Sleepwalking through my own life — Part 10
SPECIAL AMMUNITION GUARD — IN WHICH I NEARLY LOSE THE HEAD
I am nominated for Special Ammunition Guard.
Only, this time, we have to accompany a convoy from the docks in Hamburg down to the Special Ammunition Site.
It probably sounds a bit unfair, considering how many people there are in the Regiment, that I get to do this duty twice while most people never ever do it at all. But I don’t care that much. It is just another thing.
Ever since I was passed over for promotion I have just been obeying orders. I do as I am told. It hardly makes any sense to go beyond that. I have done everything I can and that is not enough. I am having a low-self-esteem period. If you want to know the truth I am pretty fed-up.
A bus-load of us are driven up to a barracks near Hamburg. We stay the night. In the morning we are paraded. We have drawn our personal weapons from the armoury. I am nineteen years old. I am wearing a combat uniform that fits me perfectly. I am wearing full webbing. I am armed with a fully loaded, 7.62mm, self-loading-rifle. I am generally fine with this. I am pretty-fucking-ally. I am death on legs.
I am getting it together, at last. Bring it on.
There is a convoy of great big heavy lorries on the parking bay. I have never seen anything like it. They are huge. They are very, very big. Very big. There is a squad of Royal Corps of Transport drivers ready. We are ordered to pair up. A Lance Corporal pairs up with me and we board his gigantic truck.
It is never clear what I am supposed to do. I am sitting in the cabin of an oversized transport vehicle with a loaded rifle. What the fuck am I supposed to be doing? Guarding the truck, I suppose. I am riding ‘shotgun’ with an L1A1, 7.62 SLR.
We drive to the docks at Hamburg.
There are Police and security guards everywhere. The place is teeming with THEM! (You know, THEM!)
We dismount and are posted on guard around the dockside. No one tells us what we are supposed to be guarding. Or what we are guarding against. We are just guarding. That is enough for us to know.
You get to learn not to ask questions. You get to learn to do as you are told and let other people do all the thinking. I am a random piece of cannon-fodder. Other people make decisions and decide where I should be deployed. I do as I am told.
I remember watching a documentary about prison guards in the war saying that they were only obeying orders. This feels very much like that. They still get imprisoned or executed. I would prefer not to be imprisoned or executed.
I am not happy about this. I would much prefer to be told about things and be allowed to think.
Big crates are loaded into the big lorries. There are many crates and it takes all day.
I have been standing, guarding, on this dock for 18 hours. I am thirsty. I am hungry. I am busting for a shit. I am knackered. But there is no let up. This is not like one of those parades where you see people in full-dress uniform fainting and being carried off on a stretcher. This is me guarding Special Ammunition. I don’t get the stretcher option.
Finally I ask the officer if I can go to the bog. He is plainly annoyed but lets me go.
Thank Christ for that!
Eventually we are loaded up. It is late and we return to the barracks. I am on first watch. Four hours on, two hours off. I have to patrol around the great, big lorries. Me and another young lad. By six in the morning I am too tired to think. We are eventually stood-down and go to the cookhouse. I can barely face eating anything. I really just want to have a shower and sleep. But I can’t because we are about to take the Special Ammunition down to the site.
We mount the lorries and proceed in a big convoy. There must be twenty or thirty of us. We go down the Autobahn preceded by police outriders on motorcycles. Lights flashing and sirens blaring. All civilian traffic is consigned to the hard-shoulder. Germans are obsessively law-abiding. They cheerfully occupy the hard-shoulder to let us pass. They wave at us happily. They are waving at the Special Ammunition convoy.
It is all going very well indeed.
Right up to the point that some important tube in the lorry bursts and I am sprayed with toxic, green slime. The driver halts while the rest of the convoy continues. He radios the Officer in charge to explain the situation. I have to get out and guard the lorry. All the while, my uniform is dripping with horrible green slime.
We are laid up in some random German village, next to a Guest House.
The driver and myself take it in turns to guard the lorry. When we are not on guard we go in to the guest house. The locals are typical German guys. They want to buy my bayonet. And my rifle. And my beret. And my uniform. And, well, everything.
I chose not to sell them anything. You know, just in case anyone says anything back at the Regiment.
“Where is your rifle, Gunner Lamb? And your bayonet? and your uniform?”
I would find that kind of question very difficult to answer.
The Germans are jolly and friendly but really just want to buy all of my kit. They want to hang me on the wall along with the hunting trophies. So, I am very relieved when the recovery vehicle arrives to tow us away. If the transport lorry was huge, the recovery vehicle is in a different league. It is massive.
They hook the lorry up on a ‘A’ frame. I climb inside and we are towed off to a transit camp some kilometres away.
When we finally arrive there is a team of REME lads, vehicle engineers, waiting to start work. The driver goes off to his alloted billet. It is nearly midnight, the cookhouse has shut and I am immediately rotated onto guard duties. I can hardly believe it. I was on guard all last night, all day today and now I am back on guard again. I want to protest to the Captain, but he is nowhere to be seen. There is just the Bombardier. He is sympathetic but can do nothing.
If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined.
By six in the morning I feel like the walking dead. I haven’t slept for over 48 hours. I haven’t washed or had my boots off in all that time. I have hardly eaten anything. I am very, very tired. And I am angry. And I am fully armed.
We are called on parade.
The Captain inspects us. He orders me to stay behind after the squad is dismissed to board the lorries. I know my uniform is a mess but I have not had time to do anything about it.
He is about to give me a bollocking. But, just as he starts, he realises I have done nothing wrong. I was travelling in a lorry that broke down. I stayed to guard it according to instructions. That’s all. And he was going to give me some sort of rifting on that account. I haven’t slept or eaten or washed in over 48 hours, my combat uniform is covered in corrosive muck and he was going to give me a savage roasting.
“Next time, just, er, do something.” he says, lamely.
Just do something. Just. Do. Something. I am about to do something. I am certainly going to fucking-well do something.
I am about to go nuts. I am going to lose it all. But the Sergeant comes to stand in front of me. He is staring down at me. I am shaking and working my jaw in outrage at all this. Also I am weaving backwards and forwards in fatigue. The adrenaline rush subsides.
The Captain has gone and the Sergeant calmly instructs me to fall-out and mount the lorry. I do so. I have calmed down enough. But I am still seething with rage.
I can barely stay awake for the rest of the journey.
We arrive at the site. and have to guard the Special Ammunition crates as they are unloaded and carted off into the mounds. The place is crawling with US Army and THEM, but we still have to provide the guard.
Finally the Special Ammunition is securely stowed. We unload our rifles and board the bus. They take us to the US base. We hand our weapons into the armoury. We are taken to a canteen. This will be the first food I have had in over 48 hours. Except I slump forward at the table and fall asleep. Someone else has my supper.