Celtic Illumination, part 211, Food, glorious food.
I suppose I was very lucky, in that I was so downhearted with not being made to lead the syndicate, again; the cold and the wet and the harsh conditions didn’t really seem to bother me. I think their plan was to make us work outside, during the hours of darkness, and for the daylight hours we were inside tents, inside a hangar. We had plenty to do and had been given a set of facts and figures that we should apply to hours spent on post, ammunition split and regularity of meals. Luckily we were living on compo rations, so food did not have to be cooked, simply warmed up or have water added to it. I always found that the standard of food in the compo rations was excellent.
As part of the exercise was to put you under enormous pressure, many of us understood that missing a meal was a brilliant way of pumping up the stress levels so when you were told to prepare a meal you didn’t mess about. And as a safety clause you would have a can of beef stew in your pocket, just in case you were sent out early. Those who refused to sing, or chant, while marching, in case they got in trouble, would be the same ones who would insist on splitting their meals into courses, washing their mess tin between courses. With that sort of attitude it would he highly unlikely that the instructors would allow you to get to the cheese possessed on biscuits with coffee. I was having babies heads, our name for steak and kidney pudding, and rice and jam for pudding.
The compo rations could be eaten straight from the can cold, and was the preferred method for many of us, but we had been told we had to heat the food up and as the weather was foul; we went along with their orders. As time becomes an important factor, you put both courses in one tin and heat them up together. I set my mess tin on the burner and kept watching the instructors in case I could detect any skulduggery on their part. I can’t remember why, or how, but I spilled my meal on the floor of the hangar. Less haste more speed springs to mind. There might not be enough time to open another couple of cans, if I could find any, so I had to scrape the food, off the hanger floor, back into my mess tin and with my spoon in the appropriate position, began to eat.
You are not really in any state of mind to taste or enjoy the food; it is simply fuel that you must get into your body. I have to say it was the first time and the last time I had crunchy babies heads and ambrosia creamed rice as the sand and grit from the hanger floor had added a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the meal. I doubt if my efforts would have been awarded a Michelin star but that night there were plenty of stars about. It was a crisp, clear, night and it was made more uncomfortable as my boots hadn’t dried out and most of my uniform was damp. George Bernard Shaw, really knew what he was talking about when he said that, ”You can always tell an old soldier by the inside of his holsters and cartridge boxes. The young ones carry pistols and cartridges; the old ones, grub.”
For our second night out we were given some gun trenches to man. This would be so that we could start drawing diagrams showing our fields of fire, which when coordinated with the neighbouring posts would give an effective covering field of fire. From what I could gather we were strung out in a sort of wavy line, with VCP’s, gun trenches and sangers. The instructors kept telling us that it was real, but of course it wasn’t, for if it had been real we would have had night sights. Had it been real we would have been in the mess drinking beers and the Rock Apes would have been lying in the muck and shit waiting for someone to come along that they could shoot. Someone did come along and I think what happened was that he, or she, remained in the shadows and moved up and down, along the line, loosing off shots willy nilly.
I was quite interested in the facts and figures that surrounded military encounters. And I mean the real studies that have been carried out on real soldiers involved in real fire fights. We of course would not study anything as interesting; instead we would march and count out loud. I think when two bodies of inexperienced men meet each other and start shooting at each other something like seventy per cent of those involved will aim high and fire over the enemy’s head. So why were we not taught that of the six of us in the syndicate only two would aim to kill? And I suppose with the mood I was in I knew who one of them would be. I had already seen this in action when the fellow simply watched the intruders, at our first VCP, run past and he didn’t raise his weapon. It’s only when you start to read these studies that you can begin to understand the operational effectiveness of certain units.
We were supposed to operate along the regulations that were laid down in the yellow card. Basically you are only allowed to open fire if you or one of your colleagues is in danger and there is no other way to deal with the situation. There is also a standard format for verbal warnings that should be given. So, half way through our second night out in the field, some buck eejit is running up and down, loosing off shots in our direction. You can imagine that stress and tiredness and frustration got the better of some people and fire was returned. That’s all the instructors needed to begin bollocking us again for not obeying the rules of the yellow card, for opening fire without issuing a warning.
Did it work, I suppose it made you think about the situation, but I still believe that human reaction would take over if the real situation arose. ? I mean if someone is shooting at you, you’re not going to shout, “I say old boy, do you fancy putting an end to this shooting lark. Let’s sit down and we can have a chat about it?” He wouldn’t hear you over the noise of the bullets. I could have done with some bullets because they had changed the leader again and I still had not been selected. By this time I was going to be the fifth best or the worst leader of the syndicate.
We had been told that the final twenty four hours of the exercise would be in NBC kit. Gas masks would be worn and decontamination drills would be carried out. We were then informed that the syndicate with the highest morale would lead the whole course off the battle field. That sort of offer didn’t even register until they said that we would be flown back to Hereford in helicopters, now the importance of climbing on board first and getting a nice warm seat was important. The unfortunate thing is that throughout the whole ordeal our Sergeant stood close to us in the shadows muttering away into his dictaphone.
Had any of us complained, which I promise you is standard behaviour in any military unit, we might not have crossed the finish line so we all kept our mouths firmly shut. Even when they changed the leaders again and I wasn’t selected, meaning that it would appear that I was, in their opinion, the worst leader of the lot, I didn’t voice my objection. I was tired and angry and all I wanted to do was finish this stupid course. I was already starting to wonder what on earth I was doing there and knew that all I had to do was stand up and request to be taken back to camp and it would all be over. But that was the problem, it would all be over. I was not sure what happened if you left the course, or even failed it, perhaps I would end up back at Shawbury cutting buttons off uniforms and taking laces out of shoes and boots. And I can tell you the thought of being a TAG again was quite appealing at that moment, because the clothing stores at Shawbury were nice and warm and dry, the food didn’t have sand in it and there were no fecking eejits screaming at you twenty four hours a day.