I went to the Royal Navy and Royal Marine recruiting office in Bristol, which was the closest one to Gloucester. I took the required academic and medical examinations and passed both with flying colours. The recruiting officer told me I had got the highest score in my English exam that he had so far encountered. During the medical examination, we went into a darkened room to test my eyes for colour blindness, night vision and general vision. The examiner was a Royal Navy officer, not a Marine. He said that I could take some of the tests while wearing my glasses, so that's what I did. My eyesight was tested as perfect. With all the tests completed I waited to find out if I would be accepted into the Royal Marines.
Christmas 1968 was getting near. I had left British Beef Co and had various odd jobs, but I was restless and didn't stay in any of them for very long. I was talking with Suresh one day, when he suggested that maybe we could get some work at the Post Office for the Christmas period. I asked my Dad if he could get us a job, which he did manage to do. He had been a postman for around thirteen years. For many of those years, he worked the nightshift at the sorting office in George Street. This was where Suresh and I were to work alongside him. We reported for work on the first night and were shown to a long workstation, full of small pigeon holes, where we were to be part of a row of temporary workers, taking letters from a sack and placing them into the relevant pigeon holes for delivery the next morning. I was split up from Suresh and was put next to a huge, fat man, who smelled so strongly of stale urine, I couldn't catch my breath. I stood it for an hour or so, but then I had had enough. I went over to my Dad and told him I couldn't work anywhere near that smelly old bastard. Dad said, sorry son, we'll move you somewhere else. He admitted that they had put me there, hoping I wouldn't complain. They had tried putting other men next to him, but they had all objected. I couldn't understand how they could employ such a man and expect others to work in close proximity.
Not being used to working nights, Suresh and I found it very hard to keep awake on that first night. We had been awake all day and were really struggling to keep our eyes open. We went to the canteen at lunchtime and collapsed into the big armchairs they had around the edges. When it was time to start back to work, a supervisor had to wake us up and herd us back into the sorting office. We were like zombies. The living dead.
Somehow, we survived the night and made it home to bed. I slept right through the day and the evening, getting up just in time to get back to work. I was okay that night, but Suresh was even worse than the previous night. I found out that he was trying to do a part time job during the day, as well as this job at night. It was never going to work. He made it through to lunchtime, when we again made our way to the canteen. This time I was alive enough to have something to eat, but Suresh collapsed into his favourite armchair and fell into a deep sleep. When it was time to go back to work, despite my best efforts, I was unable to rouse him. I left him there, curled up in the chair, partly covered by a large curtain that he had pulled around himself.
Some time later, the supervisor came to me and asked where Suresh was. I said I didn't know, maybe he was in the toilet. The supervisor went off in search of the sleeping beauty. Half an hour went by and the supervisor came back to me and said, 'I'm ever so sorry but I have had to send your friend home. I found him asleep in the canteen and he refused all my efforts to get him to return to work. I couldn't get him out of that chair, so I've told him to go home when he wakes up.'
So, on the second night, Suresh got the sack for sleeping on the job. I carried on working for the whole of the Christmas period. The money was okay and I quite enjoyed the experience. One night I went over the road to the Wellington for a pint with Dad and a few of his mates. It was the only time I ever sat and had a drink with my Dad in a pub. I got someone to take a photograph of us, to commemorate the occasion.
Dad wasn't looking too well, he looked very old, though he was only forty-nine. A few months later he was retired from the Post Office through ill health. He was suffering from thrombosis
Soon after that I got my enlistment date. I had only a few weeks left at home as a civilian.
On the tenth of February 1969 I reported to the Royal Marines training facility at Deal, on the Kent coast. I was inducted as RM 26924. Thirty of us were gathered together in a large room and left to get to know each other until it was time for our induction, which was done individually until we were all sworn in. As soon as we were finished with this process, Frank Brady who was from Northern Ireland asked the squad sergeant when he could go out to meet his girlfriend who was waiting outside the gates. Sergeant Watkins shouted him down, calling him an idiot and telling him to get in line. Our training had begun.
