Saturday, May 18, 2024

Army Enlistment

April 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Prose

On the 1st December 1937, reaching the age of 18 years, I became old enough to join the Army to commence the second phase of my life’s plan and start getting a better education.The recruiting sergeant at Newtown, a fat jovial Sergeant, seemed eager to sign me up! A 6ft 2in youth, weighing about 15 stone would apparently be welcome into the Regiment of His Majesty’s Welsh Guards. But first I had to produce two character references from people of some standing in the community.The local doctor said he would be delighted to give me a reference and congratulated me on my initiative. (This was not the doctor of the broken arm incident.)My second choice was the local School Master, even though the old head had left, and I did not know the new one. Full of confidence I made the request, politely explaining that my idea was to further my education and that this was the only way possible. I fully expected him to congratulate me, as the Doctor had done, but was completely taken aback to be told that I should be ashamed of myself. Did I not know that soldiers were scum? Drinking and fornicating wherever they went. They were the dregs of humanity. Stay put and get myself a farm job like others did! Another bigot! I thanked him politely and told him to keep his reference . . . . Who could have guessed that within two years he would be crossing the road, trying to shake my hand, gushing clap trap?On being told of the School Master’s reaction, the old retired policeman stepped in and gave me a glowing reference, complaining that I should have gone to him in the first place.The recruiting Sergeant seemed pleased, filled in the forms, handed over the King’s Shilling and the travel warrants for the Guard’s Depot at Caterham. He also had another recruit, a young man from Berriew. We travelled down together.

The introduction to Army life was a little surprising. On ringing the bell on the main gates, a large man with three stripes on his arm, a green band round the peaked cap – which seemed to be balanced on the bridge of his nose – enquired, not unkindly, what we wanted. To join the Welsh Guards’ we replied. ‘Now are you sure you’ve come to the right place? You’d best try the similar pair of gates just a few hundred yards further down the road, if they won’t have you there, then come back here.’ The gates were duly inspected, the word `Asylum’ could plainly be seen. Even two country yokels like us got the message. We returned to the Sergeant (we later realised he was in the Irish Guards) who, beaming like a jovial Father Christmas, said ‘Come in lads, if they won’t have you the Welsh will. After all they have a damn sight more sense than most bloody Welshmen.’ It seems that this was the standing joke with whichever regiment was on Guard Duty. That first night was a sleepless one. The wretched clock on the big tower chimed every quarter hour, absolute torture.  At 6 am the whole place came alive, bugles blowing, men shouting, bedlam’ what had I committed myself to?

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