Saturday, November 21, 2009

'One Of Our Boys Is Missing - Contractual Obligations' Part 3

Charlie 'Terminal' Moraine is a former special forces soldier who served in the legendary (especially since it's now defunct, along with most of the legendary British Army regiments) 53 Assault Reconnaisance Squadron in some of the world's hot spots (well they were hotspots if you were a special forces operative anyway) including Northern Ireland, Oman, Columbia at the height of the drugs war, and Chelmsley Wood in the West Midlands. The Puumaja Crew is proud to present, in serial form, his new book, 'One Of Our Boys Is Missing', covering his life story and over 20 years in the front line of one of the deadliest units since the Ottoman Janissaries.
In part 3 Charlie's older brother Ted leaves home to join the army, leaving a dejected young deliverer of death and destruction in the making behind to keep watch on the home front.


Ted was two years above me and left school at 16, to go and join the army. I was impressed. My mother wasn’t so much and had wanted him to stay on and do his A levels (as I think all her friends’ sons were staying on) but in fact he ended up doing science A levels at Shrivenham military college, before going on to a career in the Royal Signals. I remember how jealous I was of him the day he left, he had several girls hanging on his every word and looked the part as he donned his motorcycle helmet, ready for the step into the unknown. My mother was crying, my sisters had come back from Uni especially to say goodbye. I was resenting not being the centre of attention but there seemed little I could do to change that. This was Ted’s day, not mine, and my turn in the limelight (or UV light) would come one day.

‘Hey Caspar, I’ll write you’ he said.

What US film or TV programme he’d been watching and why he thought it would sound cool was anybody’s guess but he didn’t half sound like an arse saying it. And he’d never called me ‘Caspar’ before, it was weird. But as I said it was his parade so I let it go.

‘I sure will, Teddy-baby’ I replied, and with a manly punch on the shoulder and a wink, he was off, flipping his visor down as he did so. Or at least he made it to the end of the street before skidding on a patch of oil, hitting a parked car and ending up on his side with the motorcycle on top of him, bent and damaged. The screams were distressing enough from inside the helmet, and were twenty times worse when we’d removed it. “My ankle’ he squealed. Minutes later he was sitting upright on the sofa in the living room, his leg stretched out on a chair, loving the attention. He’d just twisted it a bit and it had swollen a little and needed some ice. But to see him carry on, curling his lip at the assembled gathering of admiring girls and playing the wounded soldier, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d escaped from Colditz. Later on that day our mother put him on a train to Shrivenham, the bike had to stay behind (I had my eye on it) and Ted’s military career was on its way to a slightly inauspicious start.

I was pretty lost after he’d gone, and started thinking about what I was going to do once I’d left school. I was 14, and time was ticking. Indeed next birthday I came to realize I’d be 15, so a short mathematical calculation showed to my horror that I wasn’t getting any younger. I was hugely influenced by Ted’s letters home. It sounded great, heavily subsidized bar, all the food you could eat, a great social life, woman hanging off every extremity. He was due to go to Cyprus as soon as he’d finished basic training and that sounded fantastic. There was no army tradition in our family – my recent ancestors were, so far as I can tell, complete losers, who never got further than such dead-end pursuits such as International Aid Work, prison rehabilitation, nursing and other such pansy vocations.

The only person I'd come across in early life who did live up to this ideal was my uncle Don, who used to come round sometimes when my Dad was away on business, I think to keep us company. He'd been in the commandos in World War Two, partaking in the Normandy landings and subsequent action in France. He'd been wounded twice, married thrice, and didn't have a girl in every port so much as inhabit a kind of girl-filled free port, of which he was the chief customs inspector. The first thing he taught me was how to play french cricket. The last thing he taught me was also how to play french cricket, as one day my father came home from work very distracted and said that we wouldn't be seeing him again. It was a real shame as I always identified much more with Uncle Don than with my father, I was much more like him both in temperament and looks.

But I decided to follow Ted’s lead and go for the army. My mum was beside herself
‘I’ve already got one son in the army, what if there’s a war and I end up losing both my sons’ she whimpered. Mothers eh? it’s just self, self self.

My father seemed a little more receptive to the idea, probably getting me off his case was the major consideration.

‘Well your brother seems to have done well out of it. He got his science ‘As’ and has been made up to lance-corporal already’.

Yeah, he also got two local girls in Shrivenham up the duff I thought to myself. So the extra pay his promotion brought in will come in handy.

The very next day I was off to the army recruitment office in nearby Coventry, a small, functional place (the office I mean) tucked inconspicuously away between the Navy and RAF recruitment offices. It was covered from top to bottom in glossy posters promising a life of glamour, excitement, and lots of out-of-focus flames rolling out in the middle distance, or recruits standing around in the sunshine holding spanking new shiny weapons whilst a smiling NCO looks on. How little we knew. The only time it was ever anything like that for me was when we appeared on an episode of 'Blue Peter' doing a sponsored four tonne lorry-pull to raise money for Biafra. Most of the avergage recruit's time would be spent crying into their blankets, their teddy bears taken from them, wishing they'd never joined.

To be continued...if you didn't see the previous 2 parts and are having a sleepless night, see Part 1 here and Part 2 here...

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