My life#6 – The Army -First days

Today is 55 years since I left home to join the Army. Would I do it again?
You bet!

Peter's pondering

This, and subsequent “The Army” entries, came about through my Niece requesting some information on my Army days. She was doing some sort of project that required a “behind the scenes” view of military life, so I started to jot things down.

I got a little carried away!

I suppose that this became the precursor to my blog, so I have Penny to thank for that!

I am offering these jottings exactly as originally presented, the only changes being the introduction of badges, where appropriate, and occasional comments, shown in blue.


I joined the Army in 1964, at the age of 16. As I was under the age of majority I had to have my parents’ permission to do so.

Despite the image of the Swinging Sixties you must remember that the majority of youth was unsophisticated, untraveled and, despite what they believed, very naïve. We had not benefitted, or…

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My inheritance

I just updated my random post generator picture and tried it out. I came across this, written 4 years ago. I like it. I hope you do too!

Peter's pondering

I love a good sentence, they’re always a joy

it’s something I learned from my dad as a boy

he left school at 14 as people did then

but always was good with a paper and pen

he used to write poems and now, so do I

they’re not very good but I do like to try

in fact, if you wait just a moment or two

I’ll write one right now especially for you

No, don’t go away, just tarry awhile

I’ll jot down a verse with a guaranteed smile

Just switch off your phone and turn up your ears

put worries aside and forget all your fears

now listen to you, switch off all the rest

listen to feelings deep down in your breast

listen to smells of the world on your skin

listen to air as you’re breathing it in

listen to images deep in your brain

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St Kilda – Island on the edge of the world.

Anyone who saunters through my blog will very soon find that I was, for over 28 years, an Army man, a soldier, a squaddie!

This involved living in all sorts of weird places, in peculiar circumstances, and doing all sorts of things that the average joe doesn’t get to experience.

One of the places I lived was on the remote island of Hirta, in the archipelago of St Kilda. In all I spent over 8 months there, normally on a rotational basis of 6 weeks on, 12 weeks off. You can read a little about it here, and here.

During my time there I don’t think that I ever experienced the superb 4 day block of good weather that Angus Mackie and his group of kayakers did for their trip that is shown here.

This post is not about me but it does show a place that is dear to my heart, and to anyone who has ever been lucky enough to experience it.

Just as anyone who has experienced a true desert will know  what “desert fever” feels like, those who’ve been to Kilda will be forever drawn back there, even if it is only in memories!

This expedition report is rather lengthy, and will be hastily skipped through by some, but for a few it will be of great interest. The link at the bottom will take you to a marvellous set of photos and videos. It takes a while to load as they are high resolution, and lots of interactive 360˚ shots. I hope you have time to enjoy them.

A link to a newly updated blog post of “A Superlative St Kilda Sea Kayaking Expedition with Skyak Adventures.”

St Kilda is a place of superlatives!

The remote island archipelago of St Kilda lies some 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides and not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it has the highest sea cliffs in the UK, the largest seabird colony in northern Europe and a quarter of the world’s gannet population.

It’s also an amazing place for sea kayaking…!!

 

I’m Angus Mackie, a professional forester and photographer, based just north of Inverness on the beautiful Black Isle.  I’m on the North Coast 500 and am well placed to discover most of the Highlands.  The iconic scenery of Glen Affric and the Cairngorms are close by whilst many of the wild and dramatic locations on the west coast are within easy reach.

Mountains, landscapes, coastlines….  As a landscape and panoramic photographer who specialises in 360° photography, I enjoy exploring Scotland and its wild and remote places and have discovered some of the best photography locations in the Highlands over the last 35 years of living up here.  With a broad and wide ranging knowledge of the Highlands, I still enjoy finding new locations and fresh perspectives for my photography.  The use of natural light to capture stunning scenery at spectacular locations is very much a key factor for my photography.

I’m a qualified Summer Mountain Leader, a Sea Kayak Leader and a UKCC Level 2 Sea Kayaking coach, with many years experience of leading and guiding.  I am also a longstanding member of Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team.

Copyright © 2018 Scotland360° and Angus Mackie.

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PHEW – I MADE IT!

I once set about reading The Bible all the way through.  I made it! (although a lot of it was skipped through very swiftly, because some parts are boring {quite a lot}) I don’t take the Bible as gospel (see what I did there!), but it is a tremendous work by many people over many, many years.

One of the bits that many people could recount, although not verbatim, is the bit about reaching the age of 70, and guess what, I made it!

Psalm 90:10 King James Version

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

That inspired the following little offering of ageist poetry:

Well, I’m buggered

Whoever thought? Three score years and ten,

and maybe, then, another ten;

but no excitement for the morrow

for it’s bound to end in sorrow,

and even if you reach that stage

you’ll surely creak, and feel your age;

but don’t get too complacent mate,

your number’s up, it’s just too late.

So, make the most of every day

before you have to fly away!

 

I fully intend to make the most of every day, with a little help from my friends.

For those who don’t know the real lyrics here they are

My Brain

This was written at the age of about 17, in my “sort of journal”. It probably explains a lot about me, and definitely shows up the early onset of idiocy!