We formed up as a squad in four lines, which we would always do from now on. We went on a circuit of the camp to collect our kit. We doubled to the stores where everything was issued in quick time by a row of storemen who had no intention of making our lives easy. In this manner we got our full compliment of kit, except for dress uniforms, which we would be measured for, later. All the kit was stuffed into a bag, which by the time we had finished was stuffed to the limit and very heavy. We were told to get the kitbags onto our shoulders then double to the rooms, which were to be our homes for the next few months. There were ten men to a room, so 899 squad took up three rooms. Five beds and lockers down each side of the room. A large round aluminium rubbish bin, they called a gash bin sat in the middle of the highly polished parquet floor. The gash bin itself was also highly polished and looked like a flying saucer. In my room I was bunked next to Alfie Hammond, from Charlton in London. Paddy Brady was there, so were Ray Buck from Liverpool and Stuart McDonald from Fife in Scotland.
Our instructors were, Sergeant Watkins, Corporal Blatchford and Lieutenant Davis. They would be with us throughout our training and do most of the physical tasks that we were required to do. The first thing we had to do was get fit, the physical training was incredibly hard. We were given long runs, followed by periods of intense gym work. Sometimes these sessions were so intense that many of us were sick during the exercise, but it made no difference, we just kept going. While off duty on the camp, we had to march everywhere in pairs, even when we wanted to go to the NAAFI.
Alfie Hammond was my best buddy, so we went everywhere together, on or off the camp.
Life was a constant round of physical exercise, marching and cleaning. It was very hard, but the life itself was not that different from boarding school, living closely with others of approximately the same age.
The difference was in the intensity of it all. Everything had to be done to perfection. Even then sometimes it wasn't good enough, just so you didn't get too cocky. We were shown how to do everything in minute detail by either Sgt Watkins or Cpl Blatchford. They showed us how to iron our clothes, the Royal Marine way. How to mend our socks, how to clean our brasses, our rooms, polish the floors, clean the toilets and polish our boots, all the Royal Marine way, which we were told was the best way. The floors had to be polished to a shine unimaginable to a civilian, it took hours to do before an inspection, especially if we had recently come in from an exercise, covered in mud. The 'Heads' (toilet and shower block) had to be immaculate. Each squad took it in turns to be on general fatigues, which meant we had to take care of the shared facilities for a week, as well as our own rooms. Our squad corporal came and did a pre inspection and created a hell of a fuss if he found anything not up to scratch. The Officer came later followed by our squad NCO's. Lt Davis went through everything and although very strict, he wasn't usually as critical as our NCO's. Usually everything had been sorted out before he got there. One day though he surprised me, as to the lengths anyone would go to in the name of cleanliness. 899 squad had been on fatigues and we had to stand and watch while he inspected the toilets. He went into a cubicle, rolled up his sleeve and plunged his hand into the WC. He felt around the bend, brought his wet hand out, looked at it, put it to his nose and sniffed it, then asked for a towel to dry his hands. He didn't say anything. He just walked off. We had passed the inspection.
Weapon training was especially interesting. We were all given a 7.62 Self-Loading Rifle, which was to be our personal weapon. After some initial training to learn the workings of the weapon, it was off to the range to sight it in. The first thing to do was to get the SLR set up for my own eyesight. At a range of 25 yards, we were told to load five rounds and fire at the centre of a 'Figure Eleven, Charging Man target.' After the five rounds were fired, Cpl Bouchard proved the SLR empty, the weapons training instructor. Proving means checking that a weapon is empty. When all weapons had been proved, we were sent to stand by our targets, for evaluation. The purpose of this exercise was to see where the group was printing so that Cpl Bouchard could adjust the sights to hit the centre of the target. The hope was that all recruits would be able to hit the target sufficiently well to make an assessment. This didn't prove to be the case. As I walked past some of the targets to get to mine, I couldn't help laughing. Some had hardly hit the target at all. Those who had were all over the place. The corporal was moving up the line cursing and swearing at each recruit in turn. When he got to me I was still sniggering.
He said, 'what are you sniggering at.'
'Nothing corporal' I replied.
He looked at my target and saw four holes in a group around the size of a fifty pence piece.
He said, 'that's pretty good, but where's the fifth shot.'
I said, 'It went through one of the other holes corporal.'
'Show me.' He said.
I showed him the very slight clip on the side of one of the holes. He just said, 'well done' and moved on to the next man, where he resumed his shouting of abuse, calling them a useless lot of bastards. Very soon I could tell I was going to get on well with Cpl Bouchard.
