The king hath happily received, Macbeth,
The news of thy success; and when he reads
Thy personal venture in the rebels’ fight,
His wonders and his praises do contend
Which should be thine or his: silenced with that,
In viewing o’er the rest o’ the selfsame day,
He finds thee in the stout Norweyan ranks,
Nothing afeard of what thyself didst make,
Strange images of death. As thick as hail
Came post with post; and every one did bear
Thy praises in his kingdom’s great defence,
And pour’d them down before him.
It was a very different Guy who came home after his French break, than the Guy whom his father had waved off at Lichfield railway station. He had changed in a subtle way; the normal self-contained Guy had acquired a confidence borne of experience rather than age. He seemed more rounded and happy within himself, very close to becoming the man he would be. His mother had noticed it as well and part of her fretted, because she knew that her young son stood in the doorway, ready to make his way through life, without his parents, who had done their job.
His peers in the 6th form noticed it as well, particularly the girls who were looking at this firm, suntanned stranger, as though they had only noticed him for the first time. Guy Jarvis suddenly became extremely popular. And the ever introspective Guy evaluated his life and the choices that lay open to him. He knew that if not a battle, a conflict of wills was fast approaching.
Guy constantly re-ran his time in France, particularly the last few days and was disturbed to discover that carnal lust and violence could be so closely intertwined within him. He thought long and hard about the gratuitous ferocity he had unleashed on Deja’s brother and decided that it was a part of him that needed to be firmly locked away in one of those compartments of the mind, a mental Room 101 with a sign: Warning – Only to be opened in extremis.
It was a late Sunday morning when Guy came back from swimming his statutory fifty lengths, completed at a fast lick when his skin became warm and red and he steamed in the cold changing rooms. His father was in his study reading the Sunday Times, back in the day when it truly was a quality newspaper. He noticed Guy hanging around by the door, making a meal of hanging up his coat in the hall. Guy’s father put down the paper and took off his glasses.
“Good swim?” he asked.
“Not bad and not too busy,” Guy affirmed.
“I can smell dinner cooking.”
“Good, I’m hungry. Dad…”
“Sit down, Guy.”
“Dad, I’ve been thinking…”
“I don’t want to go to university.”
“Err OK. Why is that, Guy?”
Guy looked at his feet and thought how best to frame his answer, “Because I think it would be a waste of my time and theirs. Because I’m not clever enough and because I want to see the world and earn my way through the journey.”
“You can earn much more by sacrificing a few years at the beginning,” his father pointed out. They would never argue, it just wasn’t their way.
“I don’t even know what I want to study. The humanities? Wishy-washy crap. Maths or science? Forget it. I scraped a C in O-level maths and fluked physics. Politics? Sociology? No way! I might as well wear Rupert the Bear Trousers and a duffel coat with a long scarf.”
“Mr Gardener thinks you will be able to re-sit in less than a year. He has every confidence in you.”
“That’s because he likes me. Because I don’t take the piss when he minces and yes, I know he’s not gay. Actually I like him as well and happen to think he’s a bloody good teacher who actually cares for some of us who already have a degree in scrotology.”
Guy’s father smiled, “So there you go.”
“Dad, I will be over eighteen by the time I even get to university. That will mean I’m over twenty-two by the time I leave. A professional student with absolutely no life experience.
“So what is the alternative?”
“I want to join the Army. Specifically the Paras.”
Guy’s father sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose, “Guy, have you seriously thought this through?”
“Look, I know that you’re bright, fit and motivated, but this would be a way of life you just aren’t used to. You will be mixing with really tough kids, youngsters who…” Jarvis senior groped for the words, “Tough bastards who will view you with suspicion, even contempt. They will have you for breakfast. They will view you as a posh boy who is playing at being the hard man. They will see right through you and they will resent you, thinking that you’re taking the piss out of them.”
“You’re going to tell me to join the RAF instead, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of telling you anything, Guy. Especially how you intend to spend the rest of your life.”
“If you are determined to serve your country, which I don’t think is a bad thing, then would the RAF be such a bad choice?”
Guy leaned forward and a residue of water in his ear squeaked, “I would never pass the aptitude tests to become a pilot, let alone the elementary and advanced flying training. It seems pointless to me to join a Service when I couldn’t fly.”
“There are other branches or trades that are just as vital as aircrew. Force protection, medics, intelligence analysts, ATC and fighter controllers for example.”
“It isn’t for me, Dad. I want to fight, to serve at the sharp end.”
Guy’s father looked at his son with a mixture of frustration, understanding, pride and regret. He knew Guy would make his way in the world, but he didn’t want his intelligent and questioning child ground down by the 85% of the time he wasn’t serving on the front line, wherever that was now.
“Guy, if you want to do this, then you must know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for. You’ll need to know precisely what the training will involve, how long it will last and the criteria that you’ll have to meet. Do your homework and go in like you are well prepared. I can’t lie to you and say that I’m delighted, but the choice is yours. Just promise me one thing: if you are unsuccessful then at least consider going to university, because it will give you many more options.”
