Being a Boy in JLRRA


In July 1972 I went to the Army Selection Centre at Corsham, Wiltshire. There, with a gang of other young lads, I sat a whole battery of tests. Intelligence Quotient, Psychometry, Spatial Awareness, Literacy skills, Numeracy skills, Technical awareness. Mechanical aptitude. And many others.

I knew I did very well on most of them. I was a pretty, gifted kid.

I also think I did well in the interviews. The officer asked what sort of things I liked. I told him I liked the feeling of Autumn. I enjoyed walks in the Spring. I liked conversation with my friends.

He asked me about the things I did. What clubs I was in at school. I told him about being a member of the Book-Club. I told him about coming second in the Watford Festival of Speech and Drama poetry contest and getting a certificate. I told him about my interest in the musical works of Khachaturian and Shostakovich.

I think I scored very highly in all areas. I was “Special-Selection-Grade 1”. The top grade you could have.

So, I was a bit disappointed to be offered a position as an apprentice clerk, RA. That was not entirely what I was after. Teenage disappointment can be very bitter sometimes. Still, I accepted it and attested in December 1972.

Moving right on. There is a scene in the film version of the Odessa File (A great film). It has a particular resonance for me. It speaks volumes.

It is about 40 minutes into the action. John Voight has disguised himself as an ex-SS camp guard so as to infiltrate Odessa, the ex-NAZI ratline. You probably know the scene, he is being interrogated by a senior member of The Organisation.

In order to check on his bona-fides he is asked, in the camp where he worked, what he could see when he looked up.

He goes into a bit of a romantic daze and says in a dreamy way, “The Sky.”

His interrogator tells him to stop being so stupid. He meant there was a ruined castle on the hill where they kept the guard dogs.

Why do I identify with this scene so strongly?

Welcome to Andy-World. That response in the film was entirely me.

I think I may have been dreamily looking at the sky for all my life.

Hair like an exclamation mark

I have been looking back through all my ‘Being a Boy in JLRRA’ blogs. There are 39 of them. That’s quite a lot. And it certainly hasn’t covered all the various experiences I had, and people I met, when I was at Bramcote. What I have noticed is a common thread running through them all.

The thing is this; When I was a skinny, spotty half-wit I really didn’t understand anything. I really had no idea what I was doing.

In those days, I often looked up and dreamily wondered about the sky. If you want to know the truth, I still do.

I am now aware the same thing applied when I mustered and went to 94 Regiment. I guess it is no secret by now that I am the clueless lad who didn’t ‘get it’.

Yet and all, I succeeded. I went through the system. I got promoted. I became Bombardier Lamb.

So here’s a question: ‘How did that happen?’

Recently I have been corresponding with an old friend. We used to share a bunk. There weren’t many secrets between us. In those days, we were young NCOs together and were great mates (despite what you all know about me by now).

Nowadays, occasionally, I get the feeling he is uncomfortable with our correspondence. I remember he was very ‘together’ and ‘aim-oriented’. I, conversely, liked to go to Hanover Opera and read ‘Beat-Generation’ books by William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

Our career trajectories diverged. He went on to command a Regiment and I went on to spend time begging on the streets of London.

I suppose it makes some sort of sense. Despite me being SSG1, and being top-end material, I didn’t really have it. Whereas, he obviously did.

I lost the plot and flaked out. Whereas, he went on to command a Regiment.

What you need to understand is that I am fine with all that. I am not after anyone’s sympathy. Actually, when it comes down to it, I am strangely proud of my journey.

And that is what this blog is all about. We can all, equally, be proud of the journeys we have made.

All of us.

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