Once a Soldier!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Short ramblings and wondered if anyone would be interested, not finished (by a long shot) Is it worth coninuing??

Submitted: October 08, 2011

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Submitted: October 08, 2011



Once a Soldier

I am forty one years old, balding (which is another issue), lack of self confidence, hate my appearance and have made bad decisions in my life.  Not all doom and gloom though as I have made some good decisions, met some lovely people on the way and I should keep telling myself why should I care about what other people think I look like!  What is this about you ask, its me telling the story of my life, well if ‘famous’ people (and I use that term loosely) can write a book, why can’t I.  Some of you will relate to some of my experiences and others might think, does that really happen! Now I have painted a not to good picture of myself here, as I said lack of self confidence, due to the knocks I have had in life, just like the rest of you out there, however, I am not that bad really!  Another reason for writing this is that I have just had one of the biggest knocks in my life, this will be more apparent towards the end and I am determined that this will be the last knock I take (most likely there will be more but this is the last to affect me).  I chose to find God prior to this knock and I am hoping that this is a test of my new found faith.  Testing it is and I do not profess to be a good Christian yet as I am still on the learning process. 

Will I ever publish these ramblings, the answer is I don’t really know, maybe I am just writing this for me.  I would urge anybody going through a difficult time in their life to do the same, I think it helps, well it stops you thinking of your troubles for a short while at the least.  I booked a holiday for six weeks, Malaysia then on to Australia trying to sort my head out, it is not working.  Even though I am in a new part of the world and seeing loads of exciting new things, I still think about her every second of the day and even the night, however, this is helping me more than I will ever realise. These ramblings will describe anger, hurt, love, the feeling of emptiness, loneliness and more importantly it will also describe some happy events (as I said before it is not all doom and gloom).

My life started in Brecon, a nice sleepy town where everyone knows each others business.  I don’t have too many recollections of my early childhood, but do have a few.  Does anybody else think ‘did that really happen to me, or am I making it up in my head?’ One of my early memories when I was around three years of age, is of me sitting at the dinner table, I had spaghetti on toast with fried egg.  Now still to this day I hate fried eggs but I can remember that I was being difficult and not wanting to eat the dinner, needless to say the spaghetti, toast and egg ended up on my head with me crying my eyes out.  Looking back it must have been a little bit comical. Crying, yes we all do it and I am certain that I have done my fair share, cried a lot during my childhood and have cried a lot during my adult life.  Mainly over the need to be loved and the feeling of loneliness is all I can put it down to, pure love though not what I have had in the past.

The memories are not clear at this age but I can remember waving good bye to my class mates, my arm in a sling, my sister advised me to balance on a beach ball! Now I have good balance usually but I slipped and hurt my elbow, I can’t remember if I broke it but that must have been another funny sight of a four year old balancing on a ball and falling off (what was in my head).  My father, mother, sister and I moved to Australia in the seventies, looking for the better life that we all wish for.  Again not that many memories but I can recollect a few.  I can remember playing Buckaroo on the plane, trying to put the hat and lasso on before the horse bucked it off.  I can remember the school and the day that I got a big splinter under my nail, which really hurt.  Schools were weird, during the break they locked all the doors when you were outside, no access to the toilets, hence to say I think I was told off for urinating behind a bush. 

It is amazing what you can remember from early childhood.  I can remember the name of the girl still to this day that I had a little crush on, her name was Linda Podmore.  Playing with a toy cargo ship at the beach in Australia.  The baby sitter taking my sister and I to a pool party and being told not to tell my parents.  The flight back to UK, I was sick as a pig on the way home.  I cant remember much violence towards me from my mother during these first years but as I grew up the memories of the hurt, feeling of being unloved and not wanted became a lot stronger on the return to UK. 

