noticed that he had already had his new rank sewn on to his uniforms. He was humiliated as he was publicly reminded that this was not an attendance course and that he had to actually pass the course to be awarded the new rank. In fact he was committing an offence by wearing the new rank when he wasn’t entitled to it. He left later that day. Some unfortunates injured themselves and were thrown off. There was an awful lot of lip biting and holding back I can tell you. I was instructed to follow someone during an inspection. He told me to test the top of a locker for dust. I ran my third finger along the top of the locker but presented him with my second finger, which was clean, unlike the third.
I remained at Hereford for the weekend rather than race about the UK again. I was glad that I did for I made it in to Hereford and the cathedral. Not only do they have the Mappa Mundi but they also have what is considered to be one of the finest remaining copies of the Magna Carta. It was nice to be a human being again even though if it was only for two days. We had been warned that the final week would be extremely difficult. As we were only the third ever course to go through Hereford there were no rumours about what we should expect. Judging from what had happened in week one I knew we should expect some bullshit, followed by some horseshit and, as it turned out, I wasn’t too far from the truth.
We had spent a lot of time in our combat fatigues. The guys hated it as each evening we would be scraping muck from our kit, trying to get them back up to being presentable for the following day. This is where I really would like to thank Dave Magee. One of the tricks Dave had shown me, apart from how to make a Fat Albert divert to somewhere nice and sunny, was to paint the toe caps of your boots with a high gloss enamel paint. It gave the impression that the boots were always sparkling and only needed a wipe with a damp cloth to have them super presentable. There were other variations on this, which I had used in the past, but in my experience the enamel paint was the best.
We were briefed on the Monday morning and told that we would be out in the field for three nights. We would be manning VCP’s, Vehicle Control Points, and guarding various establishments. No great shakes, but we were then told that we would be attacked by the SAS. The other members of my syndicate were terrified by this, I however, as an Irishman, was not afraid of the SAS, I was wary of them, but not afraid. As we marched on to the exercise area we saw a train carriage sitting right in the centre of the area. A hole had been opened up in the roof with explosives. It looked like an open tin of sardines. The instructors enjoyed informing us that this was the SAS’s training area and we were now open to attack.
I knew that the best leader in our syndicate would be given the job of leading the syndicate for the first exercise. It had to be me and I was waiting to be told to take command. Whoever was leading the exercise was referred to as ‘Number one’. Number one had a deputy, you’ll never guess what they were called. Are you sure you’ve never been in the military, yes, they were called number two. However number two became number one for the following exercise and so on. One of the guys was called out and told that he was to be the first leader. I was in shock. Another fellow was told that he was number two, the deputy. Now I was reeling inside. I couldn’t believe that they thought me so bad. I mean you just had to look at me to know I was brilliant.
We were given some demonstrations concerning the explosives and bullets we were using. One instructor put a thunderflash under a steel helmet and blew it thirty feet into the air. I mean who carries explosives under your helmet? I never knew that bullets could be dangerous either, you learn something new every day. So; everyone is tense, it’s getting cold and dark, that’s when it started to rain. My syndicate started off on a Vehicle Control Point. I wondered how often I would be required to man a road block in air traffic control. We had a machine gun behind a low wall of sandbags and on the far side of the road, in a small ditch, two rifles. Don’t worry; each rifle had a fellow behind it, as did the machine gun. Number one was moving about making sure everyone was alert. Three people approached the check point.
As I was the main man I shouted at them to stop, which they did. It could have been the natural authority in my voice or it could have been the rifle I was pointing at them, we’ll never know. Number one came running over, closely followed by our Sergeant, who was muttering away into his dictaphone. I explained what had happened and that I was about to bring the group of men through the barricade one at a time. Number one, I think the power must have gone to his head, decided to call all three fellows forward together. He told me that he was taking charge and that I was to step aside. As I stepped away I saw the rear man drop his arms and raised my weapon. I knew I couldn’t give any commands, but I also knew that number one was way out of his depth.
He froze and the three men began to run through the barricade. “Open fire!” I roared, pleased to hear the two rifles open up on the three men. I was blasting away while number one stood watching them run past, he didn’t even raise his weapon, and the fellow on the machine gun was shouting that it had jammed. Did we learn anything, yes we did. We had to take better care of our weapons which because of the weather would jam much more easily. The three men ran on in to the area shooting and throwing grenades at all and sundry. We had let the side down and all I could think of, as we were bollocked for letting the intruders in, was that if we had been using live ammunition they would not have got past the barricade.
It was dawn when they brought us inside. We were all cold and wet through and very, very, tired. But this was not for a rest, the exercise continued. I was told that I was now in charge of the radio. I was allowed to get into a sleeping bag, to get some warmth, but had to keep my rifle inside the bag with me. I know the exercise staff were having a good laugh at me, as once I managed to get myself warm I began to fall asleep. They kept calling me on the radio and I was giving the most ridiculous answers to whatever they were asking me. I was so tired I couldn’t have cared less what was said into any dictaphone. Eventually they allowed me to fall asleep but after a few hours woke me up. It was time for the leader to change. I remember pulling down the zip of the sleeping bag to see this huge cloud of steam erupt from the bag. I was still a bit damp and before long the evening air had cooled me down making me feel most uncomfortable, however worse was to come, because the third leader had been chosen, who would act as the deputy for the second phase of the exercise, and it wasn’t me.