A215 – Life Writing – Initiative at Night
Here’s the second of the pieces I wrote for the A215 Creative Writing online tutorial on life writing.
Saturday 13th December 1991
It’s 3am on a Saturday before Christmas 1991, I’ve only been awake for 21 hours. After a day of lectures I went with the UOTC to Redford Barracks in Edinburgh for a training camp. Since 1830 I have been on the Pentland Hills doing orienteering and solving problems with a team of third year cadets. We’ve not been good at following the approved DS solutions. To change the tire on a land rover without a jack we ignored the planks and mik crates and instead rolled the vehicle onto its side before righting it after we’d changed the tire. Our time was the fastest, but the officer wasn’t pleased. To take a casualty across a minefield (laid with dummy mines that emit smoke if you tread on them) we simply picked up the stretcher and ran across the minefield to the designated helicopter landing site. We got a lecture about that, although some Paras did the exact same thing in Helmand almost twenty years later, and that was with real mines and a real casualty.
About eleven it starts to snow, and when we cross the Pentland Hills as a gaggle with a bunch of other teams it is several inches deep and we have a snowball fight across the line of march. My team are all pretty fit and taking this in our stride, we range up and down the column, encouraging some of the newer recruits who are obviously struggling with this unexpected night exercise. We start some singing to raise morale, and a few minutes after we do we bump into the Colonel, who joins us for ten minutes as we march over the summit. Some snowballs follow the other column with whom we are exchanging places. The Colonel finds this amusing, but carefully avoids joining in.
Over the other side we need to spot some vehicles using night vision equipment and then re-assemble some weapons. This is followed by an indoor stint where we are asked a whole bunch of military knowledge questions. I ruin the graph showing that scores decline with sleep deprivation by scoring 100%, although the rest of the teams manage to keep to the theory.
After this, we go next door to a room with a pile of cables, headsets, batteries and some unfamiliar radio equipment. Jimmy, the Royal Signals sergeant major running the stand, briefs us that we need to assemble an automatic re-broadcast station using the pieces given. The rest of the team turn and look at me expectantly. The bounce is wearing off, but I am still very much awake.
‘Joe, you know about radios, what do we do?’ asks Ian, who’s in the engineer troop. I look around and a couple of the others have sat down.
‘Why don’t you guys get a brew on and I’ll have a look at it’ I reply, unstrapping the webbing that I’ve been carrying all evening. ‘There’s a flask of hot water on the top, and a burner in that pouch’ I say, handing it over to Ian. ‘Chocolate in the ammo pouches, share it round.’
Over the last two and a half years I’ve become an expert at looking after myself, and by extension others, when out and about. I never go anywhere without a brew kit, chocolate to share and food for 24 hours. Weighs me down, but well worth it for unexpected jaunts like tonights.
I take control of the assorted bits of signals equipment. I’ve never seen this particular type of radio before, but the principles are the same as the ones I have used. Looking round the main transmitter box I find several labelled ports for leads to be attached, including a coax style connector for sending signals in and out. By the time I’m done attaching wires and plugging in cables and headsets Ian has made a brew, passed it round with the chocolate and boiled water to re-fill the flask. It’s been about ten minutes and I tell Jimmy that it’s done. I drink the remnants of the very strong sweet coffee Ian made and chew on a mars bar. Jimmy gives it a quick once over and then confirms that it works by sending a message between two other similar sets on different frequencies.
We set off into the dark for our next map reference, which turns out to be a group of four ton trucks to take us back to the barracks. We can sleep, but it’s only two and a half hours until breakfast!
Excellent stuff James. You have hidden talents.
I read it straight through without a pause. Although I thought anecdotes were a little jumbled and not joined. I enjoyed the final “radio” puzzle story, that seemed to hang together better – you had to make a radio, you told me about your strategy for keeping going during a night op. Perhaps that could have been your start and focus point with backward glances at the other events of the night – the snowball fight, the landrover…
Next time you are at CLWG I will ask you for a brew!
Thanks for the feedback Nick, very useful.
My standard load has changed somewhat since then, the brew kit is no longer included, although the stainless steel vacuum flask still gets some outings. Chocolate is still there, and you’re more likely to be able to have some of that next time I see you at CLWG!