We returned to Brecon and lived with my grand parents for a short while prior to moving into a council house.  My grandparents were the most loveliest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  My grandfather was a big military man and I really looked up to him, my Nan was a beautiful cook and I still miss her fruit cake to this day.  These were all good people, don’t get me wrong my father was a hard working man and in my eyes a pillar of the community.  My mother is not a bad person, things were just difficult for her, or that should read I was too difficult for her.

Life on the council estate in Brecon was brilliant as a kid.  Directly behind us was the countryside and a hill, which was once a roman fort called the Crug.  This was my playground and I loved every minute I spent there, it was a place that I could escape to and have no worries at all.  Maybe I should go back there on my return to UK and contemplate my next steps. 

I was scared of my mother, for reasons that will become apparent shortly, maybe I deserved some of it I don’t know but speaking to my family during the recent years they said that I was a difficult child.  However adults should not treat minors like this in my eyes.  I know that kids can drive people to despair and a clip around the head or smack on the bottom should be enough to chastise them.  Now some people will be annoyed after that comment but in my eyes, the problems we have today in society is the lack of discipline within our lives, discipline not violence I hasten to add. I cannot pinpoint at what stage in my life that my mother became abusive towards me but this all happened from around six or seven and did not stop for years.  I will not describe the occasional knock around the head as there were quite a few but there were a lot of other moments.

One day I was sitting at the table eating dinner, I can remember that there were peas on the plate as these became difficult to eat.  Where I was sitting I could sneakily watch the television through the door, I think Doctor Who was on.  Now instead of being told to eat my dinner and not to watch television or quite simply closing the door, my mother came behind me and hit me across the head with a saucepan.  This really hurt but I don’t think I was crying much at this stage.  I was hit that hard that black dots started to appear in my eyes which eventually over the next few seconds was all that I could see.  I was that scared that I didn’t say anything and tried to eat my dinner.  Now that must have been comical like a scene from Laurel and Hardy, the peas must have been going everywhere as I could not see what I was doing. There was nothing comical about it really, I was a small child and must of lost a few brain cells from that knock!

My brother’s cake was in the airing cupboard, a small room with a boiler in it and wooden slatted shelves.  I think it was a christening cake, it was in there to allow the icing to set, don’t ask me I was a kid.  The cake had fallen, I got the blame for it, who knows I might of done it I cannot say that I did or I didn’t but the aftermath was coming my way even if I didn’t do it.  My mother grabbed hold of me and threw me into the airing cupboard, my head hit the shelves and blood started to ooze out of my head, I also caught my eye and could feel that starting to tighten up.  I don’t think my father was too happy about it as he tried to nurse my war wounds.  I think the main concern from my mother was the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go to school with a black eye as people might ask questions.  When I look back and remember these comments I think to myself that obviously my mother knew she was doing wrong, so why did she continue to beat me black and blue? 

There are some good memories though of my time with my mother.  We were on a trip to the seaside, Barry Islands I think.  It was a good day and on the journey back my sister was playing up a bit but I had been as good as gold.  I can remember going to sleep cuddled up to my mother, I wasn’t really asleep, I was savouring every moment of the feeling of being loved by my mother as I didn’t know if I would feel it again some time soon.

That feeling didn’t last long the hitting was still there during my childhood.  I felt that my siblings hated me just as much as my parents, I felt like I was adopted, but if you saw me and my father together you would know that I wasn’t as we look very similar even down to the hair loss (thanks dad).  Now I do not profess to be a well behaved child as I wasn’t.  I lied to cover things up from my mother, saying that I didn’t take a biscuit and stuff like that, I was a naughty child and do believe that I should have been told off, but nobody deserved the beatings I received.  My father never hurt me really apart from the odd smack which I would agree with.  One day I had done something wrong and my mother told my dad to give me the belt.  My father closed the doors and put me over the arm of the settee, nobody else was in the room, out come the belt and I was scared to bits, I knew that this was going to hurt.  I was waiting for the first shock wave to hit, but it didn’t, my dad told me to cry and whimper in pain.  He hit the settee with the belt and nobody but me and him knew the real truth that I was not being beaten as requested by my mother.

