Jinnie was anxious to settle Willie into British life so while he unpacked and put away his new clothes in his new bedroom she wondered if a typically British dinner would go down well. She searched the fridge and the only thing she had the ingredients for, she knew how to cook and was typically British, was sausage toad with thick onion gravy. Well, she thought in for a penny, in for a pound, if he hates it I will just pop out and get fish and chips, he can’t not like that. Before starting on the batter she rang Dirk and invited him to dinner so he could meet with Willie. When she told Dirk the menu he replied, “Great, I love sausage toad. But it needs to be washed down with loads of beer, I’ll stop at the off licence on the way round.”
Penny came home from college and was introduced to Dirk who had changed into his new jeans and casual shirt. She then asked, “What’s for dinner?” Jinnie replied, “It’s what Mum used to say when we got in from school, ‘Wait and see’.” Penny laughed and said, “If I had a penny for every time she said that I’d be as rich as you.” Jinnie hit her with a tea towel.
Paolo got in from work and he and Willie disappeared into the living room to talk about Berlin and mutual friends. Penny went to lay the table and Jinnie took the opportunity to check the oven, it was nearly done and the onion gravy smelled wonderful. She had just called to Penny to put the tomato and HP sauces and the English mustard on the table when the door chimes played out the Westminster chimes and Dirk was there with a case of Peroni.
Willie was hungry and willing to try anything and actually discovered he rather liked sausage toad in the hole, even if it had a strange name and nothing to do with toads! He tried the tomato sauce, the HP Sauce and the English mustard. He had eaten tomato sauce in Germany but this was sweeter and not so spicy, he could live with this version. The HP Sauce was spicy and he liked it, but the English mustard looked very different to German senf. This was bright yellow and he was sure he could taste vinegar while senf was usually brown, but it was good on the sausages while he preferred the HP Sauce on the batter. However, he was delighted with the Peroni, he always used to drink it in Berlin until the Italian war, when it became unavailable. Obviously the Italians had wasted no time in finding a new export market.
Penny enjoyed having a native German speaker in the house, it made her course easier for her and in the run-up to the end of term German was just about the only language spoken around the house. Willie had sailed through his induction course and was getting used to speaking English all day at work and it was improving. He was getting used to the routines in the shooting range and was confident that when Brian retired he would be able to take over. He now had been issued with a U.K. identity card and a U.K. driving license to replace his German equivalents. He had tried driving Paolo’s car but found driving on the left a little confusing and had decided to save up for some lessons.
Penny was getting a little more apprehensive with every day her course drew nearer. Sgt. Thompson tried to help by telling her that her pistol handling was as good as anyone in the unit but that was not what worried her, it was that she still had never really shot a rifle. She had been through the SIS pistol course when she first joined the SIS, Brian was an excellent teacher and she had thoroughly enjoyed it, she just wished she could shoot a rifle before the course started. A fortnight before the end of term she confessed her worries to Jinnie who called her a stupid goose for bottling up for so long. She said, “Leave it to me I’ll sort something out.”
The following evening she announced that she had signed up all four of them for the Cambridge gun club. Although it wasn’t officially open that evening, it was amazing what a small donation to club fund could do and the club would be open especially for them that evening. Willie had agreed to teach Penny, while Jinnie was going to try improving Paolo’s rifle skill. He had used a rifle in the resistance but had never had any proper training. The Cambridge gun club had 50 and 100 yard outdoor ranges and that would be ideal for an intensive course for Penny.
Penny took to rifle shooting like a duck to water and Willie was an excellent teacher. Paolo was not as good a pupil, it was obvious that he didn’t appreciate being taught by his spouse. For the second week Willie and Jinnie swapped pupils, it had no effect on Penny’s progress but Paolo came on in leaps and bounds and was beginning to like the hobby.
When Penny set off for St Athan on Sunday she felt confident that thanks to her sister she now wouldn’t make a fool of herself. She had programmed the address into her Sat Nav and the journey to Cardiff was mostly via motorways, but the last part of the journey was mainly on B roads and took ages. Building work was happening everywhere she looked in South Wales as some of the worst fighting of the war of liberation had taken place there. Unsurprisingly the Welsh were extremely anti-German and pro-army. When Jinnie stopped to get a cuppa and a snack just outside Cardiff the cafe owner refused to accept any payment because she was in uniform. Penny didn’t have the heart to tell him she was only a university cadet.
Penny stopped at the main gate to the 1st Para’s barracks and showed her paperwork. The corporal who examined the paperwork wasn’t very impressed but at least was polite and efficient. He pointed out a parking bay and told her to wait for an escort to meet the captain and be taken to her accommodation. Penny had been warned by both Jinnie and Dirk that she would only be accepted by the regular soldiers when she had proved herself. Captain Avis was pleasant enough but Jinnie quickly got the impression that he was suspicious of her and her being manoeuvred onto tomorrow’s training course. Her accommodation was good, she had a single on-suite room and it was quickly pointed out to her that this was now the norm in the new ‘professional’ Army and ‘barrack blocks’ had gone with the German conscripts.
