Being a Boy in JLRRA



Nowadays, those young kids at the Army Foundation College at Harrogate have a formal education program built-in to their recruit-training. Much as we did back in Brats. Apart from all the usual drill, weapons training, fitness, etc etc, they also have to study Maths, English and IT skills to a level roughly equivalent to GCSE Levels A*-C. The authorities there expect a success rate of between 86%–100%.

Back in our day, expecting a pass rate like that must have been wildly over-optimistic. It is my guess that quite a lot of kids joined JLRRA as a means to avoid going to school any more. Although, I am sure, for many kids there must have been many other reasons.

For a lot of us Spotty-Herberts it was a shock to discover we were expected to do lessons as well as everything else.

Bramcote Education Centre today. Not much changed from back then

I think, in my memory, we had to attend lessons every day. But I could be mistaken. We studied Maths and English, Most kids studied for the Army Certificate of Education. You needed one of them for promotion beyond bombardier.

As a kid, I had a reasonably high standard of education (Swot-Alert!). Except I also had a distressing tendency to panic, and so I bailed out of school before taking any exams. But it seems the education staff at Bramcote must have spotted my potential. Therefore, against all the odds, I studied English and Maths for GCE O-level.

On 22nd November 1973 they converted one of the class-rooms into an Examination Centre. I sat in there, on my own, with a Royal Army Education Corps officer invigilating.

Before I went in I had a panic-attack and had to go outside to lean against the wall and be sick.

As it went, I passed easily with impressive scores. I won a prize. I got a book, which pleased me very much. J Gnr Lamb. GCE Prize.

You have to agree, it does look completely fake.

In addition to the prescribed education subjects, they also got us to deliver lectures on military subjects. I remember one young lad was quite good at it and they put him on the leadership training course as a result.

I wasn’t quite so good at delivering lectures in those days, which is ironic considering what I do for a living now. Anyway, they didn’t put me on any leadership courses. I guess I was less of a Junior-Leader and more of a Junior-Follower. Ha ha! (Sour joke alert)

I see, now, that it was a useful tool for identifying talented youngsters. I also see it had some use in identifying those of us who had, what you might call, ‘other-strengths’. Me, being a bookish nerd, came in for a bit of stick. I got called an ‘Educated-Idiot’, which was not really motivating.


The other thing they got us doing in the Education Centre was our clerical trade training. During my selection interviews and tests I had been nominated to become a Clerk-RA. I had no real idea what that was.

It was here in the education centre that I learned what that was. I discovered that I was destined to become a pen-pusher with a gun.

We trainee clerks (shiney-arse alert) had to learn about army documentation, and how to keep a library of publications, and how to register the mail, and how to keep an office diary, and how to ‘flag-up’, and how to keep all the files numbered and up to date. We had to learn how to prepare charge-sheets. We had to learn about The Manual of Military Law. We had to learn about Queens Regulations for the Army. We had to learn about a thing called JSP 101. We weren’t going to be mere clerical assistants. We were going to be Clerks-RA. Something much more important.

We had to learn to be literate, analytical and have good numeracy skills. We would be working with Sergeant-Majors and Officers. We would be permanently on parade and under minute scrutiny. Any mistake would be noted. There would be nowhere to hide. Always immaculately turned-out. No swearing.


I wish I had known. I would have applied to do gunnery. I am sure you were allowed to swear as much as you liked being a Gunner-RA.

I suppose it might all sound a bit boring, but it was hard-work. We had to learn how to conform to a common standard so that you could take over an office and it would be the same anywhere you went. No getting any funny ideas.

We learned typing. Every day we practised on the old-fashioned typewriters. We had to clean them and change the ribbons. Some of us gave our machines names. I called mine Doris. Doris Olivetti.

They had all these typing-tests and you had to go through the lot. For Grade-3 level we were aiming for a speed of 30-words-a-minute, with less than three mistakes. I am not all that dextrous and am prone to get confused, so it was a problem.

We had to learn how to operate rotary-duplicating machines so that we could publish Battery Orders. All done to a single standard. And all without getting printing ink all over our uniforms.

After a lot of angst, and agony, and repetitive practise I finally managed it and passed my trade-training test. That would have been just before Christmas Leave in 1973. Thank God for that!


One really negative thing about studying in the Education Centre was the creepy caretaker. In my memory he was known as ‘Old-Bob’. He was very keen to become close friends with us boys. A bit too keen if you ask me. He freaked me out! It was so obvious he was some kind of sex-predator.

The thing that amazed me was that none of the rest of the education staff seemed to see it. You read stuff nowadays and you have to wonder. I avoided him as much as possible, and I think everyone else did too.

So, I was conflicted when I finished Education and Trade-Training. I didn’t have to go there any more. Therefore, on the one hand, I didn’t have to suffer any more horrible encounters with Old-Bob. On the other hand, it meant I didn’t get to visit the library. That was an interesting lesson all on its own.


Despite all my panicky avoidance from when I was at school, at JLRRA I ended up getting some educational qualifications. I got two O-levels, a Grade-B Class-3 army qualification and a book I have never read. Not too bad then you think about it. Especially when you consider all the other stuff that was going on.

You have to agree, that is a bit of a result.


I was doing some background research into all this and discovered that Army Education had been initially introduced in 1861 to encourage Victorian soldiers to develop their literacy and mathematical skills. This was one of the outcomes of the debacle of the Crimean War, when all those professional deficiencies were made public in the newspapers. Something had to be done.

This was when Army Education was born. This was when it was developed and linked to soldiers’ promotional prospects. Reading the article, it all looked a bit hard for the lads. But it had to be done. The reference is here:

  • SKELLEY, A.R. The Victorian Army At Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859–1899. Mc Gill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1977, p. 94, 95, and 311

Nowadays, there are all sorts of educational opportunities for serving men and women. I was amazed to see the breathtaking amount of free and subsidised programmes that soldiers are eligible for today. Professional and academic. I recently read an article, published in a peer-reviewed journal, by a Staff-Sergeant who is studying for a Masters’ Degree. That is F*cking impressive by the standards we used to work by.

If you are interested, you can read about these kinds of opportunities on this MOD Link:

EDJIMICASHUN! Welcome to my world.

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