Being a Boy in JLRRA
TIZER, SODOMY AND THE LASH — 30 DAYS BEFORE THE MAST
When I was 17 years and 4 months, I was sent on an outward-bound training course on the adventure training ship “Captain Scott”. The general idea was to turn me into a man.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Actually, I volunteered. I loved it. I really enjoyed Regimental Adventure Training. Press-ups in the stream? Ha! Do me a favour! I laugh at your naked, freezing press-ups. I really, really do. Possibly too much, actually.
On the other hand, trying to sleep in the bothy with a bunch of other annoying kids. Maybe not so much.
As it was, I saw the poster on the notice-board about the ‘Captain Scott’ cruise and put my name down. They made it sound so exciting! It seemed almost too good to be true. (You’d have thought I would have learnt by now.) I imagined there would be loads of lads lining up to volunteer and someone else would get to go. In the event there were only three of us. We each got nominated and we all went.
I couldn’t understand it. I never got to go on something that seemed to be too good to be true. That privilege would normally go to some other brainless sap.
I got the feeling my JLRRA Battery Commander was pleased to see me go. I knew by then I didn’t really fit the typical ‘Junior-Leader’ profile (I really was a total wuss). And I hadn’t had the dignity to let them off the hook and take the sensible way out. I had never asked to be discharged.
I imagine there must have been any amount of Troop and Battery meetings where one of the agenda items was: Item #12: “Why won’t Lamb take the hint and fuck-off?”
As it was, I guess I was more of a junior-follower than a junior leader. I think the BC was pleased just to get rid of me for a while.
It was May of 1974. Three of us travelled up from Bramcote to Fort-William. The journey seemed to take forever. On the final stretch, from Glen-Bollocks to Fort William, the only passengers seemed to be us collected trainees. 36 of us, I believe. There were kids from a number of Junior Leaders Regiments. There were also lads from the Police Cadets, plus a whole lot of other youth organisations.
We had all gathered in one of the train compartments and the Police Cadets were passing around some pretty astonishing hard-core porn. I was amazed! It was the first I had ever seen. I swear to God, it would have made you blush.
We arrived at Fort William and were met by the Directing Staff. It was very much like arriving at Bramcote for the first time. They were determined to put the stamp of authority and ‘no-fun’ on the whole enterprise.
Here we go again.
We were conducted to the ship which was docked nearby.
Instantly, on boarding, we were allotted our different watches and had to attend the first briefing. Us Junior Leaders were pretty used to all that by now, but I could see that some of the other kids were agog in excitement.
Wow! For the first time in my life I was not a complete, junior nurk. That was a real novelty.
I was allotted to ‘Drake’ watch. Whoever-the-fuck he was. Amongst our duties, we had to raise the big sail on the main mast. I didn’t appreciate at the time what a gigantic task this was going to be. There were twelve of us. Each skinny and underdeveloped. If it had been raining the sail would be wringing wet and weigh a ton-and-a-half.
Very often we weren’t up to it and needed help from the other watches. How they would laugh.
Also, during the time on board, we each had a number of other duties to perform. I was ‘Navigator’s Yeoman’, which meant I got to stand at the big. wheel and steer the ship. also, I was a ‘Yardsman’, which meant I had to go aloft and do all that stuff with buntlines and whatnot. Actually, that was my favourite bit. I loved it. I was wasn’t scared of heights and I quickly learned what I was supposed to be doing.
Hey, Look at me! I’m good at something! I am desperately clinging onto a thin piece of wood while the ship is clipping along at a terrifying angle and at five-billion knots. Meanwhile, my anal sphincter is going into spasms. I love it!!!
I also had to do my fair share of galley fatigues and cleaning jobs. I was permanently ‘Captain-of-the-Heads’, which meant cleaning the toilets. What I didn’t know in those days was that the permanent staff would sabotage my efforts. When they came to inspect, they would always find some dirt which I had missed. Magically placed there by the permanent-staff-pixies.
We spent a month cruising around the Inner Hebrides. There were a dozen adult training officers and 36 trainees aged between 16 and 21. From the outset it became plain that I was neither prepared, nor cut out for this sort of thing. To start off with I was well embedded in being sullen, sulky, snotty and other negative qualities beginning with “S”. Also I had terrible social skills and didn’t get on with other people very well.