After a bacon and egg breakfast, Penny reported to the appointed lecture theatre and found herself amid a squad of a dozen fairly new recruits to the Parachute Regiment. They had done their basic square bashing and over the next two weeks were to be taught how to look after and fire the SA 80 and if they were lucky the sharpshooter weapon and maybe even a quick look at the general-purpose machine gun. The instructor leapt straight in with the SA80 and asked if anyone was familiar with the weapon. A couple of hands went up, but Penny had been a cadet long enough to have learnt the army saying of don’t volunteer for anything so her hand wasn’t amongst them.
The instructor quickly broke the rifle down, cleaned it and reassembled it. Then gave it to the two who had said they knew the weapon and said, “Now your turn. Go,” and started his stop watch. Ten minutes later he called a halt to their struggles to break the gun down. He said, “Now I will do it all again, but more slowly, and you better watch carefully because you will each be doing it with your own gun. You better reassemble it properly because you will be firing your own gun this afternoon.” Penny watched carefully, but she knew she could pass this first test as she had done this in the Cambridge barracks numerous times, it was firing it that she was more concerned about. Penny didn’t rush breaking the gun down, she took it steadily and cleaned it properly, applied a smear of gun oil in all the right places, reassembled the gun an sat back watching the others. Two soldiers had finished before her but it didn’t bother her she was quite happy not to stand out from the crowd. The instructor came over to her, while still watching half the group struggling to reassemble their rifles and said, “That wasn’t the first time you had done that was it, Cadet Walsh?” “No Sgt.” She replied. “I have done it a few times. But as we only have a pistol range at the unit barracks so I have never fired it.” “Ah,” he said, “you can shoot a pistol, what model?” “Glock 17 Sgt.” He nodded and turned to shout at someone who was still looking at a pile of several parts.
After lunch, where her fellow students mostly ignored her, it was time to fire a few rounds. The sergeant had them gather around and he explained that initially he would be demonstrating shooting from the prone position, how to hold and sight the SA80, how to switch between single-shot and semi-automatic, how to fire at a target by gently squeezing the trigger and most importantly range craft which was for everyone’s protection. Having used a range only a few days before, range craft was fresh in her mind having had it drilled into her by both Willie and her sister and Sgt Thompson back on the pistol range.
The Sgt. looked at Penny and appeared to be about to use her to demonstrate, then changed his mind and picked on one of the privates who had struggled with the last drill. Penny paid attention to the sgt. and was happy to see that the range drill was exactly what she was used to. Having done drill twice with two different soldiers he started throwing questions at various students. Some answered incorrectly and got bawled out, others got their answers right but answered too slowly for the sgt. When it came to Penny’s turn she answered instantly and correctly and the sgt. just moved on to someone else, before trying to catch her out by throwing another question at her. Again she answered instantly and correctly.
The group broke for a brew and one of the Para’s had approached her to try to find out how much shooting experience she had. She told him the same as she had the Sgt., that she had handled an SA80 but had never fired one which seemed to meet with his approval. When they got back to the range they were joined by two further sgts. and divided into three groups. One soldier from each group was then placed in the prone position by their sgt who corrected their stance until happy it was perfect before moving on to the next. Jinnie had spent some time in coaching Penny and when it was her turn she comfortably settled into her prone stance and the sgt. could only move her left foot a few millimetres.
Jinnie was getting frustrated, she wanted to get on and fire the gun, unfortunately the course was only moving on at the pace of the slowest participant and some seemed remarkably slow. By the time the group was dismissed for the evening not a single round had been discharged. As Penny headed back to her barracks she was cornered by the original sgt. He explained that he was interested in seeing her shoot a Glock, would she come to the indoor range after dinner and demonstrate her ability? She agree, knowing better than to refuse such a request. After dinner she was invited to join the rest of the course in the NAFFI but apologised and because she didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the group she explained that she had been commanded to show the sgt. her pistol skills.
This revelation caused lots of questions. The group wanted to know how she learnt to shoot a pistol. She explained that as an officer cadet she had been taught to use a Glock 17 and that she had enjoyed shooting so much that she had practiced quite a lot at the barracks pistol range. Strangely the more she practiced the better she became and progressed to be a regular member of the unit shooting team. Someone in the command structure had decided that they wanted to know if she could shoot a rifle as well as a pistol and hence here she was. Of course she didn’t mention the SIS, her sister or her recent intensive rifle instruction.
Penny arrived at the range at the appointed time to find several sgt. instructors waiting for her. She knew this was a make or break test, if she failed to shoot at her best the rest of the fortnight was going to be murder. She was handed a Glock 17 and a couple of full magazines and shown her shooting stall. She settled herself down, asked what they wanted to see and what the target was. She was told to start off standing and to fire six rounds at a static target. She asked if she could fire a few practice rounds to check on the gun and was told yes.
The practice rounds showed the gun pulled slightly to the right. She placed the gun and spare magazine on the small shelf at the side of the stall and said she was ready. The sgt said, “OK, let’s get started,” and Penny took a few deep breath’s and tried to control her heartbeat. She went through her range craft in her head and followed it to the letter, before getting permission to fire. She allowed for the pull of the gun and hit 3 x 10 and 3 x 9. The sgt. said, “Not bad, now a turning target”. Penny was expecting this and settled herself down before this time scoring a 9 and 5 x 10s.
