Sleepwalking through my own life — Part 6
It is spring 1975. I have been posted to one of batteries. I am going to be helping the Battery Clerk.
I report to the Battery Sergeant Major and he instructs me to see the stores clerk, who will allot me a barrack room with the Headquarters Troop. It is on the top floor of the huge barrack block. The room I am occupying, along with seven other gunners, is at one end of the block and the office, where I work is at the opposite end.
The distance between the two is over a quarter of a mile.
The Stores Clerk doesn’t like me. He calls me a ‘dull prick’. And, immediately, that is the name some of the other gunners in the troop start to use. I say nothing. I keep quiet and try to ignore it. I hate it but say and do nothing.
I work in the Battery office, typing, filing and making tea and helping the Battery Clerk. He is nice enough but doesn’t try to befriend me. He is my boss. That is enough. I don’t want any friends.
I am drinking too much. Almost every night I go out and drink until I can barely stand. My work at this time must be terrible. The Battery Clerk tries to get me to stop drinking but I ignore him. I ignore most people. I am managing to keep my personal hygiene standard up. But only just. I keep getting picked up on inspections. Stupid, trivial things. Not enough to charge me, but enough to get extra-duties. This is actually quite good for me as it cuts down on my drinking time.
The Battery gets notice that we are to go on a NATO exchange exercise to Denmark. We will be on exercise with a Danish regiment for two weeks.
The convoy of Battery vehicles is driving up Autobahn #7. I am sitting in the back of a 3 ton lorry along with five other gunners. They are all sitting around the tail-gate end but I am on my own further inside. I have made myself comfortable on a pile of camouflage nets. Very comfortable. We cross the border at Flensburg. The first thing I see when we cross is the biggest pornography shop I have ever seen. The illuminated sign outside is huge.
Denmark has a reputation for being pretty liberal in all sexual matters. The age of consent in all cases is 14. Boys, girls, straight or gay. It is all the same. And most things are perfectly legal and tolerated. I am definitely not used to it. This is very strange.
We arrive at the artillery barracks. The Danes have given us space in their transitees barrack rooms. The Battery Clerk has got an office in one of the other blocks. We have settled in almost immediately on arrival and are getting ready for all the exercise activities.
We have dinner in the Danish cookhouse. I am surprised to find that the food is identical to what we are served in our own cookhouse. I was expecting something exotic. I don’t know what. Just not meat stew and two veg. Except they call it goulash.
Danish squaddies are a bit different from British squaddies. Most of them are conscripts. They are from all walks of life. They aren’t as rough-and-ready as us Brits. A couple of them invite me to go down-town after we knock off. We hit the bars and meet up with more Danish lads. I am a bit shocked at the cost of drink. On the other hand, the beer is excellent. They introduce me to a delicious Danish porter. Once again, I have too much of it. They are a bit shocked at how much I am putting away.
On the way back to camp we meet a couple of gunners from the HQ troop. They hand over a bottle of gin. I take a few swigs. They say I can keep it.
“Here you go, you dull-prick.”
I am too drunk to care about the nasty nickname and finish off the rest of the gin as I walk up the road.
I am roused the following morning. I can hardly get out of bed, let alone stand up. I am Confined-to-Barracks, while the Battery go out on exercises with the Danes. The Sergeant Major says he will deal with me properly when we get back to Celle.
I am horribly sick and have to sit in the office. I am not fit for anything and keep going to vomit. I have been sick so much that I am puking up yellow bile. The rest of the time I sit with my head on the desk. After all this they decide that I am not allowed down-town for the rest of the tour.
The big, final exercise takes place on a long isolated spit of sand dunes called Holmsland. We are split into teams. It is an escape-and-evasion exercise. Our task is to travel from one end of the spit, down to the other end, without being captured by the Danes. This is impossible. The spit is barely more than 300 metres wide with a single stretch of road down the middle. There is no way we could possibly escape from, or evade, an alert squad of Danish gunners.
My section sets off on the six-kilometre journey. We have travelled about one — and-a-half kilometres when we are set upon by twenty of the biggest Danes in the world. Huge brutes of men. We split up and head for the cover of the side dunes. I lose my footing and fall into a muddy ditch. I am covered from head to foot in a foul and stinking, glutinous mire.
It makes excellent camouflage.
The Danes miss me entirely. However, they do catch the rest of the section who are trooped off to a holding enclosure.
I am not entirely sure what to do with my freedom. We are supposed to stick together. If I were to present myself, alone, to the rendezvous, I would be sent back to the holding enclosure to join the rest of the section. I might as well just hand myself in and be done with it. Unfortunately, there are no Danes to be seen.
I squelch off in the direction they took the captives. I am cold and wet and stinking of bog-water. My underpants are riding up the crack of my arse. I am very uncomfortable.
We return to Celle. The Sergeant Major interviews me regarding my persistent drunkenness. He gives me two options; Either I get my drinking under control or I have to go to see the Medical Officer. I would have to see about getting my alcoholism treated.
I think about it for 24 hours.
I decide to try and give sobriety a chance. The other gunners in HQ troop think this makes me even more of a dull prick.