22 December 2002

RAF Bridgnorth Basic Training

OldEric says :-). After a week or so in Cardington I was transferred to Bridgnorth for basic training or better known by the name of square bashing. We were transferred by train, but I have no recollection of leaving Cardington or arriving at Bridgnorth. My first recollection was the billet I was assigned to. Neither can I remember at this stage any names of my roommates although I can picture them in my mind.

What did we do during our basic training? Well we learnt to march in step, up the parade ground, down the parade ground. We learnt to wheel left, wheel right as a body, we learnt to slow march as in a funeral march. Then came parading with a rifle, slope arms, present arms, it went on and on, day by day it seemed until we were turned into a smart body of men. I wasn't very good at drill and I would be growled sometimes, not as bad as some fortunately. The ogre in charge of us on the parade ground was the drill Corporal. I was left handed and left footed and at the order "by the right quick march" I would want to hit my stride on the wrong foot. I also had another small problem I've had to pause for an instant to distinguish my left from my right and at the order "left turn" or "right wheel" I would sometimes turn the wrong way. I slowly improved.

We were also taken to the firing range were we learnt to use the Rifle, Bren gun and I think the Sten gun we also learnt to strip these weapons down, clean and service them. I was used to guns and had been using guns since I was 13 years old. I was a good shot too.

During our training we had to learn to be conversant with the use of gas masks. This was a frightening experience first time. A special windowless purpose built building was used for this exercise. We donned on a gasmask and we were herded into the building, a canister of gas was lit and at a given signal we had to take off our gasmasks. As the gas wafted around us we started to cough and splutter and our eyes ran. At another signal we had to put our gasmasks on and after a minute or two we then exited the building by a door at the far end.

In between these activities we fitted in lectures, PT and a run or two and in the evenings our time was taken up by "Bull", a story in its self.

A change to all this was a three day two nights living rough in the woods and learning bush (woods) skills. No tents just our capes. Three capes joined together by their press studs made a good roof and two capes as ground sheets was sufficient to house five men. With bracken on the ground for a little comfort and we slept in our uniforms with our boots on for warmth. It was winter, February 1956. Meals were cooked on an open fire in a pan as big as two buckets and was stew consisting of tins and tins of bully beef, potatoes, onions and carrots. We at last got to eat using our shiny unused mess tins and did we hoe into that stew.

I enjoyed our bush craft probably because I had done most of it before in the Scouts and our camping expeditions during my Ullswater years. One day during undergrowth clearing I sneaked away and spent two hours exploring the woods and I enjoyed it as I had enjoyed my early years exploring the fells. When I returned I hadn't been missed.

I think it was that night three or four of us sneaked away down the road in a show of independence, enquired at the first house of the nearest village and had a couple of pints at the local pub and then returned unseen. Our bush craft served us well.

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