We had to learn to swim for great distances carrying large amounts of equipment. Like everything else, it was to be a gradual build up of proficiency. First time at the pool, the instructor said, good swimmers to one end and poor swimmers to the other end. I thought that if I went with the poor swimmers it would give me time to build up my stamina.
He shouted, 'everybody in the pool.'
Some jumped in, some lowered themselves in and some dived in. I dived in and after a couple of strokes, I came up on the other side of the pool. The instructor had seen it and shouted, 'YOU! Get up the other end.' So I was in the experienced class after all. First of all we swam round and round the pool for increasing lengths of time. Then we started swimming while wearing more and more kit. Starting with combat jacket and trousers, then adding boots, then packs, then stones in the pack to simulate a full kit, then the whole kit including an old rifle they kept especially for swimming with. It was very hard to keep afloat with all this kit on, let alone swim.
After a few weeks training, we were taken to the gym to play games against a squad that was further into their training than we were. We played a variety of games, including volleyball, football and some chase and contact games. We lost them all. We didn't even get near to winning any of them. It was a lesson that was very important. We had a lecture afterward, telling us that we were not expected to win anything. The extra training that the more advanced squad had, had increased their fitness and their confidence to such a degree, that we had never stood a chance. It would soon be our turn to play these games against a squad earlier in it's training than us and we would be expected to annihilate them, as we had been annihilated.
The runs got longer and longer, until we were easily doing 9 miles in full kit. Some had great difficulty with the runs, but all could do it in the end. We went out as a squad, doubling in close order. When we got out onto the open road, we went into open order. We doubled for twenty minutes, then marched single time for five minutes. We kept that up until we got back, close to the barracks, when we closed up again and put on a show as we went through the gates.
After a shower, Alfie and I went to the galley for dinner. Marine barracks are classed as ships, so nautical terms are used. We were going out after dinner and were dressed in civilian clothes. We were in the queue for our food when one of the cooks said to me, 'I like that tie you're wearing.' It was an old flower power tie, pretty nice really, but I had grown bored with it. I took it from around my neck and said, 'if you like it, it's yours.' He couldn't believe it, he thanked me profusely and said for me to take any food I wanted. As Alfie and I sat at a table, eating our dinner, I could see the cook showing the tie to his mates and nodding in my direction. It turned out to be one of the best moves I could have made. I got friendly with the cooks and eventually started a small business in the evenings, selling sandwiches around the barrack rooms. I also got the best of everything in the galley, especially later on when I missed breakfast and could go in through the back door and eat my breakfast in the kitchen.
The Reverend G P Thornley RN was the Navy Vicar for the Deal barracks. Geoff Thornley and I became friends very quickly. We just hit it off together. I was soon reading the lesson during the church services on Sundays. I had done it many times before at school, I even read the lesson in Gloucester Cathedral once. Although I have never been a religious person, it didn't seem to matter to Geoff. He never came on with a holy holy attitude, though there was never any doubt that he was a good and holy man. Our friendship has endured for nearly thirty years so far, although we rarely see each other these days, but we still keep in touch.
The post was handed out every morning at first assembly. We were ordered to form up as a squad, outside the barracks. Sergeant Watkins called out each name in turn, then handed any post to the persons concerned. I seemed to have something almost every day, mainly from girlfriends. One day he called my name, while waving a beautifully pink coloured envelope in the air. He said to everyone, while holding my letter to his nose. 'Look at this, a pink scented letter from America, what ever next.'
It was a letter from Pattie Hughes, wishing that we could be together and wishing me luck. Shortly after this letter, Pattie sent me a macramé belt that she had made for me, it was very sixties, I still have it. She also sent me a sweatshirt from New York City. It was the first sweatshirt I had ever seen. They were not yet available in England.
I was also writing to and receiving letters from Angie Talbot, maybe we would get back together. She said she missed me. I certainly missed her.
Soon we had our first leave. I was given a seven day pass and a travel warrant, to good old Gloucester. I was missing it too. Angie and I got together for that week, but I think we both knew it wasn't the same as it had been. I got the Lightning from under its covers and blasted around like a man possessed. Angie still didn't want to go on it. It was clear that we had no future together. I felt very sad when we parted but that's the way it goes.
