Monday, November 30, 2009

'One Of Our Boys Is Missing - Part 4, Contractual Obligations.

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 4 our steely-eyed-deliverer-of-death-and-destruction-in-the-making visits the army 'liaison' office, and agnonizes over which regiment to sell his soul to.


'What makes you think you'd be any good to us?' the 'liaison' officer sitting in front of me snapped. He was an oldish man of about 34, greying hair, glasses, a warrant officer. I guessed that he'd had a long and active career behind him, and resented slightly having to drive a desk around a provincial recruiting office, dealing with the likes of me.
'...er, I like sports and the outdoors...er, and I'm keen and can follow orders' I stuttered. 'Well you can't follow them very well' he said 'you were supposed to bring two passport photos with you and you haven't...'.
The walls were covered with regimental badges from all over the army; famous regiments such as the Black Watch or the 17th/21st Lancers, and of course the two which held the most mystique and all-out boy's own promise of adventure, the SAS, with its winged dagger, and 53 Assault Recconaisance Squadron, with it's now-legendary badge of the skiing owl.
But these outfits were a pipe and slippers dream to me and the overwhelming majority of potential recruits who walked through those doors. A few months beasting in a depot, followed by a few tours or duty and maybe eventual promotion to Corporal was all that most of us had in front of us. '
..I suggest you take some of this literature away, read it and think VERY long and hard over it...' the liaison officer's voice abruptly cut into my frenzy of daydreaming
'...and if you're really stupid enough to think that we're going to need you you can come back in three weeks'.

After a great deal of deliberation, which amounted to talking it over with some mates in the pub (we were getting served in some of the less selective hostelries in the area by then) and a brief discussion with my parents who were in the odd situation of being dead set against it and yet wanting shot of me at the same time, I decided to go for the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR). Those tanks just looked fearsome, from the small reconnaisance vehicles through to the beast that I really wanted to get into, the main battle tank of the day, the Chieftain.
' Well you'll have to wait another six months before you can go to Bovingdon' (the armoured division's depot)
'..and even then you may not be suitable' said the same liaison officer.
‘It's a tough existence, cooped up in one of them tin cans while the hatches are battened down.' Six months? I was devastated. There was no way I was going to be able to stick another six months at home.

I took the trouble to read about the history of tank warfare. It turned out that they'd been invented during World War One, when they'd almost managed to keep up with a man walking at a moderate pace over easy country, but they'd never fulfilled expectations of breaking the deadlock. The heyday of the tanks was on the Eastern Front in World War Two when the Panzers and Tigers of the Third Reich had run headlong into the diesel-powered T34s of the USSR, the latter proving ultimately superior in the ensuing pile-up. But what I read about anti-tank weaponry made me blanch. The modern anti-tank weapons utilised the 'shaped charge' effect, which meant that the blast from the projectile was directed inwards through a tank's armour, rather than being dispersed evenly as in a conventional explosion. This would closely be followed by the contents of the shell, which could consist of molten metal or shrapnel, which would be squirted into the interior of the tank, showering everything in its path. Nice. I didn't fancy that much, strangely enough, and this combined with my impatience to join caused me to look for something else.

I worte to Ted an asked what he thought about it. He actually took the trouble to call on a payphone to give me advice.
‘BEEP BEEP BEEP…yeah, don’t bother with the armoured regiments, they’re shit’ he hollered at me. It sounded like he was talking to me through a vibrating plastic drainpipe.
‘…YOU WANT TO GO FOR ONE OF THE SERVICE ARMS LIKE THE REEMIE…’(whatever that was)…’
Nowadays I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation like this, harsh noises or distorted sounds just come across as a sort of white noise – another one of the effects of the occurrence.
‘…THEN YOU CAN USE YOUR SKILLS ON CIVVY STREET WHEN YOU COME OUT IN A FEW YEARS. WHEN I COME OUT I’LL BE ABLE TO WORK AS A COMPUTER PROG…
BEEP BEEP BEEP…….’

Well, that was my bimonthly contact with my brother over already. I didn’t buy his advice though. I knew from the outset I was going to make a career out of this, I don’t know why. So I poured scorn on going for one of the units like the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (for this was the Reemie) or his own unit, the Signals. We call these units REMFs (Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers) in the Special Forces, our contempt for them just a little above that of civvies, notwithstanding the fact that we’ve all benefited from their services a lot down the years.
But I agreed with Ted that the tanks were out. The infantry - now here was something that might be suitable for me. It looked like fun, plenty of weapons training and some very famous and glamorous regiments to boot – important factors for a show-off like me.
'Infantry now is it?'
By now the liaison officer's patience was expiring fast.
'What makes you want to join them? It's a tough life. But here's some more literature'.
I was starting to wonder about all this literature the army churned out, they were regular little Charles Dickens's. It explained that the infantry regiments were organised on a regional basis and drew their personnel largely from particular counties. For example, the Staffordshire Regiment recruited from, er, Staffordshire, the Cosbies from the Scottish Borders etc. Officers were exempt from this parochial Domesday Book-style system; presumably it was felt that they were above such quaintness and were not bound to the land in the same way that the villeins were, so you had a situation where, for example, English officers could serve in Scottish regiments. I bet they loved that.
The two units which recruited in my neck of the woods were the Fusiliers and the 8th Royal Calthrops (Prince George's Own - and very nice for him too).

I plumped for the Calthrops straight away, They had a cooler badge and didn't wear a kind of feather duster on their berets as the Fusiliers did. They had a long and distinguished history, tracing their ancestry back to the Duke of Marlborough's wars in the early eighteenth century. Their speciality back then had been anti-horse warfare, hence their motto of ‘cave viam’ (watch where you step). With the advent of armoured warfare their role had been switched to anti-tank duties. Ironic given that I'd wanted to join the tanks only a few weeks before. I filled-out the necessary forms and was chuffed when I heard back from them within days giving me a date in October to arrive at their barracks in Thrushingfold. The town wasn't too far from my home area, in the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire borders. It meant I'd be able to go home at weekends, or so I thought, on the 100 cc Honda (yes I’d got Ted’s bike off him!).

So it was that my relationship with the British Army began, the best and only stable relationship of my life, and the first stage of my development into a total war machine commenced, though just what I’d have to go through to reach that stage was only about to be revealed to me, although that didn’t become fully apparent until a not-inconsiderable length of time had elapsed since that non-realisation failed to arise in my awareness at that time..


To be continued ...if you didn't see the previous 2 parts and are having a sleepless night, see Part 1 here, Part 2 here... and Part 3 here.

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