In case some readers do not know what tripe is, you probably don’t want to know, but this is what it looks like:

tripeSeriously, would you eat this?

The harder I try to put my feelings and thoughts into words, the more difficult it becomes.

To write down these words, on paper, is even more difficult, nye impossible. The seeming infinity of the brain’s reasoning functions, and its associated thought patterns, far surpass the ability of man to put these resources to use.

Ever since time began, man’s brain has puzzled even the most brilliant specialists. Looking like a lump of tripe, its intricacy, yet simplicity is still not fully understood and, I think, will remain so until long after I’m dead.

With the brilliant circuits, made up of still more brilliant microscopic electronic components, man has strived to produce an artificial “brain”. However, the powers that made us, obviously did not intend us to know the “elixir of life”, for that’s surely what the brain must be.

Man can artificially produce all components of the body except the brain, and, perhaps, someday he may be granted the knowledge of knowledge. God help us when he is. Just think of the corruption it would bring.

I do not see, however, how such a wonderful collection of matter can possibly understand itself. The mere fact that it is so marvellous makes it unbelievable and, therefore, I think, almost impossible to fathom. I say almost because, in this age, specialists have successfully probed and repaired and, in one case transplanted brain matter.

I could go on for pages and pages but my lump of tripe tells me to stop, and who am I to argue with such wisdom?

Spending time in a prison cell

This is part of a recollection of “Some things I’ve done that you probably haven’t.

This describes a time, in my past, long gone. It recounts details in the male gender only,  because that is how it was at the time. Other genders are now available!

Very early on in a service career you learn all about “duties”!

These are necessary tasks that must be carried out, every day, whilst in barracks. These duties are in addition to normal daily routine work.

At the top of the ladder is the Duty Field Officer, normally a Major, or Captain, who performs this duty for a week. They do not have to remain in barracks, but must be available, at all times, to deal with any situation that cannot be handled by a more junior officer.

Next in line is the Regimental Orderly Officer, normally a Warrant Officer, 2nd Lieutenant, Lieutenant, or Captain. The duty is often given to junior officers as a mild punishment for minor misdemeanours. They carry out the duty for 24 hours, and must remain in barracks for the entire duty so they are instantly available.

Now come the workers.

The Fire Picquet, which normally consists of from 6 to 10 men who are on call 24 hours a day, for a week. They have a couple of practice call outs during the week and have to get to the Guardroom as quickly as possible. Here they are given a fire scenario and have to dash to the point of the fire, hauling a hand drawn cart that contains all the necessary equipment for fire fighting; Hoses, connectors, hydrant keys, nozzles, standing pipes, etc. They then have to spray water on the pretend fire. Job done! It is very tiring, and very wet!

The Regimental Orderly Sergeant organises, and is responsible for, all other duty staff. (Read “normally gets into trouble for anything and everything that goes wrong!”) He parades the Guard at Guard Mount, normally 6pm weekdays, and 9am weekends, and has to perform various other inspections/tasks during the day. For example, he may have to check 6 items of stores in the Cookhouse, 6 rifles in the Armoury, do a stock check of the Corporal’s Mess bar, and visit the Guard, unannounced, a couple of times during the night. It is a long 24 hours where lots can go wrong. He also has to make sure that all bars, on camp, are closed on time and cleared of bodies.

The Orderly Corporal is a general dogsbody. One duty is to be present in the Naafi (Navy, Army, Air Force Institutes) bar at regular intervals throughout its opening hours, and to help the Orderly Sergeant in his duties.

The Guard Commander, normally a Corporal, ensures that the main gate is guarded, that patrols are sent out at irregular intervals, that all buildings are checked for security.

The Guard Second in Command (2 i/c), normally a Lance Corporal, helps the Guard Commander and deputises in any absence.

The Duty Clerk, based in the Headquarters building is there for any administrative tasks required during the night.

The duty driver, used by the Guard Commander for many and varied tasks.

The Guard. Sufficient personnel to ensure that there is cover for gate guards, patrols, and a quick reaction force. They may work 2 hours on 2 hours off, or 2 hours on, 4 hours off, or any other combination, all through the night. They are based in the guardroom and are allowed to sleep during their time off.

Where do they sleep?

NO, not in the cells!

Most guardrooms have a room set aside for resting personnel. It will normally have 4 beds and a table and chairs so meals can be eaten, and sleep can be grabbed in between periods of duty. Any left over bodies can be found on the floor in various corners!

All guardrooms do have cells, normally 4 or 6. Hopefully there will be no occupants because, if there are any prisoners, it creates extra work, and a huge chance of mistakes being made by the duty personnel.

So, we’ve gone through all this information, and still no mention of my spending time in a prison cell. Well, as long as you promise not to tell anyone, here goes.

The Guard Commander, and 2i/c, after midnight, and after the barracks had quieted down, were allowed to split the rest of the night and take turns to sleep.

There were never enough beds for all off duty personnel, and anyway the dedicated rest room was constantly disturbed as people were woken for shift changes. It was, therefore, usual for the Corporal, and Lance Corporal, to sleep in an empty cell. There was a distinct advantage in that they had sole occupation of a room, the light could be turned off, and the door could be closed.

