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by mickruston 

Posted: 31 July 2008
Word Count: 2657
Summary: About my 5 (successful on fifth) attempts at joining the army and subsequent 19 weeks training - in which I ind myself in many awkward and hilareious situations

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We had caught the No 74 bus from Stone Cross to Wolverhampton and had spent most of the half hour journey in silence. I was naturally nervous because it would be my third time at the recruiting office in Queen Street in the last six weeks. I had also made two other attempts to enlist, once in Birmingham and once in West Bromwich. The nearer we got to Wolverhampton the more nervous Ben was getting. Ben was going to sit my medical for me.

“You sure this will work Rick?” he asked.
“Course it will, the doc will just give you an eye ‘n hearing test, listen to your chest and hey presto your in, or rather I’m in!” I replied.
“What if he starts asking awkward questions?” Ben moaned, “What will I tell him?”
“Trust me”, I said, “He won’t”.
I did not tell Ben he would check his rear end, feel his balls and ask him to cough a couple of times. I thought I would leave that for him to find out for himself. If I had told him I was sure, he would chicken out.
“Tell you what!” I said, “I will give you five bob now, and the other five bob after, deal?” I fished a couple of half-crowns out of my pocket and handed them across. The original deal had been the ten bob if our little ruse was successful. Ten bob was a lot to me! Half a week’s wages. We pulled into Queen Street, Wolverhampton. “Here we go Ben” I said getting up “Let’s do the business”.
The bus stop was in the middle of Queen Street and the Army Recruiting Office was down the end of the road, about a hundred yards from the stop. I could feel my stomach churning over and the closer we got the more nervous I got. Poor Ben looked petrified, “Piece of cake” I told him patting his back. “You’ll walk it”. When we got to the recruiting office, Ben continued to walk on past it as we previously planned. He would wait outside the Red Lion half way between the office and the doctors.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door and walked in. The CSgt sitting at the desk looked up. “Hello lad” he said, then said “Oh it’s not you again? I told you last time to leave it two or three months”.
“I have been training” I said, “been doing morning and evening runs down the cut, I’m sure I’ll pass this time”.
The CSgt sighed loudly “Can’t do it now son”, he said, “you have to come back like I said, in two or three months”
At that Moment the door opened and a Major walked in “’morning CSgt, how’s things this morning”.
“Oh honky dory” he replied “was very quiet this week”
“And who is this young man?” he asked.
“Mr. Houghton” I told him.
“This is his third time here Sir”, the CSgt told him “keeps failing his medical”.
“Houghton, Houghton , that’s familiar, have you been to Birmingham as well lad?”
“Yes Sir” I replied.
“And to West Bromwich?”
“Yes Sir”.
“Thought so, you see lad, I am the OC for South Staffordshire, all those recruiting office’s are part of the South Staffordshire Recruiting Team, never forget a name”.
“Yes Sir” I said again. “You think you can pass this time lad?” asked the Major. “Oh Yes Sir! “ I replied enthusiastically “I know I will”.
“Ok, I will make a deal with you, if you fail; you don’t come near any of my recruiting offices again until next year, if you pass all well and good!”
“Ok Sir - but I know I will pass”.
The CSgt put together the forms necessary, sealed them in an envelope.
“Trust you know your way by now lad, off you go”
I took the envelope from the CSgt and headed for the door. Just as the door was closing behind me, I heard the CSgt tell the Major “He’ll never pass so long as he’s got a hole in his arse! - He suffers from asthma”.
“Probably right” replied the Major.
Ben and I walked down the street to the Doctors’ surgery.
“You’re likely to drop us both in the shit!” moaned Ben.
I fished out the second installment of five bob and jiggled the coins under Bens nose.
“Easy money my mate, pass or fail the five bob is yours”, I said, “You’ll be in and out before you know it”. We stopped twenty or so yards from the Doctors.
“There it is”, I said pointing, “Come on mate, in you go” Ben took the envelope from me, “This better work” he said.
“It will” I replied sounding far more confident than I was actually feeling.

Following Ben’s disappearance into the Surgery, I spent the next half of an hour pacing up and down nervously. It seemed to be taking an age. Finally, Ben appeared and before he got halfway towards me, he began shouting.
“You little bastard, you lying toe rag - you never said I had to drop my keks”
“Oh didn’t I“, I replied, “Must have slipped my mind.”
“You’re a conniving sneaky bastard Rick,” exclaimed Ben “That bastard doctor spent ages just feeling my balls”
“Don’t exaggerate Ben,” I said, and then “Did you pass?”
“How the hell should I know, he never said”.