I had enough of the beatings and the miserable life that I led, I couldn’t of been much more than 10 years old and I had recently read a book about a boy who had run off to the wilderness and lived with the animals.  It was pancake day, I had done something wrong and was sent to bed, everyone was down stairs enjoying the pancakes and enjoying the family way of life, while I was upstairs (as usual) on my own.  I decided to fill my pillowcase, I had a dressing gown, my teddy bear (which my Nan had given me) and decided to run away.  There was snow on the ground and even at this early age I was thinking that I couldn’t go through my parents garden as I would leave footprints.  I climbed out of my parents bedroom window, jumped onto the shed roof and then jumped into the neighbours garden.  That was me free from the hurt, I was off to live in the Brecon Beacons, just like the boy in the book.  Off I went, I got about 2 miles down the road and headed out of the town.  There was a park just opposite the river with a slide and a little roof underneath it.  I sat underneath there for a while thinking about what I had done.  I had no food, no real clothes to keep me warm and reality set in.  I decided to go back towards home.  At this stage everyone was out looking for me, I can vaguely recollect my uncle talking to me as he saw me at the playing fields not far from my home.  I was escorted home, where I was sent straight to bed.  My dad came to comfort me and ask why I had run away.  My mother on the other hand came to my door looked in at me and stared at me, I will never forget the look she gave me it was so intimidating and I had nightmares about her just standing there with the look of hatred burning into me.

Schooling was as normal as everybody‘s, I was in the middle set, didn’t like the whole learning process but I could of done well if I had ‘tried harder’, as most of my reports would of mentioned.  I was a normal kid in school with normal friends, I wasn’t that popular though but did enjoy school and mixing with my friends.  I wasn’t bullied in school as one of the things my mother taught me was how to take a beating.  As boys of my age did I got into fights, I lost most of them (if not all) but the ability to get back up after being hit was very apparent.  I did stop a bully from having a go at one of the weaker kids, not that I was classed as a strong kid, just one of those things took over and I attempted to stop it.  Luckily it was broken up as I would have had to take another beating most probably. 

I spent a while as a Choir boy, I did quite well and became top boy, sang for the Queen and lots of other events whilst as a choir boy.  I enjoyed this time and I enjoyed the Church for a while.  The vicar was nice towards us, I then found out a few years ago that he had been molesting kids, not that I was one of those, thankfully.  I can remember him ’play fighting’ with other boys and inviting us into his house.  All very innocent at the time but when I reflect on what  I now know I am very fortunate not to be one of his chosen ones.  I liked singing and I was quite good at it, even though I do say so myself.  It all came to an abrupt end, my voice broke and I could not hit the high notes anymore.  The end of my singing career ended abruptly as the Choir Master hit me during a rehearsal.  He was annoyed I was the nearest person and received the hit.  I should of told my parents but as most teenagers would of done I stormed out and never went back. I never told my parents because I felt that they would not of cared and most probably said I would of deserved it. 

We moved house into the town of Brecon, a nice town house but no garden, more importantly I had my own room and did not have to share with my brother.  I am sure at one point I was moved to a box room for a punishment whilst living there, but maybe I could have been dreaming it. Sometimes I feel that my whole childhood has been a dream and it has been difficult to understand what was actually reality.  Maybe this has been my way of protecting myself from the hurt.  The abuse didn’t stop when we moved, my brother who is younger than me was messing around by an electrical socket, I did not notice what he was doing.  He stuck a screwdriver in between a plug and the socket itself, made connection with the prongs on the plug and there was a large bang.  My brother ran out crying and guess what I got the blame and took the hit for it.  Apparently I should of known what he was doing and stopped him.  Another time my mother was angry with me and whilst she was shouting at me pushed my head through my bedroom window, of course I had made her do it.  My father wasn’t around that day but when he returned home from work my mother made up an excuse and didn’t tell him that she had actually pushed my head through the window.

