Time was seeping away for me as I ran up and down the hills in Wrecclesham, carrying a rucksack of tins. These were used to weigh me down and came from my day job I had delivering groceries to small shops in South London from a distribution depot in Farnham. The drivers were allowed to take any damaged items home and it was amazing to find that so many pallets had overturned on a home run, surprising that.
But it was clear that I was getting no fitter, my choice of Rothmans being a factor.
I had at last been able to put my Army issue HGV licence to use and had only one accident. A stout lady teacher had caught her bicycle basket on my rear bumper as I maneuvered rather too quickly around a small corner. Her name was Miss Heap, rather appropriate. She was not hurt but it caused some choice words to be uttered and they were from her, not me. However the police interviewed me and then was returned home in a squad car, this provided some interest and amusement for the curtain twitchers of School Hill, not to mention my mother.
Like so many trysts with destiny, I was about to embrace the next stage of my journey with a feeling of fear and some awe. I had elected to join Her Majesty’s Foot Guards, more specifically The Scots Guards. They are the ones with large fuzzy hats or bearskins, without plumes for the Regiment stands centre of the line and any flashes of red, white and green would only serve to confuse. Soldiers live by these nuances and anyway, feathers in bonnets are only for Fusiliers or Irish pipers who are seen well down in the pecking order, especially if you are a Guardsman. Their dark red tunics have buttons in sets of three, a skill in spacing and sewing that I was yet to learn.
I had been told to appear at the most convenient time of 07.00 at The Pirbright Guards Depot or as it was known locally, God’s Acre. This was a place to avoid and seemed to have its own micro-climate of rain, grey skies and more rain. The instructors, thin and suspicious, waited for us, their next platoon of Potential Officers drawn from the ruling classes. For the next four months our kindly surrogate parents would terrify us into submission or desertion before even letting us see real soldiers.
The joining rules were clear on one thing, no cars were to be brought. I had dumped mine behind an old pub close to the gate just in case I needed to escape. Looking at the badly parked assortment of civilian Land Rovers and Golf GTis it appeared that my fellow recruits maybe had trouble reading. It was into this world of sharp noises, the click of pace-sticks across the seemingly polished drill square and the constant rush for food, polish and acceptance that we sunk. We swapped our Hampshire green, healthy hair and comfortable shoes for ill-fitting brown service dress and camouflage uniforms and were allocated a number. No longer would we be addressed as the Honourable, Lord or in my case Mister, so now I was renamed as 24333732 Potential Officer Kelly for the duration of the training that was about to start.
Like branding of a cattle hide all our issued clothing was to be stenciled with our number, perhaps the only piece of personality that we were permitted. This number has stayed with me, a useful password and reminds me that if I was captured by the enemy just to my state my name, rank and number and the words ‘I can not answer that question sir’. However as the tongs were being heated up I might have spilt a few more bits of information.
But I digress, the fitness training paid off. I coughed my way across the Seven Sisters assault course, pot-holed in Fremington, honed my drill and polished my boots and was posted to Sudan.
24333732 stayed the course.