Guy smiled. They had called a truce before the shooting war started. His father was relieved because he suspected the Army would see sense and so would Guy, after his initial disappointment. He had underestimated both the British Army and his son.
* * *
Guy attended the Armed Forces Careers Office in Birmingham a few weeks later. After an initial interview with a civilian member of staff, he sat the British Army Recruit Battery (BARB) tests, which then were still largely paper based aptitude tests. He had done his homework and knew that to become a member of the Parachute Regiment, he would have to come in the top percentile of the BARB test scores. He had no idea how well he had done, but a fortnight later he received joining instructions and a railway warrant to attend the Recruit Selection Centre at Catterick to attend the Parachute Regiment Aptitude Course. The joining instructions provided a physical training course and outlined what he could expect during the 24 hour aptitude testing period.
Within twelve weeks Guy was seated in front of two officers of the Parachute Regiment, a major and a captain and was asked what he thought he could offer the airborne forces. It had been like a re-run of the conversation with his father that Sunday late morning. Had he considered other trades or cap badges in the Army? He was obviously an intelligent chap, so what about the Intelligence Corps or even the Army Air Corps? Guy answered honestly and affirmed that he had given the matter a great deal of thought and his mind was made up as a career as a para, should he meet the necessary criteria.
Next was the battery of medical tests, which included an ECG and assessments to check his susceptibility to motion sickness. Despite the work he had put in running and attending circuit training, the physical aptitude tests were demanding. Fifteen sit-ups on a bench at 45 degrees. Ten dips on the parallel bars and ten pull-ups on a high bar. A five mile run, three-and-a-half miles as a squad and then one-and-a-half miles individual and in his best time. There was a final two circuits of a steeplechase track and through his exhaustion, Guy thought about a beautiful French, female voice telling him: Ce n’est pas un sprint, mais plutôt un steeple-chase.
And then he was on the train home and as it skirted the Peak District, Guy stared at the Yorkshire countryside and wondered just how well he had performed, because the directing staff gave them no indication as to whether they had been successful or not. While he waited for the Army to make up its mind, Guy passed his driving test on the first attempt and continually pestered his mother to let him drive her car. He got a part time job with British Waterways and spent a lot of time outdoors, helping to strengthen the banks of the canals throughout the area. And there were the girls, the same ones who had barely given him a second glance in the fifth year, now couldn’t get enough of the self-contained Guy, who had filled out, his shoulders broadened from swimming and circuit training. They were planning their futures at university. He was waiting for that brown envelope to come through the door.
The British Army didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry, so Guy decided to revisit and improve his A-level results. He could still afford to go gliding at the Staffordshire Gliding Club. By now Guy was a named driver on his mother’s insurance and he would drive out past Stafford, sometimes with a Girl in tow, whom he would take up as a passenger in the glider. He would go out in the evenings with a crowd from the old school and remained friendly with Steve Fadden, who was a surprise hit as a ladies man. Plus he had a full time job and a good disposable income, which had enabled him to buy and souped-up a Vauxhall Corsa, which he drove with casual recklessness, much the same way as he approached his sexual encounters. Being a passenger with Steve scared the hell out of Guy.
* * *
The letter finally arrived after his eighteenth birthday stating that Guy Jarvis was to report to the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick, to undergo his initial phase one training. The letter also contained a railway warrant and a kit list of essential items he should bring with him. His mother was distraught His father was disappointed but resigned. Guy felt a degree of anti-climax after the long wait.
The first ten weeks of phase one training was designed to turn a disparate bunch of manly young men into a group of disciplined soldiers. Some fell by the wayside, marked by the empty bed spaces when the intake returned to their billets after a long day’s training. The pace was relentless and extremely physical, but passed very quickly and at the end of ten weeks, those destined for the airborne forces were passed onto the tender mercies of Pegasus Company (P Coy), to undertake the ground phase of Para training. Others joined them from different cap badges and even Services, destined for a role which would involve parachute training.
Now the training became more physically intense, even brutal. The recruits had to complete the high assault course, planks and ropes set at a dizzying height, while the directing staff encouraged waverers with threats and abuse. In squads they had to complete ten miles in one hour fifty minutes, complete with a thirty-five pound bergen, rifle and light fighting order. This would increase to the endurance march, twenty miles in four hours and there was the log race against other eight-man sections 1.9 km carrying a sixty kg log followed by the stretcher race, two sections and a stretcher weighing eighty kg over five miles.
They were being beasted, which Guy could switch off to as he could see the point of it. What he couldn’t see the point of was Corporal Rackley. Corporal Rackley was in charge of Guy’s section and it would appear that he hated everyone and everything. The RAF Regiment personnel destined for II Squadron were Rackley’s bête noire, which was entirely understandable. They were RAF and they certainly weren’t soldiers, because if they were, they would have joined the army. He hated these “fucking crabs” with an intensity that bordered on derangement. One evening while they were attending to personal admin (bulling boots) Guy had quipped: “On this doll, show me where the naughty, petrol-blue RAF type person touched you.”