I joined the Army Cadet force, I had been toying with the idea of joining the army when I left school so thought this was the natural progression.  I enjoyed this very much, I enjoyed ‘playing’ soldiers and was quite good at it.  I decided that I was definitely going to join the army and started on this process.  My grandfather helped me as he was a military man and he even knew the recruiting Sergeant Major.  I think they chatted together more than I did.  I continued my schooling, I was on my way into the army so this was my way out from home. 

During school break I was messing around with the lads and pretended to kick my mate.  This went horribly wrong and I landed flat on my back, the back of my head hit the curb but I don’t think I was knocked out.  Again the beatings had taught me well so I got up and carried on as normal, however nothing was normal from that moment on.  The other kids had clicked on that there was something wrong with me, I didn’t realise myself.  They convinced me that I had made a girl pregnant and other stuff that I can’t remember.  I tried to go to the dentist during this time, but had already been in the morning, so I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to go by the teachers.  The teachers didn’t click on that there was something wrong and I went home at normal school time.  I can’t remember much what happened when I first got home, I can remember taking my brother to the playing fields, I think it was to watch an eclipse of the moon but I am not sure.  I was sent to the shops to get some milk by my mother.  At this time of the day all the supermarkets had closed and I would have had to walk down the dairy shop to get it.  I didn’t, I trawled all round town and then went home without the milk and told my mother that everything was closed and I couldn’t get any.  It was at this stage that my parents saw something was wrong with me so they called the Doctor.

The Doctor arrived and gave me the going over, his conclusion was that I was on drugs or had taken something like magic mushrooms and to take me to the surgery in the morning if things still were not straight.  I had never tried drugs so this was definitely wrong however this gave my mother the ammunition to unleash her wrath on me.  Even my sister and brother hated me and were not that nice to me.  In the morning things still were  not right and I was taken to the Surgery.  This time I saw a different Doctor (my own) and he diagnosed me as having temporary amnesia with concussion.  I felt great, they had been proven wrong by a professional and I think my mother felt a little bit of guilt for the hits she gave me.  Sometimes I wish I could see the first Doctor again and let him have the beating I had because of his wrong diagnosis but I know that would be wrong so I won’t.  I was concerned at this stage as I had been accepted to get into the Army.

In May 1986 I took my exams and then on the 20th June 1986 I joined the Army at the ripe old age of 16 and a half.  Ok this was not the real Army it was boy service.  I had joined the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Engineers.  Here my life began and I could forget my past and join my new family, the British Army.  When I left my parents didn’t think I would make it.  My mother had made me a tin of welsh cakes which she put in my bag, along with a good luck card.  It read ‘now that we are living apart maybe we will get on better’ or words very similar.  On the train journey down, to the other side of the world it felt but only Dover, I met up with a couple of other lads who were joining.  We were young scared of what lay ahead and the train stopped just outside of Dover.  We looked at each other nervously and I think they were thinking the same thing as me, shall we just turn round and go back but I couldn’t there was no way I was going back to Brecon and the life I had.  We arrived at Dover train station and were ushered onto a bus and taken to Old Park Barracks, this would be my home for the next year, if I lasted the distance that was.

I was billeted in a 20 man room, There was a 6ft locker, single bed, bed side locker and a rug.  We were given red and blue tracksuits which we had to pay for and then lost all of our civilian clothing.  It was locked up in the suitcase and then placed in a bag room, not to be seen for a while.  We all had to have regulation haircuts, this didn’t bother me but one lad from Liverpool was nearly in tears as they cut his hair.  His was long and curly, most probably it was a perm to make it that way, anyway he soon got over it.  Then began the transformation from civilian life to being a soldier.

