Tuesday, December 02, 2014

My army service - part two

After two weeks in pre-basic training, we set off for our first forced march. Although this seemed to go on forever, we probably only ran five kilometres. I had already discovered that I wasn't the strongest runner in the platoon (far from it!) and the only way that I could keep up would be to start at the front and stay there for as long as possible; this way I might not be the last to finish. 

In those days (and possibly still), there was something called 'water discipline': in practical terms, this means that we had to run around with two (silent) full water bottles tucked into our battle dress but never drink from them. There's a scene in the first episode of 'Band of Brothers' which demonstrates this: the soldiers go on a run, then are told to empty a water bottle on the ground. Someone's bottle finishes way before anyone else's and he gets puts on a charge - because he had drunk from his bottle even though he was ordered not to. When we arrived at the half-way spot, we were told to drink one complete water bottle; I was nearly sick from this.

Running back to the base, I was falling further and further behind. At one stage, a few fellow soldiers were ordered to support me and help me run - which hurt as much as the running itself. At some stage, I fell in a furrow and my rifle became covered in mud (I think someone else picked it up in order to reduce the amount of weight which I had to carry). When we finally arrived back at base, I was in no small amount of pain and commenced some exercises which were designed to relax my muscles, not that they did. Eventually one of our NCOs saw that I was in distress, and after a quick visit to the camp's medical unit, I was trucked to a local hospital. The thinking was that I had suffered an attack of my stomach ulcer, although I strongly suspected that I was merely suffering from too much exercise.

I was prescribed several days rest in bed (in the camp infirmary, in a proper bed and not in a cold, leaky tent) and was fed four kinds of cheese every four hours. They would wake me in the middle of the night to eat more cheese, which was intended to calm my stomach. As this run took place on a Thursday night, I didn't go home that weekend. As a result of this incident, my medical profile was further reduced from 72 to an impressive 45, which meant that I didn't have to run again for the next six months.

The rest of the pre-basic training period went without hitch, although two weeks later, I contracted a throat infection and had to stay yet another weekend in the infirmary. Whilst I wasn't against sleeping all the time in a proper bed, I would have preferred to do it at home. 

Eventually this period finished and we went on to proper basic training. As all of my friends also had low to medium medical profiles, we all continued to a platoon intended for the less capable. Here we were joined by young Israelis. The first day, we were told by our new platoon commander that he wanted mixed tents, i.e. Israelis and immigrants together. We told him that our tent was mixed: we had an Australian, some British, some American and one Dutch soldier!

This period lasted two months and again was 50% laughter and 50% crying. I remember that we spent a week in bivouac tents camped on a beach where it rained almost all the time. I recall trying to shoot my gun at a target (I was quite good at this) and being told to hurry up - the wind and the rain were moving the barrel around so much that I couldn't keep the gun still. I remember cleaning my rifle after this and being praised as I had managed to get all the sand out the barrel. About the only thing which I cared about during this time was what was going to happen to me after this two month period.

No comments: