Arborfield Recruit Part 2
Early in the morning of our first full day at the Army Apprentices’ School Arborfield, we were awoken from our slumbers by a bugler playing reveille directly outside our new home, Junior Company Block. This was followed shortly afterwards by one of the A/T NCOs walking through the room to make sure that we were in the land of the living. We were up, wash, clean teeth and those that did shave. Those that hadn’t started to shave at that tender age were soon to start when it was explained that “Bum fluff” was not part of the uniform.
When we were all ready, we assembled for the first time as “C” Squad to be marched off for breakfast. With kfs and mug in the left hand, tightly clasped behind our backs we were pointed in the intended direction of travel. The command “Quick March” was given, we all left together and somehow arrived at the cookhouse together but the bit in between was an uncoordinated shambles worthy of the Keystone Cops. At this early stage of our careers we were a bit protected and were first for breakfast. We had yet to learn what “Jipping” was and how to defend against some clever so and so giving your china pint mug a sharp rap with the handle of his knife leaving you with just the handle of your mug and a visit to the QM’s to buy a new one.
Next on the agenda was preparation of our new uniform so that we could be paraded before the “C” Squad Drill Sergeant. We were told to take out our Housewives (Our what!) and were then given a demonstration on how to box denims. Working in pairs to get the fit right, it was the first time most of us had used a needle and thread. “If you think this is tricky” said one of the A/T NCOs then wait until you have to darn your socks. This completed we stood by our beds in new denims and berets and were introduced (poetic licence) to our Drill Instructor Sgt. Pitendreigh REME, a very understanding but firm man. He first inspected us and then explained what was to come that day. When he took us on our initial drill session, it was impossible to believe that three or so months later we were to win the Junior Company inter-squad drill competition under his tutelage.
If my memory serves me right the next step was to visit Charlie, the school barber where months of carefully styled hair disappeared in seconds as we were to be made to look more like soldiers. What was the saying, “If it’s under your beret it’s yours and if it’s showing it’s mine and I don’t want it”.
That afternoon the whole intake of 129 was paraded together for the first time. We were four squads of raw recruits about to embark on a steep learning curve of military life, many away from home for the first time. We were marched (well sort of) away to a large room where we were welcomed by the School Commandant, Colonel Dobie REME who spent some time informing us on what we could expect for the next three years and introducing his staff, the RSM, Senior Education Officer etc., the main players in the organisation of our immediate future.
Then it was back to our rooms where we were instructed on more things military like looking after our kit, locker layouts, shining boots and the use of Blanco & Brasso. So much to learn but we were to get it right in the end after hours of practice.
Later on in the evening some of us went for a look at the NAAFI canteen where we ate our first Nelson Squares with its pink icing and other delights. Before turning in for the night it was bath or shower and sign the book to confirm you had had one or the other. It had been a long first full day and yet we had hardly started our adventure, there was lots more to come starting early the next morning.
One memory that sticks in my mind more than anything else during those first few weeks was the first time the whole of Junior Company was marched around the school behind the School Band. Of course we were learning to march to music but “Look at me, am I a soldier or what!”