During that leave I met with Suresh, he was taking photographs for the membership cards for a new club called The Swinging Plaice, in the Eastgate Market precinct. I sat with Suresh, at a table just inside the door, where every new member came over to have his or her picture taken. The club didn't last long, but at least Suresh got something out of it.
It wasn't much of a leave, I was almost glad to be going back to Deal. I took the train to Paddington, then the underground to Kings Cross, as I had done before without any problems. This time the train stopped in the tunnel for about three quarters of an hour. I knew I was going to be lucky to catch my connection to Deal. When I got to Kings Cross, I ran to the platform, but it was too late. The train had gone. I knew I would be in trouble if I was late back to barracks. I went to the information desk to find out when the next train was due. There was no other train to Deal that night, the next one only went as far as Dover. I had little choice but to take it, even though it would arrive at Dover at twenty past midnight, twenty minutes too late for my pass, with another twenty miles to go to Deal. When I arrived at Dover I walked out of the station to try to get a taxi to take me to Deal. I was in uniform, so it was pretty obvious where I was going. As I stood at the taxi rank, a Marine policeman came up to me and said. 'Hello Bootneck! Absent without leave'? I said, 'yes, how did you know.'
He said, 'me too. Were you on that poxy tube train, stopped in the tunnel'?
'Yes', I replied.
He said, 'Want to share a taxi'?
I was a bit worried by him being an RM policeman, but tried not to show it. I said, 'OK, why not'?
On the journey to Deal he said to me, 'have you got to hand your pass in to the guardroom'?
I said, 'no, it just has an expiry time on it.'
He said, 'mine too. The guards will know me so we'll double time, through the gates as if I have you under arrest. When we get round the corner from the guardhouse, we'll split up. You just disappear into your barrack room and I'll do the same. Okay'?
I said, 'Okay, it sounds like a good plan to me.'
It was a good plan and it worked like clockwork.
The next day, Alfie and Ray wanted to know how I had got into the camp without being arrested. When I told them, we all laughed our heads off. They said, you're the jammiest sod alive.
There was talk of a new uprising in Ireland. I asked Frank Brady what he thought of the IRA. He told me, there was no such thing as the IRA, it didn't exist. Shortly after this conversation, the first bombs went off and a war started that is still going on thirty years later. Frank went AWOL and I never saw him again. The IRA called it a war and set about killing our military and civilian personnel. Our politicians refused to call it a war and have continued to this day to allow the atrocities to continue.
We were soon back in training with a vengeance, it was getting tougher every day. The runs were getting longer and faster and the swimming was getting more and more arduous. Weapons training wasn't a problem and I looked forward to time on the range as a welcome relief to the more physical pursuits. We were shooting at up to 600 yards now. A far cry from the 25 yards we had started at. Sometimes during shooting practice, the instructors would decide it was time to test our shooting ability when we were exhausted. The range ran alongside the sea and there were chalk cliffs in one area. We were sent up the beach, over barbed wire, up the hill to the edge of the cliff were we were urged to hurl ourselves off the edge of a cliff which wasn't all that far off vertical. We had to slide down on our backs as fast as we could, digging our heels in very carefully to control the rate of descent. If you dug your heels in too strongly, you tumbled over, head first. If you didn't dig them in enough you came down too fast and ended in a heap at the bottom, too battered to run back along the beach, to the finish. After this we were required to hit a target with five rounds. It was difficult to steady your aim after this kind of exertion, but it could be done.
The range ran alongside the sea until it came to a cliff at the end where the target butts had been built into the cliff. The theory behind this type of range construction was that all stray rounds would either go into the cliff of into the sea. To ensure that we didn't shoot any boats that came round the point, one recruit was always sent around the back of the cliff where he could see any boats coming. His orders were to raise a red flag when it was clear to fire, but if he saw a boat coming he was supposed to lower the flag until the it had passed. The instructors always kept an eye on the flag, so they could give the order to cease firing in plenty of time. One day we were blazing away when an oil tanker came round the point. Everybody kept firing until the sergeant spotted it and called the cease fire. He went round to the other side of the cliff and found the recruit curled up asleep, amid all the noise, totally oblivious to what was going on around him. We could hear the shouting and balling from two hundred yards away. The sleepy marine spent the rest of the afternoon, doubling up and down the shingle beach with his rifle above his head, being constantly berated by a corporal.
