Being a Boy in JLRRA
In June 1973 I go into hospital to have my appendix out. Afterwards I am sent home on sick-leave. Then, two things happen.
First, I receive a letter telling me, in future, I will have to travel in civilian clothes. They have raised the security-level and don’t want us being targeted by terrorists. So, no travelling in uniform.
My immediate problem is that I don’t have any civilian clothes worth talking about. We are quite poor, so I don’t have many good clothes. Most of what I have is second-hand, from jumble sales. Also, I don’t have the first idea about how to dress myself. Ask anyone.
In JLRRA, if you want to leave camp, there is a strict dress-code. None of my civilian clothes are up to scratch, so I seldom leave camp.
I ask my sister and she helps me to buy some stuff that would conform. I can’t say I particularly like the result. Boys’ fashions in those days were terrible. Flared trousers, huge collars and leery colours.
I blame the Bay-City-Rollers.
My sister gets me a pair of purple flares, a check-patterned shirt, a yellow tank-top and a blue jacket.
To be honest, I really don’t think the outfit suits me. (Holy-fucking-moley!)
The other thing that happens, when I get back to Bramcote, is that my locker has been broken into and a lot of my kit has been pilfered. I am left with two sets of working-dress, boots, beret, overalls and a few other items.
I report to my Troop Sergeant but he has other matters on his hands. We are going to Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons on Small-Arms training.
In any event, I report to the MRS to have my stitches out and then return to parade to draw my rifle. The BSM demands to know why I‘m not in combat-uniform. I try to explain but I don’t think I am entirely coherent. I stammer and stutter. I generally do that when I am stressed.
I get charged and have to go in front of the Battery Commander. This time, I manage to explain my problem more clearly. They aren’t very sympathetic, but I get off with an admonishment.
It is too late for me to draw a new combat-uniform, not that I could have afforded one, so the rest of the Battery are ordered to wear working-dress for Summer Camp. This is in order that we are all in the same uniform. That gets me into trouble with some of the more stroppy kids.
I bet it was one of them who nicked my kit in the first place.
We travel in a convoy of 3-tonners. We sit in the back, with our rifles and all our kit, singing funny songs. I rather enjoy that bit.
On arrival, we are alloted accommodation and are immediately immersed in small-arms training.
Amongst the stuff that has been pilfered are my ear-defenders. Or I lost them. Actually, that last one sounds more likely. Whatever, the Sergeant stuffs my ears with grass and calls me a number of rude names which I will not record here. I nearly burst into tears.
This is not going well.
For the next fortnight we are completely immersed in small-arms training. If we are not on the ranges we are doing rifle drill or stripping-and-assembling and cleaning. In my memory, in my mind, we have our rifles with us at all times. I don’t think that can be right, but that’s what I remember.
The first day on the ranges our sights are adjusted so that we are working at optimum capacity. From then on, we start practising all sorts of scenarios. I imagine this is what infantrymen do all the time.
We are broken down into small sections to learn about giving support fire. We go on a field exercise. Because I am still recovering from the operation they make me stay and guard the ammunition rather than go running around. That’s a bit depressing. Hey-ho.
One of the kids has a negligent discharge and gets put in the Guardroom. He has fired his rifle unsafely and we are all at risk. He was in my section in Nigsville. I feel sorry for him. He is deep in the shit.
One of the really important things they are training us about is gun-safety.
The chances are that we will all end up doing internal security duties in Northern Ireland. Recently there have been problems with lads being too ‘gung-ho’. They are determined to minimise any risk of negligent use of arms. So, gun-safety is high on the agenda. That kid in the Guardroom is deeply in the shit. I feel sorry for him.
Whenever we finish using our rifles, we always have to remove the magazine, cock the rifle three-or-four times and hold the breech open so the inspecting-officer can see there are no rounds up the spout. But, sometimes this can go wrong. It went wrong for that NIG and, really, it is his own fault.
We are being trained to use small-arms and it is our responsibility, even at age 16, to ensure we are doing so responsibly and safely.
He failed and now he is in the shit. That’s the deal.
By the end of the two weeks my shooting has improved beyond measure. I don’t get awarded a marksmanship badge but I do pass my Annual Personal Weapons Test. I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am.
In the evenings we are allowed to go to the NAAFI. It is much more basic than the posh one at Bramcote. There aren’t any pin-ball games or pool-tables. The dart-board is monopolised by the Mustering Gunners, so us NIGs get to buy pop and sit out on the step.
Small-arms training for kids. It ends up with a bottle of pop.
I think, perhaps, in many ways, that particular two-week experience taught me more life-skills than all the years I subsequently spent in college and at university.
It taught me the value of ‘total-immersion’ as a means of imparting important stuff. There was no other way I was going to become competent at ‘skill-at-arms’, or learn small-arms safety.
It taught me that 1970’s boys clothing fashions were completely-fucking awful.
It taught me that there are any amount of thieving-bastards out there, only-too-ready to rip me off.
It taught me that, regardless of my own views or opinions, there is always going to be a much more important set of values that I need to learn to understand and defend.
That may be one of the most important things I ever learned in my life. And I learned it at The Junior Leaders’ Regiment, Royal Artillery. That is quite important.
And they closed it down.