I spent many (not so happy) hours in prison cells. I must point out that none of them were under arrest, or under sentence!

 

 

 

 

Travelling down the Rhine on a duck

In the Summer of 1962, at the age of 14, I travelled to Germany, with the Combined Cadet Force from my school, for a Summer Camp.

It was quite an adventure to get there. We travelled by military steam train, with the carriages being loaded onto the ferry for the channel crossing. It must have been very nearly the last such journey.

We eventually arrived at 2 Division Signal Regiment, in Bünde, West Germany, a Regiment I was later to be posted to as a regular soldier.

2 div.png

The Crossed Keys of 2 Division

 

 

There were still National Servicemen who had been conscripted into the forces for 2 years. These were the last of a dying breed as the last National Servicemen left the armed forces in May 1963.

I well remember that the soldiers took great delight in plying us with beer, probably at our own expense. That Summer, far from home, was the first time that I became extremely drunk, and extremely unwell.

We obviously overdid the cigarettes too. When I returned home I suffered, for a few days, with what was diagnosed as nicotine poisoning!

During our 10 days there we went out on exercise with the Regiment and did all sorts of, what was to us young boys, very exciting things. We helped camouflage vehicles, laid large capacity cables, helped put up radio masts, slept in abandoned barns and spent a day with the German Army.

It was during this “exchange day” that I encountered the DUKW (duck) that was to transport us down the river. (For the technically minded, more information here)

Ten very excited teenagers squeezed into the restricted space at the back and were driven down a ramp, into the water, where we progressed at a very sedate pace for 20 minutes or so, driving back up another ramp to dry land.

dukw

To be honest it was a bit disappointing, certainly not as exciting as the next half hour when we were transported at some considerable speed back up river, sirens wailing, in a fast patrol craft.

We then experienced a German Army lunch, for many, the first ever taste of “foreign” food. Tepid cabbage soup, cold würst, sauerkraut, black bread, and a strange pudding of yogurt. A new experience that was not repeated until it became more commonplace in the UK.

Postscript

In fact the river in question may not have been the Rhine. Memory being what it is, it could have been the Mösel, or even the Wëser. I have travelled on all of these, but, at the time, it seemed to be a very wide, and busy, river.

Part of the series Some things I’ve done that you probably haven’t!

Some things I’ve done that you probably haven’t.

I had this random thought that I have done a few things in my life that the average person will never experience.  I thought I would write a post entitled:

“Ten things I’ve done that you probably haven’t.” It developed a little like this:

Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen Twenty things I’ve done that you probably haven’t

I arranged them in reverse alphabetical order, just for the sake of it! Then I thought of an added one, or four. So, here we have:

Some things I’ve done that you probably haven’t

  1. Travelled down the Rhine on a Duck
  2. Transferred between Royal Naval ships at sea by Jackstay
  3. Transferred between Royal Naval ships at sea by helicopter
  4. Spent time in a prison cell
  5. Sat in a Harrier Jump Jet
  6. Rowed in a coxed 4 at sea
  7. Regularly travelled to work by helicopter
  8. Qualified as a helicopter handling marshall
  9. Played bugle and drums in a Cadet Force band
  10. Helped to spy on Russian spies
  11. Helped to open a Playboy Club, with no women, in Bahrain
  12. Handled, and repaired Enigma machines
  13. Gassed hundreds of people, some several times
  14. Fallen out of the top of an oak tree
  15. Driven a tank
  16. Crawled under the Queen’s bed
  17. Crash landed a glider
  18. Been underwater in a submarine
  19. Been inside a radome
  20. Been in the impact area of High explosive shells
  21. Been an unpaid tourist guide
  22. Been totally alone on an island
  23. Been a sound engineer for The Gibraltar Song Festival
  24. Been a cave guide

All of these were achieved before the age of 40 but, if you have a large outstanding bucket list, do not despair, it is never too late!

I must admit that there is an amount of poetic licence involved, but where that is will only be revealed as I expand on each tale.

No state secrets will be revealed during the making of these blogs.

You may be waiting a while!

Spitting image

This morning I was talking to my brother in law about my time in the army. It’s not a thing I do very often. When I do, I recall all sorts of odd facts that have been filed in the back of my memory bank.

This afternoon I saw a youth spitting on the pavement, a filthy, dirty habit I abhor, BUT, it did remind me of something I witnessed as a very young trainee soldier, at the age of 16 or 17.

A couple of lads were marching (we were not allowed to walk!) past the drill square (you stepped onto it at your peril, unless undertaking drill practice). One of them spat onto the square.

Immediately there was a terrifying roar of the Regimental Sergeant Major’s stentorian voice.

“You there! PICK THAT UP.”

And he did!

 

From that idle thought this poem popped

 

My mouth is full of spittle and I care no jot or tittle

I am going to spit it out upon the floor.

As my juices flow I find my spittle starts to grow

and, as time passes there is more and more

I know not why it is but my spittle starts to fizz

It is spilling from my mouth and from my nose

So beware if passing by for I’ll spit right in your eye

as I’m covered all in spit from head to toes!