I took the sealed envelope from Ben and when we arrived back at the Recruiting Office Ben carried on past to wait near the Bus Stop. When I walked back into the Recruiting Office the CSgt was not at his desk, but the Major was. “How’d you get on lad?” He asked holding out his hand to take the envelope from me.
“I think I passed” I replied the fear in my voice plain to hear.
“’Have a seat” said the Major running his finger under the flap of the envelope.
I sat down, my knees were beginning to tremble nervously and I was gripping my hands tightly together.
“Hmmm“ remarked the Major as he reached up to scratch his forehead.
He looked at me and then back at the paperwork.
“Hmmmm!” He flicked over the page “Hu hu!”

He placed the paperwork in front of him and leaned on the desk.
“Raining out is it lad?” asked the Major.
“No Sir.”
“Are you sure?"
“Yes Sir.”
“Only it seems you have shrunk a bit since leaving the Doctors!” He remarked.

At that point, the CSgt returned with two large mugs of tea and some sandwiches. He placed a cup and a sandwich next to the Major. He took a sip of his tea.
“On here, lad, it says you are five feet eleven and weighing nine and a half stone, I would like to bet your not even five foot six and close to a seven stone weakling”
“Oh” I replied feeling my face getting hot. I went even redder as the Major leaned further across the desk gazing at me intently.
“Hmm, your eyes have gone a funny colour too” he said.
By this time, I was literally squirming in my seat and my face must have been blood red.
“Says here” the Major went on “You have brown eyes, your eyes are blue”
I started to jabber unintelligibly as I tried to get out of the predicament I now found myself in.
“Any of your family in the services?” he asked changing tack.
“My father was in the Royal Engineers,” I stammered “And my brother is still in, been in six or seven years”.

“You want to follow in their footsteps is that it?” enquired the Major.
“Yes Sir, I know I can do it”, I replied, realising there was a glimmer of hope in this line of questioning. Suddenly the Major stood up, picked up his tea and sandwich. Turning to the CSgt, he said, “I’m not in! Moreover, let us not have this chappie in here again eh! Shall we?”
“Right oh!” replied the CSgt and took the Majors place at the desk.

He said nothing for a while just sat and looked at me. I tried hard to look him straight in the eye but found myself weakening by the second. He slammed his hand on the desk suddenly startling me; I almost jumped out of my skin.
“Let me make this clear lad, I’ll give you three weeks, do you hear, three weeks, and when it all goes tits up, don’t ever come crawling back here again, understood!”
“Yes CSgt” I said, excitement building up inside me, was I in? The CSgt pulled a variety of forms from the drawers making a neat pile in front of him. He began to write. Completing the first two forms, he passed them across to me.
“Official Secrets Act, sign there”, I signed.
He wrote some more.
“Attestation Papers, signing on for the minimum of six years, sign there”. I signed. He took a little New Testament Bible, wrote my name in and handed it over. He gave me a brand new shilling piece.
“The Queens Shilling” he informed me, “treasure it, it will be a souvenir of your brief sojourn as a serving soldier, I still have mine“.
Removing a cash tin from the drawer, he took out and filled in a Bus Warrant from Stone Cross to Birmingham Snow Hill and a Train Warrant from Birmingham Snow Hill to Cove, Farnborough, both single. “You have to report to No 1 Training Regiment, Royal Engineers, Cove near Farnborough, Hants by 9 0’ clock next Monday, So you will probably have to travel down on Sunday, understood.”
“Yes CSgt”.
From the cash box, the CSgt removed a one-pound note, a ten-shilling note and some small change.
“You will be on unpaid leave until next Monday” he said “This is your first weeks pay starting Monday, look after it you will need it”, he said
“Yes CSgt”
The CSgt gathered up all the papers and stuffed them into an A4 envelope. I picked up my first weeks pay. Standing up he thrust out his hand.
“I wish you luck my lad, you‘re going to need it!” he said “But I’m not holding my breath”.
“I’ll be OK CSgt,” I said and taking the envelope I turned and almost ran from the Recruiting Office fearful he would change his mind.

