Guard Duty

They opened the door from the block and negotiated the path around the playing fields, being careful not to step in any puddles or mud on route to the guardroom. Arriving with twenty minutes to spare before the guard mount there were already a number of people milling about. The guard consisted of a guard commander, who was usually a Sergeant, with a Corporal or Lance Corporal as his second in command (2ic). The majority of the guard was made up of nine Troopers, two supplied from each of the ‘Sabre Sqns’. These were the tank Sqns’ A, B, C and D, with final two being provided by Headquarter Sqn (HQ). That gave a total of ten men, one of which would be dismissed after receiving stick man. There would be one person allocated to the main barrier on the gate, whilst two people would be assigned to carry out roving foot patrols throughout camp. Each period of either gate or patrolling was what was known as being ‘on stag’, and lasted for two hours. This word struck dread into every serving soldier, in the early hours of the morning when he was woken to take his turn. Everyone was checking their dress, to make sure all their buttons were done up, and their webbing was sitting correctly. This was with the exception of one guy, who looked like he had just climbed out of a skip. His face seemed familiar to Richard and he wondered where he had seen him before. His curiosity getting the better of him he pulled Noddy to one side.

‘Who is that guy there’ he indicated with a nod of his head, not wanting to make it obvious.

‘That’s Archie mate, he’s a Regimental character, with the emphasis on the mental. He likes a beer or ten, and can usually be found in the NAAFI bar or in the Wee House’

Richard knew the Wee House as it was a local German pub not far from where his parents lived. He had visited it on many occasions with dad and his brother on occasions. It was on a number of these visits that he had noticed this small bloke in the corner in the company of a rather large guy. He always seemed suitably refreshed no matter what time of day that Richard went in. He remembered thinking to himself ‘does this bloke live here?’ Here he was twelve months later about to go on guard with him. With only ten minutes left until the Orderly Officer was due to turn up, the Guard Commander fell them in outside. He did a quick check of everyone’s dress, but when he came to Archie who was next to Richard he just shook his head.

‘Archie I just give up with you’ he said in a resigned fashion. The small guy just chuckled to himself and his shoulders shook.

‘Has everyone got their yellow cards?’ the Guard Commander shouted out looking around at everyone who nodded in agreement. Richard did not know what he was talking about so thought he had better say something. Putting up his hand nervously he murmured.

‘I haven’t Sergeant’

‘Why not you fucking scroat?’ he spat back

‘I only joined the Regiment this week I didn’t know we needed one’ he replied still not knowing what on earth it was.

‘I’ll let you off bonny lad seeming as it’s your first time’ he said reaching into his pocket and handing over a piece of yellow card. Explaining that it was what every soldier carried when on duty with a loaded weapon. The Army has a series of rules known as the Yellow Card, which guides when a soldier can open fire lawfully. Generally, lethal force was only lawful when the lives of members of the security forces or others were in immediate danger. He advised him to read it carefully before his first patrol, or turn on the gate. Before he could explain more, the sound of metal on concrete could be heard away to his right. Out of the darkness strode the figure of the Orderly Officer. He was dressed in ‘blues’, this was the No1 dress for officers. On his shoulders were chain mail, with his blue Service cap with gold braid on the peak. A sash hung from his left shoulder across his body with a small back on his back. On his feet he was wearing cavalry boots adorned with spurs. At his side he was holding a cavalry sabre in line with the yellow stripe down his blues trousers. When he was about five paces from the Guard Commander he halted. The Guard Commander took a smart pace forward with his left foot, slamming his right into the ground.

‘The guard is fell in and awaiting your inspection Sir!’ he said saluting.

The salute was returned by the Officer who looked no more than twenty, with not a blemish on his face. Richard wondered if he had even started to shave yet. Starting on the front rank right hand man he began his inspection. As he came to each soldier in turn he looked them up and down and moved to the next. Any small points that he picked up such as fluff on berets or not enough polish on boots, he pointed out to the Guard Commander. Richard took a deep breath as he stood in front of him. He nodded his head and congratulated him on a good turnout. Richard felt a pang of pride as he stepped to the left to inspect Archie. He took one look at him and simply shook his head. He had obviously met him before and was not surprised by his dishevelled appearance. He opened on of his ammunition pouch and placed his hand in side. Lifting up his hand he produced a small bottle of beer. He turned to the Guard Commander with a wry smile.

