Marching Out

Babes

I’d had to buy my first ever suitcase. I picked an azure blue Samsonite ‘Hard Shell’ suitcase so that it would stand out on a luggage carrousel. Today however I wasn’t flying anywhere, I was walking. I could have cadged a lift, transport was always stooging around the area but I was facing a long journey so I wanted to stretch my legs before I sat on the train.

At the gate I had to break habits built up over the past nine years, I couldn’t stop myself snapping to attention as the commander of the guard marched out to check my papers. I snapped smartly to attention but managed to stop my right arm taking the longest way up – two…three – shortest way down…two…three. I handed my papers and pass over and received my envelope, my last ever travel warrant from the Army, to be exchanged for a rail ticket to the destination of my choice, anywhere in the United Kingdom and a booklet entitled, ‘Life after the army!’.

As I took the long walk from Goojerat Barracks, the training base for One-Five-Six Provost Company I started remembering back to when I was sixteen years old, I’d realised that I’d put too much effort into my sporting activity and too little effort into my academic studies. I’d taken an afternoon off school to go into the Job Centre and talk to a youth employment expert…or should that be a youth unemployment expert. With no GCSE exams in prospect, there was little hope he could give me, cleaner, general kitchen hand or stacking shelves at the local supermarket.

I was leaving with massive disappointment on my shoulders and I walked straight into a soldier, he was setting up an advertising stand for the Amy Careers Office on the High Street, he picked me up off the floor and offered me a cup of coffee. We sat together in a corner of the main Job Centre’s waiting room. “So, what are you planning to do now that you’re about to leave school?”

“I’ve just been told that I’m going to have to take a cleaning or shelf stacking job, I didn’t put enough effort into my exams!”

“You’re at the end of a long line of people looking for even those jobs, what can you offer an employer?”

I shrugged my shoulders; I had no idea what I could offer anyone.

“What are the things that make you stand out above other students leaving school this summer?”

“I can run a bit, I’m good at jumping and throwing things.”

“What do you mean exactly?”

“I can run fifteen hundred meters in four minutes and ten seconds, I’m the junior ladies county champion, I can high jump over two meters, long jump just over seven meters and throw a javelin close to seventy meters.”

Page 1

“You sell yourself short Miss, those statistics are just short of Olympic standards, I could get you a good place in the army on those kind of stats.”

I laughed, “The army…I’m a girl, girls don’t join the army!”

“We have a lot of women in the army; you could have more excitement and far better pay if you joined the army. You could join ‘The Royal Army Physical Training Corps’ and after six weeks of basic training, you’d be helping to train future recruits joining the army and in the army, if you’re really good at sport the army will help you to compete internationally or even just at inter forces competitions.”

I waited for Sergeant Benson to finish erecting his display stand and put a thousand fliers into little piles around the waiting room and when he was finished we walked together to the High Street and his office. He made me more coffee and we just sat in comfortable chairs just chatting in general terms, he made me laugh a lot before he placed a sheaf of papers on the desk in front of me, “Right Miss Porter, read every question carefully before you pick up your pen, you have a lot of time, I’ll let you know when you’ve got thirty minutes left.”

I was really tempted to read the first question and then answer it but because Sergeant Benson had stressed for me to read every question first carefully before picking up my pen I did just that. By question four I realised that what I thought the answer to question one was…well, was quite wrong, I was actually helped to answer question one by reading question four and so it went on throughout the rest of the test.

I picked up my pen and dashed my way through the answers, I reached question sixty and the last question, I breathed a sigh of relief as I leaned back in my chair and dropped my pen on the desk.

“Are you finished?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you still have five minutes left, if you are unhappy with any of the answers you can try and fix it now.”

“Five minutes, you told me that you’d tell me when I had thirty minutes left.”

“I was keeping an eye on you, I figured that if I warned you at thirty minutes with ten questions still to answer, you’d probably rush and balls everything up. I’d rather have had two or three unanswered questions than ten wrong answers.”