899 squad went on a three-day exercise in a wood, in the middle of nowhere. We left Deal, riding in the back of a three ton lorry, arriving at our destination, a couple of bone shaking hours later. We disembarked from the lorry and were told to make ourselves at home for the next three days. We had been allowed only to bring with us, the minimum of regulation kit. Before we had left the barracks, the NCO's had searched our packs for anything that may have made life too easy. We had to exist as if we were in battle conditions. The weather was foul, it was the end of February and it was raining that cold winter rain that chills you to the bone.
Lt Davis briefed us that we were on our own and we could to take any action we saw fit. We could beg, borrow or steal anything to make our lives more comfortable. We were given enough rations to last three days, then the officers and NCO's got into their vehicles and left.
We split into small groups and chose places we thought would be both dry from any water running along the ground and would be easy to defend. We knew that it wasn't going to be as easy as we had been told. They weren't going to leave us alone for three days. We were going to be attacked at some time throughout the exercise.
We had a terrible time trying to get a fire going, with everything that could be used to start a fire, being sodden by the persistent rain. Alfie and I gave up after a while and decided to get on with making the bivouac that we would spend the next two nights, sleeping and trying to keep dry in. All we had with us to make this shelter with, was our poncho's and some string. We laced the two poncho's together as prescribed in the manual and made the bivouac up against a tree. We stuffed it from the open end with dead ferns and squashed them down to form a mattress, then threw some green ferns over it for camouflage. It looked good so Alfie and I crawled in to try it out, it was pretty snug. We would be all right in here.
The other lads in our group were still having very little success with the fire, so Alfie and I decided to explore the area. We hiked for a considerable distance through the woods, making sure we knew what bearing we were on, so we would be able to find our way back. We came upon a hut in a clearing and saw the instructor's vehicles parked at the front. We decided to creep in as close as we could for a recce. As we got close, we could see a large bunker full of sacks of coal, stacked in a row. We got to the bunker and picked up a full sack. It was a full one hundredweight sack and we were going to have difficulty getting it back to our base, but we knew it would make all the difference to our comfort.
We struggled through the woods for what seemed like an age before we got back to camp. When we emerged from the darkness struggling with this sack of coal, they all fell about laughing. They had managed to get the fire going but it was really feeble, all the wood was far too wet. We put the coal on and soon had a roaring fire. Someone found an old piece of corrugated tin plate and we constructed a roof for the fire to keep the rain off it. It was plain sailing now, we cooked our meal, made a brew of tea and spent a good old evening round the camp fire, telling silly stories and tales of drunkenness and bravado. We hid the rest of the coal so that we could use it when we needed it and to keep it away from prying eyes, especially if an officer turned up.
I woke up next morning, the rain had turned to snow. It was freezing, but we hadn't really noticed the cold while we were in the bivouac. Suddenly there was a commotion outside. The instructors had arrived and were shouting at everybody to fall in, in a clearing not far from our camp. We started rushing about, getting our kit together, although we had slept in full kit, including boots, with our rifles by our sides. We ran down to the clearing and fell in, as a squad.
I couldn't believe my eyes. The snow was falling quite heavily, we were wearing as much kit as we could, to keep warm and in front of us stood, our squad officer and two NCO's, stripped to the waist. Cpl Blatchford shouted, 'right you lot, get your tops off, were going for a run, to shake the cobwebs off.' So off came all our kit and we went off for our morning wake up run. Before long I was as warm as toast and we were soon back, dressed and told to go and make a brew.
We stoked up the fire, which we had kept going, with a bit more of our coal and soon the billy can of water was boiling. I was just making the tea when Lt Davis came to see how we were getting on. He looked around our camp, then came over to the fire for a warm. He saw the coal burning merrily and said, 'where did that coal come from.'
I said, 'we came across it sir.'
He said, ' I see.'
With that he smiled and walked away.
