CHAPTER 2 As the train Pulled into the station on a cold and wet winter’s afternoon, I heard a voice shout out over the tannoy “Aldershot, this is Aldershot”. As I stepped out of the door I could see four other passengers climbing off the train with suitcases and rucksacks. I wondered, were these to be my new army buddies. At the entrance to the station stood two men in uniform, leaning on a fourtonner army truck. One stepped out and shouted. “All right anyone for Depot Para, over here and give me your names, then get out your recruitment papers.” “Hello, sir. I’m Robert Williams.” I said confidently. “Don’t, call me sir. I’m not an officer, I work for a living. Call me corporal.” He snapped. “Oh! Yes sir, sorry sir, I mean corporal.” I said. As my confidence was quickly shattered. “Don’t, worry son. You’ll soon get the hang of it, I assure you.” As we approached the entrance to Browning barracks, there was a full size Dakota airplane parked on the grass at the side. Just like the one’s they used for parachuting, in the second world war. As I was taken to the top floor of a three-story building, I began feeling really excited, and a smell I couldn’t quite put my finger on lingered all around. There was a long corridor, with rooms running off it. The two corporals went into a room about halfway down, leaving us to stand against the wall on one side. Then suddenly through the door, leading to the staircase a large man entered in uniform with three stripes on his arm. A sergeant, I thought. He turned to one of the guys standing next to me. “That wall has stood up on its own for many years son. So, it doesn’t need the likes of you leaning on it to keep it up. Now stand up straight and don’t lean on the wall, and that goes for the rest of you too.” It was quite some time before someone reappeared from the room and started calling out names. “Robert Williams?” “Yes,” I shouted. “Follow me.” He ordered. He led me to a room just down the corridor that was split in two by a wooden partition. On each side of the partition there were four beds, each having its own wooden locker. He pointed to one of the beds. “This will be your bed space. Now get yourself unpacked and acquainted with the other guys in the room. These will be your teammates. You are in three section. I am your section commander, and you will address me as Corporal Davies, or just Corporal. From now on whenever a member of staff walks into the room, you will all stand up next to the end of your beds, is that understood?” “Yes corporal,” we all said in unison. “Also, whenever you hear the word CORRIDOR being shouted, stop whatever you are doing and line up with rest of the Platoon. Oh, by the way, you are all members of 466 Platoon, just in case anyone asks.” There was already three other guys in the room, busy unpacking. After the corporal left, I relaxed sat on my bed and introduced myself. “So we are in three section 466 Platoon?” “So it seems,” one of them said, “whatever the hell that means.” “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” I replied. “I suppose so. by the way what is that smell?” I asked. “Moth balls.” One of them replied. “Ah, yes, I thought I recognised it.” By the end of the day, our room was full, and I heard for the first time that dreaded word CORRIDOR. As directed, we all rushed into the corridor and stood in one straight line, eyeing each other up. It was only now that I could see how many people the Platoon consisted of. It looked to be around fifty or sixty. The actual number turned out to be forty-eight. As we were still busy eyeing each other up, out stepped a corporal in uniform. He stood there and began his speech. “Keep the noise down. Okay you maggots I am corporal Williams, Whenever you are stood in the corridor there will be no talking, and no leaning on the wall. When you hear the words from the right number, whoever is at the far right end of the line will shout out one, then the man next to him will shout out two, and so on all the way down the line. With the last man calling out his number followed by the words Sir, Sergeant or Corporal depending on which rank is stood here, do you understand?” A few of us replied, “Yes Corporal.” When he immediately shouted back. “I SAID, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Then in unison echoing down the corridor every one replied. “YES CORPORAL.” “That’s more like it, now from the right number.” So it went, from one down to forty-eight. “Good. Now, when I say go, you have exactly one minute to get to your rooms lock up your gear and be outside, in one straight line in front of the building. Are there any questions?” Yet again in unison. “NO CORPORAL.” “Don’t be the last man. Now, Go, Go, Go.” We all began rushing by each other to get to our rooms. Then came the chaos of everyone trying to get past each other, on their way down the stairs. Once outside the corporal instantly started screaming. “Move it, move it. One straight line I said, no need to talk, just do. From the right, number.” Again, we went from one through to forty-eight. “Forty-eight! What?” The Corporal screamed. “Forty-eight, Corporal;” he replied. “That’s more like it. Now, number forty-eight, did I not say, don’t be the last man.?” “Yes Corporal.” “Well that means, don’t be the last man. Now get down on all fours and give me ten press-ups. You people will soon learn that it never pays to be last in anything throughout your training here. Okay everyone turn to your left and without any noise follow me.” Clumsily we all turned and moved off to a classroom that had rows of desks and chairs. At the front there was a chalkboard, and a raised stage with a dais in the middle. The Platoon staff began introducing themselves starting with the Platoon commander, who was a Lieutenant and appeared to be one of the youngest members of the Platoon staff. He went on to introduce the rest of the staff, including the Platoon Sergeant and the six Corporals. These