I shook his hand, took an envelope that I would have to take to a doctor appointed by the army to test new recruits. I walked to anadolu yakası escort the doctor’s office, I hadn’t told my father how badly I’d done in my exams, after every test he’d asked me how I’d done and I’d been non-committal and evasive. I knew that the moment I told him I’d been to the Army Careers Office and taken the test, he’d try and talk me out of joining up. I wanted to arrange my medical for as soon as possible and try to hold off telling my father about the army until after I’d taken the medical.

Page 2

The doctor was in private practice so he wasn’t as busy as an NHS doctor would be, he also didn’t keep to strict office hours so I was surprised when he said, “As you’re here now and I’m free, we may as well get it over with now.”

Well, there was a lot of poking and prodding, listening to my heart and lungs, he took urine tests and blood, bottles and bottles of blood but the medical wasn’t for me, it wasn’t for my benefit and he didn’t tell me a single damned thing about what he was going to say to the army about me.

I got home very late after my afternoon’s testing for the army but I told my father that I’d gone home with my friend Mary on our way home from school. I still didn’t tell my father when I got the buff coloured envelope from the army telling me that I’d been successful and that I’d been offered a place in the September intake.

I still didn’t tell my father anything about the army. He was pestering me every day to do something about getting myself a job, I did get a part time job in a garden centre, lugging heavy bags of soil, sand, fertiliser, stones and slabs out to people’s cars for then and stocking shelves.

I got that job because I’d been told that after six weeks I’d have to pass the assault course and that the thing that most girls failed on was getting around the course within the five minutes time allowed, I needed to build up my upper body muscles before I headed off to general training at Catterick Barracks in Yorkshire for six weeks of basic training. I put off telling my father until the last minute and we were still arguing as I walked down the garden path on my way to catch the train to York to meet an army bus onward to the camp.

I was snapped back to the present day by the sound of a heavy diesel engine, a hooter and a, “Hello darling, want a ride in my truck?”

I stopped pulling my suitcase and turned towards the voice and powerful engine, I took my sunglasses off and looked up into the cab of a Bedford TK ten ton truck, the squaddie driving the truck looked shocked, and then he looked stunned and then he blurted out, “Sorry Sergeant Porter, I didn’t recognise you dressed like that!”

“I’m not Sergeant Porter any more, just Vicky Porter.”

“You were Sergeant Porter at nine o’clock this morning when you put me on a ‘Fizzer’ for being on parade with dirty webbing.”

“Well, that was nine o’clock this morning and you were part of the duty guard, I marched out at twelve o’clock so I’m not part of the army now.”

Page 3

“And I’m not part of the duty guard any more, I’m on ‘jankers’, moving rubbish between camps for a month…I’m going into town now, do you want a lift to the railway station?”

“No, I need the walk but thanks for the offer.”

As the truck drove off I shook my head, I’d just got him on a month’s punishment duty and off of a cushy number and instead of animosity, he offered me a lift into town.

I returned to my walk and back to my thoughts. I’d really upset my dad when I joined the army, so much so that he refused to come to my passing out parade. I discovered that I had a skill on the firing range, a new string to my bow as it were, I got a company prize for my range score, it was a trophy to put in my trophy cabinet when I got one and crossed rifles with a crown over badge for the sleeve of my number one uniform, I also got a prize for my time on the assault course, not only was I the best female recruit on the assault course, I was only beaten by one man.

My dad was mad at me for sneaking away to join the army without telling him but more because I was moving away instead of stopping at home to look after him, clean his house, cook his meals, do his shopping and keep him company in the evening. He was mad at me alright but when I was the only recruit at the passing out parade without her parents there to celebrate with her, Well I was mad at him as well.

After passing out from basic training we all split up to go on to our various specialist training camps, I found myself travelling with four other members of my training group on my way to Leicestershire, I was heading to ‘Two-Two-Four’ Signals’ Squadron just outside the village of Quorn, the camp was called Garrats Hay and the four women travelling with me were going to start their specialist training as radio signallers but me, I was just using the camp as a hotel…I was going to Loughborough University for six months to study physical fitness training methods.