The officer and NCO's cleared off and left us to it again. We spent the day exploring the area and refining our bivouacs and cooking arrangements. We knew that anything could happen, at any time. So we had to be vigilant as well. Nothing happened all that day, so we retired to our makeshift beds with some trepidation. Something had to happen soon. In the early hours, I was woken by a terrific bang, quite close to our camp. We all leapt out of our bivouacs, rifles in hand, ready for battle. The dawn was just breaking, but it was still pretty dark. I could hear people shouting and running around, but couldn't see anything but flashes a short distance away. We decided to take cover and wait for something to come to us. The noise went on and on but never got any closer. We heard someone yelling for help, but ignored it. I later found out that one of the other camps had been attacked and one fool had run into the darkness and fell down an old pit and had been unable to climb out. Eventually the exercise was halted and we came out of hiding. No one had found us, we had fared much better than the ones who had been attacked and the ones who had made their way towards the action. They had all been caught out. We had made the right decision to wait where we were.
It was time to leave and get back to civilisation. Back in Deal we had a shower, got changed and made our way to the galley for some good food. I have to say, that all the food I ever ate at an RM establishment was always of a very high standard and with all this exercise, I was consuming vast amounts of it. Once fed, Alfie and I made our way into Deal to the local night club on the sea front. It was a small cellar club called The Dive Bar. It was aptly named, but it was the only place with some life to it in Deal, apart from the occasional camp dances. Marines often got into trouble with the locals at the Dive Bar. They seemed to resent Marines chatting up the local girls. There were often fights that spilled out onto the beach. This surprised me a little, because unless severely outnumbered, the marines always won. Shortly before I had arrived in Deal, a marine had been set upon by a number of local lads, a left on the beach, severely beaten. He was found the next morning, having died from his injuries. Because of this the marines were particularly belligerent at the time and some terrible fights ensued. No local lad was safe.
The camp dances were quite good, lots of girls came, which surprised me a bit. I would have thought that they wouldn't have wanted a man that they knew would be moving on soon, but they did. They were looking for casual affairs, as much as we were. At one of the dances, our room decided we would get on stage and play a tune. None of us played an instrument, but a little thing like that wasn't going to stop us. We formed a Gazoo band. A couple of gazoo's, one comb and paper and a bongo drum was all we needed to play Marmalade's ob-la-di ob-la-da. It was a rubbish song anyway and we made it worse, but everybody loved it. There were shouts of 'encore' from the audience. It was the only thing we knew, so we played it again to howls of laughter and rapturous applause. I thought the popular music scene was going through a bad patch at the moment. Thank God for the Heavy Progressive bands, which were coming to the fore.
Back on the range, it was time for the assessment of our night shooting skills. We went to the range, which was in total darkness. No light spilled from any local conurbations, it was pitch dark. We were let into the range hut for a briefing, where we were given ammunition and time to load magazines. Then we had to pick up a figure eleven target and carry it to the 25 yard range. That was a far enough distance to shoot in this kind of darkness. We put the targets in their holders and retired to the firing point, where the order was given to load a magazine of twenty rounds and make ready to fire. The technique was to look into the ground, to try to get some night vision. After a while you could make out the targets, but I had already sussed out a better way to do this. The targets were made of plywood and were reused many times with a new paper target pasted onto the board. I had chosen a target with plenty of old holes in it and I made sure I had my jacknife with me. A jacknife always had one of those spikes on it which are supposed to be for getting stones out of horse's hooves. This spike was about the same diameter as a 7.62 bullet. On the order to fire, I made sure I didn't hit the target at all. The next order was to recover the target and carry it back to the range hut for scoring. It took about five minutes to walk from the range to the hut and during that time I punched twenty good scoring holes in the target. Easy. I was a good shot, but why take unnecessary risks.
