Being a Boy in JLRRA

GIVING UP — LACK OF CONFIDENCE AND GAINING CONFIDENCE

We were issued with a scrap of paper. It contained our Number, Rank and Name. It was in lieu of an ID card.

24287433 Junior Gunner Lamb, A.

I lost mine and panicked. The Sergeant told me I worried too much. He got me another one from the office.

It is probably fair to say I was a bit of a mess. I was out of my depth. I was not in my comfort-zone. I began to think about asking to leave. In those days (1973) you could leave if you thought it wasn’t for you.

Me, I was confused and upset. But, I was also stubborn and determined. I saw those kids who decided to bail-out and I knew I wasn’t going to be like that. I was going to stick with it. I was having problems fitting in but I gritted my teeth and stuck with it.

There were other kids who were also out of their depth. We were all equally out of our depth together. But we weren’t friends. We were barely colleagues or comrades. We shared the same barrack-room. That was pretty-much it.

We shared the same kind of badgering and discipline. We were chased-around equally. We all went on the same 10-mile-bash. We all got the same amount of savage bollockings when we couldn’t get our drill right. The difference was that some kids were better able to handle it all.

Our Sergeant was teaching us how to mark slow time. We were on the Square doing that bit with the knees parallel to the ground. Without a word, he went away and left us to it. We must have been there, marking slow time, for 15 minutes before he came back.

I was beginning to think I couldn’t handle it. I remembered that my teachers had said that I could return to school if this wasn’t for me.

I was getting grief from the Sergeant. He called me an ‘Educated Idiot’. And then all the other NIGs started calling me that too. I had been singled out. That was pretty upsetting. I didn’t know what to do.

Nowadays I get it. They were expecting me to bail-out. They were pushing me to see how much it would take. When was I going to flake-out. They didn’t take into account my natural pigheadedness and resilience.

One of the other lads took exception to me.

“If I had a problem like yours, I would see a Doctor.” he informed me, “That’s all I’m saying.”

I was left wondering what part of my personality had offended him. You could take your pick. I now know that he was a cowardly, passive-aggresive gobshite. Funnily enough, he was one of the kids who bailed-out.

I stuck it out.

We were introduced to a thing called ‘The Confidence Course’.

Wardrop Section. January 1973

The Confidence Course was like an adventure playground on steroids. High-wires, ropes, death-slides. All sorts of stuff. Unlike some, I was fine with it. I never had problems with heights or death-defying circumstances. My problems were less dramatic and more subtle.

If I was going to panic it wasn't going to be about some stupid rope crossing. Oh no. I was going to panic about having multiple creases in my trousers. I was going to panic about being the last on parade and forgetting how to come to attention (which never happened). I was going to panic about my locker layout or my bed-block, or some random, irrelevant crap.

I was a mess.

We were interviewed by the Sergeant Major Instructor of Gunnery. After all the NIGs had been through he came out of his office and singled me out. He wanted me to study gunnery as my trade. I didn’t know what to do. I had been recruited on a Junior Apprenticeship. He wanted me to transfer over.

Thinking about it nowadays, I suppose I should have done. I obviously made sufficient impression on him to single me out. It would have been the making of me. But I was insecure and clung on to the thing I knew. I declined.

We went up to the Lake District for adventure training. For the first time, we dressed in our combat uniforms. 20 young lads in uniforms two sizes too big for us. We didn’t care.

Amazingly, I found adventure training was a lot of fun. I suddenly found something that I loved. All the rock-climbing, abseiling, hill-walking. We went up Helvellyn. I loved it all.

The only bit I didn’t like was when we were canoeing in the lake. I miss-paddled, turned turtle and fell in. It was bloody freezing.

The Sergeant grabbed hold of my hair and hauled me out. I had to spend the rest of that session shivering in my wet combat uniform. I was not in my comfort zone. And not for the last time.

Apart from that, I enjoyed it all tremendously. I had a natural talent for adventurous training. Who knew? Not me. I think it was this, more than anything else, that turned me around.

When we got back to Bramcote, I threw myself into the routine with increased enthusiasm and determination. My obsessive tendencies came to the fore when it came time for the block-competition. I was detailed to finesse all the other NIGs locker layouts and bed-blocks. It worked! We won.

I felt very proud of myself.

We had all managed to improve our foot-drill. It was time for our first passing-out parade. For us NIGs, it would be the Farren Day Parade. I have no idea who, or what, Farren was. It was one of those army traditions. You name an event or a unit after someone, who then becomes immortal as a result.

My Dad and my younger brother came up to see the parade. We had been issued with our Royal Artillery cap-badges as a mark that we had all managed to come up to standard. We completed the parade very smartly. I was so proud.

I could not have been happier. I had lost all thought of giving up. I had forgotten all those kids who had given up. I was definitely going to stick with this, whatever it took.

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