I did not respond well to the training staff, most of whom were ex-Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. There was one in particular who stood out. He was a youngish bloke and was some sort of regional youth leader. He had a peculiar verbal tic in that he kept using the expression “Screw the nut.” I don’t think I ever really knew what it meant but he would use it on all sorts of occasions, regardless of context. I think it was one of those motivational phrases that was meant to jolly us along.
The other thing I did not respond well to was that I was one of the younger trainees and came in for quite a lot of not-very-good-natured ribbing from some of the other lads. Plus, I was reminded forcibly about how some kids are naturally treacherous and snidey. I came in for a lot of this:
“Sir, Lamb’s being seasick down his smock.” “Sir, Lamb’s being seasick on the rigging.” “Sir, Lamb’s stuck up on the yard-arm and can’t get down, and being seasick.” “Sir, Lamb’s steering the ship onto that rocky shoal and we’re all doomed!”
“Screw the nut!”
We went up Ben Nevis, which I enjoyed. I was with a gang of civilian youth. We did well. I thought it was great and we all had a sense of achievement. Funnily, the Junior Leaders section failed to make the climb. One of the Permanent Staff remarked on it and I felt obliged to remind him that I was also a Junior Leader.
He said something.
“Yes, but…”. and then he stopped as if he had just remembered a previous conversation.
I managed to alienate most of my watch one time when we got given a packet of cream crackers and I failed to distribute them fairly. Another great Lamb achievement. My name was mud for the rest of the course.
The really big event of that cruise was when a young lad from the Junior Leaders Regiment RAC was on galley fatigues. The ship was in mid-cruise somewhere or other and a great big pot of boiling water tipped over and scalded him. He was shrieking in agony all night. When I saw him the following morning I was shocked. I could hardly believe it. I hope to Christ he managed to recover.
To this day I don’t understand why they continued the cruise as if nothing had happened.
Unsurprisingly, I did not get a particularly good report. Although, one of the Officers did remark on my subtle sense of humour. Except he spelt it “Suttle.”
I did enjoy the shore expeditions and the orienteering contests but sharing an overcrowded mess with a load of unwashed youth did not cheer me up at all. However, in my defence, I was at the height of being insufferably snotty and repulsive. What I did not appreciate at the time was how much many of the older trainees were looking out for me. Several of them went out of their way to make sure I didn’t come to too much harm and that my sensitive soul was not too crushed. To them I send a much belated “Thank you.”
The two kids standing 4th and 5th from the left (the squitty mop-top and Yours-truly, Captain Zit-face) are the ‘Basket-Cases’.
Let me go through them in sequence:
Standing, Left-to-right: 1: 19-yr-old Police Cadet. Kept an eye out for us. 2: 17-yr-old. Junior Leader. Nasty-git. 3: 17-yr-old. Junior leader. Hostile-git. 4: 16-yr-old. Basket-case. 5: 17-yr-old. (Me). Basket-case. 6: 18-yr-old. Really nice lad. Kept an eye out for us.
Kneeling, Left-to-right: 1: 20-yr-old. Really nice lad, Glaswegian. Kept an eye on us. 2: 21-year-old The “Father” of the group. Really nice bloke. Kept us in order. 3: 17-yr-old. Terrifying-weirdo. Scared the crap out of me. 4: 18-yr-old. Great lad. Won ‘Best-Trainee’ award. Deserved it. 5: 17-yr-old. Junior Leader. Complete-Bastard. 6: 15-yr-old. Army Cadet. Brainless nut-case. We all loved him.
When the course finished, I was surprised when the other two Junior Gunners came to me with a proposition. By this time I was right out of favour with everyone. I was amazed I hadn’t been thrown overboard.
They had a deal. No-one at Bramcote really cared if our course had finished or not. We were chucked off the boat and the next few weeks were our own if we wanted it. I agreed instantly. A spare couple of weeks away from Bramcote.
I was worried and apprehensive, but when we got back nobody cared a damn.