My ataşehir escort two skills, shooting and fitness, gave me two real options in the army, I was taking the Physical Training Instructor option or PTI but I could also have taken the Gunnery Instructor path. It soon got around Garrats Hay that I didn’t have any family attending my passing out parade so I got the reputation of being a bastard, literally as well as metaphorically. The men at Garrats Hay didn’t get the full story about why I was called a bastard and assumed that it was because of my being strict rather than being fatherless so while my four bunkmates had a whale of a time in a camp full of men, I was shunned rather than befriended by the men.

I didn’t mind being ignored around the camp because it did mean that I could put all the more effort into my education and after my six months at the university we were down to three in the female barracks, two of the trainee signallers fell pregnant to one or other of the squaddies around the camp.

After my six months specialist training I was returned to a basic training camp but this time as a member of staff rather than a trainee, I had a single stripe on my arm, a Lance Jack…or should that be a Lance Jill. I got to shout at forty young women for six weeks trying to get them to a level of fitness where they could complete the assault course in the requited time or wash out of the army. I did that for two years and almost overnight the army had a change and the walls between men and women seemed to fall or be pulled down.

Page 4

I found myself with two stripes on my sleeve and had to shout at men as well as women joining the army. The thing I liked best was on the first day of a new intake, you could spot the ‘Jack the lad’ types and the hard men as well as the mummy’s boys that would shit themselves if I shouted at them.

I had to bolster the confidence of the mummy’s boys and knock the hard men down a peg or two. Sergeant Major Barker used to split the hard cases away from the rest and on their second day of training, those few were handed over to me to get their first introduction to the assault course. I would walk the group around all of the obstacles and explain what they had to do and in what order they had to do them in.

Fifteen minutes of directed stretching to warm up flabby muscles and five minutes of running on the spot to warm everything up and pump the oil around their bodies and then I lined them up on the start line.

I’d bellow at the top of my voice, “Marks…Set…Go!”

They all ran at the first obstacle at full pelt and jumped at the rope that would help them to get over the first wall. I’d started the stop watch when I said go and I’d walked over to the finish line and hung the watch on a nail before walking back to the start line.

At each of the obstacles there was an instructor yelling at the new soldiers, trying to encourage them over the first obstacle. I’d stand at the start line and the instructor at the first obstacle would shout, “Right you pathetic bunch, a girl is going to whip all of your arses and she’d given you a full minute’s head start!”

That was my cue to start. I’d crossed the first obstacle while two men would still be struggling to pull themselves up the first side. On that first introduction I always finished before the first man and stood at the finish line to give each man his individual time and to let them all know just how short of a passing time they were.

I also got to teach the men and women unarmed combat and I really loved that part of the training. I eventually progressed to sergeant and as a nine year soldier that was as far as I could progress unless I wanted to extend my contract to fifteen years. Once I was a sergeant I had to move on again, from a basic training establishment and on to my final posting at the Provost’s speciality training camp in Colchester, I’d be boosting the fitness levels of the police force of the army, Fitness and drill, the Provosts would be at almost every important occasion in army life and it was my job for three years to make them the fittest and the smartest police officers in the world.

Page 5

I was in a queue at the ticket window of the railway station, four people in front of me, I only had seconds left to decide where I was going to go…I could go home…well, to my father’s house but he’d see that as a victory, after nine years in the army, running home with my tail between my legs. I could just head for Cornwall; I could have a holiday in the sun. I could go…I suddenly remembered an aunty, my mother’s sister. I had been to my auntie’s house with my mother twice, she lived in Glasgow and I could remember the street but not the address of where she lived but her house had a witch’s hat roof over a bay window at the front and it was the only house like it in the area… “Glasgow please.”

I pushed my travel warrant through the window, “Central station or…”

“Yes please, Central station avcılar escort will do nicely thanks.”

I didn’t know Glasgow well enough to know if one station was closer to my aunty than another, I’d just get into the city, find a cheap hotel and get settled in and tomorrow I’d start looking for landmarks and zone in on her house.

