WHILE not alarmed, I’m
certainly alert to the possibility that the government, desperate to win
a war that Britain manifestly does not want, might consider calling me
and other ex-Army ancients who know desert terrain, back to the colours
to man mobile, half-track armoured Zimmers with 3.7 inch, air-cooled
We could reinforce our allegedly under-equipped armed forces still
waiting for desert clothing, rifles that don’t jam, tanks that don’t
seize up in machinery-clogging sand and radio systems not in the
electronics’ Stone Age.
I still had faith in the ability of our lads and lassies to cope with
such odds until I read about the quality of some of the new forces’
In a machine-gun-like splutter of indignation, I went to the office
where you complain about such things and to the man at the counter, I
handed my Royal Army Mobile Stationery Corps cap badge (crossed
typewriters with two clerks dormant over the proud motto of forefront
activity, "Non sequitur".)
"What’s this then?" he asked.
"It’s a token gesture," I said stiffly, "indicating my despair and
disgust at the way the British Army, in which I was a small-armed,
short-legged, confident-booted conscript, is being degraded into a
softly-softly, namby-pamby, goody two shoes, marshmallow-spined bunch of
"That’s a bit rough, sir," observed the man, taking notes.
"Not so," I replied. "According to a Ministry of Defence review of
services’ initial training, new recruits who cannot cope with
old-fashioned discipline, are to be eased into military life.
"Bawling out, ridiculing and tough punishment, including press-ups or
cross-country runs, are being increasingly abandoned. Recruits,
according to the review, should not be deprived of material comforts,
should have coffee bar-style cafes, internet access, welfare and - can
you believe it? - emotional support projects and condom machines.
"No less a military luminary than Lt-Gen Anthony Palmer, the Deputy
Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel), says that modern recruits will not
tolerate mindless discipline or routine. They have little deference or
respect. If they are shouted at or called rude names they pick up their
mobile phones and mums come along, dry their eyes and take them off the
"What kind of gutless, shiftless, boneless wonders," I ask-ed, "are we
injecting into the ranks these decadent days?" The man scribbled
vigorously. "What will they be like at the front without emotional
support auxiliaries to supply them with coffee, condoms and counselling
while facing a possibly rude and rough enemy whose shouts and actions
could hurt their feelings?
"In my military days," I continued, "bellowings blasted the ears of new
recruits with the impact of hand-grenade explosions. Once in Aberdeen’s
Gordon Barracks, I paused briefly in mid rifle drill to wipe my nose and
caused the sergeant, chattering with rage, to indicate that I was not
only an ’orrible little man, but that I was also lowering the tone of
the Second World War.
"Did I blub, faint, or fall into a fit? Certainly not. As I doubled
three times round the square as punishment, I wanted to send for mum to
take me home, but if I had she would have probably routed the Gordons
and demolished the barracks.
"I have developed a carapace," I revealed, "to protect me from wounding
words. My mother who had lifted me up to get a better view of the massed
mixed infants in the assembly hall on my first day at school, was told
by the headmistress to ‘put that brat down’. My maths teacher called me
a ‘stumer’ when failing to grasp the intricacies of quadratic equations,
and a man who refused me an interview, quoted Ben Hecht’s opinion of
newspapermen: ‘The hand of God reaching down into the mire couldn’t
elevate one of you to the depths of degradation.’
"The military equivalent would, I suspect, make the new warriors wilt
but if you will take the word of a veteran of 1,000 verbal cuts, not me.
I can see the newcomers breaking their sergeant’s heart, when he asks
them, with apologies for tearing them away from their mobile phones, to
consider advancing against the enemy, and telling him petulantly that
they are too busy contacting their mums to get them home.
"Am I worried?" I asked the notetaker as I marched off in a marked
manner, "I’ll swear I am."