TTGU, Ep, 1, Ch. 4 – Later That Day
As soon as we got back to our billet, we were driven outside and made to stand to attention by Lennie Keogh. “Attention” had to be explained to some of the lads. They didn’t quite understand what “thumbs in line with the seam of your trousers” meant, or “heels together, toes apart”. There was a standard measure of how far apart toes had to be – of course there was: this was the British Army!
Then, as we stood to attention outside the Company Office – some of us wobbling a bit because not everyone knew how to stand perfectly still in that upright position – Company Sergeant-Major John Ampleford stepped out through the door majestically. He wore full battle-dress bedecked with his badges of office and couple of medal-ribbons.
His looks reminded me of Napoleon, the chief pig in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.
He walked along our ranks and back again, then addressed us. “I am your Sergeant-Major. I am the highest ranking NCO in this Company, and you will do what I say. Got it?”
Some of us nodded. That was the wrong thing to do: this was the British Army.
Ampie – for that is how we knew him among ourselves – yelled at us to stand still. He explained that if he asked a question, we would address him as “Sir”. I heard a very quite whisper from Roy Sheppard: “How can we say ‘Sir’ without moving?” A valid question, but not one that any of us would ask Ampie.
He then told us that our Company Commander would join us shortly, and that we should stand at ease. What a collective mess we made of that manoeuvre! So he explained again (and a few more agains) till we got it almost right. “When I shout ‘Squad – atten-shun!’, you will do it all together.”
At some sort of hidden signal, Captain Bran, our CO, came out of the Office.
“Atte-e-e-en – SHUN!”
Well, it wasn’t bad for a first go. Captain Bran addressed us briefly and he seemed like a nice man. He was waiting for demob, so had left front-line commanding, taken one step down from Major to Captain, and ended up on the Training Depot. Rarely would we see him except on formal parades.
When that bit was over, we went back to our billet where Corporal Keogh taught us how to keep it clean. The strip down the middle had to be wax-polished every day: it became a death-trap to the unwary, steel-studded boot-wearer. Yet there were one or two in the platoon – Roy Barham being one – who took a pride in that polished wooden strip.
After that, all I can remember is being outside in our Company lines learning the basics of Army drill. We would not be allowed to disgrace the Camp’s proper parade-ground until we could at least march up and down in step and knew how to about-turn.
Oh – and we had our lunch (what I was brought up to call “dinner”) consisting of ravaged vegetables and nameless meat followed by what seemed to be rice-pudding. And, after a long and, for some, confusing day, we went back to the canteen at tea-time. The content of that meal I have forgotten, perhaps mercifully. Whenever we fed, we accompanied the meal with that substance claimed to be tea drunk from our half-pint metal mugs.
Then we were off duty for the evening and, if we were still hungry, there was always the NAAFI where we could buy chocolate or crisps and palatable mugs of tea. We were always still hungry during the evening, but devised ways of satisfying that hunger without having to spend our meagre wages.
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