Saturday, 24 September 2011

26th Signal Regiment Whitespear Troop July 1983 - Even More Nonsense

After a few comments about my previous post I thought I would jot down some memories of my first 10 months in the Royal Signals

On the 4th July 1983 I joined the Royal Signals as a Junior Signalman, I was still 15 years of age!

My 16th birthday was spent being shouted at and marching at a ridiculous speed around a parade square!

We were based at Ouston which is a few miles outside of Newcastle, along way from home for this Dorset born and bred lad! The camp itself was an old WW2 airfield which had a massive hanger which was used as the instructional wing and the gym.

If we all made it through we would eventually "Pass Out" in April 1984. 10 months of basic training. I really didnt know what to expect or even if I could hack the pace.

But with the help of each other 27 of us completed the training out of a intake of over 40 recruits to our troop.

Not only that but we managed to become the Champion troop as well, there was intense rivalry between troops, and to be the best was something amazing.

Im still in touch with a lot of old Army friends, some of which I joined up with, Im on facebook, not that I use it that much, but have 84 friends on there, the interesting thing is that 40 of them are ex services, I left in 1990 after serving 7 years. The thing is you know they are all there and you can pick up where you left off, not like civvy mates I'm afraid.

Basic training as a boy soldier is one of the hardest things I have ever done, many times I felt like giving up, the training was tough, there were moments when it nearly all got too much for me, but somehow found the strength to carry on.

But there were some brilliant moments, and looking back on it now, even the bad bits I can now laugh at!

"Change Parades" now these consisted of being in one uniform, lets say "Working Dress" you were on parade, then the staff would say, change to "Combats with webbing" so off we would dash to get changed as quickly as possible then back on parade, all the time being screamed at to move quicker. You were then inspected, to make sure all buttons were done up, buckles done up etc, and if not punishments were dealt out. This could carry on for ages, changing from one set of uniform to another. It was exhausting.

"Inspections" these were constant, either of uniform or of your rooms, anything failing inspection would be flung out of the windows, Ive seen a bed being pushed out of a window due to it not being made properly!

Within our troop we had Lt Thwaites, a really good officer who looked after us and wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty, Sergeant Huges who looked like Windsor Davis from it "Aint Alf Hot Mum" and could shout just as loud, along with Corporal Taylor and a Lance Corporal who I cant remember his name (Mark help me out here)?

These guys bullied, shouted, beat and molded us into shape, and I thank them for doing so. Were we bullied? Depends on how you use the word bullying!?

If you mean, shouted at, verbally abused, psychologically tormented, hit over the head, made to run till you collapsed with exhaustion, then made to keep going then yes, we were, but I say again, I really do thank them for doing so. It changes you into some one, where by anything can be done, no matter what the odds.

We had alot of personalities in our troop, too many to mention here, but when you live close to others like we did, and go through the training that we had to do, then you learn alot about others and yourself!

Some of the high lights of my time at Ouston was abseiling off the hanger roof.

Below is an old black and white photograph of the hanger, I abseiled down the front!

We also trained to do a static line parachute jump from 2000 feet. I'll never forget the time when it was my turn to get over to the door, and jump out. Totally forgetting all my training of shouting out "1000, 2000, (look up) Check Canopy" I think I managed a "aaarrrggghhh - (look up) - thank f**k thats open!

We went swimming in Kielder lake, I'm sure they were all sadistic. We had to swim out 100 yds, then swim under a canoe then swim back to shore. The first obstacle was the fact that the lake was thick with ice for the first 10 feet as it was January! All you could hear was 30 blokes teeth chattering!

Loads of sport, football, rugby, and the assault course, where we lost two of our troop through broken wrists!

We also played our own unique game of murder ball - as you can imagine by the name it was a violent full contact game involving a medicine ball, two teams and absolutely no rules!

Milling - a form of boxing where by you are placed in a ring, with a pair of gloves, and over a 3 minute period have to try and knock out your opponent before he takes your head off. I was paired with my mate Mark, I had a bit of an unfair advantage as he was well into his Judo! I think I may of got him a couple of times, but I came off worse!

Our Troop OC, used to enjoy making us run through ditches, knee deep in dirty stinking stagnent  water, and if we werent quick enough to crawl through it!

We took part during our training a number of field exercises, these basically consisted of getting very cold, wet, hungry and tired, walking for miles and then being kept awake most of the night with further patrols or map reading exercises. Once it was that cold that half the troop went down with hypothermia and had to be evacuated! Myself and my best mate Mark were one of the few that lived to tell the tale! We had the sense to bivvy up next to a dry stone wall, and weather the storm out!

The ranges were always good, where we learnt how to shoot a variety of weapons, 7.62mm Self Loading Rifles, 7.62mm Light Machine Guns 9mm Sub Machine Guns, 9mm Browning Pistol, 88mm Rocket Launchers, and Grenades. Days spent on the ranges were always good fun and it also meant that you weren't running around or marching up and down!

It was a tough time, being in the Royal Signals may seem to be a cushy option, but you are a soldier first then the trade comes second! I still think we had some of the best training you could possibly hope for.

During the final part of our training, the pressure to get things right increased, along with the expectations of the staff to push you hard, then harder still.

It was relentless, but looking back, so enjoyable, but at the time it was a bloody nightmare!

We had a Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) WO1 Tony Cartwright a true legend! He was reknown through out the whole Corps as being a real hard bas***d, but he was worshiped! (and still is)

Ive seen him jail, a blade of grass, the whole of the Royal Signals Band, and even his own pace stick! There are so many stories about him. A particular story I remember concerned a guy from another troop. Now this next bit is not politically correct at all, but back then you could get away with it, and you have to remember that this is squaddie humour!

The RSM was inspecting the Regiment, all on parade, when he comes across this guy who I think was called Wygwarram, or Wigwam for short, a coloured lad. The RSM who you have to remember scares the life out of you just be being close to him said to the lad "Whats your name"? Its Wygwarram Sir, was the reply, "F***ing What"? replied the RSM, "Wygwarram Sir" came the reply once more. "What sort of a f***ing name is that? - Where do you come from"? "Scotland Sir" came the reply "Scotland" screamed the RSM, "Your Black, have an unpronounceable name, next you will tell me your Catholic and you support Celtic"- "I do Sir" came the reply, "Well in that case son, you have f**k all going for you, now get to jail!" 

Another time he prodded Geordie F from another troop with his pace stick and asked, whats that piece of shit at the end of my pace stick? Geordie not having the brains to accept defeat replied after looking at the end "nothing at this end Sir" at which point he went apocalyptic , the fall out could be seen in Canada!

Even now RSM Cartwright has total respect from anyone who had the pleasure of being shouted or jailed by him. Having had many RSM's in my time, he is the only one who  I remember by name, wonder why!

It was with great pride and a sense of achievement that I passed out with 27 mates out of over 40 starting in April 1984. I was still only 16! I wasn't allowed to go to Catterick till my 17th birthday

It was then off to Catterick for trade training - but that's another story!

In the picture top row  I'm 5th from the right next to my old mate Mark who stands to my left. 

Good old days!!

Till later.....


  1. Remember Colin Rich first out of the plane on the parachute jump broke his leg, and suffering exposure on the drill square in January..Sorry I can't remember the name of the LCpl. Good times.. Pity the physique is not the same though.

  2. I think he is a fitness instructor these days!!!

  3. Never mind. Fitness as you know is not all it's cracked up to be. It just makes you tired.