“Thanks.”

I took the small, insignificant ticket through the little window, had a face value of one hundred and fifty pounds but all it cost me was a sheet of paper from the army. Platform number one, change at London and again at Birmingham.

I sat on the platform and waited for the train, I zoned out again, I’d have re-enlisted, took on another nine years of service if I could have remained at the Provosts Camp but it was being sold off by the government to a developer, probably be a housing estate by this time next year. The army was contracting; they were using more part time soldiers and didn’t need the massive establishments that they once had.

A group of young men were larking about on the platform, they had Manchester United scarves and flags, they were heading to Heathrow for a flight to Madrid to see their team play in an international match. One hard boy was waving his flag from side to side, he kept letting it hit my face to wind me up. He looked away to his mates, they were encouraging him on and this time, he caught my head with the flag’s pole rather than just the flag. I didn’t even look up, my hand streaked out, straight fingers gently tapped his Adam’s apple.

The flag waver didn’t see my hand move, his friends didn’t either, there was a sudden silence as the flag dropped to the floor and his hands lifted to his throat. I thought to myself, ‘Possibly a little too hard Vicky!’

I looked up in time to see his knees buckle slowly and he sank to the floor gripping his throat.

I moved quickly to stop him smashing his face on the floor and I rolled him onto his side, pushing his forehead back to straighten his airway as much as possible.

Page 6

“Call an ambulance somebody…do you know this man, is he allergic to anything?”

Five mobile phones came out of pockets.

‘SHIT!’ ‘Much too hard!’

I leaned over him and covered his mouth with mine and gave him the kiss of life until the paramedics turned up. Fortunately as they were bagging him and pushing adrenaline into his system my train arrived and I slipped quietly out of the station. The rest of the football fans missed the train and hopefully they’d miss their flight as well.

Close run thing there, I’d have to remember that civilians are delicate little flowers and I’d have to reign in my fiery temper a little.

The train to London was basically two single decker busses joined together with train wheels instead of rubber tyres. Five hours earlier it would have been packed with people up to the roof…standing room only but now, mid-afternoon, the train was almost empty. I found a table with four empty seats around it, heaved my case onto the window seat and sat next to it.

I dropped my envelope with all of my discharge papers in it on the table and started to read through the section on my reserve status and the army’s right to call me back into service during times of unrest.

“Mind if I sit here?”

I looked up, ‘Fancy Dan!’ City suit, clean shaven, collar length hair but slicked down with pomade, his cheeks and chin were shiny so he’d used moisturiser after shaving. I looked around the compartment, forty empty seats in the carriage tables with no one sitting at them and he’s asking to sit with me!

“If you need to, help yourself.”

“Going on leave…or returning to your unit?”

“Sorry?”

“It’s just that I guess that you’re service personnel, your hair cut, your muscles…the way you dealt with that football hooligan…so what is it, leave or returning?”

“Neither, I marched out this morning. My career in the army is over. What about you, you look like a banker but you’re on a train in the middle of the day, you playing hooky from work?”

Page 7

“Holiday…I finished a little job this morning and now I’m off to see my mother in Glasgow for two weeks.”

“Really, are you doing the London to Birmingham and change to the Glasgow train or are you flying up?”

“Train, like you say, change at London and Birmingham…my employer won’t spring to air fares.”

It was a forty minute trip to London, we’d get in at four o’clock and at four fifteen there was an express to Birmingham. My ticket wouldn’t allow me to travel on the first train to Glasgow, that was classed as a commuter special and would cost more for that journey, I’d have to sit it out in Birmingham for ninety minutes and catch a train after seven o’clock in the evening.

He was George and he was witty, clever and very well educated. I got the feeling that if he gave me financial advice I’d take it.

George offered to carry my case off the train for me and I pondered, “I could probably carry you and my case off the train mate!’

“What about your own case, you’re going on a two week long holiday and you don’t even have a change of underpants!”

“I keep enough clothes at my mother’s house just so that I can pop over to see her whenever I have the opportunity without having to go home and gather my stuff together.”

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