were the section commanders, and our own section instructors. The Platoon commander went on with his obviously well-rehearsed speech. “Welcome to Depot Para. This is where you will spend the next six months. Your training here will be hard, both physically and mentally. It wont take you long to decide whether the Para’s are for you, or not. If you decide it is for you and manage to survive the training, you will move on to RAF Brize Norton, where you will begin your parachute training. That, however, is a long way down the line. I suggest the best way to look at your training, is to forget the distant future and just deal with what the next day brings. Focus on getting through that.” He moved from the stage and began to move through the gaps in the rows of desks. “I will tell you now. We have a Platoon of forty-eight, I guarantee, not all of you sat here now will make it through the training here. Even less will see your way through to parachute training. All we ask is that you give your all, and when it feels like you can’t go any further, you push yourselves that little bit more. NO PAIN NO GAIN.” You have decided to join the most elite regiment in the British army, second only to the SAS, and most of their members come from the Parachute regiment. We have three battalions, with each battalion consisting of six hundred highly trained soldiers. I’m sure most of you are aware of the very successful operation carried out by two of our battalions in the Falklands campaign. Where a member of each battalion were awarded the Victoria cross, the highest award for acts of bravery beyond the call of duty. So you can see why we are very particular in who we allow into our regiment. Therefore, if you have what it takes, we will encourage you. If you don’t, then we will quickly wheedle you out. So the ball is well and truly in your court gentlemen. Then he handed over to the Platoon Sergeant, who was leaning on the tall dais. He was an older man and had that experienced and weathered face. He waited for the officer to leave the room before he began to speak. “Okay, as the Platoon commander said, I am your Platoon Sergeant. You will address me as Sergeant. You do not come to me directly for any reason. If you feel the need to see me, then you go through the chain of command. First speak to your section commanders,” and held out his right arm gesturing toward the Corporals standing to his right, “who will if he deems it necessary direct you to me. My job is to ensure that this Platoon runs smoothly, and to see that nothing or no one interferes with that. To that end, I will now hand you over to your section commanders, who will finalize your processing, and begin to explain the way things run around here. The do’s, and the don’ts. Ensure you stay well away from the don’ts and you should have no problems.” He stood up straight, “You will go through many kinds of pain while you are here gents, don’t let it worry you. Pain is just a mere sensation; it’s like fucking, just lay back and enjoy it. Okay people let’s start off on a good footing.” He handed us over to the section commanders and left the room. One of the corporals began shouting. “Okay, everybody outside and line up in one straight line.” Again came the warning. “Remember gentleman. Don’t be the last man. Let’s go, move it people, move it.” ******** I found that, true to the staff’s words training was the toughest thing I’d ever had to go through. The days were long, up at 5.30 am and finishing the day at 6 pm. My first introduction to living in the field, was sat on the floor in a wood with the instructor stood at the front stroking a rabbit. He then passed the rabbit round and instructed us all to stroke it, before handing it back to him. He then dangled it by the ears and gave it a karate chop to the back of its neck, breaking it instantly. The lesson continued on to gutting and skinning the rabbit ready for cooking. Then came the runs and the tabs. I found the tabs to be the worst. Tabs being long marches, up to ten miles with a thirty-five pound pack on my back. The speeds they make you march at, has your shins burning with pain. It proved to be the fitness training that would play the biggest part in the dwindling numbers. The fitness was just a build up to the finale, P.Coy. (Pre parachute selection) seven grueling fitness tests, which tests your stamina, courage, and ability to withstand adversity. All squeezed into three days. There was Milling. A little like boxing, but with big sixteen ounce gloves, where you continue punching each other for two minutes, until your arms won’t let you punch any more. Then the Ten mile tab, with a thirty five pound pack, dragging yourself up and down hills, through mud up to your knees, and had to be finished in two hours. That night we were kept out all night digging trenches. When we had finished a trench we had to fill it in and start another. This went on through-out the night, until a truck arrived in the morning, where we unloaded the stretchers for the next event. The Stretcher race. A stretcher made of scaffolding poles weighing 180 pounds, which is carried between eight men for seven and a half miles. After lunch came the Tranazium. An assault course in the air running through the tree tops, with heights of up to fifty feet. After a full nights rest, we started the day with the Assault course. You have seven and a half minutes to complete three circuits. Then came the Steeple chase. A three mile cross country course with a few obstacles, and deep water filled ditches. In the afternoon was the final and hardest event of all. The Log race. Eight men tied to a telegraph pole, which is carried for one and a half miles, over rough terrain with a large hill in-between. Failing any of these tests means not being able to move on to parachute training, and on to my final goal. The Parachute Battalion. Which denoted the end of recruit training and my beginning as a fully-fledged