Celtic Illumination, part 212, Fix bayonets!! Charge!!
Eejits aside, we were into the final twenty four hours of the exercise. Now we were wearing our NBC suits. A charcoal lined affair, which made you feel dirty and grimy, and that’s even before you put it on. Luckily we had not been told to wear our gas masks which I and everyone else were so looking forward to. We were also wearing ponchos. In case any of you are not ‘au fait’ with the fashion scene I shall try to describe a poncho to you. They are; well; it’s sort of. Imagine a large circle of canvas with a hole in the centre. One side which has been vulcanised. You stick your head through the hole and wear it like an all-around cloak. Very fetching. There was a hood, but with the hood up, you would add valuable seconds to putting your gas mask on, especially having to remove your steel helmet first, something the fellow with the dictaphone would be watching for.
So; it’s the middle of the night. I’m looking quite fabulous in my matching green combat fatigues, green and grey NBC suit and green poncho. It’s raining I’m soaked through and to complete my ensemble I’ve been given a light machine gun, with the end where the bullets comes out pointing away from me. It was an awful night. Not only did time seem to crawl along but it was wet and cold. I really do remember lying there, looking very military, leaning on my machine gun and knowing that I could feel every stone and piece of gravel through all the various layers of clothing I was wearing. I really was tempted to chuck it all in and there was a right old ding dong going on in my head, the back side of my brain was stirring things up again. Being seen as the worst leader in a bunch of average people was humiliating to say the least.
We had been told that we would be attacked and should expect some close combat to ensue. Again, we were cold and tired, hungry and pissed off, so to add to our excitement the instructors guaranteed us that various groups of SAS troops would attack. There was no ifs and buts, we would be attacked. Having been a member of the syndicate that had allowed a squad of SAS to enter the guarded area I was determined not to let the same happen again. It was quite quiet, even the normal hubbub from the instructors had died down and I got the feeling that something was about to happen. Dawn was coming down the valley, although still some way away. I then spotted them.
About twenty yards in front of me I saw two hooded heads. Two SAS men in a trench. Judging from their position and my position I reckoned that they would be attacking me and my syndicate. This time they had picked on the wrong man, for what they didn’t know was that I was going to attack them first. The old adrenaline began to pump through my veins and using the battle field hand signals we had been taught, I realised that they didn’t work in the dark, so I had to whisper behind me for members of my syndicate to come forward. The fellow who was number one came up and I whispered to him that I had spotted two SAS men, in a ditch, twenty yards ahead. Despite the fact that he was in charge, should have come up with a cunning plan, informed the groups on either side of us and the command post, I told him that he was to bring up the remainder of the syndicate and we would attack the SAS.
He didn’t seem to embrace my proposal with the same enthusiasm that I had and with the enemy being so close there wasn’t much room for discussion as we didn’t want to scare them off. Fair play to the fellow, he did what he was told and brought up the remainder of the syndicate. The six of us were lying in a line. I hoped the two SAS men didn’t see the guy standing behind us talking in to a dicatphone, it might have given our position away, and as he was moving forward with us, he might give our intentions away. My plan was quite simple, as all the best military plans are. We would rush forward and pile into the trench. I knew that my hands were so cold I probably wouldn’t feel anybody’s face ramming in to my fist, I hoped my face would be the same as I expected them to retaliate. Number one seemed to be losing all enthusiasm for my project so I sort of took over.
I roared out loud as I rose from my position. I didn’t want my machine gun to get in the way, so as I neared the two SAS men I dropped it and launched myself toward them. I’ve had some awards in my time and for this one I suppose you are thinking I deserve some sort of bravery award for valour of the highest calibre. When the Sergeant with the dictaphone had stopped laughing I think he would have awarded me the best rugby tackle on two sandbags ever seen at Hereford. Once again I had probably done the right thing, but once again I had done it in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in front of the wrong people. A couple of instructors came over to have a giggle at my expense and see if the sandbags needed first aid. Number one was complaining that it wasn’t his fault, it was all mine, in fact I was guilty of some sort of mutiny.
We were called back in to the hanger and rather than being hidden away in tents, like vampires terrified of daylight, we were allowed to sit around in our groups. We were to prepare a meal and distribute the ammunition ready for the final push. Number one was worse than useless. We were supposed to count how many bullets we had left, sorry, we were supposed to establish our level of remaining ammunition and then give seventy five per cent to the machine gun, splitting the remainder equally between the rifles. Number one couldn’t remember the split and was handing out bullets, sorry, was issuing ammunition like someone passing out sweets at a child’s party. I tried to intervene but was told to shut up by the Sergeant with the dictaphone. I kept trying to tell number one what he should be doing, when the senior instructor was called over by the Sergeant. They spoke between themselves and the head instructor asked me to step outside the hangar with him.
I knew I was probably going to get thrown off the course or at least get one severe bollocking and was surprised when the head instructor apologised to me. He explained that from day one they had known I was a natural leader. They were not going to make me perform any of the leadership tasks; his exact words were something along the lines of ‘not teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.’ A very strange practise indeed. Anyway. As I could now see, number one, who was going to fail the course, had messed everything up and as all the others had had their stint of leadership would I mind leading the syndicate through the final phase of the exercise.
Words like ‘why didn’t you tell me all this at the start of the exercise you fecking cretin’ ran though my head but I thought diplomacy would dictate that I should say nothing. I came back in to the hanger and began to show the syndicate how a real leader did things. Number one was taken outside and explained that he had been relieved of his command. In full NBC gear with gas masks on we went outside and took up our defensive positions. The odd comment about my skills in sandbag combat were being made, but I was feeling a lot better and couldn’t care less what they were saying about me. We were strafed by two Jet Provost aircraft and it was quite a release to be allowed to fire back at the feckers as they came in for their second run.
Suddenly it was all over and we were formed up in syndicates. The head instructor thanked us and explained that the following morning we would all be debriefed individually. All we had to do now was double away from the exercise area to where some trucks were waiting, which would take us to the helicopters, which would ferry us back to Hereford. I was exhausted but felt quite proud leading the syndicate with the best moral, something to do with attacking sandbags I think, off the battlefield. We doubled along lanes till we came to an open area which was obviously short on trucks. ‘Sorry,’ explained the instructors, ‘the trucks haven’t turned up, keep going it’s only two miles to the helicopters.’ I realised that I had not heard any helicopters in the area all morning. I wasn’t worried about how far it was back to Hereford, I only hoped that there were no telegraph poles lying about on the way.