..day for four weeks was one, immediate punishment for yelling out the window at the band that they should play in tune was another.
Actually it wasn’t all that bad as it was the so-called ‘university intake’ with, I think, only two people in my platoon who weren’t at university. The army didn’t really want us all that much and we didn’t want to be there all that much either. We were told that we were not allowed to comment about the Vietnam War where NZ had an Artillery detachment deployed in support of the Australians there. Rumour has it that the first, accidental, casualties of the guns were Australians.
The cruellest punishment was the uniform; in particular my issued shorts which would haven’t fitted two large musical walruses that played the Tuba. Not only wide but somewhat long meaning that I resembled a Spike Milligan cartoon. Two pairs of boots, one which were only used for parade and therefore so super shiny they could replace a mirror and another for general use which merely had to shine like the paint of a Rolls Royce. He only thing that fitted was the singlets and the socks
One woke early, having hopefully slept, in a barrack room with the rest of your platoon and spent the day being entertained with drills, various armaments and getting very fit. One marched double time or ran everywhere which made me think that forty Kent cigarettes a day were not doing me much good.
It was summer, it was Burnham cam, and it was warm by NZ standards. We were issued with SLR rifles 7.62mm and capable of shooting through most things. I was an adequate shot but apparently a marksman with a Sten gun. Sheer luck I imagine as the Sten is usually inaccurate and ineffective unless held directly against your enemy’s body.
At the end of basic training you are tested so you can be assigned to the most appropriate unit for your skills and aptitudes. This involves an aptitude test and then an interview with a Captain. I do remember getting the meaning of the word ‘sanguine’ wrong in that I said it meant bloody which was almost true historically but a tad removed from its contemporary meaning of cheerful and optimistic. Ah yes. I know that I should have remembered Durer’s four temperament painting.
The interview with the Captain was pure Monty Python, or rather Spike Milligan, who was a hero of mine and who’s ill-fitting clothes I was wearing.
Anyway he looked up from what I assumed were my test results and said, “Well not that bad Rudd, not bad at all. What role do you think your talents suit you best for in the army? ”
“Perhaps as a civilian, sir”
A slightly unamused look crossed his face.
“Seriously Rudd.”
“Perhaps war artist sir, in light of my Fine Arts background?”
“We are not officially at war with anyone and besides war artists are usually selected from outside of the services”
“Then perhaps Military Intelligence then, if that’s not oxymoronic?”
The expression darkened slightly.
“Rudd, there are 27 men in your platoon and on my reckoning 25 of them have said Military Intelligence. Regrettably for all of you it’s not an option.”
“Well then I am at something of a loss at what to say in light of my particular disability. “
“Disability Rudd, you don’t get this far with any form of disability!”
“Let me explain sir. I am actually quite a brave person but unfortunately I have inherited a pair of legs that are total cowards. Whilst I would be advancing to the front my legs would be retreating to the rear. In the light of which, to stop any personal and regimental embarrassment it is probably wise to put me as far away from anything that might kill me.”
I suspect that he identified this bit of pure and brazen Spike Milligan and just rolled his eyes.
“Actually Rudd, it doesn’t matter what you want we are putting you into signals. Always were. ”
Score: Rudd 0, Army 5.
This is a story that has improved over time and probably has only a tangential resemblance to actuality. But I like it.
But it has also left me permanently suspicious of tests.
The annoying thing was that on the penultimate day of basic training we did our combat efficiency test involving marching / running / wobbling a vast number of kilometres in full kit, doing and obstacle course and then firing at a target. There was both a time limit and an accuracy requirement. At the last obstacle, a concrete pit that one was meant to jump over, my left foot slipped on the far edge and I ripped all the ligaments in my ankle. This is remarkable painful and you can’t walk or do anything. Still get the odd twinge from it. Does this classify as a war wound?
“Let me crawl” I said, feigning heroism “It’s only another 40 yards to the firing range”. I think that I made another ten paces before realising that I wasn’t designed to ignore pain. Mind you nobody was shooting at me either. They powers that be had nothing of it and put me in hospital for a week. By myself as everybody else had gone home. Quite a pleasant way to spend the end of summer in a strange way.
The other strange moment was at grenade throwing practice. It wasn’t so much practice as ‘throw your one really ancient grenade day’ with the chance that it might go off – hopefully not in your hand. They resembled rather too closely those used by our gallant troops in WWII. Presumable this is because they were and, therefore, occasionally given to erratic detonation. The idea is that whilst the rest of the platoon hunkers in the concrete bunker you go out and get given your grenade by the RSM who reminds you of the procedure: hold grenade in throwing hand, pull pin, count to four and throw. If it falls from your nervous hand and lands at your feet don’t be a hero but dive out of the bunker with as much alacrity as possible. Without leaving a visible stain.
My recollection was that I had just pulled the pin when the RSM said “Rudd eh? Any Relation to Laurie Rudd?” I owned up that he was my grandfather and was regaled with the odd cheerful anecdote or two from WWII all the whilst holding onto an armed grenade. Not to worry really they only start ticking when you let go of the handle …… apparently. I reminded him of the fact and that I had a slight sense of unease about my ability to keep my hand shut through another story whereupon he went ‘Oh, better throw the damned thing away then!’ It went off satisfactorily and well enough away.
The only really dangerous part of the army was the cricket match when I took serious umbrage as the opposing team had a provincial representative fast bowler. I couldn’t even see the ball and only knew that it had left his hand when it hit me at supersonic speed somewhere on my body. Usually rather close to the groin, an area which I was saving for Christmas. After two overs of not even unintentionally laying bat to ball I stood aside and let him send the stumps cartwheeling into the distance. The left side of my body looked like it had gone fifteen rounds with Mohamed Ali.
Of course as revenge for my inability to play cricket and general facetiousness when I reached the middle of the North Island for signals training at Waiouru they said that they weren’t doing signals and put me in the artillery.