Day dreaming today my thoughts drifted back around 57 years ago. I was far from home trapped in an environment that I hated. I was apart from Mavis and home sick. It was called The Army.
I was posted to Yorkshire on what was called the Army`s Charles Atlas Course. because I was unable to eat the stuff served up in the canteens that they called food I was loosing weight fast.
On parade one morning I was told to report to medics. I was pushed poked prodded and questioned by corporals and captains. It was pointed out that within the few weeks that I had been in the service I had lost almost a stone in weight. In such a short space of time this loss was not acceptable. I was either seriously ill or they have missed something. They asked me was there any reason for this loss. I said I am living on mars bars and cakes from the naffi because the crap they call food is un edible to me.
That didn’t go down well. They told me that it had been discussed that If it wasn’t an illness then they had a cure. If it was an illness then maybe they should consider a discharge..
My heart leapt at the thought of a medical discharge. Yippee! i could be getting out of the place and back home.
But they had a trick up their sleeve. At that time I was a mere 5ft 6in and weighed in at 6 stone. Apparently my records show that on enlistment I was 7 stone. Nothing fantastic.
Now this captain said to me How would you like to be 6ft tall and 10 stone. i said my mother had tried to make me that all my life and failed. If you could do that it would be a miracle. In hindsight I think that was the red rag. Well we have a 6 week course in Yorkshire that we will put you on that will do just that. So my fate was sealed. In 2 days travel warrant in my hand I was dispatched to a campsite in Fulford. On arrival I met about 20 other guys all starting this course. It was where they sent ex patients to rehabilitate after hospital. Our instructor was staff carpenter. Who is the reason for my day dreams today. In brief this course was to last 6 weeks. It consisted of intense physical training all day every day in the Gym it was called circuit training. and forced marches in full kit. The idea was to build up the muscles and stamina of all these ex patients. And me of course. After a week we were lined up and weighed. As the names were called out and weight recorded each one had increased in a measure of pounds. But my name was called and the response was No Change. The following week all our previous weeks exercises were increased. The case being that every day what ever was achieved had to be beaten each time. For example if we did 20 push ups on Monday morning we had to do 21 plus in the afternoon and on the next day we had to do 25 and so on. All these achievements were recorded on a giant blackboard for all to see.
But on Wednesday we were allowed recreation time in the afternoon. We could choose Football or swimming. Now I hated Football and still do. So I chose swimming. A coach was laid on and our first trip was arranged. We visited the local baths. Bearing in mind I could not swim but was open to learning. On this fist recreation period I got my trunks on and climbed into the pool. I was about a 3rd of the way along from the shallow end so that the water was up to my chest. I was quite happy to hold on to the bar and practice floating. At this point Staff carpenter came up behind me and said Do you swim nye. No Staff I said. Right YOU WILL Before you leave today. With that he grabbed me under my arms and wrenched me away from the security of the hand rail I was holding. Being that he was close to 6 feet it was easy for him to push his feet on the side and simple use brute force to heave me off. he dragged me ou into the middle of the Deep end and without warning he let me go.
I sank like a stone. I have no recollection of how I got back to the surface and how I reached the side. Its probable the furthermost I have ever moved in the water in my life. But I scrambled out of the pool with him yelling at me to get back into the water. he was insistent. he shouted at me to get back. Thats an Order he screamed at me. My short reply was to tell him to F..k OFF.
Now That is 2 cardinal sins I have committed. 1 failing to obey an Order and swearing at a superior. Last chance he screamed at me. So I repeated my response as I made my way back to the changing room. At the end of the session as we all climbed aboard the bus Staff said to me. You are on a charge. OK !
Next morning I was rudely awoken by 2 military policemen who took delight on tipping me out of bed at 5 am. Get your self ready that bawled at me you are up before the Co at 9 sharp. So now I had to get cleaned up and press my uniform ,blanco my kit. Bull my boots. At 5 to 9am I was frog marched across the square like a prisoner. Which at that point I was. LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT the shouted at me in unison until we reached the CO office. next I was marched in front of the CO. I was identified and told I was on a disciplinary Charge for disobeying a direct order. Standing in the corner behind the CO was Staff Carpenter with a smug look on his face. As the charge was made clear to me How do you plead he asked me. Guilty I said.
Anything to say in your defense the CO asked. So I told him I could not swim but was prepared to learn. That I had a fear of the water that I was willing to overcome. But the action of Staff Carpenter had frightened me and I panicked. But if the situation was repeated I would do the same again. That I felt it was not the best way to allay any phobias of water I had.
The CO looked at me for what seemed ages, running through my mind was I am going into a cell for a week now!
After what seemed ages he turned to Staff Carpenter and asked him was my account of what happened a true account.
He said most of it was a fair account. Except that he only eased me away from the hand rail with care and that he was reassuring me all the time we swam to the deep end. That he was on hand should I get into difficulties.
Next ,much to my surprise the CO snapped back at Staff carpenter that his actions were not acceptable. That what he did would most probable have scared me away from swimming for the rest of my life. That for continued Wednesday Recreations days at the baths will need looking at. he continued to reprimand him. When he returned to me. He said I sentence you to 7 days Extra duty and confined to barracks .
That sentence reflects your action of disobeying a direct order. DISMISSED
There ended my first experience of military discipline. The Staff later sort of apologized without actually saying it. We continued on amicable terms. Until the 6th week f the course. Which by then had progressed into Circuit training in the gym in the mornings and in the afternoons we were picked an opponent from another troupe to box or wrestle in the afternoons. This coupled with exercise etc. on the bars and cross country running boxing wrestling. One felt quite fit. But each weigh in my weight never changed. I was summoned to see the major . I see after your 6 weeks of intensive physical training here that your body weight has not improved he said. How do you find the food. Excellent Sir I said. Hm! was his reply. How do you feel?
Sir I have never felt fitter in all my life I said. I am running cross country in kit with no problems I am boxing and wrestling which I did not expect and I have had successes in that. I think I could tie one arm behind my back and take on Garth and Kill him. ( Garth was newspaper cartoon strip of a strong man).
Now that’s good news he said. With that I see no reason to continue the course. I am returning you to your unit as Fit for Service. So now I am trapped until the duration.