The sgt had her firing from both kneeling and prone positions at static and turning targets before increasing the range and starting all over again. All the time Penny was becoming more relaxed and confident in her ability. By the time the sgts. had seen enough and called a halt to the evening Penny was consistently scoring tens. As Penny was leaving the range ‘her’ sgt. said to her, “I now know what your officers saw in you and why you are here. We will do our best to ensure you leave here as fully happy with a long gun as a pistol.”
Over breakfast several of the other course members wanted to know she had got on. She told them, “Quite well, at least the instructors seemed satisfied.” This morning they were actually going to fire live rounds and Penny was looking forward to it. Penny’s little group were issued with ear protectors and the first up was issued five rounds. Penny watched what was going on very carefully. The instructor was an absolute stickler for procedure, stopping the student every time he made the slightest error and making him repeat his last couple of steps. At long last he was allowed to fire and as far as Penny could see he only hit the 50-yard target with one round and that scored a 2.
The guy going second was a little sharper and had obviously been watching closely and had ever so nearly got everything right, he quickly got his five rounds and fired them. He hit the target with 3 of the five rounds but his best score was a seven. Penny was up next, she settled into her position, wriggled herself into a comfortable position and was handed her 5 rounds. She loaded the magazine, all the time following the correct drill and was given permission to fire. Checking the selector was in manual she aimed and fired. She was a little disappointed that her first round was only a nine. She adjusted her sights and fired again this time it cut the line between 9 and 10. Another minor adjustment and the last 3 shots were all 10s.
She took out the magazine, checked the breech was empty and called all clear to the instructor. He smiled and handed her another 5 rounds and told her to go again. This time it was 5 tens. The instructor turned to the 3 troopers who were still to go and said. “Now match that, you don’t want to be beaten by a female cadet.” Turning to Penny he gave her a huge wink. Of course they couldn’t and when they broke for a brew they wanted to know if she had never fired an SA80 before how had she been so good? She said, “I didn’t say I had never fired a rifle before.” After their brew the class were reorganised into the good, reasonable and rubbish, Penny found herself in the good group.
The class progressed more quickly now they were not being held back by the laggards. They fired over longer ranges and they fired in automatic mode. They regularly stripped, cleaned and reassembled the guns so many times one of the troopers joked he could do it blindfold. The instructor who overheard him told him to get on with it then and blindfolded him. He failed, but Penny learnt not to open her mouth in front of the instructors unless she could back up what she said.
By Saturday evening Penny was happy that she could adequately handle an SA80 but didn’t voice the fact. Sunday was a day off but the course resumed at first thing on Monday morning. Penny was leaving the range looking forward to a meal, a couple of beers and a late Sunday breakfast when she and another student were called over and told to report to the range at 08:30 on Sunday. So much for a beer and a late breakfast thought Penny.
Sunday came as a pleasant surprise, the instructors had picked the pair out because they had appeared to have a natural for shooting and want to try them out with the L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle. Penny had hoped she would get a chance to try one out and the trooper was delighted as he explained to Penny it was a fast route to a stripe, more money and his aim to join the Special Forces. Penny decided it was better not to tell him she was SIS.
Both trainees took to the L129A1 like ducks to water. By lunchtime they were regularly hitting targets in the ‘kill zone’ at extended range and were told to come back after lunch. Penny wondered what else was in store for them. Being Sunday there was roast on the menu and Penny was sorely tempted by the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding but she and the other student, Alan, decided a heavy lunch was not a good idea and both had a prawn salad. In the afternoon they got introduced to the army L115A3 sniper rifle. The unit only had a single example of this weapon. The idea was just to see how they reacted to the gun, the unit wasn’t equipped to train snipers and all the things associated with it like the use of hides, spotters and camouflage.
On Monday morning Penny and Dave were pulled out of the general training. The sgt. told them that this week was mainly practice, practice and more practice to improve the ability of the students to shoot accurately enough to kill the enemy and to keep their rifle clean so as to not kill themselves. They had already shown they could do both so it had been decided that the second week would be better used teaching them how to properly use and maintain the Sharpshooter rifle.
At the end of the second week Penny was a little disappointed that Dave was passed out as first in the class with the recommendation that he should go on to sniper school at the first opportunity. She knew she was a better shot that him. She knew she was nowhere near as good a shot as Jinnie, who she had observed carefully, using a vast selection of different rifles at the Cambridge gun club, but she could beat Dave hands down and he admitted it. Her training sgt. told her that unfortunately she was not officially on the course as she wasn’t a member of the Para’s so she couldn’t be considered. However he congratulated her on being one of the best shots he had ever seen. She told him that if he thought she was good he should see her older sister shoot. The sgt. scratched his head for a moment and said, “There is a tale, I always thought was apocryphal, about a girl who took out a sniper, an officer and a radio operator with three shots on a training exercise.” Penny replied, “That’s not apocryphal, that was my sister Jinnie and I can only hope one day to be as good a shot as her.”
In Chapter 17 – Christmas holiday is interrupted.
© WorthingGooner 2022