Celtic Illumination, part 244, If you’re happy and you know it…
Although I had sort of given up on the air force, the air force hadn’t given up on me, well; they expected me to keep performing right up until the last moment of service, I had lost all interest. I was told that I had to undergo my regular training for NBC, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare. This involved a day spent on the rifle range, eating dried biscuits in a gas chamber and a multi choice exam. I couldn’t see the point in it and really couldn’t find any enthusiasm whatsoever. A month or two before this, during one station exercise, I found myself with about thirty other fellows kipping down in the classroom where the NBC tests were held. We were supposedly under a gas attack so were all kitted up in our suits and gas masks. There was very little conversation going on as talking with gas masks on is quite difficult. If you don’t believe me stick your head in a bucket and ask your partner for a cup of tea
I was wandering about looking for something to occupy myself with and found myself standing by the podium at the head of the room. I looked inside and saw a perforated card. I immediately knew what it was and took it out. It was quite common to write on your NBC suits. Mainly your blood type plus your name, rank and number would be on the front of your suit. So to see me sitting in a corner scribbling away on my NBC suit would not have been considered to have been out of the ordinary. What I had found was the template used to mark the multi choice tests given at the end of the NBC training day. If you didn’t pass this test you would have to come back the following week and enjoy the whole process once again. Now of course I was guaranteed success as I had the correct answers written down one leg of my NBC suit.
On the day of the NBC training we had an over excitable Rock Ape Corporal run the show. He really did give the impression that he spent far too much time watching American war movies. I continued the age old tradition of shooting at the stick that held the target up, rather than at the target, which annoyed him greatly. The CS gas didn’t really upset me as, like most people of my generation from Northern Ireland, we were used to CS gas seeping under the front door, usually at tea time on a Sunday evening for some reason, so eating biscuits in a room full of CS gas didn’t present any problem. It was at the end of the day, which I can assure you was a very long and boring day, that we enjoyed a final burst of craziness.
The Rock Ape was one of those military flavoured nut cases who thought that marching was fun. He lined us all up so that we could march back to the armoury and hand in our weapons. Normally I might have broken into a marching chant and livened things up a bit, but it wasn’t just me, we were all a bit tired of his childish enthusiasm and just wanted to get the day over and done with. Even though he was a Rock Ape, a sub species of human not exactly renowned for their intelligence, he managed to pick up on the vibe that we were not a bunch of happy bunnies. Someone like myself would have immediately injected a bit of humour to lighten the mood of proceedings however the Rock Ape had his own ideas, which veered more towards Rambo rather than rambunctious. There was a direct route to the armoury but he took us off in another direction announcing that we should enjoy a little bit of drill to end the day.
He then gave an instruction that we should all hold our rifles above our head, in both hands, and rather than march along the road, we would proceed in double time, a sort of coordinated running. It took most of us by surprise for I had never seen anyone in the British forces do this before. I think I had seen it in a movie, and even then it was probably a punishment. It made as much sense as carrying telegraph poles. You could tell from the faces of everyone involved that no one was impressed and were probably wondering what to do about it. I think most people on the training day outranked the Rock Ape and were perhaps considering the most diplomatic way of how to deal with the situation. I gave up thinking about it and stopped. I stepped out of line and stood at the side of the road. The Rock Ape continued on for a few yards before he noticed that one of his troops was standing by the side of the road.
He halted the main body of men and ran back to me screaming and shouting. I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of the others, plus I didn’t want any witnesses to what I was about to say to him, so I kept my voice low. He stood in front of me and continued to yell. This is where I got real medical evidence to conclusively prove that smoking cigarettes is directly related to blood pressure. And passive smoking at that. Because it was me smoking the cigarette, while it was quite obvious that it was his blood pressure going through the roof. I very quietly told him he was an idiot and I would be making my own way back to the armoury. I then slung my rifle over my shoulder jammed my hands in my pockets and sauntered off in the general direction of the armoury. One or two others took courage from my actions and left the main body of men.
The Rock Ape reorganised the group and once again. with rifles held above their heads, doubled off into the sunset. There was about five of us who had revolted and each one of us knew that the situation could either be quietly forgotten about or it could go mental. It all depended just how offended the Rock Ape felt. This was the armed forces and Wattisham had a fine tradition of idiots getting punched in the face, regardless of the time or place. The most famous, I am proud to say, and you’ve probably guessed it already, involved Dave Magee. Dave and a group of friends were walking from the mess to their squadron after lunch. They were about to cross a ditch, which because it was so narrow would only allow one person at a time to wobble across the couple of planks that crossed the divide. A young Corporal policeman approached from the other side and announced that as a Corporal he was crossing the bridge and Dave’s party would wait.
All policemen or women started life as Corporals but they were not real Corporals they were acting Corporals, very similar to acting the eejit. Some of them had a real mouthful to go through if they ever had to give their rank. It may have been something like Acting Corporal, unpaid, senior Aircraftmen John Smith. I don’t think anyone actually cared about them, especially people like Dave Magee, who patiently waited for the acting unpaid police Corporal to cross the bridge and them punch him in the face which propelled him into the ditch and the stagnant water therein. Most coppers would explode with rage, begin to issue threats and give chase, but this copper stood up and cried, which is why the incident was so fondly remember at Wattisham. I’m not advocating violence but most people in the forces tend to smile when they hear of a copper getting their comeuppance. So the Rock Ape was very nearly in the same category as the police Corporal, we all knew it and I suppose we all hoped that he knew it.
We made sure we looked as close to smart military men as we could as we came to the armoury, as in we had all stopped smoking, hands were out of pockets, berets were on straight and we were holding our guns correctly, which meant that the end the bullets come out of was pointing up. The Rock Ape had lined up the body of men and was bringing them out one at a time to hand in their weapons. We, the revolters, ignored him and handed our guns in then gave him a friendly wave goodbye. Of course he was incapable of allowing the incident to die and came after me. “Next time you’re on NBC training,” he hissed. “I’m going to give you such a hard time.” “Good luck with that.” I said, adding. “I’m demob happy. I’ll never have to go through this shit again.”