Parachute regiment soldier. It was during the build up to P.Coy on the Tranazium, that I discovered I had a fear of heights. Which considering I was training for the Parachute regiment, and would soon be throwing myself out of a perfectly good aircraft, was very weird. Although I never really got over my fear, I found that I could control it. Apart from the fitness there was weapon training, from the 9mm browning pistol, the SLR(Self Loading Rifle) rifle, the GPMG(General Purpose Machine Gun) machine gun, and the Carl Gustaff anti tank weapon, through to grenades, and bayonet training. We covered basic radio procedure, and first aid training. All of which made for a gruelling schedule, which for some would become too much, and would have them either transfer to a different regiment with less stringent requirements, or leave the army completely. By the end of my training in Depot, the Platoon had dwindled down to a mere thirty-five. A far cry, from the months before. My mother was so proud of me when she came to watch my passing out parade. It brought back memories of the time her and my father came to watch David’s pass out parade. A few tears rolled down her smiling face, as she gave me a kiss on the cheek and hugged me so tightly. “Well done son,” she whispered in my ear. There were many times through-out my training where I was sure I was going to give up. Especially during the build up to P. Coy. The fitness was much harder than I had expected, I even found myself crying on the phone to my mother, telling her I was giving up. Later she told me she knew I would stick it out. The thing that kept me going was my old friends back home, who said I would never make it through Para training. They said I had never finished anything I’d started and always gave up if I found it too hard. They were right, however, this time I was determined, and I didn’t want to betray my brother’s memory. I couldn’t let him down, or go back to face my friends to hear them say “I told you so.” Now, I would be able to go home with my head held high, and throw their comments back in their faces. ******** Having completed my training, it was a five-minute walk across the road from Browning barracks to Montgomery lines, where the battalion was located. I was here at last, my final goal, 2 Para. I walked up to the barrier at the entrance to the camp, with a kitbag hung over one shoulder and suitcase in my hand. Two armed soldiers stopped me. “Have you any ID?” one of them asked. I produced my freshly made ID card, flashing it, as if I was some kind of detective. “Yes,” I said, “Where are you going?” “I’m looking for 2 Para.” “What’s your business there?” “I’ve just come from Depot Para.” The other soldier turned to his mate and said. “He’s another Crow.” “For sure,” his mate replied. “A Crow,” I said confused. “Yes, you know an Fng.” Even more confused I said, “an FNG.” As if annoyed he replied, “yes, a Fucking New Guy.” Then he pointed me in the direction I needed to go. “Make sure you report to the guard room when you get there.” So a CROW was a word they used to describe a new guy. Walking up to the guardroom, I was nervous. It was like the first day of recruit training all over again. I stood at a small sliding window, looking through the window I could see a Corporal sat behind a desk, writing in a book. “Hello Corporal I’m Private Williams, and have just arrived from Catterick.” He looked up. “Ah! Another Crow.” “Apparently.” I sighed “Well looking on my sheet of paper here, you have been assigned to D,Company, 12 Platoon. RUNNER,” he shouted. A Private soldier came out of the guardroom door. “Yes Corporal.” “Take this Crow down to D,Coy office, and introduce him to the CSM,” (Company Sergeant Major). “Yes Corporal.” “Follow me, kid.” As we were walking, he continued, “You do know that once you get to the battalion, it takes some time to get accepted by the other guys in the platoon.” “Really,” I said. “Mainly because you’re straight out of training with no experience, and so, regarded as a liability.” It seems it’s going to be more a case of me having to prove my worth, rather than just waiting for them to accept me. I thought. This meant, for some time to come I would be their lackey, and do all the running around, and, get all the dirty jobs. ******** Luckily, for me it wasn’t long before they discovered who I was, and my relationship to David. Who, I found was well-respected, and regarded as a good soldier. This meant I wouldn’t have to go through the hardship of the acceptance phase for as long as my other mates from training. The first sign of acceptance was when finally one of the older guys said, “Right, kid. Time for you to come down town, and show us if you can drink as well as you run.” My body started tingling all over. Wow! Accepted, at last. Now I truly am a Parachute regiment soldier, just like my brother David. AIRBORNE. I shouted to myself, under my breath. Not long after I was accepted I met one of the guys from my brother’s team, and finally got the full story of what really happened on that dreaded day. He told me. “It was on a sunny summer’s day patrolling the country lanes just on the outskirts of a village called Crossmaglen, while carrying out a routine car check. David was leaning through the driver’s window asking the occupant for his driver’s license, when across a silent sunlit valley, a single shot sounded out. It was a high velocity weapon, you could tell by the crack and the thump of the bullet, rushing through the air, before its final impact. It hit David’s lower back, and exited through his chest into the passenger’s side door. The drivers face and upper body, were covered in my brother’s blood and guts. The driver sat in complete shock, before going into a fit of hysterics.” I was dumbfounded; this was a far cry from the brief description my mother and I got from the family's officer. And, it just left me with even more questions swimming round, in my head.