TTGU, Ep. 1, Ch. 3 – First Morning Of Soldiering
I slept well that night. Others in E6 Platoon didn’t. It was the strange, solid bed or the snoring of others or the depths of home-sickness which kept them awake.
Then, just before a quarter to six next morning, Corporal Keogh – “Little Lenny” – burst into our billet yelling and shouting. Apparently, even after out long journeys, our lack of sleep, and our lack of understanding of military etiquette, we were a lazy bunch of blankety-blank so-and-sos for daring to lie in bed as late as this.
We got out of bed – or, in the case of Privates Lewis and Peters, were dragged out by our company-NCO – and were instructed precisely what we had to do to make ourselves ready for the day which had been planned for us. We crowded into the ablution-block and did our best to go to the lavatory, wash, shave and clean our teeth in the allotted time. I was fortunate that I still had no real need to shave, even at nearly twenty. That saved me a little time, and one or two of us were back in the billet getting changed before most of our comrades.
We were shown how the British Army makes its beds. A “bed-box” formed – “neatly – bloody neatly!” – from our top-sheet and blankets was laid out “in the correct position”. Military precision in all things must have been a fearsome way to win wars.
All this done, we were required to pack every item of civilian clothing and bits and pieces into our suitcases (mine bulged worryingly). They would be despatched to our homes that very day. It was, Corporal Keogh let us know, to break us free of our previous lives.
Then, totally out-of-step, we were marched most of mile down from our Company lines to the canteen. My experience with the CCF at Wolverhampton Grammar School was beginning to help me settle to Army life – I knew my left from my right.
One helped oneself to greasy breakfast. There were restrictions on how much one was allowed. Woe betide anyone who tried to grab more than one rasher of bacon, one sausage, one scoop of baked beans, one slice of hideously fried bread, or one egg.
That was when we christened our first comrade with a nickname. Peters, from farming country near Gloucester, complained as we belched and marched back that morning: “Oi loik moi eggs in threes!” From that moment, he became “Three Eggs Peters”.
Any hand reaching out for an extra anything was smacked good and hard with a fish-slice by a member of the Army Catering Corps (ACC or Andy Capp’s Commandoes after the Daily Mirror cartoon character) who was half-hidden behind the kitchen-screens.
The Army in its generosity had no restrictions on the number of mugs of hot, dark brown liquid it called “tea”. “Oh, gosh,” came the refined tones of a lad from another platoon, “have they no coffee? And whoever heard of warm milk on cornflakes?” He was ignored both by the cooks and his comrades.
On our return to our billet, our cases and parcels had simply vanished. Farewell, then, to our past lives. We were soldiers now. Or the nearest thing to them which twelve hours in the British Army could create.
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