Part of the final test in the swimming pool was to dress in full battle order, climb to the top diving board and jump off. The theory was to hit the bottom of the pool, take off your rifle and pack while on the bottom, then spring to the surface and complete the test by swimming three lengths of the pool. It wasn't a big problem as long as everything came undone. The kit was so heavy that unless you managed to shed it you couldn't get to the surface. I got to the edge of the board, grasped the butt of my rifle with one hand and the foresight with the other and held it tight to stop the rifle coming up and hitting me under the chin when I hit the water. I jumped in, hit the bottom with a thump, pulled the sling of the rifle over my head, undid my webbing and discarded it. I bent my legs and pushed upwards, sucking in a big breath as soon as I broke the surface. I swam the required three lengths and got out. Nothing to it. Those who had completed the test, stood and watched the others, as their turn came. Some were nervous and took a little time to take the plunge. Some did it with no fuss at all, then came the show off. I have to admit, he was good at everything, but it could be irritating. He didn't walk to the edge of the board like everybody else. He ran from the back screaming, 'Geronimo' and leapt off the board. He had overdone it this time though, he jumped so high that the foresight of his rifle got caught in a polo net that had been hoisted to the ceiling to keep it out of the way. He had hold of the rifle by the butt and the foresight as we had been taught, but this caught him by surprise and the rifle came up and caught him by the neck. His rifle sight caught in the net and his neck caught between the rifle and the sling. Within seconds he started to go a funny colour. Suddenly there was a tearing sound and the net gave way. He hit the water with a mighty splash and crashed to the bottom of the pool. He was lying there with a small stream of bubbles coming from his mouth, when the instructor, shaking his head, put a long pole into the water and hooked his webbing. We grabbed the end of the pole and dragged him out. As we pulled him onto the side of the pool he was coughing and spluttering and spitting out water. Once we realised he was going to be all right we started to laugh until we were all rolling about, partly with relief and partly because it was such a funny sight, seeing him dangling from that net.
One of the shooting tests was a walk down from six hundred yards, to three hundred yards, two hundred, one hundred, fifty and twenty five. Five rounds to be fired at each distance. I was always amazed that they didn't seem to realise that these methods were wide open to cheating. As I said, I was a good shot but why take a chance. We were in a line, all shooting within the required time limit. I put the rifle to my shoulder, but I didn't shoot any of my rounds at six hundred yards, only a couple at three hundred, a couple at two hundred and a couple more at one hundred. When I got down to fifty yards I made sure I had twenty rounds in the magazine. I fired ten rounds from fifty yards and ten more from twenty five yards. My score was great.
Alfie, Ray and I were fooling around in our room one afternoon, when my glasses were knocked onto the floor and I fell off my bed, onto the glasses, breaking a lens. I only wore them for shooting so it wasn't a big problem, but I had to report it to an officer so that I could get them repaired.
The officer said, 'I didn't realise you wore glasses.'
I told him that I only wore them for shooting.
He asked me if any of the weapons training instructors had ever noticed.
I said, 'if they had, they had never mentioned it.'
Actually, they had noticed and made a joke about it, nicknaming me
'Joe 90.' To be fair, I don't know how anybody could have missed my thick black rimmed 'Buddy Holly' style glasses.
He told me that, as far as he knew GD Marines (general duty) were not allowed to wear glasses. I told him what had happened at the recruiting office and he said he would have to look into it, but it looked as if a mistake had been made.
Eventually I was sent to the Royal Navy Hospital Haslar, at Portsmouth, for tests. They tested my eyesight then I went before a panel of officers. They told me that they were very sorry, but my eyesight failed to meet the required standard for the Royal Marines and I would be unable to remain in the service. They said my eyesight would be all right for the army or the navy, as they are allowed to wear glasses, but marines were not. I was give three options. I could transfer to another service, because it had been their error, I could remain in the marines, but only as a cook. Or I could take an honourable discharge.
There wasn't much to think about. I didn't want to be in any of the other services and to be honest, I was quite relieved that I was getting out.
I got back to Deal from my appointment with the medical board at Portsmouth, in the early evening. Just in time to get to the party being thrown to celebrate the end of training and our last evening in Deal. It had been arranged by our NCO's at a pub just out of town. It was the only time we had socialised with them. Their attitude towards us was completely different. Sgt Watkins told us that we were one of the best squads he had ever trained. You wouldn't have known it at times, to hear him bellowing what useless idiots we all were.
I said to him, 'I'll bet you say that to all the boys.'
But he said he meant it, we were very good. We had a real fun night, plenty to eat and drink. A night to remember.
We left Deal the next day for another week of leave, before the squad reported to Lympstone for advanced commando training. I already knew I would not be going with them. I was to report back to Deal to await my discharge. We all went our separate ways and I never saw any of them again, with the exception of Alfie Hammond, who I visited a few times in later years.