But Rackly might have hated the RAF with a febrile intensity, he hated Guy Jarvis even more. It was like his father’s prediction had come true, the moment Rackley heard Guy speak.
“Oh my goodness. We have in our midst a posh boy. What in God’s name makes you think that you will ever get to wear the maroon beret, posh boy?”
They would stagger in to their billet after a demanding day on the training area and Guy’s bed, bedspace and the contents of his locker were scattered across the room, the polish of his best boots gouged and shattered. The final straw came when one morning in the final week. Guy was pushed for time to get out on parade and had left his watch in his locker’s top shelf. When they went back at lunchtime to get their PE kit, Guy’s bedspace had received only a cursory bout of wanton destruction. But on the floor next to his bed, Guy’s watch was smashed and in pieces. It had been an eighteenth birthday present from his mother. The rest of his section, including two RAF Regiment gunners crowded round.
“The bastard,” One of them observed, “Report him.”
“There’s no proof.”
That afternoon it was a bout of milling in the boxing ring. Two recruits of about the same size were paired off in head protection and boxing gloves. They then had three minutes to attack one another using controlled aggression. Corporal Rackley was there and he asked Guy if he had the time on him, and then laughed. Guy had been paired off with O’ Farrel as they were the same size and build. Just before his bout was due to start, Rackley changed the partners and paired Guy off with Ives, who was six inches taller and much heavier. There were gasps around the ring.
“See how you do against Ives, posh boy.”
Ives came at Guy like something demented, like he was in the grip of a red mist.
“Ives, what’s wrong?” Guy asked after receiving a flurry of punches to his head.
Guy did his best to weave and dodge, but Ives seemed determined to kill him. In the mayhem, Guy saw Rackley grinning at him. He had to end it.
“Sorry, Ives. Otherwise you’ll kill me.”
Ives lunged forward and Guy sidestepped. Ives overbalanced and Guy hit him on the side of the head, very hard. Ives felt like a nuclear weapon had gone off in his skull and he went down on his knees. Guy moved away.
“Stay down, Ives,” somebody yelled.
To his credit Ives did get on his feet, but he was concussed and stood swaying. With a poisonous stare at Rackley, the PTI stopped the fight and they helped Ives out of the ring. Guy dumped the gloves and head guard on the mat, feeling sick to his stomach. He looked up to a shocked ring of white faces staring at him.
That evening Guy went to the medical centre to visit Ives, who had been kept in overnight for observation following concussion. He stood by the side of the bed and Ives who was trying to read a book, looked at him.
“Ives, I really am sorry, but I thought you were trying to kill me.”
Ives sighed and put the book down, “I was and it’s me who should be sorry. I believed him you see, although the others said it was rubbish.”
“I don’t understand,” Guy said perplexed.
“Rackley told me that you said to the section that I was too thick and slow to ever get through parachute training. That I was a retard.”
“I would never say that about anyone.”
“I know now, but Rackley made it sound so… So…”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Rackley is a bastard who was using you to get at me. I don’t know why, but he hates me.”
“And I was stupid enough to fall for it,” Ives said with a sigh, “But I got a few good ones in before you clobbered me.”
Guy smiled ruefully and probed his swollen lip with his tongue, “You sure did, Ives.”
When Guy got back to the block, one of the RAF Regiment gunners was sitting on the stairs waiting for him.
“How’s Ives?” he asked
Guy knew that this man was around ten years older than the rest of them and had done five years in the Army, before leaving for unsatisfactory jobs in civilian life. He decided to re-join in the RAF because he had had enough of being in infanteer, wanted to be treated slightly better in his thirties and decided that the RAF had healthier prospects and a more stable life/work balance. He was a wise head on older shoulders to the younger recruits.
“A bit like me,” Guy told him, “Feeling shell-shocked and used.”
“You will have to do something about Rackley, otherwise he’ll end up killing someone.”
Guy sat on the stair next to him and contemplated his feet, “It’s easy for you to say, but he hates you lot as much as me.”
“But he knows he really can’t do anything to us. That’s what makes him deranged, so he takes it out on the likes of you. We could fix him one of the nights he comes in as pissed as a fart. I know some of the boys would love to help to give him a good battering with some bars of soap in some socks.”
“You know it doesn’t work like that. Once you leave here you’ll be Per Arduing or whatever it is you lot do. There will be an investigation if an instructor gets a good kicking and all the rest of us will be in the frame.”
“So you intend to do nothing?”
“I didn’t say that,” Guy said grimly, “I’ll fix Rackley, but I’ll chose the battlefield and the time, like Henry V at Agincourt.”
The RAF Gunner stood up and looked down at Guy, “What the hell are you doing here, Jarvis? You’re far too bright for mixing with scum like Rackley.”
Guy smiled at him to show no offence, “Coz I didn’t want to end up as a petrol blue faggot who plays at soldiers.”
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file