Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Why I never invaded anywhere

Lee Enfield .303 rifle. The original design dates back to the turn of the century. But then the RAF was primarily into bombs.

Bren gun, known in the RAF as an LMG or light machine gun – so christened by some brass hat who never had to carry one.

Before the RAF capriciously decided I would be taught to repair radio equipment I underwent basic training - squarebashing (UK), boot camp (USA). I was warned about lying with loose women, about not brushing my teeth and about espousing the teaching of Bertrand Russell rather than those of the RAF’s Yahweh.

More important were: obedience to orders (including those requiring me to go out and get killed by the enemy) and killing skills. I’ll forgo the hysterical yet comical bayonet training and concentrate on the three loaded guns I discharged.

The first was a .22 rifle on a 25-yard range. One instructor got into position on the ground and another bawled explanations. When the prone instructor took aim silence descended and nervous anticipation rose. The discharge was like the tiniest of farts. Suppressing a snigger (which would have been unpleasantly punished) caused my sternum to ache.

I then shot a .303 Lee Enfield rifle on a 200-yard range. Did I hit the target? It didn’t matter. For me an enemy 200 yards away was a notional enemy, a mere theory. With the Bren gun we reverted to 25 yards. A burst required squeezing the trigger during the time taken to say “A thousand and one”. There was a caveat: “Don’t count to a thousand and one,” screamed the instructor.

Two bursts and the paper target tore apart, then – to my delight – detached itself from the holder and flew into the air. For the first time I had an inkling of why some men get addicted to shooting guns. Soon, however, I was wielding a soldering iron. Haven’t squeezed a trigger since.


Plutarch said...

My experience with a Lee Enfield is a similar. What did surprise me was the accuracy of the weapon, which produced a group of little holes close together near the centre of the target, when recovered from its 200 yard remoteness. It earned me the qualification marksman and permitted me to wear a badge to that effect. This is my only claim to military distinction and was not repeated. Not was the badge worn, but for a few brief moments I felt a little better than useless.

marja-leena said...

I'm glad I don't have to ask if you killed anyone. That's a horrible weight on a man's soul, methinks.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: I might have had the badge made up and worn it in Civvy Street. A scarf perhaps. I heard of someone who failed the second RAF medical (the one at the RAF induction centre) and was therefore discharged following a mere one or two days' RAF service. Thereafter he always wore an RAF tie in celebration of having missed 710 terrible dinners.

M-L: It would be dishonest of me to say I know for sure I didn't indirectly kill anyone. The RAF was in business to kill people and the radio kit I serviced may or may not have assisted in the process. I am against killing of any sort - especially so-called judicial killing - but I suppose I made an exception way back in 1955 when I accepted national service and did not opt for the more problematic course of declaring myself a conscientious objector. I could say I was young but I can't claim I was not sentient. Perhaps a more persuasive defence is that what was then (and even now) regarded as a just war was only a decade away and public perceptions of war were not as well defined as they are now. Ironically it was a brief war that occurred while I was with the RAF (Suez) that started to change things.

As to my soul, I don't acknowledge its existence. But then feelings of guilt don't need to be expressed via this supernatural concept.

Avus said...

Took me back, BB. Like Plutarch I and my .303 SMLE gained the "First Class Shot" (Army) sleeve badge - rifle surmounted by a star. In good boy scout tradition we were made to wear ours, including the inverted, single stripe on the left sleeve for 3 years "good conduct" - if I had stayed any longer I could have added to these at 3 year intervals (assuming I was as perfect as a choir boy) up to 4 stripes - however this was also the insignia of a Drum Major, so don't know how they sorted that one out.)

I think I could still strip and re-assemble a Bren with my eyes shut. Not a lot of use 50 years later in civvy street! The only useful, practical thing I learnt in the army was to touch-type and that still stands me in good stead.

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: I too learned to strip a Bren gun; what's more I could tell you where the barrel locking nut retaining plunger is. I should add that two years' national service changed my life. The first (journalistic) job I got in the USA depended on what I'd learnt as an air wireless fitter with the RAF.