I went home for the week, got the Lightning out again and started doing the rounds of my mates, to find out what was happening. I came out of my house one afternoon, started the bike and set off down Fourth avenue. As I was accelerating away, a dog came running out of a house on my right. It ran after me, trying to bite my legs. Somehow it ran in front of the bike and I hit it with my front wheel. I went over the handlebars and landed in a heap on the road. Hughie MacPherson was in his garden and had seen what had happened. He came running down the road towards me, waving a shovel. The dog ran off just in time, before Hughie could get to it. He was really angry that it had caused the accident. We picked the bike up and assessed the damage. It wasn't much, the headlamp rim was bashed flat on one side and the chrome scraped off, but apart from that it was okay. I saw where the dog had come from and where it had gone, so I went to the house and knocked on the door. A man answered, asking what I wanted. I told him that his dog had just caused an accident, having knocked me off my bike. He was instantly aggressive, telling me that he didn't have a dog and that I should fuck off.
I said, 'look mate, I don't want any trouble. Pay for the damaged headlamp rim and I will say no more about it.' He didn't want to know, just repeating that I should fuck off.
I said, 'if I fuck off, I'll come back with the police.'
He said, 'I don't give a fuck who you come back with.'
I called the police and told them what had happened, so they sent a constable to see the man concerned. We went to the door and knocked again. The response was much the same as I had encountered an hour earlier, except that when he denied having a dog the policeman said, 'do you mind if we come in and have a look.'
The man didn't like it, but he let us in. The dog was lying in front of the fireplace, looking very ill.
The policeman said, 'that dog doesn't look well to me.'
The man said that the dog always looked like that.
The policeman asked if they could get the dog to stand up. They called it, but it wouldn't move. Then they tried to stand it up, but it fell back down again as soon as they let it go. It was obviously injured and in pain. The policeman had seen enough and said, 'I'm satisfied that this animal has been involved in the road traffic accident described by Mr Ballinger and I will be making a report to that effect. I will also call the RSPCA to report that you are causing this animal unnecessary suffering, by neglecting it's injuries.'
At this point, the man said, 'I've already told you, it's nothing to do with me. The dog belongs to my wife.'
His wife had been standing in the corner of the room, saying nothing up to this point. I thought, how's that for a good relationship. Drop your wife in it when the going gets rough.
The policeman turned to the woman and said, 'is this correct madam, that the dog belongs to you.'
Hesitantly, she replied, 'yes.'
The policeman asked, 'have you a licence for this animal, madam.'
That was the last straw, she burst into tears and started blubbering away at what I took to be excuses, but the job was done and it was time for us to leave them to contemplate the court appearance that was sure to follow.
The dog had to be destroyed and some time later I saw the case in the Citizen. They had been fined on all three counts. Causing an accident, causing unnecessary suffering and no dog licence.
I was having trouble with a stiff neck for the next few days, so I thought I had better go to the accident unit, in Great Western Road to get it looked at. They X-rayed it but were unsure of the extent of the damage. They put me in a collar and told me to come back next week. I said I wouldn't be able to come back as I was due back at Deal on Monday. The doctor said, Oh no, you mustn't travel, just in case there is a problem. We will give you a sick certificate for a week. I rang Deal and told them I would be late back due to an accident. It wasn't a problem, I wouldn't have much to do there anyway. So I got an extra week at home out of it and there was no damage to my neck, it was just a strain.
When I got back to Deal, I was moved into a room with two other men who were waiting for a discharge. We were on light duties while in this room, it was very boring, with very little to do. But with new squads coming in, there was some money to be made. I was a wizard at bulling (spit and polishing) boots and could do a few pairs quickly during the day, when I had nothing better to do. I charged them a small fee for the service. I also had a key to the storeroom so that I could make tea for the Commanding officer and his secretary, at times throughout the day. In the storeroom was a radio, so I could lock myself in and keep out of sight for hours at a time. There was also a polishing machine. One of the worst jobs for a squad with an inspection due, was getting the floor shiny enough. I could polish the floor for them, with my machine, while they were out during the day. I charged them 2/6 each, that made twenty-five shilling a room. That wasn't bad seeing as I was only earning £9 a week. Five or six rooms, only took a couple of hours with my machine.
It took longer than I had expected for my discharge to come through, about a month from when the decision had been made. One day, a Captain came into the room and gave me some papers to sign and an itinerary to follow. I had to go from place to place all around the complex, handing in pieces of kit and signing different papers until suddenly, I was a civilian again. I had my severance pay and my last travel warrant, which I used to travel home to good old Gloucester.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.