13. The Corps
It had started out as The Officers Training Corps. Then it became the Army Training Corps. By the time The School had become part of the British education system, stopped having paying pupils, and had had working-class oiks who’d passed the 11-Plus foisted on it, the Thursday dressing up as soldiery was part of the Combined Cadet Force.
Wolverhampton Grammar School was open for business six days a week. Two of those days – Wednesday and Saturday – were called “half-days”. That meant that lessons only took place during their mornings.
On Saturday afternoons, it was the dreaded sports. My name was put down – I never repaid the anonymous culprit – to play cricket. I liked cricket more than Soccer because there was no needless running about or shivering in thin shorts as the Winter wind blew. Indeed, I was not a bad tail-end batsman, and a pretty good medium-pace spin bowler. I invented a ball which hit the ground near the batsman and, when he expected it to bounce, it simply slipped low along the ground and often took his wicket. But my scholastic uselessness and my still-Wulfrunian accent meant that I would never play for The School.
Wednesday afternoons were spent, after we’d moved into Big School from the Remove, polishing boots, blancoing webbing and shining our brass cap-badges (South Staffordshire, of course) ready for our CCF parades next day. It was a task which came easily to me, and one which would stand me in good stead for earning a bob or two in the real Army.
Whilst cleaning my kit, and being alone in our house, I would listen to The Third Programme (now Radio 3) on our big, bakelite Echo radio. I had heard such music on Ferdie Rust’s wind-up monstrosity during Music lessons. A lot of it seemed to be operatic singers shouting at each other, but some of the symphonies and string-quartets moved me enormously. I recognised Beethoven as one of the only two musical geniuses the world had ever produced, the other being Louis Daniel “Satchmo” Armstrong. The Third Programme took me deep into my own dream-world.
Though not enjoying the Thursday CCF sessions, I found I was rather good at marching and using a rifle. We practiced on Lee Enfield .303 rifles, and there was a small twenty-five yard range at The School. It was so easy for me to get my Marksman’s badge.
On Field Days, the whole gang of CCF lads were taken to Cannock Chase where we had to crawl on our stomachs through the heather and mud, and were permitted to shoot on an Army range – one, two or three-hundred yard distances. I usually hit the bull once in a while, whatever the distance. I was good at grouping my rounds and at snap-shooting, too. But none of my achievements gave me any pleasure: it was just something I could do. And Mom always complained at having to wash the mud off my uniform ready for the next week.
I loved looking at the heather which rolled away across the Chase, but never thought I’d live an easy walk from that Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
All our officers were Masters. I suppose that most of them had been just privates during the war, though old Burp Owen told us that he’d been a corporal. He was Colonel of our School CCF. The Head never seemed to dress up and join us.
The Sergeant-Major was a retired soldier. CSM Simpson had once been a sergeant in the South Staffs. He was given odd jobs to do during the rest of the week, dressed in his uniform, but on Thursdays he came into his own. He had very strong views about what he saw as long hair: “I can’t tell if yo’m a buy or a gairl!” he would snap. On non-Corps days, some of the older boys offered to show him . . . !
I am not sure, even now, why all this military practicing went on. I’d heard of the Hitler Youth Movement and how kids had been shoved into the Front Line by the Germans as the Allies advanced. I wondered if that would be our fate in case Great Britain was invaded by the evil Russian Communists.
Certainly, none of what I learned about marching up and down and saluting officers was of any use to me when I did my National Service.
These days, I suppose, the CCF is no more. Perhaps our Politically Correct teachers think it created violent attitudes.
Saturday, 9th May, 2009.
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