We got issued all our kit, including tin helmets which would bounce around on top of our heads, this may have contributed to my baldness, maybe I should sue the Army and get enough money for a hair transplant.  All the kit had to be placed in our lockers, all folded 9 inches by 9 inches and place exactly as directed.  Our beds had to be made correctly, a block of three blankets, with sheets sandwiched in-between and a blanket wrapped around the outside.  This had to be a rectangle like box of blankets which took a lot of practice to do.  This was done every morning, no luxury of a quilt here.  If they were incorrect we were instructed to throw them out of the window into the quadrangle one floor below us.  The blankets were not the only thing to go, sometimes the whole contents of the locker had to be thrown out. Some of the lads couldn’t take this and got upset about things, one lad tried to find away out and tried hanging himself with a bungee, obviously this failed thankfully and he got the help he needed.  Needless to say that he didn’t remain in the Army.

Drill, drill and more drill. I have never been a drill soldier, I can do it but I didn’t like it that much, some people love it (lunatics).  First Aid Training, weapons and how to live in the field, all basic soldiering skills, taught then tested and tested over again.  I also had to go ‘back to school’, we had to learn maths, English and a bit of engineering.  We had to do this as we were being instructed to become the future non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) of the Royal Engineers.  Mixed in with all the training we also had adventure training and sports.  One afternoon we had to line up and be sized off against a rival Troop, we were going to box, well its called milling as we were given boxing gloves and then told to fight.  I was nervous, I didn’t want to lose, I tried to make my opposition nervous by saying I used to box at a club, it back fired apparently he did also!  Our time came and we got in the square, we fought for what seemed like ages and in the end it was a draw, either he was waffling about being a boxer or my training from my mother served me well.

I chose to take up kayaking as my sport here and we trained hard for the Devizes to Westminster canoe race.  The water was freezing on the canals, we had to break the ice as we paddled along.  All we were wearing was green army thermals and shorts, it was freezing, a couple of the guys admitted to wetting themselves just for the brief 30 seconds of warmth that body fluid would do.  It was during this stage that I discovered that I was bleeding from a very unusual place, my rectum.  I went to mate, Jock McCurdy and asked him, he told me that I had piles.  No way I said, I am too young to have them.  Anyway I went to the doctors and was relieved when he explained that I had Haemorrhoids, I went straight back to jock and told him straight faced that he was wrong I didn’t have piles I had haemorrhoids!  How he laughed as my face dropped when he told me they were the same things, deep joy! 
Over the next year we were trained and tested over and over again an in June 1987 I passed out of boy service.  I have always been the grey man whilst going through training, the day before our pass off parade there was prize givings.  I sat in the church watching people who had won going up and collecting prices for ‘outstanding achievements’.  My name was called out for best at Fieldcraft (all the soldiering skills less drill really)  However I sat there and thought that I didn’t know there was anyone else here with the same surname as me.  My Staff Sergeant, Pete Headley, whispered in my ear “that’s you they are calling you daft Welshman, go and collect your trophy”.  I was shocked, I collected the trophy, which wasn’t mine to keep however my name was inscribed along with the previous winners, I was beaming from ear to ear.  That night we all had a party, parents and friends were there, but mine were not.  Pete Headley presented a framed troop photograph to all of the parents, he collected mine for me as he had really been a surrogate father to me.  Our paths would cross once more during my Army career and I wish it was a better one.  My parents did come down to the pass off parade along with my grandparents.  The day went well, unfortunately I was chosen to be part of the drill presentation, see I was good at it, I just didn’t like it as I said.  The day went well and the weather was great, mind you too hot for standing still on the parade square with bayonets fitted.  One of the lads passed out and fell onto his rifle, the bayonet was fitted and this caught him under the chin as he fell.  Claret was pouring out from a gash under his chin all over his parade dress.  Our sergeant said softly to us (so the parents didn’t hear) ‘now that’s the mans way to fall out’, we all sniggered at that one, soldier humour is strange but I guess it’s the way we deal with things.  I wish that I could put this humour to other areas in my life but it doesn’t work that way.

We left Dover that day, I said bye to my parents and went on to Camberley, where I would start the next phase of my training, Combat Engineer training but this time as a real soldier and not a boy.

(please comment if you think I should continue)

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