A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and especially if that knowledge is taught at the bosom of the Honourable Artillery Company.
Puttees had been introduced from India in 1902 and were in use within the British Army till 1938. Their calf height was then lowered till in the 1980s they were finally retired or rather returned back into the G1098 stores.
However, on joining the Regiment in 1974 my new green issue holdall was full of wonderful things, including the two khaki bandages that had to be wound to a pattern around the ankles, the tape twiddled into a reverse arrow. It was like having a bandage always ready to hand but they tourniqued your blood flow and numbed the feet. A jolly useful piece of clothing, but how to tie them correctly was in itself a work of some skill, especially in the dark.
But help was on hand and at our first weekend at the Bisley Hut we were taught how to dress in uniforms that seemed to have many buttons including a fly, then drink late into the night. The next morning dawned after a fug filled sleep in green cocoons and we were invited to participate in an early morning run.
We had to have these wretched bandages tied and so with the ribbons trailing and tripping us up we staggered around the darkened memorial shooting lodges, and gradually we never forgot how to tie the wretched things, and that knowledge was my undoing. A few years later I joined (what now has been disbanded for reasons that are many), the Brigade Squad in Pirbright as an Officer Cadet in the Scots Guards.
I was the oldest one there and yes, those bandages appeared from our new green issue holdalls as things to be wound no doubt incorrectly by my compatriots who were drawn mainly from the pages of Burke’s Peerage and the schools of an easy life. I was explaining to the wide eyed potential leaders how they were to be put on when the door was flung open by a whey-faced Corporal from the Welsh Guards. It was he, not me who was supposed to teach us how to dress. I was a marked man for the next four months.
On our Salisbury plain week, but that is another story, my denouement followed. It was on a dismal Sunday evening, cold and getting brittle dark. We ran as a platoon carrying GPMGs and our helmets could have been entries for the Chelsea Flower Show such was the amount of vegetation wound into netting. As we heaved our deadened legs past the wash-down I knew that the lolling figures cleaning Bedford lorries and Land Rovers in a desultory fashion, rather like Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army could only be my old friends. I wanted to die or be absorbed into the ground. Your cheerful chatter, the clink of stirrup cups and the back slapping humour made me want to desert from the Brigade back to the warmth of Armoury House.
‘Oy, over there, are you the ‘the bloody orrible Artillery?’ blasted the Corporal, sensing blood. ‘I’ve one of your useless lot here, you can take him back!’
I should have made a dash for it, ready to sign my work ticket from Lt. James Nuthall and then motor to London when the weekend would have soon been a memory. It made me realise how special we are who have service memories and friends and although I experienced comradeship in my short time in the Brigade, the HAC is still family to me.