Soltau Training Area

As soon as they had reached the outskirts of the camp, the ground became more undulating and boggy. The sounds of the Leyland L60 engines rose and fell, as the drivers went up and down the gearbox, coaxing the best out them as they could. The up and down motion of the vehicle, was starting to make Richard feel sick. He stared through his sight which was stabilized, and with his grip switch pressed remained directly in front of them, regardless of any change in direction. Although the temperature outside was below freezing, inside the vehicle Richard was starting to sweat. He had three layers of clothing on, which was completed by a big heavy olive drab parker and hood. In the distance Richard glimpsed a viaduct, which each of the tanks in turn passed underneath. The ground rose steeply ahead of them and the drivers had to kick down the gears to climb it. Once they crested the top they crossed a bridge which led onto the main training area. The ground in front of them was barren, except for the odd strip of wood. The Sqn covered the next three kilometres rapidly, and in single file passed between to small strips of woodland, they extended from North to South. These would become familiar to Richard, and were designated ‘strip’ and ‘finger’ woods. Passing through the two features, after approximately one kilometre they began to swing south. This was an area known as Bivouac area four or ‘Bivvy 4’, and would be their home for the next couple of days. Other Sqns had been allocated other areas for the first week of their training. This would culminate in a final exercise involving the whole Regiment.

On reaching a wooded area they were met by the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) Windy Miller. It was part of his job to recce any night time locations and to ensure they were safe for the arrival of the Sqn. He directed each Troop to their designated areas, and the Commanders reversed their vehicles in. Each Troop ensured that it provided all round defence, with interlocking arcs where possible. As this was a non-tactical position for the next couple of days, they had been told that they need not erect camouflage nets. As soon as the last vehicle in the Troop had been placed in its position all engines were turned off. A strange silence spread through the wood, interspersed with the sound of birds calling. The commanders all made their way toward Squadron Headquarters (SHQ). It was here that the Squadron Leader held his orders group. He went through what he expected from the Troops over the coming days. Sitting in his green army fold away chair, he reached into the rucksack at his feet. He withdrew from it a litre bottle of whisky, and unscrewing the cap he crushed it in his palm. A groan came from the assembled commanders, they knew that when Major Redworth did this he meant that no one could leave until the bottle was empty. He gestured for them to get their mugs out of their webbing and proceeded to dish out the whisky. The Orders Group, or O group as it was known, lasted around ninety minutes, of this only thirty minutes of it was spent discussing the week ahead. The remainder of the time the Sqn Leader or ‘Crazy Red’ as he was affectionately known chatted with his Officers, and NCOs about general day to day stuff. He was one who believed in investing in his soldiers and was very good at getting the best out of them. He led from the front and had great respect from everyone in the Sqn. Richard recalled his first day in the Sqn, when he had waited to go in to his office to be welcomed to the Sqn. Prior to being marched in for a welcoming chat, the Sqn Leader was conducting orders. As the offender was marched out of the office he was halted next to Richard. Blood was streaming from his nose and the SSM, was giving him words of advice before dismissing him. Richard’s heart sank when he heard the rough voice call out from the open door.

‘Next!’

The SSM marched him in at a more leisurely pace than the previous Trooper, and halted him about three paces from the Officer Commanding D Squadrons desk. The Sqn Leader looked up from his desk and welcomed Richard with a smile. He was a big man, going slightly bald, barrel chested with sloping shoulders. His arms seemed to be bulging through his pullover. He had hair on the backs of his hands and Richard imagined that this continued all the way up. He was not the archetypal Sandhurst Officer, with the smooth baby faced good looks. He had more of a rustic farmer’s appearance about him, this helped to bridge the social gap of the soldiers under him. From the conversation they had that morning, Richard could tell that he was a man not to cross but would do anything to help you, if it was in his power to do so.

The commanders returned to their Troops a little worse for wear. Dave the Troop Sgt. began writing a stag list for that evening. This consisted of a ground sentry, and a radio operator, and each ‘stag’ lasted one hour. The drivers and gunners made up the ground sentries, while the commanders and operators the radio watch. The duty of the ground sentry which was what Richard was required to do involved patrolling the Troop hide area. This was the name given to a location where the Troops would lay up, and hide from the enemy when not in contact. Dave went round the Troop informing everyone at what time they were on duty. Richard cringed when he found that he was on the death watch stag, which was from 03:00-04:00. This meant as they were getting up at 06:00 by the time he had warmed up and got back to sleep, it would be time to rise again. Everyone had gathered round the TSM tanks and were chatting and drinking beer. The TSM gave a brief outline what the Sqn Leader expected over the coming week. Tomorrow the first thing they would practice would be moving into hide locations in a tactical scenario. Richard did not know what this meant but it would all fall into place the next day.

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