And, for an earnest of a greater honour,
He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor:
In which addition, hail, most worthy thane!
For it is thine.
They completed their P Company course, an important milestone in the chosen careers and life and were passed on to the tender mercies of the RAF’s Number One Parachute Training School at Brize Norton. The pace of training was intense but in a different way from the beastings of P Company. The first phase was ground school, where they learned the technicalities of military parachuting, then on to the hangar exercises to hang suspended from parachute harnesses. Here they learned how to exit the aircraft, attitude in the air, how and when to deploy the reserve parachute and most importantly, the landing techniques to avoid injury.
Then it was time for their first parachute descent and the intake was bussed from Brize Norton to Weston on the Green, where a single, khaki barrage balloon was tethered. There was a battlefield ambulance on the drop zone and while the recruits put on their parachutes and harnesses, the barrage balloon was winched down. The first stick of around fifteen trainees embarked onto the platform under the balloon and it was winched back up to around a thousand feet. The silence was eerie and off-putting as the first trainees stood on the edge of the platform and dropped into space, the static line automatically operating the main parachute.
It was Guy’s turn and he stood on the creaking and swaying platform as the barrage balloon went up to drop height. They were all wearing a tabard with a letter and number on the front. It was the silence that was unnerving and they could hear the Parachute Jump Instructors (PJIs) on the ground shouting instructions to those trainees descending:
“Knees and ankles together! Keep your arms tucked in! Don’t tense up!”
The PJI on the platform pointed to Guy, “In the door!”
“Red light on, standby! Green light on, Go!”
He felt the PJI’s thump on his shoulder, then he was dropping through space, “One thousand and one, one thousand and two…” And then there was a jolt and tension in his groin as the parachute opened. Guy looked up to check the canopy. Fully deployed and regular. He was floating silently above Oxfordshire, the traffic on the M40 a distant crawl of movement. He went past an astonished skylark, the circle of pea gravel in the middle of the drop zone coming up towards him. The different colours of grass became individual blades and there was a huge thump, and his knee gave him a fat lip on the other side. Guy pulled on the upper risers to kill the chute and then he was gathering the harness and risers and stumbling off the drop zone, trying not to step on the slippery fabric of the canopy.
“You landed like a sack of spuds, Delta six. C-plus, must try harder!”
Guy cared not one jot. He had completed his first parachute jump.
The pace was relentless as the PJIs made the best of the weather, high cloud base and low winds. The following day they embarked on a C130 Hercules at Brize for the morning drop from 1,000 feet with equipment this time, single stick. As they stood up the aircraft approached Weston on the Green’s drop zone again, hefting their heavy duffel bags of equipment. As soon as they exited the aircraft, they would have to release the kit bundle, which would hang ten feet below them on a webbing strop, hitting the ground first to slow their descent. There was one refusal at the door and the air dispatcher bundled him out of the way to allow the others past. Guy was given no chance of hesitation and he was out of the para door, inundated by the stench of AVTUR and drowned with the bellow of the aircraft’s four engines. The bundle dropped cleanly away, but this time the time in the air was much shorter due to the additional weight of their equipment. That afternoon there was a second drop, this time from 800 feet with equipment and as they returned to their billet in the evening, the bed space of the recruit who had flunked it in the para door was bare and stripped.
The following drops were again from 800 feet, one in the day and one at night. Two were injured in the night drop and admitted to the station’s medical centre for physio. The next two drops were from 800 feet again, using both of the aircraft’s para doors, the second one at night. The next day they had a lie-in until late afternoon and embarked on the Hercules that night for two more night drops, the first from 700 feet and the second from 600. Guy had a moment’s panic on the second drop and only just managed to get the bundle to drop away before he hit the ground, bruising a couple of ribs. The next day they were awarded their parachute wings and had a monumental piss-up in the NAAFI that night, with a fight with some movers, egged on by the PJIs, very much a regimental tradition. The following day, bruised and hung-over, they were bussed back to Catterick for their final week before the passing out parade.
This was a time for the instructors to evaluate the recruits and decide which particular discipline would suit them once they were posted to the Parachute Regiment Depot. Because of his intelligence and steady performance during training, Guy was thought to be ideal for the Patrol Company, once he had served his apprenticeship in one of the rifle companies. There was one dissenting voice, Corporal Rackley was of the opinion that Jarvis should serve in the support company. He was overruled by the training officer, who thought lugging a mortar baseplate would be totally unsuitable for the fledgling para. The week was also spent polishing the recruits and ensure they had not picked up any bad habits or faggot-like tendencies during their tenure with the RAF.
Two nights before their passing out parade there was an entry piss-up and that day Guy had made several withdrawals from various cash machines. He was carrying far more cash than he could ever spend on booze and remain conscious. That night they hit the Foxglove and the drink was flowing freely, as was the noise, banter and general relief at having almost made it through one of the most demanding military courses in the world. Guy remained sober as the evening wore on and he slipped away and walked the mile or so to another, much quieter pub near the garrison post office. He ordered a pint and carefully watched the other punters in the hostelry.
