Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Comradeship in camp

I remember NCO language was often very extreme with plenty of F-words thrown in. I was familiar with the words but not as adjectives to describe everything and anything in general conversation! A limited vocabulary with constant swearing was a fact of life in the Armed Service.  The secret to survival was to mould into the environment and keep your head down even when the nature of the conversation was an eye-opener.

Comradeship was very important in dealing with the intense pressure of weeks of training.  Weaker ones were supported by stronger ones. We were all conscripts, none had chosen this way of life and therefore we supported each other. Friendships were forged with the most unlikely people. 

After the first six weeks confined to camp, we were allowed into town at weekends in ‘civvies’.  Pay day was Thursday and by Sunday, after cinema trips and drinking sessions, there was no money left. It was common practice to borrow money from mates and as I was not a big spender I was often a lender, though everyone always repaid their debts.  However if you repaid your debt on a Thursday there was nothing left for the weekend hence many a night was spent in the hut cleaning kit, playing cards, reading dirty books and listening to the radio. 

The BBC radio programmes were known as the Home Service (serious), Light Programmes (light music) and the Third Programme (very serious).  What I hadn’t bargained for was Radio Luxembourg, the first broadcasting station devoted to pop music and advertisements, long before the days of UK based commercial radio. I remember listening to Leslie Welch, the memory man, and Horace Batchelor, who advertised a method of predicting the results of football matches; his spelling out of Keynsham, made the town famous.

Every recruit soon learned to press his uniform. Each hut had an electric iron and you had to wait your turn to put strong, sharp creases into your battledress top and trousers. The best way was to use brown paper dowsed with water but it was very easy to singe the material, or worse, burn a hole in it.  In my case it was also dangerous.  While adjusting the brown paper with the left hand I lifted the iron in my right and because the handle was loose, it swung round and hit me on the wrist, giving me a nasty burn. I had it treated by the MO but a couple of weeks later, while doing rifle drill, I caught the scab and blood oozed down the butt of the rifle until I realised it had become very sticky. The drill sergeant noticed it and ordered me right across the square to report to the MO, marching of course.

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