But at the end of each day I had been so occupied and was so tired I had no difficulty in sleeping. And the majority of the other squaddies were good fellows at heart, even if not the brightest. Generally we accepted each other with some respect and with little animosity. For example, fellow soldiers at night got down on their knees at the bedside to say their prayers. This passed without comment.
Food was served in the mess halls and prepared in the cookhouses. We ate en masse off wooden tables and sat on forms. To get the food, one stood in line and passed before the servers standing behind enormous dixies. To hold our food, we had only two mess tins, plates were nonexistent, and a metal mug into which scalding hot tea was poured. The servers seemed to delight in ensuring each item went in the mess tins one on top of the other irrespective of whether, for example, it was gravy or custard. We, however, were usually so hungry we just ate it. There certainly was no point in complaining. To anyone used to school dinners it was just more of the same.
In our break times, we went to the Naafi (NavyArmyAirforce Institute) that had a radio, and where food, drinks, and other items such as boot polish and Brasso – we had to buy our own – could be purchased. It was somewhere to get away from our masters and mentors being for junior ranks only. It was off limits to senior NCOs and officers. They had their own. In the Naafi, someone was always sitting in the corner with the piano playing the popular tunes of the day with different degrees of skill.
Oswestry introduced us to four basic military requirements; how to salute – all officers had to be saluted, stand to attention, stand at ease, and then on to foot drill – square bashing, marching in a military manner. This had to be mastered with head up, shoulders back, arms swung to shoulder height and at a steady pace. One started by falling in in three ranks an arms length apart and standing easy, hands behind your back and feet apart. Next, the sergeant brought us to attention – feet together, thumbs in line with the seam of your trouser and feet together. And following that, we right dressed – an arm’s length apart and sized with a marker to the right front, usually the tallest soldier with the smallest in the middle and taller ones toward the ends of the squad. We then learned to march keeping our dressing, left turn, right turn, left wheel, right wheel, about turn until the whole gamut of foot drill was mastered. We were rewarded with a welcome halt, stand at ease, stand easy and dismiss, a turn to the right a stamp of the boot and away.
This early learning of this basic army skill was done on the vast graveled surfaced parade ground under the eagle eyes of the drill Sergeants and the Regimental Sergeant Major, an imposing individual with a stentorian voice and a constant source of caustic comment.
Once a squad of say 30 or 40 however got the measure of the required drill it acts as a whole. And I must admit I never minded the drill, deriving a certain, perhaps perverse pleasure in it. When we became more used to the drill, the squad worked in unison with our heavy studded boots crashing as one to the surface of the square. It generated a certain team spirit. Today team ballroom dancing seems the nearest many get to it. Heaven help the soldier who did not get it right. A tongue lashing for the culprit from the drill sergeant, which while biting often included some rough and crude humor, along with extra drill usually resulted for the whole squad until we met his standard, and a welcome dismissal. With other squads also drilling one had to pay attention and listen for your own sergeant’s commands. It was good exercise too. And it broke in my new boots as well as my feet, but without blisters. Carried out in the heat of June, it was an initial toughening up made more so by the boots and heavy uniforms. We also had regular PT too, which combined with the drill began to get us fit.
Perhaps I thought once mastered foot drill would be a thing of the past, but we did more. And we were kept at it the whole of our National Service.