Many years ago I was attached to the Territorial Army and spent a hot summer weekend away classed as a ‘shooting weekend’. On the Saturday night I was in the NAAFI bar and my friends and I were tanking up madly because the bar shut sharply at midnight. I probably had about ten pints of very strong cider. Great fun?
At 5.30 the next morning we were rudely woken up, and given two minutes to get ready for a three mile run at fast Army pace with our fellow Territorial Army platoon members. Half way through the run I was dreadfully sick as were most of the others who had been drinking the night before. I wanted to curl into a ball and sleep forever, but this was the Army – no chance.
At the end of the run we were given a generous 15 minutes to change and have breakfast before lining up on parade in full kit with rifle.
A five mile march followed, leading to the shooting ranges on the Kent coast at which point we were loaded up with lots of heavy live ammunition and split into sections of ten men (and women). It was now 8.00 a.m. and I was shaking with illness.
My section was first to be tested. This involved running in full kit and with loaded rifle down a steep pebble beach towards a set of targets. Running on stones is hard enough at any time, but in full gear, carrying a heavy rifle and being shouted at by Sergeants was nigh on impossible. By this stage it was about 24 degrees C, we were all sweating madly and I felt like dying.
Dehydration had set in to the point my mouth was so parched I couldn’t speak, but we were forbidden to take even a sip from our water canteens without permission. This is all part of making sure you only drink when the whole platoon drinks so that water is distributed fairly. Water distribution is a serious affair in the Army and rightly so of course.
By now the cap band on my beret felt agonisingly tight as my aching brain sought to escape, I thought my head would burst.
The order came: drop to a kneeling position; aim at the cardboard target of a soldier and fire three rounds in rapid succession. Despite wearing earplugs, the BANG of each shot hurt and shook my brain as if it was a ball inside a baby’s rattle, and I felt so weak I could hardly raise the rifle to shoulder height.
The orders continued: sprint 100 metres to the next position; drop to the ground and fire another three rounds; rapid fire. Get up; sprint 100 metres further towards the target, kneel and let off another three rounds, independent fire.
This carried on for 15 minutes. It was now about 9.00 a.m. – The ranges exercise was due to finish at 1.00 p.m. I didn’t expect to live that long.
I am actually a good shot and could have made marksman that day but I felt so ill I had to eventually close my eyes when I fired just to be able to cope with the pain and the nausea. It was almost impossible to see with the salt-laced sweat running down my brow into my eyes anyway.
Somehow I made it through that morning, but I remember promising myself I would never drink again about a thousand times that day. Even when I got home later that afternoon, the hammering inside my skull wouldn’t stop, and I went straight to bed much to the disgust of my little two-year old daughter who hadn’t seen me for two days, and who wanted to share the Sunday night with her soldier Daddy. After all I had promised to play with her.
If I close my eyes, I can still remember how I felt that day - and the day after, and the day after that.
It does you good sometimes, to remember what wonderful times you are missing once you quit alcohol forever! Can you better my story? I would love to hear from you.