He spotted two dealers sitting at a table by the entrance to the toilets. A third man approached and went into the gents. After about a minute, the two at the table followed him into the toilets. A short time later the first man came out, followed by the other two who sat back down at their table. The first man left the pub. Guy gave it five minutes and headed for the gents. He raised his eyes and nodded to the sitting men, went into the toilet and waited. Presently the other two come in.
“I need some gear,” Guy said in matter of-fact way.
“How much?” one of the men asked. The other lurked by the door, a thick-set youngster who was obviously carrying a knife.
“A lot. I’ve got the cash.”
“What do you need?”
Guy gave him his shopping list.
“Are you going into competition?”
“No. I’m having a party. A big get-together,” Guy told him.
“Let’s see your wad.”
Guy showed him the cash.
“OK. But you’re virtually clearing me out.”
“You get my wad. I get your gear. So we’re both happy.”
They made the exchange and Guy stuffed the packets in the inner pocket of his coat. He waited while the dealer counted the cash.
“Like you said, I got your wad, you got your gear.”
Guy smiled without any warmth, “So we’re both happy. Just one health warning. Don’t get any bright ideas about following me once I leave. I have a number of associates waiting outside. They are expecting a good party and they would be terribly disappointed if they didn’t get the good time I promised them.”
He left and went outside the pub, waiting in the shadows to ensure his instructions had been followed. After ten minutes he was satisfied and walked back to the Foxglove and the drunken revelry. Guy knew he was taking an enormous risk and the packages seemed to weigh heavily in his pocket.
The next morning Guy was surrounded by the half-dead and a zombie apocalypse. The barrack room stank of stale booze and somebody had been sick in the toilets. Guy mopped it to prevent the wrath of the instructors and then waited in the drying room. The packages were in the cargo pockets of his combat trousers.
Corporal Rackley left his single bunk room, slamming the door noisily on his way to begin his long, leisurely morning ablutions. He didn’t lock the door of his room. Guy knew he had to move quickly and went into Rackley’s room and looked around. He found what he wanted in the bottom of the wardrobe, a pile of shoe boxes, nestling next to Rackley’s boots and shoes. The box at the bottom was heavily covered with dust, which meant it hadn’t been moved for some time. Inside the shoebox were old bank statements and packets of photographs. Guy hid the numerous packets from his pockets at the bottom of the box, underneath the papers. He was out of Rackley’s room in less than a minute.
* * *
His mother and father attended Guy’s passing out parade, his father secretly proud to bursting point but worried about his son’s future. His mother cried. His brother was too busy to attend and Guy understood. They were given a week’s leave before having to report to the Parachute Regiment Depot at Aldershot. The parade went ahead with relatively few mistakes and the assembled families were clearly proud of their loved ones, now wearing their maroon berets and their parachute wings. There was a buffet lunch but it was obvious that the newly-graduated paratroops just wanted to go on leave. After the official ceremonies, Guy’s father helped him shift his kit from the block to the family car, a few goodbyes were said to those who would be joining different units and cap badges, then they headed south on the A1. After about fifty miles, Guy asked if they could stop at a service station for him to make a phone call, to someone who was not leaving the camp until the following day.
“I forgot to wish him luck,” Guy said simply.
While his mother and father went to buy some odds and ends, Guy made a phone call to a number on the Catterick Garrison. The voice that answered the phone said: “Royal Military Police, Sergeant Coombs, sir.”
“Good afternoon Sergeant Coombs. I need to tell you something so you’d better have a pen and pad to hand. Please don’t stall for time because I know all incoming calls to this number are recorded. I have some information concerning drug dealing in the Parachute Training Company…”
“Who is this?”
“Shut up and listen. One of the instructors on P Company is dealing drugs to the recruits, and this includes Class A drugs such as coke, speed and ecstasy. His name is Corporal Rackley, repeat Rackley and he deals from his room, which is ____. He keeps the drugs in a shoe box in his wardrobe, bottom, left-hand side next to his shoes and boots. I won’t repeat this. You have all the information you need.”
Guy hung up. He met his mother and father outside the shop.
“Was your friend pleased to hear from you?”
“I think he was surprised,” Guy said with a smile.
* * *
On visiting his old school friends, Guy was shocked and saddened to hear that his mate Steve Fadden had been killed in a car crash on the A38. What made this particularly harrowing was that Steve had been driving his suicidally souped-up Corsa with his girlfriend and another couple, doing around ninety on the A38. Steve had lost control and the car left the road, hitting the stanchion of a bridge. The male passenger was killed instantly, as was the girl in the rear left-hand seat. Steve had died as the fire service were cutting him and the girl in the rear right seat out. She survived but was now a paraplegic.
Guy wondered if there was any point in visiting the grave of his old friend. Despite his tough act of an outer facade, Guy was a sensitive soul who was deeply troubled by the deaths of those so young, vital and full of life. He decided that the last thing he wanted to see was a plot of Lichfield’s municipal cemetery, festooned with garish bunches of cheap, supermarket flowers and cuddly meerkats. He decided that he wanted to remember the Steve Fadden who had made their parents laugh with his ridiculously over-the-top portrayal of Macbeth’s Porter. He raised a silent glass to his Irish friend and betted that Steve was knocking them dead beyond those pearly gates. Life could be so bloody unfair.
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file