Out in the street I began jumping up and down “Yahoooo!” I screamed, “I’m in!”
Several people in the street stopped and stared, who cares, I thought, I ran to Ben and threw my arms around him trying unsuccessfully to lift him up. “I did it, I did it, I’m in” I shouted, laughing uncontrollably at the same time.
“You mean I bloody did it!” shouted Ben.
“Yeah we did it, we did it”.
We both began to run down the street towards the Bus Stop laughing and jumping up and down as we ran. I could not resist a look back towards the Recruiting Office as we ran and I saw the Major standing outside the door. I waved the envelope at him and shaking his head he turned and went back inside.

All the way back to Stone Cross on the bus I talked continually about all the places I was going to see, the things I was going to do. Ben hardly said a word but I could see he was pleased for me as he had a half smile on his face the whole time, patiently listening to my incoherent ramblings. I had tried to convince Ben to enlist too. He would not even try. Ben was a bed-wetter, I was not sure if he knew I knew, we never talked about it, but I knew that was the reason he would not try to join up. As we got back to Stone Cross, I swore Ben to secrecy, “If my Mom gets wind of this before the weekend”, I said “she’ll move heaven and earth to stop me from going”. The Parental Consent form I had handed included a rather vague imitation of my fathers signature on it. From Stone Cross, Ben and I began the fifteen-minute walk home. He was still strangely silent. “What’s up?” I asked him “Aren’t you happy?”
“Its OK for you” he replied “You will probably make a load of new mates, a few weeks down the line you will have forgotten your old school mate Ben.”
“Don’t be daft” I said, horrified at the thought, “You’ll still be my best mate, and nothing will ever change that. We’ll have a good get together when I come home on leave”.

His fears put a dampener on my erstwhile enthusiasm and we walked the remainder of the way home without a word. The funny thing is Ben had been right, when I thanked him again at his house for the hundredth time since leaving Wolverhampton and he went inside and closed the door, it was the last time I saw Ben from that day to this!

What a week I had! Having walked home with Ben I arrived home determined to keep quiet until Friday or Saturday to try to make sure my Mom did not find out about my enlistment. However no sooner had I walked in the door I bumped into one of my elder brothers, Don.
“What you looking so pleased about?” he asked.
“Nothing, why?” I had replied.
“You look like you just won the pools,” he said. My brothers could read me like a book.
I thought I could trust Don with my secret.
“Promise not to say anything?” I told him.
“Slit me throat ‘ope to die,” he said running a finger beneath his chin.
“I joined up today, the Royal Engineers, like Dad and Jamie”.
“You’re bloody joking!” exclaimed Don “the army would kill you!”
“Didn’t do Dad or Jamie any harm” I retorted.
“You won’t last five minutes, besides Mom would never let you go!”
“I’m not telling Mom till Saturday, it will be too late then”. Before long my two other brothers, Paul and Kev and my sister Charlotte were in on it and it became a foregone conclusion that Mom would find out before the day was out.
I managed to hold out until my Dad got home, as I felt sure he would be my one true ally. There followed several hours of argument and counter-argument lasting late into the evening with my siblings throwing constant scorn and contempt at the mere thought of my joining the army. My parents argued long and hard. My Dad put forward the argument that if my Mom, brothers and sister thought I would not last more than a week or two the best thing all round was to let me go and at least get the whole idea out of my system. After all, next year I would be eighteen and they would not be able to stop me anyway. Having put this argument forward several times and no one being able to produce an alternative and convincing reason why I should not go, it became accepted that I would. Don ended all argument by saying “It’ll be a good excuse of a piss-up Sunday Dinner time at any rate”.

My mother spent all her energies on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday trying to convince me of the foolishness of my enlisting. Nevertheless, I was resolute. On Saturday she got out a paper carrier bag in which she placed a spare shirt, a grey looking hand towel in which was rolled a used bar of soap, my Dads old shaving brush and cut throat razor.
“I’ll do you some sandwiches and a bottle of tea on Sunday morning to take with you,” she said. There were no luxury items such as a toothbrush or underwear.

I am not sure any of us had any!

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Comments by other Members

NMott at 17:39 on 31 July 2008  Report this post
An enjoyable read - I like memoirs.
Poor Ben, I hope he got his other five bob. And that CSgt: you've change your height....you've changed your weight...you've changed your eye colour...!! great section.
Good luck with the 3 books.

- NaomiM


- the only suggestion I'd make is to write the CSgt out in full, especially in dialogue. I guessed Sgt is short for sargent, but I have no idea what the C stands for.

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