At the time I joined the Royal Marines, allowing for leave, a recruit's training lasted for the best part of a year. As well as the expected drill and weapon training it included lectures on military law. It is still as long. In contrast the recruit training for an army private was a mere twelve weeks. During our training we were told constantly by our instructors, "The Royal Marines are the best soldiers in the world, and you are the best squad of recruits I've ever trained. You take shit from on one." We were young and susceptible to this sort of praise, so we at least half believed it. This instilled a confidence in ourselves that resulted in our treating members of other services with a certain disdain. As I progressed through my service career I discovered that many members of the army and navy were treated like dirt by the men in charge of them, particularly by their non-commissioned officers. This stifled any initiative in the junior ranks, coupled with a reluctance, sometimes approaching fear, to complain.
The story Konfrontasi recounts one such incident, here are a couple more from the same period.
An Arresting Episode
Our new camp in Kuching was a restricted area, the boundary fenced with high steel mesh that was topped with rolls of razor wire. Outside normal working hours the gates were locked.
I was the guard commander one night. The guard of twelve men were a mixed bag from the different units. The Royal Marines made up the largest contingent. Early in the evening we had visitors to the camp. A couple of drivers had come across from Four Two Commando to share a beer or two with mates in the Commando Composite Platoon. I suppose it would have been about 2000 hours when they set off back to their own unit, but the gate was locked and they asked me to let them out. I was busy, so I gave them the key, telling them to let themselves out, and to pass the key back through the guardroom window after they'd locked up again. I thought nothing of it. They were Royal Marines and could be trusted. I'd known them for years. They handed the key back through the window and said, 'Goodnight.' Then they set off back to Four Two Commando.
Shortly after they'd left a staff sergeant and a sergeant in the Catering Corps dashed into the guardroom. They demanded to know who had let themselves out of camp. They were both drunk and aggressive.
'What's that got to do with you?' I asked.
'How did they get the key?' the staff sergeant asked, glaring at me.
Not another Catering Corps twit, I thought. 'That's none of your business. Just go away.'
'I saw those men let themselves out of camp,' the staff sergeant said. 'That's not allowed. They could be stealing.'
'Look, you're both pissed and you're making nuisances of yourselves, interfering with my duties. I've told you it's none of your business. Get out of my guardroom, the pair of you. I've work to do.'
His mate took off, but the staff sergeant had less sense. 'You can't give me orders. I'm a staff sergeant.'
'And I'm the commander of the guard. You're causing a disturbance in my guardroom. If you don't leave immediately, I'll place you under arrest.'
'You can't arrest me.'
'You and you,' I said, beckoning to two marines. 'Escort duty.' Then I turned to the staff sergeant. 'You are under arrest for refusing a command by the officer in charge of the guard.' I motioned for the two marines to take up positions, one at each side of the staff sergeant and said, 'We'll put him in the back room.'
I then became officious. ' Prisoner and escort, QUICK MARCH'.
The staff sergeant started to protest, but the marines grabbed an arm each and forced him forward. I led them into the back room where the members of the guard, who were not on watch, were lying on their beds. 'Take your weapons and get out. This is now the cells.' I then said to the two marines, 'Watch the bastard. If he makes a move towards the door clobber him.'
As the guards filed out of the door I pulled one army man aside. 'Go and find the duty officer. Tell him I've just arrested someone and he's needed here.'
It was about fifteen minutes before the duty officer arrived. He was a lieutenant in the Service Corps. The staff sergeant was still drunk, still confined in the back room. I explained what had happened.
'Do you really want to proceed with this, Corporal?' the officer asked.
'Of course I don't. There's too much paperwork. I just want that stupid bastard to learn his lesson.'
'Will you leave it for me to deal with?'
'Certainly, sir. As long as you scare the shit out of him.'
'Don't worry. I'll do that.'
The Filthy Truck
Sometime before we moved to the new camp I was the duty Workshop NCO. It wasn't an onerous task. All that was involved was that I was stationed in the workshop's office after work ended for the day, to answer the phone and respond to anything urgent. I slept in the office too, in case there was an emergency during the night.
The following morning, as I was preparing to leave the office at about 0750, a Bedford RL, a three ton four wheel drive truck, pulled up outside the fence. There was a squad of men in the back and two in the cab. I unlocked the gate and the driver followed me into the office.
'What can we do for you?' I asked.
'I have a funny noise. I think it's in the gearbox. I want someone to check it.'
I looked across to the Bedford which was heavily encrusted with mud. 'Before we book your vehicle in, you need to clean it. It's filthy. We can't see anything while it's in that state.'
'But we're in a hurry,' the man said.
'Then the sooner you have it clean, the sooner we can book it in. Away you go. And make sure it's properly clean before you bring it back.'
I watched the driver return to the vehicle and climb into the cab where I could see him talking to a second man. The other man climbed down and came across to the office. He was a lieutenant, wearing a buff coloured beret with the SAS cap badge.
'Our vehicle is making a strange noise. Get it checked out,' he said without preamble as he strode though the door. 'We need to get to Sibu without delay.'
'We can't do anything with it in that condition. As soon as the driver's washed it down, we'll be able to work on it.'
'You can clean it in the workshop,' the lieutenant said.
'Our job is to repair vehicles. To clean a vehicle in the workshops will contaminate the area and we'd run the risk of getting grit and dirt into precision equipment. It's the drivers' responsibility to make sure their vehicles are clean before they present them.'
'But this is urgent. We've a patrol to make,' the lieutenant said. 'I'm not going to clean the lorry.'
'Why don't you use the men in the back to help the driver? That would speed things up. The sooner it's clean, the sooner we'll be able to check it out, but we can't see anything with it in that condition.'
He straightened up and stood to attention. 'I'm ordering you to book it in. We're the Special Air Service.'
I bristled. 'And we're Royal Marines. You don't have the authority to countermand our workshop's standing orders.'
The workshop's officer had entered the office as the lieutenant was ordering me to book that RL in. 'What's the problem?' he asked
The SAS lieutenant began to speak, 'My vehicle has…
The workshop officer cut him off. 'I'm asking my duty NCO. I'll talk to you in a minute.'
'That Bedford out there,' I said and pointed to the RL. 'He want's me to book it in, but I've told him it needs to be cleaned first.' I explained what the driver had told me about the noisy transmission.
The workshop's officer glanced across to the Bedford, then he turned to the lieutenant. 'Into my office.' They disappeared into the back office. A couple of minutes later the lieutenant came out and hurried to the Bedford. As soon as he was in the cab they drove away.
Later in the morning I saw the vehicle in the workshops.
© Jim Ditchfield 2016