‘What’s this Trooper Archibald?’ he addressed the somewhat bemused Trooper.

‘What’s it look like, ya fucking NIG?’ was his shocking reply.

Not knowing what to say to the remark the young Officer simply turned to the Guard Commander, and asked him to note it down in his occurrence book, and it should be reported to the RSM the next day. Apparently this was not something new for Archie, as he was well known for being a loveable rogue. He had been in the Regiment for seventeen years and had attained the dizzy heights of Trooper. This was generally down to the fact that he enjoyed a drink or two. As the Orderly Officer finished his inspection he whispered something to the Guard Commander. They both saluted each other and the Guard Commander did a smart about turn, facing the mounted guard. At the top of his voice he announced.

‘Commanding Officers Stick orderly, goes to Tpr Bennett. You may fall out now’

Richard glanced in Noddy’s direction who gave a faint smile and fell out of the ranks. Waiting until he had marched into the guard room, the Guard Commander then ordered the Troops to fall out to their duties. On doing so, he reminded them that there was an officer on parade. As they turned to their right they all saluted and paused for two seconds before marching off for three paces. Once inside the guard room they were all issued with ten rounds of ammunition. The 2ic of the guard had already drawn up the ‘stag list’ for the evening. They all gathered round eagerly to see what they had been allotted, and what times they would be on. Richard was paired with someone called Holmfirth, on a roving patrol at 22:00-23:59 hours. Then again from 04:00-0600. Suddenly a booming voice called out.

‘Who the fuck is Hunter?’

Richard looked across the room, where a giant of a man was bawling at the 2ic of the guard. The hapless young Lance Corporal pointed over in Richard’s direction. Explaining that as he was new, the Guard Commander had asked for an experienced bloke to be paired with him. The massive man mountain of a man, was known in the Regiment as ‘Big H’ for obvious reasons. He looked at Richard in disdain and loathing, before storming out of the front office. Had he made another enemy Richard pondered to himself. He gave it a few moments, before he also departed from the room and went to the back of the guard room, where the beds were situated. Seeking out the big man he approached him and introduced himself. The ogre of a man just gave a grunt, not taking the offered outstretched hand. It suddenly dawned on Richard, that this bloke was the one he had seen in the Wee House with Archie, on more than one occasion. They were obviously drinking buddies and good mates. That was probably why he had taken offence to being paired with a NIG. Finding himself a bed, Richard laid down but was disturbed almost immediately. The Guard Command had entered the room and asked for everyone’s attention. He went through the Security state that they were on at that particular time. Also warned them not to go wandering into the cell areas which housed the prisoners. He informed them that the entrance to the cells should be locked at all times. There were two prisoners in at that particular time, and they were awaiting sentencing, probably ending in them going to the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC), in Colchester. They had deserted and joined the Foreign Legion six months earlier, but had been kicked out after being involved in an incident. The previous week whilst being incarcerated, they had managed to walk out of the guard room and had gone into town for a few beers. To that end each subsequent guard commander had been given explicit instructions from the RSM to keep a close eye on them. They were to be checked every thirty minutes, to ensure they had not absconded, and the cell area was to remain locked at all times. Finally he read out the orders for both barrier sentries and roving patrols. After asking if there were any questions, and receiving none, he left the room. Some of the guys immediately entered a room that was attached to the sleeping area. Here an urn of tea and brew making facilities was set up. The guard were also provided with sandwiches’, crisps and fruit contained in white boxes. Richard recognised them immediately as ‘scab packs’ that he had received whilst in training. After making himself a brew he settled down on his bed to read a magazine he had brought with him. He tried to make himself comfortable on the mattress that had a green shiny cover on it. Its function, was to keep the mattress as clean as possible. It was a pity that the pillows did not have the same, as they looked like they had been there for years on end. Tentatively laying his head back on them he began to read, in no time at all he was fast asleep.

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